Page images

marians; though, indeed, it is always difficult, and sometimes scarcely possible, to deliver the precepts of an art, without the terms by which the peculiar ideas of that art are expressed, and which had not been invented but because the language already in use was insufficient. If, therefore, I shall sometimes seem obscure, it may be imputed to this voluntary interdiction, and to a desire of avoiding that offence which is always given by unusual words.

The heroick measure of the English language may be properly considered as pure or mixed. It is pure when the accent rests upon every second syllable through the whole line.

Courage uncertain dangers may abate,
But whó can bear th' appróach of certain fáte.

Here love his golden shafts employs, here lights
His constant lámp, and wáves bis púrple wings,
Reigns here, and revels ; not in the bought smile
Of hárlots, lóveless, jóyless, únendéar'd. MILTON.

. The accent may be observed, in the second line of Dryden, and the second and fourth of Milton, to repose upon every second syllable.

The repetition of this sound or percussion at equal times, is the most complete harmony of which a single verse is capable, and should therefore be exactly kept in distichs, and generally in the last line of a paragraph, that the ear may rest without any sense of imperfection.

But, to preserve the series of sounds untransposed in a long composition, is not only very difficult, but tiresome and disgusting ; for we are soon wearied with the perpetual recurrence of the same cadence. Necessity has therefore enforced the mixed measure, in which some variation of the accents is allowed ; this, though it always injures the harmony of the line, considered by itself, yet compensates the loss by relieving us from the continual tyranny of the same sound, and makes us more sensible of the harmony of the pure measure.

Of these mixed numbers every poet affords us innumerable instances, and Milton seldom has two puré lines together, as will appear if any of his paragraphs be read with attention merely to the musick.

Thus at their shady lodge arriv’d, both stood,
Both turn'd, and under open sky ador'd
The God that made both sky, air, carth, and heav'n,
Which they beheld; the moon's resplendent globe,
And starry pole : thou also mad st the night,
Maker omnipotent! and thou the day,
Which we in our appointed work employ'd
Have finish’d, happy in our mutual help,
And mutual love, the crown of all our bliss,
Ordain’d by thee; and this delicious place,
For us too large; where thy abundance wants
Partakers, and uncrop'd falls to the ground;
But thou hast promis'd from us two a race
To fill the earth, who shall with us extol
Thy goodness infinite, both when we wake,
And when we seek, as now, thy gift of sleep.

In this passage it will be at first observed, that all the lines are not equally harmonious, and upon a nearer examination it will be found that only the fifth and ninth lines are regular, and the rest are more or less licentious with respect to the accent. In some the accent is equally upon two syllables together, and in both strong. As

Thus at their shady lodge arriv’d, both stood,
Both turn'd, and under open sky ador'd

The God that made both sky, air, earth, and heav'n. In others the accent is equally upon two syllables, but upon

both weak.

a race

To fill the earth, who shall with us extol
Thy goodness infinite, both when we wake,

And when we seek, as now, thy gift of sleep. In the first pair of syllables the accent may deviate from the rigour of exactness, without any unpleasing diminution of harmony, as may be observed in the lines already cited, and more remarkably in this,

Thou also mad'st the night, Maker omnipotent! and thou the day. But, excepting in the first pair of syllables, which may be considered as arbitrary, a poet who, not having the invention or knowledge of Milton, has more need to allure his audience by musical cadences, should seldom suffer more than one aberration from the rule in any single verse.

There are two lines in this passage more remarkably unharmonious:

-This delicious place,
For us too large; cohere thy abundance wants
Partakers, and uncrop'd falls to the ground.

Here the third pair of syllables in the first, and fourth pair in the second verse, have their accents retrograde or inverted; the first syllable being strong or acute, and the second weak. The detriment which the measure suffers by this inversion of the accents is sometimes less perceptible, when the verses are carried one into another, but is remarkably striking in this place, where the vicious verse concludes a period, and is yet more offensive in rhyme, when we regularly attend to the flow of every single line. This will appear by reading a couplet in which Cowley, an author not sufficiently studious of harmony, has committed the same fault.

his harmless life
Does with substantial blessedness abound,
And the soft wings of peace cover him round.

In these the law of metre is very grossly violated by mingling combinations of sound directly opposite to each other, as Milton expresses in his sonnet, by committing short and long, and setting one part of the measure at variance with the rest. The ancients, who had a language more capable of variety than ours, had two kinds of verse, the Iambick, consisting of short and long syllables alternately, from which our heroick measure is derived, and Trochaick, consisting in a like alternation of long and short. These were considered as opposites, and conveyed the contrary images of speed and slowness; to confound them, therefore, as in these lines, is to devi. ate from the established practice. But where the senses are to judge, authority is not necessary, the ear is sufficient to detect dissonance, nor should I have sought auxiliaries on such an occasion against any name but that of Milton.

NUMB. 87. TUESDAY, January 15, 1751.

Intidus, iracundus, iners, rinosus, amator,
Nemo adeo ferus est, ut non mitescere possit,
Si modo culturæ patientem commodet aurem.


The slave to envy, anger, wine, or love,
The wretch of sloth, its excellence shall prove ;
Fierceness itself shall hear its rage away,
When list’ning calmly to th' instructive lay. FRANCIS.

That few things are so liberally bestowed, or squandered with so little effect, as good advice, has been generally observed; and many sage positions have been advanced concerning the reasons of this complaint, and the means of removing it. It is indeed an important and noble enquiry, for little would be wanting to the happiness of life, if every man could conform to the right as soon as he was shewn it.

This perverse neglect of the most salutary precepts, and stubborn resistance of the most pathetick persuasion, is usually imputed to him by whom the counsel is received, and we often hear it mentioned as a sign of hopeless depravity, that though good advice was given, it has wrought no reformation.

Others, who imagine themselves to have quicker

[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »