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and the dictation of his heart. There never was a trace of reserve, suspicion, or pride about him; sometimes he was gently satirical, but never bitter. He entered with all his heart into the enjoyment of the hour, and, like every such person, exerted a sunny influence round him, keeping all in good-humor with him and with themselves. But he had other recommendations of a higher order. As soon as his income rose above poverty, half of it was spent in acts of charity and kindness; and in every way in his power he served those who needed or deserved his aid. To aristocratic influence he did not pay much regard, but merit was sure of his respect. Thus, the celebrated Laplace, when a young man, came to Paris, bringing letters to him from divers magnates in his native city. Finding that these were not attended to, the young student wrote him a letter on the principles of mechanics, which received immediate attention, and in the course of the week obtained for him a professorship in the military school.
This great man died at the age of sixty-seven; and after his death it was discovered that his sympathies on the subject of religion had taken the side of unbelievers. While he lived, he had avoided the subject, and never wrote any thing in reference to it which could give offence or pain; but in communicating with Frederic and Voltaire, their selfish and sneering natures appear to have overborne the moderation and kindness of his own. As for Frederic, it is some comfort to think that he was not a Christian, since Christianity cannot be made responsible for the stony hardness of his heart; and even Voltaire, though there was much of a redeeming nature about him, was a sort of person whom Christianity might be well content to disown. But it is unfortunate that D'Alembert, with his kind heart and genial nature, should have mistaken the Christianity of Christians for that of the gospel, and thus have rejected a religion which he was never fortunate enough to know. And yet, as Lord Brougham suggests, there is great excuse for those who formed their impressions of the religion of Jesus from what they saw in the church; it was no wonder that their minds and hearts rose up against it; but had they endeavoured to inform themselves on the subject, they would have seen that the sentence which the gospel pronounced against it was even severer than theirs.
We need say no more of these portraits, which are paint
ed with a bold and confident, but of course an able, hand. They are instructive and entertaining, and the sooner the rest follow, the more welcome they will be. Considering his Lordship's mathematical tastes and talent, it might have been well to have devoted himself exclusively to men of science; yet few will be inclined to complain that his range was more extended.
ART. III.1. La Divine Comédie avant Dante.
2. Études sur les Sources Poétiques de la Divine Comédie. Par A. J. OZANAM. Paris: Lecoffre & Cnie.
THE object of these two interesting essays is to show the sources whence Dante drew his poetic inspiration. Such an undertaking would have excited general disapprobation some forty or fifty years ago, and the two learned persons whose works we have before us would have been accused of wishing to depreciate the genius of the great Florentine poet. No such feeling is now entertained; literary criticism. having made so much progress of late years, we are all convinced, that to subject the works of men of genius to such an analysis is not to diminish their glory, but rather to add to it, inasmuch as it shows their superiority to their predecessors. In the proper sense of the word, it is not given to man to create; God alone possesses this power. The man of genius, like the architect who in executing the plan he has conceived makes use of the rough stone, may collect and arrange those materials which he finds dispersed in the world, but he can never give life to that which is not. His task is to put order in the place of disorder, to give light to that which was veiled in darkness. Thus it is with Dante. He found the materials which he used for the composition of his immortal poem, he collected them, and gave them the unity and harmony which the man of genius alone can impart to his works. To require that he should lead us through the three regions of eternal life, without following any other light than that of his own genius, without having gathered any of VOL. LXIV. No. 134.
the flowers which bloom so profusely through the works of the ancients, without any precedents to justify the bold imaginings of his Muse, and without having profited by those legends so frequent in the poetic and imaginative religion of the Middle Ages, is to ask more than man can give.
On studying with attention the Divina Commedia, it is impossible not to see that Dante was indebted to his predecessors and contemporaries for some of the greatest beauties of his poem. The treasures of antiquity, as well as those of Christianity, were made to contribute to the formation of
"the sacred work that made
Both heaven and earth copartners in the toil,” *
a work which, after a lapse of five hundred years, still excites the admiration of all, of the Protestant as well as the Catholic, and even of those who are, in general, averse to meditating upon death and eternity, the two great subjects which Dante sang.
We may trace in the Divina Commedia three distinct sources of inspiration; the writings of the ancients, the poetic visions of the Middle Ages, and external circumstances, including the works of art which in Dante's time were so plentifully scattered throughout Europe. We shall endeavour to examine successively how far Dante was indebted to each of these sources. To those who, from their admiration for the great poet, or from their taste for literary antiquities in general, may feel interested in this subject, we recommend the perusal of the two works now under review. They are, we believe, with the exception of an article in the Edinburgh Review for September, 1818, written by Ugo Foscolo, the only attempts which have as yet been made to elucidate a subject of so much interest to the literary world.
The first source from which sprung the Divina Commedia is to be found in the works of antiquity. At all times the imaginations of the Greeks were accustomed to visions of things beyond this world. Homer had led Ulysses into the realms of Pluto; Euripides, in the Alcestis and the Hercules Furens, had represented his heroes descending into Hades; Sophocles had shown the son of Jupiter and Alcmene carrying off
"Il poema sacro
Al quale ha posto mano e cielo e terra.". Paradiso, Cant. XXV.
Cerberus. Similar marvellous narratives formed the subjects of two tragedies of Eschylus, the Psychagogia and the Adventures of Sisyphus, both unfortunately lost to us. These fables were well adapted to please the imaginative inhabitants of Greece, who were always inclined to look beyond this world for that retribution which cannot be found in our present state of existence.
But we must not seek in the works of the Greek poets for any thing beyond fine descriptions and poetical images of a future state. We must not look for those pure and spiritual delineations of eternal life which Plato alone had dimly conceived before they were fully brought to light by divine revelation. The Greek poets, in so frequently laying the scene of dramatic and epic action in another world, have merely shown that this was a favorite subject with the people for whom they wrote. Plato has done more; he has led us still farther into the kingdom of Death. He has shown, with a sense of justice which had never before been witnessed in pagan antiquity, the punishments and rewards reserved for those who have left this world. In the narrative of Her, an Armenian soldier, Plato has given a description of the invisible world. This soldier, says Plato, was killed in battle. Ten days after his death, his body was found on the field in a perfect state of preservation. It was placed on a funeral pile to be burned, when life returned, and Her rose to relate to the bystanders what he had seen.
"As soon as my soul had left the body," said he, "I arrived, together with a great number of other souls, at a most wonderful place. In the ground were two openings, close together, and in the heavens were two other openings, which corresponded with those in the earth. Between these two regions were seated the Judges. As soon as they had passed sentence on a soul, they ordered it, if it was one of the just, to take the road up to heaven, which was to the right; they had previously placed on its breast a label inscribed with the judgment which had been pronounced in its favor. If, on the contrary, it was the soul of one condemned, it was ordered to turn to the left, and to enter one of the openings in the ground; each carried on its back an inscription enumerating all the wicked actions it had committed during its life. When I presented myself, the judges decreed that I should return to the
The Republic. Book X.
world to relate what I had seen, and ordered me to hear and to notice every thing that should take place."
Her then describes the manner in which the souls were punished or rewarded. His narrative does not at all resemble the descriptions of the infernal regions so common among the poets of antiquity. There is something in it more elevated, more pure, more terrible; it seems to be the first step towards that doctrine which, a few centuries later, regenerated the world. We must not say that Plato placed unlimited trust in such narratives; but he knew the vast importance of these symbolic representations of moral truths. In his Phædo, he has said, "To maintain that all these things are as I relate them would not be possible for a man of sense; but whether all I have said about the souls and the place of their abode is true or not, if the soul is really immortal, it seems to me that it may be believed without danger."
Five centuries after Plato, we find a similar narrative in a work of Plutarch: De his qui a numine serò puniuntur, Thespesius of Cilicia returns to the world after his death, and relates what he had seen. "He had lived," says Plutarch, in the indulgence of sensual pleasures. His vision of eternity sanctified and purified him."
The Romans, whose literature is, after all, but an admirable imitation of that of Greece, the reflection of a brilliant light, naturally transferred to their works the taste of the former for the marvellous. Cicero, in the last book of his Republic, has given us the Dream of Scipio, which, in the work of the Roman philosopher, takes the place of Plato's Vision of Her. Scipio the younger, in a dream, imagined that his ancestor, Scipio Africanus, appeared to him, and, after pointing out to him the brilliant career which awaited him, prepared him for his destiny by explaining to him the economy of the system of the universe. Transported to the top of a celestial temple, Scipio, in the midst of the souls which are wandering along the milky way, listens to the seven notes of the eternal music of the spheres. He gazes upon the stars which surround him, and contemplates with awe the immense spaces in which they are suspended; and when at last he discovers our little world, and the small space which the Roman empire occupies, he turns away to hide his shame. Struck by the admirable spectacle which he has