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But the imaginative people of those times would not have been satisfied to behold these supernatural images merely carved in stone or marble. They wished to see them animated, and a soul breathed into them. Hence those Mysteries in which the legends of the wise and foolish virgins, or the history of the Virgin, were performed. A Mystery representing the infernal regions was acted at Florence in 1304, at the foot of the bridge alla Carraia. Demons were seen persecuting the condemned. The number of persons assembled on the bridge caused it to give way, and a great many were drowned. "Thus," says Villani, "what was announced as a mere amusement became a reality, and many persons actually went to visit the invisible world." *

The subject that Dante chose was, as we have seen, far from being original. Like all men of genius, he understood, that, to be illustrious, it is not necessary to work with materials which have never before been used, but that the only subjects worthy the meditations and the labors of a great mind are those which have at all times agitated the human heart, and filled it with the strongest emotions. The materials of the Divina Commedia were everywhere to be found. Dante was surrounded by images which awakened and kept alive in him the habit of meditating on these awful subjects. The prophecies and visions of futurity were scattered throughout Europe; they only required that a master mind should appear, capable of embodying them in one great poem. Dante appeared; from his very youth he had deeply meditated the problem of human destiny, and in the life of an exile, where he had learnt " how salt is the bread of others, and how hard the road is going up and down the stairs of others," he acquired that strength of character and power of thought which adversity alone can give, and without which even the man of genius cannot bring forth all that his intelligence conceives. Nothing was wanting but to decide upon the moment when he should commence his great undertaking. This moment was at hand.

On the 21st of February, 1300, Boniface the Eighth pub

* Villani, Storia. Dante was already banished from his native land when this Mystery was performed. It is nevertheless probable, that this tragical event may have had some influence on his ardent imagination, and some persons have even gone so far as to suppose that this Mystery first gave rise to his immortal poem.

lished a bull, granting plenary indulgence to all those who should visit the tombs of the blessed apostles St. Peter and St. Paul during a fortnight. The capital of the Christian world was thronged with strangers from all parts of Europe. Not less than two millions of persons are said to have visited Rome during this period. Among the strangers who then went to that city were two Florentines, both of whom were forcibly struck by this extraordinary spectacle. One of them was Giovanni Villani, who there first conceived the plan of his great historical work; the other was Dante,f who, amazed and confounded at the sight of this vast multitude crowding round the tombs of the two great apostles, to seek for the pardon of their sins, then resolved to put in execution the plan he had so long meditated. He felt how much he required the pardon of his own faults, for he too "had lost the straight path." He resolved to repent, and to make known his repentance to the world; he determined to write the Divina Commedia. Thus, having for years studied the works of the ancients and the poetic legends of his own times, having long meditated upon the mysteries of eternal life, a single event sufficed to induce him to commence his immortal task. The death of Beatrice had first given him the idea of describing the terrors and felicities of another world; the Jubilee of 1300 filled his soul with that ardent faith and spirit of penitence so necessary for the execution of this design. Thus it is with the man of genius; events which to ordinary minds bear no peculiar stamp impress his imagination; and things, which seem in general to be of no importance, receive from him a life which they did not before possess. Michel Angelo could shape the rude stone into a Venus or an Apollo; Dante could compose the Divina Commedia out of the discordant materials which he collected, and make the world forget the sources from which he had gathered them, till the curious researches of a later generation should again rescue them from oblivion.

Storia Fiorentina.


There can be no doubt that Dante was at Rome at this time. know that he was several times intrusted with diplomatic missions to the papal court, and many passages of his poem prove that he was an eyewit ness of the imposing spectacle of the Jubilee.

H. W. Torrey.

ART. IV. The Life and Letters of Thomas à Becket, now first gathered from the Contemporary Historians. By the REV. J. A. GILES, D. C. L., late Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Oxford. London: Whittaker & Co. 1846. 2 vols. 8vo.

THERE are three great names in the history of the twelfth century, Abelard, St. Bernard, and Thomas à Becket. Two of these were entered in the same year on the Calendar of Saints. But this is almost the only coincidence between their lives or characters. The ascetic enthusiast, Bernard, had little in common with the splendid dignitary of the English court and church. Both were, indeed, great sufferers; but the heroic "passion" of the English saint has eclipsed the daily martyrdom of the recluse in the "valley of wormwood."

Thomas à Becket was a man of no vulgar qualities. The remarkable combination of an iron will with the most supple versatility, of towering arrogance with companionable grace, of courtly diplomacy with rugged violence, required no less than the friendship and the hatred of a king to afford it full scope. Exile, martyrdom, and canonization enlarged the circle of his influence, and domesticated his name in every cottage of England. Translation and jubilee, miracle and pilgrimage,* kept fresh the godly savor of his memory; and though the dearest saint of the English people could not preserve his too precious shrine nor his canonized bones from England's most brutal despot, the furrowed floor of his cathedral yet records the devotion of kneeling thousands, and his tenure of renown cannot quite expire, till the Canterbury Tales shall cease to be read.

A character of this stamp, with history and tradition,

In the year 1220, the famous Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, removed the body of Becket and placed it in a splendid shrine. This was called the "Translation of the Martyr." Not only did the 7th of July, the day on which it took place, become a holyday, but every fiftieth year a jubilee was held for fifteen days together, and indulgence was granted to all the pilgrims to the shrine. From the record of the sixth jubilee it appears, that about one hundred thousand strangers came to visit the tomb. The ornaments of the shrine were of immense value; "gold," according to Erasmus, "being the least precious thing." The cupidity of Henry the Eighth did not overlook this prize; in 1538, it was plundered by his agent, Cromwell, and the martyr's bones were burnt.

legend and anecdote, clustering about it, was eminently fitted to shine in the Middle Ages. In periods of transition, while institutions are yet in infancy or in embryo, and the jarring elements of society have not merged their independent action in general harmony, the main subjects of history are necessarily the words and deeds of men. Abstract ideas and systems have not yet come to birth. History itself is little more than a series of episodes and scenes, suggestive, indeed, of much reflection, but chiefly personal in their interest and picturesque in their dress, and hardly capable of being marshalled into the philosophical arrangements of later times. Principles and powers being thus incarnated and personified, the importance of individuals becomes very great; and there is danger, a danger, indeed, which more or less attends all history, that they will be invested with the dignity of the cause or order which they represent. And yet, he who stands for an age must be, if not a great, at least a considerable, man. Becket would have been a remarkable personage at any time; but we doubt whether he could have played in the sixteenth or eighteenth century so distinguished a part as he did in the twelfth. A personal quarrel between a prelate and a king, on vital points of ecclesiastical discipline and civil right, would now be centuries out of time. The struggle would be between the institutions of church and state. History would array the two interests or parties against each other, and relate the vicissitudes, and note the issue, of the conflict. Of the individuals engaged in the controversy it would make small account. It is this tendency of modern history to become the history of civilization, which makes biography and romance so necessary as its complement. We want something to awaken and keep alive our sympathy with the great actors on the great stage of affairs. We hurry from the torrid zone of arid abstractions, and plunge into the more temperate native air of humanity. The history of the Middle Ages, on the contrary, is itself in great part biography, and many of its materials have the air of romance. Merovingian Times, of Thierry, for instance, one reads like a novel; and but for the author's careful citation of his authorities, we should be sometimes tempted to suspect him of drawing upon his imagination. Still, the essential distinction between history and biography does not wholly disappear in the case of such men as Becket, and the other leading persons of


those distant days. History, though it opens, does not exhaust, their biography. And where, as in Becket's case, we have copious personal notices, there is something to be gleaned after the best reapers.

The character of the great chancellor and archbishop has, of course, been often brought up for judgment. But the most discordant verdicts have been returned. Not long after his death, the question was discussed in the schools of Paris, "Whether Thomas à Becket was saved or damned." The controversy has been kept up, not only by ecclesiastical, but by civil, historians. Lord Lyttleton, for example, can hardly pardon the intruder, whose shadow so often strikes across the path of his royal hero. Dr. Lingard feels a natural sympathy for a suffering brother. Thierry rejoices in the tilt between men whom he chooses to regard as the champions of two hostile races. Michelet wastes no love on the Norman Henry, and leans with a hospitable French politeness to the side of the guest of King Louis. But Becket has been strangely neglected by biographers, though not, surely, for the want of adequate materials. Above a score of narratives of his life and passion appeared shortly after his death, several of which were composed by his friends and dependents. Some of these are still extant, in manuscript or in print. There are, besides, three valuable collections of letters, written by Becket himself, by his friend John of Salisbury, the first scholar of his age, and by his steady foe, Gilbert Foliot, Bishop of London, a man of no contemptible powers.

Becket has suffered somewhat from the company he has kept. The Lives of the Saints were in good repute, so long as the saints themselves were in vogue. The gift of working miracles being inherent in their bones, a new edition of wonders became from time to time necessary, to keep up with the age. But when beatified dust became cheap, and calendared names a byword and a reproach, this sort of reading went out of fashion. The name of saint would not go half so far to recommend a book as that of sinner. But all saints are not alike, any more than all sinners. The life of a great and good man is instructive and interesting, though he be a saint. We much need a few good biographies of those men who owed their place in the calendar not merely to Roman policy, but to their great gifts and shining virtues. To plod through

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