|NUMBER 2||SPRING 1988|
The very idea of this journal (or rather of its parent, Lecturae Dantis Virginianae) goes back to him, the Maestro, the «grand statesman of Italian scholarship in America», as A. Bartlett Giamatti called his old friend «TGB».
Early in 1986, sending me, as periodically upon my insistence he would, a new batch of his haiku-like, deceptively «light», diaphanous poems, addressing me invariably as «my dear friend» and dating-his letter by the day's Saint in the calendar, he reminisced about his stay at the University of Virginia forty-some years ago, and he asked me whether the lawn (Jefferson's Lawn) still looked as dreamy and «out of fairy land» in the moonlight as it used to.
Rather casually I replied that he should visit to compare past and present selenic optics. I added that the students in my Dante seminar, nearly one-hundred of them, would love to hear him comment on a canto of his choice. Still offhandedly I wrote that we should then print the lecture, for use by future generations of Dante students at UVa and elsewhere.
Of course I meant every word, but given his great age and retiring way of life I was sure he would decline. To my delight the Maestro did accept, and in fact he came to campus on a sunny autumn day on what proved to be the last of a long, lifelong series of such lecture trips.
He chose his favorite, the canto of Francesca: the text is now the ouverture of the first issue of this journal __ which I sort of created ex tempore in order to present Bergin's wonderful lectura. Neither of us thought then that this would be his last «new» publication. He hugely enjoyed his stay, out-drinking, out-eating, out-smoking, and out-talking all of us, his hosts, 30-40-50 and even 60 years his junior.
Shortly after his trip he was taken ill, but he kept up his interest in the destination of his Francesca lecture, encouraging our plans for the journal. Meticulously and promptly he corrected and sent back, from his hospital bed, the galleys and page proofs, finding strength to list the typos, all'antica, on a separate sheet, keying them by line numbers «from the top» and «from the bottom». The «professional», to the last.
I recall one interpolation of his in particular. During the delivery of his talk in Mr. Jefferson's luminous Rotunda, Bergin happened to comment on Minos's words, «non t'inganni l'ampiezza de l'intrare» («don't let the wideness of the entrance deceive thee»), by looking up from his text and addressing the audience directly, with a smile. The typescript he later gave me had this (probably improvised) aside omitted. However, when during dinner some of us recalled, with due admiration, his comment, Bergin said, «Well, let's put it in then».
And so we did. Dante's line is spoken «in terms of the narrative, in order to give the pilgrim second thoughts about his journey», Bergin wrote; adding, «but also, my friends, meant for you and me, reminding us...» A truly Berginesque aside, mock-jocose and mock-melancholy: a wise smile hovering forever over the words.
With this number Lectura Dantis begins its promised broadening of scope so far limited to the mere reproduction of the Lecturae Dantis Virginianae. The lectures, sponsored once more by the Special Lectures Committee of the University of Virginia, remain the backbone of the journal, but sections of Notes, Documents, Reviews, and (eventually) Essays are from now on added.
Lectura Dantis addresses an audience of readers and contributors distinguished by vast critical diversity. Accordingly it extends its welcome to approaches of the widest variety and it firmly refuses to exclude any critically meritorious view.
In the current issue this principle is exemplified by the distance separating, say, Michael Aeschliman's documented meditation on Dante's attualità from, say, Henry Ansgar Kelly's painstaking textual search of the pseudo-Dante; or by the differences of approach between Glauco Cambon's comprehensive lectura, traditional in the best sense, and Paolo Cherchi's elegant rhetorical analysis; or, again, between Samuel Patti's matter-of-fact tracking down of a key image, Joseph Falvo's Singletonian pursuit of linguistic transgressio, and John Harris's triple flight of eloquent interpretive fancy.
In matters of what is termed «style» (meaning the position of commas, etc.), Lectura Dantis subscribes to no established religion (such as «MLA», or «Chicago»); the individual usages of the contributors continue to be respected.
The first issue of Lectura Dantis has elicited support and encouragement beyond expectation. Complimentary diffusion soon depleted copy reserves to the point that a goodly number of unexpected subscribers had to be sent apologies. It is meet that the apology be here reiterated by