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

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scan " river " " river " is merely childish petulance, because
it is pronounced the other way.

Spedding, however, went much further. He started
with the principle that accent in Greek and Latin, but
especially in Latin, was more or less the same thing as
in English. Now this principle was denied by Munro,
who, as far as the classical languages are concerned, was
certainly a higher authority. As far as my own very
humble opinion goes — an opinion at any rate formed by
fairly extensive reading — I do not believe that anybody
knows with any exactness what either Greek or Latin
accent was. I know, of course, that in late Byzantine
days it must have become something like ours, or they
could not have made it the basis of their new trimeters
and hexameters. But that the practice of twelfth-century
mongrels, or mere barbarians, can give us any line to that
of pure Greeks who wrote quite different verses a millennium
and a half before, I believe as little as I believe that any
teacher of philology or phonetics really knows how our
Anglo-Saxon forefathers pronounced.^

But, I say, Spedding started with this hypothesis of
different if not exactly " combative " accent, as compared
with quantity, in Greek, Latin, and English ; and specially
in English and Latin. Accent and " length," it seems, do
not coincide in Virgil or in Homer. As for Homer, the
first glance at an open page will show how utterly wrong
this is, unless the Alexandrians were wrong likewise ;

^ This is not a mere fling. From Mr. Stone's observations in particular,
I am sure that phonetic doctrinairism has very much more to do with this
particular matter than prosodic or poetic knowledge.


while, as we have no accented Virgil/ he can no more
prove than we can disprove. But then he apparently
made, in his own mind, an enormous jump, from this
perilous take-off. " Let us," he at least seems to say,
" make accented syllables different from our ' long '
syllables in English and we shall get Virgilian hexa-
meters." And it is in this that he has been followed by
the latest school. It sounds rather Gilbertian, but this
and nothing else (except justificatory rules, of which more
presently) is their game.

But the badness of the fruit is not the only sign of
the rottenness of the tree. One of the commonplaces
for fighting on the subject is the almost famous position
that " quantity " is a dactyl, while " quiddity " is a tribrach.
This Mr. Spedding laid down ; and while Mr. Arnold
thought it a sort of counsel of perfection, due to almost
impossible nicety of ear, and Munro saw no difference
between them, the late Mr. Stone " would have thought
that there did not live a man who, if the question were
fairly put to him, could fail to detect the difference."
Well, I am that man ; or rather, though I do see
that " quantity " is a rather (not much) more dactyly
dactyl than " quiddity," I deny that the latter is a
tribrach at all. And if anybody thinks to trap me by
asking me to produce an English tribrach (the bricks and
the sticks of the trap being not unconnected with Guest's
denial of the existence of such a foot, and the difficulty
of producing an unaccetited trisyllable), it will not give me
much trouble to play Brer Rabbit on that occasion. For
the thing is a good instance of what is itself one of the
most frequent and deadly traps in English prosody, the
taking of single words as examples of quantity. As a
matter of fact, the general tendency of English is not to
make its feet of single words, except for special effect ;
and what we have to consider is not the prosodically
fortuitous assemblage of syllables in a word, but the

1 The practice of Plautus, appealed to for Latin accent, seems to me not
much more satisfactory. You would get into beautiful mare's nests if you
took, say, Swift and Barham, in some of their altitudes, for English authorities
on accent.


genuinely commissioned assemblage of syllables in a foot.
Whether there is an English tribrach or not in one word
I hardly care ; that " quiddity " is not such a word,
except by special licence, I know ; that a tribrach can be
easily made up of the last two syllables of " quiddity "
and a short one at the beginning of another word, I know
likewise. And it is all I need to know. Still one
has, in this world, to attend even to unnecessary things ;
and the rules of quantity given by Spedding and others
must, I suppose, be referred to. But not much.

For — though I think I have shown already, and shall
hope to show in the Appendix, that Munro went too far
in denying quantity altogether — how, in fact, is it possible
to draw up " rules " for quantity in such a language as
ours ? Even if you content yourself — as I do, and as I
am by no means sure that the ancients did not ^ — with
defining verse-quantity as " that which fits for a place in
verse," though you will have no difficulty in practice, you
can never reduce to any rule a vocabulary which contains
three such words as " desert " = " wilderness " (to take an
example already brought in), " desert " = " merit," and
" dessert " = " unwholesome things got for visitors," as a
child once said. Beginning at the other end, and con-
structing rules a priori, I am told that "banners," "follow,"
" yellow," are short, judging not by accent but by time in
pronunciation and quantity of vowel.

Banners, yellow, gloiious, golden,

sJiort ! Why to any one with a poetical ear and tongue
" banners " and " yellow " here must be doubly or trebly
" longed " trochees, the first syllable being the equivalent

of that of the undoubted long-short " glori " and " golden."
Again, how can " follow " be short in such a line as

A bird to the right sang fol-low,

* This may seem impudently bold ; but not, I think, to any one who weighs
the undoubted facts of their insistence upon degrees in quantity (which did
not, for all that, affect verse-place), and their whole handling of the questions
of natural quantity and quantity by position.


or in such a part of one as

Fol-low, follow, thou shalt win ?

I am very well aware that this notion of prolongation
is called a delusion by some worthy persons. But time
is time, and length of time is length of time. With
Pickwickian -fictitious uses of these words, je n^ai que

After the battles of the sixties there was some rest over Mr. w. j.
the prosodic world, in this province at any rate, for a ^°"^'
generation, till at last a youthful champion, already
referred to, waked the lists again. In writing of the late
Mr. W. J. Stone there are many things that condition the
treatment if not the judgment. His early death, the
unanimously favourable opinion of his friends, the verve
and independence of his prosodic work, and the very
considerable influence which it has already exercised, all
come in. I am, however, bound to say that I cannot
but regard him as one of the questers after a mare's-nest
Eldorado in our division, and as having written — not
merely, as Mr. Omond has gently put it, with insufficient
knowledge of his predecessors,^ but (which is far worse)
with insufficient knowledge of English poetry, English
pronunciation, and other all-important matters. That
he follows, though with his own difference, Spedding,
Calverley, Clough, and the others ^ who not merely dis-
approve of the accentual English hexameter, but wish to
make a new kind — who not merely refuse to base the
verse on " accent," but deliberately set " accent," and a
good deal more than will bear that name, at defiance —
is one thing : that in support of this he advances or
adopts all manner of demonstrably false or dubiously true
propositions, not necessarily connected with it, is another.

' I shall, of course, be fallen upon from both sides for this. But I can
neither recede from, nor compromise on it, and I say flatly that a man who
pronounces "batter" in the same time as that in which he pronounces
" atom " pronounces wrong.

2 He calls Webbe a "very well-read man" — Webbe who thought
Horace posterior to Ovid, and Homer to Pindar.

3 He does not seem to have known Cayley.


Thus he says ^ that " even Tennyson " (for he admits
Tennyson's usual quantitative correctness) " has ' my '
and ' be ' short." Of course he has ; because " m}' " and
" be " are frequently, though not invariably, short in
correct English pronunciation, as are most monosyllables.
He adopts, without question, Guest's absolutely arbitrary
and certainly false principle, that two consecutive syllables
cannot be accented. While agreeing with those who
think that accent cannot lengthen, he has a most tell-tale
phrase about " accented syllables degenerating into long,"
which gives him almost entirely into the hands of his
enemies. It is again tell-tale that he wants phonetic
spelling,^ or, in other words, desires to pin English down
to an arbitrarily selected standard of pronunciation. But
the most fatal thing of all is his eager adoption, and
almost caricaturing, of Mr. Symonds's notions about the
" go-as-you-pleaseness " of blank verse. He thinks that
the art of it — the art, remember, of Shakespeare, and of
Milton, and of Tennyson — is " without limit and without
foundation." A man who thinks that must either have
no ear for English verse at all, or no power of getting at
its principles.

One is therefore less surprised than in some other cases
to find Mr. Stone's actual hexameters impossible things
— things, in fact, worse than impossible. Such a line as

Is my weary travel ended ? much further is in store,

is worth reams of discussion of the system. Not only
has this no dactylic-hexametrical effect in English, except
to those who " see grass blue " prosodically, but it has
the even more hopeless fault of being almost, or altogether,
a real English metrical entity of another kind. If you
put " No," or something of that sort, before " much " — even
if you make a strong but legitimate pause at the query —

* On the Use of Classical Metres in Etiglish (Oxford, 1898) was originally
a pamphlet. Mr. Bridges reprinted it, without its specimens, at the close
of a new edition of his Alt I toil's Prosody in 1901, Mr. Stone having died

- As I liave hinted before, I believe the phonetic Duessa (rightly so called,
inasmuch as no two phoneticians agree with each other) had most to do with
Mr. Stone's undoing.


it will be an excellent trochaic tetrameter of the " Locksley
Hall " type ; and if you make tivo lines of it —

Is my weary travel ended ?
Much further is in store —

the lack of the cJieville will hardly be felt. Now that
what is meant for one metre should suggest another is
one of the most certain signs of failure. I cannot there-
fore but think that Mr. Stone, in common with all the
" combative accent " men, tried to do something not
worth doing, and failed even to do that. It is, moreover,
extremely noteworthy that he, like the rest of them,
never seems to have noticed that the English hexameter
when it succeeds is anapaestic ; and it is hugely " for
thought " that, quoting Mr. Swinburne's verse, he suggests
that one of its defects is that it is " so easy." It is ill
" speaking sarcastic " of dead men, but one is really
tempted to suggest that if Mr. Stone found the writing of
" Hesperia " and " Evening on the Broads " so easy, he
had much better have set to work and turned us out a
hundred or so pieces of that kind. The baser sort of
Evangeline, stuff is easy, no doubt ; but that such fabric as
that of " Andromeda " or " Hesperia " is not, the extreme
rarity of it shows beyond all possible dispute. Moreover,
the mere prescription of cruces, as things to be aimed at
by the poet, is again tell-tale in the highest degree. The
poet scales heights, but he is not an acrobat. Once more,
I fear that Mr. Stone's ear for true English verse must have
been rather hard, and very particularly undiscriminating.

I feel so strongly that the " lordly river " (ditrochaic,
not choriambic) of history ought not to shallow itself out
into the miseries of contemporary controversy, that I omit
some further adversaria on Mr. Stone. But I think I am
bound, for more reasons than one, to dwell a little, though
a very little, on one remark of his which opens up that
phonetic question at which I have glanced. He refers, in
his disapproval of Munro's utter denial of English quantity
(a disapproval which, as it happens in the particular
instance, I share, though in no other) to " the present


condition of phonetic science," pointing the reference, not
merely to English but to Greek, by the words " how the

Greeks came by their scansion of Penelope," a scansion
which I should as little dream of questioning as the

English scansion of Penelope. Now, I would fain ask, in
the utmost humility, what can " the present " or, in the
absence of not yet made discoveries or a special revela-
tion, any future " state of phonetic science " tell us about
Greek scansion, pronunciation, accentuation, or anything
else ? I am not (let anybody make as much of it as he
pleases) a " scientific cyar'cter." From my point of view
science is facultative and literature necessary. But, at
different times of my life, I have paid some attention to
different sciences, and I have found most of them — all of
them to which I should grant the name — obedient to the
Science of Sciences, to Logic. When, for instance, and to
take a familiar one, geology or palaeontology finds a bone
and says, " Judging by analogy, and the neighbourhood
and structure in which I find similar bones, I can give
you a tolerably certain beast," I have no objection to
accepting that animal in this bony light, with very little,
if any, qualification. But unless some one should rise
from the dead, where have we got our bone of a single
sentence as Pericles or Sophocles, as Cicero or Virgil,
pronounced it ? Phonetics may possibly tell us some-
thing about a certain sound when heard ; and it may tell
us, for aught I know infallibly, by what physical move-
ments that sound is produced. But how can it tell us
what a sound was — a thing which only exists in hear-
ing, which has not been heard for two thousand five
hundred years, less or more, and of which not even
any (notoriously treacherous) transliteration or trans-
sonation exists ? ^ The quackery of all the Albumazars

' My old friend Dionysius Thrax {v. sup. i. 167), whom Mr. Stone quotes,
may give us, in musical terms, the differences of pitch between "acute" and
"grave," but this does not really help us at all. And we can scarcely base
valid literary theories on street cries, as in the " Cave ne eas " and " Cauneas "
instance. But yet it would be possible to accept much, if not all, " reformed "
pronunciation of Greek and Latin, while maintaining every argument in this
chapter against English hexameters.


or Aristodemuses, who have deceived or amused market-
places for the same period, can never have gone further
than this.

With regard to Mr. Bridges' own actual experiments ^ in Mr. Bridges'
quantitative hexameters, I think it unnecessary to indulge experiments,
in detailed criticism, or rather permissible to indulge in
comparative silence. I was forced, against my will, to
enter into some controversy with him on the subject of
Milton : there does not seem to me to be any such force
here. At the same time, it would be something of a
rifiuto if I gave no opinion on the results. That opinion
may be perhaps best expressed as follows. I believe,
speaking as a fool, that I have some ear and some fancy
for verse. Many years ago, in the time of the popularity
of the French forms on the one hand, and of the Epic of
Hades on the very much other, I scribbled a skit in
triolet ^ about that book. But I did not find fault with
Sir Lewis Morris's versification, except that it was flat
and mou ; and I find my " passion for verse " greater than
ever. There is hardly any form of it, in any of the
languages with which I have more or less acquaintance,
and even in some which are to me sound only, that I
cannot understand, and, in differing degrees, relish.
Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites seem to me able to
convey something of their celebration of the wonderful
works of God in this kind : the perfect Greek metres in all
their native variety, and the perfect Latin metres in all
their borrowed elegance, never fail to " put the comether "
on me. I can see the aboriginal raciness of the
Saturnian, and can even make allowances for such
singular hybrids as the accentual-quantitative hexameters
of Commodian, and the accentual-quantitative trimeters
of the Byzantines. English rhythm, through all its
mainly apparent dissimilarities, I can trace ; and French

1 P'or these see The Feast of Bacchus ; Now in Wintry Delights (1903) ;
Ibant OSsatri (^igog), etc.

2 I've a passion for verse, I've read Gower — so terse !

But not, not, Lewis Morris — I've read William of Lorris —

Be it Zend, Greek, or Erse, I've a passion for verse,

I've a passion for verse. But not — not — Lewis Morris !

VOL. Ill 2 F


through the more real anomalies of Mediaeval and
Renaissance and Neo-Classic and Romantic measure ;
and German in its wood-notes from Walther to Heine.
Slight as is my knowledge of Italian, I can perceive
the unique harmony of Dante, and slighter as is my
knowledge of Spanish, I can revel in the shorter murmur
and the longer roll of the rhythm of that glorious tongue.
I do not know whether Charles Reade invented, or not,
the " barbaric yawp " of

I slew him ; | he. fell by | the Wurra Gurjra river,

but I think it a capital lilt. And I have derived, for many
years, extreme delight from Mr. Bridges' own exercises
within the provinces of recognised English prosody, and
from some even of his excursions into debatable lands.
But if these quantitative hexameters of his, or those of his
friend Mr. Stone, or the others to which I have referred,
are English verse at all — if they are even English
rhythm at all — I am reduced to the admirable conclusion
of the elders : " I am one Dutchman ; and he is another ;
and there's an end of it."

I have, indeed, sometimes thought that the whole of
this hexameter battle, including both study and practice,
arises from, and illustrates, that extraordinary confusion
of mind with which nearly all English writers have
approached, and even still continue to approach, the
subjects of Accent and Quantity in our language. It
does not seem, in most cases, to matter much whether the
student is a classical scholar or whether he is not. In
both cases he seems, not merely to start with the idea
that English prosody must be different (in which he is
right), but to assign the differences a priori, instead of by
experiment and observation, in which process it is ten to
one that he goes wrong. I have chosen for special
example Cayley (that we may stir only " the equal waters
of the dead " which will not splash or splutter) and his

Dons, undergraduates ;

but I might have taken scores of instances.

It is because one meets these impossibilities sometimes,


and not unfrequently, that hexameters are intolerable in
English. I have conceded a very large licence in some
monosyllables. I am sure that " and " is susceptible, and
properly susceptible, of the value " 'nd " as well as of the
value " ann-n-n-n-n-'-d " and of almost every value
between ; that " the " may be everything from just above
" th' " (the apostrophe being not a sign of elision, but of the
minimum of actual vocalisation) to the value which " thee "
has in the last line of " Drink to me only with thine eyes " ;
that every monosyllabic preposition can be " a miss or
a mile " prosodically. But I think that the poet, not a
burlesque poet, who lengthens the indefinite article, will
find it snap in his fingers ; and not for Venice, or Venus,
would I consent to allow " underrrgraduajte."

As for its not being necessary so to pronounce it, I
must be very bold again. I do not believe that there
are, in English, any " metrical fictions." Whether there
were any in the classical languages is a question which
I need not here discuss. For our present purpose it
matters not one scrap whether the Greeks actually ran
words together and said raXXo as we say " tother " ;
whether the Romans got rid in verse, as often as they
could, of that final " m " which (as we do know for once !)
some of them thought so ugly. Our business is with
English ; and I repeat that, in English, there are practi-
cally no metrical fictions, and that metre follows, though
it may sometimes slightly force, pronunciation.

The only period that can possibly be quoted against
me is the eliding or apostrophating period from the mid-
sixteenth to the late eighteenth century. And this, as it
happens, is not against me at all. I have — I hope I
may say it without presumption — at least shown some
cause for believing that Milton's metrical fictions are
themselves a fiction. We have the positive testimony of
Dryden — the greatest poet who certainly belonged to the
eliding school — that you must not elide any but a non-
pronounced syllable. We have the suggestion of Shen-
stone, at the beginning of the revolt, to restore the full
pronunciation of " watery." We have, from Bysshe to


the Edinburgh Reviewer of Southey, cautions, almost as
emphatic as Dryden's, against eliding what must be pro-
nounced. These self-denying and self-tormenting genera-
tions impoverished their poetry on principle, seriously,
and really. They did not pronounce " watery " and scan
" wat'ry," and I am sure they would not have pronounced
" undergraduate " and scanned " underrrgraduayte."

That it may be possible — since Tennyson and some
others have done it — to establish an apparent concordat
between accent and quantity, by selecting words which
satisfy both systems, nobody can deny. It may be as
legitimate a poetic amusement as any other prosodic tour
de force — as pantoums and emperieres a triple couronne, as
poetical bellows and altars, as anagrams and lipograms
and acrostics, as Sir Francis Kynaston's Latin rhyme-
royal (to which it is very close) or Dr. King's Greek-
gibberish macaronics.^ But even so, it is gymnastics, not
consistent and sober walking. In any other form it is
either, to take the serious view, a " pestilent heresy," or, to
take a less serious one, a rather idle loss of time, or, in
the third place, as in Kingsley's and other really good
examples, a very successful attempt to do something
which the poet did not mean to do, or, as in Mr. Swin-
burne's, a still more successful attempt to do something
which he knows not to be a hexameter at all. The thing
(including Alcaics, Sapphics, and the rest) is against the
genius of the language ; it is superfluous if it were not ;
it is a mistake, in each and every respect, except that of
its unintentional by-products or its deliberate evasions.
For every language has a genius, weak or strong. Ours
has a strong one ; and a strong genius is an entity that
you cannot get over, a " chiel that winna ding."

• KvfXfifTe /ji€ij3oLes, etc. V. Delepierre's A/acaront^ana, p. 326 ; or the
original. This was the e/der King (zk sup. ii. 417). By the way, it is well
worth anybody's while to read Mr. Housman, in the Classical Review for
1899 (vol. xiii. p. 317), on Mr. Stone.



Plan — Mr. Omond's work — Sidney Walker — Masson — Patmore —
Mr. Wadham — -Tom Hood the Younger— Dr. Abbott — Professor
Sylvester — Professor Earle — Mr. Henry Sweet — Mr. Symonds
— Mr. A. J. Ellis — Conway — Mr. Ruskin — Mr. Edmund Gurney
— Mr. Shadworth Hodgson — Professor Fleeming Jenkin —
Professor Mayor — The " monopressure " theory — Mr. William
Larminie — Mr. J. M. Robertson — MM. Van Dam and Stoffel
— Other foreign students of English prosody : Dr. Schipper —
M. Verrier — Mr. Hallard — Mr. Bateson — Mr. William Thomson
— Mr. C. F. Keary — Mr. Hewlett — Remarks on " Fancy "

In the present chapter I propose to notice the principal Plan— Mr.
English contributors to prosodic discussion during the [^^^""^ ^

Online LibraryGeorge SaintsburyA history of English prosody from the twelfth century to the present day (Volume 3) → online text (page 38 of 50)