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Various essays have been made in different countries to compare the characters of ancient and modern versification, and to point out the difference beyond any possibility of mistake. But they have made distinctions, where in fact there was no difference, and left the criterion unobserved. They have transferred the name of rhyme to a regular repetition of the same sound at the end of the line, and set up this vile monotony as the characteristic of modern verse, in contradistinction to the feet of the ancients, which they pretend the poetry of modern languages will not admit.
Rhyme, from the Greek word Putuo;, is nothing else but number, which was essential to the ancient, as well as to the modern versification. As to the jingle of similar sounds, though it was never used by the ancients in any regular return in the middle, or at the end of the line, and was by no means deemed essential to the versification, yet they did not reject it as a blemish, where it occurred without the appearance of constraint. We meet with it often in the epithets of Homer ; Apyugeolo, Biolo—Avač Avogay, Ayausuvay—almost the whole first ode of Anacreon is what we call rhyme. The following line of Virgil has been admired for the similitude of sound in the first two words.
“ Ore Arethusa tuo siculis confunditur undis.”
Rythmus, or number, is certainly essential to verse, whether in the dead or living languages; and the real difference between the two is this: the number in ancient verse relates to the feet, and in modern poetry to the syllables; for to assert that modern poetry has no feet, is a ridiculous absurdity. The feet that principally enter the composition of Greek and Latin verses, are either of two or three syllables: those of two syllables are either both long, as the spondee; or both short, as the pyrrhic; or one short and the other long, as the iambic; or one long and the other
short, as the trochee. Those of three syllables are the dac-
tyl, and the last a spondee: e. g.
l 2 3 4 5 6 Principi-is obs-ta, se-ro medi-cina pa-ratur. The pentameter of five feet, dactyls and spondees, are of six, reckoning two caesuras.
I 2 3 4. 5 6
They had likewise the iambic of three sorts, the dimeter, the trimeter, and the tetrameter, and all the different kinds of lyric verse specified in the odes of Sappho, Alcaeus, Anacreon, and Horace. Each of these was distinguished by the number, as well as by the species of their feet ; so that they were doubly restricted. Now all the feet of the ancient poetry are still found in the versification of living languages; for as cadence was regulated by the ear, it was impossible for a man to write melodious verse without naturally falling into the use of ancient feet, though perhaps he neither knows their measure nor denomination. Thus Spenser, Shakspeare, Milton, Dryden, Pope, and all our poets, abound with dactyls, spondees, trochees, anapests, &c. which they use indiscriminately in all kinds of composition, whether tragic, epic, pastoral, or ode, having in this particular greatly the advantage of the ancients, who were restricted to particular kinds of feet in particular kinds of verse. If we them are confined with the fetters of
what is called rhyme, they were restricted to particular species of feet; so that the advantages and disadvantages are pretty equally balanced: but, indeed, the English are more free in this particular, than any other modern nation. They not only use blank verse in tragedy and the epic, but even in lyric poetry. Milton's translation of Horace's ode to Pyrrha () is universally known, and generally admired, in our opinion much above its merit. There is an ode extant without rhyme addressed to Evening, by the late Mr. Collins,” much more beautiful ; and Mr. Warton, with some others, has happily succeeded in divers occasional pieces, that are free of this restraint: but the number in all of these depends upon the syllables, and not upon the feet, which are unlimited. It is generally supposed that the genius of the English language will not admit of Greek or Latin measure; but this, we apprehend, is a mistake, owing to the prejudice of education. It is impossible that the same measure, composed of the same times, should have a good effect upon the ear in one language, and a bad effect in another. The truth is, we have been accustomed from our infancy to the numbers of English poetry, and the very sound and signification of the words dispose the ear to receive them in a certain manner; so that its disappointment must be attended with a disagreeable sensation. In imbibing the first rudiments of education, we acquire, as it were, another ear for the numbers of Greek and Latin poetry, and this, being reserved entirely for the sounds and significations of the words that constitute those dead languages, will not easily accommodate itself to the sounds of our vernacular tongue, though conveyed in the same time and measure. In a word, Latin
and Greek have annexed to them the ideas of the ancient measure, from which they are not easily disjoined. But we will venture to say, this difficulty might be surmounted by an effort of attention and a little practice; and in that case we should in time be as well pleased with English as with Latin hexameters. Sir Philip Sydney is said to have miscarried in his essays: (1) but his miscarriage was no more than that of failing in an attempt to introduce a new fashion. The failure was not owing to any defect or imperfection in the scheme, but to the want of taste, to the irresolution and ignorance of the public. Without all doubt the ancient measure, so different from that of modern poetry, must have appeared remarkably uncouth to people in general who were ignorant of the classics; and nothing but the countenance and perseverance of the learned could reconcile them to the alteration. We have seen several late specimens of English hexameters and sapphics, so happily composed, that by attaching them to the idea of ancient measure, we found them in all respects as melodious and agreeable to the ear as the works of Virgil and Anacreon, or Horace. Though the number of syllables distinguishes the nature of the English verse from that of the Greek and Latin, it constitutes neither harmony, grace, nor expression. These must depend upon the choice of words, the seat of the accent, the pause, and the cadence. The accent, or tone, is understood to be an elevation or sinking of the voice in reciting: the pause is a rest, that divides the verse into two parts, each of them called an hemistich. The pause and accent in English poetry vary occasionally, according to
(1) [“Spenser himself affects the obsolete, And Sidney's verse halts all on Roman feet.”—Pop E. For a specimen, Dr. Warton quotes the following from the “Arcadia"— “If the spheres senseless do yet hold a music, If the swan's sweet voice be not heard, but at death, If the mute timber when it hath the life lost Yieldeth a lute's tune.”)
the meaning of the words; so that the hemistich does not always consist of an equal number of syllables, and this variety is agreeable, as it prevents a dull repetition of regular stops, like those in the French versification, every line of which is divided by a pause exactly in the middle. The cadence comprehends that poetical style which animates every line, that propriety which gives strength and expression, that numerosity which renders the verse smooth, flowing, and harmonious, that significancy which marks the passions, and in many cases makes the sound an echo to the sense. The Greek and Latin languages, in being copious and ductile, are susceptible of a vast variety of cadences, which the living languages will not admit; and of these the reader of any ear will judge for himself. We shall only mention a few that are remarkably striking.") The following from Denham’s ‘Cooper's Hill,” has been admired and imitated, as full, flowing, and sonorous. Speaking of the river Thames: “O could I flow like thee, and make thy stream My great example as it is my theme; Though deep yet clear, though gentle yet not dull, Strong without rage, without o'erflowing full.”
There cannot be a better specimen of the swift cadence, than this line of Milton :
“Light as the lightning's glimpse, they ran, they flew.”
(1) The poet Vida describes the last groan of our Saviour in these
words :- -
(2) [This series of papers terminated here, before, as we may believe, the original design with which they commenced was finished.]
VOL. I. Y