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tyrants of Italy, by flattering his vanity, obtained from him in return a base adulation to the extent even of leading him sometimes to commit actions contrary to his principles, and to his duty as a citizen of Florence, and as a Guelph.'* The cause of democracy, which M. Sismondi asserts in his History, makes him forget that Petrarch and his family had been exiled from Florence by the Guelph faction-that they did not propose to him to return till he was near fifty years old-that the Guelphs still persisted in withholding from him his confiscated patrimony, and that at last they granted it for the purpose only of attracting a great number of foreigners to Florence, by establishing a university there under his direction. Petrarch loaded them with thanks and praises in a long letter which he wrote from Padua, and returned immediately from thence to Vaucluse. Tiraboschi, who, although with interests and principles quite different from those of M, Sismondi, writes in the character of a Jesuit and the librarian of the Duke of Modena, had also his own reasons for dissembling the boldness of the language which Petrarch used towards the church and the great, and for exaggerating the same boldness in Dante. Amorous poetry, which alone, of all the works of Petrarch, is generally read, is admirably adapted to the purpose of a Jesuits' college, since it inspires mysticism and flatters those passions which emasculate the minds of young persons that of Dante produces quite the contrary effect, and it was banished the schools. From the anecdote that Dante was expelled from Verona for a single expression which he dared to use concerning the passion of Can della Scâla for buffoons, Tiraboschi concludes that, if he continued to live a pauper and a vagrant, it must be imputed to the little respect which he showed to princes. This anecdote has been preserved by Petrarch,† who, whilst he gave his fortune and his studies to render his contemporaries illustrious, records rather the errors than the virtues of Dante, and affects to mingle his name without distinction with those whom his own works had occasioned to be forgotten:—
'Ma ben ti prego, che in la terza spera
Guitton saluti, e Messer Cino, e Dante,
Franceschin nostro, e tutta quella schiera,'-P. ii. son. 19.
Ecco Dante e Beatrice, ecco Selvaggia,
Boccaccio, deterred by the merit and celebrity of the poetry of Dante and Petrarch, determined to burn his own; but Petrarch diverted him from this purpose by the compliments he paid him, which however have a tone of humility somewhat incon
* Histoire de la Rép. Ital. vol. v. p. 300.
† Rerum Memor. lib. iii. c. 4. sistent
sistent with the character of a man who was not naturally a hypocrite. You are a philosopher and a Christian,' says he, and yet K you are discontented with yourself for not being a great poet! E Since another has occupied the first place, be satisfied with the second, and I will take the third. He is not prevented from adding, however, that before his time the Italian language was a field which had fallen into bad hands, and which still remained to be cleared.' And this athority justifies all the French, down to Madame de Genlis, in repeating the words of the Abbé de Sade: 'The Italian jargon was very rude when Petrarch conferred on it the honour of selecting it for the language of his muse'!* Boccaccio was of a different opinion. He sent Dante's poem to Petrarch, and entreated, that he would not disdain to read the work of a great man from whom exile and death, while he was still in the vigour of life, had snatched the laurel.'' Read it, I conjure you; your genius reaches to the heavens, and your glory extends beyond the earth: but reflect that Dante is our fellow-citizen; that he has shown all the force of our language; that his life was unfortunate; that he undertook and suffered every thing for glory; and that he is still pursued by calumny and by envy in the grave. If you praise him you will do honour to him-you will do honour to yourself you will do honour to Italy, of which you are the greatest glory and the only hope.' Petrarch, in his answer, is angry, that he can be considered jealous of the celebrity of a poet, whose language is coarse, though his conceptions are lofty.' You must hold him in veneration and in gratitude, as the first light of your education, whilst I saw him only once and afar off in my childhood. He was exiled on the same day with my father, who submitted himself to his fortunes and devoted himself solely to the care of his children. The other, on the contrary, resisted, followed the path which he had chosen, thought only of glory, and neglected every thing else. If he were still alive, and if his character were as congenial with mine as his genius is, he would not have a better friend than me.' These short extracts from this letter, which is rendered too long by contradictions, ambiguities, and indirect apologies, are sufficient to convince us, that Petrarch, though he examines all the weaknesses of his own character, and confesses them candidly, protests in vain, and repeats the same sentiment in his old age,' that envy had never found a place in his heart.' That passion had remained dormant, because no one about him was sufficient to arouse it.
These two extraordinary men, in creating Italian literature, were gifted with a very different genius, pursued different plans, created
Mém. pour la Vie de Pétr. vol. i. P. 80.
+ Petr. Epist. Edit. Gencvr. an. 1601. p. 445.
two different languages and schools of poetry, and have exercised till the present time a very different influence. The images of Petrarch's poetry seem to be exquisitely finished by a very delicate pencil; they delight the eye rather by their colouring than by their forms. Those of Dante are the bold and prominent figures of an alto rilievo, which, it seems, we might almost touch, and of which the imagination readily supplies those parts that are hidden from the view. Petrarch is incessantly endeavouring to dazzle our imagination by the ornaments of his style, and he borrows his metaphors from the brightest phenomena of the creation; whilst the metaphors of Dante oblige us to reflect deeply, because they spring less from the actual appearance than from the most inward, and till then unnoticed, qualities of each object that he describes. Instead of selecting, as Petrarch does, the most elegant and melodious phrases, Dante often invents new words, and compels his language to furnish him with every combination to represent not only the images of his creation, but the loftiest conceptions, the most familiar accidents of human nature, the vices of the wicked, the virtues of heroes, the most abstract ideas of philosophy, and the most abtruse mysteries of religion. Such was the taste of Petrarch, that he hardly has employed a word that is not even now written without affectation by the Italians. On the other side, though many of the words of Dante have become obsolete, his elocution is constantly wonderful: no one dares to imitate it, because it is felt that the style of a bold creative genius belongs exclusively to him. He often sacrifices dignity and elegance, and sometimes clearness and perspicuity; but it is always to give more fidelity and energy to his pictures, or greater depth to his reflections. The harmony of versification in which Petrarch excells is less apparent in Dante, but it is not worked with less art. The object of Petrarch was to produce a musical flow in his verses inspired by love; whilst Dante, in passing from picture to picture, and passion to passion, admirably adapts the numbers and the cadences of each line in such a manner as to give strength to those sensations which he intends to produce; and he varies his tone with the same rapidity that he changes his subject.
With respect to the moral effects of these opposite descriptions of poetry, we may remark that Petrarch works upon our hearts, wraps us in the softest and the sweetest illusions, seduces us to cherish an idle melancholy, to feed upon our own minds, and lifts us above all connection with the world. Dante calls into action all the faculties of our souls, and incites us to reflect profoundly on the different characters and professions of men and on the real condition and various vicissitudes in human life. I found,' says he, in a letter to Can della Scâla, the original of my hell in the
world which we inhabit.' The crowd of Petrarch's imitators, since the time of Leo X. may be ascribed to the example ''ཎཱ of those dignitaries of the church, and of those learned men, who, to justify their commerce with the other sex, have borrowed the Platonic veil of the Poetry addressed to Laura. But the Revolution has provoked in later times other passions, and Dante has since appeared infinitely greater than Petrarch, whose followers have rapidly diminished, whilst those of Dante have succeeded in writing poems to awake the public spirit of the Italians. Dante applied his poetry to the history of his own age, when liberty was making her dying struggles against tyranny, and he descended to the tomb with the last heroes of the middle ages. Petrarch lived amongst those who left to their country the inglorious inheritage of a long servitude.
It seems that fortune had conspired with nature in order to separate these two characters by an irreconcilable diversity: for Dante, after having lived in affluence and dignity, was exiled in his thirtyseventh year, and compelled to solicit bread: whilst Petrarch, born in exile, and brought up, according to his own confession, in indigence, was year after year enriched by the great, till he was enabled to decline new favours. He was more eager to undertake long works than steady to complete them. His temper was passionate; but if he readily gave vent to his anger he was ready to forget injuries. He was more formed to love and to be loved; he was benevolent without ostentation; still his vanity lessened him in the eyes of his friends. He fancied that his proper calling was to regulate the policy of princes and nations.-Andrea Dandolo, Doge of Venice, wrote to him- My friend, explain to us how it is that a man to whom God has given the eloquence and the wisdom to instruct others to do well, is always changing his place of residence? That must be injurious to your studies. We thank you for exhorting us to make peace with the Genoese-but we must fight. If our answer to your elaborate letter appears short, attribute it to the circumstances of the times, which require of us deeds and not words.* Dante, on the contrary, was, like Milton, one of those rare individuals who are above the reach of ridicule, and whose natural dignity is exalted even by the blows of malignity. In his friends he inspired less commiseration than awe; in his enemies, fear and hatred; but never contempt. Without condescending to exculpate himself he sought redress from posterity alone, waiting for the fulfilment of his prophecies in the approaching slavery of his factious countrymen.
* Variar. 5.
Taci, e lascia volger gli anni:
Si ch' io non posso dir se non che pianto
One can easily imagine his portrait in these lines :-
Ma lasciavane gir, solo guardando,
A guisa di leon, quando si posa.'-Purgat. c. 6.
This silent pride was strengthened by his constant struggles against indigence; his inexorable wrath kindled his genius, and thus he persevered to complete the great work by which he threw infamy upon his calumniators, and enjoyed by anticipation the hope of a revenge slow but everlasting. They persecuted his memory long after his death; his grave was excommunicated by the church, and his bones were disinterred. Petrarch ended his life with the reputation of a Saint for whom Heaven operated miracles.* It is nevertheless probable that he was more unhappy than Dante, who never betrayed that restlessness and perplexity of soul which lowered Petrarch in his own estimation, and made him exclaim, in the last days of his life, In my youth I despised all the world except myself-in my manhood I despised myself-now I despise both the world and myself, and I fear those whom I love '+ If Dante and Petrarch had lived at the same time, and in habits of intercourse, the first would have possessed over the other that superiority which all men who act from a fixed and predetermined resolution enjoy over those who yield to variable and momentary impulses.
* Ea res, testimonio comprobata, miraculo ostendit divinum illum spiritum Deo famili arissimum fore.-Phil. Villani Petr. Vita, sub fine. Three years before his death Pe trarch built a new house at Arqua, near Padua; and on the 20th of July, 1574, the seventieth anniversary of his birth, he was found dead in his library, with his head resting on a book.
Senil. lib. xiii. ep. 7.