Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

So rivers, rapid once, now naked lie,

Forsaken of their springs, and leave their channels dry:

So man, at first a drop, dilates with heat;

Then form'd, the little heart begins to beat;

Secret he feeds, unknowing in the cell;

At length, for hatching ripe, he breaks the shell,

And struggles into breath, and cries for aid;

Then helpless in his mother's lap is laid.

He creeps, he walks, and, issuing into man,

Grndges their life, from whence his own began;

Retchless of laws, affects to rule alone,

Anxious to reign, and restless on the throne;

First vegetive, then feels, and reasons last;

Rich of three souls, and lives all three to waste.

Some thus, but thousands more, in flower of age,

For few arrive to run the latter stage.

Sunk in the first, in battle some are slain,

And others whelm'd beneath the stormy main.

What makes all this but Jupiter the king,

At whose command we perish, and we spring?

Then 'tis our best, since thus ordain'd to die,

To make a virtue of necessity;

Take what he gives, since to rebel is vain;

The bad grows better, which we well sustain;

And could we choose the time, and choose aright,

'Tis best to die, our honour at the height.

When we have done our ancestors no shame,

But served our friends, and well secured our fame,
Then should we wish our happy life to close,

And leave no more for fortune to dispose.

So should we make our death a glad relief

From future shame, from sickness, and from grief;

Enjoying, while we live, the present hour,

And dying in our excellence and flower.

Then round our death-bed every friend should run,

And joyous of our conquest early won;

While the malicious world, with envious tears.

Should grndge our happy end, and wish it theirs.

Since then our Arcite is with honour dead,

Why should we mourn that he so soon is freed,

Or call untimely what the gods decreed?

With grief as just, a friend may be deplored,

From a foul prison to free air restored,

Ought he to thank his kinsman or his wife,

Could tears recal him into wretched life ?

Their sorrow hurts themselves; on him is lost;

And worse than both, offends his happy ghost.

What then remains, but after past annoy,

To take the good vicissitnde of joy;

To thank the gracious gods for what they give,

Possess our souls, and while we live, to live?

Ordain we then two sorrows to combine,

And in one point the extremes of grief to join;

That thence resulting joy may be renew'd,

As jarring notes in harmony conclnde.

Then I propose, that Palamon shall be

In marriage join'd with beauteous Emily;

For which already I have gain'd the assent

Of my free people in full parliament.

Long love to her has borne tho faithful knight,

And well deserved, had fortune done him right;

'Tis time to mend her fault, since Emily,

By Arcite's death, from former vows is free.—

If yon, fair sister, ratify the accord,
And take him for your husband and your lord,
'Tis no dishonour to confer your grace
On one descended from a royal race;
And were he less, yet years of service past,
From grateful souls, exact reward at last.
Pity is heaven's and your's; nor can she find
A throne so soft as in a woman's mind.—

He said: she blush'd; and, as o'erawed by might,
Seem'd to give Thesens what she gave the knight.

Then, turning to the Theban, thus he said:

Small arguments are needful to persuade

Your temper to comply with my command:

And, speaking thus, he gave Emilia's hand.

Smiled Venus to behold her own true knight

Obtain the conquest, though he lost the fight;

And bless'd, with nuptial bliss, the sweet laborious night.

Eros and Antcros, on either side,

One fired the bridegroom, and one warm'd the bride;

And long-attending Hymen, from above,

Shower d on the bed the whole Idalian grove.

All of a tenor was their after-life,

No day discolour'd with domestic strife;

No jealousy, but mutual truth believed,

Secure repose, and kindness undeceived.

Thus Heaven, beyond the compass of his thought,

Sent him the blessing he so dearly bought.

So may the Queen of Love long duty bless,
And all true lovers find the same success.

The time is come in which a ctfriOtis and instructive chapter in English criticism—a long one too, possibly— might be written on the Versification of Chaucer, and upon the history of opinions respecting it. Tyrwhitt laid the basis, in his edition of the Cantcrbitry Tales—the only work of the ancestral poet that can yet fairly be said to have found an editor—by a text, of which the admirable diligence, fidelity, skill, and sound discretion, wrung energetic and unqualified praise from the mandatory pen of Hitson. But the Grammar of Chaucer has yet to be fully drawn out. The profound labours of the continental scholars, late or living, on the language that was immediate mother to our own, the Anglo-Saxon, makes that which was in Tyrwhitt's day a thing impossible to bedonc, now almost an easy adventure. Accomplished, it would at once considerably rectify even Tyrwhitt's text. The Hules of the Verse, which are many, and evince a systematic and cautious framing, no less than a sensitive musical car in the patriarch, would follow of themselves. Jn the mean time, a few observations, for which the materials lie at hand, arc

called for in this place, by the collision of the two great names, Chaucer and Dryden. Dry den says—

"The verse of Chaucer, I confess, is not harmonious to us; but it is like the eloquence of one whom Tacitus commends, it was auribus istitu temporii aceommodata. They who lived with him, and some time after him, thought it musical; and it continues so, even in our jndgment, if compared with the numbers of Lidgate and Uower, his contemporaries :—there is the rnde sweetness of a Scotch tune in it, which is natural and pleasing, though not perfect. It is true, I cannot go so far as he who published the last edition of him; for he would make us believe the fault is in our ears, and that there were really ten syllables in a verse where wo find but nine; but this opinion is not worth confuting; ft is so gross and obvious an error, that common sense (which is a rule in every thing but matters of faith and revelation) must convince the reader that equality of numbers, in every verso which we call heroic, was either not known, or not always practised in Chaucer's age. It were an easy matter to produce some thousands of his versos which are lame for want of half a foot,

and sometimes a whole one, and which no pronunciation can make otherwise. We can only say, that he lived in the infancy of our poetry, and that nothing is brought to perfection at first. We must bo children before we grow men. There was an Ennins, and in process of time a Lucilins and a Lucretins, before Virgil and Horace; even after Chaucer there was a Spenser, a Harrington, a Fairfax, before Waller and Henham were in being; and our numbers were in their nonage till these last appeared."

Strange to say, by the changing pronunciation of the language, there grew with time upon the minds of men a doubt, whether or no the Father of our Poctry wrote verse! The tone of Dry den, in the above passage, when animadverting upon Speght, shows that that editor, in standing up for ten syllables, put forth an unusual opinion; whilst the poet, in alleging the deficiency, manifestly agrees with the opinion of the antique versification that had become current in the -world. He taxes Chaucer, it will bo observed, with going wrong on the side of deficiency, not of excess; nor does he blame the interchange even of deficiency and excess, as if the syllables were often nine and often eleven. His words leave no room for misconception of their meaning. They are as definite as language can supply. "Thousands of the verses are lame for want of half a foot, or of a whole one." In this sense, then, he intends: *' That equality of numbers, in every verse which we call heroic, was either not known, or not always practised in Chaucer's age."

But as Dryden has been severely taken to task by some insignificant writers of our day for the above passage, let us, not for his vindication, but excuse, take a moment's glance atSpeght's edition (1602,) which, in Dryden's day, was in high esteem, and had been at first published on the recommendation of Speght's " assured and ever-loving friend," the illustrious Francis Beaumont. In his preface, Speght says—" and his verses, although in divers places they may seem to us to stand of unequal measures, yet a skilful reader that can scan them in their nature, shall find it otherwise. And if a verse

here and there fal out a sOIable shorter or longer than another, I rather areit to the negligence and rape of Adan Scrivener, that I may speak as Ch&ucer doth, than to any unconning or oversight in the Author. For how fearful he was to Lave his works miswritten, or his verse mismeaswjd. may appear in the end of his fifth book of Troilus and Cresside, where he writeth thus:—

'And for there is so great diversitie,

In English and in writing of our tongue,

So pray 1 God, that none miswriteth«,

Ne thee mismetre for defant of

tongue,'" &c.

. How Speght made np the measure to his own satisfaction does not appear; nor what those methods of pronunciation may have been which JJrvden tried, and which left some thousand verses deficient by half a foot, or a foot.

But believing Speght's text to be accurate, Dryden could not bat believe in the artlessness and irregularity of Chaucer's versification. Speght's text is most inaccurate, and altogether undeserving of his own very high opinion, thus expressed in the Dedication to Sir Robert Cecil —" Now, therefore, that both by old written copies, and by Master William Thynn's praiseworthy labours, I have reformed the whole worke, whereby Chancer for the most part is restored to his owne antiquitie." In *'* Chaucer, Dryden met every where such lines as theses—

"When that April with his shours sole." "And small foules maken melodio That slepen all night with open eie." "It befell that season on a day." "Ready to wend in my pilgrimage." "That toward Canterbury would ride— The chambres and stables weren wide." "To tell you all the condition.'* "Full worthy was he in his lord*

warre." "Aboven all nations in Pruce." "For to tell you of his array."

We suspect that there was all along a lingering tradition amongst the learned about the virtue of the Mute E's. Vestiges of the use occur in the poets of Elizabeth's tin* Wallis, the celebrated grammarian, says, that "with our early poets it is found that that (final) £ did or did nut constitute au additional syllable, just as the structure of the verse required it." Urn:, whose edition of C'hauccr was published, not long after his death, in 1721, knows for vocal the termination in ES, of genitive singular and of the plural—also the past tenso and participle in ED, which, however, can hardly be thought much of, as it is a power over one mute E that we retain in use to this day. The final E, too, he marks for a syllablo where he finds one wanted, but evidently without any grammatical reason. L'rry was an unfortunate editor. Truly does Tyrwbitt say of him, that "his design of restoring the metre of Chaucer by a collation of MSS., was as landable as his execution of it has certainly been unsuccessful." The natural causes of this ill success arc thus severely and distinctly stated, •'The strange license in which he appears to have indulged himself, of lengthening and shortening Chancer's words according to his own fancy, and of even adding words of his own, without giving his readers the least notice, has made the text of Chaucer in his edition by far the worst that was ever published." One is not surprised when Tyrwbitt, the model of a gentlemanly and scholarly editor, a very pattern of temperate, equitable, and merciful criticism, cannot refrain from closing his preface with this extinguishing censure of his wilful predecessor—" Mr Urry's edition should never be opened by any one for the purpose of reading Chancer."

Morell, a scholar, published in 1737 the Prologue and the Knight's Tale —and he, too, marked at need the Mute E's in his text, but by what rule Tyrwhitt does not intimate, nor do we now distinctly recollect. He courageously holds that the numbers of Chaucer "arc always musical, whether they want or exceed the complement." But that cannot well be; for except in very peculiar cases— such,/or example, as the happy line, "Gingfing in the whistling wind full clear"—if the MS. have it so—a line of nine syllables only must be a lame one—and their freipient recurrence

would be the destruction of all music.

Tyrwhitt urges the reason of pronouncing the final E; namely, that it remains to us from a language in which it formed a syllable. So from the Norman French we have fac-x, hosts, chang-K, &c. This is basing the matter on its true ground. It must, however, be acknowledged with some sorrow, that this well-schooled, clearminded, and most laborious editor did not feel himself bound, for the behoof of his author, to master, as far as the philology of the day might have enabled him, the Saxon tongue itself, and learn from the fountain what might, and what could not be—the language of Chaucer. Imperfect as the stndy of the Anglo-Saxon then was, he would thus have possessed a needful mastery over the manuscripts, upon which, as it was, he wholly depended ; and he would have been saved from some unguarded philological assertions and whimsical speculations. Wanting this guidance, the work, so well executed as it is, is a monument only the more to be wondered at of his indefatigable industry and extraordinary good sense.

Upon any where opening Chaucer, of the many seemingly defective verses, (Dryden in saying thousands may have exaggerated the number even in Speght,) by far the greater part will be found recoverable to measure by that restitution of the Mute E which we since, too exclusively perhaps, connect with the name of Tyrwhitt. The confidence felt in his text, however—the only one upon which a metrical scholar dares work—in some sort justifies the honour. Meanwhile, this metrical theory, from his time, has been generally received; and the renown of the founder of our poetry settled on all the wider and firmer basis, when he appears as the earliest skilled artificer of the verse itself— the ten-syllabled or now national verse, of Shakspeare, Spenser, Milton, Dryden, and Pope.

One starts, therefore, to find a name of such distinction as the late Laureate's formally opposed to Tyrwhitt, and committed to the opinion which may seem to have been Dryden's, that the verse of Chancer ,< "rhythmical, not metrical." This hardly self-explicating distinction of Dr Geo. Fred. Nott's, Southey in his Life of Cowper has explained in set terms—a verse for which the number of beats or accents is ruled is rhythmical—for example, the verse of Coleridge's Christabel. In that beautiful poem, the verse is fixed at four beats or accents, but is free syllabled, having six, seven, ten, twelve, or fourteen. Southey cannot believe that the prndent and practical Chaucer would have placed his verse, intended for general reception, in the jeopardy of a reader's discretion for determining when the verse required the sounding, and when the silence, of a vowel, by its nature free to be sounded or left silent, as exigency might require. But he misapprehends tho proposed remedy; and the discretion which he supposes is not given. In the two languages from which mil's is immediately derived, the AngloSaxon and the Norman-French, there are found manyfinal syllables, entirely dropped in our pronunciation, and many of them in our writing, but which in the time of Chaucer were all still written, and all with the same vowel E. The metrical hypothesis, to which Tyrwhitt's labours gave a lustre, much heightened by the AngloSaxon stndies abroad and at homo of the present century, bears—first, that in the language of Chaucer's day these syllables were still andible; and secondly, that Chaucer consequently employed them in his verse, like any other syllables, with the due metrical value:—herein not, as the Laureate thought, overruling, but conforming himself to the use of his mother tongue. To this more than plausible view, which, if the late stndies thathave been taken in the intelligence of Alfred's speech had been made in Tyrwhitt's day, would not have waited till now for its full establishment, no objection has yet been raised that seems to deserve the slightest attention. The Laureate's vanish upon the mere statement. For Dr Nott, on whom he trinmphantly builds, and whose proofs he seems to adopt—he is the weakest and most wrongheaded of all possible prosers; and, what is more, his opinions, if they deserve the name, differ toto cab from Son

they's. For we have seen that Sonthey's ground of distinction is the number of syllables uurestrained or varying, as in Christabel. Bnt Nott says repeatedly, that the number of syllables is fixed, namely, to ten; and of the five beats he says not a word.

To extricate Nott's argument (in his edition of Surrey) from entanglement would not repay a tithe of the trouble; suffice it to say that he holds that as English verse, before Chaucer, was rhythmical, it is not likely that Chaucer all at once made it metrical. We answer first— the question is of a fact offering its own evidence, not of an anterior likelihood. Secondly—Tyrwhitt's theory that Chaucer, from his intimacy with the more advanced French and Italian poetry, adopted their measure, and stamped art upon a poetry till then rnde and helpless, has high natural probability, and agrees to the vehement early extollings of Chancer as a sovereign master of art. Thirdly—we desire a better proof and explanation of the difference between rhythmical and metrical verse than Dr Nott has given, who has placed some extracts from these anterior poets at the side of some from Chaucer, which prove just nothing. Fourthly, there «*b metrical verse in England before Chaucer, eight-syllabled and fifteensyllabled—if no others. Mr Hallam {Introduction to the Literature of Europe) writes with more commendation of Dr Nott's accomplishments than they merit; but in the following excellent passage he shows his usual knowledge of his subject, and his usual jndgment.

"It had been supposed to be proved by Tyrwhitt, that Chaucer's lines are to be read metrically, in ten or eleven syllables, like the Italian, and, as I apprehend, the French of his time. For this purpose, it is necessary to presume that many terminations, now mute, were svllabically pronounced; and where verses prove refractory after all our endeavours, Tyrwhitt has no scruple in declaring them corrupt. It may be added, that Gray, before the appearance of Tyrwhitt's essay on the versification of Chaucer, had adopted without hesitation the same hypothesis. Bat, according to Dr Nott, the verses of Chaucer, and of all his successors down

« AnteriorContinuar »