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which he has given with such terrible from that inexhaustible source ; but fidelity.
he drew them forth so clear and lucid, Melancholy was the prevailing cha- that they emerged, embodied as it racteristic of the great Italian's mind. were, in living images. His characIt was so profound that it penetrated ters are emblematic of the various all his thoughts; so intense that it passions and views for which different pervaded all his conceptions. Occa- degrees of punishment were reserved sionally bright and beautiful ideas flit- in the world to come ; but his concepted across his imagination ; visions of tion of them was so distinct, his debliss, experienced for a moment, and scription so vivid, that they stand then lost for ever, as if to render forth to our gaze in all the agony of more profound the darkness by which their sufferings, like real flesh and they are surrounded. They are given blood. We see them we feel themwith exquisite beauty; but they shine we hear their cries—our very flesh amidst the gloom like sunbeams strug- creeps at the perception of their suffergling through the clouds. He inherited ings. We stand on the edge of the from the dark ages the austerity of lake of boiling pitch-we feel the the cloister ; but he inherited with weight of the leaden mantles--we it the deep feelings and sublime con- see the snow-like flakes of burning ceptions which its seclusion had gene- sand-we hear the cries of those who rated. His mind was a world within had lost the last earthly consolations, itself. He drew all his conceptions the hope of death :-
“ Quivi sospiri, pianti ed alti guai
Diverse lingue, orribili favelle,
Facevano un tumulto, il qual s' aggira
Ed io : maestro, che è tanto greve
Inferno, c. iii.
I then : Master! What doth aggrieve them thus,
Cary's Dante, Inferno, c. iii. Here is Dante portrayed to the life The very first lines of the Inferno, in the very outset. What a collection when the gates of Hell were apof awful images in a few lines! Loud proached, and the inscription over lamentations, hideous cries, mingled them appeared, paints the dismal with the sound of clasped hands, be- character of the poem, and yet minneath a starless sky; and the terrible gled with the sense of divine love and answer, as the cause of this suffering, justice with which the author was " These bave not the hope of death.” penetrated.
« Per me si va nella città dolente;
Giustizia mosse 'l mio alto Fattore;
Dinanzi a me non fur cose create,
Inferno, c. iii.
Cary's Dante, Inferno, c. iii. Dante had much more profound feel- racters by their speeches, their gesings than Homer, and therefore he has tures, their actions, and keeps up their painted deep mysteries of the human consistency with admirable fidelity ; heart with greater force and fidelity. but he does not, by a word, an exThe more advanced age of the world, pression, or an epithet, admit us into the influence of a spiritual faith, the the inmost folds of the heart. None awful anticipation of judgment to come, can do so but such as themselves feel the inmost feelings which, during long warmly and profoundly, and paint centuries of seclusion, had been drawn passion, emotion, or suffering from forth in the cloister, the protracted their own experience, not the obsersufferings of the dark ages, had laid vation of others. Dante has acquired bare the human heart. Its sufferings, his colossal fame from the matchless its terrors, its hopes, its joys, had be- force with which he has portrayed the come as household words. The Ita. wildest passions, the deepest feelings, lian poet shared, as all do, in the the most intense sufferings of the ideas and images of his age, and to heart. He is the refuge of all those these he added many which were who labour and are heavy laden entirely his own. He painted the --of all who feel profoundly or have inward man, and painted him from suffered deeply.
His verses his own feelings, not the observa- in the mouth of all who are torn tion of others. That is the grand by passion, gnawed by remorse, or distinction between him and Homer; tormented by apprehension ; and and that it is which has given him, in how many are they in this scene of the delineation of mind, his great woe! superiority. The Grecian bard was A distinguished modern critic* has an incomparable observer; he had an said, that he who would now become inexhaustible imagination for fiction, a great poet must first become a little as well as a graphic eye for the deli- child. There is no doubt he is right. neation of real life; but he had not a The seen and unseen fetters of civilideep or feeling heart. He did not zation; the multitude of old ideas know it, like Dante and Shakspeare, afloat in the world ; the innumerable from his own suffering. He painted worn-out channels into which new the external symptoms of passion and ones are ever apt to flow; the general emotion with the hand of a master; clamour, with which critics, nursed but he did not reach the inward spring amidst such fetters, receive any atof feeling. He lets us into his cha- tempts at breaking them ; the preva
lence, in a wealthy and highly civilized ideas till he had read. He was right; age, of worldly or selfish ideas; the though it is not one in a thousand common approximation of characters who strikes out original thoughts from by perpetual intercourse, as of coins, studying the works of others. The by continual rubbing in passing from great sage did not read to imbibe man to man, have taken away all the opinions of others, but to enfreshness and originality from ideas. gender new ones for himself; he The learned, the polished, the highly did not study to imitate, but to educated, can hardly escape the fet- create. It was the same with Dante; ters which former greatness throws it is the same with every really over the soul. Milton could not avoid great man. His was the first powerthem : half the images in his poems ful and original mind which, fraught are taken from Homer, Virgil, and with the profound and gloomy ideas Dante; and who dare hope for eman- nourished in scclusion during the midcipation when Milton was enthralled? dle ages, came into contact with the The mechanical arts increase in per- brilliant imagery, touching pathos, fection as society advances. Science and harmonious language of the anever takes its renewed flights from cients. Hence his astonishing greatthe platform which former efforts have He almost worshipped Virgil, erected. Industry, guided by expe- he speaks of him as a species of god ; rience, in successive ages, brings to he mentions Homer as the first of the highest point all the contrivances poets. But he did not copy either and inventions which minister to the the one or the other; he scarcely comfort or elegances of life. But it imitated them. He strove to rival is otherwise with genius. It sinks in their brevity and beauty of expresthe progress of society, as much as sion ; but he did sq in giving vent to science and the arts rise. The coun- new ideas, in painting new images, try of Homer and Æschylus sank for in awakening new emotions.
The a thousand years into the torpor of Inferno is as original as the Iliad; the Byzantine empire. Originality Originality incomparably
than the perishes amidst acquisition. Fresh- Æneid. The offspring of originality ness of conception is its life: like the with originality is a new and noble flame, burns fierce and clear in the creation ; of originality with mediofirst gales of a pure atmosphere ; but crity, a spurious and degraded imitalanguishes and dies in that polluted tion. by many breaths.
Dante paints the spirits of all It was the resurrection of the hu- the generations of men, each in man mind, after the seclusion and their circle undergoing their allotted solitary reflection of the middle ages, punishment; expiating by suffering which gave this vein of original the sins of an upper world. Virgil ideas to Dante, as their first waken- gave a glimpse, as it were, into that ing had given to Homer. Thought scene of retribution ; Minos and was not extinct; the human mind Rhadamanthus passing judgment on was not dormant during the dark ages; the successive spirits brought before far from it-it never, in some re- them; the flames of Tartarus, the spects, was more active. It was the rock of Sisyphus, the wheel of Ixion, first collision of their deep and lonely the vulture gnawing Prometheus. meditations with the works of the But with Homer and Virgil, the great ancient poets, which occasioned descent into the infernal regions the prodigy. Universally it will be was a brief episode ; with Dante it found to be the same. After the first was the whole poem. Immense was flights of genius have been taken, it is the effort of imagination requisite to by the collision of subsequent thought give variety to such a subject, to prewith it that the divine spark is again vent the mind from experiencing elicited. The meeting of two great weariness amidst the eternal recur minds is necessary to beget fresh rence of crime and punishment. But ideas, as that of two clouds is to the genius of Dante was equal to the bring forth lightning, or the collision task. His fancy was prodigious ; his of Aint and steel to produce fire. invention boundless ; his imagination Johnson said he could not get new inexhaustible. Fenced in, as he was,
within narrow and gloomy limits by known to every heart, the latter only the nature of his subject, his creative to a few." spirit equals that of Homer himself. The melancholy tone which perHe has given birth to as many new vades Dante's writings was doubtless, ideas in the Inferno and the Paradiso, in a great measure, owing to the misas the Grecian bard in the Iliad and fortunes of his life; and to them we Odyssey.
are also indebted for many of the most Though he had reflected so much caustic and powerful of his versesand so deeply on the human heart, perhaps for the design of the Inferno and was so perfect a master of all the itself. He took vengeance on the anatomy of mental suffering, Dante's generation which had persecated and mind was essentially descriptive. He exiled him, by exhibiting its leaders was a great painter as well as a pro- suffering in the torments of hell. In found thinker; he clothed deep feel- his long seclusion, chiefly in the monasing in the garb of the senses ; he con- tery of Santa Croce di Fonte Avelceived a vast brood of new ideas, he lana, a wild and solitary retreat in arrayed them in a surprising manner the territory of Gubbio, and in a tower in flesh and blood. He is ever clear belonging to the Conte Falcucci, in and definite, at least in the Inferno. the same district, his immortal work He exhibits in every canto of that was written. The mortifications he wonderful poem a fresh image, but it underwent during this long and disis a clear one, of horror or anguish, mal exile are thus described by himwhich leaves nothing to the imagina- self :—“Wandering over almost every tion to add or conceive. His ideal part in which our language extends, characters are real persons ; they I have gone about like a mendicant; are present to our senses; we feel showing against my will the wound their flesh, see the quivering of their with which fortune has smitten me, limbs, hear their lamentations, and and which is often falsely imputed to feel a thrill of joy at their felicity. the demerit of him by whom it is enIn the Paradiso he is more vague dured. I have been, indeed, a vessel and general, and thence its acknow- without sail or steerage, carried about ledged inferiority to the Inferno. to divers ports, and roads, and shores, But the images of horror are much by the dry wind that springs out of more powerful than those of happi- sad poverty." ness, and it is they which have en- In the third circle of hell, Dante tranced the world. “It is easier," sees those who are punished by the says Madame de Staël, “ to convey plague of burning sand falling perpeideas of suffering than those of happi- tually on them. Their torments are ness ; for the former are too well thus described
“ Supin giaceva in terra alcuna gente;
Quella che giva intorno era più molta;
Sovra tutto 'l sabbion d'un cader lento
Quali Alessandro in quelle parti calde
Inferno, c. xiv.
O'er all the sand fell slowly wafting down
Dilated flakes of fire, as flakes of snow
Cary's Dante, c. xiv.
“ Luogo è in Inferno, detto Malebolge,
Nel dritto mezzo del campo maligno
Quel cinghio che rimane adunque è tondo
'Inferno, c. xviii.
Cary's Dante, c. xviii. This is the outward appearance of Malebolge, the worst place of punishment in hell. It had many frightful abysses; what follows is the picture of the first :
“ Ristemmo per veder l'altra fessura
Quale nell'arzana de' Veneziani
E vidi dietro a noi un diavol nero
Ahi quant' egli era nell'aspetto fiero!
L'omero suo ch'era acuto e superbo
Laggiù il buttò e per lo scoglio duro
Quei s'attuffò e tornò su convolto;
Qui si nuota altramenti che nel Serchio :