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pulse 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 which springs from the recognition of beauty through the antithesis of It was in that
that he first saw Beatrice Portinari. In 1289 he was present at the battle of Campaldino, fighting on the side of the Guelphs who there utterly routed the Ghibellines, and where, he says characteristically enough, “I was present, not a boy in arms, and where I felt much fear, but in the end the greatest pleasure, from the various changes of the fight.”] In the same year he assisted at the siege and capture of Caprona.? In 1290 died Beatrice, married to Simone dei Bardi, precisely when is uncertain, but before 1287, as appears by a mention of her in her father's will,
1 Letter of Dante, now lost, cited by Aretino. ? Inferno, XXI. 94.
bearing date January 15 of that year. Dante's own marriage is assigned to various years, ranging from 1291 to 1294; but the earlier date seems the more probable, as he was the father of seven children (the youngest, a daughter, named Beatrice) in 1301. His wife was Gemma dei Donati, and through her Dante, whose family, though noble, was of the lesser nobility, became nearly connected with Corso Donati, the head of a powerful clan of the grandi, or greater nobles. In 1293 occurred what is called the revolution of Gian Della Bella, in which the priors of the trades took the power into their own hands, and made nobility a disqualification for office. A noble was defined to be any one who counted a knight among his ancestors, and thus the descendant of Cacciaguida was excluded.
Della Bella was exiled in 1295, but the nobles did not regain their power. On the contrary, the citizens, having all their own way, proceeded to quarrel among themselves, and subdivided into the popolani grossi and popolani minuti, or greater and lesser trades, --- a distinction of gentility somewhat like that between wholesale and retail tradesmen. The grandi continuing turbulent, many of the lesser nobility, among them Dante, drew over to the side of the citizens, and between 1297 and 1300 there is found inscribed in the book of the physicians and apothecaries, Dante d' Aldighiero, degli Aldighieri, poeta Fiorentino. Professor de Vericour thinks it necessary to apologize for this lapse on the part of the poet, and gravely bids us
1 Balbo, Vita di Dante, Firenze, 1853, p. 117.
take courage, nor think that Dante was ever an apothecary. In 1300 we find him elected one of the priors of the city. In order to a perfect misunderstanding of everything connected with the Florentine politics of this period, one has only to study the various histories. The result is a spectrum on the mind's eye, which looks definite and brilliant, but really hinders all accurate vision, as if from too steady inspection of a Catharine-wheel in full whirl. A few words, however, are necessary, if only to make the confusion palpable. The rival German families of Welfs and Weiblingens had given their names, softened into Guelfi and Ghibellini, - from which Gabriel Harvey ? ingeniously, but mistakenly, derives elves and goblins, — to two parties in Northern Italy, representing respectively the adherents of the pope and of the emperor, but serving very well as rallying-points in all manner of intercalary and subsidiary quarrels. The nobles, especially the greater ones, — perhaps from instinct, perhaps in part from hereditary tradition, as being more or less Teutonic by descent, monly Ghibellines, or Imperialists; the bourgeoisie were very commonly Guelphs, or supporters of the pope, partly from natural antipathy to the nobles, and partly, perhaps, because they believed themselves to be espousing the more purely Italian side. Sometimes, however, the party relation of nobles and burghers to each other was reversed, but the names of Guelph and Ghibelline always substantially represented the same things. The family of Dante had been Guelphic, and we have seen him already as a young man serving two campaigns against the other party. But no immediate question as between pope and emperor seems then to have been pending ; and while there is no evidence that he was ever a mere partisan, the reverse would be the inference from his habits and character. Just before his assumption of the priorate, however, a new complication had arisen. A family feud, beginning in the neighboring city of Pistoja, between the Cancellieri Neri and Cancellieri Bianchi, had extended to Florence, where the Guelphs took the part of the Neri and the Ghibellines of the Bianchi.2 The city was instantly in a ferment of street brawls, as actors in one of which some of the Medici are incidentally named, - the first appearance of that family in history. Both parties appealed at different times to the pope, who sent two ambassadors, first a bishop and then a cardinal. Both pacificators soon flung out again in a rage, after adding the new element of excommunication to the causes of confusion. It was in the midst of these things that Dante became one of the six priors (June, 1300), -- an office which the Florentines had made bimestrial in its tenure, in order apparently to secure at least six constitutional chances of revolution in the year. He advised that the leaders of both parties should be banished to the frontiers, which was forthwith done ; the ostracism including his relative Corso Donati among the Neri, and his most intimate friend the poet Guido Cavalcanti among the Bianchi. They were all permitted to return before long (though after Dante's term of office was over), and came accordingly, bringing at least the Scriptural allowance
1 Life and Times of Dante, London, 1858, p. 80. 2 Notes to Spenser's Shepherd's Calendar.
1 See the story at length in Balbo, Vita di Dante, cap. x.
2 Thus Foscolo. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that at first the blacks were the extreme Guelphs, and the whites those moderate Guelphs inclined to make terms with the Ghibellines. The matter is obscure, and Balbo contradicts himself about it.
seven other motives of mischief with them. Affairs getting worse (1301), the Neri, with the connivance of the pope (Boniface VIII.), entered into an arrangement with Charles of Valois, who was preparing an expedition to Italy. Dante was meanwhile sent on an embassy to Rome (September, 1301, according to Arrivabene, but probably earlier) by the Bianchi, who still retained all the offices at Florence. It is the tradition that he said in setting forth : “If I go, who remains ? and if I stay, who goes ?” Whether true or not, the story implies what was certainly true, that the counsel and influence of Dante were of great weight with the more moderate of both parties. On October 31, 1301, Charles took possession of Florence in the interest of the Neri. Dante being still at Rome (January 27, 1302), sentence of exile was pronounced against him and others, with a heavy fine to be paid within two months; if not paid, the entire confiscation of goods, and, whether paid or no, exile; the charge against him being pecuniary malversation in office. The fine not paid (as it
1 Secolo di Dante, p. 654. He would seem to have been in Rome during the Jubilee of 1300. See Inferno, XVIII. 28-33.