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

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our business to deny — that Scott has rarely the full
poetical quality of the intenser poets. That his metrical
quality is " poor " simply cannot be asserted, except on
some very curious calculus. Indeed the remarks which
accompanied the utterance referred to showed that the
speaker was under the domination of a musical heresy of

' " Are these the Links of Forth," she said,
" Or are they the Crooks of Dee,
Or the bonnie woods of Warroch Head,
That I so fain would see ? "
2 Sir John Stirling Maxwell at the Scott dinner in Edinburgh, 27th
November 190S.


confusion.^ He had, it would seem, too much non-poetical
music in his head, as Scott had too little. And so his
remarks, like all remarks of the kind, are profitable for
reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness,
not indeed directly, but indirectly, because they show us
what to avoid and how it was not avoided. Nay, the
mention of " bars " in the context settles the matter.
" Bewar the Bar" should be the motto of the prosodists,
no matter what distinguished family may claim it.

The position which Moore occupies in prosodic history Special reia-

1 , . , /- . 1 • ^ i.- J tion of Moore's

is almost unique ; and for us extremely mterestmg and prosody to
important. In so far as he ranges in line with poets in music.
general (and it may be observed in passing that the
attempt to belittle him as a poet is a curious piece of
" Philistinism reversed ") he need not occupy us very
much. He is thoroughly up to all metres that he uses,
from blank verse and couplet through narrative stanza to
lyric ; and, as almost everybody knows, his command of
triple time — a phrase used with malice here — is excep-
tionally deft and complete, whether in the more senti-
mental use of it, or in those admirable satiric measures of
his which give the heartiest artistic satisfaction to readers
quite on the other side of political thinking. Poets of
Irish blood or birth have almost always been good
metrists ; and Moore is no exception to the rule. But by
his time it was more of a peculiarity for a poet not to be
at least a tolerable metrist than to be one ; and except in
his lighter verse there is no such distinction about Moore
in pure prosody that we need dwell much on him.

But there is something more to be said. Of all modern
English poets he has written the most and the best songs
directly to and for music ; and of all English poets he was —
unless I mistake — the most thoroughly practical musician.
There is a fine but distinct difference between him and,
for instance. Burns in this respect. I suppose Burns sang,
as most Scotsmen did and some still do; but I do not

1 Sir John thought it " generally agreed that the basis of British metre is
the bar, exactly as in music." I venture to interject " Nie pozwalam !" for
my part ; and I do not think I shall find myself in a minority of one.


remember any evidence that he composed or studied
music, or even understood it technically. He had a
marvellous faculty of suiting his words to well - known
popular airs, and that was all ; though it was enough, and
more than enough. In fact, as is also well known and
has been noted, in a large number of perhaps his best
songs he started from the old words or parts of them.

But Moore for the most part wrote words to airs
which had no words, or none in English, or quite different
ones ; he often seems to have modified the existing
musical schemes, and he not seldom composed or recom-
posed his music. In fact he, and almost he alone, seems
to have been what the musical prosodists would have all
poets to be — a person who was " bilingual " — who could
express himself indifferently in notes and in words, or in
the two blended.

The results of this were double ; and though he him-
self recognised the fact clearly and has stated frankly one
side of them, this fact has been very little studied, and its
main lesson hardly learnt at all. Only the good side
presents itself in some of his most famous and, I dare
say, beautiful things, " When in death," " I saw from the
beach," " Oft in the stilly Night," where the prosodic and
the musical music are each perfect in its way, and each
perfectly accommodated to the way of the other. But
there is a second class ^ where this caimot be said — where
the prosodic music, though no doubt accommodated to
the musical, is accommodated in its own despite to its
own loss, and in fact occasionally to its temporary de-
struction. Not that Moore ever, or save very rarely,
condescends to the vulgar error of " committing short and
long," of laying a musical stress on a syllable that will
not prosodically bear it, or straining the already large
tolerance of English " common-ness " by slurring a syllable
unflinchingly long. But he does do something else which

' It may almost be said that there is a third — where the music necessitates
prosodic arrangements, unobjectionable in themselves, but not strictly accord-
ing to prosodic rule. Of such is that "Shijning on: | shining on," to
which I referred in vol. i. p. 403 note, thereby drawing down the (I think
mistaken) disapproval of a friendly American critic.


is prosodically wicked, or, rather, prosodically impossible,
and what that is we must point out.

Take, for instance, the favourite, or once favoured, The lesson
" Eveleen's Bower." That melodious and (as Moorish ?,*"" ^"^'""^"^

^ Bower. '

morality goes) most moral ditty is apparently couched in
a very simple metre, anapaestic sizains with i, 2, 4, and 5
monometric, and 3 and 6 dimetric. But in reading it
prosodically one becomes conscious of some awkward
jolts arising from syllables which are really extra-metrical,
and therefore, according to the views of this book,
utlagatae, though one may sometimes wink at them as at
other outlaws. Such is the last line of the first stanza :

And wept behind the clouds o'er the maiden's shame.
Here the prosodic stanza has no use for that " the " —
cannot away with it — cannot smuggle it by any hideous
compound of amphibrachs or amphimacers. The third of
the second —

And Heaven smiled again with her vestal flame,

may, though grudgingly, be allowed the benefit of that
monosyllabic pronunciation of " Heav'n " which Gascoigne
blessed and Mitford banned ; but it is prosodically ugly.
And the whole of the rest of this stanza ^ is the same ; for
in 4 you must either make " will " long, which is out of
place, or allow a four-syllable foot ; you must grant
the tetrasyllable, anyhow, in 5. "Many a" can be
escamoted in stanza three ; ^ but the stumble of the extra
syllable returns in the finale."

Now, I know that there are people who will accuse me
of prosodic prudery for objecting to these extra syllables.
I can only say that I think I have shown that English

1 But none will see the day.
When the clouds shall pass away,
Which that dark hour left upon Eveleen's fame.
^ And many a deep print.
^ But there's a light above
Which alone can remove
That stain upon the snow of fair Eveleen's fame.
Of course you can get out of the difficulty by splitting the lines and couplets
violently, making some parts wholly dissyllabic in basis (as " But none | will
see I the day ") and others mixed. But this is uglier still. (Compare the
line quoted from "The Eve of St. John " above, and note the difference.)


poetry could do without them, and had done without them
from Chaucer to Coleridge. I do not see why what was
good enough for them should not be good enough for
Tommy Moore, though I have, as I have said, not the
least contempt for the said Thomas, but a good deal for
those who contemn him, and though I am by no means
excommunicating tetrasyllable feet as such and in saecula.

But the thing recovers toleration, and much more than
toleration, in virtue of the lesson it gives us, that though
there undoubtedly is, and should be, a concordat between
music and prosody, the terms of that concordat must
rigidly exclude dictation by the former to the latter, and
still more rigidly attempts to arrange the latter in terms
of the former. They have large subjects over which they
can jointly rule, large fields which they can jointly
cultivate with pleasure and profit to everybody concerned.
But each has its proper districts in which the other can
only intrude, or even permit itself to be invited, to its
own loss, and not improbably to the loss of both. The
astounding tricks which the musical prosodists play with
blank verse ; and the frank admission of some of them
that blank verse is not, to their thinking, poetry at all ;
and the practical impossibility of " setting " it without
entirely denaturalising it, illustrate this fact on the one
side. " Eveleen's Bower " and the " Portuguese " air
words ^ illustrate it on the other.

Nor would Thomas — sive " Moore " viavult, sive
"Little" sive "Brown Junior" — have had the very
slightest difficulty in setting this prosodic crookedness
straight had he chosen to do so. But he did not choose.
And, as any one may see who will hum either the actual

1 I do not mean "Flow on, thou shining River," which is perfectly regular,
but "Should those | fond hopes | e'er for|sake thee," to which Moore, with
his usual good-natured frankness, has appended the note : " This is one of the
many instances among my lyrical poems, though the above, it must be owned,
is an extreme case, where the metre has been necessarily sacrificed to the
structure of the air." As a matter of fact the base of the lines varies irrecon-
cilably : witness the opening line given above ; the next —

Which now | so sweet |ly thy heart | employ ;
and the last —

On our thresh lold a wellcome still found.


air or any one that he makes up for himself to the words,
they come musically all right. But this does not make
them right prosodically.^ What it does do is to indicate
and illustrate, with inestimable power of search-light, the
gap that here lies between the two. It does more : it
explains to us at once how the Steeles and people of that
sort, going on musical principles, make prosodic " pie " of
poetry that is all right in itself. No musical light above
can remove the prosodic stigma on Eveleen ; but one can
only be thankful that this light above has so helpfully
revealed to us what it has."

The prosody of Landor ought to occupy a more con- Landor : his
siderable place in studies of him than has generally been pj^g^^y^
given to it ; but it does not require very much space in a
history of the special subject. Some light is cast upon
it — and like a grateful thing it returns the benefit to the
giver — by his well-known statement that poetry was an
amusement to him, but that his real efforts were bestowed
upon prose ; and in studying it one understands still
better that extraordinary and at first sight puzzling
absence of difference between his prose and his verse.
The great Landorian phrase is indeed common to both ;
but it is rather more copiously bestowed upon prose.
While, as if with intent to make amends, though in a
doubtful fashion, he seems sometimes to have aimed, in
verse itself, at that almost negative perfection — that
comparative featurelessness — which is no doubt a charm
in certain prose, though not specially in his. The
narrative blank verse of Gebir and other things, the
dramatic blank verse of the " Acts and Scenes " and the
verse-dialogues, his usual decasyllabic couplets, and his
octosyllables like "Damoetas and Ida," are almost faultless;
but if their faultlessness is saved from being uninteresting,
it is chiefly by imagery and phrase. Although he does

' That is to say, they are "words," not poetry; song-thralls, not the
freemen of the Muse.

2 I would not be thought to denounce such things as the beautiful
At the mid-hour of night when stars are weeping I fly.
The rhythm, though unusually managed, comes all right here as a five-foot
anaprest, and does not require any " shake" or " twiddle."


himself some injustice by asserting, in one of his later
writings, that he had been turned from the study of the
eighteenth -century poets by Milton, and had afterwards
been able to listen to nobody else, there is no doubt too
much Miltonic echo in these larger pieces. Yet Milton
never fails to make his form eloquent. Apologists may
talk of " impersonality," " classical restraint," and anything
else. The fact remains that the bulk of Landor's longer
poems too much resembles in form — and it is in that
respect alone that we are speaking of them — a very
perfect school exercise, a collection of glorified Newdigates.
That of his It is not SO with his shorter pieces. Even the blank

"epigrams." yersc introductory lines to the Collection of 1846 contain
verse with more idiosyncrasy in it than the " pale and
noble " staple of their larger forerunners ; and the mote-
like myriads of epigrams, in the wide sense, that follow,
derive sometimes the greater part, and almost always
something, of their admitted charm from the fingering of
the measure. Certainly this is the case with the two
peaks of his poetry, " Rose Aylmer " and " Dirce," where-
with, as it were with a right and left shot, he has revived
some of the best cadence of the Caroline " common " and
" long " measure. In fact Landor has a most singular
resemblance to Ben Jonson^ in the fashion in which each
has assimilated the nature of the ancient epigram — its
singular pellucidity, and the closeness and cleanness of
form which accompanies pellucidity naturally enough.
Only in the Greek Anthology and in these two English
writers, perhaps, can be found things so perfectly
resembling the dewdrop, the sunlit icicle, the tide-washed
cornelian, and the jewels which art has more or less
successfully modelled on these three natural examples
of the combined qualities, with colour added or withheld.
The devices adopted are of course not new ; they could
not well be, and Landor would have been suspicious of

' There is even a more special resemblance between " Rose Aylmer" and
" Drink to me only," in that the former, as has recently been pointed out, is
almost a mosaic, not merely of thought, but of solid phrase taken from this
and that poet, even such an unlikely one as Beattie. Here also the "added
charm," of special poetic handling in composition, is the source of the beauty.


them if they had borne a novel appearance. But they
are magisterially applied, as, for instance, this sudden
shortening of outline, which must have displeased his
good contemporary Crowe.^

Pleasure ! why thus desert the heart

In its spring tide ?
I could have seen her — I could part,

And but have sighed.
O'er every youthful charm to stray —

To gaze, to touch . . .
Pleasure ! why take so much away.

Or give so much ?

A trifle, perhaps ; but it will not be easy to beat this
trifle in appropriateness and beauty of prosodic form.

One is tempted to linger among these far too little
known gems, such as the thoroughly Elizabethan —

I hope, indeed, ere long,^

and many another of the " lanthe " poems. I think he
made a mistake when in " St. Charles Borromeo " ^ he
cut the quatrain in a fashion different from Tennyson's
cutting, putting a four-syllable line in the second place and
a six in the fourth. The other way would have been all
right. And I may venture, not for the first time, to point
to the verse in Dry Sticks, apparently written not much
before the date (1858) of that volume, as an example of
" faultless " handling that is not devoid of idiosyncrasy :

'Tis pleasant to behold

The little leaves unfold
Day after day, still pouting at the Sun ;

Until at last they dare

Lay their pure bosoms bare —
Of all these flowers I know the sweetest one.

If the last line is not quite equal to the rest, it is not for
prosodic reasons ; and the whole is almost a text for

1 Vide inf. chapter on Prosodists in this book.
- IVorks, ed. 1876, vol. viii. p. 2, No. xxxiii.

•^ Saint, beyond all in glory who surround
The throne above !
Thy placid brow no thorn blood -dropping crowned,
No grief came o'er thy love. — Ibid. p. 213.





pointing out what, without splash or curvet, zigzag or
explosion, perfect and distinct prosodic adjustment can
do for little more than ordinary things. While for handling
of the famous " sevens " of the seventeenth century " The
Three Roses " ^ is not easy to beat.

The only other poet in the proper sense, of the special
half- generation, whose verse demands notice here, is
Campbell ; for Rogers (who was older than any of the
persons mentioned as yet in this chapter) deserves, partly
owing to that age, no special criticism in it. The once
famous Pleasures of Memory are inferior Goldsmith ;
Italy and the rest are of that mediocre blank verse which
is not so much " crippled " as " watered " prose ; and the
octosyllabics which he wrote after the popularity of Scott
and Byron, are not very different from the least good
examples of Scott. The criticism which has been cited
above as inapplicable to Scott as a whole applies to
Rogers as a whole : his verses obey the rule of regularity
in number of syllables, and have little else to recommend
them. The century in which he had been born had
taught him this regularity ; the century in which he
spent the longer portion of his long life taught him
nothing more.

Rogers was thus a Janus of the worse face only :
Campbell kept both. His couplet - poems, from the
respectable Pleasures of Hope to the illegible Theodric
and the unread Pilgrim of Glencoe, may be classed, from
one point of view, with those of Rogers. The Spenserians
of Gertrude of Wyoming are among the least successful
effects in that great metre made by any poet who has
elsewhere done really good things. But his lyrics are in
quite a different case. When the deadening hand of the
long poem — for Campbell seems to have been not merely
a slow, but a positively lazy writer — and the obsession of
regular metres was off him, he became another man.
The rough vigour of the version of " Hybrias the Cretan "
contrasts strongly, but most satisfactorily on either side.

^ When the buds began to burst, etc.

Ibid. p. 285


with the languor, almost as of an eighteenth -century
Tennyson (if anybody can frame that idea ^), of the
" Fragment from Alcman." The anapaests of " Lochiel "
furnish forth some splendid and famous lines, but they
have not always shaken off the rocking-horse movement,
which is less, though sometimes, present, in the beautiful
but much less well-known lines " Written on Visiting a
Scene in Argyllshire," and, after the first splendid stanza,
infests the " Soldier's Dream," while it has " The Wounded
Hussar " for an almost unrescued prey. Many of the
minor poems are not uninteresting prosodically ; but,
after all, Campbell's three most famous things are, as is
not always the case, his best prosodic tests.

" Hohenlinden " comes out triumphantly. In fact the
prosody is more than half this battle — the close-knit
triplets with the similar but separated refrain -fourth
line, the imperfect rhymes on almost though not quite
assonanced word-values," are prosodic or nothing. " The
Battle of the Baltic " is more ambitious, and at its best
even finer ; but its structure is more artificial, and the
artifice does not always " come off." The tapering of
the anapaestic scheme to the single foot line at the end
is very bold indeed, and perhaps issues a perilous invitation
to burlesque ; ^ but it is not easy to conceive anything
better suited to the subject. While " Ye Mariners of
England " shows that Campbell had more than something
of the special skill of his countryman. Burns, at catching
up and perfecting old song-snatches.^

' It is one of the recompenses of the studj' of prosody that it brings many
such forms before the half-shut eye.

^ "Rapidly," "scenery," "revelry," "artillery," "rapidly" again,
"canopy," "sepulchre," in which Campbell was certainly thinking of
Dryden's rhyme, and reading " sepulchree." These cretic endings are the
very prosodic soul of the piece.

•^ We shall see that Holmes acknowledged suggestion from it for his best
comic-pathetic piece.

■• The pressure of space becomes uncomfortable here. There are many
isolated pieces of verse which can hardly be noticed in detail, such as the
extraordinarily pathetic cadence of Lamb's " The Old Familiar Faces " and
the astonishing r^ussite of Wolfe's " Burial of Sir John Moore." Fortunately
most of these are well known, and few are recondite in system. In both the
cases mentioned the redundant syllable, with its curious retroactive effect, is
the secret.


Mat Lewis. " Only one other poet," I said above, and it was in

the strict sense true ; but there is yet another writer of
verses who in this history cannot be wholly neglected,
and that is Matthew Gregory Lewis. Perhaps nothing
that he wrote deserves the name of poetry. But we
have indubitable testimony to the fact that, both by
precept and example, he was, at an early date and long
before the great work of the great school appeared, the
champion, both of exact versification in a good sense, and
of widened and strengthened versification as well. You
may laugh as much as you like at " Alonzo the Brave
and the Fair Imogene," but it is quite certain that the
pair showed the way to something like a new use of the
anapaest ; that Lewis was a perfect master of easy metre
years before Moore and decades before Praed and Barham ;
and that, in his time and place, he was really important
prosodically. He got his knack, beyond all doubt, from
his early German visits and studies — from Burger more
particularly perhaps, but by no means from Burger only.^
For there is no doubt that if Germany was doing us
some harm by hexameters, and rhymelessness, and other
follies, she had in her lyric, old and new, considerable
stores of refreshment and restoration for English at
this time.

^ The author of " Lenore " (as, for instance, in " Lenardo und Blandine '')
does not quite escape the tendency of the anaprest to cantering rather than
galloping motion ; but his inspiriting influence must have been great. In
fact, as is indeed natural, German poetry, carefully studied, is a very great
help to understanding English, though care is certainly needed. I do not
think that I have had any external help from modern literatures more important
than that which I have drawn from being familiar since very early years
with German poetry from Goethe to Heine, and from having more recently
extended my knowledge both backwards and forwards.



Leigh Hunt — Byron : his lyrics — His blank verse, etc. — His Spenser-
ians — -His serio-comic ottava — Digression on Frere — Byron's
adoption of it — Don Juan — Shelley — Undeliberateness of his
prosody — The " Juvenilia " — Queen Mab — His blank verse from
^/rtJ-/6'r onwards — His early Spenserians — Prince Athanase and
the tercet — Rosalifid a7id Helen : Shelley's octosyllables — Julian
and Maddalo : his heroics — Blank verse and other metres in
drama — Prometheus Ufibound — The Masque oj Autarchy, etc. —
The Witch oj Atlas and the octave — Epipsychidioti and Adonais
— The Triufnph oJ Lije, etc. — The smaller lyrics, etc. — Keats
— The early Poems — The Sonnets — Endytnion and Keats's first
couplet — The prosodic criticism in the Quarterly — Isabella and
his octave — Lamia and the improved co\x^\t.\.— Hyperion and
its blank verse — The Eve oJ St. Agnes and the Spenserian —
The various ode stanzas — La Belle Dame sa?is Merci and The
EveoJ St. Mark — The " Intermediates" — " L. E. L." — Haynes
Bayly — Macaulay — "The Last Buccaneer" — Praed — The
" Praed metre " — Hood — " The Haunted House " — His minor
poems — Darley and Beddoes.

It is not merely convenient, but almost necessary, to
make two batches of the throng of poets who illustrate
the years from 1798 to 1824. For not only would their
aggregation make a chapter enormous, in the strictest
sense of that rather misused word, but there is a distinct
cleavage between them — a cleavage, though produced

Online LibraryGeorge SaintsburyA history of English prosody from the twelfth century to the present day (Volume 3) → online text (page 8 of 50)