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CXNTO THE EIGHTH.
Having in last Canto entered the fifth circle, 1 then noticed both the nature of its denizens and its form and dimensions. We left our travellers winding along the narrow path that skirts the baleful lake, and at length coming in sight of a tower situated on that same path. Thej still walk along the water's brim, and reach the tower whose summit long attracted their attention from its two small flames that incessantly kept up a telegraphic correspondence with another beacon-light far away over Styx. The meaning of these signals is soon revealed by the arrival of a boat; for this shows, that they served to inform the inhabitants of the lower circles of the approach of an additional lodger, for whom the infernal pinnace was to be dispatched. Under this error, the ' rugged mariner' rows quickly up; and is obliged to embark Virgil and Dante and convey them to the City in
the centre of the lake in crossing which they
have an adventure with one of its wild swimmers.
At the gate of the town they land, but are denied admittance by its demoniac guard; and the Canto closes with the appearance of a glorious creature coming down from the better regions of hell to their assistance.
We are come to the proper place for proving, what I more than once premised, that the first Cantos of this poem were written before their Author's exile from Florence. Let me observe however, the line before us does not in itself convey any internal evidence in favour of what I advance, any more than this passage often quoted from
Villani does against it: 'Dante while in exile
wrote many songs, letters , and the Comedy (0 .' What does this imply ( if taken with the fair latitude to be conceded to the composer, not of a biographical memoir, but of an universal history ) but simply, that Dante wrote the chief part of the
Divine Comedy during his exile? a position
that is undeniable . His reputation , not only in science and politics, but in poetry, was fully established long previous to his exile; if he had never written a word of his Comedy, he would still have been the founder of Italian poetry. He showed he was conscious of this from the very opening of this poem, by asserting that his beautiful Virgilian style had already secured his fame:
O Author! who did'st form my style To beauty, that hath won me fame (0. What is really astonishing, and argues Athenian superiority of intellect in the Florentines of that
day, is that his intense poetry was popular
not in the English, but the extensive, Tuscan sense of that word: for his verses were more commonly sung by the lowest of the people then, than ever those of Tasso have since been (»). It
(i) To se'solo colui da cn'io tolsi
Lo hello atile che ni ha fallo onore.
Inferno, Canto, i. v. 86.
(a) Proofs are extant: as a story ahout a black-smith chaunting some of Dante's verses in bis smithy ; and another of an ass-driver beguiling labour in a similar way while driving a parcel of asses ne.ir one of the gates in Florence. The ass-driver was exerting his lungs still more injuriously for the melody of the poet, than a carpenter whom I beard every uight during an entire summer vociferating the Gcrritalemme along the banks of the Arno — the seventh Canto of it, I mean; for this is the favourite one with the Pisans, and, only the other day, a Vetturino driving me from Pisa to Leghorn performed from the first verse ( Iotanto Erminia infra, etc. ) even to the very last ( orribile armonia, etc. ) without once stopping during the journey. Nor were the performer's closing notes ill adapted to his performance. The man who transmits the stories (Franco Sacchctti) was a contemporary of Petrarch and Boccaccio and almost, if not entirely, of Dante: for the precise year of Sachetti's birth is not ascertained. He was also one of the most distinguished noblemen of Florence; so that his authority is every way conclusive. Pelli represents him as saying the ass-driver was singing 'some verses of the Comedy' fun pe«zo della sua Commedia. Mem. ec. p. i3a);but this is one of Pclli's inaccuracies. Sacchetti says no such thing — for he only mentions 'the book of Dante,'without noticing which of his books it was. It could not have been the Comedy: for though some Cantos of it were written, they were not published, nor even shown to Dante's intimate friends. His first friend, Cavalcanti, probably knew of them , but no one else — not even Ser Dino Perrini, who, Boccaccio writes, was quanto piu si potesse familiale ed ainioo di Dante. Comentc. vol. a. p. Co. The euro Tiii.
may interest a few, curious, literary antiquaries to learn as much as can be discovered on a subject of which so little is ever discoverable the birth
and growth of one of the standard poems of the world. It is most true, that there is nothing in the verse we are commenting, that any more proveth our Author interrupted his work for several years, and then took it up in this place, than many similar phrases in Ariosto argue he left off and continued his poem at intervals; which were in contradiction with fact (0. Had we no other testimonies than that line of Villani, and this verse of Dante himself, we might expunge them as opposite qualities, rather ciphers, and fairly confess we know nothing of the matter. Nor is it less unreasonable to argue from the Ghibellinism in the first seven Cantos, that they were written after
tbeir author became a Ghibelline after his
exile. They savour neither of Ghibellinism, nor Guelphism; for on the only occasion wherein those factions are mentioned, the leaders of both
book then must have been some of Dante's songs — either his Rime, or his Vita Nuova . My carpenter, however inharmonious in the music of his reciialivo, made at least no breaches in it: but the ass-driver broke the metre every now and then with Ar-ri! addressed to his asses. So Dante happening to pass by, and having his meditations chased and his ears wounded by that dissonance, discharged his cane suddenly upon the poor ass-driver's shoulders, crying out to him ' fellow, I never wrote that Ar-ri! ' Franco Sachetti, Nov. ii4—ii5. Ammirito, 1st. Lib. xiv.—Negri, 1st. Scrilt. Flor. (i) As for example:
Tornando al laVoro che vario ordisco .
Orlando Fur. Canto xvi. St. 5'.
are emphatically condemned (0. Truth is, Dante was no more a Guelph before exile, than a Ghibelline after it: for his resistance to the French and Papal dominations, and scheme of according the Emperor an unarmed presidency, in order to unite the various Italian states in one great federal Republic, no more shows him a Ghibelline; than his fighting against the furious Ghibelline faction at Campaldine, and his entering Florence amongst the white Guelphs, shows him a Guelph. It is not easy to perceive, why the investigation of where and when these Cantos were composed should ever have become aggrandized, from its natural insignificance, into a question of parly . Yet so it is: the Florentines sustain that these portions of the Divine Comedy date previous to their Author's exile from home; the Veronese deny it. Neither of those people should be desirous of aggravating the ingratitude of their ancestors , but rather of palliating it; and considering their illtreatment of Dante, their shame is enhanced the more proofs are accumulated of his having sought to do them honor. The weight of obligation under which Florence labours in his regard were vast enough; without super-adding epic poetry: aud that he had served her faithfully during years both with sword and pen; fighting her great battle in Campaldine , regulating her diplomacy in a