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rons of Florence, borne down by the Aretine horse, fell back on the support of the infantry; and the steadiness of the foot-soldiers, combined with the dispersion of the enemy, finally gave the victory to the Guelfs. Dante, who was in one of the cavalry troops, describes the trepidation, and at last the great joy, with which he marked the varying fortunes of the day. The following August he was present at the siege of Caprona, when the garrison, after an honourable resistance, surrendered on terms.
We come now to his marriage. At some date before 1298—it is impossible to settle exactly when—Dante took to wife Gemma Donati, a woman of family, who bore him several children. Rumour has not been kind to this poor lady, vilified through successive ages as a termagant or shrew. The author and propagator of the scandal was Boccaccio, who based it on the supposed complete separation of the couple after Dante's exile. But this is less than just. I yield to none in reverent admiration for Coleridge, for whose frailties, remembering his lofty and generous aspirations, I am eager to admit any excuse; but it would be folly to pretend that the fact of his quitting Sara and her family casts any valid reflection on the wife of his youth. If Gemma can be identified with the "gentle lady" of the Vita JS'uava, and there have been more unwarrantable conjectures, then the marriage was one of affection, not a conventional arrangement patched up, like that of Montaigne, to satisfy relations. The subsequent parting is explained only too easily by the grim logic of the situation.
Allowing, however, that there were jars, it is absurd —I was going to say Quixotic, but Quixote would have disdained such a thing—to throw all the blame on Gemma DonatL To say nothing of the irritability of poets, of which it is evident that Dante abundantly partook, it must have been a severe trial to a wife of average sensibility for her husband to be always and openly celebrating the transcendent virtues of another. Xor is it any answer to say that Beatrice, at any rate in death, was a phantasm, a mere abstraction. It is altogether too much to expect from a simple Florentine lady the power of nicely discriminating between the real and the ideal, when this very problem has baffled the ripest intellects and is likely long to remain an apple of discord between rival schools of criticism.
The irritability of poets! Was it ever better exemplified than in the case of Boniface VIII., the shcphmiing "shepherd turned wolf"? Dante would the sheep. seem never to have satisfied himself that justice had been done on this malefactor of the Lateran. Much of this may have been righteous indignation; but, on the other hand, it must not be forgotten that Boniface was Dante's evil genius, a sort of haunting vampire whose lust of power had blotted out the prospect, the fair prospect, of his life. The antagonism between them goes back to the very earliest years in which Dante can be believed to have taken part in public affairs. In 1293 was accomplished the memorable reform of Giano Della Bella, by virtue of which none of those citizens denominated "great" or "noble" could succeed to any office of state. These Ordinances of Justice, as they were called, naturally gave great umbrage to the disfranchised, and in 1295 the nobles and great men essayed a counter-revolution. Among other expedients they despatched from Campania a "free and bold cavalier" whose special mission it was —on the principle " Smite the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered "—to slay Giano Della Bella. I cannot here follow the story to its conclusion; but it is important to note that the cavalier in question came, as Dino Compagni alleges, with the approval of Pope Boniface VIII., "then newly created."
In 1300 the same pope again interfered in the
domestic affairs of Florence. The general condition of
things was as follows. The Ghibellines
Civic broiU. , ° ,
had been cast out; the nobles and great men had been reduced to impotence, and all persons ambitious of office were required to enter themselves as members of some "art"—that is, some trade or profession. If it be true, as proverbial wisdom assures us, that indolence is always mischievous, the converse ought also to hold, and the statesmanship of Giano should have issued in profound tranquillity, in universal contentment. Excellent in theory, but in practice how different! Faction had indeed been expelled, but not the spirit of faction, which was always engendering new causes of strife. When they had nothing else to fight over, the citizens adopted as a pretext the rival claims of two great houses, the Cerchi and the Donati; and though they were all nominally Guelf, they could not rest until they had formed themselves into two new parties in certain features reproducing the old. These were the Neri and the Bianchi. In a republic one cannot serve the state and ignore divisions of party. Dante was a Bianco. He further qualified himself by joining the sixth of the seven Greater Arts, which was that of the physicians, but included also artists.
The magistracy of Florence at this time consisted of a Gonfalonier and six Priors. Dante, having already graduated as Counsellor, was, on the 15th of June 1300, advanced to the Priorship, and held office until the 15th of August following. Far too much stress has been laid on this honour, which circulated with such rapidity as to justify almost any citizen in hoping for its attainment. On the other hand, the cares that beset the post rendered it a thankless distinction for any but a sincere patriot. Coincidently with the date of Dante's accession to office Pope Boniface sent to Florence a high dignitary, Cardinal Fra Matteo d' Acquasparta, with the title of "peace-maker." Had the pontiffs motives been pure, no conduct would have better become the Vicar of Christ; but there is reason to think that Boniface, reviving the pretensions of Gregory VII. to universal jurisdiction, sought to profit by their unhappy dissensions, so as to draw the Florentines into acknowledged dependence on himself. The Bianchi, being then masters and suspecting some such design, refused to obey, and the cardinal-legate departed, leaving the city under an interdict and sentence of excommunication. Thus foiled, Boniface, still deeply persuaded of the need of reconciling the Florentines, appealed to the arm of flesh, and on the 1st of November 1301 Charles of Valois marched his forces into the city. The Bianchi fled in confusion, while the Neri, faithful servants of the Church, received their due reward.
Vcd vietis! The houses of the Bianchi were rased,
their goods confiscated; and Dante especially was
sentenced on the 27th of January 1302 to
a fine of two thousand florins. This was to be paid within three days, and, in default, all his belongings were to be declared public property. In any case he was to suffer banishment for two years, as well as perpetual exclusion from office and emolument, as a cheat! On the 14th of March 1302 a second decree was fulminated against him, setting forth that he had neither answered the citation nor paid the fine, and condemning him to be burnt alive, if ever he should fall into the power of the Republic. In fact, to adopt the style of our own Civil Wars, he was henceforward to be treated as a malignant. Even after his death Dante was still for the Florentine official the exile, the foe of the Guelf party, the Prior who had been guilty of dishonesty.
Bruni asserts that, at the time this storm burst, Dante was at Rome on an embassy to the Pope. It
is, however, not improbable that he was
at Florence or in the immediate neighbourhood, whence he succeeded in making his escape. The bulk of the exiles settled at Arezzo, and, in alliance with the Ghibellines of this and other towns, made a vigorous attempt to recapture Florence, finally without avail. Dante then betook himself to Verona, where he was hospitably entertained by the Scaligeri;