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Honore de Balzac: Cousin Betty
To Don Michele Angelo Cajetani, Prince of Teano.
It is neither to the Roman Prince, nor to the representative of the illustrious house of Cajetani, which has given more than one Pope to the Christian Church, that I dedicate this short portion of a long history; it is to the learned commentator of Dante.
It was you who led me to understand the marvelous framework of ideas on which the great Italian poet built his poem, the only work which the moderns can place by that of Homer. Till I heard you, the Divine Comedy was to me a vast enigma to which none had found the clue--the commentators least of all. Thus, to understand Dante is to be as great as he; but every form of greatness is familiar to you.
A French savant could make a reputation, earn a professor's chair, and a dozen decorations, by publishing in a dogmatic volume the improvised lecture by which you lent enchantment to one of those evenings which are rest after seeing Rome. You do not know, perhaps, that most of our professors live on Germany, on England, on the East, or on the North, as an insect lives on a tree; and, like the insect, become an integral part of it, borrowing their merit from that of what they feed on. Now, Italy hitherto has not yet been worked out in public lectures. No one will ever give me credit for my literary honesty. Merely by plundering you I might have been as learned as three Schlegels in one, whereas I mean to remain a humble Doctor of the Faculty of Social Medicine, a veterinary surgeon for incurable maladies. Were it only to lay a token of gratitude at the feet of my cicerone, I would fain add your illustrious name to those of Porcia, of San-Severino, of Pareto, of di Negro, and of Belgiojoso, who will represent in this "Human Comedy" the close and constant alliance between Italy and France, to which Bandello did honor in the same way in the sixteenth century--Bandello, the bishop and author of some strange tales indeed, who left us the splendid collection of romances whence Shakespeare derived many of his plots and even complete characters, word for word.
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