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Think what an equipage thou hast in air,
What guards the purity of melting maids,
With tender billet-doux he lights the pyre,
Second and third.
Jove's thunder roars, heav'n trembles all around,
Sunk in Thalestris' arms, the nymph he found,
On her heav'd bosom hung her drooping head,
Musing on the foregoing subject, I begin to doubt whether all this while I have not been in a reverie, and whether the scene before me, full of objects new and singular, be not mere fairy-land. there any truth in the appearance, or is it wholly a work of imagi nation? We cannot doubt of its reality; and we may with assurance pronounce, that great is the merit of English heroic verse: for though uniformity prevails in the arrangement, in the equality of the lines, and in the resemblance of the final sounds, variety is still more conspicuous in the pauses and in the accents, which are diversified in a surprising manner. Of the beauty that results from a due mixture of uniformity and variety,* many instances have already occurred, but none more illustrious than English versification; however rude it may be in the simplicity of its arrangement,
* See chap. 9.
it is highly melodious by its pauses and accents, so as already to rival the most perfect species known in Rome or Greece; and it is no disagreeable prospect to find it susceptible of still greater refinement.
We proceed to blank verse, which has so many circumstances in common with rhyme, that its peculiarities may be brought within a narrow compass. With respect to form, it differs from rhyme in rejecting the jingle of similar sounds, which purifies it from a childish pleasure. But this improvement is a trifle compared with what follows. Our verse is extremely cramped by rhyme; and the peculiar advantage of blank verse is, that it is at liberty the imagination in its boldest flights. Rhyme necessarily divides verse into couplets; each couplet makes a complete musical period, the parts of which are divided by pauses, and the whole summed up by a full close at the end: the melody begins anew with the next couplet; and in this manner a composition in rhyme proceeds, couplet after couplet. I have often had occasion to mention the correspondence and concord that ought to subsist between sound and sense; from which it is a plain inference, that if a couplet be a complete period with regard to melody, it ought regularly to be the same with regard to sense. As it is extremely difficult to support such strictness of composition, licences are indulged, as explained above; which, however, must be used with discretion, so as to preserve some degree of concord between the sense and the music: there ought never to be a full close in the sense but at the end of a couplet; and there ought always to be some pause in the sense at the end of every couplet: the same period as to sense may be extended through several couplets; but each couplet ought to contain a distinct member, distinguished by a pause in the sense as well as in the sound; and the whole ought to be closed with a complete cadence.* Rules such as these must confine rhyme within very narrow bounds. A thought of any extent cannot be reduced within its compass : the sense must be curtailed and broken into parts, to make it square with the curtness of the melody; and, besides, short periods afford no latitude for inver
I have examined this point with the stricter accuracy, in order to give a just notion of blank verse; and to shew, that a slight difference in form may produce a great difference in substance. Blank verse has the same pauses and accents with rhyme; and a pause at the end of every line, like what concludes the first line of a couplet. In a word, the rules of melody in blank verse are the same that obtain with respect to the first line of a couplet; but being disengaged from rhyme, or from couplets, there is access to make every line run into another, precisely as to make the first line of a couplet run into the second. There must be a musical pause at the end of every line; but this pause is so slight as not to require a pause in
*This rule is quite neglected in French versification. Even Boileau makes no difficulty to close one subject with the first line of a couplet, and to begin a new subject with the second. Such licence, however sanctioned by practice, is unpleasant by the discordance between the pauses of the sense and of the melody.
the sense; and, accordingly, the sense may be carried on with or without pauses, till a period of the utmost extent be completed by a full close both in the sense and the sound. There is no restraint other than that this full close be at the end of a line; and this restraint is necessary, in order to preserve a coincidence between sense and sound; which ought to be aimed at in general, and is indispensable in the case of a full close, because it has a striking effect. Hence the fitness of blank verse for inversion; and, consequently, the lustre of its pauses and accents; for which, as observed above, there is greater scope in inversion, that when words run in their natural order.
In the second section of this chapter it is shewn, that nothing contributes more than inversion to the force and elevation of lan guage. The couplets of rhyme confine inversion within narrow limits; nor would the elevation of inversion, were there access for it in rhyme, readily accord with the humbler tone of that sort of verse. It is universally agreed, that the loftiness of Milton's style supports admirably the sublimity of his subject; and it is not less certain, that the loftiness of his style arises chiefly from inversion. Shakspeare deals little in inversion; but his blank verse being a sort of measured prose, is perfectly well adapted to the stage, where laboured inversion is highly improper, because in dialogue it never can be natural.
Hitherto I have considered that superior power of expression which verse acquires by laying aside rhyme. But this is not the only ground for preferring blank verse it has another preferable quality not less signal; and that is, a more extensive and more complete melody. Its music is not, like that of rhyme, confined to a single couplet, but takes in a great compass, so as in some measure to rival music, properly so called. The interval between its cadences may be long or short at pleasure; and, by that means, its melody, with respect both to richness and variety, is superior far to that of rhyme, and superior even to that of the Greek and Latin Hexameter. Of this observation no person can doubt who is acquainted with the Paradise Lost: in which work there are indeed many careless lines; but at every turn the richest melody as well as the sublimest sentiments are conspicuous. Take the following specimen :
Now Morn her rosy steps in th' eastern clime
Shot forth peculiar graces; then with voice
Comparing Latin Hexameter with English heroic rhyme, the former has obviously the advantage in the following particulars. is greatly preferable as to arrangement, by the latitude it admits in placing the long and short syllables. Secondly, the length of an Hexameter line hath a majestic air; ours, by its shortness, is indeed more brisk and lively, but much less fitted for the sublime. And, thirdly, the long high-sounding words that Hexameter admits, add greatly to its majesty. To compensate these advantages, English rhyme possesses a greater number and greater variety both of pauses and of accents. These two sorts of verse stand indeed pretty much in opposition in Hexameter, great variety of arrangement, none in the pauses nor accents; in English rhyme, great variety in the pauses and accents, very little in the arrangement.
In blank verse are united, in a good measure, the several properties of Latin Hexameter and English rhyme; and it possesses besides many signal properties of its own. It is not confined, like Hexameter, by a full close at the end of every line; nor, like rhyme, by a full close at the end of every couplet. Its construction, which admits the lines to run into each other, gives it a still greater majesty than arises from the length of an Hexameter line. By the same means, it admits inversion even beyond the Latin or Greek Hexameter; for these suffer some confinement by the regular closes at the end of every line. In its music it is illustrious above all; the melody of Hexameter verse is circumscribed to a line, and of English rhyme to a couplet; the melody of blank verse is under no confinement, but enjoys the utmost privilege of which melody of verse is susceptible; which is, to run hand in hand with the sense. In a word, blank verse is superior to Hexameter in many articles; and inferior to it in none, save in the freedom of arrangement, and in the use of long words.
In French heroic verse, there are found, on the contrary, all the defects of Latin Hexameter and English rhyme, without the beauties of either subjected to the bondage of rhyme, and to the full close at the end of every couplet, it is also extremely fatiguing by uniformity in its pauses and accents. The line invariably is divided by the pause into two equal parts; and the accent is invariably placed before the pause.
Jeune et vaillant herôs || dont la haute sagesse
Here every circumstance contributes to a tiresome uniformity; a
constant return of the same pause and of the same accent, as well as an equal division of every line, which fatigue the ear without intermission or change. I cannot set this matter in a better light, than by presenting to the reader a French translation of the following passage of Milton:
Two of far nobler shape, erect and tall,
Were the pauses of the sense and sound in this passage but a little better assorted, nothing in verse could be more melodious. In general, the great defect of Milton's versification, in other respects admirable, is the want of coincidence between the pauses of the sense and sound.
The translation is in the following words:
Ce lieux délicieux, ce paradis charmant,
Qu' adoucit la prudence, et cet air de droiture,
Ces deux objets divin n'ont pas les mêmes traits,
Here the sense is fairly translated, the words are of equal power, and yet how inferior the melody!
Many attempts have been made to introduce Hexameter verse into the living languages, but without success. The English language, I am inclined to think, is not susceptible of this melody; and my reasons are these. First, The polysyllables in Latin and Greek are finely diversified by long and short syllables, a circumstance that qualifies them for the melody of Hexameter verse, ours are extremely ill qualified for that service, because they superabound in short syllables. Secondly, The bulk of our monosyllables are arbitrary with regard to length, which is an unlucky circumstance in Hexameter; for although custom, as observed above, may render familiar a long or a short pronunciation of the same word, yet the mind, wavering between the two sounds, cannot be so much affected with either, as with a word that hath always the same sound: