27 FEBRUARY 1886, Page 14


DANTE'S DIVINE COMEDY.* IN attempting to render the Divina Commedia into English term rima, literally and verse for verse, Mr. Minchin has made a bold experiment. Mr. Minchin is not one of those who think that Dante can be studied piecemeal. The Inferno itself, as a revelation of Dante's character, is an imperfect fragment. The • Dante's /Poise Comedy. Translated into Tema RiMII by J. E. Minohin. London : Lonronans, Green, and Co. 1885.

"Alma sdegnosa " is still wayward and impulsive. At one time Dante gazes "with sorrow, not disdain," upon the mighty who are fallen ; again, the sight fills him with praise and thanks- giving ; and yet again, he actually goes out of his way, or even breaks his word, in order to add torture of his own infliction to the tortures which they already endure. In Malebolge it is regarded as a sin even to wish to hear the mutual reproaches and bickerings of the condemned spirits ; elsewhere we find him bandying bitter scarcasms with Farinata and Mosca degli Uberti.

In the Purgatonio all traces of harshness have vanished. The advice, " lascia dir le genti," is only needed in order to dispel

the misgivings or the listlessness which spring from intellectual error. A vague melancholy pervades this portion of the poem. He is oppressed by fatalism. The prospect of death and a sense of the littleness of life discourage him. They who are yet alive are nothing but lucky gamblers. They journey on their way with "the bundle which death will soon untie." The human mind is infant-like, simple, knowing nothing ; and even if it attains knowledge, its knowledge only enables it to realise its own ignorance. Man has an ideal, but the time which is allotted him for its pursuit is very short, the way is very steep, and the goal so far, that he is inclined to hearken to those tired spirits who cry out in their misery, " l'andare in su che porta " The "pilgrim of love" who wanders through Purgatory in search

of an ideal, undergoes a final transformation in the Paradise. His mind has emancipated itself from human impulses and

human doubts and fears, and his emotions are now "sane.'

(Para., i., 70; xxxii., 40; xxxiii., 35.) The mists of despondency have dispersed, and he is "foursquare to the blows of fortune." (Para., xvii., 24.) He has made up his mind on the supreme

questions of philosophy and practical life; or, to use his own simile, he has gazed upon Beatrice and upon the holy eagle, who, in turn, are face to face with God, who clothes them with light. His affections are set on those objects which tend not to divide men but to unite them, and which intensify instead of wasting the affection bestowed upon them. (Para., x., 82, ckc.) Nor do they impede, they assist, or even impart, knowledge.

(Para., xv., 73.) Dante's intellect has attained certainty, and his character unity ; all that he has left for him to do is to tell his message to the world without being deterred either by the fear

of being persecuted, or of being misunderstood.

Mr. Minchin has completed his translation of the entire

Divina Commedia in the difficult metre which he has selected with painstaking accuracy, and, on the whole, with success. Here and there his translation recalls the terse antithetic style of Dante's descriptions with singular felicity, as, for instance, where Nicholas III. says, "There riches here myself in purse I placed." The last two lines of the Francesca episode are equally happy ; not so the last line of Ugolino's story. The closing lines of Paig., viii., and Purg., xiv., Para., xvii., 124-129, Puny., xi., 30, Para., ix., 23, have the genuine ring of Dante about them. No higher praise could be awarded. We quote the narrative of Peisistratus, as an example of the way in which Mr.

Minchin has successfully overcome the difficulties which Dante's dialogues must have occasioned him :—

"Then there appeared another with the dew

Upon her cheeks which grief distilleth down Through anger at the deeds which others do : And said, If thou art master of this town, To name the which 'mongat Gods the strife was shared And whence proceedeth every science known, Avenge thee of those shameless arms that dared Peisistratna! our daughter to embrace.'

And gently and benignantly appeared Her lord to answer her with grave calm face, What shall we do to those who wish us ill If we doom one who loves us to disgrace ? ' "

—Purg., xv., 94-105.

The following extract will testify that terza rime in English is by no means necessarily a nerveless or voluptuous metre :— " Proceeded then his words of angry power,

With voice so changed from its own former tone That even his semblance was not altered more : The spouse of Christ was fed not with my own, With Linus', and with Clitus' blood for this, Now as a thing of purchase to be known."

—Para., xxvii., 37-42.

Of course, much of the eloquence is lost, much of the fire dimmed, of those passages, sometimes scornful, sometimes angry, sometimes mournful, in which Dante inveighs against the petty-minded, quarrelling Imperialists, who had left Italy widowed, and turned the garden of the Empire into a wilder- ness, its vine into a bramble. Terra rima, as Dante used it,

is the most elastic of metres ; it expresses the most varying emotions. We have nothing to correspond to it in English. As might have been expected, the best parts of Mr. Minchin's translation are cast in a gentler mould :—

"A dulcet air which change did never know

Nor intermission smote me on the front, Not stronger than the softest breeze can blow : Through which the leafy sprays with trembling wont Are altogether bent towards that side Where its first shadow casts the holy mount, But from their level not inclined so wide That the small song-birds there their tuneful chime Upon their tops to warble are denied : But with a joy complete the hours of prime Welcome with song among the foliage green, Whose murmur adds its burden to their rhyme."

—Parg., xxviii., 7-18.

The appearance of Beatrice (in Pang., xxx.), the description of the walls of Dis (in /ac., viii.), are quite as well worth quoting as

this exquisite and accurate description of the Earthly Paradise. Mr. Minchin's sins are numerous. His prefatory essays, which are, on the whole, good, are defaced by such obvious exaggera- tions as these,—" Previous to the time of Dante, Latin was the sole language for composition known in Europe." (p. ii.) "No other poet has ever attempted such a theme" as the description of Heaven (p. liv.) In his poetry, lame lines such as,—

" Or that thy saying is it not perplext ? "

are more frequent than we could desire. (See Purg., vi., 33; com- pare Purg , v., 52, 75 ; Purg., x., 127.) Defective prosody startles us in Puny., xiv., 54; Para., xvii., 136. The following passages

are calculated to baffle the most ingenious reader xvi.,

124-126; Inf., xxv., 3; Puny., xiii., 73, 74; Para ,ii., 81; xxvi., 59. Nor can the guilt be shifted on to the printer, who, in turn, is clearly to blame in inf., xix., 70 (note) ; Puny., xxvii., 109; Tung., xxx., 13; and Para., xxiii., 10. In two or three cases—namely, Pang., i., 122; Para., i., 72 ; xxxiii., 14 —Mr. Minchin's obscurity probably arises from a misinterpretation. Where obscurity or error creeps into one of Dante's metaphysical expositions, it is

doubly censurable, for Dante is as exact in his metaphysics as

he is in his pictures ; yet Pang., xiv., 87, incorrectly represents his theory of spiritual love ; Para., x., 88-90, misses the point of the reference to angelic volition ; " potenzia a atto "—Aristotle's Locciti; and it/Er/Eta—are badly translated "power and intellect" (Para., xxix., 11, 33, Sze.); and the sentence which begins,— " Being a body scarce the mind conceives How matter other matter can admit" (Para., ii., 37),

is culpably ambiguous and misleading. We append two lines— not of a metaphysical character—which seem to us quite grotesque :—

"Less then or night or day a light was cast."

xxxi., 10.

Dante says,—" Here it was less than day and less than night."

"To him who for a dance was crucified."

—Para , xviii., 135.

The Italian is " tratto al martiro." John the Baptist is alluded to.

It is well known that Mr. Bohn's translations—those fatal friends of schoolboys—on encountering a difficulty in the text, often aggravate it by translating it with unrelenting literalness. Mr. Minchin commits this fault in the following :—

" Were all included in one mighty praise

It had not of this turn the height maintained."

—Par a., xxx., 18.

" Questa vice" is twilight, "this turn" is utter darkness. A similar cause produces a similar effect in inf., xxix., 99; Fury, xi., 134; xvi., 63; Para., xv., ; xxx., 57. Many, too, will be inclined to think that Mr. Minchiu's desire to preserve the very structure and words of Dante has betrayed him into the worse fault of sacrificing the spirit to the letter in inf., xxiv., 34; Pang , vi., 37; xvi., 48; Para., xxiv ., 7, 48; xxvi., 44; xxxiii., 25.

Another characteristic fault of Mr. Minchin's occurs where he has been following the Italian almost word for word, and on coming to the end of a line adds or substitutes an expression which does not correspond to anything in the original. The result of this may be illustrated by Inf., xxxiii., 103, where Dante is made to bear instead of to feel (" sentire ") the rushing wind created by the beating of the wings of Lucifer. Mr. Miucbin's alteration renders the preceding description of the great cold, which numbed Dante's face and made it like horn. almost irrelevant. In Para., i., 54, Dante is made to gaze near instead of at the sun, to the absolute ruin of one of Dante's favourite pieces of symbolism. We owe the inappropriate words, "fed," in Inf., xxxiii., 35 ; "twain," in Purg., ii., 25; "showers," in Para., :tax., 67, to the same metrical motives, and in each case they introduce serious confusion into the picture which Dante intended to draw. In these last four instances, little more than the mere excision of the rhyming word would restore Dante. Other cases occur where the rhyming word is a stumbling-block and an offence in an otherwise excellent sentence. Inf., xxviii., 88; Purg., ii., 76; iii., 27; v., 131; vi., 77; xvi., 27; xviii., 36; xxvii., 74; xxviii., 29; Para.. xxx., 72, would each of them be improved, both in accuracy and elegance, if the surgeon's art could be exercised on their latter extremities ; while Int, ; Purg , ix., 80; Purg., xvi., 96; xxviii., 97 and 99; Para., i., ; xxx., 32, would be benefited by similar, though more com- plicated treatment. We are forced to conclude that where a long sustained effort is required, terza rima, in a language so poor in rhymes as English, must prove unmanageable, and break down at times.

Mr. Minchin's translation is by no means un seinplice lame. It is disfigured by specks and flaws, which we have commented on, perhaps, at too great length. No one can realise the difficulty of translating Dante who has not attempted the feat. Mr. Minchin has not surmounted every obstacle in his path. But much of his translation is beautiful; all of it is interesting and suggestive; and we must recollect that his experiment is, with the exception of one German experiment of the same nature, unique. He is entitled to our respect and con- gratulation for having achieved an arduous task, not, perhaps, with uniform success, but with skill, with real sympathy, and with remarkable fidelity to the original.