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[342] Petrarch was so long and so sincerely in love as his works would imply, and who filled as large a space in his heart as she does in his Sonnets.

There is very little, I believe, said on this point, in early times, any more than on the Fiammetta of Boccaccio, and the Beatrice of Dante. I found, however, this morning, a reference in Tiraboschi to one of Petrarch's own letters to a member of the Colonna family; and, looking it up, was surprised to see that this intimate friend of Petrarch treated Laura entirely as an imaginary existence, and that the poet rather evaded the question than contradicted what his friend had said. ‘Believe me,’ says he, ‘no one can dissemble long, but with great effort. But to labor gratuitously, in order to seem mad, were the height of insanity.’ This almost admits what Colonna had said, that his Laura was Lauream poeticam merely; or, at any rate, it is a mere evasion. With this interpretation, however, the world was satisfied until the sixteenth century, that is, for two hundred years, when Vellutello—one of Petrarch's commentators —went to Avignon on purpose to discover something about a substantial Laura, and of course succeeded, built up a romantic system to suit the poet's circumstances, on a single baptismal entry, and again satisfied the world for another century.

At last the Abbe de Sade came, and published three enormous folios about his own city, his own church, and his own family, proving very satisfactorily that a certain Laura de Sade was living between 1308 and 1348, and that he was descended from one of her eleven children, inferring, very ingeniously, that she was the Laura of the Sonnets. But in 1812 a little book was published in Edinburgh, showing that all this superstructure of well-compacted inferences lacked a sufficient foundation, because the initials found in the tomb at Avignon, on which it was all built, referred to somebody else. There, if I understand the matter, the discussion still rests, so far as the external evidence is concerned.

As to the internal evidence, there is necessarily much more room for a free use of weapons, and, of course, the contest has ranged much more widely. A thousand passages have been cited, full of the sincerest and most natural passion, to prove that nothing but a genuine attachment could have given birth to the whole series of poems; and these have been answered by a thousand others, composed of mere puns and conceits, which are as remote from nature as possible. The one you cite, of his strong impression that Laura will retain in heaven the features he loved on earth, and that he shall see and love them again, is no doubt eminently natural; but it is applied,

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