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"the heaven, and brought me in the visions of God." It is certain that ingenuity and erudition will discover resemblances in things the most different from each other. In the passage of Sterne, which is so beautiful, so original, and so well known, of the recording angel washing out the oath with a tear, we doubt not that Doctor Ferriar would have detected a plagiarism from Alberic, had that ingenious person seen the 18th section of the manuscript. We give an abstract of the passage, for the use of the Doctor's next edition. A demon holds a book, in which are ⚫ written the sins of a particular man; and an angel drops on it, from a phial, a tear which the sinner had shed in doing a good action; and his sins are washed out.'
It is possible that Dante may have taken some ideas here and there from the Visions which abounded in his age. There are involuntary plagiarisms, which no writer can wholly avoid; -for much of what we think and express is but a new combination of what we have read and heard. But reminiscences in great geniuses are sparks that produce a mighty flame; and if Dante, like the monks, employed the machinery of visions, the result only proves, that much of a great writer's originality may consist in attaining his sublime objects by the same means which others had employed for mere trifling. He conceived and executed the project of creating the Language and the Poetry of a nation-of exposing all the political wounds of his countryof teaching the Church and the States of Italy, that the imprudence of the Popes, and the civil wars of the cities, and the consequent introduction of foreign arms, must lead to the eternal slavery and disgrace of the Italians. He raised himself to a place among the reformers of morals, the avengers of crimes, and the asserters of orthodoxy in religion; and he called to his aid Heaven itself, with all its terrors and all its hopes, in what was denominated by himself
the Sacred work, that made Both Heaven and Earth copartners in his toil.
Il poema sacro
Al qual ha posto mano e Cielo
Terra.' Parad. Cant. 25.
To explain how he executed his vast design, it appears to us indispensable that we should give a slight sketch of the political and religious state of Italy at the period when he wrote.
Robertson has described Europe, in the middle ages, as peopled with slaves attached to the soil, who had no consolation but their Religion: And this indeed was, for many centuries, the great instrument of good and of evil even in temporal concerns. The feudal lords were restrained only by the fear of Heaven,and the monarch had no army but such as that military aristoeracy supplied: The canon law was the only instrument by
which justice could oppose force; and that instrument was wielded only by the clergy. This last circumstance was the chief foundation of the great ascendency of the Popes. A strong yearning after justice and law instigated the people of Italy to become free; and the circumstances of the times were such, that for their freedom they were indebted to the Church. Ro-* bertson, however, as well as many others, copying after Machiavelli, has erroneously ascribed the misfortunes of the succeeding generations to the authority usurped over princes by Gregory VII. The ill effects of that usurpation were not sensibly felt in Italy until a much later period; and the truth is, that Italian liberty and civilization were greatly promoted by it in the first instance; and advanced by rapid strides, from the age of Gregory to that of Dante, a period of 200 years. The acts of that ambitious Pontiff, however, prolific as they were of important consequences to his country, require undoubtedly to be kept in view by all who would understand its history.
The daring schemes which he conceived and executed in a few years, and in his old age, may be said to have been accomplished by the use of the single word-Excommunication. By this talisman, he compelled the sovereigns of his day to acknow ledge, that all the lands in their dominions allotted for the support of the clergy, belonged in property to the Pope;—and our England was the first that made the concession: Two Italians at that time successively enjoyed the see of Canterbury for nearly forty years. By this notable device, the Church at once acquired a very large portion of all the cultivated lands of Europe: for the monks had very generally employed themselves in clearing and cultivating the soil-received large donations from potentates and kings-and had thus become wealthy an dpowerful proprietors. By this act of annexation, however, they be came the immediate subjects of the Pope; and a great portion of the riches of Europe began, in consequence, to flow in upon Italy.
The next of Gregory's gigantic measures was, if possible, still more bold and important-and this was the absolute prohibition of marriage to all the orders of the priesthood. He had here to struggle with the inclinations of the clergy themselves, and of the Italian clergy in particular. But when the difficulty was once overcome, the advantage gained was prodigious-to the order itself to the Popedom-and to the country which was its seat. The great brotherhood of the Catholic clergy, receiving their subsistence directly from the Churchexempted from secular jurisdiction, and now loosened from all
* Lanfranc and St Anselm, from 1070 to 1109.
the ties of natural affection-must have felt themselves but feebly attached to their respective countries, and looked almost exclusively, as they taught their fellow citizens to look, to Rome as the place which was to give law to the world.
The last grand project of Gregory was that of the Crusades, † which, though he did not live long enough to carry into execution, he left to his successor already matured and digested. Then it was that kings became subalterns in command, fighting with their subjects in Asia during half a century, under orders issued from Rome; and Rome and Italy became, of course, the centre of influence and authority. All these advantages, however, would have been of but little value, without freedom; and of this, also, the sovereign Pontiff happened to be the first dis penser:-for Gregory, in his first experiment of excommunica tion, released the Italians from their oath of fealty to the Emperor, who had previously governed them as vassals.
It is under these circumstances that we behold, immediately after the death of this Pope, and even in his lifetime, the cities of Italy suddenly improving in population, wealth and powerpalaces of independent magistrates rising to view where there were before but hamlets and slaves-and republics starting forth as if out of nothing. The holy war had delivered Europe in general from the slavery of the soil; every man who took up arms for the crusade became free; and the labourer in Italy began to till the earth on his own account. The military aristocracies and monarchies being employed with their armed forces in distant expeditions, had no longer the same oppressive preponderance at home. The maritime preparations for the crusades were undertaken by the cities of Italy-danger nerved the courage of every class and navigation, by opening the exportation of manufactures, increased industry, wealth and knowledge. Florence, for example, supplied all nations with her woollen cloths; and Milan furnished all the arms used by the crusaders, and the princes of Europe. The latter city, at that period of her liberty, had a population triple what it is at the present day. It was said the country was depopulated to supply the manufactures in the towns. But how could so many millions have been subsisted without agriculture? It was then that Italy crowded every port with her gallies, and every market with her merchandise. The wealth thus resulting from commerce, served to divide and distribute the property of the land, and to multiply the number of those interested in maintaining the laws and independence of their country. The enormous inequality of
+ This appears by two of his own letters. VOL. XXX. No. 60.
See Collect. of Labbeus.
fortunes disappeared, and the weight of the capitalists was opposed to the ascendency of the ancient nobles. It was then that the people of Pisa became masters of the Balearic, and discovered the Canary islands-that Genoa was fortified with strong walls in the space of two months-that Milan, and other towns of Lombardy, having seen their children massacred, their houses and churches burned, their habitations rased-and, having been reduced to live two years unsheltered in the fields,-resumed their arms, routed Frederick Barbarossa, who returned with a formidable force, and compelled him to sign the peace of Constance, acknowledging their independence.
During all this time, it is true that most of those States were engaged in civil wars: But they had arms in their hands; and when the common enemy appeared, they knew how to join in defending their common liberties. The Italians having thrown off the foreign yoke, gave their aid to the Popes, who were constantly occupied in conflicts with the Emperors; and the Church had thus an interest in favouring independence and democracy. But, by degrees, she became tired of using the arms of the Italian States as her defence, though the safest and most natural for her to employ; and, having contributed towards the liberty' of Italy, thought she had the right to invade it. Excommunications had then been hurled against friends and enemies, till they began to be less formidable; and the Popes adopted the policy of introducing foreign conquerors, and sharing their conquests. It was then that they and the kings of France became constant and close allies. In the lifetime of Dante, a French prince, aided by the Pope, came for the first time into Italy, usurping the states of old dynasties in the name of the Holy See-promising liberty, and preaching concord to republics, but in fact dividing still more, in order to enslave them. The Guelfi professed themselves supporters of the Church, and the Ghibelini of the Empire, but without much caring for the one or the other. The true question between them was, whether the wealthy citizens or the people should govern the state; and, in the continual danger of foreign invasion, the popular party found its interest in attaching itself to the Church and to France against Germany, whilst the higher classes were more interested in joining the Emperors against the Popes and the French. From the political conduct of Dante when a magistrate, it is evident that he condemned the madness of both parties; for he sent the leaders of both into banishment. But it is also clear that he was more afraid of France than of Germany, and not over fond of democracy.
The true reason of his exile was his refusal to receive a prince of France sent by Boniface VIII., under the pretext of
pacifying their dissensions. After his exile, he openly embraced the Ghibeline party, and composed a Latin treatise, De Monarchia, to prove that all the misfortunes of Italy sprang from the false doctrine, that the Popes had a right to interfere in temporal concerns. France having, at the time, contrived that the Popes should reside at Avignon, for the purposes of more absolute control, and Frenchmen having been successively raised to the Holy See, as being more devoted to French interests, our poet addressed a letter to the Cardinals from his exile, recommending strongly that they should elect an Italian Pope. * It was with those views, and under those circumstan ces, in so far as politics were concerned, that he wrote his poem. But, notwithstanding the corruption and senseless ambition of the Church, and its consequent unpopularity, Religion still maintained its primitive influence. The first crusade raised almost all Europe in arms, by an opinion, suddenly diffused, that the end of the world and the general judgment were at hand, and that the holy war was the sole expiation of sins. These enterprises had been abandoned during the lifetime of our poet; but the dread of the end of the world continued to agitate Christendom for eighty years after his death. Leonardo Aretino, a historian known for the extent of his knowledge, and the share he had in the affairs of Italy and Europe, was an eyewitness of an event which took place in 1400, We shall give his account,
In the midst of the alarms and troubles of the wars, either begun or impending between the States of Italy, an extraordinary occurrence took place. All the inhabitants of each state dressed themselves in white. This multitude went forth with extreme devotion. They passed to the neighbouring states, humbly craving peace and mercy. Their journey lasted usually ten days; and their food during this time was bread and water. None were seen in the towns that were not dressed in white. The people went without danger into an enemy's country, whither, a few days before, they would not have dared to approach. No one ever thought of betraying another, and strangers were never insulted. It was a universal truce tacitly understood between all enemies, This lasted for about two months; but its origin is not clear. It was confidently affirmed to have come down from the Alps into Lombardy, whence it spread with astonishing rapidity over all Italy. The inhabitants of Lucca were the first who came in a body to Florence. Their presence suddenly excited an ardent devotion, to such a degree that even those who, at the commencement, treated this enthusiasm with contempt, were the first to change their dress and join the procession, as if they were suddenly
* Giovanni Villani, B. 9, chap. 134.