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

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determined this excursus (the reviewer of Vol. I. in the Literary
Supplement of The Times, June 29, 1906) intended to dispute
this. He bases his (partial) support of the trochee on the
trochaic diathesis (let me clear him of using the word) of our
ordinary speech, and on the large interspersion of trochees in
older (he admits they are not so common in modern) verse.
Now I think I should answer, in the first place, that, even if
we admit the first plea (which I hardly do), the rhythm of poetry
is pretty notoriously different from that of ordinary conver-
sation — it might almost be said that ^erwo-is, as opposed to
kvpl6t7j<s, is the beginning of poetry from one point of view.
But I should not lay much stress on this. In the second, I
should say that the very facts of the large sprinkling of trochaic
rhythm, and of its effectiveness, are occasioned by the other fact
that it is not the staple — and so is invaluable for variety. But
the reviewer's most dangerous and retorsible contention is, I think,
that "poets who are dominated by the theory that [the basis] is
iambic will make bad decasyllabic verses," which he supports by
referring to the badness or dulness of eighteenth-century verse.
Now I should not myself say that eighteenth-century verse was


either exactly bad or exactly dull. It was painfully limited; but
its limits arose, not from the notion of the iambic basis, but from
the notion that that basis was invariable. The trochee is the
most valuable variant — the anapaest itself being rather an extension
than a variation — and if you make it the basis you lack the
wisdom of that Frenchman who did not marry his mistress, lest
he should have no place where to spend his evenings.

Let me add that the admission of a trochaic basis would
bring with it the almost fatal inconvenience that the chief, if not
the only trisyllabic substitute, would be the dactyl. Anapaests
simply refuse, and tribrachs yield with doubtful grace. Now if
there is one thing settled by the enormous majority of competent
witnesses, of the most different prosodic complexions, from
Ascham to Mr. Swinburne, it is the danger and difificulty of the
dactyl in English.

Such (in addition to what has been said at the beginning of
this excursus) are some of the considerations which I should
offer to my critic. A full working out of the question would
require a monograph ; and the monograph, to make it complete,
would almost require a special boiling- down of these three



Something more was promised, in a slip-note of the last volume,
as to the development of the trisyllabic metres before their definite
establishment in the seventeenth century. As we saw, Gascoigne
was quite wrong when, thirty or forty years before the beginning
of that century, he limited (though with regret) English feet to the
iambic ; and there is no need to recapitulate the overwhelming
evidence of his mistake which was accumulated in Vol. I. But
it cannot be denied that the scanty presence of the trisyllabic
measure, as distinguished from the trisyllabic y^^/, in the abundant
production of Elizabethan lyric, is somewhat curious ; and that
the clog and hamper which beset such things as Cleveland's
" Mark Antony " and " Square-Cap," and as Waller's " Saraband "
verses, seem to require some explaining. The two first in
particular demand examination. " Mark Antony " is a curious
piece (or rather pair of pieces) which has shocked precisians,
because Cleveland chose to burlesque himself, very much as
Thackeray did in the "Willow Song" of Ottilia two centuries
later. Here is the first stanza of the serious part — the " Mock
Song " has nothing different for us :

When as | the \ night |ingale :| chanted | her : vespers,

And the | wild : for jester :| couched on ( the : ground,
Venus I inivijted me ;| in th' eve|ning ; whispers
Unto I a : fra|grant field :| with ro|ses ■ crowned,
Where she | before | had sent
My wijshes' : com | plement,
Unto I my ; heart's | content
Played with | me ; on | the green.
Never | Mark ; An | tony |
Dallied | more i wanjtonly ]
With the fair :| Egyp|tian \ Queen.

Now to modern ears and eyes the opening line suggests, and the
chorus or refrain (which is in every stanza) confirms, the trisyllabic
scansion represented by the dotted division. But the said ears
and eyes must, if they are at all sensitive, be soon " pulled up "



into dubiety as the dissyllabic (or straight division) alternative
occurs. And it may be further noticed that w/i//e every line,
without exceptum, adtni/s the latter without the slightest difficulty,
an actual majority of lines go better to it and rather ill to the other.
The last line of all, indeed, almost refuses a dactylic arrangement,

which would make Egyptian necessary, though " with the fair "
can go with either measure. Lines 3 and 4 go much better
iambically ; lines 5-8 at least as well; lines 9 and 10 hardly, if
at all, worse. And it is the same with the rest. For instance —

Wanting a glass to plait her ample tresses

is a most beautiful heroic line with redundance, but a very clumsy
dactylic or anapaestic dimeter ; while

Numbering of kisses arithmetic prove,

which may seem decisive one way, inclines rather the other when
one remembers that " arithmetic " has abundant, if not pre-
ponderant, authority and example at the time. Still the quatrain
in which it occurs and the three previous lines —

Mystical grammar of amorous glances,

Feeling of pulses, the physic of love,
Rhetorical courtings and musical dances,

are certainly more suggestive of a trisyllabic base than of any

This becomes undoubted in " Square-Cap," a pleasant variation
on the old " Phyllis and Flora " theme :

Come hither, Apollo's bouncing girl !

And in a whole Hippocrene of sherry,
Let's drink a round till our brains do whirl,
Tuning our pipes to make ourselves merry.
A Cambridge lass, Venus-like born of the froth
Of an old half-filled jug of barley broth,

She, she, is my mistress ; her suitors are many.
But she'll have a Square-Cap, if she have any.

There is, I say, no doubt about this, which is quite evidently
suggested by, and intended for, one of the many convivial tunes
in triple time. But how about the other ? Even if an exact tune
were discovered for it, it is evident that it would go — in parts —
very badly to that tune if it were generally triple. Now what is,
on the one hand the meaning, on the other the lesson, of
all this ?

Meaning and lesson, I think, come together in the supposition
that the poet was not clear, in his own head, what he was writing
or what he wanted to write. He had got — from music doubtless
— trisyllabic suggestions. But he had the habit of writing in

534 APPENDIX 111

dissyllabic measure, and he could not entirely get out of it — was
perpetually falling back into it, — and so, on the whole, produced
a muddle — a muddle which was itself to produce the beautiful
followings of Dryden (z'. sttp. ii. 373), but a muddle clearly.

On the other hand, there is no muddle about Waller's " Hylas
and Chloris " :

Hylas ! O Hylas ! why sit we mute.
Now that each bird saluteth the spring ?

And why ? Because the piece is avowedly written " to a
' Saraband,' " and the musical and prosodic music happen to
correspond so closely that there is no going wrong for a skilled
prosodist, who was probably also a not unskilled musician, like
Waller. But in 1645, from which this seems to date at latest, as
" Mark Antony " does from two years later, a definite musical
ga7'de'fou seems to have been required, to keep at least minor
poets straight.

And even so there is still noticeable, for a long time to come,
a certain absence of perfect freedom and ease. Waller does not
jumble and hybridise his metre as Cleveland does ; but he has
nothing like the triumphant sweep of " A Hundred Years Hence,"
or of the best things in Dryden — still less of the consummate
and well-bred ease of the metre in Prior. Nay more, he has not
got these qualities to even the same extent as the anonymous
authors of

My truest treasure so traitorly taken

Alas I that ever the speech was spoken

had it, so far back as the fifteenth, and probably the early
fifteenth, century, and as anybody has at least been able to have
it (if he chose and chooses) since Prior himself.

Now the reason of this is not very far to seek ; but it has been
too seldom recognised, and it is of the very greatest importance to
our inquiry. For it shows — in regular progress and exactly as it
ought to show — the passing of that eclipse of trisyllabic scansion
which was due to the breakdown of regular metrical rhythm in
the later fifteenth century. This eclipse weighs on the heavier
and duller eyes of the preceptists from Gascoigne to Bysshe ; but
the acuter organs of the poet pierce the penumbra and anticipate
the final emergence. Nor need there be the slightest hesitation
in recognising the part which music plays in couching the poetic
vision. The fact is that, though music can be quite dispensed
with by poets — as in the famous instances of Shelley and Scott —
it seldom or never does them much harm. Their Muse saves
them from any mistake of her for her little sister. Nor is that
sister really to blame for the blunders of the prosodists. For it is


not music so much as musical science, falsely so called — a very
different thing, — that deludes people like Steele and Lanier.
They flirt with the governess, not with the damsel : they ink
themselves with the symbols of crotchet and quaver, instead of
hstening to the sounds which those symbols translate or only
accompany. Let it be again and again rejjeated that the immense
and wonderful development of later Elizabethan and seventeenth-
century lyric can hardly be separated from the almost universal
practice of actual song — that vocal and instrumental music served
at once as solvent of the old impediments and as menstruum to
the new fluency. Some innocent preceptists of the musical school
have thought to get confessions out of the constant use of the
word " music " as applied to verse by critics, including the
present humble historian. There is, of course, nothing in the
slightest degree compromising in such use. Musical music and
poetical music — let it be repeated, if necessary, a thousand times —
are different things. They can live quite comfortably apart : they
can live happily and delightfully together. The very reason of
this possibility of delightful cohabitation is their difference ; and
to confound their laws and nature is to ignore the foundation
of their compatibility. But that music itself — music practical
— has sometimes helped prosody mightily, the subject of this
excursus proves.^

^ I do not think it necessary to enter into the controversy which has been
raised on the point whether anapaests and dactyls exempHfy ' ' duple "or " triple "
thne. It is a pretty clear example of the confusion produced by mixing two modes
of addressing the same lady. What anapcests and dactyls may be musically
concerns me not. Prosodically, whether continuous or used in substitution, they
are always " triple "= " divided into three parts." — As this book draws to an end,
I remember more and more points on which I should like to draw attention.
One of these, closely connected with the subjects of the present Appendix and of
No. VI., is the curious fragment of an English Song of Roland (Lansdowne
MSS. 388), printed in E. E.T.S. English Charlernagiie Romances, Part ii. (London,
1880. See also Ward, Catalogue of Romances, i. 631). It is in perhaps more
definite anapcestic-iambic dimeter couplets than anything else attributed to the
fifteenth century, and sometimes reminds one strikingly of Spenser's "Feb-
ruary," etc. {v. inf.).


RHYME, 1600-1900

One of the most favourite occupations of what I have called
" scholarship " — meeting in consequence with a mild protest
from some worthy ones at the inverted commas — is the tabling
of rhymes. This process indeed provides a very large part of
the monographs which, in Germany and elsewhere, obtain for the
monographers the title of Doctor. I have often wished to hear
Moliere on the subject — not, of course, that the study of rhyming
sounds, and of the letters which answer to those sounds, is at all
a ridiculous thing, but that it easily lends itself to ridiculous
treatment. We are very much obliged to the person, whoever
he was, who first drew attention to " Great Anna " and the
rhyme of " obey " and " tea " which occurs in her company. But
the precise number of times in which " love " and " dove "
occur coupled in the works of a given poet is a fact not very

Undoubtedly, however, it is an important part of prosodic
study to note rhymes which, usual at one time, are unusual at
another, rhymes exceptional even at their time, and those which,
apparently licentious, can be brought under some sort of rule.
On the whole the continuity of English, in the respects indicated
by rhyme, is extremely remarkable, and goes far to negative the
idea that, except in accent (where there certainly have been
considerable changes, introduced mainly, it would seem, between
the early fifteenth and mid-sixteenth centuries), there has been
any great alteration. But changes in accent there have been
undoubtedly, and there have been some remarkable changes in
vowel-value. These last, of course, are evidenced in rhyme, but
we must not mistake the evidence. It is rather easy to mistake
it in some cases.

For instance, I saw not long ago over, if not a signature,
initials of weight, the suggestion that Tennyson made " Cophetua "
rhyme to " say," because he had been taught to pronounce it
so. He had some peculiarities, but without positive evidence I


RHYME, 1600-1900 537

should be slow to believe this. No well-bred Englishman
ever was taught within the nineteenth century to call "Attila"
" Altilqy," or to address his sisters or his ladyloves as " BarbanTy,"
"Mariay," etc. Vulgarism — old probably as well as new — might
say "Attil^r," "Barbara/'," " Mari^^," and to avoid it precision
might exaggerate " Attila/;," " Barbara/?," " Maria-^ " ; but these
two last things equally reject the ay. Moreover, let us look back a
couple of hundred years, and we shall find Chamberlayne rhyming
his heroine alternately " Pharonniday " and " Pharonnidarc/ " (cf.
" bashaw " for " pasha," " la ! " pronounced " law ! " the inter-
changeableness of " Ha ! Ha ! " and " Haw ! Haw ! " etc.).

Let us shift examples of the problem before advancing a
solution. In an example cited in the text, from a fairly careful
writer, we find " ees " rhyming to " eace." Dryden himself
rhymes "traveller" indifferently, as if it were itself "traveWar"
and " traveWour." Words ending in "y," though purists object,
are notoriously equated by the very best poets to those which
terminate now in an / sound, now in an e. Extravagant liberties
like Pope's well-known "Satires" and "Dedicators" should
perhaps be excluded from consideration ; but it may be that
one key will unfasten the whole range of locks.

That key is not what some would make it — a picklock rather
than a key — the stigmatising of English generally as a language
of slur and confused vocalisation. (In ill-trained mouths it may
tend to be so, just as other languages in similar circumstances
tend to intolerable drawling, to headlong gabble, or to sharp and
yelping whines and cries.) The key is the observation and appli-
cation of a real law — the law that any letter, or cojnbination of
letters, may, for rhyming purposes, take in one word the sound that
it bears in another. Thus er in " Derby," " Cherwell," " clerk,"
has the sound of ar, and Dryden accordingly rhymes " travell^rj- "
to " starj." Ea in "break" and "great" itself has the simple a
sound ; and tea thus becomes a pair for " obey " — not because it
was regularly pronounced " tay," for it will be found with the ee
rhyme in Prior, great Anna's own servant, and a master of rhyme
as of rhythm. It is astonishing how many apparently loose
rhymes are regularised if this law is remembered. And it
evidently accounts for the " Cophetua " rhyme without necessi-
tating the gratuitous and, on the whole, improbable supposition
that Tennyson ever pronounced it " Cophetuoj'," whatever
Chamberlayne might have done.

In some other cases eccentric pronunciation is required to
account for rhyme. In Caroline poetry, for instance, we often
find "guess," and even other words of the same termination,
rhymed to " flesh " or " mesh." But then we know that "guesh "


is not merely a spoken but a written dialectic variation. The
eccentricities arising from the retention of French and Latin
accentuation, or even from that of French forms, require but a
little knowledge to prevent any surprise at them ; and, generally
speaking, it will be found, except in extreme and mostly deliberate
oddities such as those of Butler and Swift, that abnormality of
rhyme is more apparent than real.

On the other hand, the period sees — this very deliberation in
oddity is an evidence of it — a great advance in liberty of handling
rhyme. Chaucer himself had not been at all prudish in this
matter, as the "saveth" and " significavit " of the Prologue will
show. But Spenser's elaborate system of eye-rhymes, and the
extension of double or feminine rhymes from the great body of
words with a final valued e to others with short final syllables
of more substantial character, opened wide doors. Insensibly,
however, there grew up (or rather strengthened) the English
aversion to identical rhymes ; and though there never appeared
anything like the French system of masculine and feminine
alternation^ there is no doubt that, pretty, early, the advantage
to be obtained from the judicious intermixture of single and
double rhymes forced itself upon our poets. The pestilent
" rhyming dictionary " was sure to make its appearance before
long, and did so. But even this, though it could hardly have
anything but a bad effect on poetry, helped to record the actual
sound of rhymes at the time when the books were written.

To consider the effects of special dialectic or other preposses-
sions on the rhymes of individual poets would be for monographs
on these poets, not for the present History. But something on
the general subject of "assonance," or imperfect rhyme generally,
may be reasonably expected. The leading case of Mrs. Browning
has been sufficiently dealt with, and there it is quite clear that it
was one of partially and strangely defective ear. But recently
assonance proper — that is to say, correct vowel-rhyme unsup-
ported by consonants — has found defenders, some of whom have
been noticed in the text.

As to this, it seems superfluous to do more than repeat that,
up to the present day, English has been curiously and obstinately
rebel to this form of repeating sound. At the time when French
poetry had most original and constructive influence, that poetry
was very largely assonant ; but ours would have none, or next
to none of it ; the examples since have been few, and never
authoritative ; and to this hour I do not know a single poem of
any importance or any excellence in the kind. It seems to me
probable that this is due to the comparative absence of either
sharp or broad vowel-sounds in the English that became, and has

RHYME, 1600-1900 539

remained, standard and literary.^ We want the consonants to
enforce distinct similarity of sound. But the 8l6tl does not much
matter : the on remains.

There can be, on the whole, no question that, during these
three centuries, the importance of rhyme has been largely,
immensely, increased in English. The great position assumed by
rhymeless verse in the case of " blanks " does not at all militate
against this, for that position was secured almost entirely in the
semi-poetic province of the drama, and it has maintained itself,
outside the drama, only in narrative verse, and in things which
have a mono-dramatic or soliloquial quality. Recent attempts at
more varied dispensing with rhyme have, to speak frankly, been
either utter failures or more or less interesting fou?-s de force.
But a word or two may be said on the experiments in repeating
rhyme within the line.

So far as these are confined to middle and end — or in very long
compound lines to practically the two first thirds of the line and
the end — they have every justification, both historic and of the
result. This was the way rhyme actually arose in English : it
has right prescriptive. But internal rhyme, at other than these
natural pauses, stands on rather a different footing. Such a
debauch as Mr. Swinburne's famous " our sad, bad, glad, mad
brother" is, of course, half playful — a deliberate orgie — and I do
not know that Mr. Browning's end-jingles in dissyllabic feet are
very desirable, though Mr. Swinburne's trisyllabic ones could not
be spared. On the whole, rhyme should come at the end of

^ An illustration of what I mean will be found by comparing the standard and
literary transliterations of Indian names, Kurrachee, Mogul or Mogol, etc.,
with the new-fangled pedantries of Karachi, Mug-hal, etc. Another, from
another side, may be found in the somewhat greater assonantal tendency of Scots.

^ I may perhaps be permitted to express my gratification at the fact that the
Oxford Dictionary has, let us hope, put an end to that queer little pedantry of the
last twenty or thirty years, the proscription of " rhyme " and prescription of "rime."
Etymologically, as some people have alwa3's known, it is " fight dog, fight bear,"
with the odds on the good old dog ; for our word is pretty certainly not from the
A.S. rim at all, but from the French ri7ne, which is again pretty, if not quite, certainly
rhythmiis. From the point of view of literature and common sense it is enough to
say that "rime" in English is preoccupied by "hoar-frost," and that, if there is
one clear canon in the obscure business of spelling, it is that different meanings
of the same sound to the ear should, if possible, have different forms to the eye.



It does not seem necessary to follow the precedent of Vol. I.
so exactly as to give separate appendices to all the general pheno-
mena of English verse during the last three centuries which were
there handled. An appendix on Metre in particular would
merely summarise large parts of the last two volumes ; and what
has to be said generally about Feet has been given in the first of
the present batch, with a special bearing. On Alliteration and
Vowel- Music, however, there may be room for some general
remarks ; though, in regard to the latter head especially, they have
also been to no small extent anticipated.

The curious fates of alliteration in English are probably better
known than most fortunes prosodic. More than once banned, it
has never been banished ; you would have to bleed English " to
the white," and supply an entirely new transfusion of foreign
blood, before you got rid of it. The Elizabethans talked disdain-
fully of " hunting the letter," but hardly one of them really
abstained from it, and some revelled and wallowed in the practice.
The triumph of the stopped couplet represented a set of taste
adverse to it in a way ; yet the strong antithetic turn of this
positively favoured alliteration, and some of Dryden's weightiest
lines, some of those evidently "got with a greater gust," exhibit
it. Nay, it had such attraction for him that he not only used
twice ^ the line —

Drawn to the dregs of a democracy,

but had actually borrowed this line itself, and concentrated its
letter-hunting, from an earlier writer. Nor did Pope, who might
have seemed likely to disdain it, refrain from its use. But the

' Abs. and Ach. ^2.'2^ ; Hind ajid Panther, i. 212. The original, in that
Lacrymae Musarum for Lord Hastings, to which he had himself contributed, is :

It is decreed we must be drained, I see,
Down to the dregs of a democracy.



general principles of eighteenth-century poetry were averse to it
as a species of " false wit," and Bysshe bars it expressly.

I do not know that the first Romantic school can be said to
have made this one of the firmest notes of its reaction, though

Online LibraryGeorge SaintsburyA history of English prosody from the twelfth century to the present day (Volume 3) → online text (page 47 of 50)