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

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Coleridge, if all the nineteenth-century experimenters from
Longfellow to Mr. Bridges, had not, in one case at least,
found the way. Strangest of all would it be if such a
metrical tregetour as Tennyson, in producing something
which is technically almost faultless, had, as he actually
has, produced at the same time something distinctly non-
natural. The circle is not the square, and never will
be.^ It seems, therefore, rather idle to devote particular
attention to all the various attempts to square it. They
can be traced to sources as various : sheer ignorance of
history, reinforcing lack of ear, in some cases ; a respect-
able reverence for antiquity, and yearning to reproduce " the
old familiar faces " of Homeric, Virgilian, Horatian versifi-
cation in others ; a more respectable desire to enrich the
national treasury in others yet ; an aspiration, most
respectable of all, after experiment, after something not
yet achieved, after the impossible. But they are all fore-
doomed to failure, and they have all undergone their doom.
I have gone far from Cayley. To round the matter
back to him, it may be observed that, in his ^scJiylus
Preface, he has so little ear as to couple Kingsley with
Longfellow, and that in the text ^ he writes —

Here is the Scythian pathless and forlorn desert.

Now if any one will read the last two words scanningly
he will recognise that he has sometimes met the object ;
but a " forlorn des[s]ert " is not peculiarly Scythian, while
" a forlorn desert," though a good metaphysical phrase,
and a real criticism of life, will not suit the context.

I am not sure that, from a slightly different point of Caiveiiey.
view, the most important contribution to the quantity-
accent dispute, in its special bearing on the question of
classical metres in English, is not that of the ever-to-be

1 For the theory of accentual and quantitative covibat see note above on
Spedding (p. 410) and below (pp. 425-429).

2 " Quantitative " iambics, of course, and tiot scazons.


regretted author of Fly-Leaves, in the paper (1868) on
Metrical Translation, which is reprinted in his Remains,
p. 173. " C. S. C." was, in the first place, an admirable
classical scholar ; and he was, in the second, a master of
English metre.^ I do not agree with his views ; but I
see how they arose. He, like Spedding, Cayley, and
others, takes the point that classical verse was not intended
to be read as it scans. But he himself had been taught
to read not scanningly — that is to say, he had been
accustomed to say to himself, arma vyrufnquc cayno and
Mordet ackwd taciturnus amnis. Now I do not believe —
I have already in the course of this book confessed my
inability to croire ce qu'on veut in reference to them — in
modern fanciful pronunciations of Latin and (still more)
Greek. But at the same time I know no real authority in
ancient metrists (with whom I am not unacquainted) for
the opposition between scansion and reading ; and I am
nearly certain that Calverley and others have gone a-wool-
gathering over some imaginary theory of accentuation
which calls fictitious cattle of sections home the wrong
way over the sands. Even if it were otherwise, and the
passages cited from Cicero and others bore the meaning
assigned to them as regards Latin, that could not affect
English. When Calverley declares that Tennysonian
Alcaics, for instance,are not Horatian, I answer, "Certainly;
for English is English, and Latin is Latin." And for
that reason I am disinclined to English hexameters,
elegiacs, Sapphics, Alcaics, and the whole tribe. But my
reason is not his reason ; and I think his reason is the
source of all the ;;z/i'-reasoning on the subject down to
that of the late Mr. Stone. He objects to such lines as
Fortia corpora fudit Hector,

Sol ut in acre lucet alto.

I do not say that they are particularly good lines, but I
think them ha.d\y Jingered rather than badly ;«^/;r^. And
when he says that

1 In fact his practice, which naturally disappointed Mr. Stone, is almost
Kingsleyan in its anapassticism.


Calm as a mariner's rest in ocean

corresponds to them and is also not good, I reply, " If it is
not, which is extremely doubtful, it is because it is not a
movement which suits English ; not because it answers
to a movement which is not Latin." Good dactylic
movements in English tip themselves up and become
anapaestic. But good dactylic movements in Latin do
not do this ; and Calverley's Latin equivalents, if bad,
are bad merely because the feet correspond too much to
the word-endings, and there is no proper csesura. For
me I pronounce, in Latin verse, viriun like the " Barum "
of Kingsley's refrain,^ and cano like " canoe " with " o "
instead of " 00 " sound. But I don't know that the
Romans did ; and whether they did or not, it seems to me
to have no bearing on English verse.

I have just, indeed more than once recently, mentioned Kingsiey and
Charles Kingsiey. Only the remembrance of a certain o,j Andru-
headlong character in him, accompanied by almost in- "''^^«-
separable weakness in argument and exposition, can
abate the keenness of my regret that he never took up
the subject of prosody seriously. His practical gift in it,
as is shown elsewhere, and will be shown again presently,
was very noteworthy, and the remarks in his Letters ^ on
Andromeda are of the most interesting kind. They are
too much ad hoc, and too minute, for detailed examination
here ; and they show that he had never regularly
theorised his practice ; but his notions are singularly
sound. He absolutely rejects the trochees — which refuse
to be anything but trochees — of Evangeline ; and while he
will allow " stop " or " rest " to lengthen almost anything,
he draws the line at syllables absolutely short per se. He
knows all about " commonness," that Isle of Refuge which
most prosodists, by ignoring it, convert into a Rock of
Ruin. There is much matter for thought in the fact that,
while enthusiastic for the Homeric hexameter, he is
lukewarm about the Virgilian — a private opinion (for I

1 V. Slip. p. 259 note. With, of course, i instead of a.

2 Life and Letters, i. 340 sq., original edition. In the abridgment, now
more common, these are unfortunately omitted.

VOL. Ill 2 E



refuse to call it a heresy), in which I am bound to say I
rather agree with him. There are remarkable points of
contact between him and Poe on this subject ; and if he
is free from most of Poe's ignorances, he is, on the other
hand, not even attempting to deal with the matter
systematically. But I know no prosodist writing, in all
the volumes which I have read on the subject, which
gives me the idea of coming from the root of the matter
more distinctly than the observations of these two poets —
one of them among the most original, and both of them
among the deftest, masters of practical versification that
even the nineteenth century saw.
Andromeda As for his practice in Andromeda itself, if he did not

solve the problem it was merely because it is insoluble ;
and he certainly cut the knot as no one had done before
him, and as no one, I think, but Mr. Swinburne has done
since. Here, at last, you have beautiful and genuine-
sounding English verse which does bear a colourable
resemblance to at least the Homeric hexameter, which
is not rickety, which is not slipshod, which does not
lend itself to prose reading as most of the accentualist
hexameters do, and which certainly does not make a
dochmiac with longs in the first, second, and fifth places
of " undergraduate," and a molossus of " internal," and a
rubbish - heap of the whole composition. He builded,
indeed, unlike the quantity-people, much better than he
knew ; and he did not at once get into the knack even of
practical building. His opening lines, though of the best
of their kind, have still something of

Thwick-thwack thurlery bouncing.

But after a time the metre takes the bit in its teeth, and
goes off at its own — at its real — pace. Many lines, and
not a few whole passages, you simply cannot scan wrong
if you have any ear at all. Who can spoil

Falls I from the sky \ like a star, | while the ivind \ rattles hoarse |
in his ^z« I ions



Falls from the

sky like a

star while the

wind rattles

hoarse in his

pinions ?

Rose I like a piljlar of tall | white cloud | toward sillver Olymjpus,

or, best of all,

0|ver the moun[tain aloft | ran a rush | and a roll | and a roarjing
Down I ward the breeze | came malig|nant and leapt | with a howl |

to the wajter,
Roarjing in craniny and crag | till the pill|ars and clefts | of the

Rang I like a god- j swept lyre ?

The catch at the beginning is here so great, and it is so
thoroughly reinforced with extra-strong and pause-inviting
ictus at the foot-ends, that only those persons whose ear
cannot distinguish iambic from trochaic rhythm, or ana-
paestic from dactylic, can mistake it.

It is, I say, beautiful ; it is genuinely English ; but is its base really
it in any real sense an equivalent for the classical hexa- ^"^P^sstic.
meter? I doubt it very much. It comes, of course, very
close to, and in Kingsley's case was probably suggested
by, a certain kind of heavily dactyled Homeric variety
such as the famous line : ^

(r(f)fj (TLV araa- OaXiy.fTiV VTrep-jxopov aAjye' '^\ov\(Tiv.

Greek is, like English, a language very much inclined to
the anapaest ; whereas it may be observed that at least
some Latin anapaests play the reverse trick to that of
which we are talking, and are sometimes inclined to
dactylise themselves.^ Yet even in Homer the anapaestic
suggestion is little more than a suggestion, it is not in
the least insistent or imperative, and in lines with spondaic

1 Od. i. 34. The dotted lines, as usual, indicate the alternative (here
anapaestic) scansion.

2 Take, for instance, Prudentius, Cathemernion, x., with lines like

Venient cito tempora cum jam,

resembling a cut-off three-and-a-half-foot ending from a hexameter. Even
Seneca does not wholly guard against this by avoiding catalectic lines.


admixture it tends to disappear altogether. In Latin
hexameters it hardly ever even suggests itself, and in
most cases distinctly negatives the suggestion when it
occurs. Even those curious monosyllable-ended lines of
Virgil/ on which some remarkable speculations have been
based, do not present the slightest temptation to my ear
(which is distinctly temptable that way) to hear anapaests
in them. Even when there is a faint suggestion of tend-
ency at the beginning, as in the deliberately galloping
line,^ again universally known —

Quadrupedante putrem sonitu quatit ungula campum,

the dactylic rhythm establishes and vindicates itself before
the line is finished.

I deny, therefore, that Kingsley's line is really an
accentual hexameter ; I assert that when it is perfect it is
not a dactylic hexameter at all ; but I admit that it is an
excellent line, well worthy of English poetry, and deserv-
ing to produce — as I think it did at least help to produce
— Mr. Swinburne's still better attempts in similar kind.
Tennyson. Tennyson's " classical " practice, on the other hand,

though of course of very great interest, is not much more
than a curiosity. That it has been spoken of rather dis-
respectfully by the quantity-people, though it defers to a
certain extent to their views, is natural and unimportant.
But I have seen remarks on the Galliambics of " Boadicea "
which seem to ignore the possibility of the suggestion
that the nature of classical Galliambics is not entirely
" matter of breviary." Latin is no doubt better suited to
the metre than English, yet, allowing for that difference,
"the strong contagion of the ear^^ has enabled Tennyson
to transfer Catullus wonderfully.^ I have glanced at the

1 Such as " Oceano nox," " Exiguus mus," etc.

2 Aen. viii. 596.

3 Certainly far belter than the late Mr. Grant Allen, who, in his version
and discussion of the Atys {The Attis of C. Valerius Catullus, London, 1892)
seems to me to have gone hopelessly astray. I have known the Atys ever
since I took it up for Moderations in the year 1865, and I have searched it
carefully before writing this, but I can find no cadence in the least like

Drive back to the lonely wilderness the wretch who lingers here.

For Mr. Meredith's Galliambics v. sup. p. 378.


hendecasyllabics, of which much the same may be said,
and I have said something of Calverley's criticism ^ of the
Alcaics. In these especially, and in the half-dozen hexa-
meters and pentameters, he has professedly, and I think on
the whole successfully, gone on the principle of selecting
words in which accent and real or fictitious quantity
coincide, or at any rate do not collide. And he avoids the
" suck " of the anapaest. Even so, you have to pronounce,
in a quite unnatural way, " e-K^envaennnmtiii," " hexa-
vnQierrrrr." And of course he saw this, and he knew
that the whole thing was rubbish, and (stating the fact ")
naturally annoyed those who think it not rubbish.^

Matthew Arnold's Lectures on Translating Homer un- Arnold and
doubtedly had much to do with the interest taken in the °' "^'^^'
subject, and the practice in it, about this time ; but I do
not know that we need give much attention to them here.
It is a particularly ungrateful task to deal faithfully with
Mr. Arnold ; and there is here no necessity for it, in-
asmuch as quis laudavit his own examples ? and quis
vituperavit much of what he says about other people's ? *
Still less need we dwell on Mr. Worsley (whose admirable
Spenserians in translating the Odyssey cannot, however,
lack a bare word of notice) or Lord Lindsay, Whewell

^ On the Galliambics also C. S. C. was not quite happy. He parodied
them as

Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, gentleman, apothecary.

This, as it stands, is unfair to Tennyson, while, if you pronounce gentleman
"genelmn," it is quite Catullian.

- These lame hexameters the strong-winged music of Homer ?
No, but a most burlesque, barbarous experiment.

His remarks, given in the Life, annoy them still more.

^ Let not any unwary person say, " Ho ! are you the man who warrants
' ministers ' in a certain line of Milton ? " Certainly ilk ego sum. But there are
degrees in quantity ; and the strength " under proof" which will do for the
completion of an iamb, in a continuous line, is not what will do for the half
foot, destined to bear a full pause-strain, of the penthemimer, or even for
the pivot syllable of a hexametrical csesura. The very curious " Kapiolani "
poem may in part be taken with the hexameters, for its longest lines form a
sort of dactylic odometer, I think I know why he wrote them ; but the reason
would be a little out of this story.

* His remarks on Spedding's sacrifice of rhythm are good to this day ; but
he does not seem to have had even a glimpse of the anapaestic safety-valve in
the other kind.


iteruvi, and a veritable herd ^ of pseudo-hexametrists
during the sixties. None of them, I think I may say
safely, came anywhere near Kingsley's practice ; and none
of them discovered that theory which lay at the root of it,
though it escaped Kingsley himself. I suppose these
poor people had screwed themselves up half consciously
(as a writer in the Christian Remembrancer did deliber-
ately) to the point of thinking English hexameters
" natural." It is safe again to say that when the great
Lord Derby denounced them as " a pestilent heresy " he
was a good deal nearer the truth.
Mr. The late Mr. Swinburne stood in a very curious

Swinburne. relation to the classicalisers. No one, not even in the
sixteenth century, has left more various experiments in
forms corresponding to those of Greek and Latin ; few
have ever written with better knowledge of the originals ;
and no one has ever produced better poetry in such
forms. His fortunately prolonged life ; the general
respect in which he was latterly held ; and perhaps the
knowledge of the fact that, though not wicked in any
other way, he was one of those very wicked animals who
defend themselves vigorously when attacked, may have
helped to prevent any thorough examination of his
position by the quantity-mongers. But I should think
it must trouble them even more than Tennyson's.

That brief preceptist utterance, which we quoted ^
from the note to Studies in Song, as to the intolerance
of English for metres dactylically or spondaically based,
at once gives us the key ; and it is scarcely necessary to
go beyond the First Poems and Ballads, though you may
go, with advantage, further to the " Choriambics " of the
Second, and others down to " Evening on the Broads "
especially, and elsewhere almost to the last. That is to
say, Mr. Swinburne saw that if you write these things in
English you must transpose them to an English key. In

' Dart, Murray, Cochrane, Landon, Simson, Grist, Herschell, and others
whom I may have missed. (See Mr. Omond for the dreary list.) One really
wants some of the poor (even poorest) but homely creature iambic, to wash
out the taste of all this stummed outlandish wine.

^ V. sup, p. 352.


the hendecasyllabics, as noted above, very little of such
transposing has to be done.

In the month of the long decHne of roses

by itself strikes an English ear as hardly more exotic
than a famous line of Poe's,^ and not at all more than
Tennyson's trochaics " in the " Vision of Sin." The
Sapphics are more touchy ; for the abundance and per-
sistent recurrence of dactylic rhythm introduces difficulty,
and you cannot, owing to the strong trochaic beginning,
get anapaestic twist on the ball. It is beautiful, but a
professed experiment, a soteltie in the old culinary sense.^
But when you turn back to " Hesperia " a more com-
plicated and yet a more strictly organic and living
phenomenon meets you. The first line is practically a
Kingsleyan hexameter of the very best kind —

Out I of the gol|den remote ( wild west [ where the sea | without
shore | is ;

while the second —

Full of the sadness and sad ; if at \ all with the fulness of joy,

is a pentameter of similar mould, with the centre gap
cunningly filled in by the two short stitches " if at,"
capable, as you see below in

Thee I beheld as bird ■; borne : in with the wind from the west,

of being duly equivalenced with one long stitch, like
" borne." But the second line is capable also of being
scanned exactly as the first — anacrusis and five anapaests
— but without the final redundance or hypercatalexis ;
and when, in your further explorations, you take other
long lines you will find that the principle of equivalence
is preserved throughout — that two initial shorts, as in

^ Banners, yellow, glorious, golden.
Shift " glorious " to the second foot and add another, and you actually
have it.

2 Low voluptuous music winding trembled
is the very thing.

^ Perhaps this is also true of the " Choriambics " —
Love, what | ailed thee to leave | life that was made | lovely we thought |

with love ? —
though this is " made lovely " too.


As a wind | blows in | from the au|tumn that blows | from the
rejgion of sto|ries,

defeat the hexametrical movement, and pull off the mask
at the beginning, though it returns at the end. You end,
therefore, as with " Abt Vogler," by perceiving that the
metre is really anapaestic throughout ; but that the poet
has availed himself of the dactyl-simulating tendency of
the English anapaest, or the anapaest-becoming tendency
of the English dactyl, to make a new and brilliant and
genuine combination, with stable rhythm and swing.
And in " Evening on the Broads " he has carried this
further still, providing in some cases regular anapaestic
elegiacs :

Over the shadowless waters adrift as a pinnace in peril,
Hangs as in heavy suspense charged with irresolute light.

As thus shown, these metres are strictly explicable as
English verse ; though I have seen it said of both, I
think, that " nobody could possibly make out " their
The last stage. At the same time I admit — nay, I frankly and
definitely and stoutly assert — that these are not classical
elegiacs ; that they are English verse on an anapaestic
base, formed by the suggestion, rather than on the strict
analogy, of their classical originals. I know that this
is the case here ; I believe that it will be the case always,
and I am strengthened in that belief by the last phase of
classical " versing " which has been seen, at the extreme
end of the last century and during the present, after a con-
siderable lull in attention to the matter. This has been
due mainly, if not wholly, to the ingenious audacity
of one younger prosodist, and to the powerful, though I
think mistaken, support of an elder poet. I refer, I need
hardly say, to the late Mr. William Johnson Stone and
the living Mr. Robert Seymour Bridges.

1 Perhaps nobody could who was ignorant of classical, or insufficiently
instructed in English, prosody ; but ignorantia jiiris is no excuse. It should,
however, be added that he allows himself also, in the " Evening," to fill the
gap, and to complete the centre anaprest, instead of drawing on the pause.
This actually has Greek precedent, as in Stesichorus.


In order to appreciate their position, we must go back Reversion to
to some older men who were partially treated earlier, and •'^P^dding. etc
especially to one who was scarcely more than glanced at,
but who, taking expression and influence together, is of
very great importance. To what extent James Spedding^
was original in his contention, that to make an English
hexameter you must not only not rely on accent, but
must fly in the face of it, even my painful study of the
accent-and-quantity battle from Foster downwards does
not enable me to define precisely ; nor do I observe that
Mr, Omond has been more fortunate. The relation of
his own few experiments to the original Elizabethan
would-be-quantitative hexameter seems to me less than
that of Clough's and Cayley's, and, indeed, like that of those
of his (in a way) disciples, Mr. Stone and Mr. Bridges,
very small indeed. Stanyhurst, Fraunce, Sidney, and the
rest always tried to make their hexameters, with what-
ever supposed deference to classical rules of quantity in
particular words, hexametrical to an ordinary English ear
in general rhythm. So, in a way, bad as I think his,
does Cayley. Clough, having emerged from a complete
debauch of the worst accentual looseness, screwed himself
up more in his quantitative experiments ; but even he,
I think, retained some respect for what a hexameter,
especially a Greek hexameter, sounds like to an English
ear which has been taught to read it scanningly, though
he did his best to get rid of that respect. Mr. Stone
thought a line ^ of his a " perfect pentameter " — asked,
indeed, quite touchingly if it is not? The answer is that
it is not a pentameter at all, but an awkward spondaic
hexameter of the ordinary English Southey-Longfellow

^ Spedding's paper reviewing Arnold's Lectures, and criticising another
paper in which Munro had denied quantity in EngHsh altogether, first
appeared in Fraser for June 1 861. It was afterwards included, with addition,
in his Revieius and Discussions, 1S79. A fair inkling of its line may be got
from Arnold's " Last Words," subjoined to the Lecttires later ; but the essay
itself should be read. There is a crispness about it, as about the whole
volume, which is rare in such work, though it is to some extent capable of
being anticipated from the quaint addition to the title, "(Not relating to

- Now with mighty vessels loaded, a lordly river.


type, and this not at all on " accentual " but on strict
English quantitative principles. " With " we have granted
as long apparently, though rather to my surprise ; " -y "
could be lengthened at a pinch ; " vessels " is a certain
trochee and a possible spondee, not by " accent " in the
least, but in strict " time " ; " -ess-," with the double hiss
(I know perfectly well what I am saying), is "as long as
my arm " ; and " -els " is again granted, while in the pro-
nunciation it has nearly as much accent as " vess-." To

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