Imagens das páginas

to English poetry, and which, though not capable of being applied in quite the same fashion to the Romance languages, have had their counterparts in attempts to decry the application of classical prosody (which has never been very well understood on the Continent) to modern tongues. No one can speak otherwise than respectfully of Dr Guest, whose book is certainly one of the most patient and ingenious studies of the kind to be found in any literature, and whose erudition, at a time when such erudition needed far greater efforts than now, cannot be too highly praised. But it is a besetting sin or disease of Englishmen in all matters, after pooh-poohing innovation, to go blindly in for it; and I cannot but think that Dr Guest's accentual theory, after being for years mainly neglected, has, for years again, been altogether too greedily swallowed. It is not of course a case necessarily of want of scholarship, or want of ear, for there are few better scholars or poets than Mr Robert Bridges, who, though not a mere Guestite, holds theories of prosody which seem to me even less defensible than Guest’s. But it is, I think, a case of rather misguided patriotism, which thinks it necessary to invent an English prosody for English poems. This is surely a mistake. Allowances in degree, in shade, in local colour, there must of course be in prosody as in other things. The developments, typical and special, of English prosody in the nineteenth century cannot be quite the same as those of Greek two thousand years ago,

Initial fallacies.

or of French to-day. But if, as I see not the slightest
reason for doubting, prosody is not an artificially
acquired art but a natural result of the natural
desires, the universal organs of humanity, it is exces-
sively improbable that the prosodic results of nations
so nearly allied to each other, and so constantly
studying each other's work, as Greeks, Romans, and
modern Europeans, should be in any great degree
different. If quantity, if syllabic equivalence and so
forth, do not display themselves in Anglo-Saxon or in
Icelandic, it must be remembered that the poetry of
these nations was after all comparatively small, rather
isolated, and in the conditions of extremely early
development—a childish thing to which there is not
the slightest rhyme or reason for straining ourselves
to assimilate the things of manhood. That accent
modified English prosody nobody need deny; there is
no doubt that the very great freedom of equivalence—
which makes it, for instance, at least theoretically
possible to compose an English heroic line of five
tribrachs—and the immense predominance of common
syllables in the language, are due in some degree to a
continuance of accentual influence.
But to go on from this, as Dr Guest and some of his
followers have done, to the subjection of the whole
annot...invaluable vocabulary of classical prosody
sities thereos to a sort of pramunire, to hold up the
hands in horror at the very name of a tribrach, and
exhibit symptoms of catalepsy at the word catalectic
—to ransack the dictionary for unnatural words or


uses of words like “catch,” and “stop,” and “pause,” where a perfectly clear and perfectly flexible terminology is ready to your hand—this does seem to me in another sense a very childish thing indeed, and one that cannot be too soon put away. It is no exaggeration to say that the extravagances, the unnatural contortions of scansion, the imputations of irregularity and impropriety on the very greatest poets with which Dr Guest's book swarms, must force themselves on any one who studies that book thoroughly and impartially. When theory leads to the magisterial indorsement of “gross fault” on some of the finest passages of Shakespeare and Milton, because they “violate” Dr Guest's privy law of “the final pause”; when we are told that “section 9,” as Dr Guest is pleased to call that admirable form of “sixes,” the anapaest followed by two iambs, one of the great sources of music in the ballad metre, is “a verse which has very little to recommend it”; when one of Shakespeare's secrets, the majestic full stop before the last word of the line, is black-marked as “opposed to every principle of accentual rhythm,” then the thing becomes not so much outrageous as absurd. Prosody respectfully and intelligently attempting to explain how the poets produce their best things is useful and agreeable: when it makes an arbitrary theory beforehand, and dismisses the best things as bad because they do not agree therewith, it becomes a futile nuisance. And I believe that there is no period of our literature which, when studied, will do more to prevent or correct such fatuity than this very period of Early Middle English.

* His instance is Burns's—
“Like a rogue for for gerie.”

It is a pity he did not reinforce it with many of the finest lines in
The Ancient Mariner.

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

IT must have been already noticed that one main reason for the unsurpassed literary interest of this present

Position of period is that almost all the principal

Germany. European nations contribute, in their different ways, elements to that interest. The contribution is not in all cases one of positive literary production, of so much matter of the first value actually added to the world's library. But in some cases it is; and in the instance to which we come at present it is so in a measure approached by no other country ex


« AnteriorContinuar »