« AnteriorContinuar »
her beauty. She confesses that she loved, because she was beloved :- That charm had deluded her:-and she declares, with transport, that joy had not abandoned her even in hell.
- piacer si forte Che, come vedi, ancor non m'abbandona. It is thus that Dante unites perspicuity with conciseness—and the most naked simplicity with the profoundest observation of the heart. Her guilty passion survives its punishment by Heaven—but without a shade of impiety. How striking is the contrast of her extreme happiness in the midst of torments that can never cease; when, resuming her narrative; she looks at her lover, and repeats with enthusiasm, Questi che mai da me non fia diviso
he who ne'er From me shall separate. * She nevertheless goes on to relieve her brother-in-law from all imputation of having seduced her. Alone, and unconscious of their danger, they read a love-story together. They gazed upon each other, pale with emotion—but the secret of their mus tual passion never escaped their lips.
Per piu fiate gli occhi ci sospinse .
Quella lettura, e scolorocci 'l viso ;
Oft-times by that reading
Alone we fell. We are sorry to say Mr Cary has not translated these inte resting passages with his usual félicity. The description of two happy lovers in the story was the ruin of Francesca. It was the romance of Lancilot and Ginevra, wife of Arthur, King of England. +
Quando leggemmo il disiato riso
Esser baciato da cotanto amante,
Questi, che mai da me non fia diviso
When of that smile we read
* We think the word questi, in the original, more evidently con: veys the idea that Francesca, when she used it, turned her eyes towards her lover, who was ever by her side.
+ Dante calls the author • Galeotto;' and, in the manuscripts of Boccacio, his Decameron is found entitled ' Il principe Galeotto;" apparently to apprise the reader of its being a dangerous book.
After this avowal, she hastens to complete the picture with one touch which covers her with confusion.. Quel giorno piu non vi leggemmo arante.
That day, We read no more! She utters not another word !--and yet we fancy her before us, with her downcast and glowing looks; whilst her lover stands by her side, listening in silence and in tears. Dante, too, who had hitherto questioned her, no longer ventures to inquire in what manner her husband had put her to death; but is so overcome by pity, that he sinks into a swoon. Nor is this to be considered as merely a poetical exaggeration. It is remarked by the commentators, that the poet had himself often yielded to the force of love, and that the fear of his own damnation probably mingled with his compassion for Francesca, in producing this excessive emotion. This may be true—but it is but a part of the truth. Dante's whole work, though founded on what may be considered as an extravagant fiction, is conversant only with real persons. While other poets deal with departed or with fabulous heroes, he takes all his characters from among his countrymen, his cotemporaries, his hosts, his relatives, his. friends, and his enemies. Nor does he seek to disguise them under borrowed, appellations. He gives, in plain words, the name and description and character of all those well known individuals. He converses with them-reminds them of their former friendship--and still seeks to mingle his sentiments with theirs. At the same time, he marks impartially the retribution to which he thinks their conduct has entitled them; while, with a singular mixture of human relenting, he is not prevented by their crimes, and consequent punishment in hell, from doing them honour-laying open to them his heart, and consoling them with his tears. If they had attended to those things, we think the commentators might have condescended to mention, that Francesca was the daughter of Guido da Polenta, master of Ravenna, Dante's protector and most faithful friend. : The poet had probably known her when a girl, blooming in innocence and beauty under the paternal roof. He must,' at least, have often heard the father mention his ill-fated child. He must therefore have recollected her early happiness, when he beheld the spectacle of her eternal torment; and this, we think, is the true account of the overwhelming sympathy with which her form overpowers him. The episode, too, was written by him in che very house in which she was born, and in which he had himself, during the last ten years of his exile, found a constant asylum.
Boccacio has given an account which greatly mitigates the crime of Francesca; and he insinuates, that still further particulars were known to Dante. He relates, that • Guido engaged to “ give his daughter in marriage to Lanciotto, the eldest son of his enes my the master of Rimini. Lanciotto, who was hideously deform" ed in countenance and figure, foresaw, that if he presented him* self in person, he should be rejected by the lady. He therefore * resolved to marry her by proxy, and sent, as his representative, • his younger brother Paolo, the handsomest and most accomplished . man in all Italy. Francesca saw Paolo arrive, and imagined she • beheld her future husband. That mistake was the commencement • of her passion. The friends of Guido addressed him in strong re
monstrances and mournful predictions of the dangers to which he • exposed a daughter, whose high spirit would never brook to be * sacrificed with impunity. But Guido was no longer in a condition • to make war ; and the necessities of the politician overcame the feelings of the father. '*
Dante abstained from employing any of those circumstances, though highly poetical. He knew that pathos, by being expanded over a number of objects, loses of its force. His design was to produce, not tragedies, but single scenés; and Francesca, to justify herself, must have criminated her father, and thus diminished the affecting magnanimity with which her character is studiously endowed by the poet.
To record this stain upon the illustrious family of a benefactor and a friend, may in our eyes appear indelicate and ungrateful; especially as it may be supposed, from his placing Francesca in Hell, that he meant to hold her up to execration. An observation which perhaps has not escaped the learned men of Italy, but which they have never expressed, from the dread of provoking the savage bigotry of their priests, explains this point. Dante constantly distinguishes between the sins and merits of each individual. Divine Justice, in his poem, punishes sin whenever it is actually committed; but human sympathy, or pity, laments or extenuates the offence, according to the circumstances under which it was committed. The poet dispenses censure and praise, according to the general qualities of the persons the good or evil they had done their country--the glory or the infamy they had left behind them. He, however, carefully abstains from laying down this maxim in words, whilst he invariably acts upon it both in the Inferno and the Purgatorio. In the Paradiso, there is plainly no room for its operation.
* Opere del Boccacio, vol. V. towards the end, Florence edition, 1721.
From this principle he has deduced, that those who have done neither good or evil in their day, are the most despicable of beings. They are described as
Questi sciaurati che mai non fur vivi
These wretches who ne'er lived. He places them between Hell, the abode of the damned, and Limbo, the abode of the souls of infants and good men ignorant of the Christian faith; and with singular boldness of opinion as well as style, he says God's justice disdains to punish, and his mercy disdains to pardon, those who were useless in their lives.
Fama di lor nel mondo esser non lassa,
Fame of them the world hath none,
Speak not of them ; but look, and pass them by. Among those, he has had the boldness to place Saint Celestino, who abdicated the pontificate through weakness, and ac· quired his titles to canonization in a hermit's cell. He also
finds amongst them the angels that in the war of Lucifer against God took neither side, and thought only of themselves.
In those who merited that God should weigh their lives against their sins, Dante has generally implanted a strong desire of celebrity. The prospect of being named by the poet, on his return to the living, suspends awhile the sense of their pains. Great souls, though expiating the guilt and shamefulness of the heaviest sins, entreat him to mention his having seen them. This he always promises; and often, for the purpose of engaging them to speak with him more freely, pledges his faith that they shall not be forgotten. The shades of those only who in their lives were sunk in habitual crime and infamy, conceal from him their names. It is in the middle age, between barbarism and refinement, that men most strongly feel this desire of having their names preserved from oblivion. The passions, at that period), have vet lost no portion of their vigour, and are ruled by impulse rather than by calculation. Man has then more difficulties to rouse, and more courage to sustain him; and, rather than be checked in his course, will plunge with eclut into any gulf that opens in his way. Of this the age of Dante furnishes examples scarcely credible in an age like ours, in which nothing retains sufficient novelty to make a strong impression, and the objects of pursuit -are so multiplied, that no one can excite a commanding interest. It is obvious, however,
that the strong passions of less polished times bear men on to great virtues-great crimes great calamities; and thus form the characters that are most proper for poetry. Dante had only to look round him for characters such as these. He found them already formed for his purpose, without the necessity of a single heightening touch from his own invention. Refinement had not yet produced that sameness of individual physiognomy in the great mass of a nation. Individual originality, now rare, dangerous, ridiculous, and often affected, was then common and andisguised. Poetry, in later times, has succeeded in catching its shades for the purposes of fine comedy--as in the Misanthrope of Moliere; and of pretty satire-as in Pope's Rape of the Lock. But all that this species of poetry can do, is to seize that exterior of character which every age and nation decks out after its own fashion; whilst the poetry, whose business is with the human hcart, is coeval and coextensive with human nature. Pope, accordingly, no, sooner lighted, in an almost barbarous age, upon a poetical personage, governed both in action and in writing by feeling alone, than he produced the Epistle of Eloisa, and proved that he had genius. Many a woman of that day resembled Eloisa in her misfortunes and her love; but they left few, if any, let, ters behind them. Even those of Eloisa have reached us only by their connexion with the writings of her lover. At present, the fair sex write much more, and perhaps feel as much less; and accordingly, our later poets, not finding poetical characters at home, are driven to seek for them in Turkey and in Persia ; ---while the Germans explore the ruins of Teutonic castles and the Italians prudently confine themselves to the mythology of Greece and Rome. In fine, when nations are in a semibarbarous state, the passions are their strongest laws: what else they have under the name of law, is yet without consistency or force. The punishment of an injury is left to him who suffered it-and he regards vengeance as a duty. Dante concludes one af bis lyric pieces with the following sentiment
How fair is the honour reaped from revenge!
Che bellonor s'acquista in far vendetta. How strongly does its application to his own poem illustrate the character of his age! Though terrified, at every step, by the objects which Hell presents to his view, the sentiment of vengeance, as a duty, stops him in his course. His eyes are fixed upon a shade that seems to shun him. Virgil reminds him that they must continue their journey; and asks the reason of his delay. Dante answers, • If you knew the reason, you