Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

ear.

constitutes the difference between verse and prose. Verse, I think, may be defined as a species of composition, in which the arrangement of words is subject to certain precise fules; and the ear, as Lord Kaims observes, must be appealed to, as the proper judge for deciding upon the effects produced by these rules. By what mark then does the ear distinguish verse from prose? The proper and satisfactory answer, according to his Lordship, is, that “ these make different impressions upon every one who hath an

:” “ This advances us,” says he, “ one step iş our enquiry.” Now I own I cannot perceive that the smallest advance is made in the enquiry by this answer. Verse and prose are allowed to be dif, ferent kinds of composition distinguishable by the

The question is, By what criterion the ear ascertains the distinction between them; and we are told it is by the different impressions madę upon it. Bụt the question itself implies, that dif, ferent impressions are made upon

that
organ;

and it is the nature of this difference only that needs to be explained: but, in answer to the enquiry respecting that point, we are gravely informed, that we have advanced one step in our enquiry, by be, ing assured that their certaịnly is a difference. This is one instance out of a thousand which might be adduced of the pompous inanity of Lord Kaims's modę of writing ; his Lordship’s critical talents, however, have been held in such high and general estimation, that I know not well to whom I can appeal as an

authority

ear.

authority upon this occasion, in order to corroborate my own sentiments, excepting the celebrated Abbé Winckleman; and he indeed speaks in much more contemptuous terms than I choose to adopt of the whole performance. The proper answer to the question feems to be, that the èar distinguishes verse from prose by its uniformity; for though it may be capable of considerable variety in some respects, yet in others, as it is subject to fixed rules, it must be easily distinguishable by the regular recurrence of those peculiarities of found which must result from their operation : for I think none of the various modes of Versification in use amongst us is so loose and irregular, as not to be very diftinguishable from prose according to this criterion, even by an indifferent ear. in short, the essential difference between verse and profe confifts in the measure; for if we admit such performances as Telemaque or Fingal into the class of poems, how is it possible to draw any precise line between these two species of composition ?

In order to preserve fome degree of method in the remaining part of this Essay, I shall first offer some remarks upon

the different kinds of Versification of which our language and poetry are susceptible; and, 2dly, I shall add a few reflections respecting the merit or demerit of the most celebrated English poets as to this fundamental excellence of that divine art. Of all the different kinds of verse known in English poetry, blank verse is undoubtedly entitled to be first mentioned as first in dignity and importance. Voltaire has observed, that blank verfe is of fo loose a texture, that it costs nothing but the trouble of writing ; upon which account he feems to intend to represent it as scarcely worth the trouble of reading, or as far inferior at least to French heroic verse, which consisting of four regular anapelts, and admitting little or no variation of pauses, accents, or arrangement, is consequently of much more difficult construction; but this difficulty surmounted, he pretends, is the source of great delight to every reader of taste; a strange criterion, indeed, by which to judge of the comparative merit of these two different kinds of Versification. If that mode of composition, which is most difficult in itself, be upon that account most pleasing, our greatest poets ought no doubt to have retired into“ fome peaceful province of acrostic land.”

lila blank

“ There they might wings display, and altars raise,

“ And torture one poor word ten thousand ways.” It is certainly true that blank verse is very easy to write; but for this reason it is as certain, thať it is the more difficult to excel in writing it. Such blank verse as Monf. de Voltaire himself has given us a specimen of is, no doubi, to do hin justice, truly contemptible: but if Mons. de Voltaire had been competently qualified to criticize upon English poetry, he would have known that the

blank verse of Milton, and Shakespeare is, of all the various measures practised among us, thai which is most difficult of imitation. Blank verse has fo near an affinity to profe, that it requires the most consummate skill and judgment in the arrangement of the periods, as well as the utmost force and elevation of language to preserve the distinction between them. But when the requisite proportion of skill and genius is exerted, and that degree of perfection attained, which genius, conducted by application, never fails to reach, the wonderful effects. of this species of poetical composition become fully apparent ; and we admire the Verfification of the “ Paradise Lost," not because Milton has furmounted great difficulties, for this alone is a very weak foundation for applause, but because he has attained to positive beauties of the most exquisite kind. Doubtless, that egregious blockhead who took the trouble to translate the Iliad, and in each of the twenty-four books omitted some one letter of the alphabet, surmounted a difficulty of great magnitude ; but is he therefore the subject of our admiration or derision ? The truth is, that the conquest of difficulties is never a fource of pleasure, at least to men of refinement, except some purpose either of use or beauty is accomplished by it; but, when any such purpose is effected, the emotion of wonder excited by the removal of the difficulty, agrecably to the laws of association, blends itfelf with the emotion of ateein or admiration excited by the contempla

tion

1

tion of utility or beauty; and the complex emos tion acquires by this conjunction a high degree of force and vigour. Thus our admiration of the Miltonic Versification, which is in itself exquisitely beautiful, is very much heightened byourknowledge of the extreme difficulty of succeeding in that measure; but the difficulty of writing French he: roic verse does not at all induce us to admire the Versification of the Henriade, which is in itself destitute of beauty, being tame, languid, and mo: notonous. But if it should now be asked, What are those exquisite beauties of which blank verse is fusceptible, and for which it is so much celebrated, I think we may reply in a few words, that they are majesty, melody, and variety. I should far exceed the limits of my paper, were I to pretend to enlarge upon these heads. A hint or two is all that an essayist, who attempts flight fketches only, and leaves to more elaborate artists the praise of finished productions, can be expected to offer. The first characteristic of blank verse then, as it appears in the productions of Milton and Shakespeare, is “ májelty.” I do not think that eveñi the hexameter of the ancients pofseffes this property in an equal degree. The hexameter is no doubt a very noble poetical measure, but it does not seem capable of that long continued

pomp of sound of which we have fo many examples in our great poets. There are hexameter verses which will be found fuperior perhaps to any single lines or periods in the

Paradise

« ПредишнаНапред »