The vile effect of literal and disjointed renderings of suffering, whether in writing or acting, proves how necessary is the musical quality to tragedy a fact Aristotle long ago set forth. The afflatus of rhythm, even if it be the pomp of the Alexandrine, sublimates the passion, and clarifies its mutterings into poetry.
What have such vulgar, practical issues to do with that passion which sublimates the faculties, and makes the loving dreamer to live in an ideal sphere where nothing but goodness and brightness can come? Nelly is to be pitied for entertaining such a thought; and yet Nelly is very good and kind.
That most skilful of all sculptors, hopeless sorrow, had narrowed to a perfect oval the wan face, waxen in its cold purity; and traced about the exquisite mouth those sad, patient curves that attest suffering which sublimates, that belong alone to the beauty of holiness.
And we must know deeply, in order even to do that. So a new conception of the meaning of education. Education means leading out the individual nature in each man and woman to its true fullness. You can't do that by stimulating the mind. To pump education into the mind is fatal. That which sublimates from the dynamic consciousness into the mental consciousness has alone any value.
The action is violent, it is true, but the impression which the statue makes on him is not a violent one; for the greatness of the art sublimates the motive. It is a tragedy in marble, and Pliny, who had seen the works of Phidias and Praxiteles, placed Agesander's "Laocoon" above them all. This, however, is a Roman view. What Hawthorne wrote in his diary should not always be taken literally.
Together with the knowledge of public life and of scholastic theories, together with the love of occult and cabalistic science, and the craft of Provençal poetry, Dante received from his Florence of the thirteenth century the knowledge of this new, this exotic and esoteric intellectual love. And, as it is the mission of genius to gather into an undying whole, to model into a perfect form, the thoughts and feelings and perceptions of the less highly endowed men who surround it, so Dante moulded out of the love passion and love philosophy of his day the "Vita Nuova." Whether the story narrated in this book is fact; whether a real woman whom he called Beatrice ever existed; some of those praiseworthy persons, who prowl in the charnel-house of the past, and put its poor fleshless bones into the acids and sublimates of their laboratory, have gravely doubted. But such doubts cannot affect us. For if the story of the "Vita Nuova" be a romance, and if Beatrice be a mere romance heroine, the real meaning and value of the book does not change in our eyes; since, to concoct such a tale, Dante must have had a number of real experiences which are fully the tale's equivalent; and to conceive and create such a figure as Beatrice, and such a passion as she inspires her poet, he must have felt as a poignant reality the desire for such a lady, the capacity for such a love. A tale merely of the soul, and of the soul's movements and actions, this "Vita Nuova;" so why should it matter if that which could never exist save in the spirit, should have been but the spirit's creation? It is, in its very intensity, a vision of love; what if it be a vision merely conceived and never realized? Hence the futility of all those who wish to destroy our faith and pleasure by saying "all this never took place." Fools, can you tell what did or did not take place in a poet's mind? Be this as it may, the "Vita Nuova," thank heaven, exists; and, thank heaven, exists as a reality to our feelings. The longed-for ideal, the perfection whose love, said Cavalcanti, raises us up to God, has seemed to gather itself into a human shape; and a real being has been surrounded by the halo of perfection emanated from the poet's own soul. The vague visions of glory have suddenly taken body in this woman, seen rarely, at a distance; the woman whom, as a child, the poet, himself a child, had already looked at with the strange, ideal fascination which we sometimes experience in our childhood. People are apt to smile at this opening of the "Vita Nuova;" to put aside this narrative of childish love together with the pathetic little pedantries of learned poetry and Kabbala, of the long gloses to each poem, and the elaborate calculations of the recurrence and combination of the number nine (and that curious little bit of encyclopædic display about the Syrian month Tismin) as so much pretty local colouring or obsolete silliness. But there is nothing at which to laugh in such childish fascinations; the wonderful, the perfect, is more open to us as children than it is afterwards: a word, a picture, a snatch of music will have for us an ineffable, mysterious meaning; and how much more so some human being, often some other, more brilliant child from whose immediate contact we are severed by some circumstance, perhaps by our own consciousness of inferiority, which makes that other appear strangely distant, above us, moving in a world of glory which we scarcely hope to approach; a child sometimes, or sometimes some grown person, beautiful, brilliant, who sings or talks or looks at us, the child, with ways which we do not understand, like some fairy or goddess. No indeed, there is nothing to laugh at in this, in this first blossoming of that love for higher and more beautiful things, which in most of us is trodden down, left to wither, by our maturer selves; nothing to make us laugh; nay, rather to make us sigh that later on we see too well, see others too much on their real level, scrutinize too much; too much, alas, for what at best is but an imperfect creature. And in this state of fascination does the child Dante see the child Beatrice, as a strange, glorious little vision from a childish sphere quite above him; treasuring up that vision, till with his growth it expands and grows more beautiful and noble, but none the less fascinating and full of awfulness. When, therefore, the grave young poet, full of the yearning for Paradise (but Paradise vaguer, sweeter, less metaphysic and theological than the Paradise of his manhood); as yet but a gracious, learned youth, his terrible moral muscle still undeveloped by struggle, the noble and delicate dreamer of Giotto's fresco, with the long, thin, almost womanish face, marked only by dreamy eyes and lips, wandering through this young Florence of the Middle Ages when, I say, he meets after long years, the noble and gentle woman, serious and cheerful and candid; and is told that she is that same child who was the queen and goddess of his childish fancies; then the vague glory with which his soul is filled expands and enwraps the beloved figure, so familiar and yet so new. And the blood retreats from his veins, and he trembles; and a vague god within him, half allegory, half reality, cries out to him that a new life for him has begun. Beatrice has become the ideal; Beatrice, the real woman, has ceased to exist; the Beatrice of his imagination only remains, a piece of his own soul embodied in a gracious and beautiful reality, which he follows, seeks, but never tries to approach. Of the real woman he asks nothing; no word throughout the "Vita Nuova" of entreaty or complaint, no shadow of desire, not a syllable of those reproaches of cruelty which Petrarch is for ever showering upon Laura. He desires nothing of Beatrice, and Beatrice cannot act wrongly; she is perfection, and perfection makes him who contemplates humble at once and proud, glorifying his spirit. Once, indeed, he would wish that she might listen to him; he has reason to think that he has fallen in her esteem, has seemed base and uncourteous in her eyes, and he would explain. But he does not wish to address her; it never occurs to him that she can ever feel in any way towards him; it is enough that he feels towards her. Let her go by and smile and graciously salute her friends: the sight of her grave and pure regalness, nay, rather divinity, of womanhood, suffices for his joy; nay, later the consciousness comes upon him that it is sufficient to know of her existence and of his love even without seeing her. And, as must be the case in such ideal passion, where the action is wholly in the mind of the lover, he is at first ashamed, afraid; he feels a terror lest his love, if known to her, should excite her scorn; a horror lest it be misunderstood and befouled by the jests of those around him, even of those same gentle women to whom he afterwards addresses his praise of Beatrice. He is afraid of exposing to the air of reality this ideal flower of passion. But the moment comes when he can hide it no longer; and, behold, the passion flower of his soul opens out more gloriously in the sunlight of the world. He is proud of his passion, of his worship; he feels the dignity and glory of being the priest of such a love. The women all round, the beautiful, courteous women, of whom, only just now, he was so dreadfully afraid, become his friends and confidants; they are quite astonished (half in love, perhaps, with the young poet) at this strange way of loving; they sympathize, admire, are in love with his love for Beatrice. And to them he speaks of her rather than to men, for the womanhood which they share with his lady consecrates them in his eyes; and they, without jealousy towards this ideal woman, though perhaps not without longing for this ideal love, listen as they might listen to some new and unaccountably sweet music, touched and honoured, and feeling towards Dante as towards some beautiful, half-mad thing. He talks of her, sings of her, and is happy; the strangest thing in this intensely real narrative of real love is this complete satisfaction of the passion in its own existence, this complete absence of all desire or hope. But this happiness is interrupted by the sudden, terrible thought that one day all this must cease; the horrible, logical necessity coming straight home to him, that one day she must die "Di necessit
But every man has his own idea of heaven: yet, with all, its chiefest attribute is eternal happiness. The wretch craves it for rest; he who never knew care or suffering, desires it for enjoyment; and the wildest imagination sublimates its bliss to love and beauty. And God only knows what it is, or in what it consists. But we shall know, and I, in a little time.
This eternal output of divine derision has never been so truly typified as by the character of Sam; he is a grotesque fountain which gushes the living waters for ever. Dickens is accused of exaggeration and he is often guilty of exaggeration; but here he does not exaggerate: he merely symbolises and sublimates like any other great artist.
Is it the individuality, or that higher power of which it transmits a ray? The sense of this blending of the human and divine does not weaken or perplex our affection for the friend we see; it intensifies and sublimates it. So, in the sense of communion with the unseen friend, it disturbs us not that we cannot say how much is there of the remembered personality, how much of the one eternal deity.
The practical indifference to religious matters in the midst of which he has been born and brought up, usually sublimates itself in his case into circumspection and cleanliness, which shuns contact with religious men and things; and it may be just the depth of his tolerance and humanity which prompts him to avoid the delicate trouble which tolerance itself brings with it.