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there were few who either understood or desired the full freedom offered them in Lycidas or Paradise Lost, many poets, like most writers on versification, feeling the limitations of the heroic couplet and of the orthodox ideas of prosody, strove for greater liberty and variety.

But, some one asks, if these men liked both rime and freedom, why did they not unite the two in a more supple, flowing pentameter couplet? Rime does not necessarily imply end-stopped lines, with a pause near the middle and alternate accents: why not combine Milton with Pope? The answer is probably threefold. In the first place, most writers of that day never thought of combining the two. The eighteenth century was far less eclectic than the twentieth, less likely to take one thing from one poet and another from another. Miltonic blank verse, for example, was not used in plays or Shakespearean in poems; the off-hand style and easy versification of Hudibras were frequently imitated in Butler's own meter, but never, so far as I know, in decasyllabics. When Scott of Amwell wrote descriptions of nature in heroic couplets, he took Pope's Windsor Forest as his model; when he treated similar themes in blank verse he followed Thomson.

In the second place, most eighteenth-century writers lacked the skill to transfer the Miltonic prosody — which few of them really understood to the couplet. To us this seems easy enough to do, because it has been done for over a century; but if Thomson, Glover, and the rest could hardly keep their blank verse from slipping back into unrimed couplets, they certainly could not have achieved the prosody of Paradise Lost when bound by the fetters of rime. The experiment was made, but here is the third part of the answer to our question- the results did not please. Isaac Watts "attempted in Rhime the same variety of Cadence, Comma, and Period, which Blank Verse Glories in as its peculiar Elegance, but the world was not interested in his experiments or in any similar ones. Richard Blackmore, "the knight of the burning pestle," held that "the Poet should often run the Second Line into the Third, and after the manner of the Latines, and Milton, make the Stop in the Beginning or Middle of it; this will vary the Sound . . . [and] relieve the Ear."2 But there were few who agreed with him. The feeling of the eighteenth century about the matter was expressed by a thoughtful critic in the Monthly Review: "In verse where there are rhimes, we naturally expect the pause at the end of the line; when it

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1 Preface to Horae Lyricae (1706). See below, p. 103.
2 "Essay upon Epick Poetry," Essays (1716), 112.

chances to fall otherwise, the injudicious reader destroys it, and confounds the sentence, by adhering to the jingle; while the reader of more taste sacrifices the rhime to preserve the pause. It is evident they are things quite contrary to one another, and incompatible. The writer therefore who determines on rhime, must be so far a slave to it, as to fetter himself to a sameness of cadence." Even Cowper, who understood prosody as few others of his time did, said that the "breaks and pauses" of blank verse "are graces to which rhyme is not competent; so broken, it loses all its music; of which any person may convince himself by reading a page only of any of our poets anterior to Denham, Waller and Dryden." 2

But to this as to almost every form of prosodic narrowness Milton's influence was ultimately opposed. As the appreciation of his art grew and ears became accustomed to his constantly-varying cadences, his "transcendental union of order and freedom," these qualities came to be demanded in rimed as well as in blank verse. The end-stopped couplet had to "grow or go," and under the influence of the "mighty-mouthed inventor of harmonies" and his followers it grew until it was transformed. Indeed, the deeper we look into the subject the more are we inclined to agree with its historian:

He [Milton] is one of the very greatest facts of English prosodic history ... he supplies infallibly, though no doubt undesignedly, all or almost all that is necessary to correct the faults of that time. Moreover, he does something for English prosody at large which had to be done at some time. . . . His blank-verse paragraph, and his audacious and victorious attempt to combine blanks and rhymed verse with paragraphic effect in Lycidas, lay down indestructible models and patterns of English verse-rhythm, as distinguished from the narrower and more strait-laced forms of English metre. . . . It was long before it ['the doctrine and the secret of Milton'] was understood - it is not universally understood or recognised even now. But it was always there; and as enjoyment and admiration of the results spread and abode, there was ever the greater chance of the principle being discovered, the greater certainty of its being put into perhaps unconscious operation by imitation.'

The diction of the neo-classicists was, both in theory and in practice, almost as restricted as their prosody. We constantly meet the same adjectives attached to the same nouns and followed by the same verbs, a uniformity that was due partly to the narrow field to which poetry had confined itself, but oftener to mere conventionality. The adjectives, which are particularly stereotyped, seem

2 Preface to his Homer.

1 vii. 139–41 (1752).

3 Saintsbury, English Prosody, ii. 355-6.

commonly to be introduced simply to fill out the lines. Truth, propriety, precision, and inevitability were the most that was sought for in the selection of words. The reader is rarely "stung with the splendor" of an unexpected word, and color and imaginative suggestiveness in diction were so long ignored that the language of poetry became as thin as it was sharp.

As a result of this and other causes, many words frequently employed by Milton and the Elizabethans had dropped so completely not only from poetry but from all other usage that their meaning was no longer understood. No criticism of Spenser and Milton was so often made as that of employing unusual and obsolete words,1 and unquestionably such words did furnish the most serious hindrance to the understanding and enjoyment of these poets. Yet this very strangeness of diction fascinated as well as repelled, and was often a source of subconscious pleasure to many who sensed only annoyance; it was, indeed, another element in that wildness which formed an important part of Milton's attractiveness. We feel it much less than the Augustans did, because, owing largely to the reading of Shakespeare, Milton, and Spenser for the past two hundred years, our vocabulary has come to be far richer than theirs and actually nearer to that of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In 1742, for example, Gray mentions "beverage," "mood," "array," "wayward," and "smouldring" as obsolete words in Dryden.2 About the same time Peck names among Milton's "old" words "minstrelsy," "murky," "carol," "chaunt," and among his 'naturalized' Latin words "humid," "orient," "hostil," "facil," "fervid,” “jubilant,” "ire," "bland," "reluctant," "palpable," "fragil," and "ornate." 3 "Self-same" and "hue" seem to have been rare; and in 1778 "bridal," "gleam, "gleam," "hurl," "plod," "ruthless," "wail," "wayward," and "woo" were declared to be "now almost peculiar to poetry," though "once no doubt in common use." 5


That most of Milton's admirers found his "quaint Uncouthness

1 Leonard Welsted, for instance, in his Dissertation concerning the Perfection of the English Language, 1724 (Works, 1787, p. 123), speaks of "an uncouth unnatural jargon, like the phrase and style of Milton, which is a second Babel, or confusion of all languages; a fault that can never be enough regretted in that immortal Poet, and which if he had wanted, he had perhaps wanted a Superior"; and the great lexicographer, who rejoiced in his own sesquipedalian locutions, says that Milton "wrote no language" but "a Babylonish Dialect" (Lives, ed. Hill, i. 190-1; Johnson borrows these phrases). Cf. Isaac Watts's criticism, p. 103 below.

2 Letter to Richard West, April 8(?), 1742.

3 New Memoirs of Milton (1740), 107, 110-111.

John Scott, Critical Essays (1785), 63; Mo. Rev., enl. ed., x. 276 (1793). 'James Beattie, Essays on Poetry and Music, 237; see also p. 116 below.

of Speech" pleasing is proved by the frequency with which they copied his diction in their own poems. "In order to write like Milton," it was said, "little more is required than to select certain peculiar, now exploded, words . . . as nathless, caitiff, erst, ken, governance, &c."1 "Without abundance of such words as these [dulcet, gelid, umbrageous, redolent], a friend of Pope's wrote satirically, "a poem will never be esteemed truly Miltonic."2 Yet Pope himself confessed to making use of the diction of Paradise Lost in his Homer, and he might well have extended his confession to include the other poems in which he borrowed from the 1645 volume. The truth is that poets who really admired Milton could hardly help feeling, as they read his richly-colored lines, the tameness, the dearth of picturesqueness and individuality, of their own language. Nor was it the epic alone that impressed them as unusual in diction; for the vocabulary of the minor poems was in a different way quite as unlike their own, and from the time of Pope's earliest pieces left an unmistakable mark on English verse. So frequent, indeed, are the echoes of Milton's minor poems in the work of the Wartons and Mason that at times one can hear little else. As a result, the criticism most often made of these men, as of Gray, Collins, the sonneteers, and most of the poets of the lyric awakening that began about 1740, was concerning their use of "obsolete words out of Spenser and Milton."

It is no mere coincidence that the men who turned from satire, wit, and the artificial pastoral to the lyric and the poetry of real nature were the men who were seeking for fresher and less hackneyed words. A new art requires new tools as well as a new spirit. Not that all artists are at first conscious of this requirement. Many poets employed Milton's diction, as they did his style and meters, from the habit of slavish imitation so general in the eighteenth century; yet if they had taste and penetration they realized as soon as they donned the new garment how drab and shabby the old one had been. The debt to Milton and Spenser was, of course, not limited to bits of gold lace or embroidery clearly taken from their gorgeous vestments. When a man who has always worn the Quaker costume adopts a colored tie or a derby hat, the step to a striped suit and pointed shoes is an easy one; and, similarly, when a writer or a reader has once become accustomed to unusual phraseology, he is likely to develop a sensitiveness to the imaginative and sonorous

1 Mo. Rev., xii. 159 (1755).

2 Grub-Street Journal, Feb. 5, 1730 (Memoirs of the Society of Grub-Street, no. 5). Cf. the Guardian, no. 78 (by Pope); and James Ralph's Night (1728), p. vii.

* See below, pp. 115-16, and Appendix A.

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value of language, and to seek increasingly for an expression of his
meaning which will be not only adequate but picturesque, haunting,
magic, exquisite, magnificent, or otherwise memorable. English
poetry from Pope to Keats shows a steadily-increasing attention to
the connotative, the imaginative and poetic, value of words, a change
that is due largely to the influence of Spenser, Shakespeare, and

It would, however, be misleading to represent Milton's influence upon diction as entirely beneficial. The strongly Latinic, learned, and grandiloquent vocabulary of his epic, though admirably adapted to Pandemonic councils and the rebellion of archangels, was a dangerous model for mediocre bards who were dealing with prosaic themes. Unfortunately, also, the most influential of his early followers exaggerated his lofty and unusual Latinisms, or at least did not modify them when dealing with very different subject-matter. As a result, bombast and blank verse became almost synonymous, and most renouncers of rime made themselves ridiculous in their attempts to walk upon stilts.2 Nor can it be denied that Thomas Warton and some of the other imitators of the minor poems often showed less poetic discrimination than boyish delight over a new toy, in their use of

Phrase that time has flung away;
Uncouth words in disarray,
Trick'd in antique ruff and bonnet,
Ode, and elegy, and sonnet.'

1 Since Spenser was read less than the other two poets and seemed more antiquated and remote, his diction was used more consciously than theirs, by fewer writers, and in more definite imitations of his manner. Shakespeare's language seems to have attracted a still smaller degree of attention and, until the beginning of the nineteenth century, to have had less influence than one would expect. Yet no one can speak with anything like certainty in these matters until extensive researches have been made into the entire subject of poetic diction, a neglected field in which the many recent concordances are of invaluable service.

2 The Monthly Review, for example, maintained in 1804 (enl. ed., xliv. 428, 425)that "blank verse requires a certain majesty of diction, and is debased by low and vulgar expressions," and that "incomprehensible' is not a word so proper for this measure [the Spenserian stanza] as for Miltonic blank verse." "I am no great friend to blankverse for subjects which are to be treated of with simplicity," Fox wrote Wordsworth (May 25, 1801, Harper's Wordsworth, i. 418). And so late as 1810 Chalmers (English Poets, xvii. 12) regarded words like "forestall, uncomfortable, acquiescence, obtuse, exemplified, meritorious, absurdity, superfluous, timber, assiduity, elegantly, authoritative, supercede, convalescence, circumscription," as "too familiar” for an unrimed epic. Yet Lord Lyttelton rejoiced in Glover's discovery that "hard Words, and affected Phrases, are no more necessary in this sort of Metre [blank verse], than in Rhime, and that if Milton himself had been more sparing of them, he would not ... have spoil'd the Style of so many of his Successors, who have chose to imitate him chiefly in this Point" (Common Sense, April 9, 1737).

' Johnson, quoted in Boswell's Johnson (ed. Hill), iii. 158 n.

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