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through the whole to deride the immoderate affectation of this over-rated beauty, with which some modern poetasters are so completely dazzled. On the whole, the specimens produced, though perhaps as good as any of the kind extant in our language, serve to evince rather how little than how much can be done in this way, and how great scope there is here for the fancy to influence the judgment.
But there are other subjects beside sound, to which language is capable of bearing some resemblance. Time and motion, for example, or whatever can admit the epithets of quick and slow, is capable in some degree of being imitated by speech. In language there are long and short syllables, one of the former being equal or nearly equal to two of the latter. As these may be variously combined in a sentence, and syllables of either kind may be made more or less to predominate, the sentence may be rendered by the sound more or less expressive of celerity or tardiness. And though even here the power of speech seems to be much limited, there being but two degrees in syllables, whereas the natural degrees of quickness or slowness in motion or action may be infinitely varied, yet, on this subject, the imitative power of articulate sound seems to be greater and more distinctive than on any other. This appears to particular advantage in verse, when, without violating the rules of prosody, a greater or a less number of syllables is made to suit the time. Take the following example from Milton,
In this passage the third line, though consisting of ten syllables, is, by means of two anapests, pronounced, without hurting the measure, in the same time with an iambic line of eight syllables, and therefore well adapted in sound to the airy diversion he is describing. At the same time it must be owned, that some languages have in this particular a remarkable superiority over others. In English, the iambic verse, which is the commonest, admits here and there the insertion of a spondee, for protracting, or of an anapest, as in the example quoted, for quickening the expression t.
But, in my opinion, Greek and Latin have here an advantage, at least in their heroic measure, over all modern tongues. Accordingly Homer'and Virgil furnish us with some excellent specimens in this way. But that we may know what our own tongue and metre is capable of effecting, let us recur to our own po
* L'Allegro. + Perhaps the feet employed in ancient poetry, are not in strict propriety applicable to the measures adopted by the English prosody. It is not my business at present to enter into this curious ques. tion. It suffices that I think there is a rhythmus in our verse plainly discernible by the ear, and which, as it at least bears some analogy to the Greek and Latin feet, makes this application of their names sufficiently intelligible.
ets, and first of all to the celebra ed translator of the Grecian bard. I have made choice of him the rather as he was perfectly sensible of this beauty in the original, which he copied, and endeavoured, as much as the materials he had to work upon would permit him, to exhibit it in his version. Let us take for an example the punishment of Sisyphus in the other world, a passage which had on this very account been much admired in Homer by all the critics both ancient and modern.
Up the high hill he heaves a huge round stone;
I In Greek thus,
Λααν ανω ωθεόκε ποι λοφον-
OD. In Latin verse, Vida, in his Art of Poetry, hath well exemplified this beauty, from his great master Virgil.
Ille autem membris, ac mole ignavius ingens
Here not only the frequency of the spondees, but the difficulty of forming the elisions; above all, the spondee in the fifth foot of the second line, instead of a dactyl, greatly retard the motion. For the contrary expression of speed,
Si se forte cava extulerit mala vipera terra,
Ferte citi flammas, date tela, repellite pestem. Here every thing concurs to accelerate the motion, the number of dactyls, no elision, no diphthong, no concurrence of consonants,
Of vivacity as depending on the choice of words.
It is remarkable that Homer (though greatly preferable to his translator in both) hath succeeded best in describing the fall of the stone, Pope, in relating how it was heaved up the hill. The success of the English poet here is not to be ascribed entirely to the length of the syllables, but partly to another cause, to be explained afterwards.
I own I do not approve the expedient which this admirable versifier hath used, of introducing an Alexandrine line for expressing rapidity. I entirely agree with Johnson *, that this kind of measure is rather stately than swift ; yet our poet hath assigned this last quality as the reason of his choice, 6 I was too sen
sible,” says he in the margin,“ of the beauty of this, " not to endeavour to imitate it, though unsuccessful“ ly. I have therefore thrown it into the swiftness of
an Alexandrine, to make it of a more proportionable “ number of syllables with the Greek.” Ay, but to resemble in length is one thing, and to resemble in swiftness is another. The difference lies here : In Greek, an hexameter verse, whereof all the feet save one are dactyls, though it hath several syllables more, is pronounced in the same time with an hexameter verse, whereof all the feet save one are spondees, and is therefore a just emblem of velocity ; that is, of mov
unless where a long syllable is necessary, and even there the consonants of easy pronunciation.
* Rambler, No. 92.
ing a great way in a short time. Whereas the Alexandrine line, as it consists of more syllables than the common English heroic, requires proportionably more time to the pronunciation. For this reason the same author, in another work, has, I think, with better success, made choice of this very measure, to exhibit
A needless Alexandrine ends the song,
It deserves our notice, that in this couplet he seems to give it as his opinion of the Alexandrine, that it is a dull and tardy measure. Yet, as if there were no end of his inconsistency on this subject, he introduceth a line of the same kind a little after in the same piece, to represent uncommon speed :
Not so when swift Camilla scours the plain,
A most wonderful and peculiar felicity in this measure to be alike adapted to imitate the opposite qualities of swiftness and slowness. Such contradictions would almost tempt one to suspect, that this species of resemblance is imaginary altogether. Indeed, the fitness of the Alexandrine to express, in a certain degree, the last of these qualities, may be allowed, and is easily accounted for. But no one would ever have dreamt of its fitness for the first, who had not been misled by