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harmony of the line considered by itself." William Mitford, the historian of Greece and also one of the best eighteenth-century prosodists, declared that inversions were rarely found in the third and fourth feet, even more rarely in the second, and never in the fifth; the one in the second foot of the line "Of man's first disobedience' he thought might be "pleasing perhaps to some . . . and not to all." "The English heroic [meter] requires the fourth syllable to be emphatic, and the two concluding feet to be perfect iambics," affirmed the Monthly Review. Even Isaac Watts, who invoked the "Adventurous Muse" and lauded Milton as "our Deliverer from the Bondage," was unwilling to accept all the liberty allowed him. "Scarce any other place in the verse," he wrote, "besides the first and the third, will well endure a trochee, without endangering the harmony, spoiling the cadence of the verse, and offending the ear." To be sure, Milton "has not been so nice an observer of this matter; but it is granted, even by his admirers, that his numbers are not always so accurate and tuneful as they should be." Watts also agreed to the generally-accepted rule that "a line should never end with a word which is so closely connected in grammar with the word following, that it requires a continued voice to unite them; therefore an adjective ought scarce ever to be divided from its substantive.' One line in ten, he held, should end with a full pause; accordingly he censured Milton for his "unreasonable run of the sense out of one line into another," as a result of which "it becomes hardly possible for the ear to distinguish all the ends and beginnings of his verses," 4 a comment which shows that Watts wished each line to be distinct, as in the heroic couplet. The frequent omission of the initial unaccented foot, which gives much of the charm to Allegro and Penseroso, was, in the opinion of Goldsmith, Pemberton, and Scott of Amwell, "displeasing to a nice ear"; and the poet's ear was frankly pronounced "bad" by his romantically-inclined editor and imitator, Thomas Warton." Is it any wonder, then, that "a Gentleman of
1 Rambler, no. 86. Johnson's Irene, which is in unrimed couplets, probably represents his conception of blank verse.
2 Inquiry into the Principles of Harmony in Language (2d ed., 1804), 108, 101-2. * Enlarged ed., xxiv. 56 (1797).
Horae Lyricae (2d ed., 1709), preface, p. xx; Miscellaneous Thoughts, 1734, nos. lxxii-lxxiii (Works, 1810, iv. 618-22).
5 Goldsmith, Beauties of English Poesy (1767), i. 39; Pemberton, Observations on Poetry (1738), 114 n.; Scott, Critical Essays (1785), 97; Warton's edition of Milton's minor poems (1785), 207 (it is significant that the remark does not appear in the second edition). In the preface to the 1809 edition of Horae Lyricae Watts declared: "Some of his [Milton's] Numbers seem too harsh and uneasy. I could never believe that Roughness and Obscurity added any thing to the true Grandeur of a Poem."
Oxford" "corrected and harmonized" the "measure and versification" of Paradise Lost,' that Pope did the same with Shakespeare's plays, and that such a metrical masterpiece as the Spenserian stanza found almost no admirers?
These narrow and unyielding conceptions of prosody were, as has been said, well-nigh universal even among writers of blank verse and admirers of Milton. Nor were they held modestly as mere opinions or as records of the prevailing practice: they were thought to be as certain as truth itself, as changeless as right and wrong. "The foregoing Rules," wrote Bysshe, "ought indispensibly to be follow'd the Observation of them . . . will produce Harmony; the Neglect of them Harshness and Discord." 2 But the rules were not only inflexible and often wrong: they were also harmful in the definiteness and minuteness of their regulations. Even if they had in the main been sound they would have crushed all the freedom and life out of poetry; for to say that a pause or an inversion of accent can come only in a certain part of a line, or that an adjective cannot end a line if its noun immediately follows, is to take the charm and individuality from versification and leave it purely mechanical.3 That is exactly what Cowper and others accused Pope of having done:
But he (his musical finesse was such,
So nice his ear, so delicate his touch)
Made poetry a mere mechanic art,
"Did he not," asks Henry Headley, "stretch his prerogative too far, by reducing them [poetical numbers] to perfect mechanism? of rhyme has he not made a rattle, and of verse a play-thing?"
1 See p. 35, n. 2, above.
2 Art of English Poetry (4th ed., 1710), 5, first pagination.
To use Mr. Saintsbury's admirable simile, "The Popian line is indeed so thoroughly 'standardised' — its parts are, like those of a cheap watch, made so perfectly interchangeable, that in its mere prosodic influence there is hardly any secret effect left possible (English Prosody, ii. 457).
• Cowper, Table Talk, 652–5.
Select Beauties of Ancient English Poetry (1787), introd., p. xxi. A more just statement is that of the Critical Review (1788, lxv. 51): "Perhaps, the example of Pope has produced an effect on our poetry, similar to that of Titian in the province of painting. Both were men of undoubted genius, and both possessed the higher excellencies of their art in an eminent degree: but their followers, who had neither so much imagination nor judgment, were captivated with that softness and harmony of colouring, which strikes the observer at first sight; and without giving themselves time to distinguish nobler beauties, made that the immediate object of their pursuit, which is at best but a secondary qualification. The taste, however, of the age is at length gradually recovering itself from this extreme of vicious refinement. . . [and is returning to] the grander and more simple style of Spenser and Milton."
Yet it is doing Pope the flattering injustice of exaggerating his influence to attribute to him all or even the major part of the "standardization" of verse. Bysshe's book, which was published before the "wicked wasp of Twickenham" had shown his sting, and which formulated the belief held by most persons in the century following Milton's death, was far more mechanical and rigid than Pope's practice. The little bard was simply the supreme manifestation of a movement that was flourishing vigorously before his birth. If we are to understand the eighteenth century, we must realize that the neo-classic conception of harmony in versification was not the theory of a few prosodists or the practice of a few poets, but something which in the course of several generations had penetrated so deep into the very blood of Englishmen that they not only believed but felt it; we must see that they had become so accustomed to the regular beat of the heroic couplet that anything else seemed to most of them as dissonant and crude as Wagner and Whitman at first appeared to the Victorians. Like the Philipinos, to whom the tom, tom, tom of a drum is music and the mingling and contrasting harmonies of a symphony orchestra are discords, many neo-classicists agreed with Johnson in finding "the most complete" if not the only prosodical harmony in "the repetition of this. percussion at equal times." They had grown so accustomed to scanning with their fingers, like schoolboys, to stressing every other syllable and pausing at the end of every line, that Milton's free musical paragraphs naturally left them bewildered and out of breath.1
Persons were not all of the same mind, however, in 1721 any more than in 1921. In Pope's day there were not a few, as we have seen, who chafed under the rules and wearied of the monotony, "the brisk insufficiency and commonness," of the heroic couplet. Not only is evidence of this to be found in the increased popularity of blank verse and of the lithe, informal octosyllabic (the favorite meter of Prior and Swift), but there are also frank expressions of dissatisfaction with the neo-classic prosody. One of the earlier and more interesting of these is in the preface to Prior's Solomon (1718), where we read: "Heroic [measure] with continued Rhime, as Donne and his Contemporaries used it, carrying the Sense of one Verse most commonly into another, was found too dissolute and wild, and came very often too near Prose. As Davenant and Waller corrected, and Dryden perfected it; It is too Confined: It cuts off the Sense at the end of every first Line, . . . produces too frequent an Identity in the Sound, and brings every Couplet to the Point of an Epigram. \ 1 Cf. Isaac Watts, quoted below, p. 103.
. . And as it tires the Writer while he composes, it must do the same to the Reader while he repeats; especially in a Poem of any considerable length. . . . He that writes in Rhimes, dances in Fetters." Blackmore, the author of thousands of couplets, urged runover lines and varied pauses "to avoid Monotony and Uniformity in finishing the Sense, and giving a Rest at the End of every Couplet, which is tedious and ungrateful to the Reader."1 Dryden was still alive when the complaint was made that the critics "allow none but Iambics, which must by an identity of sound bring a very unpleasing satiety upon the Reader. . . . A great many rough Cadencies, that are to be found in . . . the admirable Paradise Lost," continues the anonymous writer, "are so far from Faults that they are Beauties, and contribute by their variety to the prolonging the pleasure of the Readers."2 Pope had not yet published a poem when Isaac Watts asserted, "It degrades the Excellency of the best Versification when the Lines run on by Couplets, twenty together, just in the same Pace and with the same Pauses. . . . the Reader is tir'd with the tedious Uniformity, or charm'd to sleep with the unmanly Softness of the Numbers, and the perpetual Chime of even Cadences." The idea of Bysshe and other "popular versifiers," that "the chief excellence of poetry" lies in rime and a "flowing smoothness of verse which is now very common," was scouted by Charles Gildon, who held that "a verse composed of five Iambics... must want, by the uniformity of cadence, that variety that produces . . . harmony and therefore Dryden and Milton, the greatest masters of English versification, have frequently given us two or three short quantities together,"
But the spread of the rebellion against prosodic regularity is too large a subject to be followed adequately here. Two utterances of unusual interest may, however, be noted. The first is a remark by Gray (who named Milton as "the best example of an exquisite ear" he could produce), that "the more we attend to the composition of Milton's harmony, the more we shall be sensible how he loved to vary his pauses, his measures, and his feet, which gives that enchanting air of freedom and wildness to his versification." Daniel Webb,
1 "Essay upon Epick Poetry," Essays upon Several Subjects (1716), 112.
2 Poems on Affairs of State (1697), préface.
3 Preface to the 1709 edition of Horae Lyricae, p. xx; cf. his Miscellaneous Thoughts (1734), no. lxxiii.
4 Laws of Poetry (1721), 63; cf. his Complete Art of Poetry (1718), i. 292–302. 'Observations on English Metre, in Works (ed. Mitford), v. 233. This was said apropos of Allegro. Cf. John Foster's Essay on Accent and Quantity (2d ed., Eton, 1763), 67-8: "There is indeed no kind or degree of harmony, of which our language is
though forgotten to-day, made considerable impression upon his own age and is still worth reading because of the vigor of his repeated attacks upon the orthodox prosody. "Of all the modes of versification," he writes, “. . . the Latin distich, and modern couplet are the greatest levellers. There is no liberty, no continuance in their movements." "The perpetual returns of similar impressions," he declares elsewhere, "lie like weights upon our spirits, and oppress the imagination. Strong passions, the warm effusions of the soul, were never destined to creep through monotonous parallels; they call for a more liberal rhythmus; for movements, not balanced by rule, but measured by sentiment, and flowing in ever new yet musical proportions." Webb objected to the regularity of Pope's pauses, and praised the beauty of "those sudden breaks or transitions in . . . verse." He quoted from the Essay on Man, with the comment, "Every ear must feel the ill effect of the monotony in these lines;" and in criticising Addison's Cato he explained, "The monotony of the couplet does not proceed, as has been imagined, from the repetition of the rhymes, but from a sameness in the movement of the verse. . . . Mr. Addison, accustomed to the secure Monotony of the couplet, had neither the genius to bear him thro', nor courage to attempt the unbounded variety of the Miltonic measures." 2
There is danger that we may think of these men, and of other objectors to neo-classic regularity, as champions of the fullest prosodic freedom, a conclusion by no means justified. In literary as in religious evolution, there are always those who think themselves emancipated and who do favor great liberty up to a certain point; but beyond that point their minds close and prejudice and conventionality reign. Isaac Watts, who on the same page in which he rejoiced in deliverance from the bondage of rime proceeded to forge new fetters, is an illustration of these half-liberated minds; and so is William Benson, who, though he regarded the varying of the pause as "the Soul of all Versification" and approved of inversion of accent, was yet strongly opposed to blank verse. Nevertheless, even if
capable, which may not be found in numberless instances thro' Milton's writings; the excellency of whose ear seems to have been equal to that of his imagination and learning." "No Poet modern or antient more consulted Harmony," affirmed Hesiod Cooke (Proposals for Perfecting the English Language, 1729, in Original Poems, 1742, p. 305).
1 Remarks on the Beauties of Poetry (1762), 18-19.
2 Observations on Poetry and Music (1769), 113; Remarks, etc. (1762), 6, 20, 7, 12-13. According to Omond (English Metrists, 31-2), “Webb's ideas seemed upsetting to his contemporaries. . . . The frequent references to his books show that they made their mark on men's minds."
3 Letters concerning Poetical Translations (1739), 39, 45, 50, 72, 78-80. See also the opinions of Mitford, Goldsmith, Scott, and Warton, on p. 57 above.