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uses the word admirably well in a position where
it cannot have a metrical value of more than one
syllable, while it gives a dancing movement to the
verse in keeping with the sense. Our old metrists
were careful of elasticity, a quality which modern
verse has lost in proportion as our language has
stiffened into uniformity under the benumbing fin
gers of pedants.

This discussion of the value of syllables is not so
trifling as it seems. A great deal of nonsense has
been written about imperfect measures in Shake
speare, and of the admirable dramatic effect pro
duced by filling up the gaps of missing syllables
with pauses or prolongations of the voice in read
ing. In rapid, abrupt, and passionate dialogue
this is possible, but in passages of continuously

1 So spirito and spirto in Italian, esperis and espirs in Old French.



110 MILTON

level speech it is barbarously absurd. I do not be
lieve that any of our old dramatists has knowingly
left us a single imperfect verse. Seeing in what a
haphazard way and in how mutilated a form their
plays have mostly reached us, we should attribute
such faults (as a geologist would call them) to
anything rather than to the deliberate design of
the poets. Marlowe and Shakespeare, the two best
metrists among them, have given us a standard by
which to measure what licenses they took in versi
fication, the one in his translations, the other in
his poems. The unmanageable verses in Milton are
very few, and all of them occur in works printed
after his blindness had lessened the chances of su
pervision and increased those, of error. There are
only two, indeed, which seem to me wholly indi
gestible as they stand. These are,

" Burnt after them to the bottomless pit,"

and

" With them from bliss to the bottomless deep."

This certainly looks like a case where a word had
dropped out or had been stricken out by some
proof-reader who limited the number of syllables in
a pentameter verse by that of his finger-ends. Mr.
Masson notices only the first of these lines, and
says that to make it regular by accenting the word
bottomless on the second syllable would be " too
horrible." ^Certainly not, if Milton so accented it,
any more than blasphemous and twenty more which
sound oddly to us now. However that may be,
Milton could not have intended to close not only a
period, but a paragraph also, with an unmusical



MILTON 111

verse, and in the only other passage where the word
occurs it is accented as now on the first syllable :

" With hideous ruin and combustion down
To bottomless perdition, there to dwell."

As bottom is a word which, like bosom and besom,
may be monosyllabic or dissyllabic according to
circumstances, I am persuaded that the last pas
sage quoted (and all three refer to the same event)
gives us the word wanting in the two others, and
that Milton wrote, or meant to write,

" Burnt after them down to the bottomless pit,"

which leaves in the verse precisely the kind of rip
ple that Milton liked best. 1

Much of what Mr. Masson says in his Introduc
tion of the way in which the verses of Milton
should be read is judicious enough, though some of
the examples he gives, of the " comicality " which
would ensue from compressing every verse into an
exact measure of ten syllables, are based on a sur
prising ignorance of the laws which guided our
poets just before and during Milton's time in the
structure of their verses. Thus he seems to think
that a strict scansion would require us in the verses

"So he with difficulty and labor hard,"

and

"Carnation, purple, azure, or specked with gold,"

1 Milton, however, would not have balked at th 1 bottomless any
more than Drayton at th 1 rejected or Donne at th 1 sea. Mr. Mas-
son does not seem to understand this elision, for he corrects z' <A'
midst to {' the midst, and takes pains to mention it in a note. He
might better have restored the n in i', where it is no contraction,
but merely indicates the pronunciation, as o' for of and on.



112 MILTON

to pronounce diffikty and purp\ Though Mr.
Masson talks of " slurs and elisions," his ear would
seem somewhat insensible to their exact nature or
office. His diffikty supposes a hiatus where none
is intended, and his making purple of one syllable
wrecks the whole verse, the real slur in the latter
case being on azure or. 1 When he asks whether
Milton required " these pronunciations in his verse,"
no positive answer can be given, but I very much
doubt whether he would have thought that some of
the lines Mr. Masson cites " remain perfectly good
Blank Verse even with the most leisurely natural
enunciation of the spare syllable," and I am sure
he would have stared if told that " the number of
accents " in a pentameter verse was " variable." It
may be doubted whether elisions and compressions
which would be thought in bad taste or even vul
gar now were more abhorrent to the ears of Milton's
generation than to a cultivated Italian would be
the hearing Dante read as prose. After all, what
Mr. Masson says may be reduced to the infallible
axiom that poetry should be read as poetry.

Mr. Masson seems to be right in his main prin
ciples, but the examples he quotes make one doubt
whether he knows what a verse is. For example,
he thinks it would be a " horror," if in the verse

" That invincible Samson far renowned "

we should lay the stress on the first syllable of in
vincible. It is hard to see why this should be
worse than conventicle or remonstrance or succes-

1 Exactly analogous to that in treasurer when it is shortened to
two syllables.



MILTON 113

sor or incompatible, (the three latter used by the
correct Daniel) or why Mr. Masson should clap an
accent on surface merely because it comes at the
end of a verse, and deny it to invincible. If one
read the verse just cited with those that go with it,
he will find that the accent must come on the first
syllable of invincible, or else the whole passage be
comes chaos. 1 Should we refuse to say obleeged
with Pope because the fashion has changed ? From
its apparently greater freedom in skilful hands,
blank verse gives more scope to sciolistic theorizing
and dogmatism than the rhyming pentameter coup
let, but it is safe to say that no verse is good in the
one that would not be good in the other when han
dled by a master like Dryden. Milton, like other
great poets, wrote some bad verses, and it is wiser
to confess that they are so than to conjure up some
unimaginable reason why the reader should accept
them as the better for their badness. Such a bad
verse is

" Rocks, caves, lakes, fens, bogs, dens and shapes of death,"

which might be cited to illustrate Pope's

" And ten low words oft creep in one dull line."

Milton cannot certainly be taxed with any par
tiality for low words. He rather loved them tall,
as the Prussian King loved men to be six feet
high in their stockings, and fit to go into the gren-

1 Milton himself has invisible, for we cannot suppose him guilty
of a verse like

" Shoots invisible virtue even to the deep,"

while, if read rightly, it has just one of those sweeping elisions
that he loved.



114 MILTON

adiers. He loved them as much for their music
as for their meaning, perhaps more. His style,
therefore, when it has to deal with commoner
things, is apt to grow a little cumbrous and un
wieldy. A Persian poet says that when the owl
would boast, he boasts of catching mice at the edge
of a hole. Shakespeare would have understood
this. Milton would have made him talk like an
eagle. His influence is not to be left out of ac
count as partially contributing to that decline
toward poetic diction which was already beginning
ere he died. If it would not be fair to say that
he is the most artistic, he may be called in the
highest sense the most scientific of our poets. If
to Spenser younger poets have gone to be sung-to,
they have sat at the feet of Milton to be taught.
Our language has no finer poem than " Samson
Agonistes," if any so fine in the quality of austere
dignity or in the skill with which the poet's per
sonal experience is generalized into a classic tra
gedy.

Gentle as Milton's earlier portraits would seem
to show him, he had in him by nature, or bred
jnto him by fate, something of the haughty and
defiant self-assertion of Dante and Michael Angelo.
In no other English author is the man so large a
part of his works. Milton's haughty conception of
himself enters into all he says and does. Always
the necessity of this one man became that of the
whole human race for the moment. There were
no walls so sacred but must go to the ground when
he wanted elbow-room; and he wanted a great



MILTON 115

deal. Did Mary Powell, the cavalier's daughter,
find the abode of a roundhead schoolmaster incom
patible and leave it, forthwith the cry of the uni
verse was for an easier dissolution of the marriage
covenant. If he is blind, it is with excess of light,
it is a divine partiality, an over-shadowing with
angels' wings. Phineus and Teiresias are admitted
among the prophets because they, too, had lost
their sight, and the blindness of Homer is of more
account than his Iliad. After writing in rhyme
till he was past fifty, he finds it unsuitable for his
epic, and it at once becomes " the invention of a
barbarous age to set off wretched matter and lame
metre." If the structure of his mind be undra-
matic, why, then, the English drama is naught,
learned Jonson, sweetest Shakespeare, and the rest
notwithstanding, and he will compose a tragedy on
a Greek model with the blinded Samson for its
hero, and he will compose it partly in rhyme.
Plainly he belongs to the intenser kind of men
whose yesterdays are in no way responsible for
their to-morrows. And this makes him perennially
interesting even to those who hate his politics, de
spise his Socinianism, and find his greatest poem
a bore. A new edition of his poems is always
welcome, for, as he is really great, he presents a
fresh side to each new student, and Mr. Masson,
in his three handsome volumes, has given us, with
much that is superfluous and even erroneous, much
more that is a solid and permanent acquisition to
our knowledge.

It results from the almost scornful withdrawal



116 MILTON

of Milton into the fortress of his absolute person
ality that no great poet is so uniformly self-con
scious as he. We should say of Shakespeare that
he had the power of transforming himself into
everything ; of Milton, that he had that of trans
forming everything into himself. Dante is indi
vidual rather than self-conscious, and he, the cast-
iron man, grows pliable as a field of grain at the
breath of Beatrice, and flows away in waves of
sunshine. But Milton never let himself go for a
moment. As other poets are possessed by their
theme, so is he seT/^-possessed, his great theme be
ing John Milton, and his great duty that of inter
preter between him and the world. I say it with
all respect, for he was well worthy translation, and
it is out of Hebrew that the version is made. Pope
says he makes God the Father reason " like a
school-divine." The criticism is witty, but inac
curate. He makes Deity a mouthpiece for his
present theology, and had the poem been written
a few years later, the Almighty would have be
come more heterodox. Since Dante, no one had
stood on these visiting terms with heaven.

Now it is precisely this audacity of self-reliance,
I suspect, which goes far toward making the sub
lime, and which, falling by a hair's-breadth short
thereof, makes the ridiculous. Puritanism showed
both the strength and weakness of its prophetic
nurture ; enough of the latter to be scoffed out of
England by the very men it had conquered in the
field, enough of the former to intrench itself in
three or four immortal memories. It has left an



MILTON 117

abiding mark in politics and religion, but its great
monuments are the prose of Bunyan and the verse
of Milton. It is a high inspiration to be the neigh
bor of great events ; to have been a partaker in
them and to have seen noble purposes by their own
self-confidence become the very means of ignoble
ends, if it do not wholly depress, may kindle a
passion of regret deepening the song which dares
not tell the reason of its sorrow. The grand loneli
ness of Milton in his latter years, while it makes
him the most impressive figure in our literary his
tory, is reflected also in his maturer poems by a
sublime independence of human sympathy like that
with which mountains fascinate and rebuff us. But
it is idle to talk of the loneliness of one the habit
ual companions of whose mind were the Past and
Future. I always seem to see him leaning in his
blindness a hand on the shoulder of each, sure
that the one will guard the song which the other
had inspired.



DANTE 1

1872

ON the banks of a little river so shrunken by the
suns of summer that it seems fast passing into a
tradition, but so swollen by the autumnal rains with
Italian suddenness of passion that the massy bridge
shudders under the impatient heap of waters be
hind 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 V uom
*' 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 ab
sorbed its ancestral neighbor and became a cradle
for the arts, the letters, the science, and the com
merce 2 of modern Europe. For her Cimabue

1 The Shadow of Dante, being an Essay towards studying Him
self, his World, and his Pilgrimage. By Maria Francesca Ros-
setti.

" Se Dio te lasci, letter, prender fmtto

Di tua lezione."
Boston : Roberts Brothers. 1872. 8vo, pp. 296.

2 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



DANTE 119

wrought, who infused Byzantine formalism with a
suggestion of nature and feeling ; for her the Pi-
sani, who divined at least, if they could not conjure
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 ; 1
for her Brunelleschi curved the dome which Michael
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 triumvirate of Italian poe
try, 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 buildings
and undisturbed monuments. The house of Dante
is still shown ; children still receive baptism at the
font (il mio bel San Giovanni) where he was
christened before the acorn dropped that was to
grow into a keel for Columbus ; and an inscribed
stone marks the spot where he used to sit and watch

made the roads safe for the great liberalizer, Commerce. This
made Money omnipresent, and prepared the way for its present
omnipotence. Fortunately it cannot usurp the third attribute of
Deity, omniscience. But whatever the consequences, this Flo
rentine invention was at first nothing but admirable, securing to
brain. its legitimate 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.

1 Ghiberti's designs have been criticised by a too systematic
sesthetieism, 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 ?



120 DANTE

the slow blocks swing up to complete the master-
thought of Arnolfo. In the convent of St. Mark
hard by lived and labored Beato Angelico, the
saint of Christian art, and Fra Bartolommeo, who
taught Raphael dignity. From the same walls
Savonarola went forth to his triumphs, short-lived
almost as the crackle of his martyrdom. The plain
little chamber of Michael Angelo seems still to ex
pect his return ; his last sketches lie upon the table,
his staff leans in the corner, and his slippers wait
before the empty chair. On one of the vine-clad
hills, just without the city walls, one's feet may
press the same stairs that Milton climbed to visit
Galileo. To an American there is something su
premely impressive in this cumulative influence of
a past full of inspiration and rebuke, something
saddening in this repeated proof that moral supre
macy 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
Florence 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 recog
nizes the features familiar to him as his own thresh
old, he is startled to find Fame as commonplace
here as Notoriety everywhere else, and that this
fifth-rate city should have the privilege thus to



DANTE 121

commemorate so many famous men her sons, whose
claim to preeminence the whole world would con
cede. 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 haggard cheeks, the lips clamped together in
unfaltering resolve, the scars of lifelong battle, and
the brow whose stern outline seems the trophy
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 immuta
bility can parallel his own. The suffrages of high
est authority would now place him second in that
company where he with proud humility took the
sixth place. 1

Dante (Durante, by contraction Dante) degli
Alighieri was born at Florence in 1265, probably
during the month of May. 2 This is the date given
by Boccaccio, 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 Corn-
media^ would have him born five years earlier, in
1260. According to Arrivabene, 3 Sansovino was

1 Inferno, IV. 102.

2 The Nouvelle Biographie Ge"nlrale gives May 8 as his birth
day. This is a mere assumption, for Boccaccio only says generally
May. The indication which Dante 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.

3 Secolo di Dante, Udine edition of 1828, voL iii. Part I. p.
578.



122 DANTE

the first to confirm Boccaccio's statement by the
authority of the poet himself, basing his argument
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. 1 Leonardo Aretino and Manetti
add their testimony to that of Boccaccio, and 1265
is now universally assumed as the true date. Vol
taire, 2 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 mis
take 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 fifty-six,
though he still more oddly omits the undisputed date
of his death (1321), which would have shown Bayle
to be right. The poet's descent 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 domain."

That his ancestors had been long established in
Florence is an inference from some expressions of

1 Arrivabene, however, is wrong. Boccaccio makes precisely
the same reckoning in the first note of bis Commentary (Bocc.
Comento, etc., Firenze, 1844, vol. i. pp. 32, 33).

2 Diet. Phil., art " Dante."



DANTE 123

the poet, and from their dwelling having been situ
ated 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 Teu
tonic origin. Dante was born, as he himself tells
us, 1 when the sun was in the constellation 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 in
duces in men the faculty of writing, science, and of
acquiring knowledge. 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. 3 It is supposed, from
a passage in Boccaccio's life of Dante, that Ali-
ghiero 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 original doc
uments 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 paren
thetically. Like Alexander Gill, he is now remem
bered 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
1 Paradiso, XXII. 2 Canto XV. z Purgatorio, XVI.



124 DANTE

times "taught him how man eternizes himself."
This, and what Villani says of his refining the Tus
can idiom (for so we understand laisfarli scorti in
bene parlare J ), are to be noted as of probable in
fluence 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 unde
terminable. Yet all are possible, nay, perhaps
probable. Bologna and Padua we should be in
clined 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 2 and the cor
responding paix, paix, Sathan, in the autobiogra
phy of Cellini, nor from the very definite allusion
to Doctor Sigier, 8 we may yet infer from some pas
sages in the Commedia that his wanderings had
extended even farther ; 4 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
quadrimum (arithmetic, music, geometry, and as
tronomy) of the then ordinary university course.

1 Though he himself preferred French, and wrote his Li Tresors
in that language for two reasons, " /' unaperche noi siamo in Fran-
da, e /' ultra perche la parlatura francesca e piii dilettevole e piu
comune che tutti li altri linguaggi." (Proemio, suljine.)

2 Inferno, Canto VII. 8 Paradiso, Canto X.

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



DANTE 125

To these he afterward added painting (or at least
drawing, disegnava un angelo sopra certe tavo-
lette J ), theology, and medicine. 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 encyclo
pedic in any age, but at that time it was literally



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