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the greatest of all epics, but which with facility the most stupendous mahis modesty called simply " a comedy,” terials; and of observing all the reto which admiring posterity, retaining quired niceties of proportion without still his own designation, has added experiencing any dificulty from the most worthily that title of “ Divine.” constraint." In the present day, it would be a work, In perusing the immortal work of if not of rashness, assuredly of super- Dante, one, in truth, knows not what erogation, to enter into anything like a most to admire the boldness and subcritical dissertation upon that mighty limity of his thoughts — the splendour masterpiece of genius, the “ Divina

of his images the vastness of his Commedia " of Daute. Its excellence knowledge; his pathos, his passion, is of that commanding character, that his force the wonderful condensation it commended itself to the world's ad- of expression—the severe simplicity of miration from its first appearance; and language, that is rarely ornamentedfrom that to the present from Boc- the classic purity of his style. In each caccio to Ugo Foscolo-it has been the and all of these Dante was a master. subject of able and luminous comment In each and all of these, the poets of both from the professor's chair and the his own country and those of modern critic's study. Though the worship of Europe bave drawn from his work as Dante was, like all human feeling, sub- from a well of living water. Deriving ject to the mutations of fashion - comparatively little from his predecesthough it was the caprice of one age sors, who shall tell how much the poets to go Dante-mad (Danteggiare), as of who have succeeded him have drawn the succeeding one to be satisfied better from his example and inspiration. Had with lighter food—yet at no time has Virgil never lived, Dante would, we the poet been without a large body of believe, have written his “comedy;" sincere and ardent admirers. We shall but we may ask, with more hesitation, content ourselves with quoting the would Milton have produced the “Pawords of two critics, one of his own radise Lost” had Dante never sung his times, another of ours. Giovanni divine mysteries? Indeed, there is a Villani the historian, who must have striking resemblance between the two been acquainted with Dante, after no- great poems; and the fine criticism of ticing the defects of the poet, thus Macaulay on Milton may be applied to concludes bis criticism — “Una viva- Dante :-“ His poetry acts like an incissima fantasia, un ingegno acuto, uno cantation. Its merit lies less in its obstile aquando aquando sublime, patetico, vious meaning than in its occult power. energetico, che ti solleva e rapisce, im- There would seem, at first sight, to be magini pittoresche, fortissime invettivi, no more in his words than in other tratti teneri e passionati, ed altri somi- words. But they are words of englianti ornamenti onde è fregiato chantment; no sooner are they proquesto o poema, 0, comunque vogliam nounced than the past is present, and chiamarlo, lavoro poetico, sono un ben the distant near. New forms of abbondante compenso de' defetti e delle beauty start at once into existence, and macchie che in esso s'incontrano.” all the burial-places of the memory

Mr. Sismondi, who has so lately give up their dead.” passed away from amongst us, gives There is one element essential to the us the following critical estimate of Italian mind, and that of course we the “ Divina Commedia "_" Without find present in Dante. The principle a prototype in any existing language, of love the mind-worship of the equally novel in its various parts and beautiful-awoke his earliest musings, in the combination of the whole, it and presided over his loftiest and his stands alone as the first monument of latest song. To those who have read modern genius — the first great work the “Vita Nuova," or the “ Divina which appeared in the reviving litera- Commedia," the name of Beatrice ture of Europe. In its composition Portinari is as well known as that of it is strictly conformable to the essen- her poet-lover. Boccaccio, in his life tial and unvariable principles of the of Dante, bas left us a touching and poetical art. It possesses unity of de- vivid description of the beautiful girl, sign and execution, and bears the visi. and her first meeting with the poet. ble impress of a mighty genius, capa- The passage is too long for quotation; ble of embracing at once the parts and but from it we learn, that at a Maythe whole of its scheme; of employing day fête, given by Folco Portinari,


Dante, then only nine years old, was descend to the infernal regions when amongst the juvenile guests. Beatrice, he likes, and then writes what he has or Bice, the host's daughter, was a

seen ! year younger-so graceful, so lovely, ". True,' said another, it must be that many regarded her as an angel. so; and that is why his face is so Boy that he was, so deeply and so sud- swarthy, and his beard so black and denly was her image engraven upon curly, from the heat and smoke he has the heart of Dante, that from that had to go through.'' day until life left him it was not obli- The feelings with which, at this day, terated.

we contemplate the great work of The commentaries upon the “Di. Dante, partake somewhat of the same vina Commedia" are almost beyond sentiment of reverence. We look upon count. Not only the sources from it as the traveller in the East looks which Dante derived his plot have been upon the Pyramids. Its sublime as. the subject of a variety of conjectures, pect, its colossal proportions, its digbut the political objects, as well as the nity, its symmetry, and its solemn moral bearings of the poem, have been beauty, place it as much beyond the diversely interpreted.

structures of our own times, with all But perhaps we should seek in the our advances of science and civilis. poet's mind, and the circumstances of ation, as it stood in the days when it bis life, for the moulds in which the was first reared amid the punier works 6. Divina Commedia” were cast. Many that have since perished around it. passages in the “ Convito” of the poet A great poet of modern Italy has may serve as a key to the plan of the recorded his high estimate of Dante, “Divine Comedy," and ought to be and few poets of any age or country studied by every admirer of that great were better fitted to pronounce upon poem. " Writings,” says Dante, the merits of the illustrious Florentine. is should be viewed in four different Alfieri undertook to extract from the senses—a literal sense, an allegorical “ Divina Commedia" all the verses sense, a moral sense, and a mystical which were remarkable either for har(analogical) sense.” All of which mony, for expression, or for thought. senses the poet proceeds ir: the same These extracts, all made with his own passage to explain and exemplify. hand, ran to two hundred pages in With the exegetical light which these quarto, written in very small characobservations of the poet himself af. ters, and nevertheless unfinished, and fords, one may advantageously examine were discontinued at the nineteenth the political as well as the moral and canto of the Paradiso. M. Ginguené æsthetical bearings of the poem. What- informs us that he saw this manuscript, ever be the true interpretation, one and that he perceived at the top of the thing is certain, that the sensation first these remarkable words, written created in Italy by the appearance of by the poet himself in 1790:the « Divina Commedia was totally without example. It was in every "Se avessi il corragio di rifare questa faman's mouth. In the public streets tica, tutto ricopierei, senza lasciarne un'iota, and squares of the very city whence convinto per esperienza che più s'impara its illustrious author had been banished, negli errori di questo che nelle bellezze people might be heard repeating ex

degli altri," tracts from « il libro," as the work was emphatically denominated. Boc- Before we pass from the considercaccio, in his “ Life of Dante,” relates ation of the “Divina Commedia,” we an incident, which forcibly illustrates must not omit some mention of the the reverence, approaching to awe, peculiar measure in which it is written. in which the poet was held by the The terza rima,” of which Dante lower classes of his countrymen :- was probably the inventor, is more

“Walking one day in the streets, suited to epic poetry than to any other Dante had to pass in front of a door- species of composition; and, in our way, at which a group of women were opinion, is more congenial to the muse assembled for a friendly gossip. On of Italy than to that of any other his approach, one of them put her country. Two of Dante's English finger on her lips, and exclaimed in a translators have adopted this measure; mysterious voice to her companions- and Lord Byron, in his “ Prophecy

««• Hush! that is the man who can of Dante," has afforded perhaps the

# La bocca mi baciò tutto tremante ?"

This was,

best specimen of what can be achieved fact? What can possibly surpass in by it in our own tongue.

It is, no

pathos the simple linedoubt, true, as a modern critic has observed, that the position of the recurring rhymes keeps the attention

Wbat volumes could adequately fill alive, and admits of a regular flow of

the sad story, whose issue is left to the the narrative; but we think that this

heart's imagining in words so delicately very. continuity becomes at length suggestive as wearisome, and holds the attention " Quel giorno pui non vi leggemmo avante"? too long suspended, and even distracts

Petrarch's mind was more on a level it, and we look in vain for the relief

with the mass of mankind—distinguishwhich the pauses in the stanzas of the "ottava rima" afford us.

ed from them in degree rather than in undoubtedly, the opinion of Boccaccio,

kind. He possessed a fine genius, an who invented the latter measure, which

ardent thirst for knowledge, an indefahas displaced the former even in epic tigable industry in the acquisition of it,

a noble aspiration after all that was poetry. Indeed we rarely now find the " terza rima" used even by Italians,

great, and an ardent love for all that and more rarely still by the poets of

was good. It strikes us that nothing other countries ; while the “ ottava

could be more opportune for the cause

of literature and the advancement of rima," the sonnet, and the quatrains, have been freely adopted into the

the Italian language, than that a mind poetry of modern Europe.

of the elegance and delicacy of Pe

trarch's should have succeeded a soul Contemporaneous with, and immediately succeeding to Dante, many

of such power, vigour, and originality

as that of Dante. While the latter, poets and some prose writers appeared in Italy; for the influence of his

by the energy of his genius, seized genius gave an onward impetus to

upon the materials of the nascent literature. Few of them, however,

tongue, and reared up a fabric grand attained to any great eminence in their

and permanent, the former, by his own day, for “the leader of the Italian

taste and classic polish, added a thoudialect" overshadowed and obscured

sand florid graces and lighter orna

ments, that beautified the solemn them, and fewer still retain a place in the literature of our own times.

structure; till, from the united skill All that was mortal of the illustrious

of both, the mass stood forth in all Florentine reposed within the tomb in

the perfection and polish in which we

still behold it like to those noble the church of the Franciscans at Ravenna, ere the next great poet of

piles of mediæval days, where we see Italy arose.

all the massive grandeur of its simpler When, in 1302, Dante turned his steps towards_Arezzo,

elements relieved by the beautiful banished from his native Florence,

tracery of elaborate sculpture, by the and doomed to be burned at the stake,

ornaments of rose, and trefoil, and one Petracco, or Petraccolo, a fellow.

zigzag, upon Gothic shaft and buta

tress. citizen, was his companion, and the

While the fame of Dante rests tosharer of his exile. This man was the father of Petrarch, who may thus be

day on the same basis that it rested said to have drawn his first breath

upon a few short years after ungrate

ful Florence within the influence of “the great master," and to have inhaled the spirit “ Proscribed the bard, whose name for evermore of poesy during his earliest years.

Their children's children would in vain adore,

With the remorse of ages," Between the two great poets there is, however, little in common - little in namely, upon the “Divina Commedia," the structure of their minds, little in it is one of the strangest examples of the character of their compositions. the mutations of earthly fame, and the In Dante, all was gigantic, nervous, most emphatic lesson of the unerring sublime; simple, stern-stern almost criticism of posterity, that the producin his very tenderness-his most touch- tions which formed the glory of Peing passages owe less to the power of trarch in his own eyes, and in those of language than to the force of a true his contemporaries, are now rarely and simple nature. Who that peruses spoken of, and still more rarely pethe exquisite episode of “Francesca rused; while the occupations of his di Rimini” can be insensible to this amatory muse, the sacrifices of his


heart to that love (which, though ever

tion of that love for so many years present, never engrossed his spirit so after her death, often fails to touch the as to withdraw him from the higher heart, while he charms the ear. That duties of patriotism or of literature) his intercourse with the wife of Hugo still flourish fresh and charming, trans. de Sade was of this latter character we mitting the name and fame of the poet are disposed to believe; and though from age to age.

Strange fortune! there are passages in Petrarch's writThe laboured ard unfinished Latin ings that suggest one less culpable, we epic, which placed the laureate's crown incline to range ourselves on the side on his brow, has withered away like of the learned Abbe de Sade, notwiththe material leaves of which that crown standing the clever and sarcastic stricwas composed, while the Italian odes tures in the notes to the fourth canto and sonnets of the lover to his Laura of “Childe Harold.” Be this as it may, have woven round his head a wreath there is frequently a frigidity and affecof laurel (in the figurative language of tation in the sonnets that mar their his own conceit), still bright and un- effect. Often, too, there is an exagfading

geration of sentiment, an exuberance

of imagination, that suggests to the & Watering the tree which bears his lady's name With his melodious tears, he gave himself to fame."

mind that the poet was making love

“by the book," rendering “his wellAs Dante was the great epic poet sung woes" the vehicle rather of his of the fourteenth century, so Petrarch own elegant composition than the inmay be well considered as the father voluntary outbursts of his passion. of Italian lyric poetry. Deeply iin- The subtlety of his intellect leads him bued with a knowledge and the spirit to refine where others would only feel ; of the great Latin masters, with a keen he abounds in "concettiand paltry seuse of the elegant and the ornate plays upon words; we become wearied (which exhibited itself as well in the with the recurring confusion between productions of his pen as the adorn- “ L'Aura” and “ Laura ;” and, as ment of his person), a fine perception Sismondi remarks,“ throughout Pe. of the harmonious in sound and nuin. trarch's whole life, we are in doubt bers, a quick fancy, a subtle wit, and, whether it is of Laura or of the laurel in fine, influenced by a love whose that he is enamoured.” Petrarch's nature and extent it is not easy to de- praise of Laura, like Waller's of Sacfine, Petrarch gave to the world a body charissa, betrays the poet more than of lyrics, odes, canzone, and sonnets, the lover. To the former may be apthat have ever been considered models

plied the fine image which the latter, to his countrymen for perfection of improving upon Ovid, applied to himharmony, richness of colouring, ele- self — that as Apollo, in pursuit of gance of thought, purity of style, and Daphne, caught but the laurel

, so Pe- . polish of language. Yet, with all these,

trarch, in seeking his “ laurel, filled it is impossible not to be sensible of his arms with bays”much that detracts from the value of

" Elapsa reperit Daphne sua laurea Phabus." these lyrics. As amatory productions, which is their prominent character, the The influence of Dante was too rereader constantly feels that there is a cent not to tincture, in some degree, want of reality and truth in them that the writings of Petrarch. Accordingly, weakens their power. Much of this his - Trionfi” are throughout allegomay have its origin in the nature of his rical, with visions like those in the love for Laura. Were it mere ideal. “ Divina Commedia,” and, like it, conworship, as some suppose, then we have structed in the terza rima, with similar at once the clue to its solution. As divisions into cantos. The “Africa,” the passion cannot be forced, neither the Latin epic written for the poet's can it be simulated successfully; If crown, has, fortunately for posterity, Petrarch's love was platonic, and no- never been finished. The masterpiece thing more, we will not be disposed to of his own day has not a solitary eulowonder much that the poet who dur- gist in ours. The few who look into ing his mistress's life was able, for it become soon weary of its inflated twenty years, to sustain such a pas. style and its want of interest, and mansion in unabated ardour (notwithstand- kind is contented to believe, as a mating the consolations which he found ter of tradition, that it is exceedingly elsewhere), and to live on the recollec. dull, and exceedingly unreadable.

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Over some of his other Latin composi- encore une partie de l'Europe ; l'Italie même tions we plead guilty ourselves to bave s'en dégageait à peine. Dante avait paru ; occasionally spent an hour, and we mais il était loin de la célébrité qu'l acquit confess we are not disposed to pro

ensuite : l'imprimerie manquait encore à la nounce so unfavourable an opinion as

publication rapide et générale d'un poëme most of the commentators on Petrarch

aussi long que le sien. Nous avons vu que have done: and his treatise, “ De re

Pétrarque ne le connaissait pas dans sa jeu

Ce fut de son propre génie qu'il tira mediis utriusque fortunæ,” is replete

toutes ses forces, et l'on pourrait dire qu'il with true philosophy. While, how

vint le second presque sans avoir de preever, Petrarch deservedly ranks next mier. Il prit et garda le premier rang parto Dante in the annals of Italian litera- mi les poètes lyriques Il parla, disons ture, it is not,” to use the words of a mieux, il créa, dans le quatorzième siècle, recent writer, “ as the lover of Laura, un idiome poétique et une langue du caur as the elegant and tender poet, but as qu'on n'a pu surpasser depuis, et qui ont one who devoted his time to deep re

conservé jusqu'à nos jours tout leur éclat et searches and investigations for the im

tout leur charme." provement of the language of his country, that such a claim can be advanced In the hands of Petrarch the sonnet, in his behalf. Laura was the source already improved by Guittone d'Arezof those tender lays that thrilled zo, may be said to have acquired its throughout Italy, and vibrated through perfection ; and as we have already ,

; out Europe ; but Italy, a nobler mis- ventured a few remarks on the terza tress, exercised power over his thoughts rima, we hope we shall be pardoned a which brought into play the machinery word or two on the sonnet. An able of a mind rarely equalled. As by the critic says it has had a fatal influence touch of a magic wand, the effeminate on the poetry of Italy. We doubt this. and voluptuous language of the love. If the sonnets of Petrarch alone will sick poet was exchanged for the manly not disprove the assertion, we may call tones of the orator and the patriot. those of Monti, Zappi, Filicaja, and We behold him, with the language of a host of others to his aid. It is true a Demosthenes or a Cicero, exhorting the sonnet has the disadvantages of the princes of Italy to bid a truce to circumscribing the writer to a given their private feuds, and to unite their length and a complex rhyme; but forces against a common enemy." those disadvantages are, we think, over

“ He arose to raise a language.” rated, especially in the case of ItaAn orator, a philosopher, a geogra- lians. Though the length is prescribed, pher, an historian, and an antiquary, there is no necessity that the subject as well as a poet, Petrarch was the should be concluded in one sonnet, any greatest man of his own day. Ilis in- more than in one stanza of ottava fuence upon his contemporaries was rima. In point of fact, we find vast. His epistolary correspondence the Italians have often continued (chiefly in Latin) with popes, princes, the theme through two or more sonliterary men, senators, and republics is nets, and our own Shakspeare has

They were regarded as written a long poem in them. The masterpieces of eloquence and correct difficulty arising from the rhyme is, style; they passed from hand to hand, from the nature of their language, in. and were copied and carefully pre- considerable, nor have we ourselves served.

found it very formidable. But the sonnet M. Ginguené, in his eloquent and has great merit. It is essentially harjust criticism of Petrarch, after ob. monious. The structure of its rhythm, serving upon some of the defects of and the order of its recurring rhymes, the poet, and especially upon his fatal render it the perfection of melody, taste for plays upon words and anti- closing with the charming cadence of theses in expressions, thus concludes:- its tercetti; and it induces a careful

composition, as is particularly observ"Mais si ces défauts se font trop sentir

able in poets who wrote much in it. dans Pétrarque, par combien de beautés ne

The Italian scholar will surely agree sont-ils pas rachetés ? Avec quelque rigueur que l'on veuille juger les uns, de quel

with us, and we can refer with confile trempe ne doivent pas etre les autres pour

dence to Bowles and Byron, and que, ni le temps, ni les variations du goût

above all, to Wordsworth, to prove et des moeurs ne leur aient rien ôté de leur how well the sonnet has borne transprix ? La rouille de la barbarie couvrait plantation into British soil.

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