« AnteriorContinuar »
ia65, is a settled point (0; but if proof is desired, let the single one of Boccaccio suffice:—'Dante
died on the fourteenth of September i3ai, and 1 have spoken with one of his most intimate friends, M. Giardino of Ravenna, who affirmed to me , that he on his death-bed told him that in the preceding month of May he had been 56 years old' (»). Now taking 56 from i3ai we have ia65, or the period of his birth; and adding to this 35, to bring him to the middle of human life, we have exactly i3oo; on the fifteenth of June of which he was created one of the Priors, or supreme magistrates, of the Florentine Republic (3) —an office which, however honorable to his reputatiorf, was fatal to his repose. By it was furnished the pretext for his banishment; eternal banishment from his ( dolce nido ) 'darling nest'; from 'the holy Jerusalem for which he sat weeping night and day, as if he were in Babylon' (*). So tender was his love for his native Country; and so fondly did he discriminate between her, and the factions which within her had acquired a most tyrannical ascendancy. These he certainly has not spared . but his country through all his misfortunes was the object of his enthusiastic attachment
(i) Voltaire wrote otherwise: but the superficial levity with which he pleaded an excuse for Bayle , when the error was not in Bayle but in Voltaire himself, is justly reprehended by M. Meriau Mem de I'Acad. de Berlin i784.
<V Comento p. i9.
(3) Prionst.! Fiorentino p. ', i.
(4) Pistola p. »i4.
to the last; in his old age we find him exclaiming, O my Country! O my poor Country, how I do pity thee! (0 ( evidently more afflicted for her than for himself); and we know with what complacency he designated himself as a Florentine, making himself be introduced always by that title, and almost invariably adding it to his signature with such persevering constancy, that a few instants before he expired, he showed, that his mind was even then chiefly prevented from composing herself by harping on the severity of Florence towards him; for in a tone of reproachful affection he called it 'Mother' (*), Neither Guelph nor Ghibelline, but the advocate of his dear native land and of moral rectitude, he was a man remarkable for patriotism, as we shall have innumerable occasions to observe. Perhaps even there is uo other instance of that virtue's outliving severer trials; the most inveterate malignity of his fellow-citizens, his own exile, the dispersion of his friends, the ruin of his property, and ( what would be scarcely credible if the infamous document were not still extant in the Archives) the fearful indignity of a law passed to authorize any magistrate to make him , as soon as caught, be, without further trial burnt alive (3). It is observable that this last outrage is never
(i) O Patria! O misera Patria mia, quanta pieta m! strigue per te! Convito p. »o3 .
(a) P. Jov ius . Elogia .
(3) . .. igue comburatur tic quod moriatur. Cancel, p. jit.
mentioned in any of his writings, as if he were unwilling to publish the disgrace of his country; and it consequently escaped all his biographers, and was, for the first time, noticed by the indefatigable Tiraboschi a few years ago. In his letters , his Convito, his songs, his great poem, the sorrows of an exile recur continually: and there must be to certain minds something far more painful in exile than in death; since we find him, who was never terrified by the latter in any shape, quite subdued by the former . As tender , but with much more dignity than Ovid, he at times seems exasperated to a feeling of gloomy satisfaction in brandishing invective almost wantonly, as if it were an alleviation of the pain he experienced in being forced to stigmatise the criminality and folly of his townsmen, to inflict the same unsparing penalty on mankind in general . But his strain of dejection is more impressive: 'How hard is it to go up and down the stair-case of a stranger!'is his exclamation ; and, in his prose at least, it is this feeling, much more than resentment, that is uppermost. 'Rome's loveliest daughter hath cast me from her sweet bosom' (he cries) 'where I was born and brought up; and where it is my fondest hope to be permitted one day to return for the repose of my wearied spirit, and to pass the last of the years allotted me in this world: in which 1 have verily been tost about like a wretched unmasted hulk, ihe sport of every cruel wind,bear
ing to a variety of lands and ports the dead weight of poverty and grief, and exposing my person to the scrutiny of the vulgar; thereby lessening my character (0 and, what is worse, the utility of all my productions'(*). And again he declares his willingness to purchase his recall at any price but his honor: 'dear father, let any way be found not derogatory to the honor of Dante, and I shall not be slow in accepting it. But if by none such Florence is to be entered, never shall I enter Florence' (3). These were bodings equally sad as prophetic; he never entered it more, alive or dead: — Ungrateful Florence! Dante sleeps afar Like Scipio buried by the upbraiding shore — and the traveller, missing his relics in Santa-Croce, will probably , like the illustrious poet just quoted, take a journey to Ravenna to seek them.
From what I have said it is apparent, that Dante's exile was the immedicable wound of his heart: and, I think, it is little less clear that by the dreadful forest is to be understood, not indeed his exile itself, as the Gentleman (*) who gave me the first hint of my interpretation of this allegory attempted to show, (for since Dante's exile did not take place until x3oa,he could not be described as entangled
(i) Qui se ipse norit, primum aliquid seutiet se habere divinnm . iogeniumque in se Mium.sicut simulacrum aliquoddedicatuin putabit. De legibus I. i. p. aa.
(s) Convito p. 57.
(3) Pistola. Canrell. p. 59.
(4) G. Marcbetti Dis.
in it now in i3oo) but what produced that exile — his Priorship , or rather the long political uproar that preceded it: and this last observation is enforced by the reflection, that in the first sentence of this poem he does not tell us he entered the forest in the middle of human life, but that he still found himself lost in it; for the Italian is not mi trovai, 'I found me', but mi ritrovai, 'I still found me'. 'AH my misfortunes' ( says he in one of his letters) 'are to he deduced from my ill-omened Priorship; of which, however far from being worthy in other respects, neither in fidelity nor in age was I unworthy: for ten years had elapsed since the battle of Campaldine, where I was no novice in arms; but took a full share in the troubles of that day and in the joy for that victory by which the Ghibelline faction was, it may he affirmed, undone for ever' (0. It is then no wonder, if the year in which he bore that Office be marked as the critical one of his existence; as the one in which he perceived what a dangerous wilderness he was in, and amid what ferocious foes. There are good reasons to believe, that the composition of this poem was begun before i3oo: but that in nowise invalidates my interpretation; for it is equally true, that it is supposed to open (whatever be the exact period at which its Author commented it) in i3oo: a year which, even in prospect,
(■) Vita. I-ron Arret, p. x.