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A love and hoiior which more than thirty years have deepened,
though priceless to him they enrich, are of little import to one
capable of inspiring them. Yet I cannot deny myself the pleas
ure of so far intruding on your reserve as at least to make public
acknowledgment of the debt I can never repay.



DANTE . . 1




KEATS . . 303


ON the banks of a little river so shrunken by the
suns of summer that it seems fast passing into a tra
dition, but swollen by the autumnal rains with an
Italian suddenness of passion till the massy bridge
shudders under the impatient heap of waters behind it,
stands a city which, in its period of bloom not so large
as Boston, may well rank next to Athens in the history
which teaches come t uom s' eterna.

Originally only a convenient spot in the valley where
the fairs of the neighboring Etruscan city of Fiesole
were held, it gradually grew from a huddle of booths to
a town, and then to a city, which absorbed its ancestral
neighbor and became a cradle for the arts, the letters,
the science, and the commerce t of modern Europe.

* The Shadow of Dante, "being an Essay towards studying Himself,
his World, and his Pilgrimage. By MARIA FRANCESCA ROSSETTI.

" Se Dio te lasci, lettor prender frutto
Di tua lezione."

Boston : Roberts Brothers. 1872. 8vo. 'pp. 296.

t The Florentines should seem to have invented or re-invented
banks, book-keeping by double-entry, and bills of exchange. The
last, by endowing Value with the gift of fern-seed and enabling it
to walk invisible, turned the flank of the baronial tariff-system and
made the roads safe for the great liberalizer Commerce. This made
Money omnipresent, and prepared the way for its present omnipo
tence. Fortunately it cannot iisurp the third attribute of Deity,
omniscience. But whatever the consequences, this Florentine inven-

1 A


For her Cimabue wrought, who infused Byzantine for
malism with a suggestion of nature and feeling ; for her
the Pisani, who divined at least, if they could not con
jure with it, the secret of Greek supremacy in sculp
ture ; for her the marvellous boy Ghiberti proved that
unity of composition and grace of figure and drapery
were never beyond the reach of genius ; * for her Bru-
nelleschi curved the dome which Michel Angelo hung in
air on St. Peter's ; for her Giotto reared the bell-tower
graceful as an Horatian ode in marble ; and the great tri
umvirate of Italian poetry, good sense, and culture called
her mother. There is no modern city about which
cluster so many elevating associations, none in which
the past is so contemporary with us in unchanged build
ings and undisturbed monuments. The house of Dante
is still shown ; children still receive baptism at the font
(il mio bd San Giovanni) where he was christened before
the acorn dropped that was to grow into a keel for Co
lumbus ; and an inscribed stone marks the spot where
he used to sit and watch the slow blocks swing up to
complete the master-thought of Arnolfo. In the con
vent of St. Mark hard by lived and labored Beato An-
gelico, the saint of Christian art, and Fra Bartolommeo,
who taught Raphael dignity. From the same walls
Savonarola went forth to his triumphs, short-lived al
most as the crackle of his martyrdom. The plain little
chamber of Michel Angelo seems still to expect hia
return ; his last sketches lie upon the table, his staff

tion was at first nothing but admirable, securing to brain its legiti
mate influence over brawn. The latter has begun its revolt, but
whether it will succeed better in its attempt to restore mediaeval
methods than the barons in maintaining them remains to be seen.

* Ghiberti's designs have been criticised by a too systematic aesthet-
icism, as confounding the limits of sculpture and painting. But is
not the rilievo precisely the bridge by which the one art passes over
into the territory of the other ?


leans in the corner, and his slippers wait before the
empty chair. On one of the vine-clad hills, just with
out the city walls, one's feet may press the same stairs
that Milton climbed to visit Galileo. To an American
there is something supremely impressive in this cumu
lative influence of the past full of inspiration and re
buke, something saddening in this repeated proof that
moral supremacy is the only one that leaves monuments
and not ruins behind it. Time, who with us obliterates
the labor and often the names of yesterday, seems here
to have spared almost the prints of the care piante that
shunned the sordid paths of worldly honor.

Around the courtyard of the great Museum of Flor
ence stand statues of her illustrious dead, her poets,
painters, sculptors, architects, inventors, and statesmen ;
and as the traveller feels the ennobling lift of such
society, and reads the names or recognizes the features
familiar to him as his own threshold, he is startled to
find Fame as commonplace here as Notoriety every
where else, and that this fifth-rate city should have the
privilege thus to commemorate so many famous men
her sons, whose claim to pre-eminence the whole world
would concede. Among them is one figure before which
every scholar, every man who has been touched by the
tragedy of life, lingers with reverential pity. The hag
gard cheeks, the lips clamped together in unfaltering
resolve, the scars of lifelong battle, and the brow whose
sharp outline seems the monument of final victory,
this, at least, is a face that needs no name beneath it.
This is he who among literary fames finds only two
that for growth and immutability can parallel his own.
The suffrages of highest authority would now place him
second in that company where he with proud humility
took the sixth place.*

* Inferno, IV. 102.


Dante (Durante, by contraction Dante) degli Ali-
gbieri was born at Florence in 1265, probably during
the month of May.* This is the date given by Boc
caccio, who is generally followed, though he makes a
blunder in saying, sedendo Urbano quarto nella cattedra
di San Pietro, for Urban died in October, 1264. Some,
misled by an error in a few of the early manuscript
copies of the Divina Commedia, would have him born
five years earlier, in 1260. According to Arrivabene,f
Sansovino was the first to confirm Boccaccio's statement
by the authority of the poet himself, basing his argu
ment on the first verse of the Inferno,

" Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita" ;

the average age of man having been declared by the
Psalmist to be seventy years, and the period of the poet's
supposed vision being unequivocally fixed at 1300. %
Leonardo Aretino and Manetti add their testimony to
that of Boccaccio, and 1265 is now universally assumed
as the true date. Voltaire, nevertheless, places the
poet's birth in 1260, and jauntily forgives Bayle (who,
he says, ecrivait a Rotterdam currente calamo pour son
libraire) for having been right, declaring that he esteems
him neither more nor less for having made a mistake of
five years. Oddly enough, Voltaire adopts this alleged
blunder of five years on the next page, in saying that
Dante died at the age of 56, though he still more oddly

* The Nouvelle Biographic Generale gives May 8 as his birthday.
This is a mere assumption, for Boccaccio only says generally May.
The indication which Daute himself gives that he was born when the
sun was in Gemini would give a range from about the middle of May
to about the middle of June, so that the 8th is certainly too early.

t Secolo di Dante, Udine edition of 1828, Vol. III. Part I. p. 578.

| Arrivabene, however, is wrong. Boccaccio makes precisely the
same reckoning in the first note of his Commentary (Bocc. Comento,
etc., Firenze, 1844, Vol. I. pp. 32, 33).

Diet. Phil., art. Dante.


omits the undisputed date of his death (1321), which
would have shown Bayle to be right. The poet's de
scent is said to have been derived from a younger son
of the great Roman family of the Frangipani, classed
by the popular rhyme with the Orsini and Colonna :

" Colonna, Orsini, e Frangipani,
Prendono oggi e pagano domani."

That his ancestors had been long established in Florence
is an inference from some expressions of the poet, and
from their dwelling having been situated in the more
ancient part of the city. The most important fact of
the poet's genealogy is, that he was of mixed race, the
Alighieri being of Teutonic origin. Dante was born,
as he himself tells us,* when the sun was in the constel
lation Gemini, and it has been absurdly inferred, from
a passage in the Inferno*? that his horoscope was drawn
and a great destiny predicted for him by his teacher,
Brunette Latini. The Ottimo Comento tells us that the
Twins are the house of Mercury, who induces in men
the faculty of writing, science, and of acquiring knowl
edge. This is worth mentioning as characteristic of
the age and of Dante himself, with whom the influence
of the stars took the place of the old notion of destiny. J
It is supposed, from a passage in Boccaccio's life of
Dante, that Alighiero the father was still living when,
the poet was nine years old. If so, he must have died
soon after, for Leonardo Aretino, who wrote with origi
nal documents before him, tells us that Dante lost his
father while yet a child. This circumstance may have
been not without influence in muscularizing his nature
to that character of self-reliance which shows itself so
constantly and sharply during his after-life. His tutor
was Brunetto Latini, a very superior man (for that age),
says Aretino parenthetically. Like Alexander Gill, he

* Paradise, XXII. f Canto XV. J Purgatorio, XVI.


is now remembered only as the schoolmaster of a great
poet, and that he did his duty well may be inferred
from Dante's speaking of him gratefully as one who by
times "taught him how man eternizes himself." This,
and what Villani says of his refining the Tuscan idiom
(for so we understand hisfarlt scorti in bene parlare*),
are to be noted as of probable influence on the career
of his pupil. Of the order of Dante's studies nothing
can be certainly affirmed. His biographers^send him to
Bologna, Padua, Paris, Naples, and even Oxford. All
are doubtful, Paris and Oxford most of all, and the
dates utterly undeterminable. Yet all are possible,
nay, perhaps probable. Bologna and Padua we should
be inclined to place before his exile ; Paris and Oxford,
if at all, after it. If no argument in favor of Paris is
to be drawn from his Pape Satan^ and the correspond
ing paix, paix, Sathan, in the autobiography of Cellini,
nor from the very definite allusion to Doctor Siger,J
we may yet infer from some passages in the Commedia
that his wanderings had extended even farther ; for
it would not be hard to show that his comparisons and
illustrations from outward things are almost invariably
drawn from actual eyesight. As to the nature of his
studies, there can be no doubt that he went through
the trivium (grammar, dialectic, rhetoric) and the qua-
drivium (arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy) of
the then ordinary university course. To these he after
ward added painting (or at least drawing, designavo
un angelo sopra certe tavolette\\), theology, and medicine.

* Though he himself preferred French, and wrote his Tresor in that
language for two reasons, " F una perclte noi siamo in Frantia, e
F ultra perche la parlatura francesca e piu dilettevolee piii comune che
tuttili altri linguaggi.' 1 '' (Proemio, sul fine. )

t Inferno, Canto' VII. J Paradise, Canto X.

See especially Inferno, IX. 112 et seq. ; XII. 120 ; XV. 4 et seq.;
XXXII. 25-30.

|| Vit. Nuov. p. 61, ed. Pesaro, 1829.


He is said to have been the pupil of Cimabue, and was
certainly the friend of Giotto, the designs for some of
whose frescos at Assisi and elsewhere have been wrongly
attributed to him, though we may safely believe in his
helpful comment and suggestion. To prove his love of
music, the episode of Casella were enough, even without
Boccaccio's testimony. The range of Dante's study and
acquirement would be encyclopedic in any age, but at
that time it was literally possible to master the omne
scibile, and he seems to have accomplished it. How lofty
his theory of science was, is plain from this passage in
the Convito : " He is not to be called a true lover of
wisdom (filosofo) who loves it for the sake of gain, as do
lawyers, physicians, and almost all churchmen (li reli-
giosi), who study, not in order to know, but to acquire
riches or advancement, and who would not persevere in
study should you give them what they desire to gain by

it And it may be said that (as true friendship

between men consists in each wholly loving the other)
the true philosopher loves every part of wisdom, and
wisdom every part of the philosopher, inasmuch as she
draws all to herself, and allows no one of his thoughts
to wander to other things." * The Convito gives us a
glance into Dante's library. We find Aristotle (whom
he calls the philosopher, the master) cited seventy-
six times ; Cicero, eighteen ; Albertus Magnus, seven ;
Boethius, six ; Plato (at second-hand), four ; Aquinas,
Avicenna, Ptolemy, the Digest, Lucan, and Ovid, three
each ; Virgil, Juvenal, Statins, Seneca, and Horace,
twice each ; and Algazzali, Alfrogan, Augustine, Livy,
Orosius, and Homer (at second-hand), once. Of Greek
he seems to have understood little ; of Hebrew and
Arabic, a few words. But it was not only in the closet
and from books that Dante received his education. He
Tratt. III. Cap. XI.


acquired, perhaps, the better part of it in the streets
of Florence, and later, in those homeless wanderings
which led him (as he says) wherever the Italian
tongue was spoken. His were the only open eyes of
that century, and, as nothing escaped them, so there
is nothing that was not photographed upon his sen
sitive brain, to be afterward fixed forever in the Corn-
media. What Florence was during his youth and man
hood, with its Guelphs and Ghibellines, its nobles and
trades, its Bianchi and Neri, its kaleidoscopic revolu
tions, " all parties loving liberty and doing their best to
destroy her," as Voltaire says, it would be beyond our
province to tell even if we could. Foreshortened as
events are when we look back on them across so many
ages, only the upheavals of party conflict catching the
eye, while the spaces of peace between sink out of the
view of history, a whole century seems like a mere wild
chaos. Yet during a couple of such centuries the ca
thedrals of Florence, Pisa, and Siena got built ; Cimabue,
Giotto, Arnolfo, the Pisani, Brunelleschi, and Ghiberti
gave the impulse to modern art, or brought it in some
of its branches to its culminating point ; modern litera
ture took its rise ; commerce became a science, and the
middle class came into being. It was a time of fierce
passions and sudden tragedies, of picturesque transitions
and contrasts. It found Dante, shaped him by every
experience that life is capable of, rank, ease, love, study,
affairs, statecraft, hope, exile, hunger, dependence, de
spair, until he became endowed with a sense of the
nothingness of this world's goods possible only to the
rich, and a knowledge of man possible only to the poor.
The few well-ascertained facts of Dante's life may be
briefly stated. In 1274 occurred what we may call his
spiritual birth, the awakening in him of the imaginative
faculty, and of that profounder and more intense con-


sciousness which springs from the recognition of beauty
through the antithesis of sex. It was in that year that
he first saw Beatrice Portinari. In 1289 he was present
at the battle of Campaldino, fighting on the side of the
Guelphs, who there utterly routed the Ghibellines, and
where, he says characteristically enough, " I was present,
not a boy in arms, and where I felt much fear, but in
the end the greatest pleasure, from the various changes
of the fight." * In the same year he assisted at the
siege and capture of Caprona.t In 1290 died Beatrice,
married to Simone del Bardi, precisely when is uncer
tain, but before 1287, as appears by a mention of her in
her father's will, bearing date January 15 of that year.
Dante's own marriage is assigned to various years,
ranging from 1291 to 1294; but the earlier date seems
the more probable, as he was the father of seven children
(the youngest, a daughter, named Beatrice) in 1301.
His wife was Gemma dei Donati, and through her Dante,
whose family, though noble, was of the lesser nobility,
became nearly connected with Corso Donati, the head of
a powerful clan of the grandi, or greater nobles. In
1293 occurred what is called the revolution of Gian
Delia Bella, in which the priors of the trades took the
power into their own hands, and made nobility a dis
qualification for office. A noble was defined to be any
one who counted a knight among his ancestors, and thus
the descendant of Cacciaguida was excluded.

Delia Bella was exiled in 1295, but the nobles did
not regain their power. On the contrary, the citizens,
having all their own way, proceeded to quarrel among
themselves, and subdivided into the popolani grossi and
popolani minuti, or greater and lesser trades, a dis
tinction of gentility somewhat like that between whole-

* Letter of Dante, now lost, cited by Aretino.
t Inferno, XXI. 94.



sale and retail tradesmen. The grandi continuing tur
bulent, many of the lesser nobility, among them Dante,
drew over to the side of the citizens, and between 1297
and 1300 there is found inscribed in the book of the
physicians and apothecaries, Dante d' Aldigkiero, degli
Aldiyhieri, poeta Florentine* Professor de Vericourf
thinks it necessary to apologize for this lapse on the
part of the poet, and gravely bids us take courage, nor
think that Dante was ever an apothecary. In 1300 we
find him elected one of the priors of the city. In order
to a perfect misunderstanding of everything connected
with the Florentine politics of this period, one has only
to study the various histories. The result is a spectrum
on the mind's eye, which looks definite and brilliant,
but really hinders all accurate vision, as if from too
steady inspection of a Catharine-wheel in full whirl. A
few words, however, are necessary, if only to make the
confusion palpable. The rival German families of Welfs
and Weiblingens had given their names, softened into
Guelfi and Ghibellini, from which Gabriel Harvey J
ingeniously, but mistakenly, derives elves and goblins,
to two parties in Northern Italy, representing respec
tively the adherents of the pope and of the emperor,
but serving very well as rallying-points in all manner of
intercalary and subsidiary quarrels. The nobles, espe
cially the greater ones, perhaps from instinct, per
haps in part from hereditary tradition, as being more or
less Teutonic by descent, were commonly Ghibellines,
or Imperialists ; the bourgeoisie were very commonly
Guelphs, or supporters of the pope, partly from natural
antipathy to the nobles, and partly, perhaps, because they
believed themselves to be espousing the more purely

* Balbo, Vita di Dante, Firenze, 1853, p. 117.
t Life and Times of Dante, London, 1858, p. 80.
J Notes to Spenser's "Shepherd's Calendar."

DANTE. 1 1

Italian side. Sometimes, however, the party relation of
nobles and burghers to each other was reversed, but the
names of Guelphand Ghibelline always substantially rep
resented the same things. The family of Dante had been
Guelphic, and we have seen him already as a young
man serving two campaigns against the other party.
But no immediate question as between pope and em
peror seems then to have been pending ; and while there
is no evidence that he was ever a mere partisan, the
reverse would be the inference from his habits and char
acter. Just before his assumption of the priorate, how
ever, a new complication had arisen. A family feud,
beginning at the neighboring city of Pistoja, between
the Cancellieri Neri and Cancellieri Bianchi,* had ex
tended to Florence, where the Guelphs took the part
of the Neri and the Ghibellines of the Bianchi.t The
city was instantly in a ferment of street brawls, as act
ors in one of which some of the Medici are incidentally
named, the first appearance of that family in history.
Both parties appealed at different times to the pope,
who sent two ambassadors, first a bishop and then a
cardinal. Both pacificators soon flung out again in a
rage, after adding the new element of excommunication
to the causes of confusion. It was in the midst of these
things that Dante became one of the six priors (June,
1300), an office which the Florentines had made bimes
trial in its tenure, in order apparently to secure at least
six constitutional chances of revolution in the year. He
advised that the leaders of both parties should be ban
ished to the frontiers, which was forthwith done ; the
ostracism including his relative Corso Donati among

* See the story at length in Balbo, Vita di Dante, Cap. X.

t Thus Foscolo. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that at
first the blacks were the extreme. Guelphs, and the whites those mod
erate Guelphs inclined to make terms with the Ghibellines. The mat
ter is obscure, and Balbo contradicts himself about it.


the Neri, and his most intimate friend the poet Guido
Cavalcanti among the Bianchi. They were all permitted
to return before long (but after Dante's term of office
was over), and came accordingly, bringing at least the
Scriptural allowance of " seven other " motives of mis
chief with them. Affairs getting worse (1301), the
Neri, with the connivance of the pope (Boniface VIII.),
entered into an arrangement with Charles of Valois, who
was preparing an expedition to Italy. Dante was mean
while sent on an embassy to Rome (September, 1301,
according to Arrivabene,* but probably earlier) by the
Bianchi, who still retained all the offices at Florence. It
is the tradition that he said in setting forth : " If I go,
who remains 1 and if I stay, who goes 1 " Whether true
or not, the story implies what was certainly true, that
the council and influence of Dante were of great weight
with the more moderate of both parties. On October
31, 1301, Charles took possession of Florence in the
interest of the Neri. Dante being still at Rome (Janu
ary 27, 1302), sentence of exile was pronounced against
him and others, with a heavy fine to be paid within two
months ; if not paid, the entire confiscation of goods,
and, whether paid or no, exile ; the charge against him
being pecuniary malversation in office. The fine not
paid (as it coiild not be without admitting the justice
of the charges, which Dante scorned even to deny), in
less than two months (March 10, 1302) a second sen
tence was registered, by which he with others was con
demned to be burned alive if taken within the boun
daries of the republic, f From this time the life of

* Secolo di Dante, p. 654. He would seem to have been in Rome
during the Jubilee of 1300. See Inferno, XVIII. 28 - 33.

t That Dante was not of the grandi, or great nobles (what we call
grandees), as some of his biographers have tried to make out, is plain

Online LibraryJames Russell LowellAmong my books. Second series → online text (page 1 of 26)