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..... L'hora s'appressava
Nel viso à miei figliuoli, senza far metta. I could not complain. I was petrified. My children cried: and my little Anselm, Anselmuccio mio, said, Father, you look on us; what is the matter?
.. Tu guardi si, padre, che hai ? I could neither weep, nor answer, all that day and the following night. When the scanty rays of the sun began to glimmer through the dolorous prison,
Com’un poco di raggio si fù messo
Nel doloroso carcere, and I could again see those four countenances on which my own image was stamped, I gnawed both my hands for grief. My children supposing I did this through a desire to eat, lifting themselves suddenly up, exclaimed, O father, our grief would be less, if you would eat us !
Ambo le mani per dolor mi morsi :
I restrained myself that I might not make them more miserable. We were all silent, that day and the following. Ah! cruel earth, why didst thou not swallow us up at once ?
Quel di, et l'altro, stemmo tutta muti.
Ahi! dura terra, perche non l'apristi ? The fourth day being come, Gaddo falling all along at my feet, cried out, My father, why do not you help me ? and died. The other three expired, one after the other, between the fifth and sixth days, famished as you see me now. And I being seized with blindness began to crawl over them, sovra ciascuno, on hands and feet; and for three days after they were dead, continued calling them by their names.
At length, famine finished my torments.” Having said this, the poet adds, “ with distorted
eyes he again fixed his teeth on the mangled scull”x. It is not improbable, that the shades of unfortunate men, who, described under peculiar situations and with their proper attributes, are introduced relating at large their histories in hell to Dante, might have given the hint to Boccace's book De CASIBUS VIRORUM ILLUSTRIUM, On the Mis
*Cant. xxiii. See supr. vol. ii. p. 166, note'. And Essay on Pope, p. 254.
fortunes of Illustrious Personages, the original model of the MIRROUR For MAGISTRATES.
Dante's PURGATORY is not on the whole less fantastic than his Hell. As his Hell was a vast perpendicular cavity in the earth, he supposes Purgatory to be a cylindric mass elevated to a prodigious height. At intervals are recesses projecting from the outside of the cylinder. In these recesses, some higher and some lower, the wicked expiate their crimes, according to the proportion of their guilt. From one department they pass to another by steps of stone exceedingly steep. On the top of the whole, or the summit of Purgatory, is a platform adorned with trees and vegetables of every kind. This is the Terrestrial Paradise, which has been transported hither, we know not how, and which forms an avenue to the Paradise Celestial. It is extraordinary that some of the Gothic painters should not have given us this subject.
Dante describes not disagreeably the first region which he traverses on leaving helly. The heavens are tinged with sapphire, and the star of love, or the sun, makes all the orient laugh. He sees a venerable sage approach. This is Cato of Utica, who, astonished to see a living man in the mansion of ghosts, questions Dante and Virgil about the business which brought them hither. Virgil answers; and Cato advises Virgil to wash Dante's face, which was soiled with the smoke of hell, and to cover his head with one of the reeds which grew on the borders of the neighbouring river. Virgil takes his advice; and having gathered one reed, sees another spring up in its place. This is the golden bough of the Eneid, uno avulso non deficit alter. The shades also, as in Virgil, crowd to be ferried over Styx; but an angel performs the office of Charon, admitting some into the boat, and rejecting others. This confusion of fable and religion destroys the graces of the one and the majesty of the other. Through adventures and scenes more strange and wild than any
in the Pilgrim's Progress, we at length arrive at the twenty-first Canto. A concussion of the earth announces the deliverance of a soul from Purgatory. This is the soul of Statius, the favourite poet of the dark ages. Although a very improper companion for Virgil, he immediately joins our adventurers, and accompanies them in their progress. It is difficult to discover what pagan or christian idea regulates Dante's dispensation of rewards and punishments. Statius passes from Purgatory to Paradise, Cato remains in the place of expiation, and Virgil is condemned to eternal torments.
Dante meets his old acquaintance Forese, a debauchee of Florence. On finishing the conversation, Forese asks Dante when he shall have the pleasure of seeing him again. This question in Purgatory is diverting enough. Dante answers with much serious gravity, “I know not the time of death ; but it cannot be too near. Look back on the troubles
y Purgat. Cant. i.
in which my country is involved?!" The dispute between the pontificate and the empire appears to have been the predominant topic of Dante's mind. This circumstance has filled Dante's poem with strokes of satire. Every reader of Voltaire must remember that lively writer's paraphrase from the INFERNO, of the story of count Guido, in which are these inimitable lines. A Franciscan friar abandoned to Beelzebub thus exclaims :
“ Monsieur de Lucifer!
Que Dieu le rend à Boniface huit.” Dante thus translated would have had many more readers than at present. I take this opportunity of remarking, that our author's perpetual reference to recent facts and characters is in imitation of Virgil, yet with this very material difference: the persons recognised in Virgil's sixth book, for instance the chiefs of the Trojan war, are the contemporaries of the hero, not of the poet. The truth is, Dante's poem is a satirical history of his own times.
Dante sees some of the ghosts of Purgatory advancing forward, more meagre and emaciated than the rest. He asks how this could happen in a place where all live alike without nourishment. Virgil quotes the example of Meleager, who wasted with a firebrand, on the gradual extinction of which his life depended. He also produces the comparison of a mirror reflecting a figure. These obscure explications do not satisfy the doubts of Dante. Statius, for his better instruction, explains how grows
in the womb of the mother, how it is enlarged, and by degrees receives life and intellect. The drift of our author is apparent in these profound illustrations. He means to show his skill in a sort of metaphysical anatomy. We see something of this in the TESORETTO of Brunetto. Unintelligible solutions of a similar sort, drawn from a frivolous and mysterious philosophy, mark the writers of Dante's age.
The PARADISE of Dante, the third part of this poem, resembles his PURGATORY. Its fictions, and its allegories, which suffer by being ex
plained, are all conceived in the same chimerical spirit. The poet successively views the glory of the saints, of angels, of the holy Virgin, and at last of God himself.
Heaven as well as hell, among the monks, had its legendary description, which it was heresy to disbelieve, and which was formed on perversions or misinterpretations of scripture. Our author's vision ends with the Deity, and we know not by what miraculous assistance he returns to earth.
It must be allowed, that the scenes of Virgil's sixth book have many fine strokes of the terrible; but Dante's colouring is of a more gloomy temperature. There is a sombrous cast in his imagination; and he has given new shades of horror to the classical hell. We may say of Dante, that
The sensations of fear impressed by the Roman poet are less harassing to the repose of the mind: they have a more equable and placid effect. The terror of Virgil's tremendous objects is diminished by correctness of composition and elegance of style. We are reconciled to his Gorgons and Hydras, by the grace of expression, and the charms of versification.
In the mean time, it may seem a matter of surprise, that the Italian poets of the thirteenth century, who restored, admired, and studied the classics, did not imitate their beauties. But while they possessed the genuine models of antiquity, their unnatural and eccentric habits of mind and manners, their attachments to system, their scholastic theology, superstition, ideal love, and above all their chivalry, had corrupted every true principle of life and literature, and consequently prevented the progress of taste and propriety. They could not conform to the practices and notions of their own age, and to the ideas of the ancients, at the same time. They were dazzled with the imageries of Virgil and Homer, which they could not always understand or apply, or which they saw through the mist of prejudice and misconception. Their genius having once taken a false direction, when recalled to copy a just pattern, produced only constraint and affectation, a distorted and unpleasing resemblance. The early Italian poets disfigured, instead of adorning their works, by attempting to imitate the classics. The charms which we so much admire in Dante, do not belong to the Greeks and Romans. They are derived from another origin, and must be traced back to a different stock. Nor is it at the same time less surprising, that the later Italian poets, in more enlightened times, should have paid so respectful a compliment to Dante as to acknowledge no other model, and with his excellencies, to transcribe and perpetuate all his extravagancies.
& Par. L. ii. 720.
Sackville's Legend of Buckingham in the Mirrour for Magistrates.
Additions by Higgins. Account of him. View of the early editions of this Collection. Specimen of Higgins's Legend of Cordelia, which
is copied by Spenser. I now return to the MIRROUR FOR MAGISTRATES, and to Sackville's Legend of Buckingham, which follows his INDUCTION.
The Complaynt of HENRYE DUKE OF BUCKINGHAM, is written with a force and even elegance of expression, a copiousness of phraseology, and an exactness of versification, not to be found in any other parts of the collection. On the whole, it may be thought tedious and languid. But that objection unavoidably results from the general plan of these pieces. It is impossible that soliloquies of such prolixity, and designed to include much historical and even biographical matter, should every where sustain a proper degree of spirit, pathos, and interest. In the exordium are these nervous and correct couplets.
Whom flattering Fortune falsely so beguilde,
That loe, she slew, where earst ful smooth she smilde. Again,
And paynt it forth, that all estates maye knowe:
Have they the warning, and be mine the woe. Buckingham is made to enter thus rapidly, yet with much address, into his fatal share of the civil broils between York and Lancaster.
But what may boot to stay the Sisters three,
Northampton field with armed men orespred.
O would to God the cruell dismall day
The unhappie hower, the time, and eke the day, &c.
And thou, Alecto, feede me with thy foode!
* (Shakspeare seems to have burlesqued these lines in one of Pistol's rants.
Abridge my doleful days !
Let.grisly, gaping, ghastly wounds, un
bind the sisters three, Come, Atropos, I say.--Park.]