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'the forefathers of the city, of Troy, of Fiesole, and of Rome.' Villani still finds this rudeness within forty years of the end of the century, almost within the limits of his own and Dante's life; and speaks of that 'old first people,' 'il primo Popolo Vecchio,' with their coarse food and slender expenditure, their leather jerkins, and plain close gowns, their small dowries and late marriages, as if they were the first founders of the city, and not a generation which had lasted on into his own. Twenty years later, his story is of the gaiety, the riches, the profuse munificence, the brilliant festivities, the careless and joyous life, which attracted foreigners to Florence as the city of pleasure; of companies of a thousand or more, all clad in white robes, under a lord, styled ‘of Love,' passing their time in sports and dances; of ladies and knights, 'going through the city with trumpets and other instruments, with joy and gladness,' and meeting together in banquets evening and morning; entertaining illustrious strangers, and honourably escorting them on horseback in their passage through the city ; tempting by their liberality, courtiers, and wits, and minstrels, and jesters, to add to the amusements of Florence. Nor were these the boisterous triumphs of unrefined and coarse merriment. How variety of character was drawn out, how its more delicate elements were elicited and tempered, how nicely it was observed, and how finely drawn, let the racy and open-eyed story-tellers of Florence testify.
Not perhaps in these troops of revellers, but amid music and song, and in the pleasant places of social and private life, belonging to Florence of the arts and poetry, not to the Florence of factions and strife, should we expect to find the friend of the sweet singer, Casella, and of the reserved and bold speculator, Guido Cavalcanti ;—the mystic poet of the Vita Nuova, so sensitive and delicate, trembling at a gaze or a touch, recording visions, painting angels, composing Canzoni and commenting on them ; finally devoting himself to the austere consolations of deep study. To superadd to such a character that of a democratic politician of the middle ages, seems an incongruous and harsh combination. Yet it was a real one in this instance. The scholar's life is, in our idea of it, far separated from the practical and the political; we have been taught by our experience to disjoin enthusiasm in love, in art, in what is abstract or imaginative, from keen interest and successful interference in the affairs and conflicts of life. The practical man may be a dilettante ; but the dreamer, or the thinker, wisely or indolently keeps out of the rough ways where real passions and characters meet and jostle, or if he ventures, seldom gains honour there. The separation is a natural one ; but it grows wider as society becomes more vast and manifold, and its ends, functions, and pursuits are disentangled, while they multiply. In Dante's time, and in an Italian city, it was no strange thing that the most refined and tender interpreter of feeling, the popular poet whose verses touched all hearts, and were in every mouth, should be also at once the ardent follower of all abstruse and difficult learning, and a prominent character among those who administered the state. In that narrow sphere of action, in that period of dawning powers and circumscribed knowledge, it seemed no unreasonable hope, or unwise ambition, to attempt the compassing of all science, and to make it subserve and illustrate the praise of active citizenship.' Dante, like other literary celebrities of the time, was not less from the custom of the day, than from his own purpose, a public man; he took his place among his fellow-citizens; he went out to war with them; he fought, it is said, among the skirmishers at the great Guelf victory of Campaldino; to qualify himself for office in the democracy, he enrolled himself in one of the Guilds of the people, and was matriculated in the 'Art of the Apothecaries; he served the state as its agent abroad; he went on important missions to the cities and courts of Italy ; according to à Florentine tradition, which enumerates fourteen distinct embassies, even to Hungary and France. In the memorable year of Jubilee, 1300, he was one of the Priors of the Republic. There is no shrinking from fellowship and cooperation and conflict with the keen or bold men of the market-place and councilhall, in that mind of exquisite and, as drawn by itself, exaggerated sensibility. The doings and characters of men, the workings of society, the fortunes of his native city, were watched and thought of with as deep an interest as the courses of the stars, and read in the real spectacle of life with as profound emotion as in the miraculous page of Virgil ; and no scholar ever read Virgil with such feeling-no astronomer ever watched the stars with more eager inquisitiveness. The whole man opens to the world around him; all affections and powers, soul and sense, diligently and thoughtfully directed and trained, with free and concurrent and equal energy, with distinct yet harmonious purposes, seek out their respective and appropriate objects, moral, intellectual, natural, spiritual, in that admirable scene and hard field where man is placed to labour and love, to be exercised, proved, and judged.
1 G. Vill. 7, 89. 1282.
In a fresco in the chapel of the old palace of the Podestà, at Florence, is a portrait of Dante, said to be by the hand of his
· Vide the opening of the De Monarchia.
cotemporary Giotto. He is represented as he might have been in the year of Campaldino. The countenance is youthful yet manly, more manly than it appears in the engravings of the picture; but it only suggests the strong deep features of the well-known traditional face. He is drawn with much of the softness, and melancholy pensive sweetness, and with something of the quaint stiffness of the Vita Nuova, with his flower and his book. With him is drawn his master, Brunetto Latini, and Corso Donati. We do not know what occasion led Giotto thus to associate him with the Great Baron.' indeed, closely connected with the Donati family. The dwelling of his family was near theirs, in the Quarter of Scandal,' the Ward of the Porta S. Piero. He married a daughter of their house, Madonna Gemma. None of his friends are commemorated with more affection than the companion of his light and wayward days, remembered not without a shade of anxious sadness, yet with love and hope, Corso's brother, Forese." No sweeter spirit sings and smiles in the illumined spheres of Paradise, than she whom Forese remembers as on earth that sister,
Che tra bella e buona
Non so qual fosse più—'3 and who, from the depth of her heavenly joy, teaches the poet that in the lowest place among the blessed there can be no envy -the sister of Forese and Corso, Piccarda. But history does not group together Corso and Dante. Yet the picture represents the truth-their fortunes were linked together. They were actors in the same scene-at this distance of time two of the most prominent—though a scene very different from that calm and grave assembly, which Giotto's placid pencil has drawn on the old chapel wall.
The outlines of this part of Dante's history are so well known that it is not necessary to dwell on them. More than the outlines we know not. The family quarrels came to a head, issued in parties, and the parties took names; they borrowed them from two rival factions in a neighbouring town, whose feud was imported into Florence; and the Guelfs became divided into the Black Guelfs who were led by the Donati, and the White Guelfs who sided with the Cerchi. It still professed to be but a family feud, confined to the great houses; but they were too powerful and Florence too small for it not to affect the whole Republic. The middle classes and the artizans looked on, and for a time not without satisfaction, at the strife of the great men; but it grew evident that one party must crush the other,
i He died in 1294. G. Vill. 8, 10.
Purgat. c. 23.
3 Parad. c. 3.
and become dominant in Florence; and of the two, the Cerchi and their White adherents were less formidable to the democracy than the unscrupulous and overbearing Donati, with their military renown and lordly tastes ; proud not merely of being nobles, but Guelf nobles; always loyal champions, once the martyrs, and now the hereditary assertors of the great Guelf cause. The Cerchi with less character and less zeal, but rich, liberal, and showy, and with more of rough kindness and vulgar goodnature for the common people, were more popular in Guelf Florence than the 'Parte Guelfa ;' and, of course, the Ghibellines wished them well. Both the cotemporary historians of Florence lead us to think that they might have been the governors and guides of the Republic-if they had chosen, and had known how; and both, though condemning the two parties equally, seemed to have thought that this would have been the best result for the State. But the accounts of both, though they are very different writers, agree in their scorn of the leaders of the White Guelfs. They were upstarts, purse-proud, vain, and coarse-minded : and they dared to aspire to an ambition which they were too dull and too cowardly to pursue, when the game in their hands. They wished to rule; but when they might, they were afraid. The commons were on their side, the moderate men, the party of law, the lovers of republican government, and for the most part the magistrates; but they shrunk from their fortune, 'more from cowardice than from goodness, because they exceedingly feared their adversaries.” Boniface VIII. had no prepossessions in Florence, except for energy and an open hand; the side which was most popular he would have accepted and backed; but he would not lose,' he said, the men for the women.' 'Io non voglio perdere gli uomini per
le femminelle." If the Black party furnished types for the grosser or fiercer forms of wickedness in the poet's Hell, the White party surely were the originals of that picture of stupid and cowardly selfishness, in the miserable crowd who moan and are buffeted in the vestibule of the pit, mingled with the angels who dared neither to rebel nor be faithful, but 'were for themselves;' and whoever it may be who is singled out in the 'setta dei cattivi,' for deeper and special scorn - he,
• Che fece per viltà il gran rifiuto,' the idea was derived from the Cerchi in Florence.
A French prince was sent by the Pope to mediate and make peace in Florence. The Black Guelfs and Corso Donati came
1 Dino Comp. p. 45.
; Ibid. p. 62.
with him. The magistrates were overawed and perplexed. The White party were, step by step, amused, deceived, outmanæuvred, entrapped, led blindly into false plots, entangled in the elaborate subtleties-caught and exposed with all the zest and malice and insulting mockery, of Italian intriguebetrayed, mocked, crushed, chased out of their houses and from the city, condemned unheard, outlawed, ruined in name and property, by the French mediator appointed by the Pope, between them and their opponents. With them fell many
citizens who had tried to hold the balance between the two parties : the leaders of the Black Guelfs were guilty of no errors of weakness. In two extant lists of the proscribed—condemned in his absence, first, for corruption and various crimes, especially for hindering the entrance into Florence of Charles de Valois, to a heavy fine and banishment, then, two months after, for contumacy, to be burned alive if he ever fell into the hands of the Republic,-appears the name of Dante Alighieri,—and more than this, concerning the history of his expulsion, we know not.'
Of his subscquent life, history tells us little more than the general character. He acted for a time in concert with the expelled party, in attempting to force their way back to Florence; and gave them up at last, in scorn and despair: but he never returned to Florence. And he found no new home for the rest of his days—nineteen years, from his exile to his death, he was a wanderer. The character is stamped on his writings. History, tradition, documents, all scanty or dim, do but disclose him to us at different points, appearing here and there, we are not told how or why. One old record, discovered by antiquarian industry, shows him in a village church near Florence, planning, with the Cerchi and the White party, an attack on the Black Guelfs. In another, he appears in the Val di Magra, making peace between its small potentates : in another, as the inhabitant of a certain street in Padua. Local traditions preserve uncertain notices of his visits-a ruined tower, a mountain glen, a cell in a convent. In the recollections of the following generation, his solemn and melancholy form mingled reluctantly, and for a while, in the brilliant court of the Scaligers, and scared the women, as a visitant of the other world, as he passed by their doors in the streets of Verona. Rumour brings him to the West — with probability to Paris, possibly to Oxford. But little certain can be made out about the places where he was an honoured and admired, but it may be, not always a welcome guest - till we find him sheltered, cherished, and then laid at last to rest, by the
'Pelli, pp. 105, 106.