Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

Bisro in.

In the copy however we find one of those peculiar touches which Dante seldom fails to introduce into his most avowed imitations of the classics,

the 'sound of hands'

Voci ;ilte e fioche e suon di man con elle

a figure not inferior to any in his original, and a worthy companion of the scriptural stridor dentium.

G. xxxii.

Error instead of horror is th« usual reading; but I am induced to adopt the latter without reserve, not because it seems to me the most intelligible and poetical, and much less because it is authorized by Velutello and Lombardi, as cited by Mr. Gary, (for these would be to me no authorities at all, when opposed to the Academy) but on what I take to be the very best, possible authority, that of Boccaccio (0: and I am surprised

M. Biagioli's good taste did not rather make him do so too than praise the expression of ' binding the head with error,' which is surely more abstruse than beautiful (»). But people are so prone to discover beauties in what they can't understand!

H. Xxxvii.

It is the nature of our poet's hell to become worse in torment the farther you descend; circles

[ocr errors]

G»BTO HI.

after circles deepening in horror as they narrow down towards the focus of the pit, where Lucifer is impaled. Thus we shall find the first Circle an Elysian abode; and the circles immediately following places of sorrow, it is true, but yet not of excessive torment, nor altogether unallayed by a residue of human feelings. But to this system the vestibule is an exception; for in it we find sufferings so severe, that those exposed to thera would prefer to undergo any others. Why such an anomaly? It is indeed an imitation of Virgil, whose crowd of unburied ghosts wander undistinguished "Just in the gate and in the jaws of hell:"

Haec omnis quam cernis itiops iuhumataque turba est: Matres atque viri defunetaque corpora vita Mugnanimum heroum, pueri inuptsque puellae (0. But Virgil had formed nograduated scale of descent and corresponding woe; he had not laid out his infernal region like an amphitheatre increasing in torment step l>y step as you go down to its arena: and therefore nothing prevented his shifting the scenes as chance or fancy dictated: so that he even represented in separate portions that region which, consisting not of eternal but expiatory punishments, forms in substance but one indivisible state answering, as 1 have said(J), to the Purgatory of the Romish Church; and entered

(i) Afneid. Lib. Ti. V. 3o5.

(a) Hell, Comment. Canto Ii. p. i38.

C4HTO ItI.

some of them, viz: where the/also damnati are to be

seen and such asprojecere animas and the

lugentes campi and the arva quae bello clari

frequentant before Elysium; and some of them

after it, viz: those where souls exercenturpcenis

and where some, after drinking of Lethe, are condemned to return and live again on earth,

which is only another kind of purgation. Dante did not allow himself the same liberty; the plan adopted by him was to exhibit bitterer sights the lower he proceeded; the more profound the circle, the more aggravated the guilt and anguish. Why then thus infringe it at the very outset? It is the only instance in which he does so: it is quite out of the natural order, and therefore a peculiar mark of degradation. It was intended for those pusillanimous egoists upon whom our republican poet was desirous of affixing the brand of consummate opprobrium. It would have been hard to do so in any circle of hell: for in the upper ones there were too good company for them and the inflictions were not severe enough; while in the profound ahyss it were not easy to deprive them of something of the dignity inseparable from great endurance

For it were glory there to dwell. To place them in this hellish outskirt, devoured by vermin and with such a sense of their degraded state that they would rather undergo any curse beside; and to consign them for ever to those CAKTO III.

miserable demons, who once were that class of angels represented by the then popular theologians as having been neutral in the celestial war ( unfaithful to their Maker, and at the same time too cowardly to join with Satan) was perhaps the sole invention completely answering his purpose: the unnatural punishment of an unnatural crime. The miserable crowds on the infernal frontier in the Aeneid are expiating no errors of their own , but the chance, or negligence, which leaves their

bodies without burial: an instance of the an

cientness of the doctrine, that the conduc t of the living may have some influence over the destinies of the dead . But those condemned by Dante to a similar doom in the same place are far from being displayed as objects of pity; and, on the contrary, are guilty of the sin most irremissihle in the eye

of a legislator selfishness. To whatever extent

Montesquieu be right in affirming that without much virtue there is no freedom, this at least is certain, that without great public spirit no popular government can long subsist a pure democracy not one moment. A law of Solon pronounced death against the citizen who should retire into his house during a tumult in the streets. Of all treasons neutrality was declared the worst; factious demagogues were to be easily pardoned, but temporizing politicians never. That wise man saw that to violence and ambition there was a remedy, but that luke-warmness deprived society of its vital cisro in.

principle; and that in no State worth preserving the evil-minded are numerous enough to he very dangerous, if the well-disposed are alert and hold. To be persuaded of this Dante had as good reason as Solon could have: they were both chiefs for a season of their native lands, and were both badly requited('); nor was it a lessarduous undertaking to defend the liberty of stormy Florence, than to legislate for Athens. Nothing butan uncommon share of widely diffused patriotism could have long preserved the valuable institutions of either of those cities; and therefore their sage leaders by every means in their power laboured to foster it. Yet the verity of which they had so clear an apprehension belonged not to their own commonwealths alone, but to all times and countries: nor is it indeed merely political, but a general position of ethics. When Man, permitting his passions to overwhelm his reason, falls into vice,the light of his understanding is misdirected, or perhaps dimmed, but not extinguished; he may be reclaimed from his errors and that flame again hallowed may beam with even more than its pristine beauty: but when selfishness has debauched the mind the very passions (which are less ignoble) die, and the intellectual spark is quenched; that fountain of life is not muddied, but dried up. It is a melancholy fact of which the Creator himself informs us, " I would thou wert cold or hot; but because

(i) Both died in exile .

« AnteriorContinuar »