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fourteen lines rather than any other number? I know not that the question can be better answered than by asking another, — Why should the height of a Corinthian column be ten diameters? The cestus of Venus must be of some particular length, both to fit and to adorn the person of the goddess : a handbreadth taken away would have left it scanty, and a hand-breadth superadded would have made it redundant. The quota of lines, and the arrangement of rhymes and pauses, already established in the regular sonnet, have been deemed, after the experience of five centuries, incapable of improvement by extension or reduction; while the form itself has been proved to be the most convenient and graceful that ever was invented, for disclosing, embellishing, and encompassing the noblest or the loveliest, the gayest or the gravest idea, that genius, in its happiest moments of rapture or of melancholy, could inspire. The employment of this form by the finest Italian poets, for expressing, with pathos and power irresistible, their selectest and purest conceptions, is an argument of fact against all speculative objections, in favour of the intrinsic excellence and unparalleled perfection of the sonnet.

Our contemporary, Mr. Wordsworth, (whatever may have been done before him,) has redeemed the English language from the opprobrium of not admitting the legitimate sonnet in its severest, as well as its most elegant, construction. The following, though according to the strictest precedents, and therefore the least agreeable to unaccustomed ears, is full of deep harmony, strong sentiment, and chastised, yet

impassioned, feeling. The Tyrolese, amidst their Alpine fastnesses, are represented as returning this lofty answer to the insulting demand of unconditional surrender to French invaders. If their own mountains had spoken, they could not have replied more majestically : —

“ The land we, from our fathers, had in trust,

And to our children will transmit, or die ;
This is our maxim, this our piety;
And God and Nature say that it is just :
That which we would perform in arms, we must!
We read the dictate in the Infant's eye,
In the Wife's smile ; and in the placid sky,
And at our feet, amid the silent dust
Of them that were before us. Sing aloud,
OLD SONGS — the precious music of the heart !
Give, herds and flocks, your voices to the wind,
While we go forth, a self-devoted crowd,
With weapons in the fearless hand, to assert
Our virtue, and to vindicate mankind,”

114

LECTURES ON POETRY.

No IV.

THE DICTION OF POETRY.

Alliterative English Verse.

English verse may be constructed according to three forms,—alliterative, with rhyme, or simply metrical (blank, as it is called).

66 Pierce Plowman's Vision," by William Langlande, who lived in the reigns of Edward III. and Richard II., and published his poem about the year 1350, is the largest specimen of alliterative poetry bequeathed to us from remote times. This kind of versification is founded upon Icelandic and AngloSaxon models; and neither depends for its effect upon the quantity of the syllables, their number, their particular accent, nor yet their rhyming terminations, but consists in an artful repetition of the same sounds, at least three times in each distich. The lines, likewise, have a certain slipshod cadence, with a marked cesura about the middle of each; and, on the whole, they read much more like Greek or Roman measures than any others in our language. A brief sample will be found not altogether unagreeable to modern ears. Much of Chaucer, on account of his lame metres, is harder to be read than the following:

“ Thus robèd in russet, I roamèd about,

All a summer-season, to seeke Do-wel,
And freyned * full oft, of folke that I mette,
If any wight wist where Do-wel was at inne ti
And what man he might be, of many I asked ;
Was never wight, as I went, that me wysh I could
Where this laddie lenged lesse or more,
Till it befel on a Fryday, two fryers I mette,
Maisters of the minours, men of greate wytte ;
I halsèd hem hendlye ||, as I had lernèd,
And prayèd hem for charitie, or they passed furthur,
If they knewe any courte or countrye as they went,
Where that Do-wel dwelleth, do me to wytte ,
For they be men on this moulde, that most wide walke,
And knowe countries and courtes, and many kinne's

places, Both princes' pallaces, and poore mennes cotes, And Do-wel and Do-evil, where they dwel both. - Amongst us,' quoth the minours, that man is

dwellinge, And ever hath, as I hope, and ever shall hereafter.' - Contra, quod I, as a clarke and cumsed to dis

puten, And said him sotheley, Septies in die cadit Justus,' • Seven sythes **,' said the Boke, synneth the right

full, And who so synneth, I say, doeth evil, as men thinketh, And Do-wel and Do-evil may not dwell together ;

* Enquired. + Dwelt. I Tell. 1 Saluted them kindly. To inform me.

§ Lived. ** Times.

Ergor bother who ghee, m

Ergo, he is not alway among you fryers,
He is other whyle elsewhere, to wyshen the people.'

• I shall say thee, my sonne,' said the fryer than, • How seven sythes, the sadde* man on a day syn

neth, By a forvisne ti' quod the fryer, • I shall thee faire

shewe; -Let bryng a man in a botte [ amid the brode water; The winde and the water the botte wagging Ø, Make a man many a time to fall and to stande; For stande he never so stiffe, he stumbleth if he move; And yet he is safe and sounde, and so him behoveth; For if he arise the rather, and raght to the steer, The winde would with the water the botte overthrow, And then were his life lost through latches of him

selfe. ||

Our elder poets often availed themselves of " apt alliteration's artful aid,” (as Churchill significantly calls it,) in their minor pieces:

“ The life is long, that lothsomely doth last,

The dolefull dayes draw slowly to their date ; The present panges and painfull plagues forepast, Yielde griefe aye greene to stablish this estate."

Anonymous.

Shakspeare has many fine touches of this poetical seasoning, which, indeed, is seldom otherwise than pleasing, when unobtrusively thrown in. If the vowel i be pronounced in the substantive "wind," as it is in the verb " to wind," the effect of the

• Sober. t A simile.

Rocking the boat.

# A boat. || By his own carelessness.

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