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DAN TE; HIS RELIGION AND POETRY.

BY M. M. BACKUS.

The political enterprise and magnificence of supplanting the chestnut by the blade of corn, in Florence, at a period when Northern Europe was places now left desolate in despair : once the still sunk in a state of semi-barbarism, have so fabrics of her artisans were famous throughout long been the themes of the novelist and the Europe: once her sails were wooing and kisspoet, that we have come to look upon the ing every breeze : her arms made her terrible in whole as a fancy sketch. We have retained a the earth, and covered her with military glory. vague notion of a beautiful and fertile vale, em- The painter and the sculptor embodied the bracing upon its bosom the gently gliding Arno, manifold forms of beauty, and the poet in and breathed upon by the mildest and healthiest glowing numbers flung the bright halo of sparkbreezes of sunny Italy. In the centre of that ling song around her brow. Her judges presidvale, we have in like fancy deposited Florence ed in wisdom, and her princes ruled in splendor. la bella, adorned it with the noblest efforts of But the vision has passed. Indolence, torpor, architectural skill, enriched it with the choicest spiritless vanity now brood upon her palaces treasures of art, filled its coffers with the gold and her fields : the industrious live by the neand the pearls of a thousand tributaries, and gligence of an imbecile government, and the rest blessed its enterprise with the fundamental are too lazy to dig, and just mean enough to do principles of a republican government: and now the thief and the beggar in a small way. The as the morning sun shed its pure rays over the fires which were once kindled in her realms, city, it was enlivened with the grateful hum of have long since been extinguished : her former commerce and the hammer of the artisan, with energy and her opulence have fled northward to merry tradesmen and swarthy seamen, hastening the fast-anchored isle, and her political genius to and fro with the cares and plots of merchan- and spirit have travelled westward over the Atdise. A thousand fairy tales have their scenes lantic, and rested on a soil then unknown to amid its endless palaces and luxuriant gardens;

her geography the cathedral and the convents were peopled In the latter years of the thirteenth century, with cowled monks having nothing of their St. Florence was the scene of a violent political Anthony in them but his fire, and with reli. contest between the Bianchi and Neri, or the gieuses in black robes and jewelled crucifixes, Whites and Blacks. It was the design of the laid in a moral death-house to putrefy unseen : latter party to co-operate with the selfish the streets were filled with brave knights and schemes of the Pope, Boniface VIII., and, at ladies fair, the princely palace with grave coun- his suggestion, resign their city to the tender sellors, the environs with nutbrown maids and mercies of Charles of Valois, Count of Anjou, honest yeomen, the groves with the twittering, and brother of the king of France. The indewanton songsters, the air with perfume, and the pendent character of the Florentines had for sky with the clear sunlight,—thus the pic- some time annoyed the pride of the Pontifical ture was wont to fill itself up with discordant See, and every opportunity had been sought by materials, till its irregularity made us sick of both parties to maintain the spiritual and temwhat was fancy, and sceptical of what was poral prerogatives. But it was a day of darkfact.

ness, superstition, and slavery.

Few men And yet if we compare what fancy has as- knew enough of freedom to think it worth cribed to Florence with what she has showered struggling for : common folk and gentle folk upon other portions of this earth, or form our were allowed just that amount of religion, judgment even by what a molern schedule of which made them tremble at a priest, and just tabulary statistics, with item this and item that that amount of knowledge, and in that form, in exact series, would award to her genius and which left the impression that it was a thing national policy, the same picture of beauty and for angels instead of creatures of flesh and prosperity again rises before us with its graces blood. Men were born with innate impressions and its artless symmetry to distract and enchant of servitude, and were baptized into the name the beholder. It is all true. Florence once push. of the Pope and the Prince.

The glass, ed her agriculture to the tops of the Apennines, through which mankind might see heavenly

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things darkly, had become smutted over with hope in the distant future, when their free and the dingy smoke of scholasticism and mysticism, just principles should triumph in the world. But till human eyes could not see through it at all. they saw none; and yet, with true patriotism, All was disease and wretchedness and despair. when they were rejected of their countrymen, But God had reserved unto himself many choice and with true religion, when they were anaspirits, and was ordering events for the speedy thematized by the supposed vicegerent of God, release of his oppressed creatures.

Upon the

they clung to their homes and their faith with very lands where the darkness was the deepest, unfaltering purpose; while Dante, the very He was pouring down the silent and lively { joint and sinew of the society, still swept the beams of truth ; and was placing motives in loud chords of his lyre in mingled tones of subtheir hearts and weapons in their hands to as- mission and rebuke. sert and maintain the rights, with which He

O Almighty Power! had endowed them.

Who wast in earth for our sakes crucified, In Florence the little band of Bianchi, with

Are thy just eyes turned elsewhere? Or is this

A preparation, in the wond'rous depth the prior of the city at their head, were holding

Of thy sage counsel, made for some good end, their ground as witnesses to the doctrine of in- Entirely from our reach of thought cut off ; alienable rights. They had their nocturnal

So are ibe Italian cities all o'er-thronged meetings and their esoteric maxims, their secret

With tyrants, and a great Marcellus made

Of every peily factious villager. oaths and their inspiriting watchword, their indomitable purposes and their ennobling aims.

Turning from the sad scene, which met his In the year 1300, this true-hearted band had for

eyes everywhere in Italy, his heart wanders their leader a man, who had seen some thirty

back to his Firenze la bella. five summers, and had studied philosophy at My Florence! Thou may'st well remain unmov'd Bologna and Padua, theology in the schoolmen,

Al this digression, which affects not theeliterature in Virgil, arms and glory at Compal

Thanks to thy people who wo wisely speed.

Many have justice in their heari, ihailong dino against the Ghibelines of Arezzo, love in Waiieth for counsel to direct the bow', the eyes of Beatrice Portinari, and domestic in

Or ere it dart unio iis aim: but ihine felicity with Gemma Donati. With a heart

Have it on their lip's edge. Many refuse

To bear the common burdens; rea lier thine generous as the rain of heaven, a temper firm Answer unca!l'd, and cry, “ Behold, I stoop.” but engaging by its many virtues, a wit busy

If thou reinember'st well, and canst see clear, with the fascinating forms and images of nature,

Thou will perceive thyself like a sick ureich, a spirit burning with the purifying fires of pa.

Who finds no resi upon her dow'n, but oti triotism, he moved amid the narrow circle of Shifting her side, short respite seeks from sain. leagued liberators, the very pride of the band.

Purg. CANTO VI. His hours were engaged in laying skilful plots A company of such choice spirits, feeding the to countermine a wary foe. One day at Rome, flames of liberty with holy hands, without an the next at Florence, and the third at the court example in story to encourage them to believe of some neighboring prince, he pushed his ne. their principles practicable, making heart against gotiations, and put every means in motion to se- the ecclesiastical purple with not a precedent in cure the best interests of his countrymen. But Christendom of successful opposition to her a stupid race, and a barbarous age, discarded his wiles and power, forgiving and forgetting the philanthropic efforts : even his fellow-citizens ingratitude of their fellows, constant amid diffilooked on with an indifferent air, and he found culties and indomitable amid despair-such a himself, after several partial successes, in a small company is worth looking in upon. It assures minority and in poor repute within his native us that even in that dismal period there was walls.

other light besides the external rays of the sun, Dante Alighieri-for he was this prior, and that there was other generosity besides what ex. politician, and poet---determined to resist to the isted in the bountiful bosom of nature ; and with last the encroachments of Boniface. We can our clearer vision, and brighter prospects, we fancy the little knot of Bianchi gathered in their seem to go back to that secret chamber, and nocturnal assembly room, discussing the chang- mingle with that devoted band, and speak to ing events of the day, proposing and weighing them words of consolation and hope, “ Brothers, various expedients for their often emergencies, have good cheer. The night is far spent.” lamenting the fickleness and sluggish stupidity The Neri triumphed, and in 1302 the leaders of the Florentine populace, and seeking through of the Bianchi were banished. Dante, being on the thick darkness to catch some far off ray of an einbassy to Rome, was mulcted by the FloDANTE; HIS RELIGION AND POETRY.

45

rentines in the sum of 8000 lires, and con- infamy; even the bad commentaries, which they demned to two years' exile. Unable to dis- have hung round his great poem, and the minccharge the fine, his property was confiscated, ing, idle lecturers they have appointed to sit in and shortly afterwards, in the month of March, judgment on his genius, only furnish still stronga sentence was obtained by his enemies, con- er evidence to the man of taste, that the intademning him, if taken, to the stake. To this tuated Florentines are stubbornly bent upon the unjust severity he alludes in a prediction in the burial of his deathless numbers, and the exterseventeenth canto of Paradise.

mination of his principles.

The Divina Commedia, by which the name of Such as driven out From Athens, by his cruel siepdame's wiles,

Dante is rendered illustrious and immortal, is in Hippolytus deparied: such must thou

its conception and in all its parts, essentially a Depart from Florence. This they wish, and this creation of the fourteenth century, of an antiConirive, and will ere long effectuate, there, Wbere gainful merchandize is made of Christ

papal Catholic, and of Italy. It is religion and Throughout the livelong day.

political law in allegory, with an outline of the

events and characters of his own day skilfully From that hour his life was a series of mis- interwoven with the frail texture and dignified fortunes. Failing to secure a permission to re

with Roman learning. Though denominated a visit his native city, he wandered about Italy,

comedy, it is not a drama: but in accordance dependent upon the generosity of friends for an

with the arbitrary criticism of his contemporaasylum and a subsistence; and yet never fully

ries, by which eloquence was distributed into releasing the hope of a remission of the sen

three forms, tragic, comic, and elegiac,- the first tence, he seems to have harbored a bitterness

representing those pieces which, with a happy and dejection of spirits, from the annoyance of

beginning, had a painful conclusion, and the which even his friends were not exempt.

second those of a reverse order-Dante named This is the first shaft his poem a comely. The epithet Divina is of Shot from the bow of exile.

Thou shalt prove

later origin, and arose from the character of the How sall the savor is of others' bread;

subjects, upon which its hundred cantos were How hard the passage, to descend and climb By others' stairs.

employed. The poet intro:luces us to a vision

which is said to have passed before his fancy, Having seen the fall of his political enemy

in the year 1300, representative of Hell, PurgaDonati, he finally entered beneath the hospita

tory, and Paralise. This furn shes him with a ble roof of Signori della Scala, of Verona, where

realy threefold division to his poem, of which a firm friendship was soon established between

he avails himself in a very masterly manner. the patron and the poet, which lasted until

The shade of Virgil becomes his conductor death—a friendship which he characterizes as

throngh the realms of Tartarus, and they enter the contrary to that

the fearíul regions of Hell hand in hand. Which fals 'twixt other men, the granting Hardly have they passed beneath the heavy Did forerun the asking.

portals, when their eyes fall upon a gang of Twice he visited Paris, and one early commen. drones and idlers, whose punishment it is to be tator extends his pilgrimage even to Oxford. for ever stung with gnais and wasps: in this During the last years of his life he resided with

worshipful company they discover Pope CelesGuido Novello da Polenta, at Ravenna, where tine the Fifth, who hai abdicated his office to he died in 1321, of a disease brought on by dis- play the sot with a more comfortable abandon. appointment and melancholy, at the failure of a Ferried by Charon over the Stygian waters they negotiation, which he had undertaken to effect meet first the spirits of those, who, before the between his patron and the Venetians. His coming of Christ, lived lives of gollessness : the funeral obsequies were celebrated in a gorgeous second is a group of sensualists, who are s'cand sumptuous style by Guido, and one hundred ceeded in regular series by g'uttons, spendand fifty years later a splendid monument was thrists, choleric spirits, heret:cs, ma efactors, erected to his memory by Bernardo Bembo. His debauchees, and traitors. To illustrate these countrymen sought to wipe out their injus- characters the poet selected the choicest actors tice to the living by expiatory offerings to his in Italian history; and from the supplies it is made ashes, but as to this day their service is mere to furnish, the papacy would seem to have been lip-honor, without any true sympathy with the a sort of academy of sin to prepare and train principles which inspired the poet's song, they pupils for that higher or rather deeper university have only perpetuated their own meanness and of crime and wo. Besides Celestine we meet

with Nicholas the Third, Clement the Fifth, and even Boniface the Eighth, under the title of • Prince of the Pharisees.' Nor are the popes even in death depriveil of their cringing parasites. Cardinals, and bishops without number, swarm in every circle, and are immortalized with every degree and species of immorality, from a sickly gourmandism up to simony, perjury, and coolly calculated murder.

Reappearing in upper light, the travellers rest upon an island from which they are directed by Cato of Utica on their road to Purgatory. O’er better waves to speed her rapid course The light bark of my genius lifts the sail, Well pleas'd to leave so cruel sea behind.

The journey over the mountains of Purgatory by a steep and narrow path, pent in on each side by rocks, is full of incident, and diversified with all the charms of descriptive poetry. Seating themselves on an eminence with the sun upon their left, they recover from their fatigue and interrogate the passengers upon the causes of their several dooms. Discovering Sordello, an old and tried friend, Dante flings himself into his arms, and bursts out in bitter invective upon an ungrateful land. Ah, slavish Italy! thou inn of grief ! Vessel without pilot in loud storm ! Lady no longer of fair provinces, But brothel-house impure! This gentle spirit Even from the pleasant sound of his dear land Was prompt to greet a fellow citizen With such glad cheer: while now thy living ones In thee abide not without war: and one Malicious gnaws another : aye of those Whom the same wall and the same moat contains.

Falling asleep, the dreamer is carried still farther up the mountain, and two hours after sunrise is admitted with Virgil to the realms of Purgatory. As they advance, wide surfaces of white marble are seen artfully adorned with alle. gorical representations of deeds of humility. The souls of the proud meet them bent down beneath the weight of large stones: then succeed other etchings in illustration of the same sin. Upon the second buttress the sin of envy is expiated, and upon the third that of anger. Advancing through the mists he meets Marco Lombardo, with whom he carries on a dispute upon the free-will, summing up the matter in these sensible lines: If then the present race of mankind err Seek in yourselves the cause and find it there.

Issuing from the thick vapor, they approach the fourth cornice, where the sin of gloominess is cleansed. The fifth, assigned to the sin of

avarice, has among its tenants for a wonder, Pope Adrian the Fourth, who confesses that his induction to the pastorship of Rome first opened his eyelids, and enabled him to discover “ the dream and cozenage of life.” After passing the fifth cornice, the two poets are overtaken by Statius, who accompanies them on their way, all communing

Mysterious lessons of sweet poesy. Escaping beyond the seventh and last cornice, Dante is accosted by several of his friends, whose characters he sketches with rapid and vivid strokes. Before these realms are abandoned for ever, the travellers are overtaken by nightfall and pleasant dreams, and when they awake again, Virgil, not being permitted to enter the gates of Paradise, resigns his office of guide and commits his friend to his own judgment till he shall meet with Beatrice to conduct him through the streets of the Eternal City.

The reunion with his first love forms the centre of interest for the poem, if centre it can be said to have. Beatrice he had first seen at the age of ten years, and at twenty loved her. His warm affection was felt and responded to, but death intercepted the consummation of their happiness. At twenty-five he buried his relish of life, and his hopes of earthly enjoyment, in the grave with her. The earth covered her body, but the vision of her features, the soft tones of her voice, and the kindness of her heart, burst from the earthy encasement, and roamed over the world with Dante. They lay down with him and rose up with him, they were ever present images in his eyes, they echoed like the memory of past joys through his ears, they swept over his spirit like a voice from heaven, they became part of his very consciousness. And if the half, that is told of her, be true, she was worthy the homage of such a mind. To the memory of this being he turned after a life spent in vexation and anguish, persecution without and domestic discord within, and he fondled the thing of fancy with all the fervor and artlessness of a child. Tu this being, when he enters the regions of the blessed, he resigns himself as his conductress and prophet.

Ascending towards the first heaven, his celestial guide resolves certain of his doubts upon the nature of the objects which meet his view. The moon is assigned to those, who on earth made profession of a religious life. Among the illustrious tenants of Mercury, or the second heaven, is Justinian, who recounts the victories of the Roman Eagle, and discovers to Dante the true

DANTE; HIS RELIGION AND POETRY.

47

policy of the Italian States, in relation to their unhappy dissensions. As they journey on up to the ninth and last heaven, Beatrice discourses to him of human redemption, and the necessity of faith; but the larger part of the doctrinal expositions are put in the mouths of Thomas Aquinas, Buonaventura, Bernard, and the Apostles. Upon the empyrean his vision is strengthened by looking upon a river of light, by which he is enabled to discern or rather contemplate the brightness of the Divine Majesty. Beatrice silently retires from his side, and he is admitted to a faint glimpse of the mysteries of the Trinity, and the union of man with God:

But the flight was not for my wing: Had not a flash darted athwart my mind And in the spleen unfolded what it sought. Here vigor fail'd the tow'ring fantasy, Bat yet the will rollid onward, like a wheel In even motion, by the Love impellid, That moves the sun in heaven and all the stars.

Our imperfect analysis may give some faint idea of the action of the poem. Of its incidents, as rich and diversified as the scenes of nature herself, its images endless and choice, and never feeble, its variety always pleasing, its language vigorous and elegant, its versification melodious and exquisitely modulated, we can say but little within our present limits. It is an allegory of the boldest kind, transporting the present into the future, and awarding to virtue and vice their respective dooms. The characters are of an historical, and therefore permanent interest : the basis of the vision is laid upon Revelation, and even where it is in some of its parts at variance with our clearer knowledge of that Revelation, it loses half its offensiveness by the unobtrusive manner in which it is introduced. We come now to speak more particularly of its political and religious character.

We suppose no one would open the Divina Commedia to study theology, or political law. Whoever the adventurer may be, who shall set himself upon such a task, will find himself in the issue at loggerheads with all the world and with himself also. Pagans in heaven or on their way thither after death have too strong an olor of sentimentalism to suit the Protestant ; Popes in hell are not very relishable food for rumination to the Romanist. The worship of the blessed Virgin as “ Regina Cali,” purgatory as a place of moral preparation for hea. ven, and Paradise distributed with a great parade of astronomy over the planets of the solar system, are not the things most congruous with the Bible and the developments of modern science. We stop not now to contemplate its

faults and its blemishes. They are many and great. Nor shall we delve in every fleeting dash of the poet's pencil to catch a faint foreshadowing of some great traditional system, which would fain have a resurrection in these latter days. Nor again for our present design shall we chase off into his political treatise De Monarchia in glorification of the Romans, and in prophecy of their destiny as the future rulers of the Universe. All this, well enough in its season, is wholly irrelevant to the important question, What is the religion of the Divina Commedia ? Man has so long and so effectually made his wit and acquirements subserve the ends of his passions, that in an analysis of any given character, we have come to consider not how he reasons, nor what formal state. ments he makes of his views, but what his ob. ject is.

The heart in this case overshadows the intellect, and the latter does duty as a hireling under the lash. Dante in his work on Monarchy glorified the Romans to tickle the vanity of the Emperor, and secure his assistance against the Pontiff: he ascribed prerogatives to a Cæsar, which would have constituted a fouler and a sterner despotism than that of the Vatican. He reasons, and subtilizes, and poetizes, till he gets an Empire into the seventh heaven of political perfectibility, and carries up there with it many of the most odious features of Catholicism. All this seems anything but pleasant for an American heart : but we care not a whit for these vagaries. We put the thing in another light by the common sense question, why did he so compromise his nobler principles? And when history answers, it was to awaken a stupid race and a superstitious Emperor to a sense of the spiritual degradation to which the Papacy reduced them, we are satisfied : we thank the poet for his motives and objects, and reject his means. Leaving then such moot points, we go in quest of a more important fact, which is to answer a more practical question. What is the genius of the religious sentiments of the Divina Commedia ? What its pervading spirit, and whitherward was the poet's helm directed ? And we hesitate not to affirm that that genius and spirit are Protestantism, and that helm is hard down' for Evangelicism. We affirm it in the face of sacerdotal copes and stoles, and tapers, and saints' intercession, and all the doctrines of the schoolmen in their most subtle or stupid form, scattered through its endless terzinas, and adorned with all the tasteful drapery of a true poet.

We affirm it in the face of the universal popularity

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