Page images
PDF
EPUB

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 overcuriously, 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 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 anagogical. 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 his 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 pref

ace. We appeal from Dante the schoolman to Dante the poet. We allow and rejoice in all that wonderful combination which he was, and take his scholasticism into the account; but we claim him first of all as the poet inspired by love. We put in evidence the quality of his genius before the culture of his understanding.

To refuse the evidence of the books is to miss a capital characteristic of Dante's genius, the assimilation, namely, which distinguishes him, of the real with the ideal. To this point we quote Mr. Norton, and leave it with his admirable statement.

"With Dante, external impressions and internal experiences sights, actions, thoughts, emotions, sufferings were all fused into poetry as they passed through his soul. Practical and imaginative life were with him one and indissoluble. Not only was the life of imagination as real to him as the life of fact, but the life of fact was clothed upon by that of imagination; so that, on the one hand, daily events and common circumstances became a part of his spiritual experience in a far more intimate sense than is the case with other men, while, on the other, his fancies and his visions assumed the absoluteness and the literal existence of positive external facts. The remotest flights of his imagination never carry him where his sight becomes dim. His journey through the spiritual world was no less real to him than his journeys between Florence and Rome, or his wanderings between Verona and Ravenna. So absolute is his imagination, that his reader is forced to believe that the poet beheld with his mortal eyes the invisible scenes which he describes."

[ocr errors]

As we close the book, Mr. Norton's description of the Beatrice of the Vita Nuova meets our eye. We cannot do better than to end this paper with quoting it. For in the charm of its style, in the justness of its thought, and the tenderness of its sentiment, it fitly represents the Essay on which we have put a high estimate, but not too high for its rare worth. It fitly places before us the woman Dante loved, and, loving her, sang her praise, first in the "New Life," and then in the "Divine Comedy," in the noble fashion which exalts her, but more exalts him.

"She is no allegorized piece of humanity, no impersonation of attributes, but an actual woman, beautiful, modest, gentle, with compan

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

ions only less beautiful than herself, the most delightful figure in the midst of the picturesque life of Florence. She is ever smiling and weeping, walking with stately maiden decorum in the street, praying at the church, merry at festivals, mourning at funerals; and her smiles and tears, her gentleness, her reserve, all the sweet qualities of her life, and the peace of her death, are told of with such tenderness and refinement, such pathetic melancholy, such delicate purity, and such passionate vehemence, that she remains, and will always remain, the loveliest and most womanly woman of the Middle Ages, at once absolutely real and truly ideal."

[ocr errors]

·

[ocr errors]

ART. IV. - ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE.

1. Democracy in America. By ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE. Translated by HENRY REEVE, ESQ. Edited, with Notes, the Translation revised and in great Part rewritten, and the Additions made to the recent Paris Editions now first translated, by FRANCIS BOWEN, Alford Professor of Moral Philosophy in Harvard University. Cambridge: Sever and Francis. 1862. 1862. 2 vols.

Small 8vo. pp. xxiii. and 559, xiv. and 499. 2. Memoir, Letters, and Remains of ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE, Author of Democracy in America. Translated from the French by the Translator of Napoleon's Correspondence with King Joseph. With large Additions. Boston: Ticknor and Fields. 1862. 2 vols. 16mo. pp. 430, 442.

IT is a somewhat remarkable circumstance, that the best work on America which has ever been published was written, after a brief residence in this country, by a young Frenchman who had had no special training in political science, and who was not thirty years of age when the first two volumes of his book were given to the world. Yet it is conceded by all that no other foreigner has entered so thoroughly into the spirit of our institutions, or discerned so clearly the dangers to which they are exposed and the inherent strength by which they are upheld, or has so candidly stated the results of his inquiries. If De Tocqueville had done nothing else, he would have ranked among the most distinguished authors of the

century; but this is only one among many incontestable claims to a high place in the literary and political history of France, which his friends might urge. His unstained private life, his disinterested patriotism, his large familiarity with the theory and practice of governments, the sobriety of his judg ment, and the liberality of his principles, are among the grounds of that respect in which his memory is everywhere held, and would at any time insure a welcome for a new and revised edition of his greatest work. Such an edition, however, is especially welcome now, when our country is engaged in the fierce struggle into which she has been plunged by the reckless ambition of a few disappointed politicians; and it is fortunate that the preparation of such an edition has been undertaken by a person so competent as Professor Bowen. His peculiar qualifications for such a task-a thorough and accurate acquaintance with our civil history, a just appreciation of the fundamental principles of the American system, a ripe and various culture, and a clear and vigorous style – are too well known to require from us now more than a simple acknowledgment of them; and it is enough to say that his edition will form a needed part even of those libraries which contain the work in the original French. He has bestowed much labor on the thorough revision of Mr. Reeve's translation, which was utterly unworthy of the original, being deficient in freedom, elegance, and correctness; he has translated for the first time, and added to the volumes, an impressive and eloquent Advertisement prefixed by De Tocqueville to the twelfth edition, published in 1850, a luminous and admirable essay on "Democracy in Switzerland," read before the Academy of the Moral and Political Sciences in 1847, and a still more remarkable speech delivered in the Chamber of Deputies in January, 1848, predicting the Revolution which just one month afterward subverted the French monarchy, and prepared the way for the imperial despotism of Napoleon III.; and he has also added a brief and satisfactory Biographical Notice of De Tocqueville, beside illustrating the text by numerous short and well-considered notes, designed merely to correct the author's mistakes, or to furnish more recent evidence on the topic under discussion. When we add that the

« PreviousContinue »