Two Studies in Dante. An unsigned review of Dante’s Conception of Justice, by Allan H. Gilbert; and The New Beatrice; or, The Virtue that Counsels. A Study in Dante, by Gratia Eaton Baldwin
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500 ] Two Studies in Dante An unsigned review of Dante’s Conception of Justice, by Allan H. Gilbert Durham, NC: Duke UP; London: Cambridge UP, 1925. Pp. vii + 244. The New Beatrice; or, The Virtue that Counsels. A Study in Dante, by Gratia Eaton Baldwin New York: Columbia UP; London: Milford, 1928. Pp. 88. The Times Literary Supplement, 1393 (11 Oct 1928) 732 These two books, both issued from American university presses, are curiously different, but arrive very happily together for any reader who cares to meditate upon human nature as exhibited by Dante students. The first, it must be said at once, is very much better and more important than the second; yet, taken together, the two volumes are much more informative about the dangers, limitations, and difficulties of the study of Dante than either would be alone. Professor Gilbert1 has provided, at the least, a compact and convenient and well-arranged handbook introducing the student to what is certainly the central idea of the Divine Comedy – the idea of Justice: an idea, furthermore ,withoutagraspofwhichwecannotunderstandtheDeMonarchia or the Convivio.2 The author is perfectly orthodox among Dante scholars; there is nothing surprising or revolutionary about his conclusions; his merit is to have provided a sound and readable presentation of the key-idea of the Comedy. It may be recommended to anyone beginning the study of Dante without profound knowledge of Aristotle or of Scholasticism. We agree with the author that the importance of the conception of Justice in the Divine Comedy can hardly be over-estimated, and that the commentaries of Aquinas on Aristotle were probably far more important in the formation of Dante’s views than were any of the available works of Aristotle himself. The author says rightly: [ 501 Two Studies in Dante Justice lies at the heart of the Commedia. The poem cannot be morally or even aesthetically acceptable unless the punishments and rewards of which it treats are accepted as justly assigned. Its structure and purpose cannot be grasped without an understanding of its author’s conception of justice, nor can its allegory appear rational or artistic. The interpretation of the Purgatorio has especially suffered from the lack of any principle of justice as a guide. In the present work the penalties of purgatory are treated as parts of a connected allegory and distinguished from those of hell. The chapter on the Paradiso is intended to show how that part of the poem fits into Dante’s allegorical scheme as a presentation of the Divine justice at work among living men. Interpreters of the Paradiso have too commonly been content with the literal meaning alone. [vi] The book is improved by an appendix giving the relevant texts from Dante, Aquinas and Aristotle. Our only criticism of the book is that the author might have gathered his argument into another chapter, pointing out the difference between the “justice ” of Aristotle as developed by Aquinas and the common conception of “justice” at the present time. The Aristotelian “justice” as taken over by Dante is a term with progressive enlargement of meaning, from social or legal justice to Divine justice, which are related but not identical. It is largely due, we believe, to the romantic conception of justice that the Inferno has been, especially among Anglo-Saxon and Northern readers, the most popular and most apparently intelligible part of the Comedy. We do not need to accept the idea of eternal damnation in order to appreciate the Inferno, but we must certainly understand it – and that, as the history of modern literary criticismattests,ismoredifficultthanmostpeoplethink.Mostoftheromantic delight in the love of Paolo and Francesca, from Musset on, has been founded on a misconception.3 Now it is essential to the understanding of the Inferno to understand that all of these damned are damned voluntarily; they preferdamnationbecausetheyprefertoremainintheirseveralstatesofmind rather than make any motion of discipline or surrender. The choice of damnation by the damned is, however, contrasted with the choice of suffering by those in purgatory. Professor Gilbert makes a good point of the distinction betweenthe“flames”ofhellandthe“flames”ofpurgatory–intowhichlatter Guido Guinicelli, for example, withdraws again with gladness after speaking to Dante.4 The damned choose the mental state which implies torment; the souls in purgatory choose the torment which will purge the mental state. 1928 502 ] Miss Baldwin’s little book deals with the special problem of the Vita Nuova, the problem which has proved itself a stumbling-block for most of its critics: Miss Baldwin, it must be said...