What should be said of him can not be said; By too great splendor is his name attended; To blame is easier those who him offended, Than reach the faintest glory round him shed. This man descended to the doomed and dead For our instruction; then to God ascended; Heaven opened wide to him its portals splendid, Who from his country's, closed against him, fled. Ungrateful land! To its own prejudice Nurse of his fortunes; and this showeth well, That the most perfect, most of grief shall see. Among a thousand proofs let one suffice, That as his exile hath no parallel, Ne'er walked the earth a greater man than he.
It was George Bernard Shaw who placed in the pillory of letters what he was pleased to call "The Disagreeable Girl."
And he has done the deed by a dry-plate, quick-shutter process in a way that surely lays him liable for criminal libel in society's assize.
I say society's assize advisedly, because it is only in society that the Disagreeable Girl plays a prominent part, assuming the center of the stage. Society, in the society sense, is built on vacuity, its favors being for those who reveal a fine capacity to waste and consume. Those who would write their names high on society's honor-roll need not be either useful or intelligent--they need only seem.
And this gives the Disagreeable Girl her opportunity. In the paper-box factory she would have to make good; Cluett, Coon and Company ask for results; the stage demands a modicum at least of intellect, in addition to shape; but society asks for nothing but pretense, and the palm is awarded to palaver.
But do not, if you please, imagine that the Disagreeable Girl does not wield an influence.
That is the very point: her influence is so far-reaching that George Bernard Shaw, giving cross-sections of life, in the form of dramas, can not write a play and leave her out.
She is ubiquitous, omniscient and omnipresent--is the Disagreeable Girl. She is a disappointment to her father, a humiliation to her mother, a pest to brothers and sisters, and when she finally marries, she saps the inspiration of her husband and often converts a proud and ambitious man into a weak and cowardly cur.
Only in society does the Disagreeable Girl shine: everywhere else she is an abject failure. The much-vaunted Gibson Girl is a kind of deluxe edition of Shaw's Disagreeable Girl. The Gibson Girl lolls, loafs, pouts, weeps, talks back, lies in wait, dreams, eats, drinks, sleeps and yawns. She rides in a coach in a red jacket, plays golf in a secondary sexual sweater, dawdles on a hotel veranda, and tum-tums on a piano, but you never hear of her doing a useful thing or saying a wise one. She reveals a beautiful capacity for avoiding all useful effort.
Gibson gilds the Disagreeable Girl. Shaw paints her as she is. In the "Doll's House" Henrik Ibsen has given us Nora Hebler, a Disagreeable Girl of mature age, who beyond a doubt first set George Bernard Shaw a-thinking. Then looking about, Shaw saw her at every turn in every stage of her moth-and-butterfly existence.
And the Disagreeable Girl being everywhere, Shaw, dealer in human character, can not write a play and leave her out, any more than Turner could paint a picture and leave man out, or Paul Veronese produce a canvas and omit the dog.
The Disagreeable Girl is a female of the genus homo persuasion, built around a digestive apparatus with marked marshmallow proclivities.
She is, moreover, pretty, pug-nosed, poetical, pert and pink; and at first glance to the unwary, she shows signs of gentleness and intelligence. Her age is anywhere from eighteen to twenty-eight. At twenty-eight she begins to evolve into something else, and her capacity for harm is largely curtailed, because by this time spirit has written itself in her form and features, and the grossness and animality which before were veiled are now becoming apparent. Habit writes itself on the face, and the body is an automatic recording-machine.
To have a beautiful old age, you must live a beautiful youth, for we ourselves are posterity and every man is his own ancestor. I am today what I am because I was yesterday what I was.
The Disagreeable Girl is always pretty--at least she has been told she is pretty, and she fully accepts the dictum. She has also been told she is clever, and she thinks she is. The actual fact is she is only "sassy."
The fine flaring-up of youth has set sex rampant, but she is not "immoral," except in her mind. She has caution to the verge of cowardice, and so she is "sans reproche." In public she pretends to be dainty; but alone, or with those for whose good opinion she does not care, she is gross, coarse and sensual in every feature of her life. She eats too much, does not exercise enough, and considers it amusing to let others wait upon her, and do for her the things she should do for herself. Her room is a jumble of disorder, a fantasy of dirty clothes, a sequinarium of unmentionables--that is, if the care of it is left to herself. The one gleam of hope for her lies in the fact that out of shame she will allow no visitor to enter the apartment if she can help it. Concrete selfishness is her chief mark. She avoids responsibility; sidesteps every duty that calls for honest effort; is secretive, untruthful, indolent, evasive and dishonest.
"What are you eating?" asks Nora Hebler's husband as she enters the room, not expecting to see him.
"Nothing," is the answer, and she hides the box of bonbons behind her, and presently backs out of the room.
I think Mr. Hebler had no business to ask her what she was eating: no man should ask any woman such a question--and really it was no difference anyway. But Nora is always on the defensive, and fabricates when it is necessary--and when it isn't, just through habit. She will hide a letter written by her grandmother, as quickly and deftly as if it were a missive from a guilty lover. The habit of her life is one of suspicion; for, being inwardly guilty herself, she suspects everybody, although it is quite likely that crime with her has never broken through thought into deed. Nora rifles her husband's pockets, reads his notebook, examines his letters, and when he goes on a trip she spends the day checking up his desk, for her soul delights in duplicate keys.
At times she lets drop hints of knowledge concerning little nothings that are none of hers, just to mystify folks. She does strange, annoying things, simply to see what others will do.
In degree, Nora's husband fixed the vice of finesse in her nature, for even a "good" woman accused parries by the use of trickery and wins her point by the artistry of the bagnio. Women and men are never really far apart anyway, and women are what men have made them.
We are all just getting rid of our shackles: listen closely anywhere, even among honest and intellectual people, if such there be, and you can detect the rattle of chains.
The Disagreeable Girl's mind and soul have not kept pace with her body. Yesterday she was a slave, sold in Circassian mart, and freedom to her is so new and strange that she does not know what to do with it.
The tragedy she works, according to George Bernard Shaw, is through the fact that very often good men, blinded by the glamour of sex, imagine they love the Disagreeable Girl, when what they love is their own ideal.
Nature is both a trickster and a humorist and sets the will of the species beyond the discernment of the individual. The picador has to blindfold his horse in order to get him into the bull-ring, and likewise Dan Cupid exploits the myopic to a purpose.
For aught we know, the lovely Beatrice of Dante was only a Disagreeable Girl clothed in a poet's fancy. Fortunate, indeed, was Dante that he never knew her well enough to get undeceived, and so walked through life in love with love, sensitive, saintly, sweetly sad and divinely happy in his melancholy.
* * * * * * *
There be simple folks and many, who think that the tragedy of love lies in its being unrequited.
The fact is, the only genuinely unhappy love--the only tragedy--is when love wears itself out.
Thus tragedy consists in having your illusions shattered.
The love-story of Dante lies in the realm of illusion and represents an eternal type of affection. It is the love of a poet--a Pygmalion who loves his own creation. It is the love that is lost, but the things we lose or give away are the things we keep. That for which we clutch we lose.
Love like that of Dante still exists everywhere, and will until the end of time. One-sided loves are classic and know neither age nor place; and to a degree--let the fact be stated softly and never hereafter be so much as whispered--all good men and women have at some time loved one-sidedly, the beloved being as unaware of the love as a star is of the astronomer who discovers it.
This kind of love, carried on discreetly, is on every hand, warming into life the divine germs of art, poetry and philosophy. Of it the world seldom hears. It creates no scandal, never is mentioned in court proceedings, nor is it featured by the newspapers. Indeed, the love of Dante would have been written in water, were it not for the fact that the poet took the world into his confidence, as all poets do--for literature is only confession.
Many who have written of Dante, like Boccaccio and Rossetti, have shown as rare a creative ability as some claim Dante revealed in creating his Beatrice.
"Paint me with the moles on," said Lincoln to the portrait-man. I'll show Dante with moles, wrinkles and the downward curve of the corners of his mouth, duly recording the fact that the corners of his mouth did not turn down always.
I think, somewhere, I have encouraged the idea of women marrying the second time, and I have also given tangible reasons. Let me now say as much for men.
The father of Dante married and raised a family of seven. On the death of his wife he sought consolation for his sorrow in the love of a lass by the name of Bella--her family-name is to us unknown. They were married, and had one child, and this child was Dante.
Dante, at times, had a way of mourning over the fact that his father and mother ever met, but the world has never especially sympathized in this regret. Dante was born in the year Twelve Hundred Sixty-five, in the city of Florence, which was then the artistic and intellectual capital of the world.
Dante seemed to think that the best in his nature was derived from his mother, who was a most gentle, sensitive and refined spirit. Such a woman married to a man old enough to be her father is not likely to be absurdly happy. This has been said before, but it will bear repeating. Yet disappointment has its compensation, since it drives the mind on to the ideal, and thus is a powerful stimulant for the imagination. Deprive us of our heritage here, and we will conjure forth castles in Spain--you can not place an injunction on that!
Dante was not born in a castle, nor yet in a house with portcullis and battlements.
Time was when towers and battlements on buildings were something more than mere architectural appendenda. They had a positive use. Towers and courtyards were only for the nobility, and signified that the owner was beyond the reach of law; he could lock himself in and fight off the world, the flesh and the devil, if he wished.
Dante's father lived in a house that had neither tower nor court that closed with iron gate. He was a lawyer, a hard-headed man who looked after estates, collected rents and gave advice to aristocratic nobodies for a consideration. He did not take snuff, for obvious reasons, but he was becomingly stout, carried a gold-headed cane or staff with a tassel on it, and struck this cane on the ground, coughing slightly, when about to give advice, as most really great lawyers do.
When little Durante--or Dante, as we call him--was nine years old, his father took him to a lawn fete held at the suburban home of Folco de Portinari, one of the lawyer's rich clients.
Now Signor Portinari in social station was beyond Alighieri the lawyer, and of course nobody for a moment suspected that the dark-skinned, half-scared little boy, clutching his father's forefinger as they walked, was going to write "The Divine Comedy." No one paid any particular attention to the father and child, as they strolled beneath the trees, rested on the benches, and were served chocolate and cheese-straws by the servants.
But on this occasion the boy caught a passing glimpse of Beatrice Portinari, the daughter of the host. The girl was just nine years old: the boy must have been told this by his father as he pointed out the fair one. The boy did not speak to her nor did she speak to him: this was quite out of the question, for they were on a totally different social plane.
Amid the dim lights of the flaming torches he saw her--just for an instant! The whole surroundings were strangely unreal, but well calculated to impress the youthful imagination, and out of it all the boy carried with him this vision of loveliness.
In his "New Life"--what an appropriate title for a love-story!--Dante tells of this first sight of the beloved somewhat thus: "Nine times already since my birth had the heaven of light returned to the selfsame point almost, as concerns its own revolution, when first the glorious lady of my mind was made manifest to my eyes, even she who was called Beatrice by many who knew not wherefore. She had already been in this life so long as that, within her time the starry heaven had moved toward the Eastern quarter one of the twelve parts of the degree; so that she appeared to me at the beginning of her ninth year, and I saw her almost at the end of my ninth year. Her dress on that day was of the most noble color, a subdued and goodly crimson, girdled and adorned in such sort as best suited her very tender age. At that moment, I say most truly that the spirit of life, which has its dwelling in the secretest chamber of my heart, began to tremble so violently that the least pulses of my body shook therewith; and in trembling it said these words: Here is a deity stronger than I who coming shall rule over me."
* * * * * * *
Nine was a sacred number with Dante. He was nine years old when he first saw his lady-love, and she too was nine, having not yet reached the age of indiscretion.
Nine years were to elapse before he was to speak to her. It is quite possible that he had caught glimpses of her in the interval, at church.
Churches have their uses as trysting-places for the unquenched spirit: vows are repeated there that have no witnesses and do not go into the register. There lovers meet in soul, and feed upon a glance, when heads are bowed in prayer. Love lends a deep religious air to the being, and when we are in love we love God. At other times we only fear Him.
I am told that there be young men and maidens fair who walk on air and live in paradise until Sunday comes again, all on account of a loving look into eyes that look love again, in the dim religious light while the music plays soft and low.
The lover watched his graceful maid As mid the virgin train she strayed, Nor knew her beauty's best attire Was woven still in the snow-white choir.
And where is the gray-bearded prophet who has yet been wise enough to tell us where love ends and religion begins! But in all these nine years Beatrice and Dante had never met. She had not heard his voice, nor he hers--only glances, or a hand lifted in a way that spoke tomes. He had developed into a dark, dashing youth, given to falconry, painting and music. He had worked with Cimabue, the father of Italian art, and had been chum of Giotto, to whom all cherubim and seraphim trace.
At that time people with money who wanted to educate their sons sent them out, at what seems to us a very tender age, to travel and tramp the earth alone. They were remittance-men who shifted from university to university, and took lessons in depravity, being educated by the boys.
Dean Pluntre says that there were universities in the Middle Ages at Padua, Bologna, Paris and Oxford carried on in a very desultory way by pious monks, where the boys were divided by nationalities, so as to afford a kind of police system--Italian, Spanish, French and English.
They caroused, occasionally fought, studied when they felt like it, and made love to married women--all girls being under lock and key for safe-keeping.
So there you get the evolution of the modern university: a mendicant monastery where boys were sent, in the hope that they might absorb a little of the religious spirit and a desire to know.
Finally, there were enough students so that they organized cliques, clubs and secret societies, and by a process of natural selection governed themselves, as well as visited punishment upon offenders.
Next, on account of a laxity of morals and an indifference to books, a military system of discipline was enforced: lights had to be out at ten o'clock, and a student caught off the grounds without leave was punished. The teacher was a vicarious soldier. At that time each school had a prison attached, of which the "carcer" at Heidelberg is the surviving type. Up to the Sixteenth Century, every university was a kind of castle or fort, and the students might at any time be compelled to do military duty. The college had its towers for fighting-men, its high walls, its fortressed fronts and iron gates. These gates and walls still survive in rudimentary form, and the sixteen-foot spiked steel fence at Harvard is the type of a condition that once was an actual necessity: the place was a law unto itself, paid no taxes, and at any time might be raided. Colleges yet pay no taxes and are also quasi-mendicant institutions.
It was not until well into the Sixteenth Century that requirements, examinations, system and discipline began to dawn upon the world. Before that, a student was a kind of troubadour, a cross between a monk and a crusader, a knight-errant of love and letters, and the moral code for him did not apply. An argument can be made for his chivalric tendencies, and his pretense for learning had its place, for affectation is better than indifference. The roistering student is not wholly bad.
Poetry and love-making were to the velvet-breeched youth the real business of life. Like knights in armor, he often wore the colors of a lady who merely smiled at him from a latticed window. If she dropped for him her glove or handkerchief, he was in the seventh heaven. As his intents were not honorable nor his purpose marriage, it made no difference whether the lady was married or single, young or old. Whether the love remained upon a Platonic and purely poetic basis depended, of course, entirely upon the lady and her watchful relatives. If the family were poor and the lover rich, these things might have a bearing. We hear of alliances in those days, not dishonorable, where the husband was complacent and looked upon it as a distinction to have worthy scions of greatness pay court to his wife. Such men were referred to as "fribblers" or "tame-cats." The woman was often much older than the alleged student, and this seems to have been no disadvantage, for charms o'erripe are oft alluring to a certain type of youth.
Such things now would lead to headlines in the daily papers and snapshots of all parties concerned, followed by divorce-court proceedings. Then, even among honorable husbands, the only move was to hire an extra Pinkerton duenna to attend the fair one, and to smile in satisfaction over the possession of a wife so much coveted--the joy of all ownership being largely the ability to excite envy.
College rowdyism, cane-rushes, duels, bloody Monday, the fag system and hazings are all surviving traditions of these so-called universities where people who had the price sent their sons into the pedagogic bull-pen.
As, for centuries, youths who were destined for the priesthood were the only ones educated, so the monks were the first teachers, and the monastery was the college.
In the Twelfth Century a college was merely a monkery that took in boarders, and learning was acquired by absorption.
No records were kept of the students--they simply paid a small fee, were given a badge and attended lectures when they got ready.
Some students stayed and studied for years, thinking the business of life was to cram with facts. Such bachelor grubbers with fixed incomes, like pensioners in a soldiers' home, old and gray, are now to be seen occasionally in European universities, sticklers for technicalities, hot after declensions, and happy when they close in on a new exception to a Greek verb, giving it no quarter. When they come to die, they leave earth with but a single regret: they have never been able fully to compass the ablative. But the rough-and-tumble student was the rule, with nose deep into stein, exaggerating little things into great, making woful ballad to his mistress' eyebrow.
Such was Milord Hamlet, to whom young Dante bears a strange resemblance.
A university like this, where the students governed themselves, and the duties of the faculty consisted largely in protecting the property, had its advantages. We will come back to self-government yet, but higher up in the scale. It was like a big country school, in a country town, where lessons in self-reliance are handed out with the bark on. The survival of the fittest prevails, and out of the mass emerges now and then a strong man who makes his mark upon the times.
Dante was back home in Florence from his sojourn abroad, a bit of a dandy no doubt, with a becoming dash and a touch of sophomoric boldness. He had not forgotten Beatrice Portinari: often had he thought of her, the princess of his dreams, and all the dames he had met had been measured with her as a standard.
She had been married about a year before to a rich banker, Simone de Bardi. This did not trouble Dante: she was too far removed from him to be an actual reality, and so he just waived her husband and dismissed him with a shrug. Beside that, young married women have a charm all their own; they are wiser than maidens, more companionable; innocence is not wholly commendable--at least, not to a university student.
And now face to face Dante and Beatrice meet. It is the first, the last, the only time they are to meet on earth. They meet. She is walking with two women friends, one on each side.
She is clothed in pure white--her friends in darker raiment. She looks like an angel of light. Dante and Beatrice are not expected to meet--there is no time for embarrassment. How did she know that young Dante Alighieri had returned--she must have been dreaming of him--thinking of him! There she stands right before him--tall, graceful, intellectual, smiling. Eyes look into eyes and flash recognition. The earth seems to swirl under Dante's feet. He uncovers his head and is about to sink to his knees, but she sustains him with a word of welcome and holds out the tips of her fingers for him to touch.
She is older now than he: she is married, and a married woman of eighteen may surely reassure a boy who is only eighteen! "We have missed you from the church and from our streets--you look well, Gentle Sir! Welcome back to our Florence! Good evening!"
The three women move on: Dante tries to, but stands rooted like one of those human trees he was afterward to see in Purgatory. He follows her with his eyes, and just once she looks back and smiles as the three women are lost in the throng.
But that chance, unexpected meeting, the salutation and the smile were to write themselves into the "Vita Nuova." Dante had indeed begun a New Life.
* * * * * * *
The City of Florence at this time was prosperous. The churches had their pagan holidays, fetes and festivals, and gaiety was the rule.
Out at Vallambrosa and Fiesole, where the leaves fall, there were Courts of Love where poets chanted their lays and singers sang. In all this life Dante took a prominent part, for while he was not of noble birth he was of noble bearing.
There were rival political parties then in Florence, and instead of settling their difficulties at the polls they had recourse to the cobblestone and club.
When the Guelfs routed the Ghibellines from the city, Dante served as a soldier, or was sworn in as a deputy sheriff, and did some valiant fighting for the Guelfs, for which privilege he was to pay when the Ghibellines came back.
Just what his every-day occupation was we are not sure, but as he was admitted a member of the Guild of Apothecaries we assume that he clerked in a drugstore, and often expressed himself thus: "Lady, I am all out of liverwort today, but I have something just as good!"--and he read her a few stanzas from the "Vita Nuova," which he had just written behind the screen at the prescription-counter.
In the year Twelve Hundred Eighty-five, Charles of Anjou, brother of Saint Louis, came to Florence, and Dante was appointed one of the committee to look after his entertainment.
Charles was a man of intelligence and discrimination, a lover of letters and art. He and Dante became fast friends, and it seems Dante became a kind of honorary member of his court.
Dante could paint a little, he played on the harp, and he also recited his own poems. His love of Beatrice de Bardi was an open secret--all Florence knew of it. He had sung her beauty, her art, her intelligence in a way that made both locally famous.
He had written a poem on the sixty chief belles of Florence, and in this list he had not placed Beatrice first, but ninth. Just why he did this, unless to emphasize his favorite number, we do not know. In any event it made more talk than if he had placed her first.
And once at church where he had followed Beatrice, he made eyes openly at another lady, to distract the attention of the observing public. The plan worked so well that Beatrice, seeing the flirtation, shortly afterward met Dante and cut him dead, or, to use his own phrase, "withheld her salutation."
This caused the young man such bitter pain that he wrote a veiled poem, explaining the actual facts. These facts were that out of his great love for Beatrice, in order to protect her good name, he had openly made love to another.
I said that the fact that Beatrice had declined to speak to Dante as they passed by had caused him bitter pain. This is true; but after a few days the matter took on a new light. If Beatrice was indifferent to him, why should she be displeased when he had made eyes at another? She evidently was jealous, and Dante was in a paradise of delight, or in purgatory, or both, according to the way the wind sat.
There is no reason to suppose that Dante and Beatrice ever met and talked things over. She was closely guarded, and evidently ran no risk of smirching her good name by associating with a troubadour student. He could sing songs about her--this she could not help--but beyond this there was nothing doing.
Only once after this did they come near meeting. It was at a wedding-party where Dante had gone evidently without an invitation. He inwardly debated whether he should remain to the feast or not, and the ayes had it. He was about to be seated at the table, when a sudden sense of first heat and then cold came over him and he grasped his chair for support. The light seemed blinding. He closed his eyes, and then opened them; and looking up, on the opposite side of the room he saw his Beatrice!
A friend seeing his agitation and thinking him ill, led him forth into the open air and there chafed his icy fingers asking, "What can it be--what is the matter?"
And Dante answered, "Of a surety I have set my feet on a point of life beyond which he must not pass who would return!"
Immediately thereafter--probably the next day--Dante began a poem, very carefully thought out, in celebration of the beauty and virtue of Beatrice. He had written but one stanza when he tells us that, "The Lord God of Justice called my most gracious Lady to Himself." And Beatrice was dead, aged twenty-five years.
Through her death Dante was indeed wedded to her memory. He calls her the bride of his soul.
* * * * * * *
We can not resign from life gracefully. Work has to be performed, even when calamity comes, and we stand by an open grave and ask old Job's question, "If a man die shall he live again?"
Dante felt sure that Beatrice must live again in all her loveliness. "Heaven had need of her," he cries in his grief. And then again, "She belonged not here, and so God took her to Himself." At first he was dumb with sorrow, and then tears came to his relief, and a little later he eased his soul through expression: he indited an open letter, a kind of poetic proclamation to the citizens of Florence, in which he rehearsed their loss and offered them consolation in the thought that they now had a guardian angel in Heaven.
The lover, like an artist or skilled workman, always exaggerates the importance of his passion, and links his love with the universal welfare of mankind.
And stay! after all he may be right--who knows! So a year passed away in sadness, with a few bad turnings into sensuality, followed by repenting in verse. It was the anniversary of her death, and Dante was outlining angels to illustrate his sonnets wherein he apotheosized Beatrice. And behold! as he day-dreamed of his Beatrice sweet consolation came in double form. First he saw a gentle lady who looked very much like the lady he lost. Lovers are always looking for resemblances--on the street, in churches, at the theater or the concert, in travel--looking always, ever looking for the face and form of the beloved. Strange resemblances are observed--persons are followed--the gait, height, attire, carriage of the head are noted, and hearts beat fast!
So Dante saw a lady who seemed to have the same dignity of carriage, a like nobility of feature, a look as luminous and a glance as telling as those of Beatrice. Evidently he paid court to her with so much success that he turned from her and recriminated himself for having his passion aroused by a counterfeit. She looked the part, but her feet were clay and so were heart and head, and Dante turned again to his ideal, Beatrice in Heaven.
And with the turning came the thought of Paradise! He would visit Beatrice in Heaven, and she would meet him at the gates and guide the way. The visit was to be one personally conducted.
Every great and beautiful thing was once an unuttered thought; and we know the time and almost the place where Dante conceived the idea of "The Divine Comedy."
The new Beatrice he had found was only a plaster-of-Paris cast of the original: Dante's mind recoiled from her to the genuine--that is, to the intangible--which proves that even commonplace women have their uses. At this time, while he was revolving the nebulous "Commedia" in his mind, he read Cicero's "Essay on Friendship," and dived deep into the philosophy of Epictetus and Plato. Then he printed a card in big letters and placed it on his table where he could see it continually: "Philosophy is the cure for love!"
But it wasn't--except for a few days when he wrote some stanzas directed to the world, declaring that his former poems referring to Beatrice pictured her merely as "Philosophy, the beautiful woman, daughter of the Great Emperor of the Universe." He declared that all of his odes to his gentle lady were odes to Philosophy, to which all wise men turn for consolation in time of trouble.
Nothing matters much--pish! It was the struggle of the poet and the good man, trying to convince himself that he travels fastest who travels alone.
Dante must have held the stern and placid pose of Plato, the confirmed bachelor, for a full week, then tears came and melted his artificial granite.
And as for Plato, the confirmed bachelor, legend has it that he was confirmed by a woman.
* * * * * * *
In the train of Boccaccio traveled a nephew of Dante who had his illustrious uncle's interesting history at his tongue's end. By this nephew we are told that the marriage of Dante and Gemma Donati, in Twelve Hundred and Ninety-two, when Dante was twenty-seven, was a little matter arranged by the friends of both parties. Dante was dreamy, melancholy and unreliable: marriage would sober his poetic debauch and cause him to settle down!
Ruskin, it will be remembered, was also looked after by the matchmakers in much the same way.
So Dante was married. Some say that his wife was the gentle lady who looked like Beatrice, but this is pure conjecture. Four children were born to them in seven years. One of these was named Beatrice, which seems to prove that the wife of Dante was aware of his great passion. One of the sons became a college professor, and wrote a commentary on "The Commedia," and also an unneeded defense of his father's character and motives in making love to a married lady.
Dante was a man of influence in the affairs of the city. He occupied civic offices of distinction, wrote addresses and occasionally poems, in which he glorified his friends and referred scathingly to his political adversaries.
Gemma must have been a woman of more than average brain and intelligence, for when her husband was banished from Florence by the successful Ghibellines, she kept her little family together, worked hard, educated her children, and it is said by Boccaccio lived honorably and indulged in no repining.
So far as we know, Dante sent no remittances home. He moved from one university to another, and accepted invitations from nobility to tarry at their castles. He dressed in melancholy black and read his poems to polite assemblies. Now and then he gave lectures. He was followed by spies, or thought he was, and now and then quarreled with his associates or host, and made due note of the fact, leaving the matter to be adjusted when he had time and wanted raw stock for his writings.
And all the time he mourned not for the loss of Gemma and his children, but for Beatrice. She it was who met him and Vergil at the gates of Paradise and guided them about the place, explaining its art, ethics and economics, and pointing out the notables.
Dante placed in Paradise all those who had befriended him most and praised his poems. People he did not like he deposited in Hell, for Dante was human. That is what Hell is for--a place to put people who disagree with us.
Milton was profoundly influenced by Dante, and in fact was very much like him, save that, though he had the felicity to be legally married three times, yet there is no sign of passionate love in his life. Henley says that without Dante we should have had no Milton, and how much Dante and Milton have influenced the popular conception of the Christian religion, no man can say. Even as conservative a man as Archdeacon Farrar, in one of his Clark lectures, said, "Our orthodox faith seems to trace a genesis to the genius of Dante, with Saint Paul and Jesus as secondary or contributing influences."
After five years' wandering, Dante was notified that he could return to Florence on making due apology to the reigning powers and walking in the procession of humble transgressors.
The letter he wrote in reply is still in existence. He scorned pardon, since he had been guilty of no offense, and he would return with honor or not at all.
This letter secured him a second indictment, wherein it was provided that he should be burned alive if he set foot inside the republic.
This sentence was not revoked until Fourteen Hundred Ninety-four, and as Dante had then been dead more than a hundred years, it was of small avail on earth. The plan, however, of pardoning dead men was so that their souls could be gotten out of Purgatory legally, the idea being that man's law and justice were closely woven with the Law of God, and that God punished offenses against the State, just as He would offenses against the Church. Hence it was necessary for the State and Church to quash their indictment before God could do the same.
People who think that governments and religious denominations are divine institutions will see the consistency and necessity of Lorenzo de Medici and Pope Alexander the Fourth combining and issuing a pardon in Dante's favor one hundred seventy years after his death. He surely had been in Purgatory long enough.
Dante died at Ravenna in Thirteen Hundred Twenty-one, aged fifty-six years. It seems that he had gone there to see his daughter, Beatrice, who was in a nunnery just outside the city walls. There his dust rests.
If it be true that much of modern Christianity traces to Dante, it is no less true that he is the father of modern literature. He is the first writer of worth to emerge out of that night of darkness called the Middle Ages.
His language is tender and full of sweet, gentle imagery. He knew the value of symbols, and his words often cast a purple shadow. His style is pliable, flexible, fluid, and he shows rare skill in suggesting a thing that it would be absurd to describe.
Dante was an artist in words, and in imagination a master. The history of literature can never be written and the name of Dante left out. And he, of all writers, both ancient and modern, most vividly portrays the truth that without human love, there would be no such thing as poetry.
Sorry, no summary available yet.