« PreviousContinue »
intended to suggest any contractions of the words they are applied to, which can offend by the least singularity; and the reader who, after this notice, is unable to discover that they can be of any use, is advised to disregard them entirely. Yet it may be worth while to state some principles, and append a few examples, with the chance of making their
purpose understood. Writers on English prosody have perplexed their subject excessively, by attempting to identify the principles of English, with those of Greek and Latin versification. The ancient rhythm was quantitative, not syllabic: ours is syllabic, not quantitative. For though we have, as all languages must have, syllables long and short, our rhythm arises not from any order or proportion which these suggest, but from the number of syllables to a line; and the sub-proportions of these, as determined by the impetus of the voice recurring at various, yet, upon the whole, at regular, intervals. Syllables, for our prosody, should be distinguished, not into long and short, but into those which, by the custom of the language, are uttered with full force, and those with remitted or slack force. Of our blank verse, it is correctly understood, that the regular or standard line contains ten syllables, and that every second or even syllable is under the full force or impetus of the voice. It is in deviating from this standard, so as to seem to neglect and lose it, and yet to keep it ever present to the ear and feelings, that the metrical art of the dramatic poet consists. Youthful or inexperienced ears generally require a close regard to the standard line: the formality of this line becomes tiresome to the practised ear, and deviations to any extent are freely troubled, puzzled. The e is likewise always suuk in heaven, even, given: yet as such words are liable to pass sometimes for one syllable, some times for two, they are marked heave'n eve'n, &c., in the former case, and have no mark in the latter.
pardoned, which do not quite reduce the rhythrn to prose. Such a change may be traced in the ear of Shakspeare himself :-in plays of his earlier writing—for instance, Richard the Second, -the rhythm is comparatively strict : in those he composed later in life,—for instance, Henry the Eighth,—the rhythm is free.
As to the length of the lines, many are intentionally short of the standard; eight syllables, six, four, or even two,nay, a word of one syllable being only part of a foot, -may be introductory to a perfect verse. But if a line is intended to be perfect to the ear in number of syllables, it is for the reader, when it is redundant or deficient to the eye, so to manage the rhythm as to fulfil the intention of the poet; and to accomplish this without any perceptible deviation from the customary way of pronouncing the words. It is proper
that the ten syllables which complete the line, are always to be estimated independently of the double or treble endings that are constantly occurring in our dramatic verse: for instance :
You three, I do remember, are commissioners.
first to say,
Or past, or not arriv'd to, pith and puissance.
Lay down your weapons, get you to your cottages.
In each of these examples there are twelve syllables ; but the two syllables above the number do not count, being felt simply as a double rebound of the force which marks the tenth syllable. On the other hand, if the tenth syllable should be naturally under slack force, the feelings give it full force, provided the previous syllable be slack : for instance :
The noble change that I have purposed.-p. 151.
I would incur it with all willingness.- p. 195.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous.---p. 235. The irregularities beyond the deviations from the striet standard line which the previous examples indicate, consist in redundancies or deficiencies to the eye, which are not intended to be so to the ear. In the following line, the word fire is meant to have the effect of two syllables :
O, who can hold a fire in his hand.* -p. 49. On other occasions the same word counts but as one syllable, as in the following line, in which the word iron also counts but as one syllable :That mercy
which e'en fire and iro'n extend.
So heaven, power, and words of similar character, either pass, or do not pass their last written syllable as a distinct unit of the ten; and this, without any perceptible difference of pronunciation as regards the individual word, though, of course, with some difference of management as regards the rhythmical drift of the line in which it occurs. In the following lines, heaven, given, power, and Glendower, pass their last written syllable as one of the required ten :
All places that the eye of heaven visits.-p. 48.
Which quired with my drum, into a pipe.-p. 345. But dropping the sound of the e in quired as the usual pronunciation demands, it will be better allow the word sounded quir'd to have the effect of two syllables, as fire has that effect in the example above.
And yet not ours.
'Would Gléndower were come.
At other times, such syllables do not count: as,
By heavens, these scroyles of Angiers flout you, kings.
Even with the fierce looks of those bloody men.
And raise the power of France upon his head.
Though Glendower and my father be away.-p. 108. So, in such words as furtherance and virtuous, the ear readily, and indeed generally, accepts of one syllable fewer than the
I'll leave my son my virtuous deeds behind.-p. 216. Yet, on other occasions, such syllables count distinctly :
As in a soul remembering my friends.p. 57.
The duke is virtuous, and too well given.-p. 194. On the other hand, again, syllables much more distinct in character than those which are here counted, are often carried off without adding to the syllables reckoned by the ear, although it would be barbarous to make the elisions actually
Nay, uncle, I don't believe the saying's true.
At the lower end of the hall, hurl'd up
To'oppose your cunning'. You ’re meek and humble
Here, and in similar instances, it is to be understood that the syllables after which the apostrophe is placed do not count in rhythmical effect; but the reader is required to preserve the rhythm of every such line, without sacrificing any propriety of pronunciation as regards the individual words.
Some management of the rhythmical accent will also at times be necessary, to prevent a line from sinking into prose. To suggest such management, an accentual mark is here and there placed over a syllable that is scarcely entitled to it : as—
Northúmberland say,—thus the king replies :
Stanley, he's your near kinsman: well, look to him.
Although, in prose, Northumberland, would have but one accent, yet the secondary accent, if adroitly managed, will not offend the ear. And in the last example, a very little more stress on the tenth syllable to, than would be required if the sentence were prose, will be sufficient to support it as