« VorigeDoorgaan »
abiding mark in politics and religion, but its great monuments are the prose of Bunyan and the verse of Milton. It is a high inspiration to be the neighbor of great events; to have been a partaker in them and to have seen noble purposes by their own self-confidence become the very means of ignoble ends, if it do not wholly depress, may kindle a passion of regret deepening the song which dares not tell the reason of its sorrow. The grand loneliness of Milton in his latter years, while it makes him the most impressive figure in our literary history, is reflected also in his maturer poems by a sublime independence of human sympathy like that with which mountains fascinate and rebuff us. But it is idle to talk of the loneliness of one the habitual companions of whose mind were the Past and Future. I always seem to see him leaning in his blindness a hand on the shoulder of each, sure that the one will guard the song which the other had inspired
On the banks of a little river so shrunken by the
a suns of summer that it seems fast passing into a tradition, but so swollen by the autumnal rains with Italian suddenness of passion that the massy bridge shudders under the impatient heap of waters behind it, stands a city which, in its period of bloom not so large as Boston, may well rank next to Athens in the history which teaches come l'uom si eterna.
Originally only a convenient spot in the valley where the fairs of the neighboring Etruscan city of Fiesole were held, it gradually grew from a huddle of booths to a town, and then to a city, which absorbed its ancestral neighbor and became a cradle for the arts, the letters, the science, and the commerce 2 of modern Europe. For her Cimabue wrought, who infused Byzantine formalism with a suggestion of nature and feeling; for her the Pi. sani, who divined at least, if they could not conjure with it, the secret of Greek supremacy in sculpture ; for her the marvellous boy Ghiberti proved that unity of composition and grace of figure and drapery were never beyond the reach of genius ; 1 for her Brunelleschi curved the dome which Michael Angelo hung in air on St. Peter's; for her Giotto reared the bell-tower graceful as an Horatian ode in marble; and the great triumvirate of Italian poetry, good sense, and culture called her mother. There is no modern city about which cluster so many elevating associations, none in which the past is so contemporary with us in unchanged buildings and undisturbed monuments. The house of Dante is still shown ; children still receive baptism at the font (il mio bel San Giovanni) where he was christened before the acorn dropped that was to grow into a keel for Columbus ; and an inscribed stone marks the spot where he used to sit and watch
1 The Shadow of Dante, being an Essay towards studying Himself, his World, and his Pilgrimage. By Maria Francesca Rossetti.
“Se Dio te lasci, lettor prender frutto
Di tua lezione."
2 The Florentines should seem to have invented or re-invented banks, book-keeping by double-entry, and bills of exchange. The last, by endowing Value with the gift of fern-seed and enabling it to walk invisible, turned the flank of the baronial tariff-system and made the roads safe for the great liberalizer, Commerce. This made Money omnipresent, and prepared the way for its present omnipotence. Fortunately it cannot usurp the third attribute of Deity, - omniscience. But whatever the consequences, this Florentine invention was at first nothing but admirable, securing to brain its legitimate influence over brawn. The latter has begun its revolt, but whether it will succeed better in its attempt to restore mediæval methods than the barons in maintaining them remains to be seen.
i Ghiberti's designs have been criticised by a too systematic æstheticism, as confounding the limits of sculpture and painting. But is not the rilievo precisely the bridge by which the one art passes over into the territory of the other ?
the slow blocks swing up to complete the masterthought of Arnolfo. In the convent of St. Mark hard by lived and labored Beato Angelico, the saint of Christian art, and Fra Bartolommeo, who taught Raphael dignity. From the same walls Savonarola went forth to his triumphs, short-lived almost as the crackle of his martyrdom. The plain little chamber of Michael Angelo seems still to expect his return; his last sketches lie upon the table, his staff leans in the corner, and his slippers wait before the empty chair. On one of the vine-clad hills, just without the city walls, one's feet may press the same stairs that Milton climbed to visit Galileo. To an American there is something su
. premely impressive in this cumulative influence of a past full of inspiration and rebuke, something saddening in this repeated proof that moral supremacy is the only one that leaves monuments and not ruins behind it. Time, who with us obliterates the labor and often the names of yesterday, seems here to have spared almost the prints of the care piante that shunned the sordid paths of worldly honor.
Around the courtyard of the great Museum of Florence stand statues of her illustrious dead, her poets, painters, sculptors, architects, inventors, and statesmen; and as the traveller feels the ennobling lift of such society, and reads the names or recognizes the features familiar to him as his own threshold, he is startled to find Fame as commonplace here as Notoriety everywhere else, and that this fifth-rate city should have the privilege thus to commemorate so many famous men her sons, whose claim to preëminence the whole world would concede. Among them is one figure before which every scholar, every man who has been touched by the tragedy of life, lingers with reverential pity. The haggard cheeks, the lips clamped together in unfaltering resolve, the scars of lifelong battle, and the brow whose stern outline seems the trophy of final victory, — this, at least, is a face that needs no name beneath it. This is he who among literary fames finds only two that for growth and immutability can parallel his own. The suffrages of highest authority would now place him second in that company where he with proud humility took the sixth place.
Dante (Durante, by contraction Dante) degli Alighieri was born at Florence in 1265, probably during the month of May. This is the date given by Boccaccio, who is generally followed, though he makes a blunder in saying, sedendo Urbano quarto nella cattedra di San Pietro, for Urban died in October, 1264. Some, misled by an error in a few of the early manuscript copies of the Divina Commedia, would have him born five years earlier, in 1260. According to Arrivabene, Sansovino was
Inferno, IV. 102. 2 The Nouvelle Biographie Générale gives May 8 as his birthday. This is a mere assumption, for Boccaccio only says generally May. The indication which Dante himself gives that he was born when the sun was in Gemini would give a range from about the middle of May to about the middle of June, so that the 8th is certainly too early.
3 Secolo di Dante, Udine edition of 1828, vol. iii. Part I. p. 578.