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find in the first “ Sermon to the Novices." With the one, the symbol of the cross as the emblem of humility, patience, and triumph in suffering, is uppermost; with the other, the actual wood of the cross, the cross as a tree, is celebrated with extravagant laudation. “O precious, lovely, and healthful wood of life, blessed above all the woods of Paradise, to be honored by angels, to be adored by men, to be kissed by pious lips, and embraced with extended arms; the salvation of believers, the glory of apostles, the buckler of martyrs, the praise of confessors, the diadem of virgins, the consolation of widows, the strength of the aged, the discipline of the young, the mirror of the pious, the refuge of the afflicted! O Cross, more dazzling than the stars, more beautiful than the moon, whiter than the sun, enlightening heaven and penetrating to Tartarus!” It is in this style that Thomas à Kempis discourses concerning the great Christian Mystery. Apart from the unsound theology of placing the Cross in hell, it may be remarked that the word “ Tartarus” is never used in the “ Imitation." Such an antithesis as this of Thomas à Kempis about the Cross, “ altitudine tangens cælos, profunditate penetrans inferos," quite sacrifices the doctrine of the Councils to rhetorical effect, and is only a weak reproduction of the idea of God's knowledge as it is expressed in the 139th Psalm.
But in nothing is the difference between the “Imitation" and the writings of Thomas à Kempis more marked than in the way in which the Virgin Mary, the “Mother of God," is presented and described. The monk of St. Agnes has no bound or modesty in his attachment to this holy person, and his language about and toward her is as erotic as the language of the Canticles. “Would God,” says he, in one place, “that to satisfy my desire to honor and praise thee with all the strength of my heart, all my members could become tongues, and every tongue a voice of flame, to celebrate thee worthily.” More than two hundred times in the writings of Thomas à Kempis is the Virgin Mary mentioned, and in many places she is made the theme of elaborate and fulsome eulogy, in which all imaginable charms are ascribed to her.
But when we examine the “Imitation," in all the four books and one hundred and fourteen chapters, we find but two instances
in which the Virgin is mentioned at all, and in each of these the mention is incidental. There is no apostrophe to the Virgin, no enumeration of her graces, no invocation of her aid. Even when mention of this blessed saint and intercessor, this spotless one, would be natural and tempting, it is avoided. The subjects with which the name of Mary is connected in the writings of the monk are wholly destitute of this ornament as they appear in the “Imitation.” This last fact is justly regarded by M. de Larroque as the most positive and decisive of all the reasons for refusing to Thomas à Kempis the paternity of the “Imitation.” It is impossible that so zealous and devout a worshipper of the Mother of God should have excluded or forgotten her in the most exalted and interior of his religious discourses.
Such, greatly abridged and condensed, is the argument from internal evidence that the writer of the “ Imitation” is not the Dutch monk, to whom it has been, by the Teutonic authorities and in the popular speech, so commonly ascribed. With these positive reasons for denying his right, M. de Larroque finds it easy enough to answer the few arguments in favor of the popular hypothesis, and succeeds entirely to his own satisfaction in establishing a very strong presumption for his negative view. As we said at the outset, he does not attempt to show what particular person is the author of the “ Imitation,” but only devotes a few pages at the close of his treatise to a statement of the “manner of person ” which seems to him the writer of the book must have been. It seems to him very clear that this author was a monk, but a monk whose life in youth and early manhood had been worldly, secular, perhaps even sensual. He finds in the book a knowledge of human motives, thoughts, cares, and desires entirely inconsistent with a life always passed within the cloister and in the practice of ascetic virtues. The author was a man who had sought refuge in the convent from the vanities of which he had had large experience, yet who remembered in his seclusion the world that he had left, and sent out a warning and saving voice to this careless world. An old man, too, seems to him to be clearly indicated by this grave, measured, and sober style, this wise and wide survey, this freedom from all haste and all VOL. LXXIII. 5TH S. VOL. XI. NO. III.
invective, this air of resignation and serenity which is thrown off in all the pleadings. It is the work of one in the evening of life, gathering the fruit of ripened knowledge, and the residue of all the pains and pleasures, the fears and the hopes, of many years.
The patriotism of M. de Larroque urges him to claim “ The Imitation of Christ ” as of French origin : yet he candidly confesses that the country of the book cannot be inferred from anything in its pages, — that, for all that appears there, it may belong to any Christian nation. There are in it no modes of thought or turns of expression peculiarly French. He could only fain believe that the unanimous admiration which this greatest of uninspired books has found in France, from writers of all classes, Catholic and Protestant, Christian and Deist, in the nineteenth as in the sixteenth century, is an “instinctive national homage, the love of a mother for her child.” In no other land has the “ Imitation” been so often translated, so widely diffused, and so ardently praised. Fifty years ago, Barbier asserted that there were more than one thousand French translations of the “Imitation," and M. de Larroque states positively that there are now more than fifteen hundred! The translation of Lamennais had reached its twelfth edition in 1844! Not only such writers as Massillon and Bossuet, Chateaubriand and Montalembert, but Renan, Sainte-Beuve, and even Balzac and George Sand, have given their voices in praise of this classic of religion. It is taught in the schools, it is analyzed by the critics, its sentences, rhymed and set to music, are sung in the choirs, and it goes where the Bible, the priest, and the oil of final unction go. No book has so many “editions of luxury," sumptuous in print, binding, and decoration; no book can be procured so cheaply. For a franc, a pocket-edition, with the New Testament attached, may be purchased on the quays of Paris, while, in the Imperial Library, the copies of “ The Imitation of Christ” are among the richest treasures. If France be not the native land of the book, it has at least found in that land the widest welcome and the most lavish honor.
ART. III. - NEW TRANSLATIONS OF THE “ VITA NUOVA."
1. The New Life of Dante. An Essay with Translations. By
CHARLES Eliot Norton. Riverside Press : H. O. Houghton
& Co. Cambridge. 1859. 2. The Early Italian Poets, from Ciullo d'Alcamo to Dante Alighieri,
(1100-1200-1300,) in the Original Metres; together with Dante's Vita Nuova. Translated by D. G. Rossetti. London : Smith,
Elder, & Co. 1861. 3. The Vita Nuova of Dante, translated, with an Introduction and
Notes, by THEODORE MARTIN. London: Parker, Son, and
. It is a happy chance in letters, when the same subject of thought, object of study, work of illustration, commends itself to several scholars, at the same time. A full treatment is the result, and it is pleasant to see how different minds ap-' proach the same thing. We congratulate ourselves that, in the case of the Vita Nuova, this happy chance has engaged three so competent as Mr. Norton, Mr. Rossetti, and Mr. Martin. The book has not always had treatment so comprehensive of its meaning and scope, and so sympathetic with its spirit.
All who can, of course, read the original. It gives a pleasure unlike that of any other book. It is a thing by itself, singular as Dante himself is in history and in literature, and so is the pleasure it gives. The poet's seclusion and remoteness from the common way are marked as strongly in the peculiar, unique charm of the Vita Nuova, with its exquisite blending of sweetness, tenderness, and truth, as in that sublime impulse, which, with full intellectual satisfaction and spiritual inspiration, is the proper gift of the Divina Commedia. This charm, singular, like the little book and the author of it, is fully caught only from the original. Something of its delicate quality passes in a version. Yet they to whom the direct way is closed may well be felicitated in having such entrances open to the enchanted region and its delights as the volumes whose titles are here given.
We hold, with Don Quixote, that in general a translation
is “like viewing a piece of tapestry on the wrong side, where, though the figures are distinguishable, yet there are so many ends and threads, that the beauty and exactness of the work are obscured, and not so advantageously discerned as on the right side of the hangings.” In a work worth translating there are niceties of expression, a delicacy of character, some fineness of make, which can no more be transferred than the volatile breath of flowers can all be seized by ever so cunning a distilment. The curious Eastern may put a whole rosegarden into a flasket, but the subtile fragrance of a single fresh rose is worth more than all he has kept. This hovering, fine scent, like the soul of the flower, eludes him with all his art. The version, be it ever so good, comes short of the original. The colors are blurred, the forms are confused, which were so glowing and so clear. If it is literal, it is bald and meagre. If it is free, it is loose and incorrect. For the most | part, it is but a makeshift for the benefit of those who can
not otherwise read the work. And at the best, when it is a labor of love, and done with the success which follows hearty admiration and sympathy, some beauty or strength departs in the process. The translator finds some felicity of manner, some tenderness of feeling, some refinement of thought, some vigor of imagination, which escapes him, — some quality intrinsic, and, as it were, spiritual to the work, which cannot be conveyed, though it be caught.
The wise-mad knight's comparison is a good one. have had too much reason to thank translators, to quite go with him when he says, further, that translation is “ a barren employment, which can show wit or mastery of style no more than copying a piece of writing from a precedent.” With these excellent versions from Dante before us, the wholesale denunciation appears to be of his folly rather than of his wit. It were ungracious to call translation a barren employment, when we have just proved what pleasure and noble instruction it may furnish. Surely, it will be fruitful of honor also to the translators. Their work is, to be sure, not addressed
The best book of the three, being privately printed, would seem to admit this, perhaps to claim the privilege of it. Like the original, the versions may not draw
to the many