DANTE AND HIS LATEST TRANSLATORS.
 Putnam’s Magazine, 1868.
“Ghosts and witches are the best machinery for a modern epic.” So said Charles Fox, who fed his imagination on verse of this aspiring class. Fox was no literary oracle, and his opinion is here cited only as evidence that the superearthly is an acknowledged element in the epopee. The term “machinery” implies ignorance of the import of the super-earthly in epic poetry, an ignorance attendant on materialism and a virtual unbelief. No poet who should accept the term could write an epic, with or without the “machinery.” Such acceptance would betoken that weakness of the poetic pinion which surely follows a want of faith in the invisible supervisive energies.
A genuine epic, of the first class, is a world-poem, a poem of depth and height and breadth, narrating long-prepared ruin or foundation of a race; and poetry, soaring beyond history, is bold to lay bare the method of the divine intervention in the momentous work. The epic poet, worthy of the lofty task, has such large sympathies, together with such consciousness of power, that he takes on him to interpret and incarnate the celestial cooperation. There are people, and some of them even poets, whose consciousness is so smothered behind the senses, that they come short of belief in spiritual potency. They are what, with felicity of phrase, Mr. Matthew Arnold calls—
“Light half-believers in our casual creeds.”
Homer and Milton were believers: they believed in the visible, active presence on the earth of the god Mars, and the archangel Raphael. Had they not, there would have been no “Iliad,” no “Paradise Lost.”
Dante, too, was a believer; and such warm, wide sympathies had he, and an imagination so daring, that he undertook to unfold the divine judgment on the multitudinous dead, ranging with inspired vision through hell, and purgatory, and heaven. In his large, hot heart, he lodged the racy, crude beliefs of his age, and with poetic pen wrought them into immortal shapes. The then religious imaginations of Christendom, positive, and gross, and very vivid; the politics of Italy, then tumultuous and embittered; the theology and philosophy of his time, fantastic, unfashioned—all this was his material. But all this, and were it ten times as much, is but the skeleton, the frame. The true material of a poem is the poet’s own nature and thoughts, his sentiment and his; judgment, his opinions, aspirations, imaginations, his veriest self, the whole of him, especially the best of him.