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A history of English prosody from the twelfth century to the present day (Volume 3) online

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the subject of foot-composition and distribution.
Praed. The great development of practical versemanship

which we are witnessing in these transitionaries is even
more illustrated in Macaulay's contemporary and " cross-
ratter " ^ at Trinity, Winthrop Mackworth Praed, who is,
indeed, one of the chief of the lesser lights of English
prosody. That metrical conscience and competence
which, as we have seen, and have also had to argue, is
often, as far as the conscious conscience is concerned,
absent even in very great poets — which had come in with
certainly not very great ones, like Monk Lewis — exhibits
itself in him throughout. He never goes wrong by
accident or incompetence. The longer but less important
poems of his youth, Lillian, Gog, etc., owe of course a
good deal to Southey and others ; but they anticipate
Barham in the perfect ease and correctness with which
they " take the fliire " in the most complicated horn-
pipes and double-shuffles of measure. In the ever-to-be-
famous " Red Fisherman " this accomplishment becomes
consummate. It was only ten years since Christabel had
been published, though thirty since it had been written ;
and here is a practical " farthest " in one particular
direction of the Christabel lesson.

There are, however, other places besides this where the
almost monotonous competence turns to something even
better. A piece that would not have been a wonder in
technical execution thirty years earlier is the exception
in Praed : he sets his own handicap so high in this way
that one becomes unconscionable in one's demands on him.
He can meet them, however. There is very remarkable

1 I was once rebuked by a most respectable connection of Praed's for
mentioning the word " rat " in connection with him. As he ratted to my
own side there certainly could be no offence meant ; I wish we had ship-loads
like him. And the fact was recognised by himself in the jocular title "Mr.
Crazee Rattee."


fingering in " Time's Song," ^ where it is to be noted that,
despite the extremely strong middle pause rhythmically,
the lines are not intended to be divided, and the sense
sometimes imperatively bars such division. " Arminius "
challenges the Lays at their own favourite weapon
of a peculiar kind of common measure, and, I
think, beats them, though, of course, only over a short
trial-course. And " Sir Nicholas," renews the challenge
with perhaps more dubious success. I should like it to
be better than " Naseby," but I do not think it is. " The
Vicar" and "Josephine" and " Twenty - Eight and
Twenty -Nine" are all prosodically irreproachable, and
" Sleep, Mr. Speaker," has always, as often as I have read it,
nearly made me cry. " It is so beautiful " — in the modula-
tion of its graceful half-doggerelised lilt, and the absolutely
ideal harmony of its form and its matter.^ But of course
the triumph of Praed's prosody is elsewhere— elsewhere
even than in the " Red Fisherman " itself — in the marvel-
lously transformed anapaestic three-foot with redundance
in the odd lines, which he selected and perfected for the

' O'er the level plains, where mountains greet me as I go.
O'er the desert waste, where fountains at my bidding flow,
On the boundless beam by day, on the cloud by night,
I am riding hence away : who will chain my flight ?

War his weary watch was keeping, — I have crushed his spear ;
Grief within her bower was weeping, — I have dried her tear ;
Pleasure caught a minute's hold, — then I hurried by,
Leaving all her banquet cold, and her goblet dry.

The prosodic secret here, if I am not mistaken, is the " extra double
magnifying power" of the lengthening emphasis on the initial syllables —
mostly monosyllables — of the line-halves.

- Sleep, Mr. Speaker ; it's surely fair
If you don't in your bed, that you should in your chair :
Longer and longer still they grow,
Tory and Radical, Aye and No ;
Talking by night, and talking by day ; —
Sleep, Mr. Speaker ; sleep, sleep while you may !

Sleep, Mr. Speaker ; sweet to men

Is the sleep that comes but now and then ;

Sweet to the sorrowful, sweet to the ill.

Sweet to the children that work in the mill ;

You have more need of sleep than they ; —

Sleep, Mr. Speaker ; slee[), sleep while you may !


" Letter of Advice " and the " Fourteenth of February,"
for the "Good Night to the Season" and "Our Ball."
We have seen how the jingly and rickety original —
without redundance — of this glorious and pyramidal
metre was used by Shenstone and Cowper ; how Gay,
and Chesterfield, and Lady Mary used the real thing for
half-doggerel ; how Byron, in some odd moment of in-
spiration, or lucky one of windfall, effected the one thing
needful.^ But if Harrow fished the murex up, it was Eton
that discovered the full virtue of the dye, by the art
of Praed and of Mr. Swinburne.
The " Praed In fact there is hardly a more remarkable example

metre. " than this metre"" (save perhaps La Belle Dame sans Merci

and one or two more) of that power and reality of purely
prosodic form, at which some people sneer. The simple
and, as they call it, mechanical addition of an odd
syllable to two lines in four absolutely alters its whole
character, gives it new powers, opens up to it new realms
of possible sovereignty. Of the older and imperfect
mode it would be difficult to find a piece which ought to
have been better than Cowper's " Alexander Selkirk."
Cowper was not only a poet, but, as has been shown in
its place, a poet of no small specially prosodic power ;
Wordsworth's criticism on the diction of this piece is one
of Wordsworth's most uncritical utterances ; and the
subject, from Cowper's point of view, gave ample oppor-
tunities. Yet the unbroken " rumtity, tumtity, tum " is
all but intolerable. Now try, with the bare symbols just
indicated, the lengthened form —

With a rum|tity tum|tity tum|/)' —
With a rum|tity tum|tity tum,

and presto ! the whole thing is changed. The little
recoil or interval — take it as you will — gives the first

' 1 1 would be a curious but not an unexampled instance of the irony of
the workl if he really got it unconsciously from the " Azrael " couplet of
Thalaba, given above at p. 53, which, though rhymeless and uncompleted, has
the germ. It was already famous, and Byron's contempt of Southey as a
poet was, like not a few other people's, much more affected than real.

^ " The Praed metre " it may surely be called with greater justice than
even " the Burns metre."


line something to " kick against," to give itself force and
sting — a something which thrills back to its very be-
ginning and surges throughout. The second line acquires
from the first quite a different effect : instead of a jejune
and jingling repetition it has a varied and concentrated
motion which whets the ear again for the new form of
line three. The despairing monotony of the Shenstonc-
Cowper form exchanges itself for a variety
Like the wave ;

and whereas under the old arrangement serious and even
passionate situations grew trumpery, in the new even
burlesque and mere fun acquire passion and poetry.

The gain in variety, in suppleness, in substitution of
clangour for clatter, is shown in all the examples,^ the
least remarkable being " Tales out of School " ; and the
pathetic effect, perhaps, best in " Our Ball." But for
the real exaltation of the metre — for its promotion to an
altogether " higher spear" as Mrs. Clinker would say — we
must, of course, go to the " Letter of Advice." How one
would like to have met Miss Medora Trevilian at Padua
or elsewhere ! and how small she makes all the other
poetesses of 1828 look beside her! Praed himself, like
a gentleman and a good fellow, has spoken politely of

' Two, specially referred to above, must suffice :

Remember the thrilling romances

We read on the bank in the glen ;
Remember the suitors our fancies

Would picture for both of us then.
They wore the red cross on their shoulder,

They had vanquished and pardoned their foe —
Sweet friend, are you wiser or colder ?

My own Araminta, say " No ! "

They tell me you're shadowed with laurel :

They tell me you're loved by a Blue :
They tell me you're sadly immoral —

Dear Clarence, that cannot be true !
But to me you are still what I found you.

Before you grew clever and tall ;
And you'll think of the spell that once bound you ;

And you'll come — won't you come ? — to our Ball !

Observe that on the " accentual " system there is no difference between
this and the Shenstone-Cowper jingle.


" L. E. L.," and we have endeavoured to tread in his steps ;
but when did " L. E. L." write anything like

Remember the thrilling romances,


He must walk, like a god of old story
Come down from the home of his rest.

I have known hypercritical persons who objected to

Like music his soft | speech )iiust floiu, |

but they evidently did not see that " speech must flow " is
" clogged with consonants," by that artful Medora, on
purpose to indicate its own freedom from babble and

Seriously, the opportunities of inflexion — of rise and
fall — which this metre, thus improved, possesses, are
miraculous. Praed himself had no use for them all, or
was not equal to them as yet, and we may hope for them
to be subject of another discourse in reference to things
that even Medora could not have written — things in
which the magic of the dying fall is to be added to that
of the throbbing rise, as

Night sinks on the sea.

Tiood. Some not very grave questions in the usually idle

department of plagiarism-ferreting have been raised about
the relations of Praed and Hood in the selection and use
of the half-metrical, half-verbal trick of repeated phrase,

as in

The ice of her ladyship's manners,
The ice of his lordship's champagne,

and other things ; but they need not trouble us. People
who really care for poetry have long made up their minds
that the frail, but far from feeble, body of Thomas Hood
contained within it not merely a faculty of infinite jest,
but a really poetic soul. It is certainly not from the
prosodic side that any demur will be made to this. The
more purely comic poems are not marred, but put some-
what out of our range, by the fact that, while they exhibit
that increased facility of adapting comic or farcical sound


to sense which necessarily forms part of the general
diffusion of prosodic aptitude, they are mostly, if not
intentionally, doggerel verse of a kind that, like some
of Praed's own efforts and more of others, will be best
studied once for all under its " prior," Barham.

With the so-called " serious " poems, even if we relieve
them of the serio- or tragi-comic, such as " Miss Kilman-
segg," it is different. They do not provide us with any
such special and almost original accomplishment as the
metre of the " Letter of Advice," but the command of
" divers tones " is perhaps greater than in Praed. It is
also beyond all question more independent, not merely of
direct comic " breakdown," but of comic hint — the little
trick or inflexion of prosodic voice, as it were, which is
rarely though not quite never absent in the author of
the " Letter." " Eugene Aram " and " The Elm Tree "
are both remarkable for the curious suffusion of the metre
with gloom ; but their share of it is nothing to that
possessed by " The Haunted House." ^ The manipulation "TheHaunted
of that measure of great capabilities, but also great House."
dangers, the quatrain of decasyllabics, is quite extra-
ordinary. Hood has shortened the last line. We have
seen and shall see that, without some liberty of this or of
the rhyme kind, the monotony which even Dryden, even
Gray,'"^ hardly escaped is all but certain. But he has
proceeded further in another of these directions by
adopting redundance in the even lines, thus, let it be
observed, preparing the shortening of the whole line and
extension of the end in the fourth. On the mere specifica-

' For instance :

Those dreary stairs where, with the sounding stress
Of ev'ry step, so many echoes blended —
The mind, with dark misgivings, fear'd to guess
Ho'M many feet ascended.
There is something in this finely phrased and moulded stanza, and especially
in the last line, which makes one remember a great thing of Hugo's, turned
differently :

Quelqu'un qu'entourent les ombres
Montera mes marches sombres,
Et quelquhtn les descendra.

Les Quatre Vents de V Esprit, iii. i.
- It suited Gray to some extent, of course.


tion of it, and before trial, I think I should have augured
a perilous tendency to burlesque in this. And I am by
no means sure that the tendency is not there. But, if so,
Hood has availed himself of it to produce that opposite
effect which is often within reach of the artist on such
occasions. You expect burlesque in a vague way from
the form ; you find at once the reverse of burlesque in
the matter, and the result is an additional grimness, as of
a skeleton in a fool's cap and with bauble. The slow
and almost heavy march of the unaltered original he has
to a great extent kept ; he wanted it, and the shuddering
arrest of the last line only helps it. All the lines, even
when there is no actual stop at their end, are single-
moulded here, and there is a sense of oppression — almost
of stifling — all through. Continued much longer, the
effect would have been intolerable ; but, as it is, Hood
has made it just the right length. In the second rank —
and pretty high in that second — I hardly know a greater
piece of craftsmanship.

So, too, though I have never been among the most
enthusiastic admirers ^ of the " Bridge " and the " Shirt,"
it would be almost impossible to adopt prosodic vehicles
more appropriate, especially in the first. I cannot help
thinking it a pity that he chose to discard the final
Alexandrine in " The Plea of the Midsummer Fairies,"
but the actual measure does not ill suit that beautiful
poem ; and the continuous anapaests of " Lycus the
Centaur " give, I think, one of the longest examples of
that metre for narrative that are really good. And such
dangerous things as the " Hymn to the Sun " and " Ode
to the Moon " are well mated in verse.
His minor But next to " The Haunted House " I think that

poems. Hood's power of selecting and modulating metre is best

shown by some of those smaller lyrics in which the nine-

1 For instance, though I never was a member of any Browning Society, I

The three men who did most abhor
Their life in Paris yesterday

gets the poetic grip better, in the simplicity of its two lines, than all the
accumulated appeals of "The Bridge of Sighs."


teenth century was leaving the eighteenth behind (as Dante
left lower spheres for higher during his happier journey)
and was recovering the paradise of the seventeenth itself.
The manipulation of common measure in " The Time of
Roses" exemplifies this. Its extreme beauty arises from
contrasted arrangement in the three stanzas — the middle
one being normal, the first catalectic in both first
and third line, and the last daringly limiting catalexis
to the final couplet only. (Very simple, of course ; but,
once more, " Go thou and do likewise." ^) There are
fifty or five hundred things in these " Intermediates "
which are more or less like " Fair Ines" ;" which of them
can vie with it in the mixture to be carried out of saucy
bravery and actual passion conveyed in measure and
motion, in stamp and stress,^ in drawing back and letting
forth of the line -length like the slides of a cornet?
I should like to dwell on the fine Keatsian couplets

1 It was not in the winter
Our loving lot was cast ;
It was the Time of Roses —

We pluck'd them as we pass'd !

That churlish season never frown'd

On early lovers yet : —
Oh no !- — the world was newly crown'd

With flowers when first we met !

'Twas twilight, and I bade you go,

But still you held me fast ;
It was the Time of Roses —

We pluck'd them as we pass'd !

Compare this with Haynes Bayly's things — so near and so far !

- O saw ye not fair Ines ?

She's gone into the West,
To dazzle when the sun is down,

And rob the world of rest :
She took our daylight with her.

The smiles that we love best.
With morning blushes on her cheek

And pearls upon her breast.

3 I have been reproached by some for being an enemy of stress, or, at
least, a belittler of its poetic value. May Apollo forgive them ! There is
hardly a more powerful instrument in the poet's hand for occasional effect,
and it does, as I have tried to show elsewhere, yeoman's service in providing
him with his more usual material. But to monarchise it, to neglect ?<;/stress,
to make stress the sole and single secret of metre — that is the heresy against
which, so far as it is not a pure record of the facts, this book is written.

VOL. Ill L


of the " Sea of Death " fragment, and the melancholy
burden of ^^^at can an old man do but die ?

and " Autumn," and the spirited " Exile," which, however,
wants a little more rhyme (compare the remarks above
on " L. E. L."), and the excellently sustained " The Stars
are with the Voyager " ; but there is no room.

I fear it is true, whatever moralists and Philistines may
say, that no man ever wrote much great poetry unless he
either had no other work or courageously neglected it ;
and perhaps there is no sadder instance of loss on this
score than Thomas Hood.
Dariey and No such charitable excuse for the individual, and no

Beddoes. such accusation of society, is available in the case of those,

if not " great perhapses," certainly great puzzles — Dariey
and Beddoes.^ Dariey does not seem to have been
entirely destitute of private means, though he may have
had to supplement them by literary work ; but the
amount of this latter which he did could hardly have
stood in the way of the Muse. As for Beddoes, he is
stated to have practised as a physician (although I am
one of the most fervent of his admirers, I confess I should
not much have liked to be his patient). But it is incon-
ceivable that he should ever have let his practice, and it
is not suggested that he ever let anything else, interfere
with the wayward self-pleasing for which he seems to
have had means enough. So whatever may have impeded
their poetic accomplishment it was not " the grindstone."
As certainly it was not insusceptibility to harmony of
words or want of the power of producing it.

There is, of course, much difference of opinion about
the poetic value of both ; and especially of Dariey. I
know one excellently qualified and not unduly whimsical
critic and lover of poetry who casts Dariey from him,

1 Mr. Ramsay CoUes has earned the hearty thanks of lovers of poetry by
making the works of both poets easily and cheaply accessible in Messrs.
Routledge's reissue of the Muses' Library. Mr. Gosse's earlier labours had
indeed put Beddoes out of the ranks of the unattainables ; but Dariey was
scattered over half-a-dozen volumes, one or two of them very rare. I wish
some one would follow with his prose — there are some fine things in The
Labours of Idleness.


who will have none of Darley, who would wish (to alter
Dorset on his " Bonny Black Bess " slightly)

That [some] Queen, overhearing what [Darley] did say,
Would send Mr. Roper to take [him] away.

On the other hand, it is well known that in early days
some other good judges preferred Darley to Tennyson,
and that Tennyson — himself a very good judge, and by
no means a specially good-natured or gushing one —
thought very highly of this rival, whose rivalry seems
now so odd to us. However, I have nothing to do here
with Darley's general poetic worth. It is enough for me
that, if we were to judge by the prosodic value of bits
and scraps of his which could be produced by dozens, he
would rank among the magicians, and not far below the
craftiest of them.

It is most difficult even to produce any of these
pieces without admitting, and tediously discussing, Darley's
extraordinary uncertainty of taste, especially in diction,
and that absence of self-criticism, of selection, of restraint
which may not annoy some people, but which certainly
annoys most. Grant it all ; waive it all. " Let it pass ;
let it slide," as was once observed, majestically, in the
House of Commons by a member somewhat too good
for the breed of his companions. There will remain
things unquestionable by any one who can get to the
point of seeing them face to face as examples of verse.

I do not merely refer to the almost famous
It is not beauty I demand,

which deceived no less a person than the late Mr.
Palgrave into thinking it genuine Elizabethan, and insert-
ing it as such in the Golden Treasury, or the really famous
" I've been roaming," which, pretty as it is, does not seem
to me to rank with the things of Hood's in the same kind
just quoted. But do look at the verse-quality of the
wonderful lines from Nepenthe quoted below.^ Take from

1 O blest unfabled Incense Tree
That burns in glorious Araby,
With red scent chalicing the air,
Till earth-life grow Elysian there !


the same failure of a very great poem the audacious
experiments in mono-rhymed stanza,^ also given. Pick
out and contrast from the disorderly delights, the wander-
ing revel of rhymes, of Sylvia, two such movements as
those which are appended.^ Add to these only one

Half-buried to her flaming breast
In this bright tree she makes her nest,
Hundred-sunned Phoenix ! when she must
Crumble at length to hoary dust !

Her gorgeous deathbed ! her rich pyre,
Burnt up with aromatic fire !
Her urn, sight-high from spoiler men !
Her birthplace when self-born again !

The mountainless green wilds among.
Here ends she her unechoing song !
With amber tears and odorous sighs,
Mourned by the desert where she dies !

^ Winds of the West, arise !
Hesperian balmiest airs, O waft back those sweet sighs

To her that breathes them from her own pure skies.
Dew-dropping, mixt with Dawn's engoldened dyes
O'er my unhappy eyes !
From primrose bed and willow bank where your moss-cradle lies,
O ! from your rushy bowers to waft back her sweet sighs —
Winds of the West, arise !

Over the ocean blown.
Far-winnowing, let my soul be mingled with her own.
By sighs responsive to each other known !
Bird^unto bird's twin breast has often flown
From distant zone to zone.
Why must the Darling of the Morn lament him here alone?
Shall not his fleeting spirit be mingled with her own,
Over the ocean blown !

2 {a) To see the Elves

Prepare themselves
To climb the beams of the slanting moon —

Or swiftly glide

In bells to hide
And press their pillows of scent at noon,

(^) Strew ! strew, ye maidens ! strew

Sweet flowers and fairest !
Pale rose and pansy blue —

Lily the rarest —
Lay, lay her gently down

On her moss pillow,
While we our foreheads crown

With the sad willow.


stanza ^ from " The Maiden's Grave," and then say, on
proofs which could be easily multiplied, whether this
Irishman had not something more than the usual Irish
command of facile, slip-the-girth verse ?

There is no need of such apologetics in speaking of
Beddoes, nor of so large and varied a selection to justify
them. He and Darley are of the same class — the class
of persons who come near to, or actually reach, great
poetry without being great poets ; but Beddoes is the
higher in the class, and nearer to the still impossible
poethood of real greatness. Yet he does it, at least in
part, by the same means — the magic of verse — in his
case better sustained and more thoroughly brought off.
Whereas, for all Barley's familiarity with the Elizabethans,
Thomas a Becket and Ethelstan are things which all but
a very few people may be affectionately, but earnestly,
entreated not to read — things where the writer carries
on a hopeless Laocoon fight with the intricacies of his
models— Zi^^ FooVs Tragedy and The Bride^s Tragedy
and The Second Brother and the Fragments are only
marred by that excess of redundance to which the
early imitators took by a natural recoil from eighteenth-
century practice, and of which some folk seem even now
not to perceive the dangers. There is hardly anything
of Beddoes' which would not repay prosodic examina-

Online LibraryGeorge SaintsburyA history of English prosody from the twelfth century to the present day (Volume 3) → online text (page 13 of 50)