Imágenes de página

of animation. It is moreover disfigured by grammatical inaccuracies, vulgarisms of phrase, and a great number of words, so obscure, as not to be found even in the dictionary of la Crusca. That Academy, which was certainly disposed to do full justice to the efforts of the early Florentine writers, and was instituted for the purpose of examining them with more care, has characterized the Tesoretto in three words- Poesia a foggia di frottola'-(poetry in the trivial ballad style.)

[ocr errors]

After all this, we should scarcely have expected to meet with a passage like the following in so learned and correct an author as Mr Hallam. The source from which Dante derived the scheme ' and general idea of his poem, has been a subject of inquiry in Italy. To his original mind, one might have thought the sixth Eneid would have sufficed. But it happens, in fact, that he took his plan, with more direct imitation than we should expect, from the Tesoretto of his master in philosophical studies, Brunette La tini. This is proved by Mr Ginguené, B. 2. p. 8. Even the authority is hastily quoted for this hasty opinion: for though it is true, that, in the place cited by Mr Hallam, and elsewhere, the French critic has made the assertion here imputed to him, it is very remarkable, that, in the succeeding volume, this certainty is reduced to probability. Mr Ginguené there says only, that Dante gave grandeur and poetic colouring to the ideas of his master, Brunetto,-if indeed he borrowed any from him; and similar ideas were not dictated to him by the nature of his subject. (Vol. II. p. 27). And at last this great discovery dwindles into a mere possibility; for Mr Ginguené, in giving some extracts from the Tesoretto, is reduced to the avowal, that it is at least possible Dante may have profited by it.' (p. 8.) The truth is, that such inaccuracies and inconsistencies are almost inevitable in treating of a foreign literature; and espe cially of a literature so copious and peculiar as the Italian. The history of its eminent writers is entangled in the dissensions of the different provinces-the systems of their different schools-their religious opinions, and not infrequently the political interests of their several masters. Hence, in order to appretiate the force or the value of their expressions, it is often necessary to have an accurate knowledge of the different systems of literary education, of manners, of revolutions, of governments, and, often, even of the personal character and design of each writer. In Italy, too, it should be remembered, that there has not for centuries been any political freedom, and that the people have been studiously kept in ignorance. Flattery and satire have accordingly been chiefly in requestwhile party spirit and imposture have had full play. The num


ber of readers, at the same time, is so limited, as to consist almost wholly of protegés, patrons and rivals: and the men of letters, who might expose imposture, and bring truth to light, have rarely been able to speak without danger. We have already observed, that the Jesuits usurped every branch of polite literature; and that, to serve the cause of the Popes, they systematically decried Dante, with the other noblest geniuses of Italy. Nevertheless, the history-of the Jesuit Tiraboschi, is (with very few exceptions) the constant model of Mr Ginguené, who in fact has done little more than impart a more lively colouring to the original design of that learned but prejudiced person. In the execution of this humble task, however, he now and then gets so bewildered as to be unjust to his model:-for example, he actually charges Tiraboschi with having confounded the Tesoro with the Tesoretto,' (vol. II. p. 8.);-while the fact is, that Tiraboschi was the very person who first exposed this blunder of Mazzuchelli and Quadrio, to which we have already adverted. (Storia Lett. vol. IV. lib. 3. c. 5.) The French, however, are apt, we suspect, to fall into such perplexities. The Abbé de Sades, in his Memoirs of the life of Petrarca, relates of that poet- that, to avoid a winter passage over the mountains between Milan and Venice, he postponed his journey,' &c. (vol. III. p. 345.) Now, we shall not venture to say what might have been the state of that country anterior to the deluge: But of this we are certain, that in no author, antient or modern, alway's excepting M. de Sades, is there the least mention of mountains between Milan and Venice-a tract of country so flat, as to be called, in the chronicles of the time of PetrarcaLa Valle Lombarda. '—The key to the whole is, that the Abbé had never been in Italy,—and that Mr Ginguené wrote in the same predicament; having never penetrated beyond Turin, where he went as ambassador in the time of the Republic. We must not wonder, therefore, if he should now and then make a slip-But he might have avoided quoting foreign as native authority. Pour ne point alleguer ici' observes Mr Ginguené (vol. I. p. 25) d'autorités suspectes; c'est encore dans les Italiens que je puiserais: And incontinently, he cites a passage of Mr Andres, who certainly writes in Italian, but is a Spaniard!-and, moreover, generally considered in Italy, as neither very well acquainted with its literature, nor very just

to it.

[ocr errors]

The work of Mr Frederick Schlegel, which has been very lately translated into English, is another instance of the hazards of all peremptory criticism on the character of foreign writers. The German author has entitled his book- Lec


tures on the History of Literature, antient and modern.' He is graciously pleased to represent Dante as the greatest of Italian and of Christian poets, '—but observes, at the same time, that the Ghibeline harshness appears in Dante in a form noble and dignified. But although it may perhaps do no injury to the outward beauty, it certainly mars, in a very considerable degree, the internal charm of his poetry. His chief defect is, in a word, the want of gentle feelings. Now, the opinion of Mr Hallam is directly opposite to that of this learned Theban. In one so highly endowed by nature,' observes Mr Hallam, and so consummate by instruction, we may well sympathize with a resentment which exile and poverty rendered perpetually fresh. But the heart of Dante was naturally sensible and even tender; his poetry is full of comparisons from rural life; and the sincerity of his early passion for Beatrice, pierces through the veil of allegory that surrounds her. But the memory of his injuries pursued him into the immensity of eternal light; and, in the company of saints and angels, his unforgiving spirit darkens at the name of Florence. It would be presumption in us to determine-between Mr Schlegel and Mr Hallam-which has read Dante with more care; but the poem itself, we think, affords sufficient evidence that the English critic has the truer sense of its character—and is most in unison with the soul of the poet, which was fraught even to redundance with 'gentle feelings,' and poured them out, on every occasion, with a warmth and delicacy perhaps unequalled in any other writer. We must however remind even Mr Hallam, that Dante does not always, in his poem, mention his country with resentment; and, in his prose work, Il Convito,' he remembers Florence with the most affectionate tenderness. He styles the injustice of his fellow-citizens towards himself, a fault, not a crime-and offers up a pathetic prayer, that his bones might repose at last in the soft bosom of that land which had nursed and borne him to the maturity of his age. 'We subjoin his own words, for the satisfaction of those who are sufficiently conversant with Italian to feel the beauty of the original, and who will thence readily concur in the truth of our observation.

[ocr errors]

Ahi! piaciuto fosse al Dispensatore dell' Universo che la cagione della mia scusa mai non fosse stata! Che nè altri contro me avria fallato, nè io sofferto avrei pena ingiustamente; pena, dico, d'esilio e di povertà, poichè fu piacere dei cittadini della bellissima e famosissima figlia di Roma, Fiorenza, di gittarmi fuori del suo dolce seno, nel quale nato e nudrito fui fino al colmo della mia vita; e nel quale, con buona pace di quella, desidero con tutto il cuore di riposare l'animo stanco, e terminare il tempo che mi è dato. '

Mr Schlegel, however, is not the only person who has imputed harshness of soul to Dante. This, indeed, is a sort of

traditional censure, derived from the fastidious critics of the Court of Leo X.; for our poet, it must be confessed, was minus aptus acutis

Naribus horum hominum

at est vir bonus, ut melior

Non alius quisquam, at ingenium ingens.

It is a distinctive trait in the character of the earlier poets, that they continually reveal to us in their writings the inmost feelings and dispositions of their souls. They, as it were, say to the reader,

Tibi nunc, hortante Camænd,
Excutienda damus præcordia.

But, in order to obtain just views of those characteristic feel

ings, their poems should be read through and through; whereas the generality of critics content themselves with a few popular passages, and judge of the rest according to the response of some of those oracles, who, like Cardinal Bembo, have had the art or the good fortune to make their dicta pass current as authority. Dante is, perhaps, the poet most spoken of, and least read by foreigners. It may, therefore, be proper to select a few passages from the many that might be found in his poem, to prove that his heart was as much distinguished for gentleness, as for magnanimity and force.

The haughtiness of demeanour, attributed to him by all the writers from Giovanni Villani to the present day, probably is not exaggerated. He was naturally proud; and when he com pared himself with his cotemporaries, he felt his own superiority, and took refuge, as he expresses it himself with so much happiness

Sotto l'usbergo del sentirsi puro.

Conscience makes me firm;

The boon companion, who her strong breastplate
Buckles on him that feels no guilt within,

And bids him on, and fear not.

Nevertheless, this inflexibility and pride, melt at once into the softest deference and docility, when he meets those who have claims upon his gratitude or respect. In conversing with the shade of Brunetto Latini, who was damned for a shameful crime, he still attends his master with his head bent downIl capo chino

Tenea, com' uom che riverente vada

Held my head

Bent down as one who walks in reverent guise.

We believe it has never been remarked that Dante, who makes it a rule, in conversing with all others, to employ the pro

noun tu (thou), uses the pronoun voi (you) in addressing his preceptor Brunetto, and his mistress Beatrice. Even Mr Cary has not seized this shade of distinction, and translates

[blocks in formation]

Our poet has even carried modesty so far as not to pronounce his own name; and upon one occasion, when he was asked who he was, did not say that he was Dante; but whilst he described himself in such a manner as to give an exalted opinion of his genius, ascribed all the merit to love, by which he was inspired—

io mi son un, che quando Amore spira, noto; e a quel modo Che detta dentro, vo significando.

Count of me but as one

Who am the scribe of Love, that, when he breathes,
Take up my pen, and, as he dictates, write.

Yet when the beloved Beatrice addresses him, as if to reproach
him with his past


[blocks in formation]

Weep thou not yet;-behoves thee feel the edge

Of other sword, and thou shalt weep for that;

he writes his own name, lest he should alter or omit a single word that fell from the lips of her he loved; yet, even for this, he thinks it necessary to excuse himself—

Quando mi volsi, al suon del nome mio

Che di necessità qui si rigistra

Turning me at the sound of mine own name
Which here I am compelled to register.

This repugnance to occupy his readers with his own particu lar concerns, (a repugnance of which we have certainly no reason to complain in the authors of the present day), has perhaps imposed upon Dante his singular silence respecting his family: Whilst he records a variety of domestic anecdotes of almost all his acquaintance, and so forcibly paints the miseries of exile, he omits one grief the most cruel of all-that of a father without a house to shelter, or bread to feed his young and helpless children. It is beyond all doubt that he had several sons, and that they lived in a state of proscription and distress until the period of his death. But, for this fact, we are indebted only to the historians. From his own writings it could not be even suspected that he was a husband and a father.


« AnteriorContinuar »