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[102] The genius of Dante has given to it such a self-subsistent reality, that one almost gets to feel as if the chief value of contemporary Italian history had been to furnish it with explanatory foot-notes, and the age in which it was written assumes towards it the place of a satellite. For Italy, Dante is the thirteenth century.

Most men make the voyage of life as if they carried sealed orders which they were not to open till they were fairly in mid-ocean. But Dante had made up his mind as to the true purpose and meaning of our existence in this world, shortly after he had passed his twenty-fifth year. He had already conceived the system about which as a connecting thread the whole experience of his life, the whole result of his studies, was to cluster in imperishable crystals. The cornerstone of his system was the Freedom of the Will (in other words, the right of private judgment with the condition of accountability), which Beatrice calls the ‘noble virtue.’1 As to every man is offered his choice between good and evil, and as, even upon the root of a nature originally evil a habit of virtue may be engrafted,2 no man is excused. ‘All hope abandon ye who enter in,’ for they have thrown away reason which is the good of the intellect, ‘and it seems to me no less a marvel to bring back to reason him in whom it is wholly spent than to bring back to life him who ’

1 Purgatorio, XVIII. 73. He defines it in the De Monarchia (Lib. I. § 14). Among other things he calls it ‘the first beginning of our liberty.’ Paradiso, V. 19, 20, he calls it ‘the greatest gift that in his largess God creating made.’ “Dico quod judicium medium est apprehensionis et appetitus.” (De Monarchia, ubi supra.)

Right and wrong,
Between whose endless jar justice resides.

Troilus and Cressida.

2 Convito, Tr. IV. c. 22.

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