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Page:The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero) - Volume 4.djvu/276

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p. 245) contributed his famous excursus on the allegory in the First Canto of the Inferno, and numerous other issues remain to testify, Dante's own countrymen were eager "to pay honours almost divine" to his memory. "The last age," writes Hobhouse, in 1817 (note 18 to Canto IV. of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Poetical Works, 1899, 496), "seemed inclined to undervalue him.... The present generation ... has returned to the ancient worship, and the Danteggiare of the northern Italians is thought even indiscreet by the more moderate Tuscans." Dante was in the air. As Byron wrote in his Diary (January 29, 1821), "Read Schlegel [probably in a translation published at Edinburgh, 1818]. Not a favourite! Why, they talk Dante, write Dante, and think and dream Dante at this moment (1821), to an excess which would be ridiculous, but that he deserves it."

There was, too, another reason why he was minded to write a poem "on the subject of Dante." There was, at this time, a hope, if not a clear prospect, of political changeā€”of throwing off the yoke of the Bourbon, of liberating Italy from the tyrant and the stranger. "Dante was the poet of liberty. Persecution, exile, the dread of a foreign grave, could not shake his principles" (Medwin, Conversations, 1824, p. 242). The Prophecy was "intended for the Italians," intended to foreshadow as in a vision "liberty and the resurrection of Italy" (ibid, p. 241). As he rode at twilight through the pine forest, or along "the silent shore Which bounds Ravenna's immemorial wood," the undying past inspired him with a vision of the future, delayed, indeed, for a time, "the flame ending in smoke," but fulfilled after many days, a vision of a redeemed and united Italy.

"The poem," he says, in the Preface, "may be considered as a metrical experiment." In Beppo, and the two first cantos of Don Juan, he had proved that the ottava rima of the Italians, which Frere had been one of the first to transplant, might grow and flourish in an alien soil, and now, by way of a second venture, he proposed to acclimatize the terza rima. He was under the impression that Hayley, whom he had held up to ridicule as "for ever feeble, and for ever tame," had been the first and last to try the measure in English; but of Hayley's excellent translation of the three first cantos of the Inferno (vide post, p. 244, note 1), praised but somewhat grudgingly praised by Southey, he had only seen an extract, and of earlier experiments he was altogether ignorant. As a matter of fact, many poets had already essayed, but timidly and without perseverance, to "come to the test in the metrification" of the Divine Comedy. Some