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in that sonnet also I mean by my heart the appe
tite, because my desire to remember me of my
most gentle Lady was still greater than to behold
this one, albeit I had already some appetite for
her, but slight as should seem: whence it ap
pears that the one saying is not contrary to the
other." l When, therefore, Dante speaks of the
love of this Lady as the " adversary of Reason"
he uses the word in its highest sense, not as under
standing (Intellectus), but as synonymous with
soul. Already, when the latter part of the Vita
JWuova, nay, perhaps the whole of the explanatory
portion of it, was written, the plan of the Corn-
media was complete, a poem the higher aim of
which was to keep the soul alive both in this world
and for the next. As Dante tells us, the contra
diction in his mind was, though he did not become
aware of it till afterwards, more apparent than real.

1 Vita Nuova, XXXIX. Compare for a different view, The
New Life of Dante, an Essay with Translations, by C. E. Norton
pp. 92 et seq.



200 DANTE

He sought consolation in study, and, failing to find
it in Learning (saewza), lie was led to seek it in
Wisdom (sapienza), which is the love of God and
the knowledge of him. 1 He had sought happiness
through the understanding ; he was to find it
through intuition. The lady Philosophy (accord
ing as she is moral or intellectual) includes both.
Her gradual transfiguration is exemplified in pas
sages already quoted. The active life leads indi
rectly by a knowledge of its failures and sins (In-
, or directly by a righteous employment of it



1 There is a passage in the Convito (Tr. III. c. 15) in which
Dante seems clearly to make the distinction asserted above, " And
therefore the desire of man is limited in this life to that knowledge
(scienzia) -which may here be had, and passes not save by error
that point which is beyond our natural understanding. And so is
limited and measured in the angelic nature the amount of that
wisdom which the nature of each is capable of receiving. 1 ' Man
is, according to Dante, superior to the angels in this, that he is
capable both of reason and contemplation, while they are confined
to the latter. That Beatrice's reproaches refer to no human par-
goletta, the context shows, where Dante asks,

" But wherefore so beyond my power of sight
Soars your desirable discourse, that aye
The more I strive, so much the more I lose it ?
' That thou mayst recognize,' she said, ' the school

Which thou hast followed, and mayst see how far
Its doctrine follows after my discourse,
And mayst behold your path from the divine
Distant as far as separated is
From earth the heaven that highest hastens on.' "
Purgatorio, XXXHI. 82-90.

The pargoletta in its ordinary sense was necessary to the literal
and human meaning, but it is shockingly discordant with that
non-natural interpretation which, according to Dante's repeated
statement, lays open the true and divine meaning.



DANTE 201

(Purgatorio'), to the same end. The use of the
sciences is to induce in us the ultimate perfection,
that of speculating upon truth; the use of the
highest of them, theology, the contemplation of
God. 1 To this they all lead up. In one of those
curious chapters of the Convito, 2 where he points
out the analogy between the sciences and the hea
vens, Dante tells us that he compares moral philoso
phy with the crystalline heaven or Primum Mo
bile, because it communicates life and gives motion
to all the others below it. But what gives motion
to the crystalline heaven (moral philosophy) itself ?
" The most fervent appetite which it has in each of
its parts to be conjoined with each part of that
most divine quiet heaven " (Theology). 3 Theol
ogy, the divine science, corresponds with the Em
pyrean, " because of its peace, the which, through
the most excellent certainty of its subject, which is
God, suffers no strife of opinions or sophistic argu
ments." * No one of the heavens is at rest but
this, and in none of the inferior sciences can we
find repose, though he likens physics to the heaven
of the fixed stars, in whole name is a suggestion of
the certitude to be arrived at in things demonstrable.
Dante had this comparison in mind, it may be in
ferred, when he said,

1 " So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But
ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of
God dwell in you." (Romans viii. 8, 9.)

2 Convito, Tr. II. c. 14, 15.

8 Convito, Tr. II. e. 4. Compare Paradiso, I. 76, 77.
* " Vain babblings and oppositions of science falsely so called."
(1 Tim. vi. 20.)



202 DANTE

" Well I perceive that never sated is

Our intellect unless the Truth illume it
Beyond which nothing true 1 expands itself.
It rests therein as wild beast in his lair,

When it attains it ; and it can attain it ;
If not, then each desire would frustrate he.
Therefore springs up, in fashion of a shoot,

Doubt at the foot of truth ; and this is nature,
Which to the top from height to height impels us." 2

The contradiction, as it seems to us, resolves itself
into an essential, easily apprehensible, if mystical,
unity. Dante at first gave himself to the study of
the sciences (after he had lost the simple, unques
tioning faith of youth) as the means of arriving at
certainty. From the root of every truth to which
he attained sprang this sucker (rampollo) of doubt,
drawing out of it the very sap of its life. In this
way was Philosophy truly an adversary of his soul,
and the reason of his remorse for fruitless studies
which drew him away from the one that alone was
and could be fruitful is obvious enough. But by
and by out of the very doubt came the sweetness 3
of a higher and truer insight. He became aware
that there were "things* in heaven and earth un
dreamt of in your philosophy," as another doubter
said, who had just finished his studies, but could
not find his way out of the scepticism they engen
dered as Dante did.

" Insane is he who hopeth that our reason
Can traverse the illimitable way,
Which the one Substance in three Persons follows !

1 That is, no partial truth. 2 Paradiso, IV. 124-132.

" Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong
came forth sweetness." (Judges xiv. 14.)



DANTE 203

Mortals, remain contented at the Quia ;

For if ye had been able to see all,

No need there were [had been] for Mary to give birth.
And ye have seen desiring without fruit

Those whose desire would have been quieted,

Which evermore is given them for a grief.
I speak of Aristotle and of Plato

And others many." 1

Whether at the time when the poems of the Vita
JVuova were written the Lady who withdrew him
for a while from Beatrice was (which we doubt)
a person of flesh and blood or not, she was no

1 Purgatorio, III. 34-44. The allusions in this passage are all
to sayings of Saint Paul, of whom Dante was plainly a loving
reader. " Remain contented at the Quia," that is, be satisfied
with knowing that things are, without inquiring too nicely how or
why. " Being justified by faith we have peace with God ' ' (Rom.
v. 1). Infinita via: "O the depth of the riches both of the
wisdom and knowledge of God ! How unsearchable are his judg
ments, and his ways past finding out ! " (Rom. xi. 33.) Aristotle
and Plato : " For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven
dguinst all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold the
truth in unrighteousness. . . . For the invisible things of him from
the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by
the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so
that they are without excuse. Because that when they knew God,
they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful, but became
vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened "
(Rom. i. 18-21). He refers to the Greeks. The Epistle to the
Romans, by the way, would naturally be Dante's favorite. Aa
Saint Paul made the Law, so he would make Science, "our
schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified
by faith " (Gal. iii. 24). He puts Aristotle and Plato in his In
ferno, because they did not " adore God duly " (Inferno, IV. 38),
that is, they " held the truth in unrighteousness.'' Yet he calls
Aristotle " the master and guide of human reason " ( Convito, Tr.
IV. c. 6), and Plato "a most excellent man" (Convito, Tr. II.
c. 5). Plato and Aristotle, like all Dante's figures, are types. We
must disengage our thought from the individual, and fix it on the
genus.



204 DANTE

longer so when the prose narrative was composed.
Any one familiar with Dante's double meanings
will hardly question that by putting her at a win
dow, which is a place to look out of , he intended
to imply that she personified Speculation, a word
which he uses with a wide range of meaning, some
times as looking for, sometimes as seeing (like
Shakespeare's

" There is no speculation in those eyes "),

sometimes as intuition, or the beholding all things
in God, who is the cause of all. This is so obvious,
and the image in this sense so familiar, that we are
surprised it should have been hitherto unremarked.
It is plain that, even when the Vita Nuova was
written, the Lady was already Philosophy, but
philosophy applied to a lower range of thought, not
yet ascended from flesh to spirit. The Lady who
seduced him was the science which looks for truth
in second causes, or even in effects, instead of seek
ing it, where alone it can be found, in the First
Cause ; she was the Philosophy which looks for
happiness in the visible world (of shadows), and
not in the spiritual (and therefore substantial)
world. The guerdon of his search was doubt.
But Dante, as we have seen, made his very doubts
help him upward toward certainty ; each became a
round in the ladder by which he climbed to clearer
and clearer vision till the end. 1 Philosophy had

1 It is to be remembered that Dante has typified the same thing
when he describes how Reason (Virgil) first carries him down by
clinging to the fell of Satan, and then in the same way upwards
again a riveder le stelle. Satan is the symbol of materialism, fixed
at the point



DANTE 205

made him forget Beatrice ; it was Philosophy who
was to bring him back to her again, washed clean
in that very stream of forgetfulness that had made
an impassable barrier between them. 1 Dante had
known how to find in her the gift of Achilles's
lance,

" Which used to be the cause
First of a sad and then a gracious boon." 2

There is another possible, and even probable, the
ory which would reconcile the Beatrice of the Pur-
gatorio with her of the Vita JVuova. Suppose
that even in the latter she signified Theology, or at
least some influence that turned his thoughts to
God ? Pietro di Dante, commenting the pargoletta
passage in the Purgatorio, says expressly that the
poet had at one time given himself to the study of
theology and deserted it for poesy and other mun
dane sciences. This must refer to a period begin-

" To which things heavy draw from every side " ;
as God is Light and Warmth, so is he "cold obstruction"; the
very effort which he makes to rise by the motion of his wings be
gets the chilly blast that freezes him more immovably in his place
of doom. The danger of all science save the highest (theology)
was that it led to materialism. There appears to have been a
great deal of it in Florence in the time of Dante. Its followers
called themselves Epicureans, and burn in living tombs (Inferno,
X.). Dante held them in special horror. " Of all bestialities that
is the most foolish and vile and hurtful which believes there is no
other life after this." " And I so believe, so affirm, and so am
certain that we pass to another better life after this" (Convito,
Tr. II. c. 9). It is a fine divination of Carlyle from the Non han
speranza di morte that " one day it had risen sternly benign in the
scathed heart of Dante that he, wretched, never resting, worn as
he was, would [should] full surely rfie."

1 Purgatorio, XXXI. 103. 2 Inferno, XXXI. 5, 6.



206 DANTE

ning before 1290. Again, there is an early tra
dition that Dante in his youth had been a novice
in a Franciscan convent, but never took the vows.
Buti affirms this expressly in his comment on In
ferno, XVI. 106-123. It is perhaps slightly con
firmed by what Dante says in the Convito, 1 that
"one can not only turn to Religion by making
himself like in habit and life to St. Benedict, St.
Augustine, St. Francis, and St. Dominic, but like
wise one may turn to good and true religion in a
state of matrimony, for God wills no religion in us
but of the heart." If he had ever thought of tak
ing monastic vows, his marriage would have cut
short any such intention. If he ever wished to wed
the real Beatrice Portinari, and was disappointed,
might not this be the time when his thoughts took
that direction ? If so, the impulse came indirectly,
at least, from her.

We have admitted that Beatrice Portinari was a
real creature,

" Col sangue suo e con le sue ginnture " ;

but how real she was, and whether as real to the
poet's memory as to his imagination, may fairly be
questioned. She shifts, as the controlling emotion
or the poetic fitness of the moment dictates, from a
woman loved and lost to a gracious exhalation of
all that is fairest in womanhood or most divine in
the soul of man, and ere the eye has defined the
new image it has become the old one again, or an
other mingled of both.

i Tr. IV. c. 2&



DANTE 207

" Nor one nor other seemed now what he was ;
E'en as proceedeth on before the flame

Upward along the paper a brown color,

Which is not black as yet, and the white dies." 1

As the mystic Griffin in the eyes of Beatrice (her
demonstrations), so she in his own,

" Now with the one, now with the other nature ;
Think, Reader, if within myself I marvelled
When I beheld the thing itself stand still
And in its image it transformed itself." 2

At the very moment when she had undergone her
most sublimated allegorical evaporation, his in
stinct as poet, which never failed him, realized her
into woman again in those scenes of almost un-
approached pathos which make the climax of his
Purgatorio. The verses tremble with feeling and
shine with tears. 3 Beatrice recalls her own beauty

1 Inferno, XXV. 64-67. 2 Purgatorio, XXXI. 123-126.

3 Spenser, who had, like Dante, a Platonizing side, and who was
probably the first English poet since Chaucer that had read the
Commedia, has imitated the pictorial part of these passages in the
Faerie Queene (B. VI. c. 10). He has turned it into a com
pliment, and a very beautiful one, to a living mistress. It is in
structive to compare the effect of his purely sensuous verses with
that of Dante's, which have such a wonderful reach behind them.
They are singularly pleasing, but they do not stay by us as those
of his model had done by him. Spenser was, as Milton called
him, a ' ' sage and serious poet " ; he would be the last to take
offence if we draw from him a moral not without its use now that
Priapus is trying to persuade us that pose and drapery will make
him as good rs Urania. Better far the naked nastiness ; the
more covert the indecency, the more it shocks. Poor old god of
gardens ! Innocent as a clownish symbol, he is simply disgusting
as an ideal of art. In the last century, they set him up in Ger
many and in France as befitting an era of enlightenment, the light
of which came too manifestly from the wrong quarter to be long
endurable.



208 DANTE

with a pride as natural as that of Fair Annie in
the old ballad, and compares herself as advanta
geously with the " brown, brown bride " who had
supplanted her. If this be a ghost, we do not need
be told that she is a woman still. 1 We must re
member, however, that Beatrice had to be real that
she might be interesting, to be beautiful that her
goodness might be persuasive, nay, to be beautiful
at any rate, because beauty has also something in

1 This touch of nature recalls another. The Italians claim hu
mor for Dante. We have never been able to find it, unless it be
in that passage (Inferno, XV. 119) where Brunetto Latini lingers
under the burning shower to recommend his Tesoro to his former
pupil. There is a comical touch of nature in an author's solici
tude for his little work, not, as in Fielding's case, after its, but
his own damnation. We are not sure, but we fancy we catch the
momentary flicker of a smile across those serious eyes of Dante's.
There is something like humor in the opening verses of the XVI.
Paradiso, where Dante tells us how even in heaven he could not
help glorying in being gently born, he who had devoted a Can
zone and a book of the Convito to proving that nobility consisted
wholly in virtue. But there is, after all, something touchingly
natural in the feeling. Dante, unjustly robbed of his property,
and with it of the independence so dear to him, seeing
" Needy nothings trimmed in jollity,
And captive Good attending Captain 111,"

would naturally fall back on a distinction which money could
neither buy nor replace. There is a curious passage in the Con
vito which shows how bitterly he resented his undeserved poverty.
He tells us that buried treasure commonly revealed itself to the
bad rather than the good. " Verily I saw the place on the flanks
of a mountain in Tuscany called Falterona, where the basest pea
sant of the whole countryside digging found there more than a
bushel of pieces of the finest silver, which perhaps had awaited
him more than a thousand years." (Tr. IV. c. 11.) One can see
the grimness of his face as he looked and thought, "how salt a
savor hath the bread of others ! "



DANTE 209

it of divine. Dante has told, in a passage already
quoted, that he would rather his readers should
find his doctrine sweet than his verses, but he had
his relentings from this Stoicism.

" Canzone, I believe those will be rare
Who of thine inner sense can master all,
Such toil it costs thy native tongue to learn ;
Wherefore, if ever it perchance befall
That thou in presence of such men shouldst fare
As seem not skilled thy meaning to discern,
I pray thee then thy grief to comfort turn,
Saying to them, ' O thou my new delight,
Take heed at least how fair I am to sight.' " 1

We believe all Dante's other Ladies to have been
as purely imaginary as the Dulcinea of Don Qui
xote, useful only as motives, but a real Beatrice is
as essential to the human sympathies of the Divina
Commedia as her glorified Idea to its allegorical
teaching, and this Dante understood perfectly well. 2
Take her out of the poem, and the heart of it goes
with her ; take out her ideal, and it is emptied of
its soul. She is the menstruum in which letter
and spirit dissolve and mingle into unity. Those
who doubt her existence must find Dante's graceful
sonnet 3 to Guido Cavalcanti as provoking as San-
cho's story of his having seen Dulcinea winnowing
wheat was to his master, " so alien is it from all

1 L' Envoi of Canzone XIV. of the Canzoniere, I. of the Convito.
Dante cites the first verse of this Canzone, Paradiso, VIII. 37.

2 How Dante himself could allegorize even historical person
ages may be seen in a curious passage of the Convito (Tr. IV. c.
28), where, commenting on a passage of Lucan, he treats Marcia
and Cato as mere figures of speech.

3 II. of the Canzoniere. See Fraticelli's preface.



210 DANTE

that which eminent persons, who are constituted
and preserved for other exercises and entertain
ments, do and ought to do." l But we should al
ways remember in reading Dante that with him the
allegorical interpretation is the true one (verace
sposizione), and that he represents himself (and
that at a time when he was known to the world
only by his minor poems) as having made right
eousness (rettitudine, in other words, moral philos
ophy) the subject of his verse. 2 Love with him
seems first to have meant the love of truth and the
search after it (speculazione), and afterwards the
contemplation of it in its infinite source (specula-
zione in its higher and mystical sense.) This is
the divine love " which where it shines darkens and
wellnigh extinguishes all other loves." 3 Wisdom

1 Don Quixote, P. II. c. viii.

a De Vulgari Eloquio, 1. ii. c. 2. He says the same of Giraud
de Borneil, many of whose poems are moral and even devotional.
See, particularly, "Al honor Dieu torn en mon chan" (Ray-
nouard, Lex. Earn. I. 388), " Ben es dregz pos en aital port " (Ib.
393), " Jois sia comensamens" (Ib. 395), and "Be veg e conosc e
say " (Ib. 398). Another of his poems (" Ar ai grant joy," Ray-
nouard, Choix, 'III. 304), may possibly be a mystical profession of
love for the Blessed Virgin, for whom, as Dante tells us, Beatrice
had a special devotion.

3 Convito, Tr. III. c. 14. In the same chapter is perhaps an
explanation of the two rather difficult verses which follow that
in which the verace speglio is spoken of (Paradiso, XXVI. 107,
108).

" Che f a di se pareglie 1' altre cose

E nulls face lui di se pareglio."

Buti's comment is, " that is, makes of itself a receptacle to other
things, that is, to all things that exist, which are all seen in it."
Dante says (ubi supra), " The descending of the virtue of one
thing into another is a reducing that other into a likeness of itself.



DANTE 211

is the object of it, and the end of wisdom to con
template God the true mirror (v&race speglio^ spec-
ulum), wherein all things are seen as they truly
are. Nay, she herself "is the brightness of the
eternal light, the unspotted mirror of the majesty
of God." !

. . . Whence we see that the sun sending his ray down hither-
ward reduces things to a likeness with his light in so far as they
are able by their disposition to receive light from his power. So
I say that God reduces this love to a likeness with himself as
much as it is possible for it to be like him." In Provencal pareilh
means like, and Dante may have formed his word from it. But
the four earliest printed texts read :

" Che fa di se pareglio all' altre cose."

Accordingly we are inclined to think that the next verse should be
corrected thus :

" E null a face a lui di se pareglio."

We would form pareglio from parere (a something in which things
appear), as.miraglio from mirare (a something in which they are
seen). God contains all things in himself, but nothing can wholly
contain him. The blessed behold all things in him as if reflected,
but not one of the things so reflected is capable of his image in
its completeness. This interpretation is confirmed by Paradise,
XIX. 49-51.

" E quinci appar ch? ogni minor natura
E corto recettacolo a quel bene

Che non ha fine, e se con se misura."

1 Wisdom of Solomon, vii. 26, quoted by Dante (Conirito, Tr.
III. c. 15). There are other passages in the Wisdom of Solomon
besides that just cited which we may well believe Dante to have
had in his mind when writing the Canzone, beginning,

" Amor che nella mente mi ragiona,"

and the commentary upon it, and some to which his experience of
life must have given an intenser meaning. The writer of that
book also personifies Wisdom as the mistress of his soul: "I
loved her and sought her out from my youth, I desired to make
her my spouse, and I was a lover of her beauty." He says of



212 DANTE

There are two beautiful passages in the Convito,
which we shall quote, both because they have, as
we believe, a close application to Dante's own ex
perience, and because they are good specimens of

Wisdom that she -was "present when thou (God) madest the
world," and Dante in the same way identifies her with the divine
Logos, citing as authority the " beginning of the Gospel of John."
He tells us, "I perceived that I could not otherwise obtain her
except God gave her me," and Dante came at last to the same
conclusion. Again, " For the very true beginning of her is the
desire of discipline ; and the care of discipline is love. And love
is the keeping of her laws ; and the giving heed unto her laws is
the assurance of incorruption." But who can doubt that he read
with a bitter exultation, and applied to himself passages like
these which follow ? " When the righteous fled from his brother's
wrath, she guided him in right paths, showed him the kingdom of
God, and gave him knowledge of holy things. She defended him
from his enemies and kept him safe from those that lay in wait,
. . . that he might know that godliness is stronger than all. . . .
She forsook him not, but delivered him from sin ; she went down
with him into the pit, and left him not in bonds till she brought him
the sceptre of the kingdom, . . . and gave him perpetual glory."


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