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the older verse, seems to have to a great extent died out even before the Conquest, and what verse was written in the alliterative measures afterwards was of a feeble and halting kind. Even when, as the authors The later of later volumes of this series will have * to show, alliterative verse was taken up with something like a set purpose during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, its character was wholly changed, and though some very good work was written in it, it was practically all literary exercise. It frequently assumed regular stanza - forms, the lines also frequently fell into regular quantitative shapes, such as the heroic, the Alexandrine, and the tetrameter. Above all, the old strict and accurate combination of a limited amount of alliteration, jealously adjusted to words important in sense and rhythm, was exchanged for a profusion of alliterated syllables, often with no direct rhythmical duty to pay, and constantly leading to mere senseless and tasteless jingle, if not to the positive coining of fantastic or improper locutions to get the “artful aid.” Meanwhile the real prosody of English had been elaborated, in the usual blending fashion of the race, The new by an intricate, yet, as it happens, an easily overse. traceable series of compromises and naturalisations. By the end of the twelfth century, as more obscure, and the greater talent of the individual imitators of French interferes more with the process of insensible shaping and growth. German prosody, despite the charm of its lyric measures, has never acquired the perfect combination of freedom and order we have seen, rhyme was creeping in to supersede alliteration, and a regular arrangement of elastic syllabic equivalents or strict syllabic values was taking the place of the irregular accented lengths. It does not appear that the study of the classics had anything directly to do with this: it is practically certain that the influence on the one hand of Latin hymns and the Church services, and on the other of French poetry, had very much. Rhyme is to the modern European ear so agreeable, if not so indispensable, an ornament of verse, that, once Rhyme and heard, it is sure to creep in, and can only syllabic be expelled by deliberate and unnatural “ crotchet from any but narrative and dramatic poetry. On the other hand, it is almost inevitable that when rhyme is expected, the lines which it tips should be reduced to an equal or at any rate an equivalent length. Otherwise the expectation of the ear—that the final ring should be led up to by regular and equable rhythm—is baulked. If this is not done, as in what we call doggerel rhyme, an effect of grotesque is universally produced, to the ruin of serious poetic effect. With these desiderata present, though unconsciously present, before them, with the Latin hymnwriters and the French poets for models, and with Church music perpetually starting in their memories cadences, iambic or trochaic, dactylic or anapaestic, to which to set their own verse, it is not surprising that English poets should have accompanied the rapid changes of their language itself with parallel rapidity of metrical innovation. Quantity they observed loosely —quantity in modern languages is always loose: but it does not follow that they ignored it altogether. Those who insist that they did ignore it, and who painfully search for verses of so many “accents,” for Moon, and “sections,” for “pauses,” and what not, ** are confronted with difficulties throughout the whole course of English poetry: there is hardly a page of that brilliant, learned, instructive, invaluable piece of wrong-headedness, Dr Guest's English Rhythms, which does not bristle with them. But at no time are these difficulties so great as during our present period, and especially at the close of it. Let any man who has no “prize to fight,” no thesis to defend, take any characteristic piece of Anglo-Saxon poetry and “Alison,” place them side by side, read them aloud together, scan them carefully with the eye, compare each separately and both together with as many other examples of poetic arrangement as he likes. He must, I think, be hopelessly blinded by prejudice if he does not come to the conclusion that there is a gulf between the systems of which these two poems are examples—that if the first is “accentual,” “sectional,” and what not, then these same words are exactly not the words which ought to be applied to the second." And he will further see that with “Alison” there is not the slightest difficulty whatever, but that, on the contrary, it is the natural and all but inevitable thing 1 Of course there is plenty of alliteration in “Alison.” That ornament is too grateful to the English ear ever to have ceased or to be likely to cease out of English poetry. But it has ceased to possess to do to scan the piece according to classical laws, allowing only much more licence of “common” syllables—common in themselves and by position—than in Latin, and rather more than in Greek. Yet another conclusion may perhaps be risked, and that is that this change of prosody was either directly The gain of caused by, or in singular coincidence was form. associated with, a great enlargement of the range and no slight improvement of the quality of poetry. Anglo-Saxon verse at its best has grandeur, mystery, force, a certain kind of pathos. But it is almost entirely devoid of sweetness, of all the lighter artistic attractions, of power to represent other than religious passion, of adaptability to the varied uses of lyric. All these additional gifts, and in no slight measure, have now been given; and there is surely an almost fanatical hatred of form in the refusal to connect the gain with those changes, in vocabulary first, in prosody secondly, which have been noted. For there is not only the fact, but there is a more than plausible reason for the fact. The alliterative accentual verse of indefinite length is obviously unsuited for all the lighter, and for some of the more serious, purposes of verse. Unless it is at really heroic height (and at this height not even Shakespeare can keep poetry invariably) it must necessarily be flat, awkward, prosaic, heavy, all which qualities are the worst foes of the Muses. The new equipments may not have been indispensable to the poet's soaring— they may not be the greater wings of his song, the mighty pinions that take him beyond Space and Time into Eternity and the Infinite. But they are most admirable talaria, ankle-winglets enabling him to skim and scud, to direct his flight this way and that, to hover as well as to tower, even to run at need as well as to fly.
which we find in English, as may be seen by comparing the best blank verse of the two.
That a danger was at hand, the danger of too great restriction in the syllabic direction, has been admitted. The greatest poet of the fourteenth century in England —the greatest, for the matter of that, from the beginning till the sixteenth—went some way in this path, and if Chaucer's English followers had been men of genius we might have been sorely trammelled. Fortunately Lydgate and Occleve and Hawes showed the dangers rather than the attractions of strictness, and the contemporary practice of alliterative irregulars kept alive the appetite for liberty. But at this time —at our time—it was restriction, regulation, quantification, metrical arrangement, that English needed; and it received them.
These remarks are of course not presented as a complete account, even in summary, of English, much ro...a..., less of European prosody. They are barely theory. more than the heads of such a summary, or than indications of the line which the inquiry might, and in the author's view should, take. Perhaps they may be worked out—or rather the working out of them may be published — more fully hereafter. But for the present they may possibly be useful as a protest against the “accent” and “stress” theories which have been so common of late years in regard