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The origin of rhyme is unquestionably obscure. It may well be doubted, whether any one person was the sole inventor of rhyme in its perfect state, for what Schlegel says of Gothic architecture, may be well applied to rhyme: “I doubt, indeed, very much, whether it was ever brought to perfection by any one great architect; for, in that case, it is difficult to believe that his name would have been forgotten.” And Shuckford remarks, with respect to letters, that we have “no account of any one person being the author of them,” in the post-diluvian world ; because, as he thinks, they were known far beyond the memory of man, even at that day. “Ni la poudre à canon, ni la boussole, ni les chiffres, ni le papier ne sont indiqués nulle part, comme des découvertes.” (1 Sism. p. 74.) Such seems to be very much the state of the fact, as to the invention of rhyme, wherever it is found. The author, in the primitive obscurity and in the subsequent common use of his invention, appears to have been consigned to oblivion, illustrating Seneca's thought, “ Heu quàm difficilis gloriæ custodia est." It is one question, who first composed in rhyme; but quite a distinct one, who first gave it currency, by a various, frequent, popular use of it. A succession of attempts, probably reduced to settled forms and fixed rules, the scattered, accidental thoughts of several minds. “ Nemo nostrûm,” says a translator of Galen, “sufficit ad artem simul constituendam et absolvendam; sed satis superque videri debet, si quæ multorum annorum priores invenerint, posteri accipientes, atque his adducentes aliquid, aliquando compleant, atque perficiant.” There is, indeed, no department of human knowledge, which has not grown up in this manner, by gradual additions and improvements.
It might well be supposed, that the derivation of the word rhyme, would be a key to its origin; yet it is not remembered, that any writer has taken this view of the subject. Dr. Johnson derives it from puguos Greek, and rhythme French; but this must be condemned as an error. Rhythm, indeed, is derived from rhythme, rhythmus, pudros; but rhyme doubtless comes to us from the same source as the French “rime.” Words corresponding to our English words, “rhyme” and “rhythm,” are found, it is believed, in most, if not in all of the other European languages, in which rhyme is a familiar form of verse. "
* Thus we have in German, "reim” for rhyme, "rhythmus” for rhythm, and .“rhytmisch" for rhythmical. In French, “rime” for rhyme, and “rhythme" for rhythm. In Italian “rima” for rhyme, and "ritmo” for rhythm. In Spanish, “rima” for rhyme, and "ritmo" for rhythm. In Portuguese, we have both • rima” and " rhythmo" for rhyme : in Danish, “rim” for rhyme, so-also in Dutch,“ rym" for rhyme ; in Polish, “rim" and in Swedish, "rim” for rhyme; while the Russian
The significations of rhyme and rhythm are totally different; rhyme designating the recurrence of similar final sounds, but rhythm “the proportion, which the parts of a motion bear to each other;" or, as Cicero says, “Quicquid sub aurium mensuram aliquam cadit, etiam si abest à versu, numerus vocatur, qui Græci rhythmos vocantur. ”Dionysius of Halicarnassus, in
is the only language, in which we have found a word derived from pueros, viz. “ritbma” given as the only one for rhyme ; and no separate word for rhythm. It is true that in the dictionary of the Spanish Academy, ritmo is explained " lo mismo que rima;", yet is also explained as signifying “armonia o numen oratorio.” Whenever a Latin dictionary is combined with one of a vulgar tongue, we find that " rhyme" is rendered by “rhythmus,” plainly, because that is the only Latin word which can be used. It is worthy of remark also, that in English, German and Swedish, “rim," and in Saxon, “rima” signify border, margin or edge. It is also singular that the Portuguese and Spanish have a peculiar meaning for their word “rima," unconnected with its northern parentage, but equally so with pudros and rhythmus, viz. a heap, congeries, or, as the Spanish Academy has it, "el conjunto de cosas puestas en orden unas sobre otras.” The Spanish has also a separate meaning for the verb “rimar,” viz. to seek, doubtless from the Latin “rimari;” but that “rimar” to rhyme, in Spanish, did not come from the Latin "rimari," may be fairly inferred from the fact, that the Italian has no such meaning for frimare." It is also worthy of notice, that in the Northern languages, every word compounded of rim, rym, reim, with only one exception, that we have discovered, is formed of the northern word for rhyme, and some other word of the same lineage. Now it is so uncommon to find words of the Northern and Southern languages, combined together, that we may take it for granted, as a general rule, that such a combination is an exception, and that the fact of actual composition, as in the present instance, of “rym,” « reim,” “rim," with northern words, is a very strong proof, that those words are themselves of the same family with these It is no objection to the distinctive meaning and derivation of “rhyme” and “rhythm,” that we find the former used by a synecdoche, for poetry generally, for verse. and even (as Johnson supposes, we think'incorrectly, by his citation from Denham) for rhythm, or a harmonical succession of sounds. Johnson, it is to be observed, does not give rhythm (as an English word) except in a quotation under 6. rhyme” from Phillips; though he does insert “rhythmical.” We think it very remarkable, that every northern language, including Teutonic and Saxon, excepting only Russian, has its appropriate and evidently in all of them identical word for rhyme. Whereas, many of them have no derivative word rhythm, but only a word of corresponding or somewhat synonymous meaning as Swedish meter, metre: Dutcb, kadans, metre; and the same is true of Portuguese, where they have metro, for metre. With regard to the languages of the South of Europe, including French, and German and English, as connected with them, partly through the French and partly through the classic languages, it is not surprising that we should find in all of them, the word rhythm (itself of uncertain etymology, Diction. des c. 4 vol. supplem. p. 648) as a derivative of the Greek pubuos: but it appears to us very obvious, that the word rhythm is a modern word in all those languages, and would not have been adopted, with its Greek and Latin meaning, by scholars, as it certainly was, unless the pre-existent word rhyme had signified something totally different, and was understood not to have been derived from the Greek or Latin root, puéreos or rhythmus. Besides, if we consider the imperfect state of the vulgar tongues, when rhyme was first known to them, and the very obvious character of rhyme, as addressed to the eye and the ear; and if we consider, moreover, that those languages, however rude, had their poetry and music long before, and possessed such common words, to supply the place of the term rhythm, as other languages had employed, such as number and measure; but that they had no appropriate word for rhyme, it seems a very fair conclusion, that a name for rhyme would have been almost coeval with its existence; whilst the word " rhythm" would have been most probably introduced only after the classic cultivation of the modern tongues.
the title to the 17th chapter of his work, on the arrangement of words, uses puemos as synonymous with plomos number; but, however poetical license may be an excuse, no critic would use the word rhyme as synonymous with rhythm. It appears to us, that the word rhyme in English, and the corresponding words in other languages, have a northern and not a classic origin. Junius, in his Etymol. Anglic, derives it from “reim," Belgic and Danish. Lye's Saxon and Gothic Latin Dictionary derives it from “rim”-numerus, riman—to count: and gives, as the original meaning of rim-ora, margo, labrum, which corresponds exactly with the essential character of rhyme, as consisting of final sounds, on the edge, margin or lip of each verse. Bailey traces it to the Saxon rime and the Teutonic reim. Skinner's Etymologicon gives us the same Teutonic origin.
On the above authorities then, we hold, that the word rhyme belongs to the family of northern languages; whether we trace it to riman, numerare, to count, by analogy to the synonymes of Dionysius of Halicarnassus, or to rim, ora, edge. In addition to the arguments, to be hereafter offered against the Arabic origin of rhyme, does it not appear a very strong proof, that whilst even the Spanish language has no word for rhyme, derived from the Arabic, it has the same word, common to all the Northern and Southern nations of Gothic origin?
The opinions of learned men have been various, as to the source, to which the origin and use of rhyme in the modern poetry of Christian Europe, are to be traced. There are four theories on this subject. One supposes that the first settlers of Europe brought rhyme with them from the east. A second, that it is of Arabic origin. A third, that it is due to the Northern nations; and the fourth ascribes it to the invention of monks.
First, as to the supposition, that the use of rhyme was coeval with the first settlement of Europe. “Il est très possible,” says Sismondi, (vol. i. p. 100) que les Goths, dès leur premiére entrée en Europe, aient apporté l'usage de la rime, des pays de l'orient, dóù ils venaient." Runalfus Jonas, in his dissertation on the elements of the Northern languages, does not scruple to assert, that the mythology of the Edda, and probably, a great part of the Edda itself, is as ancient as the time, when the Asiatics first came into the North of Europe. The Phænicians, says Schlegel, were, for many ages, in possession of the Baltic. (1 Schlegel, 262.) Warton, in his history of English Poetry, (vol. i. 1st Diss.) gives us, from original authorities, an account of the emigration of these ancient inhabitants of Iberia and Albania, in the time of Pompey, with many curious coincidences between the Asiatics and Scandinavians. “ While the Persians" says Schlegel,
“ bear, in every thing which respects religious belief, a nearer resemblance to the Hebrews, than to any other people, the poetical part of their mythology is extremely similar to the northern theology, and their manners have many points of coincidence with those of the Germans." The Runic characters found in Helsingia, in the North of Sweden, bear a stronger resemblance to those on the Ruins of Chelminar (Persepolis), than to any others; while the Runic Letters of Denmark, Sweden and Norway, are found likewise in Northern Tartary. And John Elichman, whom Salmasius thought the best Persian scholar that Europe had ever produced, or perhaps ever would, and who was perfectly skilled in sixteen languages, held the opinion, that German and Persian were cognate.
Several considerations seem, however, to oppose the conclusion drawn by Sismondi, and apparently sustained by such authorities as the above. If rhyme was brought from the east, how comes it to pass, that we find no evidence of its existence prior to the modern Persian and Arabic languages ? It is to be recollected here, that while the Pleiades of the Greeks consisted of their latest poets, those of the Arabians comprised their oldest, selected as such, though possessed of very little merit. (1st Andrès, p. 204) 6. Questi ad imitazione de Greci vantano la loro plejade Arabica, ma di sette poeti de' più antichi, no come i Greci di sette de'più moderni. Que' primi poeti sono i Livj e Pacuvj degli Arabi tenuti in rispetto per la loro antichità, ma non letti da' posteri, nè stimati pe’ loro pregj poetici.” Now, those poems belong to the commencement of the seventh century. Again, how is it, that although Greece was settled from Asia, no vestige of rhyme appears in the literature of that country? The Bible, which is the best index to the earliest state of things in the east, has no traces of rhyme, though it has of rhythm. The address of Lamech (Gen. iv. 23) is ig hemistichs, in the original. The greater part of Job is in verse: and St. Jerome, in his preface to Job, says, that it is written in heroic verse. Josephus tells us, that the song of Moses is av i çumsTPW Tovw; and Scaliger is of the same opinion; though neither of them refers to the classic hexameter. And yet, in none of the above instances, nor in the Psalms, nor in Isaiah, nor in any other part, is rhyme to be found in the Scriptures. May not rhyme then have come into use, among eastern nations, with the modern Persian and Arabic tongues; and, therefore, beyond any rational doubt, after the supposed emigration of the Goths from Asia to Northern Europe ?* We cannot, therefore, accede to the opinion, which ascribes the origin of rhyme, among the nations of the North of Europe, to such an ancient source:
The second opinion is, that the true origin of the rhymed poetry of Modern Christian Europe, is to be found in the rhymed poetry of the Hispano-Arabians, tracing the communication through the Spaniards first, and afterwards through the Troubadours. The great advocate of this theory is the Abbé Andrès. His reputation justifies, indeed requires, a very full and careful examination, before we reject his opinion.
When the Mohammedan power arose with Mahomet, (A. D. 622, the Hegira) we are to remember, that rhyme was perfectly familiar in eastern poetry. We may safely concede with La Harpe, (vol. iv. Cours. de Lit. p. 209) “que la rime chez les Arabes etait de la plus haute antiquité ;" and with Sismondi, (vol. i. p. 52) “que cette nation seule a produit plus de poetes, que toutes les autres reunies.”+ We may admit, that their language is endowed with a copiousness, which makes even the Greek appear desolate; and we may believe with Andrès, (vol.i. pp. 206-207) that no epic or dramatic poetry is found in Arabic literature, though Sir William Jones and Professor Carlyle think otherwise, as to Persian. We may grant with Andrès, (vol. i. p. 214) that the first romance was written (in Spain,
* The Persian language flourished from the third to the seventh century. Omar burnt all the books in that language, but two, both in prose. The modern Persian is a compound of the old Persian and Arabic. The oldest Persian poem known to Sir William Jones, is the Schah-namah, in 60,000 distichs, written by Ferdhuzi, who died in the year 411, of the Hegira. As to the Arabians, they claim for their language an antiquity as high as that, which Urquhart, a Scottish gentleman, arrogated for his family; since they both ascend to Noah. But it is not probable that the Koreish dialect, or classic Arabic of the Koran, was in existence at the supposed departure of the Goths; or if it was, that the people, who spoke it, could have ever had any intercourse with the emigrants, when it was their boast to King Demetrius, that they loved, for the sake of independence, the silence of their deserts, and when four successive empires, the Assyrian, Persian, Macedonian and Roman had separated them for centuries from the Goths in question, who dwelt between the Caspian and Euxine.
+ Sir William Jones says the same of the Persians, especially in poetry. (Vol. iv. Works, p. 540.) And in the early part of the seventeenth century, a work was published at Constantinople, containing the finest verses of 549 Turkish poets. Such prolific genius places at an immeasurable distance the collection of Provençal poetry, by M. Curne de St. Paylaye, in 25 folios; and the lives of 142 by Millot; as well as the instances given by Andrès of the lives of 131 Arabic poets, and of the * Teatro de' Poeti,” in 24 volumes.
The Arabians boast that they have eighty words to signify honey, two hundred for a serpent, five hundred for a lion, and one thousand for a sword. Berington, however, discredits this philological prodigy: (Hist. of Mid. Ages, p. 643.) Probably they were nothing more than paraphrastical forms of expression, like the twenty eight forms, under which Cædmon describes the Ark. (2d Turn. Ang. Sax. p. 280.)
Huet denies to the Arabians the merit of inventing the Romance. Sharon Turner also has denied it indirectly, by declaring it to be his opinion, that "we must consider the monks as the great inventors of narrative fiction.” (Vol. ii. Hist. Ang. Sax. p. 321, 4to.) That the ecclesiastics of those ages greatly cultivated the art of narrative invention, and were successful in their efforts, we see from their legends. Gregory's Dialogues, (e. g.) translated by Alfred, are nothing but legends or tales