acquired, perhaps, the better part of it in the streets of Florence
, and later, in those homeless wanderings which led him (as he says) wherever the Italian
tongue was spoken.
His were the only open eyes of that century, and, as nothing escaped them, so there is nothing that was not photographed upon his sensitive brain, to be afterward fixed forever in the Commedia
. What Florence
was during his youth and manhood, with its Guelphs and Ghibellines, its nobles and trades, its Bianchi
, its kaleidoscopic revolutions, ‘all parties loving liberty and doing their best to destroy her,’ as Voltaire
says, it would be beyond our province to tell even if we could.
Foreshortened as events are when we look back on them across so many ages, only the upheavals of party conflict catching the eye, while the spaces of peace between sink out of the view of history, a whole century seems like a mere wild chaos.
Yet during a couple of such centuries the cathedrals of Florence
, and Siena
got built; Cimabue, Giotto, Arnolfo, the Pisani, Brunelleschi, and Ghiberti gave the impulse to modern art, or brought it in some of its branches to its culminating point; modern literature took its rise; commerce became a science, and the middle class came into being.
It was a time of fierce passions and sudden tragedies, of picturesque transitions and contrasts.
It found Dante
, shaped him by every experience that life is capable of,—rank, ease, love, study, affairs, statecraft, hope, exile, hunger, dependence, despair,—until he became endowed with a sense of the nothingness of this world's goods possible only to the rich, and a knowledge of man possible only to the poor.
The few well-ascertained facts of Dante
's life may be briefly stated.
In 1274 occurred what we may call his spiritual birth, the awakening in him of the imaginative faculty, and of that profounder and more intense consciousness