« AnteriorContinuar »
which come those of Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn; afterwards the circle of the fixed stars, and then the ninth heaven, where are the hierarchies of the angels; and lastly the empyrean, which encircles the whole, and is the throne of the Almighty.
The whole of this part is interspersed with theological and metaphysical disquisitions, which render it less fit than the other two for exposition or illustration. But this part also contains many highly poetical passages and historical allusions, which will amply repay the reader for its perusal. The souls of the blessed dwell all and eternally together, only partaking more or less of the divine glory in the empyrean, although, to suit the limited capacity of the human understanding, they appear to have different spheres allotted to them. ("Paradise, Canto iv.) Accordingly the poet sees in the first, or lowest sphere, being that of the Moon, the souls of those who, after having made professions of chastity and religious life, have been compelled to violate their vows.
Among these the poet sees Piccarda Donati, the sister of Corso, whom her brother took away by force from her monastery to give her in marriage to one of his own party ; but she soon after fell ill and died. Dante throughout his poem often recurs to his Florentine connections, political and domestic. In the next sphere, of Mars, are those who have been actuated throughout their upright career in this world more by the wish of gaining the approbation of men than from the feeling of duty to God.
In the sphere of Venus Dante sees those who, after being given to the passion of love, turned that feeling into devotion to God. Here he meets with Charles Martel, the King of Hungary, son of Charles II., Anjou, King of Naples, whom Dante had personally known at Florence.
The fourth sphere is that of the Sun, according to the ancient system of astronomy, which made our earth the centre of the world. In this sphere are the doctors of the church, and, among others, Thomas Aquinas, of the order of St. Dominic, who pronounces a panegyric upon St. Francis, the founder of the Franciscan order; and St. Bonaventura, a Franciscan friar, who delivers a like eulogy on St. Dominic. In this Dante has evidently intended to avoid all appearance of the rivalry which existed between those two celebrated monastic orders. And this is another proof, if proof is wanted, that Dante was sincere in his faith, and neither a heretic nor an unbeliever.
After several theological disquisitions Dante ascends to the fifth heaven, which is that of the planet Mars, where are the souls of those who died fighting for religion. Among them our poet discovers his ancestor Cacciaguida, who died in the wars of the Crusades in the East, about 1152. A long conversation follows concerning the state of Florence, past and present. Cacciaguida extols the good old times, when manners were simple, when the population
· Was chaste and sober, and abode in peace,
• I saw Bellincion Berti walk abroad
Similar lamentations have been said or sung of every place and nation under the sun that has risen to wealth and refinement. If they are evils, they are evils that seem unavoidable. Simplicity of manners may be a good thing, but with the increase of wealth, industry, and population, it cannot continue as it was in earlier times; and to regret it when the times and social state have changed is to regret an impossibility. Every stage of society has its good and evil side, and wisdom would seem to consist in endeavouring to make the best of that condition of it under which we live.
The whole of the sixteenth and seventeenth cantos refer to the history of Florence.
Dante, following Beatrice, ascends to the sixth heaven, that of Jupiter, where are the souls of those who had faithfully administered justice in the world. Here the poet takes an opportunity of launching bitter invectives against Pope Boniface VIII., and against most of the kings of his time, Charles II. of Naples, Frederick of Sicily, Ferdinand IV. of Castile, Wenceslaus of Bohemia, Philip le Bel, Edward I. of England, the Kings of Portugal, Norway, Hungary, Ratza, and Cyprus. He afterwards praises William II. of Sicily, called “the Good;" and, curious as it may appear, after shutting out Virgil and the philosophers of antiquity from Paradise, because they did not know the true God, he places there the Emperor Trajan, because he supposes him to have died a Christian.
In the seventh heaven, that of Saturn, Dante finds the ascetics, those who have spent their lives in retirement and contemplation.
The next heaven is that of the fixed stars, in which the poet meets St. Peter, who examines him concerning faith ; St. James, who questions him concerning hope, “a sure expectance of the joy to come, the effect of grace divine and merit preceding;” and St. John, who examines him concerning charity. (Canto xxvii.) St. Peter exclaims, in very indignant terms, against the covetousness of his successors, and especially of Boniface VIII., and of the “Cahorsines and Gascons,” meaning Clement V. and John XXII., the Avignon popes, already mentioned. The mention of the “ Cahorsine,” John XXII. of Cahors, is evidence that this part of the Paradise was not written before 1316, the date of that pope's election, although Dante makes St. Peter prophesy it.
In the ninth heaven we have another invective against the preachers of Dante's time
E'en they, whose office is
pass their own inventions off instead.- Canto xxix.
Indeed, all through the Paradise the author lashes most fercely those whom he considered as the causes of the misfortunes of his own country, kings, popes, monks, and the clergy in general, most of whom belonged to the Guelph or Neri party. In Canto xxx. he sees the hall in which
Shall rest the soul
This was Henry of Luxemburg, in whom the hopes of Dante and his party were centered.
In Cantos xxxi. and xxxii. Dante holds conversation with St. Bernard, who points out to him several of the blessed souls, both of the Old and New Testament, and explains to him that their places are assigned to them by Divine grace, and not according to their merit. Through the intercession of the Virgin, he is allowed to have a glimpse of the brightness of the Divine Majesty :
As one, who from a dream awaken'd, straight
Canto xxxiii. and last.
And the poem concludes with an invocation of the Trinity :
Then vigour fail'd the tow'ring fantasy;
СовBETT. . [WILLIAM COBBETT, the son of a farmer at Farnham, in Surrey, was born in 1762. He died in 1835. Regarded almost universally as the bitterest and most unscrupulous of political partisans, he is acknowledged by all as having possessed a mind of extraordinary vigour, with a power of adapting his expressions to the comprehension of all in a manner that has never been surpassed. The following passages
in which he speaks of himself are full of interest. The longer extract is from his * Rural Rides.' It is now simply amusing to see how the fierceness of political hatred pervades all his writings.]
“ After living within a few hundred yards of Westminster Hall, and the abbey church, and the bridge, and looking from my own windows into St. James's Park, all other buildings and spots appear mean and insignificant. I went to-day to see the house I formerly occupied. How small! It is always thus : the words large and small are carried about with us in our minds, and we forget real dimensions. The idea, such as it was received, remains during our absence from the object. When I returned to England in 1800, after an absence from the country parts of it for sixteen years, the trees, the hedges, even the parks and woods, seemed so small ! It made me laugh to hear little gutters, that I could jump over, called rivers ! The Thames was but a
• creek!' But when, in about a month after my arrival in London, I went to
Farnham, the place of my birth, what was my surprise! Every thing was become so pitifully small! I had to cross in my postchaise the long and dreary heath of Bagshot. Then, at the end of it, to mount a hill, called Hungry Hill; and from that hill I knew that I should look down into the beautiful and fertile vale of Farnham. My heart fluttered with impatience, mixed with a sort of fear, to see all the scenes of
childhood; for I had learned before the death of my father and mother. There is a hill not far from the town, called Crooksbury Hill, which rises up out of a flat in the form of a cone, and is planted with Scotch fir-trees. Here I used to take the eggs and young ones of crows and magpies. This hill was a famous object in the neighbourhood. It served as the superlative degree of height. As high as Crooksbury Hill,' meant, with us, the utmost degree of height. Therefore the first object that my eyes sought was this hill. I could not believe my eyes! Literally speaking, I for a moment thought the famous hill removed, and a little heap put in its stead; for I had seen in New Brunswick a single rock, or hill of solid rock, ten times as big, and four or five times as high! The post-boy, going down hill, and not a bad road, whisked me in a few minutes to the Bush Inn, from the garden of which I could see the prodigious sand-hill, where I had begun my gardening works. What a nothing! But now came rushing into my mind all at once my pretty little garden, my little blue smock-frock, my little nailed shoes, my pretty pigeons that I used to feed out of my hands, the last kind words and tears of my gentle, and tender-hearted, and affectionate mother! I hastened back into
If I had looked a moment longer I should have dropped. When I came to reflect, what a change! I looked down at my dress. What a change! What scenes I had gone through! How altered my state! I had dined the day before at a secretary of state's in company with Mr. Pitt, and had been waited upon by men in gaudy liveries! I had had nobody to assist me in the world. No teachers of any sort. Nobody to shelter me from the consequence of bad, and no one to counsel me to good behaviour. I felt proud. The distinctions of rank, birth, and wealth, all became nothing in my eyes ; and from that moment (less than a month after my arrival in England) I resolved never to bend before them."
“The landlady sent her son to get me some cream, and he was just