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Poetic Licences and Dialects.
The limits of these papers will not allow us to go particularly into the subject of poetic licences, which belong to this part of our subject. It is, therefore, only necessary to remark, that in every language in which metre has been framed (even in the Hebrew, though there it cannot be so accurately traced,) minstrels have taken liberties with the vernacular idiom, verbal, grammatical, and constructive; which, while they would be barbarous in speech, are yet graceful in song.
The Greeks had the range of all their native dialects for ornamental use, as well as the choice of one for the staple of their verse. The delicate sprinkling of antiquated words over Virgil's pure and high latinity, gives an unspeakable charm to an occasional line; and Lucretius lays more powerful hold upon the imagination itself by this spell, than his cold philosophical theme, in its didactic passages, could have achieved without the aid of something so exquisitely venerable.
The modern Italians have a poetic dialect so distinct from that of prose, that it may be said of the twain that they are neither the same, nor yet unlike, as sisters well may be.” What is remarkable in this musical speech (every sentence of which might be delivered in recitativo), and which is so jealous of the slightest harshness, that every consonant is guarded by a vowel, - is the circumstance, that those very vowels which give fulness and volubility to
prose, are frequently excluded to enrich and ennoble verse with the strength of consonants.
French metre admits peculiar privileges in scanning, and requires certain reciprocities in rhyming (the alternation of what are called masculine and feminine endings), which sufficiently distinguish it from other compositions, written or spoken. But the delicacies of verse in this subtle and volatile tongue, are with such difficulty apprehended by foreigners, that few regard them otherwise than as real insipidities. Take a specimen from Boileau :
Sophocle enfin, donnant l'essor à son génie,
L'Art poëtique, Chant iii. The rhymes of the first two couplets are so utterly French, that an English tongue can scarcely touch or an English ear arrest them; the measure, too, is equally serpentine and slippery, being no sooner perceived in one undulation of cadence than, when you think yourself sure of catching it, it lapses into another. The last couplet, alone, is easily legible and intelligible to strangers in rhyme and accentuation. Herein, probably, I betray my own ignorance, but I believe that my countrymen in general (familiar as bad French has become in their mouths, and evasive as good is to their ears,) would bear me out in the statement, as matter of fact in respect to themselves. In Spanish there are niceties of rhythm, rhyme,
and corresponding terminations, neither quite rhyme nor altogether blank, which render that language one of the most pliant and effective for the utterance of poetic conceptions in almost every imaginable form of metre. No wonder that, with such plastic materials, Lopez de Vega poured forth his millions of lines as readily as melted metal may be run into all manner of moulds.
The German, if it have not equal grace with some of its contemporaries of classical descent, has more comprehensiveness, and can express with enviable facility the different cadences of quantity and of accent, with either rhyme or blank endings.
Our English poetry has not assumed any extraordinary prerogative in modifying words to meet its exigences, or the caprices of its professors. One only of the latter, Spenser, has dared to frame an almost arbitrary vocabulary, varying the diction of his “Faerie Queene” from that of his “Shepheard's Calender,” and again in his minor pieces employing a dialect between the ruggedness of the latter, and the romantic stateliness of the former. But Spenser was one of the masters of the lyre, and if he lengthened and abridged the strings, or added to their number, according to his fancy, it was to produce harmony otherwise unattainable, and to give others, less adventurous than he, scope as well as courage to follow him into the heights and depths of our noble language, which has never yet, perhaps, been essayed through the whole compass of its scale. To suit the rhyme, the cadence, the length or the euphony of his lines, he adopted old words, or new, added or curtailed
syllables, varied terminations, violated syntax, and wrote the larger portion of his imperishable, though for ever unpopular (since his own age), compositions in what, without consummate art and management, would have very much resembled the “ Babylonish Dialect" of Butler's hero,
“ A party-colour's dress
His ninth eclogue begins thus:
66 Diggon Davie ! I bid her good day;
Or Diggon her is, or I mis-say.
Her was her, while it was day-light,
Surely this is neither Welsh nor English; nothing in Chaucer is more uncouth. I need not quote from the “ Faerie Queene," having given a stanza in former paper. The quaint yet sweet, the homely yet venerable style in which it is composed, has become well known; less, indeed, from the original than from the numerous imitations of it, especially Thomson's 66 Castle of Indolence;" a structure of genuine talent, certainly not piled when that “bard, more fat than bard beseems,” was, where he delighted to be, on the spot itself, though so witchingly framed for voluptuous
ease, that the reader is ready to lie down under its influence, — not, however, to sleep.
The language (shall I call it ?) of our northern neighbours, in which so much popular poetry has been preserved, and so much more compiled of late years, has the same peculiar character as Spenser's; namely, that it is fluctuating, not fixed; a conventional, not an actual, language. Its basis was, undoubtedly, a national dialect now nearly obsolete; but its superstructure consists of vulgar idioms, and its embellishments of pure English phrases. Hence, as it is written (for I confine these strictures to its written forms), this admired “Scotch” is an arbitrary system of terms, only remotely akin; and its force and elegance depend principally on the skill with which each particular author combines its constituent parts, to make a common chord of its triple tones. That style, therefore, may, in general, be pronounced the most harmonious and perfect, in which the national dialect is the key-note, while the vulgar and the English (like the third and fifth in music) are subordinate. This flexible and untameable tongue-which the Doric muse, when she fled from Greece, might have invented for herself, while learning the old Erse, among the mountains and glens of Caledonia, -has also a minor scale, of touching tenderness, as well as a major, of spirit-stirring strength.
Burns, “ the glory” of his country, or “the