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tate,' which can never by any possibility be made poetical. But at least Dante's lore was taken from Latin sources, like the 'Summa' of St Thomas, the language of which had some affinity with the speech • Del bel paese là dove il si suona.' Dante himself would have been puzzled to get into his verse some of the technical jargon of modern philosophy. But, apart from these longer discussions, there are numerous little touches scattered up and down the Commedia, which show how poetry shrivels up and dies at the approach of this school-learning, when some prosaic tag of scientific knowledge is dragged in, such as the defect in the Julian Calendar, the properties of triangles, the equality of the angles of incidence and reflexion of a ray of light.*
Dante himself has told us † that the object of the inspiration given to Solomon was not that he might deal with subjects such as these. It is a pity that he did not recognise that poetic inspiration has nothing to do with them either. The discussion of these subjects in the prose of the Convito' is not only infinitely more appropriate, but has also far more literary beauty than the parallel passages of the Commedia. Even the roughhewn scholastic Latin of the De Monarchia' produces a more harmonious impression, when dealing with such themes, than the great poem does.
It may perhaps be said that some of the passages to which we have referred, such as those on the classification of vices, are necessary to the understanding of the poem and its plan. Even if that be so, it does not follow that they should form part of the poem itself, any more than that Dante should incorporate in the Commedia a statement of the scheme of allegory on which it is based, such as he has given us in the letter to Can Grande. Another letter to him, or to some other of his patrons, would have answered the purpose; or he might have given us a commentary, as he has done in the Convito.' I
* Par. xxvii, 143; xvii, 14, 15; Purg. xv, 16-21. For other instances, see Inf. ii, 88–90 ; xx, 81 ; Par. viii, 70; xiv, 102.
+ Par. xiii, 97-102; cf. xxiv, 133, 134; and the third canzone of the Convito,' which is in Dante's worst scholastic manner. Dante himself confesses (1. 14) that it is .aspra e sottile.'
1.We can imagine its strange author commenting on it, and finding or marking out its prosaic substratum, with the cold blooded precision and Vol. 200.No. 400,
We are very far from meaning that theology, philosophy, history, and science can never be fit subjects of poetry. Dante himself, and other poets too, have proved the contrary. But it must not be this crude learning of the schools, which is ever ready to vanish away’ in the light of fuller knowledge, but thought fused and made immortal by being heated white-hot in the furnace of emotion fanned by the wings of imagination. In a great part of the concluding cantos of the Paradiso Dante has given us this. Take in illustration such lines as these :
*Lume è lassù, che visibile face
Lo Creatore a quella creatura,
Che solo in lui vedere ha la sua pace'; or this
*S'aperse in nuovi Amor l' eterno Amore';t or lastly
Onde si movono a diversi porti
Per lo gran mar dell'essere. I
Found out the remedy'; or Shelley's
'Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass,
Stains the white radiance of eternity'; or Tennyson's
scholastic distinctions of the “Convito."' (Church, 'Essay on Dante,' p. 102, ed. 1878, a work which, in spite of all that has been written since, still remains the best introduction to the study of the Commedia.)
* There is a light above, which visible
Makes the Creator unto every creature,
Longfellow, Par. Xxx, 100-102. of Into new Loves the Eternal Love unfolded.'
Longfellow, ib. xxix, 18.
Longfellow, ib. i, 112, 113. Cf. iii, 85-87.
We feel at once that no progress in theology, philosophy, or history, can ever dim these sayings, or make them out of date.
Mr Pater, in one of his delicate and discriminating • Appreciations,' has noted an analogous phenomenon in Wordsworth's poetryThe 'perplexed mixture of work touched with intense and individual power, with work of almost no character at all; ... the intrusion from time to time of something tedious and prosaic'; as opposed to those passages where
the word and the idea, each in the imaginative flame, become inseparably one with the other by that fusion of matter and form which is the characteristic of the highest poetical expression.'
The truth is that there were in Dante, intellectually considered, two distinct personalities--one, the supreme poet, in his own line unsurpassed and unsurpassable ; and the other, the man of learning, wonderful indeed for that or any age, but neither unsurpassable nor, even then, unsurpassed, as examples like Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, and Vincent of Beauvais sufficiently show. Unfortunately Dante, though fully conscious of his greatness as a poet, seems to have valued himself even more as a man of learning; and the consequence is that the man of learning is constantly intruding where he has no business.
Another great fault of Dante is likewise the result of this intellectual pride, this love of parading his extraordinary knowledge, we mean his excessive allusiveness, his love of periphrasis, or what is sometimes called antonomasia, whereby an object, instead of being directly named, is described by some attribute or fact connected with it. This is, of course, within proper limits, a perfectly legitimate mode of poetical adornment. We are none of us 'forgetful how the rich proçemion ’rolls in Milton's Paradise Lost ; and there are many instances in Dante as noble, as appropriate, and as intelligible as that. But in Dante's poetry, as in Mr E. A. Freeman's prose, this characteristic developes into a perfect disease. Nothing is simply what it is; it must be described
in relation to something else ; and the result is that even those who know their Dante fairly well can hardly read fifty consecutive lines anywhere in the Commedia, without having to resort to a commentary. These allusions are taken from all departments of Dante's multifarious knowledge. But the tendency comes out most strongly in the marks of time and place which occur throughout the poem. The former class of passages was elucidated by Dr Moore in an interesting monograph published in 1887 ;* while Mr Tozer, in the excellent commentary which stands at the head of this article, has brought his own wide geographical knowledge to bear on the second class, the most remarkable of which is an extraordinary passage in which the position of Marseilles is indicated by a periphrasis extending over twelve lines.f
Again, Dante's use of simile and figurative language, exquisite as it usually is, is sometimes overdone, an excess which leads occasionally to a curious mixture of metaphors, as when he speaks of cooling the bow of his ardent desire;# while some of his comparisons are strangely infelicitous, as when St John asks Dante
• Con quanti denti quest' amor ti morde?
and it is certainly a little unfortunate that his allegorical scheme of colour obliged him to give Beatrice green eyes.
That, apart from all these causes of difficulty, Dante's mode of expression is often exceedingly obscure is proved by the fact which every serious Dante student has experienced, that, after all the labours of all the commentators, extending over more than five hundred years, there still remain passages out of which it is impossible to extract any really satisfactory sense. S
We have, of course, no right to complain of a poet for being hard to understand, because he has undertaken • Forti cose a pensar mettere in versi.' We .in our little
* «The Time-references in the Divina Commedia' (David Nutt).
† Par. ix, 82–93. Many readers will sympathise with the question of Rinieri da Calboli (Purg. xiv, 25, 26):
• Perchè nascose
Questi il vocabol di quella rivera ?' Why did he conceal the name of that river?')
Par. xv, 42-45; the text, however, is not quite certain. & Goethe complains of this 'Dunkelheit'in his conversations with Ecker. mann, i, 120 : «Uebrigens sprach Goethe von Dante mit aller Ehrfurcht.'
barks' must not wonder if we sometimes fail to follow him, “Voyaging through strange seas of thought, alone. But Dante, like Browning and, in a less degree, like Æschylus, is often in his mode of expression quite needlessly difficult.
But there are passages in which Dante shows his intellectual pride not merely indirectly, but directly, by the scorn which he pours on the ignorance and stupidity of others.* He has little of the intellectual humility of Bede, who, himself the ripest scholar of his time, warns us so movingly that many a learned man may be found in the end among the lost, while many a simple soul which has kept Christ's commandments will shine among apostles and doctors; little of the spirit of that other great teacher, of whom it was so beautifully said that • he was tender to stupidity, as to every form of human weakness.'
We pass on now to the remaining part of the criticism which we have borrowed, with the necessary qualifications, from Goethe, that there are parts of the Inferno, and (we fear it must be added) parts also of the Purgatorio and the Paradiso, which are 'abominable.' Here, too, the faults may be divided into faults of character and faults of art; and here, too, the latter often arise out of the former.
Let it be understood at the outset that we do not for one moment deny that the terrible, the horrible, and the grotesque, may legitimately be made the subject of artistic treatment. Goethe himself, so often regarded as hopelessly incapable of appreciating Dante, has said of the terrible Ugolino episode, that it belongs to the very highest products of poetry.'t But unless we are disciples of Zola and the newer realism, the line must be drawn at the simply disgusting; and some of the punishments of the Inferno—the loathsome worms which devour the mingled blood and tears dropping from the Vigliacchi, the mangled sowers of discord with their bowels hanging out, the alchemists scratching off the scabs from their diseased
* Convito,' iv, 14, 11, 105-107: ‘Risponder si vorrebbe non colle parole ma col coltello a tanta bestialità.' (“To such brutishness one should reply, not with words, but with a knife.')
Aufsätze zur Literatur,' No, 140a.