Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

writing ; which is only saying in other words, that an epic composition, to give all the pleasure which it is capable of giving, must be written in verse.

But, secondly, this conclusion, I think, extends farther than to such works as aspire to the name of epic. For instance, what are we to think of those novels or romances, as they are called, that is, fables constructed on some private and familiar subject, which have been so' current, of late, through all Europe? As they propose pleasure for their end, and

prosecute it, besides, in the way of fiction, though without metrical numbers, and generally, indeed, in harsh and rugged prose, one easily sees what their pretensions are, and under what idea they are ambitious to be received. Yet, as they are wholly destitute of measured sounds (to say nothing of their other numberless defects) they can, at most, be considered but as hasty, imperfect, and abortive poems ; whether spawned from the dramatic, or narrative species, it may be hard to say —

Unfinish'd things, one knows not what to

call,

Their generation's so equivocal.

C2

However, such as they are, these novelties have been generally well received: Some, for the real merit of their execution ; Others, for their amusing subjects ; All of them, for the gratification they afford, or promise at least, to a vitiated, palled, and sickly imagination that last disease of learned minds, and sure prognostic of expiring Letters. But whatever may be the temporary success of these things. (for they vanish as fast as they are produced, and are produced as soon as they are conceived) good sense will acknowledge no work of art but such as is composed according to the laws of its kind. These kinds, as arbitrary things as we account them (for I neither forget nor dispute what our best philosophy teaches concerning kinds and sorts), have yet so far their foundation in nature and the reason of things, that it will not be allowed us to multiply, or vary them, at pleasure. We may, indeed, mix and confound them, if we will (for there is a sort of literary luxury, which would engross all pleasures at once, even such as are contradictory to each other), or, in our rage for incessant gratification, we may take up with half-formed pleasures, such as come first to hand, and may be administered by any body: But true taste requires chaste, severe,

and simple pleasures; and true genius will only be concerned in administering such.

Lastly, on the same principle on which we have decided on these questions concerning the absolute merits of poems in prose, in all languages, we may, also, determine another, which has been put concerning the comparative merits of RHYMED, and what is called BLANK verse, in our own, and the other modern languages.

Critics and antiquaries have been sollicitous to find out who were the inventors of rhyme, which some fetch from the Monks, some from the Goths, and others from the Arabians : whereas, the truth seems to be, that rhyme, or the consonance of final syllables, occurring at stated intervals, is the dictate of nature, or, as we may say, an appeal to the ear, in all languages, and in some degree pleasing in all. The difference is, that, in some languages, these consonances are apt of themselves to occur so often that they rather nauseate, than please, and so, instead of being affected, are studiously avoided by good writers; while in others, as in all the modern ones, where these consonances are less frequent, and where the quantity of syllables is not so distinctly marked as, of itself, to afford an harmonious measure and musical variety, there it is of necessity that poets have had recourse to Rhyme; or to some other expedient of the like nature, such as the Alliteration, for instance; which is only another way of delighting the ear by iterated sound, and may be defined, the consonance of initial letters, as rhyme is, the consonance of final syllables. All this, I say, is of necessity, because what we call verses in such languages will be otherwise untuneful, and will not strike the ear with that vivacity, which is requisite to put a sensible difference between poetie numbers and measured

prose.

In short, no method of gratifying the ear by measured sound, which experience has found pleasing, is to be neglected by the poet: and although, from the different structure and genius of languages, these methods will be different, the studious application of such methods, as each particular language allows, becomes a necessary part of his office.

He will only cultivate those methods most, which tend to produce, in a given language, the most harmonious structure or measure, of which it is capable.

Hence it comes to pass, that the poetry of some modern languages cannot so much as subsist, without rhyme: In others, it is only embellished by it. Of the former sort is the French, which therefore adopts, and with good reason, rhymed verse, not in tragedy only, but in comedy: And though foreigners, who have a language differently constructed, are apt to treat this observance of rhyme as an idle affectation, yet it is but just to allow that the French themselves are the most competent judges of the natural defect of their own tongue, and the likeliest to perceive by what management such defect is best remedied or concealed.

[ocr errors]

In the latter class of languages, whose poetry is only embellished by the use of rhyme, we may reckon the Italian and the English: which being naturally more tuneful and harmonious than the French, may afford all the melody of sound which is expected in. some sorts of poetry, by its varied pause, and quantity only; while in other sorts, which are more sollicitous to please the ear, and where such sollicitude, if taken notice of by the reader or hearer, is not resented, it may be proper, or rather it becomes a law of the English and Italian poetry, to adopt rhyme. Thus,

« AnteriorContinuar »