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The Origin Of Dante’s Inferno
by [?]

True it is that Dante must have read with equal attention and delight this authentic vision of Alberico; for it is given, so we are assured by the whole monastery, as it happened to their ancient brother when a boy; many a striking, and many a positive resemblance in the “Divina Commedia” has been pointed out; and Mr. Gary, in his English version of Dante, so English, that he makes Dante speak in blank verse very much like Dante in stanzas, has observed, that “The reader will, in these marked resemblances, see enough to convince him that Dante had read this singular work.” The truth is, that the “Vision of Alberico” must not be considered as a singular work–but, on the contrary, as the prevalent mode of composition in the monastic ages. It has been ascertained that Alberico was written in the twelfth century, judging of the age of a manuscript by the writing. I shall now preserve a vision which a French antiquary had long ago given, merely with the design to show how the monks abused the simplicity of our Gothic ancestors, and with an utter want of taste for such inventions, he deems the present one to be “monstrous.” He has not told us the age in which it was written. This vision, however, exhibits such complete scenes of the Inferno of the great poet, that the writer must have read Dante, or Dante must have read this writer. The manuscript, with another of the same kind, is in the King’s library at Paris, and some future researcher may ascertain the age of these Gothic compositions; doubtless they will be found to belong to the age of Alberico, for they are alike stamped by the same dark and awful imagination, the same depth of feeling, the solitary genius of the monastery!

It may, however, be necessary to observe, that these “Visions” were merely a vehicle for popular instruction; nor must we depend on the age of their composition by the names of the supposititious visionaries affixed to them: they were the satires of the times. The following elaborate views of some scenes in the Inferno were composed by an honest monk who was dissatisfied with the bishops, and took this covert means of pointing out how the neglect of their episcopal duties was punished in the after-life; he had an equal quarrel with the feudal nobility for their oppressions: and he even boldly ascended to the throne.

“The Vision of Charles the Bald, of the places of punishment, and the happiness of the Just.[1]

“I, Charles, by the gratuitous gift of God, king of the Germans, Roman patrician, and likewise emperor of the Franks;

“On the holy night of Sunday, having performed the divine offices of matins, returning to my bed to sleep, a voice most terrible came to my ear; ‘Charles! thy spirit shall now issue from thy body; thou shalt go and behold the judgments of God; they shall serve thee only as presages, and thy spirit shall again return shortly afterwards.’ Instantly was my spirit rapt, and he who bore me away was a being of the most splendid whiteness. He put into my hand a ball of thread, which shed a blaze of light, such as the comet darts when it is apparent. He divided it, and said to me, ‘Take thou this thread, and bind it strongly on the thumb of thy right hand, and by this I will lead thee through the infernal labyrinth of punishments.’

“Then going before me with velocity, but always unwinding this luminous thread, he conducted me into deep valleys filled with fires, and wells inflamed, blazing with all sorts of unctuous matter. There I observed the prelates who had served my father and my ancestors. Although I trembled, I still, however, inquired of them to learn the cause of their torments. They answered, ‘We are the bishops of your father and your ancestors; instead of uniting them and their people in peace and concord, we sowed among them discord, and were the kindlers of evil: for this are we burning in these Tartarean punishments; we, and other men-slayers and devourers of rapine. Here also shall come your bishops, and that crowd of satellites who surround you, and who imitate the evil we have done.’