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while the Commedia-which has, we think, been erroneously compared to a vast pile of Gothic architecture, for there is in it nothing merely ornamental, every part, however minute, having its use and application—may best be likened, having the Inferno chiefly in view, to a maze or labyrinth, involved in circles and bewildered with partitions, in which the stranger is almost certain to lose his way till he is furnished with a ground-plan, when, to his surprise, he finds that all is regular and formed on a determined plan. The structure too was designed by its author to answer only a temporary purpose; and had the event which it was intended to produce early taken place, it would have been left to sink into oblivion, if not preserved by its poetic merits.
In the time of Dante, as we learn from his own writings and those of Petrarca and Boccaccio, it was an established dogma, that poetry and other works of imagination had, and should have, beside the literal sense, one or more secret senses. Of these senses Dante enumerates four,—the literal, the allegoric, the moral, and the anagogic.* He gives as an example the psalm, In exitu Israel de Ægypto, etc., where he says the allegoric sense is, our redemption through Christ; the moral, the conversion of the soul from the grief and misery of sin to a state of grace; the anagogic, the passage of a holy soul from the servitude of this corruption to the liberty of eternal glory. This notion probably had its origin in the Midrashes or allegoric interpretations of the Rabbin, which were adopted and imitated by the Fathers, and hence the typology, etc. of Scripture. Of all the classic poets, Virgil was the one in whom this principle was supposed to prevail most; every line of the Bucolics and Æneis was regarded as pregnant with secret meaning. Over and over again Petrarca declares such to be his belief.
Dante in his letter to Can Grande della Scala tells him that
* Litera gesta refert, quid credas Allegoria,
Moralis quid agas, quid speres Anagogia. We know not who composed these verses. The second and third senses, it should be observed, are often the same,
the secret “subject of his poem is man, in as far as, by merit or demerit, after the freedom of his will, he is obnoxious to the rewards or penalties of Justice ;" on which an old commentator observes : “So that from these words you may infer that, according to the allegoric sense, the poet treats of that Hell in which, travelling as wayfarers, we are capable of merit or demerit;" i.e. that the Hell, and consequently the Purgatory and the Paradise, of the poem, are on this earth and in this life. Dante himself tells us repeatedly that there is a deep and secret sense in his verses. On one occasion he cries out:
O voi che avete gl' intelletti sani,
Sotto il velame delli versi strani. Now, as religion is plainly the second or allegoric sense, and the moral sense is too plain and obvious to be the subject of such anxious concealment and mystery, the natural inquiry is, what is the anagogic or most important sense ? This, we think, is clearly told in the inscription on the poet's tomb at Ravenna, said to have been composed by himself :
Jura Monarchiæ, Superos, Phlegethonta, Lacusque
Lustrando, cecini, voluerunt Fata quousque, etc. That is to say, that the object of the poem was political, — namely, the diffusion of Ghibellinism, the cause of the Emperor, in opposition to Guelfism, or that of the Papacy. The God of the poem is the Emperor, the vicegerent of the Deity on earth ; his adversary the Pope is therefore Lucifer. Hell is the world, or rather Italy, under the one; Paradise is the same under its rightful sovereign. The Inferno is, in this view, the most terrific satire ever written, and deeply therefore did it concern the poet to veil its secret and real sense so closely that it should only be known to the initiated.
From what precedes, the reader will perceive that we have embraced the theory of Rossetti on this subject. We confess the fact, and are ready to take our share of the scoffs and sneers of ignorance, prejudice, and malevolence; for in all that has been written against Rossetti, we have discerned nothing else.* It is now nearly a quarter of a century since we first became acquainted with his theory, by reading the Spirito Antipapale. Before we had gone through a hundred pages of that work, we saw clearly that that theory was the truth. We have since read this and his other writingst over and over again; we have studied and meditated on the works of Dante, Petrarca, and others, and our conviction has become stronger and stronger each day; and if we possess any character for sense and judgement, we are willing to stake it on the issue of this question. We will at the same time boldly assert that we feel ourselves to be as capable of forming an opinion on it
of Rossetti’s critics. The day, we are confident, will come when the work left incomplete by Rossetti, for want of encouragement, will be taken up and perfected; not in England certainly, for the English mind is most alien from such studies, 1-nor do we think in Italy, or even in France, but in Germany, where the theories started elsewhere, as in the case of Beaufort and Astruc, are carried out to their utmost limits. The literature of the Middle Ages, now so enigmatic, will then become clear, and the secret doctrine which pervades it be developed and explained.
* See two articles in those extinct Reviews, the Foreign and the British and Foreign, evidently by the same hand, and the poor and feeble article by A. W. Schlegel in the Revue des Deux Mondes. The French writers Ozanam and Delécluze have treated Rossetti with respect and courtesy.
+ These are the Comento on the Inferno, the Spirito Antipapale, the Amor Platonico, and the Beatrice, of which only the First Part was published. Rossetti entrusted the MS. for translation to a Frenchman named Aroux, who, instead of translating it, has written a work of his own from Rossetti's works, hardly noticing his authority.
| The allegories of the Faery Queen have never been fully explained. It is now a century since Upton's edition was published, and nothing has been done since ; for Todd's is, like his Milton, mere compilation. Upton's edition is not to be had, and half a century has not exhausted a single impression of Todd's. Much remains to be done by a sagacious editor. We may also notice the slow sale of our own Mythology of Greece and Italy, as a proof of this turn of the English mind. Even the Fairy Mythology is generally regarded as a collection of absurd or amusing stories, rather than as what it is a part of the philosophy of fiction.
As a test of the correctness of Rossetti's views, we would challenge his opponents to prove that the lion, the wolf, and the panther which the poet sees in the first canto of the Inferno, do not denote France, Rome, and Florence; that the exclamation of Plutus at the beginning of the seventh canto is not
Pap' è Satan, Pap' è Satan Aleppe ;* that the Città di Dite and what is related of it do not mean Florence and the approach to it of the Emperor Henry VII.; that it is not the same city and the embassy of the Cardinal di Prato that is the subject of the broad, contemptuous, and biting satire of the twenty-first and following canto; and, finally, that the deep well which occupies the middle of the Inferno, with its floor of ice and Lucifer in the centre of it, do not represent Rome and Guelfic Papacy. We will develope this last a little.
When Dante and Virgil, his guide, have been carried down by the demon of fraud, the triple Geryon, i.e. the Papacy, into the inclined plain named Malebolge, where in ten concentric hollow circles the fraudulent are punished, the poetgiving one of his usual hints—compares those whom he sees moving in the first circle to the pilgrims passing the bridge of St. Angelo at Rome, at the time of the Jubilee. He also compares these circles and the bridges that cross them, to the fosses surrounding a fortress: the ninth of them, he says, is twenty-two, and the tenth eleven miles, in circuit; as they approach the central well he sees towers, as it were, all round it, and he asks what town it is they are approaching. When he comes nearer he finds that these supposed towers are giants, and he compares the head of the first of them that he discerns, to the ball of St. Peter's at Rome. He is let down into the well by one of these giants, and there he beholds in the centre Lucifer with three faces, red, black, and yellow, and with a traitor in each mouth.
* The discovery was made by a young lady with whom Rossetti was reading Dante, and the same thing happened in two instances to ourselves. The explanation is : these ladies, being unacquainted with Latin, were not misled by papæ ! and as they had been told that Dante's Satan was the Pope, they easily discerned the true meaning of the word.
Now the circuit of the walls of Rome is about eleven miles, and in the time of Dante there was, or was supposed to be, a fosse twenty-two miles in compass at some distance from the walls. Dante's whole poem is founded on Scripture, especially the writings of St. John, and in the Apocalypse, Satan, the beast, and the false prophet are combined, and unclean spirits come out of their mouths. Moreover the Whore of Babylon-a usual term at the time for the Papacy—is represented as seated upon many waters, represented here as frozen by the chilling blasts from the wings of Lucifer, to denote the evil effects of the influence of Guelfic-Papism.
The reader who reflects seriously on these coincidences will probably hesitate before he absolutely rejects the new theory. We could multiply proofs, were not this a kind of digression, and our work devoted to another subject. We will only add, that the Purgatory is the opposite of the Hell, and teaches how to escape from its evils; that the grand scene in the terrestrial Paradise, and the descent of Beatrice, represents the condition of the Church down to the fourteenth century; and that-let not the reader start—the Paradise is "the grandiose image of a Masonic Lodge.”
The tenable* portions of Rossetti's theory seem to us to be as follows. The Manicheans, who derived their origin from Persia, used a language of double sense, regarding their own system as the religion of the Spirit or of Love. They settled in Italy and the South of France, and, gradually changing many of their tenets, became the sect known under the names of Albigenses, Paterini, etc., so hostile to the Papacy, and so anxious for a reform in the Church. The Troubadours were mostly of this reformed religion; and their love-verses, which appear so forced and unnatural to critics, were in general of a mystic nature, the mistress whom they celebrated being
We use this term because, in our opinion, many of his positions are utterly untenable ; his imagination often led him astray, and thus laid him open to the scoffs and sneers of uncandid critics.