Sordello has come with Palma to Ferrara. He came to find the men who were to be the body to his spirit, the instrument to his will. But he came, expecting that these would be great. And now he discovers that very few are great; while behind and beneath, and among them, extends something which has never yet entered his field of thought: the mass of mankind. The more he looks the more it grows upon him: this people with the
mouths and eyes,
Petty enjoyments and huge miseries,—” (vol. i. p. 181.)
and the more he feels that the few are great because the many are in them—because they are types and representatives of these. Hitherto he has striven to impose himself on mankind. He now awakes to the joy and duty of serving it. It is the magnified body which his spirit needs. And in the new-found knowledge, the new-found sympathy, his soul springs full-grown into life.
But another check is in store for him. He has taken for granted that the cause in which he is to be enlisted is the people’s cause. The new soul in him can conceive nothing less. A first interview with Salinguerra dispels this dream, and dispels it in such a manner that he leaves the presence of his unknown father years older and wearier than when he entered it. He wanders through the city, mangled by civil war. The effects of Ghibelline vengeance meet him on every side. Is the Guelph more humane? He discusses the case with Palma. They weigh deeds with deeds. “Guelph and Ghibelline are alike unjust and cruel, alike inveterate enemies of their fellow-men.” Who then represents the people’s cause? A sudden answer comes. A bystander recognizing his minstrel’s attire begs Sordello to sing, and suggests the Roman Tribune Crescentius as his theme. Rome rises before his mind—the mother of cities—the great constructive power which weaves the past into the future; which represents the continuity of human life. The reintegration of Rome must typify the triumph of mankind. But Rome is now the Church; she is one with the Guelph cause. The Guelph cause is therefore in some sense the true one. Sordello’s new-found spiritual and his worldly interests thus range themselves on opposite sides.
The day draws to its close. Sordello has seen more of the suffering human beings whom he wishes to serve, and the ideal Rome has collapsed in his imagination like a mocking dream. Nothing can be effected at once. No deed can bridge over the lapse of time which divides the first stage of a great social structure from its completion. Each life may give its touch; it can give no more; through the endless generations. The vision of a regenerate humanity, “his last and loveliest,” must depart like the rest. Then suddenly a voice,