Dante, Part II

[This is continued from James Russell Lowell's Among My Books.]

The relation of Dante to literature is monumental, and marks the era at which the modern begins. He is not only the first great poet, but the first great prose writer who used a language not yet subdued to literature, who used it moreover for scientific and metaphysical discussion, thus giving an incalculable impulse to the culture of his countrymen by making the laity free of what had hitherto been the exclusive guild of clerks.[198] Whatever poetry had preceded him, whether in the Romance or Teutonic tongues, is interesting mainly for its simplicity without forethought, or, as in the Nibelungen, for a kind of savage grandeur that rouses the sympathy of whatever of the natural man is dormant in us. But it shows no trace of the creative faculty either in unity of purpose or style, the proper characteristics of literature. If it have the charm of wanting artifice, it has not the higher charm of art. We are in the realm of chaos and chance, nebular, with phosphorescent gleams here and there, star stuff, but uncondensed in stars. The Nibelungen is not without far-reaching hints and forebodings of something finer than we find in it, but they are a glamour from the vague darkness which encircles it, like the whisper of the sea upon an unknown shore at night, powerful only over the more vulgar side of the imagination, and leaving no thought, scarce even any image (at least of beauty) behind them. Such poems are the amours, not the lasting friendships and possessions of the mind. They thrill and cannot satisfy.

But Dante is not merely the founder of modern literature. He would have been that if he had never written anything more than his Canzoni, which for elegance, variety of rhythm, and fervor of sentiment were something altogether new. They are of a higher mood than any other poems of the same style in their own language, or indeed in any other. In beauty of phrase and subtlety of analogy they remind one of some of the Greek tragic choruses. We are constantly moved in them by a nobleness of tone, whose absence in many admired lyrics of the kind is poorly supplied by conceits. So perfect is Dante’s mastery of his material, that in compositions, as he himself has shown, so artificial,[199] the form seems rather organic than mechanical, which cannot be said of the best of the Provençal poets who led the way in this kind. Dante’s sonnets also have a grace and tenderness which have been seldom matched. His lyrical excellence would have got him into the Collections, and he would have made here and there an enthusiast as Donne does in English, but his great claim to remembrance is not merely Italian. It is that he was the first Christian poet, in any proper sense of the word, the first who so subdued dogma to the uses of plastic imagination as to make something that is still poetry of the highest order after it has suffered the disenchantment inevitable in the most perfect translation. Verses of the kind usually called sacred (reminding one of the adjective’s double meaning) had been written before his time in the vulgar tongue,--such verses as remain inviolably sacred in the volumes of specimens, looked at with distant reverence by the pious, and with far other feelings by the profane reader. There were cycles of poems in which the physical conflict between Christianity and Paganism[200] furnished the subject, but in which the theological views of the authors, whether doctrinal or historical, could hardly be reconciled with any system of religion ancient or modern. There were Church legends of saints and martyrs versified, fit certainly to make any other form of martyrdom seem amiable to those who heard them, and to suggest palliative thoughts about Diocletian. Finally, there were the romances of Arthur and his knights, which later, by means of allegory, contrived to be both entertaining and edifying; every one who listened to them paying the minstrel his money, and having his choice whether he would take them as song or sermon. In the heroes of some of these certain Christian virtues were typified, and around a few of them, as the Holy Grail, a perfume yet lingers of cloistered piety and withdrawal. Wolfram von Eschenbach, indeed, has divided his Parzival into three books, of Simplicity, Doubt, and Healing, which has led Gervinus to trace a not altogether fanciful analogy between that poem and the Divina Commedia. The doughty old poet, who says of himself,--

“Of song I have some slight control,
But deem her of a feeble soul
That doth not love my naked sword
Above my sweetest lyric word,”

tells us that his subject is the choice between good and evil;

“Whose soul takes Untruth for its bride
And sets himself on Evil’s side,
Chooses the Black, and sure it is
His path leads down to the abyss;
But he who doth his nature feed
With steadfastness and loyal deed
Lies open to the heavenly light
And takes his portion with the White.” 

But Wolfram’s poem has no system, and shows good feeling rather than settled conviction. Above all it is wandering (as he himself confesses), and altogether wants any controlling purpose. But to whatever extent Christianity had insinuated itself into and colored European literature, it was mainly as mythology. The Christian idea had never yet incorporated itself. It was to make its avatar in Dante. To understand fully what he accomplished we must form some conception of what is meant by the Christian idea. To bring it into fuller relief, let us contrast it with the Greek idea as it appears in poetry; for we are not dealing with a question of theology so much as with one of aesthetics.

Greek art at its highest point is doubtless the most perfect that we know. But its circle of motives was essentially limited; and the Greek drama in its passion, its pathos, and its humor is primarily Greek, and secondarily human. Its tragedy chooses its actors from certain heroic families, and finds its springs of pity and terror in physical suffering and worldly misfortune. Its best examples, like the Antigone, illustrate a single duty, or, like the Hippolytus, a single passion, on which, as on a pivot, the chief character, statuesquely simple in its details, revolves as pieces of sculpture are sometimes made to do, displaying its different sides in one invariable light. The general impression left on the mind (and this is apt to be a truer one than any drawn from single examples) is that the duty is one which is owed to custom, that the passion leads to a breach of some convention settled by common consent,[201] and accordingly it is an outraged society whose figure looms in the background, rather than an offended God. At most it was one god of many, and meanwhile another might be friendly. In the Greek epic, the gods are partisans, they hold caucuses, they lobby and log-roll for their candidates. The tacit admission of a revealed code of morals wrought a great change. The complexity and range of passion is vastly increased when the offence is at once both crime and sin, a wrong done against order and against conscience at the same time. The relation of the Greek Tragedy to the higher powers is chiefly antagonistic, struggle against an implacable destiny, sublime struggle, and of heroes, but sure of defeat at last. And that defeat is final. Grand figures are those it exhibits to us, in some respects unequalled, and in their severe simplicity they compare with modern poetry as sculpture with painting.  Considered merely as works of art, these products of the Greek imagination satisfy our highest conception of form. They suggest inevitably a feeling of perfect completeness, isolation, and independence, of something rounded and finished in itself. The secret of those old shapers died with them; their wand is broken, their book sunk deeper than ever plummet sounded. The type of their work is the Greek Temple, which leaves nothing to hope for in unity and perfection of design, in harmony and subordination of parts, and in entireness of impression. But in this aesthetic completeness it ends. It rests solidly and complacently on the earth, and the mind rests there with it.

Now the Christian idea has to do with the human soul, which Christianity may be almost said to have invented. While all Paganism represents a few pre-eminent families, the founders of dynasties or ancestors of races, as of kin with the gods, Christianity makes every pedigree end in Deity, makes monarch and slave the children of one God. Its heroes struggle not against, but upward and onward toward, the higher powers who are always on their side. Its highest conception of beauty is not aesthetic, but moral. With it prosperity and adversity have exchanged meanings. It finds enemies in those worldly good-fortunes where Pagan and even Hebrew literature saw the highest blessing, and invincible allies in sorrow, poverty, humbleness of station, where the former world recognized only implacable foes. While it utterly abolished all boundary lines of race or country and made mankind unitary, its hero is always the individual man whoever and wherever he may be. Above all, an entirely new conception of the Infinite and of man’s relation to it came in with Christianity. That, and not the finite, is always the background, consciously or not. It changed the scene of the last act of every drama to the next world.  Endless aspiration of all the faculties became thus the ideal of Christian life, and to express it more or less perfectly the ideal of essentially Christian art. It was this which the Middle Ages instinctively typified in the Gothic cathedral,--no accidental growth, but the visible symbol of an inward faith,--which soars forever upward, and yearns toward heaven like a martyr-flame suddenly turned to stone.

It is not without significance that Goethe, who, like Dante, also absorbed and represented the tendency and spirit of his age, should, during his youth and while Europe was alive with the moral and intellectual longing which preluded the French Revolution, have loved the Gothic architecture. It is no less significant that in the period of reaction toward more positive thought which followed, he should have preferred the Greek. His greatest poem, conceived during the former era, is Gothic. Dante, endeavoring to conform himself to literary tradition, began to write the Divina Commedia in Latin, and had elaborated several cantos of it in that dead and intractable material. But that poetic instinct, which is never the instinct of an individual, but of his age, could not so be satisfied, and leaving the classic structure he had begun to stand as a monument of failure, he completed his work in Italian.  Instead of endeavoring to manufacture a great poem out of what was foreign and artificial, he let the poem make itself out of him. The epic which he wished to write in the universal language of scholars, and which might have had its ten lines in the history of literature, would sing itself in provincial Tuscan, and turns out to be written in the universal dialect of mankind. Thus all great poets have been in a certain sense provincial,--Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Goethe, Burns, Scott in the “Heart of Midlothian” and “Bride of Lammermoor,”—because the office of the poet is always vicarious, because nothing that has not been living experience can become living expression, because the collective thought, the faith, the desire of a nation or a race, is the cumulative result of many ages, is something organic, and is wiser and stronger than any single person, and will make a great statesman or a great poet out of any man who can entirely surrender himself to it.

 As the Gothic cathedral, then, is the type of the Christian idea, so is it also of Dante’s poem. And as that in its artistic unity is but the completed thought of a single architect, which yet could never have been realized except out of the faith and by the contributions of an entire people, whose beliefs and superstitions, whose imagination and fancy, find expression in its statues and its carvings, its calm saints and martyrs now at rest forever in the seclusion of their canopied niches, and its wanton grotesques thrusting themselves forth from every pinnacle and gargoyle, so in Dante’s poem, while it is as personal and peculiar as if it were his private journal and autobiography, we can yet read the diary and the autobiography of the thirteenth century and of the Italian people. Complete and harmonious in design as his work is, it is yet no Pagan temple enshrining a type of the human made divine by triumph of corporeal beauty; it is not a private chapel housing a single saint and dedicate to one chosen bloom of Christian piety or devotion; it is truly a cathedral, over whose high altar hangs the emblem of suffering, of the Divine made human to teach the beauty of adversity, the eternal presence of the spiritual, not overhanging and threatening, but informing and sustaining the material. In this cathedral of Dante’s there are side-chapels as is fit, with altars to all Christian virtues and perfections; but the great impression of its leading thought is that of aspiration, for ever and ever. In the three divisions of the poem we may trace something more than a fancied analogy with a Christian basilica.  There is first the ethnic forecourt, then the purgatorial middle-space, and last the holy of holies dedicated to the eternal presence of the mediatorial God.

But what gives Dante’s poem a peculiar claim to the title of the first Christian poem is not merely its doctrinal truth or its Christian mythology, but the fact that the scene of it is laid, not in this world, but in the soul of man; that it is the allegory of a human life, and therefore universal in its significance and its application. The genius of Dante has given to it such a self-subsistent reality, that one almost gets to feel as if the chief value of contemporary Italian history had been to furnish it with explanatory foot-notes, and the age in which it was written assumes towards it the place of a satellite. For Italy, Dante is the thirteenth century.

Most men make the voyage of life as if they carried sealed orders which they were not to open till they were fairly in mid-ocean. But Dante had made up his mind as to the true purpose and meaning of our existence in this world, shortly after he had passed his twenty-fifth year. He had already conceived the system about which as a connecting thread the whole experience of his life, the whole result of his studies, was to cluster in imperishable crystals. The cornerstone of his system was the Freedom of the Will (in other words, the right of private judgment with the condition of accountability), which Beatrice calls the “noble virtue.”[202] As to every man is offered his choice between good and evil, and as, even upon the root of a nature originally evil a habit of virtue may be engrafted,[203] no man is excused. “All hope abandon ye who enter in,” for they have thrown away reason which is the good of the intellect, “and it seems to me no less a marvel to bring back to reason him in whom it is wholly spent than to bring back to life him who has been four days in the tomb.”[204] As a guide of the will in civil affairs the Emperor; in spiritual, the Pope.[205] Dante is not one of those reformers who would assume the office of God to “make all things new.” He knew the power of tradition and habit, and wished to utilize it for his purpose. He found the Empire and the Papacy already existing, but both needing reformation that they might serve the ends of their original institution. Bad leadership was to blame, men fit to gird on the sword had been turned into priests, and good preachers spoiled to make bad kings.[206] The spiritual had usurped to itself the prerogatives of the temporal power.

“Rome, that reformed the world, accustomed was
Two suns to have which one road and the other,
Of God and of the world, made manifest.
One has the other quenched, and to the crosier
The sword is joined, and ill beseemeth it,

         *       *       *       *       *

“Because, being joined one feareth not the other.”[207]

Both powers held their authority directly from God, “not so, however, that the Roman Prince is not in some things subject to the Roman Pontiff, since that human felicity [to be attained only by peace, justice, and good government, possible only under a single ruler] is in some sort ordained to the end of immortal felicity. Let Caesar use that reverence toward Peter which a first-born son ought to use toward a father; that, shone upon by the light of paternal grace, he may more powerfully illumine the orb of earth over which he is set by him alone who is the ruler of all things spiritual and temporal.”[208] As to the fatal gift of Constantine, Dante demonstrates that an Emperor could not alienate what he held only in trust; but if he made the gift, the Pope should hold it as a feudatory of the Empire, for the benefit, however, of Christ’s poor.[209] Dante is always careful to distinguish between the Papacy and the Pope. He prophesies for Boniface VIII. a place in hell,[210] but acknowledges him as the Vicar of Christ, goes so far even as to denounce the outrage of Guillaume de Nogaret at Anagni as done to the Saviour himself.[211] But in the Spiritual World Dante acknowledges no such supremacy, and, when he would have fallen on his knees before Adrian V., is rebuked by him in a quotation from the Apocalypse:--

“Err not, fellow-servant am I
With thee and with the others to one power.”[212]

So impartial was this man whose great work is so often represented as a kind of bag in which he secreted the gall of personal prejudice, so truly Catholic is he, that both parties find their arsenal in him. The Romanist proves his soundness in doctrine, the anti-Romanist claims him as the first Protestant, the Mazzinist and the Imperialist can alike quote him for their purpose. Dante’s ardent conviction would not let him see that both Church and Empire were on the wane. If an ugly suspicion of this would force itself upon him, perhaps he only clung to both the more tenaciously; but he was no blind theorist. He would reform the Church through the Church, and is less anxious for Italian independence than for Italian good government under an Emperor from Germany rather than from Utopia.

The Papacy was a necessary part of Dante’s system, as a supplement to the Empire, which we strongly incline to believe was always foremost in his mind. In a passage already quoted, he says that “the soil where Rome sits is worthy beyond what men preach and admit,” that is, as the birthplace of the Empire. Both in the Convito and the De Monarchia he affirms that the course of Roman history was providentially guided from the first. Rome was founded in the same year that brought into the world David, ancestor of the Redeemer after the flesh. St. Augustine said that “God showed in the most opulent and illustrious Empire of the Romans how much the civil virtues might avail even without true religion, that it might be understood how, this added, men became citizens of another city whose king is truth, whose law charity, and whose measure eternity.” Dante goes further than this. He makes the Romans as well as the Jews a chosen people, the one as founders of civil society, the other as depositaries of the true faith.[213] One side of Dante’s mind was so practical and positive, and his pride in the Romans so intense,[214] that he sometimes seems to regard their mission as the higher of the two.  Without peace which only good government could give, mankind could not arrive at the highest virtue, whether of the active or contemplative life. “And since what is true of the part is true of the whole, and it happens in the particular man that by sitting quietly he is perfected in prudence and wisdom, it is clear that the human race in the quiet or tranquillity of peace is most freely and easily disposed for its proper work which is almost divine, as it is written, ‘Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels’[215] Whence it is manifest that universal peace is the best of those things which are ordained for our beatitude.

Hence it is that not riches, not pleasures, not honors, not length of life, not health, not strength, not comeliness, was sung to the shepherds from on high, but peace.” [216] It was Dante’s experience of the confusion of Italy, where

“One doth gnaw the other
Of those whom one wall and one fosse shut in,”[217]

that suggested the thought of a universal umpire, for that, after all, was to be the chief function of his Emperor. He was too wise to insist on a uniformity of political institutions a priori,[218] for he seems to have divined that the surest stay of order, as of practical wisdom, is habit, which is a growth, and cannot be made offhand. He believed with Aristotle that vigorous minds were intended by nature to rule,[219] and that certain races, like certain men, are born to leadership.[220] He calls democracies, oligarchies, and petty princedoms (tyrannides) “oblique policies which drive the human race to slavery, as is patent in all of them to one who reasons.”[221] He has nothing but pity for mankind when it has become a many-headed beast, “despising the higher intellect irrefragable in reason, the lower which hath the face of experience.”[222] He had no faith in a turbulent equality asserting the divine right of I’m as good as you. He thought it fatal to all discipline: “The confounding of persons hath ever been the beginning of sickness in the state.”[223] It is the same thought which Shakespeare puts in the mouth of Ulysses:--

“Degree being vizarded,
The unworthiest shows as fairly in the mask,
When degree is shaked,
Which is the ladder to all high designs,
The enterprise is sick.”[224]

Yet no one can read Dante without feeling that he had a high sense of the worth of freedom, whether in thought or government. He represents, indeed, the very object of his journey through the triple realm of shades as a search after liberty.[225] But it must not be that scramble after undefined and indefinable rights which ends always in despotism, equally degrading whether crowned with a red cap or an imperial diadem. His theory of liberty has for its corner-stone the Freedom of the Will, and the will is free only when the judgment wholly controls the appetite.[226] On such a base even a democracy may rest secure, and on such alone.

Rome was always the central point of Dante’s speculation. A shadow of her old sovereignty was still left her in the primacy of the Church, to which unity of faith was essential. He accordingly has no sympathy with heretics of whatever kind. He puts the ex-troubadour Bishop of Marseilles, chief instigator of the horrors of Provence, in paradise.[227] The Church is infallible in spiritual matters, but this is an affair of outward discipline merely, and means the Church as a form of polity. Unity was Dante’s leading doctrine, and therefore he puts Mahomet among the schismatics, not because he divided the Church, but the faith.[228] Dante’s Church was of this world, but he surely believed in another and spiritual one. It has been questioned whether he was orthodox or not. There can be no doubt of it so far as outward assent and conformity are concerned, which he would practice himself and enforce upon others as the first postulate of order, the prerequisite for all happiness in this life. In regard to the Visible Church he was a reformer, but no revolutionist; it is sheer ignorance to speak of him as if there were anything new or exceptional in his denunciation of the corruptions of the clergy. They were the commonplaces of the age, nor were they confined to laymen.[229] To the absolute authority of the Church Dante admitted some exceptions. He denies that the supreme Pontiff has the unlimited power of binding and loosing claimed for him.  “Otherwise he might absolve me impenitent, which God himself could not do.”[230]

“By malison of theirs is not so lost
Eternal Love that it cannot return.”[231]

Nor does the sacredness of the office extend to him who chances to hold it. Philip the Fair himself could hardly treat Boniface VIII. worse than he. With wonderful audacity, he declares the Papal throne vacant by the mouth of Saint Peter himself.[232] Even if his theory of a dual government were not in question, Dante must have been very cautious in meddling with the Church. It was not an age that stood much upon ceremony. He himself tells us he had seen men burned alive, and the author of the Ottimo Comento says: “I the writer saw followers of his [Fra Dolcino] burned at Padua to the number of twenty-two together.”[233] Clearly, in such a time as this, one must not make “the veil of the mysterious Terse” too thin.[234]

In the affairs of this life Dante was, as we have said, supremely practical, and he makes prudence the chief of the cardinal virtues.[235] He has made up his mind to take things as they come, and to do at Rome as the Romans do.

“Ah, savage company! but in the Church
With saints, and in the tavern with the gluttons!”[236]

In the world of thought it was otherwise, and here Dante’s doctrine, if not precisely esoteric, was certainly not that of his day, and must be gathered from hints rather than direct statements. The general notion of God was still (perhaps is largely even now) of a provincial, one might almost say a denominational, Deity. The popular poets always represent Macon, Apolm, Tervagant, and the rest as quasi-deities unable to resist the superior strength of the Christian God. The Paynim answers the arguments of his would-be converters with the taunt that he would never worship a divinity who could not save himself from being done ignominiously to death. Dante evidently was not satisfied with the narrow conception which limits the interest of the Deity to the affairs of Jews and Christians That saying of Saint Paul, “Whom, therefore, ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you,” had perhaps influenced him, but his belief in the divine mission of the Roman people probably was conclusive.

“The Roman Empire had the help of miracles in perfecting itself,” he says, and then enumerates some of them. The first is that “under Numa Pompilius, the second king of the Romans, when he was sacrificing according to the rite of the Gentiles, a shield fell from heaven into the city chosen of God.”[237] In the Convito we find “Virgil speaking in the person of God,” and Aeacus “wisely having recourse to God,” the god being Jupiter.[238] Ephialtes is punished in hell for rebellion against “the Supreme Jove,”[239] and, that there may be no misunderstanding, Dante elsewhere invokes the

“Jove Supreme,
Who upon earth for us wast crucified.”[240]

It is noticeable also that Dante, with evident design, constantly alternates examples drawn from Christian and Pagan tradition or mythology.[241] He had conceived a unity in the human race, all of whose branches had worshipped the same God under divers names and aspects, had arrived at the same truth by different roads. We cannot understand a passage in the twenty-sixth Paradiso, where Dante inquires of Adam concerning the names of God, except as a hint that the Chosen People had done in this thing even as the Gentiles did.[242] It is true that he puts all Pagans in Limbo, “where without hope they live in longing,” and that he makes baptism essential to salvation.[243] But it is noticeable that his Limbo is the Elysium of Virgil, and that he particularizes Adam, Noah, Moses, Abraham, David, and others as prisoners there with the rest till the descent of Christ into hell.[244] But were they altogether without hope? and did baptism mean an immersion of the body or a purification of the soul? The state of the heathen after death had evidently been to Dante one of those doubts that spring up at the foot of every truth. In the De Monarchia he says: “There are some judgments of God to which, though human reason cannot attain by its own strength, yet is it lifted to them by the help of faith and of those things which are said to us in Holy Writ,--as to this, that no one, however perfect in the moral and intellectual virtues both as a habit [of the mind] and in practice, can be saved without faith, it being granted that he shall never have heard anything concerning Christ; for the unaided reason of man cannot look upon this as just; nevertheless, with the help of faith, it can.”[245] But faith, it should seem, was long in lifting Dante to this height; for in the nineteenth canto of the Paradiso, which must have been written many years after the passage just cited, the doubt recurs again, and we are told that it was “a cavern,” concerning which he had “made frequent questioning.” The answer is given here:--

“Truly to him who with me subtilizes,
If so the Scripture were not over you,
For doubting there were marvellous occasion.” 

But what Scripture? Dante seems cautious, tells us that the eternal judgments are above our comprehension, postpones the answer, and when it comes, puts an orthodox prophylactic before it:--

“Unto this kingdom never
Ascended one who had not faith in Christ
Before or since he to the tree was nailed
But look thou, many crying are, ‘Christ, Christ!’
Who at the judgment shall be far less near
To him than some shall be who knew not Christ.”

There is, then, some hope for the man born on the bank of Indus who has never heard of Christ? Dante is still cautious, but answers the question indirectly in the next canto by putting the Trojan Ripheus among the blessed:--

“Who would believe, down in the errant world,
That e’er the Trojan Ripheus in this round
Could be the fifth one of these holy lights?
Now knoweth he enough of what the world
Has not the power to see of grace divine,
Although his sight may not discern the bottom.” 

Then he seems to hesitate again, brings in the Church legend of Trajan brought back to life by the prayers of Gregory the Great that he might be converted, and after an interval of fifty lines tells us how Ripheus was saved:--

“The other one, through grace that from so deep
A fountain wells that never hath the eye
Of any creature reached its primal wave,
Set all his love below on righteousness;
Wherefore from grace to grace did God unclose
His eye to our redemption yet to be,
Whence he believed therein, and suffered not
From that day forth the stench of Paganism,
And he reproved therefor the folk perverse. 
Those maidens three, whom at the right hand wheel[246]
Thou didst behold, were unto him for baptism
More than a thousand years before baptizing.”

If the reader recall a passage already quoted from the Convito,[247] he will perhaps think with us that the gate of Dante’s Limbo is left ajar even for the ancient philosophers to slip out. The divine judgments are still inscrutable, and the ways of God past finding out, but faith would seem to have led Dante at last to a more merciful solution of his doubt than he had reached when he wrote the De Monarchia. It is always humanizing to see how the most rigid creed is made to bend before the kindlier instincts of the heart. The stern Dante thinks none beyond hope save those who are dead in sin, and have made evil their good. But we are by no means sure that he is not right in insisting rather on the implacable severity of the law than on the possible relenting of the judge. Exact justice is commonly more merciful in the long run than pity, for it tends to foster in men those stronger qualities which make them good citizens, an object second only with the Roman-minded Dante to that of making them spiritually regenerate, nay, perhaps even more important as a necessary preliminary to it. The inscription over the gate of hell tells us that the terms on which we receive the trust of life were fixed by the Divine Power (which can what it wills), and are therefore unchangeable; by the Highest Wisdom, and therefore for our truest good; by the Primal Love, and therefore the kindest. These are the three attributes of that justice which moved the maker of them. Dante is no harsher than experience, which always exacts the uttermost farthing; no more inexorable than conscience, which never forgives nor forgets. No teaching is truer or more continually needful than that the stains of the soul are ineffaceable, and that though their growth may be arrested, their nature is to spread insidiously till they have brought all to their own color. Evil is a far more cunning and persevering propagandist than Good, for it has no inward strength, and is driven to seek countenance and sympathy. It must have company, for it cannot bear to be alone in the dark, while

“Virtue can see to do what Virtue would
By her own radiant light.” 

There is one other point which we will dwell on for a moment as bearing on the question of Dante’s orthodoxy. His nature was one in which, as in Swedenborg’s, a clear practical understanding was continually streamed over by the northern lights of mysticism, through which the familiar stars shine with a softened and more spiritual lustre. Nothing is more interesting than the way in which the two qualities of his mind alternate, and indeed play into each other, tingeing his matter-of-fact sometimes with unexpected glows of fancy, sometimes giving an almost geometrical precision to his most mystical visions. In his letter to Can Grande he says: “It behooves not those to whom it is given to know what is best in us to follow the footprints of the herd; much rather are they bound to oppose its wanderings. For the vigorous in intellect and reason, endowed with a certain divine liberty, are constrained by no customs. Nor is it wonderful, since they are not governed by the laws, but much more govern the laws themselves.” It is not impossible that Dante, whose love of knowledge was all-embracing, may have got some hint of the doctrine of the Oriental Sufis. With them the first and lowest of the steps that lead upward to perfection is the Law, a strict observance of which is all that is expected of the ordinary man whose mind is not open to the conception of a higher virtue and holiness. But the Sufi puts himself under the guidance of some holy man [Virgil in the Inferno], whose teaching he receives implicitly, and so arrives at the second step, which is the Path [Purgatorio] by which he reaches a point where he is freed from all outward ceremonials and observances, and has risen from an outward to a spiritual worship. The third step is Knowledge [Paradiso], endowed by which with supernatural insight, he becomes like the angels about the throne, and has but one farther step to take before he reaches the goal and becomes one with God. The analogies of this system with Dante’s are obvious and striking. They become still more so when Virgil takes leave of him at the entrance of the Terres trial Paradise with the words:--

“Expect no more a word or sign from me;
Free and upright and sound is thy free-will,
And error were it not to do its bidding;
Thee o’er thyself I therefore crown and mitre,”[248]

that is, “I make thee king and bishop over thyself; the inward light is to be thy law in things both temporal and spiritual.” The originality of Dante consists in his not allowing any divorce between the intellect and the soul in its highest sense, in his making reason and intuition work together to the same end of spiritual perfection. The unsatisfactoriness of science leads Faust to seek repose in worldly pleasure; it led Dante to find it in faith, of whose efficacy the short-coming of all logical substitutes for it was the most convincing argument. That we cannot know, is to him a proof that there is some higher plane on which we can believe and see. Dante had discovered the incalculable worth of a single idea as compared with the largest heap of facts ever gathered. To a man more interested in the soul of things than in the body of them, the little finger of Plato is thicker than the loins of Aristotle.

We cannot but think that there is something like a fallacy in Mr.  Buckle’s theory that the advance of mankind is necessarily in the direction of science, and not in that of morals. No doubt the laws of morals existed from the beginning, but so also did those of science, and it is by the application, not the mere recognition, of both that the race is benefited. No one questions how much science has done for our physical comfort and convenience, and with the mass of men these perhaps must of necessity precede the quickening of their moral instincts; but such material gains are illusory, unless they go hand in hand with a corresponding ethical advance. The man who gives his life for a principle has done more for his kind than he who discovers a new metal or names a new gas, for the great motors of the race are moral, not intellectual, and their force lies ready to the use of the poorest and weakest of us all. We accept a truth of science so soon as it is demonstrated, are perfectly willing to take it on authority, can appropriate whatever use there may be in it without the least understanding of its processes, as men send messages by the electric telegraph, but every truth of morals must be redemonstrated in the experience of the individual man before he is capable of utilizing it as a constituent of character or a guide in action. A man does not receive the statements that “two and two make four,” and that “the pure in heart shall see God,” on the same terms. The one can be proved to him with four grains of corn; he can never arrive at a belief in the other till he realize it in the intimate persuasion of his whole being. This is typified in the mystery of the incarnation. The divine reason must forever manifest itself anew in the lives of men, and that as individuals. This atonement with God, this identification of the man with the truth,[249] so that right action shall not result from the lower reason of utility, but from the higher of a will so purified of self as to sympathize by instinct with the eternal laws,[250] is not something that can be done once for all, that can become historic and traditional, a dead flower pressed between the leaves of the family Bible, but must be renewed in every generation, and in the soul of every man, that it may be valid. Certain sects show their recognition of this in what are called revivals, a gross and carnal attempt to apply truth, as it were, mechanically, and to accomplish by the etherization of excitement and the magnetism of crowds what is possible only in the solitary exaltations of the soul. This is the high moral of Dante’s poem.  We have likened it to a Christian basilica; and as in that so there is here also, painted or carven, every image of beauty and holiness the artist’s mind could conceive for the adornment of the holy place. We may linger to enjoy these if we will, but if we follow the central thought that runs like the nave from entrance to choir, it leads us to an image of the divine made human, to teach us how the human might also make itself divine. Dante beholds at last an image of that Power, Love, and Wisdom, one in essence, but trine in manifestation, to answer the needs of our triple nature and satisfy the senses, the heart, and the mind.

“Within the deep and luminous subsistence
Of the High Light appeared to me three circles
Of threefold color and of one dimension,
And by the second seemed the first reflected
As iris is by iris, and the third
Seemed fire that equally by both is breathed.

         *       *       *       *       *

“Within itself, of its own very color,
Seemed to me painted with our effigy,
Wherefore my sight was all absorbed therein.”

He had reached the high altar where the miracle of transubstantiation is wrought, itself also a type of the great conversion that may be accomplished in our own nature (the lower thing assuming the qualities of the higher), not by any process of reason, but by the very fire of the divine love.

“Then there smote my mind
A flash of lightning wherein came its wish.”[251]

Perhaps it seems little to say that Dante was the first great poet who ever made a poem wholly out of himself, but, rightly looked at, it implies a wonderful self-reliance and originality in his genius. His is the first keel that ever ventured into the silent sea of human consciousness to find a new world of poetry.

“L’acqua ch’ io prendo giammai non si corse.”[252]

He discovered that not only the story of some heroic person, but that of any man might be epical; that the way to heaven was not outside the world, but through it. Living at a time when the end of the world was still looked for as imminent,[253] he believed that the second coming of the Lord was to take place on no more conspicuous stage than the soul of man; that his kingdom would be established in the surrendered will. A poem, the precious distillation of such a character and such a life as his through all those sorrowing but undespondent years, must have a meaning in it which few men have meaning enough in themselves wholly to penetrate. That its allegorical form belongs to a past fashion, with which the modern mind has little sympathy, we should no more think of denying than of whitewashing a fresco of Giotto. But we may take it as we may nature, which is also full of double meanings, either as picture or as parable, either for the simple delight of its beauty or as a shadow of the spiritual world. We may take it as we may history, either for its picturesqueness or its moral, either for the variety of its figures, or as a witness to that perpetual presence of God in his creation of which Dante was so profoundly sensible. He had seen and suffered much, but it is only to the man who is himself of value that experience is valuable.  He had not looked on man and nature as most of us do, with less interest than into the columns of our daily newspaper. He saw in them the latest authentic news of the God who made them, for he carried everywhere that vision washed clear with tears which detects the meaning under the mask, and, beneath the casual and transitory, the eternal keeping its sleepless watch. The secret of Dante’s power is not far to seek. Whoever can express himself with the full force of unconscious sincerity will be found to have uttered something ideal and universal. Dante intended a didactic poem, but the most picturesque of poets could not escape his genius, and his sermon sings and glows and charms in a manner that surprises more at the fiftieth reading than the first, such variety of freshness is in imagination.

There are no doubt in the Divina Commedia (regarded merely as poetry) sandy spaces enough both of physics and metaphysics, but with every deduction Dante remains the first of descriptive as well as moral poets.  His verse is as various as the feeling it conveys; now it has the terseness and edge of steel, and now palpitates with iridescent softness like the breast of a dove. In vividness he is without a rival. He drags back by its tangled locks the unwilling head of some petty traitor of an Italian provincial town, lets the fire glare on the sullen face for a moment, and it sears itself into the memory forever. He shows us an angel glowing with that love of God which makes him a star even amid the glory of heaven, and the holy shape keeps lifelong watch in our fantasy constant as a sentinel. He has the skill of conveying impressions indirectly. In the gloom of hell his bodily presence is revealed by his stirring something, on the mount of expiation by casting a shadow. Would he have us feel the brightness of an angel? He makes him whiten afar through the smoke like a dawn,[254] or, walking straight toward the setting sun, he finds his eyes suddenly unable to withstand a greater splendor against which his hand is unavailing to shield him. Even its reflected light, then, is brighter than the direct ray of the sun.[255] And how mack more keenly do we feel the parched lips of Master Adam for those rivulets of the Casentino which run down into the Arno, “making their channels cool and soft”! His comparisons are as fresh, as simple, and as directly from nature as those of Homer.[256] Sometimes they show a more subtle observation, as where he compares the stooping of Antaeus over him to the leaning tower of Garisenda, to which the clouds, flying in an opposite direction to its inclination, give away their motion.[257] His suggestions of individuality, too, from attitude or speech, as in Farinata, Sordello, or Pia,[258] give in a hint what is worth acres of so-called character-painting. In straightforward pathos, the single and sufficient thrust of phrase, he has no competitor. He is too sternly touched to be effusive and tearful:

“Io non piangeva, si dentro impietrai.”[259]

His is always the true coin of speech,

“Si lucida e si tonda
Che nel suo conio nulla ci s’inforsa,”

and never the highly ornamented promise to pay, token of insolvency. No doubt it is primarily by his poetic qualities that a poet must be judged, for it is by these, if by anything, that he is to maintain his place in literature. And he must be judged by them absolutely, with reference, that is, to the highest standard, and not relatively to the fashions and opportunities of the age in which he lived. Yet these considerations must fairly enter into our decision of another side of the question, and one that has much to do with the true quality of the man, with his character as distinguished from his talent, and therefore with how much he will influence men as well as delight them. We may reckon up pretty exactly a man’s advantages and defects as an artist; these he has in common with others, and they are to be measured by a recognized standard; but there is something in his genius that is incalculable. It would be hard to define the causes of the difference of impression made upon us respectively by two such men as Aeschylus and Euripides, but we feel profoundly that the latter, though in some respects a better dramatist, was an infinitely lighter weight. Aeschylus stirs something in us far deeper than the sources of mere pleasurable excitement. The man behind the verse is far greater than the verse itself, and the impulse he gives to what is deepest and most sacred in us, though we cannot always explain it, is none the less real and lasting. Some men always seem to remain outside their work; others make their individuality felt in every part of it; their very life vibrates in every verse, and we do not wonder that it has “made them lean for many years.” The virtue that has gone out of them abides in what they do. The book such a man makes is indeed, as Milton called it, “the precious lifeblood of a master spirit.” Theirs is a true immortality, for it is their soul, and not their talent, that survives in their work. Dante’s concise forthrightness of phrase, which to that of most other poets is as a stab[260] to a blow with a cudgel, the vigor of his thought, the beauty of his images, the refinement of his conception of spiritual things, are marvellous if we compare him with his age and its best achievement. But it is for his power of inspiring and sustaining, it is because they find in him a spur to noble aims, a secure refuge in that defeat which the present always seems, that they prize Dante who know and love him best. He is not merely a great poet, but an influence, part of the soul’s resources in time of trouble. From him she learns that, “married to the truth, she is a mistress, but otherwise a slave shut out of all liberty.”[261]

All great poets have their message to deliver us, from something higher than they. We venture on no unworthy comparison between him who reveals to us the beauty of this world’s love and the grandeur of this world’s passion and him who shows that love of God is the fruit whereof all other loves are but the beautiful and fleeting blossom, that the passions are yet sublimer objects of contemplation, when, subdued by the will, they become patience in suffering and perseverance in the upward path. But we cannot help thinking that if Shakespeare be the most comprehensive intellect, so Dante is the highest spiritual nature that has expressed itself in rhythmical form. Had he merely made us feel how petty the ambitions, sorrows, and vexations of earth appear when looked down on from the heights of our own character and the seclusion of our own genius, or from the region where we commune with God, he had done much:

“I with my sight returned through one and all
The sevenfold spheres, and I beheld this globe
Such that I smiled at its ignoble semblance.”[262]

But he has done far more; he has shown us the way by which that country far beyond the stars may be reached, may become the habitual dwelling-place and fortress of our nature, instead of being the object of its vague aspiration in moments of indolence. At the Round Table of King Arthur there was left always one seat empty for him who should accomplish the adventure of the Holy Grail. It was called the perilous seat because of the dangers he must encounter who would win it. In the company of the epic poets there was a place left for whoever should embody the Christian idea of a triumphant life, outwardly all defeat, inwardly victorious, who should make us partakers of that cup of sorrow in which all are communicants with Christ. He who should do this would indeed achieve the perilous seat, for he must combine poesy with doctrine in such cunning wise that the one lose not its beauty nor the other its severity,--and Dante has done it. As he takes possession of it we seem to hear the cry he himself heard when Virgil rejoined the company of great singers,

“All honor to the loftiest of poets!”



[1] The Shadow of Dante, being an Essay towards studying Himself, his World, and his Pilgrimage. By Maria Francesca Rossetti.

“Se Dio te lasci, lettor prender frutto Di tua lezione.”

Boston: Roberts Brothers. 1872. 8vo. pp. 296.

[2] The Florentines should seem to have invented or re-invented banks, book-keeping by double entry, and bills of exchange. The last, by endowing Value with the gift of fern seed and enabling it to walk invisible, turned the flank of the baronial tariff-system and made the roads safe for the great liberalizer Commerce. This made Money omnipresent, and prepared the way for its present omnipotence.

Fortunately it cannot usurp the third attribute of Deity,--omniscience. But whatever the consequences, this Florentine invention was at first nothing but admirable, securing to brain its legitimate influence over brawn. The latter has begun its revolt, but whether it will succeed better in its attempt to restore mediaeval methods, than the barons in maintaining them remains to be seen.

[3] Ghiberti’s designs have been criticised by a too systematic aestheticism, as confounding the limits of sculpture and painting.  But is not the riliero precisely the bridge by which the one art passes over into the territory of the other?

[4] Inferno, IV. 102.

[5] The Nouvelle Biographie Générale gives May 8 as his birthday.  This is a mere assumption, for Boccaccio only says generally May. The indication which Dante himself gives that he was born when the sun was in Gemini would give a range from about the middle of May to about the middle of June, so that the 8th is certainly too early.

[6] Secolo di Dante, Udine edition of 1828, Vol. III. Part I. p.578.

[7] Arrivabene, however, is wrong. Boccaccio makes precisely the same reckoning in the first note of his Commentary (Bocc. Comento, etc., Firenze, 1844, Vol. I. pp. 32, 33).

[8] Dict. Phil., art. Dante.

[9] Paradise, XXII.

[10] Canto XV.

[11] Purgatorio, XVI.

[12] Though he himself preferred French, and wrote his Trésor in that language for two reasons, “l’una perchè noi siamo in Francia, e l’altra perchè, la parlatura francesca e più dilettevolee più comune che tutti li altri linguaggi.” (Proemio, sul fine.)

[13] Inferno, Canto VII.

[14] Paradiso, Canto X.

[15] See especially Inferno, IX. 112 et seq.; XII. 120; XV. 4 et seq.; XXXII. 25-30.

[16] Vit. Nuov. p. 61, ed. Pesaro, 1829.

[17] Tratt. III. Cap. XI.

[18] Letter of Dante, now lost, cited by Aretino.

[19] Inferno, XXI. 94.

[20] Balbo, Vita di Dante, Firenze, 1853, p. 117.

[21] Life and Times of Dante, London, 1858, p. 80.

[22] Notes to Spenser’s “Shepherd’s Calendar.”

[23] See the story at length in Balbo, Vita di Dante, Cap. X.

[24] Thus Foscolo. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that at first the blacks were the extreme Guelphs, and the whites those moderate Guelphs inclined to make terms with the Ghibellines. The matter is obscure, and Balbo contradicts himself about it.

[25] Secolo di Dante, p. 654. He would seem to have been in Rome during the Jubilee of 1300. See Inferno, XVIII. 28-33.

[26] That Dante was not of the grandi, or great nobles (what we call grandees), as some of his biographers have tried to make out, is plain from this sentence, where his name appears low on the list and with no ornamental prefix, after half a dozen domini. Bayle, however, is equally wrong in supposing his family to have been obscure.

[27] See Witte, “Quando e da chi sia composto l’ Ottimo Comento,” etc. (Leipsic, 1847)

[28] Ott. Com. Parad. XVII.

[29] The loose way in which many Italian scholars write history is as amazing as it is perplexing. For example: Count Balbo’s “Life of Dante” was published originally at Turin, in 1839. In a note (Lib. I.  Cap. X.) he expresses a doubt whether the date of Dante’s banishment should not be 1303, and inclines to think it should be. Meanwhile, it seems never to have occurred to him to employ some one to look at the original decree, still existing in the archives. Stranger still, Le Monnier, reprinting the work at Florence in 1853, within a stone’s throw of the document itself, and with full permission from Balbo to make corrections, leaves the matter just where it was.

[30] Convito, Tratt. I. Cap. III.

[31] Macchiavelli is the authority for this, and is carelessly cited in the preface to the Udine edition of the “Codex Bartolinianus” as placing it in 1312. Macchiavelli does no such thing, but expressly implies an earlier date, perhaps 1310. (See Macch. Op. ed. Baretti, London, 1772, Vol. I. p. 60.)

[32] See Carlyle’s “Frederic,” Vol. I. p. 147.

[33] A mistake, for Guido did not become lord of Ravenna till several years later. But Boccaccio also assigns 1313 as the date of Dante’s withdrawal to that city, and his first protector may have been one of the other Polentani to whom Guido (surnamed Novello, or the Younger; his grandfather having borne the same name) succeeded.

[34] Under this date (1315) a 4th condemnatio against Dante is mentioned facta in anno 1315 de mense Octobris per D. Rainerium, D.  Zachario de Urbeveteri, olim et tunc vicarium regium civitatis Florentia, etc. It is found recited in the decree under which in 1342 Jacopo di Dante redeemed a portion of his father’s property, to wit: Una possessione cum vinea et cum domibus super ea, combustis et non combustis, posita in populo S. Miniatis de Pagnlao. In the domibus combustis we see the blackened traces of Dante’s kinsman by marriage, Corso Donati, who plundered and burnt the houses of the exiled Bianchi, during the occupation of the city by Charles of Valois. (See “De Romanis,” notes on Tiraboschi’s Life of Dante, in the Florence ed. of 1830, Vol. V. p. 119.)

[35] Voltaire’s blunder has been made part of a serious theory by Mons. E. Aroux, who gravely assures us that, during the Middle Ages, Tartar was only a cryptonym by which heretics knew each other, and adds: Il n’y a donc pas trop à s’etonner des noms bizarres de Mastino et de Cane donnés à ces Della Scala. (Dante, hérétique, révolutionnaire, et socialiste, Paris, 1854, pp. 118-120.)

[36] If no monument at all was built by Guido, as is asserted by Balbo (Vita, I. Lib. II. Cap. XVII.), whom De Vericour copies without question, we are at a loss to account for the preservation of the original epitaph replaced by Cardinal Bembo when he built the new tomb, in 1483. Bembo’s own inscription implies an already existing monument, and, if in disparaging terms, yet epitaphial Latin verses are not to be taken too literally, considering the exigencies of that branch of literary ingenuity. The doggerel Latin has been thought by some unworthy of Dante, as Shakespeare’s doggerel English epitaph has been thought unworthy of him. In both cases the rudeness of the verses seems to us a proof of authenticity. An enlightened posterity with unlimited superlatives at command, and in an age when stone-cutting was cheap, would have aimed at something more befitting the occasion. It is certain, at least in Dante’s case, that Cardinal Bembo would never have inserted in the very first words an allusion to the De Monarchiâ, a book long before condemned as heretical.

[37] We have translated lacusque by “the Pit,” as being the nearest English correlative. Dante probably meant by it the several circles of his Hell, narrowing, one beneath the other, to the centre. As a curious specimen of English we subjoin Professor de Vericour’s translation: “I have sang the rights of monarchy; I have sang, in exploring them, the abode of God, the Phlegethon and the impure lakes, as long as destinies have permitted. But as the part of myself, which was only passing, returns to better fields, and happier, returned to his Maker, I, Dante, exiled from the regions of fatherland, I am laid here, I, to whom Florence gave birth, a mother who experienced but a feeble love.” (The Life and Times of Dante, London, 1858, p. 208.)

[38] Inferno, X. 85.

[39] Paradiso, XVII.

[40] He says after the return of Louis of Bavaria to Germany, which took place in that year. The De Monarchiâ was afterward condemned by the Council of Trent.

[41] Paradiso, XXVII.

[42] Inferno, XI.

[43] See the letter in Gaye, Carteggio inedito d’ artisti, Vol. I. p. 123.

[44] St. René Taillandier, in Revue des Deux Mondes, December 1, 1856.

[45] Dante, Vol. IV. p. 116.

[46] Ste. Beuve, Causeries du Lundi, Tome XI. p. 169.

[47] Dict. Phil., art. Dante.

[48] Corresp. gén., Oeuvres, Tome LVII. pp. 80, 81.

[49] Essai sur les moeurs, Oeuvres, Tome XVII. pp. 371, 372.

[50] Génie du Christianisme, Cap. IV.

[51] Ed. Lond. 1684, p. 199.

[52] It is worth notice, as a proof of Chaucer’s critical judgment, that he calls Dante “the great poet of Itaille,” while in the “Clerke’s Tale” he speaks of Petrarch as a “worthy clerk,” as “the laureat poete” (alluding to the somewhat sentimental ceremony at Rome), and says that his

“Rhetorike sweete Enlumined all Itaille of poetry.”

[53] It is possible that Sackville may have read the Inferno, and it is certain that Sir John Harrington had. See the preface to his translation of the Orlando Furioso.

[54] Second edition, 1800.

[55] Dante Alighieri’s lyrische Gedichte, Leipzig, 1842, Theil II.  pp. 4-9.

[56] Vita, p. 97.

[57] Comment on Paradiso, VI.

[58] Jean de Meung had already said,--

“Ge n’en met hors rois ne prélas

             *       *       *       *       *

“Qu’il sunt tui serf au menu pueple.”

Roman de la Rose (ed. Méon), V. ii. pp. 78, 79.

[59] Dante, Studien, etc., 1855, p. 144.

[60] Compare also Spinoza, Tractat. polit., Cap. VI.

[61] It is instructive to compare Dante’s political treatise with those of Aristotle and Spinoza. We thus see more clearly the limitations of the age in which he lived, and this may help us to a broader view of him as poet.

[62] A very good one may be found in the sixth volume of the Molini edition of Dante, pp. 391-433.

[63] See Field’s “Theory of Colors.”

[64] As by Dante himself in the Convito.

[65] Psalm cxiv. 1, 2.

[66] He commonly prefaced his letters with some such phrase as exul immeritus.

[67] In order to fix more precisely in the mind the place of Dante in relation to the history of thought, literature, and events, we subjoin a few dates: Dante born, 1265; end of Crusades, death of St.  Louis, 1270; Aquinas died, 1274; Bonaventura died, 1274; Giotto born, 1276; Albertus Magnus died, 1280; Sicilian vespers, 1282; death of Ugolino and Francesca da Rimini, 1282; death of Beatrice, 1290; Roger Bacon died, 1292; death of Cimabue, 1302; Dante’s banishment, 1302;

Petrarch born, 1304; Fra Dolcino burned, 1307; Pope Clement V. at Avignon, 1309; Templars suppressed, 1312; Boccaccio born, 1313; Dante died, 1321; Wycliffe born, 1324; Chaucer born, 1328.

[68] Rivavol characterized only a single quality of Dante’s style, who knew how to spend as well as spare. Even the Inferno, on which he based his remark, might have put him on his guard. Dante understood very well the use of ornament in its fitting place. Est enim exornatio alicujus convenientis additio, he tells us in his De Vulgari Eloquio (Lib. II. C. II.). His simile of the doves (Inferno, V. 82 et seq.), perhaps the most exquisite in all poetry, quite oversteps Rivarol’s narrow limit of “substantive and verb.”

[69] Discorso sul testo, ec., § XVIII.

[70] Convito, B. IV. C. XXII.

[71] It is remarkable that when Dante, in 1297, as a preliminary condition to active politics, enrolled himself in the guild of physicians and apothecaries, he is qualified only with the title poeta. The arms of the Alighieri (curiously suitable to him who sovra gli altri come aquila vola) were a wing of gold in a field of azure. His vivid sense of beauty even hovers sometimes like a corposant over the somewhat stiff lines of his Latin prose. For example, in his letter to the kings and princes of Italy on the coming of Henry VII: “A new day brightens, revealing the dawn which already scatters the shades of long calamity; already the breezes of morning gather; the lips of heaven are reddening!”

[72] Purgatorio, XXXII. 100.

[73] Paradiso, I. 70.

[74] In a letter to Can Grande (XI. of the Epistolae).

[75] Witte, Wegele, and Ruth in German, and Ozanam in French, have rendered ignorance of Dante inexcusable among men of culture.

[76] Inferno, VII. 75. “Nay, his style,” says Miss Rossetti, “is more than concise: it is elliptical, it is recondite. A first thought often lies coiled up and hidden under a second; the words which state the conclusion involve the premises and develop the subject.” (p. 3.)

[77] A complete vocabulary of Italian billingsgate might be selected from Biagioli. Or see the concluding pages of Nannucci’s excellent tract “Intorno alle voci usate da Dante,” Corfu, 1840. Even Foscolo could not always refrain. Dante should have taught them to shun such vulgarities. See Inferno, XXX. 131-148.

[78] “My Italy, my sweetest Italy, for having loved thee too much I have lost thee, and, perhaps, ... ah, may God avert the omen! But more proud than sorrowful, for an evil endured for thee alone, I continue to consecrate my vigils to thee alone.... An exile full of anguish, perchance, availed to sublime the more in thy Alighieri that lofty soul which was a beautiful gift of thy smiling sky; and an exile equally wearisome and undeserved now avails, perhaps, to sharpen my small genius so that it may penetrate into what he left written for thy instruction and for his glory.” (Rossetti, Disamina, ec., p. 405.) Bossetti is himself a proof that a noble mind need not be narrowed by misfortune. His “Comment” (unhappily incomplete) is one of the most valuable and suggestive.

[79] The great-minded man ever magnifies himself in his heart, and in like manner the pusillanimous holds himself less than he is.  (Convito, Tr. I. c. 11.)

[80] Dante’s notion of virtue was not that of an ascetic, nor has any one ever painted her in colors more soft and splendid than he in the Convito. She is “sweeter than the lids of Juno’s eyes,” and he dwells on the delights of her love with a rapture which kindles and purifies. So far from making her an inquisitor, he says expressly that she “should be gladsome and not sullen in all her works.” (Convito, Tr. I. c. 8.) “Not harsh and crabbed as dull fools suppose”!

[81] Inferno, XIX. 28, 29.

[82] Inferno, VIII. 70-75.

[83] Paradise, X. 138.

[84] Paradiso, IV. 40-45 (Longfellow’s version).

[85] Marlowe’s “Faustus.” “Which way I fly is hell, myself am hell.” (Paradise Lost, IV. 75.) In the same way, ogni dove in cielo o Paradiso. (Paradiso, III. 88, 89.)

[86] Purgatorio, XIX. 7-33.

[87] Convito, Tr. II. c. 16.

[88] La natura universale, cioè Iddio. (Convito, Tr. III. c. 4.)

[89] Inferno, III. 7, 8.

[90] Inferno, XX. 30. Mr. W.M. Rossetti strangely enough renders this verse “Who hath a passion for God’s judgeship” Compassion porta, is the reading of the best texts, and Witte adopts it. Buti’s comment is “cioè porta pena e dolore di colui che giustamente è condannato da Dio che e sempre giusto.” There is an analogous passage in “The Revelation of the Apostle Paul,” printed in the “Proceedings of the American Oriental Society” (Vol. VIII. pp. 213, 214): “And the angel answered and said, ‘Wherefore dost thou weep? Why! art thou more merciful than God?’ And I said, ‘God forbid, O my lord; for God is good and long-suffering unto the sons of men, and he leaves every one of them to his own will, and he walks as he pleases’” This is precisely Dante’s view.

[91] Inferno, VIII 40.

[92] “I following her (Moral Philosophy) in the work as well as the passion, so far as I could, abominated and disparaged the errors of men, not to the infamy and shame of the erring, but of the errors.” (Convito, Tr IV. c. 1.)  “Wherefore in my judgment as he who defames a worthy man ought to be avoided by people and not listened to, so a vile man descended of worthy ancestors ought to be hunted out by all.”  (Convito, Tr. IV. c. 29.)

[93] Paradise, XVII. 61-69.

[94] It is worth mentioning that the sufferers in his Inferno are in like manner pretty exactly divided between the two parties. This is answer enough to the charge of partiality. He even puts persons there for whom he felt affection (as Brunetto Latini) and respect (as Farinata degli Uberti and Frederick II.). Till the French looked up their MSS., it was taken for granted that the beccajo di Parigi (Purgatorio, XX. 52) was a drop of Dante’s gall. “Ce fu Huez Capez e’ on apelle bouchier.” Hugues Capet, p. 1.

[95] De Vulgari Eloquio, Lib. I, Cap. VI. Cf. Inferno, XV. 61-64.

[96] Convito, Tr. IV. c. 23.  Ib. Tr. I. c. 2.

[97] Convito, Tr. III. c. 13.

[98] Opp. Min., ed. Fraticelli, Vol. II. pp. 281 and 283. Witte is inclined to put it even earlier than 1300, and we believe he is right.

[99] Paradiso, VI. 103-105.

[100] Some Florentines have amusingly enough doubted the genuineness of the De vulgari Eloquio, because Dante therein denies the pre-eminence of the Tuscan dialect.

[101] See particularly the second book of the De vulgari Eloquio.

[102] Purgatorio, XXXIII. 141. “That thing one calls beautiful whose parts answer to each other, because pleasure results from their harmony.” (Convito, Tr. I. c. 5.) Carlyle says that “he knew too, partly, that his work was great, the greatest a man could do.” He knew it fully. Telling us how Giotto’s fame as a painter had eclipsed that of Cimabue, he takes an example from poetry also, and selecting two Italian poets,--one the most famous of his predecessors, the other of his contemporaries,--calmly sets himself above them both (Purgatorio, XI. 97-99), and gives the reason for his supremacy (Purgatorio, XXIV. 49-62). It is to be remembered that Amore in the latter passage does not mean love in the ordinary sense, but in that transcendental one set forth in the Convito,--that state of the soul which opens it for the descent of God’s spirit, to make it over into his own image. “Therefore it is manifest that in this love the Divine virtue descends into men in the guise of an angel, ... and it is to be noted that the descending of the virtue of one thing into another is nothing else than reducing it to its own likeness.” (Convito, Tr.  III. c. 14.)

[103] Convito, Tr. III. c. 11.  Ib. Tr. I. c. 11.

[104] Convito, Tr. III. c. 12-15.

[105] Inferno, II. 94. The donna gentil is Lucia, the prevenient Grace, the light of God which shows the right path and guides the feet in it. With Dante God is always the sun, “which leadeth others right by every road.” (Inferno, I. 18.) “The spiritual and unintelligible Sun, which is God.” (Convito, Tr. III. c. 12) His light “enlighteneth every man that cometh into the world,” but his dwelling is in the heavens. He who wilfully deprives himself of this light is spiritually dead in sin. So when in Mars he beholds the glorified spirits of the martyrs he exclaims, “O Elios, who so arrayest them!” (Paradiso, XIV. 96.) Blanc (Vocabolario, sub voce) rejects this interpretation. But Dante, entering the abode of the Blessed, invokes the “good Apollo,” and shortly after calls him divina virtù. We shall have more to say of this hereafter.

[106] Convito, Tr. III. c. 12.

[107] Convito, Tr. III. c. 15. Recalling how the eyes of Beatrice lift her servant through the heavenly spheres, and that smile of hers so often dwelt on with rapture, we see how Dante was in the habit of commenting and illustrating his own works. We must remember always that with him the allegorical exposition is the true one (Convito, Tr. IV. c. 1), the allegory being a truth which is hidden under a beautiful falsehood (Convito, Tr. II. c. 1), and that Dante thought his poems without this exposition “under some shade of obscurity, so that to many their beauty was more grateful than their goodness” (Convito, Tr. I. c. 1), “because the goodness is in the meaning, and the beauty in the ornament of the words” (Convito, Tr. II. c. 12).

[108] Convito, Tr. III. c. 14.

[109] Convito, Tr. IV. c. 22.

[110] Convito, Tr. III. c. 6.

[111] Convito, Tr. III. c. 2. By potenzia and potenza Dante means the faculty of receiving influences or impressions. (Paradiso, XIII.  61; XXIX. 34.) Reason is the “sovran potency” because it makes us capable of God.

[112] “O thou well-born, unto whom Grace concedes To see the thrones of the Eternal triumph, Or ever yet the warfare be abandoned.”

Paradiso, V. 115-118.

[113] Convito, Tr. IV. c. 21.

[114] Convito, Tr. III. c. 7.

[115] Inferno, X. 55, 56; Paradiso, XXII. 112-117.

[116] Convito, Tr. I. c. 23 (cf. Inferno, I. IV).

[117] Convito, Tr. III. c. 3; Paradiso, XVIII. 108-130.

[118] See an excellent discussion and elucidation of this matter by Witte, who so highly deserves the gratitude of all students of Dante, in Dante Alighieri’s Lyrische Gedichte, Theil II. pp. 48-57. It was kindly old Boccaccio, who, without thinking any harm, first set this nonsense agoing. His “Life of Dante” is mainly a rhetorical exercise.  After making Dante’s marriage an excuse for revamping all the old slanders against matrimony, he adds gravely, “Certainly I do not affirm these things to have happened to Dante, for I do not know it, though it be true that (whether things like these or others were the cause of it), once parted from her, he would never come where she was nor suffer her to come where he was, for all that she was the mother of several children by him.” That he did not come to her is not wonderful, for he would have been burned alive if he had. Dante could not send for her because he was a homeless wanderer. She remained in Florence with her children because she had powerful relations and perhaps property there. It is plain, also, that what Boccaccio says of Dante’s lussuria had no better foundation. It gave him a chance to turn a period. He gives no particulars, and his general statement is simply incredible. Lionardo Bruni and Vellutello long ago pointed out the trifling and fictitious character of this “Life.” Those familiar with Dante’s allegorical diction will not lay much stress on the literal meaning of pargoletta in Purgatono, XXXI. 59. Gentucca, of course, was a real person, one of those who had shown hospitality to the exile. Dante remembers them all somewhere, for gratitude (which is quite as rare as genius) was one of the virtues of his unforgetting nature Boccaccio’s “Comment” is later and far more valuable than the “Life.”

[119] Convito, Tr. IV. c. 17; Purgatorio, XXVII. 100-108.

[120] Convito, Tr. II. c. 8.

[121] That is, wholly fulfil, rendono intera.

[122] We should prefer here,

“Nor inspirations won by prayer availed,”

as better expressing Nè l’impetrare spirazion. Mr. Longfellow’s translation is so admirable for its exactness as well as its beauty that it may be thankful for the minutest criticism, such only being possible.

[123] Which he cites in the Paradiso, VIII. 37.

[124] Dante confesses his guiltiness of the sin of pride, which (as appears by the examples he gives of it) included ambition, in Purgatorio, XIII. 136, 137.

[125] Convito, Tr. II. c. 11.

[126] Purgatorio, XXVIII.

[127]  Purgatorio, XXVIII. 40-44; Convito, Tr. III. c. 13.

[128]  Purgatorio, XXVII. 94-105.

[129]  Psalm li. 2. “And therefore I say that her [Philosophy’s] beauty, that is, morality, rains flames of fire, that is, a righteous appetite which is generated in the love of moral doctrine, the which appetite removes us from the natural as well as other vices.” (Convito, Tr. III. c. 15.)

[130] Purgatorio, XXXI. 103,104.

[131] Tr. IV. c. 22.

[132] Purgatorio, 100-102.

[133] Such is the selva oscura (Inferno, I. 2), such, the selva erronea di questa vita (Convito, Tr. IV. c. 24).

[134] Convito, Tr. I. c. 13.

[135] Convito, Tr. II. c. 2.

[136] Mar di tutto il senno, he calls Virgil (Inferno, VIII. 7).  Those familiar with his own works will think the phrase singularly applicable to himself.

[137] Convito, Tr. III. c. 9.

[138] Convito, Tr. III. c. 3.

[139] Vita Nuova, XI.

[140] Vita Nuova, Tr. II. c. 6.

[141] Convito, Tr. IV. c. 24. The date of Dante’s birth is uncertain, but the period he assigns for it (Paradiso, XXII. 112-117) extends from the middle of May to the middle of June. If we understand Buti’s astrological comment, the day should fall in June rather than May.

[142] Vita Nuova, XXXIX. Compare for a different view, “The New Life of Dante, an Essay with Translations,” by C. E. Norton, pp. 92. et seq.

[143] There is a passage in the Convito (Tr. III. c. 15) in which Dante seems clearly to make the distinction asserted above, “And therefore the desire of man is limited in this life to that knowledge (scienzia) which may here be had, and passes not save by error that point which is beyond our natural understanding. And so is limited and measured in the angelic nature the amount of that wisdom which the nature of each is capable of receiving.” Man is, according to Dante, superior to the angels in this, that he is capable both of reason and contemplation, while they are confined to the latter. That Beatrice’s reproaches refer to no human pargoletta, the context shows,  where Dante asks,

“But wherefore so beyond my power of sight Soars your desirable discourse that aye The more I strive, so much the more I lose it?  That thou mayst recognize, she said, the school Which thou hast followed, and mayst see how far Its doctrine follows after my discourse, And mayst behold your path from the divine Distant as far as separated is From earth the heaven that highest hastens on.”

Purgatorio, XXXIII. 82-90.

The pargoletta in its ordinary sense was necessary to the literal and human meaning, but it is shockingly discordant with that non-natural interpretation which, according to Dante’s repeated statement, lays open the true and divine meaning.

[144] “So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you.” Romans viii. 8, 9.

[145] Convito, Tr. II. c. 14, 15.

[146] Convito, Tr. II. c. 4. Compare Paradiso, I. 76, 77.

[147] “Vain babblings and oppositions of science falsely so called.”  1 Tim. vi. 20.  

[148] That is, no partial truth.

[149] Paradise, IV. 124-132.

[150] “Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness.”—Judges xiv. 14.

[151] Purgatorio, III. 34-44. The allusions in this passage are all to sayings of Saint Paul, of whom Dante was plainly a loving reader.  “Remain contented at the Quia,” that is, be satisfied with knowing that things are, without inquiring too nicely how or why. “Being justified by faith we have peace with God” (Rom. v. 1).  Infinita via: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” (Rom. xi. 93) Aristotle and Plato: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold the truth in unrighteousness.... For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse. Because that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Rom. i. 18-21). He refers to the Greeks. The Epistle to the Romans, by the way, would naturally be Dante’s favorite. As Saint Paul made the Law, so he would make Science, “our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. iii. 24). He puts Aristotle and Plato in his Inferno, because they did not “adore God duly” (Inferno, IV. 38), that is, they “held the truth in unrighteousness.” Yet he calls Aristotle “the master and guide of human reason” (Convito, Tr. IV. c. 6), and Plato “a most excellent man” (Convito, Tr. II. c 5). Plato and Aristotle, like all Dante’s figures, are types. We must disengage our thought from the individual, and fix on the genus.

[152] It is to be remembered that Dante has typified the same thing when he describes how Reason (Virgil) first carries him down by clinging to the fell of Satan, and then in the same way upwards again a riveder le stelle. Satan is the symbol of materialism, fixed at the point

“To which things heavy draw from every side”;

as God is Light and Warmth, so is he “cold obstruction”; the very effort which he makes to rise by the motion of his wings begets the chilly blast that freezes him more immovably in his place of doom.  The danger of all science save the highest (theology) was that it led to materialism There appears to have been a great deal of it in Florence in the time of Dante. Its followers called themselves Epicureans, and burn in living tombs (Inferno, X.). Dante held them in special horror. “Of all bestialities that is the most foolish and vile and hurtful which believes there is no other life after this.” “And I so believe, so affirm, and so am certain that we pass to another better life after this” (Convito, Tr. II. c. 9). It is a fine divination of Carlyle from the Non han speranza di morte that “one day it had risen sternly benign in the scathed heart of Dante that he, wretched, never resting, worn as he was, would [should] full surely die.”

[153] Purgatorio, XXXI. 103.

[154] Inferno, XXXI. 5, 6.

[155] Tr. IV. c. 28.

[156] Inferno, XXV. 64-67.

[157] Purgatorio, XXXI. 123-126.

[158] Spenser, who had, like Dante, a Platonizing side, and who was probably the first English poet since Chaucer that had read the Commedia, has imitated the pictorial part of these passages in the “Faerie Queene” (B. VI. c. 10). He has turned it into a compliment, and a very beautiful one, to a living mistress.  It is instructive to compare the effect of his purely sensuous verses with that of Dante’s, which have such a wonderful reach behind them. They are singularly pleasing, but they do not stay by us as those of his model had done by him.  Spenser was, as Milton called him, a “sage and serious poet”; he would be the last to take offence if we draw from him a moral not without its use now that Priapus is trying to persuade us that pose and drapery will make him as good as Urania.  Better far the naked nastiness; the more covert the indecency, the more it shocks. Poor old god of gardens! Innocent as a clownish symbol, he is simply disgusting as an ideal of art. In the last century, they set him up in Beatrice recalls her Germany and in France as befitting an era of enlightenment, the light of which came too manifestly from the wrong quarter to be long endurable.

[159] This touch of nature recalls another. The Italians claim humor for Dante. We have never been able to find it, unless it be in that passage (Inferno, XV. 119) where Brunetto Latini lingers under the burning shower to recommend his Tesoro to his former pupil. There is a comical touch of nature in an author’s solicitude for his little work, not, as in Fielding’s case, after its, but his own damnation.

We are not sure, but we fancy we catch the momentary flicker of a smile across those serious eyes of Dante’s. There is something like humor in the opening verses of the XVI. Paradiso, where Dante tells us how even in heaven he could not help glorying in being gently born,--he who had devoted a Canzone and a book of the Convito to proving that nobility consisted wholly in virtue. But there is, after all, something touchingly natural in the feeling. Dante, unjustly robbed of his property, and with it of the independence so dear to him, seeing

“Needy nothings trimmed in jollity,
And captive Good attending Captain Ill,”

would naturally fall back on a distinction which money could neither buy nor replace. There is a curious passage in the Convito which shows how bitterly he resented his undeserved poverty. He tells us that buried treasure commonly revealed itself to the bad rather than the good. “Verily I saw the place on the flanks of a mountain in Tuscany called Falterona, where the basest peasant of the whole countryside digging found there more than a bushel of pieces of the finest silver, which perhaps had awaited him more than a thousand years.” (Tr. IV. c. 11.) One can see the grimness of his face as he looked and thought, “how salt a savor hath the bread of others!”

[160] L’Envoi of Canzone XIV. of the Canzoniere, I. of the Convito. Dante cites the first verse of this Canzone, Paradiso, VIII. 37.  

[161] How Dante himself could allegorize even historical personages may be seen in a curious passage of the Convito (Tr. IV. c. 28), where, commenting on a passage of Lucan, he treats Martia and Cato as mere figures of speech.

[162] II. of the Canzoniere. See Fraticelli’s preface.

[163] Don Quixote, P. II. c. VIII.

[164] De vulgari Eloquio, L. II. c. 2. He says the same of Giraud de Borneil, many of whose poems are moral and even devotional. See, particularly, “Al honor Dieu torn en mon chan” (Raynouard, Lex Rom I.  388), “Ben es dregz pos en aital port” (Ib. 393), “Jois sia comensamens” (Ib. 395), and “Be veg e conosc e say” (Ib. 398).  Another of his poems (“Ar ai grant joy,” Raynouard, Choix, III. 304) may possibly be a mystical profession of love for the Blessed Virgin, for whom, as Dante tells us, Beatrice had a special devotion.

[165] Convito, Tr. III. c. 14. In the same chapter is perhaps an explanation of the two rather difficult verses which follow that in which the verace speglio is spoken of (Paradise, XXVI. 107, 108).

“Che fa di sè pareglie l’ altre cose
E nulla face lui di sè pareglio.” 

Buti’s comment is, “that is, makes of itself a receptacle to other things, that is, to all things that exist, which are all seen in it.” Dante says (ubi supra), “The descending of the virtue of one thing into another is a reducing that other into a likeness of itself....  Whence we see that the sun sending his ray down hitherward reduces things to a likeness with his light in so far as they are able by their disposition to receive light from his power. So I say that God reduces this love to a likeness with himself as much as it is possible for it to be like him.” In Provençal pareilh means like, and Dante may have formed his word from it. But the four earliest printed texts read:--

“Che fa di sè pareglio all’ altre cose.”

Accordingly we are inclined to think that the next verse should be corrected thus:--

“E nulla face a lui di sè pareglio.”

We would form pareglio from parere (a something in which things appear), as miraglio from mirare (a something in which they are seen). God contains all things in himself, but nothing can wholly contain him. The blessed behold all things in him as if reflected, but not one of the things so reflected is capable of his image in its completeness. This interpretation is confirmed by Paradiso, XIX.  49-51.

“E quinci appar ch’ ogni minor natura
É corto recettacolo a quel bene
Che non ha fine, e sè con sè misura.”

[166] “Wisdom of Solomon,” VII. 26, quoted by Dante (Convito, Tr.  III. c. 15) There are other passages in the “Wisdom of Solomon” besides that just cited which we may well believe Dante to have had in his mind when writing the Canzone beginning,--

“Amor che nella mente mi ragiona,”

and the commentary upon it, and some to which his experience of life must have given an intenser meaning. The writer of that book also personifies Wisdom as the mistress of his soul: “I loved her and sought her out from my youth, I desired to make her my spouse, and I was a lover of her beauty.” He says of Wisdom that she was “present when thou (God) madest the world,” and Dante in the same way identifies her with the divine Logos, citing as authority the “beginning of the Gospel of John.” He tells us, “I perceived that I could not otherwise obtain her except God gave her me,” and Dante came at last to the same conclusion. Again, “For the very true beginning of her is the desire of discipline; and the care of discipline is love. And love is the keeping of her laws; and the giving heed unto her laws is the assurance of incorruption.” But who can doubt that he read with a bitter exultation, and applied to himself passages like these which follow? “When the righteous fled from his brothers wrath, she guided him in right paths showed him the kingdom of God, and gave him knowledge of holy things. She defended him from his enemies and kept him safe from those that lay in wait, ... that he might know that godliness is stronger than all.... She forsook him not, but delivered him from sin; she went down with him into the pit, and left him not in bonds till she brought him the sceptre of the kingdom, ... and gave him perpetual glory.” It was, perhaps, from this book that Dante got the hint of making his punishments and penances typical of the sins that earned them.  “Wherefore, whereas men lived dissolutely and unrighteously, thou hast tormented them with their own abominations.” Dante was intimate with the Scriptures. They do even a scholar no harm. M. Victor Le Clerc, in his “Histoire Littéraire de la France au quatorzième siècle” (Tom. II. p. 72), thinks it “not impossible” that a passage in the Lamentations of Jeremiah, paraphrased by Dante, may have been suggested to him by Rutebeuf or Tristan, rather than by the prophet himself! Dante would hardly have found himself so much at home in the company of jongleurs as in that of prophets. Yet he was familiar with French and Provençal poetry. Beside the evidence of the Vulgari Eloquio, there are frequent and broad traces in the Commedia of the Roman de la Rose, slighter ones of the Chevalier de la Charette, Guillaume d’Orange, and a direct imitation of Bernard de Ventadour.

[167] Convito, Tr. I. c. 12.

[168] Purgatorio, XXII. 115, 116.

[169] That Dante loved fame we need not be told. He several times confesses it, especially in the De Vulgari Eloquio, I. 17. “How glorious she [the Vulgar Tongue] makes her intimates [familiares, those of her household], we ourselves have known, who in the sweetness of this glory put our exile behind our backs.”

[170] Dante several times uses the sitting a horse as an image of rule. See especially Purgatorio, VI. 99, and Convito, Tr. IV. c. 11.

[171] “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God!” Dante quotes this in speaking of the influence of the stars, which, interpreting it presently “by the theological way,” he compares to that of the Holy Spirit “And thy counsel who hath known, except thou give wisdom and send thy Holy Spirit from above?” (Wisdom of Solomon, ix. 17.) The last words of the Convito are, “her [Philosophy] whose proper dwelling is in the depths of the Divine mind”. The ordinary reading is ragione (reason), but it seems to us an obvious blunder for magione (mansion, dwelling).

[172] Convito, Tr. IV. c. 28.

[173] He refers to a change in his own opinions (Lib II. § 1), where he says, “When I knew the nations to have murmured against the preeminence of the Roman people, and saw the people imagining vain things as I myself was wont.” He was a Guelph by inheritance, he became a Ghibelline by conviction.

[174] It should seem from Dante’s words (“at the time when much people went to see the blessed image,” and “ye seem to come from a far off people”) that this was some extraordinary occasion, and what so likely as the jubilee of 1300? (Compare Paradiso, XXXI. 103-108.) Dante’s comparisons are so constantly drawn from actual eye-sight, that his allusion (Inferno, XIII. 28-33) to a device of Boniface VIII. for passing the crowds quietly across the bridge of Saint Angelo, renders it not unlikely that he was in Rome at that time, and perhaps conceived his poem there as Giovanni Villani his chronicle.  That Rome would deeply stir his mind and heart is beyond question “And certes I am of a firm opinion that the stones that stand in her walls are worthy of reverence, and the soil where she sits worthy beyond what is preached and admitted of men.” (Convito, Tr. IV. c.  5.)

[175] Beatrice, loda di Dio vera, Inferno, II. 103. “Surely vain are all men by nature who are ignorant of God, and could not out of the good things that are seen know him that is, neither by considering the works did they acknowledge the work-master.... For, being conversant in his works, they search diligently and believe their sight, because the things are beautiful that are seen. Howbeit, neither are they to be pardoned.” (Wisdom of Solomon, XIII. 1, 7, 8.) Non adorar debitamente, Dio. “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and godhead; so that they are without excuse.” It was these “invisible things” whereof Dante was beginning to get a glimpse.

[176] Convito, Tr. I. c. 7.

[177] “And here we would have forgiven Mr. Captain if he had not betrayed him (traido, traduttore traditore) to Spain and made him a Castilian, for he took away much of his native worth, and so will all those do who shall undertake to turn a poem into another tongue; for with all the care they take and ability they show, they will never reach the height of its original conception,” says the Curate, speaking of a translation of Ariosto. (Don Quixote, P. I. c. 6.)

[177] In his own comment Dante says, “I tell whither goes my thought, calling it by the name of one of its effects.”

[178] Spirito means in Italian both breath (spirto ed acqua fessi, Purgatorio, XXX. 98) and spirit.

[180] By visione Dante means something seen waking by the inner eye. He believed also that dreams were sometimes divinely inspired, and argues from such the immortality of the soul. (Convito, Tr. II.  c. 9.)

[181] Paradiso, XXV. 1-3.

[182] De Monarchia, Lib. III. § ult.  See the whole passage in Miss Rossetti, p 39. It is noticeable that Dante says that the Pope is to lead (by example), the Emperor to direct (by the enforcing of justice) The duty, we are to observe, was a double but not a divided one. To exemplify this unity was indeed one object of the Commedia.

[183] “What Reason seeth here Myself [Virgil] can tell thee; beyond that await For Beatrice, since ‘tis a work of Faith.”

Purgatorio, XVIII. 46-48.

Beatrice here evidently impersonates Theology. It would be interesting to know what was the precise date of Dante’s theological studies. The earlier commentators all make him go to Paris, the great fountain of such learning, after his banishment. Boccaccio indeed says that he did not return to Italy till 1311. Wegele (Dante’s “Leben und Werke,” p. 85) puts the date of his journey between 1292 and 1297. Ozanam, with a pathos comically touching to the academic soul, laments that poverty compelled him to leave the university without the degree he had so justly earned. He consoles himself with the thought that “there remained to him an incontestable erudition and the love of serious studies.” (Dante et la philosophic catholique, p. 112.) It is sad that we cannot write Dantes Alighierius, S. T. D.!  Dante seems to imply that he began to devote himself to Philosophy and Theology shortly after Beatrice’s death.  (Convito, Tr. II. c. 13.) He compares himself to one who, “seeking silver, should, without meaning it, find gold, which an occult cause presents to him, not perhaps without the divine command.” Here again apparently is an allusion to his having found Wisdom while he sought Learning. He had thought to find God in the beauty of his works, he learned to seek all things in God.

[184] In a more general view, matter, the domain of the senses, no doubt with a recollection of Aristotle’s [Greek: hylae].

[185] As we have seen, even a sigh becomes He. This makes one of the difficulties of translating his minor poems. The modern mind is incapable of this subtlety.

[186] Purgatorio, III. 122,123.

[186] Purgatorio, III. 122,123.

[187] Purgatorio, V. 107.

[188] Inferno, III. 17, 18 (hanno perduto = thrown away).

[189] Convito, Tr. II. c. 14.

[190] Purgatorio, XXIII. 121, 122.

[191] Convito, Tr. IV. c. 7.

[192] Inferno, XXXIII. 118, et seq.

[193] Inferno, I. 116, 117.

[194] Mr. Longfellow’s for, like the Italian per, gives us the same privilege of election. We “freeze for cold,” we “hunger for food.”

[195] Inferno, V. 67.

[196] Paradiso, XVIII. 46. Renoard is one of the heroes (a rudely humorous one) in “La Bataille d’Alischans,” an episode of the measureless “Guillaume d’Orange.” It was from the graves of those supposed to have been killed in this battle that Dante draws a comparison, Inferno, IX. Boccaccio’s comment on this passage might have been read to advantage by the French editors of “Alischans.”

[197] We cite this comment under its received name, though it is uncertain if Pietro was the author of it. Indeed, we strongly doubt it. It is at least one of the earliest, for it appears, by the comment on Paradiso, XXVI., that the greater part of it was written before 1341. It is remarkable for the strictness with which it holds to the spiritual interpretation of the poem, and deserves much more to be called Ottimo, than the comment which goes by that name. Its publication is due to the zeal and liberality of the late Lord Vernon, to whom students of Dante are also indebted for the parallel-text reprint of the four earliest editions of the Commedia.

[198] See Wegele, ubi supra, p. 174, et seq. The best analysis of Dante’s opinions we have ever met with is Emil Ruth’s “Studien über Dante Alighieri,” Tübingen, 1853. Unhappily it wants an index, and accordingly loses a great part of its usefulness for those not already familiar with the subject. Nor are its references sufficiently exact. We always respect Dr. Ruth’s opinions, if we do not wholly accept them, for they are all the results of original and assiduous study.

[199] See the second book of the De Vulgari Eloquio. The only other Italian poet who reminds us of Dante in sustained dignity is Guido Guinicelli. Dante esteemed him highly, calls him maximus in the De Vulgari Eloquio, and “the father of me and of my betters,” in the XXVI. Purgatorio. See some excellent specimens of him in Mr. D. G.  Rossetti’s remarkable volume of translations from the early Italian poets. Mr. Rossetti would do a real and lasting service to literature by employing his singular gift in putting Dante’s minor poems into English.

[200] The old French poems confound all unbelievers together as pagans and worshippers of idols.

[201] Dante is an ancient in this respect as in many others, but the difference is that with him society is something divinely ordained.  He follows Aristotle pretty closely, but on his own theory crime and sin are identical.

[202] Purgatorio, XVIII. 73. He defines it in the De Monarchia (Lib. I.    § 14). Among other things he calls it “the first beginning of our liberty.” Paradiso, V. 19, 20, he calls it “the greatest gift that in his largess God creating made.” “Dico quod judicium medium est apprehensionis et appetitus.” (De Monarchia, ubi supra.)

“Right and wrong,
Between whose endless jar justice resides.”

Troilus and Cressida.

[203] Convito, Tr. IV. c. 22.

[204] Convito, Tr. IV. c. 7. “Qui descenderit ad inferos, non ascendet.” Job vii. 9.

[205] But it may he inferred that he put the interests of mankind above both. “For citizens,” he says, “exist not for the sake of consuls, nor the people for the sake of the king, but, on the contrary, consuls for the sake of citizens, and the king for the sake of the people.”

[206] Paradiso, VIII. 145, 146.

[207] Purgatorio, XVI. 106-112.

[208] De Monarchia, § ult.

[209] De Monarchia Lib III § 10. “Poterat tamen Imperator in patrocinium Eccelesiae patrimonium et alia deputare immoto semper superiori dominio cujus unitas divisio non patitur. Poterat et Vicarius Dei recipere, non tanquam possessor, sed tanquam fructuum pro Eccelesia proque Christi pauperibus dispensator.” He tells us that St. Dominic did not ask for the tithes which belong to the poor of God. (Paradiso, XII. 93, 94.) “Let them return whence they came,” he says (De Monarchia, Lib II. § 10); “they came well, let them return ill, for they were well given and ill held.”

[210] Inferno, XIX. 53; Paradiso, XXX. 145-148.

[211] Purgatorio, XX. 86-92.

[212] Purgatorio, XIX. 134, 135.

[213] This results from the whole course of his argument in the second book of De Monarchia, and in the VI. Paradiso he calls the Roman eagle “the bird of God” and “the scutcheon of God.” We must remember that with Dante God is always the “Emperor of Heaven,” the barons of whose court are the Apostles. (Paradiso, XXIV. 115; Ib., XXV. 17.)

[214] Dante seems to imply (though his name be German) that he was of Roman descent He makes the original inhabitants of Florence (Inferno, XV. 77, 78) of Roman seed, and Cacciaguida, when asked by him about his ancestry, makes no more definite answer than that their dwelling was in the most ancient part of the city (Paradiso, XVI. 40.)

[215] Man was created, according to Dante (Convito, Tr. II. c. 6), to supply the place of the fallen angels, and is in a sense superior to the angels, inasmuch as he has reason, which they do not need.

[216] De Monarchia, Lib I. § 5.

[217] Purgatorio, VI. 83, 84.

[218] De Monarchia, Lib. I. § 16.

[219] De Monarchia, Lib. I. § 5.

[220] De Monarchia, Lib II. § 7.

[221] Purgatorio, XVI. 67, 68.

[222] “Troilus and Cressida,” Act I. s. 3. The whole speech is very remarkable both in thought and phrase.

[223] Purgatorio, I. 71.

[224] De Monarchia, Lib. I. § 14.

[225] De Monarchia, Lib. I. § 18.

[226] De Monarchia, Lib. I. § 14.

[227] Paradiso, IX.

[228] Inferno, XXXVIII; Purgatorio, XXXII.

[229] See the poems of Walter Mapes (who was Archdeacon of Oxford); the “Bible Guiot,” and the “Bible au seignor de Berze,” Barbezan and Méon, II.

[230] De Monarchia, Lib. III. § 8.

[231] Purgatorio, III. 133, 134.

[232] Paradiso, XXVII. 22.

[233] Purgatorio, XXVII. 18; Ottimo, Inferno, XXVIII. 55.

[234] Inferno, IX. 63; Purgatorio, VIII. 20.

[235] Purgatorio, XXIX. 131, 132.

[236] Inferno, XXII. 13, 14.

[237] De Monarchia, Lib. II. § 4.

[238] Convito, Tr. IV. c. 4; Ib., c. 27; Aeneid, I. 178, 179; Ovid’s Met., VII.

[239] Inferno, XXXI. 92.

[240] Purgatorio, VI. 118, 119. Pulci, not understanding, has parodied this. (“Morgante,” Canto II. st. 1.)

[241] See, for example, Purgatorio, XX. 100-117.

[242] We believe that Dante, though he did not understand Greek, knew something of Hebrew. He would have been likely to study it as the sacred language, and opportunities of profiting by the help of learned Jews could not have been wanting to him in his wanderings. In the above-cited passage some of the best texts read I s’ appellava, and others Un s’ appellava. God was called I (the Je in Jehovah) or One, and afterwards El,--the strong,--an epithet given to many gods. Whichever reading we adopt, the meaning and the inference from it are the same.

[243] Inferno, IV.

[244] Dante’s “Limbo,” of course, is the older “Limbus Patrum.”

[245] De Monarchia, Lib. II. § 8.

[246] Faith, Hope, and Charity. (Purgatorio, XXIX. 121.) Mr. Longfellow has translated the last verse literally. The meaning is,

“More than a thousand years ere baptism was.”

[247] In which the celestial Athens is mentioned.

[248] Purgatorio, XXVII. 139-142.

[249] “I conceived myself to be now,” says Milton, “not as mine own person, but as a member incorporate into that truth whereof I was persuaded.”

[250] “But now was turning my desire and will, Even as a wheel that equally is moved, The Love that moves the sun and other stars.”

Paradiso, XXXIII., closing verses of the Divina Commedia.

[251] Dante seems to allude directly to this article of the Catholic faith when he says, on entering the Celestial Paradise, “to signify transhumanizing by words could not be done,” and questions whether he was there in the renewed spirit only or in the flesh also:--

“If I was merely what of me thou newly
Createdst, Love who governest the heavens,
Thou knowest who didst lift me with thy light.”

Paradiso, I. 70-75.

[252] Paradiso, II. 7. Lucretius makes the same boast:--

“Avia Pieridum peragro loca nullius ante Trita solo.”

[253] Convito, Tr. IV. c. 15.

[254] Purgatorio, XVI. 142. Here is Milton’s “Far off his coming shone.”

[255] Purgatorio, XV. 7, et seq.

[256] See, for example, Inferno, XVII. 127-132; Ib. XXIV. 7-12; Purgatorio,  II. 124- 129; Ib., III. 79-84; Ib., XXVII. 76-81; Paradiso, XIX. 91-93; Ib. XXI. 34-39; Ib. XXIII. 1-9. 

[257] Inferno, XXXI. 136-138.

“And those thin clouds above, in fakes and bars,
That give away their motion to the stars.”

Coleridge, “Dejection, an Ode.”

See also the comparison of the dimness of the faces seen around him in Paradise to “a pearl on a white forehead.” (Paradiso, III. 14.)

[258] Inferno, X. 35-41; Purgatorio, VI. 61-66; Ib., X. 133.

[259] For example, Cavalcanti’s Come dicesti egli ebbe? (Inferno, X. 67, 68.)  Anselmuccio’s Tu guardi si, padre, che hai? (Inferno, XXXIII. 51.)

[260] To the “bestiality” of certain arguments Dante says, “one would wish to reply, not with words, but with a knife.” (Convito, Tr. IV.  c. 14.)

[261] Convito, Tr. IV. c. 2.

[262] Paradiso, XXII. 132-135; Ib., XXVII. 110.





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