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CAKTO THE FIHST.
Allegories enter more or less into every considerable poetic work: so, though I have no intention in this my comment of attempting to give more than my Author's obvious meaning, as well as I can, and not certainly of vying with the ingenious Commentators who explain this entire poem allegorically, I must begin by saying that the greatest part of this first Canto is a pure allegory. Without this warning it might appear so obscure, as to dishearten some from proceeding any further than the second or third page; but, bearing what 1 premise in mind, we shall soon find the allegory end and conduct us without confusion into the main subject, vindicating « the ways of God to man » . Dante , come to the middle of human life, finds himself still tossed about a gloomy forest, desert, or valley, from which however he descries a sunny mountain; and, endeavouring to ascend it, is impeded by three wild-beasts; to which he would
(i) The Capitals refer to the marginal notes; anil the Roman figures to the verses of, not my translation hut, the original Italian .
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have fallen victim had it not been for the appearance of his master, Virgil; who proposes, as sole resource, that they should pass into the future world and take a view of what is passing there. This is literally the whole Canto; of which the allegory seems evidently: Dante, who at thirty five years of age found himself still, or rather more than ever, immersed in the turbulent politics of his Country, began to seek for something like peace—in vain; being thwarted in all his efforts by the profligacy of his fellow-citizens, the ambition of the house of France, and the immorality and avarice of the then court of Rome; and from these perils he was at last extricated by a sapient leader, or duke,Virgil , as I said before .
In the present article there are two points to be demonstrated: that the middle of human life means 35 years , and thus gives us the exact date of the opening of the poem; and that the forest does signify, as I have averred, the turbulent politics of the time.
The days of our years are three score years and teu, says the Bible; and it is the same idea that Dante himself repeats in the Convito—'the summit of our arch is in the thirty fifth year' (0. It is superfluous to seek for further authority; by saying he was in the middle of life, he must have meant he was in his thirty fifth year. That he was born in May,
ia65, is a settled point (0; but if proof is desired , let the single one of Boccaccio suffice:—Dante died on the fourteenth ofseptember and 1 have spoken with one of his most intimate friends, M. Giardino of Ravenna, who affirmed to me, that he on his death-bed told him that in the preceding month of May he had been 56 years old' (»). Now taking 56 from i3ai we have ia65, or the period of his birth; and adding to this 35, to bring him to the middle of human life, we have exactly i3oo; on the fifteenth of June of which he was created one of the Priors, or supreme magistrates, of the Florentine Republic (3) —an office which, however honorable to his reputation, was fatal to his repose. By it was furnished the pretext for his banishment; eternal banishment from his ( dolce nido ) 'darling nest'; from 'the holy Jerusalem for which he sat weeping night and day, as if he were in Babylon' (*). So tender was his love for his native Country; and so fondly did he discriminate between her, and the factions which within her had acquired a most tyrannical ascendancy. These he certainly has not spared . but his country through all his misfortunes was the object of his enthusiastic attachment
(i) Voltaire wrote otherwise: hut the superficial levity with which he pleaded an excuse for Bayle , when the error was not in Bayle hut in Voltaire himself, is justly reprehended hy M. Merian Mem. de l'Acad . de Berlin i784.
(»5 Comento p. i9.
(3) Priorista Fiorentino p. 4'.
(4) Pistola p. a i4.
to the last; in his old age we find him exclaiming, O my Country! O my poor Country, how 1 do pity thee! (') ( evidently more afflicted for her than for himself); and we know with what complacency he designated himself as a Florentine, making himself be introduced always by that title, and almost invariably adding it to his signature with such persevering constancy, that a few instants before he expired, he showed, that his mind was even then chiefly prevented from composing herself by harping on the severity of Florence towards him; for in a tone of reproachful affection he called it 'Mother'(»>. Neither Guelph nor Ghibelline, but the advocate of his dear native land and of moral rectitude, he was a man remarkable for patriotism, as we shall have innumerable occasions to observe. Perhaps even there is no other instance of that virtue's outliving severer trials; the most inveterate malignity of his fellow-citizens, his own exile, the dispersion of bis friends, the ruin of his property, and ( what would be scarcely credible if the infamous document were not still extant in the Archives) the fearful indignity of a law passed to authorize any magistrate to make him , as soon as caught, be, without further trial burnt alive (3). It is observable that this last outrage is never
(i) O PMria I O uiisera Patria mia, quanta pieta mi strigae per le! Convito p. ao3. (a) P. Jovius. Elogia .
(3) . .. ignc comburatur sic quod moriatar. Cancel, p. S8.