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PREFACE

It is perhaps difficult to find a subject in English on which some one has not already written. Yet a commentator on Dante has this advantage; and may fearlessly tell his reader 'use my book until you can find a better.' To a man who has reason to be diffident, such is no small encouragement. A long residence in Italy (I have lived in it for several years and am likely to continue ) and many consequent facilities might render me fitter for my undertaking than my competitors, if I had any; and I am entirely unconscious of having any. My undertaking is a detailed comment on the DiVina. Commedia — a work that embraces a greater variety of matter, than any other poem that has been ever written. The Iliad and Odyssey and the Aeneid have been commented over and over again in a great many languages; and to whatever extent those comments were perfect, or imperfect, the world has always received them willingly, and looked to them with some degree of curiosity J It were not strange then , if England were desirous of having (what it has not) a full comment on a production which affords much more scope for one, and to which one is far more necessary, than any Greek or Latin poem whatever. My object is not to give a verbal explanation of the text; for this will be found in any version

of it with which my comment may be read

in the notes, if it be read with an Italian copy; and in the notes and the paraphrase of a translation , if read with a translation in French, German, Latin, English, or any language. An historical, philosophical, critical elucidation of my author's sentiments, allusions, and intentions is what I propose — an attempt to render not his words, but their purpose and full signification; which opens a wider, and on many occasions a more unexplored field, than may be imagined: for it necessarily takes in a quantity of facts and opinions either much mis-represented, or nearly forgotten —the history, religion, and science of the fairest and then the most civilized portion of Europe, Italy, during one of the most interesting periods of her annals; from the birth of the Florentine republic, up to its highest pitch of prosperity and the beginning of its decline; from the first seeds of the Guelphs and Ghibellines and the Blacks and fVhites, up to the utter extinction of the two latter, and to what may be considered the end of the rivality between the former; —rfrom the first dawnings of letters, up to the completion of what Italians still consider as the most glorious effort, the polar star of their entire literature; so that the productions of Petrarch and Boccaccio seem but the satellites that shine brightly in its train. Nor should the reader think that all this is a matter which has been developed by others: for the different works, historical or literary, to which he may recur, have too lengthened a way before them to allow of their delaying on the same topics more than more or less cursorily; whereas I attach myself entirely unto the chief of the celebrated Tuscan Triumvirate, and have no other pretension than that of laying fairly open all the matters of which he wrote, or in which he is known to have borne part — so that my task closes in i3ai, or previous to Petrarch and Boccaccio becoming illustrious in the world. Yet is that task, though so circumscribed as to time, sufficiently, and more than sufficiently momentous. To give the substance of the multitudinous Italian comments and treatises on Dante, many of them in print and some in M. S. — to reconcile their opinions where they jar, and, particulary, correct the modern by the ancient — to clear their literal interpretations , and often interesting remarks and recitals , from the ocean of allegory in which they are so immersed, as to be, for the most part, unapproachable by ordinary readers — to say all they say that is worth knowing, and much that they do not say, by inquiring more closely into the foundation of Dante's ethical and political system — and to inweave with all this constant citations from his minor works, so that one shall at length become completely familiar with them, without the necessity of actual perusal; which would perhaps be impossible , from the very old-fashioned, I may add quaint, style in which they are frequently dressed — is a subject not deficient certainly in extent or in materials. To even an Italian there is matter in this comment not to be found in any other. 1 am the first of Dante's commentators who treat of his oriental acquirements. The explanation of Arabic and Hebrew verses (which hitherto passed for nonsense ) and of many words from the same sources (whose meanings, as well as roots, were never before ascertained) renders this comment richer than any Italian one; nor is there vanity in my saying so. For

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