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[50] and sustainment, certainly set him no example of observing the conventions of good society in dealing with the enemies of God. Indeed, his notions of good society were not altogether those of this world in any generation. He would have defined it as meaning ‘the peers’ of Philosophy, ‘souls free from wretched and vile delights and from vulgar habits, endowed with genius and memory.’1 Dante himself had precisely this endowment, and in a very surprising degree. His genius enabled him to see and to show what he saw to others; his memory neither forgot nor forgave. Very hateful to his fervid heart and sincere mind would have been the modern theory which deals with sin as involuntary error, and by shifting off the fault to the shoulders of Atavism or those of Society, personified for purposes of excuse, but escaping into impersonality again from the grasp of retribution, weakens that sense of personal responsibility which is the root of self-respect and the safeguard of character. Dante indeed saw clearly enough that the Divine justice did at length overtake Society in the ruin of states caused by the corruption of private, and thence of civic, morals; but a personality so intense as his could not be satisfied with such a tardy and generalized penalty as this. ‘It is Thou,’ he says sternly, ‘who hast done this thing, and Thou, not Society, shalt be damned for it; nay, damned all the worse for this paltry subterfuge. This is not my judgment, but that of universal Nature2 from before the beginning of the world.’3 Accordingly the highest reason, typified in his guide Virgil, rebukes him for bringing compassion to the judgments of God,4

1 Convito, Tr. II. c. 16.

2 La natura universale, cioe Iddio. (Convito, Tr. III. c. 4.)

3 Inferno, III. 7, 8.

4 Inferno, XX. 30. Mr. W. M. Rossetti strangely enough renders this verse ‘Who hath a passion for God's judgeship.’ Compassion porta, is the reading of the best texts, and Witte adopts it. Buti's comment is ‘cio porta pena e dolore di colui che giustamente è condannato da Dio che e sempre giuslo.’ There is an analogous passage in ‘The Revelation of the Apostle Paul,’ printed in the ‘Proceedings of the American Oriental Society’ (Vol. VIII. pp. 213, 214): ‘And the angel answered and said, “Wherefore dost thou weep? Why! art thou more merciful than God? ” And I said, “God forbid, O my lord; for God is good and long-suffering unto the sons of men, and he leaves every one of them to his own will, and he walks as he pleases.” ’ This is precisely Dante's view.

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