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The Origin Of Dante’s Inferno
by [?]

The French literary antiquaries judged of these “Visions” with the mere nationality of their taste. Everything Gothic with them is barbarous, and they see nothing in the redeeming spirit of genius, nor the secret purpose of these curious documents of the age.

The Vision of Charles the Bald may be found in the ancient chronicles of Saint Denis, which were written under the eye of the Abbe Suger, the learned and able minister of Louis the Young, and which were certainly composed before the thirteenth century. The learned writer of the fourth volume of the Melanges tires d’une grande Bibliotheque, who had as little taste for these mysterious visions as the other French critic, apologises for the venerable Abbe Suger’s admission of such visions: “Assuredly,” he says, “the Abbe Suger was too wise and too enlightened to believe in similar visions; but if he suffered its insertion, or if he inserted it himself in the chronicle of Saint Denis, it is because he felt that such a fable offered an excellent lesson to kings, to ministers and bishops, and it had been well if they had not had worse tales told them.” The latter part is as philosophical as the former is the reverse.

In these extraordinary productions of a Gothic age we may assuredly discover Dante; but what are they more than the framework of his unimitated picture! It is only this mechanical part of his sublime conceptions that we can pretend to have discovered; other poets might have adopted these “Visions;” but we should have had no “Divina Commedia.” Mr. Gary has finely observed of these pretended origins of Dante’s genius, although Mr. Gary knew only the Vision of Alberico, “It is the scale of magnificence on which this conception was framed, and the wonderful development of it in all its parts, that may justly entitle our poet to rank among the few minds to whom the power of a great creative faculty can be ascribed.” Milton might originally have sought the seminal hint of his great work from a sort of Italian mystery. In the words of Dante himself,

Poca favilla gran fiamma seconda.
Il Paradiso, Can. i.

—-From a small spark
Great flame hath risen.

After all, Dante has said in a letter, “I found the ORIGINAL of MY HELL in THE WORLD which we inhabit;” and he said a greater truth than some literary antiquaries can always comprehend![2]

[Footnote 1: In MS. Bib. Reg. inter lat. No. 2447, p. 134. ]

[Footnote 2: In the recent edition of Dante, by Romanis, in four volumes, quarto, the last preserves the “Vision of Alberico,” and a strange correspondence on its publication; the resemblances in numerous passages are pointed out. It is curious to observe that the good Catholic Abbate Cancellieri, at first maintained the authenticity of the Vision, by alleging that similar revelations have not been unusual!–the Cavaliere Gherardi Rossi attacked the whole as the crude legend of a boy who was only made the instrument of the monks, and was either a liar or a parrot! We may express our astonishment that, at the present day, a subject of mere literary inquiry should have been involved with “the faith of the Roman church.” Cancellieri becomes at length submissive to the lively attacks of Rossi; and the editor gravely adds his “conclusion,” which had nearly concluded nothing! He discovers pictures, sculptures, and a mystery acted, as well as Visions in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, from which he imagines the Inferno, the Purgatorio, and the Paradiso owe their first conception. The originality of Dante, however, is maintained on a right principle; that the poet only employed the ideas and the materials which is found in his own country and his own times. ]