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elevated birth and the minuteness of a profound genealogist.'
D Xiii. i
In the Original,parente is put for father, with a licence similar to one already noticed (0. It is a grand conception to represent the adventures of Aeneas, the glories of the latin worthies and imperial Rome herself, as the pre-ordained forerunners of Christianity: and no doubt but it is an
improvement on theVirgilian exordium
Tan toe molis erat Romanam condere genteiu.
E — xxiv.
To appreciate much of what follows,)it is necessary to consider this passage a little, not as detached from the context, but as strictly explanatory of it; and as purposely set down here, to be the head and front of an entire system: those therefore who pass it by cursorily are very likely to be puzzled hereafter, on coming to invectives poured out against the same See, which is at present mentioned with extreme veneration. Such praise and such blame may appear inconsistent to an inattentive reader; whereas they, on the contrary,afford the most luminous proof of our Author's unshakeable consistency. He was a devout believer in Catholicism ; and a steady friend of liberty: how narrow
(i) Hell, Comment. Cauto i. p. 38.
Cibto lithe course he had to steer, and what conflicting factions were to assail him, he must have foreseen; and he consequently employed every means that prudence could suggest to prepare for them,—but not successfully. It is the fate of most men, who write reasonably on a party question, to offend both sides; and they ought never to flatter themselves that they can attain any other recompense, ■ than that of their own consciences and the assent of posterity. Present passions are against them; and the unimpassioned are too few and too quiet to be heard. But, above all mankind, this remark applies to Dante; who, in the most distempered age,'undertook to discuss impartially the two most momentous and inflammatory of subjects, religion and politics: so that it is no wonder his character should be misunderstood abroad, when it was exposed to worse reproach at home; where his countrymen ( however they may have extolled his speculative theology and his verses) only now slowly begin to do him some little justice as a political moralist; although he is certainly still more admirable in this latter character, than in that of poet. But, in order to curtail the argument, j beg of the reader (whatever may have been his habits of thinking) to concede for a while that our Author's objects were to. panegyrize Christianity ( or indeed rather the form of Christianity professed by Catholics (0) and to advocate freedom; and,
(i) Fa il uostio Dante uascunditore di cosi cara gioja come e la
1 dare believe, one will of himself adopt a similar opinion before proceeding far in these comments. It were superfluous to dwell upon the enormous abuses which had crept into the Roman Church (I pretend not to affirm in matter of faith , but, at least, of discipline) during some centuries, abuses that, about the thirteenth, had attained their • most crying excess. Even all Catholic historians agree in this; and vie in their abhorrence of a Pope's kicking off the diadem of a kneeling limperor: no Sovereign secure, allegiance held sacred no where, « the papal power » (in Mr. Hume's words) was now at its summit in every kingdom of Europe (1). » At this period did Dante take up his pen against enormities which he deemed still more disgraceful to religion, than subversive of the civil rights of nations: and that his exertions were soon fruitful, is manifest from another passage in Mr. Hume, who says that Boniface (the very Pope against whom Dante wrote) « was among the latest of the sovereign Pontiffs that exercised an authority over the temporal affairs of Princes (*). »No doubt, but even a more substantial fabrick than one raised on mere opinion fama potentiae non sua vi nixae might
melt away before less ohstacles, than the varied
Cattolica Teriti aorto volgare corteccia nel Iuo poema . Bocc. Co* tnento. vol. i. p. 56.
(i) Hist. vol. a. p. 5io.
(») Id vol. 3. p. 86.
exertions of one of the greatest geniuses that has existed. Incalculable benefits thence accrued to society; but he himself lived not to witness them: for on him personally the controversy heaped calamities nearly as incalculable, the loss of home, fortune, friends, repose and health — leaving him no other consolation , than that of Milton for the sacrifice of his eyes:
Yet I argue not Against heaven's hand or will, nor bate a jot Of heart or hope; but still bear up and steer Right onward. What supports me, dost thou ask? —— The conscience, friend, to have lost them overplied In liberty's defence , my noble task (0.
He sets out then by terming the Papal, a holy throne; and the Pope, the legitimate successor of S. Peter: in which he asserts the belief of Catholics. And these reverential expressious agree with many others of the same nature up and down through all his works: so that, when even that wicked Boniface, whose name he introduces so horridly in
the infernal gulf,
Se' tu gia costi ritto
Se' tu gia costi ritto Bonifazio ? (»)
and indeed against whom he thunders unremittingly, is ignominiously put in prison by Sciarra Colonna, the poet, forgetting every thing else, and as if only alive to the insult done to the head of his
(i) Sonnet, xvn. (a) Iuf. Cants xu. 1lt* TO II."
church, and turning from a consideration of the unworthiness of the occupant, to horror at the impious attack upon the station , pronounces a malediction on the perpetrators of the sacrilege, and represents Christ himself as crucified anew in the person of his high-priest: I see my Jesus mocked again
And drench'd again with vinegar and gall
And amid living robbers slain (0. No doubt, he felt that the impiety of the Pope was no excuse for that of the assassins. Besides all which, he was so persuaded of the truth of his own Creed, and so scrupulously desirous of manifesting that persuasion, that he composed a paraphrastic version of the whole Roman Catechism , to accompany this poem; along with which we find it bound up in the earliest printed editions (*). Having thus shielded himself against attacks on his orthodoxy, he set out boldly on the achievement to which he seems to have thought it proper to dedicate, in a particular manner , his life
and writings to distinguish between the
authorities spiritual and temporal, and to reprobate the Papal pretensions to this latter, as an unchristian usurpalion . It were necessary to transport ourselves far back, to evils now lost in time, if we would form a correct idea of the difficulties of his undertaking. Almost all other re
(i) Purg. Canto Xx.
(a) Venezia, Vendelin da Spira i477.