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[44] heavens, giving and receiving light.1 Indeed, Dante himself is partly to blame for this. ‘The form or mode of treatment,’ he says, ‘is poetic, fictive, descriptive, digressive, transumptive, and withal definitive, divisive, probative, improbative, and positive of examples.’ Here are conundrums enough, to be sure! To Italians at home, for whom the great arenas of political and religious speculation were closed, the temptation to find a subtler meaning than the real one was irresistible. Italians in exile, on the other hand, made Dante the stalking-horse from behind which they could take a long shot at Church and State, or at obscurer foes.2 Infinitely touching and sacred to us is the instinct of intense sympathy which drawst hese latter toward their great forerunner, exul immeritus like themselves.3 But they have too often wrung a meaning from Dante which is injurious to the man and out of keeping with the ideas of his age. The aim in expounding a great poem should be, not to discover an endless variety of meanings often contradictory,

1 Inferno, VII. 75. ‘Nay, his style,’ says Miss Rossetti, ‘is more than concise: it is elliptical, it is recondite. A first thought often lies coiled up and hidden under a second; the words which state the conclusion involve the premises and develop the subject.’ (p. 3.)

2 A complete vocabulary of Italian billingsgate might be selected from Biagioli. Or see the concluding pages of Nannucci's excellent tract ‘Intorno alle voci usate da Dante,’ Corfu, 1840. Even Foscolo could not always refrain. Dante should have taught them to shun such vulgarities. See Inferno, XXX. 131-148.

3 ‘My Italy, my sweetest Italy, for having loved thee too much I have lost thee, and, perhaps,. . . . ah, may God avert the omen! But more proud than sorrowful, for an evil endured for thee alone, I continue to consecrate my vigils to thee alone. . . . . An exile full of anguish, perchance, availed to sublime the more in thy Alighieri that lofty soul which was a beautiful gift of thy smiling sky; and an exile equally wearisome and undeserved now avails, perhaps, to sharpen my small genius so that it may penetrate into what he left written for thy instruction and for his glory.’ (Rossetti, Disamina, ec., p. 405.) Rossetti is himself a proof that a noble mind need not be narrowed by misfortune. His ‘Comment’ (unhappily incomplete) is one of the most valuable and suggestive.

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