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Among My Books - Second Series - DANTE. Continues 3 Post by :greggy Category :Essays Author :James Russell Lowell Date :April 2012 Read :2904

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Among My Books - Second Series - DANTE. Continues 3

DANTE. Continues 3

If Dante's philosophy, on the one hand, was practical a guide for the conduct of life, it was, on the other, a much more transcendent thing, whose body was wisdom her soul love, and her efficient cause truth. It is a practice of wisdom from the mere love of it, for so we must interpret his _amoroso uso di sapienzia_, when we remember how he has said before(103) that "the love of wisdom for its delight or profit is not true love of wisdom." And this love must embrace knowledge in all its branches, for Dante is content with nothing less than a pancratic training, and has a scorn of _dilettanti_, specialists, and quacks. "Wherefore none ought to be called a true philosopher who for any delight loves any part of knowledge, as there are many who delight in composing _Canzoni_, and delight to be studious in them, and who delight to be studious in rhetoric and in music, and flee and abandon the other sciences which are all members of wisdom."(104) "Many love better to be held masters than to be so." With him wisdom is the generalization from many several knowledges of small account by themselves; it results therefore from breadth of culture, and would be impossible without it. Philosophy is a noble lady (_donna gentil_),(105) partaking of the divine essence by a kind of eternal marriage, while with other intelligences she is united in a less measure "as a mistress of whom no lover takes complete joy."(106) The eyes of this lady are her demonstrations, and her smile is her persuasion. "The eyes of wisdom are her demonstrations by which truth is beheld most certainly; and her smile is her persuasions in which the interior light of wisdom is shown under a certain veil, and in these two is felt that highest pleasure of beatitude which is the greatest good in paradise."(107) "It is to be known that the beholding this lady was so largely ordained for us, not merely to look upon the face which she shows us, but that we may desire to attain the things which she keeps concealed. And as through her much thereof is seen by reason, so by her we believe that every miracle may have its reason in a higher intellect, and consequently may be. Whence our good faith has its origin, whence comes the hope of those unseen things which we desire, and through that the operation of charity, by the which three virtues we rise to philosophize in that celestial Athens where the Stoics, Peripatetics, and Epicureans through the art of eternal truth accordingly concur in one will."(108)

As to the double scope of Dante's philosophy we will cite a passage from the _Convito_, all the more to our purpose as it will illustrate his own method of allegorizing. "Verily the use of our mind is double, that is, practical and speculative, the one and the other most delightful, although that of contemplation be the more so. That of the practical is for us to act virtuously, that is, honorably, with prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice. (These are the four stars seen by Dante, _Purgatorio_, I. 22-27.) That of the speculative is not to act for ourselves, but to consider the works of God and nature.... Verily of these uses one is more full of beatitude than the other, as it is the speculative, which without any admixture is the use of our noblest part.... And this part in this life cannot have its use perfectly, which is to see God, except inasmuch as the intellect considers him and beholds him through his effects. And that we should seek this beatitude as the highest, and not the other, the Gospel of Mark teaches us if we will look well. Mark says that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Mary Salome went to find the Saviour at the tomb and found him not, but found a youth clad in white who said to them, 'Ye seek the Saviour, and I say unto you that he is not here; and yet fear ye not, but go and say unto his disciples and Peter that he will go before them into Galilee, and there ye shall see him even as he told you.' By these three women may be understood the three sects of the active life, that is, the Epicureans, the Stoics, and the Peripatetics, who go to the tomb, that is, to the present life, which is a receptacle of things corruptible, and seek the Saviour, that is, beatitude, and find him not, but they find a youth in white raiment, who, according to the testimony of Matthew and the rest, was an angel of God. This angel is that nobleness of ours which comes from God, as hath been said, which speaks in our reason and says to each of these sects, that is, to whoever goes seeking beatitude in this life, that it is not here, but go and say to the disciples and to Peter, that is, to those who go seeking it and those who are gone astray (like Peter who had denied), that it will go before them into Galilee, that is, into speculation. Galilee is as much as to say Whiteness. Whiteness is a body full of corporeal light more than any other, and so contemplation is fuller of spiritual light than anything else here below. And he says, 'it will go before,' and does not say, 'it will be with you,' to give us to understand that God always goes before our contemplation, nor can we ever overtake here Him who is our supreme beatitude. And it is said, 'There ye shall see him as he told you,' that is, here ye shall have of his sweetness, that is, felicity, as is promised you here, that is, as it is ordained that ye can have. And thus it appears that we find our beatitude, this felicity of which we are speaking, first imperfect in the active life, that is, in the operations of the moral virtues, and afterwards wellnigh perfect in the operation of the intellectual ones, the which two operations are speedy and most direct ways to lead to the supreme beatitude, the which cannot be had here, as appears by what has been said."(109)

At first sight there may seem to be some want of agreement in what Dante says here of the soul's incapacity of the vision of God in this life with the triumphant conclusion of his own poem. But here as elsewhere Dante must be completed and explained by himself. "We must know that everything most greatly desires its own perfection, and in that its every desire is appeased, and by that everything is desired. (That is, the one is drawn toward, the other draws.) And this is that desire which makes every delight maimed, for no delight is so great in this life that it can take away from the soul this thirst so that desire remain not in the thought."(110) "And since it is most natural to wish to be in God, the human soul naturally wills it with all longing. And since its being depends on God and is preserved thereby it naturally desires and wills to be united with God in order to fortify its being. And since in the goodnesses of human nature is shown some reason for those of the Divine, it follows that the human soul unites itself in a spiritual way with those so much the more strongly and quickly as they appear more perfect, and this appearance happens according as the knowledge of the soul is clear or impeded. And this union is what we call Love, whereby may be known what is within the soul, seeing those it outwardly loves.... And the human soul which is ennobled with the ultimate potency, that is, reason, participates in the Divine nature after the manner of an eternal Intelligence, because the soul is so ennobled and denuded of matter in that sovran potency that the Divine light shines in it as in an angel."(111) This union with God may therefore take place before the warfare of life is over, but is only possible for souls _perfettamente naturati_, perfectly endowed by nature.(112) This depends on the virtue of the generating soul and the concordant influence of the planets. "And if it happen that through the purity of the recipient soul, the intellectual virtue be well abstracted and absolved from every corporeal shadow, the Divine bounty is multiplied in it as a thing sufficient to receive the same."(113) "And there are some who believe that if all the aforesaid virtues (powers) should unite for the production of a soul in their best disposition, so much of the Deity would descend into it that it would be almost another incarnate God."(114) Did Dante believe himself to be one of these? He certainly gives us reason to think so. He was born under fortunate stars, as he twice tells us,(115) and he puts the middle of his own life at the thirty-fifth year, which is the period he assigns for it in the diviner sort of men.(116)

The stages of Dante's intellectual and moral growth may, we think, be reckoned with some approach to exactness from data supplied by himself. In the poems of the _Vita Nuova_, Beatrice, until her death, was to him simply a poetical ideal, a type of abstract beauty, chosen according to the fashion of the day after the manner of the Provencal poets, but in a less carnal sense than theirs. "And by the fourth nature of animals, that is, the sensitive, man has another love whereby he loves according to sensible appearance, even as a beast.... And by the fifth and final nature, that is, the truly human, or, to speak better, angelic, that is, rational, man has a love for truth and virtue.... Wherefore, since this nature is called _mind_, I said that love discoursed in my mind to make it understood that this love was that which is born in the noblest of natures, that is, (the love) of truth and virtue, and to _shut out every false opinion by which it might be suspected that my love was for the delight of sense._"(117) This is a very weighty affirmation, made, as it is, so deliberately by a man of Dante's veracity, who would and did speak truth at every hazard. Let us dismiss at once and forever all the idle tales of Dante's amours, of la Montanina, Gentucca, Pietra, Lisetta, and the rest, to that outer darkness of impure thoughts _la onde la stoltezza dipartille._(118) We think Miss Rossetti a little hasty in allowing that in the years which immediately followed Beatrice's death Dante gave himself up "more or less to sensual gratification and earthly aim." The earthly aim we in a certain sense admit; the sensual gratification we reject as utterly inconsistent, not only with Dante's principles, but with his character and indefatigable industry. Miss Rossetti illustrates her position by a subtle remark on "the lulling spell of an intellectual and sensitive delight in good running parallel with a voluntary and actual indulgence in evil." The dead Beatrice beckoned him toward the life of contemplation, and it was precisely during this period that he attempted to find happiness in the life of action. "Verily it is to be known, that we may in this life have two felicities, following two ways, good and best, which lead us thither. The one is the active, the other the contemplative life, the which (though by the active we may attain, as has been said, unto good felicity) leads us to the best felicity and blessedness."(119) "The life of my heart, that is, of my inward self, was wont to be a sweet thought which went many times to the feet of God, that is to say, in thought I contemplated the kingdom of the Blessed. And I tell the final cause why I mounted thither in thought when I say, 'Where it (the sweet thought) beheld a lady in glory,' that I might make it understood that I was and am certain, by _her gracious revelation, that she was in heaven, (not on earth, as I had vainly imagined,) whither I went in thought, so often as was possible to me, as it were rapt."(120) This passage exactly answers to another in _Purgatorio_, XXX. 115-138:--

"Not only by the work of those great wheels
That destine every seed unto some end,
According as the stars are in conjunction,
_But by the largess of celestial graces,_
* * * * *
"Such had this man become in his New Life
Potentially, that every righteous habit
Would have made admirable proof in him;
* * * * *
"Some time I did sustain him with my look (_volto_);
Revealing unto him my youthful eyes,
I led him with me turned in the right way.
As soon as ever of my second age
I was upon the threshold and changed life,
Himself from me he took and gave to others.
When from the flesh to spirit I ascended,
And beauty and virtue were in me increased,
I was to him less dear and less delightful,
And into ways untrue he turned his steps,
Pursuing the false images of good
That never any promises fulfil(121)
Nor prayer for inspiration me availed,(122)
_By means of which in dreams and otherwise
I called him back_, so little did he heed them.
So low he fell, that all appliances
For his salvation were already short
Save showing him the people of perdition."

Now Dante himself, we think, gives us the clew, by following which we may reconcile the contradiction, what Miss Rossetti calls "the astounding discrepancy," between the Lady of the _Vita Nuova who made him unfaithful to Beatrice, and the same Lady in the _Convito_, who in attributes is identical with Beatrice herself. We must remember that the prose part of the _Convito_, which is a comment on the _Canzoni_, was written after the _Canzoni themselves. How long after we cannot say with certainty, but it was plainly composed at intervals, a part of it probably after Dante had entered upon old age (which began, as he tells us, with the forty-fifth year), consequently after 1310. Dante had then written a considerable part of the _Divina Commedia_, in which Beatrice was to go through her final and most ethereal transformation in his mind and memory. We say in his memory, for such idealizations have a very subtle retrospective action, and the new condition of feeling or thought is uneasy till it has half unconsciously brought into harmony whatever is inconsistent with it in the past. The inward life unwillingly admits any break in its continuity, and nothing is more common than to hear a man, in venting an opinion taken up a week ago, say with perfect sincerity, "I have always thought so and so." Whatever belief occupies the whole mind soon produces the impression on us of having long had possession of it, and one mode of consciousness blends so insensibly with another that it is impossible to mark by an exact line where one begins and the other ends. Dante in his exposition of the _Canzoni must have been subject to this subtlest and most deceitful of influences. He would try to reconcile so far as he conscientiously could his present with his past. This he could do by means of the allegorical interpretation. "For it would be a great shame to him," he says in the _Vita Nuova_, "who should poetize something under the vesture of some figure or rhetorical color, and afterwards, when asked, could not strip his words of that vesture in such wise that they should have a true meaning." Now in the literal exposition of the _Canzone beginning, "Voi che intendendo il terzo ciel movete,"(123) he tells us that the _grandezza of the _Donna Gentil was "temporal greatness" (one certainly of the felicities attainable by way of the _vita attiva_), and immediately after gives us a hint by which we may comprehend why a proud(124) man might covet it. "How much wisdom and how great a persistence in virtue (_abito virtuoso_) are hidden for want of this lustre!"(125) When Dante reaches the Terrestrial Paradise(126) which is the highest felicity of this world, and therefore the consummation of the Active Life, he is welcomed by a Lady who is its symbol,

"Who went along
Singing and culling floweret after floweret."

and warming herself in the rays of Love, or "actual speculation," that is, "where love makes its peace felt."(127) That she was the symbol of this is evident from the previous dream of Dante,(128) in which he sees Leah, the universally accepted type of it,

"Walking in a meadow,
Gathering flowers; and singing she was saying,
'Know whosoever may my name demand
That I am Leah, who go moving round
My beauteous hands to make myself a garland,'"

that is to say, of good works. She, having "washed him thoroughly from sin,"(129)

"All dripping brought
Into the dance of the four beautiful,"(130)

who are the intellectual virtues Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Fortitude, the four stars, guides of the Practical Life, which he had seen when he came out of the Hell where he had beheld the results of sin, and arrived at the foot of the Mount of Purification. That these were the special virtues of practical goodness Dante had already told us in a passage before quoted from the _Convito_.(131) That this was Dante's meaning is confirmed by what Beatrice says to him,(132)

"Short while shalt thou be here a forester (_silvano_)
And thou shalt be with me forevermore
A citizen of that Rome where Christ is Roman";

for by a "forest" he always means the world of life and action.(133) At the time when Dante was writing the _Canzoni on which the _Convito was a comment, he believed science to be the "ultimate perfection itself, and not the way to it,"(134) but before the _Convito was composed he had become aware of a higher and purer light, an inward light, in that Beatrice, already clarified wellnigh to a mere image of the mind, "who lives in heaven with the angels, and on earth with my soul."(135)

So spiritually does Dante always present Beatrice to us, even where most corporeal, as in the _Vita Nuova_, that many, like Biscione and Rossetti, have doubted her real existence. But surely we must consent to believe that she who speaks of

"The fair limbs wherein
I was enclosed, which scattered are in earth,"

was once a creature of flesh and blood,--

"A creature not too bright and good
For human nature's daily food."

When she died, Dante's grief, like that of Constance, filled her room up with something fairer than the reality had ever been. There is no idealizer like unavailing regret, all the more if it be a regret of fancy as much as of real feeling. She early began to undergo that change into something rich and strange in the sea(136) of his mind which so completely supernaturalized her at last. It is not impossible, we think, to follow the process of transformation. During the period of the _Convito Canzoni_, when he had so given himself to study that to his weakened eyes "the stars were shadowed with a white blur,"(137) this star of his imagination was eclipsed for a time with the rest. As his love had never been of the senses (which is bestial),(138) so his sorrow was all the more ready to be irradiated with celestial light, and to assume her to be the transmitter of it who had first awakened in him the nobler impulses of his nature,--

("Such had this man become in his New Life

and given him the first hints of a higher, nay, of the highest good. With that turn for double meaning and abstraction which was so strong in him, her very name helped him to allegorize her into one who makes blessed (_beat_), and thence the step was a short one to personify in her that Theosophy which enables man to see God and to be mystically united with him even in the flesh. Already, in the _Vita Nuova_,(139) she appears to him as afterwards in the Terrestrial Paradise, clad in that color of flame which belongs to the seraphim who contemplate God in himself, simply, and not in his relation to the Son or the Holy Spirit.(140) When misfortune came upon him, when his schemes of worldly activity failed, and science was helpless to console, as it had never been able wholly to satisfy, she already rose before him as the lost ideal of his youth, reproaching him with his desertion of purely spiritual aims. It is, perhaps, in allusion to this that he fixes the date of her death with such minute precision on the 9th June, 1390, most probably his own twenty-fifth birthday, on which he passed the boundary of adolescence.(141)

That there should seem to be a discrepancy between the Lady of the _Vita Nuova and her of the _Convito_, Dante himself was already aware when writing the former and commenting it. Explaining the sonnet beginning _Gentil pensier_, he says, "In this sonnet I make two parts of myself according as my thoughts were divided in two. The one part I call _heart_, that is, the appetite, the other _soul_, that is, reason.... It is true that in the preceding sonnet I take side with the heart against the eyes (which were weeping for the lost Beatrice), and that appears contrary to what I say in the present one; and therefore I say that in that sonnet also I mean by my _heart the appetite, 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 appears that the one saying is not contrary to the other."(142) 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 understanding (_Intellectus_), but as synonymous with _soul_. Already, when the latter part of the _Vita Nuova_, nay, perhaps the whole of the explanatory portion of it, was written the plan of the _Commedia 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 contradiction in his mind was, though he did not become aware of it till afterwards, more apparent than real. He sought consolation in study, and, failing to find it in Learning (_scienza_), he was led to seek it in Wisdom (_sapienza_), which is the love of God and the knowledge of him.(143) He had sought happiness through the understanding; he was to find it through intuition. The lady Philosophy (according as she is moral or intellectual) includes both. Her gradual transfiguration is exemplified in passages already quoted. The active life leads indirectly by a knowledge of its failures and sins (_Inferno_), or directly by a righteous employment of it (_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.(144) To this they all lead up. In one of those curious chapters of the _Convito_,(145) where he points out the analogy between the sciences and the heavens, Dante tells us that he compares moral philosophy with the crystalline heaven or _Primum Mobile_, 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).(146) Theology, the divine science, corresponds with the Empyrean, "because of its peace, the which, through the most excellent certainty of its subject, which is God, suffers no strife of opinions or sophistic arguments."(147) 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 whose name is a suggestion of the certitude to be arrived at in things demonstrable. Dante had this comparison in mind, it may be inferred, when he said,

"Well I perceive that never sated is
Our intellect unless the Truth illume it
Beyond which nothing true(148) 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 be.
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."(149)

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, unquestioning 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(150) of a higher and truer insight. He became aware that there were "things in heaven and earth undreamt 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 engendered as Dante did.

"Insane is he who hopeth that our reason
Can traverse the illimitable way
Which the one Substance in three Persons follows!
Mortals, remain contented at the _Quia_;
For, if ye had been able to see all,
No need there were (had been) for Mary to bring forth.
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 many others."(151)

Whether at the time when the poems of the _Vita Nuova 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 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 window, 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, sometimes 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 seeking 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.(152) Philosophy had 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.(153) 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."(154)

There is another possible, and even probable, theory which would reconcile the Beatrice of the _Purgatorio with her of the _Vita Nuova_. 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 mundane sciences. This must refer to a period beginning before 1290. Again there is an early tradition 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 _Inferno_, XVI. 106-123. It is perhaps slightly confirmed by what Dante says in the _Convito_,(155) that "one cannot only turn to Religion by making himself like in habit and life to St. Benedict, St. Augustine, St. Francis, and St. Dominic, but likewise 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 taking 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 giunture";

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 another mingled of both.

"Nor one nor other seemed now what it 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."(156)

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."(157)

At the very moment when she had undergone her most sublimated allegorical evaporation, his instinct as poet, which never failed him, realized her into woman again in those scenes of almost unapproached pathos which make the climax of his _Purgatorio_. The verses tremble with feeling and shine with tears.(158) Beatrice recalls her own beauty with a pride as natural as that of Fair Annie in the old ballad, and compares herself as advantageously 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.(159) We must remember, 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 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.'"(160)

We believe all Dante's other Ladies to have been as purely imaginary as the Dulcinea of Don Quixote, 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.(161) 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(162) to Guido Cavalcante as provoking as Sancho's story of his having seen Dulcinea winnowing wheat was to his master, "so alien is it from all that which eminent persons, who are constituted and preserved for other exercises and entertainments, do and ought to do."(163) But we should always 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 righteousness (_rettitudine_, in other words, moral philosophy) the subject of his verse.(164) 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 (_speculazione in its higher and mystical sense). This is the divine love "which where it shines darkens and wellnigh extinguishes all other loves."(165) Wisdom is the object of it, and the end of wisdom to contemplate God the true mirror (_verace spegio, speculum_), 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."(166)

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 experience, and because they are good specimens of his style as a writer of prose. In the manly simplicity which comes of an earnest purpose, and in the eloquence of deep conviction, this is as far beyond that of any of his contemporaries as his verse, nay, more, has hardly been matched by any Italian from that day to this. Illustrating the position that "the highest desire of everything and the first given us by nature is to return to its first cause," he says: "And since God is the beginning of our souls and the maker of them like unto himself, according as was written, 'Let us make man in our image and likeness,' this soul most greatly desires to return to him. And as a pilgrim who goes by a way he has never travelled, who believes every house he sees afar off to be his inn, and not finding it to be so directs his belief to another, and so from house to house till he come to the inn, so our soul forthwith on entering upon the new and never-travelled road of this life directs its eyes to the goal of its highest good, and therefore believes whatever thing it sees that seems to have in it any good to be that. And because its first knowledge is imperfect by reason of not being experienced nor indoctrinated, small goods seem to it great. Wherefore we see children desire most greatly an apple, and then proceeding further on desire a bird, and then further yet desire fine raiment, and then a horse, and then a woman, and then, riches not great, and then greater and greater. And this befalls because in none of these things it finds that which it goes seeking, and thinks to find it further on. By which it may be seen that one desirable stands before another in the eyes of our soul in a fashion as it were pyramidal, for the smallest at first covers the whole of them, and is as it were the apex of the highest desirable, which is God, as it were the base of all; so that the further we go from the apex toward the base the desirables appear greater; and this is the reason why human desires become wider one after the other. Verily this way is lost through error as the roads of earth are; for as from one city to another there is of necessity one best and straightest way, and one that always leads farther from it, that is, the one which goes elsewhere, and many others, some less roundabout and some less direct, so in human life are divers roads whereof one is the truest and another the most deceitful, and certain ones less deceitful, and certain less true. And as we see that that which goes most directly to the city fulfils desire and gives repose after weariness, and that which goes the other way never fulfils it and never can give repose, so it falls out in our life. The good traveller arrives at the goal and repose, the erroneous never arrives thither, but with much weariness of mind, always with greedy eyes looks before him."(167) If we may apply Dante's own method of exposition to this passage, we find him telling us that he first sought felicity in knowledge,

"That apple sweet which through so many branches
The care of mortals goeth in pursuit of,"(168)

then in fame, a bird that flits before us as we follow,(169) then in being esteemed of men ("to be clothed in purple, ... to sit next to Darius, ... and be called Darius his cousin "), then in power,(170) then in the riches of the Holy Spirit in larger and larger measure.(171) He, too, had found that there was but one straight road, whether to the Terrestrial Paradise or the Celestial City, and may come to question by and by whether they be not parallel one with the other, or even parts of the same road, by which only repose is to be reached at last. Then, when in old age "the noble soul returns to God as to that port whence she set forth on the sea of this life, ... just as to him who comes from a long journey, before he enters into the gate of his city, the citizens thereof go forth to meet him, so the citizens of the eternal life go to meet _her_, and do so because of her good deeds and contemplations, who, having already betaken herself to God, seems to see those whom she believes to be nigh unto God."(172) This also was to be the experience of Dante, for who can doubt that the _Paradiso was something very unlike a poetical exercise to him who appeals to the visions even of sleep as proof of the soul's immortality?

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Among My Books - Second Series - DANTE. Continues 4 Among My Books - Second Series - DANTE. Continues 4

Among My Books - Second Series - DANTE. Continues 4
DANTE. Continues 4When did his soul catch a glimpse of that certainty in which "the mind that museth upon many things" can find assured rest? We have already said that we believe Dante's political opinions to have taken their final shape and the _De Monarchia to have been written before 1300.(173) That the revision of the _Vita Nuova was completed in that year seems probable from the last sonnet but one, which is addressed to pilgrims on their way to the Santa Veronica at Rome.(174) In this sonnet he still laments Beatrice as dead; he would make the pilgrims share his

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