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CAWTO THE FIHST.
*ories enter more or less into every considerable poetic work: so, though I have no intention in this my comment of attempting to give more than my Author's obvious meaning, as well as I can, and not certainly of vying with the ingenious Commentators who explain this entire poem allegorically, I must begin by saying that the greatest part of this first Canto is a pure allegory. Without this warning it might appear so obscure, as to dishearten some from proceeding any further than the second or third page; but, bearing what I premise in mind, we shall soon find the allegory end and conduct us without confusion into the main subject, vindicating « the ways of God to man » . Dante, come to the middle of human life, finds himself still tossed about a gloomy forest, desert, or valley, from which however he descries ;i sunny mountain; and, endeavouring to ascend it, is impeded by three wild-beasts; to which he would
(i) The Capitals refer to the marginal notes; and the Roman figures to the Tenet of, not my translation but, the origmal Italian .
CIS TO I.
have fallen victim had it not been for the appearance of his master, Virgil; who proposes, as sole resource, that they should pass into the future world and take a view of what is passing there. This is literally the whole Canto; of which the allegory seems evidently: Dante, who at thirty five years of age found himself still, or rather more than ever, immersed in the turbulent politics of his Country, began to seek for something like peace—in vain; being thwarted in all his efforts by the profligacy of his fellow-citizens, the ambition of the house of France, and the immorality and avarice of the then court of Rome; and from these perils he was at last extricated by a sapient leader, or duke, Virgil , as I said before .
In the present article there are two points to be demonstrated: that the middle of human life means 35 years, and thus gives us the exact date of the opening of the poem; and that the forest does signify, as I have averted, the turbulent politics of the time.
The days of our years are three score years and ten, says the Bible; and it is the same idea that Dante himself repeats in the Convito—'the summit of our arch is in the thirty fifth year* (0. It is superfluous to seek for further authority; by saying he was in the middle of life, he must have meant he "was in his thirty fifth year. That he was born in May,
(i) p. i95.