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ted to do both, than this apposite assertion of the Creator's infinite benignity on the very spot where vulgar minds might incline to forget it, overwhelmed with terror on the threshold of the abyss?
benignity that is conspicuous throughout all his works , but perhaps no where more strikingly so than here where we are constrained to confess, it is the same principle of immeasurable love, which prepares everlasting felicity for the virtuous, that consigns the guilty to hopeless agony. To recall such a truth in such circumstances is to rouse the fancy and understanding to the fullest stretch of which they are capable; is to take in at one view all that we can imagine of heaven , hell, and God —-the remotest extremes and their common centre: and thus instead of lingering Oh details , we are engaged to collect and concentrate the whole' resources of our intellect —-joys and woes, delights and miseries, pleasure and suffering, every thing beautiful or hideous, most magnificent or most abject, in fine the various dissonant effects of which the most fervid brain can attain any
idea and, referring them at the same time to
their Almighty cause, express the entire in a single word, love, the love that is illimitable, the love of universal order. It is perhaps this very phrase, first love, which the French scholar disdains to translate, that confers the most peculiar grandeur on
this passage; a passage scarcely inferior to any
in the whole Aeneid.Its terrific denunciations are not however to be considered applicable to every Succeeding scene of this hell of Dante, any more than the
Horrendum stridetis (0 ,
and those other monsters are to that of Virgil. Both bards seem to have put their Muses to an effort in order to render the entrance into the nether realm awful: yet both of them intended to represent a portion of that realm as a seat of tranquillity, to which they could not have meant that anything in those warning sounds should in the least allude. The Elysium of the one ( the delicious landscape where Marcellus appeared to his renowned ancestor ) is the first Circle of the
other, the calm, lucid rendezvous of multitudes
of exalted sages no more exposed to those emotions which ruffle the mind'with joy or sorrow.' To these no threats of torment can be directed; nor even the words that forbid hope: for although it be true that their destiny is in general irrevocably fixed who once enter hell, yet is it a position to be received with limitations; at least in the Divine CoMEDY.From that circle, or hell-of-the-holy-fathers, Scripture informs us that many have ascended to Paradise ( nor of the Jewish law alone, for Job was no Jew) who had lived in hope until the arrival of the Messiah: so hope did exist there . This forces
OAK TO I If,
on us the premature reflection, that if ( deserting the example of Virgil, who presents Us with none of his departed worthies am.ongthe Celestials) Dante admits of multitudes having been elevated from the Elysian portion of hell into Paradise, it is in justice to be attributed, not so much to a sublimer fancy in him individually, as to the march of the whole age towards a more general diffusion of various intellectual enjoyments, which Antiquity permitted to be monopolized by a few of its\most
eminent members exclusively a change to be
attributed entirely to the influence of Christianity. Moreover Dante now enters into hell with full hope of coming out again: hope then does exist there . He could not have intended so glaring a contradiction between his words and actions, as to prohibit hope to all who enter, at the moment he is himself entering with the brightest hopes . This horrible inscription then is not addressed to all who pass the infernal gate; but to the inhabitants
of the lower portions of hell the hell-of-the
damned. ' That hell is within the centre of the earth,' ( writes Hoccaccio in his Genealogy (0 ) 'was not only the doctrine of the Pagans, ( Res alia terra et caligine mersas) but of illustrious Christians too; and, if we consider that the throne of the Divinity is in heaven, from which the centre of our earth is the remotest spot of the universe,
(0 Genealofia Dcor. Lib. i.e. nr.
it seems not unreasonable to describe the prisonhouse of the guilty as subterranean; in spite of Cicero.' That in Dante's and Boccaccio's day the Ptolemaic astronomy was still in fashion; and that in consequence our globe was deemed the centre, or inmost kernel, of the multifarious universe, which (like a ball containing divers balls ) spins in the moveless, empyreal heaven, I have already said(0. According to this system, the only possible mode of descending from the surface of this sphere that we inhabit, were to descend into it: whence it follows, that to some region supposed to lie within it, and to nothing beside, could the sacred scribes of either the old or the new Testament have intended to refer, when they told us of a descent from earth to hell. Herein then necessarily agreed not only Virgil and'some illustrious Christians,' but all those followers of Ptolemy who,as poets, imagined , or, as philosophers and religionists, inculcated the actual existence of an infernal abode,— Greeks, Romans, Jews, or Moslem. Milton was led into a vague and, for that very reason, a sublimer notion by the revolution which had newly taken place in astronomy: one does not see whereabouts he fancied his hell; which is thus veiled in a mystery as conducive to poetry, as to reason . But Dante conformed to what were then the undivided sentiments of the learned ; and, in
(i) Hell, Comment. Canto it. p. i37.
placing hell within the earth, did no more than unite the popular creed with the astronomical principles set forth by the best among his predecessors and his contemporaries in science and literature.
Tuque invade viam ,. . .
Nunc animis opus, Aenea, nunc peotore firino (').
E. —— xvin.
We are told in the Convito, on the authority of Aristotle, what is the good of the intellect, viz: truth (»). Here then Jehovah, the well-spring of truth, is designated by the intellectual Good; whom the wicked have lost for ever.
F. —— Xxvii.
I cannot assert that this passage, however powerful, is equal to this fine one of which it is an evident copy:
Hinc exaudiri gemitus et saeva sonare
(i) Aeneid. lib. vi. V. a6o.
(a) Siccome il Filosofu Del »e»to dell' Etica dice che it vero e il bene dell' intelletto . Convito, p. yS(3) Aenejd. lib. Vi. V. 55y.