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O Author! who did'st form my style
To beauty, that hath won me fame (*). What is really astonishing, and argues Athenian superiority of intellect in the Florentines of that day, is that his intense poetry was popular— not in the English, but the extensive, Tuscan sense of that word: for his verses were more commonly sung by the lowest of the people then, than ever those of Tasso have since been (*). It
(1) Tu se solo colui da cu'io tolsi
(2) Proofs are extant: as a story about a black-smith chaunting some of Dante's verses in his smithy; and another of an ass-driver beguiling labour in a similar way while driving a parcel of asses near one of the gates in Florence. The ass-driver was exerting his lungs still more injuriously for the melody of the poet, than a carpenter whom I heard every night during an entire summer vociferating the Gerusalemme along the banks of the Arno – the seventh Canto of it, I mean; for this is the favourite one with the Pisans, and, only the other day, a Petturino driving me from Pisa to Leghorn performed from the first verse (Intanto Erminia infra, etc.) even to the very last (orribile armonia, etc.) without once stopping during the journey. Nor were the performer's closing notes ill adapted to his performance. The man who transmits the stories (Franco Sacchetti) was a contemporary of Petrarch and Boccaccio and almost, if not entirely, of Dante: for the precise year of Sachetti's birth is not ascertained. He was also one of the most distinguished noblemen of Florence; so that his authority is every way conclusive. Pelli represents him as saying the ass-driver was singing ‘some verses of thc Comedy' (un pezzo della sua Commedia. Mem. ec. p. 132); but this is one of Pelli's inaccuracies. Sacchetti says no such thing — for he only mentions “the book of Dante, 'without noticing which of his books it was. It could not have been the Comedy: for though some Cantos of it were written, they were not published, nor even shown to Dante's intimate friends. His first friend, Cavalcanti, probably knew of them, but no one else — not even Ser Dino Perrini, who, Boccaccio writes, was quanto più si potesse familiare ed amico di Dante. Comento. vol. 2. p. 69. The
to Arro will. may interest a few, curious, literary antiquaries to learn as much as can be discovered on a subject of which so little is ever discoverable — the birth and growth of one of the standard poems of the world. It is most true, that there is nothing in the verse we are commenting, that any more proveth our Author interrupted his work for several years, and then took it up in this place, than many similar phrases in Ariosto argue he left off and continued his poem at intervals; which were in contradiction with fact (1). Had we no other testimonies than that line of Villani, and this verse of Dante himself, we might expunge them as opposite qualities, rather ciphers, and fairly confess we know nothing of the matter. Nor is it less unreasonable to argue from the Ghibellinism in the first seven Cantos, that they were written after their author became a Ghibelline — after his exile. They savour neither of Ghibellinism, nor Guelphism ; for on the only occasion wherein those factions are mentioned, the leaders of both
book then must have been some of Dante's songs — either his Rime, or his Vita Nuova. My carpenter, however inharmonious in the music of his recitativo, made at least no breaches in it: but the ass-driver broke the metre every now and then with Ar-ris addressed to his asses, So Dante happening to pass by, and having his meditations chased and his ears wounded by that dissonance, diseharged his cane suddenly upon the poor ass-driver's shoulders, crying out to him “fellow, I never wrote that Ar-ri!' Franco Sachetti, Nov. 114–115. Ammirato, Ist. Lib. xiv.–Negri, Ist. Scritt. Fior. (1) As for example: Tornando al lavoro che vario ordisco. Orlando Fur. Canto xvi. St. 5.
are emphatically condemned (). Truth is, Dante was no more a Guelph before exile, than a Ghibelline after it: for his resistance to the French and Papal dominations, and scheme of according the Emperor an unarmed presidency, in order to unite the various Italian states in one great fede. ral Republic, no more shows him a Ghibelline; than his fighting against the furious Ghibelline faction at Campaldine, and his entering Florence amongst the white Guelphs, shows him a Guelph. It is not easy to perceive, why the investigation of where and when these Cantos were composed should ever have become aggrandized, from its natural insignificance, into a question of party. Yet so it is: the Florentines sustain that these portions of the Divine Comedy date previous to their Author's exile from home; the Veronese deny it. Neither of those people should be desirous of aggravating the ingratitude of their ancestors, but rather of palliating it; and considering their illtreatment of Dante, their shame is enhanced the more proofs are accumulated of his having sought to do them honor. The weight of obligation under which Florence labours in his regard were vast enough; without super-adding epic poetry: and that he had served her faithfully during years both with sword and pen; fighting her great battle in Campaldine, regulating her diplomacy in a
(1) Hell, Comment, Canto vii. p. 378.
canto writ. variety of ways, and bequeathing her an immortal language, both prose and verse, in his Vita Nuova, merited a far different requital than he received. How much he exerted himself in both her home and foreign affairs may be gathered, not only from his having been so often ambassador and once a Prior of the Republic, but from the story circulated by his enemies, and which may very well be true without doing him any discredit; for none can result from his being so immersed in meditation on his public duties, as to fall into absence. A vain desire of dividing himself into two, in order to serve his country more effectually, was the enthusiasm of patriotism, not arrogance (). Dante was a Fiorentine by birth, education, and predilection; was long its most distinguished minister; was in his thirty-seventh year when forced from it by political misfortunes; ere which, he had already published enough to prove him the most learned character of his age. Nothing subsequent can make him more or less a Tuscan; and whether he composed a few Cantos during his rambles, or ere he left home, neither detracts from nor adds to the just pride of his countrymen. He adopted not any other land: nor even ever fixed his abode in another for any considerable period. To excuse the iniquitous return made by their ancestors to such devotedness; to show there was at least some
(1) Hell, Comment, Canto vi. p. 357 — Note.
tranto will. reasonable pretext for expelling their excellent citizen with contumely; for disregarding his letters (one of which opens so affectingly, ‘O my people! what have I done to thee 2 ()'); for decreeing his exile should be perpetual, unless he bought his recall with his dishonor; for confiscating his property; and for sentencing him to be burnt alive without further trial, if taken —to endeavour to disprove, or soften down these opprobrious misdeeds would be more creditable to Florentines, than to contend that a few Cantos of this poem were composed within their walls. It would even be more to the purpose, did they erect at this day some tardy monument to the memory of the most famous personage their City ever produced. But Florence, is and always was characteristically ungrateful to its heroes; and has not yet attempted to propitiate the insulted manes of any one of its illustrious triumvirs, Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio. Their bones repose at a distance from their native town; where the traveller is amazed at not finding the slightest sepulchral memorial to recall their names : And Santa Croce wants their mighty dust; Yet for this want more noted, as of yore The Caesar's pageant, shorn of Brutus' bust, Did but of Rome's best son remind her more (a).
(1) Popule milquid fecitibi? Manetti, Vita Dantis. (2) Childe Harold, Canto iv. st. 59.