Page images
PDF
EPUB

But of this frame the bearings, and the ties,

The strong connections, nice dependencies. In a line expressive of what is humble or dejected, it improves the resemblance between the sound and sense to exclude the capital accent. This, to my taste, is a beauty in the following lines.

In these deep solitudes II and awful cells

The poor inhabitant Il beholds in vain. To conclude this article, the accents are not, like the syllables, confined to a certain number: some lines have no fewer than five, and there are lines that admit not above one. This variery, as we have seen, depends entirely on the different powers of the component words: particles, even where they are long by position, cannot be accented; and polysyllables whatever space they occupy, admit but one accent. Polysyiiables have another defect, that they generally exclude the full pause. It is shown above, that few polysyllables can find place in the construction of English verse; and here are reasons for excluding them, could they find place.

I am now ready to fulfil a promise concerning the four sorts of lines that enter into English heroic verse. That these have, each of them, a peculiar melody distinguishable by a good ear, I ventured to suggest, and promised also to account for it: and though the subject is extremely delicate, I am not without hopes of making good my engagement. But first, by way of precaution, I warn the candid reader not to expect this peculiarity of modulation in every instance. The reason why it is not always perceptible has been mentioned more than once, that the thought and expression have a great influence upon the melody; so great, as in many instances to make the poorest melody pass for rich and spirited. This consideration makes me insist upon a concession or two that will not be thought unreasonable: first, that the experiment be tried upon lines equal with respect to the thought and expression; for otherwise one may easily be misled in judging of the melody: and next, that these lines be regularly accented before the pause; for upon a matter abundantly refined in itself

, I would not willingly be embarrassed with faulty and irregular lines.

These preliminaries adjusted, I begin with some general observations, that will save repeating the same thing over and over upon every example. And first, an accent succeeded by a pause, as in lines of the first and third order, makes a much greater figure than where the voice goes on without a stop. T'he fact is so certain, that no person who has an ear can be at a loss to distinguish that accent from others. Nor have we far to seek for the efficient cause: the elevation of an accenting tone produces in the mind a similar elevation, which continues during the pause ;* but where the pause is sepa

• Hence the liveliness of the French language as to sound, above the English; the last syllable in the former being generally long and accented, the long syllable in the latier being generally as far back in the word as possible, and often with an accent. For this difference I find no cause so probable as temperament and disposition; the French being brisk and lively, the English sedate and reserved : and this, if it hold, is a pregnant instance of a resemblance between the character of a people and that of their language.

rated from the accent by a short syllable, as in lines of the second and fourth order, the impression made by the accent is more slight when there is no stop, and the elevation of the accent is gone in a moment by the falling of the voice in pronouncing the short syllable that follows. The pause also is sensibly affected by the position of the accent. In lines of the first and third order, the close conjunction of the accent and pause, occasions a sudden stop without preparation, which rouses the mind, and bestows on the melody a spirited air. When, on the other hand, the pause is separated from the accent by a short syllable, which always happens in lines of the second and fourth order, the pause is soft and gentle : for this short unaccented syllable, succeeding one that is accented, must of course be pronounced with a falling voice, which naturally prepares for a pause; and the mind falls gently from the accented syllable, and slides into rest as it were insensibly. Farther, the lines themselves derive different powers from the position of the pause, which will thus appear. A pause after the fourth syllable divides the line into two unequal portions, of which the larger comes last: this circumstance resolving the line into an ascending series, makes an impres. sion in pronouncing like that of ascending; and to this impression contribute the redoubled effort in pronouncing the larger portion, which is last in order. The mind has a different feeling when the pause succeeds the fifth syllable, which divides the line into two equal parts: these parts, pronounced with equal effort, are agreeable by their uniformity. A line divided by a pause after the sixth syl lable, makes an impression opposite to that first mentioned: being divided into two unequal portions, of which the shorter is last in order, it appears like a slow descending series; and the second portion being pronounced with less effort ihan the first, the diminished effort prepares the mind for rest. And this preparation for rest is still more sensibly felt where the pause is after the seventh syllable, as in lines of the fourth order.

To apply these observations is an easy task. A line of the first order is of all the most spirited and lively: the accent, being followed instantly by a pause, makes an illustrious figure: the elevated tone of the accent elevates the mind: the mind is supported in its elevation by the sudden unprepared pause, which rouses and ani. mates: and the line itself, representing by its unequal division an ascending series, carries the mind still higher, making an impression similar to that of going upward. The second order has a modulation sensibly sweet, soft

, and flowing; the accent is not so sprightly as in the former, because a short syllable intervenes between it and the pause : its elevation, by the same means, vanistes instantaneously: the mind, by a falling voice, is gently prepared for a stop: and the pleasure of uniformity from the division of the line into two equal parts, is calm and sweet. The third order has a modulation not so easily expressed in words : it in part resembles the first order, by the liveliness of an accent succeeded instantly by a full pause: but then the elevation occasioned by this circumstance, is balanced in some degree by the remitted effort in pronouncing the second portion, which remitted effort has a tendency to rest. Another t circumstance distinguishes it remarkably: its capital accent comes

late, being placed on the sixth syllable: and this circumstance

bestows on it an air of gravity and solemnity. The last order - resembles the second in the mildness of its accent, and softness of

its pause; it is still more solemn than the third, by the lateness of its capital accent: it also possesses in a higher degree than the third, the tendency to rest: and by that circumstance is of all the best qualified for closing a period in the completest manner.

But these are not all the distinguishing characters of the different orders. Each order, also, is distinguished by its final accent and pause: the unequal division in the first order, makes an impression of ascending; and the mind at the close is in the highest elevation, which naturally prompts it to put a strong emphasis upon the concluding syllable, whether by raising the voice to a sharper tone, or by expressing the word in a fuller tone. This order accordingly is of all the least proper for concluding a period, where a cadence is proper and not an accent. The second order being destitute of the impression of ascent, cannot rival the first order in the elevation of its concluding accent, nor consequently in the dignity of its concluding pause; for these have a mutual influence. This order, however, with respect to its close, maintains a superiority over the third and fourth orders: in these, the close is more humble, being brought down by the impression of descent, and by the remitted effort in pronouncing; considerably in the third order, and still more considerably in the last. According to this description, the concluding accents and pauses of the four orders being reduced to a scale, will form a descending series probably in an arithmetical progression.

After what is said, will it be thought refining too much to suggest, that the different orders are qualified for different purposes, and that a poet of genius will naturally be led to make a choice accordingly? I cannot think this altogether chimerical. As it appears to me, the first order is proper for a sentiment that is bold, lively, or impetuous; the third order is proper for what is grave, solemn, or lofty; the second for what is tender, delicate, or melancholy, and in general for all the sympathetic emotions; and the last for subjects of the same kind, when tempered with any degree of solemnity. I do not con-end, that any one order is fitted for no other task but that assigned it; for at that rate, no sort of melody would be left for accompanying houghts that have nothing peculiar in them. I only venture to suggest, and I do it with diffidence, that each of the orders is peculiarly adapted to certain subjects, and better qualified than the others for expressing them. The best way to judge is by experiment; and to avoid the imputation of a partial search, I shall confine my instances to a single poem, beginning with the First order.

On her white breast, a sparkling cross she wore,
Which Jews might kiss, and infidels adore.
Her lively looks a sprightly mind disclose,
Quick as her eyes, and as unfix'd as those:

Favors to none, to all she smiles extends;
Oft she rejects, but never once offends.
Bright as the sun, her eyes the gazers strike,
And, like the sun, they shine on all alike.
Yet graceful ease, and sweetness void of pride,
Might hide her faults, if belles had faults to hide
If to her share some female errors fall,
Look on her face, and you'll forget 'em all.

Rape of the Loct. In accounting for the remarkable liveliness of this passage, it will be acknowledged by every one who has an ear, that the melody must come in for a share. The lines, all of them, are of the firs order: a very unusual circumstance in the author of this poem. so eminent for variety in his versification. Who can doubt, that he has been led by delicacy of taste to employ the first order preferably to the others ? Second order.

Our humble province is to tend the fair,
Not a less pleasing, though less glorious care;
To save the powder from too rude a gale,
Nor let th' imprison'd essences exhale;
To draw fresh colors from the vernal flow'rs;

To steal from rainbows, ere they drop their show'rs, &c.
Again:

Oh, thoughtless mortals ! ever blind to fate,
Too soon dejected, and too soon elate.
Sudden, these honors shall be snatch'd away,

And curs'd for ever this victorious day.
Third order.

To fifty chosen sylphs, of special note,

We trust th' important charge, the petticoat. Again :

Oh say what stranger cause, yet unexplor'd,

Could make a gentle belle reject a lord ? A plurality of lines of the fourth order, would not have a good effect in succession; because, by a remarkable tendency to rest, their proper office is to close a period. The reader, therefore, must be satisfied with instances where this order is mixed with others.

Not louder shrieks to pitying Heav'n are cast,

When husbands, or when lapdogs, breathe their last. Again :

Steel could the works of mortal pride confound,

And hew triumphal arches to the ground. Again:

She sees, and trembles at th' approaching ill,

Just in the jaws of ruin, and codille. Again:

With earnest eyes, and round unthinking face,

He first the snuff-box open'd, then the case. And this suggests another experiment, which is, to set the diffe rent orders more directly in opposition, by giving examples where they are mixed in the same passage.

Safe from the reach'rous friend, the daring, spark,

First and second orders

Sol through white curtains shot a tim'rous ray,

And op'd those eyes that must eclipse the day.
Again :

Not youthful kings in battle seiz'd alive,
Not scornful virgins who their charms survive,
Not ardent lovers robb’d of all their bliss,
Not ancient ladies when refus'd a kiss,
Not tyrants fierce that unrepenting die,
Not Cynthia when her mantua's pinn'd awry,
E'er felt such rage, resentment, and despair,

As thou, sad virgin! for thy ravish'd hair.
First and third.

Think what an equipage thou hast in air,

And view with scorn two pages and a chair.
Again :

What guards the purity of melting maids,
In courtly balls, and midnight masquerades,

the dark Again :

With tender billet-doux he lights the pyre,
And breathes three am'rous sighs to raise the fire;
Then prostrate falls, and begs with ardent eyes,

Soon to obtain, and long possess the prize.
Again :

Jove's thunder roars, heav'n trembles all around,
Blue Neptune storms, the bellowing deeps resound,
Earth shakes her nodding tow'rs, the ground gives way,

And the pale ghosts start at the flash of day!
Second and third.

Sunk in Thalestris' arms, the nymph he found,

Her eyes dejected, and her hair unbound. Again:

On her heav'd bosom hung her drooping head,

Which with a sigh she raised; and thus she said. Musing on the foregoing subject, I begin to doubt whether all this while I have been in a reverie, and whether the scene before me, full of objects new and singular, be not mere fairy-land. Is there any truth in the appearance, or is it wholly a work of imagination ? We cannot doubt of its reality; and we may with assurance pronounce, hat great is the merit of English heroic verse: for though unifornity prevails in the arrangement, in the equality of the lines, and in he resemblance of the final sounds; variety is still more conspicuJus 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, it is highly melodious by its pauses and accents, so as already to rival the most perfect species known in Greece or Rome; 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

See Chap. 9.

« PreviousContinue »