Full Online Books
BOOK CATEGORIES
Authors Authors Short Stories Short Stories Long Stories Long Stories Funny Stories Funny Stories Love Stories Love Stories Stories For Kids Stories For Kids Poems Poems Essays Essays Nonfictions Nonfictions Plays Plays Folktales Folktales Fairy Tales Fairy Tales Fables Fables Learning Kitchen Learning Kitchen
LINKS
Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional Free Classified Website Without Registration Free Classified Website Daniel Company
Twitter Twitter Add book
donate
Full Online Book HomeEssaysAmong My Books - Second Series - DANTE. Continues 1
Famous Authors (View All Authors)
Among My Books - Second Series - DANTE. Continues 1 Post by :Kurtmon Category :Essays Author :James Russell Lowell Date :April 2012 Read :3384

Click below to download : Among My Books - Second Series - DANTE. Continues 1 (Format : PDF)

Among My Books - Second Series - DANTE. Continues 1

DANTE. Continues 1

If these be not the words of Dante, what is internal evidence worth? The indomitably self-reliant man, loyal first of all to his most unpopular convictions (his very host, Guido, being a Guelph), puts his Ghibellinism (_jura monarchiae_) in the front. The man whose whole life, like that of selected souls always, had been a war fare, calls heaven another camp,--a better one, thank God! The wanderer of so many years speaks of his soul as a guest,--glad to be gone, doubtless. The exile, whose sharpest reproaches of Florence are always those of an outraged lover, finds it bitter that even his unconscious bones should lie in alien soil.

Giovanni Villani, the earliest authority, and a contemporary, thus sketches him: "This man was a great scholar in almost every science, though a layman; was a most excellent poet, philosopher, and rhetorician; perfect, as well in composing and versifying as in haranguing; a most noble speaker.... This Dante, on account of his learning, was a little haughty, and shy, and disdainful, and like a philosopher almost ungracious, knew not well how to deal with unlettered folk." Benvenuto da Imola tells us that he was very abstracted, as we may well believe of a man who carried the _Commedia in his brain. Boccaccio paints him in this wise: "Our poet was of middle height; his face was long, his nose aquiline, his jaw large, and the lower lip protruding somewhat beyond the upper; a little stooping in the shoulders; his eyes rather large than small; dark of complexion; his hair and beard thick, crisp, and black; and his countenance always sad and thoughtful. His garments were always dignified; the style such as suited ripeness of years; his gait was grave and gentlemanlike; and his bearing, whether public or private, wonderfully composed and polished. In meat and drink he was most temperate, nor was ever any more zealous in study or whatever other pursuit. Seldom spake he, save when spoken to, though a most eloquent person. In his youth he delighted especially in music and singing, and was intimate with almost all the singers and musicians of his day. He was much inclined to solitude, and familiar with few, and most assiduous in study as far as he could find time for it. Dante was also of marvellous capacity and the most tenacious memory." Various anecdotes of him are related by Boccaccio, Sacchetti, and others, none of them verisimilar, and some of them at least fifteen centuries old when revamped. Most of them are neither _veri nor _ben trovati_. One clear glimpse we get of him from the _Ottimo Comento_, the author of which says:(38) "I, the writer, heard Dante say that never a rhyme had led him to say other than he would, but that many a time and oft (_molte e spesse volte_) he had made words say for him what they were not wont to express for other poets." That is the only sincere glimpse we get of the living, breathing, word-compelling Dante.

Looked at outwardly, the life of Dante seems to have been an utter and disastrous failure. What its inward satisfactions must have been, we, with the _Paradiso open before us, can form some faint conception. To him, longing with an intensity which only the word _Dantesque will express to realize an ideal upon earth, and continually baffled and misunderstood, the far greater part of his mature life must have been labor and sorrow. We can see how essential all that sad experience was to him, can understand why all the fairy stories hide the luck in the ugly black casket; but to him, then and there, how seemed it?

Thou shalt relinquish everything of thee,
Beloved most dearly; this that arrow is
Shot from the bow of exile first of all;
And thou shalt prove how salt a savor hath
The bread of others, and how hard a path
To climb and to descend the stranger's stairs!(39)

_Come sa di sale! Who never wet his bread with tears, says Goethe, knows ye not, ye heavenly powers! Our nineteenth century made an idol of the noble lord who broke his heart in verse once every six months, but the fourteenth was lucky enough to produce and not to make an idol of that rarest earthly phenomenon, a man of genius who could hold heartbreak at bay for twenty years, and would not let himself die till he had done his task. At the end of the _Vita Nuova_, his first work, Dante wrote down that remarkable aspiration that God would take him to himself after he had written of Beatrice such things as were never yet written of woman. It was literally fulfilled when the _Commedia was finished twenty-five years later. Scarce was Dante at rest in his grave when Italy felt instinctively that this was her great man. Boccaccio tells us that in 1329(40) Cardinal Poggetto (du Poiet) caused Dante's treatise _De Monarchia_, to be publicly burned at Bologna, and proposed further to dig up and burn the bones of the poet at Ravenna, as having been a heretic; but so much opposition was roused that he thought better of it. Yet this was during the pontificate of the Frenchman, John XXII., the reproof of whose simony Dante puts in the mouth of St. Peter, who declares his seat vacant,(41) whose damnation the poet himself seems to prophesy,(42) and against whose election he had endeavored to persuade the cardinals, in a vehement letter. In 1350 the republic of Florence voted the sum of ten golden florins to be paid by the hands of Messer Giovanni Boccaccio to Dante's daughter Beatrice, a nun in the convent of Santa Chiara at Ravenna. In 1396 Florence voted a monument, and begged in vain for the metaphorical ashes of the man of whom she had threatened to make literal cinders if she could catch him alive. In 1429(43) she begged again, but Ravenna, a dead city, was tenacious of the dead poet. In 1519 Michel Angelo would have built the monument, but Leo X. refused to allow the sacred dust to be removed. Finally, in 1829, five hundred and eight years after the death of Dante, Florence got a cenotaph fairly built in Santa Croce (by Ricci), ugly beyond even the usual lot of such, with three colossal figures on it, Dante in the middle, with Italy on one side and Poesy on the other. The tomb at Ravenna, built originally in 1483, by Cardinal Bembo, was restored by Cardinal Corsi in 1692, and finally rebuilt in its present form by Cardinal Gonzaga, in 1780, all three of whom commemorated themselves in Latin inscriptions. It is a little shrine covered with a dome, not unlike the tomb of a Mohammedan saint, and is now the chief magnet which draws foreigners and their gold to Ravenna. The _valet de place says that Dante is not buried under it, but beneath the pavement of the street in front of it, where also, he says, he saw my Lord Byron kneel and weep. Like everything in Ravenna, it is dirty and neglected.

In 1373 (August 9) Florence instituted a chair of the _Divina Commedia_, and Boccaccio was named first professor. He accordingly began his lectures on Sunday, October 3, following, but his comment was broken off abruptly at the 17th verse of the 17th canto of the _Inferno by the illness which ended in his death, December 21, 1375. Among his successors were Filippo Villani and Filelfo. Bologna was the first to follow the example of Florence, Benvenuto da Imola having begun his lectures, according to Tiraboschi, so early as 1375. Chairs were established also at Pisa, Venice, Piacenza, and Milan before the close of the century. The lectures were delivered in the churches and on feast-days, which shows their popular character. Balbo reckons (but this is guess-work) that the MS. copies of the _Divina Commedia made during the fourteenth century, and now existing in the libraries of Europe, are more numerous than those of all other works, ancient and modern, made during the same period. Between the invention of printing and the year 1500 more than twenty editions were published in Italy, the earliest in 1472. During the sixteenth century there were forty editions; during the seventeenth,--a period, for Italy, of sceptical dilettanteism,--only three; during the eighteenth, thirty-four; and already, during the first half of the nineteenth, at least eighty. The first translation was into Spanish, in 1428.(44) M. St. Rene Taillandier says that the _Commedia was condemned by the inquisition in Spain; but this seems too general a statement, for, according to Foscolo,(45) it was the commentary of Landino and Vellutello, and a few verses in the _Inferno and _Paradiso_, which were condemned. The first French translation was that of Grangier, 1596, but the study of Dante struck no root there till the present century. Rivarol, who translated the _Inferno in 1783, was the first Frenchman who divined the wonderful force and vitality of the _Commedia_.(46) The expressions of Voltaire represent very well the average opinion of cultivated persons in respect of Dante in the middle of the eighteenth century. He says: "The Italians call him divine; but it is a hidden divinity; few people understand his oracles. He has commentators, which, perhaps, is another reason for his not being understood. His reputation will go on increasing, because scarce anybody reads him."(47) To Father Bettinelli he writes: "I estimate highly the courage with which you have dared to say that Dante was a madman and his work a monster." But he adds, what shows that Dante had his admirers even in that flippant century: "There are found among us, and in the eighteenth century, people who strive to admire imaginations so stupidly extravagant and barbarous."(48) Elsewhere he says that the _Commedia was "an odd poem, but gleaming with natural beauties, a work in which the author rose in parts above the bad taste of his age and his subject, and full of passages written as purely as if they had been of the time of Ariosto and Tasso."(49) It is curious to see this antipathetic fascination which Dante exercised over a nature so opposite to his own.

At the beginning of this century Chateaubriand speaks of Dante with vague commendation, evidently from a very superficial acquaintance, and that only with the _Inferno_, probably from Rivarol's version.(50) Since then there have been four or five French versions in prose or verse, including one by Lamennais. But the austerity of Dante will not condescend to the conventional elegance which makes the charm of French, and the most virile of poets cannot be adequately rendered in the most feminine of languages. Yet in the works of Fauriel, Ozanam, Ampere, and Villemain, France has given a greater impulse to the study of Dante than any other country except Germany. Into Germany the _Commedia penetrated later. How utterly Dante was unknown there in the sixteenth century is plain from a passage in the "Vanity of the Arts and Sciences" of Cornelius Agrippa, where he is spoken of among the authors of lascivious stories: "There have been many of these historical pandars, of which some of obscure fame, as Aeneas Sylvius, Dantes, and Petrarch, Boccace, Pontanus," etc.(51) The first German translation was that of Kannegiesser (1809). Versions by Streckfuss, Kopisch, and Prince John (late king) of Saxony followed. Goethe seems never to have given that attention to Dante which his ever-alert intelligence might have been expected to bestow on so imposing a moral and aesthetic phenomenon. Unless the conclusion of the second part of "Faust" be an inspiration of the _Paradiso_, we remember no adequate word from him on this theme. His remarks on one of the German translations are brief, dry, and without that breadth which comes only of thorough knowledge and sympathy. But German scholarship and constructive criticism, through Witte, Kopisch, Wegele, Ruth, and others, have been of pre-eminent service in deepening the understanding and facilitating the study of the poet. In England the first recognition of Dante is by Chaucer in the "Hugelin of Pisa" of the "Monkes Tale,"(52) and an imitation of the opening verses of the third canto of the _Inferno ("Assembly of Foules"). In 1417 Giovanni da Serravalle, bishop of Fermo, completed a Latin prose translation of the _Commedia_, a copy of which, as he made it at the request of two English bishops whom he met at the council of Constance, was doubtless sent to England. Later we find Dante now and then mentioned, but evidently from hearsay only,(53) till the time of Spenser, who, like Milton fifty years later, shows that he had read his works closely. Thenceforward for more than a century Dante became a mere name, used without meaning by literary sciolists. Lord Chesterfield echoes Voltaire, and Dr. Drake in his "Literary Hours"(54) could speak of Darwin's "Botanic Garden" as showing the "wild and terrible sublimity of Dante"! The first complete English translation was by Boyd,--of the _Inferno in 1785, of the whole poem in 1802. There have been eight other complete translations, beginning with Cary's in 1814, six since 1850, beside several of the _Inferno singly. Of these that of Longfellow is the best. It is only within the last twenty years, however, that the study of Dante, in any true sense, became at all general. Even Coleridge seems to have been familiar only with the _Inferno_. In America Professor Ticknor was the first to devote a special course of illustrative lectures to Dante; he was followed by Longfellow, whose lectures, illustrated by admirable translations, are remembered with grateful pleasure by many who were thus led to learn the full significance of the great Christian poet. A translation of the _Inferno into quatrains by T.W. Parsons ranks with the best for spirit, faithfulness, and elegance. In Denmark and Russia translations of the _Inferno have been published, beside separate volumes of comment and illustration. We have thus sketched the steady growth of Dante's fame and influence to a universality unparalleled except in the case of Shakespeare, perhaps more remarkable if we consider the abstruse and mystical nature of his poetry. It is to be noted as characteristic that the veneration of Dantophilists for their master is that of disciples for their saint. Perhaps no other man could have called forth such an expression as that of Ruskin, that "the central man of all the world, as representing in perfect balance the imaginative, moral, and intellectual faculties, all at their highest, is Dante."

The first remark to be made upon the writings of Dante is that they are all (with the possible exception of the treatise _De Vulgari Eloquio_) autobiographic, and that all of them, including that, are parts of a mutually related system, of which the central point is the individuality and experience of the poet. In the _Vita Nuova he recounts the story of his love for Beatrice Portinari, showing how his grief for her loss turned his thoughts first inward upon his own consciousness, and, failing all help there, gradually upward through philosophy to religion, and so from a world of shadows to one of eternal substances. It traces with exquisite unconsciousness the gradual but certain steps by which memory and imagination transubstantiated the woman of flesh and blood into a holy ideal, combining in one radiant symbol of sorrow and hope that faith which is the instinctive refuge of unavailing regret, that grace of God which higher natures learn to find in the trial which passeth all understanding, and that perfect womanhood, the dream of youth and the memory of maturity, which beckons toward the forever unattainable. As a contribution to the physiology of genius, no other book is to be compared with the _Vita Nuova_. It is more important to the understanding of Dante as a poet than any other of his works. It shows him (and that in the midst of affairs demanding practical ability and presence of mind) capable of a depth of contemplative abstraction, equalling that of a Soofi who has passed the fourth step of initiation. It enables us in some sort to see how, from being the slave of his imaginative faculty, he rose by self-culture and force of will to that mastery of it which is art. We comprehend the _Commedia better when we know that Dante could be an active, clear-headed politician and a mystic at the same time. Various dates have been assigned to the composition of the _Vita Nuova_. The earliest limit is fixed by the death of Beatrice in 1290 (though some of the poems are of even earlier date), and the book is commonly assumed to have been finished by 1295; Foscolo says 1294. But Professor Karl Witte, a high authority, extends the term as far as 1300.(55) The title of the book also, _Vita Nuova_, has been diversely interpreted. Mr. Garrow, who published an English version of it at Florence in 1846, entitles it the "Early Life of Dante." Balbo understands it in the same way.(56) But we are strongly of the opinion that "New Life" is the interpretation sustained by the entire significance of the book itself.

His next work in order of date is the treatise _De Monarchia_. It has been generally taken for granted that Dante was a Guelph in politics up to the time of his banishment, and that out of resentment he then became a violent Ghibelline. Not to speak of the consideration that there is no author whose life and works present so remarkable a unity and logical sequence as those of Dante, Professor Witte has drawn attention to a fact which alone is enough to demonstrate that the _De Monarchia was written before 1300. That and the _Vita Nuova are the only works of Dante in which no allusion whatever is made to his exile. That bitter thought was continually present to him. In the _Convito it betrays itself often, and with touching unexpectedness. Even in the treatise _De Vulgari Eloquio_, he takes as one of his examples of style: "I have most pity for those, whosoever they are, that languish in exile, and revisit their country only in dreams." We have seen that the one decisive act of Dante's priorate was to expel from Florence the chiefs of both parties as the sowers of strife, and he tells us (_Paradiso_, XVII.) that he had formed a party by himself. The king of Saxony has well defined his political theory as being "an ideal Ghibellinism"(57) and he has been accused of want of patriotism only by those short-sighted persons who cannot see beyond their own parish. Dante's want of faith in freedom was of the same kind with Milton's refusing (as Tacitus had done before) to confound license with liberty. The argument of the _De Monarchia is briefly this: As the object of the individual man is the highest development of his faculties, so is it also with men united in societies. But the individual can only attain the highest development when all his powers are in absolute subjection to the intellect, and society only when it subjects its individual caprices to an intelligent head. This is the order of nature, as in families, and men have followed it in the organization of villages, towns, cities. Again, since God made man in his own image, men and societies most nearly resemble him in proportion as they approach unity. But as in all societies questions must arise, so there is need of a monarch for supreme arbiter. And only a universal monarch can be impartial enough for this, since kings of limited territories would always be liable to the temptation of private ends. With the internal policy of municipalities, commonwealths, and kingdoms, the monarch would have nothing to do, only interfering when there was danger of an infraction of the general peace. This is the doctrine of the first book, enforced sometimes eloquently, always logically, and with great fertility of illustration. It is an enlargement of some of the _obiter dicta of the _Convito_. The earnestness with which peace is insisted on as a necessary postulate of civic well-being shows what the experience had been out of which Dante had constructed his theory. It is to be looked on as a purely scholastic demonstration of a speculative thesis, in which the manifold exceptions and modifications essential in practical application are necessarily left aside. Dante almost forestalls the famous proposition of Calvin, "that it is possible to conceive a people without a prince, but not a prince without a people," when he says, _Non enim gens propter regem, sed e converso rex propter gentem_.(58) And in his letter to the princes and peoples of Italy on the coming of Henry VII., he bids them "obey their prince, but so as freemen preserving their own constitutional forms." He says also expressly: _Animadvertendum sane, quod cum dicitur humanum genus potest regi per unum supremum principem, non sic intelligendum est ut ab illo uno prodire possint municipia et leges municipales. Habent namque nationes, regna, et civitates inter se proprietates quas legibus differentibus regulari oportet_. Schlosser the historian compares Dante's system with that of the United States.(59) It in some respects resembled more the constitution of the Netherlands under the supreme stadtholder, but parallels between ideal and actual institutions are always unsatisfactory.(60)

The second book is very curious. In it Dante endeavors to demonstrate the divine right of the Roman Empire to universal sovereignty. One of his arguments is, that Christ consented to be born under the reign of Augustus; another, that he assented to the imperial jurisdiction in allowing himself to be crucified under a decree of one of its courts. The atonement could not have been accomplished unless Christ suffered under sentence of a court having jurisdiction, for otherwise his condemnation would have been an injustice and not a penalty. Moreover, since all mankind was typified in the person of Christ, the court must have been one having jurisdiction over all mankind; and since he was delivered to Pilate, an officer of Tiberius, it must follow that the jurisdiction of Tiberius was universal. He draws an argument also from the wager of battle to prove that the Roman Empire was divinely permitted, at least, if not instituted. For since it is admitted that God gives the victory, and since the Romans always won it, therefore it was God's will that the Romans should attain universal empire. In the third book he endeavors to prove that the emperor holds by divine right, and not by permission of the pope. He assigns supremacy to the pope in spirituals, and to the emperor in temporals. This was a delicate subject, and though the king of Saxony (a Catholic) says that Dante did not overstep the limits of orthodoxy, it was on account of this part of the book that it was condemned as heretical.(61)

Next follows the treatise _De Vulgari Eloquio_. Though we have doubts whether we possess this book as Dante wrote it, inclining rather to think that it is a copy in some parts textually exact, in others an abstract, there can be no question either of its great glossological value or that it conveys the opinions of Dante. We put it next in order, though written later than the _Convito_, only because, like the _De Monarchia_, it is written in Latin. It is a proof of the national instinct of Dante, and of his confidence in his genius, that he should have chosen to write all his greatest works in what was deemed by scholars a _patois_, but which he more than any other man made a classic language. Had he intended the _De Monarchia for a political pamphlet, he would certainly not have composed it in the dialect of the few. The _De Vulgari Eloquio was to have been in four books. Whether it was ever finished or not it is impossible to say; but only two books have come down to us. It treats of poetizing in the vulgar tongue, and of the different dialects of Italy. From the particularity with which it treats of the dialect of Bologna, it has been supposed to have been written in that city, or at least to furnish an argument in favor of Dante's having at some time studied there. In Lib. II. Cap. II., is a remarkable passage in which, defining the various subjects of song and what had been treated in the vulgar tongue by different poets, he says that his own theme had been righteousness.

The _Convito is also imperfect. It was to have consisted of fourteen treatises, but, as we have it, contains only four. In the first he justifies the use of the vulgar idiom in preference to the Latin. In the other three he comments on three of his own _Canzoni_. It will be impossible to give an adequate analysis of this work in the limits allowed us.(62) It is an epitome of the learning of that age, philosophical, theological, and scientific. As affording illustration of the _Commedia_, and of Dante's style of thought, it is invaluable. It is reckoned by his countrymen the first piece of Italian prose, and there are parts of it which still stand unmatched for eloquence and pathos. The Italians (even such a man as Cantu among the rest) find in it and a few passages of the _Commedia the proof that Dante, as a natural philosopher was wholly in advance of his age,--that he had, among other things, anticipated Newton in the theory of gravitation. But this is as idle as the claim that Shakespeare had discovered the circulation of the blood before Harvey,(63) and one might as well attempt to dethrone Newton because Chaucer speaks of the love which draws the apple to the earth. The truth is, that it was only as a poet that Dante was great and original (glory enough, surely, to have not more than two competitors), and in matters of science, as did all his contemporaries, sought the guiding hand of Aristotle like a child. Dante is assumed by many to have been a Platonist, but this is not true, in the strict sense of the word. Like all men of great imagination, he was an idealist, and so far a Platonist, as Shakespeare might be proved to have been by his sonnets. But Dante's direct acquaintance with Plato may be reckoned at zero, and we consider it as having strongly influenced his artistic development for the better, that transcendentalist as he was by nature, so much so as to be in danger of lapsing into an Oriental mysticism, his habits of thought should have been made precise and his genius disciplined by a mind so severely logical as that of Aristotle. This does not conflict with what we believe to be equally true, that the Platonizing commentaries on his poem, like that of Landino, are the most satisfactory. Beside the prose already mentioned, we have a small collection of Dante's letters, the recovery of the larger number of which we owe to Professor Witte. They are all interesting, some of them especially so, as illustrating the prophetic character with which Dante invested himself. The longest is one addressed to Can Grande della Scalla, explaining the intention of the _Commedia and the method to be employed in its interpretation. The authenticity of this letter has been doubted, but is now generally admitted.

If you like this book please share to your friends :
NEXT BOOKS

Among My Books - Second Series - DANTE. Continues 2 Among My Books - Second Series - DANTE. Continues 2

Among My Books - Second Series - DANTE. Continues 2
DANTE. Continues 2We shall barely allude to the minor poems, full of grace and depth of mystic sentiment, and which would have given Dante a high place in the history of Italian literature, even had he written nothing else. They are so abstract, however, that without the extrinsic interest of having been written by the author of the _Commedia_, they would probably find few readers. All that is certainly known in regard to the _Commedia is that it was composed during the nineteen years which intervened between Dante's banishment and death. Attempts have been made to fix precisely the dates of
PREVIOUS BOOKS

Among My Books - Second Series - DANTE

To R.W. EMERSON Among My Books - Second Series - DANTE To R.W. EMERSON

Among My Books - Second Series - DANTE

To R.W. EMERSON
DANTETo R.W. EMERSONA love and honor which more than thirty years have deepened, though priceless to him they enrich, are of little import to one capable of inspiring them. Yet I cannot deny myself the pleasure of so far intruding on your reserve as at least to make public acknowledgment of the debt I can never repay. DANTE.(1)On the banks of a little river so shrunken by the suns of summer that it seems fast passing into a tradition, but swollen by the autumnal rains with an Italian suddenness of passion till the massy bridge shudders under the impatient heap of waters
NEXT 10 BOOKS | PREVIOUS 10 BOOKS | RANDOM 10 BOOKS
LEAVE A COMMENT