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who, but for the sacred bard, would have peeped and been cut away as unnoticed, as a daisy amid the countless flowers of a luxurious meadow. Yet her praises have been already sung for above five hundred years, and will continue to be so. If from the conflagration of universal literature the scholars of Italy were to save but one single relick, it would be this book , the Divine Comedy: it is then no exageration to foretell, that, as long as three or four volumes exist upon earth, this will.
Much confusion has arisen from not representing Beatrice thus in her double capacity; the origin of all which seems, in great part, to be attributable to the commentators having neglected Dante's prose writings, or at least given them only a superficial perusal. Even the indefatigable and voluminous Landino is not to be exempted from such a censure. One elegant Critic (0 cries out that Beatrice is infinitely more lovely in her literal sense , as if literal were opposed to allegorical, instead of being united with it; and as if they were inconsistent with each other , instead of having ( as I have before said) as natural an alliance in our imagination, as that between mind and body in a mortal creature. He would in fact deprive her of the brighter moiety of her creation; it were like substituting, for a form in full life and beauty, the skeleton of one who had been beautiful half a
(i) M. Merlin . Mem. de 1' Acad, da Berlin. i784.
dozen centuries ago . But we have seen how contrary this is to the author's intent; and we shall hereafter find many passages that were inexplicable on such a barren, unspiritual hypothesis. Others fall into the opposite error, and represent her as nothing but an allegorical image . This too we shall find quite inconsistent with many occurrences in this poem, as well as it is with the prose extracts already quoted: to which I may add, it is also implicitly overturned by the introductory verses to, what was perhaps the latest produce of his pen , his translation of the Creed; where he blames himself for having dedicated too much of his time to the celebration of a fellow creature, and declares that the remainder of his powers shall be entirely and exclusively given up to Christianity (0. He appears to have been anxious to prevent both the above misunderstandings; and so, not only prepared against them both what has been cited from the Convito, but sedulously composed various passages of this poem with a view to preclude the possibility of considering its heroine either as entirely allegorical, or entirely literal; for
(i) Io scrissi gia d'amor piu volte rime
Quanto pin seppi dolci, belle, e vaghe;
Da qaesto falso amor omai la mauo
I sette Salmi di D. A. p. (37.
some of them can receive no reasonable interpretation without taking her in the former, nor others without taking her in the latter sense. She must then be inseparably endowed with each: her shape and spiritual essence must not be disjoined. These are both beautiful and mutually beautify each other: the critics, who would strip her of her immaterial attributes, show as bad taste, as those who would deny her affecting connection with the world, and describe her as nothing more than the mystic doctoress of the schools. Here below, she had been two fold; a form that, as her lover says, resembled that of a Goddess, and a mind replete with benevolence: why not partake of the same double nature above? Hence what he had named
upon earth her'sweet accents' dolcissimo par
lare becomes in heaven an 'Angel-utterance'
Angelica favella; her eyes once 'bright and
full of love' now 'dim the solar flame'; and her countenance, though still retaining a resemblance to her mortal features, is clothed in Paradise with radiance too dazzling to be long dwelt upon: her mental faculties are also proportionably exalted^ till, blest with the prerogative of reading eternal truth , she becomes its delegated expounder to mankind. A curious obliquity induced even the representing of the Beatrices of Dante's three works as three distinct personages; of whom she of the Vita nuova was held to be possibly a real lady, she of the Convito philosophy, and she of this CASIO It.
poem theology: but how preposterous such suppositions are, is, I flatter myself, made already quite apparent. I have quoted his own assertion that the Beatrice of his Convito, she who still was in possession of the 'fortress of his mind', was the self same Beatrice of whom he bad spoken in his Vita nuova —quella donna gentile di cui feci menzione nella Vita nuova: one half then of the strange hypothesis is contradicted by Dante himself; and, if I cannot produce his own words to contradict the other half just as flatly, it is because he had no opportunity of speaking them, having never commented the Divine Comedy. But it follows clearly from analogy, that, if in two of his compositions is meant one and the same lady, she also is in the third. Nothing could overturn this argument but evidence either literally conveyed by some passage in the works of Dante, or strictly implied by it. This is so far from being the case, that all his expressions are not only consistent with the analogy but in general corroborate it. Beatrice therefore, in each composition of our poet, means, in a literal sense, the same object of his young love , Beatrice Portinari, and, in an allegorical sense , the same 'eldest daughter of Jehovah' ( whether denominated theology, or supreme philosophy) whom he had represented to himself in the shape
of his Beatrice e imaginava lei fatta come quella
Francesco da Buti pretends she was a daughter UiNlu tI.
ofau Emperor of Coustantinople,adding with ludicrous presumption, that this discovery was entirely his own , not arising from any thing to that effect in the text, but from his recollecting that the said Potentate had a child of the said appellation —perche neltesto non neparola (0. But really the whims and perplexities of the commentators are too tantalizing to unravel them all. Chronology, the polar star of true criticism, is so far from serving as their guide that they appear to scorn attending to it; and the consequence is, that the only way to get clear of a labyrinth is to begin by expunging every one of their dates and setting out afresh with Dante's various works on one hand, and on the other the chronicles and legal documents of that time, along with a few of the very oldest comments or rather fragments of comments, which 1 noticed heretofore (a). For instance even the late Pelli, correct as he is esteemed by Ginguene" who follows him without reserve, produces in a short passage such an assortment of palpable inconsistencies, as might pass for gross errors of the press, if they did not pervade both the text aud the note attached to it, and if this note were not made for the purpose of taxing Boccaccio with negligence.'Beatrice died in her twenty-sixth year on the ninth of June 129o (3)', is the text. This is the
(t) Prose antiche . Pref. xiv.
(») Comment. Hell. Canto i. p. a5.
(J) nel »6 anno delteta sua. Mem. per It vita di Dante p. 65.