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forms of substances submitted to it, while there is, in his apprehension, an undefinable accession of knowledge possessed by others, which could only be communicated to him by the opening of his eyes, though what that phrase means, in reference to a fifth sense which he has not, he can no more conceive than we can of a sixth which does not exist.
The difference between the common reading and the scanning, according to the laws of prosody, of a Greek or Latin hexameter line (for example) is so great with modern scholars, that it is almost as difficult to imagine how these could have been rendered correspondent, so as to make the ancient pronunciation the same in prose and in verse (as it must have been, and as it is in every living tongue), - it is almost as difficult to imagine how this could have been, as how such light might be let in to the mind's eye of a man born blind, as would supply the lack of sight to his bodily eye, and enable him, without the latter, to distinguish colours, or even to conceive the idea of colour.
The different methods of pronouncing the learned languages, which obtain among scholars of different nations, according to the alphabetical sounds of their own, make them barbarians to one another when they would converse in Greek or Latin. Our countrymen, especially, must be nearly unintelligible to continentals, in much of their utterance of those very words, on the collocation of which all (in their peculiar way) dwell with rapture, and expatiate with eloquence. I speak of the general extravagant style of classical critics, - with which no other theme can
inspire them. Hence, however perfect in theory modern prosody may be, in practice it stumbles on the threshold; and it is perhaps a thousand years or more, since a line of Homer or Virgil has been repeated in the same manner as Virgil or Homer would have spoken it, - that is, with the sound which the one or the other had in his ear when he composed it. It is even a question, whether the most sonorous and magnificent period of Cicero could now be read so as the orator himself would have easily understood it.
This is an exceedingly curious and complex subject, and quite unfit to be discussed in a popular essay, were the writer himself confidently master of it, which he pretends not to be. It is, however, necessary to state, that, notwithstanding our doubts, or to speak plainly, our ignorance, of the manner in which Greek and Latin metres were recited, when a single line
an hexameter for instance might vary from thirteen to seventeen syllables, so that six consecutive lines might be of so many different lengths, while the minor changes are scarcely computable, - there yet is found among the relics of classical
whether read with the accents observed in prose, or according to the technical rules of metre, such accordance, strength, flexibility, and sweetness, in the combination and succession of sounds, that we feel, though we cannot tell how — we feel that there was a harmony, grace, and perfection in ancient numbers, which modern languages, in their best estate, have few capabilities of rivalling.
The incompetence of the latter may be traced, primarily, to the fact, that, with the exception of the German, none of the western and southern European dialects will sustain the length of an hexameter line; and, consequently, must fail in all the other modes of verse measured by a standard so delicate and variable as quantity. In English, syllabic quantity, and even accents, are so undefined, that, according to the taste of the writer, both may be ruled at pleasure, if he have but an ear, at once so experienced and sensitive, to modulate his cadences in such a manner that, by the flow of the preceding syllables, the reader shall be prepared to fall inevitably upon the precise rhythm which he had predetermined for the line. This, however, is so rarely achieved, that, in our anapæstic or dactylic verse (except in the most monotonous strains), it is scarcely possible for a good reader, even when the verse is good, to run through half a dozen couplets without stumbling half as many times. All attempts, therefore, to frame poems with our brief, unfettered, Saxon idioms, on the principles of those in the learned languages, must be hopeless. Men of the greatest skill have miscarried here; and I know not that success were desirable, since it could not be attained, except by enthralling with foreign fetters our free-born British speech.
Not having a modern example at hand, though the enterprise has been effected with as much good speed as our slippery tongue would allow, by Dr. Southey, — I shall offer a few lines of Sir Philip Sidney's, from a pastoral in his Arcadia ; a book once celebrated by all the wits and beauties of an age
of gallantry, though probably not read through by six of either class during the last half century:
" Lady, reserved by the heavens, to do pastors' companie
honour, Joyning your sweete voice to the rurall Muse of a desart, Here you fully do finde this strange operation of love, How to the woods Love runnes, as well as rides to the
palace; Neither he beares reverence to a prince, nor pity to a
beggar, But, like a point in the midst of a circle, is still of a
nearnesse ; All to a lesson he draws, neither hills nor caves can
These lines are not amiss; but who could survive an Iliad of them ? One great defect in our English tongue (heart of oak as it is in strength and toughness), is the paucity of spondees in its vocabulary. Without these, no hexameter can close well, or be well balanced in its progress. Under such a disability, our language becomes supple and languid in ancient metres, instead of elastic and rebounding to its natural tone, after the utmost flexure or tension which the laws of such labours require.
Modern Metres and Forms of Verse.
It is not needful, nor would it be expedient, to trouble the audience before me with any detailed account of the different species of verse in our own and other contemporary languages. Suffice it to say, that though quantity is not altogether discarded, it is
comparatively little employed in the construction of vernacular poetry. When happily managed, however, a slight infusion of it greatly enriches and ennobles some of our measures, especially in the hardy and intricate rhythm of blank verse; but it requires fine taste, and an imperial command of apt and confluent words, to venture far beyond the avoidance of crude elisions, such as make our beautiful English barbarous to the eye and horrid to the
Milton frequently innovates upon the high harmonies of his accented verse with the substitution of quanlities; sometimes difficult at first sight to master, but generally admirable in effect, and heightening, even when harshest, the majesty of his strains — like a momentary crash of discord, thrown, by the skilful organist, into the full tide of instrumental music, which gives intenser sweetness to what follows. Thus, when he represents Satan among his summoned legions,
“ Godlike shapes, and forms Excelling human, princely dignities,
And powers that erst in heaven sat on thrones,” he thus depicts their leader:
« He, above the rest,
Paradise Lost, book i. In this brief clause there are no less than four supernumerary syllables in so many successive lines, if