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impelled by a heavenly inspiration. The people of Florence divided themselves into four parties; two of which, consisting of a countless multitude of men, women and children, went to Arezzo. The remaining two took other directions, and, wherever they came, the inhabitants dressed themselves in white, and followed their example. During the two months that this devotion lasted, war was never thought of; but, no sooner had it passed away, than the people resumed their arms, and the previous state of agitation was renewed." Aret. Hist. Flor. b. 12. c. 1.
Such, in that age, was the force of religion; and Dante, therefore, naturally employed its terrors as the most effective means of touching the passions of his cotemporaries. But religion, in Italy especially, was overgrown with heresies and schisms, which often produced the most sanguinary conflicts. Saint Francis founded his order about the beginning of the 13th century; and preached the faith, according to the doctrines of the Church of Rome, in opposition to the sects which the Italian chronicles of that age call Valdesi, Albigesi, Cattari and Paterini, but more commonly by the latter name. These four sects were all in the main Manicheans. At the same time, St Dominick arrived from Spain, carrying fire and sword wherever his opinions were disputed. It was he who founded the Inquisition; and was himself the first magister sacri palati, an office always held at Rome, even in our own time, by a Dominican, who examines new books, and decides upon their publication. Before the institution of those two orders, the monks were almost all of the different rules of St Benedict, reformed by St Bernard and other abbots. But, being occupied in tilling the land, or in perusing manuscripts of antient authors-in fine, never going beyond their convents, unless to become the ministers of kingdoms, where they sometimes exercised kingly power,—their wealth, education, and even pride, rendered them unfit for the business of running from place to place, and employing hypocrisy, impudence and cruelty, in the service of the Popes. St Bernard, by his eloquence and rare talents, exercised great influence over kings and pontiffs. He succeeded in firing Europe to undertake the crusade; but, to give durability to the opinions he produced, there was still wanting the pertinacity and roguery of the mendicant friars, to exhibit to the people spectacles of humility and privation, and of auto-da-fe. They had their convents in towns, and spread themselves over the country; whilst the Benedictines were living like great feudal lords in their castles. Hence, the Italians carefully make the distinction of Monaci and Frati. The former were always more or less useful to agriculture-remarkable for the luxury in which they lived-receiving amongst them only persons of condition
for the most part-and each congregation having a sort of monarchical constitution, of which the abbot was absolute chief. The constitution of the Frati was, on the other hand, at all times more or less democratic. They have always been meddling with affairs of state, and family affairs
'Scire volunt secreta domus atque inde timeri.'
The Jesuits, who have been lately re-established, are also mendicant Frati. Notwithstanding their great wealth, they observed the form, in order to preserve the right of begging, by sending out their conversi (lay-brothers) with sacks, three or four times a year, to beg for their convents. Having been established three centuries later than the others, they took advantage of this, to give refinement to the arts, and to avoid the faults of those who preceded them. Mathew Paris, who was nearly cotemporary with Saint Francis and Saint Dominick, has given pictures of their new flocks, which might be taken for an abstract of all that has been written from the days of Pascal to the present, concerning the Jesuits. The people,' says he, ⚫ called them hypocrites and successors of Antichrist, pseudo-preachers, flatterers and counsellors of kings and princes, despisers and supplanters of bishops, violators of royal marriage-beds, prevaricators of confessions, who, wandering over unknown provinces, minister to the audacity of sin.' (ad an. 1256, p. 939, Edit. 1640.) It is inconceivable what an ascendency was exercised by the Dominicans and Franciscans in the time of our poet over the passions of individuals, the opinions of the people, and the powers of the State. The Franciscan, Fra Giovanni di Vicenza, possessed unbounded authority in Lombardy, changing the laws, leading towns and provinces in his train; instigating the civil animosities of that unhappy people in obedience to the fatal policy of the Popes; and, when harangues and intrigues failed, making himself obeyed by auto-da-fe. By a document published not long since by Mr Marini, it appears, that auto-da-fe were multiplied by the Dominicans, even beyond the wishes and orders of the Court of Rome. It is a brief of Pope Benedict the XI., dated the 11th of March 1304, and addressed to the Inquisitors of Padua, ordering them to reverse their iniquitous sentences, and to go on with their trade of preaching and burning, in such a manner, that the outcries of the people should no longer reach his ears. Benedict the XI. was himself a Dominican; and perhaps wished, like many other sovereigns, to profit by the injustice of his agents, without appearing to be a party.
At the very time that these friars were setting the example of the most infamous vices, they appear also to have originated the most sacrilegious heresies. The Mendicants not only continu
ed to cry up their innumerable antiquated visions, but invented new ones still more absurd, which they continued to have revealed, sworn to, and believed. The University of Paris was for several years agitated, Europe scandalized, and the Vatican occupied without knowing how to extricate itself, with a long trial of the Dominicans for a singular attempt, aided by a Franciscan fanatick, to substitute the prophetic visions of the Abbé Joachim, with some supplements of their own, for the New Testament. Mathew Paris, either from not being exactly informed of what was passing abroad, or not daring to state all he knew, speaks of this circumstance only in general terms. They preached,' says he, commented, and taught certain novelties, which, as far as they were known, were considered mere ravings, and reduced those into a book, which they were pleased to style "the Everlasting Gospel;" with certain other things, of which it would not be wise to say too much.' (Hist. Ang. ad an. 1257.) But he has said quite enough to confirm the discoveries subsequently made by writers of every communion, respecting this extraordinary fact, and to make known in what state Dante found the religion of Europe. The Inquisitors, in the mean time, were by no means remiss in burning astrologers, and persons accused of practising the art of magic, though it sometimes happened that an astrologer triumphed over them. Of two cotemporaries of Dante, one, Cecco d'Ascoli, was burned by order of the Dominican Inquisition at Florence; * and the other, Pietro d'Abano, who was reputed to be confederate with devils, and openly professed astrology, upon being accused at Paris, retorted the charge of heresy upon the Dominicans-summoned them to appear-convicted them of heresy by forty-five special arguments-procured their expulsion and exclusion from Paris for a considerable period-and was himself pronounced innocent by the Pope at Rome. + The people, however, believed in the power of this magician. It is mentioned in the chronicles of that age, and still repeated in the villages of Padua, that Pietro had seven spirits at his command; and that when he was going to be hanged, he substituted an ass in his place. The fact is, that notwithstanding his canonical absolution, Pietro had admitted in his writings the influence of the stars upon hu man actions, and denied absolutely the existence of demons. ‡
*Gio. Villani, B. 10. Chap. 39.
+ Michael Savonarola, ad an. 1292, 1299.-Petri Abani conciliator, differentia 10:
This curious observation was first made by Pico of Mirandola. See De rerum Prænotatione, sect. 5.
The philosophy of Epicurus had made some progress among the higher orders in the age of Dante; Guido Cavalcauti, his intimate friend, was pointed out by the people for his Meditations against the Existence of God.
Thus were the grossest abuses of superstition and fanaticism mingled with heretical license, uncertainty of opinion, popular credulity and atheism; and, nevertheless, Religion was still the great centre around which all the passions and interests of mankind revolved. In this singular condition of society, Boniface, in the last year of the 13th century, proclaimed a plenary indulgence to all who should make a pilgrimage to Rome. All Christendom was accordingly attracted towards the holy city'; and, during several weeks, 200,000 foreigners were calculated to succeed each other daily || at its gates. To give all possible solemnity and effect to the lessons he proposed to inculcate, Dante fixed the epoch of his Vision of Divine Justice, in the holy week of that year, when all Europe thus went forth to obtain the remission of sins.
We have thus endeavoured to fill up some of the lacunæ in the work of Mr Cancellieri; and trust we have, at the same time, negatived many of the trite and visionary conjectures that have been hazarded upon the sources whence our poet might have derived the idea of his work. * There are, however, some recent authors, whose writings are deservedly popular, of whose opinions it may be right to say something. Denina has gone the length of supposing, that Dante borrowed his plan from a masquerade which took place during a public festival at Florence, in which devils and damned souls were represented as characters. This strange drama was exhibited on a bridge over the Arno, which, being made of wood, gave way during the show, and closed the scene most tragically.-Now, it appears from Villani, that Dante had left Florence two years before; and, previously to his departure, had composed the seven first cantos of his poem, which were saved by his wife when his house was pillaged and destroyed by the faction that persecuted him. The manuscript, by Boccacio's account, was sent to him in his exile, in 1302; and the masquerade of the Damned Souls' was represented in 1304. The truth, therefore, is probably the very reverse of Denina's conjecture,—that the idea of the show was suggested to the people of Florence by
|| Maratori, Annali, ad an. 1300.
*Romance of Guerino-Saint Patrick's pit-The Juggler who goes to Hell-The dream of Hell-The road to Hell-and three Tales of the 12th and 13th centuries, to be found in the old French Fabliaux.
the beginning of their fellow-citizen's poem. Tiraboschi and Mr Sismondi, indeed, are both of this opinion; and we may add, that, even in 1295, Dante, in his little work, entitled La Vita Nuova,' gives distinct hints of the design of his great poem.
Our poet was the pupil of Brunetto Latini, who, in a sort of poem, entitled the Tesoretto, supposes himself guided by Ovid through the mazes of a forest, in search of the oracles of nature and philosophy; and from this model it is confidently asserted, that the pupil loses himself in a forest, and takes Virgil for his guide. That Mr Corniani should dilate upon this fine discovery, is very natural-for, of all the historians of Italian literature, he is the most quackish and the most inept. But it is lamentable that it should be repeated with even more confidence by Mr Ginguené. He is astonished, that no Italian before Mr Corniani suspected this to be the origin of Dante's poem;'-and we are astonished, in our turn, that Mr Ginguené should not know this suspicion to be as old as the year 1400. It may be collected, indeed, from the biographical account of Dante, by Philip Villani, nephew to the illustrious historian of that name; and was advanced more boldly by others a few years after, and at a longer interval. Federigo Ubaldini says, in the preface to his edition of the Tesoretto in 1642- Aver Dante imitato il Tesoretto di Brunetto Latini.' Mr Ginguené too, we may say, has been much too favourable in his judgment of the Tesoretto, which is really a very mean and scarcely intelligible performance. Though written six hundred years ago, we suspect there are but few persons who have read it in all that time. Would it be credited, that Count Mazzuchelli, and Father Quadrio, the two Italian writers who have most carefully explored the old authors, had but an imperfect knowledge of the Tesoretto, even while they were busy disputing about it? Both writers, misled by the resemblance of name, mention it as an abridgment of the Tesoro, which is in fact the great work of Brunetto Latini, but has nothing whatever, either in conception or matter, in common with the Tesoretto. The Tescro, besides, is written in French, and in prose. Monsignor Fontanini, who is occasionally bewildered by his admiration of what is old, calls the Tesoretto Poesia cristiana, nobile e morale.' Its orthodoxy we do not dispute: But, for nobleness, we can see nothing but the reverse. And, as to its morality, it consists entirely in a string of maxims, or rather proverbs, without imagery, sentiment, or a single spark
* Vide Lor. Mehus, vita del Trayersari, page 153.