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posed to rest on Dante's set statement, is drawn for Beatrice being an allegorical personage.
Then, too, when he and his guide enter within that heat, to which a plunge into molten glass were a bath of coolness, Virgil has only still to speak his lady's name to comfort him. And when at last she appears, he turns toward his master, in a strange trouble and flutter of love, panting like a scared child who runs to his mother's breast, with this cry rising to his lips :
Not a dram
I know the symptoms of mine early flame.” Then the meeting follows which we have noted as explicit in regard to their relation of lover and lady, the eminent witness to that affection in him which her death did not make less real and intense, if it made it more purely ideal.
The “ Paradise” presents no passage of such direct bearing and clear proof. Beatrice grows more and more ethereal with every canto. She drops the human more and more as they pass from sphere to sphere. She is changed from glory to glory along the various circles of the blessed state, and the idealism of his love is more and more conspicuous. But to the end it bears the mark of the love of man to woman. There is an intensity in his expressions, as about her eyes and her smile, and an earnestness, a rapture of feeling, quite above the need of simple poetic art, which ill accord with the considerate, cold blooded, altogether logical following out of an allegory, which has been set up as his main object and the perfection of his work. In those saintly eyes he sees a love such that he cannot tell how great it is. Gazing on her, affection finds no room for any other wish. If he would mark how they rise from sphere to sphere of the heavenly vision and felicity, the gathering effulgence in her eyes is the mark. From her looks both eyes and soul receive equal and entire content. In Canto XXIII, the awful beauty of her smile culminates, and there she reaches the utmost ideal. To shadow forth that divinest beauty, by the thousandth part of it, he needs more than all the help of all the Muses. To be able to look upon that consummate and transcendent loveli
ness, he needs first to have the vision vouchsafed of the might and wisdom in Christ. Such foretaste prepares for such feast. Such foil has that saintliness and splendor to set it out. Plainly, she is something more than mortal woman here, radiant type of the Divine Wisdom, of Holy Church, of Theology, of Faith, of Grace, of whatever is named highest of heavenly favor to earthly hope. But even before this ineffable beauty, whose whole delight the maker of it only can receive, the lover is not cast out by the worshipper.
“Dal primo giorno ch' io vidi 'l suo viso
In questa vita.” What fond apparition is here, in highest heaven, of that Mayday in Folco Portinari's house, and of the little girl in her goodly crimson gown! There is something finer in this man and his vision, than scholastic theology. A lover's eagerness follows her, when she vanishes, with the quick question, impetuous and fearful of loss, “ Where is she?" It is a lover's satisfaction when, as he looks up and sees her where she sits in her place within the snow-white mystic rose, whose circled petals are the ranks on ranks of the holy army of the redeemed, she looks down and smiles, - lady of the salutation still, as, so long ago, in Florence streets :
“gli occhi su levai, E vidi lei che si faccia corona, Rifflettendo da se gli eterni rai;
e quella sì lontana Come parea, sorrise e riguardommi; Poi tornò all' eterna fontana."
The apotheosis fulfils the promise of the lover of the Florentine lady, “ to speak of her as woman never yet was spoken of,” and the true devotion breathes still in these last epic verses as in those first sonnets, ballads, and songs, - the devotion which was in the beginning less passion than adoration as of supernal beauty and celestial gentleness. It is Raphael giving to the Sistine Madonna the form and features of his Roman girl, painting her as woman never yet was painted, leaving the memorial of her and of his love in the supreme sacred picture of the world. Idealized into what is
most charming of poetic art and most inspiring of religious faith, in the central symbolic figure of the “ Divine Comedy,” lives forever the woman Dante loved in the “ New Life."
We are well aware that to insist upon Dante as lover only would be a view as partial, though not so poverty-stricken, as that which makes him a bitter partisan, using his poetic gift to vent his spleen and enmity. We remember his other names, - the Dantes theologus, nullius dogmatis expers, -a title borne out in his poem, by the system, fulness, and clearness of its confessions of faith; the name also, not of Guelph or Ghibelline, for he was not a partisan,
“ A te fia bello Aver ti fatta parte per te stesso,”
but of patriot and statesman, lover and prophet of the Italian Unity happily coming to pass in these days, hater of the temporal Papacy, happily drawing near its end, and defender of the Monarchy, his idea of the state, which the historian Schlosser says is found, more nearly than in any other form, in the Federal Union under the headship of the President: “He created an ideal government which was to be realized five hundred years later, and to exist exactly in that hemisphere opposite ours, where the Divina Commedia has set the terrestrial paradise.” Loyal subject of the Empire, faithful son of the Church, preacher of political and religious order, censor more terribly just than Cato of the men and manners of his time, poet worthily greeted with the acclaim with which he heard Homer and the rest greet his master, Onorate l' altissimo poeta, - these names and more belong to him, and we do not forget them while naming him, first of all, lover of Beatrice.
He is of that order of genius not miscalled universal. His poem is epic in a higher sense than as being in form of narrative. It is epic as being comprehensive of a whole age, and exponential of its thoughts, feelings, and work, of the aspects and the ideas which marked it, and of the spirit which moved it. He belongs with the few whose mind and works are a continual study, an exhaustless supply, a new surprise. He is the peer of those whose genius is like truth itself; that
ocean which Newton saw, casting up, in its wrack and drift, something of use, or wonder, or delight to every one who comes; that quarry at which many work, and the labor never ends, of one to dig out painfully a rugged fragment, of another to square a shapely block, of another to carve a beautiful figure. Each finds in them what is proper to his liking or purpose, and, pre-occupied with his own acquisition, perhaps thinks small things of his neighbor's. He looks from his point of view, and runs the risk of being fanatical for it. Like the devotee of a system, to whom all nature and life, after a while, become vocal with proofs and illustrations of his philosophy, the student of Dante learns to hear him speak always to the one argument which he has come to receive and enjoy, forgetting that this genius, which is the image of nature's universality and of the many-sidedness of life, may speak to another in a different strain.
Therefore, one scholar develops the poet's theology, another his politics, another his ideas of reform, another his censure of contemporary men and things, another his love, another his patriotism. They work to good purpose, each according to his skill and sympathy. But the danger is of inquiring over'curiously, of putting conjecture for historical criticism and theory for scientific method, and of pressing one idea too far. This danger is well set forth, and the wrong done Dante's love, likewise, illustrated by the way, in an admirable paper on Dantean Literature in the Revue des Deux Mondes, where the reviewer, after praising highly the work of Philalethes (the king of Saxony), as presenting better than any other the theology of the Divine Comedy, goes on to say: “I regret only that Philalethes recognizes in Beatrice the exact symbol of gratia perficiens; let us have done with this indiscreet theology. Grace, - it is God himself; and the woman whom Dante loved, however high she soars in her ideal transfiguration, cannot be confounded with the prime essence. Why wish to be more precise than the poet ? Let us say simply, Beatrice is love, love traced back to its source, love divine, without which all the learning of the doctors is a dead letter."
In bringing the reciprocal testimony of his earliest and his
latest book to bear on the reality of the poet's love, and in
a emphasizing this view, we have not meant to point the moral of the old fable of the gold and silver shield. To us he is not lover only, but lover first of all. Without the touch of love, he might have lived mute and inglorious. It was the prime motive to the learning of the scholar, the science of the theologian, the wisdom of the statesman, the passion of the patriot, the imagination of the poet, the rapture of the mystic, the faith of the believer; all which and more we mean when we name Dante here. It was the magnetic point to which flowed the elements of his genius, and around which grew the entire and perfect chrysolite of his Poem with its Preface.
We ought to say, also, that, in affirming here the reality of his love, we do not forget how explicit he is as to the meaning of his Poem ; that it is not simple, but complex, and bears a fourfold sense, literal, moral, allegorical, and anagogi- % cal. While vexed with the prosaic comments which, upon this explanation, have been heaped upon his work, we recognize the rich significance, the diverse leadings, the varied correspondences of it. Therefore, while we affirm the personality of Beatrice as his beloved lady, from the first page of the “New Life” to the last page of the “Divine Comedy," we accept her symbolic and mystical character. But we do not forget, either, a certain impatience of Dante's own at liis own allegorizing. It is in the letter to Can Grande della Scala, dedicatory of the Paradiso to him, where, after stating at length the complex meaning of it, he breaks out as if his grand poetic, ethical genius were restless under this plodding and painful work of his understanding : “But let us leave this subtle investigation, and say simply that the end of the whole, the end of each part, is to snatch the living from their wretchedness and to lead them to felicity.” Memorable words ! Removere viventes in hac vita de statu miseria et perducere ad statum felicitatis.
This natural outburst is a better help to a right conception of the poem than that artificial explanation which precedes. Let the spontaneous impulse override the labored statement, and the poesy be the interpeter rather than the scholastic