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must have had peculiar attractions for him, from its being to be the beginning of a Century, and the middle of human life in his own regard, and from its being announced as a jubilee throughout Europe. He must have foreseen from the outset, that his poem could not be terminated until years later; so that there could be no reason against pre-selecting the above epoch for its opening, at least none founded on an apprehension of its publication preceding its date: and, when he afterwards found i3oo become still more memorable than he had foreseen, (viz by his Priorship) he had no inducement to make any alteration. Or he might have altered many things in these Canti long after having composed them; some I im sure he did. And why not? what poet does not retouch his verses? None of Dante's stamp spare the file. He might possibly have put some other date to the first copy of this Canto, and , seven or eight years afterwards, changed it to the present one of i3oo. Such are vain conjectures of which we know nothing: all I mean to assert is, that there is no deciding from this passage as to when the poem began to be composed; so that we, on that head, shall be at full liberty to argue hereafter without having carried along any incumbrance. But that its action opens with the opening of the fourteenth century, when its Author was ingulfed in politics, is beyond doubt, and could be much further proved were it necessary; and from all I have said 1 hope my second position also will follow, of ihe forest being allegorical of those turbulent politics. Yet 1 seek no singularity of opinion , but to show the historic truth . The forest by other Commentators is represented as meaning simply and abstractedly vice and error; and by some the vice of Dante himself. Rut as to these latter, they are at variance with the fact of his having been reputed one of the most moral of mankind, and no other of his works discovering any thing like the confession of Ambition, Voluptuousness and Avarice, which they would put into his mouth here: and as to the former , they surely set their author somewhat at variance not only with the common language of ethics, and with the Bible, but even with himself; for vice is mostly said to be a gay, alluring walk of flowers, though leading to ruin (0» when the path of truth is termed strait and narrow, we conclude that its opposite is wide and easy, and far from Mac A and brambly; and so, this scriptural phrase, strait and narrow, occurring in the third line of Dante's poem — dritta via, — a similar conclusion ensues. He is made much too mystical, because people will not peruse him by the light of History. If they did, this, as well as many other passages, would be reconciled to common-sense: for, though to typify by a bleak
desert abstract vice be rather inconsistent, it may not be so with regard to a particular species of it. But of no species of it can this be so well predicated, as of the identical vice with which Dante was surrounded, sanguinary faction . A soldier, a diplomatist, ten times ambassador, and once amongst the supreme Magistrates of one of the most stormy of democracies, he must, at an early age, have had to deal with criminality enough, too disgusting to partake half as much of the seduction of vice, as of its thorns; and therefore better described as a brambly wilderness, than as a way of flowers, the proper symbol of vice taken in general. Boccaccio calls the forest the hell of human life when defiled with wickedness; adding, that some Catholic Saints speak of three hells, two beneath the surface of the earth, and one in the heart of the living sinner — a doctrine which I find in Macrobius, but not in Dante. Even this however introduces a difference rather in names, than things. The hell he meant must have been that around him: but he was then in turbulent Florence embroiled in politics. In these then was he lost, whatever name or image, you give to the scene of his wanderings; whether a forest or a hell.
B — TiII.
His weal we shall find brought about by the pity caused by his mishaps; so that, by specifying these, and showing how they were converted by heaven
into instruments of felicity (his political career being renounced for philosophy and the tranquil Muses) we are informed, that a principal branch of his sublime undertaking is to glorify Providence, and prove that our mortal miseries are often made the causes of our immortal happiness .
There is still extant a portion of the latin version in which Dante had begun to write, when his better judgment induced him to relinquish a dead for the merit of building a living tongue: — then a daring generosity, which Petrarch had not the courage to follow in his Africa (0.
Nel lago del cuor, 'in the lake of the heart', has become a favourite with Italians, and by Redi is used very beautifully. I dare say however, Dante employed the expression less as a figure of speech, than scientifically as an anatomist, in order to affirm , that fear had the dangerous effect of accumulating the blood violently in the ventricles of the heart. It is a matter on which Fontanini and others quote our poet: but I need not enter into the discussion .
D. — XXIT.
Surely there are few similes superior to this one: and, if it be taken from the Odyssey, it is im
(i) Ultima regna Canam etc.
Bocc. Vita di Uaute p. a58.
proved too; for Homer does not give that 'scowl back'upon the furious element (0 —guata — and that this particularity adds incomparably to the spirit and fidelity of the sketch, will, I believe, be apparent to every reader. I must warn those who are familiar with M/Ginguen^'s Literary history, that, however meritorious a compilation it be in many points, it mis translates this passage altogether, CO as M. Biagioli very justly remarks: and, although a french review (3) is too partial to allow it, it was quite natural in an Italian to reprehend an error tending to deform one of the fine metaphors of his renowned Countryman in the eyes of strangers. The fleeing of the spirit is from the Aeneid—animus meminisse horret lucluque refugit U): and Dante's translation of one of the psalms — persecutus est inimicus animam meam — repeats the same figure, 'my spirit is put to flight' (5).
The text, word for word,Is 'the pass that never left any one alive'. What else is the obvious signifi
(i) If one more happy while the tempest raves
Pope. B. a3. (») Hist. Litt. d'ltalie. Vol. a.
(3) Revue Encyclopedique i8i9.
(4) Lib. a. v. ia.
(5) L'altna mia in fuga e mosta. I sette salmi di D. A. p. tai.