Imagens das páginas

i..i«tu n.

The opening verses are said (0 to be worthy of Virgil; it may be added they are manifestly borrowed from him,

Nox erat et terras animalia fessa per omnes

Alituum pecudumque genus sopor altus habebat,

Cum pater

Aeneas tristi turbatus pectore bello (») etc.

The expression war' guerra (3) to denote

moral difficulty, is much employed by Dante and by his countrymen after him: so Petrarch in his hymn to the Virgin

Soccorri alla mia guerra

'Oh! help me in my war'.

Mente che non erra is the original; which noa erra shows that mente does not here signify generally the mind or intellect, but only that faculty of it which does not err, the memory: which is defined by Locke to be « the power to revive in our minds those ideas which were there before. »Hence it is clear that it cannot err; because when those old ideas are exclusively retraced, there is so far no error; and when we mingle them with new ones, it is some other intellectual power that we exert, although perhaps unconsciously, and not memory. And if we mistake in our estimate of

(i) Hist. Litt. d'Italic vol. a. p. 3a. (a) Aeneid. 1. Till. T. 16.

(i) v. 4

those ideas, the fault is in our judgment; and not in our memory. One may err from want of memory; but to speak of the fault of one's memory is quite illogical. It is then a very exact definition of memory, to call it that mental power which is faultless. Dante, having once given this precise notion of what he means by mente, mind , continues to use it, without further scruple, as synonimous with memory; as for example, only two lines lower

And thou, inditing mind!

0 mente che scrivesti!

He found it probably a more convenient word than memoria: In the same peculiar sense, we ourselves also employ mind; as, time out of mind , or, we call to mind his covenant.

Nobility nobilitate is thus defined in the

Monarchia: 'By virtue are men ennobled; — by their own, or by that of their ancestors. According to the Philosopher, nobility is virtue and

ancient heritage: and, Juvenal wrote nobilitas

sola est atque unica virtus . Nobility then is twofold , personal and ancestral (0.' Dante aspired to them both: for, if he now claims the former for his intellectual endowments, we shall, hereafter, hear him challenging the latter, with the pride of


elevated birth and the minuteness of a profound genealogist.

In the Original,parente is put for father, with a licence similar to one already noticed (0. It is a grand conception to represent the adventures of Aeneas, the glories of the latin worthies and imperial Rome herself, as the pre-ordained forerunners of Christianity: and no doubt but it is an improvement on theVirgilian exordium—Tantae molis erat Romanam condere gentem.

To appreciate much of what follows,'it is necessary to consider this passage a little, not as detached from the context, but as strictly explanatory of it; and as purposely set down here, to be the head and front of an entire system: those therefore who pass it by cursorily are very likely to be puzzled hereafter, on coming to invectives poured out against the same See, which is at present mentioned with extreme veneration. Such praise and such blame may appear inconsistent to an inattentive reader; whereas they, on the contrary, afford the most luminous proof of our Author's unshakeable consistency. He was a devout believer in Catholicism ; and a steady friend of liberty: how narrow

(t) Hell, Comment. Canto i. p. 38.


the course he had to steer, and what conflicting factions were to assail him,he must have foreseen; and he consequently employed every means that prudence could suggest to prepare for them,—but not successfully. It is the fate of most men, who write reasonably on a party question, to offend both sides; and they ought never to flatter themselves that they can attain any other recompense, than that of their own consciences and the assent of posterity. Present passions are against them; and the unimpassioned are too few and too quiet to be heard. But, above all mankind, this remark applies to Dante; who, in the most distempered age, undertook to discuss impartially the two most momentous and inflammatory of subjects, religion and politics: so that it is no wonder his character should be misunderstood abroad, when it was exposed to worse reproach at home; where his countrymen ( however they may have extolled his speculative theology and his verses) only now slowly begin to do him some little justice as a political moralist; although he is certainly still more admirable in this latter character, than in that of poet. But, in order to curtail the argument, T beg of the reader ( whatever may have been his habits of thinking) to concede for a while that our Author's objects were to panegyrize Christianity (or indeed rather the form of Christianity professed by Catholics (0) and to advocate freedom; and,

(i) Fu il nostro Dante oasconditore »li Com rura gioja come e la ottrm if.

1 dare believe, one will of himself adopt a similar opinion before proceeding far in these comments. It were superfluous to dwell upon the enormous abuses which had crept into the Roman Church (I pretend not to affirm in matter of faith , but, at least, of discipline) during some centuries, abuses that, about the thirteenth, had attained their most crying excess. Even all Catholic historians agree in this; and vie in their abhorrence of a Pope's kicking off the diadem of a kneeling Emperor: no Sovereign secure, allegiance held sacred no where, « the papal power » (in Mr. Hume's words) was now at its summit in every kingdom of Europe (0. » At this period did Dante take up his pen against enormities which he deemed still more disgraceful to religion, than subversive of the civil rights of nations: and that his exertions were soon fruitful, is manifest from another passage in Mr. Hume , who says that Boniface (the very Pope against whom Dante wrote) « was among the latest of the sovereign Pontiffs that exercised an authority over the temporal affairs of Princes (a). »No doubt, but even a more substantial fabrick than one raised on mere opinion fama potentiae non sua vi riixae might

melt away before less obstacles, than the varied

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »