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Art. IV.-(1.) The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri. Translated

by Henry WadswORTH LONGFELLOW. London: George Rout

ledge & Sons; New York : 416, Broome Street. 1867. (2.) The Vita Nuova of Dante. Translated, with an Introduction

and Notes, by THEODORE MARTIN. London: Parker, Son, &

Bourne, West Strand. 1862. (3.) The Early Italian Poets, from Ciullo D'Alcamo to Dante

Alighieri (1100-1200-1300), in the Original Metres, together with Dante's "Vita Nuova.' Translated by D. G. ROSSETTI.

London : Smith, Elder, & Co., Cornhill. 1861. (4.) The Early Life of Dante Alighieri, together with the original in

parallel pages. By JOHN GARROW, A.M. Florence : printed

by Felix Le Monnier. 1846. (5.) Dante's Divine Comedy; the Inferno: a literal Prose Trans

lation, with the text of the Original. By John A. CARLYLE, M.A.

London : Chapman & Hall. 1867. Each century in half a decade of centuries bears so much resemblance to the others as almost to warrant the inference that since the dawn of Christianity, the development of the human race has proceeded in cycles of five hundred years; and yet it were an error to suppose each century of the cycle to have so much resembled those that preceded and followed it as to make the amount of difference inappreciable. We cannot, therefore, approve the usual statement that Dante and Chaucer occupy the same position, the one in English and the other in Italian literature. Dante died in 1321, Chaucer in 1400. One represents the thirteenth, the other the fourteenth century. Now, it is true that English literature is of somewhat later date than Italian, and is partly indebted to it; yet the spirit of the age in both countries had advanced many important steps, and the protest against the abuses of the Church had accumulated such strength at the opening of the fourteenth century that in these respects Chaucer inherited advantages to which Dante was a stranger. He had, indeed, an immense advantage in Dante himself having been for so many years his predecessor. Poetic Art, with other things, had made progress; and the grotesque, which in Dante was blended in intimate union with the beautiful and sublime, no longer appears in Chaucer, who is also less classical than Dante, and more natural and familiar in the choice and treatment of his subjects. Chaucer had benefited not only by Dante, but by Petrarch and Boccaccio.

The element of the grotesque is abundant in the old mysteries and moralities, in which the popular mind made its earliest efforts at poetry in the vernacular. They were gross in manners, language, and sentiment. Their writers thought it possible to

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represent Deity on the mimic scene, and embodied the Adversary in the most ludicrous forms. The latter fulfilled the office of 'Vice, Fool, or Clown, whose duty was to make sport for others, and to receive more spurns than thanks for his labour. Very different was the notion of Milton, who has modelled his Satan on ideas of beauty, and invested with grandeur his person and his office. But this exercise of taste was not permitted to Dante. In his poetry and that of his time, the classical and gothic are blended, as are likewise the profane and sacred. Hence,' says one of Dante's translators, we must expect, as in the imposing Italian architecture of the Middle Ages, that parts

of the fabric will offend, though the effect of the whole is pro'ductive of delight; and in order to excuse the poet occasionally ' for an apparent abuse of the thoughts and language of Scrip'ture, it is necessary to call to mind the taste of the age, and ' the habits induced by the ceremonies and practice of the • Catholic Church.'

But not only had Dante not eliminated the grotesque; he had not, as just hinted, yet separated the classical from the Christian, but made use of Greek and Latin mythology indiscriminately, not perceiving any incongruity between their inventions and the sacred names and events of the Hebrew Scriptures, or of the narrative and doctrine of the New Testament. The early Fathers had done the same even in their controversial writings, and the studies to which Dante was accustomed had not yet enabled him to make the distinction. His religious faith was as broad as his poetical taste, and the scholastic philosophy had not taught him how to purify his theology, whether from the Judaic or the Pagan element. The wheat and the tares grew together; and they continued to do so up to the time and long after the commencement of the Protestant Reformation.

A cardinal example of Dante's practice occurs in the ‘Purgatorio' (6 canto, 118-120)

E, se licito m'è, o sommo Giove,
Che fosti'n terra per noi crocifisso,

Son li giusti occhi tuoi rivolti altrove ?' *
On which Mr. Longfellow remarks :-
This recalls Pope's “ Universal Prayer"-

6" Father of all! in every age,

In every clime, adored;
By saint, by savage, and by sage,

Jehovah, Jove, or Lord.'”
· And if it wful be, O Jove supremo !
Who upon earth for us was crucified,
Are Thy just eyes averted other where ?'

But he has omitted to give the reason, in the fact that both Dante and Pope were Roman Catholic poets. That which was possible without offence to the Catholic mind in the seventeenth century, was so familiar and common in the thirteenth, that it excited no criticism and presented no incongruity either to writer or reader. Some commentators also account for it by saying that the word 'Jove' was, in popular opinion in Italy, derived from Jehovah.

The leading feature of Dante's poetry is its intense egoism. The poet is the hero of his own poem; it is this which distinguishes him from other minstrels. He sings his own adventures in ideal realms, and peoples the world of his imagination with his own acts and visions. M. Victor Hugo has made a sublime reference to this fact. • The man' (meaning the hero) of • Dante is Dante. Dante is, so to speak, created a second time ' in his poem; he is his own type ; his Adam is bimself. For

the action of his poem he has sought out no one. He has only ' taken Virgil as supernumerary. Moreover, he has made • himself epic at once, without giving himself the trouble even ' to change his name. What he had to do was in fact simple: ' to descend into hell and remount to heaven. What good was • it to trouble himself for so little? He knocks gravely at the * door of the Infinite, and says, “ Open; I am Dante."">

Who, then, was this man Dante, whose self-appreciation has been thus immortalised in his own verses? He was, according to Villani, an honorable and ancient citizen of Porto San Pietro at Florence, descended from a Guelfic family, and he became one of the supreme governors of the city. Originally belonging to the party to which his ancestors were attached, he subsequently favoured their opponents, the Ghibellines, and proved ultimately, indeed, a violent partizan of the cause of the latter, with whom he withdrew from Florence in 1301, when Charles of Valois entered ; and with that party he consequently suffered banishment. He then visited Bologna, and other cities, 'being,' says the chronicler, ' a great and learned person in almost every 'science, although a layman; he was a consummate poet and • philosopher, and rhetorician, as perfect inprose and verse as • he was, in public speaking, a most noble orator, in rhyming 'excellent, with the most polished and beautiful style that

ever appeared in our language up to this time or since.' Besides his

poems

which Villani mentions, Dante wrote the • Monarchia,' where he treats of the office of popes and emperors, and also some fragments of a work entitled De Vulgari Eloquentia.' Of his personal bearing, his biographer scarcely gives a satisfactory picture. This Dante,' he says,

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Dante's Personal Appearance,

369 ' from his knowledge, was somewhat presumptuous, harsh, and 'disdainful, like an ungracious philosopher; he scarcely deigned 'to converse with laymen; but for his other virtues, science, ' and worth as a citizen, it seems but reasonable to give him

perpetual remembrance in this our chronicle. Such to his contemporaries Dante appeared as a student; the distance between the man of genius and the vulgar was never more strongly marked. Boccaccio bears a more sympathising testimony.

• Our poet,' he says, 'was of middle' height, and after reaching mature years he went somewhat stooping; his gait .

was grave and sedate; always clothed in most becoming gar'ments, his dress was suited to the ripeness of his years; his

face was long, his nose aquiline, his eyes large rather than 'the reverse, his jaw heavy, and his under lip prominent; his 'complexion was dark, and his hair and beard thick, black, and crisp; and his countenance was always sad and thoughtful.

His manner, whether in public or at home, was wonderfully composed and restrained ; and in all his ways he was more courteous and civil than any one else.'

We
may

add that the famous Giotto painted his portrait, a fresco, once visible in the chapel of the palace of the Podesta in Florence, but afterwards covered with whitewash. It was not until 1840 that the crust of the plaster was removed from the walls, and underneath was found the long-hidden likeness of Dante. A facsimile drawing was made, which passed into the hands of Lord Vernon, and is now the only existing authentic portrait of the poet.

On the departure of Dante and the Ghibelline party from Florence, they were considered as rebels, and had their persons condemned and their property confiscated. Madonna Gemma, the wife of Dante, saved some of her husband's property, including his MSS., which were contained in chests with other precious things. The existence of the Divina Commedia' is attributed to this wifely care ; but this, and another legend, in regard to the preservation of the great poem, are discredited by Boccaccio.

Dante died in banishment; this event happened in the city of Ravenna, in Romagna, after his return from an embassy to Venice for the Lords of Polenta, with whom he had resided. He had failed in his mission, and the failure, it is supposed, broke his heart. Nevertheless, his efforts were appreciated ; for they buried him in Ravenna, before the door of the principal church, ' with high honour, in the habit of a poet and great philosopher.' When late-repentant Florence begged the ashes of her sage and bard, Ravenna refused. His tomb in this city is now the chief 'magnet which draws foreigners and their gold to Ravenna.'

The manuscript copies of the Divina Commedia' made during the fourteenth century, and now existing in the libraries of Europe, are said to be more numerous than those of all other works; and between the invention of printing and the year 1500, more than twenty editions were published in Italy, the earliest being published in 1472. During the sixteenth century, there were forty editions ; during the seventeenth, only three; and already, during the first half of the nineteenth, at least eighty. The translations of it are almost numberless ; many English versions have appeared within the last seven years, and the

rage for new ones still continues. Dante's ancestors, being Guelfs, had been twice expelled by the Ghibellines from their home, as the poet was afterwards expelled by the Guelfs themselves. “Seeing that he could not

return,' says Boccaccio, 'he so much altered his mind, that • there never lived a fiercer Ghibelline, or a bitterer enemy to • the Guelfs, than he became. And that which I feel most * ashamed at for the sake of his memory is, that it was a well'known thing in Romagna, that if any boy or girl, talking to • him on party matters, condemned the Ghibelline side, he 'would become frantic, so that if they did not be silent he 'would have been induced to throw stones at them; and with 'this violence of party feeling he lived until his death.'

Such is a brief record of Dante's outer life; what his inner life was we must gather from his poems. We are here met with a difficulty in limine; for Dante's poetry is not of the kind that is readily understood, or meant to be so. On the contrary, it requires interpretation; and even challenges admiration by reason of its obscurity, and of the many senses in which it apprehended. Now, there was an undoubted practice in preceding contemporary and even subsequent poets, of veiling their meaning by pretending the passion of love, while they really intended by it liberty, civil or religious, or both; thus they carried on and promoted the ends of a political cause without exciting the suspicion and vigilance of those in authority. Dante, indeed, in a letter to Can Grande della Scala, writes of his poem in these words : It is to be remarked that the sense of this work is • not simple; but, on the contrary, one may say manifold. For one sense is that which is derived from the letter, and another is that which is derived from the things signified by the letter. * The first is called literal, the second allegorical or moral. • The subject, then, of the whole work, taken literally, is "the « Condition of Souls after Death, simply considered. For on

this, and around this, the whole action of the work turns. But • if the work be taken allegorically, the subject is “Man; how

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