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This more perfect melody of articulate sounds, is what distinguishes verse from prose. Verse is subjected to certain inflexible laws; the number and variety of the component syllables being ascertained, and in some measure the order of succession. Such restraint makes it a matter of difficulty to compose in verse—a difficulty that is not to be surmounted but by a peculiar genius. Useful lessons conveyed to us in verse, are agreeable by the union of music with instruction: but are we for that reason to reject knowledge offered in a plainer dress? That would be ridiculous: for knowledge is of intrinsic merit, independent of the means of acquisition; and there are many, not less capable than willing to instruct us, who have no genius for verse. Hence the use of prose; which, for the reason now given, is not confined to precise rules. There belongs to it, a certain melody of an inferior kind, which ought to be the aim of every writer; but for succeeding in it, practice is necessary more than genius. Nor do we rigidly insist for melodious prose: provided the work convey instruction, its chief end, we are the less solicitous about its dress.
Having ascertained the nature and limits of our subject, I proceed to the laws by which it is regulated. These would be endless, were verse of all different kinds to be taken under consideration. I propose therefore to confine the inquiry, to Latin or Greek Hexameter, and to French and English heroic verse; which, perhaps, may carry me farther than the reader will choose to follow. The observations I shall have occasion to make, will at any rate be sufficient for a specimen; and these, with proper variations, may easily be transferred to the composition of other sorts of verse.
Before I enter upon particulars, it must be premised in general, that to verse of every kind, five things are of importance. 1st, The number of syllables that compose a verse line. 2d, The different lengths of syllables, i. e the difference of time taken in pronouncing. 3d, The arrangement of these syllables combined in words. 4th, The pauses or stops in pronouncing. 5th, The pronouncing of syllables in a high or a low tone. The three first mentioned are obviously essential to verse: if any of them be wanting, there cannot be that higher degree of melody which distinguishes verse from prose. To give a just notion of the fourth, it must be observed, that pauses are necessary for three different purposes: one, to separate periods, and members of the same period, according to the sense; another, to improve the melody of verse; and the last, to afford opportunity for drawing breath in reading. A pause of the first kind is variable, being long or short, frequent or less frequent, as the sense requires. A pause of the second kind, being determined by the melody, is in no degree arbitrary. The last sort is in a measure arbitrary, depending on the reader's command of breath. But as one cannot read with grace, unless, for drawing breath, opportunity be taken of a pause in the sense or in the melody, this pause ought never to be distinguished from the others; and for that reason shall be laid aside. With respect then to the pauses of sense and of melody, it may be affirmed without hesitation, that their coincidence in verse is a capita.
beauty: but as it cannot be expected, in a long work especially, tha. every line should be so perfect; we shall afterward have occasion to see, that the pause necessary for the sense must often, in some degree, be sacrificed to the verse-pause, and the latter sometimes to the former.
The pronouncing of syllables in a high or low tone, contributes also to melody. In reading whether verse or prose, a certain tone is assum ed, which may be called the key-note; and in that tone the bulk of the words are sounded. Sometimes to humor the sense, and sometimes the melody, a particular syllable is sounded in a higher tone; and this is termed accenting a syllable, or gracing it with an accent. Opposed to the accent, is the cadence, which I have not mentioned as one of the requisites of verse, because it is entirely regulated by the sense, and has no peculiar relation to verse. The cadence is a falling of the voice below the key-note at the close of every period; and so little is it essential to verse, that in correct reading the final syllable of every line is accented, that syllable only excepted which closes the period, where the sense requires a cadence. The reader may be satisfied of this by experiments; and for that purpose I recommend to him the Rape of the Lock, which, in point of versification, is the most complete performance in the English language. Let him consult in a particular period, canto 2, beginning at line 47, and closed line 52, with the word gay, which only of the whole final syllables is pronounced with a cadence. He may also examine another period in the 5th canto, which runs from line 45 to line 52.
Though the five requisites above mentioned, enter into the composition of every species of verse, they are, however, governed by different rules, peculiar to each species. Upon quantity only, one general observation may be premised, because it is applicable to every species of verse-that syllables, with respect to the time taken in pronouncing, are long or short; two short syllables, with respect to time, being precisely equal to a long one. These two lengths are essential to verse of all kinds; and to no verse, as far as I know, is a greater variety of time necessary in pronouncing syllables. The voice, indeed, is frequently made to rest longer than usual upon a word that bears an important signification; but this is done to humor the sense, and is not necessary for melody. A thing not more necessary for melody occurs with respect to accenting, similar to that now mentioned: A word signifying any thing humble, low, or dejected, is naturally, in prose, as well as in verse, pronounced in a tone below the key-note.
We are now sufficiently prepared for particulars; beginning with Latin or Greek Hexameter, which are the same. What I have to observe upon this species of verse, will come under the four following heads; number, arrangement, pause, and accent: for as to quantity, what is observed above may suffice.
Hexameter lines, as to time, are all of the same length; being equivalent to the time taken in pronouncing twelve long syllables or twenty-four short. An Hexameter line may consist of seventeen syllables; and when regular and not Spondiac, it never has fewer
than thirteen whence it follows, that where the syllables are many, the plurality must be short; where few, the plurality must be long.
This line is susceptible of much variety as to the succession of long and short syllables. It is, however, subjected to laws that confine its variety within certain limits; and for ascertaining these limits, grammarians have invented a rule by Dactyles and Spondees, which they denominate feet. One at first view is led to think, that these feet are also intended to regulate the pronunciation: which is far from being the case; for were one to pronounce according to these feet, the melody of an Hexameter line would be destroyed, or at best be much inferior to what it is when properly pronounced.* These feet must be confined to regulate the arrangement, for they serve no other purpose. They are withal so artificial and complex, that I am tempted to substitute in their stead, other rules more simple and of more easy application; for example, the following:1st, The line must always commence with a long syllable, and close with two long preceded by two short. 2d, More than two short can never be found together, nor fewer than two. And, 3d, Two long syllables which have been preceded by two short, cannot
*After giving some attention to this subject, and weighing deliberately every circumstance, I was necessarily led to the foregoing conclusion, That the Dactyle and Spondee are no other than artificial measures, invented for trying the accuracy of composition. Repeated experiments have convinced me, that though the sense should be neglected, an Hexameter line read by Dactyles and Spondees will not be melodious. And the composition of an Hexameter line demonstrates this to be true, without necessity of an experiment; for, as will appear afterward, there must always, in this line, be a capital pause at the end of the fifth long syllable, reckoning, as above, two short for one long, and when we measure_this line by Dactyles, and Spondees, the pause now mentioned divides always a Dactyle or a Spondee, without once falling in after either of these feet. Hence it is evident, that if a line be pronounced as it is scanned, by Dactyles and Spondees, the pause must utterly be neglected; which destroys the melody, because this pause is essential to the melody of an Hexameter verse. If, on the other hand, the melody be preserved by making that pause, the pronouncing by Dactyles or Spondees must be abandoned.
What has led grammarians into the use of Dactyles and Spondees, seems not beyond the reach of conjecture. To produce melody, the Dactyle and the Spondee, which close every Hexameter line, must be distinctly expressed in the pronunciation. This discovery joined with another, that the foregoing part of the verse could be measured by the same feet, probably led grammarians to adopt these artificial measures, and perhaps rashly to conclude, that the pronunciation is directed by these feet as the composition is: the Dactyle and the Spondee at the close, serve indeed to regulate the pronunciation as well as the composition; but in the foregoing part of the line, they regulate the composition only, not the pronunciation. If we must have feet in verse to regulate the pronunciation, and consequently the melody, these feet must be determined by the pauses. All the syllables interjected between two pauses ought to be deemed one musical foot; because, to preserve the melody, they must all be pronounced together, without any stop. And therefore, whatever number there are of pauses in an Hexameter line, the parts into which it is divided by these pauses, make just so many musical feet.
Connection obliges me here to anticipate, and to observe, that the same doctrine is applicable to English heroic verse. Considering its composition merely, it is of two kinds; one composed of five Iambi; and one of a Trochæus followed by four lambi: but these feet afford no rule for pronouncing; the musical feet being obviously those parts of the line that are interjected between two pauses. To bring out the melody, these feet must be expressed in the pronunciation; or, which comes to the same, the pronunciation must be directed by the pauses, without regard to the Iambus or Trochæus.
also be followed by two short. These few rules fulfil all the conditions of an Hexameter line, with relation to order or arrangement. To these again a single rule may be substituted, for which I have a still greater relish, as it regulates more affirmatively the construction of every part. That I may put this rule into words with perspicuity, I take a hint from the twelve long syllables that compose an Hexameter line to divide it into twelve equal parts or portions, being each of them one long syllable or two short. A portion being thus defined, I proceed to the rule. The 1st, 3d, 5th, 7th, 9th, 11th, and 12th portions, must each of them be one long syllable; the 10th must always be two short syllables; the 2d, 4th, 6th, and 8th, may either be one long or two short. Or to express the thing still more curtly, The 2d, 4th, 6th, and 8th portions may be one long syllable or two short; the 10th must be two short syllables; all the rest must consist each of one long syllable. This fulfils all the conditions of in Hexameter line, and comprehends all the combinations of Dactyles and Spondees that this line admits.
Next in order comes the pause. At the end of every Hexameter line, every one must be sensible of a complete close or full pause; the cause of which follows. The two long syllables preceded by two short, which always close an Hexameter line, are a fine preparation for a pause: for long syllables, or syllables pronounced slow, resembling a slow and languid motion, tending to rest, naturally incline the mind to rest, or to pause; and to this inclination the two preceding short syllables contribute, which by contrast, make the slow pronunciation of the final syllables the more conspicuous. Beside this complete close or full pause at the end, others are also requisite for the sake of melody; of which I discover two clearly, and perhaps there may be more. The longest and most remarkable, succeeds the 5th portion: the other, which, being shorter and more faint, may be called the semipause, succeeds the 8th portion. So striking is the pause first mentioned, as to be distinguished even by the rudest ear: the monkish rhymes are evidently built upon it; in which by an invariable rule, the final word always chimes with that which immediately precedes the said pause:
De planctu cudo Il metrum cum carmine nudo
Mingere cum bumbis | res est saluberrima lumbis.
The difference of time in the pause and semipause, occasions another difference no less remarkable, that it is lawful to divide a word by a semipause, but never by a pause, the bad effect of which is sensibly felt in the following examples:
Effusus labor, at Il que immitis rupta Tyranni.
Observans nido im plumes detraxit; at illa.
Loricam quam De II moleo detraxerat ipse.
The dividing of a word by a semipause has not the same bad effect: Jamque pedem referens II casus e ¦ vaserat omnes.
Qualis populea Il marens Philo | mela sub umbra.
Ludere que vellem | calamo per | misit agresti.
Lines, however, where words are left entire, without reing divided even by a semipause, run by that means much the more sweetly: Nec gemere aërea || cessabit turtur ab ulmo.
Quadrupedante putrem II sonitu quatit | ungula campum.
Eurydicen toto referebant flumine ripæ.
The reason of these observations will be evident upon the slightest reflection. Between things so intimately connected in reading aloud, as are sense and sound, every degree of discord is unpleasant: and for that reason, it is a matter of importance, to make the musical pauses coincide as much as possible with those of sense; which is requisite, more especially, with respect to the pause, a deviation from the rule being less remarkable in a semipause. Considering the matter as to melody solely, it is indifferent whether the pauses be at the end of words or in the middle; but when we carry the sense along, it is disagreeable to find a word split into two by a pause, as if there were really two words: and though the disagreeableness here be connected with the sense only, it is by an easy transition of perceptions transferred to the sound; by which means, we conceive a line to be harsh and grating to the ear, when in reality it is only so to the understanding.*
To the rule that fixes the pause after the fifth portion, there is one exception, and no more: If the syllable succeeding the 5th portion be short, the pause is sometimes postponed to it.
Pupillis quos dura Il premit custodia matrum.
In terras oppressa | gravi sub religione.
Et quorum pars magna || fui; quis talia fando.
This contributes to diversify the melody; and where the words are smooth and liquid, is not ungraceful; as in the following examples:
Formosam resonare doces Amaryllida sylvas.
Agricolas, quibus ipsa | procul discordibus armis.
If this pause, placed as aforesaid after the short syllable, happen also to divide a word, the melody by these circumstances is totally annihilated. Witness the following line of Ennuis, which is plain prose:
Romæ mania terrullit impiger | Hanibal armis.
Hitherto the arrangement of the long and short syllables of an Hexameter line and its different pauses, have been considered with respect to melody: but to have a just notion of Hexameter verse, these particulars must also be considered with respect to sense. There is not, perhaps, in any other sort of verse, such latitude in the long and short syllables; a circumstance that contributes greatly to that rich
* See Chap. 2 Part 1. sect. 5.