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nection is not quite clear. It may refer, physically, Thematn to the season of youth, or, spiritually, ]mbum. j.Q (.he conversion wrought in him by the
purifying efficacy of this transcendental attachment. The exact nature of this attachment is the hardest psychological puzzle in literature. The question raised is whether his passion was wholly ideal, regarding no single human being, or whether there was in it something earthly, concrete, personal. The general trend of opinion favours the latter view, but the former position is defended, with considerable force and ingenuity, by a distinguished Italian critic — Signor Adolfo Bartoli. Indeed, some of his arguments are such as no candid mind can resist. It is no longer possible, even for those who espouse the opposite theory, to insist on the literal accuracy of every statement in the Vita Nuova, and Signor Pio Rajna, in his interesting essay La Genesi della Divina Commedw, though siding in the main with Herr Gaspary, frankly concedes as much. But he holds, as I believe, rightly, that the Vita Nuova is not on that account a mere tissue of fiction, a romance, but, on the contrary, an authentic document of actual human experience.
Who or what was Beatrice? Was this the real name of a real woman? In what may be termed the "text" of the discussion Dante himself speaks as follows—"Nine times now, since my birth, the heaven of light had returned almost to the same point, with regard to its own gyration, when to my eyes first appeared the glorious lady of my mind, who was called Beatrice by many who did not know che si- chiamare." The style is dignified, but vague. What do the last words signify? Bartoli construes apparently, "come chiamarla." Is this likely? On a matter of idiom it is risky for a foreigner to express an opinion, but the more natural interpretation would seem to be, not "did not know her right name," but "knew only the sound of her name and not its hidden meaning." This appears to be Gaspary's notion, since he renders "did not know that she was really bcatrice, the bestower of blessing."
Pio Bajna regards the name as a kind of senhal, such as the Troubadours used in order to express The common their feelings more freely; and, in point of 'T- fact, Boccaccio declares that the lady was
called Bice. Daughter of an "ancient" citizen of Florence, Folco Portinari, she wedded a knight, Messer Simone de' Bardi, and died in the twenty-fourth year of her age. All this seems circumstantial enough, and Boccaccio avers that it came from a trustworthy person, who knew Bice and was related to her. On the other hand, Buti, who lectured on Dante at Pisa soon after Boccaccio's death, observes in his Comento that, while some might believe that Beatrice had been flesh and blood, yet "it was not so."
This is nothing less than a categorical denial of Boccaccio's statements, and, as Scartazzini points out, proves at least that there could have been no widely spread or firmly established legend on the subject. But an ipse dixit of the kind is not all that is required to upset Boccaccio's credit. From his mode of imparting the information, it was evidently a family secret, of which the world in general was likely to know nothing. Recollect: Bice was wife to Messer Simone. But, more than that, Dante, as he confesses, used all his efforts to prevent the truth leaking out, and he rejoices in the success of those efforts. Nevertheless, there are "undesigned coincidences "—e.g., the death of Folco Portinari on the last day of 1289, and the allusion to the death of Beatrice's father in the Vita Niwva—which tend to confirm Boccaccio's testimony. Dr Scartazzini, who is held in such just esteem for his learned and industrious studies, has a theory of his own. He believes that Beatrice lived, though as Beatrice to the poet only; that she was never the wife of Simone or of any other man; that she died whilst still marriageable; that Dante not only loved, but was loved by, her; and that in due course she would have become his bride, had not the match been hindered by "morte villana e di pieta nemica." He does not hold out any hope of discovering who Beatrice was. She was a Florentine lady, and—that is all.
If Beatrice was not flesh and blood, what was she? Well, there is a fairly obvious response to this inThe-abstrac- quiry. She was an abstraction. That tum" theory. being granted, the next thing is to ask, What sort of abstraction? What may we suppose her to symbolise? Writing in the last century, Biscioni maintained that she symbolised philosophy. But, evidently, this will not do. Dante did indeed, both in the Convivio and the Commedia, personify this idea, but in neither case was Beatrice the symbol. Rossetti, with his anti-papal mania, saw in her the figure of the Holy Roman Empire, while Perez asserted that she represents a mediaeval figment—Active Intelligence. Bartoli shrewdly perceives that none of these conjectures will stand, so he comes forward with a fourth solution, i.e., that Beatrice is—just donna, the ideal of womanhood. What Dante celebrates is precisely what Lapo, what Guido, what Cino, what all the poets of the dolee sti l nuovo had celebrated; and if he tops them all, it is not that he is helped by any external motive, but he is what he is by virtue of his own innate gifts, keener feeling, a finer touch, a richer imagination, and so on.
This, however, merely begs the question. That there was a good deal of sheer conventionalism in oririin and the Tuscan, as in the Provencal, school of natuno/ioK. poetry, may be allowed, but that these poets never were in love, or, being in love, never attempted to describe their feelings, is not only an unlikely proposition, but suggests a hopeless disbelief in the "eternal verities." Signor Bartoli indeed is at no pains to conceal his opinion that love in our sense is a quite modern invention. He maintains that, in the golden or flourishing age of romance, such a thing was unknown, and that if we wish to meet with those ideas hitherto falsely attributed to Dante, we must wait until the time of Byron, and Goethe, and LeopardL At the close of the thirteenth century the only love of which poets knew anything was that of the Provencal albata and part of the Moiium de la Rose,—in other words, the most naked and unblushing sensualism.
That Byron's conception of love should be considered higher, more spiritual, than that of Dante seems to me a reduetio ad absurdum; but, in a matter like this, it would be manifestly improper to appeal to prejudice. I may, however, observe that, if Bartoli is right, then all those explanations so ingeniously framed to account for the phenomenon—such as the softening influence of Christianity, the cult of the Virgin Mary, &c.—may henceforth be laid by as useless. Not, I must confess, that I have ever paid much heed to these explanations, which, in my estimation, are only a little less absurd than the opinion before impugned. The inventor of romantic love has been claimed by one authority—Mr E. F. M. Benecke—to have been Antimachus of Colophon, a friend of Plato. If this be so, we are already a long way from Byron and his contemporaries. But is there not something essentially puerile in these speculations? Surely the distinction between love and lust is fundamental in human nature.
I need not recall the familiar lines of Venus and Adonis, though, from a chronological standpoint, they are absolutely fatal to Bartoli's proposition. Lust is excited through the bodily senses and finds its fruition therein. Love, on the contrary, arises out of a conviction, true or false, of moral excellence—tenderness, fidelity, capacity for self-sacrifice, combined perhaps with graceful manners, tact, and helpful accomplishments as the outward expression of these qualities— in the person beloved. It is just this subjective or imaginative element that, in the eyes of some, has made romantic love ridiculous. But love is love, not