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[65] very subtle retrospective action, and the new condition of feeling or thought is uneasy till it has half unconsciously brought into harmony whatever is inconsistent with it in the past. The inward life unwillingly admits any break in its continuity, and nothing is more common than to hear a man, in venting an opinion taken up a week ago, say with perfect sincerity, ‘I have always thought so and so.’ Whatever belief occupies the whole mind soon produces the impression on us of having long had possession of it, and one mode of consciousness blends so insensibly with another that it is impossible to mark by an exact line where one begins and the other ends. Dante in his exposition of the Canzoni must have been subject to this subtlest and most deceitful of influences. He would try to reconcile so far as he conscientiously could his present with his past. This he could do by means of the allegorical interpretation. ‘For it would be a great shame to him,’ he says in the Vita Nuova, ‘who should poetize something under the vesture of some figure or rhetorical color, and afterwards, when asked, could not strip his words of that vesture in such wise that they should have a true meaning.’ Now in the literal exposition of the Canzone beginning, ‘Voi che intendendo il terzo ciel movete,’1 he tells us that the grandezza of the Donna Gentil was ‘temporal greatness’ (one certainly of the felicities attainable by way of the vita attiva), and immediately after gives us a hint by which we may comprehend why a proud2 man might covet it. ‘How much wisdom and how great a persistence in virtue (abito virtuoso) are hidden for want of this lustre!’3 When Dante reaches

1 Which he cites in the Paradiso, VIII. 37.

2 Dante confesses his guiltiness of the sin of pride, which (as appears by the examples he gives of it) included ambition, in Purgatorio, XIII. 136, 137.

3 Convito, Tr. II. c. 11.

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