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2. "What are the principal metres in which our best poets have written? Give instances of each."
The following reply is compiled from Latham on the English Language. See, also, the more accessible English Grammar of the same author.
The number of the English measures is five, of which two are dissyllabic, and three trisyllabic.
Taking a to represent an accented syllable, and x an unaccented one, a x, and x a, are the dissyllabic measures. Similarly, the trisyllabic measures are symbolised by a x x, x a x, x x a, and the five measures stand thus:
1. a x; as tyrant, stupid Dissyllabic.
2. xa; as presume, deter
3. a x x; as merrily, angrily
4. xa x;
as disable, preferring Trisyllabic. 5. x x a; as refugee, cavalier
Until the above simple mode of classification was suggested by Dr. Latham, the usual names of the measures as they stand, were, Trochees, Iambies, Daetyls, Amphibrachs, and Anapests, in imitation of classical feet; in which application accents in English are made to correspond with quantity in the classical tongues.
The measure x a enters more largely than any other into English verse. Four measures of x a, or xa x 4, constitute Octosyllabic Metre, as,
"Could tell by sine and tangent straight,
If bread or butter wanted weight."
The "Lay of the Last Minstrel," and other poems of Scott, and Byron's "Giaour," are in the same metre.
1. Common Octosyllabics is the name of such couplets as the above specimens.
2. Elegiac Octosyllabics are like the preceding, except that alternate lines rhyme and the verses are arranged in stanzas; Tennyson uses it.
3. Signs of x a X 3, with alternate rhymes, constitute Gay's Stanzas; as,
"When o'er the white wave stooping,
His floating corpse she spied;
Then, like a lily drooping,
She bowed her head and died."
Ballad, by Gay, in " What-do'ye-call-it.”
4. Octosyllabic Triplets are formed of three rhymes in succession, usually arranged in stanzas; as, "Then shall, with universal dread, The sacred mystic book be read, To try the living and the dead."
Day of Judgment, by Roscommon.
Tennyson employs the same metre.
5. Blank Verse consists of x a X 5 without rhyme. Milton, Shakspeare, Young, and Cowper, use this.
6. Heroic Couplets are formed of x a X 5 with pairs of rhymes. This is the common metre for didactic, narrative, and descriptive poetry.
""Tis hard to say if greater want of skill
Essay on Criticism.-Pope.
Chaucer, Denham, Dryden, Waller, Cowper, Goldsmith, Byron, Moore, Shelley, and most of our poets, afford specimens of this metre.
Heroic Triplets consist of formula x a X 5 with three rhymes in succession, arranged in stanzas, same
as preceding, except that three rhymes, instead of two, come in succession.
8. Elegiacs (x a x 5), of which Gray's Elegy is an exquisite specimen.
9. Spenserian Stanza: it consists of eight lines of heroics, closed by an Alexandrine, which is xa x 6. The "Faery Queen" of Spencer, and Byron's "Child Harold," &c.
10. Service Metre (x a × 7) Common Measure, or, Long Measure. See Psalms.
11. Ballad Metre, as, "Chevy Chase," ""Edwin and Angelina," &c. The other English metres are numerous, but few of them are named. Ottava Rima, and, Terza Rima, are borrowed from the Italian.
See Latham's English Grammar, second edition. Guest's History of Metres, and some observations of Coleridge prefixed to his Christabel.
1. "Mention any books that you conceive to have had a greater influence than others upon our language."
Wickliffe's English Writings, and especially his translation of the Scriptures, contributed, in no mean degree, to promote the progress of the English language. Chaucer's Poetry exhibits a polish and harmony to which none of his predecessors can lay claim. likewise augmented his native vocabulary by the introduction of numerous foreign words. The sermons, translations, and other compositions of our great reformers and their contemporaries, improved the character of our language for literary permanence and consistency. Latimer, Fox, Tyndal, Coverdale, Ascham, and More, deserve honourable mention on this score.
The poetry of Spencer, when divested of its antique orthography, evidences still further improvement in the language. The transcendant genius of Shakspeare finally relieved our language and literature from disparaging contrast with those which had attained an earlier maturity. Ben Jonson, Massinger, Beaumont, Fletcher, Hooker, Bacon, Raleigh, Selden, Usher, Jeremy Taylor, and a host of others: each in the department to which his genius prompted him, signalized the period between Elizabeth and the Commonwealth, added to the copiousness and grace of our language, and secured a European reputation for our literature. The succeeding century is illustrated by a perfect galaxy of brilliant names, to each of whom our language and literature is, in some way, indebted. Waller added to the smoothness and refinement of English poetic diction; Milton immortalized our literature, and took rank with the greatest poets of all time; Dryden shone in varied but equally happy styles of composition; the quaint Fuller added to our prose a vast fund of pithy good sense and sagacity; Izaac Walton followed in a similar track of quaint fancies and wise thoughts; Barrow took first rank among profound yet popular theological writers; Tillotson, Stillingfleet, Sherlock, South, Wilkins, Pearson, Burnet, Bunyan, and many more were equally successful in similar literary labours. Sir William Temple has the reputation of being one of the chief polishers of the English language; Johnson said of him that he was the first writer who gave cadence to English prose. His compositions are of a miscellaneous kind, chiefly essays. Prior, Addison, Swift, Pope, Gay, Congreve, Steel, Defoe, Thomson, Young, Johnson, Grey, Goldsmith, and a host of almost equally illustrious names, introduce us to refined and classic English, such as no contemporary can aspire to excel.
2. "Give some account of the life and writings of any of these writers, viz., Chaucer, Shakspeare, Bacon, Milton, Hooker, Addison, Samuel Johnson, Cowper, Walter Scott."
A fair reply to this query would occupy many pages, and the matter can be obtained through many accessible channels. It is therefore left unanswered.