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Nothing more fully illustrates and ascertains the respective merits and genius of different poets, than a juxtaposition of their performances on fimilar subjećts. Having examined at large Sackville's Descent into Hell, for the sake of throwing a
stronger light on his manner of treating a fićtion which
gives so large a scope to fancy, I shall employ the remainder of this Sečtion in setting before my reader a general view of Dante's Italian poem, entitled CoMMEDIA, containing a description of Hell, Paradise, and Purgatory, and written about the year 1310.
In the mean time, I presume that most of my readers will re
colle&t and apply the fixth Book of Virgil: to which, however,
an eye on the exordium of an old forgotten Florentine
& Melted. poem
poem called Teseretto, written in Frottola, or a short irregular measure, exhibiting a cyclopede of theoretic and practic philosophy, and composed by his preceptor Brunetto Latini about the year 1270 °. Brunetto supposes himself lost in a wood, at the foot of a mountain covered with animals, flowers, plants, and fruits of every species, and subjećt to the supreme command of a wonderful Lady, whom he thus describes. “Her head touched the heavens, which served at once “ for a veil and an ornament. The sky grew dark or serene “ at her voice, and her arms extended to the extremities of “ the earth'.” This bold personification, one of the earliest of the rude ages of poetry, is NATURE. She converses with the poet, and describes the creation of the world. She enters upon a most unphilosophical and indeed unpoetical detail of the physical system : developes the head of man, and points out the seat of intelligence and of memory. From physics she proceeds to morals: but her principles are here confined to theology and the laws of the church, which she couches in technical rhymes".
Dante, like his master Brunetto, is bewildered in an unfrequented forest. He attempts to climb a mountain, whose summit is illuminated by the rising sun. A furious leopard, pressed by hunger, and a lion, at whose aspect the air is affrighted, accompanied by a she-wolf, oppose his progress ; and force him
to fly precipitately into the profundities of a pathless valley, where, says the poet, the sun was silent.
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 expostulates with him for chufing to wander through the rough obscurities of a barren and dreary vale, when the top of the neighbouring mountain afforded every delight. The conversation of Virgil, and the name of Beatrix, by degrees diffipate the fears of the poet, who explains his fituation. 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 shrinking head, and expands its vivid colours, at the first gleamings of the morning-sun.
Dante, under the condućt 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
* Inf. Cant. i. The same bold me- morning from his humble shed, and sees taphor occurs below, Cant. v. the fields covered with a severe and unex
Evenni in luogo d'ogni Luce Muro. pećted frost. But the sun soon melts the
* See supr. vol. ii. p. 219.
* CANT. ii. In another part of the InFER No, Virgil is angry with Dante, but is soon reconciled. Here the poet compares himself to a cottager in the early part of a Promising spring, who looks out in 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. Inf. Cant. xv.
mense * He means the Platonic Eews. The P CANT. iii. - Italian expositors will have it to be the * Fair. Qu. iii. xi. 54. Holy Ghost.
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
Vol. III. H h hell
Regions of sorrow, dolefull shades, 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 much 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 fosses, 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 Virgil had mentioned the Harpies in a fingle word only', in one of the lothsome groves which Dante passes, confisting of trees whose leaves are black, and whose knotted boughs are hard as iron, the Harpies build their nests".
Cacus, whom Virgil had called Semifer in his seventh book,
Par; L. i. 65. . * Gorgones, HARPY IAE QUE, vi. 289. * See Cant. ix. vii. ... " Cant. xiii. appears