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dictory, but whatever it has of great and perennial
significance ; for such it must have, or it would
long ago have ceased to be living and operative,
would long ago have taken refuge in the Char
treuse of great libraries, dumb thenceforth to all
mankind. We do not mean to say that this minute
exegesis is useless or unpraiseworthy, but only that
it should be subsidiary to the larger way. It serves
to bring out more clearly what is very wonderful
in Dante, namely, the omnipresence of his memory
throughout the work, so that its intimate coherence
does not exist in spite of the reconditeness and
complexity of allusion, but is woven out of them.
The poem has many senses, he tells us, and there
can be no doubt of it ; but it has also, and this
alone will account for its fascination, a living soul

1 " My Italy, my sweetest Italy, for having loved thee too
much I have lost thee, and, perhaps, . . . ah, may God avert the
omen ! ~ But more proud than sorrowful for an evil endured for
thee alone, I continue to consecrate my vigils to thee alone. . . .
An exile full of anguish, perchance, availed to sublime the more
in thy Alighieri that lofty soul which was a beautiful gift of thy
smiling sky ; and an exile equally wearisome and undeserved now
avails, perhaps, to sharpen my small genius so that it may pene
trate into what he left written for thy instruction and for his
glory." (Rossetti, Disamina, ec., p. 405.) Rossetti is himself a
proof that a noble mind need not be narrowed by misfortune. His
Comment (unhappily incomplete) is one of the most valuable and
suggestive.



DANTE 171

behind them all and informing all, an intense sin
gleness of purpose, a core of doctrine simple, hu
man, and wholesome, though it be also, to use his
own phrase, the bread of angels.

Nor is this unity characteristic only of the Di-
vina Commedia. All the works of Dante, with
the possible exception of the De Vulgari Eloquio
(which is unfinished), are component parts of a
Whole Duty of Man mutually completing and in
terpreting one another. They are also, as truly as
Wordsworth's " Prelude," a history of the growth
of a poet's mind. Like the English poet he valued
himself at a high rate, the higher no doubt after
Fortune had made him outwardly cheap. Sempre
il magnanimo si magnified in suo cuore ; e cosi
lo pusillanimo per contrario sempre si tiene meno
che non e. 1 As in the prose of Milton, whose strik
ing likeness to Dante in certain prominent fea
tures of character has been remarked by Foscolo,
there are in Dante's minor works continual allu
sions to himself of great value as material for his
biographer. Those who read attentively will dis
cover that the tenderness he shows toward Fran-
cesca and her lover did not spring from any friend
ship for her family, but was a constant quality of
his nature, and that what is called his revengeful
ferocity is truly the implacable resentment of a
lofty mind and a lover of good against evil, whether
showing itself in private or public life; perhaps

1 The great-minded man ever magnifies himself in his heart,
and in like manner the pusillanimous holds himself less than he
is. (Convito, Tr. I. c. 11.)



172 DANTE

hating the former manifestation of it the most be
cause he believed it to be the root of the latter,
a faith which those who have watched the course
of politics in a democracy, as he had, will be in
clined to share. His gentleness is all the more
striking by contrast, like that silken compensation
which blooms out of the thorny stem of the cactus.
His moroseness, 1 his party spirit, and his personal
vindictiveness are all predicated upon the Inferno,
and upon a misapprehension or careless reading
even of that. Dante's zeal was not of that senti
mental kind, quickly kindled and as soon quenched,
that hovers on the surface of shallow minds,

" Even as the flame of unctuous things is wont]
To move upon the outer surface only " ; 2

it was the steady heat of an inward fire kindling the
whole character of the man through and through,
like the minarets of his own city of Dis. 3 He was,
as seems distinctive in some degree of the Latin
ized races, an unflinching a priori logician, not un
willing to " syllogize invidious verities," 4 wherever
they might lead him, like Sigier, whom he has put
in paradise, though more than suspected of hetero
doxy. But at the same time, as we shall see, he

1 Dante's notion of virtue was not that of an ascetic, nor has
any one ever painted her in colors more soft and splendid than he
in the Convito. She is "sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes,"
and he dwells on the delights of her love with a rapture which
kindles and purifies. So far from making her an inquisitor, he
says expressly that she " should be gladsome and not sullen in all
her works." (Convito, Tr. I. c. 8.) "Not harsh and crabbed as
dull fools suppose " I

2 Inferno, XIX. 28, 29. * Inferno, VIII. 70-75.
* Paradiso, X. 138.



DANTE 173

had something of the practical good sense of that
Teutonic stock whence he drew a part of his blood,
which prefers a malleable syllogism that can yield
without breaking to the inevitable, but incalculable
pressure of human nature and the stiffer logic of
events. His theory of Church and State was not
merely a fantastic one, but intended for the use
and benefit of men as they were ; and he allowed
accordingly for aberrations, to which even the law
of gravitation is forced to give place ; how much
more, then, any scheme whose very starting-point
is the freedom of the will !

We are thankful for a commentator at last who
passes dry-shod over the turbide onde of inappre-
ciative criticism, and, quietly waving aside the
thick atmosphere which has gathered about the
character of Dante both as man and poet, opens
for us his City of Doom with the divining-rod of
reverential study. Miss Kossetti comes commended
to our interest, not only as one of a family which
seems to hold genius by the tenure of gavelkind,
but as having a special claim by inheritance to a
love and understanding of Dante. She writes Eng
lish with a purity that has in it something of fem
inine softness with no lack of vigor or precision.
Her lithe mind winds itself with surprising grace
through the metaphysical and other intricacies of
her subject. She brings to her work the refined
enthusiasm of a cultivated woman and the penetra
tion of sympathy. She has chosen the better way
(in which Germany took the lead) of interpreting
Dante out of himself, the pure spring from which,



174 DANTE

and from which alone, he drew his inspiration, and
not from muddy Fra Alberico or Abbate Giovac-
chino, from stupid visions of Saint Paul or voyages
of Saint Brandan. She has written by far the
best comment that has appeared in English, and
we should say the best that has been done in Eng
land, were it not for her father's Comento anali-
tico, for excepting which her filial piety will thank
us. Students of Dante in the original will be
grateful to her for many suggestive hints, and
those who read him in English will find in her
volume a travelling map in which the principal
points and their connections are clearly set down.
In what we shall say of Dante we shall endeavor
only to supplement her interpretation with such
side-lights as may have been furnished us by
twenty years of assiduous study. Dante's thought
is multiform, and, like certain street signs, once
common, presents a different image according to
the point of view. Let us consider briefly what
was the plan of the Divina Commedia and Dante's
aim in writing it, which, if not to justify, was at
least to illustrate, for warning and example, the
ways of God to man. The higher intention of the
poem was to set forth the results of sin, or unwis
dom, and of virtue, or wisdom, in this life, and conse
quently in the life to come, which is but the contin
uation and fulfilment of this. The scene accordingly
is the spiritual world, of which we are as truly deni
zens now as hereafter. The poem is a diary of the
human soul in its journey upwards from error
through repentance to atonement with God. To



DANTE 175

make it apprehensible by those whom it was meant
to teach, nay, from its very nature as a poem, and
not a treatise of abstract morality, it must set
forth everything by means of sensible types and
images.

" To speak thus is adapted to your mind,

Since only through the sense it apprehendeth
What then it worthy makes of intellect.
On this account the Scripture condescends
Unto your faculties, and feet and hands
To God attributes, and means something else." x

"Whoever has studied mediaeval art in any of its
branches need not be told that Dante's age was
one that demanded very palpable and even revolt
ing types. As in the old legend, a drop of scald
ing sweat from the damned soul must shrivel the
very skin of those for whom he wrote, to make
them wince if not to turn them away from evil-
doing. To consider his hell a place of physical
torture is to take Circe's herd for real swine. Its
mouth yawns not only under Florence, but before
the feet of every man everywhere who goeth about
to do evil. His hell is a condition of the soul, and
he could not find images loathsome enough to ex
press the moral deformity which is wrought by sin
on its victims, or his own abhorrence of it. Its
inmates meet you in the street every day.

" Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscribed
In one self place ; for where we are is hell,
And where hell is there we must ever be." 2

1 Paradise, IV. 40-45 (Longfellow's version).

2 Marlowe's Faustus. " Which way I fly is hell ; myself am
hell." (Paradise Lost, IV. 75.) In the same way, ogni dove f
eielo e Paradiso. (Paradiso, ILL. 88, 89.)



176 DANTE

It is our own sensual eye that gives evil the ap
pearance of good, and out of a crooked hag makes
a bewitching siren. The reason enlightened by
the grace of God sees it as it truly is, full of stench
and corruption. 1 It is this office of reason which
Dante undertakes to perform, by divine commis
sion, hi the Inferno. There can be no doubt that
he looked upon himself as invested with the pro
phetic function, and the Hebrew forerunners, in
whose society his soul sought consolation and sus-
tainment, certainly set him no example of observ
ing the conventions of good society in dealing with
the enemies of God. Indeed, his notions of good
society were not altogether those of this world in
any generation. He would have defined it as mean
ing " the peers " of Philosophy, " souls free from
wretched and vile delights and from vulgar habits,
endowed with genius and memory." 2 Dante him
self had precisely this endowment, and in a very
surprising degree. His genius enabled him to see
and to show what he saw to others ; his memory
neither forgot nor forgave. Very hateful to his
fervid heart and sincere mind would have been the
modern theory which deals with sin as involuntary
error, and by shifting off the fault to the shoulders
of Atavism or those of Society, personified for pur
poses of excuse, but escaping into impersonality
again from the grasp of retribution, weakens that
sense of personal responsibility which is the root
of self-respect and the safeguard of character.
Dante indeed saw clearly enough that the Divine
1 Purgatorio, XIX. 7-33. 2 Convito, Tr. II. c. 16.



DANTE 177

justice did at length overtake Society in the ruin
of states caused by the corruption of private, and
thence of civic, morals ; but a personality so in
tense as his could not be satisfied with such a tardy
and generalized penalty as this. "It is Thou,"
he says sternly, " who hast done this thing, and
Thou, not Society, shalt be damned for it; nay,
damned all the worse for this paltry subterfuge.
This is not my judgment, but that of universal
Nature * from before the beginning of the world." 2
Accordingly the highest reason, typified in his
guide Virgil, rebukes him for bringing compas
sion to the judgments of God, 3 and again em
braces him and calls the mother that bore him
blessed, when he bids Filippo Argenti begone
among the other dogs. 4 This latter case shocks
our modern feelings the more rudely for the simple
pathos with which Dante makes Argenti answer
when asked who he was, " Thou seest I am one

1 La natura universale, doe Iddio. (Convito, Tr. III. c. 4.)

2 Inferno, III. 7, 8.

3 Inferno, XX. 30. Mr. W. M. Rossetti strangely enough ren
ders this verse "Who hath a passion for God's judgeship."
Compassion porta, is the reading of the best texts, and Witte
adopts it. Buti's comment is " doe porta pena e dolore di colui
che giustamente e condannato da Dio che e sempre giusto." There
is an analogous passage in The Revelation of the Apostle Paul,
printed in the Proceedings of the American Oriental Societj (vol.
viii. pp. 213, 214) : " And the angel answered and said, ' Where
fore dost thou weep ? Why ! art tliou more merciful than God ? '
And I said, ' God forbid, my lord ; for God is good and long-
suffering unto the sons of men, and he leaves every one of them
to his own will, and he walks as he pleases.' " This is precisely
Dante's view.

* Inferno, VIH. 40.



178 DANTE

that weeps." It is also the one that makes most
strongly for the theory of Dante's personal vindic-
tiveness, 1 and it may count for what it is worth.
We are not greatly concerned to defend him on
that score, for he believed in the righteous use of
anger, and that baseness was its legitimate quarry.
He did not think the Tweeds and Fisks, the politi
cal wire-pullers and convention-packers, of his day
merely amusing, and he certainly did think it the
duty of an upright and thoroughly trained citizen
to speak out severely and unmistakably. He be
lieved firmly, almost fiercely, in a divine order of
the universe, a conception whereof had been vouch
safed him, and that whatever and whoever hindered
or jostled it, whether wilfully or blindly it mattered
not, was to be got out of the way at all hazards ;
because obedience to God's law, and not making
things generally comfortable, was the highest duty
of man, as it was also his only way to true felicity.
It has been commonly assumed that Dante was a
man soured by undeserved misfortune, that he took
up a wholly new outfit of political opinions with
his fallen fortunes, and that his theory of life and
of man's relations to it was altogether reshaped for
him by the bitter musings of his exile. This would

1 " I following her (Moral Philosophy) in the work as well as
the passion, so far as I could, abominated and disparaged the
errors of men, not to the infamy and shame of the erring, hut of
the errors." (Convito, Tr. IV. c. 1.) " Wherefore in my judg
ment as he who defames a worthy man ought to he avoided by
people and not listened to, so a vile man descended of worthy
ancestors ought to be hunted out by all." (Convito, Tr. IV.
e.29.)



DANTE 179

be singular, to say the least, in a man who tells us
that he "felt himself indeed four-square against
the strokes of chance," and whose convictions were
so intimate that they were not merely intellectual
conclusions, but parts of his moral being. Fortu
nately we are called on to believe nothing of the
kind. Dante himself has supplied us with hints
and dates which enable us to watch the germina
tion and trace the growth of his double theory of
government, applicable to man as he is a citizen of
this world, and as he hopes to become hereafter a
freeman of the celestial city. It would be of little
consequence to show in which of two equally self
ish and short-sighted parties a man enrolled him
self six hundred years ago, but it is worth some
thing to know that a man of Ambitious temper and
violent passions, aspiring to office in a city of fac
tions, could rise to a level of principle so far above
them all. Dante's opinions have life in them still,
because they were drawn from living sources of re
flection and experience, because they were reasoned
out from the astronomic laws of history and ethics,
and were not weather-guesses snatched in a glance
at the doubtful political sky of the hour.

Swiftly the politic goes : is it dark ? he borrows a lantern ;
Slowly the statesman and sure, guiding his feet by the stars.

It will be well, then, to clear up the chronology of
Dante's thought. When his ancestor Cacciaguida
prophesies to him the life which is to be his after
1300, 1 he says, speaking of his exile:

1 Paradise, XVII. 61-69.



180 DANTE

11 And that which most shall -weigh upon thy shoulders
Will be the bad and foolish company
With which into this valley thou shalt fall ;

Of their bestiality their own proceedings

Shall furnish proof ; so 't will be well for thee

A party to have made thee by thyself."

Here both context and grammatical construction
(infallible guides in a writer so scrupulous and
exact) imply irresistibly that Dante had become a
party by himself before his exile. The measure
adopted by the Priors of Florence while he was
one of them (with his assent and probably by his
counsel), of sending to the frontier the leading
men of both factions, confirms this implication.
Among the persons thus removed from the oppor
tunity of doing mischief was his dearest friend
Guido Cavalcanti, to whom he had not long before
addressed the Vita JVuova. 1 Dante evidently
looked back with satisfaction on his conduct at
this time, and thought it both honest and patriotic,
as it certainly was disinterested. "We whose
country is the world, as the ocean to the fish," he
tells us, " though we drank of the Arno in infancy,
and love Florence so much that, because we loved
her, we suffer exile unjustly, support the shoulders

1 It is worth mentioning that the sufferers in his Inferno are in
like manner pretty exactly divided between the two parties.
This is answer enough to the charge of partiality. He even puts
persons there for whom he felt affection (as Brunetto Latini) and
respect (as Farinata degli Uberti and Frederick II.). Till the
French looked up their MSS., it was taken for granted that the
beccajo di Parigi (Purgatario, XX. 52) was a drop of Dante's gall.
*Ce fu Huez Capez c' on apelle bouchier." Hugues Capet, p. 1.



DANTE 181

of our judgment rather upon reason than the
senses." 1 And again, speaking of old age, he
says : " And the noble soul at this age blesses also
the times past, and well may bless them, because,
revolving them in memory, she recalls her right
eous conduct, without which she could not enter
the port to which she draws nigh, with so much
riches and so great gain." This language is not
that of a man who regrets some former action as
mistaken, still less of one who repented it for any
disastrous consequences to himself. So, in justi
fying a man for speaking of himself, he alleges
two examples, that of Boethius, who did so to
" clear himself of the perpetual infamy of his ex
ile " ; and that of Augustine, " for, by the process
of his life, which was from bad to good, from good
to better, and from better to best, he gave us ex
ample and teaching." 2 After middle life, at least,
Dante had that wisdom " whose use brings with it
marvellous beauties, that is, contentment with every
condition of time, and contempt of those things
which others make their masters." 3 If Dante,
moreover, wrote his treatise De Monarchia before
1302, and we think Witte's inference, 4 from its
style and from the fact that he nowhere alludes to
his banishment in it, conclusive on this point, then
he was already a Ghibelline in the same larger and

1 De Vulgari Eloquio, lib. i. cap. vi. Cf . Inferno, XV. 61-64.

2 Convito, Tr. I. c. 2.

8 Convito, Tr. III. c. 13.

4 Opp. Min., ed. Fraticelli, vol. ii. pp. 281 and 283. Witte
is inclined to put it even earlier than 1300, and we believe he is
right.



182 DANTE

unpartisan sense which ever after distinguished
him from his Italian contemporaries.

" Let, let the Ghibellines ply their handicraft

Beneath some other standard ; for this ever
111 follows he who it and justice parts,"

he makes Justinian say, speaking of the Roman
eagle. 1 His Ghibellinism, though undoubtedly the
result of what he had seen of Italian misgovern-
ment, embraced in its theoretical application the
civilized world. His political system was one
which his reason adopted, not for any temporary
expediency, but because it conduced to justice,
peace, and civilization, the three conditions on
which alone freedom was possible in any sense
which made it worth having. Dante was intensely
Italian, nay, intensely Florentine, but on all great
questions he was, by the logical structure of his
mind and its philosophic impartiality, incapable of
intellectual provincialism. 2 If the circle of his
affections, as with persistent natures commonly,
was narrow, his thought swept a broad horizon
from that tower of absolute self which he had
reared for its speculation. Even upon the princi
ples of poetry, mechanical and other, 3 he had re
flected more profoundly than most of those who
criticise his work, and it was not by chance that he
discovered the secret of that magical word too few,
which not only distinguishes his verse from all

1 Paradiso, VI. 103-105.

2 Some Florentines have amusingly enough doubted the genu
ineness of the De Vulgari Eloquio, because Dante therein denies
the preeminence of the Tuscan dialect.

8 See particularly the second book of the De Vulgari Eloquio.



DANTE 183

other, but so strikingly from his own prose. He
never took the bit of art 1 between his teeth where
only poetry, and not doctrine, was concerned.

If Dante's philosophy, on the one hand, was
practical, a guide for the conduct of life, it was, on
the other, a much more transcendent thing, whose
body was wisdom, her soul love, and her efficient
cause truth. It is a practice of wisdom from the
mere love of it, for so we must interpret his amo
roso uso di sapienza, when we remember how
he has said before 2 that " the love of wisdom for
its delight or profit is not true love of wisdom."
And this love must embrace knowledge in all its
branches, for Dante is content with nothing less
than a pancratic training, and has a scorn of dilet
tanti, specialists, and quacks. "Wherefore none

1 Purgatorio, XXXIII. 141. " That thing one calls beautiful
whose parts answer to each other, because pleasure results from
their harmony." (Convito, Tr. I. c. 5.) Carlyle says that "he
knew too, partly, that his work was great, the greatest a man
could do." He knew it fully. Telling us how Giotto's fame as a
painter had eclipsed that of Cimabue, he takes an example from
poetry also, and selecting two Italian poets, one the most
famous of his predecessors, the other of his contemporaries,
calmly sets himself above them both (Purgatorio, XI. 97-99), and
gives the reason for his supremacy (Purgatorio, XXIV. 49-62).
It is to be remembered that Amore in the latter passage does not
mean love in the ordinary sense, but in that transcendental one
set forth in the Convito, that state of the soul which opens it
for the descent of God's spirit, to make it over into his own image.
' ' Therefore it is manifest that in this love the Divine virtue de
scends into men in the guise of an angel, . . . and it is to be
noted that the descending of the virtue of one thing into another
is nothing else than reducing it to its own likeness." (Convito,
Tr. III. c. 14.)

2 Convito, Tr. III. c. 12 ; ib. c. 11.



184 DANTE

ought to be called a true philosopher who for any
delight loves any part of knowledge, as there are
many who delight in composing Canzoni, and de
light to be studious in them, and who delight to be
studious in rhetoric and in music, and flee and
abandon the other sciences which are all members
of wisdom." l " Many love better to be held mas
ters than to be so." With him wisdom is the
generalization from many several knowledges of
small account by themselves ; it results therefore
from breadth of culture, and would be impossible
without it. Philosophy is a noble lady (donna gen-
til 2 '), partaking of the divine essence by a kind of
eternal marriage, while with other intelligences she
is united in a less measure " as a mistress of whom
no lover takes complete joy." 3 The eyes of this
lady are her demonstrations, and her smile is her
persuasion. " The eyes of wisdom are her demon
strations by which truth is beheld most certainly ;

1 Convito, Tr. in. c. 11.

2 Convito, Tr. III. Canzone, w. 19-22. This lady corresponds
to Lucia (Inferno, II. 97), the prevenient Grace, the light of God
which shows the right path and guides the feet in it. With Dante
God is always the sun, " which leadeth others right hy every road."


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