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vina Commedia would never have been a famous poem at all. The mere plan of describing the unseen world in three divisions would not have made it so ; there were Paradise Losts before Milton's which it would be time lost to read. Milton is finer in Hell than in Heaven, finest of all in his earthly Paradise, and Dante's Inferno is better than his Purgatorio or Paradiso, because he could put more of this earth into it,-conform it more to the only world the form of which he was acquainted with. Men cannot make bricks without straw nor fine houses without bricks or stones, nor fine poems without sensuous material.
The Divina Commedia is more considerable in religion and ecclesiastical politics, I think,
-on which last head there was some accordance betwixt its author and Milton,-than for its philosophy; the highest conception of it is that of Mr. Carlyle, that it is “ the soul of the Middle Ages rendered rhythmically visible”-the voice of “ ten Christian centuries ;" —“the Thought they lived by bodied forth in everlasting music.” Its . author is great, as Mr. C. observes, from “ fiery emphasis,” and intensity rather than from comprehensiveness or catholicity of spirit. His was “ not a great Catholic-was even a narrow sectarian mind.” If Mediævalism in Dante's day was a sectarian thing, cut off from thought expanding beyond it—then, when the torch had not been kindled in the hand of Des Cartes, and the revolt against the dominant Aristotelianisin was yet to begin, what must it be now, when thought has been expanding during six more centuries, whilst It remains fixed, rigid—not lifeless as a mummy -but imprisoning the life it has with bands and cerements in a body of death!
But Dante's imagination was as mediæval as his theology and philosophy; hovering continually between the horrible sublime and the hideous grotesque, and sometimes saved only from the ridiculous by the chaste severity of a style which is the very Diana of poetical composition. Witness, amongst a cloud of witnesses, his Minos, whom he has equipped with a tail long and lithe enough to go nine times round his body!—the wise conqueror and righteous judge is degraded into a worse monster than the Minotaur, in order that he may indicate every circle in a fantastic hell down to the ninth and last. How would Pindar have been horror-stricken to see the Hero thus turned into a hideous automaton sign-post ! In Dante's hands the demigod sinks into the beast-nan, while in those of Milton devils appear as deities, fit indeed to obtain adoration from the dazzled mind,-not frightful fiends but wicked angels-specious and seductive as they actually are to the human heart and imagination. Milton has borrowed from Dante, but how has he multiplied his splendors, how nobly exchanged his “ detestable horrors "* for a pageantry of Hell that far exceeds the luminous pomp of his Paradise in sublimity and beauty !
We, who feel thus, can enter into Mr. Carlyle's high notion of Dante's genius, yet own the justice of Mr. Landor's searching and severe criticism
* For a striking account of these “detestable horrors " see Mr. Leigh Hunt's Imagi. nation and Fancy.
upon the products of it, though the two views appear dissimilar as day and night. The one displays the D. C. under a rich moonlight, which clothes its dreary flats and rugged hollows with sublime shadow; the other under a cold keen dawning daylight, which shows the whole landscape, but not its noblest countenance. Mr. C. so far idealizes his Hero Poet, that without keeping out of view his characteristic faults, he, with a far finer economy, converts them into cognate virtues ; the poet's stern, angry temper, for instance, appears through Mr. C.'s glorifying medium like earnest sincerity, religious severity, a spiritual sadness; and he contrasts his “implacable, grim-trenchant face” with his “soft ethereal soul” more beautifully perhaps than quite truthfully; for Dante's soul was not all softness. Indeed it escapes this powerful advocate that the heroic poet was bitter. Are the noblest minds embittered then by evil and calamity ? Do they clothe themselves with cursing as with a garment, and forget that judgment as well as vengeance belongs to God? Dante's soul was full of pity, say other apologists, but he deemed it sinful to commiserate those whom God's justice had condemned. Justice forsooth !—and how knew he whom God had condemned-that He had sunk Brutus and Cassius into the nethermost pit, and doomed poor Pope Celestine to be wasp-stung to all eternity on the banks of Acheron ? I deny not his pity or his piety; yet I say that thus to fabricate visions of divine wrath upon individuals was a bad sign both of his age and of himself-the sign of a violent and presumptuous spirit. Again, are the noblest minds moody and mournful as Dante is described to have been? Rather they
bate no jot
Right onward. Thus did John Milton, whom with Mr. Landor I cannot help honoring and admiring above any other poet of past times except Shakspeare. His indeed was what Mr. Carlyle ascribes to Johnson, “a gigantic calmness” nay more, an almost angelic serenity and cheerfulness; to judge from the tone of his writings, with which the tenor of his life seems to agree. S. C.]
Striking points of difference between the Poets of the present age and those
of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries—Wish expressed for the union of the characteristic merits of both.
CHRISTENDOM, from its first settlement on feudal rights, has been so far one great body, however imperfectly organized, that a similar spirit will be found in each period to have been acting in all its members. The study of Shakspeare's poems—(I do not include his dramatic works, eminently as they too deserve that title)-led me to a more careful examination of the contemporary poets both in England and in other countries. But my attention was especially fixed on those of Italy, from the birth to the death of Shakspeare; that being the country in which the fine arts had been most sedulously, and hitherto most successfully cultivated. Abstracted from the degrees and peculiarities of individual genius, the properties common to the good writers of each period seem to establish one striking point of difference between the poetry of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and that of the present age. The remark may perhaps be extended to the sister art of painting. At least the latter will serve to illustrate the former. In the present age the poet-(I would wish to be understood as speaking generally, and without allusion to individual names)-seems to propose to himself as his main object, and as that which is the most characteristic of his art, new and striking images; with incidents that interest the affections or excite the curiosity. Both his characters and his descriptions he renders, as much as possible, specific and individual, even to a degree of portraiture. In his diction and metre, on the other hand, he is comparatively careless. The measure is either constructed on no previous system, and acknowledges no justifying principle but that of the writer's convenience ; or else some mechanical movement is adopted, of
which one couplet or stanza is so far an adequate specimen, as that the occasional differences appear evidently to arise from accident, or the qualities of the language itself, not from meditation and an intelligent purpose. And the language from Pope's translation of Homer, to Darwin's Temple of Nature,' may, notwithstanding some illustrious exceptions, be too faithfully characterized, as claiming to be poetical for no better reason than that it would be intolerable in conversation or in prose. Though alas! even our prose writings, nay even the style of our more set discourses, strive to be in the fashion, and trick themselves out in the soiled and over-worn finery of the meretricious muse. It is true that of late a great improvement in this respect is observable in our most popular writers. But it is equally true, that this recurrence to plain sense and genuine mother English is far from being general ; and that the composition of our novels, magazines, public harangues, and the like, is commonly as trivial in thought, and yet enigmatic in expression, as if Echo and Sphinx had laid their heads together to construct it. Nay, even of those who have most rescued themselves from this contagion, I should plead inwardly guilty to the charge of duplicity or cowardice, if I withheld my conviction, that few have guarded the purity of their native tongue with that jealous care, which the sublime Dante, in his tract De la volgare Eloquenza, declares to be the first duty of a poet. For language is the armory of the human mind; and
1 First published in 1803.
2 [See I., c. xix., s. ii., c. i. The spirit breathing in this Fragment may justify what Mr. C. says; but Dante does not appear to have used the expression attributed to him in the text. Ed.
It seems probable that Mr. Coleridge alluded to the following passage, which I found written by his hand in a copy of the first edition of Joan of Arc.
Degne di sommo stilo sono le somme Cose, ciò è, l'Amore, la Libertà, la Virtù, l'Immortalità, e quelle altre cose che per cagion di esse sono nella Mente nostra conceputi; per che per niun Accidente non siano fatte vili. Guardisi adunque ciascuno, e discerna quello che dicemo : e quando vuole queste somme Cose puramente cantare, prima* bevendo nel Fonte di Eli
* That is, waiting for, and seizing the moinent of deep Feeling, and stirring Imagina tion, after having, by steadfast accurate Observation, and by calm and profound Medita tion, filled himself, as it were, with his subject. 8. T. C.
at once contains the trophies of its past, and the weapons of its future conquests. Animadverte, says Hobbes, quam sit ab improprietate verborum pronum hominibus prolabi in errores circa ipsas res ! Sat [vero], says Sennertus,“ in hâc vitæ brevitate et naturæ obscuritate, rerum est, quibus cognoscendis tempus impendatur, ut [confusis et multivocis] sermonibus intelligendis illud consumere opus non sit. (Eheu! quantas strages paravere verba nubila, quæ tot dicunt ut nihil di. cunt ;-nubes potius, e quibus et in rebus politicis et in ecclesia turbines et tonitrua erumpunt !] Et proinde recte dictum putamus a Platone in Gorgia : δς άν τα ονόματα ειδεί, είσεται και τα πράγματα : et ab Epicteto, αρχή παιδεύσεως ή των ονομάτων επίστεψις : et prudentissime Galenus scribit, ή των ονομάτων χρήσις ταραχθείσα και την των πραγμάτων επιταράττει γνώσιν. .
Egregie vero J. C. Scaliger, in Lib. I. de Plantis : Est primum, inquit, sapientis officium, bene sentire, ut sibi vivat: proximum, bene loqui, ut patriæ vivat.”
Something analogous to the materials and structure of modern poetry I seem to have noticed—(but here I beg to be understood
cona, ponga sicuramente a l'accordata Lyra il sommo Plettro, e costumatamente cominci. Ma a fare questa Canzone, e questa Divisione, come si dee-quì è la Difficoltà, quì è la Fatica : perciò che mai senza Acume d'Ingegno, ne senza Assiduità d'Arte, ne senza Abito di Scienze, non si potrà fare. E questi sono quelli, che 'l Poeta nel L. VI, de la Eneide chiami Diletti da Dio, e da la ardente Virtù alzati al Cielo, e Figliuoli di Dio, avegna che figuratamente parli.
E però si confessa la Sciocchezza di coloro, i quali senza Arte, e senza Scienza, confidando si solamente del loro Ingegno, si pongono a cantar sommamente le cose somme. Adunque cessino questi tali da tanta loro Presunzione, e se per la loro naturale Desidia sono Oche, non vogliano l'Aquila, che altamente vola, imitare.
Dante, de la volgare Eloquenza, 1. ii., c. 4.* S. C.] 3 [Examinatio et Emendatio Mathematicæ hodierne. (Dial. ii., vol. iv., p. 83 of Molesworth's edit.) S. C.]
*[See the chapter p. 193, De nominibus novis Paracelsicis in his folio works, Leyden, 1676. The words in brackets are not in the original, and there are several omissions.-Ed. The sentence cited as from the Gorgias, is not contained, I believe, in that dialogue. S. C.]
*(This Italian version of the treatise De vulg. Eloq. was by Trissino, according to A. Zeno, who says that the translator has, in many places, confounded and altered the sense. The Latin tractate, which the Editor refers to, is by Dante himself. S. C.)