« AnteriorContinuar »
my own gentlest lady, now become an inmate of Paradise' e immaginava lei fattacome una donna gentile, quella gentil donna di cui feci menzione nella Vita nuova (0. Can anymore satisfactory illustration be required? What is there to prevent our considering Beatrice in this two fold light? Do we not consider a human being as two fold viz. as body and as soul? This is quite natural; it is to figure them asunder that is abstruse and perplexing. Her form we are, as he tells us, to representas that of his lovely mistress. We have seen she was a Florentine lady: to which I may add, that her father, Folcho Portinari, was celebrated for many princely acts of charity, but,above all, for having been the founder (») of the magnificent hospital S. Maria Nuova, an establishment that still confers benefit on his native place. Boccaccio affirms that he was one of the most upright, most anciently descended, and every way most illustrious citizens of the Republic (3); and the line of Folcho is ranked by Mini among the oldest and noblest of Italy, having given, as he avers,'a high admiral to the order of S. Iohn, since called of Rhodes, and now of Malta' (*). What insurmountable impediment there was to her union with our poet I cannot learn. It does not seem to have been
in her heart: for it is easily gathered, both that they never mutually revealed their passion, and that Dante flattered himself she secretly loved him; and indeed he makes her avow as much on their meeting in Purgatory, as we shall see. Neither was it from any disparity of rank; for his also was very distinguished, as shall be shown; so that when he married, it was into the family at that time confessedly the first in Florence both as to present authority and hereditary station, that of Donati. But there were so many domestic and political feuds during that tempestuous era, that there must have been almost innumerable bars to matrimonial alliances. She married a Florentine gentleman a cavaliere M. Simone de'Bardi, according to Boccaccio, as well as to the M. S. 1 have already quoted. These Bardi were people of highest consequence: one was elected head Prior on the first establishment of Priors in i28a, others of their family were successively promoted to the same dignity, indeed their name appears on the roll of the Priorists above ten several times during a space of less than nine years (0; Mini says, that they were still in his time Lords of Vernia, as they had been for centuries (»); and I have myself the honor of being personally acquainted with one of them, who, even at this day, is a potent Count in Tuscany, and besides bears the lofty title of Perpetual Vicar of the
(i) Priorista Florentine, pp. 8.—a5 (a) Difesa. p. a4i.
empire a title once courted by our own Edward III. when he undertook his expedition against France (0. We know from the Vita nuova that Beatrice had a brother (»), that Dante was his intimate associate and indeed called him his second friend, (Guido Cavalcanti, of whom we already spoke, being invariably named his first) that they wept together for her loss, and that the poet composed verses for them both on that melancholy occasion, some expressive of his own and some of fraternal love and sorrow . But, if he indulged his affections in his works by arraying her there in the pristine, female shape which he had admired on earth, he consulted a loftier scope by considering her spiritual part as the perfection of celestial wisdom, or in his own words supreme Philosophy; of which the loftiest speculations without doubt are those that treat of the soul and its creator. Hence Beatrice is represented by commentators as theology, (although indeed theology be not an expression much employed by Dante) and, if it be taken in its original acceptation of the study of God, they are right; and it may well be used as the synonyme of universal , all-comprehending knowledge, or what Dante terms supreme philosophy: because if it were possible to rise in this life to a just conception of the Almighty, it is likely we should have an intuitive acquaintance with all his works;
(i) Hume. Hist. Vol. 3. p. 3i$. <») p. J9.
and, vice versa, there is perhaps no better way lo elevate our minds towards that celestial source than gradually by an industrious and modest investigation of the numberless natural wonders that do flow thence. But the commentators are wrong, if they give theology the degraded signification of the schools, logical divinity, the wordy war of doctors, who disclaim connection with any other art or science: for we shall find Beatrice discussing almost all arts and sciences, and a vast variety of matter both ethical and physical in this poem as well as in the Convito. There she is emphatically styled supreme philosophy la somma filoso
fia; a title comprehending the entire range of sciences, of which theology, in the scholastic sense, is only one; but, in another, more extensive and perhaps more accurate sense, theology comprises them all, and is therefore synonymous with Dante's supreme philosophy. This truth is repeated by Peter Alighieri in his comment on the present passage, who, however obscure and mystical he is too often , expresses himself here intelligibly
and reasonably enough philosophise pars altior
est, quae idem est quod theologia .. .. et haec est Beatrix ('). And it is in this extensive acceptation that even Landino here receives theology; 'for', he says, 'each particular science has its particular merits, but theology embraces them all' l'ab
(>) Bib. Laurcniiana . Plut. Xl Cod. It.
braccia tutte (0. Considering the two terms as synonymes, Beatrice may very well be called a personification of theology, and indeed in Italian ought to continue to be so; because it is a foolish affectation of singularity to change long-received names, where the things they represent are not changed: but in English, where no established custom interferes, it is widely different, and I think myself at liberty to take either of those equivalent expressions, and prefer supreme philosophy
for two reasons because it is the one used by
Dante himself in the Convito, that succedaneum for a comment on the Divine Comedy, in order to let us know what allegorical acceptation we should put, both in those his Canzoni and in this his great poem, on the sainted heroine of his Vita nuova; and because it seems to convey, with smaller risk of ambiguity, the intent of the Author, which evidently was to make his deceased Beatrice personify on every occasion the sum of all virtue and learning, and not any individual art or science, spiritual or material. Under whatever name she pass, of theology or of supreme philosophy, this is manifest, that he ever meant her as a personification, not of any exclusive branch of erudition, but of the universality of wisdom, the complex of every intellectual attainment human and divine. M. Ginguene then has a right to affirm, that no other fe
(i) Comento. p. i4.