Great Men and Famous Women, Vol. 7 of 8
by Charles F. (Charles Francis) Horne
1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Transcriber's note:

Obvious printer's errors have been corrected. Hyphenation and accentuation have been made consistent. All other inconsistencies are as in the original. The author's spelling has been retained.

Page 185, the date of the death of Rev. Tennyson is 1831, not 1811 as written in the book.


A Series of Pen and Pencil Sketches of



Copyright, 1894, by Selmar Hess

edited by Charles F. Horne

New-York: Selmar Hess Publisher

Copyright, 1894, by SELMAR HESS.




WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT, Richard Henry Stoddard, 148

JOHN BUNYAN, John Greenleaf Whittier, 66

ROBERT BURNS, Will Carleton, 112

THOMAS CARLYLE, W. Wallace, 154

Letter from Carlyle on the "Choice of a Profession," 161

CERVANTES, Joseph Forster, 39

THOMAS CHATTERTON, Colonel Richard Malcolm Johnston, 107


JAMES FENIMORE COOPER, President Charles F. Thwing, 144

DANTE, Archdeacon Farrar, D.D., F.R.S., 19

DANIEL DE FOE, Clark Russell, 72

CHARLES DICKENS, Walter Besant, 186

RALPH WALDO EMERSON, Moncure D. Conway, 166

Letter from Emerson to his child on the subject of "Health," 173

GOETHE, Rev. Edward Everett Hale, 122

OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES, Francis H. Underwood, 196

HOMER, William Ewart Gladstone, 1

HORACE, J. W. Mackail, 16

VICTOR HUGO, Margaret O. W. Oliphant, 161


SAMUEL JOHNSON, Lord Macaulay, 99

HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW, Hezekiah Butterworth, 174


MOLIERE, Sir Walter Scott, 50

PETRARCH, Alice King, 25

PLATO, George Grote, F.R.S., 7

ALEXANDER POPE, Austin Dobson, 82

SCHILLER, B. L. Farjeon, 116

SIR WALTER SCOTT, W. C. Taylor, LL.D., 130

Letter of advice from Scott to his son, 135

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, Senator John J. Ingalls, 44

DEAN SWIFT, Samuel Archer, 77


ALFRED TENNYSON, Clarence Cook, 182


VOLTAIRE, M. C. Lockwood, D.D., 92










Art is the child of nature; yes, Her darling child in whom we trace The features of the mother's face, Her aspect and her attitude.




(ABOUT 1000 B.C.)

The poems of Homer differ from all other known poetry in this, that they constitute in themselves an encyclopaedia of life and knowledge at a time when knowledge, indeed, such as lies beyond the bounds of actual experience, was extremely limited, but when life was singularly fresh, vivid, and expansive. The only poems of Homer we possess are the "Iliad" and the "Odyssey," for the Homeric hymns and other productions lose all title to stand in line with these wonderful works, by reason of conflict in a multitude of particulars with the witness of the text, as well as of their poetical inferiority. They evidently belong to the period that follows the great migration into Asia Minor, brought about by the Dorian conquest.

The dictum of Herodotus, which places the date of Homer four hundred years before his own, therefore in the ninth century B.C., was little better than mere conjecture. Common opinion has certainly presumed him to be posterior to the Dorian conquest. The "Hymn to Apollo," however, which was the main prop of this opinion, is assuredly not his. In a work which attempts to turn recent discovery to account, I have contended that the fall of Troy cannot properly be brought lower than about 1250 B.C., and that Homer may probably have lived within fifty years of it.

The entire presentation of life and character in the two poems is distinct from, and manifestly anterior to, anything made known to us in Greece under and after that conquest. The study of Homer has been darkened and enfeebled by thrusting backward into it a vast mass of matter belonging to these later periods, and even to the Roman civilization, which was different in spirit and which entirely lost sight of the true position of Greeks and Trojans and inverted their moral as well as their martial relations. The name of Greeks is a Roman name; the people to whom Homer has given immortal fame are Achaians, both in designation and in manners. The poet paints them at a time when the spirit of national life was rising within their borders. Its first efforts had been seen in the expeditions of Achaian natives to conquer the Asiatic or Egyptian immigrants who had, under the name of Cadmeians (etymologically, "foreigners"), founded Thebes in Boeotia, and in the voyage of the ship Argo to Colchis, which was probably the seat of a colony sprung from the Egyptian empire, and was therefore regarded as hostile in memory of the antecedent aggressions of that empire. The expedition against Troy was the beginning of the long chain of conflicts between Europe and Asia, which end with the Turkish conquests and with the reaction of the last three hundred years, and especially of the nineteenth century, against them. It represents an effort truly enormous toward attaining nationality in idea and in practice. Clearing away obstructions, of which the cause has been partially indicated, we must next observe that the text of Homer was never studied by the moderns as a whole in a searching manner until within the last two generations. From the time of Wolf there was infinite controversy about the works and the authorship, with little positive result, except the establishment of the fact that they were not written but handed down by memory, an operation aided and methodized by the high position of bards as such in Greece (more properly Achaia, and afterward Hellas), by the formation of a separate school to hand down these particular songs, and by the great institution of the Games at a variety of points in the country. At these centres there were public recitations even before the poems were composed, and the uncertainties of individual memory were limited and corrected by competition carried on in a presence of a people eminently endowed with the literary faculty, and by the vast national importance of handing down faithfully a record which was the chief authority touching the religion, history, political divisions, and manners of the country. Many diversities of text arose, but there was thus a continual operation, a corrective as well as a disintegrating process.

The Germans, who had long been occupied in framing careful monographs which contracted the contents of the Homeric text on many particulars, such as the Ship, the House, and so forth, have at length supplied, in the work of Dr. E. Buchholz, a full and methodical account of the contents of the text. This work would fill in English not less than six octavo volumes.

The Greeks called the poet poietes, the "maker," and never was there such a maker as Homer. The work, not exclusively, but yet pre-eminently his, was the making of a language, a religion, and a nation. The last named of these was his dominant idea, and to it all his methods may be referred. Of the first he may have been little conscious while he wrought in his office as a bard, which was to give delight.

Careful observation of the text exhibits three powerful factors which contribute to the composition of the nation. First, the Pelasgic name is associated with the mass of the people, cultivators of the soil in the Greek peninsula and elsewhere, though not as their uniform designation, for in Crete (for example) they appear in conjunction with Achaians and Dorians, representatives of a higher stock, and with Eteocretans, who were probably anterior occupants. This Pelasgian name commands the sympathy of the poet and his laudatory epithets; but is nowhere used for the higher class or for the entire nation. The other factors take the command. The Achaians are properly the ruling class, and justify their station by their capacity. But there is a third factor also of great power. We know from the Egyptian monuments that Greece had been within the sway of that primitive empire, and that the Phoenicians were its maritime arm, as they were also the universal and apparently exclusive navigators of the Mediterranean. Whatever came over sea to the Achaian land came in connection with the Phoenician name, which was used by Homer in a manner analogous to the use of the word Frank in the Levant during modern times. But as Egyptian and Assyrian knowledge is gradually opened up to us we learn by degrees that Phoenicia conveyed to Greece Egyptian and Assyrian elements together with her own.

The rich materials of the Greek civilization can almost all be traced to this medium of conveyance from the East and South. Great families which stand in this association were founded in Greece and left their mark upon the country. It is probable that they may have exercised in the first instance a power delegated from Egypt, which they retained after her influence had passed away. Building, metal-working, navigation, ornamental arts, natural knowledge, all carry the Phoenician impress. This is the third of the great factors which were combined and evolved in the wonderful nationality of Greece, a power as vividly felt at this hour as it was three thousand years ago. But if Phoenicia conveyed the seed, the soil was Achaian, and on account of its richness that peninsula surpassed, in its developments of human nature and action, the southern and eastern growths. An Achaian civilization was the result, full of freshness and power, in which usage had a great sacredness, religion was a moral spring of no mean force, slavery though it existed was not associated with cruelty, the worst extremes of sin had no place in the life of the people, liberty had an informal but very real place in public institutions, and manners reached to much refinement; while on the other hand, fierce passion was not abated by conventional restraints, slaughter and bondage were the usual results of war, the idea of property was but very partially defined, and though there were strong indeterminate sentiments of right there is no word in Homer signifying law. Upon the whole, though a very imperfect, it was a wonderful and noble nursery of manhood.

It seems clear that this first civilization of the peninsula was sadly devastated by the rude hands of the Dorian conquest. Institutions like those of Lycurgus could not have been grafted upon the Homeric manners; and centuries elapsed before there emerged from the political ruin a state of things favorable to refinement and to progress in the Greece of history; which though in so many respects of an unequalled splendor, yet had a less firm hold than the Achaian time upon some of the highest social and moral ideas. For example, the position of women had greatly declined, liberty was perhaps less largely conceived, and the tie between religion and morality was more evidently sundered.

After this sketch of the national existence which Homer described, and to the consolidation of which he powerfully ministered, let us revert to the state in which he found and left the elements of a national religion. A close observation of the poems pretty clearly shows us that the three races which combined to form the nation had each of them their distinct religious traditions. It is also plain enough that with this diversity there had been antagonism. As sources illustrative of these propositions which lie at the base of all true comprehension of the religion—which may be called Olympian from its central seat—I will point to the numerous signs of a system of nature-worship as prevailing among the Pelasgian masses; to the alliance in the war between the nature-powers and the Trojans as against the loftier Hellenic mythology; to the legend in Iliad, i., 396-412, of the great war in heaven, which symbolically describes the collision on earth between the ideas which were locally older and those beginning to surmount them; and, finally, to the traditions extraneous to the poems of competitions between different deities for the local allegiance of the people at different spots, such as Corinth, to which Phoenician influence had brought the Poseidon-worship before Homer's time, and Athens, which somewhat later became peculiarly the seat of mixed races. I have spoken of nature-worship as the Pelasgian contribution to the composite Olympian religion. In the Phoenician share we find, as might be expected, both Assyrian and Egyptian elements. The best indication we possess of the Hellenic function is that given by the remarkable prayer of Achilles to Zeus in Iliad, xvi., 233-248. This prayer on the sending forth of Patroclus is the hinge of the whole action of the poem, and is preceded by a long introduction (220-232) such as we nowhere else find. The tone is monotheistic; no partnership of gods appears in it; and the immediate servants of Zeus are described as interpreters, not as priests. From several indications it may be gathered that the Hellenic system was less priestly than the Troic. It seems to have been an especial office of Homer to harmonize and combine these diverse elements, and his Thearchy is as remarkable a work of art as the terrestrial machinery of the poem. He has profoundly impressed upon it the human likeness often called anthropomorphic, and which supplied the basis of Greek art. He has repelled on all sides from his classical and central system the cult of nature and of animals, but it is probable that they kept their place in the local worships of the country. His Zeus is to a considerable extent a monarch, while Poseidon and several other deities bear evident marks of having had no superior at earlier epochs or in the countries of their origin. He arranges them partly as a family, partly as a commonwealth. The gods properly Olympian correspond with the Boule or council upon earth, while the orders of less exalted spirits are only summoned on great occasions. He indicates twenty as the number of Olympian gods proper, following in this the Assyrian idea. But they were far from holding an equal place in his estimation. For a deity such as Aphrodite brought from the East, and intensely tainted with sensual passions, he indicates aversion and contempt. But for Apollo, whose cardinal idea is that of obedience to Zeus, and for Athene, who represents a profound working wisdom that never fails of its end, he has a deep reverence. He assorts and distributes religious traditions with reference to the great ends he had to pursue; carefully, for example, separating Apollo from the sun, with which he bears marks of having been in other systems identified. Of his other greater gods it may be said that the dominant idea is in Zeus policy, in Here nationality, and in Poseidon physical force. His Trinity, which is conventional, and his Under-world appear to be borrowed from Assyria, and in some degree from Egypt. One licentious legend appears in Olympus, but this belongs to the Odyssey, and to a Phoenician, not a Hellenic, circle of ideas. His Olympian assembly is, indeed, largely representative of human appetites, tastes, and passions; but in the government of the world it works as a body on behalf of justice, and the suppliant and the stranger are peculiarly objects of the care of Zeus. Accordingly, we find that the cause which is to triumph in the Trojan war is the just cause; that in the Odyssey the hero is led through suffering to peace and prosperity, and that the terrible retribution he inflicts has been merited by crime. At various points of the system we trace the higher traditions of religion, and on passing down to the classical period we find that the course of the mythology has been a downward course.

The Troic as compared with the Achaian manners are to a great extent what we should now call Asiatic as distinguished from European. Of the great chieftains, Achilles, Diomed, Ajax, Menelaos, and Patroclus appear chiefly to exhibit the Achaian ideal of humanity; Achilles, especially, and on a colossal scale. Odysseus, the many-sided man, has a strong Phoenician tinge, though the dominant color continues to be Greek. And in his house we find exhibited one of the noblest among the characteristics of the poems in the sanctity and perpetuity of marriage. Indeed, the purity and loyalty of Penelope are, like the humility approaching to penitence of Helen, quite unmatched in antiquity.

The plot of the Iliad has been the subject of much criticism, on account of the long absence of Achilles, the hero, from the action of the poem. But Homer had to bring out Achaian character in its various forms, and while the vastness of Achilles is on the stage, every other Achaian hero must be eclipsed. Further, Homer was an itinerant minstrel, who had to adapt himself to the sympathies and traditions of the different portions of the country. Peloponnesus was the seat of power, and its chiefs acquired a prominent position in the Iliad by what on the grounds we may deem a skilful arrangement. But most skilful of all is the fine adjustment of the balance as between Greek and Trojan warriors. It will be found on close inspection of details that the Achaian chieftains have in truth a vast military superiority; yet by the use of infinite art, Homer has contrived that the Trojans shall play the part of serious and considerable antagonists, so far that with divine aid and connivance they reduce the foe to the point at which the intervention of Achilles becomes necessary for their deliverance, and his supremacy as an exhibition of colossal manhood is thoroughly maintained.

The plot of the Odyssey is admitted to be consecutive and regular in structure. There are certain differences in the mythology which have been made a ground for supposing a separate authorship. But, in the first place, this would do nothing to explain them; in the second, they find their natural explanation in observing that the scene of the wanderings is laid in other lands, beyond the circle of Achaian knowledge and tradition, and that Homer modifies his scheme to meet the ethnical variations as he gathered them from the trading navigators of Phoenicia, who alone could have supplied him with the information required for his purpose.

That information was probably colored more or less by ignorance and by fraud. But we can trace in it the sketch of an imaginary voyage to the northern regions of Europe, and it has some remarkable features of internal evidence, supported by the facts, and thus pointing to its genuineness. In latitudes not described as separate we have reports of the solar day apparently contradictory. In one case there is hardly any night, so that the shepherd might earn double wages. In the other, cloud and darkness almost shut out the day. But we now know both of these statements to have a basis of solid truth on the Norwegian coast to the northward, at the different seasons of the midnight sun in summer, and of Christmas, when it is not easy to read at noon.

The value of Homer as a recorder of antiquity, as opening a large and distinct chapter of primitive knowledge, is only now coming by degrees into view, as the text is more carefully examined and its parts compared, and as other branches of ancient study are developed, especially as in Assyria and Egypt, and by the remarkable discoveries of Dr. Schliemann at Hissarlik and in Greece. But the appreciation of him as a poet has never failed, though it is disappointing to find that a man so great as Aristophanes should describe him simply as the bard of battles, and sad to think that in many of the Christian centuries his works should have slumbered without notice in hidden repositories. His place among the greatest poets of the world, whom no one supposes to be more than three or four in number, has never been questioned. Considering him as anterior to all literary aids and training, he is the most remarkable phenomenon among them all. It may be well to specify some of the points that are peculiarly his own. One of them is the great simplicity of the structure of his mind. With an incomparable eye for the world around him in all things, great and small, he is abhorrent of everything speculative and abstract, and what may be called philosophies have no place in his works, almost the solitary exception being that he employs thought as an illustration of the rapidity of the journey of a deity. He is, accordingly, of all poets the most simple and direct. He is also the most free and genial in the movement of his verse; grateful nature seems to give to him spontaneously the perfection to which great men like Virgil and Milton had to attain only by effort intense and sustained. In the high office of drawing human character in its multitude of forms and colors he seems to have no serious rival except Shakespeare. We call him an epic poet, but he is instinct from beginning to end with the spirit of the drama, while we find in him the seeds and rudiments even of its form. His function as a reciting minstrel greatly aided him herein. Again, he had in his language an instrument unrivalled for its facility, suppleness, and versatility, for the large range of what would in music be called its register, so that it embraced every form and degree of human thought, feeling, and emotion, and clothed them all, from the lowest to the loftiest, from the slightest to the most intense and concentrated, in the dress of exactly appropriate style and language. His metre also is a perfect vehicle of the language. If we think the range of his knowledge limited, yet it was all that his country and his age possessed, and it was very greatly more than has been supposed by readers that dwelt only on the surface. So long as the lamp of civilization shall not have ceased to burn, the Iliad and the Odyssey must hold their forward place among the brightest treasures of our race.


Extracts from "Plato," by GEORGE GROTE, F.R.S.

(427-347 B.C.)

Of Plato's biography we can furnish nothing better than a faint outline. We are not fortunate enough to possess the work on Plato's life composed by his companion and disciple, Xenocrates, like the life of Plotinus by Porphyry, or that of Proclus by Marinus. Though Plato lived eighty years, enjoying extensive celebrity, and though Diogenes Laertius employed peculiar care in collecting information about him, yet the number of facts recounted is very small, and of those facts a considerable proportion is poorly attested.

Plato was born at Aegina (in which island his father enjoyed an estate as clerouch or out-settled citizen) in the month Thargelion (May), of the year B.C. 427. His family, belonging to the Deme Collytus, was both ancient and noble, in the sense attached to that word at Athens. He was son of Ariston (or, according to some admirers, of the God Apollo) and Perictione; his maternal ancestors had been intimate friends or relatives of the law-giver Solon, while his father belonged to a gens tracing its descent from Codrus, and even from the God Poseidon. He was also nearly related to Charmides and to Critias—this last the well-known and violent leader among the oligarchy called the Thirty Tyrants. Plato was first called Aristocles, after his grandfather, but received when he grew up the name of Plato, on account of the breadth (we are told) either of his forehead or of his shoulders. Endowed with a robust physical frame, and exercised in gymnastics, not merely in one of the palaestrae of Athens (which he describes graphically in the Charmides), but also under an Argeian trainer, he attained such force and skill as to contend (if we may credit Dicaearchus) for the prize of wrestling among boys at the Isthmian festival. His literary training was commenced under a schoolmaster named Dionysius, and pursued under Draco, a celebrated teacher of music in the large sense then attached to that word. He is said to have displayed both diligence and remarkable quickness of apprehension, combined too with the utmost gravity and modesty. He not only acquired great familiarity with the poets, but composed poetry of his own—dithyrambic, lyric, and tragic; and he is even reported to have prepared a tragic tetralogy, with the view of competing for victory at the Dionysian festival. We are told that he burned these poems, when he attached himself to the society of Socrates. No compositions in verse remain under his name, except a few epigrams—amatory, affectionate, and of great poetical beauty. But there is ample proof in his dialogues that the cast of his mind was essentially poetical. Many of his philosophical speculations are nearly allied to poetry and acquire their hold upon the mind rather through imagination and sentiment than through reason or evidence.

According to Diogenes (who on this point does not cite his authority), it was about the twentieth year of Plato's age (407 B.C.) that his acquaintance with Socrates began. It may possibly have begun earlier, but certainly not later, since at the time of the conversation (related by Xenophon) between Socrates and Plato's younger brother Glaucon, there was already a friendship established between Socrates and Plato; and that time can hardly be later than 406 B.C., or the beginning of 405 B.C. From 406 B.C. down to 399 B.C., when Socrates was tried and condemned, Plato seems to have remained in friendly relation and society with him, a relation perhaps interrupted during the severe political struggles between 405 B.C. and 403 B.C., but revived and strengthened after the restoration of the democracy in the last-mentioned year.

Whether Plato ever spoke with success in the public assembly we do not know; he is said to have been shy by nature, and his voice was thin and feeble, ill adapted for the Pnyx. However, when the oligarchy of Thirty was established, after the capture and subjugation of Athens, Plato was not only relieved from the necessity of addressing the assembled people, but also obtained additional facilities for rising into political influence, through Critias (his near relative) and Charmides, leading men among the new oligarchy. Plato affirms that he had always disapproved the antecedent democracy, and that he entered on the new scheme of government with full hope of seeing justice and wisdom predominant He was soon undeceived. The government of the Thirty proved a sanguinary and rapacious tyranny, filling him with disappointment and disgust. He was especially revolted by their treatment of Socrates, whom they not only interdicted from continuing his habitual colloquy with young men, but even tried to implicate in nefarious murders, by ordering him along with others to arrest Leon the Salaminian, one of their intended victims; an order which Socrates, at the peril of his life, disobeyed.

Thus mortified and disappointed, Plato withdrew from public functions. What part he took in the struggle between the oligarchy and its democratical assailants under Thrasybulus we are not informed. But when the democracy was re-established his political ambition revived and he again sought to acquire some active influence on public affairs. Now, however, the circumstances had become highly unfavorable to him. The name of his deceased relative, Critias, was generally abhorred, and he had no powerful partisans among the popular leaders. With such disadvantages, with anti-democratical sentiments, and with a thin voice, we cannot wonder that Plato soon found public life repulsive, though he admits the remarkable moderation displayed by the restored Demos. His repugnance was aggravated to the highest pitch of grief and indignation by the trial and condemnation of Socrates (399 B.C.) four years after the renewal of the democracy. At that moment doubtless the Socratic men or companions were unpopular in a body. Plato, after having yielded his best sympathy and aid at the trial of Socrates, retired along with several others of them to Megara. He made up his mind that for a man of his views and opinions it was not only unprofitable, but also unsafe, to embark in active public life, either at Athens or in any other Grecian city. He resolved to devote himself to philosophical speculation and to abstain from practical politics, unless fortune should present to him some exceptional case of a city prepared to welcome and obey a renovator upon exalted principles.

At Megara Plato passed some time with the Megarian Eucleides, his fellow-disciple in the society of Socrates and the founder of what is termed the Megaric school of philosophers. He next visited Cyrene, where he is said to have become acquainted with the geometrician Theodorus and to have studied geometry under him. From Cyrene he proceeded to Egypt, interesting himself much in the antiquities of the country as well as in the conversation of the priests. In or about 394 B.C., if we may trust the statement of Aristoxenus about the military service of Plato at Corinth, he was again at Athens. He afterward went to Italy and Sicily, seeking the society of the Pythagorean philosophers, Archytas, Echecrates, Timaeus, etc., at Tarentum and Locri, and visiting the volcanic manifestations of Aetna. It appears that his first visit to Sicily was made when he was about forty years of age, which would be 387 B.C. Here he made acquaintance with the youthful Dion, over whom he acquired great intellectual ascendancy. By Dion Plato was prevailed upon to visit the elder Dionysius at Syracuse; but that despot, offended by the free spirit of his conversation and admonitions, dismissed him with displeasure, and even caused him to be sold into slavery at Aegina on his voyage home. Though really sold, however, Plato was speedily ransomed by friends. After farther incurring some risk of his life as an Athenian citizen, in consequence of the hostile feelings of the Aeginetans, he was conveyed away safely to Athens, about 386 B.C.

It was at this period, about 386 B.C., that the continuous and formal public teaching of Plato, constituting as it does so great an epoch in philosophy, commenced. But I see no ground for believing, as many authors assume, that he was absent from Athens during the entire interval between 399-386 B.C.

The spot selected by Plato for his lectures or teaching was a garden adjoining the precinct sacred to the hero Hecademus or Acedemus, distant from the gate of Athens called Dipylon somewhat less than a mile, on the road to Eleusis, toward the north. In this precinct there were both walks, shaded by trees, and a gymnasium for bodily exercise; close adjoining, Plato either inherited or acquired a small dwelling-house and garden, his own private property. Here, under the name of the Academy, was founded the earliest of those schools of philosophy, which continued for centuries forward to guide and stimulate the speculative minds of Greece and Rome.

We have scarce any particulars respecting the growth of the School of Athens from this time to the death of Plato, in 347 B.C. We only know generally that his fame as a lecturer became eminent and widely diffused; that among his numerous pupils were included Speusippus, Xenocrates, Aristotle, Demosthenes, Hyperides, Lycurgus, etc.; that he was admired and consulted by Perdiccas in Macedonia, and Dionysius at Syracuse; that he was also visited by listeners and pupils from all parts of Greece.

It was in the year 367-366 that Plato was induced, by the earnest entreaties of Dion, to go from Athens to Syracuse, on a visit to the younger Dionysius, who had just become despot, succeeding to his father of the same name. Dionysius II., then very young, had manifested some disposition toward philosophy and prodigious admiration for Plato, who was encouraged by Dion to hope that he would have influence enough to bring about an amendment or thorough reform of the government at Syracuse. This ill-starred visit, with its momentous sequel, has been described in my "History of Greece." It not only failed completely, but made matters worse rather than better; Dionysius became violently alienated from Dion and sent him into exile. Though turning a deaf ear to Plato's recommendations, he nevertheless liked his conversation, treated him with great respect, detained him for some time at Syracuse, and was prevailed upon, only by the philosopher's earnest entreaties, to send him home. Yet in spite of such uncomfortable experience, Plato was induced, after a certain interval, again to leave Athens and pay a second visit to Dionysius, mainly in hopes of procuring the restoration of Dion. In this hope, too, he was disappointed, and was glad to return, after a longer stay than he wished, to Athens.

The visits of Plato to Dionysius were much censured and his motives misrepresented by unfriendly critics, and these reproaches were still further embittered by the entire failure of his hopes. The closing years of his long life were saddened by the disastrous turn of events at Syracuse, aggravated by the discreditable abuse of power and violent death of his intimate friend, Dion, which brought dishonor both upon himself and upon the Academy. Nevertheless, he lived to the age of eighty, and died in 348-347 B.C., leaving a competent property, which he bequeathed by a will still extant. But his foundation, the Academy, did not die with him. It passed to his nephew Speusippus, who succeeded him as teacher, conductor of the school, or scholarch, and was himself succeeded after eight years by Xenocrates of Chalcedon; while another pupil of the Academy, Aristotle, after an absence of some years from Athens, returned thither and established a school of his own at the Lyceum, at another extremity of the city.

The latter half of Plato's life in his native city must have been one of dignity and consideration, though not of any political activity. He is said to have addressed the Dicastery as an advocate for the accused general Chabrias; and we are told that he discharged the expensive and showy functions of Choregus with funds supplied by Dion. Out of Athens also his reputation was very great. When he went to the Olympic festival of B.C. 360 he was an object of conspicuous attention and respect; he was visited by hearers, young men of rank and ambition, from the most distant Hellenic cities.

Such is the sum of our information respecting Plato. Scanty as it is we have not even the advantage of contemporary authority for any portion of it. We have no description of Plato from any contemporary author, friendly or adverse. It will be seen that after the death of Socrates we know nothing about Plato as a man and a citizen, except the little which can be learned from his few epistles, all written when he was very old and relating almost entirely to his peculiar relations with Dion and Dionysius. His dialogues, when we try to interpret them collectively, and gather from them general results as to the character and purposes of the author, suggest valuable arguments and perplexing doubts, but yield few solutions. In no one of the dialogues does Plato address us in his own person. In the Apology alone (which is not a dialogue) is he alluded to even as present; in the Phaedon he is mentioned as absent from illness. Each of the dialogues, direct or indirect, is conducted from beginning to end by the persons whom he introduces. Not one of the dialogues affords any positive internal evidence showing the date of its composition. In a few there are allusions to prove that they must have been composed at a period later than others, or later than some given event of known date; but nothing more can be positively established. Nor is there any good extraneous testimony to determine the date of any one among them; for the remark ascribed to Socrates about the dialogue called Lysis (which remark, if authentic, would prove the dialogue to have been composed during the lifetime of Socrates) appears altogether untrustworthy. And the statement of some critics, that the Phaedrus was Plato's earliest composition, is clearly nothing more than an inference (doubtful at best, and in my judgment erroneous) from its dithyrambic style and erotic subject.


(70-19 B.C.)

Next to Homer on the roll of the world's epic poets stands the name of Virgil. Acknowledged by all as the greatest of Roman poets, he entered, as no other Roman writer did, into Christian history and mediaeval legend. Constantine, the first Christian emperor, professed to have been converted by the perusal of one of Virgil's "Eclogues," and Dante owned him as his master and model, and his guide through all the circles of the other world, while Italian tradition still regards him a great necromancer, a prophet, and a worker of miracles. From the date of his death till to-day, in every country, his works have been among the commonest of school-books, and editions, commentaries and translations are countless.

Publius Vergilius Maro—for the manuscripts and inscriptions of antiquity spell his name Vergilius, not Virgilius, as is customary—was born near the present city of Mantua, in Upper Italy, in the year 70 B.C., at a little village called Andes, which has been identified with the modern Italian hamlet of Pietola. At the time of his birth this region was not included in the term "Italy," but was a part of Cisalpine Gaul, where the inhabitants did not obtain Roman citizenship till the year B.C. 49. Thus the writer whose greatest work is devoted to immortalizing the glories of Rome and the deeds of its founder, was not a Roman by birth, and was over twenty before he became a citizen.

His father seems to have been in possession of a small property at Andes which he cultivated himself, and where the poet acquired his love for nature, and the intimate practical acquaintance with farm labors and farm management, which he used so effectively in his most carefully polished work, his "Georgics." His first education was received at the town of Cremona, and the larger city of Milan, and he was at the former place in his sixteenth year on the day when the poet Lucretius died.

Greek in those days was not only the language of poetry and philosophy, but the language of polite society and commercial usage. It was the common medium of communication throughout the Roman world, and a knowledge of it was indispensable. Hence, after studying his native language in Northern Italy, Virgil was sent to Naples, a city founded by Greeks, and possessing a large Greek population. Here he studied under Parthenius for some time, and then proceeded to Rome, where he had as his instructor, Syron, a member of the Epicurean school, of whose doctrines Virgil's poems bear some traces.

Rome, however, offered no career to a youth who was not yet a citizen, and Virgil seems to have returned to his paternal farm, and there probably he composed some of his smaller pieces, which bear marks of juvenile taste. Among those that have been assigned to this early part of his life, is one of considerable interest to Americans, for in it occurs our national motto, "E pluribus unum." The short poem—it consists of only one hundred and twenty-three lines—describes how a negro serving-woman makes a dish called Moretum, a kind of salad, in which various herbs are blended with oil and vinegar, till "out of many one united whole" is produced. To the same period critics have assigned his poem on a "Mosquito," and some epigrams in various metres. The home in the country had, however, soon to experience, like thousands of others, a sad change. The battle of Philippi took place, and Marc Antony and Octavius Caesar, the future emperor, known to later ages as Augustus, were masters of the world. We have no hints that Virgil had been, like Horace, engaged in the civil war in a military or any other capacity, or that his father had taken any part in the struggle, but the country in which his property lay was marked out for confiscation. The city of Cremona had strongly sympathized with the cause of Brutus and the republic, and in consequence, the doctrine that "to the victors belong the spoils," having a very practical application in those days, its territory was seized and divided among the victorious soldiers, and with it was taken part of the territory of its neighbor, Mantua, including Virgil's little farm. According to report the new occupier was an old soldier, named Claudius, and it was added that by the advice of Asinius Pollio, the governor of the province, Virgil applied to the young Octavius for restitution of the property. The request was granted, and Virgil, in gratitude, wrote his first "Eclogue," to commemorate the generosity of the emperor. These facts, if at all true, indicate that the young poet had already become favorably known to men of high position and great influence. Pollio was eminent not only as a soldier and statesman who played an important part in politics, but as an orator, a poet, and an historian, and above all as an encourager of literature. It was a fortunate day when a governor of such power to aid, and such taste to recognize talent, discovered the young poet of Andes, and saved him from a life of struggling poverty. Virgil's health was always feeble, and his temper seems to have been rather melancholy; he had had little experience of life except in his remote country town, and would, we may plausibly conjecture, have succumbed in a contest from which the more worldly-wise Horace emerged in triumph.

Pollio remained a steadfast friend, and Augustus and Maecenas took him under their protection. He was on terms of close intimacy with the latter, and introduced Horace to that great minister and patron of letters. The two poets were close friends, and Horace mentions Virgil as being in the party which accompanied Maecenas from Rome to Brundisium about the year 41 B.C. Between 41 B.C. and 37 B.C., he composed, as already stated, his "Eclogues" or "Bucolics." In these idylls we find many simple and natural touches, great beauty of metre and language, and numerous allusions to the persons and circumstances of the time. The fourth of these ten short poems is dedicated to Pollio, and is to be noted as the one quoted by Constantine as leading to his conversion to Christianity. "It is bucolic only in name, it is allegorical," writes George Long, "mystical, half historical, and prophetical, enigmatical, anything in fact but bucolic." The best-known imitation of his idyll is Pope's "Messiah." Pleasing as all these poems are, they do not represent rural life in Italy, they are in most part but echoes of Theocritus.

It is to the suggestion of Maecenas that we owe Virgil's most perfect poem, his "Georgics," which he commenced after the publication of the "Bucolics." To suppose these four books of verses on soils, fruit-trees, horses and cattle, and finally on bees, as a practical treatise to guide and instruct the farmer, is absurd. Few farmers have time or inclination to read so elaborate a work. It is probable that Maecenas, while recognizing the talent of the "Bucolics," saw likewise the unreality of their pictures of life, and gave him the subject of the "Georgics" as being in the same line as that the poet seemed to have chosen for himself, and yet as less liable to lead to imitations and pilferings from Greek originals. In fact there was no work that he could follow. In this work we find great improvement in both taste and versification, and the rather uninviting subject is treated and embellished in a way that makes his fame rest in great part on the poem. The fourth book, especially, with its episode of Orpheus and Eurydice will live forever for its plaintive tenderness. The work was completed at Naples, after the battle of Actium, 31 B.C., while Augustus was in the East.

In B.C. 27 the emperor was in Spain, and thence he addressed a request to let him have some monument of his poetical talent, to celebrate the emperor's name as he had done that of Maecenas. Virgil replied in a brief letter, saying, "As regards my 'Aeneas,' if it were worth your listening to, I would willingly send it. But so vast is the undertaking that I almost appear to myself to have commenced it from some defect in understanding; especially since, as you know, other and far more important studies are needed for such a work." In the year B.C. 24, we learn from the poet Propertius, that Virgil was then busy at the task, and in all probability the former may have heard it read by its author. The old Latin commentators preserve several striking notices of Virgil's habit of reading or reciting his poems, both while he was composing them and after they were completed, and especially of the remarkable beauty and charm of the poet's rendering of his own words and its powerful effect upon his hearers. "He read," says Suetonius, "at once with sweetness and with a wonderful fascination;" and Seneca had a story of the poet Julius Montanus saying that he himself would attempt to steal something from Virgil if he could first borrow his voice, his elocution, and his dramatic power in reading; for the very same lines, said he, which when the author himself read them sounded well, without him were empty and dumb. He read to Augustus the whole of his "Georgics," and on another occasion three books of the "Aeneid," the second, the fourth, and the sixth, the last with an effect upon Octavia not to be forgotten, for she was present at the reading, and at those great lines about her own son and his premature death, which begin "Tu Marcellus cris," it is said that she fainted away and was with difficulty recovered. She rewarded the poet munificently for this tribute to her son's memory. For three years longer he worked steadily on the poem, and in B.C. 19 he resolved to go to Greece and devote three entire years to polishing and finishing the work. He got as far as Athens, where he met Augustus returning from the East, and determined to go back to Italy in his company. He fell ill, however, during a visit to Megara, the voyage between Greece and Italy did not improve his health and he died a few days after landing at Brundisium, in the year B.C. 19. His body was transferred to Naples, and he was buried near the city at Puteoli. By his will he left some property to his friends Varius and Nicca, with the injunction that they should burn the unfinished epic. The injunction was never carried out, by the express command of the emperor, who directed Varius to publish the poem without any additions of any kind. An order carefully executed, for as the "Aeneid" stands there are numerous imperfect lines.

This epic poem on the foundation of Rome by a colony from Troy is based on an old Latin tradition, and is modelled on the form of the poems of Homer. The first six books remind the student of the adventures of Ulysses in the "Odyssey," while the last six books, recounting the contest of the Trojan settlers under Aeneas with the native inhabitants under their King Latinus, follow the style of the battle-pieces of the "Iliad." The most striking and original part of the plan of the poem is the introduction of Carthage and the Carthaginian queen, on whose coasts Aeneas, in defiance of all chronology, is described as suffering shipwreck. The historic conflict between Rome and Carthage, when Hannibal and his cavalry rode from one end of Italy to another, and encamped under the walls of Rome itself, left an indelible impression on the imagination of the Romans. The war with Carthage was to them all that the Arab invasion was to Spain, or the Saracen hordes to Eastern Europe. It was the first great struggle for empire in times of which history holds record, between the East and the West, between the Semitic and Aryan races, and Virgil, with consummate skill, took the opportunity of predicting the future rivalry between Rome and Carthage, and the ultimate triumph of the former power. All through the poem there are allusions to the history of Rome, and to the descent of the Julian house from the great Trojan hero. The hero Aeneas, himself, is rather an insipid character, but, on the other hand, Dido is painted with great force, truth, and tenderness. The visit to Carthage gives occasion for the narrative of the fall of Troy in the second and third books, while the sixth book, describing the landing in Italy and the hero's descent to the infernal regions, has been regarded as containing the esoteric teaching of the ancient mysteries, and has influenced deeply the belief of the Christian world. Virgil lived, it may be said, at the parting of the ways. The old gods, who were goodly and glad, had become discredited; the world was no longer young, no longer fresh and fair and hopeful; it had passed through ages of war and misery, it was harassed by doubt, the general feeling was what we would now call pessimistic, and a resigned melancholy, a keen sense of there being something wrong in the universe, can be felt in every line of Virgil, and there are tears in his voice.

In person Virgil was tall, his complexion dark, and his appearance that of a rustic. He was modest, retiring, loyal to his friends. The liberality of Maecenas and Augustus had enriched him, and he left a considerable property and a house on the Esquiline Hill. He had troops of friends, all the accomplished men of the day; he was quite free from jealousy and envy, and of amiable temper. No one speaks of him except in terms of affection and esteem. He used his wealth liberally, supporting his parents generously, and his father, who became blind in his old age, lived long enough to hear of his son's fame and feel the effects of his prosperity.



(65-8 B.C.)

Quintus Horatius Flaccus [Horace], Latin poet and satirist, was born near Venusia, in Southern Italy, on December 8, 65 B.C. His father was a manumitted slave, who as a collector of taxes or an auctioneer had saved enough money to buy a small estate, and thus belonged to the same class of small Italian freeholders as the parents of Virgil. Apparently Horace was an only child, and as such received an education almost beyond his father's means; who, instead of sending him to school at Venusia, took him to Rome, provided him with the dress and attendance customary among boys of the upper classes, and sent him to the best masters. At seventeen or eighteen he proceeded to Athens, then the chief school of philosophy, and one of the three great schools of oratory, to complete his education; and he was still there when the murder of Julius Caesar, March 15, 44 B.C., rekindled the flames of civil war.

In the autumn of this year, Brutus, then propraetor of Macedonia, visited Athens while levying troops. Horace joined his side; and such was the scarcity of Roman officers, that though barely twenty-one, and totally without military experience, he was at once given a high commission. He was present at the battle of Philippi, and joined in the general fight that followed the republican defeat; he found his way back to Italy, and apparently was not thought important enough for proscription by the triumvirate. His property, however, had been confiscated, and he found employment in the lower grade of the civil service to gain a livelihood.

It was at this period that poverty, he says, drove him to make verses. His earliest were chiefly satires and personal lampoons; but it was probably from some of his first lyrical pieces, in which he showed a new mastery of the Roman language, that he became known to Varius and Virgil, who in or about 38 B.C. introduced him to Maecenas, the confidential minister of Octavianus and a munificent patron of art and letters. The friendship thus formed was uninterrupted till the death of Maecenas, to whose liberality Horace owed release from business and the gift of the celebrated farm among the Sabine Hills.

From this time forward his life was without marked incident. His springs and summers were generally spent at Rome, where he enjoyed the intimacy of nearly all the most prominent men of the time; his autumns at the Sabine farm, or a small villa which he possessed at Tibur; he sometimes passed the winter in the milder seaside air of Baiae. Maecenas introduced him to Augustus, who, according to Suetonius, offered him a place in his own household, which the poet prudently declined. But as the unrivalled lyric poet of the time Horace gradually acquired the position of poet-laureate; and his ode written to command for the celebration of the Secular Games in 17 B.C., with the official odes which followed it on the victories of Tiberius and Drusus, and on the glories of the Augustan age, mark the highest level which this kind of poetry has reached.

On November 27, 8 B.C., he died in his fifty-seventh year. Virgil had died eleven years before. Tibullus and Propertius soon after Virgil. Ovid, still a young man, was the only considerable poet whom he left behind; and with his death the Augustan age of Latin poetry ends.

The following is the list of Horace's works arranged according to the dates which have been most plausibly fixed by scholars. Some of the questions of Horatian chronology, however, are still at issue, and to most of the dates now to be given the word "about" should be prefixed.

The first book of Satires ten in number, his earliest publication, appeared 35 B.C. A second volume of eight satires, showing more maturity and finish than the first, was published 30 B.C.; and about the same time the small collection of lyrics in iambic and composite metres, imitated from the Greek of Archilochus, which is known as the Epodes. In 19 B.C., at the age of forty-six, he produced his greatest work, three books of odes, a small volume which represents the long labor of years, and which placed him at once in the front rank of poets. About the same time, whether before or after remains uncertain, is to be placed his incomparable volume of epistles, which in grace, ease, good sense and wit mark as high a level as the odes do in terseness, melody, and exquisite finish. These two works are Horace's great achievement. The remainder of his writings demand but brief notice. They are the "Carmen Seculare;" a fourth book of odes, with all the perfection of style of the others, but showing a slight decline in freshness; and three more epistles, one, that addressed to Flores, the most charming in its lively and grateful ease of all Horace's familiar writings; the other two, somewhat fragmentary essays in literary criticism. One of them, generally known as the "Ars Poetica," was perhaps left unfinished at his death.

In his youth Horace had been an aristocrat, but his choice of sides was perhaps more the result of accident than of conviction, and he afterward acquiesced without great difficulty in the imperial government. His acquiescence was not at first untempered with regret; and in the odes modern critics have found touches of veiled sarcasm against the new monarchy and even a certain sympathy with the abortive conspiracy of Murena in 22 B.C. But as the empire grew stronger and the advantages which it brought became more evident—the repair of the destruction caused by the civil wars, the organization of government, the development of agriculture and commerce, the establishment at home and abroad of the peace of Rome—his tone passes into real enthusiasm for the new order.

Horace professed himself a follower of the doctrines of Epicurus, which he took as a reasonable mean between the harshness of stoicism and the low morality of the Cyrenaics. In his odes, especially those written on public occasions, he uses, as all public men did, the language of the national religion. But both in religion and in philosophy he remains before all things a man of the world; his satire is more of manners and follies than of vice or impiety; and his excellent sense keeps him always to that "golden mean" in which he sums up the lesson of Epicurus. As a critic he shows the same general good sense, but his criticisms do not profess to be original or to go much beneath the surface. In Greek literature he follows Alexandrian taste; in Latin he represents the tendency of his age to undervalue the earlier efforts of the native genius and lay great stress on the technical finish of his own day.

From his own lifetime till now Horace has had a popularity unexampled in literature. A hundred generations who have learned him as school-boys have remembered and returned to him in mature age as to a personal friend. He is one of those rare examples, like Julius Caesar in politics, of genius which ripens late and leaves the more enduring traces. Up to the age of thirty-five his work is still crude and tentative; afterward it is characterized by a jewel finish, an exquisite sense of language which weighs every word accurately and makes every word inevitable and perfect. He was not a profound thinker; his philosophy is rather that of the market-place than of the schools, he does not move among high ideals or subtle emotions. The romantic note which makes Virgil so magical and prophetic a figure at that turning-point of the world's history has no place in Horace; to gain a universal audience he offers nothing more and nothing less than what is universal to mankind. Of the common range of thought and feeling he is perfect and absolute master; and in the graver passages of the epistles, as in the sad and noble cadence of his most fatuous odes, the melancholy temper which underlay his quick and bright humor touches the deepest springs of human nature. Of his style the most perfect criticism was given in the next generation by a single phrase, Horatii curiosa felicitas, of no poet can it be more truly said, in the phrase of the Greek dramatist Agathon, that "skill has an affection for luck and luck for skill." His poetry supplies more phrases which have become proverbial than the rest of Latin literature put together. To suggest a parallel in English literature we must unite in thought the excellences of Pope and Gray with the easy wit and cultured grace of Addison.

Horace's historical position in Latin literature is this: on the one hand, he carried on and perfected the native Roman growth, satire, from the ruder essays of Lucilius, so as to make Roman life from day to day, in city and country, live anew under his pen; on the other hand, he naturalized the metres and manner of the great Greek lyric poets, from Alcaeus and Sappho downward. Before Horace Latin lyric poetry is represented almost wholly by the brilliant but technically immature poems of Catullus; after him it ceases to exist. For what he made it he claims, in a studied modesty of phrase but with a just sense of his own merits, an immortality to rival that of Rome.




In this paper I will give a rapid sketch of Dante's life, and then will try to point to some of the features of a poem which must ever take its place among the supremest efforts of the human intellect, side by side with Homer's "Iliad," and Virgil's "Aeneid," and Milton's "Paradise Lost," and the plays of Shakespeare; and which is not less great than any of these in its immortal and epoch-making significance.

Dante was born in 1265, in the small room of a small house in Florence, still pointed out as the Casa di Dante. His father, Aldighieri, was a lawyer, and belonged to the humbler class of burgher-nobles. The family seems to have changed its name into Alighieri, "the wing-bearers," at a later time, in accordance with the beautiful coat of arms which they adopted—a wing in an azure field. Dante was a devout, beautiful, precocious boy, and his susceptible soul caught a touch of "phantasy and flame" from the sight of Beatrice, daughter of Folco de' Portinari, whom he saw clad in crimson for a festa. From that day the fair girl, with her rosy cheeks, and golden hair, and blue eyes, became to the dreamy boy a vision of angelic beauty, an ideal of saintly purity and truth. But while he cherished this inward love he continued to study under his master, Brunetto Latini, and acquired not only all the best learning, but also all the most brilliant accomplishments of his day. He had never breathed a word of his love to Beatrice; it was of the unselfish, adoring, chivalrous type, which was content to worship in silence. Beatrice was wedded to another, and shortly afterward, in 1289, she died. So far from causing to Dante any self-reproach, he regarded his love for her as the most ennobling and purifying influence of his life—a sort of moral regeneration. Beatrice became to him the type of Theology and Heavenly truth. Nor did his love in any way interfere with the studies or activities of his life. His sonnets early gained him fame as a poet, and the lovely portrait of him—painted by Giotto, on the walls of the Bargello, at the age of twenty-four side by side with Brunetto Latini and Corso Donati, and holding in his hand a pomegranate, the mystic type of good works—shows that he was already a man of distinction, and a favorite in the upper classes of Florentine society. He began to take an active part in politics, and in 1295 was formally enrolled in the Guild of Physicians and Apothecaries. On June 11, 1289, he fought as a volunteer in the battle of Campaldino. Amid these scenes of ambition and warfare he fell away for a time from his holiest aspirations. From theology he turned to purely human and materialist philosophy; from an ideal of pure love to earthlier defilements. It was perhaps with a desire to aid himself in the struggle against life's temptations that he seems to have become a member of the Tertiary Order of St. Francis of Assisi, for whom he had a passionate admiration. The Tertiaries did not abandon the secular life, but wore the cord of the order, and pledged themselves to lives of sanctity and devotion. Legend says that by his own desire he was buried in the dress of a Franciscan Tertiary. Yet there is evidence that he felt the inefficacy of any external bond. Experience taught him that the serge robe and the binding cord might only be the concealment of the hypocrite; and that they were worse than valueless without the purification of the heart. In the eighth Bolgia of the eighth circle of the "Inferno" he sees the givers of evil counsel, and among them Guido da Montefeltro, who, toward the close of his life had become a Cordelier or Franciscan Friar, hoping to make atonement for his sins. But tempted by Boniface VIII. with a promise of futile absolution, he gave him advice to take the town of Palestrina by "long promises and scant fulfilments." Trusting in the Pope's absolution, and not in the law of God, he was one of those who—

"Dying put on the weeds of Dominic, Or in Franciscan think to pass disguised,"

and believed that St. Francis would draw him up by his cord even from the pit of hell. But when he dies, though St. Francis comes to take him, one of the Black Cherubim of hell seizes and claims him, truly urging that absolution for an intended sin is a contradiction in terms, since absolution assumes penitence. Again, among the hypocrites in the sixth Bolgia, Dante sees men approach in dazzling cloaks, of which the hoods cover their eyes and face, like those worn by the monks of Cologne; but he finds that they are crushing weights of gilded lead—splendid semblance and agonizing, destroying reality. Again, when the two poets, Dante and Virgil, came to the Abyss of Evil-pits (Malebolge), down which the crimson stream of Phlegethon leaps in "a Niagara of blood," he is on the edge of the Circle of Fraud in all its varieties, down which they are to be carried on the back of Geryon, the triple-bodied serpent-monster, who is the type of all human and demonic falsity. And how is that monster to be evoked from the depth? Dante is bidden to take off the cord which girds him—the cord with which he had endeavored in old days to bind the spotted panther of sensual temptation—and to fling it into the void profound. He does so, and the monster, type of the brutal and the human in our nature when both are false, comes swimming and circling up from below. "The outward form"—symbolized by the cord—"when associated with unreality, only attracts the worst symbol of unreality." Once more, ere he begins to climb the steep terraces of the hill of Purgatory and true repentance, he has to be girt with a far different cord, even with a humble rush, the only plant which—because it bows to the billows and the wind—will grow among the beating waves of the sea which surrounds the mountain of Purgatory. That cord of rush is the type, not of outward profession, but of humble sincerity.

Dante, in his characteristic way, does not pause to explain any of these symbols to us. He leaves them to our own thought, but they all point to the one great lesson that God needs not the service of externalism, but the preparation of the heart.

In 1292, probably at the wish of his friends, Dante married Gemma Donati. She bore him seven children in seven years, and there is nothing to show that she was not a true and faithful wife to him, though it is quite probable, from his absolute silence respecting her, that the deepest grounds of sympathy hardly existed between them.

About the time of his marriage he plunged more earnestly into politics, and became one of the Priori of Florence. He felt himself that a change for the worse had passed over his life. It was no longer so pure, so simple, so devout as it once had been. In the year 1300, the year of the Great Jubilee which had been preached by Pope Boniface VIII., he was in the mid-path of life, and was lost, as he allegorically describes it at the beginning of the "Inferno," in a wild and savage wood. He was hindered from ascending the sunny hill of heavenly aims by the speckled panther of sensuality, the gaunt, gray wolf of avaricious selfishness, and the fierce lion of wrath and ambitious pride. But he was restored to hope and effort by a vision of Beatrice, which seems to have come to him before his Easter communion, and fixed in his mind the purpose of writing about Beatrice—in her ideal aspect of Divine Truth—"what never was writ of woman."

As a statesman, Dante, like most of the Florentines, was at this time a Guelph, and an adherent of the papal party, though in later years he became, by mature conviction, a Ghibelline, and placed his hopes for Italy in the intervention of the emperor. The disputes between the Guelphs and Ghibellines were complicated by the party factions of Neri and Bianchi, and by the influence of Dante the leaders of both factions were banished from the city, and among them his dearest friend, Guido Cavalcanti. At this time Pope Boniface encouraged Charles of Valois to enter Florence with an army. Dante resisted the proposal, and was sent as an ambassador to Rome. During his absence a decree of banishment was passed upon him. The Neri faction triumphed. The house of Dante was sacked and burned. He never saw Florence more.

The news of his sentence reached him in Siena, in April, 1302, and from that time began the last sad phases of his life, the long, slow agony of his exile and bitter disappointment. Disillusioned, separated from his wife, his children, the city of his love, he wandered from city to city, disgusted with the baseness alike of Guelphs and Ghibellines, feeling how salt is the bread of exile, and how hard it is to climb another's stairs. "Alas," he says, "I have gone about like a mendicant, showing against my will the wounds with which fortune hath smitten me. I have indeed been a vessel without sail and without rudder, carried to divers shores by the dry wind that springs from poverty." In 1316 he did indeed receive from ungrateful Florence an offer of return, but on the unworthy conditions that he should pay a fine and publicly acknowledge his criminality. He scorned such recompense of his innocence after having suffered exile for well-nigh three lustres. "If," he wrote, "by no honorable way can entrance be found into Florence, there will I never enter. What? Can I not from every corner of the earth behold the sun and the stars? Can I not under every climate of heaven meditate the sweetest truths, except I first make myself a man of ignominy in the face of Florence?"

Looking merely at outward success, men would have called the life of Dante a failure and his career a blighted career. But his misery was the condition of his immortal greatness. He endured for many a year the insults of the foolish and the company of the base, and on earth he did not find the peace for which his heart so sorely yearned. He died in 1321, at the age of fifty-six, of a broken heart, and lies, not at the Florence which he loved, but at Ravenna, near the now blighted pine woods, on the bleak Adrian shore. But if he lost himself he found himself. He achieved his true greatness, not among the bloody squabbles of political intrigue, but in the achievement of his great works, and above all of that "Divine Comedy," which was "the imperishable monument of his love of Beatrice, now identified with Divine Philosophy—his final gift to humanity and offering to God."

On the consummate greatness of that poem as the one full and perfect voice of many silent centuries I only touch, for it would require a volume to elucidate its many-sided significance. It is not one thing, but many things. In one aspect it is an autobiography as faithful as those of St. Augustine or of Rousseau, though transcendently purer and greater. It is a vision, like the "Pilgrim's Progress" of John Bunyan, but written with incomparably wider knowledge and keener insight. It is a soul's history, like Goethe's "Faust," but attaining to a far loftier level of faith and thoughtfulness and moral elevation. It is a divine poem, like Milton's "Paradise Lost," dealing, as Milton does, with God and Satan, and heaven and hell, but of wider range and intenser utterance. With the plays of Shakespeare, in their oceanic and myriad-minded variety, it can hardly be compared, because it originated under conditions so widely different, and was developed in an environment so strangely dissimilar. It is, moreover, one poem, while they form a multitude of dramas. But few would hesitate to admit that in reading Dante we are face to face with a soul, if less gifted yet less earthly than that of Shakespeare; a soul which "was like a star and dwelt apart"—

"Soul awful, if this world has ever held An awful soul."

I would urge all who are unacquainted with Dante to read, or rather to study, him at once. They could study no more ennobling teacher. If they are unfamiliar with Italian, they may read the faithful prose version of the "Inferno" by John Carlyle, of the "Purgatorio" and "Paradiso," by A. J. Butler, or the translations by Cary in blank verse, and the Dean of Wells in terza rima. If they desire to begin with some general introduction, they may read the fine essays by Dean Church and Mr. Lowell (in "Among my Books") and the excellent "Shadow of Dante," by Maria Rosetti. To such books, or to those of Mrs. Oliphant and others, I must refer the reader for all details respecting the structure of the poem which he called the "Divine Comedy." The name "Comedy" must not mislead any one. The poem is far too stately, intense, and terrible for humor of any kind. It was only called "Commedia" partly because it ends happily, and partly because it is written in a simple style and in the vernacular Italian, not, as was then the almost universal custom for serious works, in Latin. The name "Divina" is meant to indicate its solemnity and sacredness.

Many are unable to apprehend the greatness of the "Divine Comedy." Voltaire called the "Inferno" revolting, the "Purgatorio" dull, and the "Paradiso" unreadable. The reason is because they are not rightly attuned for the acceptance of the great truths which the poem teaches, and because they look at it from a wholly mistaken standpoint. If anyone supposes that the "Inferno," for instance, is meant for a burning torture-chamber of endless torments and horrible vivisection, he entirely misses the central meaning of the poem as Dante himself explained it. For he said that it was not so much meant to foreshadow the state of souls after death—although on that subject he accepted, without attempting wholly to shake them off, the horrors which, in theory, formed part of mediaeval Catholicism—but rather "man as rendering himself liable by the exercise of free-will to the rewards and punishments of justice." The hell of Dante is the hell of self; the hell of a soul which has not God in all its thoughts; the hell of final impenitence, of sin cursed by the exclusive possession of sin. It is a hell which exists no less in this world than in the next; just as his purgatory reflects the mingled joy and anguish of true repentance, and his heaven is the eternal peace of God, which men can possess here and now, and which the world can neither give nor take away. In other words, hell is not an obscure and material slaughter-house, but the Gehenna of evil deliberately chosen; and heaven is not a pagoda of jewels, but the presence and the light of God. Hence the "Divine Comedy" belongs to all time and to all place. While it supremely sums up the particular form assumed by the religion of the Middle Ages, it contains the eternal elements of all true religion in the life history of a soul, redeemed from sin and error, from lust and wrath and greed, and restored to the right path by the reason and the grace which enable it to see the things that are, and to see them as they are. The "Inferno," as has been said elsewhere, is the history of a soul descending through lower and lower stages of self-will till it sinks at last into those icy depths of Cocytus, wherein the soul is utterly emptied of God, and utterly filled with the loathly emptiness of self; the "Purgatory" is the history of the soul as it is gradually purged from sin and self, by effort and penitence and hope; the "Paradise" is the soul entirely filled with the fulness of God.

The moral truths in which the great poem abounds are numberless and of infinite interest. On these I cannot dwell, for to him who penetrates to the inner meaning of the allegory they are found on every page. But I may point out one or two supreme lessons which run throughout the teaching.

One is the lesson that like makes like—the lesson of modification by environment. We know how in Norfolk Island the convicts often degenerated almost into fiends because they associated with natures which had made themselves fiend-like, and were cut off from gentle, wholesome, and inspiring influences.

So it is in Dante's "Inferno." His evil men and seducers wax ever worse and worse because they have none around them save souls lost like their own. There is no brightening touch in the "Inferno." The name of Christ is never mentioned in its polluted air. The only angel who appears in it is not one of the radiant Sympathies, with fair golden heads and dazzling faces and wings and robes of tender green, of the "Purgatory," not one of the living topazes or golden splendors of the "Paradise"; but is stern, disdainful, silent, waving from before his face all contact with the filthy gloom. His Lucifer is no flickering, gentlemanly, philosophic man of the world like Goethe's Mephistopheles, nor like Milton's Fallen Cherub, whose

"Form had not yet lost All her original brightness, nor appeared Less than archangel ruined, or excess Of glory obscured;"

but is a three-headed monster of loathly ugliness, with faces yellow with envy, crimson with rage, and black with ignorance; not haughty, splendid, defiant, but foul and loathly as sin itself.




It was in the days of civil strife in Florence. The Republic, like the fickle mistress that she was, was stripping and turning out of doors her best servants, and was petting and clothing with honor her worst ones. Among those who, driven by the decree of banishment, hurried out of the city's southern gate were the parents of Francesco Petrarch. They retired to the little town of Arezzo, and there he was born in 1304, soon after their banishment. As she looked at her boy, his mother, Eletta, very likely mourned to think that he would not be able in after life to boast of being a native of fair Florence. She did not know that in future ages Florence was to count it among her highest distinctions that this child was of Florentine race.

Francesco was hardly freed from his swaddling-clothes when his father, with that restlessness peculiar to exiles, removed the whole family from Arezzo to Pisa. There they stayed for about two years; and the little fellow's first tottering, baby footsteps were traced on the banks of the Arno. When he was three the decree of banishment was, through the influence of friends in Florence, revoked toward the Petrarch family, as far as Eletta and her son were concerned—and a part of their property was restored to them. The father was glad to secure to his dear ones a safer and more comfortable home than he could find for them in his wanderings; and Eletta, though she wept at parting from her husband, smiled again when relations and old familiar companions crowded round her to admire her gallant boy.

She did not, however, stay long in the town. She withdrew to Ancisa, a village about fourteen miles from Florence, and settled there on a small estate belonging to her husband. This she did partly, perhaps, to keep down her expenses, and partly, perhaps, to devote herself more entirely to her son. Here his mother, who must have been a clever woman in her way, breathed into the boy Petrarch that high religious feeling which strengthened his whole life, and led him up the first steps of the ladder of knowledge; and here he acquired that taste for the sights and sounds of the country, and that love of its quiet which clung to him till the end of his days. The song of the nightingale, the whisper of the wind, the murmur of the stream, all re-echo constantly through his verse; and even when he is most rapturous about Laura's beauty, he will often pause to tell of the grass and flowers on which she treads.

No doubt, also, it was through the healthy out-door life which he led as a child at Ancisa that he gained the physical strength which afterward enabled him to become one of the best horsemen and swordsmen of that day of bold riding and hard fighting. Eletta at that time worked well and wisely for both the body and mind of the future poet.

But the mother and son were not to stay always in that quiet retreat. After some time the elder Petrarch, finding that he could not get permission to return to Florence, sent for his wife and boy, and they went all together to Avignon, where they settled.

Proud of his son's talents, the elder Petrarch chalked out for him a grand career as an advocate, which was to end in the judge's ermine. He therefore sent Francesco to study law, first at Montpellier, and then at Bologna.

When Petrarch was twenty-two both his parents died. Soon after that he joyfully threw away his law-books, and resolved to live for literature, and literature alone. He went back to Avignon. But the ways of the town were not much to his taste, and its whirl and noise distracted his mind. He therefore spent part of the fortune inherited from his father in buying a small estate at Val Chiusa, a pretty, quiet nook some miles from Avignon. Thither he retired, and spent his time with his pen and his books, only now and then seeing a few friends who came out from the town to visit him.

The young man was not, however, always satisfied with this monotonous way of life. About this period he took a long journey, in which he saw many of the European capitals, and formed, among the learned of foreign lands, friendships which he afterward kept up through constant correspondence. The world already began to speak of Petrarch as a rising man of letters.

One Good Friday he was in the Church of Santa Chiara, at Avignon. There he saw a face which made him forget his prayers; a face from which the dark eyes of the South looked forth, though the bright hair of the North waved around it; a face which somehow exactly fitted into the niche of his ideal; a face which was to stamp itself upon his verse for all ages and for all lands, Petrarch had fixed his first look on Laura.

Afterward he got to know her personally, and they often met in society. Of Laura herself nothing certain is known, except that her maiden name was Noves and she lived in Avignon. Some writers say that she always remained single, in her father's house, and some that she married and had many children. There are a few pictures of her, for the authenticity of which it is impossible to answer. They are all handsome, and remarkable for an almost nun-like shyness and sweetness of expression. She was certainly a woman of refined taste and cultivated mind, and at a time when female modesty was the only rare adornment of the fair sex in Avignon, her character was as stainless as the first snow-flake which fell on the summit of the Estrelles. The connection between Petrarch and Laura seems to our modern ideas a very singular one.

To explain the position in which they stood to each other, we must turn to the manners and customs of their age and country. Partly, perhaps, through the great reverence paid in the Roman Catholic Church to the Virgin Mary and other female saints, a sort of woman worship had, in the thirteenth century, spread through the south of Christendom. It was no unusual thing for a knight or a troubadour to select a certain lady, celebrate her in his songs, call on her name in the hour of danger, and wear her color in battle. The adored or the adorer might be either of them married—that made no difference; and the tender litany would sometimes run on for years, long after the idol's hair was silvered and her form more remarkable for plumpness than grace.

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse