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HARVARD
COLLEGE
LIBRARY



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DANTE



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o



DA N T E



SIX SERMONS



BY

PHILIP H. WrCKSTEED



M.A.




^



LONDON
C. KEGAN PAUL & CO., i PATERNOSTER SQUARE

1879



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A./7^'/



OCT ;^3 1883



HARVARD

UNIVlRSITYI

LIBRARY



( The rights of translation and of reproduction are reserved)



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PREFACE.

The five Sermons which form the body of
this little book on Dante were delivered in
the ordinary course of my ministry at Little
Portland Street Chapel, in the autumn of 1878,
and subsequently at the Free Christian Church,
Croydon, in a slightly altered form.

They are now printed, at the request of many
of my hearers, almost exactly as delivered at
Croydon.

The substance of a sixth Sermon has been
thrown into an Appendix.

In allowing the publication of this little
volume, my only thought is to let it take its
chance with other fugitive productions of the
Pulpit that appeal to the Press as a means of
widening the possible area rather than extending
the period over which the preacher's voice may



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vi PREFACE.

extend ; and my only justification is the hope
that it may here and there reach hands to which
no more adequate treatment of the subject was
likely to find its way.

The translations I have given are sometimes
paraphrastic, and virtually contain glosses or in-
terpretations which make it necessary to warn
the reader against regarding them as in every
case Dante*s ipsissima verba. For the most part
the renderings are substantially my own ; but
I have freely availed myself of numerous trans-
lations, without special acknowledgment, when-
ever they supplied me with suitable phrases.

I have only to add the acknowledgment of

my obligations to Fraticelli*s edition of Dante's

works (whose numbering of the minor poems

and the letters I have adopted for reference),

to the same writer's *Life of Dante,' and to

Mr. Symonds' 'Introduction to the Study of

Dante.'

P. H. W.

June 1879.



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CONTENTS.

PAGIi

I. Dante : as a Citizen of Florence . . i

II. Dante : in Exile 29

III. Hell 59

IV. Purgatory 89

V. Heaven 119

Appendix 145



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DANTE'S LIFE AND PRINCIPLES



/. AS A CITIZEN OF FLORENCE



C"



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There are probably few competent judges who
would hesitate to give Dante a place of honour
in the triad of the world's greatest poets ; and
amongst these three Dante occupies a position
wholly his own, peerless and unapproached in
history.

For Homer and Shakespeare reflect the ages
in which they lived, in all their fullness and
variety of life and motive, largely sinking their
own individuality in the intensity and breadth
of their sympathies. They are great teachers
doubtless, and fail not to lash what they regard
as the growing vices or follies of the day, and
to impress upon their hearers the solemn les-
sons of those inevitable facts of life which they
epitomise and vivify. But their teaching is
chiefly incidental or indirect, it is largely un-
conscious, and is often almost as difficult to



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DANTE,



unravel from their works as it is from the life
and nature they so faithfully reflect.
^ With Dante it is far otherwise. Aglow with
a prophet's passionate conviction, an apostle's
undying zeal, he is guided by a philosopher's
breadth and clearness of principle, a poet's un-
failing sense of beauty and command of emo-
tions, to a social reformer's definite and practical
aims and a mystic's peace of religious commu-
nion. And though his works abound in dramatic
touches of startling power and variety, and de-
lineations of character unsurpassed in delicacy,
yet with all the depth and scope of his sym-
pathies he never for a moment loses himself or
forgets his purpose.

As a philosopher and statesman, he had
analysed with keen precision the social institu-
tions, the political forces, and the historical
antecedents by which he found his time and
country dominated ; as a moralist, a theologian,
and a man, he had grasped with a firmness that
nothing could relax the essential conditions of
human blessedness here and hereafter, and with
an intensity and fixity of definite self-conscious
purpose almost without parallel he threw the



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DANTE'S PURPOSE.



passionate energy of his nature into the task of
preaching the eternal truth to his countrymen,
and through them to the world, and thwarting
and crushing the powers and institutions which
he regarded as hostile to the well-being of man-
kind. \ He strove to teach his brothers that their
true bliss lay in the exercise of virtue here, and
the blessed vision of God hereafter. And as a
step towards this, and an essential part of its
realisation, he strove to make Italy one in
heart and tongue, to raise her out of the sea
of petty jealousies and intrigues in which she
was plunged ; in a word, to erect her into
a free, united country, with a noble mother
tongue. These two purposes were one ; and,
supported and supplemented by a never-dying
zeal for truth, a never-failing sense of beauty,
they inspired the life and works of Dante
Alighieri.

It is often held and taught, that a strong and
definite didactic purpose must inevitably be
fatal to the highest forms of art, must clip the
wings of poetic imagination, distort the symme-
try of poetic sympathy, and substitute hard and
angular contrasts for the melting grace of tliose



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DANTE.



curved lines of beauty which pass one into the
other. Had Dante never lived, I know not
where we should turn for the decisive refutation
of this thought ; but in Dante it is the very com-
bination said to be impossible that inspires and
enthrals us. A perfect artist, guided in the
exercise of his art by an unflagging intensity of
moral purpose; a prophet, submitting his in-
spirations to the keenest philosophical analysis,
pouring them into the most finished artistic
moulds, yet bringing them into ever fresher and
fuller contact with their living source ; a moral-
ist and philosopher whose thoughts are fed
by a prophet's directness of vision and a poet's
tender grace of love, a poet's might and subtlety
of imagination — Philosopher, Prophet, Poet,
supreme as each, unique as a combination of
them all— such was Dante Alighieri ! And his
voice will never be drowned or forgotten as
long as man is dragged downward by passion
and struggles upward towards God, as long as
he that sows to the flesh shall of the flesh reap
corruption, and he that sows to the spirit reaps
of the spirit life everlasting, as long as the he^irt
of man can glow responsive to a holy indigna-



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DANTE. 7

tion with wrong, or can feel the sweetness of
the harmonies of peace.

It is little that I can hope to do, and yet I
would fain do something, towards opening to
one here and there some glimpse into that
mighty temple, instinct with the very presence
of the Eternal, raised by the master hand, nay
rather wrought out of the might}'^ heart of Dante ;
but before we can even attempt to gather up a
few fragments of the * Divine Comedy,* as land-
marks to guide us, in our turn, through Hell
and Purgatory up to Heaven, it is needful
for us to have some conception who Dante
Alighieri was, and what were his fortunes in this
mortal life.

And here I must once for all utter a warning,
and thereby discharge myself of a special duty.
The Old Testament itself has not been more
ruthlessly allegorised than have Dante's works
and even his very life. The lack of trustworthy
materials, in any great abundance, for an ac-
count of the poet's outward lot, the difficulty of
fixing with certainty when he is himself relating
actual events and when his apparent narratives
are merely allegorical, the obscurity, incom-



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8 DANTE,

pleteness, and even apparent inconsistency of
some of the data he supplies, the uncertainty as
to the exact time at which his different works
were composed and the precise relation in which
they stand to each other, and the doubts which
have been thrown upon the authenticity of some
of the minor documents upon which the poefs
biographers generally rely, have all combined
to involve almost every step of his life in deep
obscurity. Here, then, is a field upon which
laborious research, ingenious conjecture, and
wild speculation can find unending employment,
and consequently every branch of the study has
quite a literature of its own.

Now into this mass of controversial and
speculative writings on Dante, I do not make
the smallest pretensions to have penetrated a
single step. I am far from wishing to disparage
such studies, or to put forward in my own de-
fence that stale and foolish plea, the refuge of
pretentious ignorance in every region of inquiry,
that a mind coming fresh to the study has the
advantage over those that are already well
versed in it ;• but surely the students who are
making the elucidation of Dante their life work



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DANTE.



would not ask or wish, that until their endless
task is completed all those whose souls have
been touched by the direct utterance of the
great poet should hold their peace until quali-
fied to speak by half a life of study.

With no further apology, then, for seeming
to venture too rashly on the task, we may go
on to a brief sketch of Dante's life and principles.
The main lines which I shall follow are in most
cases traced distinctly enough by Dante's own
hand, and to the best of my belief they repre-
sent a fair average of the present or recent con-
clusions of scholars ; but, on the other hand,
there have always been some who would unhesi-
tatingly treat as allegory much of what I shall
present to you as fact, who for instance would
treat all Dante's love for Beatrice, and indeed
Beatrice's very existence, as purely allegorical ;
and, again, where the allegory is admitted on
all hands, there is a ceaseless shifting and end-
less variety in the special interpretations adopted
and rejected by the experts.

Dante, or properly Durante, Alighieri was
bom in Florence of an ancient and noble family.



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lo DANTE.

in the year 1265. We may note that his life
falls in a period which we used to be taught to
regard as an age of intellectual stagnation and
social barbarism, in which Christianity had de-
generated into a jumbled chaos of puerile and
immoral superstitions ! We may note also that
in the early years of his life the poet was a con-
temporary of some of the noblest representatives
of the feudo-Catholic civilisation, that is to say of
mediaeval philosophy, theology, and chivalry,
while his manhood was joined in loving friendship
with the first supremely great mediaeval artist,
and before he died one of the great precursors
and heralds of the revival of learning was grow-
ing up to manhood and another had already left
his cradle. To speak of Roger Bacon, Thomas
Aquinas, and St. Louis, as living when Dante
was born, of Giotto as his companion and
friend, of Petrarch and Boccaccio as already
living when he died, is to indicate more clearly
than could be done by any more elaborate state-
ment, the position he occupies at the very
turning point of the Middle Ages when the
forces of modern life had begun to rise, but the
supremacy of mediaeval faith and discipline



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DANTE. I?



;iyas as yet unbroken. Accordingly Dante, in
whom the truest spirit of his age is, as it were,
* made flesh,* may be variously regarded as the
great morning star of modern enlightenment,
freedom, and culture, or as the very type of
mediaeval discipline, faith, and chivalry. To
me, I confess, this latter aspect of Dante's life
is altogether predominant. To me he is the
very incarnation of Catholicism, not in its shame,
but in its glory. Yet the future is always con-
tained in the present when rightly understood,
and just because Dante was the perfect repre-
sentative of his own age, he became the herald
and the prophecy of the ages to come, not,
as we often vainly imagine them, rebelling
against and escaping from the overshadow-
ing solemnity of the ages past, but growing
out of them as their natural and necessary
result.

In the year 1265, then, Dante was bom in
Florence, then one of the most powerful and
flourishing, but also, alas ! one of the most fac-
tious and turbulent of the cities of Europe. He
was but nine years old when he first met that
Beatrice Portinari who became thenceforth the



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12 DANTE.



loadstar of his life. As to this lady we have
little to say. The details which Dante*s early
biographers give us add but little to our know-
ledge of her, and so far as they are not drawn
from the poefs own words, are merely such
graceful commonplaces of laudatory description
as any imagination of ordinary capacity would
spontaneously supply for itself. When we have
said that Beatrice was a beautiful, sweet, and
virtuous girl, we have said all that we know,
and all that we need care to know, of the daugh-
ter of Folco Portinari, who lived, was married,
and died in Florence at the end of the thirteenth
century. All that she is to us more than other
Florentine maidens, she is to us through that
poet who, as he wept her untimely death, hoped
with no vain hope ' to write of her, what ne'er
was writ of woman.' *

It puts no great strain on our powers of
credence, to accept Dante's own statement of
the rush of almost stupefying emotions which
overwhelmed his childish heart when at the age
of nine he went with his father to Portinari's

* Vita Nticva, xliii.



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BEATRICE. 13

house, and was sent to play with other children,
amongst them the little Beatrice, a child of eight
years old. The * New Life ' waked within him
from that moment, and its strength and purity
made him strong and pure.*

Nine more years have passed. Dante is
now eighteen. He has made rapid progress in
all the intellectual and personal accomplishments
which are held to adorn the position of a Floren-
tine gentleman. His teachers have in some
cases already discerned the greatness of his
powers, and he has become aware, probably by
essays which never saw the light, that he has not
only a poet's passions and aspirations, but a
poet*s power of moulding language into one-
ness with his thought. He and Beatrice know
each other by sight, as neighbours or fellow-
citizens, but Dante has never heard her voice
address a word to him. Yet she is still the
centre of all his thoughts. She has never ceased
to be to him the perfect ideal of growing woman-
hood, and to his devout and fervid imagination,
just because she is the very flower of womanly

* Vita Nuffva^ i, ii.



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14 DANTE.

courtesy, grace, and virtue, she is an angel upon
earth. Not in the hackneyed phrase of compli-
mentary commonplace, not in the exaggerated
cant of would-be poetical metaphor, but in the
deep verity of his inmost life, Dante Alighieri
believes that Beatrice Portinari, the maiden
whose purity keeps him pure, whose grace and
beauty are as guardian angels watching over his
life, has more of heaven than of earth about her
and claims kindred with God's more perfect
family.

Beatrice is now seventeen, she is walking
with two companions in a public place, she meets
Dante and allows herself to utter a few words of
graceful greeting. It is the first time she has
spoken to him, and Dante's soul is thrilled and
fired to its very depths. Not many hours after-
wards, the poet began the first of his sonnets that
we still possess, perhaps the first he ever wrote.*

Let us pass over eight or nine years more.
Dante, now about twenty-six, is the very flower
of chivalry and poetry. The foremost men of
his own and other cities — artists, musicians,

» Vita Nuova^ iii. 5 Inferno, xv. 55 sqq. &c.



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BEATRICE, 15



poets, scholars, and statesmen — are his friends.
Somewhat hard of access and reserved, but the
most fascinating of companions and thefaithfulest
of friends to those who have found a real place
in his heart, Dante takes a rank of acknowledged
eminence amongst the poets of his day. His
verses, chiefly in praise of Beatrice, are written
in a strain of tender sentiment, that gives little
sigpi of what is ultimately to come out of him,
but there is a nervous and concentrated power
of diction, a purity and elevation of conception
in them, which may not have been obvious to
his companions as separating him from them,
but which to eyes instructed by the result is full
of deepest meaning.

And what of Beatrice } She is dead. It was
never given to Dante to call her his. We know
not so much as whether he even aspired to more
than that gracious salutation in which, to use
his own expression, he seemed to touch 'the
very limits of beatitude.* ^

Be this as it may, it is certain that Beatrice
.married a powerful citizen of Florence several
years before her death. But she was still the

* Vita Nuova^ iii.



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i6 DANTE.



guardian angel of the poet's life, she was still
the very type of womanhood to him ; and there
was not a word or thought of his towards her
but was full of utter courtesy and purity. And
now, in the flower of her loveliness she is cut
down by death, and to Dante life has become a
wilderness.^

Yet eight or nine years more. Dante is
now in what his philosophical system regards
as the very prime of life.* He is thirty-five.
The date is 1300. Since we left him weeping
for the death of Beatrice, the unity of his life
has been shattered and he has lost his way, but
only for a time. Now his powers and purposes
are richer, stronger, more concentrated than ever.

In his first passion of grief for Beatrice's
death he had been profoundly touched by the
pity of a gentle-eyed damsel whom a far from
groundless conjecture identifies with Gemma
Donati, the lady whom he married not long
afterwards. With this Gemma he lived till his
banishment, and they had a numerous family.
The internal evidence of Dante's works, and the

' VUa Nucvat iv-xxx. • CorwUo^ iv. 23.



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MARRIAGE. 17



few circumstances really known to us, give little
support to the tradition that their marriage was
an unhappy one.

Dante's friends had hoped that domestic
peace might console him for his irreparable loss,
but he himself had rather sought for consola-
tion in the study of philosophy and theology ;
and it befell him, he tells us, as one who in
seeking silver strikes on gold — not, haply, with-
out guidance from on high ; — for he began to
see many things as in a dream, and deemed
that Dame Philosophy must needs be supreme ! *

But neither domestic nor literary cares and
duties absorbed his energies. In late years he
had begun to take an active part in the politics
of his city, and was now fast rising to his true
position as the foremost man of Florence and of
Italy.

Thus .we see new interests and new powers
rising in his life, but for a time the unity of that
life was gone. While Beatrice lived Dante's
whole being was centred in her, and she was to
him the visible token of God's presence upon
earth, the living proof of the reality and the

* ConvitOf ii. 13.
C



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j8 DANTE.



beauty of things Divine, born to fill the world
with faith and gentleness. But when she was
gone, when other passions and pursuits disputed
with her memory the foremost place in Dante's
heart, it was as though he had lost the secret
and the meaning of life, as though he had lost
the guidance of Heaven, and was whirled help-
kssly in the vortex of moral, social, and political
disorder which swept over his country. For
Italian politics at this period form a veritable
chaos of shifting combinations and entangle-
ments, of plots and counterplots, of intrigue and
treachery and vacillation, though lightened ever
and again by gleams of noblest patriotism and
devotion.

Yet Dante's soul was far too strong to be
permanently overwhelmed. Gradually his philo-
sophical reflections began to take definite shape.
He felt the wants of his own life and of his
country's life. He pierced down to the funda-
mental conditions of political and social welfare ;
and when human philosophy had begun to
restore unity and concentration to his powers,
then the sweet image of the pure maiden who
had first waked his soul to love returned glori-



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PRIOR OF FLORENCE, 19

fied and transfigured to guide him into the very
presence of God. She was the symbol of
Divine philosophy. She, and she only, could
restore his shattered life to unity and strength,
and the love she never gave him as a woman,
she could give him as the protecting guardian
of his life, as the vehicle of God's highest
revelation,^

With his life thus strengthened and enriched,
with a firm heart and a steady purpose, Dante
Alighieri stood in the year 1 300 at the helm of
the State of Florence, And here accordingly
it becomes necessary for us to dwell for a
moment on some of the chief political forces
with which he had to deal.

The two great factions of the Guelfs and


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