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HE INFLUENCE 



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of DANTE 



Modern Thought 



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THE INFLUENCE OF 
DANTE ON MODERN THOUGHT 



The Influence of Dante 
on Modern Thought 

"BEING THE LE BAS TRIZE ESSAY, 1894 



BY 



HERMANN OELSNER, B.A., 

Late Scholar of Gonville and Cains College, Cambridge 



King, that hast reign'd six hundred 

years, and grown 
In power, and ever growest. . . . 
Tennyson (To Dante) 



LONDON 

T. FISHER UNWIN 
1895 






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PREFACE. 

Every one who has occupied himself with Dante 
must feel that it is practically impossible to say any- 
thing new of this poet, who has probably been more 
exhaustively treated by commentators, literary 
historians, essayists, and critics than any other 
modern writer, with the exception of Shakespeare. 
However, curiously enough, the subject of the 
present essay would not appear to have been 
treated in a comprehensive form as yet. 

As will be seen from our quotations, single 

3 points have already been touched incidentally by 

W numerous authors : these we have in every in- 

^ stance acknowledged. 

' We should perhaps express our special indebted- 

>- ness to Dean Plumptre, whose second volume gave 

s^ us many hints, and makes us regret that he was 

7 prevented from carrying out his project of treating 

•* the very theme of our essay. Of general works, 

'_ those on the Renaissance by Symonds and Burck- 

iJ hardt have been most suggestive. Ozanam {Dante 

« x et la philosophic catholique) was naturally of great 

. * 

3 



5 



437589 



6 PREFACE. 

use in the section dealing with philosophy, and in 
questions of art we derived much aid from 
Janitschek's Die Kunstkhre Dante's und Giotto's 
Kunst. 

It will be noted that we have, wherever we felt 
it to be necessary, dealt critically with the material 
at our disposal : we may instance the questions of 
Petrarch, of the Humanistic Studies, and of the 
Reformation. 

If we may appear to have dwelt at too great 
length on Dante's individuality, our excuse must 
be that we had taken as our basis the well-known 
essay of Schelling, which we considered to be the 
best explanation that had as yet been given of 
Dante's enormous power. 1 

We have never hesitated to quote other writers, 
whether from polemical motives or as illustrating 
what we had to say ; above all, we have always 
preferred to let the representatives of "modern 
thought " speak for themselves. 

Translations of passages have been given only 
where it was considered to be absolutely necessary. 
Dante has been quoted in Italian, because it was 
thought that the present essay would be of interest 
only to such as could read the poet in the original, 
or at any rate had a translation at their disposal. 

1 For a short abstract of this paper, cf. inf., pp. 8 and 9. 



THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE ON 
MODERN THOUGHT. 

In the course of our Dante studies we have 
several times seen the wish expressed that the 
subject of the present essay should be treated 
comprehensively. " II serait curieux, sans doute, 
il serait interessant, pour l'histoire intellectuelle de 
l'Europe, d'^tudier pas a pas, et des l'origine, le 
progres continu du da?itisme. . . . Mais, pour 
tout dire a cet egard, il faudrait certes plus que le 
savoir d'un seul, et plus que la capacite d'un 
livre." * Or again : " Ce serait certainement un 
travail plein d'interet que la recherche de l'in- 
fluence de la Divina Commedia sur les esprits, sur 
la litterature, sur la poesie, sur les arts, sur la 
science meme, non seulement dans la Peninsule, 

1 Charles Calemard de Lafayette {Dante- Michel- Ange- 
Machiavet). 



8 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

mais dans 1'Europe entiere. Cette etude, qui 
exigerait une grande universalite de savoir, une 
erudition profonde, des connaissances infiniment 
variees, un vif sentiment poetique, conditions rares 
a reunir, serait digne d'une haute intelligence." 1 
While agreeing with these writers as to the 
interest of the subject, we are at the same time 
fully aware that we do not bring to the task the 
acquirements and qualities they rightly designate 
as being necessary for its satisfactory fulfilment. 
Accordingly we shall only endeavour to sketch 
rapidly Dante's influence on the various depart- 
ments of European thought, without attempting to 
enter into the manifold details which the subject 
suggests at every step. 

For the better understanding of what is to 
follow, it seems desirable to begin with a short 
survey of the literary history of Dante's works. 
And here one fact, which has been frequently 
noted, must never be lost sight of — namely, 
that the periods of Dante's glory invariably 
correspond with those of taste in literature and 
general culture, and that, when these were at a 
low ebb, Dante, too, was neglected. " Betrachten 

1 Paul Drouilhet de Sigalas (De fart en Italie). See 
also Scartazzini's Prolegomeni, pp. 546, 547, for a very similar 
passage. 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 9 

Sie die italienische Kunst ; der Verfall beginnt wo 
die Maler aufhoren Dante in sich zu tragen," said 
Cornelius to Herman Grimm. 1 These words must 
not by any means be limited to the region of 
art, or indeed to Italy alone. They are applicable 
with at least the same amount of truth also 
to literature in its various expressions, and to the 
general moral tone — let any one make the experi- 
ment on himself, and see whether he is able to 
appreciate or even to read the Commedia, unless 
his mind be wholly free from worldly thoughts; 
nor have we any doubt but that this phenomenon, 
this " double glory " of Dante's, as Symonds 
happily calls it, would be traceable in the other 
countries to a far greater extent even than is the 
case, if Dante's works had been generally diffused 
over Europe at an earlier period. For it is not till 
the end of the last and the beginning of the present 
century, that anything approaching a general 
appreciation of the poet is to be noted, and then 
only among the highest minds. Indeed Dante 
has never been and never will become popular. 
When a man of parts such as Schlosser, the 
historian, tells us that he did not understand the 

1 " Consider Italian art ; its decay begins from the moment 
the painters cease to carry the image of Dante in their 
hearts." (Grimm, Leben Michelan^lcs.) 



io THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

Commedia till after the ninth reading, this is not to 
be wondered at. 1 But although the larger public 
has never studied the works of the poet, it must 
not be inferred that Dante's influence has extended 
to individuals alone. It is no less a person than 
Edgar Quinet who takes this strange view : "Son 
influence a ete immense sur les individus, et nulle 
sur la societe." 2 We shall endeavour to show 
that the individuals in question were for the most 
part great leaders of thought, and that, by their 
instrumentality, the seed of Dante's thought has 
been sown broadcast among the principal nations 
of the world. 

And which are the nations that we shall have to 
consider? First and foremost, of course, the 
country of the poet himself, where, in spite of 
fluctuating fortunes, his fame has never been 
wholly eclipsed. In the 14th century the numerous 
chairs founded in the leading cities of Italy for the 
purpose of making the Conunedia more widely 
known, would be proof sufficient of the high 
favour in which the poet stood, even if we did 
not possess the testimonies of contemporaries. 
Boccaccio's feelings for his master are well known, 

1 That Dante was fully aware of the difficulty of his work 
is shown by such passages as Par. ii. 1— 15. 

2 Les Revolutions d 1 Italic, i. 7. 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. <*J 

and we shall try to show later that Petrarch, too, 
owed more to his great predecessor than he was 
inclined to admit. Towards the close of the 15th 
century came the disturbing elements introduced 
by the supporters of the classical Renaissance, 
who apparently failed to grasp the fact that it was 
Dante himself who first aroused a general taste 
for classical literature. They regarded him only 
as supporter of the Italian vulgar tongue, and as 
such neglected— nay, even decried him. Marsilio 
Ficino's admiration for Dante was limited to the 
elements of the Platonic doctrine contained in his 
work. In the following century, the Jesuits 'began 
-their hostile attitude, which was to continue for no 
less than three hundred years, and was the chief 
cause of the comparative neglect into which Dante 
fell. Added to this, Pulci and Ariosto introduced 
a lighter taste into literature, which became more 
and more deteriorated, and, culminating in the 
Arcadia and school of Marini, rendered a general 
study of so earnest a work impossible. 1 Indeed 
the study of Dante may be said to have come to 
an end for the time being at the close of the 16th 

1 That other countries were equally unfit at this time to 
appreciate serious works is shown by the gongorismo and 
Euphuism of Spain and England. 



12 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

century. 1 His work has now to submit to an 
academic treatment, and he is proved to sin against 
Aristotle's laws. In the 17 th century only minute 
details are considered — in short, a kind of 
mechanical devotion succeeds to the sincere and 
spontaneous admiration of former generations. Of 
the 1 8th century it may almost be said that 
Bettinelli and, in France, his friend Voltaire, 
express the general opinion ; but already an 
improvement is to be remarked, which was carefully 
fostered by such men as Varano, and which cul- 
minated in the great Dante revival at the close of 
the century. Germany, France, and England 
almost simultaneously join in the cult which was 
to produce such far-reaching results, and more 
recently America. 

One country occupies a unique position, and 
may be dealt with definitively in this place. 
Spain, as she began with the greatest promise, 
was also the first to fall out of the ranks. In 
the 15th century there are two translations in 

1 Three of the greatest Italian names stand out as con- 
spicuous exceptions during this long period of the decadence 
of Dante's power. With Machiavelli and Michelangelo we 
shall have to deal later on. Galilei was no less ardent a 
student of our poet : among other things he defended his 
cosmography twice against Benivieni before the Academy of 
Pisa. 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 13 

the same year (1428), the one by Febrer into 
Catalan, the other by Villena into Castilian ; and 
the works of Santillana and Juan de Mena con- 
tain obvious imitations from Dante's great poem. 
However, gradually all such traces begin to dis- 
appear in the literature, the translation of Villegas, 
and Quevedo's Sueiios, which sometimes breathe 
Dante's spirit, being the only notable exceptions. 
The reasons for this are not far to seek. It was 
only natural, that such a Catholic people as the 
Spanish should view with suspicion a work portions 
of which had been condemned by the Inquisition. 
How small and insignificant these portions were, 
they probably never took the trouble to find out. 
And besides, when the bad taste in literature had 
subsided, and the general curiosity and liberalism 
of this century had found its way into Spain, the 
people had enough to do in rescuing their own 
noble literature from oblivion : from such poems 
as the Cid fresh vigour was also to be gained. 1 

The first reading of Dante's works produces in 
us a feeling of wonder at their author's astounding 

1 We may add, however, that Dante appears to be winning 
his way back into Spain, to judge from several translations 
and an imitation in the shape of Campoamor's El drama 
universal., that have appeared during the last two or three 
decades. 



14 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

range of subject, his almost unparalleled univer- 
sality. But on penetrating more deeply into our 
study, Dante the man stands before us, with his 
intense individuality, and fills us with yet greater 
admiration. We feel with Michelangelo that 
" simil uom ne maggior non nacque mai." 
Matthew Arnold once asked : " What is really 
precious and inspiring, in all we get from literature, 
except the sense of an immediate contact with 
genius itself ? " We, for our part, are sensible of 
this contact to a far greater extent in the case of 
Dante than with any other poet, just owing to the 
individuality of which we are speaking. — Schelling, 
in his admirable essay, Ueber Dante in philo- 
sophischer Beziehung (1803), was the first to demon- 
strate the importance of Dante in the history of 
European culture, viewed from this double stand- 
point. He shows us how, with the ancients, the 
universal was really the particular, and how, in the 
modern world, the individual is the starting-point 
and must become universal. While ancient poetry 
was, as a general rule, kept distinct from philosophy 
and science, Dante not only recognised that art 
demands a definite, rounded subject, but he also 
saw that the modern spirit required a great work to 
be of infinite range, that everything must be included 
in it — the past, the present, and the future, politics 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 15 

and science, philosophy and religion, and that the 
individuality of the poet must select the essential 
points and those of permanent interest, and weld 
them into a whole in a unique framework, in which 
allegory and history necessarily form the chief 
elements. By uniting all these qualities in his 
poem, Schelling concludes, Dante became the 
founder of modern poetry and art, and whoever 
would understand these must first study the source 
from which they sprang. 

It was Italy of all the countries of modern 
Europe that first began to treat all things ob- 
jectively, and in Italy, too, the subjective character 
of the individual first asserted itself. It is not to 
be wondered at, then, that that country should 
have produced the first great figure breathing the 
modern spirit. 

Among the great writers of genius who are at 
the same time distinguished by individuality of 
character, Dante may perhaps be assigned the first 
place, especially if we consider the times in which 
he was placed. In how many ways does this 
individuality of his cause him to break with past 
traditions, and open a new train of thought ! What 
striking originality, for instance, in the very form 
of his poem, in which the author himself plays the 
leading part ! We sympathise with him at every 



1 6 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

step of his long and arduous journey. We feel 
with him a glow of pride and delight when he 
tells us that he was permitted to join in the band 
of great poets, and that his " maestro sorrise di 
tanto;" and then, when the poets depart with him : 

Parlando cose che il tacere e bello, 

Si com' era il parlar cola dov' era. — Inf. iv., 

we are charmed with the poet's modesty. We feel 
the poet's grief and shame at Virgil's reproof : 

Quand' io il sentii a me parlar con ira, &c, 

and share his joy on hearing his master's soothing 
words : 

Maggior difetto men vergogna lava, 
Disse il maestro, che il tuo non e stato ; 
Pero d'ogni tristizia ti disgrava. — Inf. xxx. 

And what shall we say of such passages as the 
meeting with Beatrice, and her reproaches ? 

The mere fact of an author relating in the first 
person is not sufficient to create such perfect sym- 
pathy between author and reader, if there is no 
individuality. This is proved by such works as 
the old French allegorical romances, where we 
learn practically nothing of the poet's character, 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 17 

and, what is more significant still, feel no desire to 
know more of him. 

We would say a word, too, of Dante's delicate 
sensibility, which was extraordinarily developed. 
Indeed, we question whether many persons of what- 
soever age would be capable of such exquisitely 
refined feeling as is shown in the passage in which 
the poet, on seeing the wretched souls of the 
envious shrouded in hair-cloth, with their eyes 
sewn together as it were with pieces of wire, 
exclaims : 

A me pareva andando fare oltraggio 
Vedendo altrui, non essendo veduto. 

Purg. xiii. 73. 

If we turn from tenderness such as this to the 
wonderful : 

" Ma distendi oramai in qua la mano ; 
Aprimi gli occhi." Ed io non gliele apersi ; 
E cortesia fu in lui esser villano. 

of Inf. xxxiii., we get an idea of the completeness 
of Dante's character, and feel the justice of Mrs. 
Browning's : 

. . . Dante stern 
And sweet, whose spirit was an urn 
For wine and milk poured out in turn. 

A Vision of Poets. 



1 8 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

Dante's conception and desire of Fame were 
evolved completely out of his own character, and 
may be said to have had no precedent. His 
second Heaven is filled with the spirits of those 
whose aim in life were only fame and honour : 

Questa picciola Stella si correda 

Dei buoni spirti, che son stati attivi 

Perche onore e fama gli succeda. — Par. vi. 1 12. 

How solicitous he is of his own fame, both among 
his contemporaries and with posterity ! J He hopes 
to overcome the stubborn hearts of the Florentines, 
and be permitted to return to his beloved city on 
the strength of the name his works have made him. 2 
And what can be more impressive than the con- 
sciousness of his own greatness and importance 
expressed in several passages ? His admission to 
the band containing the master-poets of the ancient 
world we have already quoted. He makes Brunetto 
Latini say to him : 

. . . Se tu segui tua stella, 
Non puoi fallire a glorioso porto. — Inf. xv. 55. 

And that he is fully aware of the eminence of his 

1 Innumerable passages in the Comedy show that Dante 
credited others with the same feelings. 
- Cf. the beginning of Par. xxv. 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 19 

position in Italian literature, is shown by the 
following words, more moderate than usual : 

Cosi ha tolto 1' uno all' altro Guido 

La gloria della lingua ; e forse e nato 

Chi 1' uno e 1' altro caccera di nido.— Purg. xi. 97. 

We do not mean to say that Dante was the first 
to express the idea of Fame. In classical litera- 
ture we have numerous examples, of which the 
final ode of Horace's Second Book is a charac- 
teristic specimen. But to all who have fathomed 
Dante's personality, there is something infinitely 
touching and noble in this conception of his, far 
removed from anything selfish or base. We find 
his theory summed up in the following stern pas- 
sage : 

Omai convien che tu cosi ti spoltre, 
Disse il maestro ; che seggendo in piuma, 
In fama non si vien, ne sotto coltre ; 
Senza la qual chi sua vita consuma, 
Cotal vestigio in terra di se lascia 
Qual fummo in aer ed in acqua la schiuma. 

/;//. xxiv. 46. 

That men who did not feel as he did, fail to arouse 
admiration in us, is clear from the example of 
Petrarch, whose efforts in the same direction las in 



20 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

the Africa) were certainly dictated by very different 
sentiments. 

The story of Dante's life, in its wonderful three- 
fold development, affords a long series of proofs of 
the poet's independence of character. Two cir- 
cumstances especially make his utterances sublime 
and enduring, because they come from his inner- 
most heart — we mean his love for Beatrice, and his 
exile. Alfred de Musset's grand comparison of 
such men to the pelican who feeds his young with 
his own heart's blood, applies to no poet better 
than to Dante : 

Rien ne nous rend si grands qu'une grande douleur. 

Les plus desesperes sont les chants les plus beaux, 
Et j'en sais d'immortels qui sont de purs sanglots. 

Poete, c'est ainsi que font les grands poetes. 
lis laissent s'egayer ceux qui vivent un temps ; 
Mais les festins humains qu'ils servent a leurs fetes 
Ressemblent la plupart a ceux des pelicans. 

Nuit de Mai. 

Does not Dante tell us himself that his poem has 
made him " lean for many years " ? 

Some of the traits of his character stand out 
with especial clearness in the Vita Nnova and 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 21 

Canzonierc. It has always appeared to us singu- 
larly significant that the former work should have 
been almost completely neglected, even in Italy, 
until this century, when the interest in psycho- 
logical analysis first became general. In the Middle 
Ages the study of "Self" would appear to have 
been avoided, as of insufficient interest for the 
general public, till Dante came and showed by his 
great example what true lyrical poetry really means. 
Only two sonnets of his are objective — namely, 
Tanto gentile and Vede perfettame?ite, in which the 
poet praises the perfections of his mistress ; and in 
these, as Burckhardt has aptly remarked, Dante 
feels called upon to apologise. The one ends : 

E par che della sua labbia si muova 
Uno spirto soave e pien d' amore, 
Che va dicendo all' anima : sospira. 

and the other : 

Ed e negli atti suoi tanto gentile, 
Che nessun la si puo recare a mente, 
Che non sospiri in dolcezza d' amore. 

The minor poems are indeed utterances of lyrical 
subjectiveness which become objective and of uni- 
versal value by their sincerity and beauty of form. 
They serve as a landmark between mediaeval and 



22 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

modern love-poetry, as we shall have occasion to 
show later. 

We cannot attempt in this place to give a full 
account of the enormous part played by Dante's 
personality, whether directly, or indirectly through 
the medium of his works, and the reader will find 
no difficulty in supplying this gap for himself as he 
goes on : thus, to give only one instance, it is plain 
that Dante the man was a source of emulation to 
the great Italian patriots of this century, quite as 
much as his works. But one result of the poet's 
individuality has yet to be pointed out, this not 
being so obvious — we mean that subjective way of 
looking at all things, also those of the outer world, 
of which Dante was the first exponent, and which 
has found so much favour with modern poets. 
Let us take the famous description of night which 
opens the sixth canto of Purgatory, and, in order 
to bring our point into better relief, compare it 
with a similar passage in the sEneid (IV. 522-528). 
Virgil says, inimitably in his way : 

'Twas dead of night, when weary bodies close 

Their eyes in balmy sleep and soft repose ; 

The winds no longer whisper through the woods, 

Nor murmuring tides disturb the gentle floods ; 

The stars in silent order moved around, 

And peace, with downy wings, was brooding on the ground ; 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 23 

The flocks and herds, and parti-coloured fowl, 
Which haunt the woods or swim the weedy pool, 
Stretched on the quiet earth securely lay, 
Forgetting the past labours of the day. 

Dryden's Translation. 

Now, the only attempt at inner analysis to be 
found here is contained in the words corda oblita 
laborum. If we turn to the passage in Dante, no 
one can fail to remark how totally different is the 
method employed. Byron, one of the most modern 
of modern poets, was so struck by its grandeur, 
that he translated it almost literally for his Don 
Tuan : 

Soft hour ! which wakes the wish and melts the heart 

Of those who sail the seas, on the first day 

When they from their sweet friends are torn apart ; 

Or fills with love the pilgrim on his way 

As the far bell of vesper makes him start, 

Seeming to weep the dying day's decay. 

The mere fact of the translation would obviously 
be very much to our purpose, but the stanza 
affords yet another point of study. As Littre puts 
it (for he, too, has made use of these passages, 
though for a different purpose), Dante has only 
" opened the perspective " to the modern poet, 
who prolongs it with a beautiful thought born from 



24 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

his innermost feelings, so deeply had these feelings 
been roused by Dante's psychological description 
of a natural phenomenon ! 

Is this a fancy which our reason scorns ? 

Ah ! surely nothing dies but something mourns ! 

Don Juan, iii. I08. 1 

Already by his contemporaries Dante was re- 
garded not merely as a poet, but also as a philo- 
sopher and theologian. This view seems to us 
perfectly justified, although so many critics, Russell 
Lowell among the number, persist in refusing to 
recognise Dante as great in anything but in poetry. 
It is refreshing to find our poet receiving his due 
at the hands of Raphael, who, in the Vatican 
Frescoes, depicts him in the garb of each of the 

1 Here, too, belongs the imagery "drawn from the opera- 
tions of the human mind, or from those external actions by 
which they are expressed," of which Shelley says that it is 
"unusual in modern poetry, although Dante and Shake- 
speare are full of instances of the same kind : Dante, indeed, 
more than any other poet, and with greater success " (Pre- 
face to Prometheus Unbound). It is true that he specially 
adds that the Greeks were his masters for this particular 
method, but other poets, such as Tennyson and, above all, 
the Italians, in all probability derived their use of it from 
Dante. — This is also one of the points which impressed them- 
selves most deeply on the minds of the Italian painters of 
the 14th century. 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 25 

above callings. That he should have been en- 
dowed with all the learning of the time is perhaps 
in itself not so remarkable as the fact that he was 
undoubtedly the first layman of such culture who 
has left lasting record of himself. From the close 
of the Vita Nuova we gather that he acquired the 
greater part of his erudition after the death of 
Beatrice, with the purpose of composing a work 
in honour of his Beloved, in which he was to "say 
of her things which had never been said of any 
woman." 

First among the important points constituting 
the universalism of the Comedy is that the poem 
contains the quintessence of mediaeval thought, 
which Dante immortalised at a moment when, as 
Symonds has pointed out, it was already losing its 
reality for the Italian people. We cannot insist 
too strongly on the fact that the Divina Commedia 
is essentially a mediaeval poem, not the first modern 
poem, as has so often been maintained. The 
framework Dante selects is that of the numerous 
visions current in his time; his faith, his opinions, 
his education, and his science all belong to this 
period. Above all, he is the pupil of Aquinas, 
and his principal master in philosophy is the 
philosopher par excellence of scholasticism — Aris- 
totle, the " father of all who know." Plato's day 



26 THE INFL UENCE OF DANTE 

was yet to come, and accordingly we find com- 
paratively few traces of his writings in Dante. 
From all this it may be gathered that whoever 
would understand the Middle Ages must study 
and understand Dante. While most competent 
judges have now arrived at this conclusion, the 
reverse is by no means so generally recognised. 
How often have critics, while doing full justice to 
our poet from the aesthetic point of view, yet 
failed to grasp the important point that Dante 
must be studied in connection with his age if he 
is to be rightly understood ! Would Leigh Hunt, 
for example, have applied to him the epithet of 
" barbarian," and heaped so much abuse on his 
head, if he had not insisted on regarding him 
from his own limited modern standpoint? 1 Some 
decades ago there might have been found people 
denying the value of mediaeval thought, with its 

x In this connection the following words of Goldsmith are also 
of interest : — " lie addressed a barbarous people in a method 
suited to their apprehensions ; united purgatory and the river 
Styx, St. Peter and Virgil, heaven and hell together, and 
shows a strange mixture of good sense and absurdity. The 
truth is, he owes most of his reputation to the obscurity of 
the times in which he lived. As in the land of Benin a man 
may pass for a prodigy of parts who can read, so in an age 
of barbarity, a small degree of excellence ensures success " 
(The Present State of Polite Learning, chap. iii.). 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 27 

scholasticism and other systems that have had 
their day. A good example is G. H. Lewes, who, 
in his otherwise excellent History of Philosophy, 
thinks fit to omit the whole period. Fortunately 
such ideas are now gradually disappearing, while the 
value of mediaeval studies is becoming generally 
admitted. 

In such matters it is easy to mistake effect for 
cause ; but we, for our part, are convinced that 
the study of medievalism is to a large extent due 
to the renewal of Dante studies in Europe, or, at 
any rate, would not have become so general if there 
had been no Dante to act as a primary inducement. 
When Carlyle says in his Hero- Worship, "The 
Divina Commedia is of Dante's writing; yet in 
truth it belongs to ten Christian centuries, only 
the finishing of it is Dante's" — he utters a great 
truth, but not the whole truth. If we read a little 
farther, we find a hint of that for which we are 
seeking, and which must ever remain Dante's chief 
title to fame — the kernel of his greatness, as it 
were : " Dante is the spokesman of the Middle 
Ages ; the Thought they lived by stands here in 
everlasting music. These sublime ideas of his, 
terrible and beautiful, are the fruit of the Christian 
Meditation of all the good men who had gone 
before him. Precious they ; but also is not he 



28 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

precious ? Much, had not he spoken, would have 
been dumb ; not dead, yet living voiceless." 

It is difficult to assign to Dante his proper place 
in the history of philosophy. While he un- 
doubtedly gave to many directions a new impulse, 
yet it must be conceded that he is, in the great 
majority of his views, a child of his time. Most 
of all, of course, he is indebted to Thomas 
Aquinas. Without wishing to dwell on a fact 
that is so generally known, we would at least draw 
attention to the important point that "Aquinas 
really baptized Aristotelian thought, and put an 
end to the suspicion with which the Church had 
for long regarded it " (Liddon). Both St. Thomas 
and Dante aimed at presenting theology as the 
universal science. But it must not be thought 
that only the Aristotelian Dominican Aquinas pre- 
sided over Dante's philosophical training. There 
is no doubt that he learnt much of his mysticism 
from the Platonising Franciscan Bonaventura; and 
besides, his works show traces of the study of St. 
Augustine and Boethius — in short, of all the philo- 
sophy available at the time. 

However much we may admire the schoolmen, 
their wonderful learning and sometimes really great 
thought, we must, if we judge impartially, admit 
that their philosophy was destined to perish with- 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 29 

out leaving any traces if it had not been rescued 
from its original and wholly unpalatable form by 
the great Florentine. 1 For it would surely not be 
too rash to credit Dante with a share in the ex- 
traordinary revival of St. Thomas's doctrines in 
the Catholic Church during the pontificate of Pius 
IX., whose admiration for the poet is well known. 
It is at any rate a fact that the present Pope, 
Leo XIII. — another Dante enthusiast — in the year 
1886 established a permanent course of Dante 
lectures in the Istituto Leoniano (connected with 
the Scuole di Sant' Apollinare), and that it was at 
the time generally recognised that this innovation 
was closely connected with the restoration of the 
Thomistic philosophy, which, as the Pope wisely 
saw, could not be presented in a more inviting 
and convincing form than in the Comedy. 

Ozanam, who divides great philosophers into 
"genies de direction" and "genies de decou- 
vertes," is perfectly right in placing Dante in the 

1 Cf. a poetical passage of Herman Grimm : "The learn- 
ing that fills us with gloom, like the walls of a prison, in the 
writings of St. Thomas of Aquinas, rises up in Dante's poem 
like some airy, free, and sunlit pile of architecture, with trees 
in blossom that force their way over the walls, and brooks, 
full of life, that rush through the silence of the place. Dante 
has conferred immortality on scholasticism" (Essays III., 
Raphael 's Schule von Athen). 



30 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

first class. For, although repeated efforts have 
been made to demonstrate the importance of 
Dante's position in the history of science — one 
enthusiast even goes so far as to base the first of 
a series of papers on this subject on a work which 
is in all probability spurious J — we have never been 
able to convince ourselves of the truth of these 
arguments. On reading the Harveian Oration 
delivered by Dr. Pye-Smith, F.R.S., in October, 
1893, a passage struck us as expressing exactly 
our own view on the question, and we quote it 
all the more readily, as Dante has so often been 
credited with foreseeing the discovery here alluded 
to : " . . . But it would be unreasonable to infer 
from such passages that the circulation of the blood 
was then known, as from the lines that Shakespeare 
puts into the mouth of Brutus : ' As dear to me 
as are the ruddy drops That visit my sad heart.' z 
As Paley justly puts it, he only discovers who 
proves. To hit upon the true conjecture here and 
there amid a crowd of untrue, and leave it again 
without appreciation of its importance, is the sign, 
not of intelligence, but of frivolity." 3 Dante can- 

1 Schmidt, Dante's Stellung in der Kosmographie. I. De 
aqua et terra. 

2 The corresponding passage in Dante is Inf. i. 20. 

3 We quote from the Times, October 19, 1893. 



ON MODERN THO UGH T. 3 1 

not, of course, be blamed for the faults of his 
commentators. That he knew the value of experi- 
ments as well as his great contemporary, Roger 
Bacon, 1 is shown by the words : 

Esperienza 

Ch' esser suol fonte ai rivi di vostr' arti. 

far. ii. 95. 

Dante's services to natural science, then, did not 
consist in original contributions, and the passages 
that may be brought forward only show that their 
author sometimes had the presentiment of great 
discoveries, by the aid of that secret intuition which 
we often remark in men of great and universal 
genius. However, he undoubtedly did a great 
deal towards popularising the science of the time 
by writing his Convito in the vulgar tongue — a 
point to which we shall have occasion to revert 
later. 

In discussing Dante's relations to scholasticism, 
it has too often been overlooked that he saw 
through most of the radical faults -of that system, 

1 Cf., for example, the following from the Opus Teztium : 
" I call experimental science that which neglects arguments, 
for the strongest arguments prove nothing so long as the con- 
clusions are not verified by experience." See also another 
passage, id. xiii. 



32 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

and thus gave proof of his independence of 
thought, here as in so many instances ; above all, 
we may gather from many passages that he was 
the first great thinker of modern times who was 
determined on dealing with things rather than 
with words. Thus he contests the absolute 
infallibility of the syllogism, 1 and that he was 
bent on showing his comparative contempt for 
dialectics, is clear from the passage in which he 
compares that science to the Heaven of Mercury : 
" E '1 cielo di Mercurio si pub comparare alia 
dialettica per due proprieta ; che Mercurio e 
la piu piccola stella del cielo ;...!' altra pro- 
prieta si e, che piu va velata de' raggi del sole, 
che null' altra stella. E queste due proprietadi 
sono nella dialettica ; che la dialettica e minore 
in suo corpo, che null' altra scienza; . . . e va 
piu velata, che nulla scienza, in quanto procede 
con piii sofistici e probabili argomenti, piu che 
altra." 2 

Only those who have studied the philosophical 
writings of those ages can* fully grasp the revolu- 
tionary nature of these words. 

Before leaving this subject, we should like to 
quote two more passages from the Comedy, con- 

1 De Mon. ii. 6, " Nam si ex falsis syllogismis," &c. 
- Conv. ii. 14. 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 33 

taining the poet's riper thought. Nothing could 
exceed the sarcasm with which he compares the 
object King Solomon had in view when he 
demanded wisdom of God, with the aim of 
contemporary science and philosophy : Solomon 
prayed for wisdom in order to be able to govern 
wisely, and not — 

. . . per saper lo numero in che enno 

Li motor di quassii, o se necesse 

Con contingente mai necesse fenno ; 

Non, si est dare primum notum esse, 

O se del mezzo cerchio far si puote 

Triangol si ch' un retto non avesse. — Far. xiii. 97. 

And more decisive still are the words : 

O insensata cura dei mortali, 

Quanto son diffettivi sillogismi 

Quei che ti fanno in basso batter 1' ali ! 

Par. xi. 1. 

Dante saw that the faults of scholasticism were due 
to the general vices of the time, which he pointed 
out whenever the opportunity presented itself. We 
find a characteristic example in the Convito (iv. 15), 
where he comes to speak of the "tre orribili in- 
fermitadi nella mente degli uomini," and quotes 
the Proverbs, Aristotle, and Cicero against them. 



34 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

He always felt that his task would be but half 
fulfilled if he did not try to correct the errors 
" dei ciechi che si fanno duci," so as to enable 
his fellow-creatures to mend their ways. What 
could be more admirable, for example, than the 
passage in which he shows how Love is the cause 
of all good, and also of all evil, with its eminently 
Dantesque ending : 

Or ti puote apparer quant' e nascosa 
La veritade alia gente, ch' avvera 
Ciascun amore in se laudabil cosa ; 
Peru che forse appar la sua matera 
Sempr' esser buona, ma non ciascun segno 
E buono, ancor che buona sia la cera. 

Purg. xviii. 34. 

Sometimes Dante may appear at a first glance 
hopelessly mediaeval, especially in matters of 
religion and orthodoxy. How often, for example, 
has he been condemned for the ruthless barbarity 
he displays towards the "heathens" in his Limbo; 
and yet the Eagle, discoursing on Divine Justice 
in the Paradiso, utters words of wisdom on this 
subject that are so far from being mediaeval in 
spirit, that it could not but prove beneficial to 
modern society and civilisation, if certain agitators, 
our contemporaries, would take them to heart and 
learn to act on them. Shelley says somewhere of 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 35 

Dante's words, that " many as yet lie covered in 
the ashes of their birth, and pregnant with a light- 
ning that has as yet found no conductor." * The 
words in question appear to belong to this category. 
The whole passage is of wonderful interest, as it 
lays bare to us the first great modern mind, still 
shackled by mediaeval prejudices, struggling for 
that truth and enlightenment which it was in so 
many cases to attain. We give only the following, 
which contains the essential point : 

... A questo regno 
Non sali mai chi non credette in Cristo, 
Ne pria ne poi ch' ei si chiavasse al legno. 
Ma vedi, molti gridan " Cristo, Cristo," 
Che saranno in giudizio assai men prope 
A lui, che tal che non conosce Cristo ; 
E tai cristiani dannera 1' Etiope, 
Quando si partiranno i due collegi, 
L' uno in etemo ricco, e 1' altro inope. 

Par. xix. 103. 

We hold, with Ozanam, 2 that Dante may be 
connected with modern empirism by his efforts at 
logical reform, by his sketch of a new method, and 
by the liberty of his thought ; while he is to be 
regarded as one of the most remarkable precursors 
of modern rationalism by the moral and political 
scope of his philosophy. We are aware that 
1 Defence of ' Poetiy. - Dante et la philosophic catholiqne, iii. 4. 



36 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

the filling up of the gap between Dante and 
later philosophers, such as Bacon, Descartes and 
Leibnitz, would be no easy matter, but we 
would remind the reader of certain words of 
Goethe, which we feel apply to Dante's case 
with singular aptness : " Es ist nicht immer 
nothig, dass das Wahre sich verkorpere ; schon 
genug, wenn es geistig umherschwebt und Ueber- 
einstimmung bewirkt, wenn es wie Glockenton 
ernst freundlich durch die Liifte wogt." l 

Dante fully grasped the philosophy of history. 
While he saw that as much might be learnt 
from some petty contemporary strife, as from the 
great events of the past, he, at the same time, 
recognised the necessity of regarding history uni- 
versally, and in this respect he was the forerunner 
of Bossuet and later writers. For our purposes we 
may restrict ourselves to his social philosophy as 
laid down principally in the JDe Monarchic.. He 
saw that the happiness of the individual rests on 
that of society, and he was practically the first 
writer, certainly the first in post-classical times, 
who attempted to systematise his ideas on this 
important subject. It is true that the ancient 
philosophers had not neglected to express their 
views on the State, and what Aristotle wrote was 
1 Spriiclie in Prosa. 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 37 

certainly known to Dante. But in his time the 
relations of Church and State had come to play 
such an important part, that the whole aspect of 
the question was changed, and Dante, who recog- 
nised to the full the vital importance of this question, 
and one of the main direct objects of whose life 
was an attempt, destined, alas ! to prove futile, to 
reform the existing conditions — Dante, we say, was 
perfectly justified in writing at the beginning of his 
treatise : " Seeing that among other occult and 
useful truths, the knowledge of the temporal 
monarchy is most useful and very much hidden, 
and that it has never yet been attempted by any 
one, because it afforded no prospect of direct 
gain : therefore it is my intention to draw it from 
its hiding-place, both in order to keep a useful 
watch over the world, and to be the first to win, 
with glory to myself, the laurel due to such an effort." 
Some have considered that this work was of no 
importance for the succeeding ages. Thus, for 
example, Mr. 'Bryce says that it is "an epitaph 
instead of a prophecy " {Holy Roman Empire). 
We, for our part, with all due deference to so 
distinguished a writer, cannot accept this view, 
although we are quite ready to admit that in form 
and expression the work is essentially mediaeval. 
We find traces of it in most of the constitutional 



437589 



38 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

literature that was called forth by the struggle 
between Pope and Emperor, but shall dwell only 
on Machiavelli ; for, although Campanella and 
many others might appear to preserve Dante's 
doctrine more intact, their work was of compara- 
tively small influence. That Machiavelji was an 
ardent student and enthusiastic admirer of Dante is 
too well known to need any proof. All his writings 
are thoroughly permeated with the spirit of our 
poet's thought, sometimes, it is true, so changed 
as to be hardly recognisable. The reason of this 
will be clear if we look for a moment at the Italian 
history of the 14th and 15th centuries. The 
never-ending strife, the petty warfare and revolu- 
tions which Dante had bewailed, went on un- 
ceasingly, and Machiavelli 's work, as Dollinger 
has pregnantly put it, was "die Theorie zu der 
fast dreihundertjahrigen Praxis." No wonder, 
then, that we find less of hope and more of 
pessimism in Machiavelli. Besides, it is obvious 
that Dante's theory, though calculated to inspire 
much noble thought, was impracticable, and 
may he not himself have had some misgivings 
about it ? Such a clear intellect must have 
known that there was no room for a phantom 
Emperor at the side of an all-powerful Pope in 
Italy. It is true that he longed for the coming 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 39 

of his imaginary Veltro, and for a Pope who 
would yield all temporal power to the Emperor. 
All this did not come to pass, and so we must 
not be surprised at Machiavelli's leaving the Pope 
out of count altogether. As Pope and Emperor 
cannot agree, he said, let us have one ruler only. 
And as he saw that the Italian States were in a 
condition that required severe handling and relent- 
less treatment, he laid down those famous laws for 
his Principe that have so shocked modern critics. 
However, where the political circumstances did 
not render a change of opinion necessary, Machia- 
> velli always followed closely in Dante's steps. 
Like Dante, he saw that the immorality of Rome 
and its love of temporal power were the cause of 
Italy's misery. Like Dante, he strove to reform 
these evils, and to unite Italy at any price. On 
the whole, then, we may repeat the words of Mr. 
Botta, 1 that Machiavelli " adopted the entire 
political system of the poet, modifying it accord- 
ing to the requirements of the time." 2 

' Dante as Philosopher, Patriot, and Poet. 

- To such of our readers as require more definite proof, 
we recommend a perusal of chaps, xi. and liii. of the first 
Book of the Discourses on Livy, which show an intimate 
knowledge of the Coinmedia and Monarchia, Dante's 
authority being quoted in two important political questions. 



40 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

Without going further into these details, let us 
consider the more important of the religious and 
political changes of modern Europe, and see 
whether it is possible to connect Dante with some 
of them. 

Dante's orthodoxy is now so firmly established, 
that we need scarcely dwell on this point. He 
never breathes a word against Papacy, although he 
fearlessly upbraids individual Popes, who fully 
deserve his censure. The Franciscan preachers 
before him had done exactly the same thing, and 
the poems of Jacapone da Todi show how general 
these ideas were at the time. Later, we have 
Petrarch inveighing against the Avignon Popes 
quite in the indignant Dante manner, and in all 
probability inspired by him. And who can say 
how far Savonarola's preaching was due to the 
spirit fostered by such writings ? We might 
quote passages from Berni, Pulci and Ariosto to 
show that these feelings, once aroused, were 
not allowed to lie dormant ; indeed, Popes and 
Cardinals had become so accustomed to this state 
of things, that they read and encouraged works 
containing passages which could not but under- 
mine their power in the end. We do not for a 
moment wish to suggest that Dante was in any 
direct sense of the word a Reformer before the 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 41 

Reformation, as has so often been said : it is well 
known that some fanatics even went so far in this 
respect as to maintain that Dante's VELTRO 
was no other than LVTERO. 1 We would much 
rather go to the other extreme, and say with 
M. Rod that the poet would have put Luther into 
hell among his schismatics. We cannot be blind 
to such facts as that the Reformers eventually 
based all their belief on the Holy Scriptures alone, 
discarding all post-Biblical traditions and specula- 
tion, and that it is practically impossible to prove 
that a single important Reformer had any ac- 
quaintance with the works of Dante. However, 
we do maintain that Dante's was the first mighty 
and influential voice that laid bare the Papal 
abuses, which were later to arouse the indignation 
of the Reformers. His real relation to the Refor- 
mation has probably never been expressed with 
such insight as by Professor Edward Caird, who 
says in his essay on Dante : 2 " The revolutionary 
power of Dante's poetry lay . . . just in this, 
that Dante held up to mediaeval Catholicism its 
own ideal, the very principle on which it rested, 

1 In 1841 and 1842 Dante was claimed as the precursor 
of Lutheranism in a series of numbers of the Evangelische 
Kirchenzeitung, edited by Professor Hengstenberg. 

1 Essays on Literature and Philosophy, vol. i. 



42 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

and from which it drew all its power, that he 
judged it by that ideal, and that by that ideal he 
found it wanting." While, then, we feel that Dante's 
direct influence on the Reformation generally was 
restricted to the impulse he gave to religious 
thought, we do not hesitate to add some data 
showing that the spirit of his works was so sympa- 
thetic to certain folloiuers of the Reformers, that 
they made use of them to strengthen their cause 
while the movement was in full swing. Thus we 
find Flacius Illyricus quoting all the passages 
from the Commedia and Monarchia which inveigh 
against the vices of the Papal See, in his Catalogus 
Testium Veritatis, which appeared at Bale in the 
year 1556. And in the same Lutheran stronghold 
there was published, in 1559, not only the editio 
princeps of the Monarchia, but at the same time a 
German translation by Heroldt, which proves how 
general an interest the work must have excited ; 
and that this interest did not decline appears 
from the three subsequent editions of the treatise 
in Bale (in 1566, 1609 and 1618, when it formed 
part of Schardius' collection of works on Imperial 
and Papal authority), and that of Offenbach 
in 1 610 — all of these before it was issued from 
an Italian press. We have also the interesting 
Avviso piacevole dato alia bella Italia da un ?iobile 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 43 

Giovane Francese, the authorship of which is 
doubtful. 1 However, we know that it was published 
in 1586 or 1587 at Geneva, a city likewise famous 
in the annals of the Reformation. In this treatise 
Dante is used as one of the chief authorities in 
support of the new movement ; it was answered by 
the famous Jesuit Bellarmine, who had of course 
not much difficulty in quoting numerous passages 
which testify to Dante's reverence for the Papacy. 

In this connection we may touch a point which 
we have already had occasion to refer to briefly, 
and which is of the greatest importance to the 
student of Dante's influence, or rather of the 
power that was felt to be inherent in what he 
wrote— we mean the relations of the Jesuits to 
Dante's works. For this great and influential 
, body did not by any means always take the en- 
lightened view of Bellarmine; on the contrary, 
they for the most part relentlessly persecuted the 
poet's works and the writings they called forth. 
The mere fact that only one copy of Perot's 
treatise is known to exist speaks volumes for their 

1 De Thou mentions a certain Francois Perot as author. — 
Such examples might easily be multiplied, and we may 
instance from the seventeenth century the controversy 
between De Mornay, Coeffeteau, and Rivet (1611-1617), 
in which Dante's authority was claimed by both sides. 



44 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

vigilance. In this they merely followed the 
precedent of the very highest dignitaries of their 
Church, such as the Cardinal del Poggetto, who 
ordered the De Monarchia to be burnt, and tried 
his utmost to have the poet's bones disinterred. 1 
Such isolated measures as these were, of course, 
unavailing against the Dante cult at the early 
period of its great fervour. But the aspect of the 
question changed completely when the Jesuit 
power began to take its unparalleled course in the 
1 6th century. With that narrow-mindedness 
which so often characterised their methods, they 
saw in Dante only a strenuous opponent to their 
views of Papal infallibility and kindred doctrines. 
Besides, one of their chief aims was ever to make 
all literature Latin, and they felt that their plans 
must needs be thwarted, if they allowed so mighty 
a work in the vulgar tongue to run the land un- 
challenged. As a result of their efforts, the 
number of editions in the 17 th and first half of 
the 1 8th centuries was five, and that of commen- 
tators nil — figures which become all the more as- 
tounding when we consider the enormous amount 
of manuscripts, editions, and commentaries of the 
preceding centuries. If yet more tangible proof 

1 The veracity of Boccaccio's account has been proved in the 
Studi e polemiche dantesche of Guerrini and Ricci, pp. 71-92. 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 45 

were needed of the fear the Jesuits had of Dante, 
and of the harm he might do them, we need only 
mention the well-known fact that the De Monorchia 
was put on the Index. The Inquisition did not 
venture to condemn the entire Commedia, but pro- 
hibited a few passages only, which would probably 
have been multiplied if the authorities had been 
better acquainted with the work. That this same 
spirit had its sway until comparatively recent times, 
is proved by the commentary of Venturi, by the 
attitude of Bettinelli, and by the slighting neglect 
of Tiraboschi, who has usually more to say on 
subjects less worthy of attention. 1 But all these 
schemes and machinations were of no avail. A 
voice so mighty as that of Dante will be sure to be 
heard in the end, and no intrigues will be able to 
stifle its. powerful note. 

If we continue our survey, and glance rapidly at 
the various religious schools in Europe during the 
present century, we see that they are all of 
them, to a certain extent, due to the revived 
interest in mediaevalism — a phenomenon which 
was also to exercise a great influence on literature 

1 All these men were Jesuits : it is interesting to note 
that the first modern Dante commentator favourable to his 
poet was the Franciscan Lombardi, and even he had to be 
careful for fear of offending in high quarters. 



46 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

and art. Accordingly it may be instructive in this 
place briefly to review the causes which led to the 
sudden study of the "Dark Ages." The so-called 
" Gothic Revival," which was one of the main 
factors, is of special and direct importance for the 
Catholic movements that are to be noted almost 
simultaneously in the various countries of Europe. 
The cathedrals, most wonderful of all the wonders 
of the Middle Ages, that had throughout the 
centuries been the admiration of the people — in 
this case, as so often, the most unerring judges — at 
last began to attract the attention of the cultured 
few. 1 Soon after, and in intimate connection with 
this new phase, came a passion for external form 
of worship : the most enlightened religious thinkers 
felt that something sensual, pleasing to ear and 
eye, was necessary to counteract the scepticism 

1 It may be a mere fancy on our part, but we have, in this 
connection, always attached importance to the fact that 
almost every writer who has during the present century 
occupied himself seriously with Dante, has seen his way to 
comparing the Commed/a to a Gothic Cathedral. We do 
not wish to say that any very deep inference may be drawn 
from this, nor is this the place to discuss the question as to 
how far the comparison may be justified. All we would 
draw attention to is a certain instinctive grouping together, 
in men's minds, of the two greatest artistic products of the 
Middle Ages. 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 47 

and unbelief of the iSth and of the present century. 
But they did not stop here: they saw that their 
generation was lacking in all that mystical faith 
which attained its most perfect development during 
the Middle Ages. Let us hear one of them, 
perhaps the greatest, certainly the most earnest 
of them all : " I will not shrink from uttering my 
firm conviction, that it would be a gain to this 
country were it vastly more superstitious, more 
bigoted, more gloomy, more fierce in its religion 
than at present it shows itself to be. Not, of 
course, that I think the temper of mind herein 
implied desirable, which would be an evident 
absurdity ; but I think them infinitely more desi- 
rable and more promising than a heathen obduracy, 
and a cold, self-sufficient, self-wise tranquillity." 
Cardinal Newman, the writer of these words, was 
one of the most zealous promoters of the study of 
the Fathers in this country, and it was not long 
before St. Thomas and scholasticism, and then 
Dante, who summed up the essence of all this 
thought, riveted the reverent gaze of seriously 
thinking men. It was but natural that what had 
been scoffed at by a Voltaire should now be 
elevated to a seat of glory. 

In turning to the religious revival in England, 
which culminated in the Oxford movement, we are 



48 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

at once struck by the fact that some of the great 
leaders were ardent students of our poet. We 
could quote numerous passages from Keble testi- 
fying not only to an acquaintance with Dante's 
works, but to an appreciation which can come 
from sympathy alone. Cardinal Manning's venera- 
tion for the great Florentine is evidenced by the 
following words : " There are three works which 
always seem to me to form a triad of Dogma, of 
Poetry, and of Devotion — the Summa of St. 
Thomas, the Divina Commedia, and the Paradisus 
A?iimce. All three contain the same outline of 
the Faith. St. Thomas traces it on the intellect, 
Dante upon the imagination, and the Paradisus 
Animce upon the heart. The poem unites the 
book of Dogma and the book of Devotion, clothed 
in conceptions of intensity and beauty which have 
never been surpassed or equalled. No uninspired 
hand has ever written thoughts so high, in words 
so resplendent, as the last stanza of the Divina 
Commedia. It was said of St. Thomas : Post 
Summam Tkomce nihil restat nisi lumen gloria. It 
may be said of Dante : Post Dantis Paradisum 
nihil restat nisi visio Dei." 1 

In Germany we note a curious and highly 

1 From the commendatory letter prefaced to Bowden's 
translation of Hettinger. 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 49 

interesting spirit of Catholicism pervading the 
Romantic movement, of which we shall speak 
when we come to deal with literature. And then 
we have the school that goes by the name of " Alt- 
Katholiken." Only a superficial perusal of the 
writings of their great leader, Ignatius Dollinger, 
shows us a mind thoroughly impregnated with the 
Tuscan's work. His Dante studies may be said 
to have extended throughout his whole career, for 
in the year 1830 appeared the sympathetic intro- 
duction to Cornelius' Umrisse turn Paradies, and in 
1887 he read the paper Dante als Prophet before 
the Munich Academy. With the same indomitable 
energy as his master, Dollinger struggled against 
the temporal power of the Pope. Had Dante lived 
in this century he would, without a doubt, have 
joined his trumpet voice to that of the " Alt-Katho- 
liken" against the new dogma of Papal infallibility. 
It is more difficult to treat the question as regards 
France, as several of the most important leaders 
there showed a spirit so fickle and vacillating, that 
it is hard to gather what they really aimed at, and 
how far they were sincere in what they wrote. 
Rivarol's words, prefixed to his translation of the 
Inferno, must be regarded as singularly prophetic 
— and not for France alone : " Si jamais, ce qu'il 
n'est pas permis de croire, notre theologie devenait 

4 



50 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

une langue morte, et s'il arrivoit qu'elle obtint, 
comme la mythologie, les honneurs de l'antique, 
alors le Dante inspireroit une autre espece d'interet : 
. . . on se feroit chretien avec le Dante, comme 
on se fait pai'en avec Homere." The Liberal 
Catholics, indeed, derived many of their doctrines 
and tendencies from the great Italian. Let us 
begin with two men who eventually strayed from 
the flock, though not until they had exercised 
a deep and lasting influence. Lamartine was 
first hailed with enthusiasm by the party, and to 
this period belong his memorable words : " Dante 
semble le poete de notre epoque," &c. T But 
gradually his religious fervour abated, and he 
finally turned his attention to politics alone. It 
is interesting to note that his enthusiasm for the 
poet gradually diminished, in proportion as his 
religious views became more unsettled. He had 
surely reached the lowest ebb, when he could 
bring himself to call the Comedy "une gazette 
florentine, une chronique rimee." 2 The other 
stray sheep was Lamennais. In the Essai sur 
Vitidifferencc en matiere de religion (181 7-1823), 
he acknowledged Papal supremacy much in the 
same way as Dante ; but his theories became 
more and more democratic, and when the Pope 
1 Discours de reception. " Cours familier de litterattire. 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 51 

finally condemned them, Lamennais turned against 
him. The Paroles dun Croyant, though manifestly 
inspired by Dante in form, only partly breathe his 
spirit. However, we are told in his biography 
that he was always very fond of reading Dante with 
his disciples ; and, that he remained faithful to his 
veneration for the poet to the end is attested by 
the translation he made during the last years of his 
life, in the introduction to which he gives vent to 
his feelings of disappointment. Lamennais was 
assisted in the editing of his journal, LAvenir, by 
Montalembert and Lacordaire, the former of whom 
is interesting to us chiefly on account of the part 
Dante plays in his Histoire des moines oToccident, 
the latter on account of his relations with Frederic 
Ozanam. 1 This man, one of the most ardent and 
sincere of the French Liberal Catholics, was, at the 
same time, one of the greatest Dante scholars of all 
times, and strongly influenced by the Florentine 
throughout his life. We might cite numerous 
examples from his delightful correspondence, to 
show how his mind was ever filled with his favourite 

1 Thus he writes to Ozanam in 1839 : " J'ai vu annoncer 
dans ri/nivers, que nous recevons la reimpression de votre 
Dante ; cela m'a fait plaisir. II faut se garder de quitter la 
plumes. Ecrivons, non pour la gloire, non pour l'immortalite, 
mais pour Jesus Christ," &c. 



V 



52 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

poet, and turned to him at every opportunity. 
Thus he writes in one of his last letters, addressed 
to Ampere (June, 1853) : " Assurement a Pise, j'ai 
eu des jours assez mauvais pour rever un proehain 
repos sous les dalles de marbre de ce beau lieu, et 
peut-etre aurais-je trouve assez de protecteurs pour 
obtenir une petite place en echange de l'amour 
que je porte a l'ltalie et a son poete souverain : 

Vagliami il lungo studio e il grande amore 
Che mi ha fatto cercar lo tuo volume. 

Mais jusqu'ici je n'ai pas eu lieu de briguer 
cet exces d'honneur." The occasion was to pre- 
sent itself all too soon, for Ozanam died in the 
same year. — This correspondence is full of interest 
for us, as it introduces us to many of the leading 
Frenchmen of the time, who were distinguished in 
the most varied walks of life, sympathising with 
the movement, and, often too, with Ozanam's 
Dante studies. We see the tender friendship 
between him and Ampere, another famous Dante 
enthusiast, and sometimes we come across names 
we would hardly have expected. Thus Victor 
Cousin writes in 1840: "J'ai recu quelques jours 
apres votre Dante. . . . Dites-moi ce que vous 
faites, vos travaux, vos affaires,", &c. 



ON MODERN THO UGH T. 5 3 

More interesting still, as giving proof of a kind 
of fellow-feeling between these religious workers 
and the Italian religious patriots, is the letter from 
Silvio Pellico (1839). He praises Ozanam for his 
work, and tells him that he is sending him a copy 
of Balbo's Vita at the author's instigation. These 
two names may serve as a keynote to the Italian 
movement, which breathed a religious as well as a 
patriotic spirit. 

There has been endless discussion and contro- 
versy as to how far Dante may be considered to 
have influenced the Italian struggle for liberty. 1 
Carlyle represents the view now generally held, in 
the following passage that closes his extremely 
suggestive lecture on The Hero as Poet (delivered 
in May, 1840) : 

" Yes, truly, it is a great thing for a Nation that 
it get an articulate voice ; that it produce a man 
who will speak- forth melodiously what the heart of 
it means ! Italy, for example, poor Italy lies dis- 
membered, scattered asunder, not appearing in any 
protocol or treaty as a unity at all ; yet the noble 

1 We may instance Witte's Dante tmd die italienischeti 
Fragen, answered by Herman Grimm {Neue Essays iiber 
Kunst tind Literatur), to which there was another reply forth- 
coming from Witte. The latter's papers may be read most 
conveniently in the second volume of the Dante-Forschungcn. 



54 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

Italy is actually one : Italy produced its Dante ; 
Italy can speak ! . . . The Nation that has a Dante 
is bound together as no dumb Russia can be." 

However, we prefer to let the patriots in ques- 
tion speak for themselves ; surely they must have 
known best what they felt and who inspired their 
feelings. We cannot select a better example than 
Mazzini, founder of the secret Societa della giovine 
Italia. His Essay on the Minor Works of Dante 
is, in our estimation, a document the importance 
of which it is impossible to overrate in connection 
with this question. " The Thought that burned 
within the soul of Dante," he says, " is the same that 
ferments in the bosom of our own epoch. Every 
instinct within us points to this truth. It is for 
this reason that we gather with new earnestness 
around his image, as if to place our wavering belief 
beneath the protection of the vast wings of his 
genius." He asserts that the "general idea" for 
which Dante fought is the same as was occupying 
him and his friends. Of the people who ignore 
Dante's " National Faith," he holds that they 
" would see no poetry in Moses ascending Mount 
Sinai amid the storm, to bring down laws for his 
people." He argues that Dante strove for National 
Unity, inasmuch as " beyond Clement V. and 
Henry VII. he saw the unity of the world, and 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 55 

the moral government of that unity in the hands 
of Italy ; " and he adds with much truth : " In 
his poem he flagellates all the Italian cities, 
(whether Guelph or Ghibelline), without regard or 
fear ; Italy alone is sacred to him, and if he re- 
proves or reproaches her, you feel that his re- 
proaches are mingled with tears, aspiration, and a 
gigantic pride ^f country." And finally we will 
quote the following pregnant words : " The ideas, 
of which I have here given you a sketch, are 
fermenting, more or less boldly developed, among 
the youth of Italy. Understanding Dante better 
than the men who write about him, they revere him 
as the prophet of the nation, and as the one who 
gave to Italy not only the sceptre of modern poetry, 
but the initiative thought of a new philosophy." 

Mazzini always fought for the principle, which 
he had doubtless inherited from Dante, that litera- 
ture must aim at being useful, and not merely 
beautiful in form and expression. 1 And this idea 
struck root in the Italian literature of the period 

1 Already Boccaccio had recognised Dante's claims to 
precedence in this respect : " But, besides the sacred poem, 
he left behind him the example by which, after the name of 
poetry, that had long been in disrepute, had been by him re- 
stored to honour and more widely diffused, those who wished 
could learn from the new poet what poetry really means, and 
what are its functions and its aims." (Letter to Jacob Pizinge.) 



56 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

in a manner altogether unprecedented since the 
appearance of the Commedia. We need only name 
Antonio Rosmini, Vincenzo Gioberti, Giovam- 
battista Niccolini, and Niccolo Tommaseo, as 
representing almost every field of thought. These 
writers were, one and all, Dante enthusiasts, and 
quoted and called on their Master whenever the 
occasion presented itself. 

Manzoni would be one of the most fascinating 
figures to study closely from this point of view. 
Brought up in Paris, in the midst of a society 
consisting for the most part of Freethinkers, such 
as Volney, who can tell what it was that effected 
so complete a revolution in his thoughts, that made 
him capable of giving to the world the Jnni Sacrt? 
Was it only the influence of his wife ? At any 
rate we would not hesitate in ascribing Manzoni's 
grand conception of the duties of a man of letters 
to the poet he worshipped throughout his life. 
For surely the novel / Promessi Sposi, by laying 
bare the evils following in the wake of foreign 
tyranny, was intended by its author to demonstrate 
to his oppressed countrymen how ineffably great 
are the blessings of liberty ! 

Leopardi represents the universal instinctive 
reverence paid to Dante by all the greatest of his 
age, when he turns to him as to a seer, and as to 
one incarnating a patriot's best and noblest feelings : 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 57 

. . . O glorioso spirto, 
Dimmi : d' Italia tua morto e 1' amore ? 
Di : quella fiamma che t'accese, e spenta ? 
Di : ne piu mai rinverdira quel mirto 
Ch' allegio per gran tempo il nostro male ? 
Nostre corone al suol fien tutte sparte ? 
Ne sorgera mai tale 
Che ti rassembri in qualsivoglia- parte? 

1 Sopra il monnmento di Dante. 

It is significant for our purpose that so many of the 
prominent exiles were ardent students of Dante. The 
names of Mazzini, Foscolo, and the elder Rossetti 
will at once occur to us. Russell Lowell says of 
them : " Infinitely touching and sacred to us is 
the instinct which draws these latter (the exiles) 
towards their great forerunner, 'exul immeritus,' 
like themselves." 

We have as yet all but neglected mentioning 
one of the chief instruments on which Dante 
relied for the realisation of his patriotic plans — we 
allude to the general diffusion of the "vulgar 
tongue." l Here, again, we may adduce the 

1 Lest any one should feel inclined to dispute Dante's 
claims to being the first influential poet in the vulgar tongue 
— and the view might appear to be, to a certain extent, 
justified, if we consider the Sicilian and later love-poets, 
especially Guido Guinicelli, who was the chief precursor of 
the dolce stil ?iuovo, and to whom Dante himself pays a high 
tribute in Purg. xxvi. 97-99 — we again quote a decisive 
passage from Boccaccio to support our view : " He was the 



58 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

welcome testimony of Mazzini. He says that in 
the De Vulgari Eloquentia " Dante attacks all the 
Italian dialects, but it is because he intends to 
found a language common to all Italy, to create 
a form worthy of representing the National Idea." — 
However, he was impelled to use his native 
tongue by yet another motive, distinctly modern 
in spirit, by his " pronta liberalita.," as he calls it 
himself. His aim was to give " useful things to 
many." {Co'nv. i. 8.) With Albert and St. Thomas, 
scholasticism had reached its culminating point, 
and now nothing remained but to make the trium- 
phant system more widely known. Some methods 
had, it is true, already been invented for facili- 
tating the study of philosophy, but these were, 
after all, not intended for laymen. It is clear that 
popularising in the true sense of the word can 
be effected only by speaking to the people in their 
own language, and this was Dante's work — for such 
efforts as those of Brunetto Latini cannot be held 
of much account, save for the age that produced 
them. Probably in order to attract some who 
might otherwise have held aloof, he clothed what 
would doubtless have become a universal ency- 
clopaedia, in the guise of a commentary to some of his 

first to elevate vulgar poetry among us Italians, and to raise 
it to a position of honour, just as Homer and Virgil did with 
theirs among the Greeks and Latins." ( Vita.) 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 59 

most popular Canzoni. After writing the Convito, 
Dante embodied all the most essential points of 
the scholastic philosophy in the Commedia, where 
they were destined for the first time to appeal to 
the popular imagination. What grand use, for 
example, has been made of the circles of Paradise, 
the descriptions ^of which in the folios of the 
schoolmen, and even in the Convito, are compara- 
tively so unconvincing and devoid of interest ! 
And in the realms of theology we would draw 
special attention to a point which has been 
touched by Dean Milman ' with great penetration : 
" Christendom owes to Dante the creation of 
Italian poetry, through Italian, of Christian poetry. 
It required all the courage, firmness, and pro- 
phetic sagacity of Dante to throw aside the in- 
flexible bondage of the established hierarchical 
Latin of Europe. Perhaps Dante, the Italian, the 
Ghibelline, the assertor of the universal temporal 
monarchy, dwelt not less fondly in his imagina- 
tion on this universal and noble Italian language, 
because it would supersede the Papal and hier- 
archical Latin ; the Latin, with the Pope himself, 
would withdraw into the sanctuary, into the service 
of the Church, into affairs purely spiritual." 

Not content with proving to all the world the 
fitness of the Italian tongue as a literary vehicle by 

1 Latin Christianity, ix. 198. 



60 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

the practical example of his own work, Dante 
planned a theoretical exposition of this fact in his 
De Vu/gari Eloquentia. The modern student of 
Romance philology, who naturally regards Dante 
as the centre of all his studies, must feel a special 
satisfaction in being able to date the commence- 
ment of his science from the appearance of this 
work, which is conceived and executed quite in the 
modern scientific spirit. Dante himself begins by 
telling us that he is the first to treat the subject ; 
the whole passage, which also contains his reasons 
for doing so, shows us a mind so wonderfully in 
advance of his age, that we give it in full : " As 
I cannot find that any one has, before me, treated 
the vulgar speech theoretically ; and as I see that 
this speech is truly necessary for all, since not 
alone men, but also women and little children, 
as far as Nature permits, strive to attain it ; and, 
finally, as it is my wish to enlighten the intellect of 
those who go over the public places like blind 
men, mostly thinking that that comes before 
which in reality comes after : accordingly, with 
the aid of the Divine Word from heaven, I 
shall attempt to be of service to the speech used 
by ordinary people." — It is interesting to trace 
the history and influence of the treatise. Its 
author was the first to direct attention to the 



ON MODERN THO UGH T. 6 1 

necessity of having a fixed standard of language, 
which was to consist of the cream of all the dia- 
lects. And, as was to be expected, the treatise 
has, since its discovery, been constantly made use 
of in the controversy, which has never ceased in 
Italy, as to which of the dialects was entitled to 
the supremacy. yAt tne beginning of the 16th 
century there was a natural reaction against the 
classics, and then men turned their eyes to the 
great Triumvirate of the 14th century, as supplying 
the best examples of every species of literary style. 
This led to a heated discussion as to the dialect 
which might claim the distinction of having given 
birth to the language. The Florentines, Pietro 
Bembo among the number, naturally upheld the 
right of the Tuscan, but the literary men of 
Northern Italy thought otherwise. To these be- 
longed Castiglione, Muzio, and above all Trissino, 
who brought fresh fuel to the dispute by the dis- 
covery and publication of Dante's old treatise 
(1529), after it had been hidden away for more 
than two hundred years. Now they had the greatest 
authority to support their view of the question — 
namely, that the supreme dialect must be a con- 
glomeration of all. At this stage a most salutary 
change was effected by the efforts of such men as 
Bembo, Castelvetro, and Salviati to set up a fixed 



62 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

standard for a national tongue, which was, of 
course, based on the works of the Trecentisti. And 
in the present century we find the strife continued 
between the Tuscan Puristi such as Antonio 
Cesari, who again claimed the supremacy, and the 
Lombards, who were headed by Vincenzo Monti 
and Giulio Perticari. The latter in their Proposta 
(1817-26) made use of the same arguments a.s 
Trissino, and drew largely on the Eloquentia. And 
then we have the final great discussion on the 
subject, in which Manzoni, Bonghi, Capponi, Giu-#- 
liani, Capitani, Fanfani, Scarabelli, and others took 
part. Here, as in the other cases, Dante was the 
centre from which all the arguments radiated. 

Dante's determination to employ the vulgar 
tongue must appeac all the more extraordinary 
when we see how his contemporaries and many 
succeeding generations abused him for what we 
now feel to have been a decision full of the wisest 
forethought. Thus in the 15th and 16th centuries 
we might quote interesting examples from the 
works of Poggio and Paolo Cortese ; and more 
characteristic still are the Latin translations of 
the Commedia which appeared about this time, 
assuredly one of the most curious phenomena in 
literary history! After these instances, drawn from 
later ages, it can no longer astonish us, when we 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 63 

read in Boccaccio's Vita that in his time many, 
"and among them wise men," wondered why 
Dante had not written in Latin. 1 

But while our poet recognised the importance 
of a national language and literature, he was at 
the same time keenly alive to the necessity of 
classical studies v for all who would attain pro- 
ficiency in their own tongue. The perfect form 
of the Com media, and above' all the style, which 
Macaulay with reason called "unmatched," are 
the first fruits of classical studies in modern 
Europe. A nation that had been trained to 
understand and relish such a work could turn 
with comparative ease to the study of the classics 
when the time came for their revival. It is need- 
less to dwell on the importance of the part Virgil 
plays in the economy of the poem. Though we still 
find traces of the conception the Middle Ages had 
formed of him, yet Dante was the first to admire 
the poet in him rather than the magician ; he 
knew how much he owed to him, and his gratitude 
was unbounded : 

Tu se' lo mio maestro e il mio autore : 

Tu sc' solo colui, da cui io tolsi 

Lo bello stile che mi ha fatto onore. — Inf. i. S5. 

1 Cf. also the Latin Eclogue addressed to Dante ly 
Giovanni del Virgilio. 



64 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

We feel that it is principally through Dante's 
instrumentality that Virgil's figure has held such 
a prominent place in European letters and thought 
ever since the 14th century. The following sug- 
gestive words are from a speech of Carducci's 
delivered in 1S88: "Gloriamoci — e non e poco — 
altamente, sinceramente e securamente — gloriamoci 
che Dante e il maestro nostro ed il padre nella 
conservazione della tradizione romana al rinnova- 
mento d'ltalia." That Dante derived this Roman 
tradition from Virgil, and was conscious that he 
had done so, is clear from the allegorical part he 
assigns the Latin poet in the Commedia. Russell 
Lowell speaks somewhere in a different connection 
of the " influence which made Virgil through 
Dante a main factor in the revival of Italy." 1 — It 
would be idle to deny that Virgil played by far 
the most prominent part in Dante's classical studies. 
At the same time his works show a considerable 
knowledge of Ovid and, in a lesser degree, of Lucan, 
Statius, and Cicero. 2 We hold, then, that Dante 
was the first Humanist. For, if we leave aside 
Petrarch for the present, we hear from the lips of 

1 Works, vi. 227. 

2 The Greek philosophy Dante, of course, received only at 
second hand, after it had filtered through endless translations 
and distortions. 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 65 

the more candid and generous Boccaccio that 
Dante was " the first guide and the first torch " 
in his studies. These words ' are for us fraught 
with the deepest significance, for they undoubtedly 
refer in the first place to classical studies, and, while 
Boccaccio is generally admitted to have been one 
of the forerunners of the Classical Renaissance, 
Dante is scarcely ever mentioned in connection 
with it. Surely it was in the traces of Dante that 
Boccaccio, Benvenuto da Imola, Jacopo della Lana, 
Buti, and the other commentators and lecturers, 
together with their readers and hearers, were first 
initiated into their studies of classical antiquity ; 
and not of this alone. Theology, philosophy, 
history, biography, astronomy, physics, philology, 
law, politics — in short, the whole of Dante's vast 
encyclopaedic range of subject had to be mastered 
by them, as they have to be mastered by us. 

Let us, for a moment, extend our view from the 
immediate subject in hand, and try to gauge the 
importance of Dante's educational influence from 
the following passage by Russell Lowell. It is re- 

1 We have them only on the indirect testimony of 
Petrarch's well-known letter in answer to Boccaccio's lines 
conjuring him to study Dante ; but, from the context, we 
may assume with certainty that the phrase, or one to the 
same effect, was contained in a letter of Boccaccio's accom- 
panying these lines, and now lost. 

5 



66 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

markable to hear the great modern scholar almost 
repeat the words that Boccaccio wrote five hundred 
years ago, and Lowell is assuredly not the only one 
to whom they may be applied : 1 

" One is somttimes asked by young men to 
recommend to them a course of reading. My 
advice would always be to confine yourselves to 
the supreme books in whatever literature ; still 
better, to choose some one great author and grow 
thoroughly familiar with him. For as all roads 
lead to Rome, so they all likewise lead thence ; 
and you will find that in order to understand per- 
fectly and weigh exactly any really vital piece of 
literature, you will be gradually and pleasantly 
persuaded to studies and explorations of which you 
little dreamed when you began, and will find 
yourselves scholars before you are aware. If 1 may 
be allowed a personal illustration, it 7cas my own 
profound admiration for the Divina Commedia of 
Dante that lured me into what little learning I 
possess. For remember that there is nothing less 
fruitful than scholarship for the sake of mere 

1 Mr. Norton quoted the passage from an unpublished 
college lecture, at the nth Annual Meeting of the Cam- 
bridge (Mass.) Dante Society, in a speech deploring the 
loss of the lately deceased President. It was published for 
the first time in the nth Annual Report of the Society 
(Cambridge, Mass., 1892). 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 67 

scholarship, nor anything more wearisome in the 
attainment. But the moment you have an object 
and a centre, attention is quickened, the mother 
of memory ; and whatever you acquire groups and 
arranges itself in an order which is lucid because 
it is everywhere in intelligent relation to an object 
of constant and growing interest. Thus, as respects 
Uante, I asked myself, What are his points of 
likeness or unlikeness with the authors of 
classical antiquity? In how far is either of these 
an advantage or defect? What and how much 
modern literature had preceded him ? How much 
was he indebted to it ? How far had the Italian 
language been subdued and suppled to the uses 
of poetry or prose before his time ? How much 
did he color the style or thought of the authors 
who followed him ? Is it a fault or a merit that 
he is so thoroughly impregnated with the opinions, 
passions, and even prejudices not only of his age, 
but his country ? Was he right or wrong in being 
a Ghibelline ? To what extent is a certain freedom 
of opinion which he shows sometimes on points of 
religious doctrine to be attributed to the human- 
izing influence of the Crusades in enlarging the 
horizon of the western mind by bringing it in 
contact with other races, religions, and social 
arrangements ? These and a hundred other such 



68 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

questions were constant stimulants to thought and 
inquiry, stimulants such as no merely objectless 
and, so to speak, impersonal study could have 
supplied." 

But to return. Every reader of the Com media 
will be struck by the constant parallelism of its 
pagan and Christian elements, notably in the 
Purgatory, where the examples for the vices and 
virtues are drawn from both sources alike. In 
doing this, Dante was only carrying out his general 
dual plan of spiritual and temporal power, which 
dominates the whole work. This by the way. 
What we desire to show here is, that Dante 
never allowed his classical tastes to gain the upper 
hand. Burckhardt remarks, that if there had been 
a succession of men to carry on Dante's work in 
his spiric, the absolute classicism of the Renais- 
sance would have been impossible. However, the 
classics, owing to their novelty, fascinated all 
alike : even men like Petrarch and Boccaccio, 
masters as they were of their own national lan- 
guage, were infected, by the general fever, and 
built their hopes of immortality on Latin works 
that are now never read save by the literary 
student. And it was just because Dante always 
assigned the first place to his native idiom, and 
because it was his constant endeavour to raise it to 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 69 

the same level with the Latin, that he came to 
exercise such an incalculable influence on the 
national literature of his country. — We do not 
mean a direct influence, for a work such as the 
Commedia cannot be imitated, and must ever 
remain unique. Even Petrarch's genius could not 
transfuse Dante's spirit into the Trionfi, while 
BocQaccio's Innamorata Visione can scarcely be 
pronounced worthy of its writer. But these are 
brilliant efforts compared with such works as 
Uberti's Dittamoiido and Frezzi's Quadiregio. x — 
No, we mean influence in a far wider and grander 
sense of the word. It would be difficult to name 
a single poet of real distinction who has not drunk 
deep and long draughts at this " underlined weH^i 
of Italian poetry. 

1 In other countries we have also undoubted imitations, 
such as the Chemin de Long Fstude of Christine de Pisan in 
Fiance (1402) ; while England can boast of a whole series, 
of which the most important are Chaucer's Hous of Fame, 
Lyndesay's Dreme, and Sackville's Induction. Of those 
works which are inspired by single episodes, it may suffice 
to mention Silvio Pellico's Francesca, Sestini's Pia, Ger- 
stenberg's Ugolino — which derives its chief interest from 
Lessing's criticism — and Leigh Hunt's Story of Rimini. 
Poems such as Browning's Sordello and Tennyson's Ulysses 
belong to yet another category, less directly inspired than 
the preceding. 



70 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

Having several times in the course of our 
remarks had occasion to refer to Petrarch, we 
would now wish to state our opinion of the 
relations in which he stood to Dante. He has 
always been regarded, and with perfect justice, as 
forming a landmark in the history of European 
letters and culture. But we cannot help thinking 
that he owes more to Dante than is generally 
believed, and than he himself was inclined to 
concede. If we read the letter to Boccaccio with- 
out prejudice, it is impossible not to detect a 
certain jealousy, which is but lightly veiled by the 
awkward excuses, that have to our ears a very 
hollow and insincere ring about them. His words 
are to the following effect : — If you choose to 
honour Dante, do so by all means, since you 
acknowledge him as your master. I, for my part, 
own that I have never seen the Commedia, but 
that is not due to my despising the poem. On 
the contrary, I have always considered the vulgar 
speech my highest aim, and, just on that account, 
wished to preserve my independence in that field. 
Any similarity in our works must be due to 
chance. — Now, in spite of continued protestations, 
such as : " Thus it is : if you are ever to believe 
me in anything, believe me in this, for I have 
never spoken more true," it is hard to take all the 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 71 

above for gospel. At any rate, there can be no 
doubt that Boccaccio worked a change for the 
better in his friend's feelings, and this letter, dated 
1359, may be regarded as forming the turning- 
point in this direction. The Trionfi show a close 
study of the Commedia, as even Carducci is willing 
to admit, whose masterly defence of Petrarch 
should be read by every one interested in the 
question. 1 In the same svay the political poems 
and theories of Petrarch, which belong to this 
later period, are only an outcome of Dante's 
teaching, though Dante must always move us 
more than a man like Petrarch, whose character, 
in the matter of politics, was far from upright and 
consistent ; and that is probably the reason why 
the Italian patriots of this century almost invariably 
went back to Dante as a source of encouragement 
and inspiration. And what about the Canzoniere, 
with which we are chiefly concerned, and to which 
no mention is made in the letter, not even where 
the vulgar tongue is spoken of ? Carducci's opinion 
is summed up in the words : " Petrarch from his 
youth knew Dante as love-poet only too well, and 
exactly for that reason was afraid of reading the 
Commcdia." 

We have thought it necessary to dwell at such 
1 In the Florentine Nnova Antologia, v. pp. 22-54 (1867). 



72 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

length on this point, because we are about to enter 
the domain of love-literature, where Petrarch's 
sway has been admittedly unequalled. But here, 
too, we intend to insist on our theory, and are 
glad, this time, to have the support of several able 
writers — among others, that of the distinguished lady 
who* writes under the nom de plume of Vernon 
Lee. 1 It is needless, in this place, to point out 
the characteristics that distinguished the Proven- 
cal, Sicilian, and Tuscan schools of love-poetry. 
Young Henry Hallam sums up the leading facts 
with sufficient clearness when he says of the 
Tuscan poetry and poets : 2 " Its base is un- 
doubtedly the troubadour poetry (of which he had 
already spoken), but on this they have reared a 
splendid edifice of Platonism, and surmounted it 
with the banner of the Cross." The Provencals, 
the Sicilians, and alter them Guittone d'Arezzo, 
Guinicelli, Cino da Pistoja, and Cavalcanti, had 
cultivated the amorous poetry till it had attained 
a singular perfection of form and expression. But 
it lacked the one essential quality without which 

1 " Mediaeval Love." (Euphorion.) 

2 In the oration on the Influence of Italian works of the 
Imagination, on the same class of composition in England, 
delivered in the Chapel of Trinity College, Cambridge, in 
1831. 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 73 

lyrical poetry must ever be a mere skeleton with- 
out flesh and blood. We have in the Comedy an 
inimitable passage, in which Dante, with his usual 
self-consciousness, shows us that he was well 
aware of his superiority over his predecessors and 
contemporaries, and of the cause of this superiority. 
One of the love-poets, Bonagiunta da Lucca, says 
to him : 

"Ma di' s' io veggio qui colui che fuore 

Trasse le nuove rime cominciando : 

' Donne, ch' avete intelletto d' Amore.' " 

Ed io a lui : " lo mi son ten eke, quando 

Amor mi spira, noto, ed a quel modo 

Che detta dentro, vo sigiii/ictrndo.' " 

" O frate, issa veggio, disse, il nodo 

Che il Notaro e Guittone e me ritenne 

Di qua dal dolce slil nuovo ch' i' odo. 

Io veggio ben come le vostre penne 

Diretro al dittator sen vanno strette, 

Che delle nostre certo non avvenne ; 

E qual piu a riguardar oltre si mette, 

Non vede piu dall' uno all' altro stilo : " 

E quasi contentalo si tacette. — Purg. xxiv. 49. 

Dante, then, had discovered the secret, by the 
aid of ^vhich the lyrical poetry of Italy was to 
attain the highest perfection of which this class or 
literature is capable, and, through the instrumen- 
tality of Petrarch, to exercise such a vast influence 
on European letters. For we do not wish to 



74 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

dispute Petrarch's claims to the high honour of 
having been the direct inspirer of most of the love- 
poetry of modern Europe. The only point we 
would insist on is that Petrarch's Canzoniere itself, 
in the shape in which we now possess and admire 
it, would have been impossible without Dante. 
We feel that Petrarch was not the man to have 
been able to pen the " Rime in morte di Laura," 
at any rate, if Dante's spiritual love for Beatrice 
had not been there to serve him as a guide. 1 We 
always fancy that, but for this ennobling example, 
Petrarch would have allowed his distinctly licen- 
tious nature to assert itself more freely. The 
severer spirit breathing from Dante's minor poems 
is sufficient to account for their having had to* 
yield the palm in popular favour to those of the 
later poet, even at a period when the Commedia 
was still exercising its full sway. 

It is needless to trace the history of this love- 
poetry. In Italy we shall only pause for a moment 
at the grand figure of Michelangelo, who took 
Dante as his model here as in so many points. 
In the great artist's noble sonnets we hear Dante's 

1 " Dante understood the secret things of love even more 
than Petrarch. His Vita Nuova is an inexhaustible fountain 
of purity of sentiment and language." (Shelley, A Defence 
of Poetry.) 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 75 

voice in every line— the same expressions, the 
same allegory the same gloomy tone. — We 
shall pass over the Plciade in France, and the 
sonnets of Wyatt, Surrey, Spenser, and Shake- 
speare in England. 1 However, we would point 
out that the Hymns in Honour of Love and Beauty 
still bear so many signs of their primary origin, 
that those unacquainted with the poetry of- Pe- 
trarch, to which they undoubtedly owe their direct 
inspiration, would not hesitate in seeking for their 
source in the works of Dante. 

It is interesting to consider for a moment the 
most characteristic trait of this old Italian love. 
Dante regards Love as the origin of all things, 
good and evil, and sets forth his theory at full 
length in the 17th canto of the Purgatory in the 
passage closing with these words : 

Quinci comprender puoi ch' esser conviene 
Amor sementa in voi d' ogni virtute, 
E d' ogni operazion che merta pene. 

1 The Arte of English Poesie speaks of Wyatt and Surrey 
as " novices newly crept out of the schooles of Dante, 
Ariosto,*and Petrarch."— Even Milton, who scarcely belongs 
in this place, says, speaking of his early partiality for the 
elegiac poets : " Above them all, I preferred the two famous 
renowners of Beatrice and Laura, who never write but in 
honour of them to whom they devote their verses, displaying 
sublime and pure thoughts without transgression." 



76 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

This, of course, supplies the idea only in the most 
general way. Already St. Augustine had said : 
" Boni aut mali mores, sunt boniaut mali amores." 
Besides, Boethius, Bonaventura, and others whose 
writings were known to Dante, have the same idea. 
Indeed, the elevating influence of love had formed 
one of the chief themes of the trobadors and 
their disciples, when Dante came and set the stamp 
of immortality on this grand conception. And, 
assuredly, it is not merely a fanciful operation to 
follow this thought as Vernon Lee has done. 
Already Chaucer " by the side of the merely 
mediaeval love types — of brutish lust and dog-like 
devotion — of the wife of Bath and of Griseldis, had 
attested a kind of modern love, the love that is to 
become that of Romeo and Hamlet, in his Palamon 
and Arcyte." — It was Shakespeare who saw that an 
ideal love was only possible by a blending of the 
more Teutonic passion with the spirit of the 
Tuscan poetry, under the influence of which he 
had himself fallen in his youth. And this is the 
love that the best and greatest of our poets still 
hold up as the ideal to which all must strive, 
the love we find in the works of Shelley, 1 the 

1 " Love is celebrated everywhere as the sole law which 
should govern the moral world." (Preface to The Revolt oj 
Islam.) 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 77 

Brownings, and of Tennyson. It has never found 
a more noble Vexpression than in the verses in 
which the late Laureate speaks to us through the 
mouth of his King Arthur : 

I made them lay their hands in mine and swear 

■ ■ • • • 

To lead sweet lives in purest chastity, 
To love one maiden only, cleave to her, 
And worship her by years of noble deeds, 
Until they won her ; for indeed I knew 
Of no more subtle master under heaven 
Than is the maiden passion for a maid, 
Not only to keep down the base in man, 
But teach high thought, and amiable words, 
And courtliness, and the desire of fame, 
And love of truth, and all that makes a man. 

It goes without saying that such a passion as 
that of Dante for Beatrice was significant not for 
these two alone, but for the cuori gentili of all 
times. The touching love-story, that approaches 
the ideal as nearly as is possible on this earth of 
ours — we mean, of course, as far as Dante's part in 
it is concerned — has become a household word in 
every country, and as long as writers and poets 
continue to fan the flame, it will remain to serve as 
an eternal type for emulation. We may select two 
instances, perfectly at random. The hero ot 



73 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

Valera's Pepita Jimenez, tied by his priest's vows, 
at one time thought of making his beloved "a 
symbol, an allegory, an image of all that is good, 
of all that is beautiful. She shall be to me, as 
Beatrice was to Dante, the image and the symbol 
of country, of knowledge, and of beauty." — More 
interesting, because taken from real life, is the 
youthful confession of the passion-tost Sainte- 
Beuve, who addresses his friend, Antony Des- 
champs, in words that will find an echo in many 
hearts : 

Que n'ai-je eu de bonne heure un ange dans ma vie ? 
Que n'ai-je aussi regie l'ceuvre de chaque jour, 
Chaque songe de nuit, sur un celeste amour ? 
On ne me verrait pas, sans but et sans pensee, 
Tout droit, tous les matins, sortir, tete baissee ; 
Roder le long des murs oii vingt fois j'ai heurte, 
Trainant honteusement mon genie avorte. 
Le genie est plus grand, aide d'un cceur plus sage. 

And then, after a remarkably fine translation from 
the Vita Nuova : 

Ainsi son jeune amour etait pour Dante enfant 
Un monde au fond de l'ame, un soleil echauffant, 
Un poeme eternel. . . . 
Que n'ai-je eu, comme lui, mes amours a neuf ans ? 

• • • • . . 

Qui sait ? ma Beatrix n'etait pas loin peut-etre. 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 79 

Et mon cceur aura fui trop tot pour la connaitre ! 

Helas ! c'est^ue j'etais deja ce que je suis ; 

Etre faible, inconstant, qui veux et qui ne puis. 

Comprenant par acces la Beaute sans modele, 

Mais tiede, et la servant d'une ame peu fidele. 

C'est que je suis d'argile et de larmes petri ; 

C'est que le pain des forts ne m'a jamais nourri ; 

Et que, des le matin, pelerin sans courage, 

J'accuse tour a tour le soleil et l'orage ; 

C'est qu'un rien me distrait ; c'est que je suis mal ne, 

Qu'aux limbes d'ici-bas justement condamne, 

Je m'epuise a gravir la colline benie, 

Ou siege Dante, ou vout ses pareils en genie. 

What makes the example of Sainte-Beuve so 
interesting is that it was actually the love-element 
in Dante's life and works that first attracted the 
young man : 

Dante est un puissant mattre, a l'allure hardie, 

Dont j'adore a genoux l'etrange Comedie ; 

Mais le sentier est rude et tourne a l'infini, 

Et j'attends, pour monter, notre guide Antony. 

Le plus court me va mieux ;— aussi la simple histoire 

Oil, de sa Beatrix recueillant la memo ire, 

II revient pas a pas sur cet amour sacre, 

Est ce que j'ai de lui jusqu'ici prefere. 

Plus j'y reviens, et plus j'honore le poete, &c. 

Here, again, it is only natural to suppose that 
Sainte-Beuve is but one of a large class for whom 



80 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

the Vita Nuova formed, as it were, the stepping- 
stone to the study of the greater work. Sometimes, 
indeed, the disciples of the great Tuscan never 
ceased to find their chief delight in this exquisite 
production of his youth : among these Dante 
Gabriel Rossetti occupies the place of honour. 1 

Dante's general influence on literature is per- 
haps unsurpassed, for, always appreciated by the 
master poets of Italy, he has, since the end of the 
last century, become the object of passionate study 
on the part of the master-poets of Europe. His 
marvellous style, his manifold exquisite images and 
similes, have become a never-failing source of 
inspiration. 2 

1 See inter alia the sonnet Dantis Tenebra (In memory 
to my father) : 

And didst thou know, indeed, when at the font 
Together with my name thou gav'st me his, 
That also on thy son must Beatrice 
Decline her eyes according to her wont, 
Accepting me to be of those that haunt 
The vale of magical dark mysteries 
Where to the hills her poet's foot-track lies, 
And wisdom's living fountain to his chaunt 
Trembles in music ? &c. 

2 A good example is the description at the beginning of 
Purg. xxviii., of which Ruskin says: "The tender lines 
which tell of the voices of the birds mingling with the wind, 
and of the leaves all turning one way before it, have been 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 81 

While we find echoes of Dante's poem through- 
out the whole of Italian literature, it is not till the 
end of the last century that the writers came to be 
deeply imbued with his spirit. We have men- 
tioned Varano as having given a strong impetus 
towards this state of things. Then came Parini, 
whose beautiful style and austerity of thought are 
modelled on those of Dante, and after him, more 
important still, Alfieri, whose intense study of 
the poet convinced him that the Italian language 
was far from being as effeminate as most of the 
contemporary dramatic literature would have led 
one to suppose. The result of these studies he 
laid down in his tragedies, which so often breathe 
the sternness and severity of Dante's manner. 
Most of the names we have noted in a different 

more or less copied by every poet since Dante's time. They 
are, so far as I know, the sweetest passage of wood-descrip- 
tion which exists in literature" {Mod. Painters, iii. 219). — 
The imitations have of course not always been successful, and 
cases of injudicious plagiarism have often been noted. We 
need only remind the reader of Dante's A guisa di leon 
quando $i posa, or his Che paia il giomo pianger che si 
muore, and of Tasso's and Gray's imitations of these lines. 
It is also instructive to compare Ger. Lib. xiii. 60 with Inf. 
xxx. 64, and Orl. Fur. vi. 27 and xxviii. 90, with Inf. xiii. 
40 and Purg. vi. 149. Finally we will mention the numerous 
reminiscences in Pulci, which are of course burlesque. 

6 



82 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

connection might be cited again in this place : 
Foscolo, Giusti, Leopardi, Manzoni ; and to these 
we may add Carducci to represent the living. 
Monti is an instructive example, as proving how 
irresistible Dante's power was even over natures 
so entirely different to his. Surely Cantu is right 
when he says : " Mentre Dante diceva : ' Quando 
amore spira, noto,' il Monti professa : ' Ho amato 
per passione ed ho amato per capriccio ; ed in 
tutte due le circonstanze, ho composto de' versi.' " 
And yet his writings — we need only name the 
Bassvilliana — testify to so deep a study of Dante, 
that the Florentine must be admitted to have 
strongly influenced his intellect, though he did 
not penetrate to his heart. 

There are qualities in Dante which could not 
but ende-ar him to the followers of all the so-called 
Romantic schools. His mediaeval spirit, his dis- 
regard for all conventionality, his aim to make the 
imaginative faculty in poetry subservient to reason, 
to geometrical precision — these, and so many other 
attributes, were quite in the spirit of the modern 
movements. And this accounts for the enthusiasm 
with which he was greeted not by Manzoni and 
his fellow-workers alone, but also across the Alps. 
In Germany he shares the chief honours with 
Shakespeare, Petrarch, Cervantes, and Calderon. 



ON MODERN THOUGHT, 83 

A. W. von Schlegel calls him his " favourite poet " 
(JVerke, iii. p. 199), and though he probably 
modified his opinion later on in favour of Shake- 
speare, yet he never ceased to urge his friends 
and the general public to a study of the Commedia. 
From the date of the appearance of Schlegel's 
translation of extracts from this work (1791), we 
may trace the influence of the form and spirit of 
Dante's poetry in German literature. Friedrich 
Schlegel looked upon him as forming with Shake- 
speare and Goethe the " grosse Dreiklang der 
modernen Poesie, der innerste und allerheiligste 
Kreis unter alien engern und weitern Spharen der 
kritischen Auswahl der Classiker der neueren 
Dichtkunst." * Tieck regarded Dante, Cervantes, 
Shakespeare, and Goethe as the " heiligen Meister 
der neuen Kunst." 2 — And let us revert for a 
moment to the spirit of Catholicism which made 
itself so deeply felt in the movement, that several 
of its leaders, such as F. Schlegel, Zacharias 
Werner and Novalis went over to the Church of 
Rome. We probably have to seek for the ex- 
planation of the religious waverings of these men 
in the romantic love of things mediaeval, which was 
fostered and kept alive by their continued study 
of our poet. — Perhaps the most lasting monument 
1 Athenaum, i. 2, 68. 2 Zerbino, act v. 



84 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

of the force with which the current of Dante's 
sway made itself felt at tin's time in Germany, is 
the close of the second part of Faust, which 
proves that even Goethe sought for inspiration in 
the Commedia — Goethe, who during his whole 
life was filled with a kind of antipathy towards the 
Florentine, that was probably due to his disinclina- 
tion to subscribe to any particular fcrm of religious 
belief, and to his having been over-nourished on 
Ariosto and Tasso in his youth. 

It is surprising that Dante should have been for 
so many centuries scarcely more than a name in 
Germany, especially when we consider the close 
relations in which that country stood to Italy at 
repeated intervals in her history ; and the same 
remark applies with even greater force to 
France. Rivarol, by his translation of the 
Inferno (1783), was the first to attract general 
attention to the Commedia in that country, and 
Chateaubriand, though far from appreciating the 
work at' its true value, made the cult general. In 
the Genie du Christianisme Dante is quoted to 
prove the superiority of Christian over Pagan 
poets ; but, as Sainte-Beuve and others have 
hinted, he missed one of his most splendid oppor- 
tunities in his long chain of arguments in favour 
of Christianity, by not making more elaborate use 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 85 

of the greatest of all Christian poems. Of Lamar- 
tine and the religious literature we have already 
spoken. — Victor Hugo and his school approached 
our poet in the proper spirit, and were most lavish 
in their enthusiasm for his genius. The following 
passage from the Preface to Les Rayoyis et les 
Ombres is very remarkable : " Pour ce qui est des 
questions de style et de forme, il (i.e., the author) 
n'en parlera point. Les personnes qui veulent 
bien lire ce qu'il ecrit savent depuis longtemps 
que, s'il admet quelquefois, en de certains cas, le 
vague et le demi-jour dans la pensee, il les 
admet plus rarement dans l'expression. Sans 
meconnaitre la grande poesie du Nord representee 
en France meme par d'admirables poetes, il a 
toujours eu un gout vif pour la forme meridionale 
et precise. II aime le soleil. La Bible est son 
livre. Virgile et Dante sont ses divins maitres." — 
But it was not merely on the point of style that 
Dante was a "divine master" for Victor Hugo. 
In another place (Preface to the Orientates), where 
he compares his ideal of the form of literary com- 
positions to an irregular Spanish town, he complains 
contemptuously that, while other nations have their 
Homer, Dante, and Shakespeare, the French con- 
tinue to insist on Boileau. Then there is a whole 
legion of poems, and portions of poems, in which 



86 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

Dante, sometimes in company with Isaiah, Juvenal, 
and the like, is regarded as the scourge of evil, and 
extolled for his high moral sense, his powers of 
satire, his fearless scorn and cognate qualities. 
Foremost among these, by reason of its length, 
stands the Vision de Dante (1883). The Italian 
poet is made to relate how he has seen the peoples 
of Europe, torn by wars, before the archangel in 
Heaven. They begin by accusing the devastating 
armies, but the blame is made to rest with the 
generals, the judges, and the kings in turn, and 
finally, of course, with the Pope. The closing 
lines of this powerful poem are as follows : 

Et, comme je fuyais, clans la nuee ardente 
Une face apparut et me cria : Mon Dante, 
Prends ce pape qui fit le mal et non le bien, 
Mets-le dans ton enfer, je le mets dans le mien. 

Hugo rightly regarded Dante as having hated 
all evil, not only evil in high places : 

Oh ! ces Dantes geants, ces vastes Isa'ies ! 
Us frappent les fronts vils et les tetes hales ; 
lis ont pour loi punir, trancher, supplicier ; 
lis ont la probite sinistre de l'acier ; 
Nul homme n'est plus grand sons le ciel solitaire 
Que ces archanges froids et tristes de la terre ; 
lis sont les punisseurs ; &c. . . . 

La Pitie Supreme, i. 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 87 

One of the most terrible warnings is that given 
to the man qui a livre une femme (in the Chants 
du Crepuscule)? 

At other times Dante appears as the great poet 
of liberty : 

France ... 

Tu crieras : Liberte ! Paix ! Clemence ! Esperance ! 

Eschyle dans Athene et Dante dans Florence 

S'accorderont au bord du tombeau, reveilles, 

Et te regardant, fiers, joyeux, les yeux mouilles, 

Croiront voir l'un la Grece et l'autre l'ltalie. 

Annee Terrible (Juillet ix.). 

In this worship of Dante as the poet and lover 
of universal liberty, Hugo stands by no means 
alone in France. Auguste Barbier's poem, entitled 
Dante (one of the lambes, 1831), shows how 
sympathetic the figure of the great Florentine was 
to Frenchmen at the period of their revolutions. 
" Oh, Dante ! " he exclaims, "I understand to-day 
your mortal suffering." Edouard Grenier's Vision 
(1858) is another very beautiful poem, in which 
the form and manner of Dante are imitated. The 
poet feigns that he is in the pine-forest of Ravenna, 
when the shade of Dante appears to him, and, on 

' Cf. also Annee Terrible (Octobre ii. and Juin viii.), Les 
Quatre Vents de F esprit (Le Livre Satirique, i., iii., v. ; Le 
Livre Lyrique, xliii. and xlvii. ), &c. &c. 



88 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

being questioned as to the fate of France, answers 
in the parable of Spring and the new birth of 
Nature, after the hard winter frosts. 

Dante undoubtedly exercised a salutary influence- 
in France — a country that had so long lacked true 
lyrical poets, and was sorely in need of such a' 
stimulus. 1 We have only to read Musset's Souvenir, 
for example, in order to feel that the poets of the 
school, sufferers themselves, often turn for counsel 
and solace to the great Italian, and only differed 
from him with regret. In the present instance the 
poet cannot subscribe to the famous Nessun 
maggior do/ore, and addresses Dante in a tone 
of reproach mingled with awe, as though in the 
presence of a master : 

Est-ce bien toi, grande ame immortellement triste, 
Est-ce toi qui l'as dit ? 

And if we turn to the French literature of to-day, 
with its various schools of Psychologies, Symbolistes, 
and the like, we are struck by the fact that they, 

' Noteworthy, too, on the score of language, are the 
following words, concerning translations, which occur in 
Rivarol's Preface : " J'ai done pense qu'elles devraient servir 
egalement a la gloire du poete qu'on traduit, et au progres de 
la langue dans laquelle on traduit." — This idea was repeated 
by other Dante translators. 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 89 

too, continue to derive much of their inspiration 
and support from Dante's works. Let us take up 
for a moment M. Jules Huret's Enquete sur 
revolution litteraire, a book which cannot be too 
strongly condemned on principle, since it intro- 
duces a feature of the " new journalism " into 
literary criticism, but which must be allowed to 
contain much of interest for the literary student. 
Here we are struck by seeing so many of these 
modern Symbolistes and members of cognate 
schools justifying their views by the example of 
Dante, who, indeed, appears to have been studied 
by them only from their particular point of view. 
Thus we hear from Jose-Maria de He'redia: 
" Dante, que je considere ie plus grand de tous 
les poetes, son poeme tout entier n'est qu'un sym- 
bole ! " Another poet exclaims : " Soyons symbo- 
listes comme Dante. Cultivons le symbolisme 
sans le rigoriser, ni l'£diner en petite tente sous 
l'ample soleil artistique." 

It is instructive also to study M. Anatole 
France's essay on M. Maurice Banes' Le Jardin 
de Berenice, 1 some of the characteristics of which 
he compares to the Vita Nuova : — " Cette Vita 
Nuova, du moins par sa subtilite, peut, a larigueur, 
donner quelque idee de la manic-re de M. M. 

1 La vie litteraire, IV e serie, p. 223. 



90 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

Barres qui est, en litterature, un preraphaelite. 
Et c'est grace, sans doute, a ce tour de style et 
d'ame qu'il a seduit M. Paul Bourget ainsi que 
plusieurs de nos raffines. L'inertie expressive des 
figures, la raideur un peu gauche des scenes qui ne 
sont point liees, les petits paysages exquis tendus 
comme des tapisseries, c'est ce que j'appelle le 
preraphaelisme et le florentinisme de M. Maurice 
Barres." 

A mere glance at the terminology of this 
extract shows us that our English culture has 
here been instrumental in spreading Dante's 
influence abroad. 1 England differs in one im~ 
portant respect from the countries which we have 
just reviewed, in that two of her greatest poets, 
the one living in the 14th, the other in the 17th 
century, and both exercising an enormous in- 
fluence on their own and succeeding generations, 
were diligent students of Dante, and transfused 
into their work much of the form and spirit of the 
Commedia. We cannot propose to enter into 
details respecting the obligations of Chaucer and 
Milton to the great Tuscan, and we feel that we 
may well touch lightly on a point that has been 
treated by so many competent critics. In reading 

1 It is characteristic that Maeterlinck (in Huret's book) 
mentions among his favourites Rossetti and Burne-Jones. 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 91 

the Canterbury Tales or Paradise Lost we are con- 
tinually coming across passages which make us 
stop short, and say to ourselves : " Surely this 
would have been impossible but for Dante ! " 
Chaucer, in addition to directly imitating whole 
episodes of the Comedy, would appear to have learnt 
from Dante especially, his use of homely similes. 
However, he did not limit himself to these, and 
never hesitated to adopt beauties of any kind : thus 
all the orient laugheth of the sight (in the Knightes 
Tale) obviously goes back to Purg. i. 20. He has 
expressed his indebtedness in several passages by 
directly naming his source in his simple way. 1 
— Between Dante and Milton a more elaborate 
parallel might be drawn than has as yet been 
attempted or than can be attempted in this place, 
and in view of the undoubted fact that the 
English poet was thoroughly acquainted with the 

1 For example, at the close of Hugelin of Pise in the 

Monkes Tale : 

Who-so wol here it in a lenger wyse, 
Redeth the grete poete of Itaille, 
That highte Dante, for he can al deuyse, 
Fro point to point, nat o word wol he faille. 

or in the Wif of Bathes Tale (where he makes use of Purg. 

vii. 121) : 

Wei can the wise poete of Florence 

That highte Dant, speken of this sentence. 



92 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

Tuscan's work, some of the points of resemblance 
at any rate are certainly not due to mere coin- 
cidence. We feel that in certain traits of his 
works, 1 public life, and character, he was strength- 
ened by the example of his forerunner. There 
are several passages in Milton's writings, notably 
in the Latin letters, that bear direct and striking 
testimony to the admiration he felt for the 
Commedia and its author. In the essay Of 
Reformation in England, he even quotes Dante's 
passages on the " gift of Constantine " in support 

1 The following extract from a letter of Russell Lowell to 
Mr. Charles Eliot Norton deserves the consideration due to 
so great an authority : " I read ... a little of Dante and 
a great deal of Milton, convincing myself of what I had 
long taken for granted, that his versification was mainly 
modelled on the Italian and especially on the Divina Com- 
?nedia. Many, if not most of his odd constructions are to be 
sought there, I think, rather than in the ancients." — With 
regard to mythology, we may quote the following from 
Shelley's Defence of Poetry : "The Divina Commedia and 
Paradise Lost have conferred upon modern mythology a 
systematic form ; and when change and time shall have 
added one more superstition to the mass of those which 
have arisen and decayed upon the earth, commentators will 
be learnedly employed in elucidating the religion of ancestral 
Europe, only not utterly forgotten because it will have been 
stamped with the eternity of genius." — Much the same 
might be said concerning the poetic use of astronomy. 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 93 

of his own views on the subject — a proof that he 
had grasped the importance of Dante's political 
teaching. 

The Faerie Queene supplies numerous remi- 
niscences of the Comedy, 1 though its author was 
naturally more fascinated by the brilliant fancy of 
Ariosto. 

If we come to modern romantic times we find 
Coleridge earnestly encouraging a study of the 
poet. It is interesting to note that the translation 
which, in spite of its many faults, must still be re- 
garded as the most satisfactory for one possessing 
no knowledge of Italian, and which has done more 
than any other to make Dante widely known to 
English readers — we mean that of Cary — was, 
quite at the outset of its career, instrumental in 
bringing about Coleridge's course of Dante 
lectures, which probably first aroused a general 
interest in the Comedy in this country. Cary's 
tomb in Westminster Abbey, with its simple in- 
scription "Translator of Dante," will remain as a 
lasting monument of this Dante revival in England. 

The chord of Liberty that the great Italian 
had struck with such admirable results in Italy, and 
to a lesser degree in France, naturally resounded 

1 Cf., for example, F. Q. II., iii. 40-41, with In/, xxiv. 
46-52. 



94 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

in the works of the great English poets of this 
period: for was not love of Liberty "the im- 
mediate jewel of their souls " ? Wordsworth ex- 
claimed at the sight of "Dante's Seat" in Florence : 

... A Throne, 
In just esteem, it rivals ; though no style 
Be there of decoration to heguile 
The mind, depressed by thought of greatness flown. 
As a true man, who long had served the lyre, 
I gazed with earnestness, and dared no more. 
But in his breast the mighty Poet bore 
A Patriot's heart, warm with undying fire. 
Bold with the thought, in reverence I sate down, 
And, for a moment, filled the empty Throne. 

And the same feelings had filled the breasts of 
two at least of the great triad of poets which 
adorned our literature at the beginning of the 
century. 1 Like so many of the poets of the con- 
tinent, they reverenced in Dante, above all, one of 
the " kings of thought who waged contention with 
their times' decay.'' — Byron has testified to his 
deep admiration of the poet, and to his under- 
standing of the man, in his Prophecy, which is 
probably one of his best efforts, as it certainly is 

1 Keats does not appear to have made a deep study of 
Dante's work, although there are some allusions to it in 
his poems — for instance, in the sonnet On a Dream. 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 95 

one of the most elevated in tone. We fully 
share the opinion of Dean Plumptre, who 
ascribes Byron's noble train of thought at this 
period to his communion "with a loftier and 
purer soul." — Shelley tells us in one of his letters 
of " one solitary spot in Milan Cathedral, where the 
light of day is dim and yellow under the storied 
window," which he had chosen to visit and read 
Dante there. And, indeed, it is just the spiritual 
mysticism in keeping with such a spot, which we 
detect in the writings of Shelley, and which we 
are inclined to ascribe to a study of the Comedy 
and love-works of Dante. This may, perhaps, be 
best observed in the Epipsychidion, the intro- 
duction to which, with its lovely translation from 
Dante, sufficiently shows its author's sympathy 
with the great Italian. 

If we turn to our great modern poets, whose 
wide range of culture includes an intimate ac- 
quaintance with Dante, we fail to see that any of 
them, with the exception of Tennyson and Dante 
Gabriel Rossetti, have derived inspiration from 
him, unless by way of allusion or episode. We 
might have been tempted to attribute their enthu- 
siasm for the Middle Ages to the study of the 
Comedy ; but even here we must not overlook the 
importance of Chaucer's claims, except in the case 



96 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

of the great American student of our poet, Long 
fellow, where Dante's was almost certainly the 
preponderating influence. 1 

We have no need of the beautiful "lines written 
at the request of the Florentines," to tell us that 

1 Another American poet deserving of mention is Thomas 
William Parsons. His translation of the Comedy was the 
work of his life. But this is not all. A merely cursory 
glance through his poems, some of which are based on texts 
from Dante, others on his episodes, while nearly all show 
traces of the Tuscan's spirit and mode of thought, will suffice 
to convince the reader of the truth of what Louise Guiney 
says in her memoir of the poet (prefixed to his translation of 
the Commedia, 1893): . . . "The ideals of Dante ceased 
not to sway and colour his disciple's mind. . . . Never was 
a poet more under a noble spell than this one. It is no ex- 
aggeration to say that to him Dante was heart-blood and 
life-breath, and not absent from his inmost meditations." In 
the Preface to the same volume, Mr. Charles Eliot Norton, 
speaking of Longfellow, Lowell, and Parsons, characterises 
them as " three poets who had each devoted a large portion 
of his life to the study of Dante's work, and contributed as no 
other scholars have done to diffuse his influence in this 
country." We need scarcely add that Mr. Norton himself 
makes a worthy fourth in this brilliant company. — The 
closing lines of Parsons' On a Bust of Dante will be of 
interest : 

Before his name the nations bow ; 

His words are parcel of mankind ! 

Deep in whose hearts, as on his brow, 

The marks have sunk of Dante's mind. 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 97 

Tennyson was an ardent student and admirer of 
Dante, as his works everywhere show traces of 
the Florentine's genius. 1 In the English poet 
we find the same love of symbolism and allegory, 
and he is said to have compared the structure 
of his In Memoriam, with its sorrowful beginning 
and joyful ending, to that of the Comedy. We 
do not know how many of the traits of The 
Poet were supplied by thoughts of Dante ; but 
the piece undoubtedly conjures up the figure of 
the Florentine, in its masculine conception of the 
poet's vocation. And such poems as Locksley 
Hall Sixty Years After show that Tennyson 
practised as well as preached, and made himself 
the voice of his age. Then, again, the subtle 
inner analysis of Maud, for example, at times 
inevitably recalls the poet of the Vita Nuova. If 
we consider Tennyson's images and similes, we 
are struck especially by such passages as the follow- 
ing, which are eminently Dantesque in manner : 

Some flush'd, and others dazed, as one who wakes 
Half-blinded at the coming of a light. 



1 We refrain from enumerating single passages of imitation, 
&c., the more especially as Paolo Bellezza has put together 
a goodly number, in some cases with rare judgment, in his 
La Vita e le Opere di Alfredo Tennyson (Firenze, 1894), pp. 
124-136. 

7 



98 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

Or: 

But as a man to whom a dreadful loss 
Falls in a far land and he knows it not, 
But coming back he learns it, and the loss 
So pains him that he sickens nigh to death. 1 

Also the descriptions of nature resemble those of 
the Italian poet in their delicate minuteness. And 
finally we have the Ulysses and Enid's Song of 
Fortune, which only borrow the leit-motif, as it 
were, from Dante, and show a far deeper study ana 
comprehension of the spirit of the original passages 
than a mere imitation could do. 

Of all men known to fame, Michelangelo and 
Rossetti are probably the two whose works in 
literature and art are most thoroughly imbued 
with Dante's spirit. 2 It has been well said of the 
masterly collection of versions from the Italian, 
entitled Dante and his Circle, that they are fac- 
similes of the originals in form and spirit, and 
have become indestructibly incorporated with 
English literature. They form, as it were, a 

1 There are innumerable instances of this kind. A very 
striking one, too long for quotation, is in The Marriage of 
Geraint (p. 346^7 of the complete 1 vol. edition), where 
Enid's voice is likened to that of a bird. 

2 We must spare a word, too, for Rossetti's sister 
Christina, who probably derived much of her mystical 
religious faith from the Commedia. 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 99 

transition to Rossetti's original poetry, which 
reproduces all the poetic diction and methods, all 
the mystic love and tenderness of Dante's lyrics. 1 

Great as was Rossetti the poet, we rank Rossetti 
the artist yet higher. But before touching his im- 
portance in this field, we would for a moment go 
back to the sources from which he drew his inspi- 
ration. And here, in the domain of Art, Dante 
stands before us a truly imposing figure ! From 
some points of view it may be said that the grand 
religious art of Italy forms the best and noblest 
commentary to the Com media. It has ever been 
thus : the history of culture teaches us, in more 
epochs than one, that poetry engendered by 
religion, in its turn gives birth to art. Homer 
forms a striking parallel to Dante. He, too, 
stood at the threshold of his country's glory in 
literature and art. Like the Commedia, the Homeric 
poems contain plastic and picturesque motives of 
such beauty, that the artists were dazzled by their 
splendour, and sought in them their inspiration. 

We may construct a complete theory of art from 

1 We believe it to be generally recognised that the more 
recent cultivation by English poets, such as Swinburne, 
Andrew Lang, and Gosse, of other forms of old verse, notably 
the French, is mainly due to the influence of Rossetti, who 
first opened their eyes to the beauty of the Romance metres. 



ioo THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

Dante's works, the essence of which is contained 
in the words : All beauty is divine : 

La divina bonta, che da se sperne 
Ogni livore, ardendo in se sfavilla 
Si che dispiega le bellezze eterne. 

Par. vii. 64. 

That Nature stands half-way between God and 
Art, is made clear in the following well-known 
passage : 

Filosofia, mi disse, a chi la intende, 
Nota, non pure in una sola parte, 
Come natura lo suo corso prende 
Dal divino intelletto e da sua arte. 
E, se tu ben la tua Fisica note, 
Tu troverai, non dopo molte carte, 
Che 1' arte vostra quella, quanto puote, 
Segue, come il maestro fa il discente ; 
Si che vostr' arte a Dio quasi e nipote. 

Inf. xi. 97- 

Most wonderful for his time are his notions of the 
Ideal of Art : 

Qual di pennel fu maestro o di stile, 
Che ritraesse 1' ombre e i tratti, ch' ivi 
Mirar farieno ogn' ingegno sottile ? 
Morti li morti, e i vivi parean vivi : 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 101 

Non vide me' di me chi vide il vero, 
Quant 'io calcai fin che chinato givi. 

Purg. xii. 64. 

Or when he speaks of 

. . . marmo candido ed adorno 
D' intagli si che non pur Policreto, 
Ma la natura Ji avrebbe scorno. — Purg. x. 31. * 

However, with true artistic instinct he feels that 
this ideal can never be attained : 

Ma or convien che il mio seguir desista 
Piu dietro a sua bellezza, poetando, 
Come all' ultimo suo ciascuno artista. 

Par. xxx. 31. 
Or: 

Ma la natura la da sempre scema, 

Similemente operando all' artista 

C ha 1' abito dell' arte e man che trema. 

Par. xiii. 76. 

1 The great advance marked by these passages will be 
brought into greater relief, if we set them by the side of the 
following words from the Nibelungenlied, which express the 
theory and practice current in the Middle Ages : " Thus 
stood so lovely the child of Siegelinde, as if he were limned 
on parchment by a master's art ; for all granted that hero so 
beautiful they had never seen." (vv. 1137-1140, according to 
Lachmann). 



V§2y THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 
Or again : 

Vero e che come forma non s' accorda 
Molte fiate alia intenzion dell' arte, 
Perch 'a risponder la materia e sorda ; 

Par. i. 127. 

Dante tell us himself, in the passage from the 
Inferno we have just quoted, that for the theory of 
God, Nature, and Art he is indebted to Aristotle. 
Of course his direct source is the Summa of Aquinas, 
which contains the aesthetics of the Christian 
Middle Ages. The Pantheistic theory of Universal 
Nature had already sunk deep into Christian 
thought, but it was reserved for Dante to carry 
this theory into practice. He was the first to open 
his eyes to the wonders of nature around him, and 
to depict them with a keenness of observation 
and a beauty of expression that have never been 
surpassed. 1 He studied all natural phenomena 
with the eye and the intellect of one that loved 
all Beauty not only for its own sake, but as reflect- 
ing Him that created all things. Nor did he 
limit himself to Nature alone. Nothing, provided 
only it came from personal observation, did Dante 
consider beneath the dignity of supplying those 

1 Ruskin speaks somewhere in his Modern Painters of 
" getting the abstract of mediaeval landscape out of Dante." 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 103 

images which form one of the chief beauties of his 
poem : x he never hesitated to avail himself of the 
most insignificant occurrences of everyday life in 
order to illustrate his meaning. We must always 
bear in mind that Dante wrote in the first instance 
for his contemporaries, and he evidently knew that 
they would appreciate his "naturalism," in how- 
ever crude a form it might be expressed. And it 
is thus we picture Dante's age to ourselves, as 
perfectly ripe, after generations of theory, for this 
new phase of feeling, which was soon to find its 
most perfect expression in art. It is plain that 
the Byzantine school of painting could no longer 
appeal to popular sympathy. In the same way 
that Dante had given up all the conventionalities 
of the mediaeval poets, such as their use of the 
bestiaries, in order to draw his inspiration at the 
pure fount of Nature herself, we see the Italian 
painters, from Giotto onwards, treating the usual 
scenes from the Holy Scriptures in a totally new 
spirit, and arousing general enthusiasm : 

Credette Cimabue nella pittura 

Tener lo campo, ed ora ha Giotto il grido, 

Si che la fama di colui e oscura. — Purg. xi. 94. 

x i 

1 Thorwaldsen, among other subjects from Dante, actually 
based the representation of a flock of sheep, to form part of a 
work destined for the Quirinal (1811), on the lovely descrip- 
tion in Purg. iii. 79-84. 



104 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

Not only do we find the new aesthetic theory 
perfectly expressed in the Comedy, not only does 
the religious art of Italy regard that work as 
one of its chief sources of inspiration, but we 
may, with every probability of truth, assume that 
Giotto, the founder of the new school, developed 
his artistic principles in direct personal inter- 
course with the poet himself. The fact that so 
many of Giotto's finest compositions are mani- 
festly inspired by the Commedia, speaks conclu- 
sively for the poet's influence on the new artistic 
movement. We need only mention the Annun- 
ziata in the little church of Padua, the frescoes 
in the Church of S. Francesco at Ravenna (where 
Dante was living at the time), the visions of the 
Apocalypse at Naples (painted, as Vasari tells 
us, according to Dante's hints), the paintings 
of the life of S. Francesco at Assisi (where the 
saint, marrying Poverty, is obviously drawn from 
the nth canto of the Paradiso). 1 It is, of course, 

1 There is a famous passage in the Decavieroti (vi. 5), 
where Giotto is said to paint so naturally, "that often, in the 
things done by him, it has happened that men's power of 
vision was in error, in that they considered that to be real 
which was in truth painted." (Cf. this with Purg. xii. 
64-69, quoted on pp. 94, 95.)— Philip Villani says of him that 
poesis extitit cemiilator. 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 105 

impossible to dwell on each of the succeeding 
painters at equal length, and we shall content our- 
selves by quoting what Professor Middleton says 
of Giotto, that he is " perhaps the most important 
painter in the history of the development of art, 
for during the whole of the 14th century the 
painters of Florence may be said to have been 
his pupils or imitators." 

On the one hand we have a new terrorism in 
art, which may be traced to the Inferno, while, on 
the other hand, the symbolism of the Paradiso, 
the mingling of theology, poetry, and mysticism, 
the angels and the saints, exercised a charm over 
the minds of the leading painters that was des- 
tined to be more lasting still. These noble sub- 
jects inspired the old Italians to the composition 
of works of art, which, in spite of their crude 
technique, may rank with the masterpieces of all 
times. It was not to be expected, however, that 
the ideal conceived by Dante should have been 
attained by his contemporary. Botticelli was 
already a distinct advance on Giotto, and, like 
him, a worshipper of Dante. The illustrations to 
the Comedy sufficiently bring out all the points of 
this "superiority. It has been held by some, 
notably by the pre-Raphaelite school, that with 
this painter the apogee of Christian art had been 



106 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

attained. Be this as it may, we cannot help con- 
sidering that the climax of Dante's glory was 
reached when Raphael and Michelangelo also 
paid their tribute to his genius. The frescoes in 
the Salla della Segnatura in the Sistine Chapel 
breathe all the mystic symbolism of the Paradiso. 
Especially instructive would be a minute study of 
the Disputa. 1 And, at a later period of the 
painter's life, we have the grand Tratisfiguration, 
in which the conception of the Divine and human 
nature was evidently inspired by Dante's dualism. 

We must not gauge Michelangelo's indebted- 
ness to Dante by any single examples. He was, 
indeed, far too great a man to follow any one 
blindly, and the stamp of his own genius is to be 
found deeply impressed on all his works ; but that 
his genius was in a large measure moulded on that 
of Dante, is a fact that scarcely needs a word of 
proof. Byron may well make Dante in the 
Prophecy say of Michelangelo : 

The stream of his great thoughts shall spring from me. 

We find in him and in his works the same 
severity, haughtiness, and independence, the same 

■ To give a single instance, we might select the figure of 
Theology, in the fresco illustrating that science ; it is mani- 
festly traceable to Purg. xxx. 31 ff. 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. 107 

patriotism, the same love of all that is good and 
true, and contempt for meanness, mediocrity, and 
flattery, the same intense sadness and thought of 
things beyond the tomb. As the contemplated 
statue of Dante remained a project, and as the 
illustrations to the Comedy were lost at sea, we 
must value all the more the sonnets addressed by 
Michelangelo to the man he revered above all 
others, as the only direct testimony remaining 
to us of the sympathy inspired by one of the 
greatest geniuses of all times, in the breast of one 
who was in every way worthy to be his disciple. 
In spite of all that Dante had to suffer, Michel- 
angelo is led by his veneration for the poet to 
exclaim : 

Fuss' io pur lui ! ch 'a tal fortuna nato, 
Per 1' aspro esilio suo, con la virtute, 
Dare' del mondo il piu felice stato. 

This is not the place to tell over again the old 
story of the influence of the Italian art in Europe, 
nor is it our intention to relate its decline in Italy. 
We would only recall the pregnant words of Cor- 
nelius, which we quoted at the outset, the truth of 
which is sufficiently attested by the fact that art 
critics, especially in Italy, are at the present day 
continually calling on the young generation of 



108 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

painters to draw on Dante for their subjects. 1 
Since the middle of the last century the power 
of Dante's episodes has gradually attracted painters 
of every nationality. We cannot attempt to 
deal with Italy, for that would lead us too 
far, and must content ourselves with the single 
example of Dupre, who once wrote : — " Credo 
averti detto piu volte, che spesso, posando lo 
scalpello, leggo la Divina Commedia." In the 
1 6th century the Dutch painter Stradanus, a 
pupil of Vasari, made those extraordinary illus- 
trations to the Comedy which have only quite 
recently been given to the world. In Ger- 
many there is Cornelius himself, whose designs 
for the Paradiso are so beautiful and con- 
ceived so thoroughly in the Dantesque spirit, that 
we cannot sufficiently regret the circumstances 
which prevented their execution as frescoes at his 
hands. In France, too, we have some of the 
most distinguished painters falling under the same 
sway : Ary Scheffer, for example, and Ingres, 
and the greatest of them all, Eugene Delacroix, 
whose Dante cult extended over the whole of his 

1 We may instance Pietro Selvatico, in his essay Delle 
atti belle in relazione a Dante (in the publication Dante e 
il suo secolo). — Cf. also Ruskin's advice concerning the figure 
of Charity in his Modern Painters. 




ON MODERN THOUGHT. 109 

life. In 1822 he made his debut with the famous 
Bark of Charon, and the Trajan of 1840 may 
certainly be assumed to be taken direct from the ' 
Purgatorio, while the Dante and Virgil of 1845 
is generally considered one of his very greatest 
works. 1 Speaking of the French Romantic art, 
Theophile Gautier says : " En ce temps — la, la 
peinture et la poesie fraternisaient. Les artistes 
lisaient les poetes et les poetes visitaient les 
artistes. On trouvait Shakespeare, Dante, Goethe, 
lord Byron et Walter Scott dans l'atelier comme 
dans le cabinet d'etude." 2 — Of Englishmen we shall 
content ourselves with naming Reynolds, Flaxman 
and the mystic Blake, before we return to the 
poet-painter, whose name must ever be associated 
with that of Dante in the annals of English art. 

Rossetti's importance for us does not lie so 
much in the fact that so many of his subjects are 
directly drawn from Dante, 3 as that he was one 

1 George Sand, alluding to his first period, says: "II 
s'est inspire du Dante, de Shakespeare et de Goethe, et 
les romantiques, ayant trouve en lui leur plus haute ex- 
pression, ont cru qu'il appartenait exclusivement a. leur ecole." 
(Histoire de ma vie. ) 

2 Histoire du Romantisme (chapter on Delacroix). 

3 Such are : Dante's Dream, Beata Beatrix, Paolo and 
Francesca, Dante and Beatrix, Bocca Baciata, Dante 
awakening from his Dream, &c. 



no THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

of the chief founders, the very centre, of the pre- 
Raphaelite school of painting. The Brotherhood 
strove to adhere as closely as possible to nature, 
as Giotto and his followers had done ; but, while 
borrowing this leading characteristic from the old 
Italians, the pupils naturally surpassed their masters 
in point of technique. It is not to be wondered at 
that the combination of these qualities, as repre- 
sented by several admirable artists, should have pro- 
duced a great impression on the artistic fashions 
and tastes of our time. Professor Middleton says 
of the school that "their rise, development, and 
wide-spread influence on painting have been the 
chief artistic event of the century." l 

Surely no writer has ever exercised an influence 
so intense on minds so varied. Shakespeare alone 
might be compared to Dante in this respect, but 
even then it must be borne in mind that the 

1 An artist summing up much of what we have been 
saying is Adolf Sturler, a pupil of Ingres, who, having been 
sent by his master to Rome, in order to study the Stanze, 
was, on the way, chained for twenty-five years to Florence, 
owing to the fascination exercised over him by Cimabue and 
Giotto. The chief work of his life are one hundred illus- 
trations of the Comedy, done in the style of these early 
Italians, which are for the most part admirable, and de- 
serving of a far wider recognition than they have as yet 
obtained. 



ON MODERN THOUGHT. in 

Commedia is a work far more abstruse than are 
the plays of Shakespeare, taken as a whole, and 
requires far more study for its full appreciation. — 
The distinguished critic, whose name is so closely 
linked to that of the pre-Raphaelites, appears to 
have formulated the greater part of his theories 
on art after an intense study of the Commedia, 
the fruits of which we see in all his writings, 
notably in the Modern Painters? 

In the realm of music we have Liszt's Dante 
Symphony, which is probably the greatest work 
of the master, who called it " das eigenste Kind 
seiner Leiden." Richard Wagner, to whom it is 
dedicated, and for the mystical and symbolical 
side of whose genius the Comedy must have had 
a great fascination, went so far as to say of the 
symphony: "Dies ist die Seele des Dante 'schen 
Gedichts in reinster Verklarung." 2 

If we turn to another department we find 
Dollinger earnestly advising all Italian statesmen 
to study the Commedia in every period of crisis, 
and to regard it as the Romans did their Sibylline 
books. In this connection we may mention that 

1 We -Jiave Mr. Ruskin's own testimony on this point in 
the Appendix hi., vol. III. of his works. 

" In the essay Das Publikum in Zeit und Rauni (Werke X.). 
Cf. also the Correspondence with Liszt. 



2 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

in the army of Dante translators figure prominently 
a King of Saxony and, quite recently, an ex-Presi- 
dent of the Argentine Republic, General Mitre, 
renowned as a great patriot and man of highest 
integrity. — We would also call attention to two 
conspicuous examples, in our own country, of 
statesmen who have devoted much of their time 
and thought to the poem. In Macaulay's diary 
we find the following entry, written in Florence 
(Nov. 3, 1838) : " I believe that very few people 
have ever had their minds more thoroughly pene- 
trated with the spirit of any great work than mine 
is with that of the Divine Comedy." Bearing in 
mind certain magnanimous traits in Macaulay's 
character, we would interpret this as meaning 
principally moral influence, and we would apply 
the same remark to the case of Mr. Gladstone, 
from whom we have the following emphatic utter- 
ance : * " You have been good enough to call that 
1 supreme poet ' a solemn master for me. These 
are not empty words. The reading of Dante is 
not merely a pleasure, a tour de force, or a lesson, 
it is a rigorous discipline for the heart, the 
intellect, the whole man. In the school of Dante 
I have learnt a great part of that mental provision 

1 From a letter to Giuliani, which appeared in the 
Standard, September I, 1 883. 




ON MODERN THOUGHT. 

(however insignificant it be) which has servi 
to make the journey of life up to the term of nearly 
seventy-three years. And I should like to extend 
your excellent phrase, and to say that he who 
labours for Dante, labours to serve Italy, Chris- 
tianity, the world." 

It is touching to hear from the lips of men who 
have been sceptics all their lives, how they have 
been solaced in their old age by a study of the 
great religious poem. Schlosser is a good illustra- 
tion of what we mean. He tells us in his Dante- 
Studien : "One who has, like Dante, beside whom 
the author scarcely ventures to name himself, 
borne the heavy burden of life's toil and strife, and 
who, from a spiritual want, has found no satisfaction 
in scientific, philosophical and theological studies, 
and who, at the same time, does not choose to 
bear the yoke ot blind faith, which some people 
again wish to impose on humanity, will seek for 
solace in Dante. For he cannot find refuge from 
the hubbub of the time either in scientific studies 
of nature and the inner connection of all her 
phenomena, as they are now taught, or in true 
mysticism. A definition of true or false mysticism 
the author cannot give in this place, because 
he does not wish to philosophise nor, indeed, to 
teach anything systematically, but only to make it 

8 



& 



THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 



clear how he, who is accustomed to regard life on 
earth in an absolutely earthly light, has, in his 
solitude, made use of Dante, Landino, and 
Vellutello, in order to infuse a heavenly light into 
his inner life. He might perhaps have found 
consolation also in the doctrines of the more 
recent natural philosophers, who see God in the 
close relationship existing between all natural 
phenomena, on which ground they are wrongly 
named Materialists or Pantheists ; but, on the one 
hand, he was too little acquainted with the con- 
nection existing between all natural phenomena, 
while, on the other, the fact remained that, as the 
apostle expresses it, ' the spirit truly is ready, but 
the flesh is weak.' He continued, then, to believe 
in a double — an inner and an outer world. Dante 
appeared to him great just because he had 
grasped both these existences, and because he is, 
on the one hand, as practical and historically 
critical, as he is, on the other, quite lost in the 
ideal of Divine and human wisdom, and Love and 
Mercy and Truth (his Beatrice)." * 

The younger Hallam, in the oration we have 

1 Of Auguste Comte we are told that "he looked on the 
daily reading of a canto of the Commedia and a chapter of 
the De Imitalione as an almost essential element in the 
spiritual self-culture of the religion of humanity.' 1 



ON MODERN THO UGHT. 1 1 5 

already had occasion to quote, is interesting as 
representing a more purely Christian sentiment. 
He is strongly against the German Materialists and 
their followers in this country, and urges with great 
fervour the study of Dante in order to counteract 
their influence. 1 

The moral influence ot the Commedia would 
appear, indeed, to have taken root more deeply in 
England 2 than in any other country outside Italy, 

1 The historian Hallam, in the memoir prefixed to his son's 
writings, speaks of Dante as " a poet who was afterwards 
to become, more perhaps than any other, the master-mover 
of his spirit." — In the In Memoriam (lxxxix.) we have 
a pleasant passage which shows us that Tennyson was 
probably urged to study the poet by the example of his 
young friend : 

O bliss, when all in circle drawn 
About him, heart and ear were fed 
To hear him, as he lay and read 
The Tuscan poets on the lawn. 

2 In 1887 appeared Hoio Dante climbed the Mountain 
(Sunday Readings with the Children from the Purgatorio), 
by Rose Selfe. In a preface the Bishop of Ripon, Dr. 
Carpenter, agrees with the authoress that the "story of the 
Purgatory is within the grasp of children, and that it is full 
of clear and bright teaching ; rightly used it becomes a sort 
of Pilgrim's Progress, full of deep truth and life-lessons." 
Another characteristic publication is Dante's Pilgrim's Pro- 
gress, or the Passage of the Blessed Soul from the Slavery of 
the Present Corruption to the Liberty of the Eternal Glory," 



n6 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

where Dante has naturally always been regarded 
as a moral teacher, ever since Boccaccio, probably 
at the instigation of the authorities, made so many 
of his lectures on the poem partake of the nature 
of sermons. It is surely no mere coincidence 
that so many of our leading divines are, or have 
been, among the most zealous students of the 
poet, and that they should have done so much 
for the appreciation of his work in England. The 
names of Milman, Church, Liddon, Plumptre, 
Farrar, occur to us at the present moment, and the 
list might easily be augmented. There is a 
passage in Archdeacon Farrar's sermon on Dante z 
that so well represents the spirit of the Dante 
studies with which we are dealing, that we give 
it in spite of its length : " It is because such a 
poet seems to me peculiarly fitted to search and 
elevate this age, and to make it blush for its 
favourite vices, that I have ventured to speak of 

by Emilia Gurney (1893). This book is dedicated to Dr. 
Carpenter, who, in a letter prefixed, says that " in Dante, 
as in more sacred literature, c the letter killeth, and the spirit 
giveth life ; ' " while the general preface reproduces in sub- 
stance what Arthur Hallam said sixty years ago. — Similar in 
tendency are, among others, J. H. Morison's Dante (in The 
Great Poets as Religious Teachers, 1886), and Mr. Wick- 
steed's Sermons. 

1 Sermons and Addresses delivered in America. 



ON MODERN THO UGHT. 117 

him. There is no function which poets can fulfil 
comparable to their high posthumous privilege of 
permanently enriching the blood of the world and 
raising humanity to higher levels. Nations that 
possess such poets as Dante and Milton ought 
never to degenerate. But they belong not to 
nations only, but to all the world. If any young 
men should chance to be among my audience 
to-night, I would earnestly invite them to hold 
high and perpetual companionship with such souls 
as these. And if there should be any here who 
have hitherto found their chief delight in meaner 
things, which dwarf the intellectual faculties and 
blunt the moral sense, I would fain hope that here 
and there one of them may be induced to turn 
away from such follies, to breathe the pure, 
difficult, eager air of severe and holy poems like 
the Divina Com media and the Paradise LostP 
And after these eloquent words follows a regular 
sermon, with moral precepts based on the text of 
the Comedy. 

Dante may be compared to the Hebrew pro- 
phets in the sublimity of his language, the stern- 
ness of his aims, the depth of his meaning. If 
we would come under the sway of his mighty 
poem, and profit by its profound teaching, we 
must, above all, grasp the wonderful allegorical 




THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE 

significance that is " hidden beneath the veil of 
the strange verses." Writing to Can Grande, 
Dante said : " If the poem is taken in its alle- 
gorical sense, it treats of man, according as he is 
entitled to praise or blame through the freedom 
of his will, and subject to the rule of rewarding or 
avenging Justice." * 

To follow from age to age, and from country to 
country — in more detail than was possible, or 
indeed called for, in the present sketch — the 
changing fortunes of Dante studies, would be one 
of the most interesting of literary investigations, 
as it would, at the same time, constitute an im- 
portant contribution to the history of European 
morals. It is significant that the present century, 

1 We must not forget that Dante tells us in several passages 
that his aim was didactic. Thus, for example, in the same 
letter to Can Grande : " The aim of the whole and of the 
individual parts is to redeem those who live in this world 
from the state of misery and to lead them to the state of 
bliss." — Or where he makes Cacciaguida address him as 
follows : 

. . . se la voce tua sara molesta 
Nel primo gusto, vital nutrimento 
Lascera poi quando sara digesta. 

Par. xvii. 130. 

Ct. also the Se Dio ti lasci, lettor, p?-ender frutto Di tua 
lezione, of Inf. xx. 19; Piirg. xxx. 136-138; Purg. xxxii. 
103-105, &c, &c. 



ON MODERN THO UGHT. 1 19 

which has witnessed more than any of the pre 
ceding ones an ever-widening circle of culture, and 
the largest additions to the store of our knowledge, 
in every department of science and thought, should 
also have witnessed the raising of the matchless 
figure of Dante to a pinnacle it had never before 
attained. 

The primary causes of this universal interest in 
the great Italian are certainly to be sought in that 
mighty wave of cosmopolitanism which swept over 
Europe after the Revolution, embracing all ages 
and all countries. Medievalism, with which we 
are here concerned, was only a portion of that 
great revulsion and widening of thought, and in 
connection with this, as we have seen, sprang up 
the Gothic Revival and various schools in religion, 
letters, and art. Now, if we combine all this with 
the consideration of a phenomenon which Karl 
Hillebrand was the first to point out distinctly, 1 
namely, that our latest phase of literary 7 and 
historical criticism is to study the masterpieces of 
literature mainly with the view of becoming better 
acquainted with the ages that produced them (as 
opposed to the old-fashioned opposite course) ; 
and if we, finally, bear in mind that Dante was 
instinctively felt on all sides to embody in a 
1 In his Etudes ltaliennes. 



120 THE INFLUENCE OF DANTE. 

marvellous way that Middle Age which was 
attracting such an enormous share of public 
attention and thought — then, we think, the whole 
mystery is explained, why he began to be 
studied by the theologian, by the man of letters, 
by the artist, and then by the public that desired 
to comprehend these. And thus, in the end, Dante 
himself gave a further impulse to the studies which 
had, in the first instance, been, to a large extent, 
the cause of his own revival. 

The chasm between ancient and modern times, 
which so long had gone by the name of the " Dark 
Ages," has been proved to be a mere phantas- 
magoria under the searching light of modern 
scholarship. We now have an unbroken record 
of the world's history. The Middle Ages have 
become thoroughly explored, and may be summed 
up in the great personality of Dante. From his 
high beacon he will continue to spread light to 
coming generations, who will derive guidance and 
solace from his example and his teaching. 



UNWIN BROTHERS, THE GRESHAM PRESS, CHILWORTH AND LONDON. 



ADDITION. 

As footnote to " avoided" p. 21, line 7 from top. 

The efforts of the trobadors and their imitators in this 
direction are more or less conventional ; and though this 
conventionality has left its mark on Dante's earlier poetry, 
there are absolutely no traces of it in the Com media. 



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