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the Angels were created at the same time as the rest of the universe (0.
The praise of sublimity given to these verses is surely of a better taste than the criticism with which that praise is qualified. 'It is to be regretted that Dante thought it necessary to insert in this inscription on the infernal gate the words divine power, supreme wisdom, and first love; which contain a theological definition of the Trinity . That divinepover and supreme wisdom should have concurred in the creation of the place of woe is intelligible; but the addition of the first love cannot be read without repugnance (2).' Now, I think, the paragraph in question is not necessarily to be understood as conveying a position of dogmatical divinity, excepting the reader prefers so to understand it: but I am certain the complex idea formed by supreme power, wisdom, and love is of the very highest strain of poetry: and I doubt whether it be possible for the human mind to abstract for a moment any one of those three attributes from its notion of Jehovah. His love must be that of universal order or virtue:
(i) De Civ. Dei. Lib. viu. — Gelli, sopra lo Inferno, vol. ». p. 4u, (2) Si Ton en excise ce soul trait, quelle sublime inscription! Hist. Litt. u" Italic vol. a. p. 35.
He must delight in virtue
And that which He delights in must be happy (0. Then if it be his love of universal order that maketh him of necessity delight in virtue, and if what he delighteth in must be happy ; is it not an inevitable consequence that the self-same attribute must make vice with every infringement of universal order an object of his reprehension , and that that which is reprehended by him must be miserable? They are the opposite but incontestible effects of one single cause. It is then that perfect, boundless love, which takes in the whole creation at a glance, and of which the idea is inseparable from that of justice, which ordains the punishment of the wicked, as well as the recompense of the good: and, instead of objecting to the insertion of that truth upon the infernal gate , it becomes my duty to point it out as one of those sublime and rapid intellectual associations which are the characteristics of rare genius. For as to the theological propriety of the passage, I presume even the slight reflection just made will suffice to demonstrate it: and as to its taste, that is in the best taste, which is best adapted to the purpose in hand. Now what is the purpose of this entire poem, but to vindicate the laws of Providence (a)? or of the verses we are considering, but to inspire a salutary terror? And what can be more calcula
(') Mr. Addison's Cato.
(») Hell, Comment, Canto t p Ci. ,1) ni
ted to do both, than this apposite assertion of the Creator's infinite benignity on the very spot where vulgar minds might incline to forget it, overwhelmed with terror on the threshold of the abyss? — benignity that is conspicuous throughout all bis works , but perhaps no where more strikingly so than here where we are constrained to confess, it is the same principle of immeasurable love, which prepares everlasting felicity for the virtuous, that consigns the guilty to hopeless agony. To recall such a truth in such circumstances is to rouse the fancy and understanding to the fullest stretch of which they are capable; is to tike in at one view all that we can imagine of heaven,
hell, and God -the remotest extremes and their
common centre: and thus instead of lingering on details , we are engaged to collect and concentrate
the whole, resources of our intellect joys and
woes, delights and miseries, pleasure and suffering, every thing beautiful or hideous, most magnificent or most abject, in fine the various dissonant effects of which the most fervid brain can attain any
idea and, referring them at the same time to
their Almighty cause, express the entire in a single word, love,, the love that is illimitable, the love of universal order. It is perhaps this very phrase, first love,which the French scholar disdains to trans late, that confers the most peculiar grandeur on
this passage; a passage scarcely inferior to any
in the whole Aeneid.Its terrific denunciations are
not however to be considered applicable to every succeeding scene of this hell of Dante, any more than the
Horrendum stridens (0
and those other monsters are to that of Virgil. Both bards seem to have put their Muses to an effort in order to render the entrance into the nether realm awful: yet both of them intended to represent a portion of that realm as a seat of tranquillity, to which they could not have meant that anything in those warning sounds should in the least allude. The Elysium of the one ( the delicious landscape where Marcellus appeared to his renowned ancestor ) is the first Circle of the
other, the calm, lucid rendezvous of multitudes
of exalted sages no more exposed to those emotions which ruffle the mind 'with joy or sorrow.' To these no threats of torment can be directed; nor even the words that forbid hope: for although it be true that their destiny is in general irrevocably fixed who once enter hell, yet is it a position to be received with limitations; at least in the Divink CoMEDY.From that circle, or hell-of-the-holy-fathers, Scripture informs us that many have ascended to Paradise ( nor of the Jewish law alone, for Job was no Jew) who had lived in hope until the arrival of the Messiah: so hope did exist there . This forces
(«) Aeneid. Lib. vr. T. alS
on us the premature reflection, that if ( deserting the example of Virgil, who presents us with none of his departed worthies am.ong the Celestials) Dante admits of multitudes having heen elevated from the Elysian portion of hell into Paradise, it is in justice to he attributed, not so much to a sublimer fancy in him individually, as to the march of the whole age towards a more general diffusion of various intellectual enjoyments, which Antiquity permitted to be monopolized by a few of its most
eminent members exclusively a change to be
attributed entirely to the influence of Christianity. Moreover Dante now enters into hell with full hope of coming out again: hope then floes exist there. He could not have intended so glaring a contradiction between his words and actions, as to prohibit hope to all who enter, at the moment he is himself entering with the brightest hopes. This horrible inscription then is not addressed to all who pass the infernal gate; but to the inhahitants
of the lower portions of hell the hell-of-lhe
damned.'That hell is within the centre of the earth,' ( writes Boccaccio in his Genealogy (')) 'was not only the doctrine of the Pagans, ( Res alia terra et caligine mersas ) but of illustrious Christians too; and, if we consider that the throne of the Divinity is in heaven, from which the centre of our earth is the remotest spot of the universe,
(i) Genealogu Deor. Lib. i e. Xiy.