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It is, however, easy to perceive, that he is thinking of his family, when he exclaims, that the women of Florence, in older times, when purity of morals and civil concord prevailed, were not reduced to a life of widowhood whilst their husbands yet lived—or obliged to share with them the sufferings of their exile, without knowing in what place they should find a grave
O fortunate, e ciascuna era certa - Della sua sepoltura
Oh! happy they, Each sure of burial in her native land. i It is not alone in his comparisons drawn from rural life,' as remarked by Mr Hallam, but principally in what he says of social intercourse, and of the brighter days of his country, that we perceive the sensibility and gentleness of his nature. He delights in painting the joys of domestic life, of which he presents a most affecting picture in the 15th Canto of the Paradiso, whence we have taken the verses just quoted. He does not lament the loss of innocence and simplicity alone, but also of the refined luxury, the courtesy, the chivalrous spirit of gallantry and love, and the tone of high breeding in society, which in Italy, it seems, were then beginning to disappear.
The ladies and the knights, the toils and ease
Che ne invogliova amore e cortesia. These two lines have such a charm to Italian ears, that Ariosto, after having sketched a thousand beginnings for his poem, and decided upon an indifferent one cnough, which was printed, finally rejected them all in the second edition, and substituted almost word for word, the verses of Dante, as follows
Le donne, i cavalier, l'armi, gli amori
Le cortesie, l'audaci imprese, io canto. But the slight change which it was necessary to make, destroyed the sweet harmony of the original; and the delicate sentiment of regret is wholly lost in the imitation. It is very rarely that the same ideas, or the same words, produce the same effect
, when transplanted from the place into which they first dropped from the heart of a man of genius,
It is curious to see, how little novelty there is, even in the most modern of our elegant distresses. Dante, in the beginning of the 14th century, complains, that commerce having suddenly enriched numbers of mere clowns, society was corrupted and debased by an upstart aristocracy whose insolence and profusion had put to flight all courtesy of heart, and refinement of breed
An upstart multitude, and sudden gain, . .
Engendered; so that now in tears thou mourn’st. This is one of the many instances in which our poet' mingles with stern justice of observation, a sentiment of plaintive tenderness for his country. It will, we believe, be much more forcibly felt by those who understand the original. . La gente nuova e i subiti guadagni,
Orgoglio e dismisura han generata, . Fiorenza, in te! si che tu già ten piagni. He has also the generosity to attribute to others the courtesy which was felt with so much nobleness, and expressed with so much sweetness by himself. Upon his entrance into Purgatory, he meets his friend Casella, a celebrated musician, who died i short time before, and whom he deeply lamented.
Then one I saw, darting before the rest
I need must think, was painted in my looks,
To follow it I hastened, but with voice
And therefore pause; but why walkest thou here?" We shall give neither the sequel nor the original of this dialogue. Even this feeble attempt at translation suffices to show, that it was dictated to a delicate mind by nature. At the close of their conversation the poet asks his friend to sing.
Then I: “ If new laws have not quite destroyed
The sweetness thrills me yet. These lines convey but a dim shadow of the grace and tenderness of the original.
Ed Io: “ Se nuova legge non ti toglie
Di ciò ti piaccia consolare alquanto
Che la dolcezza ancor dentro mi suona.
generally to sing him some strain that should excite in him feels ings of tenderness and love; whilst in Mr Cary's translation, the words that song of love,' seem rather to indicate some particular song, and thereby destroy the beauty and delicacy of the poet's idea; for the touch of courteous and gentle feeling which he imagines in his friend is, that Casella selects a song which Dante had himself written for Beatrice. This is not mentioned in the poem; but we have found the Canzone, of which the opening is given here, among his lyric compositions.
Perhaps we have not correctly seized the acceptation in which the words .gentle feelings,' are used by Mr F. Schlegel. It is difficult for people to understand each other through the medium of a foreign language. We have before us a French translation of the Inferno, published a few years since in London, in which the translator complains of not finding enough of episodes in the poem of Dante-and this radical vice of the poem, he says, necessarily fatigues the most intrepid reader.' Now, in as much as the whole poem, and particularly the Inferno, is a tissue of episodes, we are obliged to conclude that, in French literature, the word episode means something very different from what is generally understood. We have, however, too many frightful examples before us, to enter into discussions relating to a foreign language. Mr Ginguené, who has treated Italian literature with more zeal and candour, and who was generally better qualified than many who have undertaken the same task, is, we regret to repeat, one of those examples. The simile of Dante (Inf. Cant. 1.)
E come quei che con lena affannata,
Uscito fuor del pelago alla riva,
Si volge all' acqua perigliosa, e guata, is translated by Mr Ginguené, . Comme un voyageur hors d'haleine, descendu sur le rivage, tourne ses regards vers la mer où il a couru tant de dangers.' In the original, the question is not about a traveller at sea, but about a man who saves himself by swimming. He reaches the shore, after having despaired of escape, and when at
And as a man with difficult short breath
last gasp. The words fuor del pelago' present the man to our imagination as if he had been just vomited up by the ocean; and the concluding verse places him in that sort of stupor which is felt upon passing at once to safety from despair, without any intervention of hope. He looks back upon perdition with a stare, unconscious how he had escaped it. The word guata’ which ends the stanza and the sentence, presents all this, as if by magic, to the imagination of the reader--and leaves him in full possession of the image which the poet had conjured up by his genius.
Such observations may appear too minute and particular; but it is in things like this, that the peculiar merit of Dante consists. He condenses all his thoughts and feelings in the facts he relates—and expresses himself invariably by images, and those images often what the Italian painters call in iscorcio. Even his largest groupes are composed of a very few strokes of the pencil--and in none does he ever stop to fill up the design with minute or successive touches, but passes hastily on through the boundless variety of his subject, without once pausing to heighten the effect, or even to allow its full development to the emotion he has excited. A single word flung in apparently without design, often gives its whole light and character to the picture. Thus, in the third Canto of the Purgatorio, the poet gazes with fixed eyes upon the shades as they move over the mountain. One stands still and addresses him.
Then of them one began—" Whoe'er thou art
í Now behold,” he said ; and showed,
Tu se', cosi andındo volgi 'l viso,
Pon mente, se di là mi vedesti unque.
Biondo era, e bello, e di gentile aspetto ;
Ma l'un de' cigli un colpo avea diviso.
D'averlo visto mai, el disse : or vedi ;
E mostrommi una piaga a sommo il petto, Poi sorridendo disse : lo son Manfredi. Manfredi was the most powerful prince of Italy, and the chief VOL. XXX. NO. 60.
support of the Ghibeline party; and fell on the field of battle ini the flower of his age. The Pope had his bones dug up and exposed, in order that they might be washed by the rain, and stirred by the wind.' * It is easy to imagine what Dante felt at the sight of this ill-fated and youthful hero. We look to find a eulogy upon him; but the poet, in his own person, speaks not of Manfredi. It is by the single word sorridendo that the reader is moved to admiration and to pity. Dante employs but that one touch, to express the magnanimity of a hero SMILING, whilst he shows the wound that arrested him in his career of glory, --and discovering, in that smile, his contempt of the vindictive fury of his enemies.
We shall add but one example more, to show the difficulty of explaining the beauties of Dante's composition by any general description. The passage we select is from the episode of • Francesca da Rimini,' as being most familiar to the English reader, both from its own popularity, and from the beautiful amplification of it which Mr Hunt has lately given to the pub. lic. Francesca says to the poet,
Amor, ch'al cor gentil ratto s'apprende,
Mi prese del costui piacer si forte
Che, come vedi, ancor non m'abbandona :
Love, that in gentle heart is quickly learned,
Love brought us to one death. The whole history of woman's love is as highly and completely wrought, we think, in these few lines, as that of Juliette in the whole tragedy of Shakespeare. Francesca imputes the passion her brother-in-law conceived for her, not to depravity, but nobleness of heart in him, + and to her own loveliness. With a mingled feeling of keen sorrow and complacent naïveté, she says she was fair, and that an ignominious death robbed him of
* Or le bagna la pioggia e muove il vento.
+ The words gentile,' and gentilezza,' as used by the best writers, from Dante to the present day, denote rather nobleness of soul than amiableness of manners. Gentilezza is a propensity towards all that is beautiful and generous ; and is the alliance of delicacy of sentiment with high courage.
says, the lion ha il cor gentile.