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Nothing can equal this in elegance, except, perhaps, the pic-
ture of Mr. Vegetation, in his Sunday clothes— -

His latter passage has, however, a formidable rival in that | which describes the nuptial feast, where, we are told, o

II's But enough We must not surfeit our readers with sweets;

and we will, therefore, forbear to cull any of the equally blooming
flowers from the copious store of them which still remains behind.

ART. III. A Literary History of the Middle Ages, comprehending an Account of the State of Learning from the Close m of the Reign of Augustus, &c. &c. - - !

. (Concluded from P. 303.)

THE fixth book opens with too short an account of the tem- } pestuous life of Dante; and it is closely followed by rather | * too long an one of that of Petrarca. - -

“Dante degli Alighieri was now advancing to the zenith of o his literary glory. He was born at Florence in the year 1265; where he studied, as well as in other cities of Italy, collecting o from all quarters, and even, it is said, from the universities of o Paris and Oxford, whatever was deemed most excellent in philosophy, theology, and the liberal arts. On his return to his own city, he was employed in many honourable offices. The cultivation of the Italian tongue, which was yet rude and inharmonious—but which the muses were now about to adopt as their own—had deeply engaged his attention. Thus was Dante occupied; when in 1302, in one of those civil commotions, to which { the free cities of Italy were, at this time, daily exposed, the party, which he had espoused, was vanquished by its antagonists, and he o ; was himself forced into exile. To Florence he never returned; 3. } but the cities of Italy continued to afford him an asylum ; the re- o | grets of banishment which he felt with the keenest severity, did w not however suspend his literary ardour. He died at Ravenna in 1321.” P. 413. - - . . . . . . . - B. b - This vol., iv. oct. 1815,

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This is all; and, indeed, upon the life of many other men we should have been satisfied even with less; and, perhaps, we might have been inclined to forgive Mr. Berington for thus hardly introducing to our acquaintance Dante himself, if, in this account, our author had not left out even those circumstances which we know to have given a bias to his writings. We feel, however, very much obliged to Mr. Berington for thus properly telling us the year when Dante was boin, and when he died ; and should we ever be tempted to write a book on chronology, we shall most undoubtedly quote the History of the Middle Ages, upon the birth and death of Durante degli Alighieri. But, on the present occasion, we should have expected a specimen of biography rather than a mere statement of dates; and we cannot help lamenting that Mr. Berington has, in this respect, disappointed our most sanguine hopes. We have always understood that the greatest and most difficult tnerit of a biographer, is to record those events which shew the man and paint the writer, without entering into absurd and endless details; but, in the lives both of Dante and Petrarca, Mr. Berington, we know uot for what reason, has adopted a peculiar plan of his own. Wonderfully short on Dante, he employs not less than fourteen pages on the life of Petrarca, and six pages at least out of these fourteen would have hardly suited a huge quarto volume of modern travels. But if the prejudice which every scholar feels in favour of Petrarca, and the veneration which we bear to his memory for having so much espoused the cause of learning, may promptus to forgive the details of the places in which he dified and in which he slept, the very same reason compels us to condemn - the biographer who hardly tells us that there lived such a man as Dante. " . . . . . . . . . Immediately after the paragraph we have just quoted, Mr. * Berington passes on to analyse the works of this first rate poet of modern Europe, and particularly to acquaint the reader with the o Divina Commedia. - - - - * * * * - :

“ The works of Dante, on various subjects, in prose and verse, some of which were composed in Italian, and others in Latin, may be considered as almost absorbed in the renown of that to which his admiring countrymen have affixed the lofty title of the Divina Commedia, They, indeed, can be the only judges of its merit. At what period of the poet's life, or where it was written, or begun to be written, is uncertain ; and the cities of Italy contend as era. w erly for the honour of each canto, as those of Greece once did for that of Homer's nativity. The poem, as every scholar knows, contains the description of a vision, in which, with Virgil, sometimes, for his guide, the poet is conducted through hell, and purgat § .* * * -- an

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and paradise, and indulged with the sight and conversation of various persons. It is evident that the sixth book of the Æneis suggested the general outline, and however inferior the modern poet of Italy may be thought to his great prototype, it is with peculiar pleasure we peruse the following lines, which at once shew, that the bard of Mantua, after the long lapse of ages of tasteless ignorance, had found a reader, who could admire and rival his beauties. , Art thou Virgil? he asks, on his first presenting himself to his view : . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ... :

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- * - * * * , - . . *

“The Italians allow, that this work of Dante is not a regular composition; that it abounds with wild and extravagant passages; that his images are often unnatural; that he makes Virgil utter the most absurd remarks; that some whole cantoes cannot be read with patience; that his verses are frequently unsufferably harsh, and his rhymes void of euphony; and, in one word, that his defects, which no man of common judgment will pretend to justify, are not few nor trifling. But, whatever may be the sum of his imperfections or the number of his faults, they are amply compensated, by the highest beauties:—by an imagination of the richest kind; a style, sublime, pathetic, animated; by delineations the most powerfully impressive; a tone of invective withering, irresistible, and indigmant; and by passages of the most exquisite tenderness. The story of Count Ugolino and his children, than which the genius of man never produced a more pathetic picture, would alone prove, that the Muses were returned to the soil of Latium. When it is, besides, considered, that the Italian poetry had hitherto beenmerely an assemblage of rhymed phrases, on love or some moral topic, without being animated by a single spark of genius—our admiration of Dante must be proportionally increased. Inspired, as it were, by him whose volume, he says, he had sought, and whom he calls his master, he rose to the heights of real poesy; spoke of things not within the reach of common minds; poured life into inanimate nature; and all this in a strain of language to which as yet no ear had listened. - - “Among the various attractions which I have enumerated, and to which may be added the rich colouring with which the poet had the skill to invest all the arts and literature of the age, as they make their appearance in his work, I ought to state that the many living, or at that time well-known characters, whom he brought forward, and whose good and bad deeds he tells without reserve, greatly augmented the interest of his work, and rendered Indeed from this crude specimen of criticism we should be very much tempted to believe Mr. Berington had never read Dante, and that, like the bookseller of yore, he spoke of all the books he had in his shop as if he had perused them, when he had only read their several title pages. Seriously, if Mr. Berington knows any thing about Dante, we should be glad to learn how he can have failed to have been deeply struck by various circumstances in the eventful life of the Italian poet, which might have given him the clue to explain to the reader the intention of the poem, and, perhaps, the cause itself which gave him the first idea of his Inferno; and if he has perused the Divina Commedia, has he felt no curiosity, or has he not been able to explain how genius may be affected by the most turbulent ages? Less admirers than Mr. Berington professes himself to be of the Italian literature, we have been long wishing for a good, impartial, and philosophical account of Dante, and his poem. The Italian commentators are much too diffuse, and through prejudice or fear, or both, they either make him say what he never meant, or do not dare to bring to light and explain those anecdotes which attack their popes, their cardinals, and their superstition. In England we know little or nothing about Dante; and this blank in our literature ought to be filled by a philosopher, and a man of genius who should be perfectly acquainted with the Italian language, and no less skilful in the history and literature of the age. Mr. Berington has disappointed our hopes; and we trust that such a blank will not be felt much longer. In the mean time, we shall lay beforé our readers a few remarks, which we think mecessary to state, respecting Dante and his poem; and set in a right point of view a few facts which have been mistated by Mr. Berington.

it a feast for the censorious or malevolent.” P. 414.

* * * B b 2 Indeed

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“Scarcely had this poem seen the light, when the public mind was seized as if by a charm. Copies were multiplied, and comments written, within the course of a few years. Even chairs, with honourable stipends, were founded in Florence, Bologna, Pisa, Venice, and Piacenza; whence able professors delivered lectures on the Divina Commedia, to an admiring audience. They did not always display its beauties, nor elucidate its obscurities; but, under the mistaken conviction, that it abounded with allegories and mystic meanings, they dwelt too much on these; and thus they often occasioned darkness rather than diffused light.” P. 416. ,

We perfectly agree with Mr. Berington in whatever he says with regard to the commentators of Dante. It is too much the case with the whole race of commentators; Dante is but - Ouo one instance of this truth. But if Mr. Berington would have taken the trouble to enquire into the life of the Italian poet, he would have found the reason of this obscurity.

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It was not immediately after “ this poem had seen the

light” but long after the poet's death, when people had lost the key to its allusions, and no longer understood either the customs of the time or the use of the poem, that the comments on the Commediae began to be written. It was then that its repu

tation began, and did not cease to spread itself during the pe

riod of five hundred years. Having then no longer occasion to fear the consequences of his political tenets, and what is more, no opportunity of revenging themselves; the Florentines gave to the Commediae the epithet of Divina, and as Dante had escaped the pile which they had prepared for him during his life, by way of exchange they cast into it, after his death, a poor and innocent poet, Cecco d'Ascoli, under pretence of magic, but in reality because he had been guilty of high literary treason, in cursing the memory of Dante, whom the Florentimes had persecuted, and in criticising his poem by which they had been scandalized, during his life.

Dante, indeed, had shocked the prejudices of his age, but his

age was a superlatively wretched one. The violences and usurpations of the Popes, the miserable extinction of the royal

house of Suevia, the crimes of king Manfred, the murder of

Corradin, the Sicilian vespers, the crusade of St. Louis, the terror of the Saracens, the civil wars, and the cruelty of the many tyrants who reigned over Italy, but above all the feuds engendered by religious bigotry and the ignorance of the people have stamped upon this age a most remarkable character. We are well aware that genius does not require time or circumstances to shew itself; and therefore let us suppose that in the midst of so much horror, and so miany calamities, there appears ou that very same stage of revolution and discord, a man who, by his genius, raised himself in the midst of all these political storms, and reached the highest situation of his country. Let us now suppose this same man banished, his house pillaged, and his life condemned; let us suppose him forced to lead a wandering life, without friends, and without resources, and obliged to ask for the protection of the very tyrants whom he had despised and opposed, it is certain that the calamities of the age, and above all his own misfortunes, would have made upon the mind of this man a very deep impression, and such as would have disposed him to terrible and gloomy conceptions. Now ubis man was Lante. In his banishment he conceived his hell, his purgatory, his paradise. Having no friends on earth for whom he cared, he chose them

from amongst the dead; Beatrice, the daughter of a Florentine, * . gentleman,

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