Page images

vidual told such a story to the crowd, while the crowd was itself actively poetic in the chorus. The two forms approached each other and formed the epic ; so that the oldest phase of epic poetry must have been a mix. ture of rhythmic and unrhythmic material, song and tale combined, like a Scandinavian Saga. Gradually the rhythm spread from the chorus and the song over the whole poem, took the form of a chant or recitation, and so produced the epic as we know it. Scherer assumes a poet or maker from the start, and thus throws over the pet theory of Jacob Grimm, and of the whole Romantic School, that oldest poetry, real folk-poetry, always “writes itself.”

II. THE ORIGIN OF POETRY. - Here Scherer frankly puts on the badge of Darwinism. To be sure, Schiller furnishes him the word Spieltrieb; or, to speak with Scherer, "entertainment,"

entertainment,” as the source of poetry ; but for the real origin of the thing, recourse is had to Dar. win's views on the expression of emotion in animals. Any exercise of one's muscles may be undertaken in order to express or give pleasure; hence our laughing, our dancing, and our singing. Singing, like birds' notes, may express pleasure and desire. The love-lyric may be led back directly to a song analogous to that of the male bird in mating-time. In short, (a) poetry arises from the expression of pleasure through leaping, rejoicing, laughing, singing; and (b) the original subject of poetry was probably erotic.

It seems to the present writer that this theory not only eliminates from poetry the noblest factor of all, human sympathy on high planes for human joy and sorrow, but hands over poetry itself to the dissectingtable of the biologist. Nevertheless, as a curb upon the silliness which most people think necessary to any talk about poetry, Scherer's book will have a salutary effect.

In the “Modern Language Notes” for December, 1890, Professor Scott corrects the mistake into which so many have fallen in quoting at second-hand Milton's comparison of poetry and rhetoric. The proper words are these: “To which [sc. rhetoric) poetry would be made subsequent, or indeed rather precedent, as being less subtile and fine, but more simple, sensuous, and passionate." [See p. 4 of this “Handbook.”]

On p. 8 it is stated that English "book” is derived from the word for “beech," which is Skeat's etymology as well as traditional explanation. Sievers, however, — a very potent authority, - now denies this in

-a Paul's Grundriss der germanischen Philologie, I, p. 241 ; and supports his denial with good argument. “Book” meant originally “a writing-tablet.” Moreover, since Runes, as Wimmer has proved, were not brought from Rome into Germany until about the end of the second century, the notæ mentioned by Tacitus can hardly have had anything to do with the runic alphabet.

It only remains to say that the detailed study of Anglo-Saxon metres is now everywhere based upon the masterly investigations of Sievers (Paul-Braune, Beiträge, X ff.), which have shown much more method and regularity in our old rhythm than had been attributed to it by earlier researches. Nevertheless, what is said in § 2, Chap. VII, of this book, though needing correction in detail, is fairly true to the spirit of Anglo-Saxon poetry.

F. B. G.

HAVERFORD COLLEGE, 23 December, 1890.

« PreviousContinue »