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or for "meaner," read "despised;" and the verse becomes doggrel*. That great poet, by his example, has so tutored the ears of his countrymen, that the lowest scribbler now writes with tolerable smoothness, which was very far from being the case even in Dryden's days. Our ancestors, as we have seen, with all their excellence, were sometimes neglectful of strict harmony; but this, at least in our dramatick poets, was amply compensated by the vigour and vivacity of their general style. Their plays were, for the most part, written in blank verse; yet sometimes upon no sort of system, but merely as fancy suggested, they deviated into rhyme, which they quitted and resumed at their pleasure. This was the frequent practice of Shakspeare, more particularly in his early plays, but it was not peculiar to him; it was adopted by all the dramatick authors of his time. In Johnson's Sejanus, Act III. Sc. I. we find this fully exemplified. Decker has even admitted this intermixture of rhyme into so short a composition as a prologue, as, for example:
"The charmes of silence through this square be throwne "That an unused attention (like a jewel)
"May hang at every eare, for we present
* What our ancestors meant by rhyme doggrel, may be learnt from Freeman's Runne and a Great Cast, 1614:
Epigram 36: quis cladem.
"More did not Dulake, nor Godfry of Bullen,
"At land at see without Castle or Carricke:
"Hath thumb'd many thousands, and kil❜d with a knacke."
"Whoop, whoop, me thinkes I heare my Reader cry,
"Yet drawne so lively that the weakest eye "(Through those thin vailes we hang between your sight "And this our piece) may read the mistery: "What in it is most grave will most delight," &c. Prologue to the Whore of Babylon, 1607. In their selection of rhymes they were not always very scrupulous. In Love's Labour's Lost, vol. iv. the following passage occurs, as it is printed in the old copies, and Mr. Malone's text:
"Taffata phrases, silken terms precise,
"Have blown me full of maggot ostentation."
Affection, in the second line, had been changed, by the modern editors, into affectation. Mr. Malone restores the old reading, and observes, that affection had already, in the same play, occurred in the sense of affectation; that it was a quadrisyllable, and that the rhyme was such as our author and his contemporaries thought sufficient. Mr. Steevens, on the other hand, declares that no ear can be satisfied with such rhymes as affection and ostentation; and Mr. Ritson, in his Remarks upon Mr. Malone's edition of 1790, has displayed a good deal of clumsy merriment upon the occasion. Yet what would either of them have said to the following passage in Spenser?
"Who soon as he beheld that angel's face "Adorn'd with all divine perfection, "His cheered heart eftsoones away gan chase "Sad death revived with her sweet inspection." Fairy Queen, b. iv. c. xiv. st. 34. Or what must we think of the following stanza from Fairfax's Godfrey?
"Prepare you then for travaile strong and light,
I now release the reader from the discussion of the irregularities which occur, either in the praseology or metre of Shakspeare, which would have been an ungracious enquiry, were it not for the recollection that the slight spots which the most minute and scrupulous investigation can discover, are lost in the blaze of his excellence. I am now very shortly to call the reader's attention to the important change which he effected in our dramatick versification. Although I am unable to bestow upon Lord Surrey the praise which is claimed for him by my friend Dr. Nott, of having been the first who taught us metre, yet he is justly entitled to our gratitude for the introduction of blank verse into our language, which it is probable he was induced to adopt from the example which had been shown us by Italy, a country from which we have derived every real improvement in poetry, that we have borrowed from our continental neighbours. Dr. Nott is disposed to call this in question, on the ground that the Italia Liberata of Trissino was not published till after Surrey's death. He forgets that the Sophonisba, of the same author, had appeared before that nobleman was born, and that versi sciolti had become not only popular in Italy, but had been adopted at an early period in Spain. But although Trissino has had the honour generally ascribed to him of being the first who wrote in that measure, because he was the first who brought it to perfection; yet we learn from Crescimbeni that it existed in a ruder state in Italian literature long before his time. The Italians, indeed, seem, from the facilities which their eminently poetical language affords, to have led the way in every experiment upon metre. Thus, long before Sidney or Gabriel Harvey had taught English to halt on Roman feet, the same attempt had been made by Tolemei, with better materials, but not with much success. But whatever may have been the origin of Surrey's
blank verse, it is exhibited in his translation of Virgil in a very imperfect state. It is formal and stiff. It reads as if it had originally been written in rhyming couplets, and the terminations subsequently altered. This measure was afterwards adopted by a still more distinguished ornament of the English aristocracy, who, as the author of the first tragedy in our language that at all deserved that name, and from his sublime Induction to the Mirror for Magistrates, may be considered as, in some degree, the precursor both of Shakspeare and Spenser. To him we owe the application of blank verse to the drama. Yet still, even in the hands of Sackville, it was heavy and pompous. The first who attempted to introduce any variety of pauses, was a writer whose name can never be mentioned without pain. If Marlowe had not led a life of profligate dissipation, which, perhaps, hastened his death, he would probably have held a very high rank among the poets of his country. He who was at the same time celebrated for his "mighty line," and could produce that exquisite specimen of pastoral sweetness, The Shepherd to his Love, was capable, under better auspices, of the greatest efforts of genius. In his Edward III. we occasionally meet with passages which exhibit the varied flow of succeeding poets:
"A heavy case;
"When force to force is knit, and sword and gleave
His translation of the spirited performance;
first book of Lucan, is a very and as I know of no other
copy but that which is in Mr. Malone's collection, I will produce a specimen. It is from the speech of Lalius, the centurion. See Lucan. lib. i. 1. 361:
"What, doubtst thou us? even nowe when youthful bloud
But although these and similar passages evince that Marlowe's ear had sometimes taught him to release blank verse from the fetters which had been imposed upon it, yet the general strain of his versification resembles that of Surrey and Sackville. At last Shakspeare arose, who was destined to carry the drama in all its parts to the highest state of perfection; and even in the structure of his verse, not only left all his predecessors far behind him, but exhibited to those who came after him, a model of harmony which no one has ever surpassed. Perhaps no species of metrical excellence can be mentioned, which is not exemplified in his plays. He has equally avoided the formal monotony of those who went before him, and the laxity of his contemporaries; his metre is generally correct; but the inexhaustible variety of his modulation never palls upon the ear. Whether that spirit of his, in aspiration, lifts him from the earth;" or humbler topicks require a more subdued tone; whether he is