Imagens das páginas

the historian, "that the long experience of the baseness, the malice, and the falsehood of mankind has inclined me to be apt to think generally the worst of men and of parties." But Dante, while accepting the necessity of punishment, of retributive justice, exhibits anything but a pharisaical spirit towards the victims. Indeed, as mirrored by himself, he is at all times much more a man than a moralist. The incomparable episode of Francesca da Rimini shows how deeply he can be touched by human love and sorrow; but it is not his prerogative to pardon what God and the universal conscience agree in condemning. And here, it should be observed, Dante's penalties are not arbitrary. They are suggested by, evolved from, the faults themselves. The infernal hurricane, which drives incessantly before it the souls of Paolo and Francesca, locked in an eternal embrace, symbolises very well the restless agitation of their culpable love. So, too, in the Circle of the Violent:—

"Justice divine, upon this side is goading
That Attila, who was a scourge on earth,
And Pyrrhus and Sextus; and for ever milks
The tears which with the boiling it unseals
In Einier da Corneto and Rinier Pazzo,
Who made upon the highways so much war."

All these wrong-doers merely reap as they have sown. They experience the effects of an inexorable law of nature, and so there is no inconsistency, much less hypocrisy, in the poet manifesting the liveliest concern and sympathy as each time he beholds the fatal consequences of sin. For a peccable and erring creature no course could be so proper. Dante is learning his lesson.

In entering upon the Purgatorio we emerge into a softer, serener atmosphere. Dante's biographer Balbo describes it as "perhaps on the whole the

The Purgatorio. T • •

most beautiful of the three great divisions of the poem. I will endeavour to indicate some of its many charms, but first let me insist that the Purgatorio, though the mind is no longer awed by the tears and the tragedies of a fixed and irreversible destiny, is by no means deficient in striking situations.1 Like its predecessor, it has what a German might call its Hauptmomente. The incidents of Francesca da Eimini, Farinata, Pier delle Vigne, Brunetto Latini, Guido di Montefeltro, Ugolino, &c., are succeeded by others quite as notable, those of King Manfred, Buonconte, La Pia, Sordello, Sapia, and Arnold Daniel.

When Balbo speaks of the beauty of the Purgatorio, he is thinking perhaps, most of all, of the magnificent description, continued through several

Dante'8 aviary. _ . 0

cantos, of the Earthly Paradise, though there are detached passages equally graceful and imaginative. Mr Euskin has dilated on the radiancy of Dante's angels, and the topic is worthy of his pen. Has it ever been noticed how thoroughly Franciscan is the poet's regard for birds, and how frequently and happily he draws upon their habits for metaphors and

1 Miss Norley Chester has treated some of these incidents with much delicacy in a little volume entitled Dante Vignettes (London, Elliot Stock).

similes? Already in the Inferno, in that matchless fifth canto, there occur within a few lines of each other apt comparisons borrowed from the tumultuous motions of starlings in winter, and, for the nearer sinners, from the flight of cranes. Later, in the twenty-second canto, we meet with the more banal image of the duck and the falcon. The Purgatorio, at its very commencement, contains an allusion to the story of the Pierides, who were changed into magpies; and in the ninth canto is an exquisite time-note:—

"Just at the hour when her sad lay begins
The little swallow, near unto the morning,
Perchance in memory of her former woes."1

In the thirteenth canto the eyelids of the envious are sewn up, like a spar-hawk's; and, in the same canto, Sapia quotes the old legend of the blackbird which, in Lombardy, gave to the early spring-time the name "i giorni della merla." Just as the wings of birds may have suggested angels, so the song of birds inevitably reminds Dante of poesy :—

"Whereat the branches lightly tremulous,

Did all of them bow downward to that side
Where its first shadow casts the Holy Mountain;

1 As a chronological hint nothing can equal the half-dirge—imitated by Byron and Coleridge—in the preceding canto :—

"'Twas now the hour that turneth back desire
In those who sail the sea, and melts the heart,
The day they've said to their sweet friends farewell,
And the new pilgrim penetrates with love,
If he doth hear from far away a bell
That seemeth to deplore the dying day."

Yet not from their upright direction swayed,
So that the little birds upon their tops
Should leave the practice of each art of theirs;

But with full ravishment the hours of prime,
Singing, received they in the midst of leave?,
That ever bore a burden to their rhymes."

Purg., xxviii. 10-18.

It is needless to multiply instances, but I cannot forbear mentioning the " eagle with the plumes of gold," and that great mystical eagle of the Paradiso, composed of multitudinous souls, yet endowed with one mind and with one voice—symbol of the empire of the Cajsars.

It would be agreeable, were it possible, to illustrate in the same way Dante's sense of colour. The ComThe poet media has several allusions to painting as a> winter. included in the poet's art (see, especially, Purg., xxxi. 139; and xxxii. 64); and it is part of Dante's poetic gift to view things, even things that are not, with an artist's eye. Thus, in writing of Matelda, he says there appeared to him—

"A lady all alone, who went along

Singing and culling floweret after floweret,
With which her pathway was all painted over."

In the Paradiso Dante takes leave of earth and begins his ascent towards the Divine. The conditions being altogether changed, the critics have

The Paradiso. ° ° ,

of course asked themselves, Is the Paradiso a sbaglio, a mistake? Gaspary, though a most reverent and sympathetic writer, would seem to answer, in a qualified sense, Yes! He speaks of this last division as "a continual struggle with the ineffable." This is at least a fine phrase, nor can it be denied that it enshrines a large element of truth, only that it appears to assume as a poetical necessity that all verse should include a variety of sensible images, and that, where this is impossible, the subject is incapable of poetical treatment. But may not poetry suggest, as well as project, ideas? Does not Gaspary's canon exclude the very highest sort of poetry, that which we call sublime? To me it seems that, in conning the Paradiso, and especially the final canto, I learn for the first time the meaning of that epithet. It may be, as Balbo asserts, that to "the general" the Paradiso will always be less pleasant reading than the other cantiche. But suppose it were! The last thought that entered Dante's head was to accommodate himself to those who would fain run and read. His great, his only aim was to adapt his verse, as far as might be, to the tremendous exigencies of the theme, and it is from this standpoint and by this standard that he ought to be judged, always remembering the constraint laid upon him not to leave this part of his task unattempted.

Now, how could Dante treat the glories of the celestial world? A merely sensual paradise, the haunt of houris, paved with flowers, perfumed with odoriferous shrubs, freshened with the spray of fountains, and vocal with the notes of amorous nightingales: it would have been easy to depict a place like that, but it would have been a Mohammedan, not a Christian paradise. The heaven of Christendom could only be represented

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