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Full Online Book HomeEssaysAmong My Books - Second Series - DANTE. Continues 4
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Among My Books - Second Series - DANTE. Continues 4 Post by :alaqeada Category :Essays Author :James Russell Lowell Date :April 2012 Read :1587

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Among My Books - Second Series - DANTE. Continues 4

DANTE. Continues 4

When 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 grief. It is the very folly of despairing sorrow, that calls on the first comer, stranger though he be, for a sympathy which none can fully give, and he least of all. But in the next sonnet, the last in the book, there is a surprising change of tone. The transfiguration of Beatrice has begun, and we see completing itself that natural gradation of grief which will erelong bring the mourner to call on the departed saint to console him for her own loss. The sonnet is remarkable in more senses than one, first for its psychological truth, and then still more for the light it throws on Dante's inward history as poet and thinker. Hitherto he had celebrated beauty and goodness in the creature; henceforth he was to celebrate them in the Creator whose praise they were.(175) We give an extempore translation of this sonnet, in which the meaning is preserved so far as is possible where the grace is left out. We remember with some compunction as we do it, that Dante has said, "know every one that nothing harmonized by a musical band can be transmuted from its own speech to another without breaking all its sweetness and harmony,"(176) and Cervantes was of the same mind:(177)

"Beyond the sphere that hath the widest gyre
Passeth the sigh(178) that leaves my heart below;
A new intelligence doth love bestow
On it with tears that ever draws it higher;
When it wins thither where is its desire,
A Lady it beholds who honor so
And light receives, that, through her splendid glow,
The pilgrim spirit(179) sees her as in fire;
It sees her such, that, telling me again
I understand it not, it speaks so low
Unto the mourning heart that bids it tell;
Its speech is of that noble One I know,
For 'Beatrice' I often hear full plain,
So that, dear ladies, I conceive it well."

No one can read this in its connection with what goes before and what follows without feeling that a new conception of Beatrice had dawned upon the mind of Dante, dim as yet, or purposely made to seem so, and yet the authentic forerunner of the fulness of her rising as the light of his day and the guide of his feet, the divine wisdom whose glory pales all meaner stars. The conception of a poem in which Dante's creed in politics and morals should be picturesquely and attractively embodied, and of the high place which Beatrice should take in it, had begun vaguely to shape itself in his thought. As he brooded over it, of a sudden it defined itself clearly. "Soon after this sonnet there appeared to me a marvellous vision(180) wherein I saw things which made me propose not to say more of that blessed one until I could treat of her more worthily. And to arrive at that I study all I can, as she verily knows. So that, if it be the pleasure of Him through whom all things live, that my life hold out yet a few years, I hope to say that of her which was never yet said of any (woman). And then may it please Him who is the Lord of Courtesy that my soul may go to see the glory of her Lady, that is, of that blessed Beatrice who gloriously beholds the face of Him _qui est per omnia saecula benedictus_." It was the method of presentation that became clear to Dante at this time,--the plan of the great poem for whose completion the experience of earth and the inspiration of heaven were to combine, and which was to make him lean for many years.(181) The doctrinal scope of it was already determined. Man, he tells us, is the only creature who partakes at once of the corruptible and incorruptible nature; "and since every nature is ordained to some ultimate end, it follows that the end of man is double. And as among all beings he alone partakes of the corruptible and incorruptible, so alone among all beings he is ordained to a double end, whereof the one is his end as corruptible, the other as incorruptible. That unspeakable Providence therefore foreordered two ends to be pursued by man, to wit, beatitude in this life, which consists in the operation of our own virtue, and is figured by the Terrestrial Paradise, and the beatitude of life eternal, which consists in a fruition of the divine countenance, whereto our own virtue cannot ascend unless aided by divine light, which is understood by the Celestial Paradise." The one we attain by practice of the moral and intellectual virtues as they are taught by philosophers, the other by spiritual teachings transcending human reason, and the practice of the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity. For one, Reason suffices ("which was wholly made known to us by philosophers"), for the other we need the light of supernatural truth revealed by the Holy Spirit and "needful for us." Men led astray by cupidity turn their backs on both, and in their bestiality need bit and rein to keep them in the way. "Wherefore to man was a double guidance needful according to the double end," the Supreme Pontiff in spiritual, the Emperor in temporal things.(182)

But how to put this theory of his into a poetic form which might charm while it was teaching? He would typify Reason in Virgil (who would serve also as a symbol of political wisdom as having celebrated the founding of the Empire), and the grace of God in that Beatrice whom he had already supernaturalized into something which passeth all understanding. In choosing Virgil he was sure of that interest and sympathy which his instinct led him to seek in the predisposition of his readers, for the popular imagination of the Middle Ages had busied itself particularly with the Mantuan poet. The Church had given, him a quasi-orthodoxy by interpreting his _jam redit et virgo as a prophecy of the birth of Christ. At Naples he had become a kind of patron saint, and his bones were exhibited as relics. Dante himself may have heard at Mantua the hymn sung on the anniversary of St. Paul, in which the apostle to the Gentiles is represented as weeping at the tomb of the greatest of poets. Above all, Virgil had described the descent of Aeneas to the under-world. Dante's choice of a guide was therefore, in a certain degree, made for him. But the mere Reason(183) of man without the illumination of divine Grace cannot be trusted, and accordingly the intervention of Beatrice was needed,--of Beatrice, as Miss Rossetti admirably well expresses it "already transfigured, potent not only now to charm and soothe, potent to rule; to the Intellect a light, to the Affections a compass and a balance, a sceptre over the Will."

The wood obscure in which Dante finds himself is the world.(184) The three beasts who dispute his way are the sins that most easily beset us, Pride, the Lusts of the Flesh, and Greed. We are surprised that Miss Rossetti should so localize and confine Dante's meaning as to explain them by Florence, France, and Rome. Had he written in so narrow a sense as this, it would indeed be hard to account for the persistent power of his poem. But it was no political pamphlet that Dante was writing. _Subjectum est Homo_, and it only takes the form of a diary by Dante Alighieri because of the intense realism of his imagination, a realism as striking in the _Paradiso as the _Inferno_, though it takes a different shape. Everything, the most supersensual, presented itself to his mind, not as abstract idea, but as visible type. As men could once embody a quality of good in a saint and _see it, as they even now in moments of heightened fantasy or enthusiasm can personify their country and speak of England, France, or America, as if they were real beings, so did Dante habitually.(185) He saw all his thoughts as distinctly as the hypochondriac sees his black dog, and, as in that, their form and color were but the outward form of an inward and spiritual condition. Whatever subsidiary interpretations the poem is capable of, its great and primary value is as the autobiography of a human soul, of yours and mine, it may be, as well as Dante's. In that lie its profound meaning and its permanent force. That an exile, a proud man forced to be dependent, should have found some consolation in brooding over the justice of God, weighed in such different scales from those of man, in contrasting the outward prosperity of the sinner with the awful spiritual ruin within, is not wonderful, nay, we can conceive of his sometimes finding the wrath of God sweeter than his mercy. But it is wonderful that out of the very wreck of his own life he should have built this three-arched bridge, still firm against the wash and wear of ages, stretching from the Pit to the Empyrean, by which men may pass from a doubt of God's providence to a certainty of his long-suffering and loving-kindness.

"The Infinite Goodness hath such ample arms
That it receives whatever turns to it."(186)

A tear is enough to secure the saving clasp of them.(187) It cannot be too often repeated that Dante's Other World is not in its first conception a place of _departed spirits. It is the Spiritual World, whereof we become denizens by birth and citizens by adoption. It is true that for artistic purposes he makes it conform so far as possible with vulgar preconceptions, but he himself has told us again and again what his real meaning was. Virgil tells Dante,--

"Thou shalt behold the people dolorous
Who have foregone the good of intellect."(188)

The "good of the intellect," Dante tells us after Aristotle, is Truth.(189) He says that Virgil has led him "through the deep night of the _truly dead_."(190) Who are they? Dante had in mind the saying of the Apostle, "to be carnally minded is death." He says: "In man to live is to use reason. Then if living is the being of man, to depart from that use is to depart from being, and so to be dead. And doth not he depart from the use of reason who doth not reason out the object of his life?" "I say that so vile a person is dead, seeming to be alive. For we must know _that the wicked man may be called truly dead_." "He is dead who follows not the teacher. And of such a one some might say, how is he dead and yet goes about? I answer that the man is dead and the beast remains."(191) Accordingly he has put living persons in the _Inferno_, like Frate Alberigo and Branca d' Oria, of whom he says with bitter sarcasm that he still "eats and drinks and puts on clothes," as if that were his highest ideal of the true ends of life.(192) There is a passage in the first canto of the _Inferno_(193) which has been variously interpreted:--

"The ancient spirits disconsolate
Who cry out each one for the _second death_."

Miss Rossetti cites it as an example of what she felicitously calls "an ambiguity, not hazy, but prismatic, and therefore not really perplexing." She gives us accordingly our choice of two interpretations, "'each cries out on account of the second death which he is suffering,' and 'each cries out for death to come a second time and ease him of his sufferings.'"(194) Buti says: "Here one doubts what the author meant by the second death, and as for me I think he meant the last damnation, which shall be at the day of judgment, because they would wish through envy that it had already come, that they might have more companions, since the first death is the first damnation, when the soul parted from the body is condemned to the pains of hell for its sins. The second is when, resuscitated at the judgment day, they shall be finally condemned, soul and body together.... It may otherwise be understood as annihilation." Imola says, "Each would wish to die again, if he could, to put an end to his pain. Do not hold with some who think that Dante calls the second death the day of judgment," and then quotes a passage from St. Augustine which favors that view. Pietro di Dante gives us four interpretations among which to choose, the first being that, "allegorically, depraved and vicious men are in a certain sense dead in reputation, and this is the first death; the second is that of the body." This we believe to be the true meaning. Dante himself, in a letter to the "most rascally (_scelestissimis_) dwellers in Florence," gives us the key: "but you, transgressors of the laws of God and man, whom the direful maw of cupidity hath enticed not unwilling to every crime, does not the terror of the _second death torment you?" Their first death was in their sins, the second is what they may expect from the just vengeance of the Emperor Henry VII. The world Dante leads us through is that of his own thought, and it need not surprise us therefore if we meet in it purely imaginary beings like Tristrem(195) and Renoard of the club.(196) His personality is so strongly marked that it is nothing more than natural that his poem should be interpreted as if only he and his opinions, prejudices, or passions were concerned. He would not have been the great poet he was if he had not felt intensely and humanly, but he could never have won the cosmopolitan place he holds had he not known how to generalize his special experience into something mediatorial for all of us. Pietro di Dante in his comment on the thirty-first canto of the _Purgatorio says that "unless you understand him and his figures allegorically, you will be deceived by the bark," and adds that our author made his pilgrimage as the representative of the rest (_in, persona ceterorum_).(197) To give his vision reality, he has adapted it to the vulgar mythology, but to understand it as the author meant, it must be taken in the larger sense. To confine it to Florence or to Italy is to banish it from the sympathies of mankind. It was not from the campanile of the Badia that Dante got his views of life and man.

The relation of Dante to literature is monumental, and marks the era at which the modern begins. He is not only the first great poet, but the first great prose writer who used a language not yet subdued to literature, who used it moreover for scientific and metaphysical discussion, thus giving an incalculable impulse to the culture of his countrymen by making the laity free of what had hitherto been the exclusive guild of clerks.(198) Whatever poetry had preceded him, whether in the Romance or Teutonic tongues, is interesting mainly for its simplicity without forethought, or, as in the _Nibelungen_, for a kind of savage grandeur that rouses the sympathy of whatever of the natural man is dormant in us. But it shows no trace of the creative faculty either in unity of purpose or style, the proper characteristics of literature. If it have the charm of wanting artifice, it has not the higher charm of art. We are in the realm of chaos and chance, nebular, with phosphorescent gleams here and there, star stuff, but uncondensed in stars. The _Nibelungen is not without far-reaching hints and forebodings of something finer than we find in it, but they are a glamour from the vague darkness which encircles it, like the whisper of the sea upon an unknown shore at night, powerful only over the more vulgar side of the imagination, and leaving no thought, scarce even any image (at least of beauty) behind them. Such poems are the amours, not the lasting friendships and possessions of the mind. They thrill and cannot satisfy.

But Dante is not merely the founder of modern literature. He would have been that if he had never written anything more than his _Canzoni_, which for elegance, variety of rhythm, and fervor of sentiment were something altogether new. They are of a higher mood than any other poems of the same style in their own language, or indeed in any other. In beauty of phrase and subtlety of analogy they remind one of some of the Greek tragic choruses. We are constantly moved in them by a nobleness of tone, whose absence in many admired lyrics of the kind is poorly supplied by conceits. So perfect is Dante's mastery of his material, that in compositions, as he himself has shown, so artificial,(199) the form seems rather organic than mechanical, which cannot be said of the best of the Provencal poets who led the way in this kind. Dante's sonnets also have a grace and tenderness which have been seldom matched. His lyrical excellence would have got him into the Collections, and he would have made here and there an enthusiast as Donne does in English, but his great claim to remembrance is not merely Italian. It is that he was the first Christian poet, in any proper sense of the word, the first who so subdued dogma to the uses of plastic imagination as to make something that is still poetry of the highest order after it has suffered the disenchantment inevitable in the most perfect translation. Verses of the kind usually called _sacred (reminding one of the adjective's double meaning) had been written before his time in the vulgar tongue,--such verses as remain inviolably sacred in the volumes of specimens, looked at with distant reverence by the pious, and with far other feelings by the profane reader. There were cycles of poems in which the physical conflict between Christianity and Paganism(200) furnished the subject, but in which the theological views of the authors, whether doctrinal or historical, could hardly be reconciled with any system of religion ancient or modern. There were Church legends of saints and martyrs versified, fit certainly to make any other form of martyrdom seem amiable to those who heard them, and to suggest palliative thoughts about Diocletian. Finally, there were the romances of Arthur and his knights, which later, by means of allegory, contrived to be both entertaining and edifying; every one who listened to them paying the minstrel his money, and having his choice whether he would take them as song or sermon. In the heroes of some of these certain Christian virtues were typified, and around a few of them, as the Holy Grail, a perfume yet lingers of cloistered piety and withdrawal. Wolfram von Eschenbach, indeed, has divided his _Parzival into three books, of Simplicity, Doubt, and Healing, which has led Gervinus to trace a not altogether fanciful analogy between that poem and the _Divina Commedia_. The doughty old poet, who says of himself,--

"Of song I have some slight control,
But deem her of a feeble soul
That doth not love my naked sword
Above my sweetest lyric word,"

tells us that his subject is the choice between good and evil;

"Whose soul takes Untruth for its bride
And sets himself on Evil's side,
Chooses the Black, and sure it is
His path leads down to the abyss;
But he who doth his nature feed
With steadfastness and loyal deed
Lies open to the heavenly light
And takes his portion with the White."

But Wolfram's poem has no system, and shows good feeling rather than settled conviction. Above all it is wandering (as he himself confesses), and altogether wants any controlling purpose. But to whatever extent Christianity had insinuated itself into and colored European literature, it was mainly as mythology. The Christian idea had never yet incorporated itself. It was to make its avatar in Dante. To understand fully what he accomplished we must form some conception of what is meant by the Christian idea. To bring it into fuller relief, let us contrast it with the Greek idea as it appears in poetry; for we are not dealing with a question of theology so much as with one of aesthetics.

Greek art at its highest point is doubtless the most perfect that we know. But its circle of motives was essentially limited; and the Greek drama in its passion, its pathos, and its humor is primarily Greek, and secondarily human. Its tragedy chooses its actors from certain heroic families, and finds its springs of pity and terror in physical suffering and worldly misfortune. Its best examples, like the _Antigone_, illustrate a single duty, or, like the _Hippolytus_, a single passion, on which, as on a pivot, the chief character, statuesquely simple in its details, revolves as pieces of sculpture are sometimes made to do, displaying its different sides in one invariable light. The general impression left on the mind (and this is apt to be a truer one than any drawn from single examples) is that the duty is one which is owed to custom, that the passion leads to a breach of some convention settled by common consent,(201) and accordingly it is an outraged society whose figure looms in the background, rather than an offended God. At most it was one god of many, and meanwhile another might be friendly. In the Greek epic, the gods are partisans, they hold caucuses, they lobby and log-roll for their candidates. The tacit admission of a revealed code of morals wrought a great change. The complexity and range of passion is vastly increased when the offence is at once both crime and sin, a wrong done against order and against conscience at the same time. The relation of the Greek Tragedy to the higher powers is chiefly antagonistic, struggle against an implacable destiny, sublime struggle, and of heroes, but sure of defeat at last. And that defeat is final. Grand figures are those it exhibits to us, in some respects unequalled, and in their severe simplicity they compare with modern poetry as sculpture with painting. Considered merely as works of art, these products of the Greek imagination satisfy our highest conception of form. They suggest inevitably a feeling of perfect completeness, isolation, and independence, of something rounded and finished in itself. The secret of those old shapers died with them; their wand is broken, their book sunk deeper than ever plummet sounded. The type of their work is the Greek Temple, which leaves nothing to hope for in unity and perfection of design, in harmony and subordination of parts, and in entireness of impression. But in this aesthetic completeness it ends. It rests solidly and complacently on the earth, and the mind rests there with it.

Now the Christian idea has to do with the human soul, which Christianity may be almost said to have invented. While all Paganism represents a few pre-eminent families, the founders of dynasties or ancestors of races, as of kin with the gods, Christianity makes every pedigree end in Deity, makes monarch and slave the children of one God. Its heroes struggle not against, but upward and onward _toward_, the higher powers who are always on their side. Its highest conception of beauty is not aesthetic, but moral. With it prosperity and adversity have exchanged meanings. It finds enemies in those worldly good-fortunes where Pagan and even Hebrew literature saw the highest blessing, and invincible allies in sorrow, poverty, humbleness of station, where the former world recognized only implacable foes. While it utterly abolished all boundary lines of race or country and made mankind unitary, its hero is always the individual man whoever and wherever he may be. Above all, an entirely new conception of the Infinite and of man's relation to it came in with Christianity. That, and not the finite, is always the background, consciously or not. It changed the scene of the last act of every drama to the next world. Endless aspiration of all the faculties became thus the ideal of Christian life, and to express it more or less perfectly the ideal of essentially Christian art. It was this which the Middle Ages instinctively typified in the Gothic cathedral,--no accidental growth, but the visible symbol of an inward faith,--which soars forever upward, and yearns toward heaven like a martyr-flame suddenly turned to stone.

It is not without significance that Goethe, who, like Dante, also absorbed and represented the tendency and spirit of his age, should, during his youth and while Europe was alive with the moral and intellectual longing which preluded the French Revolution, have loved the Gothic architecture. It is no less significant that in the period of reaction toward more positive thought which followed, he should have preferred the Greek. His greatest poem, conceived during the former era, is Gothic. Dante, endeavoring to conform himself to literary tradition, began to write the _Divina Commedia in Latin, and had elaborated several cantos of it in that dead and intractable material. But that poetic instinct, which is never the instinct of an individual, but of his age, could not so be satisfied, and leaving the classic structure he had begun to stand as a monument of failure, he completed his work in Italian. Instead of endeavoring to manufacture a great poem out of what was foreign and artificial, he let the poem make itself out of him. The epic which he wished to write in the universal language of scholars, and which might have had its ten lines in the history of literature, would sing itself in provincial Tuscan, and turns out to be written in the universal dialect of mankind. Thus all great poets have been in a certain sense provincial,--Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Goethe, Burns, Scott in the "Heart of Midlothian" and "Bride of Lammermoor,"--because the office of the poet is always vicarious, because nothing that has not been living experience can become living expression, because the collective thought, the faith, the desire of a nation or a race, is the cumulative result of many ages, is something organic, and is wiser and stronger than any single person, and will make a great statesman or a great poet out of any man who can entirely surrender himself to it.

As the Gothic cathedral, then, is the type of the Christian idea, so is it also of Dante's poem. And as that in its artistic unity is but the completed thought of a single architect, which yet could never have been realized except out of the faith and by the contributions of an entire people, whose beliefs and superstitions, whose imagination and fancy, find expression in its statues and its carvings, its calm saints and martyrs now at rest forever in the seclusion of their canopied niches, and its wanton grotesques thrusting themselves forth from every pinnacle and gargoyle, so in Dante's poem, while it is as personal and peculiar as if it were his private journal and autobiography, we can yet read the diary and the autobiography of the thirteenth century and of the Italian people. Complete and harmonious in design as his work is, it is yet no Pagan temple enshrining a type of the human made divine by triumph of corporeal beauty; it is not a private chapel housing a single saint and dedicate to one chosen bloom of Christian piety or devotion; it is truly a cathedral, over whose high altar hangs the emblem of suffering, of the Divine made human to teach the beauty of adversity, the eternal presence of the spiritual, not overhanging and threatening, but informing and sustaining the material. In this cathedral of Dante's there are side-chapels as is fit, with altars to all Christian virtues and perfections; but the great impression of its leading thought is that of aspiration, for ever and ever. In the three divisions of the poem we may trace something more than a fancied analogy with a Christian basilica. There is first the ethnic forecourt, then the purgatorial middle-space, and last the holy of holies dedicated to the eternal presence of the mediatorial God.

But what gives Dante's poem a peculiar claim to the title of the first Christian poem is not merely its doctrinal truth or its Christian mythology, but the fact that the scene of it is laid, not in this world, but in the soul of man; that it is the allegory of a human life, and therefore universal in its significance and its application. The genius of Dante has given to it such a self-subsistent reality, that one almost gets to feel as if the chief value of contemporary Italian history had been to furnish it with explanatory foot-notes, and the age in which it was written assumes towards it the place of a satellite. For Italy, Dante is the thirteenth century.

Most men make the voyage of life as if they carried sealed orders which they were not to open till they were fairly in mid-ocean. But Dante had made up his mind as to the true purpose and meaning of our existence in this world, shortly after he had passed his twenty-fifth year. He had already conceived the system about which as a connecting thread the whole experience of his life, the whole result of his studies, was to cluster in imperishable crystals. The cornerstone of his system was the Freedom of the Will (in other words, the right of private judgment with the condition of accountability), which Beatrice calls the "noble virtue."(202) As to every man is offered his choice between good and evil, and as, even upon the root of a nature originally evil a habit of virtue may be engrafted,(203) no man is excused. "All hope abandon ye who enter in," for they have thrown away reason which is the good of the intellect, "and it seems to me no less a marvel to bring back to reason him in whom it is wholly spent than to bring back to life him who has been four days in the tomb."(204) As a guide of the will in civil affairs the Emperor; in spiritual, the Pope.(205) Dante is not one of those reformers who would assume the office of God to "make all things new." He knew the power of tradition and habit, and wished to utilize it for his purpose. He found the Empire and the Papacy already existing, but both needing reformation that they might serve the ends of their original institution. Bad leadership was to blame, men fit to gird on the sword had been turned into priests, and good preachers spoiled to make bad kings.(206) The spiritual had usurped to itself the prerogatives of the temporal power.

"Rome, that reformed the world, accustomed was
Two suns to have which one road and the other,
Of God and of the world, made manifest.
One has the other quenched, and to the crosier
The sword is joined, and ill beseemeth it,
* * * * *
"Because, being joined one feareth not the other."(207)

Both powers held their authority directly from God, "not so, however, that the Roman Prince is not in some things subject to the Roman Pontiff, since that human felicity (to be attained only by peace, justice, and good government, possible only under a single ruler) is in some sort ordained to the end of immortal felicity. Let Caesar use that reverence toward Peter which a first-born son ought to use toward a father; that, shone upon by the light of paternal grace, he may more powerfully illumine the orb of earth over which he is set by him alone who is the ruler of all things spiritual and temporal."(208) As to the fatal gift of Constantine, Dante demonstrates that an Emperor could not alienate what he held only in trust; but if he made the gift, the Pope should hold it as a feudatory of the Empire, for the benefit, however, of Christ's poor.(209) Dante is always careful to distinguish between the Papacy and the Pope. He prophesies for Boniface VIII. a place in hell,(210) but acknowledges him as the Vicar of Christ, goes so far even as to denounce the outrage of Guillaume de Nogaret at Anagni as done to the Saviour himself.(211) But in the Spiritual World Dante acknowledges no such supremacy, and, when he would have fallen on his knees before Adrian V., is rebuked by him in a quotation from the Apocalypse:--

"Err not, fellow-servant am I
With thee and with the others to one power."(212)

So impartial was this man whose great work is so often represented as a kind of bag in which he secreted the gall of personal prejudice, so truly Catholic is he, that both parties find their arsenal in him. The Romanist proves his soundness in doctrine, the anti-Romanist claims him as the first Protestant, the Mazzinist and the Imperialist can alike quote him for their purpose. Dante's ardent conviction would not let him see that both Church and Empire were on the wane. If an ugly suspicion of this would force itself upon him, perhaps he only clung to both the more tenaciously; but he was no blind theorist. He would reform the Church through the Church, and is less anxious for Italian independence than for Italian good government under an Emperor from Germany rather than from Utopia.

The Papacy was a necessary part of Dante's system, as a supplement to the Empire, which we strongly incline to believe was always foremost in his mind. In a passage already quoted, he says that "the soil where Rome sits is worthy beyond what men preach and admit," that is, as the birthplace of the Empire. Both in the _Convito and the _De Monarchia he affirms that the course of Roman history was providentially guided from the first. Rome was founded in the same year that brought into the world David, ancestor of the Redeemer after the flesh. St. Augustine said that "God showed in the most opulent and illustrious Empire of the Romans how much the civil virtues might avail even without true religion, that it might be understood how, this added, men became citizens of another city whose king is truth, whose law charity, and whose measure eternity." Dante goes further than this. He makes the Romans as well as the Jews a chosen people, the one as founders of civil society, the other as depositaries of the true faith.(213) One side of Dante's mind was so practical and positive, and his pride in the Romans so intense,(214) that he sometimes seems to regard their mission as the higher of the two. Without peace which only good government could give, mankind could not arrive at the highest virtue, whether of the active or contemplative life. "And since what is true of the part is true of the whole, and it happens in the particular man that by sitting quietly he is perfected in prudence and wisdom, it is clear that the human race in the quiet or tranquillity of peace is most freely and easily disposed for its proper work which is almost divine, as it is written, 'Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels'(215) Whence it is manifest that universal peace is the best of those things which are ordained for our beatitude. Hence it is that not riches, not pleasures, not honors, not length of life, not health, not strength, not comeliness, was sung to the shepherds from on high, but peace."(216) It was Dante's experience of the confusion of Italy, where

"One doth gnaw the other
Of those whom one wall and one fosse shut in,"(217)

that suggested the thought of a universal umpire, for that, after all, was to be the chief function of his Emperor. He was too wise to insist on a uniformity of political institutions _a priori_,(218) for he seems to have divined that the surest stay of order, as of practical wisdom, is habit, which is a growth, and cannot be made offhand. He believed with Aristotle that vigorous minds were intended by nature to rule,(219) and that certain races, like certain men, are born to leadership.(220) He calls democracies, oligarchies, and petty princedoms (_tyrannides_) "oblique policies which drive the human race to slavery, as is patent in all of them to one who reasons."(221) He has nothing but pity for mankind when it has become a many-headed beast, "despising the higher intellect irrefragable in reason, the lower which hath the face of experience."(222) He had no faith in a turbulent equality asserting the divine right of _I'm as good as you_. He thought it fatal to all discipline: "The confounding of persons hath ever been the beginning of sickness in the state."(223) It is the same thought which Shakespeare puts in the mouth of Ulysses:--

"Degree being vizarded,
The unworthiest shows as fairly in the mask,
When degree is shaked,
Which is the ladder to all high designs,
The enterprise is sick."(224)

Yet no one can read Dante without feeling that he had a high sense of the worth of freedom, whether in thought or government. He represents, indeed, the very object of his journey through the triple realm of shades as a search after liberty.(225) But it must not be that scramble after undefined and indefinable rights which ends always in despotism, equally degrading whether crowned with a red cap or an imperial diadem. His theory of liberty has for its corner-stone the Freedom of the Will, and the will is free only when the judgment wholly controls the appetite.(226) On such a base even a democracy may rest secure, and on such alone.

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