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Title: Among My Books. Second Series
Author: Lowell, James Russell
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Among My Books. Second Series" ***


Second Series



A love and honor which more than thirty years have deepened, though
priceless to him they enrich, are of little import to one capable of
inspiring them. Yet I cannot deny myself the pleasure of so far intruding
on your reserve as at least to make public acknowledgment of the debt I
can never repay.








On the banks of a little river so shrunken by the suns of summer that it
seems fast passing into a tradition, but swollen by the autumnal rains
with an Italian suddenness of passion till the massy bridge shudders
under the impatient heap of waters behind it, stands a city which, in its
period of bloom not so large as Boston, may well rank next to Athens in
the history which teaches _come l' uom s' eterna_.

Originally only a convenient spot in the valley where the fairs of the
neighboring Etruscan city of Fiesole were held, it gradually grew from a
huddle of booths to a town, and then to a city, which absorbed its
ancestral neighbor and became a cradle for the arts, the letters, the
science, and the commerce[2] of modern Europe. For her Cimabue wrought,
who infused Byzantine formalism with a suggestion of nature and feeling;
for her the Pisani, who divined at least, if they could not conjure with
it, the secret of Greek supremacy in sculpture; for her the marvellous
boy Ghiberti proved that unity of composition and grace of figure and
drapery were never beyond the reach of genius;[3] for her Brunelleschi
curved the dome which Michel Angelo hung in air on St. Peter's; for her
Giotto reared the bell-tower graceful as an Horatian ode in marble; and
the great triumvirate of Italian poetry, good sense, and culture called
her mother. There is no modern city about which cluster so many elevating
associations, none in which the past is so contemporary with us in
unchanged buildings and undisturbed monuments. The house of Dante is
still shown; children still receive baptism at the font (_il mio bel San
Giovanni_) where he was christened before the acorn dropped that was to
grow into a keel for Columbus; and an inscribed stone marks the spot
where he used to sit and watch the slow blocks swing up to complete the
master-thought of Arnolfo. In the convent of St. Mark hard by lived and
labored Beato Angelico, the saint of Christian art, and Fra Bartolommeo,
who taught Raphael dignity. From the same walls Savonarola went forth to
his triumphs, short-lived almost as the crackle of his martyrdom. The
plain little chamber of Michel Angelo seems still to expect his return;
his last sketches lie upon the table, his staff leans in the corner, and
his slippers wait before the empty chair. On one of the vine-clad hills,
just without the city walls, one's feet may press the same stairs that
Milton climbed to visit Galileo. To an American there is something
supremely impressive in this cumulative influence of the past full of
inspiration and rebuke, something saddening in this repeated proof that
moral supremacy is the only one that leaves monuments and not ruins
behind it. Time, who with us obliterates the labor and often the names of
yesterday, seems here to have spared almost the prints of the _care
piante_ that shunned the sordid paths of worldly honor.

Around the courtyard of the great Museum of Florence stand statues of her
illustrious dead, her poets, painters, sculptors, architects, inventors,
and statesmen; and as the traveller feels the ennobling lift of such
society, and reads the names or recognizes the features familiar to him
as his own threshold, he is startled to find Fame as commonplace here as
Notoriety everywhere else, and that this fifth-rate city should have the
privilege thus to commemorate so many famous men her sons, whose claim to
pre-eminence the whole world would concede. Among them is one figure
before which every scholar, every man who has been touched by the tragedy
of life, lingers with reverential pity. The haggard cheeks, the lips
clamped together in unfaltering resolve, the scars of lifelong battle,
and the brow whose sharp outline seems the monument of final victory,--
this, at least, is a face that needs no name beneath it. This is he who
among literary fames finds only two that for growth and immutability can
parallel his own. The suffrages of highest authority would now place him
second in that company where he with proud humility took the sixth

Dante (Durante, by contraction Dante) degli Alighieri was born at
Florence in 1265, probably during the month of May.[5] This is the date
given by Boccaccio, who is generally followed, though he makes a blunder
in saying, _sedendo Urbano quarto nella cattedra di San Pietro_, for
Urban died in October, 1264. Some, misled by an error in a few of the
early manuscript copies of the _Divina Commedia_, would have him born
five years earlier, in 1260. According to Arrivabene,[6] Sansovino was
the first to confirm Boccaccio's statement by the authority of the poet
himself, basing his argument on the first verse of the _Inferno_,--

  "Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita";

the average age of man having been declared by the Psalmist to be seventy
years, and the period of the poet's supposed vision being unequivocally
fixed at 1300.[7] Leonardo Aretino and Manetti add their testimony to
that of Boccaccio, and 1265 is now universally assumed as the true date.
Voltaire,[8] nevertheless, places the poet's birth in 1260, and jauntily
forgives Bayle (who, he says, _écrivait à Rotterdam_ currente calamo
_pour son libraire_) for having been right, declaring that he esteems him
neither more nor less for having made a mistake of five years. Oddly
enough, Voltaire adopts this alleged blunder of five years on the next
page in saying that Dante died at the age of 56, though he still more
oddly omits the undisputed date of his death (1321), which would have
shown Bayle to be right. The poet's descent is said to have been derived
from a younger son of the great Roman family of the Frangipani, classed
by the popular rhyme with the Orsini and Colonna:--

  "Colonna, Orsini, e Frangipani,
  Prendono oggi e pagano domani."

That his ancestors had been long established in Florence is an inference
from some expressions of the poet, and from their dwelling having been
situated in the more ancient part of the city. The most important fact of
the poet's genealogy is, that he was of mixed race, the Alighieri being
of Teutonic origin. Dante was born, as he himself tells us,[9] when the
sun was in the constellation Gemini, and it has been absurdly inferred,
from a passage in the _Inferno_,[10] that his horoscope was drawn and a
great destiny predicted for him by his teacher, Brunetto Latini. The
_Ottimo Comento_ tells us that the Twins are the house of Mercury, who
induces in men the faculty of writing, science, and of acquiring
knowledge. This is worth mentioning as characteristic of the age and of
Dante himself, with whom the influence of the stars took the place of the
old notion of destiny.[11] It is supposed, from a passage in Boccaccio's
life of Dante, that Alighiero the father was still living when the poet
was nine years old. If so, he must have died soon after, for Leonardo
Aretino, who wrote with original documents before him, tells us that
Dante lost his father while yet a child. This circumstance may have been
not without influence in muscularizing his nature to that character of
self-reliance which shows itself so constantly and sharply during his
after-life. His tutor was Brunetto Latini, a very superior man (for that
age), says Aretino parenthetically. Like Alexander Gill, he is now
remembered only as the schoolmaster of a great poet, and that he did his
duty well may be inferred from Dante's speaking of him gratefully as one
who by times "taught him how man eternizes himself." This, and what
Villani says of his refining the Tuscan idiom (for so we understand his
_farli scorti in bene parlare_),[12] are to be noted as of probable
influence on the career of his pupil. Of the order of Dante's studies
nothing can be certainly affirmed. His biographers send him to Bologna,
Padua, Paris, Naples, and even Oxford. All are doubtful, Paris and Oxford
most of all, and the dates utterly undeterminable. Yet all are possible,
nay, perhaps probable. Bologna and Padua we should be inclined to place
before his exile; Paris and Oxford, if at all, after it. If no argument
in favor of Paris is to be drawn from his _Pape Satan_[13] and the
corresponding _paix, paix, Sathan,_ in the autobiography of Cellini, nor
from the very definite allusion to Doctor Siger,[14] we may yet infer
from some passages in the _Commedia_ that his wanderings had extended
even farther;[15] for it would not be hard to show that his comparisons
and illustrations from outward things are almost invariably drawn from
actual eyesight. As to the nature of his studies, there can be no doubt
that he went through the _trivium_ (grammar, dialectic, rhetoric) and the
_quadrivium_ (arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy) of the then
ordinary university course. To these he afterward added painting (or at
least drawing,--_designavo un angelo sopra certe tavolette_),[16]
theology, and medicine. He is said to have been the pupil of Cimabue, and
was certainly the friend of Giotto, the designs for some of whose frescos
at Assisi and elsewhere have been wrongly attributed to him, though we
may safely believe in his helpful comment and suggestion. To prove his
love of music, the episode of Casella were enough, even without
Boccaccio's testimony. The range of Dante's study and acquirement would
be encyclopedic in any age, but at that time it was literally possible to
master the _omne scibile_, and he seems to have accomplished it. How
lofty his theory of science was, is plain from this passage in the
_Convito_: "He is not to be called a true lover of wisdom (_filosofo_)
who loves it for the sake of gain, as do lawyers, physicians, and almost
all churchmen (_li religiosi_), who study, not in order to know, but to
acquire riches or advancement, and who would not persevere in study
should you give them what they desire to gain by it.... And it may be
said that (as true friendship between men consists in each wholly loving
the other) the true philosopher loves every part of wisdom, and wisdom
every part of the philosopher, inasmuch as she draws all to herself, and
allows no one of his thoughts to wander to other things."[17] The
_Convito_ gives us a glance into Dante's library. We find Aristotle (whom
he calls the philosopher, the master) cited seventy-six times; Cicero,
eighteen; Albertus Magnus, seven; Boethius, six; Plato (at second-hand),
four; Aquinas, Avicenna, Ptolemy, the Digest, Lucan, and Ovid, three
each; Virgil, Juvenal, Statius, Seneca, and Horace, twice each; and
Algazzali, Alfrogan, Augustine, Livy, Orosius, and Homer (at
second-hand), once. Of Greek he seems to have understood little; of
Hebrew and Arabic, a few words. But it was not only in the closet and
from books that Dante received his education. He acquired, perhaps, the
better part of it in the streets of Florence, and later, in those
homeless wanderings which led him (as he says) wherever the Italian
tongue was spoken. His were the only open eyes of that century, and, as
nothing escaped them, so there is nothing that was not photographed upon
his sensitive brain, to be afterward fixed forever in the _Commedia_.
What Florence was during his youth and manhood, with its Guelphs and
Ghibellines, its nobles and trades, its Bianchi and Neri, its
kaleidoscopic revolutions, "all parties loving liberty and doing their
best to destroy her," as Voltaire says, it would be beyond our province
to tell even if we could. Foreshortened as events are when we look back
on them across so many ages, only the upheavals of party conflict
catching the eye, while the spaces of peace between sink out of the view
of history, a whole century seems like a mere wild chaos. Yet during a
couple of such centuries the cathedrals of Florence, Pisa, and Siena got
built; Cimabue, Giotto, Arnolfo, the Pisani, Brunelleschi, and Ghiberti
gave the impulse to modern art, or brought it in some of its branches to
its culminating point; modern literature took its rise; commerce became a
science, and the middle class came into being. It was a time of fierce
passions and sudden tragedies, of picturesque transitions and contrasts.
It found Dante, shaped him by every experience that life is capable
of,--rank, ease, love, study, affairs, statecraft, hope, exile, hunger,
dependence, despair,--until he became endowed with a sense of the
nothingness of this world's goods possible only to the rich, and a
knowledge of man possible only to the poor. The few well-ascertained
facts of Dante's life may be briefly stated. In 1274 occurred what we may
call his spiritual birth, the awakening in him of the imaginative
faculty, and of that profounder and more intense consciousness which
springs from the recognition of beauty through the antithesis of sex. It
was in that year that he first saw Beatrice Portinari. In 1289 he was
present at the battle of Campaldino, fighting on the side of the Guelphs,
who there utterly routed the Ghibellines, and where, he says
characteristically enough, "I was present, not a boy in arms, and where I
felt much fear, but in the end the greatest pleasure, from the various
changes of the fight."[18] In the same year he assisted at the siege and
capture of Caprona.[19] In 1290 died Beatrice, married to Simone dei
Bardi, precisely when is uncertain, but before 1287, as appears by a
mention of her in her father's will, bearing date January 15 of that
year. Dante's own marriage is assigned to various years, ranging from
1291 to 1294; but the earlier date seems the more probable, as he was the
father of seven children (the youngest, a daughter, named Beatrice) in
1301. His wife was Gemma dei Donati, and through her Dante, whose family,
though noble, was of the lesser nobility, became nearly connected with
Corso Donati, the head of a powerful clan of the _grandi_, or greater
nobles. In 1293 occurred what is called the revolution of Gian Della
Bella, in which the priors of the trades took the power into their own
hands, and made nobility a disqualification for office. A noble was
defined to be any one who counted a knight among his ancestors, and thus
the descendant of Cacciaguida was excluded.

Della Bella was exiled in 1295, but the nobles did not regain their
power. On the contrary, the citizens, having all their own way, proceeded
to quarrel among themselves, and subdivided into the _popolani grossi_
and _popolani minuti_, or greater and lesser trades,--a distinction of
gentility somewhat like that between wholesale and retail tradesmen. The
_grandi_ continuing turbulent, many of the lesser nobility, among them
Dante, drew over to the side of the citizens, and between 1297 and 1300
there is found inscribed in the book of the physicians and apothecaries,
_Dante d' Aldighiero, degli Aldighieri, poeta Fiorentino_[20] Professor
de Vericour[21] thinks it necessary to apologize for this lapse on the
part of the poet, and gravely bids us take courage, nor think that Dante
was ever an apothecary. In 1300 we find him elected one of the priors of
the city. In order to a perfect misunderstanding of everything connected
with the Florentine politics of this period, one has only to study the
various histories. The result is a spectrum on the mind's eye, which
looks definite and brilliant, but really hinders all accurate vision, as
if from too steady inspection of a Catharine-wheel in full whirl. A few
words, however, are necessary, if only to make the confusion palpable.
The rival German families of Welfs and Weiblingens had given their names,
softened into Guelfi and Ghibellini,--from which Gabriel Harvey[22]
ingeniously, but mistakenly, derives elves and goblins,--to two parties
in Northern Italy, representing respectively the adherents of the pope
and of the emperor, but serving very well as rallying-points in all
manner of intercalary and subsidiary quarrels. The nobles, especially the
greater ones,--perhaps from instinct, perhaps in part from hereditary
tradition, as being more or less Teutonic by descent,--were commonly
Ghibellines, or Imperialists; the bourgeoisie were very commonly Guelphs,
or supporters of the pope, partly from natural antipathy to the nobles,
and partly, perhaps, because they believed themselves to be espousing the
more purely Italian side. Sometimes, however, the party relation of
nobles and burghers to each other was reversed, but the names of Guelph
and Ghibelline always substantially represented the same things. The
family of Dante had been Guelphic, and we have seen him already as a
young man serving two campaigns against the other party. But no immediate
question as between pope and emperor seems then to have been pending; and
while there is no evidence that he was ever a mere partisan, the reverse
would be the inference from his habits and character. Just before his
assumption of the priorate, however, a new complication had arisen. A
family feud, beginning at the neighboring city of Pistoja, between the
Cancellieri Neri and Cancellieri Bianchi,[23] had extended to Florence,
where the Guelphs took the part of the Neri and the Ghibellines of the
Bianchi.[24] The city was instantly in a ferment of street brawls, as
actors in one of which some of the Medici are incidentally named,--the
first appearance of that family in history. Both parties appealed at
different times to the pope, who sent two ambassadors, first a bishop and
then a cardinal. Both pacificators soon flung out again in a rage, after
adding the new element of excommunication to the causes of confusion. It
was in the midst of these things that Dante became one of the six priors
(June, 1300),--an office which the Florentines had made bimestrial in its
tenure, in order apparently to secure at least six constitutional chances
of revolution in the year. He advised that the leaders of both parties
should be banished to the frontiers, which was forthwith done; the
ostracism including his relative Corso Donati among the Neri, and his
most intimate friend the poet Guido Cavalcanti among the Bianchi. They
were all permitted to return before long (but after Dante's term of
office was over), and came accordingly, bringing at least the Scriptural
allowance of "seven other" motives of mischief with them. Affairs getting
worse (1301), the Neri, with the connivance of the pope (Boniface VIII.),
entered into an arrangement with Charles of Valois, who was preparing an
expedition to Italy. Dante was meanwhile sent on an embassy to Rome
(September, 1301, according to Arrivabene,[25] but probably earlier) by
the Bianchi, who still retained all the offices at Florence. It is the
tradition that he said in setting forth: "If I go, who remains? and if I
stay, who goes?" Whether true or not, the story implies what was
certainly true, that the council and influence of Dante were of great
weight with the more moderate of both parties. On October 31, 1301,
Charles took possession of Florence in the interest of the Neri. Dante
being still at Rome (January 27, 1302), sentence of exile was pronounced
against him and others, with a heavy fine to be paid within two months;
if not paid, the entire confiscation of goods, and, whether paid or no,
exile; the charge against him being pecuniary malversation in office. The
fine not paid (as it could not be without admitting the justice of the
charges, which Dante scorned even to deny), in less than two months
(March 10, 1302) a second sentence was registered, by which he with
others was condemned to be burned alive if taken within the boundaries of
the republic.[26] From this time the life of Dante becomes semi-mythical,
and for nearly every date we are reduced to the "as they say" of
Herodotus. He became now necessarily identified with his fellow-exiles
(fragments of all parties united by common wrongs in a practical, if not
theoretic, Ghibellinism), and shared in their attempts to reinstate
themselves by force of arms. He was one of their council of twelve, but
withdrew from it on account of the unwisdom of their measures. Whether he
was present at their futile assault on Florence (July 22, 1304) is
doubtful, but probably he was not. From the _Ottimo Comento_, written at
least in part[27] by a contemporary as early as 1333, we learn that Dante
soon separated himself from his companions in misfortune with mutual
discontents and recriminations.[28] During the nineteen years of Dante's
exile, it would be hard to say where he was not. In certain districts of
Northern Italy there is scarce a village that has not its tradition of
him, its _sedia, rocca, spelonca,_ or _torre di Dante_; and what between
the patriotic complaisance of some biographers overwilling to gratify as
many provincial vanities as possible, and the pettishness of others
anxious only to snub them, the confusion becomes hopeless.[29] After his
banishment we find some definite trace of him first at Arezzo with
Uguccione della Faggiuola; then at Siena; then at Verona with the
Scaligeri. He himself says: "Through almost all parts where this language
[Italian] is spoken, a wanderer, wellnigh a beggar, I have gone, showing
against my will the wound of fortune. Truly I have been a vessel without
sail or rudder, driven to diverse ports, estuaries, and shores by that
hot blast, the breath of grievous poverty; and I have shown myself to the
eyes of many who perhaps, through some fame of me, had imagined me in
quite other guise, in whose view not only was my person debased, but
every work of mine, whether done or yet to do, became of less
account."[30] By the election of the emperor Henry VII. (of Luxemburg,
November, 1308), and the news of his proposed expedition into Italy, the
hopes of Dante were raised to the highest pitch. Henry entered Italy,
October, 1310, and received the iron crown of Lombardy at Milan, on the
day of Epiphany, 1311. His movements being slow, and his policy
undecided, Dante addressed him that famous letter, urging him to crush
first the "Hydra and Myrrha" Florence, as the root of all the evils of
Italy (April 16, 1311). To this year we must probably assign the new
decree by which the seigniory of Florence recalled a portion of the
exiles, excepting Dante, however, among others, by name.[31] The
undertaking of Henry, after an ill-directed dawdling of two years, at
last ended in his death at Buonconvento (August 24, 1313; Carlyle says
wrongly September); poisoned, it was said, in the sacramental bread, by a
Dominican friar, bribed thereto by Florence.[32] The story is doubtful,
the more as Dante nowhere alludes to it, as he certainly would have done
had he heard of it. According to Balbo, Dante spent the time from August,
1313, to November, 1314, in Pisa and Lucca, and then took refuge at
Verona, with Can Grande della Scala (whom Voltaire calls, drolly enough,
_le grand can de Vérone_, as if he had been a Tartar), where he remained
till 1318. Foscolo with equal positiveness sends him, immediately after
the death of Henry, to Guido da Polenta[33] at Ravenna, and makes him
join Can Grande only after the latter became captain of the Ghibelline
league in December, 1318. In 1316 the government of Florence set forth a
new decree allowing the exiles to return on conditions of fine and
penance. Dante rejected the offer (by accepting which his guilt would
have been admitted), in a letter still hot, after these five centuries,
with indignant scorn. "Is this then the glorious return of Dante
Alighieri to his country after nearly three lustres of suffering and
exile? Did an innocence, patent to all, merit this?--this, the perpetual
sweat and toil of study? Far from a man, the housemate of philosophy, be
so rash and earthen hearted a humility as to allow himself to be offered
up bound like a school-boy or a criminal! Far from a man, the preacher of
justice, to pay those who have done him wrong as for a favor! This is not
the way of retaining to my country; but if another can be found that
shall not derogate from the fame and honor of Dante, that I will enter on
with no lagging steps. For if by none such Florence may be entered, by me
then never! Can I not everywhere behold the mirrors of the sun and stars?
speculate on sweetest truths under any sky without first giving myself up
inglorious, nay, ignominious, to the populace and city of Florence? Nor
shall I want for bread." Dionisi puts the date of this letter in
1315.[34] He is certainly wrong, for the decree is dated December 11,
1316. Foscolo places it in 1316, Troya early in 1317, and both may be
right, as the year began March 25. Whatever the date of Dante's visit to
Voltaire's great Khan[35] of Verona, or the length of his stay with him,
may have been, it is certain that he was in Ravenna in 1320, and that, on
his return thither from an embassy to Venice (concerning which a curious
letter, forged probably by Doni, is extant), he died on September 14,
1321 (13th, according to others). He was buried at Ravenna under a
monument built by his friend, Guido Novello.[36] Dante is said to have
dictated the following inscription for it on his death-bed:--


Of which this rude paraphrase may serve as a translation:--

  The rights of Monarchy, the Heavens, the Stream of Fire, the Pit,
  In vision seen, I sang as far as to the Fates seemed fit;
  But since my soul, an alien here, hath flown to nobler wars,
  And, happier now, hath gone to seek its Maker 'mid the stars,
  Here am I Dante shut, exiled from the ancestral shore,
  Whom Florence, the of all least-loving mother, bore.[37]

If these be not the words of Dante, what is internal evidence worth? The
indomitably self-reliant man, loyal first of all to his most unpopular
convictions (his very host, Guido, being a Guelph), puts his Ghibellinism
(_jura monarchiae_) in the front. The man whose whole life, like that of
selected souls always, had been a war fare, calls heaven another camp,--a
better one, thank God! The wanderer of so many years speaks of his soul
as a guest,--glad to be gone, doubtless. The exile, whose sharpest
reproaches of Florence are always those of an outraged lover, finds it
bitter that even his unconscious bones should lie in alien soil.

Giovanni Villani, the earliest authority, and a contemporary, thus
sketches him: "This man was a great scholar in almost every science,
though a layman; was a most excellent poet, philosopher, and rhetorician;
perfect, as well in composing and versifying as in haranguing; a most
noble speaker.... This Dante, on account of his learning, was a little
haughty, and shy, and disdainful, and like a philosopher almost
ungracious, knew not well how to deal with unlettered folk." Benvenuto da
Imola tells us that he was very abstracted, as we may well believe of a
man who carried the _Commedia_ in his brain. Boccaccio paints him in this
wise: "Our poet was of middle height; his face was long, his nose
aquiline, his jaw large, and the lower lip protruding somewhat beyond the
upper; a little stooping in the shoulders; his eyes rather large than
small; dark of complexion; his hair and beard thick, crisp, and black;
and his countenance always sad and thoughtful. His garments were always
dignified; the style such as suited ripeness of years; his gait was grave
and gentlemanlike; and his bearing, whether public or private,
wonderfully composed and polished. In meat and drink he was most
temperate, nor was ever any more zealous in study or whatever other
pursuit. Seldom spake he, save when spoken to, though a most eloquent
person. In his youth he delighted especially in music and singing, and
was intimate with almost all the singers and musicians of his day. He was
much inclined to solitude, and familiar with few, and most assiduous in
study as far as he could find time for it. Dante was also of marvellous
capacity and the most tenacious memory." Various anecdotes of him are
related by Boccaccio, Sacchetti, and others, none of them verisimilar,
and some of them at least fifteen centuries old when revamped. Most of
them are neither _veri_ nor _ben trovati_. One clear glimpse we get of
him from the _Ottimo Comento_, the author of which says:[38] "I, the
writer, heard Dante say that never a rhyme had led him to say other than
he would, but that many a time and oft (_molte e spesse volte_) he had
made words say for him what they were not wont to express for other
poets." That is the only sincere glimpse we get of the living, breathing,
word-compelling Dante.

Looked at outwardly, the life of Dante seems to have been an utter and
disastrous failure. What its inward satisfactions must have been, we,
with the _Paradiso_ open before us, can form some faint conception. To
him, longing with an intensity which only the word _Dantesque_ will
express to realize an ideal upon earth, and continually baffled and
misunderstood, the far greater part of his mature life must have been
labor and sorrow. We can see how essential all that sad experience was to
him, can understand why all the fairy stories hide the luck in the ugly
black casket; but to him, then and there, how seemed it?

  Thou shalt relinquish everything of thee,
  Beloved most dearly; this that arrow is
  Shot from the bow of exile first of all;
  And thou shalt prove how salt a savor hath
  The bread of others, and how hard a path
  To climb and to descend the stranger's stairs![39]

_Come sa di sale!_ Who never wet his bread with tears, says Goethe, knows
ye not, ye heavenly powers! Our nineteenth century made an idol of the
noble lord who broke his heart in verse once every six months, but the
fourteenth was lucky enough to produce and not to make an idol of that
rarest earthly phenomenon, a man of genius who could hold heartbreak at
bay for twenty years, and would not let himself die till he had done his
task. At the end of the _Vita Nuova_, his first work, Dante wrote down
that remarkable aspiration that God would take him to himself after he
had written of Beatrice such things as were never yet written of woman.
It was literally fulfilled when the _Commedia_ was finished twenty-five
years later. Scarce was Dante at rest in his grave when Italy felt
instinctively that this was her great man. Boccaccio tells us that in
1329[40] Cardinal Poggetto (du Poiet) caused Dante's treatise _De
Monarchiâ_, to be publicly burned at Bologna, and proposed further to dig
up and burn the bones of the poet at Ravenna, as having been a heretic;
but so much opposition was roused that he thought better of it. Yet this
was during the pontificate of the Frenchman, John XXII., the reproof of
whose simony Dante puts in the mouth of St. Peter, who declares his seat
vacant,[41] whose damnation the poet himself seems to prophesy,[42] and
against whose election he had endeavored to persuade the cardinals, in a
vehement letter. In 1350 the republic of Florence voted the sum of ten
golden florins to be paid by the hands of Messer Giovanni Boccaccio to
Dante's daughter Beatrice, a nun in the convent of Santa Chiara at
Ravenna. In 1396 Florence voted a monument, and begged in vain for the
metaphorical ashes of the man of whom she had threatened to make literal
cinders if she could catch him alive. In 1429[43] she begged again, but
Ravenna, a dead city, was tenacious of the dead poet. In 1519 Michel
Angelo would have built the monument, but Leo X. refused to allow the
sacred dust to be removed. Finally, in 1829, five hundred and eight years
after the death of Dante, Florence got a cenotaph fairly built in Santa
Croce (by Ricci), ugly beyond even the usual lot of such, with three
colossal figures on it, Dante in the middle, with Italy on one side and
Poesy on the other. The tomb at Ravenna, built originally in 1483, by
Cardinal Bembo, was restored by Cardinal Corsi in 1692, and finally
rebuilt in its present form by Cardinal Gonzaga, in 1780, all three of
whom commemorated themselves in Latin inscriptions. It is a little shrine
covered with a dome, not unlike the tomb of a Mohammedan saint, and is
now the chief magnet which draws foreigners and their gold to Ravenna.
The _valet de place_ says that Dante is not buried under it, but beneath
the pavement of the street in front of it, where also, he says, he saw my
Lord Byron kneel and weep. Like everything in Ravenna, it is dirty and

In 1373 (August 9) Florence instituted a chair of the _Divina Commedia_,
and Boccaccio was named first professor. He accordingly began his
lectures on Sunday, October 3, following, but his comment was broken off
abruptly at the 17th verse of the 17th canto of the _Inferno_ by the
illness which ended in his death, December 21, 1375. Among his successors
were Filippo Villani and Filelfo. Bologna was the first to follow the
example of Florence, Benvenuto da Imola having begun his lectures,
according to Tiraboschi, so early as 1375. Chairs were established also
at Pisa, Venice, Piacenza, and Milan before the close of the century. The
lectures were delivered in the churches and on feast-days, which shows
their popular character. Balbo reckons (but this is guess-work) that the
MS. copies of the _Divina Commedia_ made during the fourteenth century,
and now existing in the libraries of Europe, are more numerous than those
of all other works, ancient and modern, made during the same period.
Between the invention of printing and the year 1500 more than twenty
editions were published in Italy, the earliest in 1472. During the
sixteenth century there were forty editions; during the seventeenth,--a
period, for Italy, of sceptical dilettanteism,--only three; during the
eighteenth, thirty-four; and already, during the first half of the
nineteenth, at least eighty. The first translation was into Spanish, in
1428.[44] M. St. René Taillandier says that the _Commedia_ was condemned
by the inquisition in Spain; but this seems too general a statement, for,
according to Foscolo,[45] it was the commentary of Landino and
Vellutello, and a few verses in the _Inferno_ and _Paradiso_, which were
condemned. The first French translation was that of Grangier, 1596, but
the study of Dante struck no root there till the present century.
Rivarol, who translated the _Inferno_ in 1783, was the first Frenchman
who divined the wonderful force and vitality of the _Commedia_.[46] The
expressions of Voltaire represent very well the average opinion of
cultivated persons in respect of Dante in the middle of the eighteenth
century. He says: "The Italians call him divine; but it is a hidden
divinity; few people understand his oracles. He has commentators, which,
perhaps, is another reason for his not being understood. His reputation
will go on increasing, because scarce anybody reads him."[47] To Father
Bettinelli he writes: "I estimate highly the courage with which you have
dared to say that Dante was a madman and his work a monster." But he
adds, what shows that Dante had his admirers even in that flippant
century: "There are found among us, and in the eighteenth century, people
who strive to admire imaginations so stupidly extravagant and
barbarous."[48] Elsewhere he says that the _Commedia_ was "an odd poem,
but gleaming with natural beauties, a work in which the author rose in
parts above the bad taste of his age and his subject, and full of
passages written as purely as if they had been of the time of Ariosto and
Tasso."[49] It is curious to see this antipathetic fascination which
Dante exercised over a nature so opposite to his own.

At the beginning of this century Châteaubriand speaks of Dante with vague
commendation, evidently from a very superficial acquaintance, and that
only with the _Inferno_, probably from Rivarol's version.[50] Since then
there have been four or five French versions in prose or verse, including
one by Lamennais. But the austerity of Dante will not condescend to the
conventional elegance which makes the charm of French, and the most
virile of poets cannot be adequately rendered in the most feminine of
languages. Yet in the works of Fauriel, Ozanam, Ampère, and Villemain,
France has given a greater impulse to the study of Dante than any other
country except Germany. Into Germany the _Commedia_ penetrated later. How
utterly Dante was unknown there in the sixteenth century is plain from a
passage in the "Vanity of the Arts and Sciences" of Cornelius Agrippa,
where he is spoken of among the authors of lascivious stories: "There
have been many of these historical pandars, of which some of obscure
fame, as Aeneas Sylvius, Dantes, and Petrarch, Boccace, Pontanus,"
etc.[51] The first German translation was that of Kannegiesser (1809).
Versions by Streckfuss, Kopisch, and Prince John (late king) of Saxony
followed. Goethe seems never to have given that attention to Dante which
his ever-alert intelligence might have been expected to bestow on so
imposing a moral and aesthetic phenomenon. Unless the conclusion of the
second part of "Faust" be an inspiration of the _Paradiso_, we remember
no adequate word from him on this theme. His remarks on one of the German
translations are brief, dry, and without that breadth which comes only of
thorough knowledge and sympathy. But German scholarship and constructive
criticism, through Witte, Kopisch, Wegele, Ruth, and others, have been of
pre-eminent service in deepening the understanding and facilitating the
study of the poet. In England the first recognition of Dante is by
Chaucer in the "Hugelin of Pisa" of the "Monkes Tale,"[52] and an
imitation of the opening verses of the third canto of the _Inferno_
("Assembly of Foules"). In 1417 Giovanni da Serravalle, bishop of Fermo,
completed a Latin prose translation of the _Commedia_, a copy of which,
as he made it at the request of two English bishops whom he met at the
council of Constance, was doubtless sent to England. Later we find Dante
now and then mentioned, but evidently from hearsay only,[53] till the
time of Spenser, who, like Milton fifty years later, shows that he had
read his works closely. Thenceforward for more than a century Dante
became a mere name, used without meaning by literary sciolists. Lord
Chesterfield echoes Voltaire, and Dr. Drake in his "Literary Hours"[54]
could speak of Darwin's "Botanic Garden" as showing the "wild and
terrible sublimity of Dante"! The first complete English translation was
by Boyd,--of the _Inferno_ in 1785, of the whole poem in 1802. There have
been eight other complete translations, beginning with Cary's in 1814,
six since 1850, beside several of the _Inferno_ singly. Of these that of
Longfellow is the best. It is only within the last twenty years, however,
that the study of Dante, in any true sense, became at all general. Even
Coleridge seems to have been familiar only with the _Inferno_. In America
Professor Ticknor was the first to devote a special course of
illustrative lectures to Dante; he was followed by Longfellow, whose
lectures, illustrated by admirable translations, are remembered with
grateful pleasure by many who were thus led to learn the full
significance of the great Christian poet. A translation of the _Inferno_
into quatrains by T.W. Parsons ranks with the best for spirit,
faithfulness, and elegance. In Denmark and Russia translations of the
_Inferno_ have been published, beside separate volumes of comment and
illustration. We have thus sketched the steady growth of Dante's fame and
influence to a universality unparalleled except in the case of
Shakespeare, perhaps more remarkable if we consider the abstruse and
mystical nature of his poetry. It is to be noted as characteristic that
the veneration of Dantophilists for their master is that of disciples for
their saint. Perhaps no other man could have called forth such an
expression as that of Ruskin, that "the central man of all the world, as
representing in perfect balance the imaginative, moral, and intellectual
faculties, all at their highest, is Dante."

The first remark to be made upon the writings of Dante is that they are
all (with the possible exception of the treatise _De Vulgari Eloquio_)
autobiographic, and that all of them, including that, are parts of a
mutually related system, of which the central point is the individuality
and experience of the poet. In the _Vita Nuova_ he recounts the story of
his love for Beatrice Portinari, showing how his grief for her loss
turned his thoughts first inward upon his own consciousness, and, failing
all help there, gradually upward through philosophy to religion, and so
from a world of shadows to one of eternal substances. It traces with
exquisite unconsciousness the gradual but certain steps by which memory
and imagination transubstantiated the woman of flesh and blood into a
holy ideal, combining in one radiant symbol of sorrow and hope that faith
which is the instinctive refuge of unavailing regret, that grace of God
which higher natures learn to find in the trial which passeth all
understanding, and that perfect womanhood, the dream of youth and the
memory of maturity, which beckons toward the forever unattainable. As a
contribution to the physiology of genius, no other book is to be compared
with the _Vita Nuova_. It is more important to the understanding of Dante
as a poet than any other of his works. It shows him (and that in the
midst of affairs demanding practical ability and presence of mind)
capable of a depth of contemplative abstraction, equalling that of a
Soofi who has passed the fourth step of initiation. It enables us in some
sort to see how, from being the slave of his imaginative faculty, he rose
by self-culture and force of will to that mastery of it which is art. We
comprehend the _Commedia_ better when we know that Dante could be an
active, clear-headed politician and a mystic at the same time. Various
dates have been assigned to the composition of the _Vita Nuova_. The
earliest limit is fixed by the death of Beatrice in 1290 (though some of
the poems are of even earlier date), and the book is commonly assumed to
have been finished by 1295; Foscolo says 1294. But Professor Karl Witte,
a high authority, extends the term as far as 1300.[55] The title of the
book also, _Vita Nuova_, has been diversely interpreted. Mr. Garrow, who
published an English version of it at Florence in 1846, entitles it the
"Early Life of Dante." Balbo understands it in the same way.[56] But we
are strongly of the opinion that "New Life" is the interpretation
sustained by the entire significance of the book itself.

His next work in order of date is the treatise _De Monarchiâ_. It has
been generally taken for granted that Dante was a Guelph in politics up
to the time of his banishment, and that out of resentment he then became
a violent Ghibelline. Not to speak of the consideration that there is no
author whose life and works present so remarkable a unity and logical
sequence as those of Dante, Professor Witte has drawn attention to a fact
which alone is enough to demonstrate that the _De Monarchiâ_ was written
before 1300. That and the _Vita Nuova_ are the only works of Dante in
which no allusion whatever is made to his exile. That bitter thought was
continually present to him. In the _Convito_ it betrays itself often, and
with touching unexpectedness. Even in the treatise _De Vulgari Eloquio_,
he takes as one of his examples of style: "I have most pity for those,
whosoever they are, that languish in exile, and revisit their country
only in dreams." We have seen that the one decisive act of Dante's
priorate was to expel from Florence the chiefs of both parties as the
sowers of strife, and he tells us (_Paradiso_, XVII.) that he had formed
a party by himself. The king of Saxony has well defined his political
theory as being "an ideal Ghibellinism"[57] and he has been accused of
want of patriotism only by those short-sighted persons who cannot see
beyond their own parish. Dante's want of faith in freedom was of the same
kind with Milton's refusing (as Tacitus had done before) to confound
license with liberty. The argument of the _De Monarchiâ_ is briefly this:
As the object of the individual man is the highest development of his
faculties, so is it also with men united in societies. But the individual
can only attain the highest development when all his powers are in
absolute subjection to the intellect, and society only when it subjects
its individual caprices to an intelligent head. This is the order of
nature, as in families, and men have followed it in the organization of
villages, towns, cities. Again, since God made man in his own image, men
and societies most nearly resemble him in proportion as they approach
unity. But as in all societies questions must arise, so there is need of
a monarch for supreme arbiter. And only a universal monarch can be
impartial enough for this, since kings of limited territories would
always be liable to the temptation of private ends. With the internal
policy of municipalities, commonwealths, and kingdoms, the monarch would
have nothing to do, only interfering when there was danger of an
infraction of the general peace. This is the doctrine of the first book,
enforced sometimes eloquently, always logically, and with great fertility
of illustration. It is an enlargement of some of the _obiter dicta_ of
the _Convito_. The earnestness with which peace is insisted on as a
necessary postulate of civic well-being shows what the experience had
been out of which Dante had constructed his theory. It is to be looked on
as a purely scholastic demonstration of a speculative thesis, in which
the manifold exceptions and modifications essential in practical
application are necessarily left aside. Dante almost forestalls the
famous proposition of Calvin, "that it is possible to conceive a people
without a prince, but not a prince without a people," when he says, _Non
enim gens propter regem, sed e converso rex propter gentem_.[58] And in
his letter to the princes and peoples of Italy on the coming of Henry
VII., he bids them "obey their prince, but so as freemen preserving their
own constitutional forms." He says also expressly: _Animadvertendum sane,
quod cum dicitur humanum genus potest regi per unum supremum principem,
non sic intelligendum est ut ab illo uno prodire possint municipia et
leges municipales. Habent namque nationes, regna, et civitates inter se
proprietates quas legibus differentibus regulari oportet_. Schlosser the
historian compares Dante's system with that of the United States.[59] It
in some respects resembled more the constitution of the Netherlands under
the supreme stadtholder, but parallels between ideal and actual
institutions are always unsatisfactory.[60]

The second book is very curious. In it Dante endeavors to demonstrate the
divine right of the Roman Empire to universal sovereignty. One of his
arguments is, that Christ consented to be born under the reign of
Augustus; another, that he assented to the imperial jurisdiction in
allowing himself to be crucified under a decree of one of its courts. The
atonement could not have been accomplished unless Christ suffered under
sentence of a court having jurisdiction, for otherwise his condemnation
would have been an injustice and not a penalty. Moreover, since all
mankind was typified in the person of Christ, the court must have been
one having jurisdiction over all mankind; and since he was delivered to
Pilate, an officer of Tiberius, it must follow that the jurisdiction of
Tiberius was universal. He draws an argument also from the wager of
battle to prove that the Roman Empire was divinely permitted, at least,
if not instituted. For since it is admitted that God gives the victory,
and since the Romans always won it, therefore it was God's will that the
Romans should attain universal empire. In the third book he endeavors to
prove that the emperor holds by divine right, and not by permission of
the pope. He assigns supremacy to the pope in spirituals, and to the
emperor in temporals. This was a delicate subject, and though the king of
Saxony (a Catholic) says that Dante did not overstep the limits of
orthodoxy, it was on account of this part of the book that it was
condemned as heretical.[61]

Next follows the treatise _De Vulgari Eloquio_. Though we have doubts
whether we possess this book as Dante wrote it, inclining rather to think
that it is a copy in some parts textually exact, in others an abstract,
there can be no question either of its great glossological value or that
it conveys the opinions of Dante. We put it next in order, though written
later than the _Convito_, only because, like the _De Monarchiâ_, it is
written in Latin. It is a proof of the national instinct of Dante, and of
his confidence in his genius, that he should have chosen to write all his
greatest works in what was deemed by scholars a _patois_, but which he
more than any other man made a classic language. Had he intended the _De
Monarchiâ_ for a political pamphlet, he would certainly not have composed
it in the dialect of the few. The _De Vulgari Eloquio_ was to have been
in four books. Whether it was ever finished or not it is impossible to
say; but only two books have come down to us. It treats of poetizing in
the vulgar tongue, and of the different dialects of Italy. From the
particularity with which it treats of the dialect of Bologna, it has been
supposed to have been written in that city, or at least to furnish an
argument in favor of Dante's having at some time studied there. In Lib.
II. Cap. II., is a remarkable passage in which, defining the various
subjects of song and what had been treated in the vulgar tongue by
different poets, he says that his own theme had been righteousness.

The _Convito_ is also imperfect. It was to have consisted of fourteen
treatises, but, as we have it, contains only four. In the first he
justifies the use of the vulgar idiom in preference to the Latin. In the
other three he comments on three of his own _Canzoni_. It will be
impossible to give an adequate analysis of this work in the limits
allowed us.[62] It is an epitome of the learning of that age,
philosophical, theological, and scientific. As affording illustration of
the _Commedia_, and of Dante's style of thought, it is invaluable. It is
reckoned by his countrymen the first piece of Italian prose, and there
are parts of it which still stand unmatched for eloquence and pathos. The
Italians (even such a man as Cantù among the rest) find in it and a few
passages of the _Commedia_ the proof that Dante, as a natural philosopher
was wholly in advance of his age,--that he had, among other things,
anticipated Newton in the theory of gravitation. But this is as idle as
the claim that Shakespeare had discovered the circulation of the blood
before Harvey,[63] and one might as well attempt to dethrone Newton
because Chaucer speaks of the love which draws the apple to the earth.
The truth is, that it was only as a poet that Dante was great and
original (glory enough, surely, to have not more than two competitors),
and in matters of science, as did all his contemporaries, sought the
guiding hand of Aristotle like a child. Dante is assumed by many to have
been a Platonist, but this is not true, in the strict sense of the word.
Like all men of great imagination, he was an idealist, and so far a
Platonist, as Shakespeare might be proved to have been by his sonnets.
But Dante's direct acquaintance with Plato may be reckoned at zero, and
we consider it as having strongly influenced his artistic development for
the better, that transcendentalist as he was by nature, so much so as to
be in danger of lapsing into an Oriental mysticism, his habits of thought
should have been made precise and his genius disciplined by a mind so
severely logical as that of Aristotle. This does not conflict with what
we believe to be equally true, that the Platonizing commentaries on his
poem, like that of Landino, are the most satisfactory. Beside the prose
already mentioned, we have a small collection of Dante's letters, the
recovery of the larger number of which we owe to Professor Witte. They
are all interesting, some of them especially so, as illustrating the
prophetic character with which Dante invested himself. The longest is one
addressed to Can Grande della Scalla, explaining the intention of the
_Commedia_ and the method to be employed in its interpretation. The
authenticity of this letter has been doubted, but is now generally

We shall barely allude to the minor poems, full of grace and depth of
mystic sentiment, and which would have given Dante a high place in the
history of Italian literature, even had he written nothing else. They are
so abstract, however, that without the extrinsic interest of having been
written by the author of the _Commedia_, they would probably find few
readers. All that is certainly known in regard to the _Commedia_ is that
it was composed during the nineteen years which intervened between
Dante's banishment and death. Attempts have been made to fix precisely
the dates of the different parts, but without success, and the
differences of opinion are bewildering. Foscolo has constructed an
ingenious and forcible argument to show that no part of the poem was
published before the author's death. The question depends somewhat on the
meaning we attach to the word "published." In an age of manuscript the
wide dispersion of a poem so long even as a single one of the three
divisions of the _Commedia_ would be accomplished very slowly. But it is
difficult to account for the great fame which Dante enjoyed during the
latter years of his life, unless we suppose that parts, at least, of his
greatest work had been read or heard by a large number of persons. This
need not, however, imply publication; and Witte, whose opinion is
entitled to great consideration, supposes even the _Inferno_ not to have
been finished before 1314 or 1315. In a matter where certainty would be
impossible, it is of little consequence to reproduce conjectural dates.
In the letter to Can Grande, before alluded to, Dante himself has stated
the theme of his song. He says that "the literal subject of the whole
work is the state of the soul after death simply considered. But if the
work be taken allegorically, the subject is man, as by merit or demerit,
through freedom of the will, he renders himself liable to the reward or
punishment of justice." He tells us that the work is to be interpreted in
a literal, allegorical, moral, and anagogical sense, a mode then commonly
employed with the Scriptures,[64] and of which he gives the following
example: "To make which mode of treatment more clear, it may be applied
in the following verses: _In exitu Israel de Aegypto, domus Jacob de
populo barbaro, facta est Judaea sanctificatio ejus, Israel potestas
ejus_.[65] For if we look only at the literal sense, it signifies the
going out of the children of Israel from Egypt in the time of Moses; if
at the allegorical, it signifies our redemption through Christ; if at the
moral, it signifies the conversion of the soul from the grief and misery
of sin to a state of grace; and if at the anagogical, it signifies the
passage of the blessed soul from the bondage of this corruption to the
freedom of eternal glory." A Latin couplet, cited by one of the old
commentators, puts the matter compactly together for us:--

  "_Litera_ gesta refert; quid credas _allegoria_;
  _Moralis_ quid agas; quid speres _anagogia_."

Dante tells us that he calls his poem a comedy because it has a fortunate
ending, and gives its title thus: "Here begins the comedy of Dante
Alighieri, a Florentine by birth, but not in morals."[66] The poem
consists of three parts, Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. Each part is
divided into thirty-three cantos, in allusion to the years of the
Saviour's life; for though the Hell contains thirty-four, the first canto
is merely introductory. In the form of the verse (triple rhyme) we may
find an emblem of the Trinity, and in the three divisions, of the
threefold state of man, sin, grace, and beatitude. Symbolic meanings
reveal themselves, or make themselves suspected, everywhere, as in the
architecture of the Middle Ages. An analysis of the poem would be out of
place here, but we must say a few words of Dante's position as respects
modern literature. If we except Wolfram von Eschenbach, he is the first
Christian poet, the first (indeed, we might say the only) one whose whole
system of thought is colored in every finest fibre by a purely Christian
theology. Lapse through sin, mediation, and redemption, these are the
subjects of the three parts of the poem: or, otherwise stated,
intellectual conviction of the result of sin, typified in Virgil (symbol
also of that imperialism whose origin he sang); moral conversion after
repentance, by divine grace, typified in Beatrice; reconciliation with
God, and actual blinding vision of him,--"The pure in heart shall see
God." Here are general truths which any Christian may accept and find
comfort in. But the poem comes nearer to us than this. It is the real
history of a brother man, of a tempted, purified, and at last triumphant
human soul; it teaches the benign ministry of sorrow, and that the ladder
of that faith by which man climbs to the actual fruition of things not
seen _ex quovis ligno non fit_, but only of the cross manfully borne. The
poem is also, in a very intimate sense, an apotheosis of woman Indeed, as
Marvell's drop of dew mirrored the whole firmament, so we find in the
_Commedia_ the image of the Middle Ages, and the sentimental gyniolatry
of chivalry, which was at best but skin-deep, is lifted in Beatrice to an
ideal and universal plane. It is the same with Catholicism, with
imperialism, with the scholastic philosophy, and nothing is more
wonderful than the power of absorption and assimilation in this man, who
could take up into himself the world that then was, and reproduce it with
such, cosmopolitan truth to human nature and to his own individuality, as
to reduce all contemporary history to a mere comment on his vision. We
protest, therefore, against the parochial criticism which would degrade
Dante to a mere partisan, which sees in him a Luther before his time, and
would clap the _bonnet rouge_ upon his heavenly muse.

Like all great artistic minds, Dante was essentially conservative, and,
arriving precisely in that period of transition when Church and Empire
were entering upon the modern epoch of thought, he strove to preserve
both by presenting the theory of both in a pristine and ideal perfection.
The whole nature of Dante was one of intense belief. There is proof upon
proof that he believed himself invested with a divine mission Like the
Hebrew prophets, with whose writings his whole soul was imbued, it was
back to the old worship and the God of the fathers that he called his
people, and not Isaiah himself was more destitute of that humor, that
sense of ludicrous contrast, which is an essential in the composition of
a sceptic. In Dante's time, learning had something of a sacred character,
the line was hardly yet drawn between the clerk and the possessor of
supernatural powers, it was with the next generation, with the elegant
Petrarch, even more truly than with the kindly Boccaccio, that the purely
literary life, and that dilettanteism, which is the twin sister of
scepticism, began. As a merely literary figure, the position of Dante is
remarkable. Not only as respects thought, but as respects aesthetics
also, his great poem stands as a monument on the boundary line between
the ancient and modern. He not only marks, but is in himself, the
transition. _Arma virumque cano_, that is the motto of classic song; the
things of this world and great men. Dante says, _subjectum est homo_, not
_vir_; my theme is man, not a man. The scene of the old epic and drama
was in this world, and its catastrophe here; Dante lays his scene in the
human soul, and his fifth act in the other world. He makes himself the
protagonist of his own drama. In the _Commedia_ for the first time
Christianity wholly revolutionizes Art, and becomes its seminal
principle. But aesthetically also, as well as morally, Dante stands
between the old and the new, and reconciles them. The theme of his poem
is purely subjective, modern, what is called romantic; but its treatment
is objective (almost to realism, here and there), and it is limited by a
form of classic severity. In the same way he sums up in himself the two
schools of modern poetry which had preceded him, and, while essentially
lyrical in his subject, is epic in the handling of it. So also he
combines the deeper and more abstract religious sentiment of the Teutonic
races with the scientific precision and absolute systematism of the
Romanic. In one respect Dante stands alone. While we can in some sort
account for such representative men as Voltaire and Goethe (nay, even
Shakespeare) by the intellectual and moral fermentation of the age in
which they lived, Dante seems morally isolated and to have drawn his
inspiration almost wholly from his own internal reserves. Of his mastery
in style we need say little here. Of his mere language, nothing could be
better than the expression of Rivarol "His verse holds itself erect by
the mere force of the substantive and verb, without the help of a single
epithet." We will only add a word on what seems to us an extraordinary
misapprehension of Coleridge, who disparages Dante by comparing his
Lucifer with Milton's Satan. He seems to have forgotten that the precise
measurements of Dante were not prosaic, but absolutely demanded by the
nature of his poem. He is describing an actual journey, and his exactness
makes a part of the verisimilitude. We read the "Paradise Lost" as a
poem, the _Commedia_ as a record of fact; and no one can read Dante
without believing his story, for it is plain that he believed it himself.
It is false aesthetics to confound the grandiose with the imaginative.
Milton's angels are not to be compared with Dante's, at once real and
supernatural; and the Deity of Milton is a Calvinistic Zeus, while
nothing in all poetry approaches the imaginative grandeur of Dante's
vision of God at the conclusion of the _Paradiso_. In all literary
history there is no such figure as Dante, no such homogeneousness of life
and works, such loyalty to ideas, such sublime irrecognition of the
unessential; and there is no moral more touching than that the
contemporary recognition of such a nature, so endowed and so faithful to
its endowment, should be summed up in the sentence of Florence: _Igne
comburatur sic quod moriatur_.[67]

The range of Dante's influence is not less remarkable than its intensity.
Minds, the antipodes of each other in temper and endowment, alike feel
the force of his attraction, the pervasive comfort of his light and
warmth. Boccaccio and Lamennais are touched with the same reverential
enthusiasm. The imaginative Ruskin is rapt by him, as we have seen,
perhaps beyond the limit where critical appreciation merges in
enthusiasm; and the matter-of-fact Schlosser tells us that "he, who was
wont to contemplate earthly life wholly in an earthly light, has made use
of Dante, Landino, and Vellutello in his solitude to bring a heavenly
light into his inward life." Almost all other poets have their seasons,
but Dante penetrates to the moral core of those who once fairly come
within his sphere, and possesses them wholly. His readers turn students,
his students zealots, and what was a taste becomes a religion. The
homeless exile finds a home in thousands of grateful hearts. _E venne da
esilio in questa pace!_

Every kind of objection, aesthetic and other, may be, and has been, made
to the _Divina Commedia_, especially by critics who have but a
superficial acquaintance with it, or rather with the _Inferno_, which is
as far as most English critics go. Coleridge himself, who had a way of
divining what was in books, may be justly suspected of not going further,
though with Carey to help him. Mr. Carlyle, who has said admirable things
of Dante the man, was very imperfectly read in Dante the author, or he
would never have put Sordello in hell and the meeting with Beatrice in
paradise. In France it was not much better (though Rivarol has said the
best thing hitherto of Dante's parsimony of epithet)[68] before Ozanam,
who, if with decided ultramontane leanings, has written excellently well
of our poet, and after careful study. Voltaire, though not without
relentings toward a poet who had put popes heels upward in hell, regards
him on the whole as a stupid monster and barbarian. It was no better in
Italy, if we may trust Foscolo, who affirms that "neither Pelli nor
others deservedly more celebrated than he ever read attentively the poem
of Dante, perhaps never ran through it from the first verse to the
last."[69] Accordingly we have heard that the _Commedia_ was a sermon, a
political pamphlet, the revengeful satire of a disappointed Ghibelline,
nay, worse, of a turncoat Guelph. It is narrow, it is bigoted, it is
savage, it is theological, it is mediaeval, it is heretical, it is
scholastic, it is obscure, it is pedantic, its Italian is not that of _la
Crusca_, its ideas are not those of an enlightened eighteenth century, it
is everything, in short, that a poem should not be; and yet, singularly
enough, the circle of its charm has widened in proportion as men have
receded from the theories of Church and State which are supposed to be
its foundation, and as the modes of thought of its author have become
more alien to those of his readers. In spite of all objections, some of
which are well founded, the _Commedia_ remains one of the three or four
universal books that have ever been written.

We may admit, with proper limitations, the modern distinction between the
Artist and the Moralist. With the one Form is all in all, with the other
Tendency. The aim of the one is to delight, of the other to convince. The
one is master of his purpose, the other mastered by it. The whole range
of perception and thought is valuable to the one as it will minister to
imagination, to the other only as it is available for argument. With the
moralist use is beauty, good only as it serves an ulterior purpose; with
the artist beauty is use, good in and for itself. In the fine arts the
vehicle makes part of the thought, coalesces with it. The living
conception shapes itself a body in marble, color, or modulated sound, and
henceforth the two are inseparable. The results of the moralist pass into
the intellectual atmosphere of mankind, it matters little by what mode of
conveyance. But where, as in Dante, the religious sentiment and the
imagination are both organic, something interfused with the whole being
of the man, so that they work in kindly sympathy, the moral will
insensibly suffuse itself with beauty as a cloud with light. Then that
fine sense of remote analogies, awake to the assonance between facts
seemingly remote and unrelated, between the outward and inward worlds,
though convinced that the things of this life are shadows, will be
persuaded also that they are not fantastic merely, but imply a substance
somewhere, and will love to set forth the beauty of the visible image
because it suggests the ineffably higher charm of the unseen original.
Dante's ideal of life, the enlightening and strengthening of that native
instinct of the soul which leads it to strive backward toward its divine
source, may sublimate the senses till each becomes a window for the light
of truth and the splendor of God to shine through. In him as in Calderon
the perpetual presence of imagination not only glorifies the philosophy
of life and the science of theology, but idealizes both in symbols of
material beauty. Though Dante's conception of the highest end of man was
that he should climb through every phase of human experience to that
transcendental and super-sensual region where the true, the good, and the
beautiful blend in the white light of God, yet the prism of his
imagination forever resolved the ray into color again, and he loved to
show it also where, entangled and obstructed in matter, it became
beautiful once more to the eye of sense. Speculation, he tells us, is the
use, without any mixture, of our noblest part (the reason). And this part
cannot in this life have its perfect use, which is to behold God (who is
the highest object of the intellect), except inasmuch as the intellect
considers and beholds him in his effects.[70] Underlying Dante the
metaphysician, statesman, and theologian, was always Dante the poet,[71]
irradiating and vivifying, gleaming through in a picturesque phrase, or
touching things unexpectedly with that ideal light which softens and
subdues like distance in the landscape. The stern outline of his system
wavers and melts away before the eye of the reader in a mirage of
imagination that lifts from beyond the sphere of vision and hangs in
serener air images of infinite suggestion projected from worlds not
realized, but substantial to faith, hope, and aspiration. Beyond the
horizon of speculation floats, in the passionless splendor of the
empyrean, the city of our God, the Rome whereof Christ is a Roman,[72]
the citadel of refuge, even in this life, for souls purified by sorrow
and self denial, transhumanized[73] to the divine abstraction of pure
contemplation. "And it is called Empyrean," he says in his letter to Can
Grande, "which is the same as a heaven blazing with fire or ardor, not
because there is in it a material fire or burning, but a spiritual one,
which is blessed love or charity." But this splendor he bodies forth, if
sometimes quaintly, yet always vividly and most often in types of winning

Dante was a mystic with a very practical turn of mind. A Platonist by
nature, an Aristotelian by training, his feet keep closely to the narrow
path of dialectics, because he believed it the safest, while his eyes are
fixed on the stars and his brain is busy with things not demonstrable,
save by that grace of God which passeth all understanding, nor capable of
being told unless by far off hints and adumbrations. Though he himself
has directly explained the scope, the method, and the larger meaning of
his greatest work,[74] though he has indirectly pointed out the way to
its interpretation in the _Convito_, and though everything he wrote is
but an explanatory comment on his own character and opinions,
unmistakably clear and precise, yet both man and poem continue not only
to be misunderstood popularly, but also by such as should know
better.[75] That those who confined their studies to the _Commedia_
should have interpreted it variously is not wonderful, for out of the
first or literal meaning others open, one out of another, each of wider
circuit and purer abstraction, like Dante's own heavens, giving and
receiving light.[76] Indeed, Dante himself is partly to blame for this.
"The form or mode of treatment," he says, "is poetic, fictive,
descriptive, digressive, transumptive, and withal definitive, divisive,
probative, improbative, and positive of examples." Here are conundrums
enough, to be sure! To Italians at home, for whom the great arenas of
political and religious speculation were closed, the temptation to find a
subtler meaning than the real one was irresistible. Italians in exile, on
the other hand, made Dante the stalking-horse from behind which they
could take a long shot at Church and State, or at obscurer foes.[77]

Infinitely touching and sacred to us is the instinct of intense sympathy
which drawst hese latter toward their great forerunner, _exul immeritus_
like themselves.[78] But they have too often wrung a meaning from Dante
which is injurious to the man and out of keeping with the ideas of his
age. The aim in expounding a great poem should be, not to discover an
endless variety of meanings often contradictory, but whatever it has of
great and perennial significance; for such it must have, or it would long
ago have ceased to be living and operative, would long ago have taken
refuge in the Chartreuse of great libraries, dumb thenceforth to all
mankind. We do not mean to say that this minute exegesis is useless or
unpraiseworthy, but only that it should be subsidiary to the larger way.
It serves to bring out more clearly what is very wonderful in Dante,
namely, the omnipresence of his memory throughout the work, so that its
intimate coherence does not exist in spite of the reconditeness and
complexity of allusion, but is woven out of them. The poem has many
senses, he tells us, and there can be no doubt of it; but it has also,
and this alone will account for its fascination, a living soul behind
them all and informing all, an intense singleness of purpose, a core of
doctrine simple, human, and wholesome, though it be also, to use his own
phrase, the bread of angels.

Nor is this unity characteristic only of the _Divina Commedia_. All the
works of Dante, with the possible exception of the _De vulgari Eloquio_
(which is unfinished), are component parts of a Whole Duty of Man
mutually completing and interpreting one another. They are also, as truly
as Wordsworth's "Prelude," a history of the growth of a poet's mind. Like
the English poet he valued himself at a high rate, the higher no doubt
after Fortune had made him outwardly cheap. _Sempre il magnanimo si
magnifica in suo cuore; e così lo pusillanimo per contrario sempre si
tiene meno che non è._[79] As in the prose of Milton, whose striking
likeness to Dante in certain prominent features of character has been
remarked by Foscolo, there are in Dante's minor works continual allusions
to himself of great value as material for his biographer. Those who read
attentively will discover that the tenderness he shows toward Francesca
and her lover did not spring from any friendship for her family, but was
a constant quality of his nature, and that what is called his revengeful
ferocity is truly the implacable resentment of a lofty mind and a lover
of good against evil, whether showing itself in private or public life;
perhaps hating the former manifestation of it the most because he
believed it to be the root of the latter,--a faith which those who have
watched the course of politics in a democracy, as he had, will be
inclined to share. His gentleness is all the more striking by contrast,
like that silken compensation which blooms out of the thorny stem of the
cactus. His moroseness,[80] his party spirit, and his personal
vindictiveness are all predicated upon the _Inferno_, and upon a
misapprehension or careless reading even of that. Dante's zeal was not of
that sentimental kind, quickly kindled and as soon quenched, that hovers
on the surface of shallow minds,

  "Even as the flame of unctuous is wont
  To move upon the outer surface only";[81]

it was the steady heat of an inward fire kindling the whole character of
the man through and through, like the minarets of his own city of
Dis.[82] He was, as seems distinctive in some degree of the Latinized
races, an unflinching _à priori_ logician, not unwilling to "syllogize
invidious verities,"[83] wherever they might lead him, like Sigier, whom
he has put in paradise, though more than suspected of heterodoxy. But at
the same time, as we shall see, he had something of the practical good
sense of that Teutonic stock whence he drew a part of his blood, which
prefers a malleable syllogism that can yield without breaking to the
inevitable, but incalculable pressure of human nature and the stiffer
logic of events. His theory of Church and State was not merely a
fantastic one, but intended for the use and benefit of men as they were;
and he allowed accordingly for aberrations, to which even the law of
gravitation is forced to give place; how much more, then, any scheme
whose very starting-point is the freedom of the will!

We are thankful for a commentator at last who passes dry-shod over the
_turbide onde_ of inappreciative criticism, and, quietly waving aside the
thick atmosphere which has gathered about the character of Dante both as
man and poet, opens for us his City of Doom with the divining-rod of
reverential study. Miss Rossetti comes commended to our interest, not
only as one of a family which seems to hold genius by the tenure of
gavelkind, but as having a special claim by inheritance to a love and
understanding of Dante. She writes English with a purity that has in it
something of feminine softness with no lack of vigor or precision. Her
lithe mind winds itself with surprising grace through the metaphysical
and other intricacies of her subject. She brings to her work the refined
enthusiasm of a cultivated woman and the penetration of sympathy. She has
chosen the better way (in which Germany took the lead) of interpreting
Dante out of himself, the pure spring from which, and from which alone,
he drew his inspiration, and not from muddy Fra Alberico or Abbate
Giovacchino, from stupid visions of Saint Paul or voyages of Saint
Brandan. She has written by far the best comment that has appeared in
English, and we should say the best that has been done in England, were
it not for her father's _Comento analitico_, for excepting which her
filial piety will thank us. Students of Dante in the original will be
grateful to her for many suggestive hints, and those who read him in
English will find in her volume a travelling map in which the principal
points and their connections are clearly set down. In what we shall say
of Dante we shall endeavor only to supplement her interpretation with
such side-lights as may have been furnished us by twenty years of
assiduous study. Dante's thought is multiform, and, like certain street
signs, once common, presents a different image according to the point of
view. Let us consider briefly what was the plan of the _Divina Commedia_
and Dante's aim in writing it, which, if not to justify, was at least to
illustrate, for warning and example, the ways of God to man. The higher
intention of the poem was to set forth the results of sin, or unwisdom,
and of virtue, or wisdom, in this life, and consequently in the life to
come, which is but the continuation and fulfilment of this. The scene
accordingly is the spiritual world, of which we are as truly denizens now
as hereafter. The poem is a diary of the human soul in its journey
upwards from error through repentance to atonement with God. To make it
apprehensible by those whom it was meant to teach, nay, from its very
nature as a poem, and not a treatise of abstract morality, it must set
forth everything by means of sensible types and images.

  "To speak thus is adapted to your mind,
  Since only from the sensible it learns
  What makes it worthy of intellect thereafter,
  On this account the Scripture condescends
  Unto your faculties, and feet and hands
  To God attributes, and means something else."[84]

Whoever has studied mediaeval art in any of its branches need not be told
that Dante's age was one that demanded very palpable and even revolting
types. As in the old legend, a drop of scalding sweat from the damned
soul must shrivel the very skin of those for whom he wrote, to make them
wince if not to turn them away from evil doing. To consider his hell a
place of physical torture is to take Circe's herd for real swine. Its
mouth yawns not only under Florence, but before the feet of every man
everywhere who goeth about to do evil. His hell is a condition of the
soul, and he could not find images loathsome enough to express the moral
deformity which is wrought by sin on its victims, or his own abhorrence
of it. Its inmates meet you in the street every day.

  "Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscribed
  In one self place, for where we are is hell,
  And where hell is there we must ever be."[85]

It is our own sensual eye that gives evil the appearance of good, and out
of a crooked hag makes a bewitching siren. The reason enlightened by the
grace of God sees it as it truly is, full of stench and corruption.[86]
It is this office of reason which Dante undertakes to perform, by divine
commission, in the _Inferno_. There can be no doubt that he looked upon
himself as invested with the prophetic function, and the Hebrew
forerunners, in whose society his soul sought consolation and
sustainment, certainly set him no example of observing the conventions of
good society in dealing with the enemies of God. Indeed, his notions of
good society were not altogether those of this world in any generation.
He would have defined it as meaning "the peers" of Philosophy, "souls
free from wretched and vile delights and from vulgar habits, endowed with
genius and memory."[87] Dante himself had precisely this endowment, and
in a very surprising degree. His genius enabled him to see and to show
what he saw to others; his memory neither forgot nor forgave. Very
hateful to his fervid heart and sincere mind would have been the modern
theory which deals with sin as involuntary error, and by shifting off the
fault to the shoulders of Atavism or those of Society, personified for
purposes of excuse, but escaping into impersonality again from the grasp
of retribution, weakens that sense of personal responsibility which is
the root of self-respect and the safeguard of character. Dante indeed saw
clearly enough that the Divine justice did at length overtake Society in
the ruin of states caused by the corruption of private, and thence of
civic, morals; but a personality so intense as his could not be satisfied
with such a tardy and generalized penalty as this. "It is Thou," he says
sternly, "who hast done this thing, and Thou, not Society, shalt be
damned for it; nay, damned all the worse for this paltry subterfuge. This
is not my judgment, but that of universal Nature[88] from before the
beginning of the world."[89] Accordingly the highest reason, typified in
his guide Virgil, rebukes him for bringing compassion to the judgments of
God,[90] and again embraces him and calls the mother that bore him
blessed, when he bids Filippo Argenti begone among the other dogs.[91]
This latter case shocks our modern feelings the more rudely for the
simple pathos with which Dante makes Argenti answer when asked who he
was, "Thou seest I am one that weeps." It is also the one that makes most
strongly for the theory of Dante's personal vindictiveness,[92] and it
may count for what it is worth. We are not greatly concerned to defend
him on that score, for he believed in the righteous use of anger, and
that baseness was its legitimate quarry. He did not think the Tweeds and
Fisks, the political wire-pullers and convention-packers, of his day
merely amusing, and he certainly did think it the duty of an upright and
thoroughly trained citizen to speak out severely and unmistakably. He
believed firmly, almost fiercely, in a divine order of the universe, a
conception whereof had been vouchsafed him, and that whatever and whoever
hindered or jostled it, whether wilfully or blindly it mattered not, was
to be got out of the way at all hazards; because obedience to God's law,
and not making things generally comfortable, was the highest duty of man,
as it was also his only way to true felicity. It has been commonly
assumed that Dante was a man soured by undeserved misfortune, that he
took up a wholly new outfit of political opinions with his fallen
fortunes, and that his theory of life and of man's relations to it was
altogether reshaped for him by the bitter musings of his exile. This
would be singular, to say the least, in a man who tells us that he "felt
himself indeed four-square against the strokes of chance," and whose
convictions were so intimate that they were not merely intellectual
conclusions, but parts of his moral being. Fortunately we are called on
to believe nothing of the kind. Dante himself has supplied us with hints
and dates which enable us to watch the germination and trace the growth
of his double theory of government, applicable to man as he is a citizen
of this world, and as he hopes to become hereafter a freeman of the
celestial city. It would be of little consequence to show in which of two
equally selfish and short-sighted parties a man enrolled himself six
hundred years ago, but it is worth something to know that a man of
ambitious temper and violent passions, aspiring to office in a city of
factions, could rise to a level of principle so far above them all.
Dante's opinions have life in them still, because they were drawn from
living sources of reflection and experience, because they were reasoned
out from the astronomic laws of history and ethics, and were not
weather-guesses snatched in a glance at the doubtful political sky of the

  Swiftly the politic goes: is it dark? he borrows a lantern;
  Slowly the statesman and sure, guiding his feet by the stars.

It will be well, then, to clear up the chronology of Dante's thought.
When his ancestor Cacciaguida prophesies to him the life which is to be
his after 1300,[93] he says, speaking of his exile:--

 "And that which most shall weigh upon thy shoulders
  Will be the bad and foolish company
  With which into this valley thou shalt fall;
         *       *       *       *       *
 "Of their bestiality their own proceedings
  Shall furnish proof; _so 'twill be well for thee
  A party to have made thee by thyself_."

Here both context and grammatical construction (infallible guides in a
writer so scrupulous and exact) imply irresistibly that Dante had become
a party by himself before his exile. The measure adopted by the Priors of
Florence while he was one of them (with his assent and probably by his
counsel), of sending to the frontier the leading men of both factions,
confirms this implication. Among the persons thus removed from the
opportunity of doing mischief was his dearest friend Guido Cavalcanti, to
whom he had not long before addressed the _Vita Nuova_.[94] Dante
evidently looked back with satisfaction on his conduct at this time, and
thought it both honest and patriotic, as it certainly was disinterested.
"We whose country is the world, as the ocean to the fish," he tells us,
"though we drank of the Arno in infancy, and love Florence so much that,
_because we loved her, we suffer exile unjustly,_ support the shoulders
of our judgment rather upon reason than the senses."[95] And again,
speaking of old ago, he says: "And the noble soul at this age blesses
also the times past, and well may bless them, because, revolving them in
memory, she recalls her righteous conduct, without which she could not
enter the port to which she draws nigh, with so much riches and so great
gain." This language is not that of a man who regrets some former action
as mistaken, still less of one who repented it for any disastrous
consequences to himself. So, in justifying a man for speaking of himself,
he alleges two examples,--that of Boethius, who did so to "clear himself
of the perpetual infamy of his exile"; and that of Augustine, "for, by
the process of his life, which was from bad to good, from good to better,
and from better to best, he gave us example and teaching."[96] After
middle life, at least, Dante had that wisdom "whose use brings with it
marvellous beauties, that is, contentment with every condition of time,
and contempt of those things which others make their masters."[97] If
Dante, moreover, wrote his treatise _De Monarchiâ_ before 1302, and we
think Witte's inference,[98] from its style and from the fact that he
nowhere alludes to his banishment in it, conclusive on this point, then
he was already a Ghibelline in the same larger and unpartisan sense which
ever after distinguished him from his Italian contemporaries.

  "Let, let the Ghibellines ply their handicraft
  Beneath some other standard; for this ever
  Ill follows he who it and justice parts,"

he makes Justinian say, speaking of the Roman eagle.[99] His
Ghibellinism, though undoubtedly the result of what he had seen of
Italian misgovernment, embraced in its theoretical application the
civilized world. His political system was one which his reason adopted,
not for any temporary expediency, but because it conduced to justice,
peace, and civilization,--the three conditions on which alone freedom was
possible in any sense which made it worth having. Dante was intensely
Italian, nay, intensely Florentine, but on all great questions he was, by
the logical structure of his mind and its philosophic impartiality,
incapable of intellectual provincialism.[100] If the circle of his
affections, as with persistent natures commonly, was narrow, his thought
swept a broad horizon from that tower of absolute self which he had
reared for its speculation. Even upon the principles of poetry,
mechanical and other,[101] he had reflected more profoundly than most of
those who criticise his work, and it was not by chance that he discovered
the secret of that magical word too few, which not only distinguishes his
verse from all other, but so strikingly from his own prose. He never took
the bit of art[102] between his teeth where only poetry, and not
doctrine, was concerned.

If Dante's philosophy, on the one hand, was practical a guide for the
conduct of life, it was, on the other, a much more transcendent thing,
whose body was wisdom her soul love, and her efficient cause truth. It is
a practice of wisdom from the mere love of it, for so we must interpret
his _amoroso uso di sapienzia_, when we remember how he has said
before[103] that "the love of wisdom for its delight or profit is not
true love of wisdom." And this love must embrace knowledge in all its
branches, for Dante is content with nothing less than a pancratic
training, and has a scorn of _dilettanti_, specialists, and quacks.
"Wherefore none ought to be called a true philosopher who for any delight
loves any part of knowledge, as there are many who delight in composing
_Canzoni_, and delight to be studious in them, and who delight to be
studious in rhetoric and in music, and flee and abandon the other
sciences which are all members of wisdom."[104] "Many love better to be
held masters than to be so." With him wisdom is the generalization from
many several knowledges of small account by themselves; it results
therefore from breadth of culture, and would be impossible without it.
Philosophy is a noble lady (_donna gentil_),[105] partaking of the divine
essence by a kind of eternal marriage, while with other intelligences she
is united in a less measure "as a mistress of whom no lover takes
complete joy."[106] The eyes of this lady are her demonstrations, and her
smile is her persuasion. "The eyes of wisdom are her demonstrations by
which truth is beheld most certainly; and her smile is her persuasions in
which the interior light of wisdom is shown under a certain veil, and in
these two is felt that highest pleasure of beatitude which is the
greatest good in paradise."[107] "It is to be known that the beholding
this lady was so largely ordained for us, not merely to look upon the
face which she shows us, but that we may desire to attain the things
which she keeps concealed. And as through her much thereof is seen by
reason, so by her we believe that every miracle may have its reason in a
higher intellect, and consequently may be. Whence our good faith has its
origin, whence comes the hope of those unseen things which we desire, and
through that the operation of charity, by the which three virtues we rise
to philosophize in that celestial Athens where the Stoics, Peripatetics,
and Epicureans through the art of eternal truth accordingly concur in one

As to the double scope of Dante's philosophy we will cite a passage from
the _Convito_, all the more to our purpose as it will illustrate his own
method of allegorizing. "Verily the use of our mind is double, that is,
practical and speculative, the one and the other most delightful,
although that of contemplation be the more so. That of the practical is
for us to act virtuously, that is, honorably, with prudence, temperance,
fortitude, and justice. [These are the four stars seen by Dante,
_Purgatorio_, I. 22-27.] That of the speculative is not to act for
ourselves, but to consider the works of God and nature.... Verily of
these uses one is more full of beatitude than the other, as it is the
speculative, which without any admixture is the use of our noblest
part.... And this part in this life cannot have its use perfectly, which
is to see God, except inasmuch as the intellect considers him and beholds
him through his effects. And that we should seek this beatitude as the
highest, and not the other, the Gospel of Mark teaches us if we will look
well. Mark says that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Mary
Salome went to find the Saviour at the tomb and found him not, but found
a youth clad in white who said to them, 'Ye seek the Saviour, and I say
unto you that he is not here; and yet fear ye not, but go and say unto
his disciples and Peter that he will go before them into Galilee, and
there ye shall see him even as he told you.' By these three women may be
understood the three sects of the active life, that is, the Epicureans,
the Stoics, and the Peripatetics, who go to the tomb, that is, to the
present life, which is a receptacle of things corruptible, and seek the
Saviour, that is, beatitude, and find him not, but they find a youth in
white raiment, who, according to the testimony of Matthew and the rest,
was an angel of God. This angel is that nobleness of ours which comes
from God, as hath been said, which speaks in our reason and says to each
of these sects, that is, to whoever goes seeking beatitude in this life,
that it is not here, but go and say to the disciples and to Peter, that
is, to those who go seeking it and those who are gone astray (like Peter
who had denied), that it will go before them into Galilee, that is, into
speculation. Galilee is as much as to say Whiteness. Whiteness is a body
full of corporeal light more than any other, and so contemplation is
fuller of spiritual light than anything else here below. And he says, 'it
will go before,' and does not say, 'it will be with you,' to give us to
understand that God always goes before our contemplation, nor can we ever
overtake here Him who is our supreme beatitude. And it is said, 'There ye
shall see him as he told you,' that is, here ye shall have of his
sweetness, that is, felicity, as is promised you here, that is, as it is
ordained that ye can have. And thus it appears that we find our
beatitude, this felicity of which we are speaking, first imperfect in the
active life, that is, in the operations of the moral virtues, and
afterwards wellnigh perfect in the operation of the intellectual ones,
the which two operations are speedy and most direct ways to lead to the
supreme beatitude, the which cannot be had here, as appears by what has
been said."[109]

At first sight there may seem to be some want of agreement in what Dante
says here of the soul's incapacity of the vision of God in this life with
the triumphant conclusion of his own poem. But here as elsewhere Dante
must be completed and explained by himself. "We must know that everything
most greatly desires its own perfection, and in that its every desire is
appeased, and by that everything is desired. [That is, the one is drawn
toward, the other draws.] And this is that desire which makes every
delight maimed, for no delight is so great in this life that it can take
away from the soul this thirst so that desire remain not in the
thought."[110] "And since it is most natural to wish to be in God, the
human soul naturally wills it with all longing. And since its being
depends on God and is preserved thereby it naturally desires and wills to
be united with God in order to fortify its being. And since in the
goodnesses of human nature is shown some reason for those of the Divine,
it follows that the human soul unites itself in a spiritual way with
those so much the more strongly and quickly as they appear more perfect,
and this appearance happens according as the knowledge of the soul is
clear or impeded. And this union is what we call Love, whereby may be
known what is within the soul, seeing those it outwardly loves.... And
the human soul which is ennobled with the ultimate potency, that is,
reason, participates in the Divine nature after the manner of an eternal
Intelligence, because the soul is so ennobled and denuded of matter in
that sovran potency that the Divine light shines in it as in an
angel."[111] This union with God may therefore take place before the
warfare of life is over, but is only possible for souls _perfettamente
naturati_, perfectly endowed by nature.[112] This depends on the virtue
of the generating soul and the concordant influence of the planets. "And
if it happen that through the purity of the recipient soul, the
intellectual virtue be well abstracted and absolved from every corporeal
shadow, the Divine bounty is multiplied in it as a thing sufficient to
receive the same."[113] "And there are some who believe that if all the
aforesaid virtues [powers] should unite for the production of a soul in
their best disposition, so much of the Deity would descend into it that
it would be almost another incarnate God."[114] Did Dante believe himself
to be one of these? He certainly gives us reason to think so. He was born
under fortunate stars, as he twice tells us,[115] and he puts the middle
of his own life at the thirty-fifth year, which is the period he assigns
for it in the diviner sort of men.[116]

The stages of Dante's intellectual and moral growth may, we think, be
reckoned with some approach to exactness from data supplied by himself.
In the poems of the _Vita Nuova_, Beatrice, until her death, was to him
simply a poetical ideal, a type of abstract beauty, chosen according to
the fashion of the day after the manner of the Provençal poets, but in a
less carnal sense than theirs. "And by the fourth nature of animals, that
is, the sensitive, man has another love whereby he loves according to
sensible appearance, even as a beast.... And by the fifth and final
nature, that is, the truly human, or, to speak better, angelic, that is,
rational, man has a love for truth and virtue.... Wherefore, since this
nature is called _mind_, I said that love discoursed in my mind to make
it understood that this love was that which is born in the noblest of
natures, that is, [the love] of truth and virtue, and to _shut out every
false opinion by which it might be suspected that my love was for the
delight of sense._"[117] This is a very weighty affirmation, made, as it
is, so deliberately by a man of Dante's veracity, who would and did speak
truth at every hazard. Let us dismiss at once and forever all the idle
tales of Dante's amours, of la Montanina, Gentucca, Pietra, Lisetta, and
the rest, to that outer darkness of impure thoughts _là onde la stoltezza
dipartille._[118] We think Miss Rossetti a little hasty in allowing that
in the years which immediately followed Beatrice's death Dante gave
himself up "more or less to sensual gratification and earthly aim." The
earthly aim we in a certain sense admit; the sensual gratification we
reject as utterly inconsistent, not only with Dante's principles, but
with his character and indefatigable industry. Miss Rossetti illustrates
her position by a subtle remark on "the lulling spell of an intellectual
and sensitive delight in good running parallel with a voluntary and
actual indulgence in evil."  The dead Beatrice beckoned him toward the
life of contemplation, and it was precisely during this period that he
attempted to find happiness in the life of action. "Verily it is to be
known, that we may in this life have two felicities, following two ways,
good and best, which lead us thither. The one is the active, the other
the contemplative life, the which (though by the active we may attain, as
has been said, unto good felicity) leads us to the best felicity and
blessedness."[119] "The life of my heart, that is, of my inward self, was
wont to be a sweet thought which went many times to the feet of God, that
is to say, in thought I contemplated the kingdom of the Blessed. And I
tell the final cause why I mounted thither in thought when I say, 'Where
it [the sweet thought] beheld a lady in glory,' that I might make it
understood that I was and am certain, by _her gracious revelation, that
she was in heaven,_ [not on earth, as I had vainly imagined,] whither I
went in thought, so often as was possible to me, as it were rapt."[120]
This passage exactly answers to another in _Purgatorio_, XXX. 115-138:--

 "Not only by the work of those great wheels
  That destine every seed unto some end,
  According as the stars are in conjunction,
  _But by the largess of celestial graces,_
         *       *       *       *       *
 "Such had this man become in his New Life
  Potentially, that every righteous habit
  Would have made admirable proof in him;
         *       *       *       *       *
 "Some time I did sustain him with my look (_volto_);
  Revealing unto him my youthful eyes,
  I led him with me turned in the right way.
  As soon as ever of my second age
  I was upon the threshold and changed life,
  Himself from me he took and gave to others.
  When from the flesh to spirit I ascended,
  And beauty and virtue were in me increased,
  I was to him less dear and less delightful,
  And into ways untrue he turned his steps,
  Pursuing the false images of good
  That never any promises fulfil[121]
  Nor prayer for inspiration me availed,[122]
  _By means of which in dreams and otherwise
  I called him back_, so little did he heed them.
  So low he fell, that all appliances
  For his salvation were already short
  Save showing him the people of perdition."

Now Dante himself, we think, gives us the clew, by following which we may
reconcile the contradiction, what Miss Rossetti calls "the astounding
discrepancy," between the Lady of the _Vita Nuova_ who made him
unfaithful to Beatrice, and the same Lady in the _Convito_, who in
attributes is identical with Beatrice herself. We must remember that the
prose part of the _Convito_, which is a comment on the _Canzoni_, was
written after the _Canzoni_ themselves. How long after we cannot say with
certainty, but it was plainly composed at intervals, a part of it
probably after Dante had entered upon old age (which began, as he tells
us, with the forty-fifth year), consequently after 1310. Dante had then
written a considerable part of the _Divina Commedia_, in which Beatrice
was to go through her final and most ethereal transformation in his mind
and memory. We say in his memory, for such idealizations have a very
subtle retrospective action, and the new condition of feeling or thought
is uneasy till it has half unconsciously brought into harmony whatever is
inconsistent with it in the past. The inward life unwillingly admits any
break in its continuity, and nothing is more common than to hear a man,
in venting an opinion taken up a week ago, say with perfect sincerity, "I
have always thought so and so." Whatever belief occupies the whole mind
soon produces the impression on us of having long had possession of it,
and one mode of consciousness blends so insensibly with another that it
is impossible to mark by an exact line where one begins and the other
ends. Dante in his exposition of the _Canzoni_ must have been subject to
this subtlest and most deceitful of influences. He would try to reconcile
so far as he conscientiously could his present with his past. This he
could do by means of the allegorical interpretation. "For it would be a
great shame to him," he says in the _Vita Nuova_, "who should poetize
something under the vesture of some figure or rhetorical color, and
afterwards, when asked, could not strip his words of that vesture in such
wise that they should have a true meaning." Now in the literal exposition
of the _Canzone_ beginning, "Voi che intendendo il terzo ciel
movete,"[123] he tells us that the _grandezza_ of the _Donna Gentil_ was
"temporal greatness" (one certainly of the felicities attainable by way
of the _vita attiva_), and immediately after gives us a hint by which we
may comprehend why a proud[124] man might covet it. "How much wisdom and
how great a persistence in virtue (_abito virtuoso_) are hidden for want
of this lustre!"[125] When Dante reaches the Terrestrial Paradise[126]
which is the highest felicity of this world, and therefore the
consummation of the Active Life, he is welcomed by a Lady who is its

                       "Who went along
  Singing and culling floweret after floweret."

and warming herself in the rays of Love, or "actual speculation," that
is, "where love makes its peace felt."[127] That she was the symbol of
this is evident from the previous dream of Dante,[128] in which he sees
Leah, the universally accepted type of it,

                       "Walking in a meadow,
  Gathering flowers; and singing she was saying,
  'Know whosoever may my name demand
  That I am Leah, who go moving round
  My beauteous hands to make myself a garland,'"

that is to say, of good works. She, having "washed him thoroughly from

                 "All dripping brought
  Into the dance of the four beautiful,"[130]

who are the intellectual virtues Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and
Fortitude, the four stars, guides of the Practical Life, which he had
seen when he came out of the Hell where he had beheld the results of sin,
and arrived at the foot of the Mount of Purification. That these were the
special virtues of practical goodness Dante had already told us in a
passage before quoted from the _Convito_.[131] That this was Dante's
meaning is confirmed by what Beatrice says to him,[132]

  "Short while shalt thou be here a forester (_silvano_)
  And thou shalt be with me forevermore
  A citizen of that Rome where Christ is Roman";

for by a "forest" he always means the world of life and action.[133] At
the time when Dante was writing the _Canzoni_ on which the _Convito_ was
a comment, he believed science to be the "ultimate perfection itself, and
not the way to it,"[134] but before the _Convito_ was composed he had
become aware of a higher and purer light, an inward light, in that
Beatrice, already clarified wellnigh to a mere image of the mind, "who
lives in heaven with the angels, and on earth with my soul."[135]

So spiritually does Dante always present Beatrice to us, even where most
corporeal, as in the _Vita Nuova_, that many, like Biscione and Rossetti,
have doubted her real existence. But surely we must consent to believe
that she who speaks of

                     "The fair limbs wherein
  I was enclosed, which scattered are in earth,"

was once a creature of flesh and blood,--

  "A creature not too bright and good
  For human nature's daily food."

When she died, Dante's grief, like that of Constance, filled her room up
with something fairer than the reality had ever been. There is no
idealizer like unavailing regret, all the more if it be a regret of fancy
as much as of real feeling. She early began to undergo that change into
something rich and strange in the sea[136] of his mind which so
completely supernaturalized her at last. It is not impossible, we think,
to follow the process of transformation. During the period of the
_Convito Canzoni_, when he had so given himself to study that to his
weakened eyes "the stars were shadowed with a white blur,"[137] this star
of his imagination was eclipsed for a time with the rest. As his love had
never been of the senses (which is bestial),[138] so his sorrow was all
the more ready to be irradiated with celestial light, and to assume her
to be the transmitter of it who had first awakened in him the nobler
impulses of his nature,--

  ("Such had this man become in his New Life

and given him the first hints of a higher, nay, of the highest good. With
that turn for double meaning and abstraction which was so strong in him,
her very name helped him to allegorize her into one who makes blessed
(_beat_), and thence the step was a short one to personify in her that
Theosophy which enables man to see God and to be mystically united with
him even in the flesh. Already, in the _Vita Nuova_,[139] she appears to
him as afterwards in the Terrestrial Paradise, clad in that color of
flame which belongs to the seraphim who contemplate God in himself,
simply, and not in his relation to the Son or the Holy Spirit.[140] When
misfortune came upon him, when his schemes of worldly activity failed,
and science was helpless to console, as it had never been able wholly to
satisfy, she already rose before him as the lost ideal of his youth,
reproaching him with his desertion of purely spiritual aims. It is,
perhaps, in allusion to this that he fixes the date of her death with
such minute precision on the 9th June, 1390, most probably his own
twenty-fifth birthday, on which he passed the boundary of

That there should seem to be a discrepancy between the Lady of the _Vita
Nuova_ and her of the _Convito_, Dante himself was already aware when
writing the former and commenting it. Explaining the sonnet beginning
_Gentil pensier_, he says, "In this sonnet I make two parts of myself
according as my thoughts were divided in two. The one part I call
_heart_, that is, the appetite, the other _soul_, that is, reason.... It
is true that in the preceding sonnet I take side with the heart against
the eyes [which were weeping for the lost Beatrice], and that appears
contrary to what I say in the present one; and therefore I say that in
that sonnet also I mean by my _heart_ the appetite, because my desire to
remember me of my most gentle Lady was still greater than to behold this
one, albeit I had already some appetite for her, but slight as should
seem: whence it appears that the one saying is not contrary to the
other."[142] When, therefore, Dante speaks of the love of this Lady as
the "adversary of _Reason_," he uses the word in its highest sense, not
as understanding (_Intellectus_), but as synonymous with _soul_. Already,
when the latter part of the _Vita Nuova_, nay, perhaps the whole of the
explanatory portion of it, was written the plan of the _Commedia_ was
complete, a poem the higher aim of which was to keep the soul alive both
in this world and for the next. As Dante tells us, the contradiction in
his mind was, though he did not become aware of it till afterwards, more
apparent than real. He sought consolation in study, and, failing to find
it in Learning (_scienza_), he was led to seek it in Wisdom (_sapienza_),
which is the love of God and the knowledge of him.[143] He had sought
happiness through the understanding; he was to find it through intuition.
The lady Philosophy (according as she is moral or intellectual) includes
both. Her gradual transfiguration is exemplified in passages already
quoted. The active life leads indirectly by a knowledge of its failures
and sins (_Inferno_), or directly by a righteous employment of it
(_Purgatorio_), to the same end. The use of the sciences is to induce in
us the ultimate perfection, that of speculating upon truth; the use of
the highest of them, theology, the contemplation of God.[144] To this
they all lead up. In one of those curious chapters of the _Convito_,[145]
where he points out the analogy between the sciences and the heavens,
Dante tells us that he compares moral philosophy with the crystalline
heaven or _Primum Mobile_, because it communicates life and gives motion
to all the others below it. But what gives motion to the crystalline
heaven (moral philosophy) itself? "The most fervent appetite which it has
in each of its parts to be conjoined with each part of that most divine
quiet heaven" (Theology).[146] Theology, the divine science, corresponds
with the Empyrean, "because of its peace, the which, through the most
excellent certainty of its subject, which is God, suffers no strife of
opinions or sophistic arguments."[147] No one of the heavens is at rest
but this, and in none of the inferior sciences can we find repose, though
he likens physics to the heaven of the fixed stars, in whose name is a
suggestion of the certitude to be arrived at in things demonstrable.
Dante had this comparison in mind, it may be inferred, when he said,

  "Well I perceive that never sated is
  Our intellect unless the Truth illume it
  Beyond which nothing true[148] expands itself.
  It rests therein as wild beast in his lair;
  When it attains it, and it can attain it;
  If not, then each desire would frustrate be.
  Therefore springs up, in fashion of a shoot,
  Doubt at the foot of truth, and this is nature
  Which to the top from height to height impels us."[149]

The contradiction, as it seems to us, resolves itself into an essential,
easily apprehensible, if mystical, unity. Dante at first gave himself to
the study of the sciences (after he had lost the simple, unquestioning
faith of youth) as the means of arriving at certainty. From the root of
every truth to which he attained sprang this sucker (_rampollo_) of
doubt, drawing out of it the very sap of its life. In this way was
Philosophy truly an adversary of his soul, and the reason of his remorse
for fruitless studies which drew him away from the one that alone was and
could be fruitful is obvious enough. But by and by out of the very doubt
came the sweetness[150] of a higher and truer insight. He became aware
that there were "things in heaven and earth undreamt of in your
philosophy," as another doubter said, who had just finished _his_
studies, but could not find his way out of the scepticism they engendered
as Dante did.

  "Insane is he who hopeth that our reason
  Can traverse the illimitable way
  Which the one Substance in three Persons follows!
  Mortals, remain contented at the _Quia_;
  For, if ye had been able to see all,
  No need there were [had been] for Mary to bring forth.
  And ye have seen desiring without fruit,
  Those whose desire would have been quieted
  Which evermore is given them for a grief.
  I speak of Aristotle and of Plato
  And many others."[151]

Whether at the time when the poems of the _Vita Nuova_ were written the
Lady who withdrew him for a while From Beatrice was (which we doubt) a
person of flesh and blood or not, she was no longer so when the prose
narrative was composed. Any one familiar with Dante's double meanings
will hardly question that by putting her at a window, which is a place to
look out of, he intended to imply that she personified Speculation, a
word which he uses with a wide range of meaning, sometimes as _looking
for_, sometimes as seeing (like Shakespeare's

  "There is no speculation in those eyes"),

sometimes as _intuition_, or the beholding all things in God, who is the
cause of all. This is so obvious, and the image in this sense so
familiar, that we are surprised it should have been hitherto unremarked.
It is plain that, even when the _Vita Nuova_ was written, the Lady was
already Philosophy, but philosophy applied to a lower range of thought,
not yet ascended from flesh to spirit. The Lady who seduced him was the
science which looks for truth in second causes, or even in effects,
instead of seeking it, where alone it can be found, in the First Cause;
she was the Philosophy which looks for happiness in the visible world (of
shadows), and not in the spiritual (and therefore substantial) world. The
guerdon of his search was doubt. But Dante, as we have seen, made his
very doubts help him upward toward certainty; each became a round in the
ladder by which he climbed to clearer and clearer vision till the
end.[152] Philosophy had made him forget Beatrice; it was Philosophy who
was to bring him back to her again, washed clean in that very stream of
forgetfulness that had made an impassable barrier between them.[153]
Dante had known how to find in her the gift of Achilles's lance,

                "Which used to be the cause
  First of a sad and then a gracious boon."[154]

There is another possible, and even probable, theory which would
reconcile the Beatrice of the _Purgatorio_ with her of the _Vita Nuova_.
Suppose that even in the latter she signified Theology, or at least some
influence that turned his thoughts to God? Pietro di Dante, commenting
the _pargoletta_ passage in the _Purgatorio_, says expressly that the
poet had at one time given himself to the study of theology and deserted
it for poesy and other mundane sciences. This must refer to a period
beginning before 1290. Again there is an early tradition that Dante in
his youth had been a novice in a Franciscan convent, but never took the
vows. Buti affirms this expressly in his comment on _Inferno_, XVI.
106-123. It is perhaps slightly confirmed by what Dante says in the
_Convito_,[155] that "one cannot only turn to Religion by making himself
like in habit and life to St. Benedict, St. Augustine, St. Francis, and
St. Dominic, but likewise one may turn to good and true religion in a
state of matrimony, for God wills no religion in us but of the heart." If
he had ever thought of taking monastic vows, his marriage would have cut
short any such intention. If he ever wished to wed the real Beatrice
Portinari, and was disappointed, might not this be the time when his
thoughts took that direction? If so, the impulse came indirectly, at
least, from her.

We have admitted that Beatrice Portinari was a real creature,

  "Col sangue suo e con le sue giunture";

but _how_ real she was, and whether as real to the poet's memory as to
his imagination, may fairly be questioned. She shifts, as the controlling
emotion or the poetic fitness of the moment dictates, from a woman loved
and lost to a gracious exhalation of all that is fairest in womanhood or
most divine in the soul of man and ere the eye has defined the new image
it has become the old one again, or another mingled of both.

  "Nor one nor other seemed now what it was,
  E'en as proceedeth on before the flame
  Upward along the paper a brown color,
  Which is not black as yet, and the white dies."[156]

As the mystic Griffin in the eyes of Beatrice (her demonstrations), so
she in his own,

  "Now with the one, now with the other nature;
  Think, Reader, if within myself I marvelled
  When I beheld the thing itself stand still
  And in its image it transformed itself."[157]

At the very moment when she had undergone her most sublimated allegorical
evaporation, his instinct as poet, which never failed him, realized her
into woman again in those scenes of almost unapproached pathos which make
the climax of his _Purgatorio_. The verses tremble with feeling and shine
with tears.[158] Beatrice recalls her own beauty with a pride as natural
as that of Fair Annie in the old ballad, and compares herself as
advantageously with the "brown, brown bride" who had supplanted her. If
this be a ghost, we do not need be told that she is a woman still.[159]
We must remember, however, that Beatrice had to be real that she might be
interesting, to be beautiful that her goodness might be persuasive, nay,
to be beautiful at any rate, because beauty has also something in it of
divine. Dante has told, in a passage already quoted, that he would rather
his readers should find his doctrine sweet than his verses, but he had
his relentings from this Stoicism.

  "'Canzone, I believe those will be rare
  Who of thine inner sense can master all,
  Such toil it costs thy native tongue to learn;
  Wherefore, if ever it perchance befall
  That thou in presence of such men shouldst fare
  As seem not skilled thy meaning to discern,
  I pray thee then thy grief to comfort turn,
  Saying to them, O thou my new delight,
  'Take heed at least how fair I am to sight.'"[160]

We believe all Dante's other Ladies to have been as purely imaginary as
the Dulcinea of Don Quixote, useful only as _motives_, but a real
Beatrice is as essential to the human sympathies of the _Divina Commedia_
as her glorified Idea to its allegorical teaching, and this Dante
understood perfectly well.[161] Take _her_ out of the poem, and the heart
of it goes with her; take out her ideal, and it is emptied of its soul.
She is the menstruum in which letter and spirit dissolve and mingle into
unity. Those who doubt her existence must find Dante's graceful
sonnet[162] to Guido Cavalcante as provoking as Sancho's story of his
having seen Dulcinea winnowing wheat was to his master, "so alien is it
from all that which eminent persons, who are constituted and preserved
for other exercises and entertainments, do and ought to do."[163] But we
should always remember in reading Dante that with him the allegorical
interpretation is the true one (_verace sposizione_), and that he
represents himself (and that at a time when he was known to the world
only by his minor poems) as having made righteousness (_rettitudine_, in
other words, moral philosophy) the subject of his verse.[164] Love with
him seems first to have meant the love of truth and the search after it
(_speculazione_), and afterwards the contemplation of it in its infinite
source (_speculazione_ in its higher and mystical sense). This is the
divine love "which where it shines darkens and wellnigh extinguishes all
other loves."[165] Wisdom is the object of it, and the end of wisdom to
contemplate God the true mirror (_verace spegio, speculum_), wherein all
things are seen as they truly are. Nay, she herself "is the brightness of
the eternal light, the unspotted mirror of the majesty of God."[166]

There are two beautiful passages in the _Convito_, which we shall quote,
both because they have, as we believe a close application to Dante's own
experience, and because they are good specimens of his style as a writer
of prose. In the manly simplicity which comes of an earnest purpose, and
in the eloquence of deep conviction, this is as far beyond that of any of
his contemporaries as his verse, nay, more, has hardly been matched by
any Italian from that day to this. Illustrating the position that  "the
highest desire of everything and the first given us by nature is to
return to its first cause," he says: "And since God is the beginning of
our souls and the maker of them like unto himself, according as was
written, 'Let us make man in our image and likeness,' this soul most
greatly desires to return to him. And as a pilgrim who goes by a way he
has never travelled, who believes every house he sees afar off to be his
inn, and not finding it to be so directs his belief to another, and so
from house to house till he come to the inn, so our soul forthwith on
entering upon the new and never-travelled road of this life directs its
eyes to the goal of its highest good, and therefore believes whatever
thing it sees that seems to have in it any good to be that. And because
its first knowledge is imperfect by reason of not being experienced nor
indoctrinated, small goods seem to it great. Wherefore we see children
desire most greatly an apple, and then proceeding further on desire a
bird, and then further yet desire fine raiment, and then a horse, and
then a woman, and then, riches not great, and then greater and greater.
And this befalls because in none of these things it finds that which it
goes seeking, and thinks to find it further on. By which it may be seen
that one desirable stands before another in the eyes of our soul in a
fashion as it were pyramidal, for the smallest at first covers the whole
of them, and is as it were the apex of the highest desirable, which is
God, as it were the base of all; so that the further we go from the apex
toward the base the desirables appear greater; and this is the reason why
human desires become wider one after the other. Verily this way is lost
through error as the roads of earth are; for as from one city to another
there is of necessity one best and straightest way, and one that always
leads farther from it, that is, the one which goes elsewhere, and many
others, some less roundabout and some less direct, so in human life are
divers roads whereof one is the truest and another the most deceitful,
and certain ones less deceitful, and certain less true. And as we see
that that which goes most directly to the city fulfils desire and gives
repose after weariness, and that which goes the other way never fulfils
it and never can give repose, so it falls out in our life. The good
traveller arrives at the goal and repose, the erroneous never arrives
thither, but with much weariness of mind, always with greedy eyes looks
before him."[167] If we may apply Dante's own method of exposition to
this passage, we find him telling us that he first sought felicity in

  "That apple sweet which through so many branches
  The care of mortals goeth in pursuit of,"[168]

then in fame, a bird that flits before us as we follow,[169] then in
being esteemed of men ("to be clothed in purple, ... to sit next to
Darius, ... and be called Darius his cousin "), then in power,[170] then
in the riches of the Holy Spirit in larger and larger measure.[171] He,
too, had found that there was but one straight road, whether to the
Terrestrial Paradise or the Celestial City, and may come to question by
and by whether they be not parallel one with the other, or even parts of
the same road, by which only repose is to be reached at last. Then, when
in old age "the noble soul returns to God as to that port whence she set
forth on the sea of this life, ... just as to him who comes from a long
journey, before he enters into the gate of his city, the citizens thereof
go forth to meet him, so the citizens of the eternal life go to meet
_her_, and do so because of her good deeds and contemplations, who,
having already betaken herself to God, seems to see those whom she
believes to be nigh unto God."[172] This also was to be the experience of
Dante, for who can doubt that the _Paradiso_ was something very unlike a
poetical exercise to him who appeals to the visions even of sleep as
proof of the soul's immortality?

When did his soul catch a glimpse of that certainty in which "the mind
that museth upon many things" can find assured rest? We have already said
that we believe Dante's political opinions to have taken their final
shape and the _De Monarchiâ_ to have been written before 1300.[173] That
the revision of the _Vita Nuova_ was completed in that year seems
probable from the last sonnet but one, which is addressed to pilgrims on
their way to the Santa Veronica at Rome.[174] In this sonnet he still
laments Beatrice as dead; he would make the pilgrims share his grief. It
is the very folly of despairing sorrow, that calls on the first comer,
stranger though he be, for a sympathy which none can fully give, and he
least of all. But in the next sonnet, the last in the book, there is a
surprising change of tone. The transfiguration of Beatrice has begun, and
we see completing itself that natural gradation of grief which will
erelong bring the mourner to call on the departed saint to console him
for her own loss. The sonnet is remarkable in more senses than one, first
for its psychological truth, and then still more for the light it throws
on Dante's inward history as poet and thinker. Hitherto he had celebrated
beauty and goodness in the creature; henceforth he was to celebrate them
in the Creator whose praise they were.[175] We give an extempore
translation of this sonnet, in which the meaning is preserved so far as
is possible where the grace is left out. We remember with some
compunction as we do it, that Dante has said, "know every one that
nothing harmonized by a musical band can be transmuted from its own
speech to another without breaking all its sweetness and harmony,"[176]
and Cervantes was of the same mind:[177]

  "Beyond the sphere that hath the widest gyre
  Passeth the sigh[178] that leaves my heart below;
  A new intelligence doth love bestow
  On it with tears that ever draws it higher;
  When it wins thither where is its desire,
  A Lady it beholds who honor so
  And light receives, that, through her splendid glow,
  The pilgrim spirit[179] sees her as in fire;
  It sees her such, that, telling me again
  I understand it not, it speaks so low
  Unto the mourning heart that bids it tell;
  Its speech is of that noble One I know,
  For 'Beatrice' I often hear full plain,
  So that, dear ladies, I conceive it well."

No one can read this in its connection with what goes before and what
follows without feeling that a new conception of Beatrice had dawned upon
the mind of Dante, dim as yet, or purposely made to seem so, and yet the
authentic forerunner of the fulness of her rising as the light of his day
and the guide of his feet, the divine wisdom whose glory pales all meaner
stars. The conception of a poem in which Dante's creed in politics and
morals should be picturesquely and attractively embodied, and of the high
place which Beatrice should take in it, had begun vaguely to shape itself
in his thought. As he brooded over it, of a sudden it defined itself
clearly. "Soon after this sonnet there appeared to me a marvellous
vision[180] wherein I saw things which made me propose not to say more of
that blessed one until I could treat of her more worthily. And to arrive
at that I study all I can, as she verily knows. So that, if it be the
pleasure of Him through whom all things live, that my life hold out yet a
few years, I hope to say that of her which was never yet said of any
(woman). And then may it please Him who is the Lord of Courtesy that my
soul may go to see the glory of her Lady, that is, of that blessed
Beatrice who gloriously beholds the face of Him _qui est per omnia
saecula benedictus_." It was the method of presentation that became clear
to Dante at this time,--the plan of the great poem for whose completion
the experience of earth and the inspiration of heaven were to combine,
and which was to make him lean for many years.[181] The doctrinal scope
of it was already determined. Man, he tells us, is the only creature who
partakes at once of the corruptible and incorruptible nature; "and since
every nature is ordained to some ultimate end, it follows that the end of
man is double. And as among all beings he alone partakes of the
corruptible and incorruptible, so alone among all beings he is ordained
to a double end, whereof the one is his end as corruptible, the other as
incorruptible. That unspeakable Providence therefore foreordered two ends
to be pursued by man, to wit, beatitude in this life, which consists in
the operation of our own virtue, and is figured by the Terrestrial
Paradise, and the beatitude of life eternal, which consists in a fruition
of the divine countenance, whereto our own virtue cannot ascend unless
aided by divine light, which is understood by the Celestial Paradise."
The one we attain by practice of the moral and intellectual virtues as
they are taught by philosophers, the other by spiritual teachings
transcending human reason, and the practice of the theological virtues of
Faith, Hope, and Charity. For one, Reason suffices ("which was wholly
made known to us by philosophers"), for the other we need the light of
supernatural truth revealed by the Holy Spirit and "needful for us." Men
led astray by cupidity turn their backs on both, and in their bestiality
need bit and rein to keep them in the way. "Wherefore to man was a double
guidance needful according to the double end," the Supreme Pontiff in
spiritual, the Emperor in temporal things.[182]

But how to put this theory of his into a poetic form which might charm
while it was teaching? He would typify Reason in Virgil (who would serve
also as a symbol of political wisdom as having celebrated the founding of
the Empire), and the grace of God in that Beatrice whom he had already
supernaturalized into something which passeth all understanding. In
choosing Virgil he was sure of that interest and sympathy which his
instinct led him to seek in the predisposition of his readers, for the
popular imagination of the Middle Ages had busied itself particularly
with the Mantuan poet. The Church had given, him a quasi-orthodoxy by
interpreting his _jam redit et virgo_ as a prophecy of the birth of
Christ. At Naples he had become a kind of patron saint, and his bones
were exhibited as relics. Dante himself may have heard at Mantua the hymn
sung on the anniversary of St. Paul, in which the apostle to the Gentiles
is represented as weeping at the tomb of the greatest of poets. Above
all, Virgil had described the descent of Aeneas to the under-world.
Dante's choice of a guide was therefore, in a certain degree, made for
him. But the mere Reason[183] of man without the illumination of divine
Grace cannot be trusted, and accordingly the intervention of Beatrice was
needed,--of Beatrice, as Miss Rossetti admirably well expresses it
"already transfigured, potent not only now to charm and soothe, potent to
rule; to the Intellect a light, to the Affections a compass and a
balance, a sceptre over the Will."

The wood obscure in which Dante finds himself is the world.[184] The
three beasts who dispute his way are the sins that most easily beset us,
Pride, the Lusts of the Flesh, and Greed. We are surprised that Miss
Rossetti should so localize and confine Dante's meaning as to explain
them by Florence, France, and Rome. Had he written in so narrow a sense
as this, it would indeed be hard to account for the persistent power of
his poem. But it was no political pamphlet that Dante was writing.
_Subjectum est Homo_, and it only takes the form of a diary by Dante
Alighieri because of the intense realism of his imagination, a realism as
striking in the _Paradiso_ as the _Inferno_, though it takes a different
shape. Everything, the most supersensual, presented itself to his mind,
not as abstract idea, but as visible type. As men could once embody a
quality of good in a saint and _see_ it, as they even now in moments of
heightened fantasy or enthusiasm can personify their country and speak of
England, France, or America, as if they were real beings, so did Dante
habitually.[185] He saw all his thoughts as distinctly as the
hypochondriac sees his black dog, and, as in that, their form and color
were but the outward form of an inward and spiritual condition. Whatever
subsidiary interpretations the poem is capable of, its great and primary
value is as the autobiography of a human soul, of yours and mine, it may
be, as well as Dante's. In that lie its profound meaning and its
permanent force. That an exile, a proud man forced to be dependent,
should have found some consolation in brooding over the justice of God,
weighed in such different scales from those of man, in contrasting the
outward prosperity of the sinner with the awful spiritual ruin within, is
not wonderful, nay, we can conceive of his sometimes finding the wrath of
God sweeter than his mercy. But it is wonderful that out of the very
wreck of his own life he should have built this three-arched bridge,
still firm against the wash and wear of ages, stretching from the Pit to
the Empyrean, by which men may pass from a doubt of God's providence to a
certainty of his long-suffering and loving-kindness.

  "The Infinite Goodness hath such ample arms
  That it receives whatever turns to it."[186]

A tear is enough to secure the saving clasp of them.[187] It cannot be
too often repeated that Dante's Other World is not in its first
conception a place of _departed_ spirits. It is the Spiritual World,
whereof we become denizens by birth and citizens by adoption. It is true
that for artistic purposes he makes it conform so far as possible with
vulgar preconceptions, but he himself has told us again and again what
his real meaning was. Virgil tells Dante,--

  "Thou shalt behold the people dolorous
  Who have foregone the good of intellect."[188]

The "good of the intellect," Dante tells us after Aristotle, is
Truth.[189] He says that Virgil has led him "through the deep night of
the _truly dead_."[190] Who are they? Dante had in mind the saying of the
Apostle, "to be carnally minded is death." He says: "In man to live is to
use reason. Then if living is the being of man, to depart from that use
is to depart from being, and so to be dead. And doth not he depart from
the use of reason who doth not reason out the object of his life?" "I say
that so vile a person is dead, seeming to be alive. For we must know
_that the wicked man may be called truly dead_." "He is dead who follows
not the teacher. And of such a one some might say, how is he dead and yet
goes about? I answer that the man is dead and the beast remains."[191]
Accordingly he has put living persons in the _Inferno_, like Frate
Alberigo and Branca d' Oria, of whom he says with bitter sarcasm that he
still "eats and drinks and puts on clothes," as if that were his highest
ideal of the true ends of life.[192] There is a passage in the first
canto of the _Inferno_[193] which has been variously interpreted:--

           "The ancient spirits disconsolate
  Who cry out each one for the _second death_."

Miss Rossetti cites it as an example of what she felicitously calls "an
ambiguity, not hazy, but prismatic, and therefore not really perplexing."
She gives us accordingly our choice of two interpretations, "'each cries
out on account of the second death which he is suffering,' and 'each
cries out for death to come a second time and ease him of his
sufferings.'"[194] Buti says: "Here one doubts what the author meant by
the second death, and as for me I think he meant the last damnation,
which shall be at the day of judgment, because they would wish through
envy that it had already come, that they might have more companions,
since the first death is the first damnation, when the soul parted from
the body is condemned to the pains of hell for its sins. The second is
when, resuscitated at the judgment day, they shall be finally condemned,
soul and body together.... It may otherwise be understood as
annihilation." Imola says, "Each would wish to die again, if he could, to
put an end to his pain. Do not hold with some who think that Dante calls
the second death the day of judgment," and then quotes a passage from St.
Augustine which favors that view. Pietro di Dante gives us four
interpretations among which to choose, the first being that,
"allegorically, depraved and vicious men are in a certain sense dead in
reputation, and this is the first death; the second is that of the body."
This we believe to be the true meaning. Dante himself, in a letter to the
"most rascally (_scelestissimis_) dwellers in Florence," gives us the
key: "but you, transgressors of the laws of God and man, whom the direful
maw of cupidity hath enticed not unwilling to every crime, does not the
terror of the _second death_ torment you?" Their first death was in their
sins, the second is what they may expect from the just vengeance of the
Emperor Henry VII. The world Dante leads us through is that of his own
thought, and it need not surprise us therefore if we meet in it purely
imaginary beings like Tristrem[195] and Renoard of the club.[196] His
personality is so strongly marked that it is nothing more than natural
that his poem should be interpreted as if only he and his opinions,
prejudices, or passions were concerned. He would not have been the great
poet he was if he had not felt intensely and humanly, but he could never
have won the cosmopolitan place he holds had he not known how to
generalize his special experience into something mediatorial for all of
us. Pietro di Dante in his comment on the thirty-first canto of the
_Purgatorio_ says that "unless you understand him and his figures
allegorically, you will be deceived by the bark," and adds that our
author made his pilgrimage as the representative of the rest (_in,
persona ceterorum_).[197] To give his vision reality, he has adapted it
to the vulgar mythology, but to understand it as the author meant, it
must be taken in the larger sense. To confine it to Florence or to Italy
is to banish it from the sympathies of mankind. It was not from the
campanile of the Badia that Dante got his views of life and man.

The relation of Dante to literature is monumental, and marks the era at
which the modern begins. He is not only the first great poet, but the
first great prose writer who used a language not yet subdued to
literature, who used it moreover for scientific and metaphysical
discussion, thus giving an incalculable impulse to the culture of his
countrymen by making the laity free of what had hitherto been the
exclusive guild of clerks.[198] Whatever poetry had preceded him, whether
in the Romance or Teutonic tongues, is interesting mainly for its
simplicity without forethought, or, as in the _Nibelungen_, for a kind of
savage grandeur that rouses the sympathy of whatever of the natural man
is dormant in us. But it shows no trace of the creative faculty either in
unity of purpose or style, the proper characteristics of literature. If
it have the charm of wanting artifice, it has not the higher charm of
art. We are in the realm of chaos and chance, nebular, with
phosphorescent gleams here and there, star stuff, but uncondensed in
stars. The _Nibelungen_ is not without far-reaching hints and forebodings
of something finer than we find in it, but they are a glamour from the
vague darkness which encircles it, like the whisper of the sea upon an
unknown shore at night, powerful only over the more vulgar side of the
imagination, and leaving no thought, scarce even any image (at least of
beauty) behind them. Such poems are the amours, not the lasting
friendships and possessions of the mind. They thrill and cannot satisfy.

But Dante is not merely the founder of modern literature. He would have
been that if he had never written anything more than his _Canzoni_, which
for elegance, variety of rhythm, and fervor of sentiment were something
altogether new. They are of a higher mood than any other poems of the
same style in their own language, or indeed in any other. In beauty of
phrase and subtlety of analogy they remind one of some of the Greek
tragic choruses. We are constantly moved in them by a nobleness of tone,
whose absence in many admired lyrics of the kind is poorly supplied by
conceits. So perfect is Dante's mastery of his material, that in
compositions, as he himself has shown, so artificial,[199] the form seems
rather organic than mechanical, which cannot be said of the best of the
Provençal poets who led the way in this kind. Dante's sonnets also have a
grace and tenderness which have been seldom matched. His lyrical
excellence would have got him into the Collections, and he would have
made here and there an enthusiast as Donne does in English, but his great
claim to remembrance is not merely Italian. It is that he was the first
Christian poet, in any proper sense of the word, the first who so subdued
dogma to the uses of plastic imagination as to make something that is
still poetry of the highest order after it has suffered the
disenchantment inevitable in the most perfect translation. Verses of the
kind usually called _sacred_ (reminding one of the adjective's double
meaning) had been written before his time in the vulgar tongue,--such
verses as remain inviolably sacred in the volumes of specimens, looked at
with distant reverence by the pious, and with far other feelings by the
profane reader. There were cycles of poems in which the physical conflict
between Christianity and Paganism[200] furnished the subject, but in
which the theological views of the authors, whether doctrinal or
historical, could hardly be reconciled with any system of religion
ancient or modern. There were Church legends of saints and martyrs
versified, fit certainly to make any other form of martyrdom seem amiable
to those who heard them, and to suggest palliative thoughts about
Diocletian. Finally, there were the romances of Arthur and his knights,
which later, by means of allegory, contrived to be both entertaining and
edifying; every one who listened to them paying the minstrel his money,
and having his choice whether he would take them as song or sermon. In
the heroes of some of these certain Christian virtues were typified, and
around a few of them, as the Holy Grail, a perfume yet lingers of
cloistered piety and withdrawal. Wolfram von Eschenbach, indeed, has
divided his _Parzival_ into three books, of Simplicity, Doubt, and
Healing, which has led Gervinus to trace a not altogether fanciful
analogy between that poem and the _Divina Commedia_. The doughty old
poet, who says of himself,--

  "Of song I have some slight control,
  But deem her of a feeble soul
  That doth not love my naked sword
  Above my sweetest lyric word,"

tells us that his subject is the choice between good and evil;

  "Whose soul takes Untruth for its bride
  And sets himself on Evil's side,
  Chooses the Black, and sure it is
  His path leads down to the abyss;
  But he who doth his nature feed
  With steadfastness and loyal deed
  Lies open to the heavenly light
  And takes his portion with the White."

But Wolfram's poem has no system, and shows good feeling rather than
settled conviction. Above all it is wandering (as he himself confesses),
and altogether wants any controlling purpose. But to whatever extent
Christianity had insinuated itself into and colored European literature,
it was mainly as mythology. The Christian idea had never yet incorporated
itself. It was to make its avatar in Dante. To understand fully what he
accomplished we must form some conception of what is meant by the
Christian idea. To bring it into fuller relief, let us contrast it with
the Greek idea as it appears in poetry; for we are not dealing with a
question of theology so much as with one of aesthetics.

Greek art at its highest point is doubtless the most perfect that we
know. But its circle of motives was essentially limited; and the Greek
drama in its passion, its pathos, and its humor is primarily Greek, and
secondarily human. Its tragedy chooses its actors from certain heroic
families, and finds its springs of pity and terror in physical suffering
and worldly misfortune. Its best examples, like the _Antigone_,
illustrate a single duty, or, like the _Hippolytus_, a single passion, on
which, as on a pivot, the chief character, statuesquely simple in its
details, revolves as pieces of sculpture are sometimes made to do,
displaying its different sides in one invariable light. The general
impression left on the mind (and this is apt to be a truer one than any
drawn from single examples) is that the duty is one which is owed to
custom, that the passion leads to a breach of some convention settled by
common consent,[201] and accordingly it is an outraged society whose
figure looms in the background, rather than an offended God. At most it
was one god of many, and meanwhile another might be friendly. In the
Greek epic, the gods are partisans, they hold caucuses, they lobby and
log-roll for their candidates. The tacit admission of a revealed code of
morals wrought a great change. The complexity and range of passion is
vastly increased when the offence is at once both crime and sin, a wrong
done against order and against conscience at the same time. The relation
of the Greek Tragedy to the higher powers is chiefly antagonistic,
struggle against an implacable destiny, sublime struggle, and of heroes,
but sure of defeat at last. And that defeat is final. Grand figures are
those it exhibits to us, in some respects unequalled, and in their severe
simplicity they compare with modern poetry as sculpture with painting.
Considered merely as works of art, these products of the Greek
imagination satisfy our highest conception of form. They suggest
inevitably a feeling of perfect completeness, isolation, and
independence, of something rounded and finished in itself. The secret of
those old shapers died with them; their wand is broken, their book sunk
deeper than ever plummet sounded. The type of their work is the Greek
Temple, which leaves nothing to hope for in unity and perfection of
design, in harmony and subordination of parts, and in entireness of
impression. But in this aesthetic completeness it ends. It rests solidly
and complacently on the earth, and the mind rests there with it.

Now the Christian idea has to do with the human soul, which Christianity
may be almost said to have invented. While all Paganism represents a few
pre-eminent families, the founders of dynasties or ancestors of races, as
of kin with the gods, Christianity makes every pedigree end in Deity,
makes monarch and slave the children of one God. Its heroes struggle not
against, but upward and onward _toward_, the higher powers who are always
on their side. Its highest conception of beauty is not aesthetic, but
moral. With it prosperity and adversity have exchanged meanings. It finds
enemies in those worldly good-fortunes where Pagan and even Hebrew
literature saw the highest blessing, and invincible allies in sorrow,
poverty, humbleness of station, where the former world recognized only
implacable foes. While it utterly abolished all boundary lines of race or
country and made mankind unitary, its hero is always the individual man
whoever and wherever he may be. Above all, an entirely new conception of
the Infinite and of man's relation to it came in with Christianity. That,
and not the finite, is always the background, consciously or not. It
changed the scene of the last act of every drama to the next world.
Endless aspiration of all the faculties became thus the ideal of
Christian life, and to express it more or less perfectly the ideal of
essentially Christian art. It was this which the Middle Ages
instinctively typified in the Gothic cathedral,--no accidental growth,
but the visible symbol of an inward faith,--which soars forever upward,
and yearns toward heaven like a martyr-flame suddenly turned to stone.

It is not without significance that Goethe, who, like Dante, also
absorbed and represented the tendency and spirit of his age, should,
during his youth and while Europe was alive with the moral and
intellectual longing which preluded the French Revolution, have loved the
Gothic architecture. It is no less significant that in the period of
reaction toward more positive thought which followed, he should have
preferred the Greek. His greatest poem, conceived during the former era,
is Gothic. Dante, endeavoring to conform himself to literary tradition,
began to write the _Divina Commedia_ in Latin, and had elaborated several
cantos of it in that dead and intractable material. But that poetic
instinct, which is never the instinct of an individual, but of his age,
could not so be satisfied, and leaving the classic structure he had begun
to stand as a monument of failure, he completed his work in Italian.
Instead of endeavoring to manufacture a great poem out of what was
foreign and artificial, he let the poem make itself out of him. The epic
which he wished to write in the universal language of scholars, and which
might have had its ten lines in the history of literature, would sing
itself in provincial Tuscan, and turns out to be written in the universal
dialect of mankind. Thus all great poets have been in a certain sense
provincial,--Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Goethe, Burns, Scott in the
"Heart of Midlothian" and "Bride of Lammermoor,"--because the office of
the poet is always vicarious, because nothing that has not been living
experience can become living expression, because the collective thought,
the faith, the desire of a nation or a race, is the cumulative result of
many ages, is something organic, and is wiser and stronger than any
single person, and will make a great statesman or a great poet out of any
man who can entirely surrender himself to it.

As the Gothic cathedral, then, is the type of the Christian idea, so is
it also of Dante's poem. And as that in its artistic unity is but the
completed thought of a single architect, which yet could never have been
realized except out of the faith and by the contributions of an entire
people, whose beliefs and superstitions, whose imagination and fancy,
find expression in its statues and its carvings, its calm saints and
martyrs now at rest forever in the seclusion of their canopied niches,
and its wanton grotesques thrusting themselves forth from every pinnacle
and gargoyle, so in Dante's poem, while it is as personal and peculiar as
if it were his private journal and autobiography, we can yet read the
diary and the autobiography of the thirteenth century and of the Italian
people. Complete and harmonious in design as his work is, it is yet no
Pagan temple enshrining a type of the human made divine by triumph of
corporeal beauty; it is not a private chapel housing a single saint and
dedicate to one chosen bloom of Christian piety or devotion; it is truly
a cathedral, over whose high altar hangs the emblem of suffering, of the
Divine made human to teach the beauty of adversity, the eternal presence
of the spiritual, not overhanging and threatening, but informing and
sustaining the material. In this cathedral of Dante's there are
side-chapels as is fit, with altars to all Christian virtues and
perfections; but the great impression of its leading thought is that of
aspiration, for ever and ever. In the three divisions of the poem we may
trace something more than a fancied analogy with a Christian basilica.
There is first the ethnic forecourt, then the purgatorial middle-space,
and last the holy of holies dedicated to the eternal presence of the
mediatorial God.

But what gives Dante's poem a peculiar claim to the title of the first
Christian poem is not merely its doctrinal truth or its Christian
mythology, but the fact that the scene of it is laid, not in this world,
but in the soul of man; that it is the allegory of a human life, and
therefore universal in its significance and its application. The genius
of Dante has given to it such a self-subsistent reality, that one almost
gets to feel as if the chief value of contemporary Italian history had
been to furnish it with explanatory foot-notes, and the age in which it
was written assumes towards it the place of a satellite. For Italy, Dante
is the thirteenth century.

Most men make the voyage of life as if they carried sealed orders which
they were not to open till they were fairly in mid-ocean. But Dante had
made up his mind as to the true purpose and meaning of our existence in
this world, shortly after he had passed his twenty-fifth year. He had
already conceived the system about which as a connecting thread the whole
experience of his life, the whole result of his studies, was to cluster
in imperishable crystals. The cornerstone of his system was the Freedom
of the Will (in other words, the right of private judgment with the
condition of accountability), which Beatrice calls the "noble
virtue."[202] As to every man is offered his choice between good and
evil, and as, even upon the root of a nature originally evil a habit of
virtue may be engrafted,[203] no man is excused. "All hope abandon ye who
enter in," for they have thrown away reason which is the good of the
intellect, "and it seems to me no less a marvel to bring back to reason
him in whom it is wholly spent than to bring back to life him who has
been four days in the tomb."[204] As a guide of the will in civil affairs
the Emperor; in spiritual, the Pope.[205] Dante is not one of those
reformers who would assume the office of God to "make all things new." He
knew the power of tradition and habit, and wished to utilize it for his
purpose. He found the Empire and the Papacy already existing, but both
needing reformation that they might serve the ends of their original
institution. Bad leadership was to blame, men fit to gird on the sword
had been turned into priests, and good preachers spoiled to make bad
kings.[206] The spiritual had usurped to itself the prerogatives of the
temporal power.

 "Rome, that reformed the world, accustomed was
  Two suns to have which one road and the other,
  Of God and of the world, made manifest.
  One has the other quenched, and to the crosier
  The sword is joined, and ill beseemeth it,
         *       *       *       *       *
 "Because, being joined one feareth not the other."[207]

Both powers held their authority directly from God, "not so, however,
that the Roman Prince is not in some things subject to the Roman Pontiff,
since that human felicity [to be attained only by peace, justice, and
good government, possible only under a single ruler] is in some sort
ordained to the end of immortal felicity. Let Caesar use that reverence
toward Peter which a first-born son ought to use toward a father; that,
shone upon by the light of paternal grace, he may more powerfully
illumine the orb of earth over which he is set by him alone who is the
ruler of all things spiritual and temporal."[208] As to the fatal gift of
Constantine, Dante demonstrates that an Emperor could not alienate what
he held only in trust; but if he made the gift, the Pope should hold it
as a feudatory of the Empire, for the benefit, however, of Christ's
poor.[209] Dante is always careful to distinguish between the Papacy and
the Pope. He prophesies for Boniface VIII. a place in hell,[210] but
acknowledges him as the Vicar of Christ, goes so far even as to denounce
the outrage of Guillaume de Nogaret at Anagni as done to the Saviour
himself.[211] But in the Spiritual World Dante acknowledges no such
supremacy, and, when he would have fallen on his knees before Adrian V.,
is rebuked by him in a quotation from the Apocalypse:--

              "Err not, fellow-servant am I
  With thee and with the others to one power."[212]

So impartial was this man whose great work is so often represented as a
kind of bag in which he secreted the gall of personal prejudice, so truly
Catholic is he, that both parties find their arsenal in him. The Romanist
proves his soundness in doctrine, the anti-Romanist claims him as the
first Protestant, the Mazzinist and the Imperialist can alike quote him
for their purpose. Dante's ardent conviction would not let him see that
both Church and Empire were on the wane. If an ugly suspicion of this
would force itself upon him, perhaps he only clung to both the more
tenaciously; but he was no blind theorist. He would reform the Church
through the Church, and is less anxious for Italian independence than for
Italian good government under an Emperor from Germany rather than from

The Papacy was a necessary part of Dante's system, as a supplement to the
Empire, which we strongly incline to believe was always foremost in his
mind. In a passage already quoted, he says that "the soil where Rome sits
is worthy beyond what men preach and admit," that is, as the birthplace
of the Empire. Both in the _Convito_ and the _De Monarchia_ he affirms
that the course of Roman history was providentially guided from the
first. Rome was founded in the same year that brought into the world
David, ancestor of the Redeemer after the flesh. St. Augustine said that
"God showed in the most opulent and illustrious Empire of the Romans how
much the civil virtues might avail even without true religion, that it
might be understood how, this added, men became citizens of another city
whose king is truth, whose law charity, and whose measure eternity."
Dante goes further than this. He makes the Romans as well as the Jews a
chosen people, the one as founders of civil society, the other as
depositaries of the true faith.[213] One side of Dante's mind was so
practical and positive, and his pride in the Romans so intense,[214] that
he sometimes seems to regard their mission as the higher of the two.
Without peace which only good government could give, mankind could not
arrive at the highest virtue, whether of the active or contemplative
life. "And since what is true of the part is true of the whole, and it
happens in the particular man that by sitting quietly he is perfected in
prudence and wisdom, it is clear that the human race in the quiet or
tranquillity of peace is most freely and easily disposed for its proper
work which is almost divine, as it is written, 'Thou hast made him a
little lower than the angels'[215] Whence it is manifest that universal
peace is the best of those things which are ordained for our beatitude.
Hence it is that not riches, not pleasures, not honors, not length of
life, not health, not strength, not comeliness, was sung to the shepherds
from on high, but peace."[216] It was Dante's experience of the confusion
of Italy, where

                    "One doth gnaw the other
  Of those whom one wall and one fosse shut in,"[217]

that suggested the thought of a universal umpire, for that, after all,
was to be the chief function of his Emperor. He was too wise to insist on
a uniformity of political institutions _a priori_,[218] for he seems to
have divined that the surest stay of order, as of practical wisdom, is
habit, which is a growth, and cannot be made offhand. He believed with
Aristotle that vigorous minds were intended by nature to rule,[219] and
that certain races, like certain men, are born to leadership.[220] He
calls democracies, oligarchies, and petty princedoms (_tyrannides_)
"oblique policies which drive the human race to slavery, as is patent in
all of them to one who reasons."[221] He has nothing but pity for mankind
when it has become a many-headed beast, "despising the higher intellect
irrefragable in reason, the lower which hath the face of
experience."[222] He had no faith in a turbulent equality asserting the
divine right of _I'm as good as you_. He thought it fatal to all
discipline: "The confounding of persons hath ever been the beginning of
sickness in the state."[223] It is the same thought which Shakespeare
puts in the mouth of Ulysses:--

                       "Degree being vizarded,
  The unworthiest shows as fairly in the mask,
                        When degree is shaked,
  Which is the ladder to all high designs,
  The enterprise is sick."[224]

Yet no one can read Dante without feeling that he had a high sense of the
worth of freedom, whether in thought or government. He represents,
indeed, the very object of his journey through the triple realm of shades
as a search after liberty.[225] But it must not be that scramble after
undefined and indefinable rights which ends always in despotism, equally
degrading whether crowned with a red cap or an imperial diadem. His
theory of liberty has for its corner-stone the Freedom of the Will, and
the will is free only when the judgment wholly controls the
appetite.[226] On such a base even a democracy may rest secure, and on
such alone.

Rome was always the central point of Dante's speculation. A shadow of her
old sovereignty was still left her in the primacy of the Church, to which
unity of faith was essential. He accordingly has no sympathy with
heretics of whatever kind. He puts the ex-troubadour Bishop of
Marseilles, chief instigator of the horrors of Provence, in
paradise.[227] The Church is infallible in spiritual matters, but this is
an affair of outward discipline merely, and means the Church as a form of
polity. Unity was Dante's leading doctrine, and therefore he puts Mahomet
among the schismatics, not because he divided the Church, but the
faith.[228] Dante's Church was of this world, but he surely believed in
another and spiritual one. It has been questioned whether he was orthodox
or not. There can be no doubt of it so far as outward assent and
conformity are concerned, which he would practice himself and enforce
upon others as the first postulate of order, the prerequisite for all
happiness in this life. In regard to the Visible Church he was a
reformer, but no revolutionist; it is sheer ignorance to speak of him as
if there were anything new or exceptional in his denunciation of the
corruptions of the clergy. They were the commonplaces of the age, nor
were they confined to laymen.[229] To the absolute authority of the
Church Dante admitted some exceptions. He denies that the supreme Pontiff
has the unlimited power of binding and loosing claimed for him.
"Otherwise he might absolve me impenitent, which God himself could not

  "By malison of theirs is not so lost
  Eternal Love that it cannot return."[231]

Nor does the sacredness of the office extend to him who chances to hold
it. Philip the Fair himself could hardly treat Boniface VIII. worse than
he. With wonderful audacity, he declares the Papal throne vacant by the
mouth of Saint Peter himself.[232] Even if his theory of a dual
government were not in question, Dante must have been very cautious in
meddling with the Church. It was not an age that stood much upon
ceremony. He himself tells us he had seen men burned alive, and the
author of the _Ottimo Comento_ says: "I the writer saw followers of his
[Fra Dolcino] burned at Padua to the number of twenty-two together."[233]
Clearly, in such a time as this, one must not make "the veil of the
mysterious Terse" _too_ thin.[234]

In the affairs of this life Dante was, as we have said, supremely
practical, and he makes prudence the chief of the cardinal virtues.[235]
He has made up his mind to take things as they come, and to do at Rome as
the Romans do.

  "Ah, savage company! but in the Church
  With saints, and in the tavern with the gluttons!"[236]

In the world of thought it was otherwise, and here Dante's doctrine, if
not precisely esoteric, was certainly not that of his day, and must be
gathered from hints rather than direct statements. The general notion of
God was still (perhaps is largely even now) of a provincial, one might
almost say a denominational, Deity. The popular poets always represent
Macon, Apolm, Tervagant, and the rest as quasi-deities unable to resist
the superior strength of the Christian God. The Paynim answers the
arguments of his would-be converters with the taunt that he would never
worship a divinity who could not save himself from being done
ignominiously to death. Dante evidently was not satisfied with the narrow
conception which limits the interest of the Deity to the affairs of Jews
and Christians That saying of Saint Paul, "Whom, therefore, ye ignorantly
worship, him declare I unto you," had perhaps influenced him, but his
belief in the divine mission of the Roman people probably was conclusive.
"The Roman Empire had the help of miracles in perfecting itself," he
says, and then enumerates some of them. The first is that "under Numa
Pompilius, the second king of the Romans, when he was sacrificing
according to the rite of the Gentiles, a shield fell from heaven into the
city chosen of God."[237] In the _Convito_ we find "Virgil speaking in
the person of God," and Aeacus "wisely having recourse to God," the god
being Jupiter.[238] Ephialtes is punished in hell for rebellion against
"the Supreme Jove,"[239] and, that there may be no misunderstanding,
Dante elsewhere invokes the

                         "Jove Supreme,
  Who upon earth for us wast crucified."[240]

It is noticeable also that Dante, with evident design, constantly
alternates examples drawn from Christian and Pagan tradition or
mythology.[241] He had conceived a unity in the human race, all of whose
branches had worshipped the same God under divers names and aspects, had
arrived at the same truth by different roads. We cannot understand a
passage in the twenty-sixth _Paradiso_, where Dante inquires of Adam
concerning the names of God, except as a hint that the Chosen People had
done in this thing even as the Gentiles did.[242] It is true that he puts
all Pagans in Limbo, "where without hope they live in longing," and that
he makes baptism essential to salvation.[243] But it is noticeable that
his Limbo is the Elysium of Virgil, and that he particularizes Adam,
Noah, Moses, Abraham, David, and others as prisoners there with the rest
till the descent of Christ into hell.[244] But were they altogether
without hope? and did baptism mean an immersion of the body or a
purification of the soul? The state of the heathen after death had
evidently been to Dante one of those doubts that spring up at the foot of
every truth. In the _De Monarchia_ he says: "There are some judgments of
God to which, though human reason cannot attain by its own strength, yet
is it lifted to them by the help of faith and of those things which are
said to us in Holy Writ,--as to this, that no one, however perfect in the
moral and intellectual virtues both as a habit [of the mind] and in
practice, can be saved without faith, it being granted that he shall
never have heard anything concerning Christ; for the unaided reason of
man cannot look upon this as just; nevertheless, with the help of faith,
it can."[245] But faith, it should seem, was long in lifting Dante to
this height; for in the nineteenth canto of the _Paradiso_, which must
have been written many years after the passage just cited, the doubt
recurs again, and we are told that it was "a cavern," concerning which he
had "made frequent questioning." The answer is given here:--

  "Truly to him who with me subtilizes,
  _If so the Scripture were not over you_,
  For doubting there were marvellous occasion."

But what Scripture? Dante seems cautious, tells us that the eternal
judgments are above our comprehension, postpones the answer, and when it
comes, puts an orthodox prophylactic before it:--

                  "Unto this kingdom never
  Ascended one who had not faith in Christ
  Before or since he to the tree was nailed
  But look thou, _many crying are, 'Christ, Christ!'
  Who at the judgment shall be far less near
  To him than some shall be who knew not Christ_."

There is, then, some hope for the man born on the bank of Indus who has
never heard of Christ? Dante is still cautious, but answers the question
indirectly in the next canto by putting the Trojan Ripheus among the

  "Who would believe, down in the errant world,
  That e'er the Trojan Ripheus in this round
  Could be the fifth one of these holy lights?
  Now knoweth he enough of what the world
  Has not the power to see of grace divine,
  Although _his_ sight may not discern the bottom."

Then he seems to hesitate again, brings in the Church legend of Trajan
brought back to life by the prayers of Gregory the Great that he might be
converted, and after an interval of fifty lines tells us how Ripheus was

  "The other one, through grace that from so deep
  A fountain wells that never hath the eye
  Of any creature reached its primal wave,
  Set all his love below on righteousness;
  Wherefore from grace to grace did God unclose
  His eye to our redemption yet to be,
  Whence he believed therein, and suffered not
  From that day forth the stench of Paganism,
  And he reproved therefor the folk perverse.
  Those maidens three, whom at the right hand wheel[246]
  Thou didst behold, were unto him for baptism
  More than a thousand years before baptizing."

If the reader recall a passage already quoted from the _Convito_,[247] he
will perhaps think with us that the gate of Dante's _Limbo_ is left ajar
even for the ancient philosophers to slip out. The divine judgments are
still inscrutable, and the ways of God past finding out, but faith would
seem to have led Dante at last to a more merciful solution of his doubt
than he had reached when he wrote the _De Monarchia_. It is always
humanizing to see how the most rigid creed is made to bend before the
kindlier instincts of the heart. The stern Dante thinks none beyond hope
save those who are dead in sin, and have made evil their good. But we are
by no means sure that he is not right in insisting rather on the
implacable severity of the law than on the possible relenting of the
judge. Exact justice is commonly more merciful in the long run than pity,
for it tends to foster in men those stronger qualities which make them
good citizens, an object second only with the Roman-minded Dante to that
of making them spiritually regenerate, nay, perhaps even more important
as a necessary preliminary to it. The inscription over the gate of hell
tells us that the terms on which we receive the trust of life were fixed
by the Divine Power (which can what it wills), and are therefore
unchangeable; by the Highest Wisdom, and therefore for our truest good;
by the Primal Love, and therefore the kindest. These are the three
attributes of that justice which moved the maker of them. Dante is no
harsher than experience, which always exacts the uttermost farthing; no
more inexorable than conscience, which never forgives nor forgets. No
teaching is truer or more continually needful than that the stains of the
soul are ineffaceable, and that though their growth may be arrested,
their nature is to spread insidiously till they have brought all to their
own color. Evil is a far more cunning and persevering propagandist than
Good, for it has no inward strength, and is driven to seek countenance
and sympathy. It must have company, for it cannot bear to be alone in the
dark, while

  "Virtue can see to do what Virtue would
  By her own radiant light."

There is one other point which we will dwell on for a moment as bearing
on the question of Dante's orthodoxy. His nature was one in which, as in
Swedenborg's, a clear practical understanding was continually streamed
over by the northern lights of mysticism, through which the familiar
stars shine with a softened and more spiritual lustre. Nothing is more
interesting than the way in which the two qualities of his mind
alternate, and indeed play into each other, tingeing his matter-of-fact
sometimes with unexpected glows of fancy, sometimes giving an almost
geometrical precision to his most mystical visions. In his letter to Can
Grande he says: "It behooves not those to whom it is given to know what
is best in us to follow the footprints of the herd; much rather are they
bound to oppose its wanderings. For the vigorous in intellect and reason,
endowed with a certain divine liberty, are constrained by no customs. Nor
is it wonderful, since they are not governed by the laws, but much more
govern the laws themselves." It is not impossible that Dante, whose love
of knowledge was all-embracing, may have got some hint of the doctrine of
the Oriental Sufis. With them the first and lowest of the steps that lead
upward to perfection is the Law, a strict observance of which is all that
is expected of the ordinary man whose mind is not open to the conception
of a higher virtue and holiness. But the Sufi puts himself under the
guidance of some holy man [Virgil in the _Inferno_], whose teaching he
receives implicitly, and so arrives at the second step, which is the Path
[_Purgatorio_] by which he reaches a point where he is freed from all
outward ceremonials and observances, and has risen from an outward to a
spiritual worship. The third step is Knowledge [_Paradiso_], endowed by
which with supernatural insight, he becomes like the angels about the
throne, and has but one farther step to take before he reaches the goal
and becomes one with God. The analogies of this system with Dante's are
obvious and striking. They become still more so when Virgil takes leave
of him at the entrance of the Terres trial Paradise with the words:--

  "Expect no more a word or sign from me;
  Free and upright and sound is thy free-will,
  And error were it not to do its bidding;
  Thee o'er thyself I therefore crown and mitre,"[248]

that is, "I make thee king and bishop over thyself; the inward light is
to be thy law in things both temporal and spiritual." The originality of
Dante consists in his not allowing any divorce between the intellect and
the soul in its highest sense, in his making reason and intuition work
together to the same end of spiritual perfection. The unsatisfactoriness
of science leads Faust to seek repose in worldly pleasure; it led Dante
to find it in faith, of whose efficacy the short-coming of all logical
substitutes for it was the most convincing argument. That we cannot know,
is to him a proof that there is some higher plane on which we can believe
and see. Dante had discovered the incalculable worth of a single idea as
compared with the largest heap of facts ever gathered. To a man more
interested in the soul of things than in the body of them, the little
finger of Plato is thicker than the loins of Aristotle.

We cannot but think that there is something like a fallacy in Mr.
Buckle's theory that the advance of mankind is necessarily in the
direction of science, and not in that of morals. No doubt the laws of
morals existed from the beginning, but so also did those of science, and
it is by the application, not the mere recognition, of both that the race
is benefited. No one questions how much science has done for our physical
comfort and convenience, and with the mass of men these perhaps must of
necessity precede the quickening of their moral instincts; but such
material gains are illusory, unless they go hand in hand with a
corresponding ethical advance. The man who gives his life for a principle
has done more for his kind than he who discovers a new metal or names a
new gas, for the great motors of the race are moral, not intellectual,
and their force lies ready to the use of the poorest and weakest of us
all. We accept a truth of science so soon as it is demonstrated, are
perfectly willing to take it on authority, can appropriate whatever use
there may be in it without the least understanding of its processes, as
men send messages by the electric telegraph, but every truth of morals
must be redemonstrated in the experience of the individual man before he
is capable of utilizing it as a constituent of character or a guide in
action. A man does not receive the statements that "two and two make
four," and that "the pure in heart shall see God," on the same terms. The
one can be proved to him with four grains of corn; he can never arrive at
a belief in the other till he realize it in the intimate persuasion of
his whole being. This is typified in the mystery of the incarnation. The
divine reason must forever manifest itself anew in the lives of men, and
that as individuals. This atonement with God, this identification of the
man with the truth,[249] so that right action shall not result from the
lower reason of utility, but from the higher of a will so purified of
self as to sympathize by instinct with the eternal laws,[250] is not
something that can be done once for all, that can become historic and
traditional, a dead flower pressed between the leaves of the family
Bible, but must be renewed in every generation, and in the soul of every
man, that it may be valid. Certain sects show their recognition of this
in what are called revivals, a gross and carnal attempt to apply truth,
as it were, mechanically, and to accomplish by the etherization of
excitement and the magnetism of crowds what is possible only in the
solitary exaltations of the soul. This is the high moral of Dante's poem.
We have likened it to a Christian basilica; and as in that so there is
here also, painted or carven, every image of beauty and holiness the
artist's mind could conceive for the adornment of the holy place. We may
linger to enjoy these if we will, but if we follow the central thought
that runs like the nave from entrance to choir, it leads us to an image
of the divine made human, to teach us how the human might also make
itself divine. Dante beholds at last an image of that Power, Love, and
Wisdom, one in essence, but trine in manifestation, to answer the needs
of our triple nature and satisfy the senses, the heart, and the mind.

 "Within the deep and luminous subsistence
  Of the High Light appeared to me three circles
  Of threefold color and of one dimension,
  And by the second seemed the first reflected
  As iris is by iris, and the third
  Seemed fire that equally by both is breathed.
         *       *       *       *       *
 "Within itself, of its own very color,
  Seemed to me painted with our effigy,
  Wherefore my sight was all absorbed therein."

He had reached the high altar where the miracle of transubstantiation is
wrought, itself also a type of the great conversion that may be
accomplished in our own nature (the lower thing assuming the qualities of
the higher), not by any process of reason, but by the very fire of the
divine love.

                   "Then there smote my mind
  A flash of lightning wherein came its wish."[251]

Perhaps it seems little to say that Dante was the first great poet who
ever made a poem wholly out of himself, but, rightly looked at, it
implies a wonderful self-reliance and originality in his genius. His is
the first keel that ever ventured into the silent sea of human
consciousness to find a new world of poetry.

  "L'acqua ch' io prendo giammai non si corse."[252]

He discovered that not only the story of some heroic person, but that of
any man might be epical; that the way to heaven was not outside the
world, but through it. Living at a time when the end of the world was
still looked for as imminent,[253] he believed that the second coming of
the Lord was to take place on no more conspicuous stage than the soul of
man; that his kingdom would be established in the surrendered will. A
poem, the precious distillation of such a character and such a life as
his through all those sorrowing but undespondent years, must have a
meaning in it which few men have meaning enough in themselves wholly to
penetrate. That its allegorical form belongs to a past fashion, with
which the modern mind has little sympathy, we should no more think of
denying than of whitewashing a fresco of Giotto. But we may take it as we
may nature, which is also full of double meanings, either as picture or
as parable, either for the simple delight of its beauty or as a shadow of
the spiritual world. We may take it as we may history, either for its
picturesqueness or its moral, either for the variety of its figures, or
as a witness to that perpetual presence of God in his creation of which
Dante was so profoundly sensible. He had seen and suffered much, but it
is only to the man who is himself of value that experience is valuable.
He had not looked on man and nature as most of us do, with less interest
than into the columns of our daily newspaper. He saw in them the latest
authentic news of the God who made them, for he carried everywhere that
vision washed clear with tears which detects the meaning under the mask,
and, beneath the casual and transitory, the eternal keeping its sleepless
watch. The secret of Dante's power is not far to seek. Whoever can
express _himself_ with the full force of unconscious sincerity will be
found to have uttered something ideal and universal. Dante intended a
didactic poem, but the most picturesque of poets could not escape his
genius, and his sermon sings and glows and charms in a manner that
surprises more at the fiftieth reading than the first, such variety of
freshness is in imagination.

There are no doubt in the _Divina Commedia_ (regarded merely as poetry)
sandy spaces enough both of physics and metaphysics, but with every
deduction Dante remains the first of descriptive as well as moral poets.
His verse is as various as the feeling it conveys; now it has the
terseness and edge of steel, and now palpitates with iridescent softness
like the breast of a dove. In vividness he is without a rival. He drags
back by its tangled locks the unwilling head of some petty traitor of an
Italian provincial town, lets the fire glare on the sullen face for a
moment, and it sears itself into the memory forever. He shows us an angel
glowing with that love of God which makes him a star even amid the glory
of heaven, and the holy shape keeps lifelong watch in our fantasy
constant as a sentinel. He has the skill of conveying impressions
indirectly. In the gloom of hell his bodily presence is revealed by his
stirring something, on the mount of expiation by casting a shadow. Would
he have us feel the brightness of an angel? He makes him whiten afar
through the smoke like a dawn,[254] or, walking straight toward the
setting sun, he finds his eyes suddenly unable to withstand a greater
splendor against which his hand is unavailing to shield him. Even its
reflected light, then, is brighter than the direct ray of the sun.[255]
And how mack more keenly do we feel the parched lips of Master Adam for
those rivulets of the Casentino which run down into the Arno, "making
their channels cool and soft"! His comparisons are as fresh, as simple,
and as directly from nature as those of Homer.[256] Sometimes they show a
more subtle observation, as where he compares the stooping of Antaeus
over him to the leaning tower of Garisenda, to which the clouds, flying
in an opposite direction to its inclination, give away their motion.[257]
His suggestions of individuality, too, from attitude or speech, as in
Farinata, Sordello, or Pia,[258] give in a hint what is worth acres of
so-called character-painting. In straightforward pathos, the single and
sufficient thrust of phrase, he has no competitor. He is too sternly
touched to be effusive and tearful:

  "Io non piangeva, si dentro impietrai."[259]

His is always the true coin of speech,

                          "Si lucida e si tonda
  Che nel suo conio nulla ci s'inforsa,"

and never the highly ornamented promise to pay, token of insolvency.

No doubt it is primarily by his poetic qualities that a poet must be
judged, for it is by these, if by anything, that he is to maintain his
place in literature. And he must be judged by them absolutely, with
reference, that is, to the highest standard, and not relatively to the
fashions and opportunities of the age in which he lived. Yet these
considerations must fairly enter into our decision of another side of the
question, and one that has much to do with the true quality of the man,
with his character as distinguished from his talent, and therefore with
how much he will influence men as well as delight them. We may reckon up
pretty exactly a man's advantages and defects as an artist; these he has
in common with others, and they are to be measured by a recognized
standard; but there is something in his _genius_ that is incalculable. It
would be hard to define the causes of the difference of impression made
upon us respectively by two such men as Aeschylus and Euripides, but we
feel profoundly that the latter, though in some respects a better
dramatist, was an infinitely lighter weight. Aeschylus stirs something in
us far deeper than the sources of mere pleasurable excitement. The man
behind the verse is far greater than the verse itself, and the impulse he
gives to what is deepest and most sacred in us, though we cannot always
explain it, is none the less real and lasting. Some men always seem to
remain outside their work; others make their individuality felt in every
part of it; their very life vibrates in every verse, and we do not wonder
that it has "made them lean for many years." The virtue that has gone out
of them abides in what they do. The book such a man makes is indeed, as
Milton called it, "the precious lifeblood of a master spirit." Theirs is
a true immortality, for it is their soul, and not their talent, that
survives in their work. Dante's concise forthrightness of phrase, which
to that of most other poets is as a stab[260] to a blow with a cudgel,
the vigor of his thought, the beauty of his images, the refinement of his
conception of spiritual things, are marvellous if we compare him with his
age and its best achievement. But it is for his power of inspiring and
sustaining, it is because they find in him a spur to noble aims, a secure
refuge in that defeat which the present always seems, that they prize
Dante who know and love him best. He is not merely a great poet, but an
influence, part of the soul's resources in time of trouble. From him she
learns that, "married to the truth, she is a mistress, but otherwise a
slave shut out of all liberty."[261]

All great poets have their message to deliver us, from something higher
than they. We venture on no unworthy comparison between him who reveals
to us the beauty of this world's love and the grandeur of this world's
passion and him who shows that love of God is the fruit whereof all other
loves are but the beautiful and fleeting blossom, that the passions are
yet sublimer objects of contemplation, when, subdued by the will, they
become patience in suffering and perseverance in the upward path. But we
cannot help thinking that if Shakespeare be the most comprehensive
intellect, so Dante is the highest spiritual nature that has expressed
itself in rhythmical form. Had he merely made us feel how petty the
ambitions, sorrows, and vexations of earth appear when looked down on
from the heights of our own character and the seclusion of our own
genius, or from the region where we commune with God, he had done much:

  "I with my sight returned through one and all
  The sevenfold spheres, and I beheld this globe
  Such that I smiled at its ignoble semblance."[262]

But he has done far more; he has shown us the way by which that country
far beyond the stars may be reached, may become the habitual
dwelling-place and fortress of our nature, instead of being the object of
its vague aspiration in moments of indolence. At the Round Table of King
Arthur there was left always one seat empty for him who should accomplish
the adventure of the Holy Grail. It was called the perilous seat because
of the dangers he must encounter who would win it. In the company of the
epic poets there was a place left for whoever should embody the Christian
idea of a triumphant life, outwardly all defeat, inwardly victorious, who
should make us partakers of that cup of sorrow in which all are
communicants with Christ. He who should do this would indeed achieve the
perilous seat, for he must combine poesy with doctrine in such cunning
wise that the one lose not its beauty nor the other its severity,--and
Dante has done it. As he takes possession of it we seem to hear the cry
he himself heard when Virgil rejoined the company of great singers,

  "All honor to the loftiest of poets!"


    [1] The Shadow of Dante, being an Essay towards studying Himself, his
    World, and his Pilgrimage. By Maria Francesca Rossetti.

      "Se Dio te lasci, lettor prender frutto
      Di tua lezione."

    Boston: Roberts Brothers. 1872. 8vo. pp. 296.

    [2] The Florentines should seem to have invented or re-invented
    banks, book-keeping by double entry, and bills of exchange. The last,
    by endowing Value with the gift of fern seed and enabling it to walk
    invisible, turned the flank of the baronial tariff-system and made
    the roads safe for the great liberalizer Commerce. This made Money
    omnipresent, and prepared the way for its present omnipotence.
    Fortunately it cannot usurp the third attribute of
    Deity,--omniscience. But whatever the consequences, this Florentine
    invention was at first nothing but admirable, securing to brain its
    legitimate influence over brawn. The latter has begun its revolt, but
    whether it will succeed better in its attempt to restore mediaeval
    methods, than the barons in maintaining them remains to be seen.

    [3] Ghiberti's designs have been criticised by a too systematic
    aestheticism, as confounding the limits of sculpture and painting.
    But is not the _riliero_ precisely the bridge by which the one art
    passes over into the territory of the other?

    [4] Inferno, IV. 102.

    [5] The Nouvelle Biographie Générale gives May 8 as his birthday.
    This is a mere assumption, for Boccaccio only says generally May. The
    indication which Dante himself gives that he was born when the sun
    was in Gemini would give a range from about the middle of May to
    about the middle of June, so that the 8th is certainly too early.

    [6] Secolo di Dante, Udine edition of 1828, Vol. III. Part I. p.578.

    [7] Arrivabene, however, is wrong. Boccaccio makes precisely the same
    reckoning in the first note of his Commentary (Bocc. Comento, etc.,
    Firenze, 1844, Vol. I. pp. 32, 33).

    [8] Dict. Phil., art. _Dante_.

    [9] Paradise, XXII.

    [10] Canto XV.

    [11] Purgatorio, XVI.

    [12] Though he himself preferred French, and wrote his _Trésor_ in
    that language for two reasons, _"l'una perchè noi siamo in Francia, e
    l'altra perchè, la parlatura francesca e più dilettevolee più comune
    che tutti li altri linguaggi_." (_Proemio, sul fine_.)

    [13] Inferno, Canto VII.

    [14] Paradiso, Canto X.

    [15] See especially Inferno, IX. 112 et seq.; XII. 120; XV. 4 et
    seq.; XXXII. 25-30.

    [16] Vit. Nuov. p. 61, ed. Pesaro, 1829.

    [17] Tratt. III. Cap. XI.

    [18] Letter of Dante, now lost, cited by Aretino.

    [19] Inferno, XXI. 94.

    [20] Balbo, Vita di Dante, Firenze, 1853, p. 117.

    [21] Life and Times of Dante, London, 1858, p. 80.

    [22] Notes to Spenser's "Shepherd's Calendar."

    [23] See the story at length in Balbo, Vita di Dante, Cap. X.

    [24] Thus Foscolo. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that at
    first the blacks were the extreme Guelphs, and the whites those
    moderate Guelphs inclined to make terms with the Ghibellines. The
    matter is obscure, and Balbo contradicts himself about it.

    [25] Secolo di Dante, p. 654. He would seem to have been in Rome
    during the Jubilee of 1300. See Inferno, XVIII. 28-33.

    [26] That Dante was not of the _grandi_, or great nobles (what we
    call grandees), as some of his biographers have tried to make out, is
    plain from this sentence, where his name appears low on the list and
    with no ornamental prefix, after half a dozen _domini_. Bayle,
    however, is equally wrong in supposing his family to have been

    [27] See Witte, "Quando e da chi sia composto l' Ottimo Comento,"
    etc. (Leipsic, 1847)

    [28] Ott. Com. Parad. XVII.

    [29] The loose way in which many Italian scholars write history is as
    amazing as it is perplexing. For example: Count Balbo's "Life of
    Dante" was published originally at Turin, in 1839. In a note (Lib. I.
    Cap. X.) he expresses a doubt whether the date of Dante's banishment
    should not be 1303, and inclines to think it should be. Meanwhile, it
    seems never to have occurred to him to employ some one to look at the
    original decree, still existing in the archives. Stranger still, Le
    Monnier, reprinting the work at Florence in 1853, within a stone's
    throw of the document itself, and with full permission from Balbo to
    make corrections, leaves the matter just where it was.

    [30] Convito, Tratt. I. Cap. III.

    [31] Macchiavelli is the authority for this, and is carelessly cited
    in the preface to the Udine edition of the "Codex Bartolinianus" as
    placing it in 1312. Macchiavelli does no such thing, but expressly
    implies an earlier date, perhaps 1310. (See Macch. Op. ed. Baretti,
    London, 1772, Vol. I. p. 60.)

    [32] See Carlyle's "Frederic," Vol. I. p. 147.

    [33] A mistake, for Guido did not become lord of Ravenna till several
    years later. But Boccaccio also assigns 1313 as the date of Dante's
    withdrawal to that city, and his first protector may have been one of
    the other Polentani to whom Guido (surnamed Novello, or the Younger;
    his grandfather having borne the same name) succeeded.

    [34] Under this date (1315) a 4th _condemnatio_ against Dante is
    mentioned _facta in anno 1315 de mense Octobris per D. Rainerium, D.
    Zachario de Urbeveteri, olim et tunc vicarium regium civitatis
    Florentia_, etc. It is found recited in the decree under which in
    1342 Jacopo di Dante redeemed a portion of his father's property, to
    wit: _Una possessione cum vinea et cum domibus super ea, combustis et
    non combustis, posita in populo S. Miniatis de Pagnlao_. In the
    _domibus combustis_ we see the blackened traces of Dante's kinsman by
    marriage, Corso Donati, who plundered and burnt the houses of the
    exiled Bianchi, during the occupation of the city by Charles of
    Valois. (See "De Romanis," notes on Tiraboschi's Life of Dante, in
    the Florence ed. of 1830, Vol. V. p. 119.)

    [35] Voltaire's blunder has been made part of a serious theory by
    Mons. E. Aroux, who gravely assures us that, during the Middle Ages,
    Tartar was only a cryptonym by which heretics knew each other, and
    adds: _Il n'y a donc pas trop à s'etonner des noms bizarres de
    Mastino et de Cane donnés à ces Della Scala_. (Dante, hérétique,
    révolutionnaire, et socialiste, Paris, 1854, pp. 118-120.)

    [36] If no monument at all was built by Guido, as is asserted by
    Balbo (Vita, I. Lib. II. Cap. XVII.), whom De Vericour copies without
    question, we are at a loss to account for the preservation of the
    original epitaph replaced by Cardinal Bembo when he built the new
    tomb, in 1483. Bembo's own inscription implies an already existing
    monument, and, if in disparaging terms, yet epitaphial Latin verses
    are not to be taken too literally, considering the exigencies of that
    branch of literary ingenuity. The doggerel Latin has been thought by
    some unworthy of Dante, as Shakespeare's doggerel English epitaph has
    been thought unworthy of him. In both cases the rudeness of the
    verses seems to us a proof of authenticity. An enlightened posterity
    with unlimited superlatives at command, and in an age when
    stone-cutting was cheap, would have aimed at something more befitting
    the occasion. It is certain, at least in Dante's case, that Cardinal
    Bembo would never have inserted in the very first words an allusion
    to the De Monarchiâ, a book long before condemned as heretical.

    [37] We have translated _lacusque_ by "the Pit," as being the nearest
    English correlative. Dante probably meant by it the several circles
    of his Hell, narrowing, one beneath the other, to the centre. As a
    curious specimen of English we subjoin Professor de Vericour's
    translation: "I have sang the rights of monarchy; I have sang, in
    exploring them, the abode of God, the Phlegethon and the impure
    lakes, as long as destinies have permitted. But as the part of
    myself, which was only passing, returns to better fields, and
    happier, returned to his Maker, I, Dante, exiled from the regions of
    fatherland, I am laid here, I, to whom Florence gave birth, a mother
    who experienced but a feeble love." (The Life and Times of Dante,
    London, 1858, p. 208.)

    [38] Inferno, X. 85.

    [39] Paradiso, XVII.

    [40] He says after the return of Louis of Bavaria to Germany, which
    took place in that year. The De Monarchiâ was afterward condemned by
    the Council of Trent.

    [41] Paradiso, XXVII.

    [42] Inferno, XI.

    [43] See the letter in Gaye, Carteggio inedito d' artisti, Vol. I. p.

    [44] St. René Taillandier, in Revue des Deux Mondes, December 1,

    [45] Dante, Vol. IV. p. 116.

    [46] Ste. Beuve, Causeries du Lundi, Tome XI. p. 169.

    [47] Dict. Phil., art. _Dante_.

    [48] Corresp. gén., Oeuvres, Tome LVII. pp. 80, 81.

    [49] Essai sur les moeurs, Oeuvres, Tome XVII. pp. 371, 372.

    [50] Génie du Christianisme, Cap. IV.

    [51] Ed. Lond. 1684, p. 199.

    [52] It is worth notice, as a proof of Chaucer's critical judgment,
    that he calls Dante "the great poet of Itaille," while in the
    "Clerke's Tale" he speaks of Petrarch as a "worthy clerk," as "the
    laureat poete" (alluding to the somewhat sentimental ceremony at
    Rome), and says that his

                "Rhetorike sweete
      Enlumined all Itaille of poetry."

    [53] It is possible that Sackville may have read the Inferno, and it
    is certain that Sir John Harrington had. See the preface to his
    translation of the Orlando Furioso.

    [54] Second edition, 1800.

    [55] Dante Alighieri's lyrische Gedichte, Leipzig, 1842, Theil II.
    pp. 4-9.

    [56] Vita, p. 97.

    [57] Comment on Paradiso, VI.

    [58] Jean de Meung had already said,--

     "Ge n'en met hors rois ne prélas
             *       *       *       *       *
     "Qu'il sunt tui serf au menu pueple."

    Roman de la Rose (ed. Méon), V. ii. pp. 78, 79.

    [59] Dante, Studien, etc., 1855, p. 144.

    [60] Compare also Spinoza, Tractat. polit., Cap. VI.

    [61] It is instructive to compare Dante's political treatise with
    those of Aristotle and Spinoza. We thus see more clearly the
    limitations of the age in which he lived, and this may help us to a
    broader view of him as poet.

    [62] A very good one may be found in the sixth volume of the Molini
    edition of Dante, pp. 391-433.

    [63] See Field's "Theory of Colors."

    [64] As by Dante himself in the Convito.

    [65] Psalm cxiv. 1, 2.

    [66] He commonly prefaced his letters with some such phrase as _exul

    [67] In order to fix more precisely in the mind the place of Dante in
    relation to the history of thought, literature, and events, we
    subjoin a few dates: Dante born, 1265; end of Crusades, death of St.
    Louis, 1270; Aquinas died, 1274; Bonaventura died, 1274; Giotto born,
    1276; Albertus Magnus died, 1280; Sicilian vespers, 1282; death of
    Ugolino and Francesca da Rimini, 1282; death of Beatrice, 1290; Roger
    Bacon died, 1292; death of Cimabue, 1302; Dante's banishment, 1302;
    Petrarch born, 1304; Fra Dolcino burned, 1307; Pope Clement V. at
    Avignon, 1309; Templars suppressed, 1312; Boccaccio born, 1313; Dante
    died, 1321; Wycliffe born, 1324; Chaucer born, 1328.

    [68] Rivavol characterized only a single quality of Dante's style,
    who knew how to spend as well as spare. Even the Inferno, on which he
    based his remark, might have put him on his guard. Dante understood
    very well the use of ornament in its fitting place. _Est enim
    exornatio alicujus convenientis additio_, he tells us in his De
    Vulgari Eloquio (Lib. II. C. II.). His simile of the doves (Inferno,
    V. 82 et seq.), perhaps the most exquisite in all poetry, quite
    oversteps Rivarol's narrow limit of "substantive and verb."

    [69] Discorso sul testo, ec., § XVIII.

    [70] Convito, B. IV. C. XXII.

    [71] It is remarkable that when Dante, in 1297, as a preliminary
    condition to active politics, enrolled himself in the guild of
    physicians and apothecaries, he is qualified only with the title
    _poeta_. The arms of the Alighieri (curiously suitable to him who
    _sovra gli altri come aquila vola_) were a wing of gold in a field of
    azure. His vivid sense of beauty even hovers sometimes like a
    _corposant_ over the somewhat stiff lines of his Latin prose. For
    example, in his letter to the kings and princes of Italy on the
    coming of Henry VII: "A new day brightens, revealing the dawn which
    already scatters the shades of long calamity; already the breezes of
    morning gather; _the lips of heaven are reddening!"_

    [72] Purgatorio, XXXII. 100.

    [73] Paradiso, I. 70.

    [74] In a letter to Can Grande (XI. of the Epistolae).

    [75] Witte, Wegele, and Ruth in German, and Ozanam in French, have
    rendered ignorance of Dante inexcusable among men of culture.

    [76] Inferno, VII. 75. "Nay, his style," says Miss Rossetti, "is more
    than concise: it is elliptical, it is recondite. A first thought
    often lies coiled up and hidden under a second; the words which state
    the conclusion involve the premises and develop the subject." (p. 3.)

    [77] A complete vocabulary of Italian billingsgate might be selected
    from Biagioli. Or see the concluding pages of Nannucci's excellent
    tract "Intorno alle voci usate da Dante," Corfu, 1840. Even Foscolo
    could not always refrain. Dante should have taught them to shun such
    vulgarities. See Inferno, XXX. 131-148.

    [78] "My Italy, my sweetest Italy, for having loved thee too much I
    have lost thee, and, perhaps, ... ah, may God avert the omen! But
    more proud than sorrowful, for an evil endured for thee alone, I
    continue to consecrate my vigils to thee alone.... An exile full of
    anguish, perchance, availed to sublime the more in thy Alighieri that
    lofty soul which was a beautiful gift of thy smiling sky; and an
    exile equally wearisome and undeserved now avails, perhaps, to
    sharpen my small genius so that it may penetrate into what he left
    written for thy instruction and for his glory." (Rossetti, Disamina,
    ec., p. 405.) Bossetti is himself a proof that a noble mind need not
    be narrowed by misfortune. His "Comment" (unhappily incomplete) is
    one of the most valuable and suggestive.

    [79] The great-minded man ever magnifies himself in his heart, and in
    like manner the pusillanimous holds himself less than he is.
    (Convito, Tr. I. c. 11.)

    [80] Dante's notion of virtue was not that of an ascetic, nor has any
    one ever painted her in colors more soft and splendid than he in the
    Convito. She is "sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes," and he dwells
    on the delights of her love with a rapture which kindles and
    purifies. So far from making her an inquisitor, he says expressly
    that she "should be gladsome and not sullen in all her works."
    (Convito, Tr. I. c. 8.) "Not harsh and crabbed as dull fools

    [81] Inferno, XIX. 28, 29.

    [82] Inferno, VIII. 70-75.

    [83] Paradise, X. 138.

    [84] Paradiso, IV. 40-45 (Longfellow's version).

    [85] Marlowe's "Faustus." "Which way I fly is hell, myself am hell."
    (Paradise Lost, IV. 75.) In the same way, _ogni dove in cielo o
    Paradiso_. (Paradiso, III. 88, 89.)

    [86] Purgatorio, XIX. 7-33.

    [87] Convito, Tr. II. c. 16.

    [88] _La natura universale, cioè Iddio._ (Convito, Tr. III. c. 4.)

    [89] Inferno, III. 7, 8.

    [90] Inferno, XX. 30. Mr. W.M. Rossetti strangely enough renders this
    verse "Who hath a passion for God's judgeship" _Compassion porta_, is
    the reading of the best texts, and Witte adopts it. Buti's comment is
    "_cioè porta pena e dolore di colui che giustamente è condannato da
    Dio che e sempre giusto_." There is an analogous passage in "The
    Revelation of the Apostle Paul," printed in the "Proceedings of the
    American Oriental Society" (Vol. VIII. pp. 213, 214): "And the angel
    answered and said, 'Wherefore dost thou weep? Why! art thou more
    merciful than God?' And I said, 'God forbid, O my lord; for God is
    good and long-suffering unto the sons of men, and he leaves every one
    of them to his own will, and he walks as he pleases'" This is
    precisely Dante's view.

    [91] Inferno, VIII 40.

    [92] "I following her (Moral Philosophy) in the work as well as the
    passion, so far as I could, abominated and disparaged the errors of
    men, not to the infamy and shame of the erring, but of the errors."
    (Convito, Tr IV. c. 1.)  "Wherefore in my judgment as he who defames
    a worthy man ought to be avoided by people and not listened to, so a
    vile man descended of worthy ancestors ought to be hunted out by
    all."  (Convito, Tr. IV. c. 29.)

    [93] Paradise, XVII. 61-69.

    [94] It is worth mentioning that the sufferers in his Inferno are in
    like manner pretty exactly divided between the two parties. This is
    answer enough to the charge of partiality. He even puts persons there
    for whom he felt affection (as Brunetto Latini) and respect (as
    Farinata degli Uberti and Frederick II.). Till the French looked up
    their MSS., it was taken for granted that the _beccajo di Parigi_
    (Purgatorio, XX. 52) was a drop of Dante's gall. "Ce fu Huez Capez e'
    on apelle bouchier." Hugues Capet, p. 1.

    [95] De Vulgari Eloquio, Lib. I, Cap. VI. Cf. Inferno, XV. 61-64.

    [96] Convito, Tr. IV. c. 23.  Ib. Tr. I. c. 2.

    [97] Convito, Tr. III. c. 13.

    [98] Opp. Min., ed. Fraticelli, Vol. II. pp. 281 and 283. Witte is
    inclined to put it even earlier than 1300, and we believe he is

    [99] Paradiso, VI. 103-105.

    [100] Some Florentines have amusingly enough doubted the genuineness
    of the De vulgari Eloquio, because Dante therein denies the
    pre-eminence of the Tuscan dialect.

    [101] See particularly the second book of the De vulgari Eloquio.

    [102] Purgatorio, XXXIII. 141. "That thing one calls beautiful whose
    parts answer to each other, because pleasure results from their
    harmony." (Convito, Tr. I. c. 5.) Carlyle says that "he knew too,
    partly, that his work was great, the greatest a man could do." He
    knew it fully. Telling us how Giotto's fame as a painter had eclipsed
    that of Cimabue, he takes an example from poetry also, and selecting
    two Italian poets,--one the most famous of his predecessors, the
    other of his contemporaries,--calmly sets himself above them both
    (Purgatorio, XI. 97-99), and gives the reason for his supremacy
    (Purgatorio, XXIV. 49-62). It is to be remembered that _Amore_ in the
    latter passage does not mean love in the ordinary sense, but in that
    transcendental one set forth in the Convito,--that state of the soul
    which opens it for the descent of God's spirit, to make it over into
    his own image. "Therefore it is manifest that in this love the Divine
    virtue descends into men in the guise of an angel, ... and it is to
    be noted that the descending of the virtue of one thing into another
    is nothing else than reducing it to its own likeness." (Convito, Tr.
    III. c. 14.)

    [103] Convito, Tr. III. c. 11.  Ib. Tr. I. c. 11.

    [104] Convito, Tr. III. c. 12-15.

    [105] Inferno, II. 94. The _donna gentil_ is Lucia, the prevenient
    Grace, the _light_ of God which shows the right path and guides the
    feet in it. With Dante God is always the sun, "which leadeth others
    right by every road." (Inferno, I. 18.) "The spiritual and
    unintelligible Sun, which is God." (Convito, Tr. III. c. 12) His
    light "enlighteneth every man that cometh into the world," but his
    dwelling is in the heavens. He who wilfully deprives himself of this
    light is spiritually dead in sin. So when in Mars he beholds the
    glorified spirits of the martyrs he exclaims, "O Elios, who so
    arrayest them!" (Paradiso, XIV. 96.) Blanc (Vocabolario, _sub voce_)
    rejects this interpretation. But Dante, entering the abode of the
    Blessed, invokes the "good Apollo," and shortly after calls him
    _divina virtù._ We shall have more to say of this hereafter.

    [106] Convito, Tr. III. c. 12.

    [107] Convito, Tr. III. c. 15. Recalling how the eyes of Beatrice
    lift her servant through the heavenly spheres, and that smile of hers
    so often dwelt on with rapture, we see how Dante was in the habit of
    commenting and illustrating his own works. We must remember always
    that with him the allegorical exposition is the true one (Convito,
    Tr. IV. c. 1), the allegory being a truth which is hidden under a
    beautiful falsehood (Convito, Tr. II. c. 1), and that Dante thought
    his poems without this exposition "under some shade of obscurity, so
    that to many their beauty was more grateful than their goodness"
    (Convito, Tr. I. c. 1), "because the goodness is in the meaning, and
    the beauty in the ornament of the words" (Convito, Tr. II. c. 12).

    [108] Convito, Tr. III. c. 14.

    [109] Convito, Tr. IV. c. 22.

    [110] Convito, Tr. III. c. 6.

    [111] Convito, Tr. III. c. 2. By _potenzia_ and _potenza_ Dante means
    the faculty of receiving influences or impressions. (Paradiso, XIII.
    61; XXIX. 34.) Reason is the "sovran potency" because it makes us
    capable of God.

      "O thou _well-born_, unto whom Grace concedes
      To see the thrones of the Eternal triumph,
      Or ever yet the warfare be abandoned."

    Paradiso, V. 115-118.

    [113] Convito, Tr. IV. c. 21.

    [114] Convito, Tr. III. c. 7.

    [115] Inferno, X. 55, 56; Paradiso, XXII. 112-117.

    [116] Convito, Tr. I. c. 23 (cf. Inferno, I. IV).

    [117] Convito, Tr. III. c. 3; Paradiso, XVIII. 108-130.

    [118] See an excellent discussion and elucidation of this matter by
    Witte, who so highly deserves the gratitude of all students of Dante,
    in Dante Alighieri's Lyrische Gedichte, Theil II. pp. 48-57. It was
    kindly old Boccaccio, who, without thinking any harm, first set this
    nonsense agoing. His "Life of Dante" is mainly a rhetorical exercise.
    After making Dante's marriage an excuse for revamping all the old
    slanders against matrimony, he adds gravely, "Certainly I do not
    affirm these things to have happened to Dante, for I do not know it,
    though it be true that (whether things like these or others were the
    cause of it), once parted from her, he would never come where she was
    nor suffer her to come where he was, for all that she was the mother
    of several children by him." That he did not come to her is not
    wonderful, for he would have been burned alive if he had. Dante could
    not send for her because he was a homeless wanderer. She remained in
    Florence with her children because she had powerful relations and
    perhaps property there. It is plain, also, that what Boccaccio says
    of Dante's _lussuria_ had no better foundation. It gave him a chance
    to turn a period. He gives no particulars, and his general statement
    is simply incredible. Lionardo Bruni and Vellutello long ago pointed
    out the trifling and fictitious character of this "Life." Those
    familiar with Dante's allegorical diction will not lay much stress on
    the literal meaning of _pargoletta_ in Purgatono, XXXI. 59. Gentucca,
    of course, was a real person, one of those who had shown hospitality
    to the exile. Dante remembers them all somewhere, for gratitude
    (which is quite as rare as genius) was one of the virtues of his
    unforgetting nature Boccaccio's "Comment" is later and far more
    valuable than the "Life."

    [119] Convito, Tr. IV. c. 17; Purgatorio, XXVII. 100-108.

    [120] Convito, Tr. II. c. 8.

    [121] That is, _wholly_ fulfil, _rendono intera_.

    [122] We should prefer here,

      "Nor inspirations _won by prayer_ availed,"

    as better expressing _Nè l'impetrare spirazion_. Mr. Longfellow's
    translation is so admirable for its exactness as well as its beauty
    that it may be thankful for the minutest criticism, such only being

    [123] Which he cites in the Paradiso, VIII. 37.

    [124] Dante confesses his guiltiness of the sin of pride, which (as
    appears by the examples he gives of it) included ambition, in
    Purgatorio, XIII. 136, 137.

    [125] Convito, Tr. II. c. 11.

    [126] Purgatorio, XXVIII.

    [127]  Purgatorio, XXVIII. 40-44; Convito, Tr. III. c. 13.

    [128]  Purgatorio, XXVII. 94-105.

    [129]  Psalm li. 2. "And therefore I say that her [Philosophy's]
    beauty, that is, morality, rains flames of fire, that is, a righteous
    appetite which is generated in the love of moral doctrine, the which
    appetite removes us from the natural as well as other vices."
    (Convito, Tr. III. c. 15.)

    [130] Purgatorio, XXXI. 103,104.

    [131] Tr. IV. c. 22.

    [133] Purgatorio, 100-102.

    [133] Such is the _selva oscura_ (Inferno, I. 2), such, the _selva
    erronea di questa vita_ (Convito, Tr. IV. c. 24).

    [134] Convito, Tr. I. c. 13.

    [135] Convito, Tr. II. c. 2.

    [136] _Mar di tutto il senno_, he calls Virgil (Inferno, VIII. 7).
    Those familiar with his own works will think the phrase singularly
    applicable to himself.

    [137] Convito, Tr. III. c. 9.

    [138] Convito, Tr. III. c. 3.

    [139] Vita Nuova, XI.

    [140] Vita Nuova, Tr. II. c. 6.

    [141] Convito, Tr. IV. c. 24. The date of Dante's birth is uncertain,
    but the period he assigns for it (Paradiso, XXII. 112-117) extends
    from the middle of May to the middle of June. If we understand Buti's
    astrological comment, the day should fall in June rather than May.

    [142] Vita Nuova, XXXIX. Compare for a different view, "The New Life
    of Dante, an Essay with Translations," by C. E. Norton, pp. 92. et

    [143] There is a passage in the Convito (Tr. III. c. 15) in which
    Dante seems clearly to make the distinction asserted above, "And
    therefore the desire of man is limited in this life to that
    _knowledge_ (_scienzia_) which may here be had, and passes not save
    by error that point which is beyond our natural understanding. And so
    is limited and measured in the angelic nature the amount of that
    _wisdom_ which the nature of each is capable of receiving." Man is,
    according to Dante, superior to the angels in this, that he is
    capable both of reason and contemplation, while they are confined to
    the latter. That Beatrice's reproaches refer to no human
    _pargoletta_, the context shows, where Dante asks,

      "But wherefore so beyond my power of sight
      Soars your desirable discourse that aye
      The more I strive, so much the more I lose it?
      That thou mayst recognize, she said, the school
      Which thou hast followed, and mayst see how far
      Its doctrine follows after my discourse,
      And mayst behold your path from the divine
      Distant as far as separated is
      From earth the heaven that highest hastens on."

    Purgatorio, XXXIII. 82-90.

    The _pargoletta_ in its ordinary sense was necessary to the literal
    and human meaning, but it is shockingly discordant with that
    non-natural interpretation which, according to Dante's repeated
    statement, lays open the true and divine meaning.

    [144] "So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye
    are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of
    God dwell in you." Romans viii. 8, 9.

    [145] Convito, Tr. II. c. 14, 15.

    [146] Convito, Tr. II. c. 4. Compare Paradiso, I. 76, 77.

    [147] "Vain babblings and oppositions of science falsely so called."
    1 Tim. vi. 20.

    [148] That is, no partial truth.

    [149] Paradise, IV. 124-132.

    [150] "Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came
    forth sweetness."--Judges xiv. 14.

    [151] Purgatorio, III. 34-44. The allusions in this passage are all
    to sayings of Saint Paul, of whom Dante was plainly a loving reader.
    "Remain contented at the _Quia_," that is, be satisfied with
    knowing _that_ things are, without inquiring too nicely _how_ or
    _why_. "Being justified by faith we have peace with God" (Rom. v. 1).
    _Infinita via_: "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and
    knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways
    past finding out!" (Rom. xi. 93) _Aristotle and Plato_: "For the
    wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and
    unrighteousness of men who hold the truth in unrighteousness.... For
    the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are
    clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his
    eternal power and Godhead, so _that they are without excuse_. Because
    that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were
    thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish
    heart was darkened" (Rom. i. 18-21). He refers to the Greeks. The
    Epistle to the Romans, by the way, would naturally be Dante's
    favorite. As Saint Paul made the Law, so he would make Science, "our
    schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by
    faith" (Gal. iii. 24). He puts Aristotle and Plato in his Inferno,
    because they did not "adore God duly" (Inferno, IV. 38), that is,
    they "held the truth in unrighteousness." Yet he calls Aristotle "the
    master and guide of human reason" (Convito, Tr. IV. c. 6), and Plato
    "a most excellent man" (Convito, Tr. II. c 5). Plato and Aristotle,
    like all Dante's figures, are types. We must disengage our thought
    from the individual, and fix on the genus.

    [152] It is to be remembered that Dante has typified the same thing
    when he describes how Reason (Virgil) first carries him down by
    clinging to the fell of Satan, and then in the same way upwards again
    _a riveder le stelle_. Satan is the symbol of materialism, fixed at
    the point

      "To which things heavy draw from every side";

    as God is Light and Warmth, so is he "cold obstruction"; the very
    effort which he makes to rise by the motion of his wings begets the
    chilly blast that freezes him more immovably in his place of doom.
    The danger of all science save the highest (theology) was that it led
    to materialism There appears to have been a great deal of it in
    Florence in the time of Dante. Its followers called themselves
    Epicureans, and burn in living tombs (Inferno, X.). Dante held them in
    special horror. "Of all bestialities that is the most foolish and
    vile and hurtful which believes there is no other life after this."
    "And I so believe, so affirm, and so am certain that we pass to
    another better life after this" (Convito, Tr. II. c. 9). It is a fine
    divination of Carlyle from the _Non han speranza di morte_ that "one
    day it had risen sternly benign in the scathed heart of Dante that
    he, wretched, never resting, worn as he was, would [should] full
    surely _die_."

    [153] Purgatorio, XXXI. 103.

    [154] Inferno, XXXI. 5, 6.

    [155] Tr. IV. c. 28.

    [156] Inferno, XXV. 64-67.

    [157] Purgatorio, XXXI. 123-126.

    [158] Spenser, who had, like Dante, a Platonizing side, and who was
    probably the first English poet since Chaucer that had read the
    Commedia, has imitated the pictorial part of these passages in the
    "Faerie Queene" (B. VI. c. 10). He has turned it into a compliment,
    and a very beautiful one, to a living mistress.  It is instructive to
    compare the effect of his purely sensuous verses with that of
    Dante's, which have such a wonderful reach behind them. They are
    singularly pleasing, but they do not stay by us as those of his model
    had done by him.  Spenser was, as Milton called him, a "sage and
    serious poet"; he would be the last to take offence if we draw from
    him a moral not without its use now that Priapus is trying to
    persuade us that pose and drapery will make him as good as Urania.
    Better far the naked nastiness; the more covert the indecency, the
    more it shocks. Poor old god of gardens! Innocent as a clownish
    symbol, he is simply disgusting as an ideal of art. In the last
    century, they set him up in Beatrice recalls her Germany and in
    France as befitting an era of enlightenment, the light of which came
    too manifestly from the wrong quarter to be long endurable.

    [159] This touch of nature recalls another. The Italians claim humor
    for Dante. We have never been able to find it, unless it be in that
    passage (Inferno, XV. 119) where Brunetto Latini lingers under the
    burning shower to recommend his Tesoro to his former pupil. There is
    a comical touch of nature in an author's solicitude for his little
    work, not, as in Fielding's case, after _its_, but his own damnation.
    We are not sure, but we fancy we catch the momentary flicker of a
    smile across those serious eyes of Dante's. There is something like
    humor in the opening verses of the XVI. Paradiso, where Dante tells
    us how even in heaven he could not help glorying in being gently
    born,--he who had devoted a Canzone and a book of the Convito to
    proving that nobility consisted wholly in virtue. But there is, after
    all, something touchingly natural in the feeling. Dante, unjustly
    robbed of his property, and with it of the independence so dear to
    him, seeing

           "Needy nothings trimmed in jollity,
      And captive Good attending Captain Ill,"

    would naturally fall back on a distinction which money could neither
    buy nor replace. There is a curious passage in the Convito which
    shows how bitterly he resented his undeserved poverty. He tells us
    that buried treasure commonly revealed itself to the bad rather than
    the good. "Verily I saw the place on the flanks of a mountain in
    Tuscany called Falterona, where the basest peasant of the whole
    countryside digging found there more than a bushel of pieces of the
    finest silver, which perhaps had awaited him more than a thousand
    years." (Tr. IV. c. 11.) One can see the grimness of his face as he
    looked and thought, "how salt a savor hath the bread of others!"

    [160] L'Envoi of Canzone XIV. of the Canzoniere, I. of the Convito.
    Dante cites the first verse of this Canzone, Paradiso, VIII. 37.

    [161] How Dante himself could allegorize even historical personages
    may be seen in a curious passage of the Convito (Tr. IV. c. 28),
    where, commenting on a passage of Lucan, he treats Martia and Cato as
    mere figures of speech.

    [162] II. of the Canzoniere. See Fraticelli's preface.

    [163] Don Quixote, P. II. c. VIII.

    [164] De vulgari Eloquio, L. II. c. 2. He says the same of Giraud de
    Borneil, many of whose poems are moral and even devotional. See,
    particularly, "Al honor Dieu torn en mon chan" (Raynouard, Lex Rom I.
    388), "Ben es dregz pos en aital port" (Ib. 393), "Jois sia
    comensamens" (Ib. 395), and "Be veg e conosc e say" (Ib. 398).
    Another of his poems ("Ar ai grant joy," Raynouard, Choix, III. 304)
    may _possibly_ be a mystical profession of love for the Blessed
    Virgin, for whom, as Dante tells us, Beatrice had a special devotion.

    [165] Convito, Tr. III. c. 14. In the same chapter is perhaps an
    explanation of the two rather difficult verses which follow that in
    which the _verace speglio_ is spoken of (Paradise, XXVI. 107, 108).

      "Che fa di sè pareglie l' altre cose
      E nulla face lui di sè pareglio."

    Buti's comment is, "that is, makes of itself a receptacle to other
    things, that is, to all things that exist, which are all seen in it."
    Dante says (_ubi supra_), "The descending of the virtue of one thing
    into another is a reducing that other into a likeness of itself....
    Whence we see that the sun sending his ray down hitherward reduces
    things to a likeness with his light in so far as they are able by
    their disposition to receive light from his power. So I say that God
    reduces this love to a likeness with himself as much as it is
    possible for it to be like him." In Provençal _pareilh_ means _like_,
    and Dante may have formed his word from it. But the four earliest
    printed texts read:--

      "Che fa di sè pareglio all' altre cose."

    Accordingly we are inclined to think that the next verse should be
    corrected thus:--

      "E nulla face a lui di sè pareglio."

    We would form _pareglio_ from _parere_ (a something in which things
    _appear_), as _miraglio_ from _mirare_ (a something in which they are
    _seen_). God contains all things in himself, but nothing can wholly
    contain him. The blessed behold all things in him as if reflected,
    but not one of the things so reflected is capable of his image in its
    completeness. This interpretation is confirmed by Paradiso, XIX.

      "E quinci appar _ch' ogni minor natura
      É corto recettacolo a quel bene
        Che non ha fine_, e sè con sè misura."

    [166] "Wisdom of Solomon," VII. 26, quoted by Dante (Convito, Tr.
    III. c. 15) There are other passages in the "Wisdom of Solomon"
    besides that just cited which we may well believe Dante to have had
    in his mind when writing the Canzone beginning,--

      "Amor che nella mente mi ragiona,"

    and the commentary upon it, and some to which his experience of life
    must have given an intenser meaning. The writer of that book also
    personifies Wisdom as the mistress of his soul: "I loved her and
    sought her out from my youth, I desired to make her my spouse, and I
    was a lover of her beauty." He says of Wisdom that she was "present
    when thou (God) madest the world," and Dante in the same way
    identifies her with the divine Logos, citing as authority the
    "beginning of the Gospel of John." He tells us, "I perceived that I
    could not otherwise obtain her except God gave her me," and Dante
    came at last to the same conclusion. Again, "For the very true
    beginning of her is the desire of discipline; and the care of
    discipline is love. And love is the keeping of her laws; and the
    giving heed unto her laws is the assurance of incorruption." But who
    can doubt that he read with a bitter exultation, and applied to
    himself passages like these which follow? "When the righteous _fled
    from his brothers wrath, she guided him in right paths showed him the
    kingdom of God, and gave him knowledge of holy things_. She defended
    him from his enemies and kept him safe from those that lay in wait,
    ... that he might know that godliness is stronger than all.... She
    forsook him not, but delivered him from sin; _she went down with him
    into the pit_, and left him not in bonds till she brought him the
    sceptre of the kingdom, ... and gave him perpetual glory." It was,
    perhaps, from this book that Dante got the hint of making his
    punishments and penances typical of the sins that earned them.
    "Wherefore, whereas men lived dissolutely and unrighteously, thou
    hast tormented them with their own abominations." Dante was intimate
    with the Scriptures. They do even a scholar no harm. M. Victor Le
    Clerc, in his "Histoire Littéraire de la France au quatorzième
    siècle" (Tom. II. p. 72), thinks it "not impossible" that a passage
    in the Lamentations of Jeremiah, paraphrased by Dante, may have been
    suggested to him by Rutebeuf or Tristan, rather than by the prophet
    himself! Dante would hardly have found himself so much at home in the
    company of _jongleurs_ as in that of prophets. Yet he was familiar
    with French and Provençal poetry. Beside the evidence of the _Vulgari
    Eloquio_, there are frequent and broad traces in the Commedia of the
    _Roman de la Rose_, slighter ones of the _Chevalier de la Charette,
    Guillaume d'Orange,_ and a direct imitation of Bernard de Ventadour.

    [167] Convito, Tr. I. c. 12.

    [168] Purgatorio, XXII. 115, 116.

    [169] That Dante loved fame we need not be told. He several times
    confesses it, especially in the De Vulgari Eloquio, I. 17. "How
    glorious she [the Vulgar Tongue] makes her intimates [_familiares_,
    those of her household], we ourselves have known, who in the
    sweetness of this glory put our exile behind our backs."

    [170] Dante several times uses the sitting a horse as an image of
    rule. See especially Purgatorio, VI. 99, and Convito, Tr. IV. c. 11.

    [171] "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge
    of God!" Dante quotes this in speaking of the influence of the stars,
    which, interpreting it presently "by the theological way," he
    compares to that of the Holy Spirit "And thy counsel who hath known,
    except thou give wisdom and send thy Holy Spirit from above?" (Wisdom
    of Solomon, ix. 17.) The last words of the Convito are, "her
    [Philosophy] whose proper dwelling is in the depths of the Divine
    mind". The ordinary reading is _ragione_ (reason), but it seems to us
    an obvious blunder for _magione_ (mansion, dwelling).

    [172] Convito, Tr. IV. c. 28.

    [173] He refers to a change in his own opinions (Lib II. § 1), where
    he says, "When I knew the nations to have murmured against the
    preeminence of the Roman people, and saw the people imagining vain
    things _as I myself was wont_." He was a Guelph by inheritance, he
    became a Ghibelline by conviction.

    [174] It should seem from Dante's words ("at the time when much
    people went to see the blessed image," and "ye seem to come from a
    far off people") that this was some extraordinary occasion, and what
    so likely as the jubilee of 1300? (Compare Paradiso, XXXI. 103-108.)
    Dante's comparisons are so constantly drawn from actual eye-sight,
    that his allusion (Inferno, XIII. 28-33) to a device of Boniface
    VIII. for passing the crowds quietly across the bridge of Saint
    Angelo, renders it not unlikely that he was in Rome at that time, and
    perhaps conceived his poem there as Giovanni Villani his chronicle.
    That Rome would deeply stir his mind and heart is beyond question
    "And certes I am of a firm opinion that the stones that stand in her
    walls are worthy of reverence, and the soil where she sits worthy
    beyond what is preached and admitted of men." (Convito, Tr. IV. c.

    [175] _Beatrice, loda di Dio vera_, Inferno, II. 103. "Surely vain
    are all men by nature who are ignorant of God, and could not out of
    the good things that are seen know him that is, neither by
    considering the works did they acknowledge the work-master.... For,
    being conversant in his works, they search diligently and believe
    their sight, because the things are beautiful that are seen. Howbeit,
    neither are they to be pardoned." (Wisdom of Solomon, XIII. 1, 7, 8.)
    _Non adorar debitamente, Dio_. "For the invisible things of him from
    the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the
    things that are made, even his eternal power and godhead; so that
    they are without excuse." It was these "invisible things" whereof
    Dante was beginning to get a glimpse.

    [176] Convito, Tr. I. c. 7.

    [177] "And here we would have forgiven Mr. Captain if he had not
    betrayed him (_traido, traduttore traditore_) to Spain and made him a
    Castilian, for he took away much of his native worth, and so will all
    those do who shall undertake to turn a poem into another tongue; for
    with all the care they take and ability they show, they will never
    reach the height of its original conception," says the Curate,
    speaking of a translation of Ariosto. (Don Quixote, P. I. c. 6.)

    [177] In his own comment Dante says, "I tell whither goes my thought,
    calling it by the name of one of its effects."

    [178] _Spirito_ means in Italian both breath (_spirto ed acqua
    fessi_, Purgatorio, XXX. 98) and spirit.

    [180] By _visione_ Dante means something seen waking by the inner
    eye. He believed also that dreams were sometimes divinely inspired,
    and argues from such the immortality of the soul. (Convito, Tr. II.
    c. 9.)

    [181] Paradiso, XXV. 1-3.

    [182] De Monarchia, Lib. III. § _ult_.  See the whole passage in Miss
    Rossetti, p 39. It is noticeable that Dante says that the Pope is to
    _lead_ (by example), the Emperor to _direct_ (by the enforcing of
    justice) The duty, we are to observe, was a double but not a divided
    one. To exemplify this unity was indeed one object of the Commedia.

                       "What Reason seeth here
      Myself [Virgil] can tell thee; beyond that await
      For Beatrice, since 'tis a work of Faith."

    _Purgatorio_, XVIII. 46-48.

    Beatrice here evidently impersonates Theology. It would be
    interesting to know what was the precise date of Dante's theological
    studies. The earlier commentators all make him go to Paris, the great
    fountain of such learning, after his banishment. Boccaccio indeed
    says that he did not return to Italy till 1311. Wegele (Dante's
    "Leben und Werke," p. 85) puts the date of his journey between 1292
    and 1297. Ozanam, with a pathos comically touching to the academic
    soul, laments that poverty compelled him to leave the university
    without the degree he had so justly earned. He consoles himself with
    the thought that "there remained to him an incontestable erudition
    and the love of serious studies." (Dante et la philosophic
    catholique, p. 112.) It _is_ sad that we cannot write _Dantes
    Alighierius, S. T. D._!  Dante seems to imply that he began to devote
    himself to Philosophy and Theology shortly after Beatrice's death.
    (Convito, Tr. II. c. 13.) He compares himself to one who, "seeking
    silver, should, without meaning it, find gold, which an occult cause
    presents to him, not perhaps without the divine command." Here again
    apparently is an allusion to his having found Wisdom while he sought
    Learning. He had thought to find God in the beauty of his works, he
    learned to seek all things in God.

    [184] In a more general view, matter, the domain of the senses, no
    doubt with a recollection of Aristotle's [Greek: hylae].

    [185] As we have seen, even a sigh becomes _He_. This makes one of
    the difficulties of translating his minor poems. The modern mind is
    incapable of this subtlety.

    [186] Purgatorio, III. 122,123.

    [186] Purgatorio, III. 122,123.

    [187] Purgatorio, V. 107.

    [188] Inferno, III. 17, 18 (_hanno perduto_ = thrown away).

    [189] Convito, Tr. II. c. 14.

    [190] Purgatorio, XXIII. 121, 122.

    [191] Convito, Tr. IV. c. 7.

    [192] Inferno, XXXIII. 118, et seq.

    [193] Inferno, I. 116, 117.

    [194] Mr. Longfellow's _for_, like the Italian _per_, gives us the
    same privilege of election. We "freeze for cold," we "hunger for

    [195] Inferno, V. 67.

    [196] Paradiso, XVIII. 46. Renoard is one of the heroes (a rudely
    humorous one) in "La Bataille d'Alischans," an episode of the
    measureless "Guillaume d'Orange." It was from the graves of those
    supposed to have been killed in this battle that Dante draws a
    comparison, Inferno, IX. Boccaccio's comment on this passage might
    have been read to advantage by the French editors of "Alischans."

    [197] We cite this comment under its received name, though it is
    uncertain if Pietro was the author of it. Indeed, we strongly doubt
    it. It is at least one of the earliest, for it appears, by the
    comment on Paradiso, XXVI., that the greater part of it was written
    before 1341. It is remarkable for the strictness with which it holds
    to the spiritual interpretation of the poem, and deserves much more
    to be called Ottimo, than the comment which goes by that name. Its
    publication is due to the zeal and liberality of the late Lord
    Vernon, to whom students of Dante are also indebted for the
    parallel-text reprint of the four earliest editions of the Commedia.

    [198] See Wegele, _ubi supra_, p. 174, et seq. The best analysis of
    Dante's opinions we have ever met with is Emil Ruth's "Studien über
    Dante Alighieri," Tübingen, 1853. Unhappily it wants an index, and
    accordingly loses a great part of its usefulness for those not
    already familiar with the subject. Nor are its references
    sufficiently exact. We always respect Dr. Ruth's opinions, if we do
    not wholly accept them, for they are all the results of original and
    assiduous study.

    [199] See the second book of the De Vulgari Eloquio. The only other
    Italian poet who reminds us of Dante in sustained dignity is Guido
    Guinicelli. Dante esteemed him highly, calls him maximus in the De
    Vulgari Eloquio, and "the father of me and of my betters," in the
    XXVI. Purgatorio. See some excellent specimens of him in Mr. D. G.
    Rossetti's remarkable volume of translations from the early Italian
    poets. Mr. Rossetti would do a real and lasting service to literature
    by employing his singular gift in putting Dante's minor poems into

    [200] The old French poems confound all unbelievers together as
    pagans and worshippers of idols.

    [201] Dante is an ancient in this respect as in many others, but the
    difference is that with him society is something divinely ordained.
    He follows Aristotle pretty closely, but on his own theory crime and
    sin are identical.

    [202] Purgatorio, XVIII. 73. He defines it in the De Monarchia (Lib.
    I. § 14). Among other things he calls it "the first beginning of our
    liberty." Paradiso, V. 19, 20, he calls it "the greatest gift that in
    his largess God creating made." "Dico quod judicium medium est
    apprehensionis et appetitus." (De Monarchia, _ubi supra_.)

                             "Right and wrong,
      Between whose endless jar justice resides."

    _Troilus and Cressida._

    [203] Convito, Tr. IV. c. 22.

    [204] Convito, Tr. IV. c. 7. "Qui descenderit ad inferos, non
    ascendet." Job vii. 9.

    [205] But it may he inferred that he put the interests of mankind
    above both. "For citizens," he says, "exist not for the sake of
    consuls, nor the people for the sake of the king, but, on the
    contrary, consuls for the sake of citizens, and the king for the sake
    of the people."

    [206] Paradiso, VIII. 145, 146.

    [207] Purgatorio, XVI. 106-112.

    [208] De Monarchia, § _ult_.

    [209] De Monarchia Lib III § 10. "Poterat tamen Imperator in
    patrocinium Eccelesiae patrimonium et alia deputare immoto semper
    superiori dominio cujus unitas divisio non patitur. Poterat et
    Vicarius Dei recipere, non tanquam possessor, sed tanquam fructuum
    pro Eccelesia proque Christi pauperibus dispensator." He tells us
    that St. Dominic did not ask for the tithes which belong to the poor
    of God. (Paradiso, XII. 93, 94.) "Let them return whence they came,"
    he says (De Monarchia, Lib II. § 10); "they came well, let them
    return ill, for they were well given and ill held."

    [210] Inferno, XIX. 53; Paradiso, XXX. 145-148.

    [211] Purgatorio, XX. 86-92.

    [211] Purgatorio, XX. 86-92.

    [212] Purgatorio, XIX. 134, 135.

    [213] This results from the whole course of his argument in the
    second book of De Monarchia, and in the VI. Paradiso he calls the
    Roman eagle "the bird of God" and "the scutcheon of God." We must
    remember that with Dante God is always the "Emperor of Heaven," the
    barons of whose court are the Apostles. (Paradiso, XXIV. 115; Ib.,
    XXV. 17.)

    [214] Dante seems to imply (though his name be German) that he was of
    Roman descent He makes the original inhabitants of Florence (Inferno,
    XV. 77, 78) of Roman seed, and Cacciaguida, when asked by him about
    his ancestry, makes no more definite answer than that their dwelling
    was in the most ancient part of the city (Paradiso, XVI. 40.)

    [215] Man was created, according to Dante (Convito, Tr. II. c. 6), to
    supply the place of the fallen angels, and is in a sense superior to
    the angels, inasmuch as he has reason, which they do not need.

    [216] De Monarchia, Lib I. § 5.

    [217] Purgatorio, VI. 83, 84.

    [218] De Monarchia, Lib. I. § 16.

    [219] De Monarchia, Lib. I. § 5.

    [220] De Monarchia, Lib II. § 7.

    [221] Purgatorio, XVI. 67, 68.

    [222] "Troilus and Cressida," Act I. s. 3. The whole speech is very
    remarkable both in thought and phrase.

    [223] Purgatorio, I. 71.

    [224] De Monarchia, Lib. I. § 14.

    [225] De Monarchia, Lib. I. § 18.

    [226] De Monarchia, Lib. I. § 14.

    [227] Paradiso, IX.

    [228] Inferno, XXXVIII; Purgatorio, XXXII.

    [229] See the poems of Walter Mapes (who was Archdeacon of Oxford);
    the "Bible Guiot," and the "Bible au seignor de Berze," Barbezan and
    Méon, II.

    [230] De Monarchia, Lib. III. § 8.

    [231] Purgatorio, III. 133, 134.

    [232] Paradiso, XXVII. 22.

    [233] Purgatorio, XXVII. 18; Ottimo, Inferno, XXVIII. 55.

    [234] Inferno, IX. 63; Purgatorio, VIII. 20.

    [235] Purgatorio, XXIX. 131, 132.

    [236] Inferno, XXII. 13, 14.

    [237] De Monarchia, Lib. II. § 4.

    [238] Convito, Tr. IV. c. 4; Ib., c. 27; Aeneid, I. 178, 179; Ovid's
    Met., VII.

    [239] Inferno, XXXI. 92.

    [240] Purgatorio, VI. 118, 119. Pulci, not understanding, has
    parodied this. ("Morgante," Canto II. st. 1.)

    [241] See, for example, Purgatorio, XX. 100-117.

    [242] We believe that Dante, though he did not understand Greek, knew
    something of Hebrew. He would have been likely to study it as the
    sacred language, and opportunities of profiting by the help of
    learned Jews could not have been wanting to him in his wanderings. In
    the above-cited passage some of the best texts read _I s' appellava_,
    and others _Un s' appellava_. God was called I (the _Je_ in Jehovah)
    or _One_, and afterwards _El_,--the strong,--an epithet given to many
    gods. Whichever reading we adopt, the meaning and the inference from
    it are the same.

    [243] Inferno, IV.

    [244] Dante's "Limbo," of course, is the older "Limbus Patrum."

    [245] De Monarchia, Lib. II. § 8.

    [246] Faith, Hope, and Charity. (Purgatorio, XXIX. 121.) Mr.
    Longfellow has translated the last verse literally. The meaning is,

      "More than a thousand years ere baptism was."

    [247] In which the _celestial Athens_ is mentioned.

    [248] Purgatorio, XXVII. 139-142.

    [249] "I conceived myself to be now," says Milton, "not as mine own
    person, but as a member incorporate into that truth whereof I was

      "But now was turning my desire and will,
      Even as a wheel that equally is moved,
      The Love that moves the sun and other stars."

    Paradiso, XXXIII., closing verses of the Divina Commedia.

    [251] Dante seems to allude directly to this article of the Catholic
    faith when he says, on entering the Celestial Paradise, "to signify
    transhumanizing by words could not be done," and questions whether he
    was there in the renewed spirit only or in the flesh also:--

      "If I was merely _what of me thou newly
      Createdst_, Love who governest the heavens,
      Thou knowest who didst lift me with thy light."

    Paradiso, I. 70-75.

    [252] Paradiso, II. 7. Lucretius makes the same boast:--

      "Avia Pieridum peragro loca nullius ante
      Trita solo."

    [253] Convito, Tr. IV. c. 15.

    [254] Purgatorio, XVI. 142. Here is Milton's "Far off his coming

    [255] Purgatorio, XV. 7, et seq.

    [256] See, for example, Inferno, XVII. 127-132; Ib. XXIV. 7-12;
    Purgatorio,  II. 124-129; Ib., III. 79-84; Ib., XXVII. 76-81;
    Paradiso, XIX. 91-93; Ib. XXI. 34-39; Ib. XXIII. 1-9.

    [257] Inferno, XXXI. 136-138.

      "And those thin clouds above, in fakes and bars,
      That give away their motion to the stars."

    Coleridge, "Dejection, an Ode."

    See also the comparison of the dimness of the faces seen around him
    in Paradise to "a pearl on a white forehead." (Paradiso, III. 14.)

    [258] Inferno, X. 35-41; Purgatorio, VI. 61-66; Ib., X. 133.

    [259] For example, Cavalcanti's _Come dicesti egli ebbe_? (Inferno,
    X. 67, 68.)  Anselmuccio's _Tu guardi si, padre, che hai_? (Inferno,
    XXXIII. 51.)

    [260] To the "bestiality" of certain arguments Dante says, "one would
    wish to reply, not with words, but with a knife." (Convito, Tr. IV.
    c. 14.)

    [261] Convito, Tr. IV. c. 2.

    [262] Paradiso, XXII. 132-135; Ib., XXVII. 110.


Chaucer had been in his grave one hundred and fifty years ere England had
secreted choice material enough for the making of another great poet. The
nature of men living together in societies, as of the individual man,
seems to have its periodic ebbs and floods, its oscillations between the
ideal and the matter-of-fact, so that the doubtful boundary line of shore
between them is in one generation a hard sandy actuality strewn only with
such remembrances of beauty as a dead sea-moss here and there, and in the
next is whelmed with those lacelike curves of ever-gaining, ever-receding
foam, and that dance of joyous spray which for a moment catches and holds
the sunshine.

From the two centuries between 1400 and 1600 the indefatigable Ritson in
his _Bibliographia Poetica_ has made us a catalogue of some six hundred
English poets, or, more properly, verse-makers. Ninety-nine in a hundred
of them are mere names, most of them no more than shadows of names, some
of them mere initials. Nor can it be said of them that their works have
perished because they were written in an obsolete dialect; for it is the
poem that keeps the language alive, and not the language that buoys up
the poem. The revival of letters, as it is called, was at first the
revival of _ancient_ letters, which, while it made men pedants, could do
very little toward making them poets, much less toward making them
original writers. There was nothing left of the freshness, vivacity,
invention, and careless faith in the present which make many of the
productions of the Norman Trouvères delightful reading even now. The
whole of Europe during the fifteenth century produced no book which has
continued readable, or has become in any sense of the word a classic. I
do not mean that that century has left us no illustrious names, that it
was not enriched with some august intellects who kept alive the apostolic
succession of thought and speculation, who passed along the still
unextinguished torch of intelligence, the _lampada vitae_, to those who
came after them. But a classic is properly a book which maintains itself
by virtue of that happy coalescence of matter and style, that innate and
exquisite sympathy between the thought that gives life and the form that
consents to every mood of grace and dignity, which can be simple without
being vulgar, elevated without being distant, and which is something
neither ancient nor modern, always new and incapable of growing old. It
is not his Latin which makes Horace cosmopolitan, nor can Béranger's
French prevent his becoming so. No hedge of language however thorny, no
dragon-coil of centuries, will keep men away from these true apples of
the Hesperides if once they have caught sight or scent of them. If poems
die, it is because there was never true life in them, that is, that true
poetic vitality which no depth of thought, no airiness of fancy, no
sincerity of feeling, can singly communicate, but which leaps throbbing
at touch of that shaping faculty the imagination. Take Aristotle's
ethics, the scholastic philosophy, the theology of Aquinas, the Ptolemaic
system of astronomy, the small politics of a provincial city of the
Middle Ages, mix in at will Grecian, Roman, and Christian mythology, and
tell me what chance there is to make an immortal poem of such an
incongruous mixture. Can these dry bones live? Yes, Dante can create such
a soul under these ribs of death that one hundred and fifty editions of
his poem shall be called for in these last sixty years, the first half of
the sixth century since his death. Accordingly I am apt to believe that
the complaints one sometimes hears of the neglect of our older literature
are the regrets of archaeologists rather than of critics. One does not
need to advertise the squirrels where the nut-trees are, nor could any
amount of lecturing persuade them to spend their teeth on a hollow nut.

On the whole, the Scottish poetry of the fifteenth century has more meat
in it than the English, but this is to say very little. Where it is meant
to be serious and lofty it falls into the same vices of unreality and
allegory which were the fashion of the day, and which there are some
patriots so fearfully and wonderfully made as to relish. Stripped of the
archaisms (that turn every _y_ to a meaningless _z_, spell which
_quhilk_, shake _schaik_, bugle _bowgill_, powder _puldir_, and will not
let us simply whistle till we have puckered our mouths to _quhissill_) in
which the Scottish antiquaries love to keep it disguised,--as if it were
nearer to poetry the further it got from all human recognition and
sympathy,--stripped of these, there is little to distinguish it from the
contemporary verse-mongering south of the Tweed. Their compositions are
generally as stiff and artificial as a trellis, in striking contrast with
the popular ballad-poetry of Scotland (some of which possibly falls
within this period, though most of it is later), which clambers,
lawlessly if you will, but at least freely and simply, twining the bare
stem of old tradition with graceful sentiment and lively natural
sympathies. I find a few sweet and flowing verses in Dunbar's "Merle and
Nightingale,"--indeed one whole stanza that has always seemed exquisite
to me. It is this:--

  "Ne'er sweeter noise was heard by living man
  Than made this merry, gentle nightingale.
  Her sound went with the river as it ran
  Out through the fresh and flourished lusty vale;
  O merle, quoth she, O fool, leave off thy tale,
  For in thy song good teaching there is none,
  For both are lost,--the time and the travail
  Of every love but upon God alone."

But except this lucky poem, I find little else in the serious verses of
Dunbar that does not seem to me tedious and pedantic. I dare say a few
more lines might be found scattered here and there, but I hold it a sheer
waste of time to hunt after these thin needles of wit buried in unwieldy
haystacks of verse. If that be genius, the less we have of it the better.
His "Dance of the Seven Deadly Sins," over which the excellent Lord
Hailes went into raptures, is wanting in everything but coarseness; and
if his invention dance at all, it is like a galley-slave in chains under
the lash. It would be well for us if the sins themselves were indeed such
wretched bugaboos as he has painted for us. What he means for humor is
but the dullest vulgarity; his satire would be Billingsgate if it could,
and, failing, becomes a mere offence in the nostrils, for it takes a
great deal of salt to keep scurrility sweet. Mr. Sibbald, in his
"Chronicle of Scottish Poetry," has admiringly preserved more than enough
of it, and seems to find a sort of national savor therein, such as
delights his countrymen in a _haggis_, or the German in his
_sauer-kraut_. The uninitiated foreigner puts his handkerchief to his
nose, wonders, and gets out of the way as soon as he civilly can.
Barbour's "Brus," if not precisely a poem, has passages whose simple
tenderness raises them to that level. That on Freedom is familiar.[263]
But its highest merit is the natural and unstrained tone of manly courage
in it, the easy and familiar way in which Barbour always takes chivalrous
conduct as a matter of course, as if heroism were the least you could ask
of any man. I modernize a few verses to show what I mean. When the King
of England turns to fly from the battle of Bannockburn (and Barbour with
his usual generosity tells us he has heard that Sir Aymer de Valence led
him away by the bridle-rein against his will), Sir Giles d'Argente

  "Saw the king thus and his menie
  Shape them to flee so speedily,
  He came right to the king in hy [hastily]
  And said, 'Sir, since that is so
  That ye thus gate your gate will go,
  Have ye good-day, for back will I:
  Yet never fled I certainly,
  And I choose here to bide and die
  Than to live shamefully and fly.'"

The "Brus" is in many ways the best rhymed chronicle ever written. It is
national in a high and generous way, but I confess I have little faith in
that quality in literature which is commonly called nationality,--a kind
of praise seldom given where there is anything better to be said.
Literature that loses its meaning, or the best part of it, when it gets
beyond sight of the parish steeple, is not what I understand by
literature. To tell you when you cannot fully taste a book that it is
because it is so thoroughly national, is to condemn the book. To
say it of a poem is even worse, for it is to say that what should be
true of the whole compass of human nature is true only to some
north-and-by-east-half-east point of it. I can understand the nationality
of Firdusi when, looking sadly back to the former glories of his country,
he tells us that "the nightingale still sings old Persian"; I can
understand the nationality of Burns when he turns his plough aside to
spare the rough burr thistle, and hopes he may write a song or two for
dear auld Scotia's sake. That sort of nationality belongs to a country of
which we are all citizens,--that country of the heart which has no
boundaries laid down on the map. All great poetry must smack of the soil,
for it must be rooted in it, must suck life and substance from it, but it
must do so with the aspiring instinct of the pine that climbs forever
toward diviner air, and not in the grovelling fashion of the potato. Any
verse that makes you and me foreigners is not only not great poetry, but
no poetry at all. Dunbar's works were disinterred and edited some thirty
years ago by Mr. Laing, and whoso is national enough to like thistles may
browse there to his heart's content. I am inclined for other pasture,
having long ago satisfied myself by a good deal of dogged reading that
every generation is sure of its own share of bores without borrowing from
the past.

A little later came Gawain Douglas, whose translation of the Aeneid is
linguistically valuable, and whose introductions to the seventh and
twelfth books--the one describing winter and the other May--have been
safely praised, they are so hard to read. There is certainly some poetic
feeling in them, and the welcome to the sun comes as near enthusiasm as
is possible for a ploughman, with a good steady yoke of oxen, who lays
over one furrow of verse, and then turns about to lay the next as
cleverly alongside it as he can. But it is a wrong done to good taste to
hold up this _item_ kind of description any longer as deserving any other
credit than that of a good memory. It is a mere bill of parcels, a
_post-mortem_ inventory of nature, where imagination is not merely not
called for, but would be out of place. Why, a recipe in the cookery-book
is as much like a good dinner as this kind of stuff is like true
word-painting. The poet with a real eye in his head does not give us
everything, but only the _best_ of everything. He selects, he combines,
or else gives what is characteristic only; while the false style of which
I have been speaking seems to be as glad to get a pack of impertinences
on its shoulders as Christian in the Pilgrim's Progress was to be rid of
his. One strong verse that can hold itself upright (as the French critic
Rivarol said of Dante) with the bare help of the substantive and verb, is
worth acres of this dead cord-wood piled stick on stick, a boundless
continuity of dryness. I would rather have written that half-stanza of
Longfellow's, in the "Wreck of the Hesperus," of the "billow that swept
her crew like icicles from her deck," than all Gawain Douglas's tedious
enumeration of meteorological phenomena put together. A real landscape is
never tiresome; it never presents itself to us as a disjointed succession
of isolated particulars; we take it in with one sweep of the eye,--its
light, its shadow, its melting gradations of distance: we do not say it
is this, it is that, and the other; and we may be sure that if a
description in poetry is tiresome there is a grievous mistake somewhere.
All the pictorial adjectives in the dictionary will not bring it a
hair's-breadth nearer to truth and nature. The fact is that what we see
is in the mind to a greater degree than we are commonly aware. As
Coleridge says,--

  "O lady, we receive but what we give,
  And in our life alone doth Nature live!"

I have made the unfortunate Dunbar the text for a diatribe on the subject
of descriptive poetry, because I find that this old ghost is not laid
yet, but comes back like a vampire to suck the life out of a true
enjoyment of poetry,--and the medicine by which vampires were cured was
to unbury them, drive a stake through them, and get them under ground
again with all despatch. The first duty of the Muse is to be delightful,
and it is an injury done to all of us when we are put in the wrong by a
kind of statutory affirmation on the part of the critics of something to
which our judgment will not consent, and from which our taste revolts. A
collection of poets is commonly made up, nine parts in ten, of this
perfunctory verse-making, and I never look at one without regretting that
we have lost that excellent Latin phrase, _Corpus poetarum_. In fancy I
always read it on the backs of the volumes,--a _body_ of poets, indeed,
with scarce one soul to a hundred of them.

One genuine English poet illustrated the early years of the sixteenth
century,--John Skelton. He had vivacity, fancy, humor, and originality.
Gleams of the truest poetical sensibility alternate in him with an almost
brutal coarseness. He was truly Rabelaisian before Rabelais. But there is
a freedom and hilarity in much of his writing that gives it a singular
attraction. A breath of cheerfulness runs along the slender stream of his
verse, under which it seems to ripple and crinkle, catching and casting
back the sunshine like a stream blown on by clear western winds.

But Skelton was an exceptional blossom of autumn. A long and dreary
winter follows. Surrey, who brought back with him from Italy the
blank-verse not long before introduced by Trissino, is to some extent
another exception. He had the sentiment of nature and unhackneyed
feeling, but he has no mastery of verse, nor any elegance of diction. We
have Gascoyne, Surrey, Wyatt, stiff, pedantic, artificial, systematic as
a country cemetery, and, worst of all, the whole time desperately in
love. Every verse is as flat, thin, and regular as a lath, and their
poems are nothing more than bundles of such tied trimly together. They
are said to have refined our language. Let us devoutly hope they did, for
it would be pleasant to be grateful to them for something. But I fear it
was not so, for only genius can do that; and Sternhold and Hopkins are
inspired men in comparison with them. For Sternhold was at least the
author of two noble stanzas:--

  "The Lord descended from above
    And bowed the heavens high,
  And underneath his feet he cast
    The darkness of the sky;
  On cherubs and on cherubims
    Full royally he rode,
  And on the wings of all the winds
    Came flying all abroad."

But Gascoyne and the rest did nothing more than put the worst school of
Italian love poetry into an awkward English dress. The Italian proverb
says, "Inglese italianizzato, Diavolo incarnato," that an Englishman
Italianized is the very devil incarnate, and one feels the truth of it
here. The very titles of their poems set one yawning, and their wit is
the cause of the dulness that is in other men. "The lover, deceived by
his love, repenteth him of the true love he bare her." As thus:--

  "Where I sought heaven there found I hap;
    From danger unto death,
  Much like the mouse that treads the trap
    In hope to find her food,
  And bites the bread that stops her breath,--
    So in like case I stood."

"The lover, accusing his love for her unfaithfulness, proposeth to live
in liberty." He says:--

  "But I am like the beaten fowl
    That from the net escaped,
  And thou art like the ravening owl
    That all the night hath waked."

And yet at the very time these men were writing there were simple
ballad-writers who could have set them an example of simplicity, force,
and grandeur. Compare the futile efforts of these poetasters to kindle
themselves by a painted flame, and to be pathetic over the lay figure of
a mistress, with the wild vigor and almost fierce sincerity of the "Twa

  "As I was walking all alone
  I heard twa corbies making a moan.
  The one unto the other did say,
  Where shall we gang dine to-day?
  In beyond that old turf dyke
  I wot there lies a new slain knight;
  And naebody kens that he lies there
  But his hawk and his hound and his lady fair.
  His hound is to the hunting gone,
  His hawk to fetch the wild fowl home,
  His lady has ta'en another mate,
  So we may make our dinner sweet.
  O'er his white bones as they lie bare
  The wind shall blow forevermair."

There was a lesson in rhetoric for our worthy friends, could they have
understood it. But they were as much afraid of an attack of nature as of
the plague.

Such was the poetical inheritance of style and diction into which Spenser
was born, and which he did more than any one else to redeem from the
leaden gripe of vulgar and pedantic conceit. Sir Philip Sidney, born the
year after him, with a keener critical instinct, and a taste earlier
emancipated than his own, would have been, had he lived longer, perhaps
even more directly influential in educating the taste and refining the
vocabulary of, his contemporaries and immediate successors. The better of
his pastoral poems in the "Arcadia" are, in my judgment, more simple,
natural, and, above all, more pathetic than those of Spenser, who
sometimes strains the shepherd's pipe with a blast that would better suit
the trumpet. Sidney had the good sense to feel that it was
unsophisticated sentiment rather than rusticity of phrase that befitted
such themes.[264] He recognized the distinction between simplicity and
vulgarity, which Wordsworth was so long in finding out, and seems to have
divined the fact that there is but one kind of English that is always
appropriate and never obsolete, namely, the very best.[265] With the
single exception of Thomas Campion, his experiments in adapting classical
metres to English verse are more successful than those of his
contemporaries. Some of his elegiacs are not ungrateful to the ear, and
it can hardly be doubted that Coleridge borrowed from his eclogue of
Strephon and Klaius the pleasing movement of his own _Catullian
Hendecasyllabics_. Spenser, perhaps out of deference to Sidney, also
tried his hand at English hexameters, the introduction of which was
claimed by his friend Gabriel Harvey, who thereby assured to himself an
immortality of grateful remembrance. But the result was a series of jolts
and jars, proving that the language had run off the track. He seems to
have been half conscious of it himself, and there is a gleam of mischief
in what he writes to Harvey: "I like your late English hexameter so
exceedingly well that I also enure my pen sometime in that kind, which I
find indeed, as I have often heard you defend in word, neither so hard
nor so harsh but that it will easily yield itself to our mother-tongue.
For the only or chiefest hardness, which seemeth, is in the accent, which
sometime gapeth, and, as it were, yawneth ill-favoredly, coming short of
that it should, and sometime exceeding the measure of the number, as in
_Carpenter_; the middle syllable being used short in speech, when it
shall be read long in verse, seemeth like a lame gosling that draweth one
leg after her; and _Heaven_ being used short as one syllable, when it is
in verse stretched out with a diastole, is like a lame dog that holds up
one leg."[266] It is almost inconceivable that Spenser's hexameters
should have been written by the man who was so soon to teach his native
language how to soar and sing, and to give a fuller sail to English

One of the most striking facts in our literary history is the
pre-eminence at once so frankly and unanimously conceded to Spenser by
his contemporaries. At first, it is true, he had not many rivals. Before
the "Faery Queen" two long poems were printed and popular,--the "Mirror
for Magistrates" and Warner's "Albion's England,"--and not long after it
came the "Polyolbion" of Drayton and the "Civil Wars" of Daniel. This was
the period of the saurians in English poetry, interminable poems, book
after book and canto after canto, like far-stretching _vertebrae_, that
at first sight would seem to have rendered earth unfit for the habitation
of man. They most of them sleep well now, as once they made their readers
sleep, and their huge remains lie embedded in the deep morasses of
Chambers and Anderson. We wonder at the length of face and general
atrabilious look that mark the portraits of the men of that generation,
but it is no marvel when even their relaxations were such downright hard
work. Fathers when their day on earth was up must have folded down the
leaf and left the task to be finished by their sons,--a dreary
inheritance. Yet both Drayton and Daniel are fine poets, though both of
them in their most elaborate works made shipwreck of their genius on the
shoal of a bad subject. Neither of them could make poetry coalesce with
gazetteering or chronicle-making. It was like trying to put a declaration
of love into the forms of a declaration in trover. The "Polyolbion"
is nothing less than a versified gazetteer of England and
Wales,--fortunately Scotland was not yet annexed, or the poem would have
been even longer, and already it is the plesiosaurus of verse. Mountains,
rivers, and even marshes are personified, to narrate historical episodes,
or to give us geographical lectures. There are two fine verses in the
seventh book, where, speaking of the cutting down some noble woods, he

  "Their trunks like aged folk now bare and naked stand,
  As for revenge to heaven each held a withered hand";

and there is a passage about the sea in the twentieth book that comes
near being fine; but the far greater part is mere joiner-work. Consider
the life of man, that we flee away as a shadow, that our days are as a
post, and then think whether we can afford to honor such a draft upon our
time as is implied in these thirty books all in alexandrines! Even the
laborious Selden, who wrote annotations on it, sometimes more
entertaining than the text, gave out at the end of the eighteenth book.
Yet Drayton could write well, and had an agreeable lightsomeness of
fancy, as his "Nymphidia" proves. His poem "To the Cambro-Britons on
their Harp" is full of vigor; it runs, it leaps, clashing its verses like
swords upon bucklers, and moves the pulse to a charge.

Daniel was in all respects a man of finer mould. He did indeed refine our
tongue, and deserved the praise his contemporaries concur in giving him
of being "well-languaged."[267] Writing two hundred and fifty years ago,
he stands in no need of a glossary, and I have noted scarce a dozen
words, and not more turns of phrase, in his works, that have become
obsolete. This certainly indicates both remarkable taste and equally
remarkable judgment. There is an equable dignity in his thought and
sentiment such as we rarely meet. His best poems always remind me of a
table-land, where, because all is so level, we are apt to forget on how
lofty a plane we are standing. I think his "Musophilus" the best poem of
its kind in the language. The reflections are natural, the expression
condensed, the thought weighty, and the language worthy of it. But he
also wasted himself on an historical poem, in which the characters were
incapable of that remoteness from ordinary associations which is
essential to the ideal. Not that we can escape into the ideal by _merely_
emigrating into the past or the unfamiliar. As in the German legend the
little black Kobold of prose that haunts us in the present will seat
himself on the first load of furniture when we undertake our flitting, if
the magician be not there to exorcise him. No man can jump off his own
shadow, nor, for that matter, off his own age, and it is very likely that
Daniel had only the thinking and languaging parts of a poet's outfit,
without the higher creative gift which alone can endow his conceptions
with enduring life and with an interest which transcends the parish
limits of his generation. In the prologue to his "Masque at Court" he has
unconsciously defined his own poetry:--

  "Wherein no wild, no rude, no antic sport,
  But tender passions, motions soft and grave,
  The still spectator must expect to have."

And indeed his verse does not snatch you away from ordinary associations
and hurry you along with it as is the wont of the higher kinds of poetry,
but leaves you, as it were, upon the bank watching the peaceful current
and lulled by its somewhat monotonous murmur. His best-known poem,
blunderingly misprinted in all the collections, is that addressed to the
Countess of Cumberland. It is an amplification of Horace's _Integer
Vitae_, and when we compare it with the original we miss the point, the
compactness, and above all the urbane tone of the original. It is very
fine English, but it is the English of diplomacy somehow, and is never
downright this or that, but always has the honor to be so or so, with
sentiments of the highest consideration. Yet the praise of
_well-languaged_, since it implies that good writing then as now demanded
choice and forethought, is not without interest for those who would
classify the elements of a style that will wear and hold its colors well.
His diction, if wanting in the more hardy evidences of muscle, has a
suppleness and spring that give proof of training and endurance. His
"Defence of Rhyme," written in prose (a more difficult test than verse),
has a passionate eloquence that reminds one of Burke, and is more
light-armed and modern than the prose of Milton fifty years later. For us
Occidentals he has a kindly prophetic word:--

  "And who in time knows whither we may vent
  The treasure of our tongue? to what strange shores
  The gain of our best glory may be sent
  To enrich unknowing nations with our stores?
  What worlds in the yet unformed Occident
  May come refined with accents that are ours?"

During the period when Spenser was getting his artistic training a great
change was going on in our mother-tongue, and the language of literature
was disengaging itself more and more from that of ordinary talk. The
poets of Italy, Spain, and France began to rain influence and to modify
and refine not only style but vocabulary. Men were discovering new worlds
in more senses than one, and the visionary finger of expectation still
pointed forward. There was, as we learn from contemporary pamphlets, very
much the same demand for a national literature that we have heard in
America. This demand was nobly answered in the next generation. But no
man contributed so much to the transformation of style and language as
Spenser; for not only did he deliberately endeavor at reform, but by the
charm of his diction, the novel harmonies of his verse, his ideal method
of treatment, and the splendor of his fancy, he made the new manner
popular and fruitful. We can trace in Spenser's poems the gradual growth
of his taste through experiment and failure to that assured
self-confidence which indicates that he had at length found out the true
bent of his genius,--that happiest of discoveries (and not so easy as it
might seem) which puts a man in undisturbed possession of his own
individuality. Before his time the boundary between poetry and prose had
not been clearly defined. His great merit lies not only in the ideal
treatment with which he glorified common things and gilded them with a
ray of enthusiasm, but far more in the ideal point of view which he first
revealed to his countrymen. He at first sought for that remoteness, which
is implied in an escape from the realism of daily life, in the
pastoral,--a kind of writing which, oddly enough, from its original
intention as a protest in favor of naturalness, and of human as opposed
to heroic sentiments, had degenerated into the most artificial of
abstractions. But he was soon convinced of his error, and was not long in
choosing between an unreality which pretended to be real and those
everlasting realities of the mind which seem unreal only because they lie
beyond the horizon of the every-day world and become visible only when
the mirage of fantasy lifts them up and hangs them in an ideal
atmosphere. As in the old fairy-tales, the task which the age imposes on
its poet is to weave its straw into a golden tissue; and when every
device has failed, in comes the witch Imagination, and with a touch the
miracle is achieved, simple as miracles always are after they are

Spenser, like Chaucer a Londoner, was born in 1553.[268] Nothing is known
of his parents, except that the name of his mother was Elizabeth; but he
was of gentle birth, as he more than once informs us, with the natural
satisfaction of a poor man of genius at a time when the business talent
of the middle class was opening to it the door of prosperous preferment.
In 1569 he was entered as a sizar at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, and in due
course took his bachelor's degree in 1573, and his master's in 1576. He
is supposed, on insufficient grounds, as it appears to me, to have met
with some disgust or disappointment during his residence at the
University.[269] Between 1576 and 1578 Spenser seems to have been with
some of his kinsfolk "in the North" It was during this interval that he
conceived his fruitless passion for the Rosalinde, whose jilting him for
another shepherd, whom he calls Menalcas, is somewhat perfunctorily
bemoaned in his pastorals[270] Before the publication of his "Shepherd's
Calendar" in 1579, he had made the acquaintance of Sir Philip Sidney, and
was domiciled with him for a time at Penshurst, whether as guest or
literary dependant is uncertain. In October, 1579, he is in the household
of the Earl of Leicester. In July, 1580 he accompanied Lord Grey de
Wilton to Ireland as Secretary, and in that country he spent the rest of
his life, with occasional flying visits to England to publish poems or in
search of preferment. His residence in that country has been compared to
that of Ovid in Pontus. And, no doubt, there were certain outward points
of likeness. The Irishry by whom he was surrounded were to the full as
savage, as hostile, and as tenacious of their ancestral habitudes as the
Scythians[271] who made Tomi a prison, and the descendants of the earlier
English settlers had degenerated as much as the Mix-Hellenes who
disgusted the Latin poet. Spenser himself looked on his life in Ireland
as a banishment. In his "Colm Clout's come Home again" he tells us that
Sir Walter Raleigh, who visited him in 1589, and heard what was then
finished of the "Faery Queen,"--

        "'Gan to cast great liking to my lore
  And great disliking to my luckless lot,
  That banisht had myself, like wight forlore,
  Into that waste, where I was quite forgot
  The which to leave thenceforth he counselled me,
  Unmeet for man in whom was aught regardful,
  And wend with him his Cynthia to see,
  Whose grace was great and bounty most rewardful."

But Spenser was already living at Kilcolman Castle (which, with 3,028
acres of land from the forfeited estates of the Earl of Desmond, was
confirmed to him by grant two years later), amid scenery at once placid
and noble, whose varied charm he felt profoundly. He could not complain,
with Ovid,--

  "Non liber hie ullus, non qui mihi commodet aurem,"

for he was within reach of a cultivated society, which gave him the
stimulus of hearty admiration both as poet and scholar.  Above all, he
was fortunate in a seclusion that prompted study and deepened meditation,
while it enabled him to converse with his genius disengaged from those
worldly influences which would have disenchanted it of its mystic
enthusiasm, if they did not muddle it ingloriously away. Surely this
sequestered nest was more congenial to the brooding of those ethereal
visions of the "Faery Queen" and to giving his "soul a loose" than

  "The smoke, the wealth, and noise of Rome,
       And all the busy pageantry
  That wise men scorn and fools adore."

Yet he longed for London, if not with the homesickness of Bussy-Rabutin
in exile from the Parisian sun, yet enough to make him joyfully accompany
Raleigh thither in the early winter of 1589, carrying with him the first
three books of the great poem begun ten years before. Horace's _nonum
prematur in annum_ had been more than complied with, and the success was
answerable to the well-seasoned material and conscientious faithfulness
of the work. But Spenser did not stay long in London to enjoy his fame.
Seen close at hand, with its jealousies, intrigues, and selfish
basenesses, the court had lost the enchantment lent by the distance of
Kilcolman. A nature so prone to ideal contemplation as Spenser's would be
profoundly shocked by seeing too closely the ignoble springs of
contemporaneous policy, and learning by what paltry personal motives the
noble opportunities of the world are at any given moment endangered. It
is a sad discovery that history is so mainly made by ignoble men.

              "Vide questo globo
  Tal ch'ei sorrise del suo vil sembiante."

In his "Colin Clout," written just after his return to Ireland, he speaks
of the Court in a tone of contemptuous bitterness, in which, as it seems
to me, there is more of the sorrow of disillusion than of the gall of
personal disappointment. He speaks, so he tells us,--

    "To warn young shepherds' wandering wit
  Which, through report of that life's painted bliss,
  Abandon quiet home to seek for it
  And leave their lambs to loss misled amiss;
  For, sooth to say, it is no sort of life
  For shepherd fit to live in that same place,
  Where each one seeks with malice and with strife
  To thrust down other into foul disgrace
  Himself to raise; and he doth soonest rise
  That best can handle his deceitful wit
  In subtle shifts....
  To which him needs a guileful hollow heart
  Masked with fair dissembling courtesy,
  A filëd tongue furnisht with terms of art,
  No art of school, but courtiers' schoolery.
  For arts of school have there small countenance,
  Counted but toys to busy idle brains,
  And there professors find small maintenance,
  But to be instruments of others' gains,
  Nor is there place for any gentle wit
  Unless to please it can itself apply.
         *        *        *        *        *
 "Even such is all their vaunted vanity,
  Naught else but smoke that passeth soon away.
         *        *        *        *        *
 "So they themselves for praise of fools do sell,
  And all their wealth for painting on a wall.
         *        *        *        *        *
 "Whiles single Truth and simple Honesty
  Do wander up and down despised of all."[272]

And again in his "Mother Hubberd's Tale," in the most pithy and masculine
verses he ever wrote:--

 "Most miserable man, whom wicked Fate
  Hath brought to Court to sue for _Had-I-wist_
  That few have found and many one hath mist!
  Full httle knowest thou that hast not tried
  What hell it is in suing long to bide;
  To lose good days that might be better spent,
  To waste long nights in pensive discontent,
  To speed to day, to be put back to-morrow,
  To feed on hope, to pine with fear and sorrow,
  To have thy prince's grace yet want her Peers',
  To have thy asking yet wait many years,
  To fret thy soul with crosses and with cares,
  To eat thy heart through comfortless despairs,
  To fawn, to crouch, to wait, to ride, to run,
  To spend, to give, to want, to be undone.
         *        *        *        *        *
 "Whoever leaves sweet home, where mean estate
  In safe assurance, without strife or hate,
  Finds all things needful for contentment meek,
  And will to court for shadows vain to seek,
         *        *        *        *        *
 "That curse God send unto mine enemy!"[273]

When Spenser had once got safely back to the secure retreat and serene
companionship of his great poem, with what profound and pathetic
exultation must he have recalled the verses of Dante!--

 "Chi dietro a jura, e chi ad aforismi
  Sen giva, e chi seguendo sacerdozio,
  E chi regnar per forza e per sofismi,
  E chi rubare, e chi civil negozio,
  Chi nei diletti della carne involto
  S' affaticava, e chi si dava all' ozio,
  Quando da tutte queste cose sciolto,
  Con Beatrice m' era suso in cielo
  Cotanto gloriosamente accolto."[274]

What Spenser says of the indifference of the court to learning and
literature is the more remarkable because he himself was by no means an
unsuccessful suitor. Queen Elizabeth bestowed on him a pension of fifty
pounds, and shortly after he received the grant of lands already
mentioned. It is said, indeed, that Lord Burleigh in some way hindered
the advancement of the poet, who more than once directly alludes to him
either in reproach or remonstrance. In "The Ruins of Time," after
speaking of the death of Walsingham,

 "Since whose decease learning lies unregarded,
  And men of armes do wander unrewarded,"

he gives the following reason for their neglect.--

  "For he that now wields all things at his will,
  Scorns th' one and th' other in his deeper skill.
  O grief of griefs! O gall of all good hearts,
  To see that virtue should despisëd be
  Of him that first was raised for virtuous parts,
  And now, broad spreading like an aged tree,
  Lets none shoot up that nigh him planted be:
  O let the man of whom the Muse is scorned
  Nor live nor dead be of the Muse adorned!"

And in the introduction to the fourth book of the "Faery Queen," he says

 "The rugged forehead that with grave foresight
  Wields kingdoms' causes and affairs of state,
  My looser rhymes, I wot, doth sharply wite
  For praising Love, as I have done of late,--
         *        *        *        *        *
 "By which frail youth is oft to folly led
  Through false allurement of that pleasing bait,
  That better were in virtues discipled
  Than with vain poems' weeds to have their fancies fed.

 "Such ones ill judge of love that cannot love
  Nor in their frozen hearts feel kindly flame;
  Forthy they ought not thing unknown reprove,
  Ne natural affection faultless blame
  For fault of few that have abused the same:
  For it of honor and all virtue is
  The root, and brings forth glorious flowers of fame
  That crown true lovers with immortal bliss,
  The meed of them that love and do not live amiss."

If Lord Burleigh could not relish such a dish of nightingales' tongues as
the "Faery Queen," he is very much more to be pitied than Spenser. The
sensitive purity of the poet might indeed well be wounded when a poem in
which he proposed to himself "to discourse at large" of "the ethick part
of Moral Philosophy"[275] could be so misinterpreted. But Spenser speaks
in the same strain and without any other than a general application in
his "Tears of the Muses," and his friend Sidney undertakes the defence of
poesy because it was undervalued. But undervalued by whom? By the only
persons about whom he knew or cared anything, those whom we should now
call Society and who were then called the Court. The inference I would
draw is that, among the causes which contributed to the marvellous
efflorescence of genius in the last quarter of the sixteenth century, the
influence of direct patronage from above is to be reckoned at almost
nothing.[276] Then, as when the same phenomenon has happened elsewhere,
there must have been a sympathetic public. Literature, properly so
called, draws its sap from the deep soil of human nature's common and
everlasting sympathies, the gathered leaf-mould of countless generations
([Greek: oiae per phullon geneae]), and not from any top-dressing
capriciously scattered over the surface at some master's bidding.[277]
England had long been growing more truly insular in language and
political ideas when the Reformation came to precipitate her national
consciousness by secluding her more completely from the rest of Europe.
Hitherto there had been Englishmen of a distinct type enough, honestly
hating foreigners, and reigned over by kings of whom they were proud or
not as the case might be, but there was no England as a separate entity
from the sovereign who embodied it for the time being.[278] But now an
English people began to be dimly aware of itself. Their having got a
religion to themselves must have intensified them much as the having a
god of their own did the Jews. The exhilaration of relief after the long
tension of anxiety, when the Spanish Armada was overwhelmed like the
hosts of Pharaoh, while it confirmed their assurance of a provincial
deity, must also have been like sunshine to bring into flower all that
there was of imaginative or sentimental in the English nature, already
just in the first flush of its spring.

     ("The yongë sonne
  Had in _the Bull_ half of his course yronne.")

And just at this moment of blossoming every breeze was dusty with the
golden pollen of Greece, Rome, and Italy. If Keats could say, when he
first opened Chapman's Homer,--

  "Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
  When a new planet swims into his ken;
  Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
  He stared at the Pacific, and all his men
  Looked at each other with a wild surmise,"

if Keats could say this, whose mind had been unconsciously fed with the
results of this culture,--results that permeated all thought, all
literature, and all talk,--fancy what must have been the awakening shock
and impulse communicated to men's brains by the revelation of this new
world of thought and fancy, an unveiling gradual yet sudden, like that of
a great organ, which discovered to them what a wondrous instrument was in
the soul of man with its epic and lyric stops, its deep thunders of
tragedy, and its passionate _vox humana!_ It might almost seem as if
Shakespeare had typified all this in Miranda, when she cries out at first
sight of the king and his courtiers,

                       "O, wonder!
  How many goodly creatures are there here!
  How beauteous mankind is! O, brave new world
  That hath such people in't!"

The civil wars of the Roses had been a barren period in English
literature, because they had been merely dynastic squabbles, in which no
great principles were involved which could shake all minds with
controversy and heat them to intense conviction. A conflict of opposing
ambitions wears out the moral no less than the material forces of a
people, but the ferment of hostile ideas and convictions may realize
resources of character which before were only potential, may transform a
merely gregarious multitude into a nation proud in its strength, sensible
of the dignity and duty which strength involves, and groping after a
common ideal. Some such transformation had been wrought or was going on
in England. For the first time a distinct image of her was disengaging
itself from the tangled blur of tradition and association in the minds of
her children, and it was now only that her great poet could speak
exultingly to an audience that would understand him with a passionate
sympathy, of

  "This happy breed of men, this little world,
  This precious stone set in a silver sea,
  This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
  This land of such dear souls, this dear, dear land,
  England, bound in with the triumphant sea!"

Such a period can hardly recur again, but something like it, something
pointing back to similar producing causes, is observable in the revival
of English imaginative literature at the close of the last and in the
early years of the present century. Again, after long fermentation, there
was a war of principles, again the national consciousness was heightened
and stung by a danger to the national existence, and again there was a
crop of great poets and heroic men.

Spenser once more visited England, bringing with him three more books of
the "Faery Queen," in 1595. He is supposed to have remained there during
the two following years.[279]

In 1594 he had been married to the lady celebrated in his somewhat
artificial _amoretti_. By her he had four children. He was now at the
height of his felicity; by universal acclaim the first poet of his age,
and the one obstacle to his material advancement (if obstacle it was) had
been put out of the way by the death of Lord Burleigh, August, 1598. In
the next month he was recommended in a letter from Queen Elizabeth for
the shrievalty of the county of Cork. But alas for Polycrates! In October
the wild kerns and gallowglasses rose in no mood for sparing the house of
Pindarus. They sacked and burned his castle, from which he with his wife
and children barely escaped.[280] He sought shelter in London and died
there on the 16th January, 1599, at a tavern in King Street, Westminster.
He was buried in the neighboring Abbey next to Chaucer, at the cost of
the Earl of Essex, poets bearing his pall and casting verses into his
grave. He died poor, but not in want. On the whole, his life may be
reckoned a happy one, as in the main the lives of the great poets must
have commonly been. If they feel more passionately the pang of the
moment, so also the compensations are incalculable, and not the least of
them this very capacity of passionate emotion. The real good fortune is
to be measured, not by more or less of outward prosperity, but by the
opportunity given for the development and free play of the genius. It
should be remembered that the power of expression which exaggerates their
griefs is also no inconsiderable consolation for them. We should measure
what Spenser says of his worldly disappointments by the bitterness of the
unavailing tears be shed for Rosalind. A careful analysis of these leaves
no perceptible residuum of salt, and we are tempted to believe that the
passion itself was not much more real than the pastoral accessories of
pipe and crook. I very much doubt whether Spenser ever felt more than one
profound passion in his life, and that luckily was for his "Faery Queen."
He was fortunate in the friendship of the best men and women of his time,
in the seclusion which made him free of the still better society of the
past, in the loving recognition of his countrymen. All that we know of
him is amiable and of good report. He was faithful to the friendships of
his youth, pure in his loves, unspotted in his life. Above all, the ideal
with him was not a thing apart and unattainable, but the sweetener and
ennobler of the street and the fireside.

There are two ways of measuring a poet, either by an absolute aesthetic
standard, or relatively to his position in the literary history of his
country and the conditions of his generation. Both should be borne in
mind as coefficients in a perfectly fair judgment. If his positive merit
is to be settled irrevocably by the former, yet an intelligent criticism
will find its advantage not only in considering what he was, but what,
under the given circumstances, it was possible for him to be.

The fact that the great poem of Spenser was inspired by the Orlando of
Ariosto, and written in avowed emulation of it, and that the poet almost
always needs to have his fancy set agoing by the hint of some
predecessor, must not lead us to overlook his manifest claim to
originality. It is not what a poet takes, but what he makes out of what
he has taken, that shows what native force is in him. Above all, did his
mind dwell complacently in those forms and fashions which in their very
birth are already obsolescent, or was it instinctively drawn to those
qualities which are permanent in language and whatever is wrought in it?
There is much in Spenser that is contemporary and evanescent; but the
substance of him is durable, and his work was the deliberate result of
intelligent purpose and ample culture. The publication of his "Shepherd's
Calendar" in 1579 (though the poem itself be of little interest) is one
of the epochs in our literature. Spenser had at least the originality to
see clearly and to feel keenly that it was essential to bring poetry back
again to some kind of understanding with nature. His immediate
predecessors seem to have conceived of it as a kind of bird of paradise,
born to float somewhere between heaven and earth, with no very well
defined relation to either. It is true that the nearest approach they
were able to make to this airy ideal was a shuttlecock, winged with a
bright plume or so from Italy, but, after all, nothing but cork and
feathers, which they bandied back and forth from one stanza to another,
with the useful ambition of _keeping it up_ as long as they could. To my
mind the old comedy of "Gammer Gurton's Needle" is worth the whole of
them. It may be coarse, earthy, but in reading it one feels that he is at
least a man among men, and not a humbug among humbugs.

The form of Spenser's "Shepherd's Calendar," it is true, is artificial,
absurdly so if you look at it merely from the outside,--not, perhaps, the
wisest way to look at anything, unless it be a jail or a volume of the
"Congressional Globe,"--but the spirit of it is fresh and original We
have at last got over the superstition that shepherds and shepherdesses
are any wiser or simpler than other people. We know that wisdom can be on
only by wide commerce with men and books, and that simplicity, whether of
manners or style, is the crowning result of the highest culture. But the
pastorals of Spenser were very different things, different both in the
moving spirit and the resultant form from the later ones of Browne or the
"Piscatory Eclogues" of Phinehas Fletcher. And why? Browne and Fletcher
wrote because Spenser had written, but Spenser wrote from a strong inward
impulse--an instinct it might be called--to escape at all risks into the
fresh air from that horrible atmosphere into which rhymer after rhymer
had been pumping carbonic-acid gas with the full force of his lungs, and
in which all sincerity was on the edge of suffocation. His longing for
something truer and better was as honest as that which led Tacitus so
long before to idealize the Germans, and Rousseau so long after to make
an angel of the savage.

Spenser himself supremely overlooks the whole chasm between himself and
Chaucer, as Dante between himself and Virgil. He called Chaucer master,
as Milton was afterwards to call _him_. And, even while he chose the most
artificial of all forms, his aim--that of getting back to nature and
life--was conscious, I have no doubt, to himself, and must be obvious to
whoever reads with anything but the ends of his fingers. It is true that
Sannazzaro had brought the pastoral into fashion again, and that two of
Spenser's are little more than translations from Marot; but for manner he
instinctively turned back to Chaucer, the first and then only great
English poet. He has given common instead of classic names to his
personages, for characters they can hardly be called. Above all, he has
gone to the provincial dialects for words wherewith to enlarge and
freshen his poetical vocabulary.[281]

I look upon the "Shepherd's Calendar" as being no less a conscious and
deliberate attempt at reform than Thomson's "Seasons" were in the topics,
and Wordsworth's "Lyrical Ballads" in the language of poetry. But the
great merit of these pastorals was not so much in their matter as their
manner. They show a sense of style in its larger meaning hitherto
displayed by no English poet since Chaucer. Surrey had brought back from
Italy a certain inkling of it, so far as it is contained in decorum. But
here was a new language, a choice and arrangement of words, a variety,
elasticity, and harmony of verse most grateful to the ears of men. If not
passion, there was fervor, which was perhaps as near it as the somewhat
stately movement of Spenser's mind would allow him to come. Sidney had
tried many experiments in versification, which are curious and
interesting, especially his attempts to naturalize the _sliding_ rhymes
of Sannazzaro in English. But there is everywhere the uncertainty of a
'prentice hand. Spenser shows himself already a master, at least in
verse, and we can trace the studies of Milton, a yet greater master, in
the "Shepherd's Calendar" as well as in the "Faery Queen." We have seen
that Spenser, under the misleading influence of Sidney[282] and Harvey,
tried his hand at English hexameters. But his great glory is that he
taught his own language to sing and move to measures harmonious and
noble. Chaucer had done much to vocalize it, as I have tried to show
elsewhere,[283] but Spenser was to prove

  "That no tongue hath the muse's utterance heired
  For verse, and that sweet music to the ear
  Struck out of rhyme, so naturally as this."

The "Shepherd's Calendar" contains perhaps the most picturesquely
imaginative verse which Spenser has written. It is in the eclogue for
February, where he tells us of the

                             "Faded oak
  Whose body is sere, whose branches broke,
  Whose naked arms stretch unto the fire."

It is one of those verses that Joseph Warton would have liked in secret,
that Dr. Johnson would have proved to be untranslatable into reasonable
prose, and which the imagination welcomes at once without caring whether
it be exactly conformable to _barbara_ or _celarent_. Another pretty
verse in the same eclogue,

  "But gently took that ungently came,"

pleased Coleridge so greatly that he thought it was his own. But in
general it is not so much the sentiments and images that are new as the
modulation of the verses in which they float. The cold obstruction of two
centuries' thaws, and the stream of speech, once more let loose, seeks
out its old windings, or overflows musically in unpractised channels. The
service which Spenser did to our literature by this exquisite sense of
harmony is incalculable. His fine ear, abhorrent of barbarous dissonance,
his dainty tongue that loves to prolong the relish of a musical phrase,
made possible the transition from the cast-iron stiffness of "Ferrex and
Porrex" to the Damascus pliancy of Fletcher and Shakespeare. It was he

       "Taught the dumb on high to sing,
  And heavy ignorance aloft to fly
  That added feathers to the learned's wing,
  And gave to grace a double majesty."

I do not mean that in the "Shepherd's Calendar" he had already achieved
that transmutation of language and metre by which he was afterwards to
endow English verse with the most varied and majestic of stanzas, in
which the droning old alexandrine, awakened for the first time to a
feeling of the poetry that was in him, was to wonder, like M. Jourdain,
that he had been talking prose all his life,--but already he gave clear
indications of the tendency and premonitions of the power which were to
carry it forward to ultimate perfection. A harmony and alacrity of
language like this were unexampled in English verse:--

  "Ye dainty nymphs, that in this blessed brook
       Do bathe your breast,
  Forsake your watery bowers and hither look
       At my request....
  And eke you virgins that on Parnass dwell,
  Whence floweth Helicon, the learned well,
       Help me to blaze
       Her worthy praise,
  Which in her sex doth all excel."

Here we have the natural gait of the measure, somewhat formal and slow,
as befits an invocation; and now mark how the same feet shall be made to
quicken their pace at the bidding of the tune:--

  "Bring here the pink and purple columbine,
      With gilliflowers;
  Bring coronations and sops in wine,
      Worne of paramours;
  Strow me the ground with daffadowndillies,
  And cowslips and kingcúps and loved lilies;
      The pretty paunce
      And the chevisance
  Shall match with the fair flowërdelice."[284]

The argument prefixed by E.K. to the tenth Eclogue has a special interest
for us as showing how high a conception Spenser had of poetry and the
poet's office. By Cuddy he evidently means himself, though choosing out
of modesty another name instead of the familiar Colin. "In Cuddy is set
forth the perfect pattern of a Poet, which finding no maintenance of his
state and studies, complaineth of the contempt of Poetry and the causes
thereof, specially having been in all ages, and even amongst the most
barbarous, always of singular account and honor, _and being indeed so
worthy and commendable an art, or rather no art, but a divine gift and
heavenly instinct not to be gotten by labor and learning, but adorned
with both, and poured into the wit by a certain Enthousiasmos and
celestial inspiration_, as the author hereof elsewhere at large
discourseth in his book called THE ENGLISH POET, which book being lately
come into my hands, I mind also by God's grace, upon further advisement,
to publish." E. K., whoever he was, never carried out his intention, and
the book is no doubt lost; a loss to be borne with less equanimity than
that of Cicero's treatise _De Gloria_, once possessed by Petrarch. The
passage I have italicized is most likely an extract, and reminds one of
the long-breathed periods of Milton. Drummond of Hawthornden tells us,
"he [Ben Jonson] hath by heart some verses of Spenser's 'Calendar,' about
wine, between Coline and Percye" (Cuddie and Piers).[285] These verses
are in this eclogue, and are worth quoting both as having the approval of
dear old Ben, the best critic of the day, and because they are a good
sample of Spenser's earlier verse:--

  "Thou kenst not, Percie, how the rhyme should rage;
  O, if my temples were distained with wine,
  And girt in garlands of wild ivy-twine,
  How I could rear the Muse on stately stage
        And teach her tread aloft in buskin fine
        With quaint Bellona in her equipage!"

In this eclogue he gives hints of that spacious style which was to
distinguish him, and which, like his own Fame,

     "With golden wings aloft doth fly
  Above the reach of ruinous decay,
  And with brave plumes doth beat the azure sky,
  Admired of base-born men from far away."[286]

He was letting his wings grow, as Milton said, and foreboding the "Faery

 "Lift thyself up out of the lowly dust
         *       *       *       *       *
 "To 'doubted knights whose woundless armor rusts
  And helms unbruised waxen daily brown:
  There may thy Muse display her fluttering wing,
  And stretch herself at large from East to West."

Verses like these, especially the last (which Dryden would have liked),
were such as English ears had not yet heard, and curiously prophetic of
the maturer man. The language and verse of Spenser at his best have an
ideal lift in them, and there is scarce any of our poets who can so
hardly help being poetical.

It was this instantly felt if not easily definable charm that forthwith
won for Spenser his never-disputed rank as the chief English poet of that
age, and gave him a popularity which, during his life and in the
following generation, was, in its select quality, without a competitor.
It may be thought that I lay too much stress on this single attribute of
diction. But apart from its importance in his case as showing their way
to the poets who were just then learning the accidence of their art and
leaving them a material to work in already mellowed to their hands, it
should be remembered that it is subtle perfection of phrase and that
happy coalescence of music and meaning, where each reinforces the other,
that define a man as poet and make all ears converts and partisans.
Spenser was an epicure in language. He loved "seld-seen costly" words
perhaps too well, and did not always distinguish between mere strangeness
and that novelty which is so agreeable as to cheat us with some charm of
seeming association. He had not the concentrated power which can
sometimes pack infinite riches in the little room of a single epithet,
for his genius is rather for dilatation than compression.[287] But he
was, with the exception of Milton and possibly Gray, the most learned of
our poets. His familiarity with ancient and modern literature was easy
and intimate, and as he perfected himself in his art, he caught the grand
manner and high bred ways of the society he frequented. But even to the
last he did not quite shake off the blunt rusticity of phrase that was
habitual with the generation that preceded him. In the fifth book of the
"Faery Queen," where he is describing the passion of Britomart at the
supposed infidelity of Arthegall, he descends to a Teniers-like
realism,[288]--he whose verses generally remind us of the dancing Hours
of Guido, where we catch but a glimpse of the real earth and that far
away beneath. But his habitual style is that of gracious loftiness and
refined luxury.

He shows his mature hand in the "Muiopotmos," the most airily fanciful of
his poems, a marvel for delicate conception and treatment, whose breezy
verse seems to float between a blue sky and golden earth in imperishable
sunshine. No other English poet has found the variety and compass which
enlivened the octave stanza under his sensitive touch. It can hardly be
doubted that in Clarion the butterfly he has symbolized himself, and
surely never was the poetic temperament so picturesquely exemplified:--

  "Over the fields, in his frank lustiness,
  And all the champain o'er, he soared light,
  And all the country wide he did possess,
  Feeding upon their pleasures bounteously,
  That none gainsaid and none did him envy.

  "The woods, the rivers, and the meadows green,
  With his air-cutting wings he measured wide,
  Nor did he leave the mountains bare unseen,
  Nor the rank grassy fens' delights untried;
  But none of these, however sweet they been,
  Mote please his fancy, or him cause to abide;
  His choiceful sense with every change doth flit;
  No common things may please a wavering wit.

  "To the gay gardens his unstaid desire
  Him wholly carried, to refresh his sprights;
  There lavish Nature, in her best attire,
  Pours forth sweet odors and alluring sights,
  And Art, with her contending doth aspire,
  To excel the natural with made delights;
  And all that fair or pleasant may be found,
  In riotous excess doth there abound.

  "There he arriving, round about doth flie,
  From bed to bed, from one to the other border,
  And takes survey with curious busy eye,
  Of every flower and herb there set in order,
  Now this, now that, he tasteth tenderly,
  Yet none of them he rudely doth disorder,
  Ne with his feet their silken leaves displace,
  But pastures on the pleasures of each place.

  "And evermore with most variety
  And change of sweetness (for all change is sweet)
  He casts his glutton sense to satisfy,
  Now sucking of the sap of herbs most meet,
  Or of the dew which yet on them doth lie,
  Now in the same bathing his tender feet;
  And then he percheth on some branch thereby
  To weather him and his moist wings to dry.

  "And then again he turneth to his play,
  To spoil [plunder] the pleasures of that paradise;
  The wholesome sage, the lavender still gray,
  Rank-smelling rue, and cummin good for eyes,
  The roses reigning in the pride of May,
  Sharp hyssop good for green wounds' remedies
  Fair marigolds, and bees-alluring thyme,
  Sweet marjoram and daisies decking prime,

  "Cool violets, and orpine growing still,
  Embathed balm, and cheerful galingale,
  Fresh costmary and breathful camomill,
  Dull poppy and drink-quickening setuale,
  Vein-healing vervain and head-purging dill,
  Sound savory, and basil hearty-hale,
  Fat coleworts and comforting perseline,
  Cold lettuce, and refreshing rosemarine.[289]

  "And whatso else of virtue good or ill,
  Grew in this garden, fetched from far away,
  Of every one he takes and tastes at will,
  And on their pleasures greedily doth prey;
  Then, when he hath both played and fed his fill,
  In the warm sun he doth himself embay,
  And there him rests in riotous suffisance
  Of all his gladfulness and kingly joyance.

  "What more felicity can fall to creature
  Than to enjoy delight with liberty,
  And to be lord of all the works of nature?
  To reign in the air from earth to highest sky,
  To feed on flowers and weeds of glorious feature,
  To take whatever thing doth please the eye?
  Who rests not pleased with such happiness,
  Well worthy he to taste of wretchedness."

The "Muiopotmos" pleases us all the more that it vibrates in us a string
of classical association by adding an episode to Ovid's story of Arachne.
"Talking the other day with a friend (the late Mr. Keats) about Dante, he
observed that whenever so great a poet told us anything in addition or
continuation of an ancient story, he had a right to be regarded as
classical authority. For instance, said he, when he tells us of that
characteristic death of Ulysses, ... we ought to receive the information
as authentic, and be glad that we have more news of Ulysses than we
looked for."[290]

We can hardly doubt that Ovid would have been glad to admit this
exquisitely fantastic illumination into his margin.

No German analyzer of aesthetics has given us so convincing a definition
of the artistic nature as these radiant verses. "To reign in the air" was
certainly Spenser's function. And yet the commentators, who seem never
willing to let their poet be a poet pure and simple, though, had he not
been so, they would have lost their only hold upon life, try to make out
from his "Mother Hubberd's Tale" that he might have been a very sensible
matter of-fact man if he would. For my own part, I am quite willing to
confess that I like him none the worse for being _un_practical, and that
my reading has convinced me that being too poetical is the rarest fault
of poets. Practical men are not so scarce, one would think, and I am not
sure that the tree was a gainer when the hamadryad flitted and left it
nothing but ship-timber. Such men as Spenser are not sent into the world
to be part of its motive power. The blind old engine would not know the
difference though we got up its steam with attar of roses, nor make one
revolution more to the minute for it. What practical man ever left such
an heirloom to his countrymen as the "Faery Queen"?

Undoubtedly Spenser wished to be useful and in the highest vocation of
all, that of teacher, and Milton calls him "our sage and serious poet,
whom I dare be known to think a better teacher than Scotus or Aquinas."
And good Dr. Henry More was of the same mind. I fear he makes his vices
so beautiful now and then that we should not be very much afraid of them
if we chanced to meet them; for he could not escape from his genius,
which, if it led him as philosopher to the abstract contemplation of the
beautiful, left him as poet open to every impression of sensuous delight.
When he wrote the "Shepherd's Calendar" he was certainly a Puritan, and
probably so by conviction rather than from any social influences or
thought of personal interests. There is a verse, it is true, in the
second of the two detached cantos of "Mutability,"

  "Like that ungracious crew which feigns demurest grace,"

which is supposed to glance at the straiter religionists, and from which
it has been inferred that he drew away from them as he grew older. It is
very likely that years and widened experience of men may have produced in
him their natural result of tolerant wisdom which revolts at the hasty
destructiveness of inconsiderate zeal. But with the more generous side of
Puritanism I think he sympathized to the last. His rebukes of clerical
worldliness are in the Puritan tone, and as severe a one as any is in
"Mother Hubberd's Tale," published in 1591.[291] There is an iconoclastic
relish in his account of Sir Guyon's demolishing the Bower of Bliss that
makes us think he would not have regretted the plundered abbeys as
perhaps Shakespeare did when he speaks of the winter woods as "bare
ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang";--

  "But all those pleasant bowers and palace brave
  Guyon broke down with rigor pitiless,
  Ne ought their goodly workmanship might save
  Them from the tempest of his wrathfulness,
  But that their bliss he turned to balefulness;
  Their groves he felled, their gardens did deface,
  Their arbors spoil, their cabinets suppress,
  Their banquet-houses burn, their buildings rase,
  And of the fairest late now made the foulest place."

But whatever may have been Spenser's religious opinions (which do not
nearly concern us here), the bent of his mind was toward a Platonic
mysticism, a supramundane sphere where it could shape universal forms out
of the primal elements of things, instead of being forced to put up with
their fortuitous combinations in the unwilling material of mortal clay.
He who, when his singing robes were on, could never be tempted nearer to
the real world than under some subterfuge of pastoral or allegory,
expatiates joyously in this untrammelled ether:--

  "Lifting himself out of the lowly dust
  On golden plumes up to the purest sky."

Nowhere does his genius soar and sing with such continuous aspiration,
nowhere is his phrase so decorously stately, though rising to an
enthusiasm which reaches intensity while it stops short of vehemence, as
in his Hymns to Love and Beauty, especially the latter. There is an
exulting spurn of earth in it, as of a soul just loosed from its cage. I
shall make no extracts from it, for it is one of those intimately
coherent and transcendentally logical poems that "moveth altogether if it
move at all," the breaking off a fragment from which would maim it as it
would a perfect group of crystals. Whatever there is of sentiment and
passion is for the most part purely disembodied and without sex, like
that of angels,--a kind of poetry which has of late gone out of fashion,
whether to our gain or not may be questioned. Perhaps one may venture to
hint that the animal instincts are those that stand in least need of
stimulation. Spenser's notions of love were so nobly pure, so far from
those of our common ancestor who could hang by his tail, as not to
disqualify him for achieving the quest of the Holy Grail, and accordingly
it is not uninstructive to remember that he had drunk, among others, at
French sources not yet deboshed with _absinthe_.[292] Yet, with a purity
like that of thrice-bolted snow, he had none of its coldness. He is, of
all our poets, the most truly sensuous, using the word as Milton probably
meant it when he said that poetry should be "simple, sensuous, and
passionate."  A poet is innocently sensuous when his mind permeates and
illumines his senses; when they, on the other hand, muddy the mind, he
becomes sensual. Every one of Spenser's senses was as exquisitely alive
to the impressions of material, as every organ of his soul was to those
of spiritual beauty. Accordingly, if he painted the weeds of sensuality
at all, he could not help making them "of glorious feature." It was this,
it may be suspected, rather than his "praising love," that made Lord
Burleigh shake his "rugged forehead." Spenser's gamut, indeed, is a wide
one, ranging from a purely corporeal delight in "precious odors fetched
from far away" upward to such refinement as

  "Upon her eyelids many graces sate
  Under the shadow of her even brows,"

where the eye shares its pleasure with the mind. He is court-painter in
ordinary to each of the senses in turn, and idealizes these frail
favorites of his majesty King Lusty Juventus, till they half believe
themselves the innocent shepherdesses into which he travesties them.[293]

In his great poem he had two objects in view: first the ephemeral one of
pleasing the court, and then that of recommending himself to the
permanent approval of his own and following ages as a poet, and
especially as a moral poet. To meet the first demand, he lays the scene
of his poem in contemporary England, and brings in all the leading
personages of the day under the thin disguise of his knights and their
squires and lady-loves. He says this expressly in the prologue to the
second book:--

  "Of Faery Land yet if he more inquire,
  By certain signs, here set in sundry place,
  He may it find; ...
  And thou, O fairest princess under sky,
  In this fair mirror mayst behold thy face
  And thine own realms in land of Faery."

Many of his personages we can still identify, and all of them were once
as easily recognizable as those of Mademoiselle de Scudéry. This, no
doubt, added greatly to the immediate piquancy of the allusions. The
interest they would excite may be inferred from the fact that King James,
in 1596, wished to have the author prosecuted and punished for his
indecent handling of his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, under the name of
Duessa.[294] To suit the wider application of his plan's other and more
important half, Spenser made all his characters double their parts, and
appear in his allegory as the impersonations of abstract moral qualities.
When the cardinal and theological virtues tell Dante,

  "Noi siam qui ninfe e in ciel siamo stelle,"

the sweetness of the verse enables the fancy, by a slight gulp, to
swallow without solution the problem of being in two places at the same
time. But there is something fairly ludicrous in such a duality as that
of Prince Arthur and the Earl of Leicester, Arthegall and Lord Grey, and
Belphoebe and Elizabeth.

  "In this same interlude it doth befall
  That I, one Snout by name, present a wall."

The reality seems to heighten the improbability, already hard enough to
manage. But Spenser had fortunately almost as little sense of humor as
Wordsworth,[295] or he could never have carried his poem on with
enthusiastic good faith so far as he did. It is evident that to him the
Land of Faery was an unreal world of picture and illusion,

  "The world's sweet inn from pain and wearisome turmoil,"

in which he could shut himself up from the actual, with its shortcomings
and failures.

      "The ways through which my weary steps I guide
        In this delightful land of Faery
      Are so exceeding spacious and wide,
        And sprinkled with such sweet variety
        Of all that pleasant is to ear and eye,
      That I, nigh ravisht with rare thoughts' delight,
        My tedious travail do forget thereby,
      And, when I 'gin to feel decay of might,
  It strength to me supplies, and cheers my dullëd spright."

Spenser seems here to confess a little weariness; but the alacrity of his
mind is so great that, even where his invention fails a little, we do not
share his feeling nor suspect it, charmed as we are by the variety and
sweep of his measure, the beauty or vigor of his similes, the musical
felicity of his diction, and the mellow versatility of his pictures. In
this last quality Ariosto, whose emulous pupil he was, is as Bologna to
Venice in the comparison. That, when the personal allusions have lost
their meaning and the allegory has become a burden, the book should
continue to be read with delight, is proof enough, were any wanting, how
full of life and light and the other-worldliness of poetry it must be. As
a narrative it has, I think, every fault of which that kind of writing is
capable. The characters are vague, and, even were they not, they drop out
of the story so often and remain out of it so long, that we have
forgotten who they are when we meet them again; the episodes hinder the
advance of the action instead of relieving it with variety of incident or
novelty of situation; the plot, if plot it may be called,

                  "That shape has none
  Distinguishable in member, joint, or limb,"

recalls drearily our ancient enemy, the Metrical Romance; while the
fighting, which, in those old poems, was tediously sincere, is between
shadow and shadow, where we know that neither can harm the other, though
are tempted to wish he might. Hazlitt bids us not mind the allegory, and
says that it won't bite us nor meddle with us if we do not meddle with
it. But how if it bore us, which after all is the fatal question? The
truth is that it is too often forced upon us against our will, as people
were formerly driven to church till they began to look on a day of rest
as a penal institution, and to transfer to the Scriptures that suspicion
of defective inspiration which was awakened in them by the preaching. The
true type of the allegory is the Odyssey, which we read without suspicion
as pure poem, and then find a new pleasure in divining its double
meaning, as if we somehow got a better bargain of our author than he
meant to give us. But this complex feeling must not be so exacting as to
prevent our lapsing into the old Arabian Nights simplicity of interest
again. The moral of a poem should be suggested, as when in some mediaeval
church we cast down our eyes to muse over a fresco of Giotto, and are
reminded of the transitoriness of life by the mortuary tablets under our
feet. The vast superiority of Bunyan over Spenser lies in the fact that
we help make his allegory out of our own experience. Instead of striving
to embody abstract passions and temptations, he has given us his own in
all their pathetic simplicity. He is the Ulysses of his own prose-epic.
This is the secret of his power and his charm, that, while the
representation of what may happen to all men comes home to none of us in
particular, the story of any one man's real experience finds its
startling parallel in that of every one of us. The very homeliness of
Bunyan's names and the everydayness of his scenery, too, put us off our
guard, and we soon find ourselves on as easy a footing with his
allegorical beings as we might be with Adam or Socrates in a dream.
Indeed, he has prepared us for such incongruities by telling us at
setting out that the story was of a dream. The long nights of Bedford
jail had so intensified his imagination, and made the figures with which
it peopled his solitude so real to him, that the creatures of his mind
become _things_, as clear to the memory as if we had seen them. But
Spenser's are too often mere names, with no bodies to back them, entered
on the Muses' musterroll by the specious trick of personification. There
is likewise, in Bunyan, a childlike simplicity and taking-for-granted
which win our confidence. His Giant Despair,[296] for example, is by no
means the Ossianic figure into which artists who mistake the vague for
the sublime have misconceived it. He is the ogre of the fairy-tales, with
his malicious wife; and he comes forth to us from those regions of early
faith and wonder as something beforehand accepted by the imagination.
These figures of Bunyan's are already familiar inmates of the mind, and,
if there be any sublimity in him, it is the daring frankness of his
verisimilitude. Spenser's giants are those of the later romances, except
that grand figure with the balances in the second Canto of Book V., the
most original of all his conceptions, yet no real giant, but a pure
eidolon of the mind. As Bunyan rises not seldom to a natural poetry, so
Spenser sinks now and then, through the fault of his topics, to
unmistakable prose. Take his description of the House of Alma,[297] for

  "The master cook was cald Concoctiön,
    A careful man, and full of comely guise;
  The kitchen-clerk, that hight Digestion,
    Did order all the achates in seemly wise."

And so on through all the organs of the body. The author of Ecclesiastes
understood these matters better in that last pathetic chapter of his,
blunderingly translated as it apparently is. This, I admit, is the worst
failure of Spenser in this kind; though, even here, when he gets on to
the organs of the mind, the enchantments of his fancy and style come to
the rescue and put us in good-humor again, hard as it is to conceive of
armed knights entering the chamber of the mind, and talking with such
visionary damsels as Ambition and Shamefastness. Nay, even in the most
prosy parts, unless my partiality deceive me, there is an infantile
confidence in the magical powers of Prosopopoeia which half beguiles us
as of children who _play_ that everything is something else, and are
quite satisfied with the transformation.

The problem for Spenser was a double one: how to commend poetry at all to
a generation which thought it effeminate trifling,[298] and how he,
Master Edmund Spenser, of imagination all compact, could commend _his_
poetry to Master John Bull, the most practical of mankind in his habitual
mood, but at that moment in a passion of religious anxiety about his
soul. _Omne tulit punctum qui miscuit utile dulci_ was not only an
irrefragable axiom because a Latin poet had said it, but it exactly met
the case in point. He would convince the scorners that poetry might be
seriously useful, and show Master Bull his new way of making fine words
butter parsnips, in a rhymed moral primer. Allegory, as then practised,
was imagination adapted for beginners, in words of one syllable and
illustrated with cuts, and would thus serve both his ethical and
pictorial purpose. Such a primer, or a first instalment of it, he
proceeded to put forth; but he so bordered it with bright-colored
fancies, he so often filled whole pages and crowded the text hard in
others with the gay frolics of his pencil, that, as in the Grimani
missal, the holy function of the book is forgotten in the ecstasy of its
adornment. Worse than all, does not his brush linger more lovingly along
the rosy contours of his sirens than on the modest wimples of the Wise
Virgins? "The general end of the book," he tells us in his Dedication to
Sir Walter Raleigh, "is to fashion a gentleman of noble person in
virtuous and gentle discipline." But a little further on he evidently has
a qualm, as he thinks how generously he had interpreted his promise of
cuts: "To some I know this method will seem displeasant, which had rather
have good discipline delivered plainly in way of precepts or sermoned at
large,[299] as they use, than thus cloudily enwrapped in allegorical
devices." Lord Burleigh was of this way of thinking, undoubtedly, but how
could poor Clarion help it? Has he not said,

  "And whatso else, _of virtue good or ill,_
    Grew in that garden, fetcht from far away,
  Of every one he takes and tastes at will,
    And on their pleasures greedily doth prey"?

One sometimes feels in reading him as if he were the pure sense of the
beautiful incarnated to the one end that he might interpret it to our
duller perceptions So exquisite was his sensibility,[300] that with him
sensation and intellection seem identical, and we "can almost say his
body thought." This subtle interfusion of sense with spirit it is that
gives his poetry a crystalline purity without lack of warmth. He is full
of feeling, and yet of such a kind that we can neither say it is mere
intellectual perception of what is fair and good, nor yet associate it
with that throbbing fervor which leads us to call sensibility by the
physical name of heart.

Charles Lamb made the most pithy criticism of Spenser when he called him
the poets' poet. We may fairly leave the allegory on one side, for
perhaps, after all, he adopted it only for the reason that it was in
fashion, and put it on as he did his ruff, not because it was becoming,
but because it was the only wear. The true use of him is as a gallery of
pictures which we visit as the mood takes us, and where we spend an hour
or two at a time, long enough to sweeten our perceptions, not so long as
to cloy them. He makes one think always of Venice; for not only is his
style Venetian,[301] but as the gallery there is housed in the shell of
an abandoned convent, so his in that of a deserted allegory. And again,
as at Venice you swim in a gondola from Gian Bellini to Titian, and from
Titian to Tintoret, so in him, where other cheer is wanting, the gentle
sway of his measure, like the rhythmical impulse of the oar, floats you
lullingly along from picture to picture.

  "If all the pens that ever poet held
  Had fed the feeling of their master's thoughts,
  And every sweetness that inspired their hearts
  Their minds and muses on admired themes,
  If all the heavenly quintessence they still
  From their immortal flowers of poesy,
  If these had made one poem's period,
  And all combined in beauty's worthiness;
  Yet should there hover in their restless heads
  One thought, one grace, one wonder at the best,
  Which into words no virtue can digest."[302]

Spenser, at his best, has come as near to expressing this unattainable
something as any other poet. He is so purely poet that with him the
meaning does not so often modulate the music of the verse as the music
makes great part of the meaning and leads the thought along its pleasant
paths. No poet is so splendidly superfluous as he; none knows so well
that in poetry enough is not only not so good as a feast, but is a
beggarly parsimony. He spends himself in a careless abundance only to be
justified by incomes of immortal youth.

  "Pensier canuto nè molto nè poco
  Si può quivi albergare in alcun cuore;
  Non entra quivi disagio nè inopia,
  Ma vi sta ogn'or col corno pien la Copia."[303]

This delicious abundance and overrunning luxury of Spenser appear in the
very structure of his verse. He found the _ottava rima_ too monotonously
iterative; so, by changing the order of his rhymes, he shifted the let
from the end of the stave, where it always seems to put on the brakes
with a jar, to the middle, where it may serve at will as a brace or a
bridge; he found it not roomy enough, so first ran it over into another
line, and then ran that added line over into an alexandrine, in which the
melody of one stanza seems forever longing and feeling forward after that
which is to follow. There is no ebb and flow in his metre more than on
the shores of the Adriatic, but wave follows wave with equable gainings
and recessions, the one sliding back in fluent music to be mingled with
and carried forward by the next. In all this there is soothingness
indeed, but no slumberous monotony; for Spenser was no mere metrist, but
a great composer. By the variety of his pauses--now at the close of the
first or second foot, now of the third, and again of the fourth--he gives
spirit and energy to a measure whose tendency it certainly is to become
languorous. He knew how to make it rapid and passionate at need, as in
such verses as,

     "But he, my lion, and my noble lord,
      How does he find in cruel heart to hate
      Her that him loved and ever most adored
  As the God of my life? Why hath he me abhorred?"[304]

or this,

  "Come hither, come hither, O, come hastily!"[305]

Joseph Warton objects to Spenser's stanza, that its "constraint led him
into many absurdities." Of these he instances three, of which I shall
notice only one, since the two others (which suppose him at a loss for
words and rhymes) will hardly seem valid to any one who knows the poet.
It is that it "obliged him to dilate the thing to be expressed, however
unimportant with trifling and tedious circumlocutions, namely, Faery
Queen, II. ii. 44:--

 "'Now hath fair Phoebe with her silver face
    Thrice seen the shadows of this nether world,
  Sith last I left that honorable place,
    In which her royal presence is enrolled.'

"That is, it is three months since I left her palace."[306] But Dr. Warton
should have remembered (what he too often forgets in his own verses)
that, in spite of Dr. Johnson's dictum, poetry is not prose, and that
verse only loses its advantage over the latter by invading its
province.[307] Verse itself is an absurdity except as an expression of
some higher movement of the mind, or as an expedient to lift other minds
to the same ideal level. It is the cothurnus which gives language an
heroic stature. I have said that one leading characteristic of Spenser's
style was its spaciousness, that he habitually dilates rather than
compresses. But his way of measuring time was perfectly natural in an age
when everybody did not carry a dial in his poke as now. He is the last of
the poets, who went (without affectation) by the great clock of the
firmament. Dante, the miser of words, who goes by the same timepiece, is
full of these roundabout ways of telling us the hour. It had nothing to
do with Spenser's stanza, and I for one should be sorry to lose these
stately revolutions of the _superne ruote_. Time itself becomes more
noble when so measured; we never knew before of how precious a commodity
we had the wasting. Who would prefer the plain time of day to this?

  "Now when Aldebaran was mounted high
  Above the starry Cassiopeia's chair";

or this?

  "By this the northern wagoner had set
    His seven-fold team behind the steadfast star
  That was in ocean's waves yet never wet,
    But firm is fixt and sendeth light from far
  To all that in the wide deep wandering are";

or this?

  "At last the golden oriental gate
  Of greatest heaven gan to open fair,
  And Phoebus, fresh as bridegroom to his mate,
  Came dancing forth, shaking his dewy hair
  And hurls his glistening beams through dewy air."

The generous indefiniteness, which treats an hour more or less as of no
account, is in keeping with that sense of endless leisures which it is
one chief merit of the poem to suggest. But Spenser's dilatation extends
to thoughts as well as to phrases and images. He does not love the
concise. Yet his dilatation is not mere distension, but the expansion of
natural growth in the rich soil of his own mind, wherein the merest stick
of a verse puts forth leaves and blossoms. Here is one of his, suggested
by Homer:[308]

  "Upon the top of all his lofty crest
    A bunch of hairs discolored diversly,
    With sprinkled pearl and gold full richly drest,
    Did shake, and seemed to dance for jollity;
    Like to an almond-tree mounted high
    On top of green Selinus all alone
    With blossoms brave bedeckëd daintily,
    Whose tender locks do tremble every one
  At every little breath that under heaven is blown."

And this is the way he reproduces five pregnant verses of Dante:--

                       "Seggendo in piume
  In fama non si vien, nè sotto coltre,
  Senza la qual chi sua vita consuma,
  Cotal vestigio in terra di se lascia
  Qual fumo in aere ed in acqua la schiuma."[309]

  "Whoso in pomp of proud estate, quoth she,
    Does swim, and bathes himself in courtly bliss,
    Does waste his days in dark obscurity
    And in oblivion ever buried is;
    Where ease abounds it's eath to do amiss:
    But who his limbs with labors and his mind
    Behaves with cares, cannot so easy miss.
    Abroad in arms, at home in studious kind,
  Who seeks with painful toil shall Honor soonest find.

  "In woods, in waves, in wars, she wonts to dwell,
    And will be found with peril and with pain,
    Ne can the man that moulds in idle cell
    Unto her happy mansiön attain;
    Before her gate high God did Sweat ordain,
    And wakeful watches ever to abide;
    But easy is the way and passage plain
    To pleasure's palace; it may soon be spied,
  And day and night her doors to all stand open wide."[310]

Spenser's mind always demands this large elbow-room. His thoughts are
never pithily expressed, but with a stately and sonorous proclamation, as
if under the open sky, that seems to me very noble. For example,--

  "The noble heart that harbors virtuous thought
  And is with child of glorious-great intent
  Can never rest until it forth have brought
  The eternal brood of glory excellent."[311]

One's very soul seems to dilate with that last verse. And here is a
passage which Milton had read and remembered:--

  "And is there care in Heaven? and is there love
    In heavenly spirits to these creatures base,
    That may compassion of their evils move?
    There is: else much more wretched were the case
    Of men than beasts: but O, the exceeding grace
    Of highest God, that loves his creatures so,
    And all his works with mercy doth embrace,
    That blessed angels he sends to and fro,
  To serve to wicked man, to serve his wicked foe!

  "How oft do they their silver bowers leave,
    To come to succor us that succor want!
    How oft do they with golden pinions cleave
    The fleeting skies like flying pursuivant,
    Against foul fiends to aid us militant!
    They for us fight, they watch and duly ward,
    And their bright squadrons round about us plant;
    And all for love and nothing for reward;
  O, why should heavenly God to men have such regard?"[312]

His natural tendency is to shun whatever is sharp and abrupt. He loves to
prolong emotion, and lingers in his honeyed sensations like a bee in the
translucent cup of a lily. So entirely are beauty and delight in it the
native element of Spenser, that, whenever in the "Faery Queen" you come
suddenly on the moral, it gives you a shock of unpleasant surprise, a
kind of grit, as when one's teeth close on a bit of gravel in a dish of
strawberries and cream. He is the most fluent of our poets. Sensation
passing through emotion into revery is a prime quality of his manner. And
to read him puts one in the condition of revery, a state of mind in which
our thoughts and feelings float motionless, as one sees fish do in a
gentle stream, with just enough vibration of their fins to keep
themselves from going down with the current, while their bodies yield
indolently to all its soothing curves. He chooses his language for its
rich canorousness rather than for intensity of meaning. To characterize
his style in a single word, I should call it _costly_. None but the
daintiest and nicest phrases will serve him, and he allures us from one
to the other with such cunning baits of alliteration, and such sweet
lapses of verse, that never any word seems more eminent than the rest,
nor detains the feeling to eddy around it, but you must go on to the end
before you have time to stop and muse over the wealth that has been
lavished on you. But he has characterized and exemplified his own style
better than any description could do:--

  "For round about the walls yclothed were
    With goodly arras of great majesty,
    Woven with gold and silk so close and near
    That the rich metal lurked privily
    As faining to be hid from envious eye;
    Yet here and there and everywhere, unwares
    It showed itself and shone unwillingly
    Like to a discolored snake whose hidden snares
  Through the green grass his long bright-burnished back declares."[313]

And of the lulling quality of his verse take this as a sample:--

  "And, more to lull him in his slumber soft,
    A trickling stream from high rock tumbling down
    And ever drizzling rain upon the loft,
    Mixt with the murmuring wind much like the soun
    Of swarming bees did cast him in a swoon.
    No other noise, nor peoples' troublous cries,
    As still are wont to annoy the walled town,
    Might there be heard: but careless quiet lies
  Wrapt in eternal silence far from enemies."[314]

In the world into which Spenser carries us there is neither time nor
space, or rather it is outside of and independent of them both, and so is
purely ideal, or, more truly, imaginary; yet it is full of form, color,
and all earthly luxury, and so far, if not real, yet apprehensible by the
senses. There are no men and women in it, yet it throngs with airy and
immortal shapes that have the likeness of men and women, and hint at some
kind of foregone reality. Now this place, somewhere between mind and
matter, between soul and sense, between the actual and the possible, is
precisely the region which Spenser assigns (if I have rightly divined
him) to the poetic susceptibility of impression,--

  "To reign in the air from the earth to highest sky."

Underneath every one of the senses lies the soul and spirit of it,
dormant till they are magnetized by some powerful emotion. Then whatever
is imperishable in us recognizes for an instant and claims kindred with
something outside and distinct from it, yet in some inconceivable way a
part of it, that flashes back on it an ideal beauty which impoverishes
all other companionship. This exaltation with which love sometimes
subtilizes the nerves of coarsest men so that they feel and see, not the
thing as it seems to others, but the beauty of it, the joy of it, the
soul of eternal youth that is in it, would appear to have been the normal
condition of Spenser. While the senses of most men live in the cellar,
his "were laid in a large upper chamber which opened toward the

  "His birth was of the womb of morning dew,
  And his conception of the joyous prime."

The very greatest poets (and is there, after all, more than one of them?)
have a way, I admit, of getting within our inmost consciousness and in a
manner betraying us to ourselves. There is in Spenser a remoteness very
different from this, but it is also a seclusion, and quite as agreeable,
perhaps quite as wholesome in certain moods when we are glad to get away
from ourselves and those importunate trifles which we gravely call the
realities of life. In the warm Mediterranean of his mind everything

           "Suffers a sea change
  Into something rich and strange."

He lifts everything, not beyond recognition, but to an ideal distance
where no mortal, I had almost said human, fleck is visible. Instead of
the ordinary bridal gifts, he hallows his wife with an Epithalamion fit
for a conscious goddess, and the "savage soil"[315] of Ireland becomes a
turf of Arcady under her feet, where the merchants' daughters of the town
are no more at home than the angels and the fair shapes of pagan
mythology whom they meet there. He seems to have had a common-sense side
to him, and could look at things (if we may judge by his tract on Irish
affairs) in a practical and even hard way; but the moment he turned
toward poetry he fulfilled the condition which his teacher Plato imposes
on poets, and had not a particle of prosaic understanding left. His
fancy, habitually moving about in worlds not realized, unrealizes
everything at a touch. The critics blame him because in his Prothalamion
the subjects of it enter on the Thames as swans and leave it at Temple
Gardens as noble damsels; but to those who are grown familiar with his
imaginary world such a transformation seems as natural as in the old
legend of the Knight of the Swan.

  "Come now ye damsels, daughters of Delight,
        Help quickly her to dight:
    But first come ye, fair Hours, which were begot
    In Jove's sweet paradise of Day and Night, ...
    And ye three handmaids of the Cyprian Queen,
    The which do still adorn her beauty's pride,
    Help to adorn my beautifulest bride.
           *       *       *       *       *
   "Crown ye god Bacchus with a coronal,
    And Hymen also crown with wreaths of vine,
    And let the Graces dance unto the rest,--
      For they can do it best.
    The whiles the maidens do their carols sing,
  To which the woods shall answer and their echo ring."

The whole Epithalamion is very noble, with an organ-like roll and majesty
of numbers, while it is instinct with the same joyousness which must have
been the familiar mood of Spenser. It is no superficial and tiresome
merriment, but a profound delight in the beauty of the universe and in
that delicately surfaced nature of his which was its mirror and
counterpart. Sadness was alien to him, and at funerals he was, to be
sure, a decorous mourner, as could not fail with so sympathetic a
temperament; but his condolences are graduated to the unimpassioned scale
of social requirement. Even for Sir Philip Sidney his sighs are regulated
by the official standard. It was in an unreal world that his affections
found their true object and vent, and it is in an elegy of a lady whom he
had never known that he puts into the mouth of a husband whom he has
evaporated into a shepherd, the two most naturally pathetic verses he
ever penned:--

  "I hate the day because it lendeth light
  To see all things, but not my love to see."[316]

In the Epithalamion there is an epithet which has been much admired for
its felicitous tenderness:--

  "Behold, whiles she before the altar stands,
  Hearing the holy priest that to her speakes
  And blesseth her with his two _happy_ hands."

But the purely impersonal passion of the artist had already guided him to
this lucky phrase. It is addressed by Holiness--a dame surely as far
abstracted from the enthusiasms of love as we can readily conceive of--to
Una, who, like the visionary Helen of Dr. Faustus, has every charm of
womanhood, except that of being alive as Juliet and Beatrice are.

                            "O happy earth,
  Whereon thy innocent feet do ever tread!"[317]

Can we conceive of Una, the fall of whose foot would be as soft as that
of a rose-leaf upon its mates already fallen,--can we conceive of her
treading anything so sordid? No; it is only on some unsubstantial floor
of dream that she walks securely, herself a dream. And it is only when
Spenser has escaped thither, only when this glamour of fancy has rarefied
his wife till she is grown almost as purely a creature of the imagination
as the other ideal images with which he converses, that his feeling
becomes as nearly passionate--as nearly human, I was on the point of
saying--as with him is possible. I am so far from blaming this idealizing
property of his mind, that I find it admirable in him. It is his quality,
not his defect. Without some touch of it life would be unendurable prose.
If I have called the world to which he transports us a world of
unreality, I have wronged him. It is only a world of unrealism. It is
from pots and pans and stocks and futile gossip and inch-long politics
that he emancipates us, and makes us free of that to-morrow, always
coming and never come, where ideas shall reign supreme.[318] But I am
keeping my readers from the sweetest idealization that love ever

  "Unto this place whenas the elfin knight
    Approached, him seemëd that the merry sound
    Of a shrill pipe, he playing heard on height,
    And many feet fast thumping the hollow ground,
    That through the woods their echo did rebound;
    He nigher drew to wit what it mote be.
    There he a troop of ladies dancing found
    Full merrily and making gladful glee;
  And in the midst a shepherd piping he did see.

  "He durst not enter into the open green
    For dread of them unwares to be descried,
    For breaking of their dance, if he were seen;
    But in the covert of the wood did bide
    Beholding all, yet of them unespied;
    There he did see that pleased so much his sight
    That even he himself his eyes envied,
    A hundred naked maidens lily-white,
  All ranged in a ring and dancing in delight.

  "All they without were ranged in a ring,
    And danced round; but in the midst of them
    Three other ladies did both dance and sing,
    The while the rest them round about did hem,
    And like a garland did in compass stem.
    And in the midst of these same three was placed
    Another damsel, as a precious gem
    Amidst a ring most richly well enchased,
  That with her goodly presence all the rest much graced.

  "Look how the crown which Ariadne wove
    Upon her ivory forehead that same day,
    That Theseus her unto his bridal bore,
    (When the bold Centaurs made that bloody fray,
    With the fierce Lapithes, that did them dismay)
    Being now placëd in the firmament,
    Through the bright heaven doth her beams display,
    And is unto the stars an ornament,
  Which round about her move in order excellent;

  "Such was the beauty of this goodly band,
    Whose sundry parts were here too long to tell,
    But she that in the midst of them did stand,
    Seemed all the rest in beauty to excel,
    Crowned with a rosy garland that right well
    Did her beseem. And, ever as the crew
    About her danced, sweet flowers that far did smell,
    And fragrant odors they upon her threw;
  But most of all those three did her with gifts endue.

  "Those were the graces, Daughters of Delight,
    Handmaids of Venus, which are wont to haunt
    Upon this hill and dance there, day and night;
    Those three to men all gifts of grace do grant
    And all that Venus in herself doth vaunt
    Is borrowed of them; but that fair one
    That in the midst was placed paravant,
    Was she to whom that shepherd piped alone,
  That made him pipe so merrily, as never none.

  "She was, to weet, that jolly shepherd's lass
    Which pipëd there unto that merry rout;
    That jolly shepherd that there pipëd was
    Poor Colin Clout; (who knows not Colin Clout?)
    He piped apace while they him danced about;
    Pipe, jolly shepherd, pipe thou now apace,
    Unto thy love that made thee low to lout;
    Thy love is present there with thee in place,
  Thy love is there advanced to be another Grace."[319]

Is there any passage in any poet that so ripples and sparkles with simple
delight as this? It is a sky of Italian April full of sunshine and the
hidden ecstasy of larks. And we like it all the more that it reminds us
of that passage in his friend Sidney's _Arcadia_, where the shepherd-boy
pipes "as if he would never be old." If we compare it with the mystical
scene in Dante,[320] of which it is a reminiscence, it will seem almost
like a bit of real life; but taken by itself it floats as unconcerned in
our cares and sorrows and vulgarities as a sunset cloud. The sound of
that pastoral pipe seems to come from as far away as Thessaly when Apollo
was keeping sheep there. Sorrow, the great idealizer, had had the
portrait of Beatrice on her easel for years, and every touch of her
pencil transfigured the woman more and more into the glorified saint. But
Elizabeth Nagle was a solid thing of flesh and blood, who would sit down
at meat with the poet on the very day when he had thus beatified her. As
Dante was drawn upward from heaven to heaven by the eyes of Beatrice, so
was Spenser lifted away from the actual by those of that ideal Beauty
whereof his mind had conceived the lineaments in its solitary musings
over Plato, but of whose haunting presence the delicacy of his senses had
already premonished him. The intrusion of the real world upon this
supersensual mood of his wrought an instant disenchantment:--

  "Much wondered Calidore at this strange sight
    Whose like before his eye had never seen,
    And, standing long astonished in sprite
    And rapt with pleasance, wist not what to ween,
    Whether it were the train of Beauty's Queen,
    Or Nymphs, or Fairies, or enchanted show
    With which his eyes might have deluded been,
    Therefore resolving what it was to know,
  Out of the woods he rose and toward them did go.

  "But soon as he appearëd to their view
  They vanished all away out of his sight
  And clean were gone, which way he never knew,
  All save the shepherd, who, for fell despite
  Of that displeasure, broke his bagpipe quite."

Ben Jonson said that "he had consumed a whole night looking to his great
toe, about which he had seen Tartars and Turks, Romans and Carthaginians,
fight in his imagination"; and Coleridge has told us how his "eyes made
pictures when they were shut" This is not uncommon, but I fancy that
Spenser was more habitually possessed by his imagination than is usual
even with poets. His visions must have accompanied him "in glory and in
joy" along the common thoroughfares of life and seemed to him, it may be
suspected, more real than the men and women he met there. His "most fine
spirit of sense" would have tended to keep him in this exalted mood. I
must give an example of the sensuousness of which I have spoken :--

  "And in the midst of all a fountain stood
    Of richest substance that on earth might be,
    So pure and shiny that the crystal flood
    Through every channel running one might see;
    Most goodly it with curious imagery
    Was overwrought, and shapes of naked boys,
    Of which some seemed with lively jollity
    To fly about, playing their wanton toys,
  Whilst others did themselves embay in liquid joys.

  "And over all, of purest gold was spread
    A trail of ivy in his native hue;
    For the rich metal was so colorëd
    That he who did not well avised it view
    Would surely deem it to be ivy true;
    Low his lascivious arms adown did creep
    That themselves dipping in the silver dew
    Their fleecy flowers they tenderly did steep,
  Which drops of crystal seemed for wantonness to weep.

  "Infinite streams continually did well
    Out of this fountain, sweet and fair to see,
    The which into an ample laver fell,
    And shortly grew to so great quantity
    That like a little lake it seemed to be
    Whose depth exceeded not three cubits' height,
    That through the waves one might the bottom see
    All paved beneath with jasper shining bright,
  That seemed the fountain in that sea did sail upright.

  "And all the margent round about was set
    With shady laurel-trees, thence to defend
    The sunny beams which on the billows bet,
    And those which therein bathed mote offend.
    As Guyou happened by the same to wend
    Two naked Damsels he therein espied,
    Which therein bathing seemed to contend
    And wrestle wantonly, ne cared to hide
  Their dainty parts from view of any which them eyed.

  "Sometimes the one would lift the other quite
    Above the waters, and then down again
    Her plunge, as overmasterëd by might,
    Where both awhile would coverëd remain,
    And each the other from to rise restrain;
    The whiles their snowy limbs, as through a veil,
    So through the crystal waves appeared plain:
    Then suddenly both would themselves unhele,
  And the amorous sweet spoils to greedy eyes reveal.

  "As that fair star, the messenger of morn,
    His dewy face out of the sea doth rear;
    Or as the Cyprian goddess, newly born
    Of the ocean's fruitful froth, did first appear;
    Such seemed they, and so their yellow hear
    Crystalline humor dropped down apace.
    Whom such when Guyon saw, he drew him near,
    And somewhat gan relent his earnest pace;
  His stubborn breast gan secret pleasance to embrace.

  "The wanton Maidens him espying, stood
    Gazing awhile at his unwonted guise;
    Then the one herself low duckéd in the flood,
    Abashed that her a stranger did avise;
    But the other rather higher did arise,
    And her two lily paps aloft displayed,
    And all that might his melting heart entice
    To her delights, she unto him bewrayed;
  The rest, hid underneath, him more desirous made.

  "With that the other likewise up arose,
    And her fair locks, which formerly were bound
    Up in one knot, she low adown did loose,
    Which flowing long and thick her clothed around,
    And the ivory in golden mantle gowned:
    So that fair spectacle from him was reft,
    Yet that which reft it no less fair was found;
    So hid in locks and waves from lookers' theft,
  Naught but her lovely face she for his looking left.

  "Withal she laughëd, and she blushed withal,
    That blushing to her laughter gave more grace,
    And laughter to her blushing, as did fall.
           *       *       *       *       *
   "Eftsoones they heard a most melodious sound,
    Of all that mote delight a dainty ear,
    Such as at once might not on living ground,
    Save in this paradise, be heard elsewhere:
    Right hard it was for wight which did it hear
    To read what manner music that mote be;
    For all that pleasing is to living ear
    Was there consorted in one harmony;
  Birds, voices, instruments, winds, waters, all agree.

  "The joyous birds, shrouded in cheerful shade,
    Their notes unto the voice attempered sweet;
    The angelical soft trembling voices made
    To the instruments divine respondence mete;
    The silver-sounding instruments did meet
    With the base murmur of the water's fall;
    The water's fall with difference discreet,
    Now soft, now loud, unto the wind did call;
  The gentle warbling wind low answerëd to all."

Spenser, in one of his letters to Harvey, had said, "Why, a God's name,
may not we, as else the Greeks, have the kingdom of our own language?"
This is in the tone of Bellay, as is also a great deal of what is said in
the epistle prefixed to the "Shepherd's Calendar." He would have been
wiser had he followed more closely Bellay's advice about the introduction
of novel words: "Fear not, then, to innovate somewhat, particularly in a
long poem, with modesty, however, with analogy, and judgment of ear; and
trouble not thyself as to who may think it good or bad, hoping that
posterity will approve it,--she who gives faith to doubtful, light to
obscure, novelty to antique, usage to unaccustomed, and sweetness to
harsh and rude things." Spenser's innovations were by no means always
happy, as not always according with the genius of the language, and they
have therefore not prevailed. He forms English words out of French or
Italian ones, sometimes, I think, on a misapprehension of their true
meaning; nay, he sometimes makes new ones by unlawfully grafting a scion
of Romance on a Teutonic root. His theory, caught from Bellay, of
rescuing good archaisms from unwarranted oblivion, was excellent; not so
his practice of being archaic for the mere sake of escaping from the
common and familiar. A permissible archaism is a word or phrase that has
been supplanted by something less apt, but has not become unintelligible;
and Spenser's often needed a glossary, even in his own day.[321] But he
never endangers his finest passages by any experiments of this kind.
There his language is living, if ever any, and of one substance with the
splendor of his fancy. Like all masters of speech, he is fond of toying
with and teasing it a little; and it may readily be granted that he
sometimes "hunted the letter," as it was called, out of all cry. But even
where his alliteration is tempted to an excess, its prolonged echoes
caress the ear like the fading and gathering reverberations of an Alpine
horn, and one can find in his heart to forgive even such a debauch of
initial assonances as

    "Eftsoones her shallow ship away did slide,
  More swift than swallow shears the liquid sky."

Generally, he scatters them at adroit intervals, reminding us of the
arrangement of voices in an ancient catch, where one voice takes up the
phrase another has dropped, and thus seems to give the web of harmony a
firmer and more continuous texture.

Other poets have held their mirrors up to nature, mirrors that differ
very widely in the truth and beauty of the images they reflect; but
Spenser's is a magic glass in which we see few shadows cast back from
actual life, but visionary shapes conjured up by the wizard's art from
some confusedly remembered past or some impossible future; it is like one
of those still pools of mediaeval legend which covers some sunken city of
the antique world; a reservoir in which all our dreams seem to have been
gathered. As we float upon it, we see that it pictures faithfully enough
the summer-clouds that drift over it, the trees that grow about its
margin, but in the midst of these shadowy echoes of actuality we catch
faint tones of bells that seem blown to us from beyond the horizon of
time, and looking down into the clear depths, catch glimpses of towers
and far-shining knights and peerless dames that waver and are gone. Is it
a world that ever was, or shall be, or can be, or but a delusion?
Spenser's world, real to him, is real enough for us to take a holiday in,
and we may well be content with it when the earth we dwell on is so often
too real to allow of such vacations. It is the same kind of world that
Petrarca's Laura has walked in for five centuries with all ears listening
for the music of her footfall.

The land of Spenser is the land of Dream, but it is also the land of
Rest. To read him is like dreaming awake, without even the trouble of
doing it yourself, but letting it be done for you by the finest dreamer
that ever lived, who knows how to color his dreams like life and make
them move before you in music. They seem singing to you as the sirens to
Guyon, and we linger like him:--

  "O, thou fair son of gentle Faery
    That art in mighty arms most magnified
    Above all knights that ever battle tried,
    O, turn thy rudder hitherward awhile,
    Here may thy storm-beat vessel safely ride,
    This is the port of rest from troublous toil,
  The world's sweet inn from pain and wearisome turmoil.[322]

  "With that the rolling sea, resounding swift
    In his big bass, them fitly answered,
    And on the rock the waves, breaking aloft,
    A solemn mean unto them measured,
    The whiles sweet Zephyrus loud whisteled
    His treble, a strange kind of harmony
    Which Guyon's senses softly tickeled
    That he the boatman bade row easily
  And let him hear some part of their rare melody."

Despite Spenser's instinctive tendency to idealize, and his habit of
distilling out of the actual an ethereal essence in which very little of
the possible seems left, yet his mind, as is generally true of great
poets, was founded on a solid basis of good-sense. I do not know where to
look for a more cogent and at the same time picturesque confutation of
Socialism than in the Second Canto of the Fifth Book. If I apprehend
rightly his words and images, there is not only subtile but profound
thinking here. The French Revolution is prefigured in the well-meaning
but too theoretic giant, and Rousseau's fallacies exposed two centuries
in advance. Spenser was a conscious Englishman to his inmost fibre, and
did not lack the sound judgment in politics which belongs to his race. He
was the more English for living in Ireland, and there is something that
moves us deeply in the exile's passionate cry:--

    "Dear Country! O how dearly dear
  Ought thy remembrance and perpetual band
  Be to thy foster-child that from thy hand
  Did common breath and nouriture receive!
  How brutish is it not to understand
  How much to her we owe that all us gave,
  That gave unto us all whatever good we have!"

His race shows itself also where he tells us that

        "chiefly skill to ride seems a science
  Proper to gentle blood,"

which reminds one of Lord Herbert of Cherbury's saying that the finest
sight God looked down on was a fine man on a fine horse.

Wordsworth, in the supplement to his preface, tells us that the "Faery
Queen" "faded before" Sylvester's translation of Du Bartas. But
Wordsworth held a brief for himself in this case, and is no exception to
the proverb about men who are their own attorneys. His statement is
wholly unfounded. Both poems, no doubt, so far as popularity is
concerned, yielded to the graver interests of the Civil War. But there is
an appreciation much weightier than any that is implied in mere
popularity, and the vitality of a poem is to be measured by the kind as
well as the amount of influence it exerts. Spenser has _coached_ more
poets and more eminent ones than any other writer of English verse. I
need say nothing of Milton, nor of professed disciples like Browne, the
two Fletchers, and More. Oowley tells us that he became "irrecoverably a
poet" by reading the "Faery Queen" when a boy. Dryden, whose case is
particularly in point because he confesses having been seduced by Du
Bartas, tells us that Spenser had been his master in English. He regrets,
indeed, comically enough, that Spenser could not have read the rules of
Bossu, but adds that "no man was ever born with a greater genius or more
knowledge to support it." Pope says, "There is something in Spenser that
pleases one as strongly in one's old age as it did in one's youth. I read
the _Faery Queen_ when I was about twelve with a vast deal of delight;
and I think it gave me as much when I read it over about a year or two
ago." Thomson wrote the most delightful of his poems in the measure of
Spenser; Collins, Gray, and Akenside show traces of him; and in our own
day his influence reappears in Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, and Keats.
Landor is, I believe, the only poet who ever found him tedious. Spenser's
mere manner has not had so many imitators as Milton's, but no other of
our poets has given an impulse, and in the right direction also, to so
many and so diverse minds; above all, no other has given to so many young
souls a consciousness of their wings and a delight in the use of them. He
is a standing protest against the tyranny of Commonplace, and sows the
seeds of a noble discontent with prosaic views of life and the dull uses
to which it may be put.

Three of Spenser's own verses best characterize the feeling his poetry
gives us:--

        "Among wide waves set like a little nest,"
        "Wrapt in eternal silence far from enemies,"
  "The world's sweet inn from pain and wearisome turmoil."

We are wont to apologize for the grossness of our favorite authors
sometimes by saying that their age was to blame and not they; and the
excuse is a good one, for often it is the frank word that shocks us while
we tolerate the thing. Spenser needs no such extenuations. No man can
read the "Faery Queen" and be anything but the better for it. Through
that rude age, when Maids of Honor drank beer for breakfast and Hamlet
could say a gross thing to Ophelia, he passes serenely abstracted and
high, the Don Quixote of poets. Whoever can endure unmixed delight,
whoever can tolerate music and painting and poetry all in one, whoever
wishes to be rid of thought and to let the busy anvils of the brain be
silent for a time, let him read in the "Faery Queen." There is the land
of pure heart's ease, where no ache or sorrow of spirit can enter.


    [263] Though always misapplied in quotation, as if he had used the
    word in that generalized meaning which is common now, but which could
    not without an impossible anachronism have been present to his mind.
    He meant merely freedom from prison.

    [264] In his "Defence of Poesy" he condemns the archaisms and
    provincialisms of the "Shepherd's Calendar."

    [265] "There is, as you must have heard Wordsworth point out, a
    language of pure, intelligible English, which was spoken in Chaucer's
    time, and is spoken in ours; equally understood then and now; and of
    which the Bible is the written and permanent standard, as it has
    undoubtedly been the great means of preserving it." (Southey's Life
    and Correspondence, III. 193, 194.)

    [266] Nash, who has far better claims than Swift to be called the
    English Rabelais, thus at once describes and parodies Harvey's
    hexameters in prose, "that drunken, staggering kind of verse, which
    is all up hill and down hill, like the way betwixt Stamford and
    Beechneld, and goes like a horse plunging through the mire in the
    deep of winter, now soused up to the saddle, and straight aloft on
    his tiptoes." It was a happy thought to satirize (in this inverted
    way) prose written in the form of verse.

    [267] Edmund Bolton in his _Hypercritica_ says, "The works of Sam
    Daniel contained somewhat a flat, but yet withal a very pure and
    copious English, and words as warrantable as any man's, and _fitter
    perhaps for prose than measure_." I have italicized his second
    thought, which chimes curiously with the feeling Daniel leaves in the
    mind. (See Haslewood's Ancient Crit. Essays, Vol. II.) Wordsworth, an
    excellent judge, much admired Daniel's poem to the Countess of

    [268] Mr. Hales, in the excellent memoir of the poet prefixed to the
    Globe edition of his works, puts his birth a year earlier, on the
    strength of a line in the sixtieth sonnet. But it is not established
    that this sonnet was written in 1593, and even if it were, a sonnet
    is not upon oath, and the poet would prefer the round number forty,
    which suited the measure of his verse, to thirty-nine or forty-one,
    which might have been truer to the measure of his days.

    [269] This has been inferred from a passage in one of Gabriel
    Harvey's letters to him. But it would seem more natural, from the
    many allusions in Harvey's pamphlets against Nash, that it was his
    own wrongs which he had in mind, and his self-absorption would take
    it for granted that Spenser sympathized with him in all his grudges.
    Harvey is a remarkable instance of the refining influence of
    classical studies. Amid the pedantic farrago of his omni-sufficiency
    (to borrow one of his own words) we come suddenly upon passages whose
    gravity of sentiment, stateliness of movement, and purity of diction
    remind us of Landor. These lucid intervals in his overweening vanity
    explain and justify the friendship of Spenser. Yet the reiteration of
    emphasis with which he insists on all the world's knowing that Nash
    had called him an ass, probably gave Shakespeare the hint for one of
    the most comic touches in the character of Dogberry.

    [270] The late Major C. G. Halpine, in a very interesting essay,
    makes it extremely probable that Rosalinde is the anagram of Rose
    Daniel, sister of the poet and married to John Florio He leaves
    little doubt, also, that the name of Spenser's wife (hitherto
    unknown) was Elizabeth Nagle. (See "Atlantic Monthly," Vol II 674
    November, 1858.) Mr. Halpine informed me that he found the substance
    of his essay among the papers of his father, the late Rev. N. J.
    Halpine, of Dublin. The latter published in the series of the
    Shakespeare Society a sprightly little tract entitled "Oberon,"
    which, if not quite convincing, is well worth reading for its
    ingenuity and research.

    [271] In his prose tract on Ireland, Spenser, perhaps with some
    memory of Ovid in his mind, derives the Irish mainly from the

    [272] Compare Shakespeare's LXVI. Sonnet.

    [273] This poem, published in 1591, was, Spenser tells us in his
    dedication, "long sithens composed in the raw conceit of my youth."
    But he had evidently retouched it. The verses quoted show a firmer
    hand than is generally seen in it, and we are safe in assuming that
    they were added after his visit to England. Dr. Johnson
    epigrammatized Spenser's indictment into

      "There mark what ills the scholar's life assail,
      Toil, envy, want, the patron and the jail,"

    but I think it loses in pathos more than it gains in point.

    [274] Paradiso, XI. 4-12 Spenser was familiar with the "Divina
    Commedia," though I do not remember that his commentators have
    pointed out his chief obligations to it.

    [275] His own words as reported by Lodowick Bryskett. (Todd's
    Spenser, I. lx.) The whole passage is very interesting as giving us
    the only glimpse we get of the living Spenser in actual contact with
    his fellow-men. It shows him to us, as we could wish to see him,
    surrounded with loving respect, companionable and helpful. Bryskett
    tells us that he was "perfect in the Greek tongue," and "also very
    well read in philosophy both moral and natural." He encouraged
    Bryskett in the study of Greek, and offered to help him in it.
    Comparing the last verse of the above citation of the "Faery Queen"
    with other passages in Spenser, I cannot help thinking that he wrote,
    "do not love amiss."

      "And know, sweet prince, when you shall come to know,
      That 'tis not in the power of kings to raise
      A spirit for verse that is not born thereto;
      Nor are they born in every prince's days"

    _Daniel's Dedic Trag. of "Philotas."_

    [277] Louis XIV. is commonly supposed in some miraculous way to have
    created French literature. He may more truly be said to have
    petrified it so far as his influence went. The French _renaissance_
    in the preceding century was produced by causes similar in essentials
    to those which brought about that in England not long after. The
    _grand siècle_ grew by natural processes of development out of that
    which had preceded it, and which, to the impartial foreigner at
    least, has more flavor, and more French flavor too, than the
    Gallo-Roman usurper that pushed it from its stool. The best modern
    French poetry has been forced to temper its verses in the colder
    natural springs of the ante-classic period.

    [278] In the Elizabethan drama the words "England" and "France" we
    constantly used to signify the kings of those countries.

    [279] I say supposed, for the names of his two sons, Sylvanus and
    Peregrine, indicate that they were born in Ireland, and that Spenser
    continued to regard it as a wilderness and his abode there as exile.
    The two other children are added on the authority of a pedigree drawn
    up by Sir W. Betham and cited in Mr. Hales's Life of Spenser prefixed
    to the Globe edition.

    [280] Ben Jonson told Drummond that one child perished in the flames.
    But he was speaking after an interval of twenty-one years, and, of
    course, from hearsay. Spenser's misery was exaggerated by succeeding
    poets, who used him to point a moral, and from the shelter of his
    tomb launched many a shaft of sarcasm at an unappreciative public.
    Giles Fletcher in his "Purple Island" (a poem which reminds us of the
    "Faery Queen" by the supreme tediousness of its allegory, but in
    nothing else) set the example in the best verse he ever wrote:--

      "Poorly, poor man, he lived; poorly, poor man, he died."

    Gradually this poetical tradition established itself firmly as
    authentic history. Spenser could never have been poor, except by
    comparison. The whole story of his later days has a strong savor of
    legend. He must have had ample warning of Tyrone's rebellion, and
    would probably have sent away his wife and children to Cork, if he
    did not go thither himself. I am inclined to think that he did,
    carrying his papers with him, and among them the two cantos of
    Mutability, first published in 1611. These, it is most likely, were
    the only ones he ever completed, for, with all his abundance, he was
    evidently a laborious finisher. When we remember that ten years were
    given to the elaboration of the first three books, and that five more
    elapsed before the next three were ready, we shall waste no vain
    regrets on the six concluding books supposed to have been lost by the
    carelessness of an imaginary servant on their way from Ireland.

    [281] Sir Philip Sidney did not approve of this. "That same framing
    of his style to an old rustic language I dare not allow, since
    neither Theocritus in Greek, Virgil in Latin, nor Sannazzaro in
    Italian did affect it." ("Defence of Poesy.") Ben Jonson, on the
    other hand, said that Guarini "kept not decorum in making shepherds
    speak as well as himself could." ("Conversations with Drummond.") I
    think Sidney was right, for the poets' Arcadia is a purely ideal
    world, and should be treated accordingly. But whoever looks into the
    glossary appended to the "Calendar" by E.K., will be satisfied that
    Spenser's object was to find unhackneyed and poetical words rather
    than such as should seem more on a level with the speakers. See also
    the "Epistle Dedicatory." I cannot help thinking that E.K. was
    Spenser himself, with occasional interjections of Harvey. Who else
    could have written such English as many passages in this Epistle?

    [282] It was at Penshurst that he wrote the only specimen that has
    come down to us, and bad enough it is. I have said that some of
    Sidney's are pleasing.

    [283] See "My Study Windows," 264 _seqq_.

    [284] Of course _dillies_ and _lilies_ must be read with a slight
    accentuation of the last syllable (permissible then), in order to
    chime with _delice_. In the first line I have put _here_ instead of
    _hether_, which (like other words where _th_ comes between two
    vowels) was then very often a monosyllable, in order to throw the
    accent back more strongly on _bring_, where it belongs. Spenser's
    innovation lies in making his verses by ear instead of on the
    finger-tips, and in valuing the stave more than any of the single
    verses that compose it. This is the secret of his easy superiority to
    all others in the stanza which he composed, and which bears his name.
    Milton (who got more of his schooling in these matters from Spenser
    than anywhere else) gave this principle a greater range, and applied
    it with more various mastery. I have little doubt that the tune of
    the last stanza cited above was clinging in Shakespeare's ear when he
    wrote those exquisite verses in "Midsummer Night's Dream" ("I know a
    bank"), where our grave pentameter is in like manner surprised into a
    lyrical movement. See also the pretty song in the eclogue for August.
    Ben Jonson, too, evidently caught some cadences from Spenser for his
    lyrics. I need hardly say that in those eclogues (May, for example)
    where Spenser thought he was imitating what wiseacres used to call
    the _riding-rhyme_ of Chaucer, he fails most lamentably. He had
    evidently learned to scan his master's verses better when he wrote
    his "Mother Hubberd's Tale."

    [285] Drummond, it will be remarked, speaking from memory, takes
    Cuddy to be Colin. In Milton's "Lycidas" there are reminiscences of
    this eclogue as well as of that for May. The latter are the more
    evident, but I think that Spenser's

      "Cuddie, the praise is better than the price,"

    suggested Milton's

                           "But not the praise,
      Phoebus replied, and touched my trembling ears."

    Shakespeare had read and remembered this pastoral. Compare

      "But, ah, Mecaenas is yclad in clay,
      And great Augustus long ago is dead,
      And all the worthies liggen wrapt in lead,"


      "King Pandion, he is dead;
      All thy friends are lapt in lead."

    It is odd that Shakespeare, in his "lapt in lead," is more Spenserian
    than Spenser himself, from whom he caught this "hunting of the

    [286] "Ruins of Time." It is perhaps not considering too nicely to
    remark how often this image of _wings_ recurred to Spenser's mind. A
    certain aerial latitude was essential to the large circlings of his

    [287] Perhaps his most striking single epithet is the
    "sea-shouldering whales," B. II 12, xxiii. His ear seems to delight
    in prolongations For example, he makes such words as _glorious_,
    _gratious_, _joyeous_, _havior_, _chapelet_ dactyles, and that, not
    at the end of verses, where it would not have been unusual, but in
    the first half of them. Milton contrives a break (a kind of heave, as
    it were) in the uniformity of his verse by a practice exactly the
    opposite of this. He also shuns a _hiatus_ which does not seem to
    have been generally dipleasing to Spenser's ear, though perhaps in
    the compound epithet _bees-alluring_ he intentionally avoids it by
    the plural form.

      "Like as a wayward child, whose sounder sleep
      Is broken with some fearful dream's affright,
      With froward will doth set himself to weep
      Ne can be stilled for all his nurse's might,
      But kicks and squalls and shrieks for fell despight,
      Now scratching her and her loose locks misusing,
      Now seeking darkness and now seeking light,
      Then craving suck, and then the suck refusing."

    He would doubtless have justified himself by the familiar example of
    Homer's comparing Ajax to a donkey in the eleventh book of the
    Illiad. So also in the "Epithalamion" it grates our nerves to hear,

      "Pour not by cups, but by the bellyful,
      Pour out to all that wull."

    Such examples serve to show how strong a dose of Spenser's _aurum
    potabile_ the language needed.

    [289] I could not bring myself to root out this odorous herb-garden,
    though it make my extract too long. It is a pretty reminiscence of
    his master Chaucer, but is also very characteristic of Spenser
    himself. He could not help planting a flower or two among his
    serviceable plants, and after all this abundance he is not satisfied,
    but begins the next stanza with "And whatso _else_."

    [290] Leigh Hunt's Indicator, XVII.

    [291] Ben Jonson told Drummond "that in that paper Sir W. Raleigh had
    of the allegories of his Faery Queen, by the Blatant Beast the
    Puritans were understood." But this is certainly wrong. There were
    very different shades of Puritanism, according to individual
    temperament. That of Winthrop and Higginson had a mellowness of which
    Endicott and Standish were incapable The gradual change of Milton's
    opinions was similar to that which I suppose in Spenser. The passage
    in Mother Hubberd may have been aimed at the Protestant clergy of
    Ireland (for he says much the same thing in his "View of the State of
    Ireland"), but it is general in its terms.

    [292] Two of his eclogues, as I have said, are from Marot, and his
    earliest known verses are translations from Bellay, a poet who was
    charming whenever he had the courage to play truant from a bad
    school. We must not suppose that an analysis of the literature of the
    _demi-monde_ will give us all the elements of the French character.
    It has been both grave and profound; nay, it has even contrived to be
    wise and lively at the same time, a combination so incomprehensible
    by the Teutonic races that they have labelled it levity. It puts them
    out as nature did Fuseli.

    [293] Taste must be partially excepted.  It is remarkable how little
    eating and drinking there is in the "Faery Queen." The only time he
    fairly sets a table is in the house of Malbecco, where it is
    necessary to the conduct of the story. Yet taste is not wholly

      "In her left hand a cup of gold she held,
      And with her right the riper fruit did reach,
      Whose sappy liquor, that with fulness sweld,
      Into her cup she scruzed with dainty breach
      Of her fine fingers without foul impeach,
      That so fair wine-press made the wine more sweet."
      B. II c. xii. 56.

    Taste can hardly complain of unhandsome treatment!

    [294] Had the poet lived longer, he might perhaps have verified his
    friend Raleigh's saying, that "whosoever in writing modern history
    shall follow truth too near the heels, it may haply strike out his
    teeth." The passage is one of the very few disgusting ones in the
    "Faery Queen." Spenser was copying Ariosto; but the Italian poet,
    with the discreeter taste of his race, keeps to generalities. Spenser
    goes into particulars which can only be called nasty. He did this, no
    doubt, to pleasure his mistress, Mary's rival; and this gives us a
    measure of the brutal coarseness of contemporary manner. It becomes
    only the more marvellous that the fine flower of his genius could
    have transmuted the juices of such a soil into the purity and
    sweetness which are its own peculiar properties.

    [295] There is a gleam of humor in one of the couplets of "Mother
    Hubberd's Tale," where the Fox, persuading the Ape that they should
    disguise themselves as discharged soldiers in order to beg the more
    successfully, says,--

      "Be you the soldier, for you likest are
      For manly semblance _and small skill in war."_

    [296] Bunyan probably took the hint of the Giants suicidal offer of
    "knife, halter, or poison," from Spenser's "swords, ropes, poison,"
    in Faery Queen, B. I. c. ix. 1.

    [297] Book II. c. 9.

    [298] See Sidney's "Defence," and Puttenham's "Art of English Poesy,"
    Book I. c. 8.

    [299] We can fancy how he would have done this by Jeremy Taylor, who
    was a kind of Spenser in a cassock.

    [300] Of this he himself gives a striking hint, when speaking in his
    own person he suddenly breaks in on his narrative with the passionate

      "Ah, dearest God, me grant I dead be not defouled."

    _Faery Queen_, B. I. c. x. 43.

    [301] Was not this picture painted by Paul Veronese, for example?

      "Arachne figured how Jove did abuse
      Europa like a bull, and on his back
      Her through the sea did bear: ...
      She seemed still back unto the land to look,
      And her playfellows' aid to call, and fear
      The dashing of the waves, that up she took
      Her dainty feet, and garments gathered near....
      Before the bull she pictured winged Love,
      With his young brother Sport, ...
      And many nymphs about them flocking round,
      And many Tritons which their horns did sound."

    _Muiopotmos_, 281-296.

    Spenser begins a complimentary sonnet prefixed to the "Commonwealth
    and Government of Venice" (1599) with this beautiful verse,

      "Fair Venice, flower of the last world's delight."

    Perhaps we should read "lost"?

    [302] Marlowe's "Tamburlaine," Part I. Act V. 2.

      Grayheaded Thought, nor much nor little, may
      Take up its lodging here in any heart;
      Unease nor Lack can enter at this door;
      But here dwells full-horned Plenty evermore.

    _Orl. Fur._, e. vi. 78.

    [304] B. I. c. iii. 7. Leigh Hunt, one of the most sympathetic of
    critics, has remarked the passionate change from the third to the
    first person in the last two verses.

    [305] B. II. c. viii. 3.

    [306] Observations on Faery Queen, Vol. I pp. 158, 159. Mr. Hughes
    also objects to Spenser's measure, that it is "closed always by a
    fullstop, in the same place, by which every stanza is made as it were
    a distinct paragraph." (Todd's Spenser, II. xli.) But he could hardly
    have read the poem attentively, for there are numerous instances to
    the contrary. Spenser was a consummate master of versification, and
    not only did Marlowe and Shakespeare learn of him, but I have little
    doubt that, but for the "Faery Queen," we should never have had the
    varied majesty of Milton's blank verse.

    [307] As where Dr. Warton himself says:--

      "How nearly had my spirit past,
        Till stopt by Metcalf's skilful hand,
      To death's dark regions wide and waste
        And the black river's mournful strand,
      Or to," etc.,

    to the end of the next stanza. That is, I had died but for Dr.
    Metcalf 's boluses.

    [308] Iliad, XVII. 55 _seqq_. Referred to in Upton's note on Faery
    Queen, B. I. c. vii. 32. Into what a breezy couplet trailing off with
    an alexandrine has Homer's [Greek: pnoiai pantoion anemon] expanded!
    Chaplin unfortunately has slurred this passage in his version, and
    Pope _tittivated_ it more than usual in his. I have no other
    translation at hand.   Marlowe was so taken by this passage in
    Spenser that he put it bodily into his _Tamburlaine_.

    [309] Inferno, XXIV. 46-52.

      "For sitting upon down,
      Or under quilt, one cometh not to fame,
      Withouten which whoso his life consumeth
      Such vestige leaveth of himself on earth
      As smoke in air or in the water foam."


    It shows how little Dante was read during the last century that none
    of the commentators on Spenser notice his most important obligations
    to the great Tuscan.

    [310] Faery Queen, B. II. c. iii. 40, 41.

    [311] Ibid., B. I. c. v. 1.

    [312] Ibid., B. II. c. viii. 1,2.

    [313] B. III. c. xi. 28.

    [314] B. I. c. i. 41.

    [315] This phrase occurs in the sonnet addressed to the Earl of
    Ormond and in that to Lord Grey de Wilton in the series prefixed to
    the "Faery Queen". These sonnets are of a much stronger build than
    the "Amoretti", and some of them (especially that to Sir John Norris)
    recall the firm tread of Milton's, though differing in structure.

    [316] Daphnaida, 407, 408.

    [317] Faery Queen, B. I. c. x. 9.

    [318] Strictly taken, perhaps his world is not _much_ more imaginary
    than that of other epic poets, Homer (in the Iliad) included. He who
    is familiar with mediaeval epics will be extremely cautious in
    drawing inferences as to contemporary manners from Homer. He
    evidently _archaizes_ like the rest.

    [319] Faery Queen, B. VI. c. x. 10-16.

    [320] Purgatorio, XXIX., XXX.

    [321] I find a goodly number of Yankeeisms in him, such as _idee_
    (not as a rhyme); but the oddest is his twice spelling _dew deow_,
    which is just as one would spell it who wished to phonetize its sound
    in rural New England.

    [322] This song recalls that in Dante's Purgatorio (XIX. 19--24), in
    which the Italian tongue puts forth all its siren allurements.
    Browne's beautiful verses ("Turn, hither turn your winged pines")
    were suggested by these of Spenser. It might almost seem as if
    Spenser had here, in his usual way, expanded the sweet old verses:--

      "Merry sungen the monks binnen Ely
      When Knut king rew thereby;
      'Roweth knightes near the loud,
      That I may hear these monkes song.'"


A generation has now passed away since Wordsworth was laid with the
family in the churchyard at Grasmere.[323] Perhaps it is hardly yet time
to take a perfectly impartial measure of his value as a poet. To do this
is especially hard for those who are old enough to remember the last shot
which the foe was sullenly firing in that long war of critics which began
when he published his manifesto as Pretender, and which came to a pause
rather than end when they flung up their caps with the rest at his final
coronation. Something of the intensity of the _odium theologicum_ (if
indeed the _aestheticum_ be not in these days the more bitter of the two)
entered into the conflict. The Wordsworthians were a sect, who, if they
had the enthusiasm, had also not a little of the exclusiveness and
partiality to which sects are liable. The verses of the master had for
them the virtue of religious canticles stimulant of zeal and not amenable
to the ordinary tests of cold-blooded criticism. Like the hymns of the
Huguenots and Covenanters, they were songs of battle no less than of
worship, and the combined ardors of conviction and conflict lent them a
fire that was not naturally their own. As we read them now, that virtue
of the moment is gone out of them, and whatever of Dr. Wattsiness there
is gives us a slight shock of disenchantment. It is something like the
difference between the _Marseillaise_ sung by armed propagandists on the
edge of battle, or by Brissotins in the tumbrel, and the words of it read
coolly in the closet, or recited with the factitious frenzy of Thérèse.
It was natural in the early days of Wordsworth's career to dwell most
fondly on those profounder qualities to appreciate which settled in some
sort the measure of a man's right to judge of poetry at all. But now we
must admit the shortcomings, the failures, the defects, as no less
essential elements in forming a sound judgment as to whether the seer and
artist were so united in him as to justify the claim first put in by
himself and afterwards maintained by his sect to a place beside the few
great poets who exalt men's minds, and give a right direction and safe
outlet to their passions through the imagination, while insensibly
helping them toward balance of character and serenity of judgment by
stimulating their sense of proportion, form, and the nice adjustment of
means to ends. In none of our poets has the constant propulsion of an
unbending will, and the concentration of exclusive, if I must not say
somewhat narrow, sympathies done so much to make the original endowment
of nature effective, and in none accordingly does the biography throw so
much light on the works, nor enter so largely into their composition as
an element whether of power or of weakness. Wordsworth never saw, and I
think never wished to see, beyond the limits of his own consciousness and
experience. He early conceived himself to be, and through life was
confirmed by circumstances in the faith that he was, a "dedicated
spirit,"[324] a state of mind likely to further an intense but at the
same time one-sided development of the intellectual powers. The solitude
in which the greater part of his mature life was passed, while it
doubtless ministered to the passionate intensity of his musings upon man
and nature, was, it may be suspected, harmful to him as an artist, by
depriving him of any standard of proportion outside himself by which to
test the comparative value of his thoughts, and by rendering him more and
more incapable of that urbanity of mind which could be gained only by
commerce with men more nearly on his own level, and which gives tone
without lessening individuality. Wordsworth never quite saw the
distinction between the eccentric and the original. For what we call
originality seems not so much anything peculiar, much less anything odd,
but that quality in a man which touches human nature at most points of
its circumference, which reinvigorates the consciousness of our own
powers by recalling and confirming our own unvalued sensations and
perceptions, gives classic shape to our own amorphous imaginings, and
adequate utterance to our own stammering conceptions or emotions. The
poet's office is to be a Voice, not of one crying in the wilderness to a
knot of already magnetized acolytes, but singing amid the throng of men
and lifting their common aspirations and sympathies (so first clearly
revealed to themselves) on the wings of his song to a purer ether and a
wider reach of view. We cannot, if we would, read the poetry of
Wordsworth as mere poetry; at every other page we find ourselves
entangled in a problem of aesthetics. The world-old question of matter
and form of whether nectar _is_ of precisely the same flavor when served
to us from a Grecian chalice or from any jug of ruder pottery, comes up
for decision anew. The Teutonic nature has always shown a sturdy
preference of the solid bone with a marrow of nutritious moral to any
shadow of the same on the flowing mirror of sense. Wordsworth never lets
us long forget the deeply rooted stock from which he sprang,--_vien ben
dà lui_.

       *       *       *       *       *

William Wordsworth was born at Cockermouth in Cumberland on the 7th of
April, 1770, the second of five children. His father was John Wordsworth,
an attorney-at-law, and agent of Sir James Lowther, afterwards first Earl
of Lonsdale. His mother was Anne Cookson, the daughter of a mercer in
Penrith. His paternal ancestors had been settled immemorially at
Penistone in Yorkshire, whence his grandfather had emigrated to
Westmoreland. His mother, a woman, of piety and wisdom, died in March,
1778, being then in her thirty-second year. His father, who never
entirely cast off the depression occasioned by her death, survived her
but five years, dying in December, 1783, when William was not quite
fourteen years old.

The poet's early childhood was passed partly at Cockermouth, and partly
with his maternal grandfather at Penrith. His first teacher appears to
have been Mrs. Anne Birkett, a kind of Shenstone's Schoolmistress, who
practised the memory of her pupils, teaching them chiefly by rote, and
not endeavoring to cultivate their reasoning faculties, a process by
which children are apt to be converted from natural logicians into
impertinent sophists. Among his schoolmates here was Mary Hutchinson, who
afterwards became his wife.

In 1778 he was sent to a school founded by Edwin Sandys, Archbishop of
York, in the year 1585, at Hawkshead in Lancashire. Hawkshead is a small
market-town in the vale of Esthwaite, about a third of a mile northwest
of the lake. Here Wordsworth passed nine years, among a people of simple
habits and scenery of a sweet and pastoral dignity. His earliest
intimacies were with the mountains, lakes, and streams of his native
district, and the associations with which his mind was stored during its
most impressible period were noble and pure. The boys were boarded among
the dames of the village, thus enjoying a freedom from scholastic
restraints, which could be nothing but beneficial in a place where the
temptations were only to sports that hardened the body, while they
fostered a love of nature in the spirit and habits of observation in the
mind. Wordsworth's ordinary amusements here were hunting and fishing,
rowing, skating, and long walks around the lake and among the hills, with
an occasional scamper on horseback.[325] His life as a school-boy was
favorable also to his poetic development, in being identified with that
of the people among whom he lived. Among men of simple habits, and where
there are small diversities of condition, the feelings and passions are
displayed with less restraint, and the young poet grew acquainted with
that primal human basis of character where the Muse finds firm foothold,
and to which he ever afterward cleared his way through all the overlying
drift of conventionalism. The dalesmen were a primitive and hardy race
who kept alive the traditions and often the habits of a more picturesque
time. A common level of interests and social standing fostered
unconventional ways of thought and speech, and friendly human sympathies.
Solitude induced reflection, a reliance of the mind on its own resources,
and individuality of character. Where everybody knew everybody, and
everybody's father had known everybody's father, the interest of man in
man was not likely to become a matter of cold hearsay and distant report
When death knocked at any door in the hamlet, there was an echo from
every fireside, and a wedding dropt its white flowers at every threshold.
There was not a grave in the churchyard but had its story, not a crag or
glen or aged tree untouched with some ideal hue of legend It was here
that Wordsworth learned that homely humanity which gives such depth and
sincerity to his poems. Travel, society, culture, nothing could
obliterate the deep trace of that early training which enables him to
speak directly to the primitive instincts of man. He was apprenticed
early to the difficult art of being himself.

At school he wrote some task-verses on subjects imposed by the master,
and also some voluntaries of his own, equally undistinguished by any
peculiar merit. But he seems to have made up his mind as early as in his
fourteenth year to become a poet.[326] "It is recorded," says his
biographer vaguely, "that the poet's father set him very early to learn
portions of the best English poets by heart, so that at an early age he
could repeat large portions of Shakespeare, Milton, and Spenser."[327]

The great event of Wordsworth's school days was the death of his father,
who left what may be called a hypothetical estate, consisting chiefly of
claims upon the first Earl of Lonsdale, the payment of which, though
their justice was acknowledged, that nobleman contrived in some
unexplained way to elude so long as he lived. In October, 1787, he left
school for St. John's College, Cambridge. He was already, we are told, a
fair Latin scholar, and had made some progress in mathematics. The
earliest books we hear of his reading were Don Quixote, Gil Blas,
Gulliver's Travels, and the Tale of a Tub; but at school he had also
become familiar with the works of some English poets, particularly
Goldsmith and Gray, of whose poems he had learned many by heart. What is
more to the purpose, he had become, without knowing it, a lover of Nature
in all her moods, and the same mental necessities of a solitary life
which compel men to an interest in the transitory phenomena of scenery,
had made him also studious of the movements of his own mind, and the
mutual interaction and dependence of the external and internal universe.

Doubtless his early orphanage was not without its effect in confirming a
character naturally impatient of control, and his mind, left to itself,
clothed itself with an indigenous growth, which grew fairly and freely,
unstinted by the shadow of exotic plantations. It has become a truism,
that remarkable persons have remarkable mothers; but perhaps this is
chiefly true of such as have made themselves distinguished by their
industry, and by the assiduous cultivation of faculties in themselves of
only an average quality. It is rather to be noted how little is known of
the parentage of men of the first magnitude, how often they seem in some
sort foundlings, and how early an apparently adverse destiny begins the
culture of those who are to encounter and master great intellectual or
spiritual experiences.

Of his disposition as a child little is known, but that little is
characteristic. He himself tells us that he was "stiff, moody, and of
violent temper." His mother said of him that he was the only one of her
children about whom she felt any anxiety,--for she was sure that he would
be remarkable for good or evil. Once, in resentment at some fancied
injury, he resolved to kill himself but his heart failed him. I suspect
that few boys of passionate temperament have escaped these momentary
suggestions of despairing helplessness. "On another occasion," he says,
"while I was at my grandfather's house at Penrith, along with my eldest
brother Richard we were whipping tops together in the long drawing-room,
on which the carpet was only laid down on particular occasions. The walls
were hung round with family pictures, and I said to my brother, 'Dare you
strike your whip through that old lady's petticoat?' He replied, 'No, I
won't.' 'Then,' said I, 'here goes,' and I struck my lash through her
hooped petticoat, for which, no doubt, though I have forgotten it, I was
properly punished. But, possibly from some want of judgment in
punishments inflicted, I had become perverse and obstinate in defying
chastisement, and rather proud of it than otherwise." This last anecdote
is as happily typical as a bit of Greek mythology which always prefigured
the lives of heroes in the stories of their childhood. Just so do we find
him afterward striking his defiant lash through the hooped petticoat of
the artificial style of poetry, and proudly unsubdued by the punishment
of the Reviewers.

Of his college life the chief record is to be found in "The Prelude." He
did not distinguish himself as a scholar, and if his life had any
incidents, they were of that interior kind which rarely appear in
biography, though they may be of controlling influence upon the life. He
speaks of reading Chaucer, Spenser, and Milton while at Cambridge,[328]
but no reflection from them is visible in his earliest published poems.
The greater part of his vacations was spent in his native Lake-country,
where his only sister, Dorothy, was the companion of his rambles. She was
a woman of large natural endowments, chiefly of the receptive kind, and
had much to do with the formation and tendency of the poet's mind. It was
she who called forth the shyer sensibilities of his nature, and taught an
originally harsh and austere imagination to surround itself with fancy
and feeling, as the rock fringes itself with a sun-spray of ferns. She
was his first public, and belonged to that class of prophetically
appreciative temperaments whose apparent office it is to cheer the early
solitude of original minds with messages from the future. Through the
greater part of his life she continued to be a kind of poetical
conscience to him.

Wordsworth's last college vacation was spent in a foot journey upon the
Continent (1790). In January, 1791, he took his degree of B.A., and left
Cambridge. During the summer of this year he visited Wales, and, after
declining to enter upon holy orders under the plea that he was not of age
for ordination, went over to France in November, and remained during the
winter at Orleans. Here he became intimate with the republican General
Beaupuis, with whose hopes and aspirations he ardently sympathized. In
the spring of 1792 he was at Blois, and returned thence to Orleans, which
he finally quitted in October for Paris. He remained here as long as he
could with safety, and at the close of the year went back to England,
thus, perhaps, escaping the fate which soon after overtook his friends
the Brissotins.

As hitherto the life of Wordsworth may be called a fortunate one, not
less so in the training and expansion of his faculties was this period of
his stay in France. Born and reared in a country where the homely and
familiar nestles confidingly amid the most savage and sublime forms of
nature, he had experienced whatever impulses the creative faculty can
receive from mountain and cloud and the voices of winds and waters, but
he had known man only as an actor in fireside histories and tragedies,
for which the hamlet supplied an ample stage. In France he first felt the
authentic beat of a nation's heart; he was a spectator at one of those
dramas where the terrible footfall of the Eumenides is heard nearer and
nearer in the pauses of the action; and he saw man such as he can only be
when he is vibrated by the orgasm of a national emotion. He sympathized
with the hopes of France and of mankind deeply, as was fitting in a young
man and a poet; and if his faith in the gregarious advancement of men was
afterward shaken, he only held the more firmly by his belief in the
individual, and his reverence for the human as something quite apart from
the popular and above it. Wordsworth has been unwisely blamed, as if he
had been recreant to the liberal instincts of his youth. But it was
inevitable that a genius so regulated and metrical as his, a mind which
always compensated itself for its artistic radicalism by an involuntary
leaning toward external respectability, should recoil from whatever was
convulsionary and destructive in politics, and above all in religion. He
reads the poems of Wordsworth without understanding, who does not find in
them the noblest incentives to faith in man and the grandeur of his
destiny, founded always upon that personal dignity and virtue, the
capacity for whose attainment alone makes universal liberty possible and
assures its permanence. He was to make men better by opening to them the
sources of an inalterable well-being; to make them free, in a sense
higher than political, by showing them that these sources are within
them, and that no contrivance of man can permanently emancipate narrow
natures and depraved minds. His politics were always those of a poet,
circling in the larger orbit of causes and principles, careless of the
transitory oscillation of events.

The change in his point of view (if change there was) certainly was
complete soon after his return from France, and was perhaps due in part
to the influence of Burke.

  "While he [Burke] forewarns, denounces, launches forth,
  Against all systems built on abstract rights,
  Keen ridicule; the majesty proclaims
  Of institutes and laws hallowed by time;
  Declares the vital power of social ties
  Endeared by custom; and with high disdain,
  Exploding upstart theory, insists
  Upon the allegiance to which men are born.
  .... Could a youth, and one
  In ancient story versed, whose breast hath heaved
  Under the weight of classic eloquence,
  Sit, see, and hear, unthankful, uninspired?"[329]

He had seen the French for a dozen years eagerly busy in tearing up
whatever had roots in the past, replacing the venerable trunks of
tradition and orderly growth with liberty-poles, then striving vainly to
piece together the fibres they had broken, and to reproduce artificially
that sense of permanence and continuity which is the main safeguard of
vigorous self-consciousness in a nation. He became a Tory through
intellectual conviction, retaining, I suspect, to the last, a certain
radicalism of temperament and instinct. Haydon tells us that in 1809 Sir
George Beaumont said to him and Wilkie, "Wordsworth may perhaps walk in;
if he do I caution you both against his terrific democratic notions"; and
it must have been many years later that Wordsworth himself told Crabb
Eobinson, "I have no respect whatever for Whigs, but I have a great deal
of the Chartist in me." In 1802, during his tour in Scotland, he
travelled on Sundays as on the other days of the week.[330]

He afterwards became a theoretical churchgoer. "Wordsworth defended
earnestly the Church establishment. He even said he would shed his blood
for it. Nor was he disconcerted by a laugh raised against him on account
of his having confessed that he knew not when he had been in a church in
his own country. 'All our ministers are so vile,' said he. The mischief
of allowing the clergy to depend on the caprice of the multitude he
thought more than outweighed all the evils of an establishment."[331] In
December, 1792, Wordsworth had returned to England, and in the following
year published "Descriptive Sketches" and the "Evening Walk." He did
this, as he says in one of his letters, to show that, although he had
gained no honors at the University, he _could_ do something. They met
with no great success, and he afterward corrected them so much as to
destroy all their interest as juvenile productions, without communicating
to them any of the merits of maturity. In commenting, sixty years
afterward, on a couplet in one of these poems,--

  "And, fronting the bright west, the oak entwines
  Its darkening boughs and leaves in stronger lines,"--

he says: "This is feebly and imperfectly expressed, but I recollect
distinctly the very spot where this first struck me.... The moment was
important in my poetical history; for I date from it my consciousness of
the infinite variety of natural appearances which had been unnoticed by
the poets of any age or country, so far as I was acquainted with them,
and I made a resolution to supply in some degree the deficiency."

It is plain that Wordsworth's memory was playing him a trick here, misled
by that instinct (it may almost be called) of consistency which leads men
first to desire that their lives should have been without break or seam,
and then to believe that they have been such. The more distant ranges of
perspective are apt to run together in retrospection. How far could
Wordsworth at fourteen have been acquainted with the poets of all ages
and countries,--he who to his dying day could not endure to read Goethe
and knew nothing of Calderon? It seems to me rather that the earliest
influence traceable in him is that of Goldsmith, and later of Cowper, and
it is, perhaps, some slight indication of its having already begun that
his first volume of "Descriptive Sketches" (1793) was put forth by
Johnson, who was Cowper's publisher. By and by the powerful impress of
Burns is seen both in the topics of his verse and the form of his
expression. But whatever their ultimate effect upon his style, certain it
is that his juvenile poems were clothed in the conventional habit of the
eighteenth century. "The first verses from which he remembered to have
received great pleasure were Miss Carter's 'Poem on Spring,' a poem in
the six-line stanza which he was particularly fond of and had composed
much in,--for example, 'Ruth.'"  This is noteworthy, for Wordsworth's
lyric range, especially so far as tune is concerned, was always narrow.
His sense of melody was painfully dull, and some of his lighter
effusions, as he would have called them, are almost ludicrously wanting
in grace of movement. We cannot expect in a modern poet the thrush-like
improvisation, the impulsively bewitching cadences, that charm us in our
Elizabethan drama and whose last warble died with Herrick; but Shelley,
Tennyson, and Browning have shown that the simple pathos of their music
was not irrecoverable, even if the artless poignancy of their phrase be
gone beyond recall. We feel this lack in Wordsworth all the more keenly
if we compare such verses as

  "Like an army defeated
  The snow hath retreated
  And now doth fare ill
  On the top of the bare hill,"

with Goethe's exquisite _Ueber allen Gipfeln ist Ruh_, in which the lines
(as if shaken down by a momentary breeze of emotion) drop lingeringly one
after another like blossoms upon turf.

"The Evening Walk" and "Descriptive Sketches" show plainly the prevailing
influence of Goldsmith, both in the turn of thought and the mechanism of
the verse. They lack altogether the temperance of tone and judgment in
selection which have made the "Traveller" and the "Deserted Village,"
perhaps, the most truly classical poems in the language. They bear here
and there, however, the unmistakable stamp of the maturer Wordsworth, not
only in a certain blunt realism, but in the intensity and truth of
picturesque epithet. Of this realism, from which Wordsworth never wholly
freed himself, the following verses may suffice as a specimen. After
describing the fate of a chamois-hunter killed by falling from a crag,
his fancy goes back to the bereaved wife and son:--

  "Haply that child in fearful doubt may gaze,
  Passing his father's bones in future days,
  Start at the reliques of that very thigh
  On which so oft he prattled when a boy."

In these poems there is plenty of that "poetic diction" against which
Wordsworth was to lead the revolt nine years later.

  "To wet the peak's impracticable sides
  He opens of his feet the sanguine tides,
  Weak and more weak the issuing current eyes
  Lapped by the panting tongue of thirsty skies."

Both of these passages have disappeared from the revised edition, as well
as some curious outbursts of that motiveless despair which Byron made
fashionable not long after. Nor are there wanting touches of fleshliness
which strike us oddly as coming from Wordsworth.[332]

  "Farewell! those forms that in thy noontide shade
  Rest near their little plots of oaten glade,
  Those steadfast eyes that beating breasts inspire
  To throw the 'sultry ray' of young Desire;
  Those lips whose tides of fragrance come and go
  Accordant to the cheek's unquiet glow;
  Those shadowy breasts in love's soft light arrayed,
  And rising by the moon of passion swayed."

The political tone is also mildened in the revision, as where he changes
"despot courts" into "tyranny." One of the alterations is interesting. In
the "Evening Walk" he had originally written

  "And bids her soldier come her wars to share
  Asleep on Minden's charnel hill afar."

An _erratum_ at the end directs us to correct the second verse, thus:--

  "Asleep on Bunker's charnel hill afar."[333]

Wordsworth somewhere rebukes the poets for making the owl a bodeful bird.
He had himself done so in the "Evening Walk," and corrects his epithets
to suit his later judgment, putting "gladsome" for "boding," and

  "The tremulous sob of the complaining owl"


  "The sportive outcry of the mocking owl."

Indeed, the character of the two poems is so much changed in the revision
as to make the dates appended to them a misleading anachronism. But there
is one truly Wordsworthian passage which already gives us a glimpse of
that passion with which he was the first to irradiate descriptive poetry
and which sets him on a level with Turner.

  "'Tis storm; and hid in mist from hour to hour
  All day the floods a deepening murmur pour:
  The sky is veiled and every cheerful sight;
  Dark is the region as with coming night;
  But what a sudden burst of overpowering light!
  Triumphant on the bosom of the storm,
  Glances the fire-clad eagle's wheeling form;
  Eastward, in long prospective glittering shine
  The wood-crowned cliffs that o'er the lake recline;
  Those eastern cliffs a hundred streams unfold,
  At once to pillars turned that flame with gold;
  Behind his sail the peasant tries to shun
  The West that burns like one dilated sun,
  Where in a mighty crucible expire
  The mountains, glowing hot like coals of fire."

Wordsworth has made only one change in these verses, and that for the
worse, by substituting "glorious" (which was already implied in "glances"
and "fire-clad") for "wheeling." In later life he would have found it
hard to forgive the man who should have made cliffs recline over a lake.
On the whole, what strikes us as most prophetic in these poems is their
want of continuity, and the purple patches of true poetry on a texture of
unmistakable prose; perhaps we might add the incongruous clothing of
prose thoughts in the ceremonial robes of poesy.

During the same year (1793) he wrote, but did not publish, a political
tract, in which he avowed himself opposed to monarchy and to the
hereditary principle, and desirous of a republic, if it could be had
without a revolution. He probably continued to be all his life in favor
of that ideal republic "which never was on laud or sea," but fortunately
he gave up politics that he might devote himself to his own nobler
calling, to which politics are subordinate, and for which he found
freedom enough in England as it was.[334] Dr. Wordsworth admits that his
uncle's opinions were democratical so late as 1802. I suspect that they
remained so in an esoteric way to the end of his days. He had himself
suffered by the arbitrary selfishness of a great landholder, and he was
born and bred in a part of England where there is a greater social
equality than elsewhere. The look and manner of the Cumberland people
especially are such as recall very vividly to a New-Englander the
associations of fifty years ago, ere the change from New England to New
Ireland had begun. But meanwhile, Want, which makes no distinctions of
Monarchist or Republican, was pressing upon him. The debt due to his
father's estate had not been paid, and Wordsworth was one of those rare
idealists who esteem it the first duty of a friend of humanity to live
for, and not on, his neighbor. He at first proposed establishing a
periodical journal to be called "The Philanthropist," but luckily went no
further with it, for the receipts from an organ of opinion which
professed republicanism, and at the same time discountenanced the plans
of all existing or defunct republicans, would have been necessarily
scanty. There being no appearance of any demand, present or prospective,
for philanthropists, he tried to get employment as correspondent of a
newspaper. Here also it was impossible that he should succeed; he was too
great to be merged in the editorial We, and had too well defined a
private opinion on all subjects to be able to express that average of
public opinion which constitutes able editorials. But so it is that to
the prophet in the wilderness the birds of ill omen are already on the
wing with food from heaven; and while Wordsworth's relatives were getting
impatient at what they considered his waste of time, while one thought he
had gifts enough to make a good parson, and another lamented the rare
attorney that was lost in him,[335] the prescient muse guided the hand of
Raisley Calvert while he wrote the poet's name in his will for a legacy
of £900. By the death of Calvert, in 1795, this timely help came to
Wordsworth at the turning point of his life and made it honest for him to
write poems that will never die, instead of theatrical critiques as
ephemeral as play bills, or leaders that led only to oblivion.

In the autumn of 1795 Wordsworth and his sister took up their abode at
Racedown Lodge, near Crewkerne, in Dorsetshire. Here nearly two years
were passed, chiefly in the study of poetry, and Wordsworth to some
extent recovered from the fierce disappointment of his political dreams,
and regained that equable tenor of mind which alone is consistent with a
healthy productiveness. Here Coleridge, who had contrived to see
something more in the "Descriptive Sketches" than the public had
discovered there, first made his acquaintance. The sympathy and
appreciation of an intellect like Coleridge's supplied him with that
external motive to activity which is the chief use of popularity, and
justified to him his opinion of his own powers It was now that the
tragedy of "The Borderers" was for the most part written, and that plan
of the "Lyrical Ballads" suggested which gave Wordsworth a clew to lead
him out of the metaphysical labyrinth in which he was entangled. It was
agreed between the two young friends, that Wordsworth was to be a
philosophic poet, and, by a good fortune uncommon to such conspiracies,
Nature had already consented to the arrangement. In July, 1797, the two
Wordsworths removed to Allfoxden in Somersetshire, that they might be
near Coleridge, who in the mean while had married and settled himself at
Nether-Stowey. In November "The Borderers" was finished, and Wordsworth
went up to London with his sister to offer it for the stage. The good
Genius of the poet again interposing, the play was decisively rejected,
and Wordsworth went back to Allfoxden, himself the hero of that first
tragi-comedy so common to young authors.

The play has fine passages, but is as unreal as Jane Eyre. It shares with
many of Wordsworth's narrative poems the defect of being written to
illustrate an abstract moral theory, so that the overbearing thesis is
continually thrusting the poetry to the wall. Applied to the drama, such
predestination makes all the personages puppets and disenables them for
being characters. Wordsworth seems to have felt this when he published
"The Borderers" in 1842, and says in a note that it was "at first written
... without any view to its exhibition upon the stage." But he was
mistaken. The contemporaneous letters of Coleridge to Cottle show that he
was long in giving up the hope of getting it accepted by some theatrical

He now applied himself to the preparation of the first volume of the
"Lyrical Ballads" for the press, and it was published toward the close of
1798. The book, which contained also "The Ancient Mariner" of Coleridge,
attracted little notice, and that in great part contemptuous. When Mr.
Cottle, the publisher, shortly after sold his copyrights to Mr. Longman,
that of the "Lyrical Ballads" was reckoned at _zero_, and it was at last
given up to the authors. A few persons were not wanting however, who
discovered the dawn-streaks of a new day in that light which the critical
fire-brigade thought to extinguish with a few contemptuous spurts of cold

Lord Byron describes himself as waking one morning and finding himself
famous, and it is quite an ordinary fact, that a blaze may be made with a
little saltpetre that will be stared at by thousands who would have
thought the sunrise tedious. If we may believe his biographer, Wordsworth
might have said that he awoke and found himself in-famous, for the
publication of the "Lyrical Ballads" undoubtedly raised him to the
distinction of being the least popular poet in England. Parnassus has two
peaks; the one where improvising poets cluster; the other where the
singer of deep secrets sits alone,--a peak veiled sometimes from the
whole morning of a generation by earth-born mists and smoke of kitchen
fires, only to glow the more consciously at sunset, and after nightfall
to crown itself with imperishable stars. Wordsworth had that self-trust
which in the man of genius is sublime, and in the man of talent
insufferable. It mattered not to him though all the reviewers had been in
a chorus of laughter or conspiracy of silence behind him. He went quietly
over to Germany to write more Lyrical Ballads, and to begin a poem on the
growth of his own mind, at a time when there were only two men in the
world (himself and Coleridge) who were aware that he had one, or at least
one anywise differing from those mechanically uniform ones which are
stuck drearily, side by side, in the great pin-paper of society.

In Germany Wordsworth dined in company with Klopstock, and after dinner
they had a conversation, of which Wordsworth took notes. The respectable
old poet, who was passing the evening of his days by the chimney-corner,
Darby and Joan like, with his respectable Muse, seems to have been rather
bewildered by the apparition of a living genius. The record is of value
now chiefly for the insight it gives us into Wordsworth's mind. Among
other things he said, "that it was the province of a great poet to raise
people up to his own level, not to descend to theirs,"--memorable words,
the more memorable that a literary life of sixty years was in keeping
with them.

It would be instructive to know what were Wordsworth's studies during his
winter in Goslar. De Quincey's statement is mere conjecture. It may be
guessed fairly enough that he would seek an entrance to the German
language by the easy path of the ballad, a course likely to confirm him
in his theories as to the language of poetry. The Spinosism with which he
has been not unjustly charged was certainly not due to any German
influence, for it appears unmistakably in the "Lines composed at Tintern
Abbey" in July, 1798. It is more likely to have been derived from his
talks with Coleridge in 1797.[337] When Emerson visited him in 1833, he
spoke with loathing of "Wilhelm Meister," a part of which he had read in
Carlyle's translation apparently. There was some affectation in this, it
should seem, for he had read Smollett. On the whole, it may be fairly
concluded that the help of Germany in the development of his genius may
be reckoned as very small, though there is certainly a marked resemblance
both in form and sentiment between some of his earlier lyrics and those
of Goethe. His poem of the "Thorn," though vastly more imaginative, may
have been suggested by Bürger's _Pfarrer's Tochter von Taubenhain_. The
little grave _drei Spannen lang_, in its conscientious measurement,
certainly recalls a famous couplet in the English poem.

After spending the winter at Goslar, Wordsworth and his sister returned
to England in the spring of 1799, and settled at Grasmere in
Westmoreland. In 1800, the first edition of the "Lyrical Ballads" being
exhausted, it was republished with the addition of another volume, Mr.
Longman paying £100 for the copyright of two editions. The book passed to
a second edition in 1802, and to a third in 1805.[338] Wordsworth sent a
copy of it, with a manly letter, to Mr. Fox, particularly recommending to
his attention the poems "Michael" and "The Brothers," as displaying the
strength and permanence among a simple and rural population of those
domestic affections which were certain to decay gradually under the
influence of manufactories and poor houses. Mr. Fox wrote a civil
acknowledgment, saying that his favorites among the poems were "Harry
Gill," "We are Seven," "The Mad Mother," and "The Idiot," but that he was
prepossessed against the use of blank verse for simple subjects. Any
political significance in the poems he was apparently unable to see. To
this second edition Wordsworth prefixed an argumentative Preface, in
which he nailed to the door of the cathedral of English song the critical
theses which he was to maintain against all comers in his poetry and his
life. It was a new thing for an author to undertake to show the goodness
of his verses by the logic and learning of his prose; but Wordsworth
carried to the reform of poetry all that fervor and faith which had lost
their political object, and it is another proof of the sincerity and
greatness of his mind, and of that heroic simplicity which is their
concomitant, that he could do so calmly what was sure to seem ludicrous
to the greater number of his readers. Fifty years have since demonstrated
that the true judgment of one man outweighs any counterpoise of false
judgment, and that the faith of mankind is guided to a man only by a
well-founded faith in himself. To this _Defensio_ Wordsworth afterward
added a supplement, and the two form a treatise of permanent value for
philosophic statement and decorous English. Their only ill effect has
been, that they have encouraged many otherwise deserving young men to set
a Sibylline value on their verses in proportion as they were unsalable.
The strength of an argument for self reliance drawn from the example of a
great man depends wholly on the greatness of him who uses it; such
arguments being like coats of mail, which, though they serve the strong
against arrow-flights and lance-thrusts, may only suffocate the weak or
sink him the sooner in the waters of oblivion.

An advertisement prefixed to the "Lyrical Ballads," as originally
published in one volume, warned the reader that "they were written
chiefly with a view to ascertain how far _the language of conversation in
the middle and lower classes_ of society is adapted to the purposes of
poetic pleasure." In his preface to the second edition, in two volumes,
Wordsworth already found himself forced to shift his ground a little
(perhaps in deference to the wider view and finer sense of Coleridge),
and now says of the former volume that "it was published as an experiment
which, I hoped, might be of some use to ascertain how far, by fitting to
metrical arrangement, _a selection of the real language of men in a state
of vivid sensation_, that sort of pleasure and that quantity of pleasure
may be imparted which a poet may _rationally endeavor_ to impart."[339]
Here is evidence of a retreat towards a safer position, though Wordsworth
seems to have remained unconvinced at heart, and for many years longer
clung obstinately to the passages of bald prose into which his original
theory had betrayed him. In 1815 his opinions had undergone a still
further change, and an assiduous study of the qualities of his own mind
and of his own poetic method (the two subjects in which alone he was ever
a thorough scholar) had convinced him that poetry was in no sense that
appeal to the understanding which is implied by the words "rationally
endeavor to impart." In the preface of that year he says, "The
observations prefixed to that portion of these volumes which was
published many years ago under the title of 'Lyrical Ballads' have so
little of special application to the greater part of the present enlarged
and diversified collection, that they could not with propriety stand as
an introduction to it." It is a pity that he could not have become an
earlier convert to Coleridge's pithy definition, that "prose was words in
their best order and poetry the _best_ words in the best order." But
idealization was something that Wordsworth was obliged to learn
painfully. It did not come to him naturally as to Spenser and Shelley and
to Coleridge in his higher moods. Moreover, it was in the too frequent
choice of subjects incapable of being idealized without a manifest jar
between theme and treatment that Wordsworth's great mistake lay. For
example, in "The Blind Highland Boy" he had originally the following

  "Strong is the current, but be mild,
  Ye waves, and spare the helpless child!
  If ye in anger fret or chafe,
  A bee-hive would be ship as safe
    As that in which he sails.

  "But say, what was it? Thought of fear!
  Well may ye tremble when ye hear!
  --A household tub like one of those
  Which women use to wash their clothes,
    This carried the blind boy."

In endeavoring to get rid of the downright vulgarity of phrase in the
last stanza, Wordsworth invents an impossible tortoise-shell, and thus
robs his story of the reality which alone gave it a living interest. Any
extemporized raft would have floated the boy down to immortality. But
Wordsworth never quite learned the distinction between Fact, which
suffocates the Muse, and Truth, which is the very breath of her nostrils.
Study and self-culture did much for him, but they never quite satisfied
him that he was capable of making a mistake. He yielded silently to
friendly remonstrance on certain points, and gave up, for example, the
ludicrous exactness of

  "I've measured it from side to side,
  'T is three feet long and two feet wide."

But I doubt if he was ever really convinced, and to his dying day he
could never quite shake off that habit of over-minute detail which
renders the narratives of uncultivated people so tedious, and sometimes
so distasteful.[340] "Simon Lee," after his latest revision, still
contains verses like these:--

 "And he is lean and he is sick;
  His body, dwindled and awry,
  Rests upon ankles swollen and thick;
  His legs are thin and dry;
         *       *       *       *       *
 "Few months of life he has in store,
  As he to you will tell,
  For still, the more he works, the more
  Do his weak ankles swell,"--

which are not only prose, but _bad_ prose, and moreover guilty of the
same fault for which Wordsworth condemned Dr. Johnson's famous parody on
the ballad-style,--that their "_matter_ is contemptible." The
sonorousness of conviction with which Wordsworth sometimes gives
utterance to commonplaces of thought and trivialities of sentiment has a
ludicrous effect on the profane and even on the faithful in unguarded
moments. We are reminded of a passage in the "Excursion":--

           "List! I heard
  From yon huge breast of rock _a solemn bleat,
  Sent forth as if it were the mountain's voice_."

In 1800 the friendship of Wordsworth with Lamb began, and was
thenceforward never interrupted. He continued to live at Grasmere,
conscientiously diligent in the composition of poems, secure of finding
the materials of glory within and around him; for his genius taught him
that inspiration is no product of a foreign shore, and that no adventurer
ever found it, though he wandered as long as Ulysses. Meanwhile the
appreciation of the best minds and the gratitude of the purest hearts
gradually centred more and more towards him. In 1802 he made a short
visit to France, in company with Miss Wordsworth, and soon after his
return to England was married to Mary Hutchinson, on the 4th of October
of the same year. Of the good fortune of this marriage no other proof is
needed than the purity and serenity of his poems, and its record is to be
sought nowhere else.

On the 18th of June, 1803, his first child, John, was born, and on the
14th of August of the same year he set out with his sister on a foot
journey into Scotland Coleridge was their companion during a part of this
excursion, of which Miss Wordsworth kept a full diary. In Scotland he
made the acquaintance of Scott, who recited to him a part of the "Lay of
the Last Minstrel," then in manuscript. The travellers returned to
Grasmere on the 25th of September. It was during this year that
Wordsworth's intimacy with the excellent Sir George Beaumont began. Sir
George was an amateur painter of considerable merit, and his friendship
was undoubtedly of service to Wordsworth in making him familiar with the
laws of a sister art and thus contributing to enlarge the sympathies of
his criticism, the tendency of which was toward too great exclusiveness.
Sir George Beaumont, dying in 1827, did not forego his regard for the
poet, but contrived to hold his affection in mortmain by the legacy of an
annuity of £100, to defray the charges of a yearly journey.

In March, 1805, the poet's brother, John, lost his life by the shipwreck
of the Abergavenny East-Indiaman, of which he was captain. He was a man
of great purity and integrity, and sacrificed himself to his sense of
duty by refusing to leave the ship till it was impossible to save him.
Wordsworth was deeply attached to him, and felt such grief at his death
as only solitary natures like his are capable of, though mitigated by a
sense of the heroism which was the cause of it. The need of mental
activity as affording an outlet to intense emotion may account for the
great productiveness of this and the following year. He now completed
"The Prelude," wrote "The Wagoner," and increased the number of his
smaller poems enough to fill two volumes, which were published in 1807.

This collection, which contained some of the most beautiful of his
shorter pieces, and among others the incomparable Odes to Duty and on
Immortality, did not reach a second edition till 1815. The reviewers had
another laugh, and rival poets pillaged while they scoffed, particularly
Byron, among whose verses a bit of Wordsworth showed as incongruously as
a sacred vestment on the back of some buccaneering plunderer of an

There was a general combination to put him down, but on the other hand
there was a powerful party in his favor, consisting of William
Wordsworth. He not only continued in good heart himself, but, reversing
the order usual on such occasions, kept up the spirits of his

Wordsworth passed the winter of 1806-7 in a house of Sir George
Beaumont's, at Coleorton in Leicestershire, the cottage at Grasmere
having become too small for his increased family. On his return to the
Vale of Grasmere he rented the house at Allan Bank, where he lived three
years. During this period he appears to have written very little poetry,
for which his biographer assigns as a primary reason the smokiness of the
Allan Bank chimneys. This will hardly account for the failure of the
summer crop, especially as Wordsworth composed chiefly in the open air.
It did not prevent him from writing a pamphlet upon the Convention of
Cintra, which was published too late to attract much attention, though
Lamb says that its effect upon him was like that which one of Milton's
tracts might have had upon a contemporary.[343] It was at Allan Bank that
Coleridge dictated "The Friend," and Wordsworth contributed to it two
essays, one in answer to a letter of Mathetes[344] (Professor Wilson),
and the other on Epitaphs, republished in the Notes to "The Excursion."
Here also he wrote his "Description of the Scenery of the Lakes." Perhaps
a truer explanation of the comparative silence of Wordsworth's Muse
during these years is to be found in the intense interest which he took
in current events, whose variety, picturesqueness, and historical
significance were enough to absorb all the energies of his imagination.

In the spring of 1811 Wordsworth removed to the Parsonage at Grasmere.
Here he remained two years, and here he had his second intimate
experience of sorrow in the loss of two of his children, Catharine and
Thomas, one of whom died 4th June, and the other 1st December, 1812.[345]
Early in 1813 he bought Rydal Mount, and, having removed thither, changed
his abode no more during the rest of his life. In March of this year he
was appointed Distributor of Stamps for the county of Westmoreland, an
office whose receipts rendered him independent, and whose business he was
able to do by deputy, thus leaving him ample leisure for nobler duties.
De Quincey speaks of this appointment as an instance of the remarkable
good luck which waited upon Wordsworth through his whole life. In our
view it is only another illustration of that scripture which describes
the righteous as never forsaken. Good luck is the willing handmaid of
upright, energetic character, and conscientious observance of duty.
Wordsworth owed his nomination to the friendly exertions of the Earl of
Lonsdale, who desired to atone as far as might be for the injustice of
the first Earl, and who respected the honesty of the man more than he
appreciated the originality of the poet.[346] The Collectorship at
Whitehaven (a more lucrative office) was afterwards offered to
Wordsworth, and declined. He had enough for independence, and wished
nothing more. Still later, on the death of the Stamp-Distributor for
Cumberland, a part of that district was annexed to Westmoreland, and
Wordsworth's income was raised to something more than £1,000 a year.

In 1814 he made his second tour in Scotland, visiting Yarrow in company
with the Ettrick Shepherd. During this year "the Excursion" was
published, in an edition of five hundred copies, which supplied the
demand for six years. Another edition of the same number of copies was
published in 1827, and not exhausted till 1834. In 1815 "The White Doe of
Rylstone" appeared, and in 1816 "A Letter to a Friend of Burns," in which
Wordsworth gives his opinion upon the limits to be observed by the
biographers of literary men. It contains many valuable suggestions, but
allows hardly scope enough for personal details, to which he was
constitutionally indifferent.[347] Nearly the same date may be ascribed
to a rhymed translation of the first three books of the Aeneid, a
specimen of which was printed in the Cambridge "Philological Museum"
(1832). In 1819 "Peter Bell," written twenty years before, was published,
and, perhaps in consequence of the ridicule of the reviewers, found a
more rapid sale than any of his previous volumes. "The Wagoner," printed
in the same year, was less successful. His next publication was the
volume of Sonnets on the river Duddon, with some miscellaneous poems,
1820. A tour on the Continent in 1820 furnished the subjects for another
collection, published in 1822. This was followed in the same year by the
volume of "Ecclesiastical Sketches." His subsequent publications were
"Yarrow Revisited," 1835, and the tragedy of "The Borderers," 1842.

During all these years his fame was increasing slowly but steadily, and
his age gathered to itself the reverence and the troops of friends which
his poems and the nobly simple life reflected in them deserved. Public
honors followed private appreciation. In 1838 the University of Dublin
conferred upon him the degree of D.C.L. In 1839 Oxford did the same, and
the reception of the poet (now in his seventieth year) at the University
was enthusiastic. In 1842 he resigned his office of Stamp-Distributor,
and Sir Robert Peel had the honor of putting him upon the civil list for
a pension of £300. In 1843 he was appointed Laureate, with the express
understanding that it was a tribute of respect, involving no duties
except such as might be self-imposed. His only official production was an
Ode for the installation of Prince Albert as Chancellor of the University
of Cambridge. His life was prolonged yet seven years, almost, it should
seem, that he might receive that honor which he had truly conquered for
himself by the unflinching bravery of a literary life of half a century,
unparalleled for the scorn with which its labors were received, and the
victorious acknowledgment which at last crowned them. Surviving nearly
all his contemporaries, he had, if ever any man had, a foretaste of
immortality, enjoying in a sort his own posthumous renown, for the hardy
slowness of its growth gave a safe pledge of its durability. He died on
the 23d of April, 1850, the anniversary of the death of Shakespeare.

We have thus briefly sketched the life of Wordsworth,--a life uneventful
even for a man of letters, a life like that of an oak, of quiet self
development, throwing out stronger roots toward the side whence the
prevailing storm-blasts blow, and of tougher fibre in proportion to the
rocky nature of the soil in which it grows. The life and growth of his
mind, and the influences which shaped it, are to be looked for, even more
than is the case with most poets, in his works, for he deliberately
recorded them there.

Of his personal characteristics little is related. He was somewhat above
the middle height, but, according to De Quincey, of indifferent figure,
the shoulders being narrow and drooping. His finest feature was the eye,
which was gray and full of spiritual light. Leigh Hunt says: "I never
beheld eyes that looked so inspired, so supernatural. They were like
fires, half burning, half smouldering, with a sort of acrid fixture of
regard. One might imagine Ezekiel or Isaiah to have had such eyes."
Southey tells us that he had no sense of smell, and Haydon that he had
none of form. The best likeness of him, in De Quincey's judgment, is the
portrait of Milton prefixed to Richardson's notes on Paradise Lost. He
was active in his habits, composing in the open air, and generally
dictating his poems. His daily life was regular, simple, and frugal; his
manners were dignified and kindly; and in his letters and recorded
conversations it is remarkable how little that was personal entered into
his judgment of contemporaries.

The true rank of Wordsworth among poets is, perhaps, not even yet to be
fairly estimated, so hard is it to escape into the quiet hall of judgment
uninflamed by the tumult of partisanship which besets the doors.

Coming to manhood, predetermined to be a great poet, at a time when the
artificial school of poetry was enthroned with all the authority of long
succession and undisputed legitimacy, it was almost inevitable that
Wordsworth, who, both by nature and judgment was a rebel against the
existing order, should become a partisan. Unfortunately, he became not
only the partisan of a system, but of William Wordsworth as its
representative. Right in general principle, he thus necessarily became
wrong in particulars. Justly convinced that greatness only achieves its
ends by implicitly obeying its own instincts, he perhaps reduced the
following his instincts too much to a system, mistook his own resentments
for the promptings of his natural genius, and, compelling principle to
the measure of his own temperament or even of the controversial exigency
of the moment, fell sometimes into the error of making naturalness itself
artificial. If a poet resolve to be original, it will end commonly in his
being merely peculiar.

Wordsworth himself departed more and more in practice, as he grew older,
from the theories which he had laid down in his prefaces;[348] but those
theories undoubtedly had a great effect in retarding the growth of his
fame. He had carefully constructed a pair of spectacles through which his
earlier poems were to be studied, and the public insisted on looking
through them at his mature works, and were consequently unable to see
fairly what required a different focus. He forced his readers to come to
his poetry with a certain amount of conscious preparation, and thus gave
them beforehand the impression of something like mechanical artifice, and
deprived them of the contented repose of implicit faith. To the child a
watch seems to be a living creature; but Wordsworth would not let his
readers be children, and did injustice to himself by giving them an
uneasy doubt whether creations which really throbbed with the very
heart's-blood of genius, and were alive with nature's life of life, were
not contrivances of wheels and springs. A naturalness which we are told
to expect has lost the crowning grace of nature. The men who walked in
Cornelius Agrippa's visionary gardens had probably no more pleasurable
emotion than that of a shallow wonder, or an equally shallow
self-satisfaction in thinking they had hit upon the secret of the
thaumaturgy; but to a tree that has grown as God willed we come without a
theory and with no botanical predilections, enjoying it simply and
thankfully; or the Imagination recreates for us its past summers and
winters, the birds that have nested and sung in it, the sheep that have
clustered in its shade, the winds that have visited it, the cloud-bergs
that have drifted over it, and the snows that have ermined it in winter.
The Imagination is a faculty that flouts at foreordination, and
Wordsworth seemed to do all he could to cheat his readers of her company
by laying out paths with a peremptory _Do not step off the gravel!_ at
the opening of each, and preparing pitfalls for every conceivable
emotion, with guide-boards to tell each when and where it must be caught.

But if these things stood in the way of immediate appreciation, he had
another theory which interferes more seriously with the total and
permanent effect of his poems. He was theoretically determined not only
to be a philosophic poet, but to be a _great_ philosophic poet, and to
this end he must produce an epic. Leaving aside the question whether the
epic be obsolete or not, it may be doubted whether the history of a
single man's mind is universal enough in its interest to furnish all the
requirements of the epic machinery, and it may be more than doubted
whether a poet's philosophy be ordinary metaphysics, divisible into
chapter and section. It is rather something which is more energetic in a
word than in a whole treatise, and our hearts unclose themselves
instinctively at its simple _Open sesame!_ while they would stand firm
against the reading of the whole body of philosophy. In point of fact,
the one element of greatness which "The Excursion" possesses indisputably
is heaviness. It is only the episodes that are universally read, and the
effect of these is diluted by the connecting and accompanying lectures on
metaphysics. Wordsworth had his epic mould to fill, and, like Benvenuto
Cellini in casting his Perseus, was forced to throw in everything,
debasing the metal, lest it should run short. Separated from the rest,
the episodes are perfect poems in their kind, and without example in the

Wordsworth, like most solitary men of strong minds, was a good critic of
the substance of poetry, but somewhat niggardly in the allowance he made
for those subsidiary qualities which make it the charmer of leisure and
the employment of minds without definite object. It may be doubted,
indeed, whether he set much store by any contemporary writing but his
own, and whether he did not look upon poetry too exclusively as an
exercise rather of the intellect than as a nepenthe of the
imagination.[349] He says of himself, speaking of his youth:--

                                  "In fine,
  I was a better judge of thoughts than words,
  Misled in estimating words, not only
  By common inexperience of youth,
  But by the trade in classic niceties,
  The dangerous craft of culling term and phrase
  From languages that want the living voice
  To carry meaning to the natural heart;
  To tell us what is passion, what is truth,
  What reason, what simplicity and sense."[350]

Though he here speaks in the preterite tense, this was always true of
him, and his thought seems often to lean upon a word too weak to bear its
weight. No reader of adequate insight can help regretting that he did not
earlier give himself to "the trade of classic niceties." It was precisely
this which gives to the blank-verse of Landor the severe dignity and
reserved force which alone among later poets recall the tune of Milton,
and to which Wordsworth never attained. Indeed, Wordsworth's blank-verse
(though the passion be profounder) is always essentially that of Cowper.
They were alike also in their love of outward nature and of simple
things. The main difference between them is one of scenery rather than of
sentiment, between the life-long familiar of the mountains and the
dweller on the plain.

It cannot be denied that in Wordsworth the very highest powers of the
poetic mind were associated with a certain tendency to the diffuse and
commonplace. It is in the understanding (always prosaic) that the great
golden veins of his imagination are imbedded.[351] He wrote too much to
write always well; for it is not a great Xerxes-army of words, but a
compact Greek ten thousand, that march safely down to posterity. He set
tasks to his divine faculty, which is much the same as trying to make
Jove's eagle do the service of a clucking hen. Throughout "The Prelude"
and "The Excursion" he seems striving to bind the wizard Imagination with
the sand-ropes of dry disquisition, and to have forgotten the potent
spell-word which would make the particles cohere. There is an arenaceous
quality in the style which makes progress wearisome. Yet with what
splendors as of mountain-sunsets are we rewarded! what golden rounds of
verse do we not see stretching heavenward with angels ascending and
descending! what haunting harmonies hover around us deep and eternal like
the undying barytone of the sea! and if we are compelled to fare through
sands and desert wildernesses, how often do we not hear airy shapes that
syllable our names with a startling personal appeal to our highest
consciousness and our noblest aspiration, such as we wait for in vain in
any other poet!

Take from Wordsworth all which an honest criticism cannot but allow, and
what is left will show how truly great he was. He had no humor, no
dramatic power, and his temperament was of that dry and juiceless
quality, that in all his published correspondence you shall not find a
letter, but only essays. If we consider carefully where he was most
successful, we shall find that it was not so much in description of
natural scenery, or delineation of character, as in vivid expression of
the effect produced by external objects and events upon his own mind, and
of the shape and hue (perhaps momentary) which they in turn took from his
mood or temperament. His finest passages are always monologues. He had a
fondness for particulars, and there are parts of his poems which remind
us of local histories in the undue relative importance given to trivial
matters. He was the historian of Wordsworthshire. This power of
particularization (for it is as truly a power as generalization) is what
gives such vigor and greatness to single lines and sentiments of
Wordsworth, and to poems developing a single thought or sentiment. It was
this that made him so fond of the sonnet. That sequestered nook forced
upon him the limits which his fecundity (if I may not say his garrulity)
was never self-denying enough to impose on itself. It suits his solitary
and meditative temper, and it was there that Lamb (an admirable judge of
what was permanent in literature) liked him best. Its narrow bounds, but
fourteen paces from end to end, turn into a virtue his too common fault
of giving undue prominence to every passing emotion. He excels in
monologue, and the law of the sonnet tempers monologue with mercy. In
"The Excursion" we are driven to the subterfuge of a French verdict of
extenuating circumstances. His mind had not that reach and elemental
movement of Milton's, which, like the tradewind, gathered to itself
thoughts and images like stately fleets from every quarter; some deep
with silks and spicery, some brooding over the silent thunders of their
battailous armaments, but all swept forward in their destined track, over
the long billows of his verse, every inch of canvas strained by the
unifying breath of their common epic impulse. It was an organ that Milton
mastered, mighty in compass, capable equally of the trumpet's ardors or
the slim delicacy of the flute, and sometimes it bursts forth in great
crashes through his prose, as if he touched it for solace in the
intervals of his toil. If Wordsworth sometimes puts the trumpet to his
lips, yet he lays it aside soon and willingly for his appropriate
instrument, the pastoral reed. And it is not one that grew by any vulgar
stream, but that which Apollo breathed through, tending the flocks of
Admetus,--that which Pan endowed with every melody of the visible
universe,--the same in which the soul of the despairing nymph took refuge
and gifted with her dual nature,--so that ever and anon, amid the notes
of human joy or sorrow, there comes suddenly a deeper and almost awful
tone, thrilling us into dim consciousness of a forgotten divinity.

Wordsworth's absolute want of humor, while it no doubt confirmed his
self-confidence by making him insensible both to the comical incongruity
into which he was often led by his earlier theory concerning the language
of poetry and to the not unnatural ridicule called forth by it, seems to
have been indicative of a certain dulness of perception in other
directions.[352] We cannot help feeling that the material of his nature
was essentially prose, which, in his inspired moments, he had the power
of transmuting, but which, whenever the inspiration failed or was
factitious, remained obstinately leaden. The normal condition of many
poets would seem to approach that temperature to which Wordsworth's mind
could be raised only by the white heat of profoundly inward passion. And
in proportion to the intensity needful to make his nature thoroughly
aglow is the very high quality of his best verses. They seem rather the
productions of nature than of man, and have the lastingness of such,
delighting our age with the same startle of newness and beauty that
pleased our youth. Is it his thought? It has the shifting inward lustre
of diamond. Is it his feeling? It is as delicate as the impressions of
fossil ferns. He seems to have caught and fixed forever in immutable
grace the most evanescent and intangible of our intuitions, the very
ripple-marks on the remotest shores of being. But this intensity of mood
which insures high quality is by its very nature incapable of
prolongation, and Wordsworth, in endeavoring it, falls more below
himself, and is, more even than many poets his inferiors in imaginative
quality, a poet of passages. Indeed, one cannot help having the feeling
sometimes that the poem is there for the sake of these passages, rather
than that these are the natural jets and elations of a mind energized by
the rapidity of its own motion. In other words, the happy couplet or
gracious image seems not to spring from the inspiration of the poem
conceived as a whole, but rather to have dropped of itself into the mind
of the poet in one of his rambles, who then, in a less rapt mood, has
patiently built up around it a setting of verse too often ungraceful in
form and of a material whose cheapness may cast a doubt on the priceless
quality of the gem it encumbers.[353] During the most happily productive
period of his life, Wordsworth was impatient of what may be called the
mechanical portion of his art. His wife and sister seem from the first to
have been his scribes. In later years, he had learned and often insisted
on the truth that poetry was an art no less than a gift, and corrected
his poems in cold blood, sometimes to their detriment. But he certainly
had more of the vision than of the faculty divine, and was always a
little numb on the side of form and proportion. Perhaps his best poem in
these respects is the "Laodamia," and it is not uninstructive to learn
from his own lips that "it cost him more trouble than almost anything of
equal length he had ever written." His longer poems (miscalled epical)
have no more intimate bond of union than their more or less immediate
relation to his own personality. Of character other than his own he had
but a faint conception, and all the personages of "The Excursion" that
are not Wordsworth are the merest shadows of himself upon mist, for his
self-concentrated nature was incapable of projecting itself into the
consciousness of other men and seeing the springs of action at their
source in the recesses of individual character. The best parts of these
longer poems are bursts of impassioned soliloquy, and his fingers were
always clumsy at the _callida junctura_. The stream of narration is
sluggish, if varied by times with pleasing reflections (_viridesque
placido aequore sylvas_); we are forced to do our own rowing, and only
when the current is hemmed in by some narrow gorge of the poet's personal
consciousness do we feel ourselves snatched along on the smooth but
impetuous rush of unmistakable inspiration. The fact that what is
precious in Wordsworth's poetry was (more truly even than with some
greater poets than he) a gift rather than an achievement should always be
borne in mind in taking the measure of his power. I know not whether to
call it height or depth, this peculiarity of his, but it certainly endows
those parts of his work which we should distinguish as Wordsworthian with
an unexpectedness and impressiveness of originality such as we feel in
the presence of Nature herself. He seems to have been half conscious of
this, and recited his own poems to all comers with an enthusiasm of
wondering admiration that would have been profoundly comic[354] but for
its simple sincerity and for the fact that William Wordsworth, Esquire,
of Rydal Mount, was one person, and the William Wordsworth whom he so
heartily reverenced quite another. We recognize two voices in him, as
Stephano did in Caliban. There are Jeremiah and his scribe Baruch. If the
prophet cease from dictating, the amanuensis, rather than be idle,
employs his pen in jotting down some anecdotes of his master, how he one
day went out and saw an old woman, and the next day did _not_, and so
came home and dictated some verses on this ominous phenomenon, and how
another day he saw a cow. These marginal annotations have been carelessly
taken up into the text, have been religiously held by the pious to be
orthodox scripture, and by dexterous exegesis have been made to yield
deeply oracular meanings. Presently the real prophet takes up the word
again and speaks as one divinely inspired, the Voice of a higher and
invisible power. Wordsworth's better utterances have the bare sincerity,
the absolute abstraction from time and place, the immunity from decay,
that belong to the grand simplicities of the Bible. They seem not more
his own than ours and every man's, the word of the inalterable Mind. This
gift of his was naturally very much a matter of temperament, and
accordingly by far the greater part of his finer product belongs to the
period of his prime, ere Time had set his lumpish foot on the pedal that
deadens the nerves of animal sensibility.[355] He did not grow as those
poets do in whom the artistic sense is predominant. One of the most
delightful fancies of the Genevese humorist, Toepffer, is the poet
Albert, who, having had his portrait drawn by a highly idealizing hand,
does his best afterwards to look like it. Many of Wordsworth's later
poems seem like rather unsuccessful efforts to resemble his former self.
They would never, as Sir John Harrington says of poetry, "keep a child
from play and an old man from the chimney-corner."[356]

Chief Justice Marshall once blandly interrupted a junior counsel who was
arguing certain obvious points of law at needless length, by saying,
"Brother Jones, there are _some_ things which a Supreme Court of the
United States sitting in equity may be presumed to know." Wordsworth has
this fault of enforcing and restating obvious points till the reader
feels as if his own intelligence were somewhat underrated. He is
over-conscientious in giving us full measure, and once profoundly
absorbed in the sound of his own voice, he knows not when to stop. If he
feel himself flagging, he has a droll way of keeping the floor, as it
were, by asking himself a series of questions sometimes not needing, and
often incapable of answer. There are three stanzas of such near the close
of the First Part of "Peter Bell," where Peter first catches a glimpse of
the dead body in the water, all happily incongruous, and ending with one
which reaches the height of comicality:--

  "Is it a fiend that to a stake
  Of fire his desperate self is tethering?
  Or stubborn spirit doomed to yell,
  In solitary ward or cell,
  Ten thousand miles from all his brethren?"

The same want of humor which made him insensible to incongruity may
perhaps account also for the singular unconsciousness of disproportion
which so often strikes us in his poetry. For example, a little farther on
in "Peter Bell" we find:--

  "_Now_--like a tempest-shattered bark
  That overwhelmed and prostrate lies,
  And in a moment to the verge
  Is lifted of a foaming surge--
  Full suddenly the Ass doth rise!"

And one cannot help thinking that the similes of the huge stone, the
sea-beast, and the cloud, noble as they are in themselves, are somewhat
too lofty for the service to which they are put.[357]

The movement of Wordsworth's mind was too slow and his mood to meditative
for narrative poetry. He values his own thoughts and reflections too much
to sacrifice the least of them to the interests of his story. Moreover,
it is never action that interests him, but the subtle motives that lead
to or hinder it. "The Wagoner" involuntarily suggests a comparison with
"Tam O'Shanter" infinitely to its own disadvantage. "Peter Bell," full
though it be of profound touches and subtle analysis, is lumbering and
disjointed. Even Lamb was forced to confess that he did not like it. "The
White Doe," the most Wordsworthian of them all in the best meaning of the
epithet, is also only the more truly so for being diffuse and reluctant.
What charms in Wordsworth and will charm forever is the

                "Happy tone
  Of meditation slipping in between
  The beauty coming and the beauty gone,"

A few poets, in the exquisite adaptation of their words to the tune of
our own feelings and fancies, in the charm of their manner, indefinable
as the sympathetic grace of woman, _are_ everything to us without our
being able to say that they are much in themselves. They rather narcotize
than fortify. Wordsworth must subject our mood to his own before he
admits us to his intimacy; but, once admitted, it is for life, and we
find ourselves in his debt, not for what he has been to us in our hours
of relaxation, but for what he has done for us as a reinforcement of
faltering purpose and personal independence of character. His system of a
Nature-cure, first professed by Dr. Jean Jaques and continued by Cowper,
certainly breaks down as a whole. The Solitary of "The Excursion," who
has not been cured of his scepticism by living among the medicinal
mountains, is, so far as we can see, equally proof against the lectures
of Pedler and Parson. Wordsworth apparently felt that this would be so,
and accordingly never saw his way clear to finishing the poem. But the
treatment, whether a panacea or not, is certainly wholesome inasmuch as
it inculcates abstinence, exercise, and uncontaminate air. I am not sure,
indeed, that the Nature-cure theory does not tend to foster in
constitutions less vigorous than Wordsworth's what Milton would call a
fugitive and cloistered virtue at a dear expense of manlier qualities.
The ancients and our own Elizabethans, ere spiritual megrims had become
fashionable, perhaps made more out of life by taking a frank delight in
its action and passion and by grappling with the facts of this world,
rather than muddling themselves over the insoluble problems of another.
If they had not discovered the picturesque, as we understand it, they
found surprisingly fine scenery in man and his destiny, and would have
seen something ludicrous, it may be suspected, in the spectacle of a
grown man running to hide his head in the apron of the Mighty Mother
whenever he had an ache in his finger or got a bruise in the tussle for

But when, as I have said, our impartiality has made all those
qualifications and deductions against which even the greatest poet may
not plead his privilege, what is left to Wordsworth is enough to justify
his fame. Even where his genius is wrapped in clouds, the unconquerable
lightning of imagination struggles through, flashing out unexpected
vistas, and illuminating the humdrum pathway of our daily thought with a
radiance of momentary consciousness that seems like a revelation. If it
be the most delightful function of the poet to set our lives to music,
yet perhaps he will be even more sure of our maturer gratitude if he do
his part also as moralist and philosopher to purify and enlighten; if he
define and encourage our vacillating perceptions of duty; if he piece
together our fragmentary apprehensions of our own life and that larger
life whose unconscious instruments we are, making of the jumbled bits of
our dissected map of experience a coherent chart. In the great poets
there is an exquisite sensibility both of soul and sense that sympathizes
like gossamer sea-moss with every movement of the element in which it
floats, but which is rooted on the solid rock of our common sympathies.
Wordsworth shows less of this finer feminine fibre of organization than
one or two of his contemporaries, notably than Coleridge or Shelley; but
he was a masculine thinker, and in his more characteristic poems there is
always a kernel of firm conclusion from far-reaching principles that
stimulates thought and challenges meditation. Groping in the dark
passages of life, we come upon some axiom of his, as it were a wall that
gives us our bearings and enables us to find an outlet. Compared with
Goethe we feel that he lacks that serene impartiality of mind which
results from breadth of culture; nay, he seems narrow, insular, almost
provincial. He reminds us of those saints of Dante who gather brightness
by revolving on their own axis. But through this very limitation of range
he gains perhaps in intensity and the impressiveness which results from
eagerness of personal conviction. If we read Wordsworth through, as I
have just done, we find ourselves changing our mind about him at every
other page, so uneven is he. If we read our favorite poems or passages
only, he will seem uniformly great. And even as regards "The Excursion"
we should remember how few long poems will bear consecutive reading. For
my part I know of but one,--the Odyssey.

None of our great poets can be called popular in any exact sense of the
word, for the highest poetry deals with thoughts and emotions which
inhabit, like rarest sea-mosses, the doubtful limits of that shore
between our abiding divine and our fluctuating human nature, rooted in
the one, but living in the other, seldom laid bare, and otherwise visible
only at exceptional moments of entire calm and clearness. Of no other
poet except Shakespeare have so many phrases become household words as of
Wordsworth. If Pope has made current more epigrams of worldly wisdom, to
Wordsworth belongs the nobler praise of having defined for us, and given
us for a daily possession, those faint and vague suggestions of
other-worldliness of whose gentle ministry with our baser nature the
hurry and bustle of life scarcely ever allowed us to be conscious. He has
won for himself a secure immortality by a depth of intuition which makes
only the best minds at their best hours worthy, or indeed capable, of his
companionship, and by a homely sincerity of human sympathy which reaches
the humblest heart. Our language owes him gratitude for the habitual
purity and abstinence of his style, and we who speak it, for having
emboldened us to take delight in simple things, and to trust ourselves to
our own instincts. And he hath his reward. It needs not to bid

  "Renowned Chaucer lie a thought more nigh
  To rare Beaumond, and learned Beaumond lie
  A little nearer Spenser";

for there is no fear of crowding in that little society with whom he is
now enrolled as fifth in the succession of the great English Poets.


    [323] "I pay many little visits to the family in the churchyard at
    Grasmere," writes James Dixon (an old servant of Wordsworth) to Crabb
    Robinson, with a simple, one might almost say canine pathos, thirteen
    years after his master's death. Wordsworth was always considerate and
    kind with his servants, Robinson tells us.

    [324] In the Prelude he attributes this consecreation to a sunrise
    seen (during a college vacation) as he walked homeward from some
    village festival where he had danced all night--

      "My heart was full; I made no vows, but vows
      Were then made for me; bond unknown to me
      Was given that I should be, else sinning greatly,
      A dedicated spirit."--B. IV.

    [325]  Prelude, Book II.

      "I to the muses have been bound,
      These fourteen years, by strong indentures."

    _Idiot Boy_ (1798).

    [327] I think this more than doubtful, for I find no traces of the
    influence of any of these poets in his earlier writings. Goldsmith
    was evidently his model in the Descriptive Sketches and the Evening
    Walk. I speak of them as originally printed.

    [328] Prelude, Book III. He studied Italian also at Cambridge, his
    teacher, whose name was Isola, had formerly taught the poet Gray. It
    may be pretty certainly inferred, however, that his first systematic
    study of English poetry was due to the copy of Andersen's British
    Poets, left with him by his sailor brother John on setting out for
    his last voyage in 1805.

    [329] Prelude, Book VII. Written before 1805, and referring to a
    still earlier date. "Wordsworth went in powder, and with cocked hat
    under his arm, to the Marchioness of Stafford's rout." (Southey to
    Miss Barker, May, 1806.)

    [330] This was probably one reason for the long suppression of Miss
    Wordsworth's journal, which she had evidently prepared for
    publication as early as 1805.

    [331] Crabb Robinson, I. 250, Am. Ed.

    [332] Wordsworth's purity afterwards grew sensitive almost to
    prudery. The late Mr. Clough told me that he heard him at Dr.
    Arnold's table denounce the first line in Keats's Ode to a Grecian
    Urn as indecent, and Haydon records that when he saw the group of
    Cupid and Psyche he exclaimed, "The dev-ils!"

    [333] The whole passage is omitted in the revised edition. The
    original, a quarto pamphlet, is now very rare, but fortunately
    Charles Lamb's copy of it is now owned by my friend Professor C. E.

    [334] Wordsworth showed his habitual good sense in never sharing, so
    far as is known, the communistic dreams of his friends Coleridge and
    Southey. The latter of the two had, to be sure, renounced them
    shortly after his marriage, and before his acquaintance with
    Wordsworth began. But Coleridge seems to have clung to them longer.
    There is a passage in one of his letters to Cottle (without date, but
    apparently written in the spring of 1798) which would imply that
    Wordsworth had been accused of some kind of social heresy.
    "Wordsworth has been caballed against _so long and so loudly_ that he
    has found it impossible to prevail on the tenant of the Allfoxden
    estate to let him the house after their first agreement is expired."
    Perhaps, after all, it was Wordsworth's insulation of character and
    habitual want of sympathy with anything but the moods of his own mind
    that rendered him incapable of this copartnery of enthusiasm. He
    appears to have regarded even his sister Dora (whom he certainly
    loved as much as it was possible for him to love anything but his own
    poems) as a kind of tributary dependency of his genius, much as a
    mountain might look down on one of its ancillary spurs.

    [335] Speaking to one of his neighbors in 1845 he said, "that, after
    he had finished his college course, he was in great doubt as to what
    his future employment should be. He did not feel himself good enough
    for the Church; he felt that his mind was not properly disciplined
    for that holy office, and that the struggle between his conscience
    and his impulses would have made life a torture. He also shrank from
    the Law, although Southey often told him that he was well fitted for
    the higher parts of the profession. He had studied military history
    with great interest, and the strategy of war, and he always fancied
    that he had talents for command, and he at one time thought of a
    military life, but then he was without connections, and he felt, if
    he were ordered to the West Indies, his talents would not save him
    from the yellow fever, and he gave that up." (Memoirs, II. 466.) It
    is curious to fancy Wordsworth a soldier. Certain points of likeness
    between him and Wellington have often struck me. They resemble each
    other in practical good sense, fidelity to duty, courage, and also in
    a kind of precise uprightness which made their personal character
    somewhat uninteresting. But what was decorum in Wellington was piety
    in Woidsworth, and the entire absence of imagination (the great point
    of dissimilarity) perhaps helped as much as anything to make
    Wellington a great commander.

    [336] Cottle says, "The sale was so slow and the severity of most of
    the reviews so great that its progress to oblivion seemed to be
    certain." But the notices in the Monthly and Critical Reviews (then
    the most influential) were fair, and indeed favorable, especially to
    Wordsworth's share in the volume. The Monthly says, "So much genius
    and originality are discovered in this publication that we wish to
    see another from the same hand." The Critical, after saying that "in
    the whole range of English, poetry we scarcely recollect anything
    superior to a passage in Lines written near Tintern Abbey," sums up
    thus: "Yet every piece discovers genius; and ill as the author has
    frequently employed his talents, they certainly rank him with the
    best of living poets." Such treatment cannot surely be called

    [337] A very improbable story of Coleridge's in the Biographia
    Literaria represents the two friends as having incurred a suspicion
    of treasonable dealings with the French enemy by their constant
    references to a certain "Spy Nosey." The story at least seems to show
    how they pronounced the name, which was exactly in accordance with
    the usage of the last generation in New England.

    [338] Wordsworth found (as other original minds have since done) a
    hearing in America sooner than in England. James Humphreys, a
    Philadelphia bookseller, was encouraged by a sufficient _list of
    subscribers_ to reprint the first edition of the Lyrical Ballads. The
    second English edition, however, having been published before he had
    wholly completed his reprinting, was substantially followed in the
    first American, which was published in 1802.

    [339] Some of the weightiest passages in this Preface, as it is now
    printed, were inserted without notice of date in the edition of 1815.

    [340] "On my alluding to the line,

      "'Three feet long and two feet wide,'

    "and confessing that I dared not read them aloud in company, he said,
    'They ought to be liked.'" (Crabb Robinson, 9th May, 1815.) His
    ordinary answer to criticisms was that he considered the power to
    appreciate the passage criticised as a test of the critic's capacity
    to judge of poetry at all.

    [341] Byron, then in his twentieth year, wrote a review of these
    volumes not, on the whole, unfair. Crabb Robinson is reported as
    saying that Wordsworth was indignant at the Edinburgh Review's attack
    on Hours of Idleness. "The young man will do something if he goes
    on," he said.

    [342] The Rev. Dr. Wordsworth has encumbered the memory of his uncle
    with two volumes of Memoirs, which for confused dreariness are only
    matched by the Rev. Mark Noble's "History of the Protectorate House
    of Cromwell." It is a misfortune that his materials were not put into
    the hands of Professor Reed, whose notes to the American edition are
    among the most valuable parts of it, as they certainly are the
    clearest. The book contains, however, some valuable letters of
    Wordsworth, and those relating to this part of his life should be
    read by every student of his works, for the light they throw upon the
    principles which governed him in the composition of his poems. In a
    letter to Lady Beaumont (May 21, 1807) he says, "Trouble not yourself
    upon their present reception, of what moment is that compared with
    what I trust is their destiny!--to console the afflicted, to add
    sunshine to daylight by making the happy happier; to teach the young
    and the gracious of every age, to see, to think and feel, and
    therefore to become more actively and securely virtuous; this is
    their office, which I trust they will faithfully perform long after
    we (that is all that is mortal of us) are mouldered in our graves....
    To conclude, my ears are stone dead to this idle buzz [of hostile
    criticism] and my flesh as insensible as iron to these petty stings
    and; after what I have said, I am sure yours will be the same I doubt
    not that you will share with me an invincible confidence that my
    writings (and among them these little poems) will co-operate with the
    benign tendencies in human nature and society wherever found; and
    that they will in their degree be efficacious in making men wiser,
    better, and happier." Here is an odd reversal of the ordinary
    relation between an unpopular poet and his little public of admirers;
    it is he who keeps up their spirits, and supplies them with faith
    from his own inexhaustible cistern.

    [343] "Wordsworth's pamphlet will fail of producing any general
    effect, because the sentences are long and involved; and his friend
    De Quincey, who corrected the press, has rendered them more obscure
    by an unusual system of punctuation." (Southey to Scott, 30th July,
    1809.) The tract is, as Southey hints, heavy.

    [344] The first essay in the third volume of the second edition.

    [345] Wordsworth's children were,--
      John, born 18th June, 1803; still living; a clergyman.
      Dorothy, born 16th August, 1804; died 9th July, 1847.
      Thomas, born 16th June, 1806; died 1st December, 1812.
      Catharine, born 6th September, 1808; died 4th June, 1812.
      William, born 12th May, 1810; succeeded his father as

    [346] Good luck (in the sense of _Chance_) seems properly to be the
    occurrence of Opportunity to one who has neither deserved nor knows
    how to use it. In such hands it commonly turns to ill luck. Moore's
    Bermudan appointment is an instance of it Wordsworth had a sound
    common-sense and practical conscientiousness, which enabled him to
    fil his office as well as Dr. Franklin could have done. A fitter man
    could not have been found in Westmoreland.

      "I am not one who much or oft delight
      In personal talk."

    [348] How far he swung backward toward the school under whose
    influence he grew up, and toward the style against which he had
    protested so vigorously, a few examples will show. The advocate of
    the language of common life has a verse in his Thanksgiving Ode
    which, if one met with it by itself, he would think the achievement
    of some later copyist of Pope:--

      "While the _tubed engine_ [the organ] feels the inspiring blast."

    And in "The Italian Itinerant" and "The Swiss Goatherd" we find a
    thermometer or barometer called

              "The well-wrought scale
      Whose sentient tube instructs to time
      A purpose to a fickle clime."

    Still worse in the "Eclipse of the Sun," 1821:--

      "High on her speculative tower
      Stood Science, waiting for the hour
      When Sol was destined to endure
        That darkening."

    So in "The Excursion,"

      "The cold March wind raised in her tender throat
      Viewless obstructions."

    [349] According to Landor, he pronounced all Scott's poetry to be
    "not worth five shillings."

    [350] Prelude, Book VI.

    [351]  This was instinctively felt, even by his admirers. Miss
    Martineau said to Crabb Robinson in 1839, speaking of Wordsworth's
    conversation: "Sometimes he is annoying from the pertinacity with
    which he dwells on trifles; at other times he flows on in the utmost
    grandeur, leaving a strong impression of inspiration." Robinson tells
    us that he read "Resolution" and "Independence" to a lady who was
    affected by it even to tears, and then said, "I have not heard
    anything for years that so much delighted me; but, _after all, it is
    not poetry_."

    [352] Nowhere is this displayed with more comic self-complacency than
    when he thought it needful to rewrite the ballad of Helen of
    Kirconnel,--a poem hardly to be matched in any language for swiftness
    of movement and savage sincerity of feeling. Its shuddering
    compression is masterly. Compare

      "Curst be the heart that thought the thought,
      And curst the hand that fired the shot,
      When in my arms burd Helen dropt,
        That died to succor me!
      O, think ye not my heart was sair
      When my love dropt down and spake na mair?"

    compare this with,--

     "Proud Gordon cannot bear the thoughts
        That through his brain are travelling,
      And, starting up, to Bruce's heart
        He launched a deadly javelin:
      Fair Ellen saw it when it came,
      And, _stepping forth to meet the same_,
      Did with her body cover
      The Youth, her chosen lover.
             *       *       *       *       *
     "And Bruce (_as soon, as he had slain
      The Gordon_) sailed away to Spain,
      And fought with rage incessant
      Against the Moorish Crescent."

    These are surely the verses of an attorney's clerk "penning a stanza
    when he should engross." It will be noticed that Wordsworth here also
    departs from his earlier theory of the language of poetry by
    substituting a javelin for a bullet as less modern and familiar. Had
    he written,--

     "And Gordon never gave a hint,
      But, having somewhat picked his flint,
      Let fly the fatal bullet
      That killed that lovely pullet,"

    it would hardly have seemed more like a parody than the rest. He
    shows the same insensibility in a note upon the Ancient Mariner in
    the second edition of the Lyrical Ballads: "The poem of my friend has
    indeed great defects; first, that the principal person has no
    distinct character, either in his profession of mariner, or as a
    human being who, having been long under the control of supernatural
    impressions, might be supposed himself to partake of something
    supernatural; secondly, that he does not act, but is continually
    acted upon; thirdly, that the events, having no necessary connection,
    do not produce each other; and lastly, that the imagery is somewhat
    laboriously accumulated." Here is an indictment, to be sure, and
    drawn, plainly enough, by the attorney's clerk aforenamed. One would
    think that the strange charm of Coleridge's most truly original poems
    lay in this very emancipation from the laws of cause and effect.

      "A hundred times when, roving high and low,
      I have been harassed with the toil of verse,
      Much pains and little progress, and at once
      Some lovely Image in the song rose up,
      Full formed, like Venus rising from the sea."

    _Prelude_, Book IV.

    [354] Mr. Emerson tells us that he was at first tempted to smile, and
    Mr. Ellis Yarnall (who saw him in his eightieth year) says, "These
    quotations [from his own works] he read in a way that much impressed
    me; it seemed almost as if he were _awed by the greatness of his own
    power, the gifts with which he had been endowed_." (The italics are

    [355] His best poetry was written when he was under the immediate
    influence of Coleridge. Coleridge seems to have felt this, for it is
    evidently to Wordsworth that he alludes when he speaks of "those who
    have been so well pleased that I should, year after year, flow with a
    hundred nameless rills into _their_ main stream." (Letters,
    Conversations, and Recollections of S.T.C., Vol. I. pp. 5-6.)
    "Wordsworth found fault with the repetition of the concluding sound
    of the participles in Shakespeare's line about bees:

      "'The singing masons building roofs of gold.'

    "This, he said, was a line that Milton never would have written. Keats
    thought, on the other hand, that the repetition was in harmony with
    the continued note of the singers." (Leigh Hunt's Autobiography.)
    Wordsworth writes to Crabb Robinson in 1837, "My ear is susceptible
    to the clashing of sounds almost to disease." One cannot help
    thinking that his training in these niceties was begun by Coleridge.

    [356] In the Preface to his translation of the Orlando Furioso.

    [357] In "Resolution" and "Independence".


If the biographies of literary men are to assume the bulk which Mr.
Masson is giving to that of Milton, their authors should send a phial of
_elixir vitae_  with the first volume, that a purchaser might have some
valid assurance of surviving to see the last. Mr. Masson has already
occupied thirteen hundred and seventy-eight pages in getting Milton to
his thirty-fifth year, and an interval of eleven years stretches between
the dates of the first and second instalments of his published labors. As
Milton's literary life properly begins at twenty-one, with the "Ode on
the Nativity," and as by far the more important part of it lies between
the year at which we are arrived and his death at the age of sixty-six,
we might seem to have the terms given us by which to make a rough
reckoning of how soon we are likely to see land. But when we recollect
the baffling character of the winds and currents we have already
encountered, and the eddies that may at any time slip us back to the
reformation in Scotland or the settlement of New England; when we
consider, moreover, that Milton's life overlapped the _grand siècle_ of
French literature, with its irresistible temptations to digression and
homily for a man of Mr Masson's temperament, we may be pardoned if a sigh
of doubt and discouragement escape us. We envy the secular leisures of
Methusaleh, and are thankful that _his_ biography at least (if written in
the same longeval proportion) is irrecoverably lost to us. What a subject
would that have been for a person of Mr. Masson's spacious predilections!
Even if he himself can count on patriarchal prorogations of existence,
let him hang a print of the Countess of Desmond in his study to remind
him of the ambushes which Fate lays for the toughest of us. For myself, I
have not dared to climb a cherry-tree since I began to read his work.
Even with the promise of a speedy third volume before me, I feel by no
means sure of living to see Mary Powell back in her husband's house; for
it is just at this crisis that Mr. Masson, with the diabolical art of a
practised serial writer, leaves us while he goes into an exhaustive
account of the Westminster Assembly and the political and religious
notions of the Massachusetts Puritans. One could not help thinking, after
having got Milton fairly through college, that he was never more mistaken
in his life than when he wrote,

  "How _soon_ hath Time, that subtle thief of youth,
  Stolen on his wing my three-and-twentieth year!"

Or is it Mr. Masson who has scotched Time's wheels?

It is plain from the Preface to the second volume that Mr. Masson himself
has an uneasy consciousness that something is wrong, and that Milton
ought somehow to be more than a mere incident of his own biography. He
tells us that, "whatever may be thought by a hasty person looking in on
the subject from the outside, no one can study the life of Milton as it
ought to be studied without being obliged to study extensively and
intimately the contemporary history of England, and even incidentally of
Scotland and Ireland too.... Thus on the very compulsion, or at least the
suasion, of the biography, a history grew on my hands. It was not in
human nature to confine the historical inquiries, once they were in
progress, within the precise limits of their demonstrable bearing on the
biography, even had it been possible to determine these limits
beforehand; and so the history assumed a co-ordinate importance with me,
was pursued often for its own sake, and became, though always with a
sense of organic relation to the biography, continuous in itself." If a
"hasty person" be one who thinks eleven years rather long to have his
button held by a biographer ere he begin his next sentence, I take to
myself the sting of Mr. Masson's covert sarcasm. I confess with shame a
pusillanimity that is apt to flag if a "to be continued" do not redeem
its promise before the lapse of a quinquennium. I could scarce await the
"Autocrat" himself so long. The heroic age of literature is past, and
even a duodecimo may often prove too heavy [Greek: oion nun brotoi] for
the descendants of men to whom the folio was a pastime. But what does Mr.
Masson mean by "continuous"? To me it seems rather as if his somewhat
rambling history of the seventeenth century were interrupted now and then
by an unexpected apparition of Milton, who, like Paul Pry, just pops in
and hopes he does not intrude, to tell us what _he_ has been doing in the
mean while. The reader, immersed in Scottish politics or the schemes of
Archbishop Laud, is a little puzzled at first, but reconciles himself on
being reminded that this fair-haired young man is the protagonist of the
drama. _Pars minima est ipsa puella sui_.

If Goethe was right in saying that every man was a citizen of his age as
well as of his country, there can be no doubt that in order to understand
the motives and conduct of the man we must first make ourselves intimate
with the time in which he lived. We have therefore no fault to find with
the thoroughness of Mr. Masson's "historical inquiries." The more
thorough the better, so far as they were essential to the satisfactory
performance of his task. But it is only such contemporary events,
opinions, or persons as were really operative on the character of the man
we are studying that are of consequence, and we are to familiarize
ourselves with them, not so much for the sake of explaining them as of
understanding him. The biographer, especially of a literary man, need
only mark the main currents of tendency, without being officious to trace
out to its marshy source every runlet that has cast in its tiny
pitcherful with the rest. Much less should he attempt an analysis of the
stream and to classify every component by itself, as if each were ever
effectual singly and not in combination. Human motives cannot be thus
chemically cross-examined, nor do we arrive at any true knowledge of
character by such minute subdivision of its ingredients. Nothing is so
essential to a biographer as an eye that can distinguish at a glance
between real events that are the levers of thought and action, and what
Donne calls "unconcerning things, matters of fact,"--between substantial
personages, whose contact or even neighborhood is influential, and the
supernumeraries that serve first to fill up a stage and afterwards the
interstices of a biographical dictionary.

  "Time hath a wallet at his back
  Wherein he puts alms for Oblivion."

Let the biographer keep his fingers off that sacred and merciful deposit,
and not renew for us the bores of a former generation as if we had not
enough of our own. But if he cannot forbear that unwise inquisitiveness,
we may fairly complain when he insists on taking us along with him in the
processes of his investigation, instead of giving us the sifted results
in their bearing on the life and character of his subject, whether for
help or hindrance. We are blinded with the dust of old papers ransacked
by Mr. Masson to find out that they have no relation whatever to his
hero. He had been wise if he had kept constantly in view what Milton
himself says of those who gathered up personal traditions concerning the
Apostles: "With less fervency was studied what Saint Paul or Saint John
had written than was listened to one that could say, 'Here he taught,
here he stood, this was his stature, and thus he went habited; and O,
happy this house that harbored him, and that cold stone whereon he
rested, this village where he wrought such a miracle.'.... Thus while all
their thoughts were poured out upon circumstances and the gazing after
such men as had sat at table with the Apostles, ... by this means they
lost their time and truanted on the fundamental grounds of saving
knowledge, as was seen shortly in their writings." Mr. Masson has so
_poured out his mind upon circumstances_, that his work reminds us of
Allston's picture of Elijah in the Wilderness, where a good deal of
research at last enables us to guess at the prophet absconded like a
conundrum in the landscape where the very ravens could scarce have found
him out, except by divine commission. The figure of Milton becomes but a
speck on the enormous canvas crowded with the scenery through which he
may by any possibility be conjectured to have passed. I will cite a
single example of the desperate straits to which Mr. Masson is reduced in
order to hitch Milton on to his own biography. He devotes the first
chapter of his Second Book to the meeting of the Long Parliament.
"Already," he tells us, "in the earlier part of the day, the Commons had
gone through the ceremony of hearing the writ for the Parliament read,
and the names of the members that had been returned called over by Thomas
Wyllys, Esq., the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery. His deputy, _Agar,
Milton's brother-in-law, may have been in attendance on such an
occasion_. During the preceding month or two, _at all events_, Agar and
his subordinates in the Crown Office had been unusually busy with the
issue of the writs and with the other work connected with the opening of
Parliament." (Vol. II. p. 150.) Mr. Masson's resolute "at all events" is
very amusing. Meanwhile

  "The hungry sheep look up and are not fed."

Augustine Thierry has a great deal to answer for, if to him we owe the
modern fashion of writing history picturesquely. At least his method
leads to most unhappy results when essayed by men to whom nature has
denied a sense of what the picturesque really is. The historical
picturesque does not consist, in truth of costume and similar
accessaries, but in the grouping, attitude, and expression of the
figures, caught when they are unconscious that the artist is sketching
them. The moment they are posed for a composition, unless by a man of
genius, the life has gone out of them. In the hands of an inferior
artist, who fancies that imagination is something to be squeezed out of
color-tubes, the past becomes a phantasmagoria of jackboots, doublets,
and flap-hats, the mere property-room of a deserted theatre, as if the
light had been scenical and illusory, the world an unreal thing that
vanished with the foot-lights. It is the power of catching the actors in
great events at unawares that makes the glimpses given us by
contemporaries so vivid and precious. And St. Simon, one of the great
masters of the picturesque, lets us into the secret of his art when he
tells us how, in that wonderful scene of the death of Monseigneur, he saw
"_du premier coup d'oeil vivement porté_, tout ce qui leur échappoit et
tout ce qui les accableroit." It is the gift of producing this reality
that almost makes us blush, as if we had been caught peeping through a
keyhole, and had surprised secrets to which we had no right,--it is this
only that can justify the pictorial method of narration. Mr. Carlyle has
this power of contemporizing himself with bygone times, he cheats us to

  "Play with our fancies and believe we see";

but we find the _tableaux vivants_ of the apprentices who "deal in his
command without his power," and who compel us to work very hard indeed
with our fancies, rather wearisome. The effort of weaker arms to shoot
with his mighty bow has filled the air of recent literature with more
than enough fruitless twanging.

Mr. Masson's style, at best cumbrous, becomes intolerably awkward when he
strives to make up for the want of St. Simon's _premier coup d'oeil_ by
impertinent details of what we must call the pseudo-dramatic kind. For
example, does Hall profess to have traced Milton from the University to a
"suburb sink" of London? Mr. Masson fancies he hears Milton saying to
himself, "A suburb sink! has Hall or his son taken the trouble to walk
all the way down to Aldersgate here, to peep up the entry where I live,
and so have an exact notion of my whereabouts? There has been plague in
the neighborhood certainly; and I hope Jane Yates had my doorstep tidy
for the visit." Does Milton, answering Hall's innuendo that he was
courting the graces of a rich widow, tell us that he would rather "choose
a virgin of mean fortunes honestly bred"? Mr. Masson forthwith breaks
forth in a paroxysm of what we suppose to be picturesqueness in this
wise: "What have we here? Surely nothing less, if we choose so to
construe it, than a marriage advertisement! Ho, all ye virgins of England
(widows need not apply), here is an opportunity such as seldom occurs: a
bachelor, unattached; age, thirty-three years and three or four months;
height [Milton, by the way, would have said _highth_] middle or a little
less; personal appearance unusually handsome, with fair complexion and
light auburn hair; circumstances independent; tastes intellectual and
decidedly musical; principles Root-and-Branch! Was there already any
young maiden in whose bosom, had such an advertisement come in her way,
it would have raised a conscious flutter? If so, did she live near
Oxford?" If there _is_ anything worse than an unimaginative man trying to
write imaginatively, it is a heavy man when he fancies he is being
facetious. He tramples out the last spark of cheerfulness with the broad
damp foot of a hippopotamus.

I am no advocate of what is called the dignity of history, when it means,
as it too often does, that dulness has a right of sanctuary in gravity.
Too well do I recall the sorrows of my youth, when I was shipped in
search of knowledge on the long Johnsonian swell of the last century,
favorable to anything but the calm digestion of historic truth. I had
even then an uneasy suspicion, which has ripened into certainty, that
thoughts were never draped in long skirts like babies, if they were
strong enough to go alone. But surely there should be such a thing as
good taste, above all a sense of self-respect, in the historian himself,
that should not allow him to play any tricks with the dignity of his
subject. A halo of sacredness has hitherto invested the figure of Milton,
and our image of him has dwelt securely in ideal remoteness from the
vulgarities of life. No diaries, no private letters, remain to give the
idle curiosity of after-times the right to force itself on the hallowed
seclusion of his reserve. That a man whose familiar epistles were written
in the language of Cicero, whose sense of personal dignity was so great
that, when called on in self-defence to speak of himself, he always does
it with an epical stateliness of phrase, and whose self-respect even in
youth was so profound that it resembles the reverence paid by other men
to a far-off and idealized character,--that he should be treated in this
offhand familiar fashion by his biographer seems to us a kind of
desecration, a violation of good manners no less than of the laws of
biographic art. Milton is the last man in the world to be slapped on the
back with impunity. Better the surly injustice of Johnson than such
presumptuous friendship as this. Let the seventeenth century, at least,
be kept sacred from the insupportable foot of the interviewer!

But Mr. Masson, in his desire to be (shall I say) idiomatic, can do
something worse than what has been hitherto quoted. He can be even
vulgar. Discussing the motives of Milton's first marriage, he says, "Did
he come seeking his £500, and did Mrs. Powell _heave a daughter at him?_"
We have heard of a woman throwing herself at a man's head, and the image
is a somewhat violent one; but what is this to Mr. Masson's improvement
on it? It has been sometimes affirmed that the fitness of an image may be
tested by trying whether a picture could be made of it or not. Mr. Masson
has certainly offered a new and striking subject to the historical school
of British art. A little further on, speaking of Mary Powell, he says,
"We have no portrait of her, nor any account of her appearance; but on
the usual rule of the elective affinities of opposites, Milton being
fair, _we will vote her_ to have been dark-haired." I need say nothing of
the good taste of this sentence, but its absurdity is heightened by the
fact that Mr. Masson himself had left us in doubt whether the match
was one of convenience or inclination. I know not how it may be
with other readers, but for myself I feel inclined to resent this
hail-fellow-well-met manner with its jaunty "_we_ will vote." In some
cases, Mr. Masson's indecorums in respect of style may possibly be
accounted for as attempts at humor by one who has an imperfect notion of
its ingredients. In such experiments, to judge by the effect, the pensive
element of the compound enters in too large an excess over the hilarious.
Whether I have hit upon the true explanation, or whether the cause lie
not rather in a besetting velleity of the picturesque and vivid, I shall
leave the reader to judge by an example or two. In the manuscript copy of
Milton's sonnet in which he claims for his own house the immunity which
the memory of Pindar and Euripides secured for other walls, the title had
originally been, "_On his Door when the City expected an Assault_."
Milton has drawn a line through this and substituted "_When the Assault
was intended to the City_." Mr. Masson fancies "a mood of jest or
semi-jest in the whole affair"; but we think rather that Milton's quiet
assumption of equality with two such famous poets was as seriously
characteristic as Dante's ranking himself _sesto tra cotanto senno_. Mr.
Masson takes advantage of the obliterated title to imagine one of Prince
Rupert's troopers entering the poet's study and finding some of his
"Anti-Episcopal pamphlets that had been left lying about inadvertently.
'Oho!' the Cavalier Captain might then have said, 'Pindar and Euripides
are all very well, by G----! I've been at college myself; and when I meet
a gentleman and scholar, I hope I know how to treat him; but neither
Pindar nor Euripides ever wrote pamphlets against the Church of England,
by G----! It won't do, Mr. Milton!'" This, it may be supposed, is Mr.
Masson's way of being funny and dramatic at the same time. Good taste is
shocked with this barbarous dissonance. Could not the Muse defend her
son? Again, when Charles I., at Edinburgh, in the autumn and winter of
1641, fills the vacant English sees, we are told, "It was more than an
insult; it was a sarcasm! It was as if the King, while giving Alexander
Henderson his hand to kiss, had winked his royal eye over that reverend
Presbyter's back!" Now one can conceive Charles II. winking when he took
the Solemn League and Covenant, but never his father under any
circumstances. He may have been, and I believe he was, a bad king, but
surely we may take Marvell's word for it, that

  "He nothing common did or mean,"

upon any of the "memorable scenes" of his life. The image is, therefore,
out of all imaginative keeping, and vulgarizes the chief personage in a
grand historical tragedy, who, if not a great, was at least a decorous
actor. But Mr. Masson can do worse than this. Speaking of a Mrs.
Katherine Chidley, who wrote in defence of the Independents against
Thomas Edwards, he says, "People wondered who this she-Brownist,
Katherine Chidley, was, and did not quite lose their interest in her when
they found that she was an oldish woman, and a member of some
hole-and-corner congregation in London. Indeed, _she put her nails into
Mr. Edwards with some effect_." Why did he not say at once, after the
good old fashion, that she "set her ten commandments in his face"? In
another place he speaks of "Satan standing with his _staff_ around him."
Mr. Masson's style, a little Robertsonian at best, naturally grows worse
when forced to condescend to every-day matters. He can no more dismount
and walk than the man in armor on a Lord Mayor's day. "It [Aldersgate
Street] stretches away northwards a full fourth of a mile as one
continuous thoroughfare, until, crossed by Long Lane and the Barbican, it
parts with the name of Aldersgate Street, and, under the new names of
Goswell Street and Goswell Road, _completes its tendency towards the
suburbs_ and fields about Islington." What a noble work might not the
Directory be if composed on this scale! The imagination even of an
alderman might well be lost in that full quarter of a mile of continuous
thoroughfare. Mr. Masson is very great in these passages of civic
grandeur; but he is more surprising, on the whole, where he has an image
to deal with. Speaking of Milton's "two-handed engine" in Lycidas, he
says: "May not Milton, whatever else he meant, have meant a coming
English Parliament with its two Houses? Whatever he meant, his prophecy
had come true. As he sat among his books in Aldersgate Street, the
two-handed engine at the door of the English Church was on the swing.
Once, twice, thrice, it had swept its arcs to gather energy; now it was
on the backmost poise, and the blow was to descend." One cannot help
wishing that Mr. Masson would try his hand on the tenth horn of the beast
in Revelation, or on the time and half a time of Daniel. There is
something so consoling to a prophet in being told that, no matter what he
meant, his prophecy had come true, and that he might mean "whatever else"
he pleased, so long as he _may_ have meant what we choose to think he
did, reasoning backward from the assumed fulfilment! But perhaps there
may be detected in Mr. Masson's "swept its arcs" a little of that
prophetic hedging-in vagueness to which he allows so generous a latitude.
How if the "two-handed engine," after all, were a broom (or besom, to be
more dignified),

  "Sweeping--vehemently sweeping,
  No pause admitted, no design avowed,"

like that wielded by the awful shape which Dion the Syracusan saw? I make
the suggestion modestly, though somewhat encouraged by Mr. Masson's
system of exegesis, which reminds one of the casuists' doctrine of
probables, in virtue of which a man may be _probabiliter obligatus_ and
_probabiliter deobligatus_ at the same time. But perhaps the most
remarkable instance of Mr. Masson's figures of speech is where we are
told that the king might have established a _bona fide_ government "by
giving public ascendency to the popular or Parliamentary element in his
Council, and _inducing the old leaven in it either to accept the new
policy, or to withdraw and become inactive."_ There is something
consoling in the thought that yeast should be accessible to moral
suasion. It is really too bad that bread should ever be heavy for want of
such an appeal to its moral sense as should "induce it to accept the new
policy." Of Mr. Masson's unhappy infection with the _vivid_ style an
instance or two shall be given in justification of what has been alleged
against him in that particular. He says of London that "he was committed
to the Tower, where for more than two months he lay, with as near a
prospect as ever prisoner had of a _chop_ with the executioner's axe on a
scaffold on Tower Hill." I may be over-fastidious, but the word "chop"
offends my ears with its coarseness, or if that be too strong, has
certainly the unpleasant effect of an emphasis unduly placed. Old
Auchinleck's saying of Cromwell, that "he gart kings ken they had a lith
in their necks," is a good example of really vivid phrase, suggesting the
axe and the block, and giving one of those dreadful hints to the
imagination which are more powerful than any amount of detail, and whose
skilful use is the only magic employed by the masters of truly
picturesque writing. The sentence just quoted will serve also as an
example of that tendency to _surplusage_, which adds to the bulk of Mr.
Masson's sentences at the cost of their effectiveness. If he had said
simply "chop on Tower Hill" (if chop there must be), it had been quite
enough, for we all know that the executioner's axe and the scaffold are
implied in it. Once more, and I have done with the least agreeable part
of my business. Mr. Masson, after telling over again the story of
Strafford with needless length of detail, ends thus: "On Wednesday, the
12th of May, that proud _curly_ head, the casket of that brain of power,
rolled on the scaffold of Tower Hill." Why _curly_? Surely it is here a
ludicrous impertinence. This careful thrusting forward of outward and
unmeaning particulars, in the hope of giving that reality to a picture
which genius only has the art to do, is becoming a weariness in modern
descriptive writing. It reminds one of the Mrs. Jarley expedient of
dressing the waxen effigies of murderers in the very clothes they wore
when they did the deed, or with the real halter round their necks
wherewith they expiated it. It is probably very effective with the torpid
sensibilities of the class who look upon wax figures as works of art.
True imaginative power works with other material. Lady Macbeth striving
to wash away from her hands the damned spot that is all the more there to
the mind of the spectator because it is not there at all, is a type of
the methods it employs and the intensity of their action.

Having discharged my duty in regard to Mr. Masson's faults of manner,
which I should not have dwelt on so long had they not greatly marred a
real enjoyment in the reading, and were they not the ear-mark of a school
which has become unhappily numerous, I turn to a consideration of his
work as a whole. I think he made a mistake in his very plan, or else was
guilty of a misnomer in his title. His book is not so much a life of
Milton as a collection of materials out of which a careful reader may
sift the main facts of the poet's biography. His passion for minute
detail is only to be equalled by his diffuseness on points mainly if not
altogether irrelevant. He gives us a Survey of British Literature,
occupying one hundred and twenty-eight pages of his first volume, written
in the main with good judgment, and giving the average critical opinion
upon nearly every writer, great and small, who was in any sense a
contemporary of Milton. I have no doubt all this would be serviceable and
interesting to Mr. Masson's classes in Edinburgh University, and they may
well be congratulated on having so competent a teacher; but what it has
to do with Milton, unless in the case of such authors as may be shown to
have influenced his style or turn of thought, one does not clearly see.
Most readers of a life of Milton may be presumed to have some knowledge
of the general literary history of the time, or at any rate to have the
means of acquiring it, and Milton's manner (his style was his own) was
very little affected by any of the English poets, with the single
exception, in his earlier poems, of George Wither. Mr. Masson also has
something to say about everybody, from Wentworth to the obscurest
Brownist fanatic who was so much as heard of in England during Milton's
lifetime. If this theory of a biographer's duty should hold, our
grandchildren may expect to see "A Life of Thackeray, or who was who in
England, France, and Germany during the first Half of the Nineteenth
Century." These digressions of Mr. Masson's from what should have been
his main topic (he always seems somehow to be "completing his tendency
towards the suburbs" of his subject), give him an uneasy feeling that he
must get Milton in somehow or other at intervals, if it were only to
remind the reader that he has a certain connection with the book. He is
eager even to discuss a mere hypothesis, though an untenable one, if it
will only increase the number of pages devoted specially to Milton, and
thus lessen the apparent disproportion between the historical and the
biographical matter. Milton tells us that his morning wont had been "to
read good authors, or cause them to be read, till the attention be weary,
or memory have his full fraught; then with useful and generous labors
preserving the body's health and hardiness, to render lightsome, clear,
and not lumpish obedience to the mind, to the cause of religion and our
country's liberty when it shall require firm hearts in sound bodies to
stand and cover their stations rather than see the rum of our
Protestantism and the enforcement of a slavish life." Mr. Masson snatches
at the hint: "This is interesting," he says; "Milton, it seems, has for
some time been practising drill! The City Artillery Ground was near....
Did Milton among others make a habit of going there of mornings? Of this
more hereafter." When Mr. Masson returns to the subject he speaks of
Milton's "all but positive statement ... that in the spring of 1642, or a
few months before the breaking out of the Civil War, he was in the habit
of spending a part of each day in _military exercise somewhere not far
from his house in Aldersgate Street_." What he puts by way of query on
page 402 has become downright certainty seventy-nine pages further on.
The passage from Milton's tract makes no "statement" of the kind it
pleases Mr. Masson to assume. It is merely a Miltonian way of saying that
he took regular exercise, because he believed that moral no less than
physical courage demanded a sound body. And what proof does Mr. Masson
bring to confirm his theory? Nothing more nor less than two or three
passages in "Paradise Lost," of which I shall quote only so much as is
essential to his argument:--

                                "And now
  Advanced in view they stand, a horrid front
  Of dreadful length and dazzling arms, in guise
  Of warriors old with _ordered_ spear and shield,
  Awaiting what command their mighty chief
  Had to impose."[359]

Mr. Masson assures us that "there are touches in this description (as,
for example, the _ordering_ of arms at the moment of halt, and without
word of command) too exact and technical to have occurred to a mere
civilian. Again, at the same review....

                             "'He now prepared
  To speak; whereat their doubled ranks they bend
  From wing to wing, and half enclose him round
  With all his peers; _attention_ held them mute.'[360]

"To the present day this is the very process, or one of the processes,
when a commander wishes to address his men. They wheel inward and stand
at 'attention.'" But his main argument is the phrase "_ported_ spears,"
in Book Fourth, on which he has an interesting and valuable comment. He
argues the matter through a dozen pages or more, seeking to prove that
Milton _must_ have had some practical experience of military drill. I
confess a very grave doubt whether "attention" and "ordered" in the
passages cited have any other than their ordinary meaning, and Milton
could never have looked on at the pike-exercise without learning what
"ported" meant. But, be this as it may, I will venture to assert that
there was not a boy in New England, forty years ago, who did not know
more of the manual than is implied in Milton's use of these terms. Mr.
Masson's object in proving Milton to have been a proficient in these
martial exercises is to increase our wonder at his not entering the army.
"If there was any man in England of whom one might surely have expected
that he would be in arms among the Parliamentarians," he says, "that man
was Milton." Milton may have had many an impulse to turn soldier, as all
men must in such times, but I do not believe that he ever seriously
intended it. Nor is it any matter of reproach that he did not. It is
plain, from his works, that he believed himself very early set apart and
consecrated for tasks of a very different kind, for services demanding as
much self-sacrifice and of more enduring result. I have no manner of
doubt that he, like Dante, believed himself divinely inspired with what
he had to utter, and, if so, why not also divinely guided in what he
should do or leave undone? Milton wielded in the cause he loved a weapon
far more effective than a sword.

It is a necessary result of Mr. Masson's method, that a great deal of
space is devoted to what might have befallen his hero and what he might
have seen. This leaves a broad margin indeed for the insertion of purely
hypothetical incidents. Nay, so desperately addicted is he to what he
deems the vivid style of writing, that he even goes out of his way to
imagine what might have happened to anybody living at the same time with
Milton. Having told us fairly enough how Shakespeare, on his last visit
to London, perhaps saw Milton "a fair child of six playing at his
father's door," he must needs conjure up an imaginary supper at the
Mermaid. "Ah! what an evening ... was that; and how Ben and Shakespeare
_be-tongued_ each other, while the others listened and wondered; and how,
when the company dispersed, the sleeping street heard their departing
footsteps, and the stars shone down on the old roofs." Certainly, if we
may believe the old song, the stars "had nothing else to do," though
their chance of shining in the middle of a London November may perhaps be
reckoned very doubtful. An author should consider how largely the art of
writing consists in knowing what to leave in the inkstand.

Mr. Masson's volumes contain a great deal of very valuable matter,
whatever one may think of its bearing upon the life of Milton. The
chapters devoted to Scottish affairs are particularly interesting to a
student of the Great Rebellion, its causes and concomitants. His analyses
of the two armies, of the Parliament, and the Westminster Assembly, are
sensible additions to our knowledge. A too painful thoroughness, indeed,
is the criticism we should make on his work as a biography. Even as a
history, the reader might complain that it confuses by the multiplicity
of its details, while it wearies by want of continuity. Mr. Masson lacks
the skill of an accomplished story-teller. A fact is to him a fact, never
mind how unessential, and he misses the breadth of truth in his devotion
to accuracy. The very order of his title-page, "The Life of Milton,
narrated in Connection with the Political, Ecclesiastical, and Literary
History of his Time," shows, it should seem, a misconception of the true
nature of his subject. Milton's chief importance, it might be fairly said
his only importance, is a literary one. His place is fixed as the most
classical of our poets.

Neither in politics, theology, nor social ethics, did Milton leave any
distinguishable trace on the thought of his time or in the history of
opinion. In both these lines of his activity circumstances forced upon
him the position of a controversialist whose aims and results are by the
necessity of the case desultory and ephemeral. Hooker before him and
Hobbes after him had a far firmer grasp of fundamental principles than
he. His studies in these matters were perfunctory and occasional, and his
opinions were heated to the temper of the times and shaped to the instant
exigencies of the forum, sometimes to his own convenience at the moment,
instead of being the slow result of a deliberate judgment enlightened by
intellectual and above all historical sympathy with his subject. His
interest was rather in the occasion than the matter of the controversy.
No aphorisms of political science are to be gleaned from his writings as
from those of Burke. His intense personality could never so far
dissociate itself from the question at issue as to see it in its larger
scope and more universal relations. He was essentially a _doctrinaire_,
ready to sacrifice everything to what at the moment seemed the abstract
truth, and with no regard to historical antecedents and consequences,
provided those of scholastic logic were carefully observed. He has no
respect for usage or tradition except when they count in his favor, and
sees no virtue in that power of the past over the minds and conduct of
men which alone insures the continuity of national growth and is the
great safeguard of order and progress. The life of a nation was of less
importance to him than that it should be conformed to certain principles
of belief and conduct. Burke could distill political wisdom out of
history because he had a profound consciousness of the soul that
underlies and outlives events, and of the national character that gives
them meaning and coherence. Accordingly his words are still living and
operative, while Milton's pamphlets are strictly occasional and no longer
interesting except as they illustrate him. In the Latin ones especially
there is an odd mixture of the pedagogue and the public orator. His
training, so far as it was thorough, so far, indeed, as it may be called
optional, was purely poetical and artistic. A true Attic bee, he made
boot on every lip where there was a trace of truly classic honey.

Milton, indeed, could hardly have been a match for some of his
antagonists in theological and ecclesiastical learning. But he brought
into the contest a white heat of personal conviction that counted for
much. His self-consciousness, always active, identified him with the
cause he undertook. "I conceived myself to be now not as mine own person,
but as a member incorporate into that truth whereof I was persuaded and
whereof I had declared myself openly to be the partaker."[361]
Accordingly it does not so much seem that he is the advocate of
Puritanism, Freedom of Conscience, or the People of England, as that all
these are _he_, and that he is speaking for himself. He was not nice in
the choice of his missiles, and too often borrows a dirty lump from the
dunghill of Luther; but now and then the gnarled sticks of controversy
turn to golden arrows of Phoebus in his trembling hands, singing as they
fly and carrying their messages of doom in music. Then, truly, in his
prose as in his verse, his is the large utterance of the early gods, and
there is that in him which tramples all learning under his victorious
feet. From the first he looked upon himself as a man dedicated and set
apart. He had that sublime persuasion of a divine mission which sometimes
lifts his speech from personal to cosmopolitan significance; his genius
unmistakably asserts itself from time to time, calling down fire from
heaven to kindle the sacrifice of irksome private duty, and turning the
hearthstone of an obscure man into an altar for the worship of mankind.
Plainly enough here was a man who had received something other than
Episcopal ordination. Mysterious and awful powers had laid their
unimaginable hands on that fair head and devoted it to a nobler service.
Yet it must be confessed that, with the single exception of the
"Areopagitica," Milton's tracts are wearisome reading, and going through
them is like a long sea-voyage whose monotony is more than compensated
for the moment by a stripe of phosphorescence heaping before you in a
drift of star-sown snow, coiling away behind in winking disks of silver,
as if the conscious element were giving out all the moonlight it had
garnered in its loyal depths since first it gazed upon its pallid regent.
Which, being interpreted, means that his prose is of value because it is
Milton's, because it sometimes exhibits in an inferior degree the
qualities of his verse, and not for its power of thought, of reasoning,
or of statement. It is valuable, where it is best, for its inspiring
quality, like the fervencies of a Hebrew prophet. The English translation
of the Bible had to a very great degree Judaized, not the English mind,
but the Puritan temper. Those fierce enthusiasts could more easily find
elbow-room for their consciences in an ideal Israel than in a practical
England. It was convenient to see Amalek or Philistia in the men who met
them in the field, and one unintelligible horn or other of the Beast in
their theological opponents. The spiritual provincialism of the Jewish
race found something congenial in the English mind. Their national
egotism quintessentialized in the prophets was especially sympathetic
with the personal egotism of Milton. It was only as an inspired and
irresponsible person that he could live on decent terms with his own
self-confident individuality. There is an intolerant egotism which
identifies itself with omnipotence,[362] and whose sublimity is its
apology; there is an intolerable egotism which subordinates the sun to
the watch in its own fob. Milton's was of the former kind, and
accordingly the finest passages in his prose and not the least fine in
his verse are autobiographic, and this is the more striking that they are
often unconsciously so. Those fallen angels in utter ruin and combustion
hurled, are also cavaliers fighting against the Good Old Cause; Philistia
is the Restoration, and what Samson did, that Milton would have done if
he could.

The "Areopagitica" might seem an exception, but that also is a plea
rather than an argument, and his interest in the question is not one of
abstract principle, but of personal relation to himself. He was far more
rhetorician than thinker. The sonorous amplitude of his style was better
fitted to persuade the feelings than to convince the reason. The only
passages from his prose that may be said to have survived are emotional,
not argumentative, or they have lived in virtue of their figurative
beauty, not their weight of thought. Milton's power lay in dilation.
Touched by him, the simplest image, the most obvious thought,

                  "Dilated stood
  Like Teneriffe or Atlas....
  .... nor wanted in his grasp
  What _seemed_ both spear and shield."

But the thin stiletto of Macchiavelli is a more effective weapon than
these fantastic arms of his. He had not the secret of compression that
properly belongs to the political thinker, on whom, as Hazlitt said of
himself, "nothing but abstract ideas makes any impression." Almost every
aphoristic phrase that he has made current is borrowed from some one of
the classics, like his famous

  "License they mean when they cry liberty,"

from Tacitus. This is no reproach to him so far as his true function,
that of poet, is concerned. It is his peculiar glory that literature was
with him so much an art, an end and not a means. Of his political work he
has himself told us, "I should not choose this manner of writing,
wherein, knowing myself inferior to myself (led by the genial power of
nature to another task), I have the use, as I may account, but of my left

Mr. Masson has given an excellent analysis of these writings, selecting
with great judgment the salient passages, which have an air of
blank-verse thinly disguised as prose, like some of the corrupted
passages of Shakespeare. We are particularly thankful to him for his
extracts from the pamphlets written against Milton, especially for such
as contain criticisms on his style. It is not a little interesting to see
the most stately of poets reproached for his use of vulgarisms and low
words. We seem to get a glimpse of the schooling of his "choiceful sense"
to that nicety which could not be content till it had made his native
tongue "search all her coffers round." One cannot help thinking also that
his practice in prose, especially in the long involutions of Latin
periods, helped him to give that variety of pause and that majestic
harmony to his blank-verse which have made it so unapproachably his own.
Landor, who, like Milton, seems to have thought in Latin, has caught
somewhat more than others of the dignity of his gait, but without his
length of stride. Wordsworth, at his finest, has perhaps approached it,
but with how long an interval! Bryant has not seldom attained to its
serene equanimity, but never emulates its pomp. Keats has caught
something of its large utterance, but altogether fails of its nervous
severity of phrase. Cowper's muse (that moved with such graceful ease in
slippers) becomes stiff when (in his translation of Homer) she buckles on
her feet the cothurnus of Milton. Thomson grows tumid wherever he assays
the grandiosity of his model. It is instructive to get any glimpse of the
slow processes by which Milton arrived at that classicism which sets him
apart from, if not above, all our other poets.

In gathering up the impressions made upon us by Mr. Masson's work as a
whole, we are inclined rather to regret his copiousness for his own sake
than for ours. The several parts, though disproportionate, are valuable,
his research has been conscientious, and he has given us better means of
understanding Milton's time than we possessed before. But how is it about
Milton himself? Here was a chance, it seems to me, for a fine bit of
portrait-painting. There is hardly a more stately figure in literary
history than Milton's, no life in some of its aspects more tragical,
except Dante's. In both these great poets, more than in any others, the
character of the men makes part of the singular impressiveness of what
they wrote and of its vitality with after times. In them the man somehow
overtops the author. The works of both are full of autobiographical
confidences. Like Dante, Milton was forced to become a party by himself.
He stands out in marked and solitary individuality, apart from the great
movement of the Civil War, apart from the supine acquiescence of the
Restoration, a self-opinionated, unforgiving, and unforgetting man. Very
much alive he certainly was in his day. Has Mr. Masson made him alive to
us again? I fear not. At the same time, while we cannot praise either the
style or the method of Mr. Masson's work, we cannot refuse to be grateful
for it. It is not so much a book for the ordinary reader of biography as
for the student, and will be more likely to find its place on the
library-shelf than the centre-table. It does not in any sense belong to
light literature, but demands all the muscle of the trained and vigorous
reader. "Truly, in respect of itself, it is a good life; but in respect
that it is Milton's life it is naught."

Mr. Masson's intimacy with the facts and dates of Milton's career renders
him peculiarly fit in some respects to undertake an edition of the
poetical works. His edition, accordingly, has distinguished merits. The
introductions to the several poems are excellent and leave scarcely
anything to be desired. The general Introduction, on the other hand,
contains a great deal that might well have been omitted, and not a little
that is positively erroneous. Mr. Masson's discussions of Milton's
English seem often to be those of a Scotsman to whom English is in some
sort a foreign tongue. It is almost wholly inconclusive, because confined
to the Miltonic verse, while the basis of any altogether satisfactory
study should surely be the Miltonic prose; nay, should include all the
poetry and prose of his own age and of that immediately preceding it. The
uses to which Mr. Masson has put the concordance to Milton's poems tempt
one sometimes to class him with those whom the poet himself taxed with
being "the mousehunts and ferrets of an index." For example, what profits
a discussion of Milton's [Greek: hapax legomena], a matter in which
accident is far more influential than choice?[363] What sensible addition
is made to our stock of knowledge by learning that "the word _woman_ does
not occur in any form in Milton's poetry before 'Paradise Lost,'" and
that it is "exactly so with the word _female_"? Is it any way remarkable
that such words as _Adam, God, Heaven, Hell, Paradise, Sin, Satan_, and
_Serpent_ should occur "very frequently" in "Paradise Lost"? Would it not
rather have been surprising that they should not? Such trifles at best
come under the head of what old Warner would have called cumber-minds. It
is time to protest against this minute style of editing and commenting
great poets. Gulliver's microscopic eye saw on the fair skins of the
Brobdignagian maids of honor "a mole here and there as broad as a
trencher," and we shrink from a cup of the purest Hippocrene after the
critic's solar microscope has betrayed to us the grammatical,
syntactical, and, above all, hypothetical monsters that sprawl in every
drop of it. When a poet has been so much edited as Milton, the temptation
of whosoever undertakes a new edition to see what is not to be seen
becomes great in proportion as he finds how little there is that has not
been seen before.

Mr. Masson is quite right in choosing to modernize the spelling of
Milton, for surely the reading of our classics should be made as little
difficult as possible, and he is right also in making an exception of
such abnormal forms as the poet may fairly be supposed to have chosen for
melodic reasons. His exhaustive discussion of the spelling of the
original editions seems, however, to be the less called-for as he himself
appears to admit that the compositor, not the author, was supreme in
these matters, and that in nine hundred and ninety-nine cases to the
thousand Milton had no system, but spelt by immediate inspiration. Yet
Mr. Masson fills nearly four pages with an analysis of the vowel sounds,
in which, as if to demonstrate the futility of such attempts so long as
men's ears differ, he tells us that the short _a_ sound is the same in
_man_ and _Darby_, the short _o_ sound in _God_ and _does_, and what he
calls the long _o_ sound in _broad_ and _wrath_. Speaking of the
apostrophe, Mr. Masson tells us that "it is sometimes inserted, not as a
possessive mark at all, but merely as a plural mark: _hero's_ for
_heroes_, _myrtle's_ for _myrtles_, _Gorgons_ and _Hydra's_, etc." Now,
in books printed about the time of Milton's the apostrophe was put in
almost at random, and in all the cases cited is a misprint, except in the
first, where it serves to indicate that the pronunciation was not heróës
as it had formerly been.[364] In the "possessive singular of nouns
already ending in _s_" Mr. Masson tells us, "Milton's general practice is
not to double the _s_; thus, _Nereus wrinkled look, Glaucus spell_. The
necessities of metre would naturally constrain to such forms. In a
possessive followed by the word _sake_ or the word _side_, dislike to
[of] the double sibilant makes us sometimes drop the inflection. In
addition to '_for righteousness' sake_' such phrases as '_for thy name
sake_' and '_for mercy sake_,' are allowed to pass; _bedside_ is normal
and _riverside_ nearly so." The necessities of metre need not be taken
into account with a poet like Milton, who never was fairly in his element
till he got off the soundings of prose and felt the long swell of his
verse under him like a steed that knows his rider. But does the dislike
of the double sibilant account for the dropping of the _s_ in these
cases? Is it not far rather the presence of the _s_ already in the sound
satisfying an ear accustomed to the English slovenliness in the
pronunciation of double consonants? It was this which led to such forms
as _conscience sake_ and _on justice side_, and which beguiled Ben Jonson
and Dryden into thinking, the one that _noise_ and the other that _corps_
was a plural,[365] What does Mr. Masson say to _hillside, Bankside,
seaside, Cheapside, spindleside, spearside, gospelside_ (of a church),
_nightside, countryside, wayside, brookside_, and I know not how many
more? Is the first half of these words a possessive? Or is it not rather
a noun impressed into the service as an adjective? How do such words
differ from _hilltop, townend, candlelight, rushlight, cityman_, and the
like, where no double _s_ can be made the scapegoat? Certainly Milton
would not have avoided them for their sibilancy, he who wrote

  "And airy tongues that syllable men's names
  On sands and shores and desert wildernesses,"

  "So in his seed all nations shall be blest,"

  "And seat of Salmanasser whose success,"

verses that hiss like Medusa's head in wrath, and who was, I think,
fonder of the sound than any other of our poets. Indeed, in compounds of
the kind we always make a distinction wholly independent of the doubled
_s_. Nobody would boggle at _mountainside_; no one would dream of saying
_on the fatherside_ or _motherside_.

Mr. Masson speaks of "the Miltonic forms _vanquisht, markt, lookt_, etc."
Surely he does not mean to imply that these are peculiar to Milton?
Chapman used them before Milton was born, and pressed them farther, as in
_nak't_ and _saf't_ for _naked_ and _saved_. He often prefers the
contracted form in his prose also, showing that the full form of the past
participle in _ed_ was passing out of fashion, though available in
verse.[366] Indeed, I venture to affirm that there is not a single
variety of spelling or accent to be found in Milton which is without
example in his predecessors or contemporaries. Even _highth_, which is
thought peculiarly Miltonic, is common (in Hakluyt, for example), and
still often heard in New England. Mr. Masson gives an odd reason for
Milton's preference of it  "as indicating more correctly the formation of
the word by the addition of the suffix _th_ to the adjective _high_." Is
an adjective, then, at the base of _growth_, _earth_, _birth_, _truth_,
and other words of this kind? Horne Tooke made a better guess than this.
If Mr. Masson be right in supposing that a peculiar meaning is implied in
the spelling _bearth_ (Paradise Lost, IX. 624), which he interprets as
"collective produce," though in the only other instance where it occurs
it is neither more nor less than _birth_, it should seem that Milton had
hit upon Horne Tooke's etymology. But it is really solemn trifling to lay
any stress on the spelling of the original editions, after having
admitted, as Mr. Masson has honestly done, that in all likelihood Milton
had nothing to do with it. And yet he cannot refrain. On the word
_voutsafe_ he hangs nearly a page of dissertation on the nicety of
Milton's ear. Mr. Masson thinks that Milton "must have had a reason for
it,"[367] and finds that reason in "his dislike to [of] the sound _ch_,
or to [of] that sound combined with _s_.... His fine ear taught him not
only to seek for musical effects and cadences at large, but also to be
fastidious as to syllables, and to avoid harsh or difficult conjunctions
of consonants, except when there might be a musical reason for harshness
or difficulty. In the management of the letter _s_, the frequency of
which in English is one of the faults of the speech, he will be found, I
believe, most careful and skilful. More rarely, I think, than in
Shakespeare will one word ending in _s_ be found followed immediately in
Milton by another word beginning with the same letter; or, if he does
occasionally pen such a phrase as _Moab's sons_, it will be difficult to
find in him, I believe, such a harsher example as _earth's substance_, of
which many writers would think nothing. [With the index to back him Mr.
Masson could safely say this.] The same delicacy of ear is even more
apparent in his management of the _sh_ sound. He has it often, of course;
but it may be noted that he rejects it in his verse when he can. He
writes _Basan_ for _Bashan_, _Sittim_ for _Shittim_, _Silo_ for _Shiloh_,
_Asdod_ for _Ashdod_. Still more, however, does he seem to have been wary
of the compound sound _ch_ as in _church_. Of his sensitiveness to this
sound in excess there is a curious proof in his prose pamphlet entitled
'An Apology against a Pamphlet, called A Modest Completion, etc.,' where,
having occasion to quote these lines from one of the Satires[368] of his
opponent, Bishop Hall,

  "'Teach each hollow grove to sound his love,
  Wearying echo with one changeless word,'

"he adds, ironically, 'And so he well might, and all his auditory besides,
with his _teach each!_'" Generalizations are always risky, but when
extemporized from a single hint they are maliciously so. Surely it needed
no great sensitiveness of ear to be set on edge by Hall's echo of _teach
each_. Did Milton reject the _h_ from _Bashan_ and the rest because he
disliked the sound of _sh_, or because he had found it already rejected
by the Vulgate and by some of the earlier translators of the Bible into
English? Oddly enough, Milton uses words beginning with _sh_ seven
hundred and fifty four times in his poetry, not to speak of others in
which the sound occurs, as, for instance, those ending in _tion_. Hall,
had he lived long enough, might have retorted on Milton his own

         "Manli_est_, resolut_est_, br_east_,
  As the magnetick hard_est_ iron draws,"

or his

            "What moves thy inquisition?
  Know'st thou not that my rising is thy fall,
  And my promotion thy destruction?"

With the playful controversial wit of the day he would have hinted that
too much _est-est_ is as fatal to a blank-verse as to a bishop, and that
danger was often incurred by those who too eagerly _shun_ned it. Nay, he
might even have found an echo almost tallying with his own in

         "To begirt the almighty throne
  Beseeching or besieging,"

a pun worthy of Milton's worst prose. Or he might have twitted him with
"a _seq_uent king who _seeks_." As for the _sh_ sound, a poet could
hardly have found it ungracious to his ear who wrote,

  "Gna_sh_ing for angui_sh_ and despite and _sh_ame,"

or again,

                               "Then bursting forth
  Afre_sh_ with con_sc_ious terrors vex me round
  That rest or intermi_ssion_ none I find.
  Before mine eyes in oppos_ition_ sits
  Grim Death, my son."

And if Milton disliked the _ch_ sound, he gave his ears unnecessary pain
by verses such as these,--

  "Straight cou_ch_es close; then, rising, _ch_anges oft
  His cou_ch_ant wat_ch_, as one who _ch_ose his ground";

still more by such a juxtaposition as "matchless chief."[369] The truth
is, that Milton was a harmonist rather than a melodist. There are, no
doubt, some exquisite melodies (like the "Sabrina Fair ") among his
earlier poems, as could hardly fail to be the case in an age which
produced or trained the authors of our best English glees, as ravishing
in their instinctive felicity as the songs of our dramatists, but he also
showed from the first that larger style which was to be his peculiar
distinction. The strain heard in the "Nativity Ode," in the "Solemn
Music," and in "Lycidas," is of a higher mood, as regards metrical
construction, than anything that had thrilled the English ear before,
giving no uncertain augury of him who was to show what sonorous metal lay
silent till he touched the keys in the epical organ-pipes of our various
language, that have never since felt the strain of such prevailing
breath. It was in the larger movements of metre that Milton was great and
original. I have spoken elsewhere of Spenser's fondness for dilatation as
respects thoughts and images. In Milton it extends to the language also,
and often to the single words of which a period is composed. He loved
phrases of towering port, in which every member dilated stands like
Teneriffe or Atlas. In those poems and passages that stamp him great, the
verses do not dance interweaving to soft Lydian airs, but march rather
with resounding tread and clang of martial music. It is true that he is
cunning in alliterations, so scattering them that they tell in his
orchestra without being obvious, but it is in the more scientific region
of open-voweled assonances which seem to proffer rhyme and yet withhold
it (rhyme-wraiths one might call them), that he is an artist and a
master. He even sometimes introduces rhyme with misleading intervals
between and unobviously in his blank-verse:--

  "There rest, if any rest can harbour _there_;
  And, reassembling our afflicted powers,
  Consult how we may henceforth most offend
  Our enemy, our own loss how re_pair_,
  How overcome this dire calamity,
  What reinforcement we may gain from hope,
  If not, what resolution from des_pair_."[370]

There is one almost perfect quatrain,--

  "Before thy fellows, ambitious to win
  From me some plume, that thy success may show
  Destruction to the rest. This pause between
  (Unanswered lest thou boast) to let thee know";

and another hardly less so, of a rhyme and an assonance,--

  "If once they hear that voice, their liveliest pledge
  Of hope in fears and dangers, heard so oft
  In worst extremes and on the perilous edge
  Of battle when it raged, in all assaults."

There can be little doubt that the rhymes in the first passage cited were
intentional, and perhaps they were so in the others; but Milton's ear has
tolerated not a few perfectly rhyming couplets, and others in which the
assonance almost becomes rhyme, certainly a fault in blankverse:--

  "From the Asian Kings (and Parthian among these),
  From India and the Golden Chersonese";

  "That soon refreshed him wearied, and repaired
  What hunger, if aught hunger, had impaired";

  "And will alike be punished, whether thou
  Reign or reign not, though to that gentle brow";

  "Of pleasure, but all pleasure to destroy,
  Save what is in destroying, other joy";

  "Shall all be Paradise, far happier place
  Than this of Eden, and far happier days";

  "This my long sufferance and my day of grace
  They who neglect and scorn shall never taste";

  "So far remote with diminution seen,
  First in his East the glorious lamp was seen."[371]

These examples (and others might be adduced) serve to show that Milton's
ear was too busy about the larger interests of his measures to be always
careful of the lesser. He was a strategist rather than a drill-sergeant
in verse, capable, beyond any other English poet, of putting great masses
through the most complicated evolutions without clash or confusion, but
he was not curious that every foot should be at the same angle. In
reading "Paradise Lost" one has a feeling of vastness. You float under an
illimitable sky, brimmed with sunshine or hung with constellations; the
abysses of space are about you; you hear the cadenced surges of an unseen
ocean; thunders mutter round the horizon; and if the scene change, it is
with an elemental movement like the shifting of mighty winds. His
imagination seldom condenses, like Shakespeare's, in the kindling flash
of a single epithet, but loves better to diffuse itself. Witness his
descriptions, wherein he seems to circle like an eagle bathing in the
blue streams of air, controlling with his eye broad sweeps of champaign
or of sea, and rarely fulmining in the sudden swoop of intenser
expression. He was fonder of the vague, perhaps I should rather say the
indefinite, where more is meant than meets the ear, than any other of our
poets. He loved epithets (like _old_ and _far_) that suggest great
reaches, whether of space or time. This bias shows itself already in his
earlier poems, as where he hears

  "The _far off_ curfew sound
  Over some _widewatered_ shore,"

or where he fancies the shores[372] and sounding seas washing Lycidas far
away; but it reaches its climax in the "Paradise Lost." He produces his
effects by dilating our imaginations with an impalpable hint rather than
by concentrating them upon too precise particulars. Thus in a famous
comparison of his, the fleet has no definite port, but plies stemming
nightly toward the pole in a wide ocean of conjecture. He generalizes
always instead of specifying,--the true secret of the ideal treatment in
which he is without peer, and, though everywhere grandiose, he is never
turgid. Tasso begins finely with

  "Chiama gli abitator dell' ombre eterne
  II rauco suon della tartarea tromba;
  Treman le spaziose atre caverne,
  E l'aer cieco a quel rumor rimbomba,"

but soon spoils all by condescending to definite comparisons with thunder
and intestinal convulsions of the earth; in other words, he is unwary
enough to give us a standard of measurement, and the moment you furnish
Imagination with a yardstick she abdicates in favor of her statistical
poor-relation Commonplace. Milton, with this passage in his memory, is
too wise to hamper himself with any statement for which he can be brought
to book, but wraps himself in a mist of looming indefiniteness;

  "He called so loud that all the hollow deep
  Of hell resounded,"

thus amplifying more nobly by abstention from his usual method of
prolonged evolution. No caverns, however spacious, will serve his turn,
because they have limits. He could practise this self-denial when his
artistic sense found it needful, whether for variety of verse or for the
greater intensity of effect to be gained by abruptness. His more
elaborate passages have the multitudinous roll of thunder, dying away to
gather a sullen force again from its own reverberations, but he knew that
the attention is recalled and arrested by those claps that stop short
without echo and leave us listening. There are no such vistas and avenues
of verse as his. In reading the "Paradise Lost" one has a feeling of
spaciousness such as no other poet gives. Milton's respect for himself
and for his own mind and its movements rises wellnigh to veneration. He
prepares the way for his thought and spreads on the ground before the
sacred feet of his verse tapestries inwoven with figures of mythology and
romance. There is no such unfailing dignity as his. Observe at what a
reverent distance he begins when he is about to speak of himself, as at
the beginning of the Third Book and the Seventh. His sustained strength
is especially felt in his beginnings. He seems always to start full-sail;
the wind and tide always serve; there is never any fluttering of the
canvas In this he offers a striking contrast with Wordsworth, who has to
go through with a great deal of _yo-heave-ohing_ before he gets under
way. And though, in the didactic parts of "Paradise Lost," the wind dies
away sometimes, there is a long swell that will not let us forget it, and
ever and anon some eminent verse lifts its long ridge above its tamer
peers heaped with stormy memories. And the poem never becomes incoherent;
we feel all through it, as in the symphonies of Beethoven, a great
controlling reason in whose safe-conduct we trust implicitly.

Mr. Masson's discussions of Milton's English are, it seems to me, for the
most part unsatisfactory He occupies some ten pages, for example, with a
history of the genitival form _its_, which adds nothing to our previous
knowledge on the subject and which has no relation to Milton except for
its bearing on the authorship of some verses attributed to him against
the most overwhelming internal evidence to the contrary. Mr. Masson is
altogether too resolute to find traces of what he calls oddly enough
"recollectiveness of Latin constructions" in Milton, and scents them
sometimes in what would seem to the uninstructed reader very idiomatic
English. More than once, at least, he has fancied them by
misunderstanding the passage in which they seem to occur. Thus, in
"Paradise Lost," XI. 520, 521,

  "Therefore so abject is their punishment,
  Disfiguring not God's likeness but their own,"

has no analogy with _eorum deformantium_, for the context shows that it
is the _punishment_ which disfigures. Indeed, Mr. Masson so often finds
constructions difficult, ellipses strange, and words needing annotation
that are common to all poetry, nay, sometimes to all English, that his
notes seem not seldom to have been written by a foreigner. On this
passage in "Comus,"--

 "I do not think my sister so to seek
  Or so unprincipled in virtue's book
  And the sweet peace that virtue bosoms ever
  As that the single want of light and noise
         *       *       *       *       *
 "(Not being in danger, as I trust she is not)
  Could stir the constant mood of her calm thoughts,"

Mr. Masson tells us, that "in very strict construction, _not being_ would
cling to _want_ as its substantive; but the phrase passes for the Latin
ablative absolute." So on the words _forestalling night_, "i. e.
anticipating. Forestall is literally to anticipate the market by
purchasing goods before they are brought to the stall." In the verse

  "Thou hast immanacled while Heaven sees good,"

he explains that "_while_ here has the sense of _so long as_." But Mr.
Masson's notes on the language are his weakest. He is careful to tell us,
for example, "that there are instances of the use of _shine_ as a
substantive in Spenser, Ben Jonson, and other poets." It is but another
way of spelling _sheen_, and if Mr. Masson never heard a shoeblack in the
street say, "Shall I give you a shine, sir?" his experience has been
singular.[373] His notes in general are very good (though too long).
Those on the astronomy of Milton are particularly valuable. I think he is
sometimes a little too scornful of parallel passages,[374] for if there
is one thing more striking than another in this poet, it is that his
great and original imagination was almost wholly nourished by books,
perhaps I should rather say set in motion by them. It is wonderful how,
from the most withered and juiceless hint gathered in his reading, his
grand images rise like an exhalation; how from the most battered old lamp
caught in that huge drag-net with which he swept the waters of learning,
he could conjure a tall genius to build his palaces. Whatever he touches
swells and towers. That wonderful passage in Comus of the airy tongues,
perhaps the most imaginative in suggestion he ever wrote, was conjured
out of a dry sentence in Purchas's abstract of Marco Polo. Such examples
help us to understand the poet. When I find that Sir Thomas Browne had
said before Milton, that Adam "was _the wisest of all men since_," I am
glad to find this link between the most profound and the most stately
imagination of that age. Such parallels sometimes give a hint also of the
historical development of our poetry, of its apostolical succession, so
to speak. Every one has noticed Milton's fondness of sonorous proper
names, which have not only an acquired imaginative value by association,
and so serve to awaken our poetic sensibilities, but have likewise a
merely musical significance. This he probably caught from Marlowe, traces
of whom are frequent in him. There is certainly something of what
afterwards came to be called Miltonic in more than one passage of
"Tamburlaine," a play in which gigantic force seems struggling from the
block, as in Michel Angelo's Dawn.

Mr. Masson's remarks on the versification of Milton are, in the main,
judicious, but when he ventures on particulars, one cannot always agree
with him. He seems to understand that our prosody is accentual merely,
and yet, when he comes to what he calls _variations_, he talks of the
"substitution of the Trochee, the Pyrrhic, or the Spondee, for the
regular Iambus, or of the Anapaest, the Dactyl, the Tribrach, etc., for
the same." This is always misleading. The shift of the accent in what Mr.
Masson calls "dissyllabic variations" is common to all pentameter verse,
and, in the other case, most of the words cited as trisyllables either
were not so in Milton's day,[375] or were so or not at choice of the
poet, according to their place in the verse. There is not an elision of
Milton's without precedent in the dramatists from whom he learned to
write blank-verse. Milton was a greater metrist than any of them, except
Marlowe and Shakespeare, and he employed the elision (or the slur)
oftener than they to give a faint undulation or retardation to his verse,
only because his epic form demanded it more for variety's sake. How
Milton would have _read_ them, is another question. He certainly often
marked them by an apostrophe in his manuscripts. He doubtless composed
according to quantity, so far as that is possible in English, and as
Cowper somewhat extravagantly says, "gives almost as many proofs of it in
his 'Paradise Lost' as there are lines in the poem."[376] But when Mr.
Masson tells us that

  "Self-fed and self-consumed: if this fail,"


  "Dwells in all Heaven charity so rare,"

are "only nine syllables," and that in

  "Created hugest that swim the ocean-stream,"

"either the third foot must be read as an _anapaest_ or the word _hugest_
must be pronounced as one syllable, _hug'st_," I think Milton would have
invoked the soul of Sir John Cheek. Of course Milton read it

  "Created hugest that swim th' ocean-stream,"

just as he wrote (if we may trust Mr. Masson's facsimile)

  "Thus sang the uncouth swain to th' oaks and rills,"

a verse in which both hiatus and elision occur precisely as in the
Italian poets.[377]

"Gest that swim" would be rather a knotty _anapaest_, an insupportable
foot indeed! And why is even _hug'st_ worse than Shakespeare's

  "_Young'st_ follower of thy drum"?

In the same way he says of

  "For we have also our evening and our morn,"

that "the metre of this line is irregular," and of the rapidly fine

  "Came flying and in mid air aloud thus cried,"

that it is "a line of unusual metre."  Why more unusual than

  "As being the contrary to his high will"?

What would Mr. Masson say to these three verses from Dekkar?--

  "And _knowing_ so much, I muse thou art so poor";

  "I fan away the dust _flying_ in mine eyes";

  "_Flowing_ o'er with court news only of you and them."

All such participles (where no consonant divided the vowels) were
normally of one syllable, permissibly of two.[378] If Mr. Masson had
studied the poets who preceded Milton as he has studied _him_, he would
never have said that the verse

  "Not this rock only; his omnipresence fills,"

was "peculiar as having a distinct syllable of overmeasure." He retains
Milton's spelling of _hunderd_ without perceiving the metrical reason for
it, that _d, t, p, b,_ &c., followed by _l_ or _r_, might be either of
two or of three syllables. In Marlowe we find it both ways in two
consecutive verses:--

  "A hundred [hundered] and fifty thousand horse,
  Two hundred thousand foot, brave men at arms."[379]

Mr. Masson is especially puzzled by verses ending in one or more
unaccented syllables, and even argues in his Introduction that some of
them might be reckoned Alexandrines. He cites some lines of Spenser as
confirming his theory, forgetting that rhyme wholly changes the
conditions of the case by throwing the accent (appreciably even now, but
more emphatically in Spenser's day) on the last syllable.

  "A spirit and judgment equal or superior,"

he calls "a remarkably anomalous line, consisting of twelve or even
thirteen syllables." Surely Milton's ear would never have tolerated a
dissyllabic "spirit" in such a position. The word was then more commonly
of one syllable, though it might be two, and was accordingly spelt
_spreet_ (still surviving in _sprite_), _sprit_, and even _spirt_, as
Milton himself spells it in one of Mr. Masson's facsimiles.[380]
Shakespeare, in the verse

  "Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,"

uses the word admirably well in a position where it _cannot_ have a
metrical value of more than one syllable, while it gives a dancing
movement to the verse in keeping with the sense. Our old metrists were
careful of elasticity, a quality which modern verse has lost in
proportion as our language has stiffened into uniformity under the
benumbing fingers of pedants.

This discussion of the value of syllables is not so trifling as it seems.
A great deal of nonsense has been written about imperfect measures in
Shakespeare, and of the admirable dramatic effect produced by filling up
the gaps of missing syllables with pauses or prolongations of the voice
in reading. In rapid, abrupt, and passionate dialogue this is possible,
but in passages of continuously level speech it is barbarously absurd. I
do not believe that any of our old dramatists has knowingly left us a
single imperfect verse. Seeing in what a haphazard way and in how
mutilated a form their plays have mostly reached us, we should attribute
such _faults_ (as a geologist would call them) to anything rather than to
the deliberate design of the poets. Marlowe and Shakespeare, the two best
metrists among them, have given us a standard by which to measure what
licenses they took in versification,--the one in his translations, the
other in his poems. The unmanageable verses in Milton are very few, and
all of them occur in works printed after his blindness had lessened the
chances of supervision and increased those of error. There are only two,
indeed, which seem to me wholly indigestible as they stand. These are,

  "Burnt after them to the bottomless pit,"


  "With them from bliss to the bottomless deep."

This certainly looks like a case where a word had dropped out or had been
stricken out by some proof-reader who limited the number of syllables in
a pentameter verse by that of his finger-ends. Mr. Masson notices only
the first of these lines, and says that to make it regular by accenting
the word _bottomless_ on the second syllable would be "too horrible."
Certainly not, if Milton so accented it, any more than _blasphémous_ and
twenty more which sound oddly to us now. However that may be, Milton
could not have intended to close not only a period, but a paragraph also,
with an unmusical verse, and in the only other passage where the word
occurs it is accented as now on the first syllable:

  "With hideous ruin and combustion down
  To bottomless perdition, there to dwell."

As _bottom_ is a word which, like _bosom_ and _besom_, may be
monosyllabic or dissyllabic according to circumstances, I am persuaded
that the last passage quoted (and all three refer to the same event)
gives us the word wanting in the two others, and that Milton wrote, or
meant to write,--

  "Burnt after them down to the bottomless pit,"

which leaves in the verse precisely the kind of ripple that Milton liked

Much of what Mr. Masson says in his Introduction of the way in which the
verses of Milton should be read is judicious enough, though some of the
examples he gives, of the "comicality" which would ensue from compressing
every verse into an exact measure of ten syllables, are based on a
surprising ignorance of the laws which guided our poets just before and
during Milton's time in the structure of their verses. Thus he seems to
think that a strict scansion would require us in the verses

  "So he with difficulty and labor hard,"


  "Carnation, purple, azure, or specked with gold,"

to pronounce _diffikty_ and _purp'_. Though Mr. Masson talks of "slurs
and elisions," his ear would seem somewhat insensible to their exact
nature or office. His _diffikty_ supposes a hiatus where none is
intended, and his making _purple_ of one syllable wrecks the whole verse,
the real slur in the latter case being on _azure or_.[382] When he asks
whether Milton required "these pronunciations in his verse," no positive
answer can be given, but I very much doubt whether he would have thought
that some of the lines Mr. Masson cites "remain perfectly good Blank
Verse even with the most leisurely natural enunciation of the spare
syllable," and I am sure he would have stared if told that "the number of
accents" in a pentameter verse was "variable." It may be doubted whether
elisions and compressions which would be thought in bad taste or even
vulgar now were more abhorrent to the ears of Milton's generation than to
a cultivated Italian would be the hearing Dante read as prose. After all,
what Mr. Masson says may be reduced to the infallible axiom that poetry
should be read as poetry.

Mr. Masson seems to be right in his main principles, but the examples he
quotes make one doubt whether he knows what a verse is. For example, he
thinks it would be a "horror," if in the verse

  "That invincible Samson far renowned"

we should lay the stress on the first syllable of _invincible_. It is
hard to see why this should be worse than _cónventicle_ or _rémonstrance_
or _súccessor_ or _incómpatible_, (the three latter used by the correct
Daniel) or why Mr. Masson should clap an accent on _surfàce_ merely
because it comes at the end of a verse, and deny it to _ínvincible_. If
one read the verse just cited with those that go with it, he will find
that the accent _must_ come on the first syllable of _invincible_ or else
the whole passage becomes chaos.[383] Should we refuse to say _obleeged_
with Pope because the fashion has changed? From its apparently greater
freedom in skilful hands, blank-verse gives more scope to sciolistic
theorizing and dogmatism than the rhyming pentameter couplet, but it is
safe to say that no verse is good in the one that would not be good in
the other when handled by a master like Dryden. Milton, like other great
poets, wrote some bad verses, and it is wiser to confess that they are so
than to conjure up some unimaginable reason why the reader should accept
them as the better for their badness. Such a bad verse is

  "Rocks, caves, lakes, _fens_, bogs, _dens_ and shapes of death,"

which might be cited to illustrate Pope's

  "And ten low words oft creep in one dull line."

Milton cannot certainly be taxed with any partiality for low words. He
rather loved them tall, as the Prussian King loved men to be six feet
high in their stockings, and fit to go into the grenadiers. He loved them
as much for their music as for their meaning,--perhaps more. His style,
therefore, when it has to deal with commoner things, is apt to grow a
little cumbrous and unwieldy. A Persian poet says that when the owl would
boast he boasts of catching mice at the edge of a hole. Shakespeare would
have understood this. Milton would have made him talk like an eagle. His
influence is not to be left out of account as partially contributing to
that decline toward poetic diction which was already beginning ere he
died. If it would not be fair to say that he is the most artistic, he may
be called in the highest sense the most scientific of our poets. If to
Spenser younger poets have gone to be sung-to, they have sat at the feet
of Milton to be taught. Our language has no finer poem than "Samson
Agonistes," if any so fine in the quality of austere dignity or in the
skill with which the poet's personal experience is generalized into a
classic tragedy.

Gentle as Milton's earlier portraits would seem to show him, he had in
him by nature, or bred into him by fate, something of the haughty and
defiant self-assertion of Dante and Michel Angelo. In no other English
author is the man so large a part of his works. Milton's haughty
conception of himself enters into all he says and does. Always the
necessity of this one man became that of the whole human race for the
moment. There were no walls so sacred but must go to the ground when _he_
wanted elbow-room; and he wanted a great deal. Did Mary Powell, the
cavalier's daughter, find the abode of a roundhead schoolmaster
_incompatible_ and leave it, forthwith the cry of the universe was for an
easier dissolution of the marriage covenant. If _he_ is blind, it is with
excess of light, it is a divine partiality, an over-shadowing with
angels' wings. Phineus and Teiresias are admitted among the prophets
because they, too, had lost their sight, and the blindness of Homer is of
more account than his Iliad. After writing in rhyme till he was past
fifty, he finds it unsuitable for his epic, and it at once becomes "the
invention of a barbarous age to set off wretched matter and lame metre."
If the structure of _his_ mind be undramatic, why, then, the English
drama is naught, learned Jonson, sweetest Shakespeare, and the rest
notwithstanding, and he will compose a tragedy on a Greek model with the
blinded Samson for its hero, and he will compose it partly in rhyme.
Plainly he belongs to the intenser kind of men whose yesterdays are in no
way responsible for their to-morrows. And this makes him perennially
interesting even to those who hate his politics, despise his Socinianism,
and find his greatest poem a bore. A new edition of his poems is always
welcome, for, as he is really great, he presents a fresh side to each new
student, and Mr. Masson, in his three handsome volumes, has given us,
with much that is superfluous and even erroneous, much more that is a
solid and permanent acquisition to our knowledge.

It results from the almost scornful withdrawal of Milton into the
fortress of his absolute personality that no great poet is so uniformly
self-conscious as he. We should say of Shakespeare that he had the power
of transforming himself into everything; of Milton, that he had that of
transforming everything into himself. Dante is individual rather than
self-conscious, and he, the cast-iron man, grows pliable as a field of
grain at the breath of Beatrice, and flows away in waves of sunshine. But
Milton never let himself go for a moment. As other poets are possessed by
their theme, so is he _self_-possessed, his great theme being John
Milton, and his great duty that of interpreter between him and the world.
I say it with all respect, for he was well worthy translation, and it is
out of Hebrew that the version is made. Pope says he makes God the Father
reason "like a school divine." The criticism is witty, but inaccurate. He
makes Deity a mouthpiece for his present theology, and had the poem been
written a few years later, the Almighty would have become more heterodox.
Since Dante, no one had stood on these visiting terms with heaven.

Now it is precisely this audacity of self-reliance, I suspect, which goes
far toward making the sublime, and which, falling by a hair's-breadth
short thereof, makes the ridiculous. Puritanism showed both the strength
and weakness of its prophetic nurture; enough of the latter to be scoffed
out of England by the very men it had conquered in the field, enough of
the former to intrench itself in three or four immortal memories. It has
left an abiding mark in politics and religion, but its great monuments
are the prose of Bunyan and the verse of Milton. It is a high inspiration
to be the neighbor of great events; to have been a partaker in them and
to have seen noble purposes by their own self-confidence become the very
means of ignoble ends, if it do not wholly depress, may kindle a passion
of regret deepening the song which dares not tell the reason of its
sorrow. The grand loneliness of Milton in his latter years, while it
makes him the most impressive figure in our literary history, is
reflected also in his maturer poems by a sublime independence of human
sympathy like that with which mountains fascinate and rebuff us. But it
is idle to talk of the loneliness of one the habitual companions of whose
mind were the Past and Future. I always seem to see him leaning in his
blindness a hand on the shoulder of each, sure that the one will guard
the song which the other had inspired.


    [358] The Life of John Milton: narrated in Connection with the
    Political, Ecclesiastical, and Literary History of his Time. By David
    Masterson, M.D., LL.D. Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature
    in the University of Edinburgh. Vols. I., II.  1638-1643. London and
    New York: Macmillan & Co. 1871. 8vo. pp. xii, 608.

    The Poetical Works of John Milton, edited, with Introduction, Notes
    and an Essay on Milton's English by David Masson, M.A., LL.D.
    Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature in the University of
    Edinburgh. 3 vols. 8vo. Macmillan & Co. 1874.

    [359] Book I. 562-567.

    [360] Ibid., 615-618.

    [361] Apology for Smectymnuus.

      "For him I was not sent, nor yet to free
      That people, victor once, now vile and base,
      Deservedly made vassal."--P.R. IV. 131-133.

    [363] If things are to be scanned so micrologically, what weighty
    inferences might not be drawn from Mr. Masson's invariably printing
    [Greek: _apax legomena_!]

      "That you may tell heroës, when you come
      To banquet with your wife."

    _Chapman's Odyssey_, VIII. 336, 337.

    In the facsimile of the sonnet to Fairfax I find

      "Thy firm unshak'n vertue ever brings,"

    which shows how much faith we need give to the apostrophe.

    [365] Mr. Masson might have cited a good example of this from
    Drummond, whom (as a Scotsman) he is fond of quoting for an authority
    in English,--

      "Sleep, Silence' child, sweet father of soft rest."

    The survival of _Horse_ for _horses_ is another example. So by a
    reverse process _pult_ and _shay_ have been vulgarly deduced from the
    supposed plurals _pulse_ and _chaise_.

    [366] Chapman's spelling is presumably his own. At least he looked
    after his printed texts. I have two copies of his "Byron's
    Conspiracy," both dated 1608, but one evidently printed later than
    the other, for it shows corrections. The more solemn ending in _ed_
    was probably kept alive by the reading of the Bible in churches.
    Though now dropped by the clergy, it is essential to the right
    hearing of the more metrical passages in the Old Testament, which are
    finer and more scientiflc than anything in the language, unless it be
    some parts of "Samson Agonistes." I remember an old gentleman who
    always used the contracted form of the participle in conversation,
    but always gave it back its embezzled syllable in reading. Sir Thomas
    Browne seems to have preferred the more solemn form. At any rate he
    has the spelling _empuzzeled_ in prose.

    [367] He thinks the same of the variation _strook_ and _struck_,
    though they were probably pronounced alike. In Marlowe's "Faustus"
    two consecutive sentences (in prose) begin with the words "Cursed be
    he that struck." In a note on the passage Mr. Dyce tells us that the
    old editions (there were three) have _stroke_ and _strooke_ in the
    first instance, and all agree on _strucke_ in the second. No
    inference can be drawn from such casualties.

    [368] The lines are _not_ "from one of the Satires," and Milton made
    them worse by misquoting and bringing _love_ jinglingly near to
    _grove_. Hall's verse (in his Satires) is always vigorous and often
    harmonious. He long before Milton spoke of rhyme almost in the very
    terms of the preface to Paradise Lost.

    [369] Mr. Masson goes so far as to conceive it possible that Milton
    may have committed the vulgarism of leaving a _t_ out of _slep'st_,
    "for ease of sound." Yet the poet could bear _boast'st_ and--one
    stares and gasps at it--_doat'dst_. There is, by the way, a familiar
    passage in which the _ch_ sound predominates, not without a touch of
    _sh_, in a single couplet:--

      "Can any mortal mixture of earth's mould
      Breathe su_ch_ divine enchanting ravi_sh_ment?"


      "Blotches and blains must all his flesh emboss,"

    and perhaps

               "I see his tents
      Pitched about Sechem"
    might be added.

    [370] I think Coleridge's nice ear would have blamed the nearness of
    _enemy_ and _calamity_ in this passage. Mr. Masson leaves out the
    comma after _If not_, the pause of which is needful, I think, to the
    sense, and certainly to keep _not_ a little farther apart from
    _what_, ("teach each"!)

    [371] "First in his East," is not soothing to the ear.

    [372] There seems to be something wrong in this word _shores_. Did
    Milton write _shoals_?

    [373] But his etymological notes are worse. For example, "_recreant_,
    renouncing the faith, from the old French _recroire_, which again is
    from the mediaeval Latin _recredere_, to 'believe back,' or
    apostatize." This is pure fancy. The word had no such meaning in
    either language. He derives _serenate_ from _sera_, and says that
    _parle_ means treaty, negotiation, though it is the same word as
    _parley_, had the same meanings, and was commonly pronounced like it,
    as in Marlowe's

      "What, shall we _parlé_ with this Christïan?"

    It certainly never meant _treaty_, though it may have meant
    _negotiation_. When it did it implied the meeting face to face of the
    principals. On the verses

      "And some flowers and some bays
      For thy hearse to strew the ways,"

    he has a note to tell us that _hearse_ is not to be taken "in our
    sense of a carriage for the dead, but in the older sense of a tomb or
    framework over a tomb," though the obvious meaning is "to strew the
    ways for thy hearse." How could one do that for a tomb or the
    framework over it?

    [374] A passage from Dante (Inferno, XI. 96-105), with its reference
    to Aristotle, would have given him the meaning of "Nature taught
    art," which seems to puzzle him. A study of Dante and of his earlier
    commentators would also have been of great service in the
    astronomical notes.

    [375] Almost every combination of two vowels might in those days be a
    diphthong or not, at will. Milton's practice of elision was confirmed
    and sometimes (perhaps) modified by his study of the Italians, with
    whose usage in this respect he closely conforms.

    [376] Letter to Rev. W. Bagot, 4th January, 1791.

    [377] So Dante:--
      "Ma sapienza e amore e virtute."
    So Donne:--
      "Simony and sodomy in churchmen's lives."

    [378] Mr. Masson is evidently not very familiar at first hand with
    the versification to which Milton's youthful ear had been trained,
    but seems to have learned something from Abbott's "Shakespearian
    Grammar" in the interval between writing his notes and his
    Introduction. Walker's "Shakespeare's Versification" would have been
    a great help to him in default of original knowledge.

    [379] Milton has a verse in Comus where the _e_ is elided from the
    word _sister_ by its preceding a vowel:--

      "Heaven keep my sister! again, again, and near!"

    This would have been impossible before a consonant.

    [380] So _spirito_ and _spirto_ in Italian, _esperis_ and _espirs_ in
    Old French.

    [381] Milton, however, would not have balked at _th' bottomless_ any
    more than Drayton at _th' rejected_ or Donne at _th' sea_. Mr. Masson
    does not seem to understand this elision, for he corrects _i' th'
    midst_ to _i' the midst_, and takes pains to mention it in a note. He
    might better have restored the _n_ in _i'_, where it is no
    contraction, but merely indicates the pronunciation, as _o'_ for _of_
    and _on_.

    [382] Exactly analogous to that in treasurer when it is shortened to
    two syllables.

    [383] Milton himself has _ínvísible_, for we cannot suppose him
    guilty of a verse like

      "Shoots invisible virtue even to the deep,"

    while, if read rightly, it has just one of those sweeping elisions
    that he loved.


There are few poets whose works contain slighter hints of their personal
history than those of Keats; yet there are, perhaps, even fewer whose
real lives, or rather the conditions upon which they lived, are more
clearly traceable in what they have written. To write the life of a man
was formerly understood to mean the cataloguing and placing of
circumstances, of those things which stood about the life and were more
or less related to it, but were not the life itself. But Biography from
day to day holds dates cheaper and facts dearer. A man's life, so far as
its outward events are concerned, may be made for him, as his clothes are
by the tailor, of this cut or that, of finer or coarser material; but the
gait and gesture show through, and give to trappings, in themselves
characterless, an individuality that belongs to the man himself. It is
those essential facts which underlie the life and make the individual man
that are of importance, and it is the cropping out of these upon the
surface that gives us indications by which to judge of the true nature
hidden below. Every man has his block given him, and the figure he cuts
will depend very much upon the shape of that,--upon the knots and twists
which existed in it from the beginning. We were designed in the cradle,
perhaps earlier, and it is in finding out this design, and shaping
ourselves to it, that our years are spent wisely. It is the vain endeavor
to make ourselves what we are not that has strewn history with so many
broken purposes and lives left in the rough.

Keats hardly lived long enough to develop a well-outlined character, for
that results commonly from the resistance made by temperament to the many
influences by which the world, as it may happen then to be, endeavors to
mould every one in its own image. What his temperament was we can see
clearly, and also that it subordinated itself more and more to the
discipline of art.

       *       *       *       *       *

John Keats, the second of four children, like Chaucer and Spenser, was a
Londoner, but, unlike them, he was certainly not of gentle blood. Lord
Houghton, who seems to have had a kindly wish to create him gentleman by
brevet, says that he was "born in the upper ranks of the middle class."
This shows a commendable tenderness for the nerves of English society,
and reminds one of Northcote's story of the violin-player who, wishing to
compliment his pupil, George III., divided all fiddlers into three
classes,--those who could not play at all, those who played very badly,
and those who played very well,--assuring his Majesty that he had made
such commendable progress as to have already reached the second rank. We
shall not be too greatly shocked by knowing that the father of Keats (as
Lord Houghton had told us in an earlier biography) "was employed in the
establishment of Mr. Jennings, the proprietor of large livery-stables on
the Pavement in Moorfields, nearly opposite the entrance into Finsbury
Circus." So that, after all, it was not so bad; for, first, Mr. Jennings
was a _proprietor_; second, he was the proprietor of an _establishment_;
third, he was the proprietor of a _large_ establishment; and fourth, this
large establishment was _nearly_ opposite Finsbury Circus,--a name which
vaguely dilates the imagination with all sorts of potential grandeurs. It
is true Leigh Hunt asserts that Keats "was a little too sensitive on the
score of his origin,"[384] but we can find no trace of such a feeling
either in his poetry or in such of his letters as have been printed. We
suspect the fact to have been that he resented with becoming pride the
vulgar Blackwood and Quarterly standard, which measured genius by
genealogies. It is enough that his poetical pedigree is of the best,
tracing through Spenser to Chaucer, and that Pegasus does not stand at
livery even in the largest establishments in Moorfields.

As well as we can make out, then, the father of Keats was a groom in the
service of Mr. Jennings, and married the daughter of his master. Thus, on
the mother's side, at least, we find a grandfather, on the father's there
is no hint of such an ancestor, and we must charitably take him for
granted. It is of more importance that the elder Keats was a man of sense
and energy, and that his wife was a "lively and intelligent woman, who
hastened the birth of the poet by her passionate love of amusement,"
bringing him into the world, a seven-months' child, on the 29th October,
1795, instead of the 29th of December, as would have been conventionally
proper. Lord Houghton describes her as "tall, with a large oval face, and
a somewhat saturnine demeanour." This last circumstance does not agree
very well with what he had just before told us of her liveliness, but he
consoles us by adding that "she succeeded, _however_, in inspiring her
children with the profoundest affection." This was particularly true of
John, who once, when between four and five years old, mounted guard at
her chamber door with an old sword, when she was ill and the doctor had
ordered her not to be disturbed.[385]

In 1804, Keats being in his ninth year, his father was killed by a fall
from his horse. His mother seems to have been ambitious for her children,
and there was some talk of sending John to Harrow. Fortunately this plan
was thought too expensive, and he was sent instead to the school of Mr.
Clarke at Enfield with his brothers. A maternal uncle, who had
distinguished himself by his courage under Duncan at Camperdown, was the
hero of his nephews, and they went to school resolved to maintain the
family reputation for courage. John was always fighting, and was chiefly
noted among his school-fellows as a strange compound of pluck and
sensibility. He attacked an usher who had boxed his brother's ears; and
when his mother died, in 1810, was moodily inconsolable, hiding himself
for several days in a nook under the master's desk, and refusing all
comfort from teacher or friend.

He was popular at school, as boys of spirit always are, and impressed his
companions with a sense of his power. They thought he would one day be a
famous soldier. This may have been owing to the stories he told them of
the heroic uncle, whose deeds, we may be sure, were properly famoused by
the boy Homer, and whom they probably took for an admiral at the least,
as it would have been well for Keats's literary prosperity if he had
been. At any rate, they thought John would be a great man, which is the
main thing, for the public opinion of the playground is truer and more
discerning than that of the world, and if you tell us what the boy was,
we will tell you what the man longs to be, however he may be repressed by
necessity or fear of the police reports.

Lord Houghton has failed to discover anything else especially worthy of
record in the school-life of Keats. He translated the twelve books of the
Aeneid, read Robinson Crusoe and the Incas of Peru, and looked into
Shakespeare. He left school in 1810, with little Latin and no Greek, but
he had studied Spence's Polymetis, Tooke's Pantheon, and Lempriere's
Dictionary, and knew gods, nymphs, and heroes, which were quite as good
company perhaps for him as artists and aspirates. It is pleasant to fancy
the horror of those respectable writers if their pages could suddenly
have become alive tinder their pens with all that the young poet saw in

On leaving school he was apprenticed for five years to a surgeon at
Edmonton. His master was a Mr. Hammond, "of some eminence" in his
profession, as Lord Houghton takes care to assure us. The place was of
more importance than the master, for its neighborhood to Enfield enabled
him to keep up his intimacy with the family of his former teacher, Mr.
Clarke, and to borrow books of them. In 1812, when he was in his
seventeenth year, Mr. Charles Cowden Clarke lent him the "Faerie Queene."
Nothing that is told of Orpheus or Amphion is more wonderful than this
miracle of Spenser's, transforming a surgeon's apprentice into a great
poet. Keats learned at once the secret of his birth, and henceforward his
indentures ran to Apollo instead of Mr. Hammond. Thus could the Muse
defend her son. It is the old story,--the lost heir discovered by his
aptitude for what is gentle and knightly. Haydon tells us "that he used
sometimes to say to his brother he feared he should never be a poet, and
if he was not he would destroy himself." This was perhaps a
half-conscious reminiscence of Chatterton, with whose genius and fate he
had an intense sympathy, it may be from an inward foreboding of the
shortness of his own career.[387]

Before long we find him studying Chaucer, then Shakespeare, and afterward
Milton. But Chapman's translations had a more abiding influence on his
style both for good and evil. That he read wisely, his comments on the
"Paradise Lost" are enough to prove. He now also commenced poet himself,
but does not appear to have neglected the study of his profession. He was
a youth of energy and purpose, and though he no doubt penned many a
stanza when he should have been anatomizing, and walked the hospitals
accompanied by the early gods, nevertheless passed a very creditable
examination in 1817. In the spring of this year, also, he prepared to
take his first degree as poet, and accordingly published a small volume
containing a selection of his earlier essays in verse. It attracted
little attention, and the rest of this year seems to have been occupied
with a journey on foot in Scotland, and the composition of "Endymion,"
which was published in 1818. Milton's "Tetrachordon" was not better
abused; but Milton's assailants were unorganized, and were obliged each
to print and pay for his own dingy little quarto, trusting to the natural
laws of demand and supply to furnish him with readers. Keats was
arraigned by the constituted authorities of literary justice. They might
be, nay, they were Jeffrieses and Scroggses, but the sentence was
published, and the penalty inflicted before all England. The difference
between his fortune and Milton's was that between being pelted by a mob
of personal enemies and being set in the pillory. In the first case, the
annoyance brushes off mostly with the mud; in the last, there is no
solace but the consciousness of suffering in a great cause. This solace,
to a certain extent, Keats had; for his ambition was noble, and he hoped
not to make a great reputation, but to be a great poet. Haydon says that
Wordsworth and Keats were the only men he had ever seen who looked
conscious of a lofty purpose.

It is curious that men should resent more fiercely what they suspect to
be good verses, than what they know to be bad morals. Is it because they
feel themselves incapable of the one and not of the other? Probably a
certain amount of honest loyalty to old idols in danger of dethronement
is to be taken into account, and quite as much of the cruelty of
criticism is due to want of thought as to deliberate injustice. However
it be, the best poetry has been the most savagely attacked, and men who
scrupulously practised the Ten Commandments as if there were never a
_not_ in any of them, felt every sentiment of their better nature
outraged by the "Lyrical Ballads." It is idle to attempt to show that
Keats did not suffer keenly from the vulgarities of Blackwood and the
Quarterly. He suffered in proportion as his ideal was high, and he was
conscious of falling below it. In England, especially, it is not pleasant
to be ridiculous, even if you are a lord; but to be ridiculous and an
apothecary at the same time is almost as bad as it was formerly to be
excommunicated. _A priori_, there was something absurd in poetry written
by the son of an assistant in the livery-stables of Mr. Jennings, even
though they were an establishment, and a large establishment, and nearly
opposite Finsbury Circus. Mr. Gifford, the ex-cobbler, thought so in the
Quarterly, and Mr. Terry, the actor,[388] thought so even more distinctly
in Blackwood, bidding the young apothecary "back to his gallipots!" It is
not pleasant to be talked down upon by your inferiors who happen to have
the advantage of position, nor to be drenched with ditchwater, though you
know it to be thrown by a scullion in a garret.

Keats, as his was a temperament in which sensibility was excessive, could
not but be galled by this treatment. He was galled the more that he was
also a man of strong sense, and capable of understanding clearly how hard
it is to make men acknowledge solid value in a person whom they have once
heartily laughed at. Reputation is in itself only a farthing-candle, of
wavering and uncertain flame, and easily blown out, but it is the light
by which the world looks for and finds merit. Keats longed for fame, but
longed above all to deserve it. To his friend Taylor he writes, "There is
but one way for me. The road lies through study, application, and
thought." Thrilling with the electric touch of sacred leaves, he saw in
vision, like Dante, that small procession of the elder poets to which
only elect centuries can add another laurelled head. Might he, too,
deserve from posterity the love and reverence which he paid to those
antique glories? It was no unworthy ambition, but everything was against
him,--birth, health, even friends, since it was partly on their account
that he was sneered at. His very name stood in his way, for Fame loves
best such, syllables as are sweet and sonorous on the tongue, like
Spenserian, Shakespearian. In spite of Juliet, there is a great deal in
names, and when the fairies come with their gifts to the cradle of the
selected child, let one, wiser than the rest, choose a name for him from
which well-sounding derivatives can be made, and, best of all, with a
termination in _on_. Men judge the current coin of opinion by the ring,
and are readier to take without question whatever is Platonic, Baconian,
Newtonian, Johnsonian, Washingtonian, Jeffersonian, Napoleonic, and all
the rest. You cannot make a good adjective out of Keats,--the more
pity,--and to say a thing is _Keatsy_ is to contemn it. Fortune likes
fine names.

Haydon tells us that Keats was very much depressed by the fortunes of his
book. This was natural enough, but he took it all in a manly way, and
determined to revenge himself by writing better poetry. He knew that
activity, and not despondency, is the true counterpoise to misfortune.
Haydon is sure of the change in his spirits, because he would come to the
painting-room and sit silent for hours. But we rather think that the
conversation, where Mr. Haydon was, resembled that in a young author's
first play, where the other interlocutors are only brought in as
convenient points for the hero to hitch the interminable web of his
monologue upon. Besides, Keats had been continuing his education this
year, by a course of Elgin marbles and pictures by the great Italians,
and might very naturally have found little to say about Mr. Haydon's
extensive works, that he would have cared to hear. Lord Houghton, on the
other hand, in his eagerness to prove that Keats was not killed by the
article in the Quarterly, is carried too far toward the opposite extreme,
and more than hints that he was not even hurt by it. This would have been
true of Wordsworth, who, by a constant companionship with mountains, had
acquired something of their manners, but was simply impossible to a man
of Keats's temperament.

On the whole, perhaps, we need not respect Keats the less for having been
gifted with sensibility, and may even say what we believe to be true,
that his health was injured by the failure of his book. A man cannot have
a sensuous nature and be pachydermatous at the same time, and if he be
imaginative as well as sensuous, he suffers just in proportion to the
amount of his imagination. It is perfectly true that what we call the
world, in these affairs, is nothing more than a mere Brocken spectre, the
projected shadow of ourselves; but as long as we do not know it, it is a
very passable giant. We are not without experience of natures so purely
intellectual that their bodies had no more concern in their mental doings
and sufferings than a house has with the good or ill fortune of its
occupant. But poets are not built on this plan, and especially poets like
Keats, in whom the moral seems to have so perfectly interfused the
physical man, that you might almost say he could feel sorrow with his
hands, so truly did his body, like that of Donne's Mistress Boulstred,
think and remember and forebode. The healthiest poet of whom our
civilization has been capable says that when he beholds

          "desert a beggar born,
  And strength by limping sway disabled,
  And art made tongue-tied by authority,"

alluding, plainly enough, to the Giffords of his day,

  "And simple truth miscalled simplicity,"

as it was long afterward in Wordsworth's case,

  "And captive Good attending Captain Ill,"

that then even he, the poet to whom, of all others, life seems to have
been dearest, as it was also the fullest of enjoyment, "tired of all
these," had nothing for it but to cry for "restful Death."

Keats, to all appearance, accepted his ill fortune courageously. He
certainly did not overestimate "Endymion," and perhaps a sense of humor
which was not wanting in him may have served as a buffer against the too
importunate shock of disappointment. "He made Ritchie promise," says
Haydon, "he would carry his 'Endymion' to the great desert of Sahara and
fling it in the midst." On the 9th October, 1818, he writes to his
publisher, Mr. Hessey, "I cannot but feel indebted to those gentlemen who
have taken my part. As for the rest, I begin to get acquainted with my
own strength and weakness. Praise or blame has but a momentary effect on
the man whose love of beauty in the abstract makes him a severe critic of
his own works. My own domestic criticism has given me pain without
comparison beyond what Blackwood or the Quarterly could inflict; and
also, when I feel I am right, no external praise can give me such a glow
as my own solitary reperception and ratification of what is fine. J.S. is
perfectly right in regard to 'the slipshod Endymion.' That it is so is no
fault of mine. No! though it may sound a little paradoxical, it is as
good as I had power to make it by myself. Had I been nervous about its
being a perfect piece, and with that view asked advice and trembled over
every page, it would not have been written; for it is not in my nature to
fumble. I will write independently. I have written independently _without
judgment_. I may write independently and _with judgment_, hereafter. The
Genius of Poetry must work out its own salvation in a man. It cannot be
matured by law and precept, but by sensation and watchfulness in itself.
That which is creative must create itself. In 'Endymion' I leaped
headlong into the sea, and thereby have become better acquainted with the
soundings, the quicksands, and the rocks, than if I had stayed upon the
green shore, and piped a silly pipe, and took tea and comfortable advice.
I was never afraid of failure; for I would sooner fail than not be among
the greatest."

This was undoubtedly true, and it was naturally the side which a
large-minded person would display to a friend. This is what he thought,
but whether it was what he _felt_, I think doubtful. I look upon it
rather as one of the phenomena of that multanimous nature of the poet,
which makes him for the moment that of which he has an intellectual
perception. Elsewhere he says something which seems to hint at the true
state of the case. "I must think that difficulties nerve the spirit of a
man: _they make our prime objects a refuge as well as a passion_." One
cannot help contrasting Keats with Wordsworth,--the one altogether poet;
the other essentially a Wordsworth, with the poetic faculty added,--the
one shifting from form to form, and from style to style, and pouring his
hot throbbing life into every mould; the other remaining always the
individual, producing works, and not so much living in his poems as
memorially recording his life in them. When Wordsworth alludes to the
foolish criticisms on his writings, he speaks serenely and generously of
Wordsworth the poet, as if he were an unbiassed third person, who takes
up the argument merely in the interest of literature. He towers into a
bald egotism which is quite above and beyond selfishness. Poesy was his
employment; it was Keats's very existence, and he felt the rough
treatment of his verses as if it had been the wounding of a limb. To
Wordsworth, composing was a healthy exercise, his slow pulse and
imperturbable self trust gave him assurance of a life so long that he
could wait, and when we read his poems we should never suspect the
existence in him of any sense but that of observation, as if Wordsworth
the poet were a half-mad land-surveyor, accompanied by Mr. Wordsworth the
distributor of stamps, as a kind of keeper. But every one of Keats's
poems was a sacrifice of vitality, a virtue went away from him into every
one of them; even yet, as we turn the leaves, they seem to warm and
thrill our fingers with the flush of his fine senses, and the flutter of
his electrical nerves, and we do not wonder he felt that what he did was
to be done swiftly.

In the mean time his younger brother languished and died, his elder seems
to have been in some way unfortunate and had gone to America, and Keats
himself showed symptoms of the hereditary disease which caused his death
at last. It is in October, 1818, that we find the first allusion to a
passion which was, erelong, to consume him It is plain enough beforehand,
that those were not moral or mental graces that should attract a man like
Keats. His intellect was satisfied and absorbed by his art, his books,
and his friends He could have companionship and appreciation from men;
what he craved of woman was only repose. That luxurious nature, which
would have tossed uneasily on a crumpled rose leaf, must have something
softer to rest upon than intellect, something less ethereal than culture.
It was his body that needed to have its equilibrium restored, the waste
of his nervous energy that must be repaired by deep draughts of the
overflowing life and drowsy tropical force of an abundant and healthily
poised womanhood. Writing to his sister-in-law, he says of this nameless
person: "She is not a Cleopatra, but is, at least, a Charmian; she has a
rich Eastern look; she has fine eyes and fine manners. When she comes
into a room she makes the same impression as the beauty of a leopardess.
She is too fine and too conscious of herself to repulse any man who may
address her. From habit, she thinks that _nothing particular_. I always
find myself at ease with such a woman; the picture before me always gives
me a life and animation which I cannot possibly feel with anything
inferior. I am at such times too much occupied in admiring to be awkward
or in a tremble. I forget myself entirely, because I live in her. You
will by this time think I am in love with her, so, before I go any
farther, I will tell you that I am not. She kept me awake one night, as a
tune of Mozart's might do. I speak of the thing as a pastime and an
amusement, than which I can feel none deeper than a conversation with an
imperial woman, the very _yes_ and _no_ of whose life is to me a
banquet.... I like her and her like, because one has no _sensation_; what
we both are is taken for granted.... She walks across a room in such a
manner that a man is drawn toward her with magnetic power.... I believe,
though, she has faults, the same as a Cleopatra or a Charmian might have
had. Yet she is a fine thing, speaking in a worldly way; for there are
two distinct tempers of mind in which we judge of things,--the worldly,
theatrical, and pantomimical; and the unearthly, spiritual, and ethereal.
In the former, Bonaparte, Lord Byron, and this Charmian hold the first
place in our minds; in the latter, John Howard, Bishop Hooker rocking his
child's cradle, and you, my dear sister, are the conquering feelings. As
a man of the world, I love the rich talk of a Charmian; as an eternal
being, I love the thought of you. I should like her to ruin me, and I
should like you to save me."

It is pleasant always to see Love hiding his head with such pains, while
his whole body is so clearly visible, as in this extract. This lady, it
seems, is not a Cleopatra, only a Charmian; but presently we find that
she is imperial. He does not love her, but he would just like to be
ruined by her, nothing more. This glimpse of her, with her leopardess
beauty, crossing the room and drawing men after her magnetically, is all
we have. She seems to have been still living in 1848, and as Lord
Houghton tells us, kept the memory of the poet sacred. "She is an
East-Indian," Keats says, "and ought to be her grandfather's heir." Her
name we do not know. It appears from Dilke's "Papers of a Critic" that
they were betrothed: "It is quite a settled thing between John Keats and
Miss ----. God help them. It is a bad thing for them. The mother says she
cannot prevent it, and that her only hope is that it will go off. He
don't like any one to look at her or to speak to her." Alas, the tropical
warmth became a consuming fire!

  "His passion cruel grown took on a hue
  Fierce and sanguineous."

Between this time and the spring of 1820 he seems to have worked
assiduously. Of course, worldly success was of more importance than ever.
He began "Hyperion," but had given it up in September, 1819, because, as
he said, "there were too many Miltonic inversions in it." He wrote
"Lamia" after an attentive study of Dryden's versification. This period
also produced the "Eve of St. Agnes," "Isabella," and the odes to the
"Nightingale" and to the "Grecian Urn." He studied Italian, read Ariosto,
and wrote part of a humorous poem, "The Cap and Bells." He tried his hand
at tragedy, and Lord Houghton has published among his "Remains," "Otho
the Great," and all that was ever written of "King Stephen." We think he
did unwisely, for a biographer is hardly called upon to show how ill his
_biographee_ could do anything.

In the winter of 1820 he was chilled in riding on the top of a
stage-coach, and came home in a state of feverish excitement. He was
persuaded to go to bed, and in getting between the cold sheets, coughed
slightly. "That is blood in my mouth," he said; "bring me the candle; let
me see this blood." It was of a brilliant red, and his medical knowledge
enabled him to interpret the augury. Those narcotic odors that seem to
breathe seaward, and steep in repose the senses of the voyager who is
drifting toward the shore of the mysterious Other World, appeared to
envelop him, and, looking up with sudden calmness, he said, "I know the
color of that blood; it is arterial blood; I cannot be deceived in that
color. That drop is my death-warrant; I must die."

There was a slight rally during the summer of that year, but toward
autumn he grew worse again, and it was decided that he should go to
Italy. He was accompanied thither by his friend, Mr. Severn, an artist.
After embarking, he wrote to his friend, Mr. Brown. We give a part of
this letter, which is so deeply tragic that the sentences we take almost
seem to break away from the rest with a cry of anguish, like the branches
of Dante's lamentable wood.

"I wish to write on subjects that will not agitate me much. There is one
I must mention and have done with it. Even if my body would recover of
itself, this would prevent it. The very thing which I want to live most
for will be a great occasion of my death. I cannot help it. Who can help
it? Were I in health it would make me ill, and how can I bear it in my
state? I dare say you will be able to guess on what subject I am
harping,--you know what was my greatest pain during the first part of my
illness at your house I wish for death every day and night to deliver me
from these pains, and then I wish death away, for death would destroy
even those pains, which are better than nothing. Land and sea, weakness
and decline, are great separators, but Death is the great divorcer
forever. When the pang of this thought has passed through my mind, I may
say the bitterness of death is passed. I often wish for you, that you
might flatter me with the best. I think, without my mentioning it, for my
sake, you would be a, friend to Miss ---- when I am dead. You think she
has many faults, but for my sake think she has not one. If there is
anything you can do for her by word or deed I know you will do it. I am
in a state at present in which woman, merely as woman, can have no more
power over me than stocks and stones, and yet the difference of my
sensations with respect to Miss ---- and my sister is amazing,--the one
seems to absorb the other to a degree incredible. I seldom think of my
brother and sister in America; the thought of leaving Miss ---- is beyond
everything horrible,--the sense of darkness coming over me,--I eternally
see her figure eternally vanishing, some of the phrases she was in the
habit of using during my last nursing at Wentworth Place ring in my ears.
Is there another life? Shall I awake and find all this a dream? There
must be; we cannot be created for this sort of suffering."

To the same friend he writes again from Naples, 1st November, 1820:--

"The persuasion that I shall see her no more will kill me. My dear Brown,
I should have had her when I was in health, and I should have remained
well. I can bear to die,--I cannot bear to leave her. O God! God! God!
Everything I have in my trunks that reminds me of her goes through me
like a spear. The silk lining she put in my travelling-cap scalds my
head. My imagination is horribly vivid about her,--I see her, I hear her.
There is nothing in the world of sufficient interest to divert me from
her a moment. This was the case when I was in England, I cannot
recollect, without shuddering, the time that I was a prisoner at Hunt's,
and used to keep my eyes fixed on Hampstead all day. Then there was a
good hope of seeing her again,--now!--O that I could be buried near where
she lives! I am afraid to write to her, to receive a letter from her,--to
see her handwriting would break my heart. Even to hear of her anyhow, to
see her name written, would be more than I can bear. My dear Brown, what
am I to do? Where can I look for consolation or ease? If I had any chance
of recovery, this passion would kill me. Indeed, through the whole of my
illness, both at your house and at Kentish Town, this fever has never
ceased wearing me out."

The two friends went almost immediately from Naples to Rome, where Keats
was treated with great kindness by the distinguished physician, Dr.
(afterward Sir James) Clark.[389] But there was no hope from the first.
His disease was beyond remedy, as his heart was beyond comfort. The very
fact that life might be happy deepened his despair. He might not have
sunk so soon, but the waves in which he was struggling looked only the
blacker that they were shone upon by the signal-torch that promised
safety and love and rest.

It is good to know that one of Keats's last pleasures was in hearing
Severn read aloud from a volume of Jeremy Taylor. On first coming to
Rome, he had bought a copy of Alfieri, but, finding on the second page
these lines,

  "Misera me! sollievo a me non resta
  Altro che il pianto, ed il pianto é delitto,"

he laid down the book and opened it no more. On the 14th February, 1821,
Severn speaks of a change that had taken place in him toward greater
quietness and peace. He talked much, and fell at last into a sweet sleep,
in which he seemed to have happy dreams. Perhaps he heard the soft
footfall of the angel of Death, pacing to and fro under his window, to be
his Valentine. That night he asked to have this epitaph inscribed upon
his gravestone,--


On the 23d he died, without pain and as if falling asleep. His last words
were, "I am dying; I shall die easy; don't be frightened, be firm and
thank God it has come!"

He was buried in the Protestant burial-ground at Rome, in that part of it
which is now disused and secluded from the rest. A short time before his
death he told Severn that he thought his intensest pleasure in life had
been to watch the growth of flowers; and once, after lying peacefully
awhile, he said, "I feel the flowers growing over me." His grave is
marked by a little headstone on which are carved somewhat rudely his name
and age, and the epitaph dictated by himself. No tree or shrub has been
planted near it, but the daisies, faithful to their buried lover, crowd
his small mound with a galaxy of their innocent stars, more prosperous
than those under which he lived.[390] In person, Keats was below the
middle height, with a head small in proportion to the breadth of his
shoulders. His hair was brown and fine, falling in natural ringlets about
a face in which energy and sensibility were remarkably mixed. Every
feature was delicately cut; the chin was bold; and about the mouth
something of a pugnacious expression. His eyes were mellow and glowing,
large, dark, and sensitive. At the recital of a noble action or a
beautiful thought they would suffuse with tears, and his mouth
trembled.[391] Haydon says that his eyes had an inward Delphian look that
was perfectly divine.

The faults of Keats's poetry are obvious enough, but it should be
remembered that he died at twenty-five, and that he offends by
superabundance and not poverty. That he was overlanguaged at first there
can be no doubt, and in this was implied the possibility of falling back
to the perfect mean of diction. It is only by the rich that the costly
plainness, which at once satisfies the taste and the imagination, is

Whether Keats was original or not, I do not think it useful to discuss
until it has been settled what originality is. Lord Houghton tells us
that this merit (whatever it is) has been denied to Keats, because his
poems take the color of the authors he happened to be reading at the time
he wrote them. But men have their intellectual ancestry, and the likeness
of some one of them is forever unexpectedly flashing out in the features
of a descendant, it may be after a gap of several generations. In the
parliament of the present every man represents a constituency of the
past. It is true that Keats has the accent of the men from whom he
learned to speak, but this is to make originality a mere question of
externals, and in this sense the author of a dictionary might bring an
action of trover against every author who used his words. It is the man
behind the words that gives them value, and if Shakespeare help himself
to a verse or a phrase, it is with ears that have learned of him to
listen that we feel the harmony of the one, and it is the mass of his
intellect that makes the other weighty with meaning. Enough that we
recognize in Keats that indefinable newness and unexpectedness which we
call genius. The sunset is original every evening, though for thousands
of years it has built out of the same light and vapor its visionary
cities with domes and pinnacles, and its delectable mountains which night
shall utterly abase and destroy.

Three men, almost contemporaneous with each other,--Wordsworth, Keats,
and Byron,--were the great means of bringing back English poetry from the
sandy deserts of rhetoric, and recovering for her her triple inheritance
of simplicity, sensuousness, and passion. Of these, Wordsworth was the
only conscious reformer, and his hostility to the existing formalism
injured his earlier poems by tingeing them with something of iconoclastic
extravagance. He was the deepest thinker, Keats the most essentially a
poet, and Byron the most keenly intellectual of the three. Keats had the
broadest mind, or at least his mind was open on more sides, and he was
able to understand Wordsworth and judge Byron, equally conscious, through
his artistic sense, of the greatnesses of the one and the many
littlenesses of the other, while Wordsworth was isolated in a feeling of
his prophetic character, and Byron had only an uneasy and jealous
instinct of contemporary merit. The poems of Wordsworth, as he was the
most individual, accordingly reflect the moods of his own nature; those
of Keats, from sensitiveness of organization, the moods of his own taste
and feeling; and those of Byron, who was impressible chiefly through the
understanding, the intellectual and moral wants of the time in which he
lived. Wordsworth has influenced most the ideas of succeeding poets;
Keats, their forms; and Byron, interesting to men of imagination less for
his writings than for what his writings indicate, reappears no more in
poetry, but presents an ideal to youth made restless with vague desires
not yet regulated by experience nor supplied with motives by the duties
of life.

Keats certainly had more of the penetrative and sympathetic imagination
which belongs to the poet, of that imagination which identifies itself
with the momentary object of its contemplation, than any man of these
later days. It is not merely that he has studied the Elizabethans and
caught their turn of thought, but that he really sees things with their
sovereign eye, and feels them with their electrified senses. His
imagination was his bliss and bane. Was he cheerful, he "hops about the
gravel with the sparrows"; was he morbid, he "would reject a Petrarcal
coronation,--on account of my dying day, and because women have cancers."
So impressible was he as to say that he "had no nature," meaning
character. But he knew what the faculty was worth, and says finely, "The
imagination may be compared to Adam's dream: he awoke and found it
truth." He had an unerring instinct for the poetic uses of things, and
for him they had no other use. We are apt to talk of the classic
_renaissance_ as of a phenomenon long past, nor ever to be renewed, and
to think the Greeks and Romans alone had the mighty magic to work such a
miracle. To me one of the most interesting aspects of Keats is that in
him we have an example of the _renaissance_ going on almost under our own
eyes, and that the intellectual ferment was in him kindled by a purely
English leaven. He had properly no scholarship, any more than Shakespeare
had, but like him he assimilated at a touch whatever could serve his
purpose. His delicate senses absorbed culture at every pore. Of the
self-denial to which he trained himself (unexampled in one so young) the
second draft of Hyperion as compared with the first is a conclusive
proof. And far indeed is his "Lamia" from the lavish indiscrimination of
"Endymion." In his Odes he showed a sense of form and proportion which we
seek vainly in almost any other English poet, and some of his sonnets
(taking all qualities into consideration) are the most perfect in our
language. No doubt there is something tropical and of strange overgrowth
in his sudden maturity, but it _was_ maturity nevertheless. Happy the
young poet who has the saving fault of exuberance, if he have also the
shaping faculty that sooner or later will amend it!

As every young person goes through all the world-old experiences,
fancying them something peculiar and personal to himself, so it is with
every new generation, whose youth always finds its representatives in its
poets. Keats rediscovered the delight and wonder that lay enchanted in
the dictionary. Wordsworth revolted at the poetic diction which he found
in vogue, but his own language rarely rises above it, except when it is
upborne by the thought. Keats had an instinct for fine words, which are
in themselves pictures and ideas, and had more of the power of poetic
expression than any modern English poet. And by poetic expression I do
not mean merely a vividness in particulars, but the right feeling which
heightens or subdues a passage or a whole poem to the proper tone, and
gives entireness to the effect. There is a great deal more than is
commonly supposed in this choice of words. Men's thoughts and opinions
are in a great degree vassals of him who invents a new phrase or
reapplies an old epithet. The thought or feeling a thousand times
repeated becomes his at last who utters it best. This power of language
is veiled in the old legends which make the invisible powers the servants
of some word. As soon as we have discovered the word for our joy or
sorrow we are no longer its serfs, but its lords. We reward the
discoverer of an anaesthetic for the body and make him member of all the
societies, but him who finds a nepenthe for the soul we elect into the
small academy of the immortals.

The poems of Keats mark an epoch in English poetry; for, however often we
may find traces of it in others, in them found its most unconscious
expression that reaction against the barrel-organ style which had been
reigning by a kind of sleepy divine right for half a century. The lowest
point was indicated when there was such an utter confounding of the
common and the uncommon sense that Dr. Johnson wrote verse and Burke
prose. The most profound gospel of criticism was, that nothing was good
poetry that could not be translated into good prose, as if one should say
that the test of sufficient moonlight was that tallow-candles could be
made of it. We find Keats at first going to the other extreme, and
endeavoring to extract green cucumbers from the rays of tallow; but we
see also incontestable proof of the greatness and purity of his poetic
gift in the constant return toward equilibrium and repose in his later
poems. And it is a repose always lofty and clear-aired, like that of the
eagle balanced in incommunicable sunshine. In him a vigorous
understanding developed itself in equal measure with the divine faculty;
thought emancipated itself from expression without becoming its tyrant;
and music and meaning floated together, accordant as swan and shadow, on
the smooth element of his verse. Without losing its sensuousness, his
poetry refined itself and grew more inward, and the sensational was
elevated into the typical by the control of that finer sense which
underlies the senses and is the spirit of them.


    [384] Hunt's Autobiography (Am. ed.), Vol. II. p. 36.

    [385] Haydon tells the story differently, but I think Lord Houghton's
    version the best.

    [386] There is always some one willing to make himself a sort of
    accessary after the fact in any success; always an old woman or two,
    ready to remember omens of all quantities and qualities in the
    childhood of persons who have become distinguished. Accordingly, a
    certain "Mrs. Grafty, of Craven Street, Finsbury," assures Mr. George
    Keats, when he tells her that John is determined to be a poet, "that
    this was very odd, because when he could just speak, instead of
    answering questions put to him, he would always make a rhyme to the
    last word people said, and then laugh." The early histories of
    heroes, like those of nations, are always more or less mythical, and
    I give the story for what it is worth. Doubtless there is a gleam of
    intelligence in it, for the old lady pronounces it odd that any one
    should _determine_ to be a poet, and seems to have wished to hint
    that the matter was determined earlier and by a higher disposing
    power. There are few children who do not soon discover the charm of
    rhyme, and perhaps fewer who can resist making fun of the Mrs.
    Graftys, of Craven Street, Finsbury, when they have the chance. See
    Haydon's Autobiography, Vol I. p.361.

    [387] "I never saw the poet Keats but once, but he then read some
    lines from (I think) the 'Bristowe Tragedy' with an enthusiasm of
    admiration such as could be felt only by a poet, and which true
    poetry only could have excited."--J. H. C., in Notes & Queries, 4th
    s. x. 157.

    [388] Haydon (Autobiography, Vol. I. p.379) says that he "strongly
    suspects" Terry to have written the articles in Blackwood.

    [389] The lodging of Keats was on the Piazza di Spagna, in the first
    house on the right hand in going up the Scalinata. Mr. Severn's
    Studio is said to have been in the Cancello over the garden gate of
    the Villa Negroni, pleasantly familiar to all Americans as the Roman
    home of their countryman Crawford.

    [390] Written in 1856. O irony of Time! Ten years after the poet's
    death the woman he had so loved wrote to his friend Mr. Dilke, that
    "the kindest act would be to let him rest forever in the obscurity to
    which circumstances had condemned him"! (Papers of a Critic, I. 11.)
    O Time the atoner! In 1874 I found the grave planted with shrubs and
    flowers, the pious homage of the daughter of our most eminent
    American sculptor.

    [391] Leigh Hunt's Autobiography, II. 43.

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