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-although, in ordinary circumstances, it may have a less agreeable effect in some places of the line than in others.
These four modifications of its normal structure are what, along with the artistic distribution of the pauses and cadences, principally give its variety, freedom, and life to our Heroic verse. They are what the intermixture of dactyls and spondees is to the Greek or Latin Hexameter. They are none of them of the nature of what is properly denominated a poetic licence, which is not a modification but a violation of the rule, permissible only upon rare occasions, and altogether anarchical and destructive when too frequently committed. The first three of our four modifications are taken advantage of habitually and incessantly by every writer of verse in the language; and the fourth, to a greater or less extent, at least by nearly all our blank verse poets.
So much cannot be said for another form of verse (if it is to be so called) which has also been supposed to be found in Shakespeare; that, namely, in which a line, evidently perfect both at the beginning and the end, wants a syllable in the middle. Such, for instance, is the well-known line in Measure for Measure, i 2, as it stands in the First Folio,
- Than the soft myrtle. But man, proud man.” Here, it will be observed, we have not a hemistich (by which we mean any portion of a verse perfect so far as it extends, whether it be the commencing or concluding portion), but something which professes to be a complete
The present is not merely a truncated line of nine syllables, or one where the defect consists in the want of either the first or the last syllable; the defect here would not be cured by any addition to either the beginning or the end of the line; the syllable that is wanting is in the middle.
The existing text of the Plays presents us with a con.
siderable number of verses of this description. In many of these, in all probability, the text is corrupt; the wanting syllable, not being absolutely indispensable to the sense, has been dropt out in the copying or setting up by some one (a common case) not much alive to the demands of the prosody. The only other solution of the difficulty that has been offered is, that we have a substitute for the omitted syllable in a pause by which the reading of the line is to be broken. This notion appears to have received the sanction of Coleridge. But I cannot think that he had fully considered the matter. It is certain that in no verse of Coleridge's own does any mere pause ever perform the function which would thus be assigned to it. Nor is any such principle recognized in any other English verse, modern or ancient, of which we have a text that can be absolutely relied upon. It is needless to observe that both in Shakespeare and in all our other writers of verse we have abundance of lines broken by pauses of all lengths without any such effect being thereby produced as is here assumed. If the pause be really equivalent to a syllable, how happens it that it is not so in every case ? But that it should be so in any case is a doctrine to which I should have the greatest difficulty in reconciling myself. How is it possible by any length of pause to bring anything like rhythm out of the above quoted words,
“Than the soft myrtle. But man, proud man”? If this be verse, there is nothing that may not be so designated.
I should be inclined to say, that, wherever there seems to be no reason for suspecting the loss of a syllable, we ought in a case of this sort to regard the words as making not one line, but two hemistichs, or truncated lines. Thus, the passage in Measure for Measure would stand
6 Merciful heaven! Thou rather, with thy sharp and sulphurous bolt,
Splitt'st the unwedgeable and gnarled oak
This is nothing more than what has been done with the words “Merciful heaven!” which all the modern editors print as a hemistich, but which both in the First Folio and in all the others is made to form a line with the words that immediately precede; thus ;
“Nothing but thunder : Mercifull heauen.” What mainly gives its character to the English Heroic line is its being poised upon the tenth syllable. It is by this, as well as by the number of feet, that its rhythm or musical flow is distinguished, for instance, from that of what is called the Alexandrine, or line of twelve syllables, the characteristic of which is that the pressure is upon the sixth and the twelfth. Without this twelve syllables will no more make an Alexandrine than they will a common Heroic line. There are in fact many Heroic lines consisting of twelve syllables, but still, nevertheless, resting upon the tenth.
It follows that generally in this kind of verse the tenth syllable will be strongly accented. That is the normal form of the line. When there is rhyme, the consonance is always in the tenth syllable. As, however, in dancing (which is a kind of visible verse,-the poetry of motion, as it has been called), or in architecture (which is another kind, and may be styled the visible poetry of repose), the pressure upon that which really sustains is sometimes sought to be concealed, or converted into the semblance of its opposite, and the limb or the pillar made to appear to be rather drawn towards the ground than resting upon it, so in word-poetry too we have occasionally the exhibition of a similar feat. Instead of a strongly accented syllable, one taking only a very slight accent, or none at
all, is made to fill the tenth place. One form, indeed, of this peculiarity of structure is extremely common, and is resorted to by all our poets as often for mere convenience as for any higher purpose, that, namely, in which the weak tenth syllable is the termination of a word of which the syllable having the accent has already done duty in its proper place in the preceding foot. It is in this way that, both in our blank and in our rhymed verse, the large classes of words ending in -ing, -ness, -ment, -y, etc., and accented on the antepenultimate, are made available in concluding so many lines. The same thing happens when we have at the end of the line a short or unaccented monosyllable which either coalesces like an enclitic with the preceding word or at least belongs to the same clause of the expression ; as in Beaumont and Fletcher's “By my dead father's soul, you stir not, Sir!”
(Humorous Lieutenant, ii. 2); or,
“And yields all thanks to me for that dear care
(King and No King, ii.). But another case is more remarkable.
This is when the weak or unaccented tenth syllable is neither the final syllable of a word the accented syllable of which has already done service in the preceding foot, nor in any way a part of the same clause of the expression to which that foot belongs, but a separate monosyllabic word, frequently one, such as and, but, if, or, of, even the, or a, or an, among the slightest and most rapidly uttered in the language, and belonging syntactically and in natural utterance to the succeeding line. We may be said to have the strongest or most illustrious exemplifications of this mode of versifying in the “ Labitur ripa, Jove non probante, u
-xorius amnis," and other similar exhibitions of " linked sweetness" in
Horace, Pindar, and the Greek dramatists in their choral passages (if we may accept the common arrangement),– to say nothing of sundry modern imitations in the same bold style, even in our own vernacular, which need not be quoted. Such a construction of verse, however, when it does not go the length of actually cutting a word in two, is in perfect accordance with the principles of our English prosodical system; for, besides that the and, or, of, or if is not really a slighter syllable than the termination -ty or -ly, for instance, which is so frequently found in the same position, these and other similar monosylla bles are constantly recognized, under the second of the above laws of modification, as virtually accented for the purposes of the verse in other places of the line. Still when a syllable so slight meets 'us in the place where the normal, natural, and customary rhythm demands the greatest pressure, the effect is always somewhat startling. This unexpectedness of effect, indeed, may be regarded as in many cases the end aimed at, and that which prompts or recommends the construction in question. And it does undoubtedly produce a certain variety and liveliness. It is fittest, therefore, for the lighter kinds of poetry. It is only there that it can without impropriety be made a characteristic of the verse. It partakes too much of the nature of a trick or a deception to be employed except sparingly in poetry of the manliest or most massive order. Yet there too it may be introduced now and then with the happiest effect, more especially in the drama, where variety and vivacity of style are so much more requisite than rhythmical fulness or roundness, and the form of dialogue, always demanding a natural ease and freedom, will justify even irregularities and audacities of expression which might be rejected by the more stately march of epic composition. It has something of the same bounding life which Ulysses describes Diomed as showing in “the manner of his gait”: