Part 2 out of 6
surprising change of tone. The transfiguration of Beatrice has begun, and
we see completing itself that natural gradation of grief which will
erelong bring the mourner to call on the departed saint to console him
for her own loss. The sonnet is remarkable in more senses than one, first
for its psychological truth, and then still more for the light it throws
on Dante's inward history as poet and thinker. Hitherto he had celebrated
beauty and goodness in the creature; henceforth he was to celebrate them
in the Creator whose praise they were. We give an extempore
translation of this sonnet, in which the meaning is preserved so far as
is possible where the grace is left out. We remember with some
compunction as we do it, that Dante has said, "know every one that
nothing harmonized by a musical band can be transmuted from its own
speech to another without breaking all its sweetness and harmony,"
and Cervantes was of the same mind:
"Beyond the sphere that hath the widest gyre
Passeth the sigh that leaves my heart below;
A new intelligence doth love bestow
On it with tears that ever draws it higher;
When it wins thither where is its desire,
A Lady it beholds who honor so
And light receives, that, through her splendid glow,
The pilgrim spirit sees her as in fire;
It sees her such, that, telling me again
I understand it not, it speaks so low
Unto the mourning heart that bids it tell;
Its speech is of that noble One I know,
For 'Beatrice' I often hear full plain,
So that, dear ladies, I conceive it well."
No one can read this in its connection with what goes before and what
follows without feeling that a new conception of Beatrice had dawned upon
the mind of Dante, dim as yet, or purposely made to seem so, and yet the
authentic forerunner of the fulness of her rising as the light of his day
and the guide of his feet, the divine wisdom whose glory pales all meaner
stars. The conception of a poem in which Dante's creed in politics and
morals should be picturesquely and attractively embodied, and of the high
place which Beatrice should take in it, had begun vaguely to shape itself
in his thought. As he brooded over it, of a sudden it defined itself
clearly. "Soon after this sonnet there appeared to me a marvellous
vision wherein I saw things which made me propose not to say more of
that blessed one until I could treat of her more worthily. And to arrive
at that I study all I can, as she verily knows. So that, if it be the
pleasure of Him through whom all things live, that my life hold out yet a
few years, I hope to say that of her which was never yet said of any
(woman). And then may it please Him who is the Lord of Courtesy that my
soul may go to see the glory of her Lady, that is, of that blessed
Beatrice who gloriously beholds the face of Him _qui est per omnia
saecula benedictus_." It was the method of presentation that became clear
to Dante at this time,--the plan of the great poem for whose completion
the experience of earth and the inspiration of heaven were to combine,
and which was to make him lean for many years. The doctrinal scope
of it was already determined. Man, he tells us, is the only creature who
partakes at once of the corruptible and incorruptible nature; "and since
every nature is ordained to some ultimate end, it follows that the end of
man is double. And as among all beings he alone partakes of the
corruptible and incorruptible, so alone among all beings he is ordained
to a double end, whereof the one is his end as corruptible, the other as
incorruptible. That unspeakable Providence therefore foreordered two ends
to be pursued by man, to wit, beatitude in this life, which consists in
the operation of our own virtue, and is figured by the Terrestrial
Paradise, and the beatitude of life eternal, which consists in a fruition
of the divine countenance, whereto our own virtue cannot ascend unless
aided by divine light, which is understood by the Celestial Paradise."
The one we attain by practice of the moral and intellectual virtues as
they are taught by philosophers, the other by spiritual teachings
transcending human reason, and the practice of the theological virtues of
Faith, Hope, and Charity. For one, Reason suffices ("which was wholly
made known to us by philosophers"), for the other we need the light of
supernatural truth revealed by the Holy Spirit and "needful for us." Men
led astray by cupidity turn their backs on both, and in their bestiality
need bit and rein to keep them in the way. "Wherefore to man was a double
guidance needful according to the double end," the Supreme Pontiff in
spiritual, the Emperor in temporal things.
But how to put this theory of his into a poetic form which might charm
while it was teaching? He would typify Reason in Virgil (who would serve
also as a symbol of political wisdom as having celebrated the founding of
the Empire), and the grace of God in that Beatrice whom he had already
supernaturalized into something which passeth all understanding. In
choosing Virgil he was sure of that interest and sympathy which his
instinct led him to seek in the predisposition of his readers, for the
popular imagination of the Middle Ages had busied itself particularly
with the Mantuan poet. The Church had given, him a quasi-orthodoxy by
interpreting his _jam redit et virgo_ as a prophecy of the birth of
Christ. At Naples he had become a kind of patron saint, and his bones
were exhibited as relics. Dante himself may have heard at Mantua the hymn
sung on the anniversary of St. Paul, in which the apostle to the Gentiles
is represented as weeping at the tomb of the greatest of poets. Above
all, Virgil had described the descent of Aeneas to the under-world.
Dante's choice of a guide was therefore, in a certain degree, made for
him. But the mere Reason of man without the illumination of divine
Grace cannot be trusted, and accordingly the intervention of Beatrice was
needed,--of Beatrice, as Miss Rossetti admirably well expresses it
"already transfigured, potent not only now to charm and soothe, potent to
rule; to the Intellect a light, to the Affections a compass and a
balance, a sceptre over the Will."
The wood obscure in which Dante finds himself is the world. The
three beasts who dispute his way are the sins that most easily beset us,
Pride, the Lusts of the Flesh, and Greed. We are surprised that Miss
Rossetti should so localize and confine Dante's meaning as to explain
them by Florence, France, and Rome. Had he written in so narrow a sense
as this, it would indeed be hard to account for the persistent power of
his poem. But it was no political pamphlet that Dante was writing.
_Subjectum est Homo_, and it only takes the form of a diary by Dante
Alighieri because of the intense realism of his imagination, a realism as
striking in the _Paradiso_ as the _Inferno_, though it takes a different
shape. Everything, the most supersensual, presented itself to his mind,
not as abstract idea, but as visible type. As men could once embody a
quality of good in a saint and _see_ it, as they even now in moments of
heightened fantasy or enthusiasm can personify their country and speak of
England, France, or America, as if they were real beings, so did Dante
habitually. He saw all his thoughts as distinctly as the
hypochondriac sees his black dog, and, as in that, their form and color
were but the outward form of an inward and spiritual condition. Whatever
subsidiary interpretations the poem is capable of, its great and primary
value is as the autobiography of a human soul, of yours and mine, it may
be, as well as Dante's. In that lie its profound meaning and its
permanent force. That an exile, a proud man forced to be dependent,
should have found some consolation in brooding over the justice of God,
weighed in such different scales from those of man, in contrasting the
outward prosperity of the sinner with the awful spiritual ruin within, is
not wonderful, nay, we can conceive of his sometimes finding the wrath of
God sweeter than his mercy. But it is wonderful that out of the very
wreck of his own life he should have built this three-arched bridge,
still firm against the wash and wear of ages, stretching from the Pit to
the Empyrean, by which men may pass from a doubt of God's providence to a
certainty of his long-suffering and loving-kindness.
"The Infinite Goodness hath such ample arms
That it receives whatever turns to it."
A tear is enough to secure the saving clasp of them. It cannot be
too often repeated that Dante's Other World is not in its first
conception a place of _departed_ spirits. It is the Spiritual World,
whereof we become denizens by birth and citizens by adoption. It is true
that for artistic purposes he makes it conform so far as possible with
vulgar preconceptions, but he himself has told us again and again what
his real meaning was. Virgil tells Dante,--
"Thou shalt behold the people dolorous
Who have foregone the good of intellect."
The "good of the intellect," Dante tells us after Aristotle, is
Truth. He says that Virgil has led him "through the deep night of
the _truly dead_." Who are they? Dante had in mind the saying of the
Apostle, "to be carnally minded is death." He says: "In man to live is to
use reason. Then if living is the being of man, to depart from that use
is to depart from being, and so to be dead. And doth not he depart from
the use of reason who doth not reason out the object of his life?" "I say
that so vile a person is dead, seeming to be alive. For we must know
_that the wicked man may be called truly dead_." "He is dead who follows
not the teacher. And of such a one some might say, how is he dead and yet
goes about? I answer that the man is dead and the beast remains."
Accordingly he has put living persons in the _Inferno_, like Frate
Alberigo and Branca d' Oria, of whom he says with bitter sarcasm that he
still "eats and drinks and puts on clothes," as if that were his highest
ideal of the true ends of life. There is a passage in the first
canto of the _Inferno_ which has been variously interpreted:--
"The ancient spirits disconsolate
Who cry out each one for the _second death_."
Miss Rossetti cites it as an example of what she felicitously calls "an
ambiguity, not hazy, but prismatic, and therefore not really perplexing."
She gives us accordingly our choice of two interpretations, "'each cries
out on account of the second death which he is suffering,' and 'each
cries out for death to come a second time and ease him of his
sufferings.'" Buti says: "Here one doubts what the author meant by
the second death, and as for me I think he meant the last damnation,
which shall be at the day of judgment, because they would wish through
envy that it had already come, that they might have more companions,
since the first death is the first damnation, when the soul parted from
the body is condemned to the pains of hell for its sins. The second is
when, resuscitated at the judgment day, they shall be finally condemned,
soul and body together.... It may otherwise be understood as
annihilation." Imola says, "Each would wish to die again, if he could, to
put an end to his pain. Do not hold with some who think that Dante calls
the second death the day of judgment," and then quotes a passage from St.
Augustine which favors that view. Pietro di Dante gives us four
interpretations among which to choose, the first being that,
"allegorically, depraved and vicious men are in a certain sense dead in
reputation, and this is the first death; the second is that of the body."
This we believe to be the true meaning. Dante himself, in a letter to the
"most rascally (_scelestissimis_) dwellers in Florence," gives us the
key: "but you, transgressors of the laws of God and man, whom the direful
maw of cupidity hath enticed not unwilling to every crime, does not the
terror of the _second death_ torment you?" Their first death was in their
sins, the second is what they may expect from the just vengeance of the
Emperor Henry VII. The world Dante leads us through is that of his own
thought, and it need not surprise us therefore if we meet in it purely
imaginary beings like Tristrem and Renoard of the club. His
personality is so strongly marked that it is nothing more than natural
that his poem should be interpreted as if only he and his opinions,
prejudices, or passions were concerned. He would not have been the great
poet he was if he had not felt intensely and humanly, but he could never
have won the cosmopolitan place he holds had he not known how to
generalize his special experience into something mediatorial for all of
us. Pietro di Dante in his comment on the thirty-first canto of the
_Purgatorio_ says that "unless you understand him and his figures
allegorically, you will be deceived by the bark," and adds that our
author made his pilgrimage as the representative of the rest (_in,
persona ceterorum_). To give his vision reality, he has adapted it
to the vulgar mythology, but to understand it as the author meant, it
must be taken in the larger sense. To confine it to Florence or to Italy
is to banish it from the sympathies of mankind. It was not from the
campanile of the Badia that Dante got his views of life and man.
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. 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, the form seems
rather organic than mechanical, which cannot be said of the best of the
Provencal 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 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, 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
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." 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, 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." As a guide of the will in civil affairs
the Emperor; in spiritual, the Pope. 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. The spiritual had usurped to itself the prerogatives of the
"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."
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." 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. Dante is always careful to distinguish between the Papacy and
the Pope. He prophesies for Boniface VIII. a place in hell, 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. 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."
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
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. One side of Dante's mind was so
practical and positive, and his pride in the Romans so intense, 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' 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." 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,"
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_, 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, and
that certain races, like certain men, are born to leadership. 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." 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." 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." 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."
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. 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. On such a base even a democracy may rest secure, and on
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. 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. 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. 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
"By malison of theirs is not so lost
Eternal Love that it cannot return."
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. 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."
Clearly, in such a time as this, one must not make "the veil of the
mysterious Terse" _too_ thin.
In the affairs of this life Dante was, as we have said, supremely
practical, and he makes prudence the chief of the cardinal virtues.
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!"
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." In the _Convito_ we find "Virgil speaking in
the person of God," and Aeacus "wisely having recourse to God," the god
being Jupiter. Ephialtes is punished in hell for rebellion against
"the Supreme Jove," and, that there may be no misunderstanding,
Dante elsewhere invokes the
Who upon earth for us wast crucified."
It is noticeable also that Dante, with evident design, constantly
alternates examples drawn from Christian and Pagan tradition or
mythology. 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. 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. 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. 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." 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
"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
"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
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_, 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
"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,"
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, 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, 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
"Then there smote my mind
A flash of lightning wherein came its wish."
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."
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, 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, 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.
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. 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.
His suggestions of individuality, too, from attitude or speech, as in
Farinata, Sordello, or Pia, 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."
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 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."
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."
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!"
 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.
 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.
 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?
 Inferno, IV. 102.
 The Nouvelle Biographie Generale 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.
 Secolo di Dante, Udine edition of 1828, Vol. III. Part I. p.578.
 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).
 Dict. Phil., art. _Dante_.
 Paradise, XXII.
 Canto XV.
 Purgatorio, XVI.
 Though he himself preferred French, and wrote his _Tresor_ in
that language for two reasons, _"l'una perche noi siamo in Francia, e
l'altra perche, la parlatura francesca e piu dilettevolee piu comune
che tutti li altri linguaggi_." (_Proemio, sul fine_.)
 Inferno, Canto VII.
 Paradiso, Canto X.
 See especially Inferno, IX. 112 et seq.; XII. 120; XV. 4 et
seq.; XXXII. 25-30.
 Vit. Nuov. p. 61, ed. Pesaro, 1829.
 Tratt. III. Cap. XI.
 Letter of Dante, now lost, cited by Aretino.
 Inferno, XXI. 94.
 Balbo, Vita di Dante, Firenze, 1853, p. 117.
 Life and Times of Dante, London, 1858, p. 80.
 Notes to Spenser's "Shepherd's Calendar."
 See the story at length in Balbo, Vita di Dante, Cap. X.
 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.
 Secolo di Dante, p. 654. He would seem to have been in Rome
during the Jubilee of 1300. See Inferno, XVIII. 28-33.
 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
 See Witte, "Quando e da chi sia composto l' Ottimo Comento,"
etc. (Leipsic, 1847)
 Ott. Com. Parad. XVII.
 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.
 Convito, Tratt. I. Cap. III.
 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.)
 See Carlyle's "Frederic," Vol. I. p. 147.
 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.
 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.)
 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 a s'etonner des noms bizarres de
Mastino et de Cane donnes a ces Della Scala_. (Dante, heretique,
revolutionnaire, et socialiste, Paris, 1854, pp. 118-120.)
 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 Monarchia, a book long before condemned as heretical.
 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.)
 Inferno, X. 85.
 Paradiso, XVII.
 He says after the return of Louis of Bavaria to Germany, which
took place in that year. The De Monarchia was afterward condemned by
the Council of Trent.
 Paradiso, XXVII.
 Inferno, XI.
 See the letter in Gaye, Carteggio inedito d' artisti, Vol. I. p.
 St. Rene Taillandier, in Revue des Deux Mondes, December 1,
 Dante, Vol. IV. p. 116.
 Ste. Beuve, Causeries du Lundi, Tome XI. p. 169.
 Dict. Phil., art. _Dante_.
 Corresp. gen., Oeuvres, Tome LVII. pp. 80, 81.
 Essai sur les moeurs, Oeuvres, Tome XVII. pp. 371, 372.
 Genie du Christianisme, Cap. IV.
 Ed. Lond. 1684, p. 199.
 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
Enlumined all Itaille of poetry."
 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.
 Second edition, 1800.
 Dante Alighieri's lyrische Gedichte, Leipzig, 1842, Theil II.
 Vita, p. 97.
 Comment on Paradiso, VI.
 Jean de Meung had already said,--
"Ge n'en met hors rois ne prelas
* * * * *
"Qu'il sunt tui serf au menu pueple."
Roman de la Rose (ed. Meon), V. ii. pp. 78, 79.
 Dante, Studien, etc., 1855, p. 144.
 Compare also Spinoza, Tractat. polit., Cap. VI.
 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.
 A very good one may be found in the sixth volume of the Molini
edition of Dante, pp. 391-433.
 See Field's "Theory of Colors."
 As by Dante himself in the Convito.
 Psalm cxiv. 1, 2.
 He commonly prefaced his letters with some such phrase as _exul
 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.
 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."
 Discorso sul testo, ec., sec. XVIII.
 Convito, B. IV. C. XXII.
 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!"_
 Purgatorio, XXXII. 100.
 Paradiso, I. 70.
 In a letter to Can Grande (XI. of the Epistolae).
 Witte, Wegele, and Ruth in German, and Ozanam in French, have
rendered ignorance of Dante inexcusable among men of culture.
 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.)
 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.
 "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.
 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.)
 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
 Inferno, XIX. 28, 29.
 Inferno, VIII. 70-75.
 Paradise, X. 138.
 Paradiso, IV. 40-45 (Longfellow's version).
 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.)
 Purgatorio, XIX. 7-33.
 Convito, Tr. II. c. 16.
 _La natura universale, cioe Iddio._ (Convito, Tr. III. c. 4.)
 Inferno, III. 7, 8.
 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
"_cioe porta pena e dolore di colui che giustamente e 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.
 Inferno, VIII 40.
 "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.)
 Paradise, XVII. 61-69.
 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.
 De Vulgari Eloquio, Lib. I, Cap. VI. Cf. Inferno, XV. 61-64.
 Convito, Tr. IV. c. 23. Ib. Tr. I. c. 2.
 Convito, Tr. III. c. 13.
 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
 Paradiso, VI. 103-105.
 Some Florentines have amusingly enough doubted the genuineness
of the De vulgari Eloquio, because Dante therein denies the
pre-eminence of the Tuscan dialect.
 See particularly the second book of the De vulgari Eloquio.
 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.)
 Convito, Tr. III. c. 11. Ib. Tr. I. c. 11.
 Convito, Tr. III. c. 12-15.
 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 virtu._ We shall have more to say of this hereafter.
 Convito, Tr. III. c. 12.
 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).
 Convito, Tr. III. c. 14.
 Convito, Tr. IV. c. 22.
 Convito, Tr. III. c. 6.
 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.
"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.
 Convito, Tr. IV. c. 21.
 Convito, Tr. III. c. 7.
 Inferno, X. 55, 56; Paradiso, XXII. 112-117.
 Convito, Tr. I. c. 23 (cf. Inferno, I. IV).
 Convito, Tr. III. c. 3; Paradiso, XVIII. 108-130.
 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."
 Convito, Tr. IV. c. 17; Purgatorio, XXVII. 100-108.
 Convito, Tr. II. c. 8.
 That is, _wholly_ fulfil, _rendono intera_.
 We should prefer here,
"Nor inspirations _won by prayer_ availed,"
as better expressing _Ne 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
 Which he cites in the Paradiso, VIII. 37.
 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.
 Convito, Tr. II. c. 11.
 Purgatorio, XXVIII.
 Purgatorio, XXVIII. 40-44; Convito, Tr. III. c. 13.
 Purgatorio, XXVII. 94-105.
 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.)
 Purgatorio, XXXI. 103,104.
 Tr. IV. c. 22.
 Purgatorio, 100-102.
 Such is the _selva oscura_ (Inferno, I. 2), such, the _selva
erronea di questa vita_ (Convito, Tr. IV. c. 24).
 Convito, Tr. I. c. 13.
 Convito, Tr. II. c. 2.
 _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.
 Convito, Tr. III. c. 9.
 Convito, Tr. III. c. 3.
 Vita Nuova, XI.
 Vita Nuova, Tr. II. c. 6.
 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.
 Vita Nuova, XXXIX. Compare for a different view, "The New Life
of Dante, an Essay with Translations," by C. E. Norton, pp. 92. et
 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.
 "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.
 Convito, Tr. II. c. 14, 15.
 Convito, Tr. II. c. 4. Compare Paradiso, I. 76, 77.
 "Vain babblings and oppositions of science falsely so called."
1 Tim. vi. 20.
 That is, no partial truth.
 Paradise, IV. 124-132.
 "Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came
forth sweetness."--Judges xiv. 14.
 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.
 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
"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
 Purgatorio, XXXI. 103.
 Inferno, XXXI. 5, 6.
 Tr. IV. c. 28.
 Inferno, XXV. 64-67.
 Purgatorio, XXXI. 123-126.
 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.
 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
"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!"
 L'Envoi of Canzone XIV. of the Canzoniere, I. of the Convito.
Dante cites the first verse of this Canzone, Paradiso, VIII. 37.
 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.
 II. of the Canzoniere. See Fraticelli's preface.
 Don Quixote, P. II. c. VIII.
 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.
 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 se pareglie l' altre cose
E nulla face lui di se 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 Provencal _pareilh_ means _like_,
and Dante may have formed his word from it. But the four earliest
printed texts read:--
"Che fa di se pareglio all' altre cose."
Accordingly we are inclined to think that the next verse should be
"E nulla face a lui di se 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.
"E quinci appar _ch' ogni minor natura
E corto recettacolo a quel bene
Che non ha fine_, e se con se misura."
 "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,"