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male ever had so flattering a hommage paid unto her. But when he says she personifies 'the science then regarded as the first' alors regardee
comme la premiere (0 there is no absolving
him entirely; because if he means theology in the restricted sense of scholars, he errs,by giving Beatrice a signification different from that intended, as I have shown, by Dante; and if he correctly understands it, as synonymous with supreme philosophy, his words imply a less trivial error, by describing as only then regarded as the first a science that must always be regarded as such, since it includes every other. Astronomers, metaphysicians, lawyers etc. may cultivate separate branches of erudition, but in supreme philosophy (by whatever name known) they all meet; for, in the words of Dante, 'this science is the truth to which every other truth tends,other sciences are but as handmaids, queens and concubines to this immaculate Solomean dove, this soul-reposing haven, where all doubts and sophistical arguments vanish, and our studies are ennobled by the sublime certainty of the subject to which they are directed and which is indeed the perfection of all that is true and certain, God himself (a):'so Beatrice not only embraces every minor truth of human science, but, even after that, has her principal, supernatural flight still to attempt, for which the rest indeed
(i) Hist- Litt. d' Italic, vol. a. p. 33. (a) Convito. p. toa.
were only preparations . She at last leaves the world behind, and entices us to follow from a dissection of material phenomena to what is more congenial with our nobler immaterial essence, an enquiry into our own internal properties , our hopes and duties here and our destinies hereafter; and, too justly ambitious to be content with secondary causes, she leads us up to a consideration of the great First Cause himself to an unshackling of the spirit, an intellectual ecstacy, which, while it betters even our earthly lot by at least a temporary abstraction from bodily infirmities, teaches us to aspire to unfading virtue and peace, consoles us in our present afflictions and renders us less unworthy of future happiness , by convincing us that all does not end with this frail vesture of clay, for, in Dante's own phrase, Are we not worms shall yet be riven
And breed the glorious butterfly
Whose wings were made to soar to heaven (>)?
—-a holy freedom of thought irresistibly attractive to the finer particles within the bosoms of men, without reference to any particular creeds or countries; and which occupied the Pagan as fully as the Christian sages, Confucius and Socrates, as well as Fetielon and Hooker. Such are the sublime sentiments now linked for ever and ever with the name and form of a young Tuscan girl,
(i) Purg. Canto x.
who, but for the sacred bard, would have peeped and been cut away as unnoticed, as a daisy amid the countless flowers of a luxurious meadow. Yet her praises have been already sung for above five hundred years, and will continue to be so. If from the conflagration of universal literature the scholars of Italy were to save but one single relick, it would be this book , the Divine Comedy: it is then no exageration to foretell, that, as long as three or four volumes exist upon earth, this will. Much confusion has arisen from not representing Beatrice thus in her double capacity; the origin of all which seems, in great part, to be attributable to the commentators having neglected Dante's prose writings, or at least given them only a superficial perusal. Even the indefatigable and voluminous Landino is not to be exempted from such a censure. One elegant Critic (0 cries out that Beatrice is infinitely more lovely in her literal sense , as if literal were opposed to allegorical, instead of being united with it; and as if they were inconsistent with each other , instead of having ( as I have before said ) as natural an alliance in our imagination , as that between mind and body in a mortal creature. He would in fact deprive her of the brighter moiety of her creation; it were like substituting, for a form in full life and beauty, the skeleton of one who had been beautiful half a
(,) M. Meriin . Mem. de 1' Acad, dc Berlin. i784
dozeu centuries ago. But we have seen how contrary this is to the author's intent; and we shall hereafter find many passages that were inexplicable on such a barren, unspiritual hypothesis. Others fall into the opposite error, and represent her as nothing but an allegorical image . This too we shall find quite inconsistent with many occurrences in this poem, as well as it is with the prose extracts already quoted: to which I may add,it is also implicitly overturned by the introductory verses to, what was perhaps the latest produce of his pen, his translation of the Creed; where he blames himself for having dedicated too much of his time to the celebration of a fellow creature, and declares that the remainder of his powers shall be entirely and exclusively given up to Christianity (0. He appears to have been anxious to prevent both the above misunderstandings; and so, not only prepared against them both what has been cited from the Convito, but sedulously composed various passages of this poem with a view to preclude the possibility of considering its heroine either as entirely allegorical, or entirely literal; for
some of them can receive no reasonable interpretation without taking her in the former, nor others without taking her in the latter sense. She must then be inseparably endowed with each: her shape and spiritual essence must not be disjoined. These are both beautiful and mutually beautify each other: the critics, who would strip her of her immaterial attributes, show as bad taste, as those who would deny her affecting connection with the world, and describe her as nothing more than the mystic doctoress of the schools. Here below, she had been two fold; a form that, as her lover says* resembled that of a Goddess, and a mind replete with benevolence: why not partake of the same tlouhle nature above? Hence what he had named
upon earth her'sweet accents' dolcissimO par
lare becomes in heaven an 'Angel-utterance*
-—Angelica favella; her eyes once 'bright and full of love' now 'dim the solar flame'; and her countenance, though still retaining a resemblance to her mortal features, is clothed in Paradise with radiance too dazzling to be long dwelt upon: her mental faculties are also proportionably exalted; till, blest with the prerogative of reading eternal truth , she becomes its delegated expounder to mankind. A curious obliquity induced even the representing of the Beatrices of Dante's three works as three distinct personages; of whom she of the Vita nuova was held to be possibly a real lady, she of the Convito philosophy, and she of this