Imagens das páginas

Oi>TO it

of science in Dante's age, and bis passionate wish to be useful. As to the former, it is certain that he had amassed a store of information physical and moral far surpassing that of his contemporaries; as will be apparent to any one who glances over the books of his preceptor, Brunetto Latini: and as to the latter , sufficient proofs of it will be found in his conduct by those who consider it attentively; and that it was the great scope of his writings, we have not only weighty internal evidence, as shall be fully demonstrated, but even his own

unqualified assertion in the Monarchia « ut

utiliter mundo provigilem » ('->. Hence to gain the reputation of a poet was with him a secondary object: his primary one being to benefit bis countrymen by the continual repetition of lessons of philosophy and virtue, in poetry and prose , in his life both political and private . It is impossible to do him, or his compositions, justice without viewing them in this light. If he wrote his sweet rhymes of love and the Vita Nuova, he followed them with a comment full of lofty speculations and showing how united was that noble love with the most refined philosophical doctrines; so that the reader was told to consider the being they celebrate to be no earthly dame, however fair, but one that is eternally fair and wise, philosophy herself. That indeed was not the case; a real

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iiina t.

lady had been his theme, a lovely lady of youth and innocence , of rank and beauty , who, from his ninth year to the day of his death, occupied an altar in his memory, and whose influence, after her decease, is more or less to be traced throughout all his productions, as if he thought that cherishing it sanctified his pen. But such was the sublime purity of his tenderness, that what it had addressed to a mortal was not unworthy of being transferred to an immortal power; what the conscious poet had written to woo a girl of Florence was to be considered by others as in praise of celestial wisdom; and no party was loser by the change. Thus what would have been a mere amorous trifle, chiefly commendable as a specimen of language, became highly dignified; as if the notion of his mistress were so angelical, so delicately sensitive, that it shrunk from permitting her to be esteemed human; or as if he were too deeply impressed with a reverence for his own talents and the important ends for which alone they were given him, to allow any individual feeling to divert them from the public service : and , thus explained, even those works treat of many abstruse, scientific problems and continually refer to the various ethical systems ancient and modern. Of three females whom he had particulary admired, two has he handed down as representing charity and grace ; and the third, as 1 have said, is every where introduced as the personification fiiHTO t.

of divine, all-comprehending wisdom: which, after having purified and strengthened his soul, was to guide him to that ineffable city, that« hath no need of the sun, neither of the moon to shine in it: for the glory of God doth lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof»(0. When even his amours were thus rendered instrumental to his design of enlightening his fellow-men, it is no wonder that he embraced also every other opportunity of doing so. On this scale should we estimate those astronomical paraphrases, which we shall find continually; and should such modes of designating so simple a thing as the hour or the season appear cumbersome now, and as incurring exposure to the Attic repartee-i—potueras hoc igitur a prin

cipio citharista dicere(a) yet be it recollected,

that they are acknowledged to have been eminently beneficial once; for they decked with the irresistible attractions of a popular poem many allusions, in learning to understand which, no class of auditors could fail to gather a large stock of instruction . To have formed its language then is but a trivial part of the advantages for which Italy should be grateful to Dante. She has had scarcely a man of science, since the fourteenth Century, who reaped not some profit to his peculiar avocations from a diligent perusal of the Divine Come

(i) ReT. »i, »3.

(a) De divin. I. a. p. 59.


dy; many of the modern discoveries are supposed to be indicated in it, and some of them are so certainly: while as to the fine arts, it really opened a new aera; and, in the same sense that Phidias and Apelles were said to homerize, Michael Angelo and Raphael might be said to dantize; particularly the former, who, according to his scholar, Condivi, knew all the verses of Dante by heart and avowedly imitated two passages of them in those masterpieces of painting and of sculpture, the Last Judgment and the tomb of Julius (0. Dante then is more than a poet, if poetry and science be incompatible, as a polite Critic labours in several dissertations to persuade the World But the first law-givers were poets; and to the chief poets ( whatever be the follies and errors of their subalterns) is mankind indebted in every branch of knowledge. It were then both ungrateful and unjust to adopt the theory of M. Merian: and fevv, I imagine, will agree with him in believing, that Ossian is entitled to the highest rank in poetry — that Homer and Solomon were quite illiterate — that but four traits of science are to be found in all Virgil —that the sole business of the Epic Muse is to please the fancy and soften the heart. Some there are, 1 know, who esteem it her duty to invi

(i) Vita di M. A. Buonarroti. (a) Comment les Sciences influent sur la poesie. Mem. Berlin i774, i77*, i784, i786

ciaro i.

gorate the intellect and inform the judgment; and who are ready to repeat Sir Phillip Sydney's opinion: «these Vates or poets both delight and teach; delight, to move men to take that gooduess in hand, which, without delight, they would fly as from a stranger; and teach, to make them know that goodness whereunto they are moved; which is the noblest scope to which ever any learning was directed » (0.

Sic honor et noinen divinis vatibus atque / Carminibus venit (»). \f Having once shown (5) that the poem opens in i3oo, and now that the sun is moving in Aries, at dawn, it is clear that the precise time is day-break in the spring of that year; and, descending still more to particulars, we discover (*) it to be Goodfriday — a day sanctified to an Italian by his poetry as well as, his creed; for it was on it that not only Dante chose to begin his Divine Comedy, but Petrarch, with somewhat less propriety, his melodious amours. Good-friday in i3oo was April the

eighth, Easter-sunday falling on the tenth:

lo be most minutely exact then, the poem open* at sun-rise, April the eighth, i3oo O. S.—Let this be marked with more emphasis than it seems to merit; for by it we are at once placed in full

(i) Defence p. ii.
(a) Hor. de Art. poet.
(31 p. 5.

(4) Hell. Ctulo xxi.

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