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

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a student as Mr. Omond can credit Lanier with having,
in the year i 87-something, " finally established temporal
relations as essential to verse," " brought fundamentals to
light," and so on. I cannot see that he did anything of
the kind ; and I am quite sure that, if he did, he was
doing nothing new. Every one who ever used the words
" long " and " short," and who did not go a-wandering
after accentualism, had always known the temporal
character of our rhythms. But, as always, I bring Mr.
Lanier to the trial of the pyx, in particulars. It may be
that English iambic verse is in " 3-time " from some
crotchet-and-quaver point of view — it is not from any
other ; "^ and if it were, the whole beauty of actual
"3-time" substitution would disappear. However keen
his musical ear may have been, his prosodic one must
have been pretty dull ; for his individual scansions are
often atrocious, and he sees identity where there is at

' It is not, I hope, merely malicious to point out that hardly any two
musical prosodists agree as to the actual representativeness of their notation.
V. sup. p. 477.

2 Not even from the strictest valuation of quantity ; for even if — be
taken as = two J's, they are not lumped together as = 3.


once the widest and the subtlest diversity. But one
citation shall serve for a thousand. Paradise Lost " is
written in the same typic form of 3 -rhythm as Shake-
speare's plays." Oh, very like a whale indeed, Mr.
Lanier — quite remarkably like a whale !

Of course I know I shall be told that it is my
Philistine indifference to " pitch " and " tone-colour," and
things of that sort, which makes me insensible of Lanier's
merit, " Hippocleides does not care " much. In fact,
when Hippocleides finds, not Lanier, but a pupil of his,
declaring that such a sound as " 00 " in " gloom " is
" peculiarly adapted to express horror, solemnity, awe,
deep grief, slowness of motion, darkness, and extreme or
oppressive greatness of size," he feels inclined to send for
his table, and indulge in a few gesticulations. Change g
for b, and " bloom," in flesh and flower, expresses " horror,
etc., etc.," admirably, does it not ? I have seen an un-
published variation on Hudibras, which contains these
reprehensible lines :

For all Si pho>iel\c\a.r\!s rules
Are good for, is amusing !

But let us not be irreverent. Without irreverence
one may say that Lanier is but another instance of the
apparently immutable law, that music and prosody 7Jmst
be kept apart, great as they both are, and near as they
come to each other.

Let it, however, be granted that a writer with such a
sponsor as Mr. Omond, and with so fair a herd of dis-
ciples, deserves more serious treatment than this. He
shall have it. At the very opening (p. xiv.) of his
preface Lanier remarks that the doctrine that accent
makes a syllable long is " unaccountable to the inusicia?i."
Perhaps ; but this of itself is evidence that " the musician "
is not at the point of view ; for this doctrine is certainly
not " unaccountable " even to those prosodists, such as
Mr. Omond himself, who think it wrong. The fact, as
pointed out elsewhere, that accent has no place in music, at
once shows that music and prosody cannot be on all fours.


I have said hard things of the accentualists here — I could
say harder ; but to rule accent altogether out of English
prosody would be, to me, absurd. You must keep it in
its place, and take care that that place is a minor or
subsidiary one — that of a caterer, valet, or some such
official ; but a place it must have.

Again, Lanier's doctrine that " verse deals purely with
sounds " is dolosa. It does ; but ivith what kind of
sounds ? He lays down in parallel statements (typographi-
cally ordered so as to indicate their importance), as his
base-doctrines, the propositions that " the exact co-ordina-
tions which the ear perceives as rhythm, time, and tone-
colour, suggested to it by musical sounds, are music," and
that the ditto ditto suggested by spoken words are verse.
This, or rather the inferences from it, I deny. In the
first place, an unknown language produces a quite different
effect from music. In the second, the variation, and,
above all, the composition, of spoken (or rather read)
sounds is very different from, and infinitely more complex
than, that of music. You cannot get out of this by
juggling about " tone - colour," and by arguing that
different instruments vary the same note, and different
performers the same notes on the same instrument.
There is no analogy here to the subtlety of verse. There
might be to the difference of Jones's, and Smith's, and
Brown's recitation of verse, even to the individual poet
Jones's, Smith's, or Brown's handling of verse ; but that
is quite a separate thing.^

From this initial confusion we should be prepared for
another ; and it duly follows. Even Mr. Omond is
staggered by the facility with which Lanier discovers his
favourite " three-rhythm " alike in Anglo-Saxon verse and
the Cuckoo-song, in Langland and in Chaucer. The fact
is, of course, that, by the usual processes of slur and shake,
you can get almost any rhythm into any other musically
— you can, as Milton contemptuously puts it, " commit

* In fact one does not read poetry, silently, with one's own voice or any
other, but with an abstract or generalised "mind's voice," almost or quite
destitute of tonality ; yet one perceives the rhythm perfectly.


short and long " as you please. You cannot do that on
any sound system of prosody.

In fact Lanier shows eminently what all his kind
show more or less. They and the accentualists distribute
— to speak with no irreverence — a breach of one of
the laws of the Athanasian Creed between them. By
neglecting all but stressed syllables, and casting loose the
others, the accentualists " divide the substance " of feet.
By their promiscuous valuations of possibly equivalent,
but actually different, foot -forms, the musicalists "con-
found the persons." Only by recognising the independent
personality of different feet can the true nature of English
verse be understood ; and, when you once leave that
citadel of strength, you enter upon a labyrinth, the outlets
of which are beset by Guest on one side and Lanier on
the other, in the same fashion and position in which
Gibbon long ago established Cerinthus and Apollinaris,
but not in the double " twilight of sense and heresy."

On the other hand, the republication of Guest pro- Dr. Price.
duced in America, as it did in England, the idea that a
new revelation in English prosody had been waiting for
acceptance. I have for many years possessed — in fact
it was, I believe, one of the first things that made me ask
myself whether a thorough handling of the facts of that
prosody was not desirable — a paper ^ by Dr. Thomas R.
Price, which was read before the New York Shakespeare
Society on May 20, 1886. In this the author informs
us that " the old scansion by feet failed to explain the
movement of the old ballad ; it failed to explain the
stately march of Milton's blank verse ; most of all and
worst of all, it failed to interpret the freedom and grace
of Shakespeare's matchless cadences." I think I may
say that, by the frank acknowledgment even of some who
do not wholly agree with me, I have shown in this book
that it failed to do nothing of the kind in any of the
three cases ; but I am very little concerned to tripudiate
over Dr. Price on this score. I wish to deal only with

1 Papers of the N.Y.S.S., No. 8., "The Construction and Types of
Shakespeare's Verse as seen in the \_sic\ Othello^'' (New York, 1888).
VOL. Ill 2 K


his substitute for " the old scansion by feet " — the new
" scansion by staves." He applies this particularly to
Othello^ but with a few references to other and later
English poetry.

Now it will surely surprise any person who has not
read Dr. Price to be told, and any one who reads him to
find, that after all " the old scansion by feet " reappears
at the door, apparently not a penny the worse from having
been staved out of the window. He finds staves from
Beowulf to Tennyson, but these staves are trochaic, dactylic,
logaoedic, and anapaestic. They have anacrusis ; they
are catalectic or " full " ; they exist in dipodies, tripodies,
tetrapodies, etc. The only difference is that they are
lumped — taken in batches instead of individually. " New
presbyter " is indeed here " old priest writ large " with a
vengeance. I have been rebuked for prosodic jargon,
but have I ever called half a line anything worse than a
tripody catalectic, syncopated in the first foot ?

But " let us to the magazine," as the pirate in yellow
boots observed — that is to say, to the actual scansions.
Dr. Price is an unhesitating trochee-base man. All iambic
lines are " trochees with anacrusis." So he makes Othello's
broken line, I. iii. 261 —

Let her have your voices,

a trochaic tripody.

I feel constrained to complete this in a manner which
would form an excellent catch for the comic stage :

Let her have your voices — {cheers) —
This my heart rejoices !
Every girl and boy sees
What a dear she is I

The compound line, HI. iii. 215 —

Not a jot I not a jot. |

r faith I I fear | it has,

one of the simplest things in Shakespeare, is indeed
" anapaestic," but it is in some mysterious fashion " cata-
lectic " (there is not a syllable wanting anywhere), and


has an " anacrusis " of two syllables. Another, equally
simple and regular, not even compound, V. i. 47 —
Here's one | comes in | his shirt | with light | and weapons,

is an " abnormal " line " syncopated in the jfirst foot."
Really " Bil Stumps his mark " becomes hardly a parody,
after such hopelessly absurd muddlings of the clearest

Let us, however, take one other example from Dr.
Price. It is, of all marvellous things, from " The Two
Voices." Now there are, of course, trochaic beginnings
in " The Two Voices." They are accounted for, on the
system of this book, with no difficulty and with no violence.
But Dr. Price would scan —

Again the voice said unto me.
Thou art so full of misery,
Surely 'twere better not to be,

because of " Surely " in the third line —

gain the

voice said


art so

full of



Surely —

where, it may be observed, the obvious trochaic beginning,
if relied on, disturbs any subsequent trochaic rhythm ;
while if it is not, the suggestion vanishes — not to mention
that in any case the " ridiculousness " of the division,
which even Ruskin noticed, remains. One really need go
no further.

Professor Gummere is, I suppose, the chief living Professor
authority in America on English Poetics ; and his book Gummere.
with that title ^ has had a long and well-deserved reputa-

' 1885. His later Beginnings 0/ Poetry (i<)oi) has a special subject, with
which we are not much concerned. Another American manual of authority,
Professor H. Corson's Primer 0/ English Verse (1892), consists of useful
notes on various things from the ax, xa point of view.


tion. It seems to me, however, that Professor Gummere
is more really interested in theories as to the origin of
poetry — its connection with savages, dancing, etc, — and
in questions relating to the not quite similar origin of
forms (his treatment of ballads is again famous), than
in the contemplation of English verse as a sifted and
arranged mass, and in the development, from this sifting
and arrangement, of the principles common to it. In his
Poetics he contrasts quantity and accent, on strict " time "
principles in the former case and " stress " principles in
the latter. I have said often enough, and perhaps too
often, that I think the conduct of inquiries on this basis
a case o^ propter vitavi vivendi perdere causas — or the other
way, which is practically the same. He inclines chiefly
to accent ; allows (which is no doubt much) the pause-
foot or half-foot ; but, like almost all his clan, avoids and
evidently distrusts feet themselves. He brings to a point
an aporia which has pervaded prosodic inquiry largely of
late by saying, " Every one knows, or ought to know,
that the classical iambus or anapaest is very different from
the iambus or anap^st of modern poetry." Now I
have been so bold as to say " Is it ? " My boldness
is tempered by trepidation ; for I am quite aware that
powerful folk of all sorts do concede this. But, after all,
I have been tolerably familiar with both classical and
modern poetry for a good many years, and I sometimes
wonder whether the people who are most familiar with the
one — either one — usually know most of the other — either
other. That classical combinations of feet — nay, that
classical feet isolated, if you can isolate such a gregarious
thing as a foot — are different from English ; that in
modern French it is questionable whether there is a foot
at all, except as a kind of metrical fiction ; that German
relies chiefly on stress, and Italian and, still more, Spanish
on a kind of bar-syzygy, I am disposed to allow, in fact to
assert. But the extraordinary compositeness of English
seems to me to have brought with it a sort of sixteen-
quarter heraldry of characterisation. An English iamb
in English may have differences from a Greek one in


Greek ; an English dactyl (when you find him) may have
more. But the relations of the feet to the general structure
of the lafiguage do not strike me as " very different " —
hardly as different at all. Euripides, with allowance for
Greek, and Milton, with allowance for English, seem to me
pretty close prosodically. Homer and Clough are very far
apart, not because they use different feet, but because the
feet march together in one language and kick against each
other in the other.

For the rest, the old crux of individual tests tells
against Professor Gummere, with me. When a man can
find only four accents in

Which Jews might kiss and infidels adore,

I " look at him very sorrowfully," as an excellent story
has it ; and a heroic line with only two real stresses (I do
not think an example is given) appears to me a sort of
heroic cherub — possibly beautiful, but distinctly incomplete.

If enthusiasm and frank acknowledgment of indebted- Miss juiia
ness to authorities were sufficient to justify a book, Miss ^^^"^y-
Julia P. Dabney's ^ would be more than justified. It may
be added that she seems to have taken not a little trouble
to acquaint herself with modern writers on her subject, and
that though her knowledge of verse seems to be rather
more supplied by them than by the actual poets, it is not
so very small. Here, however, one fears, praise must stop.
Miss Dabney is hopelessly musical ; and her knowledge
of the history of her subject seems to begin surprisingly
late. She thinks that Coleridge " made a great discovery "
in basing verse on accent ; and she thinks that Mr. Sidney
Lanier's was, not only a brilliant, but the first deliberate,
attempt — the attempt of a " pioneer " — to use musical
notation. Now it is hardly necessary to say that, however
important Coleridge's practice may have been, his " dis-
covery " of principle (putting his expression of it quite
aside) was the discovery of a secret de Polichinelle, and
that Mr. Lanier " pioneered " a path as beaten as the
Appian Way, and built a bridge as new as the Pont Neuf.

' The Musical Basis of English Verse, London and New York, 1901.



Miss Dabney's original propositions, when they cease to be
ingenuously romantic (" In the beginning, out of the mists
of Time, hand in hand came those two sisters of Art,
Music and Verse," etc.), are too often something more than
questionable. Verse is " purely a matter of vibration " ;
so one supposes that a " Veedee vibrator " might with
advantage replace the antiquated lyre and shell, if not the
poet himself Octosyllabics (" 2/4 verse," as she calls them,
which suggests gloves) have " the least internal music "
of any metre (hear it ! Comus and // Penseroso ; hear it !
ye " Lines to A. L." and The Ring given to Venus).
Common measure is " the feeblest of all vehicles for poetic
expression." And this feeble vehicle carried poets of the
seventeenth century to the heart of the rose of the seventh
Heaven of Poetry ! One is afraid that Miss Dabney's
book, like the Rake's play, " will not doe."
Professor I am afraid I can say nothing complimentary of

Professor Mark H. Liddell's hitroduction to the Scientific
Study of English Poetry (1902). It is written with that
complacent confidence (Lord Melbourne would have used
a more familiar phrase) which is frequently connoted by
the use of the words " science " and " scientific " ; and, as
that use also prepares one to find, it is in the main a
XeiTovp^'ia to the great goddess Terminology, whom the
unkind sometimes call Jargon. Mr. Liddell is as con-
temptuous of accents as of feet — of feet as of accents.
" Thought -moments," " attention -stresses," "normal con-
comitants of ideation " — these are what he offers us. He
is, I believe, a good scholar in Middle English ; but he
shows little knowledge of English poetry as a whole, and
(which is no doubt of less importance) less of the history
of prosodic inquiry. In fact, though he is not an
accentualist, he is a stress-man, which means that almost
entire anarchy is substituted for an at least apparent
constitution. Lastly, Mr. Liddell is given to obiter dicta,
which are dangerously subject to " retorsion." " Chaucer
and Horace had never heard such a speech as we put
into their mouths." I am for once inclined to be a
stress-man, and to italicise that " we." For I am pretty


certain that Mr. Liddell does not know, any more than
I do myself, how Chaucer pronounced, and I do not beHeve
that any one has any but a very faint idea of the pro-
nunciation of Horace. This, no doubt, is outside the
main matter ; but on that main matter I should say that
Mr. Liddell is always outside. His system is a rhetorical-
philosophical fifth wheel to a coach of prosody which
unfortunately lacks the other four. I do not think it will
travel far.

I can speak with much more approval, though not with Professor
very much more agreement, of Professor Charlton M. '^*'^'
Lewis's Foreign Sources of English Versification (i 898) and
Principles of English Verse (1906). Here there is much
learning and a scholarly manner, while a great many
of the separate observations are true and sound. Un-
fortunately the old evil of insufficient ear, and the almost
equally old one of wandering away from the sound foot-
system after will-o'-the-wisps of " stress " and " rhythm "
(Professor Lewis does keep himself from such more
fantastic idols as " tone-colour "), prevent complete satis-
faction. He thinks, for instance, not merely that the
iambic lines of Christabel are associable with the anapaestic
ones, but that they are individually homogeneous ; and
that the differences of name (anapaestic, trochaic, iambic,
etc.) are " due to the inadequacy of the system." It is
just the other way. His system is self-condemned of
inadequacy when, for instance, it judges a passage (already
quoted by Mr. Omond) —

The house dog moans and the beams crack,

to be the satne, in pronounced rhythm, as

The house dog moans and the beams are cracked.

The two are equivalent, and adjustable to each other in a
common scheme ; but they are as far as possible from
being identical, and, as Coleridge himself showed, even the
adjustment requires care, lest confusion of rhythmical
basis result. Each could, in fact, be fitted with com-
panions which would make perfectly different rhythm-totals.
Professor Lewis, however, does not wholly reject feet or


their traditional names, though he has some curious ideas
about their qualities ; and he is duly, if not quite dis-
tinguishingly ^ regardful of time. He seems to me, if I may
say so without offence, to have begun theorising and
" researching " a little too early, and before he had im-
pressed the poetic facts sufficiently on ear and brain.

There remains a considerable number of American
books and articles, some of which are actually by my side
or upon my shelves as I write, and more of which I have
read and annotated, but which space, and other considera-
tions already referred to, make it impossible for me to
notice in detail. The great increase of " post-graduate "
study, and of subsidiary courses, in the American Uni-
versities, and the extensive adoption of the system of thesis-
monographs, have naturally contributed to this produc-
tion, and will contribute. A few books and writers should
probably be at least mentioned. The bibliography and sum-
maries in Professors Gayley and Scott's Introdjiction to the
Methods and Materials of Literary Criticism (Boston, i 899)
— ^a book the value of which has been again and again
acknowledged by those who have used it during the last
ten years — cannot be too highly praised ; and each of its
authors has done independent work on the subject — of
which I may specially refer to Professor Scott's paper
on " The Most Fundamental Differentia between Poetry
and Prose." Professor W. H. Browne (to whom I am
indebted for courteous review of my own work, and even
more courteous private communications) wrote, as long
ago as I 890, a paper on the " Structure of English Verse,"
which he has, I believe, followed up with others. He is a
stave-man with strong views of his own on other points ;
but I think we could establish a Concordat. Professor
J. W. Bright, who contributed in 1901 a paper on " Gram-
matical Ictus in English Verse " to the Furnivall Birthday
Miscellany, has, it seems, made quite a school ; but I do
not find clear guidance in his work as to hoiv I am to
" approximate the exaltation of the poet," though I most
heartily agree in the desirableness of doing so as far as it
can be done. Professor Corson's Primer of English Verse


has been already noticed ; as may be now a long series
of works on ^Esthetics by Professor G. L. Raymond.
Lastly, two very useful books, English Verse (1903), and
An hitroductioii to Poetry (i 909), by Professor R. M. Alden,
contain — the first, a large collection of examples and a
good deal of precept ; the second, an expansion of the
precept, with considerable summary and discussion of
preceding prosodists. I wish I could agree with Professor
Alden that " recent writers have seemed to tend more and
more towards agreement on certain substantial principles."
But he has himself collected opinions with care, and has not
seldom criticised them with acuteness. I refer elsewhere ^
to what I think a shortcoming of his in reference to a phrase
of my own ; but to multiply such things is impossible.

1 V. inf. App. II.


There is perhaps not less real arrogance than there is
apparent humility in the famous description of the relations
of the man who begins a book and the man who finishes
it, as being those of scholar and tutor. For my part I
should be satisfied, and more than satisfied, if the reader
of these three volumes has been made by them scholar
enough to tutor me in some respects. I have undertaken
no task, and I desire for myself no credit, but that of
setting out, in fairly orderly fashion, the procession — the
pageant, if the word be not hacked to death — the
pilgrimage of the life of English poetry, in its formal
manifestations, from the time when, as English poetry,
it began to exist. I have indeed tried to make this not
a mere chronicle or a mere tabular conspectus, but a real
history, written from that uniting point of view which
every real history must have. But I have endeavoured
also — and I hope I have succeeded in doing it — to
prevent my point of view from getting in the way of my
readers' vision. Mitford and Guest, practically the only
English writers who have ever tried, even partially, to do
the same thing, did, I think, especially in the last case,
commit this error ; and even if they had not, I have over
them the illegitimate advantage of seeing two, if not
three, stages further than Mitford, one, if not two, stages

Online LibraryGeorge SaintsburyA history of English prosody from the twelfth century to the present day (Volume 3) → online text (page 44 of 50)