which preluded the French Revolution
, have loved the Gothic architecture.
It is no less significant that in the period of reaction toward more positive thought which followed, he should have preferred the Greek.
His greatest poem, conceived during the former era, is Gothic.
, endeavoring to conform himself to literary tradition, began to write the Divina Commedia
in Latin, and had elaborated several cantos of it in that dead and intractable material.
But that poetic instinct, which is never the instinct of an individual, but of his age, could not so be satisfied, and leaving the classic structure he had begun to stand as a monument of failure, he completed his work in Italian.
Instead of endeavoring to manufacture a great poem out of what was foreign and artificial, he let the poem make itself out of him. The epic which he wished to write in the universal language of scholars, and which might have had its ten lines in the history of literature, would sing itself in provincial Tuscan
, and turns out to be written in the universal dialect of mankind.
Thus all great poets have been in a certain sense provincial,—Homer, Dante
in the ‘Heart of Midlothian’ and ‘Bride of Lammermoor,’—because the office of the poet is always vicarious, because nothing that has not been living experience can become living expression, because the collective thought, the faith, the desire of a nation or a race, is the cumulative result of many ages, is something organic, and is wiser and stronger than any single person, and will make a great statesman or a great poet out of any man who can entirely surrender himself to it.
As the Gothic cathedral
, then, is the type of the Christian
idea, so is it also of Dante
And as that in its artistic unity is but the completed thought of a single architect, which yet could never have been