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These three specimens, as well as the greatest part of Dante ’s work, are as well understood now as they were four hundred and fifty years ago; yet one meets here and there not only with obsolete words, but with verses quite unintelligible; at least many of them are so to me.
I have said above that, in my opinion, the Tuscans in general and the Florentines in particular, did not look early on their dialect as the best of Italy. This opinion of mine is confírmed by this poem, in which Dante made use ofamultitude .-) of Lombard, Neapolitan and Venetian words, so that it seems j he had a mind to imitate the Grecian poets who, when occasion required, did not scruple to mix their diflferent dialects into one, which has not been the practice of Petrarca, Boccaccio, Pulci and the others that carne after him, as I shall say in its place.
I must not omit to observe that the corrupt Latin of the tenth and eleventh centuries was not quite expelled from Italy in Dante ’s time. Some of the studious stili made some use of it, especially in writing; and our poet, that he might please every class of men, not only dropt in his performance a great quantity of Latin words, but had whole lines and even ternaries quite Latin interspersed in it (J); and amongst his lyric compositions, he has one of those that we cali canzoni, which is in three languages, that is Provengal, Latin and Fiorentine. This is a proof that the two languages stili continued to be culti vated in Italy.
I said that this poem charmed his contemporaries and holds stili as high a rank in the esteem of the Italians as any other production of poetical imagination: yetifa foreign critic should happen to peruse it, let me teli him that he must not weigh a poem written so early in the scales of modem criticism, but make allowance, amongst other things, for some strange mixtures of pagan and Christian notions, and consider that our poet was not only a mortai man, like any other, and consequently subject to err; but that he writ before any body dreamt of those rules
(i) Dante had begun his poem in Latin, but changed afterwards his scheme and wrote it in italian. «Infera regna canam» was the beginning of his first line.