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

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that the proper pronunciation of " voyage " is mono-
syllabic, but, while admitting that Shakespeare and Milton,
and even Pope, give the full value, feels difficulty in
believing that " any Englishman would have talked of a
voi-yage \sic\ as late as 1730." I can only say that one
Englishman has never talked of anything else up to as
late as 1910, and that he finds difficulty in believing that
the pronunciation can fail out of the land so long as any
of our good poets are read. To speak plainly, " voy'ge "

1 A few things of small importance may be gathered in a note, such as
some references of Professor Blackie's in his Horae Hellenicae, which are
occasionally shrewd, but display the slap-dash, hit-or-miss peculiarities of
their author. An article (glanced at above) in the Christian Revtenibrancer
for 1866, on Dart's Iliad, is lively reading, but scarcely of much value. The
writer held that "by the very laws of our accentuation we cannot have a
spondee," — a fresh instance, on the one hand, of the arbitrary promulgation
of such laws ; on the other — even taking his own view — of the confusion of
■words with feet. Indeed arbitrariness and confusion are the two plagues of
prosody ; and few writers escape both — hardly any, one or the other.


is, at best, a conversational slipshodness or a very
questionable licence — at worst, a sheer vulgarism.

Many other curious evidences of courageous deduction
from arbitrary premises are to be found in Mr. Conway.
Objecting rightly to " interesting," he allows " int'resting " !
His remarks on Milton are particularly noteworthy. He
thinks that " Milton alone of our poets studied versifica-
tion " and " copied from a perfect model." This phrase
may puzzle the reader, but it seems to refer to Italian.
Mr. Conway is a great Italianist, and "assumes with con-
fidence that the right standard of sonnet is Italian " — he
might have told us which of the many. But, for all this,
Milton is " not a safe guide " : he is " capricious," " incon-
sistent," and I know not what else. Mr. Conway does
see the anapaestic tendency in the English hexameter,
but he does not perceive its lesson ; and his remarks on
the famous rhyme of " ecclesiastic " and " a stick " seem
to show that he does not possess a sense which is almost
as necessary in the region of prosody as anywhere else,
but which was equally lacked by Guest. He pronounces
it " abnormal and licentious to a degree that nothing can
excuse " — except, let us humbly suggest, the not unimport-
ant fact that its licentiousness and its abnormality were
exactly what the poet aimed at. And finally, he is,
perhaps, the latest writer who has deliberately taken up
the principle of the apostrophating extremists, to the
length of allowing, or rather insisting on, " am'rous " and
" del'cate." ^

1 The advantages of " making a collection " are known in several contexts
and senses. Let us make a little one, adjusted to Mr. Conway's pronuncia-
tion of "voyage," from poetry strictly later than 1730 :

The stars are with the voyger
Wherever he may sail.

Voyging through strange seas of thought, alone.

and thou,
Heroic sailor soul,
Art passing on thy happier voyge now.

Let it be observed that these are no mere examples of an unlucky single
mistake : that mistake is directly connected with the misvaluation and over-
valuation of accent.

VOL. Ill 2 G



Mr. Ruskin.

Mr. Edmund

'• Combining information " has sometimes been regarded
as a process humorous in conception but hazardous in the
carrying out. Yet some knowledge of Mr. Ruskin, and
some knowledge of prosody, might furnish an antecedent
idea of his Elements of English Prosody^ which would not
be very far wrong. Eccentricities of nomenclature, we have
said, do not go for much ; and a merely mild and passing
wonder is excited at finding that while a trochee is a
" troche " (a form chiefly associated in some minds with
the adjective " bronchial ") a spondee is a spondeus.
Imagination boggles a little at the notion of the " Bridge
of Sighs " being written " in double tribrachs, with choreus
and anapaest," though " an imperfectly trained reader might
think them dactylic." To speak plainly, Mr. Ruskin
was himself very imperfectly trained in these matters, and
his little tractate (which employs musical notation) must
have left the students in St. George's Schools, for whose
use it was composed, with their heads rather in a whirl.
But, like Mr. Symonds's book, it has the saving grace of
love ; so the heads may have whirled to some purpose
after all, in concert with the world which love makes go
round likewise.

Edmund Gurney's two remarkable books, Tlie Power of
Sound (1880) and Tertium Quid (1887), may seem — the
one from its very title, and the other from the fact that every
prosodist is a tertius^ not always gaudens, to every pair of
craftsfellows that he meets — to be bound to have to do
with our matter. And they have ; but not so much as
one might expect. Gurney's interests were for the most
part either purely musical or purely literary, and he seems
to have made the mistake of thinking that prosody was
simply a sort of bridge, or debatable ground, between the
two. It was, I think, partly due to him (for he had no
small influence) that the singular heresy of its being
immaterial whether accent begins or ends a foot has
spread so much. And one of his scansions —

By the watjers of Bajbylon we sat down [ and wept,

* Orpington, 1880,


has become rather famous as a prosodic quoting-stock, and
bone of contention between opposite schools. Mr. Omond
quite justly thinks it " extraordinary," and that it " reduces
the line to prose," but it is approved by a recent American
prosodist of ability, Professor Charlton Lewis. I should
say that it is not even rhythmical prose — the preferable
(though, of course, not the only) scansion there would be

By the waters | of Babylon | we sat down and | wept.

As English verse, Gurney's scansion makes it not so much
naughty as naught.^

We come next to two writers of considerable import- Mr.
ance. Mr. Shadworth H. Hodgson's paper on " English -^hadworth

off fa Hodgson.

Verse" in Outcast Essays (1881) is, like everything of its
writer's, worth reading ; but it suffers, as do so many of
our prosodic documents, from being too occasional. It was
apparently written, at least in part, with a view to Guest,
and also with an eye on those interesting experiments of
Mr. Bridges in " new prosody " which enlivened the late
seventies and early eighties, and the originals of which
disappeared from my own possession under some influence
of Fortiina maligna, or perhaps, as in the fairy stories,
because I was not worthy of them. I find the tract,
however, somewhat confusing in more senses than one.
Mr. Hodgson, as always, speaks much of logic — a thing
for which I have myself almost unlimited respect. But in
one place he says that " metre is not necessary to poetry,"
in another that it " distinguishes poetry from prose." A
differentia non necessaria, at any rate pro tanto, upsets my
notions of the Art of Arts and Science of Sciences. I fancy
that some later prosodists are either distinctly indebted to,
or were unconsciously anticipated by, this writer. He is
for a Cerberus-stress, a triple monster in words and metre
and rhetoric. He distinguishes and emphasises " dura-
tion," " pitch," " colour," " tone," and " loudness " in sounds.
He thinks that "monosyllables have no word -stress," and

The mighty Corineus from the sepulchre

^ See more on it in Appendix vi.


is not metrical English at all. And his arguments are
sometimes very strange indeed. He is speaking of the
In Meinoriani phrase —

Or that the past will always win
A glory from its being far,

and observes that Mr, Ruskin says it will " come right "
[I do not myself see that what is need " come "] if you
accent " or " and " be-." Now Mr, Hodgson retorts that
he cannot accent " be-," and that the true stress is on
" far." " That gives an imaginative picture of the receding
past ; whereas to lay stress on ' being ' is to give an argu-
ment for the past winning glory — and a bad one, because
much of the past is very itear" I am bound to say that the
words I have italicised appear to me, not only among the
most feeble arguments ever uttered by a man of talent, but
fatally deficient in sensibility to poetic touch. If a man
does not know that yesterday is sometimes centuries off,
he lacks the power of comprehending anything that is not
purely and narrowly intellectual. As a matter of fact,
" being " is, in the context, susceptible of its noun-value,
which would alter the case even from Mr. Hodgson's point
of view, I suppose. But there is not the least difficulty in
lengthening the e if it is kept as a participle. The paper
is of real interest ; but the zeal of the House of Stress
has eaten up great part of the author's power of appreci-
ating poetic form and expression.
Professor Considerable attention was attracted at the time by

Fieeming certain articles, also based or " pegged " on Guest, which the
late Professor Fieeming Jenkin contributed to the Saturday
Review in the early opening of 1883, and which, after his
death, were reprinted in his Memoir (1887). They have
the character of a great deal of prosodic work in recent
times. It would be fatuous, as well as uncivil, to call
this amateurish ; but it certainly has something of that
kind about it. A man of intellectual tastes, and perhaps of
distinct expertise in some kind of literature, science, or
art, but without a very wide acquaintance with English
poetry, and knowing little or nothing of prosodic and


prosodist history, has his interest excited in the subject
by this or that accident, and proceeds to formulate a
theory. He will very likely make some interesting
observations ; but he will almost certainly make some
decided blunders. Jenkin, like Hodgson, saw not a little
of the Guestian impracticabilities, and he admits that
Cowper's " Boadicea " becomes ridiculous if you scan it
iambically. But Guest's " sections " caught his engineering
fancy, and he endeavoured to combine them with foot-
scansion, regarding the line as, so to speak, " cross-tied "
by the two processes. Section-groups are not to have
more than five syllables ; the normal heroic is to have
four to its five feet ; but there may be six, seven, or even
eight " beats," which must never come on " weak " syllables.
It is not necessary to dwell on the arbitrariness and over-
individualism of this system. Some general remarks will be
given on it, and on others, later. It is sufficient meanwhile
to say that Professor Jenkin was intensely interested in
the acted drama, and that his whole system is pretty
evidently elocutionary^ while it scarcely applies except to

I said, in a note to my original Preface, that, had Mr. Professor
J. B. Mayor's Chapters on English Metre^ been fuller, I * ^^°'^'
had hardly written this book. The compliment was no
empty one ; and I repeat it at the end as I uttered it
at the beginning. Some objection has been taken to
Professor Mayor's omitting mention of " time," and to
his exclusive insistence on accent. But I imagine that
the omission was simply due to a wise reluctance to be
drawn, in a book professedly not exhaustive, into an
almost endless controversy ; and careful reading will show
that, though he allows feet to be based on accent, it is by
feet that he goes. Now a man who really goes by feet
can never really go by accent, whatever terminology it may
seem convenient to him to use. And it may be further
observed that all the changes of mind which Professor
Mayor announces (his book was made up of earlier papers

* Cambridge, 1886. Revised several times. Also A Handbook of Modern
English Metre (Cambridge, 1 903).


in part, and has been supplemented with others since its
first appearance) are in a direction fatal to merely literal
and " Capernaite " acceiitualism. He relinquishes slur
for trisyllabic feet, admits tribrachic substitution, etc.
Now this cuts the ground from under accentualism : and
you will scarcely ever meet an accentual stalwart who
really admits trisyllabic feet — never at all one who defi-
nitely admits tribrachs. For these " draw to the dregs
of a democracy " his beloved monarchy of accent.

Substantively, the book consists of criticisms on Guest,
Abbott, Symonds, Ellis, and others, with later chapters on
more general points, and on different kinds of metre. An
unsound criticism is very rare, an unsound scansion rarer ;
and there is no book on the subject which I have been
able for the last fifteen years to put into the hands of
students with so little of the unsatisfactory caution :
" Excellent when it is right ; but it is pretty often wrong,
and you must look out."
The " mono- The years 1888 and 1889 are of no small importance in

pressure" the prosodist Calendar. The latter saw the first appear-

theory. .

ance of Mr. Bridges' work on Milton, which we have
pretty fully discussed under the special head, but which has
gradually been enlarged into something like a treatise of
" Stress Prosody " besides allying with itself Mr. Stone's
theories on the hexameter, of which we spoke in the last
chapter. 1888 had seen the appearance of a smaller
and more specialised work, which, though not, so far as
I know, continued by its author, has been taken up
by another and a distinguished hand, and has seemed to
some likely to exercise considerable influence on future
prosodists. This was a pamphlet (" to be," but never,
I think, actually, " continued," and anonymously issued,
but attributed to " J. W. Blake ") which was published
by Messrs. Blackwood with the title Accent and Rhythm
explained by the Lazu of Monopressures. Some years later
Professor Skeat, first in the Introductory matter to his
great edition of Chaucer, and afterwards in a Philological
Society paper, adopted the principles of this, expanding
and applying them.


The principle of the " monopressure " system (some-
how or other echoes of " monophysite " and " mono-
thelite " — ancestral voices prophesying war — besiege the
affrighted ear of fantastic memory) is purely physical-
phonetic. " Speech," says the author of the original
pamphlet, " is possible only in monopressures," " the
air that is supplied for the production of the voice-
vibrations being capable of being used only in volumes
or jets." Further, these " speech-waves " in English must
contain a " strong " syllable, and may contain weak ones, but,
according to Professor Skeat, only one or two of the latter,
and only four arrangements of the two — that is to
say, strong, weak-strong, strong-weak, and weak-strong-
weak. If you want fnore you must have more speech-
waves {la portion n'est pas divisible, as the restaurants say).
If you want others, apparently you cannot have them
at all.

The connection with prosody is, of course, obvious ;
and we are told to congratulate ourselves on getting rid
of the " wooden " methods of ordinary prosody, its artificial
systems, and so forth. Let us see what we have got

The results are that — by the "natural" method of
scansion, which uses a dot to divide speech-waves instead
of a bar — the separate " feet " ^ of a well-known line of
Goldsmith run thus, hyphens being used to unify the
" speech-feet," as we may call them :

The-shelter'd . cot . the-culti . vdted . fdrm.

As usual, once more, this result is utterly unsatisfactory
to me. Any system of prosody, artificial or natural,
golden or wooden, which makes the rhythmical division
of this line of Goldsmith consist of an amphibrach,
a monosyllabic foot, another amphibrach, a trochee, and
another monosyllabic, robs it, to my ear, of all rhythm
whatsoever, even as prose, and turns it into a helpless

1 This use and that of the individual terms later is not improper.
Professor Skeat adopts them with a proviso — to be expected and respected —
that the English foot is made up of "strong" and "weak," not "long" and
"short," syllables.


turmoil of gasp-feet. A result of this kind is not (to use
once more an invaluable formula) a result of the nature
and quality demanded by this purchaser. Better the
utmost " Symondite " anarchy than such obedience to
physical laws.

But, putting aside entirely the question whether this
monopressure notion is a physical law in reality, let us
ask another. Have these physics and phonetics really
got anything to do with the matter ? Mr. Omond has
urged part of this objection by very properly remarking
that these groups, take them for what they may be worth,
are raw material of verse and prose alike. But I have
not a little to add to his objection, which, by the
way, seems to me to be a very wide-ranging one, and
to apply to almost all inquiries into the basis of accent
and quantity. In the first place, it must be evident that
this system of prosody is inseparably wedded to accent —
that there is in it, for instance, no place for a tribrach.
In the second, and this is to me a still greater objection,
its tendency is what I regard as one of the greatest dangers
in studying English verse — the tendency to regard words
separately. In the passage which Professor Skeat scans
from Goldsmith, the division of speech-waves is always at
a word-end, except in " cultivated," and there it is at the
end, though it has to be in the middle likewise. Now
I have frequently pointed out that one of the most
specific differences of poetry in English is the metrical
splitting of words. In ordinary conversation we no
doubt, to a certain extent, make our glottis, or our glottis
makes us (I do not want to be unnecessarily provocative)
emit words singly. Even in more elaborate prose we
still have a tendency to make pauses at word -ends ; but
as this prose becomes rhythmical we divide words more ;
and in poetry, except in so far as our abundant mono-
syllables prevent it, we positively avoid, save for special
reasons, coincidence of foot- and word-end. I do not
pretend (my glottis is dreadfully insubordinate, and has
never been trained, like a well-behaved penny-in-the-slot
machine, to emit the regular quantity of " butter-scotch "


and nothing more) to know exactly how Mr. Blake and
Dr. Skeat would scan my favourite line —

Our noisy years seem moments in the being ;

but I feel almost certain that they would isolate
" moments," and that they would not divide " noisy." Now
a glottis that would do that seems to me to be not
merely what the Chancellor called Richard Carstone, but
what Mr. Mantalini called the Countess's outline. It is not
only " vexatious and capricious," it is " demd," and more-
over self -condemned. The scansion of the line of
Goldsmith, which is plain sailing, is bad enough ; what it
makes of Chaucer is worse ; but what such a process
would do with Shakespeare or Milton, with Tennyson
or Swinburne, is too awful to think of.

Since the eighties, however, these fancy prosodies have Mr. wiiiiam
made considerable and various way. In the Contemporary
Review for November 1894 there appeared an article
on the Development of English Metres, by Mr. William
Larminie, which has, at the time and since, attracted
attention. I do not think the writer has ever followed it
up, though he has written verse. A poet of the new
" Celtic " school, he rather rashly discusses the antiquity
of assonance in Irish poetry, and advocates its substitu-
tion for rhyme in English, with a sort of go-as-you-please
rhythm behind it. He approves and attempts " historical
approach," but cannot, I fear, be said to be very well
equipped for it. He overrates the significance of blank-
verse rhymelessness very greatly ; seems not to have
realised the fact that, after Surrey and before Milton,
blank verse itself was practically confined to drama ; and
has the singular remark that " Spenser took Chaucer as
his model and rhymed" as if, between the two, rhymeless-
ness had been the rule, and not the excessively rare
exception. He thinks, like Coleridge himself, that the
author of Christabel was the first to display the capa-
bilities of trisyllabic feet conspicuously, and that " from
the mouth of Swinburne the new music first rolls in full
flood." In fact Mr. Swinburne himself, Irish poetry, and



Mr. J. M.

MM. Van
Dam and

assonance (which he finds in Homer) practically divide
Mr. Larminie's attention and admiration. All are worthy
of both — especially Mr. Swinburne ; but the three will
scarcely, as treated by this author, suffice for a theory of
prosody. And it is quite certain that assonance is in-
effective in English, when it is not something worse. It
either escapes notice altogether, or forces itself on our
ears as a clumsy attempt at unaccomplished rhyme.

One has once more to remark, in reference to the
Appendix on " Accent, Quantity, and Feet," in Mr. J.
M. Robertson's Neiv Essays towards a Critical Method
(1897), that the "occasional" character of so large a
proportion of prosodic work is a serious drawback. It is
impossible to give a fair conspectus of it without going
back, and back, and back to the documents which itself
implies and comments — a process of more than Scholastic
involution. Mr. Robertson mainly comments on Poe and
Lanier {v. inf.), with a primary inclination to the former,
corrected (or perverted) somewhat by the latter, but with
wide expatiation, which is almost always worth following.
Here, at any rate, he is often not far from the kingdom
of Heaven. And if he goes against " feet," it is chiefly
because he wants from them what neither they nor any-
thing else can give him, in the " metaprosodic " way.

Our next subjects, and nearly the last on whom we shall
dwell very particularly, are instances of the difficulty in
adjusting the claims of frankness and courtesy when
criticising criticism by living persons. This difficulty, how-
ever, is reduced to a minimum in the first case. Messrs.
Bastian A. P. Van Dam and Cornells Stoffel appear to
be two Dutch gentlemen who write English with excellent
grammatical command, and who have contributed to our
subject, in recent years, one not small book ^ and one very
large pamphlet." Even more remarkable than their com-
mand of English is their possession of that " undoubting
mind " which inspires the possessor with so much con-

1 W. Shakespeare, Prosody and Text, etc. (London, 1900).

2 Chapters on English Printmg, Prosody, and Pronunciation (Heidelberg,


fidence in his own infiUibility, and so complete a con-
viction that everybody else is wrong. Pinning their
faith literally, and as to a statement of fact, not opinion
and deduction, on Gascoigne's deliverance as to the
two-syllable foot, and supporting themselves further by
almost unqualified acceptance of the printed texts of the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Messrs. Van Dam
and Stoffel have come to the conclusion that editors of
Shakespeare have been " ignorant of nearly every rule of
prosody," that " none of them has up to now thought it
worth while to make a full and close study of Elizabethan
prosody." But Shakespearian editors are not the only
persons who are told that they know nothing about their
native tongue and its poetry. Guest, with whom, from
some points of view, one might have thought these Dutch
gentlemen likely to be in sympathy ; Ellis, who, as they
are uncompromisingly philological, might have been
supposed likely to attract their respect ; and " modern
aesthetic critics " are all subjected in common to the fiery
rain. Their own theory is almost pure Bysshism. " The
rhythmical arrangement of syllables " is the sole criterion
in poetry : every extra syllable is ruthlessly turned out or
explained away. " The interpolation of them would, in
the age of Elizabeth, have been certainly looked upon as
destructive of the rhythm of this kind of verse." Tenny-
son's and other modern blank verse is " irregular " ; and
it is clear that Messrs. Van Dam and Stoffel are not far
from the opinion of the young Eurasian gentleman whom
I once knew, and who thought it "just like prose."

Online LibraryGeorge SaintsburyA history of English prosody from the twelfth century to the present day (Volume 3) → online text (page 40 of 50)