Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

COMMENT

HELL

CANTO TIIE FOURTH.
A. i.

At the close of the preceding Canto Dante had fallen down in a stupor; during which he is evidently supposed to have been conveyed across Acheron, and landed on the first Circle (0. The entire of this circle is exempt from pain; and is divided into two unequal portions . The first of these is the Angelical doctor's 'Hell-of-children' (Infernus puerorum ; (and the second, his (Infernus sanctorum Patrum)' Hell-of-the holy-fathers'; divisions, as is noticed in the margin, which answer to two circles (the first and ninth) of the Virgilian hell. While traversing the first division , Virgil makes many observations to his pupil, not about the crowds of children round them, who could scarcely merit any,but about the former and present inhabitants of the second division to which they

(i) The subterranean circus, Hell, deepens from a state of Elysian

tranquillity to one of infinite suffering the vestibule being an

exception, partly to inflict an unnatural penalty on a despicable crime, and partly to imitate Origen and Virgil, as was said before. Hell, Comment, Canto, in. p. i56, i73, and i79.

OAHTO IT.

are approaching; and within which they at last step. There they find a numerous assemblage of the heroes and heroines of Antiquity, whom they pass in review from the top of a luminous hill to which they retire in company with four other eminent bards: after which, these four take leave of Dante and Virgil who continue their journey; and the Canto closes. This Circle is computed to be i4 miles below the Vestibule, and to present a circular walk of i7 J miles broad. In its middle yawns the monstrous aperture of the abyss 245 miles wide. So going round it, Dante has on one hand a precipice i4 miles high, and on the other that fearful gulf into which the eye cannot pierce, 'its murky clouds so boil and hiss (0 .'

Since I have not hesitated to advance that Dante was still more distinguished as a man of science, a politician, and a theologian , than as a poet (a);

(:) The extreme width of the vestibule was 3i5 miles (Hell , Comment , Canto nr. p. i6i ): the extreme of this circle is a8o: remain 35, but (as a line of diameter drawn from one extremity to another of a circular body perforated in the centre roust cross the body twice, once before the perforation and again after) that leaves only its moiety i7 and a half for the net width . The extreme of this Circle is a8o; the extreme of the second 24 5: remain 35, or i7 and a half, as before. But in a sketch the walk of the Vestibule must be narrowed by whatever breadth is allowed to Acheron; which flows round the orifice leading to the first Circle and then takes a subterranean, invisible course : with this exception , the Vestibule and the first Circle are of similar dimensions. See Manetti Giambullari Velutello. Keeping a Roman Amphitheatre in one's mind, we have now stept down a tier.

(a) Bonus cnim poit.i (says Ascensius of Virgil) non tarn delect are — quod tjinen pluriinum facit — quam prodesse pretendit. Com. in Aeneid. Lib. vi. v. 657.

r.lSTO i*.

since lam of opinion that he had for one of his prin cipal aims ( perhaps his paramount one) not only to imitate Homer and Virgil, by celebrating the creed of his own country, as they did that of theirs, but to expound it with unrivalled accuracy; and since therefore, according to a fundamental rule of good taste, all poetical ornaments should, far from frustrating that main aim, be strictly subservient to it, and indeed be nothing more than the honey to recommend the draught; ——we are arrived at a passage, where, to do justice to him as a poet, it is requisite to see whether he has erred as a Roman Catholic theologian: and this appears to me the more necessary, not only because it has been neglected by former commentators, but because even a judicious admirer of the Divine Comedy has, in this instance, attempted to rifle it of

one of its surest titles to immortality that of

handing down a correct notion of the spiritual tenets of one of the most lasting and widely-spread forms of worship (to say nothing of its holiness) which mankind ever professed (0. If Homer and Virgil still live, they owe it in great measure to their faithful delineation of the religious doctrines of Antiquity: hereafter Dante may be prized on a

(i) Les punitions du Dante sont pour la plus part proportionnefs aux crimes , et font honncur a son jugement et a sou esprit de justice. Ce n'est qu'avec repugnance et a contre cceur qu'il damne les homines celebres, et il sauve autant qu'il peut sans trop heurter les dogmes de son Eglise et quelquefoii memo en les heurtaut.M«rian,Mem. del'Acad. de Berlin. i784.

umro It.

like account with even better reason; and no doubt but ( indulging occasionally like other mighty spirits in the prescience of his immortality of fame) he felt, that the sacred poem, to which, in his own words,' both heaven and earth contributed (0,'would be afterwards resorted to for theological information by curious men not only not his co-religionists, but perhaps of creeds the most widely different, in distant lauds aud ages. Yet this ought never to be the case, and he were no longer an authority, if his orthodoxy were questionable on any one point. The mode in which he disposes of the Pagan heroes in this Canto, and of some others in Purgatory and Paradise is the ground of much misplaced sarcasm against his Church, and of encomium equally misplaced upon him; as if the vigour of his fancy corrected the narrowness of his religion . But it is an absolution he cannot receive: it is strictly as the poet of Catholicism that he stands upon his deliverance, and to discredit his orthodoxy is to shake the pillars of his poetic temple. It is indeed an axiom of the Roman Church that belief in the Messiah is, and always has been, necessary to salvation. This is a general position; as it is likewise one, that " neither thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners shall inherit the kingdom of God (»)." And

[graphic]
[ocr errors]

Citrro It.

it is certain they shall not, as long as they continue thieves or extortioners; for nothing impure shall ever enter there: but who can tell that another has expired thief or exoftioner? We, who can only judge by appearances, may be easily deceived. It is the same with regard to faith . We can pry little into another's mind at any time, even while that miml has the will and the power of words to assist us: but before it separates from the body communication between it and us has entirely

ceased for in even the suddenest death the

loss of articulation precedes the departure of the soul; and what may be felt, or learned during that fluttering paroxysmt when life has retired from its outworks, the senses, to the heart, which is its citadel, or what change may be then undergone by the spirit, or what invisible agents may be in attendance, we shall never be able to determine, until fallen into a similar condition ourselves; and then we shall be quite as uncommunicative to those we leave behind, as our precursors were to us. But not only for this reason the ultimate fate of an individual is not to be pronounced; but that general axiom of theology bears i.self a theological exception named by the schools invincible ignorance: and who has lived or died in a state of invincible ignorance is avowed to be another secret inscrutable to ,us ('). This

(i) What invincible ignorance ii, the Church of. Dante does not pretend to define; but she permits our reasoning thus: ~ Every one

« AnteriorContinuar »