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* canto lit. livida () of Virgil: but it seems no more than just, in noticing how much Dante copied, not to conceal what he improved; in almost all his imitations of the Classics he introduces alterations that appropriate them to himself; and, in the present passage at least, it will surely be confessed, that he struck out what was feeble, ( the gold rod) and replaced it with a figure of peculiar grandeur.
Terribili squalore Charon cui plurima mento
This burst of agony of the forlorn ghosts, on hearing, not the debate between Virgil and Charon, but the denunciation of their own lasting woe, is (as well as their pacing along with sobs the bank where the guilty congregate as soon as their mortal frames expire ) a circumstance added to the Latin original: with these exceptions, the entire is from the Aeneid.
That to put our mental faculties on wing it is first necessary to make an impression upon our senses, is one of the oldest ethical axioms: and
(1) Aeneid. Lib. vi. v. 319. (2) Id. Id. v. 298.
canto lit. from it originate all our descriptions of a future
state. It is superfluous to repeat citations from S. Paul and the Fathers to prove that they considered such a state as above human comprehension; which is, in other words, to say, that what they describe there is to be received as merely allegorical: but it may be proper to inculcate a similar truth with regard to the Ancients. They also certainly understood the persons in futurity as ideal. So Cicero, alluding to the very particular we are now considering –—the representation of Hell: "Who does not see that the prodigies talked of are nothing but the inventions of poets and painters, and that it would be insanity to suppose their possessing any real existence? ()' The descriptions then on this head in Virgil and Homer were considered quite as imaginary before, as after their insertion in a poem; they were first the machinery of religion, and, after being so hallowed, were adopted in poetry; in both cases they were artificial resources never believed in as actually true, but as very efficacious in moving the mind; theological, or poetical, they were always allegories(*). It remains to inquire, whether the Christian, or the Pagan allegories be the more conducive to the
(1) . . . Adeone me delirare censes ut ista esse credam P Tuscu, Lib. 1. cap. 6.
(2) The abuse of allegory may merit the lordly irony of Mr. Gibbon (Decline and Fail. Vol. iv. p. 71.); but when we attempt pictures of what we know is incomprehensible, it seems to me both sensible and candid to present them, not as truths, bnt as types of the truth,
tranto it? proposed end, of making an impression on the intellect through the senses? Here it is the end alone that is of importance, and whatever means are best calculated to attain it are the best: for these in each of the Creeds of which we treat are equally accidental modes, and in themselves pretend to no greater weight, than any other' unsubstantial fabrics of a Vision.” The Paradise of Christianity has a moral purity of its own, and consequently has given rise to a celestial imagery of a very lofty nature. The fables of Greece and Rome are too unrefined ever to be admitted round the throne of the First wise and fair; – and a man of mighty genius who attempted it succeeded badly. A reader of the Lusiad must have acquired a full knowledge of its many beauties, before he can forgive the introduction of Bacchus and Mars into a Christian poem; and their appearance there gives rise to some petulancy among critical wits, who can readily ridicule that incongruity, without perhaps being able, as linguists, to taste the merits that redeem it amply. Even the nod of Jupiter shaking his ambrosial curls is a sorry figure in comparison with the attributes of Jehovah; and a view of Heaven by one of our Divines of moderate talents is finer than the finest in the classics. – But not so in hell; where the belief of a disciple of Jesus differs in little from that of a follower of Polytheism: for they equally profess the doctrine of some guilt being capable
to Axto int.
of expiation, and of some being punished eternally. Here therefore a modern is on no vantageground, and is left to his own single strength in a contest with the most distinguished inventors of Antiquity; nay, he labours under a disadvantage, since his rivals have their great names, and time, a great authority, in their behalf. Were his new machinery as powerful as theirs, it were scarcely to be hoped it could produce as overwhelming an effect. But is it as powerful? Our pictures of inef. fable delight are far superior to the most brilliant fancies of the Heathen poets: our hell fades away before theirs. Fire is almost the only figure we employ. On this conviction, Dante acted; and made no scruple, either literary or religious, of availing himself of the only means by which it was at all feasible to rise to a competition with his venerated models, viz: by uniting the most striking of the infernal images of Paganism with those which his own Church afforded, as well as with some others gleaned from Islam. Tid not this accumulation display his judgment? Is it not an instance of that common sense, which, according to Horace, is the source of all good writing? And if by it has been produced the most extensive and terrible allegory ever made of what cannot in reality be conceived by us, because it is infinite, (the eter
onal penalty in another life for wickedness in this )
does he not approach nearest to the aim of all moralists? As long as the everlasting verities of
ganto 111, Christianity were respected, he knew that its parables might be varied at pleasure. Charon and Acheron are figures as admissable in religion as a causeway erected by sin and death, or the artillery of Satan, or the scoffings of Belial, and are nobler in poetry. Acheron was emblematical of eternal grief (1); Charon, of time (*): what law of Christianity forbids their being so still? Or are they mean or incredible, when compared with the grim feature upturning
His nostril wide into the murky air
or with the hissings, and bitter apples of Pandemonium ? Would Milton have done worse, had he here followed Dante (whom he on other occasions often follows) and introduced into his hell some of those older, allegorical forms which possessed a double title to veneration, religious and literary; instead of endeavouring to make up for the deficiency of sensible imagery in his Creed by inventions of his own—which were in substance quite as unreal as those ancient ones, but which no genius could have clothed with adequate dignity; because they had never been sanctified by an adoption into the formulary of any Church, nor by any, solemn, classical associations?
(1) Quia apud inferos nulla unquam sit lactitia. Genealogia Deor. Lib. iii. Cap. 4.
(2) Charon, quem Servius devolvit in Cronon, tempus est. Id. Lib. 1. Cap. 33.