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Qur'adoucit la prudence; et cet air de droiture
Here the sense is fairly translated, the words are of equal power, and yet how inferior the melody!
Many attempts have been made to introduce Hex. ameter verse into the living languages, but without fuccess. The English language, I am inclined to think, is not susceptible of this melody : and my reasons are these. First, the polysyllables in Latin and Greek are finely diversified by long and short fyllables, a circumstance that qualifies them for the melody of Hexameter verse : ours are extremely ill qualified for that service, because they superabound in short fyllables. Secondly, the bulk of our monofyllables are arbitrary with regard to length, which is an unlucky circumstance in Hexameter : for although custom, as observed above, may render familiar a long or a short pronunciation of the same word, yet the mind wavering between the two sounds, cannot be so much affected with either, as with a word that hath always the same sound ; and for that reason, arbitrary sounds are ill fitted for a melody which is chiefly supported by quantity. In Latin and Greek Hexameter, invariable founds direct and ascertain the melody. English Hexameter would be destitute of melody, unless by artful pronunciation ; because of necessity the bulk of its founds must be arbitrary. The pronunciation is easy in a simple movement of alternate long and short fyllables ; but would be perplexing and unpleasant in the diversified movement of Hexame. ter verse.
Rhyme makes so great a figure in modern poetry, as to deserve a solemn trial. I have for that reason reserved it to be examined with deliberation ; in order to discover, if I can, its peculiar beauties, and its degree of merit. The first view of this subject leads naturally to the following reflection : “ That rhyme having no relation to sentiment, nor any effect upon the ear other than a mere jingle, ought to be banished all compositions of any dignity, as affording but a trifling and childish pleasure." It will also be observed, “ That a jingle of words hath in fome measa urc a ludicrous effect; witness the double rhymes of Hudibras, which contribute no small share to its drollery : that in a ferious work this ludicrous effect would be equally remarkable, were it not obscured by the prevailing gravity of the subject : that having however a constant tendency to give a ludicrous air to the composition, more than ordinary fire is requisite to support the dignity of the sentiments against such an undermining antagonist. *”
These arguments are specious, and have undoubt. edly some weight. Yet, on the other hand, it ought to be considered, that in modern tongues rhyme has become universal among men as well as children ; and that it cannot have such a currency without some foundation in human nature. In fact, it has been successfully employ'd by poets of genius, in their,fcrious and grave compositions, as well as in those which are more light and airy. Here in weighing authority against argument, the scales seem to be upon a level : and therefore, to come at any thing decisive, we must pierce a little deeper.
Music has great power over the foul ; and may successfully be employ'd to inflame or foothe paffions,
* Vossius, De poemainm cantu, p. 26. says, “ Nihil æque gravitati orationis aflicit, quam in fono ludere lyllabarum."
if not actually to raise them. A single sound, however sweet, is not music ; but a single sound, repeated after intervals, may have the effect to rouse attention, and to keep the hearer awake : and a variety of similar founds fucceeding each other after regular intervals, must have a still stronger effect. This confideration is applicable to rhyme, which connects two verse-lines by making them close with two words similar in sound.
And considering attentively the musical effect of a couplet, we find, that it rouses the mind, and produceth an emotion moderately gay without dignity or elevation : like the murmuring of a brook gliding through pebbles, it calms the mind when perturbed, and gently raises it when sunk. These effects are scarce perceived when the whole poem is in rhyme ; but are extremely remarkable by contrast, in the couplets that close the several acts of our later tragedies : the tone of the mind is senfibly varied by them, from anguish, distress, or melancholy, to some degree of ease and alacrity, For the truth of this observation, I appeal to the speech of Jane Shore in the fourth act, when her doom was pronounced by Glo'ster ; to the speech of Lady Jane Gray at the end of the first act ; and to that of Calista, in the Fair Penitent, when she leaves the stage, about the middle of the third act. The speech of Alicia, at the close of the fourth act of Jane Shore, puts the matter beyond doubt : in a scene of deep distress, the rhymes which finish the act, produce a certain gaiety and chcerfulness, far from according with the tone of the passion :
Alicia. For ever? Oh! For ever!
No ; fince her fatal beauty was the canse
Having described, the best way I can, the impresfion that rhyme makes on the mind ; I proceed to examine whether there be any subjects to which rhyme is peculiarly adapted, and for what subjects it is improper. Grand and lofty subjects, which have a powerful influence, claim precedence in this inquiry. In the chapter of Grandeur and Sublimity it is established, that a grand or sublime object, inspires a warm enthusiastic emotion disdaining strict regularity and order ; which emotion is very different from that inspired by the moderately enlivening music of rhyme. Supposing then an elevated subject to be expresied in rhyme, what must be the effect? The intimate union of the music with the subject, produces an intimate union of their emotions ? one inspired by the subject, which tends to elevate and expand the mind; and one inspired by the music, which, confining the mind within the narrow limits of regular cadence and similar found, tends to prevent all elevation above its own pitch. Einotions fo little concordant, cannot in union have a happy effect.
But it is scarce necefiary to reason upon a case that never did, and probably never will happen, viz. an important subject clothed in rhyme, and yet supported in its utmost elevation. A happy thoughe or warm expreflion, may at times give a sudden bound
upward ; but it requires a genius greater than has hitherto existed, to support a poem of any length in a tone elevated much above that of the melody. Tasso and Ariosto ought not to be made exceptions, and still less Voltaire. And after all, where the poet has the dead weight of rhyme constantly to struggle with, how can we expect an uniform elevation in a high pitch ; when such elevation with all the support it can receive from language, requires the utmost effort of the human genius ?
But now, admitting rhyme to be an unfit dress for grand and lofty images ; it has one advantage however, which is, to raise a low subject to its own degree of elevation. Addison* observes, “ That rhyme, without
other affistance, throws the language off from prose, and very often makes an indifferent phrase pass unregarded ; but where the verse is not built upon rhymes, there, pomp of found and energy of expreslion are indispensably necessary, to support the style, and keep it from falling into the flatness of prose.” This effect of rhyme, is remarkable in French verse : which, being simple, and little qualified for inversion, readily finks down to prose where not artificially supported : rhyme is therefore indispensable in French tragedy, and may be proper even in French comedy. Voltaire + assigns that very reason for adhering to rhyme in these compositions. He indeed candidly owns, that, even with the fupport of rhyme, the tragedies of his country are little better than conversation-pieces ; which seems to infer, that the French language is weak, and an improper dress for any grand subject, Voltaire was lensible of the imperfe&tion ; and yet Voltaire 'attempted an epic poem in that language.
The Spectator, No. 285. + Preface to h's OEdipus, and in his discourse upon tragedy, prefixed roine tragedy of Brutus.