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Most of them are neither veri nor ben trovati.
One clear glimpse we get of him from the Ottimo
Comento, the author of which says : l " I, the writer,
heard Dante say that never a rhyme had led him to
say other than he would, but that many a time and
oft (molte e spesse volte) he had made words say
for him what they were not wont to express for
other poets." That is the only sincere glimpse
we get of the living, breathing, word-compelling

1 Inferno, X. 85.


Looked at outwardly, the life of Dante seems to
have been an utter and disastrous failure. What
its inward satisfactions must have been, we, with
the Paradiso open before us, can form some faint
conception. To him, longing with an intensity
which only the word Dantesque will express to
realize an ideal upon earth, and continually baffled
and misunderstood, the far greater part of his ma
ture life must have been labor and sorrow. We
can see how essential all that sad experience was to
him, can understand why all the fairy stories hide
the luck in the ugly black casket ; but to him, then
and there, how seemed it ?

Thou shalt relinquish everything of thee,
Beloved most dearly ; this that arrow is
Shot from the bow of exile first of all ;
And thou shalt prove how salt a savor hath
The bread of others, and how hard a path
To climb and to descend the stranger's stairs ! 1

Come sa di sale. Who never wet his bread with
tears, says Goethe, knows ye not, ye heavenly
powers ! Our nineteenth century made an idol of
the noble lord who broke his heart in verse once
every six months, but the fourteenth was lucky
enough to produce and not to make an idol of that
rarest earthly phenomenon, a man of genius who
could hold heartbreak at bay for twenty years, and
would not let himself die till he had done his task.
At the end of the Vita Nuova, his first work,
Dante wrote down that remarkable aspiration that
God would take him to himself after he had written

1 Paradiso, XVII.


of Beatrice such things as were never yet written of
woman. It was literally fulfilled when the Corn-
media was finished twenty-five years later.

Scarce was Dante at rest in his grave when Italy
felt instinctively that this was her great man. Boc
caccio tells us that in 1329 1 Cardinal Poggetto (du
Poiet) caused Dante's treatise De Monarchia to be
publicly burned at Bologna, and proposed further to
dig up and burn the bones of the poet at Ravenna,
as having been a heretic ; but so much opposition
was roused that he thought better of it. Yet this
was during the pontificate of the Frenchman, John
XXII., whose damnation the poet himself seems to
prophesy, 2 and against whose election he had en
deavored to persuade the cardinals, in a vehement
letter. In 1350 the republic of Florence voted the
sum of ten golden florins to be paid by the hands
of Messer Giovanni Boccaccio to Dante's daughter
Beatrice, a nun in the convent of Santa Chiara at
Ravenna. In 1396 Florence voted a monument,
and begged in vain for the metaphorical ashes of
the man of whom she had threatened to make lit
eral cinders if she could catch him alive. In 1429 3
she begged again, but Ravenna, a dead city, was
tenacious of the dead poet. In 1519 Michael An'

1 He says after the return of Louis of Bavaria to Germany
which took place in that year. The De Monarchia was afterward
condemned by the Council of Trent.

2 Inferno, XI. 50.

8 See the letter in Gaye, Carteggio inedito d 1 artisti (Firenze,
1839), vol. i. p. 123.


gelo would have built the monument, but Leo X.
refused to allow the sacred dust to be removed.
Finally, in 1829, five hundred and eight years after
the death of Dante, Florence got a cenotaph fairly
built in Santa Croce (by Ricei), ugly beyond even
the usual lot of such, with three colossal figures on
it, Dante in the middle, with Italy on one side and
Poesy on the other. The tomb at Ravenna, built
originally in 1483, by the father of Cardinal
Bembo, was restored by Cardinal Corsi in 1692,
and finally rebuilt in its present form by Cardinal
Gonzaga, in 1780, all three of whom commemo
rated themselves in Latin inscriptions. It is a little
shrine covered with a dome, not unlike the tomb of
a Mohammedan saint, and is now the chief magnet
which draws foreigners and their gold to Ravenna.
The valet de place says that Dante is not buried
under it, but beneath the pavement of the street in
front of it, where also, he says, he saw my Lord
Byron kneel and weep. Like everything in Ra
venna, it is dirty and neglected.

In 1373 (August 9) Florence instituted a chair
of the Divina Commedia, and Boccaccio was named
first professor. He accordingly began his lectures
on Sunday, October 3, following, but his comment
was broken off abruptly at the 17th verse of the
17th canto of the Inferno by the illness which
ended in his death, December 21, 1375. Among his
successors were Filippo Villani and Filelfo. Bo
logna was the first to follow the example of Flor
ence, Benvenuto da Imola having begun his lectures,
according to Tiraboschi, so early as 1375. Chairs


were established also at Pisa, Venice, Piacenza, and
Milan before the close of the century. The lec
tures were delivered in the churches and on feast-
days, which shows their popular character. Balbo
reckons (but this, though probable, is guess-work)
that the MS. copies of the Divina Commedia
made during the fourteenth century, and now exist
ing in the libraries of Europe, are more numerous
than those of all other works, ancient and modern,
made during the same period. Between the inven
tion of printing and the year 1500 more than
twenty editions were published in Italy, the earliest
in 1472. During the sixteenth century there were
forty editions ; during the seventeenth, a period,
for Italy, of sceptical dilettantism, only three ;
during the eighteenth, thirty-four; and already,
during the first half of the nineteenth, at least
eighty. The first translation was into Catalan, in
1428. 1 M. St. Kene Taillandier says that the
Commedia was condemned by the inquisition in
Spain ; but this seems too general a statement, for,
according to Foscolo, 2 it was the commentary of
Landino and Vellutello, and a few verses in the
Inferno and Paradiso, which were condemned.
The first French translation was that of Grangier,
1596, but the study of Dante struck no root there
till the present century. Kivarol, who translated
the Inferno in 1783, was the first Frenchman who
divined the wonderful force and vitality of the

1 St. Rene 1 Taillandier, in Revue des Deux Mondes, December
1, 1856, says into Spanish.

2 Dante, vol. iv. p. 116.


Oommedia. 1 The expressions of Voltaire repre
sent very well the average opinion of cultivated
persons in respect of Dante in the middle of the
eighteenth century. He says : " The Italians call
him divine ; but it is a hidden divinity ; few peo
ple understand his oracles. He has commentators,
which, perhaps, is another reason for his not being
understood. His reputation will go on increasing,
because scarce anybody reads him." 2 To Father
Bettinelli he writes : "I estimate highly the cour
age with which you have dared to say that Dante
was a madman and his work a monster." But he
adds, what shows that Dante had his admirers even
in that flippant century : " There are found among
us, and in the eighteenth century, people who strive
to admire imaginations so stupidly extravagant
and barbarous." 3 Elsewhere he says that the
Oommedia was " an odd poem, but gleaming with
natural beauties, a work in which the author rose
in parts above the bad taste of his age and his sub
ject, and full of passages written as purely as if
they had been of the time of Ariosto and Tasso." 4
It is curious to see this antipathetic fascination
which Dante exercised over a nature so opposite to
his own.

At the beginning of this century Chateaubriand
speaks of Dante with vague commendation, evi
dently from a very superficial acquaintance, and

1 Ste. Beuve, Causeries du Lundi, tome xi. p. 169.

2 Diet. Phil, art. "Dante."

8 Corresp. gen., CEuvres, tome Ivii. pp. 80, 81.

4 Essai sur les mceurs, CEuvres, tome xvii. pp. 371, 372.


that only with the Inferno, probably from Rivarol's
version. 1 Since then there have been four or five
French versions in prose or verse, including one by
Lamennais. But the austerity of Dante will not
condescend to the conventional elegance which
makes the charm of French, and the most virile of
poets cannot be adequately rendered in the most
feminine of languages. . Yet in the works of Fau-
riel, Ozanam, Ampere, and Villemain, France has
given a greater impulse to the study of Dante than
any other country except Germany. Into Germany
the Commedia penetrated later. How utterly
Dante was unknown there in the sixteenth century
is plain from a passage in the " Vanity of the Arts
and Sciences " of Cornelius Agrippa, where he is
spoken of among the authors of lascivious stories :
" There have been many of these historical pandars,
of which some of obscure fame, as JEneas Sylvius,
Dantes, and Petrarch, Boccace, Pontanus," etc. 2
The first German translation was that of Bachen-
schwanz (1767-69). Versions by Kannegiesser,
Streckfuss, Kopisch, and Prince John of Saxony,
followed. Goethe seems never to have given that
attention to Dante which his ever-alert intelligence
might have been expected to bestow on so impos
ing a moral and sesthetic phenomenon. Unless the
conclusion of the second part of " Faust " be an in
spiration of the Paradiso, we remember no ade
quate word from him on this theme. His remarks
on one of the German translations are brief, dry,

1 Ginie. du Christianisme, cap. iv.

2 Ed. Lond. 1684, p. 199.


and without that breadth which comes only of
thorough knowledge and sympathy. But German
scholarship and constructive criticism, through
Witte, Kopisch, Wegele, Ruth, and others, have
been of preeminent service in deepening the un
derstanding and facilitating the study of the poet.
In England the first recognition of Dante is by
Chaucer in the " Hugelin of Pisa " of the " Monkes
Tale," l and an imitation of the opening verses of
the third canto of the Inferno (" Assembly of
Foules "). In 1417 Giovanni da Serravalle, bishop
of Fermo, completed a Latin prose translation of
the Commedia, a copy of which, as he made it at
the request of two English bishops whom he met at
the council of Constance, was doubtless sent to
England. Later we find Dante now and then
mentioned, but evidently from hearsay only, 2 till
the time of Spenser, who, like Milton fifty years
later, shows that he had read his works closely.
Thenceforward for more than a century Dante be
came a mere name, used without meaning by liter
ary sciolists. Lord Chesterfield echoes Voltaire,
and Dr. Drake in his " Literary Hours " 3 could

1 It is worth notice, as a proof of Chaucer's critical judgment,
that he calls Dante "the great poet of Itaille," while in the
" Clerke's Tale " he speaks of Petrarch as a "worthy clerk," as
" the laureat poete " (alluding to the somewhat sentimental cere
mony at Rome), and says that his

" Rhetorike sweete
Enlumined all Itaille of poetry."

2 It is probable thatSackville may have read the Inferno, and it
is certain that Sir John Harrington had. See the preface to his
translation of the Orlando Furioso.

8 Second edition, 1800.


speak of Darwin's " Botanic Garden " as showing
the " wild and terrible sublimity of Dante " ! The
first complete English translation was by Boyd,
of the Inferno in 1785, of the whole poem in 1802.
There have been eight other complete translations,
beginning with Gary's in 1814, six since 1850, be
side several of the Inferno singly. Of these that
of Longfellow is the best. It is only within the
last twenty years, however, that the study of
Dante, in any true sense, became at all general.
Even Coleridge seems to have been familiar only
with the Inferno. In America Professor Ticknor
was the first to devote a special course of illustra
tive lectures to Dante ; he was followed by Long
fellow, whose lectures, illustrated by admirable
translations, are remembered with grateful pleasure
by many who were thus led to learn the full signi
ficance of the great Christian poet. A translation
of the Inferno into quatrains by T. W. Parsons
ranks with the best for spirit, faithfulness, and ele
gance. In Denmark and Russia translations of the
Inferno have been published, beside separate vol
umes of comment and illustration. We have thus
sketched the steady growth of Dante's fame and
influence to a universality unparalleled except in
the case of Shakespeare, perhaps more remarkable
if we consider the abstruse and mystical nature of
his poetry. It is to be noted as characteristic that
the veneration of Dantophilists for their master is
that of disciples for their saint. Perhaps no other
man could have called forth such an expression as
that of Ruskin, that " the central man of all the


world, as representing in perfect balance the im
aginative, moral, and intellectual faculties, all at
their highest, is Dante."

The first remark to be made upon the writings
of Dante is that they are all (with the possible
exception of the treatise De Vulgarl Eloquio)
autobiographic, and that all of them, including
that, are parts of a mutually related system, of
which the central point is the individuality and
experience of the poet. In the Vita Nuova he
recounts the story of his love for Beatrice Porti-
nari, showing how his grief for her loss turned his
thoughts first inward upon his own consciousness,
and, failing all help there, gradually upward
through philosophy to religion, and so from a world
of shadows to one of eternal substances. It traces
with exquisite unconsciousness the gradual but cer
tain steps by which memory and imagination tran
substantiated the woman of flesh and blood into
a holy ideal, combining in one radiant symbol of
sorrow and hope that faith which is the instinctive
refuge of unavailing regret, that grace of God
which higher natures learn to find in the trial
which passeth all understanding, and that perfect
womanhood, the dream of youth and the memory
of maturity, which beckons toward the forever un
attainable. As a contribution to the physiology of
genius, no other book is to be compared with the
Vita Nuova. It is more important to the under
standing of Dante as a poet than any other of his
works. It shows him (and that in the midst of
affairs demanding practical ability and presence


of mind) capable of a depth of contemplative ab
straction, equalling that of a Soofi who has passed
the fourth step of initiation. It enables us in
some sort to see how, from being the slave of his
imaginative faculty, he rose by self-culture and
force of will to that mastery of it which is art.
We comprehend the Commedia better when we
know that Dante could be an active, clear-headed
politician and a mystic at the same time. Various
dates have been assigned to the composition of
the Vita Nuova. The earliest limit is fixed by
the death of Beatrice in 1290 (though some of the
poems are of even earlier date), and the book is
commonly assumed to have been finished by 1295 ;
Foscolo says 1294. But Professor Karl "Witte,
a high authority, extends the term as far as 1300. 1
The title of the book also, Vita Nuova, has been
diversely interpreted. Mr. Garrow, who published
an English version of it at Florence in 1846, enti
tles it the " Early Life of Dante." Balbo under
stands it in the same way. 2 But we are strongly
of the opinion that " New Life " is the interpreta
tion sustained by the entire significance of the book

His next work in order of date is the treatise
De Monarchia. It has been generally taken for
granted that Dante was a Guelph in politics up to
the time of his banishment, and that out of resent
ment he then became a violent Ghibelline. Not to

1 Dante Alighieri's lyrische Gedicftfe, Leipzig, 1842, Theil II.
pp. 4-9.

2 Vita, 9. 97.


speak of the consideration that there is no author
whose life and works present so remarkable a
unity and logical sequence as those of Dante, Pro
fessor Witte has drawn attention to a fact which
alone is enough to demonstrate that the De Mo-
narchia was written before 1300. That and the

Vita Nuova are the only works of Dante in which
no allusion whatever is made to his exile. That
bitter thought was continually present to him. In
the Convito it betrays itself often, and with touch
ing unexpectedness. Even in the treatise De

Vulgari Eloquio, he takes as one of his examples
of style : " I have most pity for those, whosoever
they are, that languish in exile, and revisit their
country only in draams." We have seen that the
one decisive act of Dante's priorate was to expel
from Florence the chiefs of both parties as the
sowers of strife, and he tells us {Paradiso, XVII.)
that he had formed a party by himself. The king
of Saxony has well defined his political theory as
being " an ideal Ghibellinism," l and he has been
accused of want of patriotism only by those short
sighted persons who cannot see beyond their own
parish. Dante's want of faith in freedom was of
the same kind with Milton's refusing (as Tacitus
had done before) to confound license with liberty.
The argument of the De Monarchia is briefly this :
As the object of the individual man is the highest
development of his faculties, so is it also with men
united in societies. But the individual can only
attain the highest development when all his powers

1 Comment on Paradiso, VL


are in absolute subjection to the intellect, and so
ciety only when it subjects its individual caprices
to an intelligent head. This is the order of na
ture, as in families, and men have followed it in
the organization of villages, towns, cities. Again,
since God made man in his own image, men and
societies most nearly resemble him in proportion
as they approach unity. But as in all societies
questions must arise, so there is need of a monarch
for supreme arbiter. And only a universal mon
arch can be impartial enough for this, since kings
of limited territories would always be liable to the
temptation of private ends. With the internal
policy of municipalities, commonwealths, and king
doms, the monarch would have nothing to do, only
interfering when there was danger of an infraction
of the general peace. This is the doctrine of the
first book, enforced sometimes eloquently, always
logically, and with great fertility of illustration.
It is an enlargement of some of the obiter dicta of
the Convito. The earnestness with which peace
is insisted on as a necessary postulate of civic well-
being shows what the experience had been out of
which Dante had constructed his theory. It is to
be looked on as a purely scholastic demonstration
of a speculative thesis, in which the manifold ex
ceptions and modifications essential in practical
application are necessarily left aside. Dante al
most forestalls the famous proposition of Calvin,
" that it is possible to conceive a people without a
prince, but not a prince without a people," when
he says, Non enim gens propter regem, sed e


verso rex propter gentem. 1 And in his letter to
the princes and peoples of Italy on the coming of
Henry VII., he bids them " obey their prince, but
so as freemen preserving their own constitutional
forms." He says also expressly: Animadverten-
dum sane, quod cum dicitur humanum genus potest
regi per unum supremum principem, non sic intel-
ligendum est ut ab illo uno prodire possint muni-
cipia et leges municipales. Habent namque na-
tiones, regna, et civitates inter se proprietates quas
legibus differ entibus regulari oportet. Schlosser
the historian compares Dante's system with that of
the United States. 2 It in some respects resembled
more the constitution of the Netherlands under the
supreme stadtholder, but parallels between ideal
and actual institutions are always unsatisfactory. 3

The second book is very curious. In it Dante
endeavors to demonstrate the divine right of the
Roman Empire to universal sovereignty. One of
his arguments is, that Christ consented to be born
under the reign of Augustus ; another, that he as
sented to the imperial jurisdiction in allowing him
self to be crucified under a decree of one of its
courts. The atonement could not have been accom
plished unless Christ suffered under sentence of a
court having jurisdiction, for otherwise his condem-

1 Jean de Meung had already said,

" Ge n'en met hors rois ne pre'las

Qu'il sunt tui serf au menu pueple."

(Roman de la Ease (ed. Me*on), v. ii. pp. 78, 79.)
* Dante, Studien, etc. , 1855, p. 144.
8 Compare also Spinoza, Tractat. polit., cap. vi.


nation would have been an injustice and not a pen
alty. Moreover, since all mankind was typified in
the person of Christ, the court must have been one
having jurisdiction over all mankind ; and since
he was delivered to Pilate, an officer of Tiberius,
it must follow that the jurisdiction of Tiberius was
universal. He draws an argument also from the
wager of battle to prove that the Roman Empire
was divinely permitted, at least, if not instituted.
For since it is admitted that God gives the victory,
and since the Romans always won it, therefore it
was God's will that the Romans should attain uni
versal empire. In the third book he endeavors to
prove that the emperor holds by divine right, and
not by permission of the pope. He assigns suprem
acy to the pope in spirituals, and to the emperor
in temporals. This was a delicate subject, and
though the king of Saxony (a Catholic) says that
Dante did not overstep the limits of orthodoxy, it
was on account of this part of the book that it was
condemned as heretical. 1

Next follows the treatise De Vulgari Eloquio.
Though we have doubts whether we possess this
book as Dante wrote it, inclining rather to think
that it is a copy in some parts textually exact, in
others an abstract, there can be no question either
of its great glossological value or that it conveys
the opinions of Dante. We put it next in order,
though written later than the Convito, only because,

1 It is instructive to compare Dante's political treatise with
those of Aristotle and Spinoza. We thus see more clearly the
limitations of the age in which he lived, and this may help us to
a broader view of him as poet.


like the De Monarchic it is written in Latin. It
is a proof of the national instinct of Dante, and of
his confidence in his genius, that he should have
chosen to write all his greatest works in what was
deemed by scholars a patois, but which he more
than any other man made a classic language. Had
he intended the De Monarchia for a political pam
phlet, he would certainly not have composed it in
the dialect of the few. The De Vulgari Eloquio
was to have been in four books. Whether it was
ever finished or not it is impossible to say; but
only two books have come down to us. It treats
of poetizing in the vulgar tongue, and of the differ
ent dialects of Italy. From the particularity with
which it treats of the dialect of Bologna, it has
been supposed to have been written in that city, or
at least to furnish an argument in favor of Dante's
having at some time studied there. In lib. ii.
cap. ii., is a remarkable passage in which, defin
ing the various subjects of song and what had been
treated in the vulgar tongue by different poets, he
says that his own theme had been righteousness.

The Convito is also imperfect. It was to have
consisted of fourteen treatises, but, as we have it,
contains only four. In the first he justifies the
use of the vulgar idiom in preference to the Latin.
In the other three he comments on three of his
own Canzoni. It will be impossible to give an
adequate analysis of this work in the limits allowed
us. 1 It is an epitome of the learning of that age,

1 A very good one may be found in the sixth volume of the
Molini edition of Dante, pp. 391-433.


philosophical, theological, and scientific. As afford
ing illustration of the Commedia, and of Dante's
style of thought, it is invaluable. It is reckoned
by his countrymen the first piece of Italian prose,
and there are parts of it which still stand un
matched for eloquence and pathos. The Italians
(even such a man as Cantii among the rest) find
in it and a few passages of the Commedia the
proof that Dante, as a natural philosopher, was
wholly in advance of his age, that he had,

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