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Italian grammar, the earliest of its kind; a book on politics, called De Monarchia; various Eclogues, and letters, and other productions either now wholly lost, or to be found in a very mutilated condition; these all in Latin: and
in Italian a philosophical comment named
II Convito; a translation of seven of the psalms and other religious pieces; and many letters and historical tracts of which very little is novr extant. He left several children; all of whom emigrated from Florence, where their property had been confiscated; nor, when the republic offer'd to restore it to his descendants, could these be prevailed on to return: and at last his line became entirely extinct about the middle of the sixteenth century—the male branch of it; for there is a noble family which still continues (or at least did so, not long ago ) to quarter his arms — a gold wing in a field
of azure with its own, on account of its
descent from a female Alighieri. Dante's mortal remains still lie where he expired — in Ravenna: notwithstanding a negotiation which the Republic of Florence attempted, in order to obtain them, about twenty years after his death; as well as a still bolder attempt to the same purpose, made in the sixteenth century by no less men than Leo X and Michelangelo.
The Ravennati have hitherto treasured them with a jealous reverence that becomes both.
What secures Dante's fame now is his Divina Commedia. His other writings, more or less of a temporary nature, have fallen, or may fall a prey to Time: but this multifarious poem will not expire before all Italian letters become utterly extinct. For it not only is united with the birth of the history and language of one of the most noted people in the world, and is prized by them above every other product of their literature, but its subject is universally
interesting more so than that of Homer,
and not less than Milton's. To much knowledge of the poetry and philosophy and religion of Antiquity, drawn from the Greek and Roman classics and the oriental writers, Dante added that of Mahometism and Christianity; and besides his own remarks and reflections in the character of a warrior, statesman, traveller, natural philosopher, etc. inserted those of the various remarkable men of his day, whether Italians, French, Germans, Spaniards, or Saracens; for there was scarcely one of them with whom he was not personally acquainted. The first great modern painter ( Giotto) was his friend and left us his portrait . With Marco Polo, the earliest Modern who performed a famous voyage of discovery, Dante must have been intimately acquainted, and learned from his own mouth many things about the countries beyond the Line, which are not to be found in Polo's book. Some of Dante's observations particularly regarding the antarctic
pole — can be reasonably accounted for in no other way. Where he was taught his doctrine of gravity ( whether by conversation with the Arabs or Spanish-moors, or by some of their writings not now known, or by his proper meditation) is a curious problem; but few are aware, how nearly he approaches Newton on the subject of the centripetal- attraction of the Earth. To investigate these matters, and elucidate them, particularly by extracts from his minor works, is to be one great branch of this comment. Among the number of volumes lately produced on a subject that appears little interesting to Oltremontani ( I mean the verbal war between the Tuscans and the Lombards ) there is one that may interest generally . Its author, Count Perticari, is of a similar opinion to mine regarding the politics of Dante. Yet I never saw the Count's book, until I had written all that is written of my own; nor indeed till after this volume had gone to press. That two impartial men considering separately on the same matter, should come to the same decision, is no small proof in its favour. Whatever I have said on Dante's uprightness and perspicacity as a statesman may now be considered as resting on much better authority than my own — on that of an Italian in high esteem among his countrymen, for manly sense, as well as elegant taste.
Of the Divina Commedia there are many translations in prose and verse. The one which least dissatisfies me, is the Latin version of Carlo D'Aquino. In English I am acquainted with two: although I did not know any thing of the existence of either, until very lately. With regard to one of them, it is unnecessary to notice it; for ramblingly paraphrastic, as it is, I believe, if the title-page were cut out and the book handed to me, I should not be aware it was intended for a translation of Dante. The other is indeed a very different production , I mean that of Mr. Cary. Its fidelity is exemplary; and though somewhat of a paraphrase, it is far from loose. But whatever be its literal merits, it does not give, nor pretend to give any of the melody of its Original. Dante writes in rhvme and in a metre whose chief characteristics are pliancy and concision. Mr Cary in blank verse imitative of the stateliness and oc
casional prolixity of Milton. Be it observed, that before Dante neither terza rima nor blank verse ( versi sciolti) existed in Italian, though both now do; and Cesarotti, Alfieri, Parini, Bettinelli, etc. prove, that the latter is no less adapted to the genius of the language, than the former. Dante then might just as easily have invented blank verse, as terza rima; if there was not something in rhyme which pleased his ear more. He had begun his poem in Latin heroics, but soon changed both tongue and metre. Who knows how many metres he might have tried, before he decided for terza rima? His smaller poems display a variety of metres. Any of these, or blank verse were as easy an invention as terza rima. But in choosing this last, he, in my opinion, chose well; for no other seems
capable of such variety being alike proper
for the highest and the lowest themes, and susceptible of every gradation of sound, to accompany each colour of eloquence, from rapid argument to playful imagery, from expanding tenderness to sarcasm and vehemence, from the sublimest simplicity to magnificence of description. Concision however is the chief peculiarity of Dante's style; even where he enters into descriptive details (which is rarely), his expressions are conciser, than those of any