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to fly precipitately into the profundities of a pathless valley, where, says the poet, the sun was filent.
Mi ripingeva dove'l sol tace', In the middle of a vast solitude he perceives a spectre, of whom he implores pity and help. The spectre hastens to his cries: it was the shade of Virgil, whom Beatrix, Dante's mistress, had sent, to give him courage, and to guide him into the regions of hell". Virgil begins a long discourse with Dante ; and expoftulates with him for chusing to wander through the rough obscurities of a barren and dreary vale, when the top
of the neighbouring mountain afforded every delight. The converfation of Virgil, and the name of Beatrix, by degrees diffipate the fears of the poet, who explains his situation. He returns to himself, and compares this revival of his strength and spirits to a flower smitten by the frost of a night, which again lifts its fhrinking head, and expands its vivid colours, at the first gleamings of the morning-sun.
Qual' il fioretti dal notturno gelo
Chinati et chiusi, &c". Dante, under the conduct of Virgil, penetrates hell. But he does not on this occasion always avail himself of Virgil's descriptions and mythologies. At least the formation of Dante's imageries are of another school. He feigns his hell to be a prodigious and almost bottomless abyss, which from its aperture to its lowest depth preserves a rotund shape : or rather, an im
I INF. CANT, i. The same bold metaphor occurs below, CANT. v.
Evenni in luogo d'ogni LUCE MUTO. in See supr. vol. ii. p. 219.
* Cant. ii. In another part of the InFERNO, Virgil is angry with Dante, but is foon reconciled. Here the poet compares himself to a cottager in the early part of a promising spring, who looks out in the
morning from his humble shed, and fees the fields covered with a severe and unexpected frost. But the sun foon melts the ground, and he drives his goats afield. CANT. xxiv. This poem abounds in comparisons, Not one of the worst is a comic one, in which a person looking sharply and eagerly, is compared to an old taylor threading a needle. Ing. CANT. xv.
mense perpendicular cavern, which opening as it descends into different circles, forms so many distinct subterraneous regions. We are struck with horror at the commencement of this dreadful adventure.
The first object which the poet perceives is a gate of brass, over which were inscribed in characters of a dark hue, di colore oscuro, these verses.
Per me si và nella città dolente :
Laffate ogni speranza voi ch'entraste P. That is, “ By me is the way to the woeful city. By me is " the way to the eternal pains. By me is the way to the “ damned race.
My mighty maker was divine Justice and “ Power, the Supreme Wisdom, and the First Love. Before “ me nothing was created. If not eternal, I shall eternally re“ main. Put away all hope, ye that enter.”
There is a severe solemnity in these abrupt and comprehensive sentences, and they are a striking preparation to the scenes that ensue. But the idea of such an inscription on the brazen portal of hell, was suggested to Dante by books of chivalry; in which the gate of an impregnable enchanted castle, is often inscribed with words importing the dangers or wonders to be found within. Over the door of every chamber in Spenser's necromantic palace of Busyrane, was written a threat to the champions who presumed to attempt to enter . This total exclusion of hope from
He means the Platonic Eqws. The P Cant. iii.
hell, here fo finely introduced and fo forcibly expreffed, was probably remembered by Milton, a disciple of Dante, where he describes,
Regions of sorrow, dolefull fhades, where peace
I have not time to follow Dante regularly through his dialogues and adventures with the crouds of ghosts, antient and modern, which he meets in the course of this infernal journey. In these interviews, there is often inuch of the party and politics of his own times, and of allusion to recent facts. Nor have I leisure particularly to display our author's punishments and phantoms. I observe in general, that the ground-work of his hell is classical, yet with many Gothic and extravagant innovations. The burning lakes, the fofles, and fiery towers which surround the city of Dis, and the three Furies which wait at its entrance, are touched with new strokes'. The Gorgons, the Hydra, the Chimera, Cerberus, the serpent of Lerna, and the rest of Virgil's, or rather Homer's, infernal apparitions, are dilated with new touches of the terrible, and sometimes made ridiculous by the addition of comic or incongruous circumstances, yet without any intention of burlesque. Because Virgif had mentioned the Harpies in a single word only', in one of the lothsome groves which Dante paffes, consisting of trees whose leaves are black, and whose knotted boughs are hard as iron, the Hárpies build theit nests".
Non frondi verdi, ma di color fosco,
Non pomi v'eran, ma stecchi con tosco. Cacus, whom Virgil had called Semifer in his seventh book, • Par. L. i. 65.
* Gorgones, HARPÝÍÆQUI, vi. 289. • See Cant, ix, vii.
appears in the shape of a Centaur covered with curling snakes, and on whose neck is perched a dragon hovering with expanded wings. It is supposed that Dante took the idea of his INFERNO from a magnificent nightly representation of hell, exhibited by the pope in honour of the bishop of Ostia on the river Arno at Florence, in the year 1304. This is mentioned by the Italian critics in extenuation of Dante's choice of so strange a subject. But why should we attempt to excuse any absurdity in the writings or manners of the middle ages ? Dante chose this subject as a reader of Virgil and Homer. The religious MYSTERY represented on the river Arno, however magnificent, was perhaps a spectacle purely orthodox, and perfectly conformable to the ideas of the church. And if we allow that it might hint the subject, with all its inconfiftencies, it never could have furnished any considerable part of this wonderful compound of claffical and romantic fancy, of pagan and christian theology, of real and fi&titious history, of tragical and comic incidents, of familiar and heroic manners, and of satirical and sublime poetry. But the groffest improprieties of this poem discover an originality of invention, and its absurdities often border on sublimity. We are surprised that a poet should write one hundred cantos on hell, paradise, and purgatory. But this prolixity is partly owing to the want of art and method : and is common to all early compofitions, in which every thing is related circumftantially and without rejection, and not in those general terms which are used by modern writers.
Dante has beautifully enlarged Virgil's short comparison of the fouls lingering on the banks of Lethe, to the numerous leaves falling from the trees in Autumn.
Come d'Autumno si levan le foglie
Similmente, il mal seme d'Adamo
In the Fields inhabited by unhappy lovers he sees Semiramis, Achilles, Paris, and Tristan, or fir Tristram. One of the old Italian commentators on this poem says, that the last was an English knight born in Cornovaglio, or Cornwall, a city of England ?
Among many others of his friends, he sees Francisca the daughter of Guido di Polenta, in whose palace Dante died at Ravenna, and Paulo one of the sons of Malatesta lord of Rimini. This lady fell in love with Paulo; the passion was mutual, and she was betrothed to him in marriage : but her family chose rather that he should be married to Lanciotto, Paulo's eldest brother. This match had the most fatal consequences. The injured lovers could not dissemble or fifle their affection: they were surprised, and both assassinated by Lanciotto. Dante finds the shades of these distinguished victims of an unfortunate attachment at a distance from the rest, in a region of his INFERNO desolated by the most violent tempests. He accosts them both, and Francisca relates their history : yet the conversation is carried on with some difficulty, on account of the impetuosity of the storm which was perpetually raging. Dante, who from many circumstances of his own amours, appears to have possessed the most refined sensibilities about the delicacies of love, enquires in what manner, when in the other world, they first communicated their passion to each other. Francisca answers, that they were one day fitting together, and reading the romance of Lancelot; where two lovers were represented in the same critical situation with themselves. Their changes of colour and countenance, while they were reading, often tacitly betrayed
Y Cant. iii.
z In the fixteenth Canto of the PARAD180, king Arthur's queen GENEURA,
who belongs to fir Tristram's romance, is mentioned.