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of the humility which ceases to assert itself, and yields itself to the chastisements which God appoints for it, and is content with low estate, and seeks not great things for itself.
"No other plant that leaves and branches bore,
For they yield not as each stroke passeth o'er.”—Purg. i. 103-105. I do not enter now into the vexed question whether Dante had ever entered on the life which was for his generation the ideal pattern of humility, and had become, as a member of the Tertiary Order of the Brethren, a follower of Francis of Assisi. The unmistak able appearance of Dante's features in Giotto's fresco at Assisi, coming in, with the ardour of a new-born life, to present himself to the great bridegroom of poverty, and the reverence which utters itself in the “ Paradiso," at least tend to confirm what is, in any case, a respectable tradition. What I note here is that this passage in the “Purgatorio” shows that he had grasped in its completeness the idea of that “cord of lowliness" which was one of the outward badges of the Franciscan Order.
That other process of the cleansing of the face from the smoky grime of the Inferno is hardly less significant in its symbolism. Contact with evil, even with the righteous Nemesis that falls on evil, is not without its perils. The man catches something of the taint of the vices on which he looks. He is infected as with the bassa voglia, which lingers as it listens to the revilings of the base. He becomes hard and relentless as he dwells with those who have perished in their hatred. He looks on the sufferings of the lost, not only with awe and dread, but with a Tertullian-like ferocity of exultation. He analyses the foulness of their guilt as with the cynical realism which is dominant in modern French literature. Before the work of purification can begin, before he can prepare himself to meet the gaze of the angel-guard of Paradise, he must cleanse himself from that blackness of the pit. The eye cannot see clearly the beauty, outward or spiritual, which is to work out its restoration to humanity and holiness, until its memories of the abyss of evil are made less keen and virulent. And when that process begins, and the pilgrim has at last arrived at the gate of Purgatory, the symbolism becomes yet richer and more suggestive. He had dreamt that he had been borne upward, as on eagles' wings, into a region terrible in its brightness.
“There seemed both he and I to feel the flame;
And that imagined fire so scorched, it broke
Perforce the slumber which my soul o'ercame.”—Purg. ix. 31-33. But the dream has its interpretation. He wakes in terror, but his comforter is nigh at hand.
" Then said my Master, Cast off thy dismay,
Now shall thy steps through Purgatory run.
See, where it seems disjoined, the entrance won.'"-Purg. ix. 46-48. He had been transported in that ecstasy of his morning slumber by Lucia, at once a saint in whose church at Florence he may have worshipped, to whom he may have turned in the simplicity of his youthful faith, as the healer of that dimness of sight, the outcome of intense study and intense grief, which at one time threatened to place him, no less than Milton, in the list of the great poets of the world who had suffered from a like privation,
• Tiresias and Phineus, prophets old,
Blind Thamyris and blind Mæonides :-" and one who was for him, in the after-glow of his age, when he had learnt to transfigure all his early memories, the symbol of heavenly illumination. That diviner insight was needed for what was to follow. Sitting on the topmost of three steps of varied hue, he sees the angel of Purgatory with a face of transcendent brightness.
“In his right hand a naked sword he bare,
Which upon us its rays reflected still,
So that in vain mine eyes did meet its glare.”—Purg. ix. 82-84. And the fashion of those three steps was this :
“ Thither did we draw nigh, and that first stair
Was of white marble, polished so and clean,
It mirrored all my features as they were. There is the self-knowledge which sees itself in the mirror of the Divine word :
“ The second darker than dusk perse was seen,
Of stone, all crumbling, rough and coarse in grain,
With many a crack its length and breadth between." There is the rough sternness of mortification, which is far other than the soft couch of self-indulgence, in which the natural man delights.
“ The third, which o'er the others towers amain,
Appeared as if of fiery porphyry,
Like blood that gushes crimson from the vein.”—Purg. ix. 94-102. There is the glow of burning love, not without a latent hint of the supreme instance of that love in the blood that flowed from hands and feet and wounded side upon the Cross.
These were the steps that had to be surmounted before the soul could enter on its steep ascent, and then, passing these, he falls before the angelic guardian.
" Then prostrate at the holy feet I lay.
Purg. ix. 109-114. And so the gates are opened with the silver and the golden keys of command and counsel, of which the angel says :
“ From Peter hold I them; from him I learn
Rather to ope in error than to close,
He is cast forth who looks back as he goes.'”—Purg. ix. 127-132. Yes, the seven P's of the seven Peccata, the mortal sins of the ethics of mediæval Christendom, are all thus traced upon the poet's brow, for in him, as in all of us, there were the possibilities, and even the actualities, of all. He might be conscious, as we have seen in the instances of pride and envy, of one form of evil as more dominant in him than another, of its being, as we say, his “ besetting sin ; but not the less did he need to pass through each successive stage in the great ascent and to experience the working of all that was most potent to heal and deliver from the sin which there was purged.
It is every way characteristic both of the man and of his time that so large a share in that healing work should be assigned to music, and that the music of the Church. He may possibly have studied, he certainly shared, the visions of the great English Franciscan thinker, between whose writings and his own I have elsewhere traced so many points of parallelism, as to the regenerating and purifying power of sacred psalmody.* He had known, as Milton, Hooker, Newman knew, how it could soothe the troubles and attune the discords of the soul; how, when married to immortal words, it could give them wings, like those of Ezekiel's vision, that made them fit vehicles for the utterance of divinest mysteries. Shall we be wrong in thinking that here also we have in the " Purgatorio ” an autobiographical element, reminiscences of hours when in the Duomo of Florence, or in his own beloved St. John, or elsewhere in church or monastery, he had had new thoughts of penitence and pardon, of high resolve and aspirations after holiness?
Let us examine some at least of these instances by way of an induction. He is still on the shore of the sea where he had laved his face and seen the angel guide's boat bearing more than a hundred souls, and they were all chanting as with one voice : In exitu Israel de Egypto. That was the fit opening hymn of this "pilgrim's progress." After the fashion of his time, Dante had read in it a deeper meaning than at first appeared. It spoke to him of the deliverance of the Israel of God from another house of bondage than that of the literal Egypt. When he notes, as with special care, that they did not stop at those opening words, but
“So with one voice they chanted out their lay,
With all the psalm doth afterwards unfold.”—Purg. ii. 46, 47. we feel that that mystical interpretation had guided his thoughts
Dante and Roger Bacun,” in the CONTEMPORARY REVIEW for Decem.
to its closing words and that for him, the wanderer in a desert land, thirsting after righteousness, it bore its witness of the Power that would turn “ the hard rock into a standing water and the flintstone into a springing well.” In what follows there is surely some
. thing intensely personal. Among these newly arrived souls was that of the Casella, whose meeting with his former friend, in the "milder shades of Purgatory," Milton's sonnet has made familiar to us all. Time and death have not changed the old affection. After the vain embrace of the shadow of the one with the mortal body of the other, after the recognition which revives the memories of past days
“ And I, “If thy new law to thee doth spare
The skill and memory of thy songs of love,
Fixed and intent.”—Purg. ii. 106-114. It is, I think, impossible not to recognize in this something more than the memory of the pleasant days of youthful friendship. There is the distinct recognition that the mysterious, religious, purifying power of music is not limited to that which we commonly call sacred, that a song of love may touch that which is most essentially spiritual in us, and may stir up thoughts that lie too deep for tears. This, however, stands as a solitary episode, the exception which proves the rule, that it was not from minstrels or troubadours, Italian or Provençal, but from the singers and choristers of the church, that Dante had heard the melodies that chased away the evil phantasms of his soul. So, as he advances, he hears other souls sing their Miserere of penitence. So, as the gates are unlocked with the gold and silver keys
“ At the first thund'rous peal I turned again,
And Te Deum Laudamus seemed to hear,
Purg. ix. 109-115. But chiefest in its power, and therefore worthy of fuller reproduction, was the prayer which men learn in childhood at their mother's knees, and which retains its power to utter the soul's wants to extremest age :
“ Our Father, Thou who dwellest in the heavens,
Not circumscribed, save as by greater sense
If it come not, with all our reason's height :
But for their sakes whom we have left below.-Purg. xi. 1-24. What follows is given, as before, more in the way of brief and suggestive hints. The poet is in the circle of the proud, and
pauperes spiritu did rise,
Men enter, there with wail of miseries."--Purg. xii. 110-114. He passes among the envious, and the words “Vinum non habent” and “Love ye your enemies” speak to him of the charity which cares for the wants of others and overcomes evil with good. He is with the wrathful :
“We mounted thence and as we went therein
We heard them sing, 'Rejoice ye, ye that win.'”-Purg. xv. 37–39. And later on, in the same company
· Voices I heard, and each one piteously
So that their song full concord did display.”-Purg. xvi. 19-24.
“I heard the whirr, as if of wings flow by
And fan me in the face, and utter, ‘Blest
Are they that make peace, free from enmity.'”—Purg. xvii. 67–69. So “ Beati qui angent” comes as the message for the covetous (xix. 50), and “ Adhæsit pavimento anima mea” is their penitential cry (xix. 73); and when the trembling of the mountain shows that a soul has accomplished its purgation, there rises from all the souls who hear it the “Gloria in excelsis Deo” (xx. 136); and “ Beati qui sitiunt” corrects the inordinate appetite of the gluttonous (xxii. 5), and " Labia mea, Domine, aperi” comes from the lips of one who is paying the penalty of that vice: and as the pilgrims approach the circle of fire, they hear from its central burning the suggestive words “summæ Deus clementiæ” and “ Virum non cognosco," and further on the highest of the beatitudes “ Beati mundi corde" (xxvii. 8). The poet writes as if conscious that this was what called for the sharpest pain of all. He all but shrinks back from that ordeal of fire.