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-Anto t. mentioned in any of his writings, as if he were
unwilling to publish the disgrace of his country; and it consequently escaped all his biographers, and was, for the first time, noticed by the indefatigable Tiraboschi a few years ago. In his letters, his Convito, his songs, his great poem, the sorrows of an exile recur continually: and there must be to certain minds something far more painful in exile than in death; since we find him, who was never terrified by the latter in any shape, quite subdued by the former. As tender, but with much more dignity than Ovid, he at times seems exasperated to a feeling of gloomy satisfaction in brandishing invective almost wantonly; as if it were an alleviation of the pain he experienced in being forced to stigmatise the criminality and folly of his townsmen, to inflict the same unsparing penalty on mankind in general. But his strain of dejection is more impressive: 'How hard is it to go up and down the stair-case of a stranger!' is his exclamation; and, in his prose at least, it is this feeling, much more than resentinent, that is uppermost. 'Rome's loveliest daughter hath cast me from her sweet bosom' (he cries) 'where I was born and brought up; and where it is my fondest hope to be permitted one day to return for the repose of my wearied spirit, and to pass the last of the years allotted me in this world: in which I have verily been tost about like a wretched unmasted hulk, the sport of every cruel wind, bear
- Canto r, ing to a variety of lands and ports the dead weight of poverty and grief, and exposing my person to the scrutiny of the vulgar; thereby lessening my character () and, what is worse, the utility of all my productions (*). And again he declares his wil. lingness to purchase his recall at any price but his honor: 'dear father, let any way be found not derogatory to the honor of Dante, and I shall not be slow in accepting it. But if by none such Florence is to be entered, never shall I enter Florence’ (3). These were bodings equally sad as prophetic; he never entered it more, alive or dead: —
Ungrateful Florence! Dante sleeps afar
and the traveller, missing his relies in Santa-Croce, will probably, like the illustrious poet just quoted, take a journey to Ravenna to seek them.
From what I have said it is apparent, that Dante's exile was the immedicable wound of his heart: and, Ithink, it is little less clear that by the dreadful forest is to be understood, not indeed his exile itself, as the Gentleman (4) who gave me the first hint of my interpretation of this allegory attempted to show, (for since Dante's exile did not take place until 1302, he could not be described as entangled
(1) Qui se ipse norit, primum aliquid sentiet se habere divinum, ingeniumque in se suum, sicut simulacrum aliquod dedicatum putabit. De legibus l. 1. p. 22.
(2) Convito p. 57.
(3) Pistola. Cancell. p. 59.
(4) G. Mârchetti Dis.
in it now in 13oo) but what produced that ex
ile – his Priorship , or rather the long political uproar that preceded it: and this last observation is enforced by the reflection, that in the first sentence of this poem he does not tell us he entered the forest in the middle of human life, but that he still found himself lost in it; for the Italian is not mi trowai, 'I found me', but mi ritrowai, 'I still found me'. 'All my misfortunes' (says he in one of his letters) are to he deduced from my ill-omened Priorship; of which, however far from being worthy in other respects, neither in fidelity nor in age was I unworthy: for ten years had elapsed since the battle of Campaldine, where I was no novice in arms; but took a full share in the troubles of that day and in the joy for that victory by which the Ghibelline faction was, it may he affirm. ed, undone for ever’ (‘). It is then no wonder, if the year in which he bore that Office be marked as the critical one of his existence; as the one in which he perceived what a dangerous wilderness he was in , and amid what ferocious foes. There are good reasons to believe, that the composition of this poem was begun before 13oo: but that in nowise invalidates my interpretation ; for it is equally true, that it is supposed to open (whatever be the exact period at which its Author commenced it) in 13oo: a year which, even in prospect,
(1) Vita. Leon. Arret. p. x.
can T0 re. must have had peculiar attractions for him, from its being to be the beginning of a Century, and the middle of human life in his own regard, and from its being announced as a jubilee throughout Europe. He must have foreseen from the outset, that his poem could not be terminated until years later; so that there could be no reason against pre-selecting the above epoch for its opening, at least none founded on an apprehension of its publication preceding its date : and , when he afterwards found 13oo become still more memorable than he had foreseen, (viz by his Priorship) he had no inducement to make any alteration. Or he might have altered many things in these Canti long after having composed them; some I am sure he did. And why not? what poet does not retouch his verses? None of Dante's stamp spare the file. He might possibly have put some other date to the first copy of this Canto, and , seven or eight years afterwards, changed it to the present one of 13oo. Such are vain conjectures of which we know nothing: all I mean to assert is, that there is no deciding from this passage as to when the poem began to be composed; so that we, on that head, shall be at full liberty to argue hereafter without having carried along any incumbrance. But that its action opens with the opening of the fourteenth century, when its Author was ingulfed in politics, is beyond doubt, and could be much further proved were it necessary; and from all I have said I hope my second position also will follow, of the forest being allegorical of those turbulent politics. Yet I seek no singularity of opinion, but to show the historic truth. The forest by other Commentators is represented as meaning simply and abstract. edly vice and error; and by some the vice of Dante himself. But as to these latter, they are at variance with the fact of his having been reputed one of the most moral of mankind, and no other of his works discovering any thing like the confession of Ambition, Voluptuousness and Avarice, which they would put into his mouth here: and as to the former, they surely set their author somewhat at variance not only with the common language of ethics, and with the Bible, but even with himself; for vice is mostly said to be a gay, alluring walk of flowers, though leading to ruin (); when the path of truth is termed strait and nar. row, we conclude that its opposite is aide and easy, and far from black and brambly; and so, this scriptural phrase, strait and narrow, occurring in the third line of Dante's poem – dritta via, – a similar conclusion ensues. He is made much too mystical, because people will not peruse him by the light of History. If they did, this, as well as many other passages, would be reconciled to common-sense: for, though to typify by a bleak