Page images

metre. In verse these for the most part coincide, though not always. Rhythmic needs obliging the cesura to occur where there is no grammatical pause expressed is the most frequent cause of their divergence, not any natural antagonism between the two.

Cesuras may be classed into two varieties—the fixed, or those that fall in settled places; and the less forceful, though equally important, which ring the changes up and down the line.

The final pause at the end of every verse is a fixed cesura, and the most important of any. When no stop accompanies this rest, it is described as the final pause of suspension, on account of a suspension of voice being the mode of denoting it under such circumstances.

Language in general is interspersed with little breaks, too slight for the comma to mark, and of these it is the cesura avails itself. The fixed cesura is a much more decisive pause than the shifting: to make it occur as some would, between such close connections as substantive and adjective, preposition and its case, or so on, is a barbarism quite unpardonable, except, indeed, in the grotesque, which excuses anything, even the division of a word, as in Canning's rhyme of

The tu-
tor at the U-
niversity of Gottingen;

or exceptionally between very short lines, where the ill effect is much modified. The lesser kind of cesura can in a great measure obviate an awkward pause by its power of selfadjustment, and even where it cannot, being less decided, it is less perceptible; that between substantive and adjective is even in some cases permissive,-nay, by imparting a tone suitable to the occasion, as in the following, even commendable :

Where heavenly pensive || Contemplation dwells,
And ever-musing || Melancholy reigns.

The effect of cesura in direct relation to its fixity and corresponding force is to impart a cadence, for the two members arising from its action bear to one another a sort of balanced arrangement of rise and fall.

It is always optional in verses that have the fixed cesura, whether they shall be written in two short lines or one long one; the words and import are of course the same whichever way written, but it is by no means immaterial metrically whether the full or divided form be chosen, if only from the cadence the long verse has additionally through the accompanying cesura.

The analogy between words and verses is close in this; the different aspect of monosyllables and polysyllables being an apt illustration of the contrast between what may be called single and double-membered verse.

When the subject is light and trifling, the lesser form may carry the day; when, however, it is otherwise, the longer seems the most befitting by far. The practice of subdivision carried to too great an extent has imparted an air of puerility to many an old ballad it does not rightly deserve, much as if long words were marked off into their component syllables to show the pronunciation.



The first species of verse found in these islands since English began to be constituted is identical in structure with that of the Anglo-Saxons, depending solely on alliteration, or the recurrence of accented syllables beginning with the same letter. Most frequently these recurrent letters were the first in the word, but not when the accent fell elsewhere. The general rule was that in the first member of the verse there should be two such concordances, in the corresponding member one; but often the first member had but one, like the second, and sometimes as many as three; indeed, even in Anglo-Saxon the regulation seems to have held very loosely altogether. The length of the members also varied very much—from four syllables to nine or so.

She was brighter of her blee || than was the bright sun,
Her rudd redder than the rose || that on the rise hangeth.
Meekly smiling with her mouth, ll and merry in her looks,
Ever laughing for lɔve || as she like would.
And as she came by the banks || the boughs each one
They louted to that lady, || and laid forth their branches.
Blossoms and burgens || breathed full sweete,
Flowers flourished in the frith || where she forth stepped,

And the grass that was gray || greened belive. If this be compared with an extract from Beowulf, the connexion in structure becomes at once apparent, though the number of syllables in the ancient are much fewer on the average.

Straet waes stanfah || stig wisode
Gumum aetgaedere; Il guth-byrne scan
Heard, hondlocen || hring-iren scir
Song in searwum || tha hie to sele furthum
In hyra gryre-geatwum || gangan cwomon.

The old English example appears uncouth in our ears, but what is that to this ? Surely the Anglo-Saxon lyre must have been a gridiron, or some instrument not more tunable.

The first great change wrought in this species of verse was the addition of final rhyme, as in the following, of supposed date about 1550:

John Nobody, quoth I, what news, thou soon note and tell
What manner men thou meane, that are so mad.
He said, These gay gailants that will construe the Gospel,
As Solomon the sage, with semblance full sad ;
To discuss divinity they nought adread;
More meet it were for them to milk kine at a fleyke.
Thou liest, quoth I, thou losel, like a lewd lad.
He said he was little John Nobody that durst not speake.

This double regimen did not last long, the old alliterative system gradually breaking up. The next example illustrates this transition state.

In the third day of May to Carlisle did come
A kind courteous child that could much of wisdom;
A kirtle and a mantle this child had upon,
With brooches and rings full richly bedone.
God speed thee, King Arthur, sitting at thy meat,
And the goodly Queen Guiniver I cannot her forget.
I tell you lords in this hall I hight you all to heed,
Except you be the surer is you for to dread.
He plucked out of his poterner and longer would not dwell,
He pulled forth a pretty mantle between two nutshells.
Have thou here, King Arthur, have thou here of me,

Give it to thy comely queen shapen as it is already. The literary change from alliteration to rhyme was mainly coeval with the Reformation: preluded by Chaucer a century and a half before, even as the religious movement by Wycliffe, either revolution was long in becoming national and universal.

Besides the mere outward change in the use of modulants, to which attention has been drawn, a radical movement was taking place in the inner structure of the verse, which, if not quite so apparent, was of fully equal importance: this was the change from proportioning in the rough to the methodic reckoning by feet.

The accents at first having been used but as vehicles for the alliterative letter, a certain inequality and irregularity in their occurrence was not undesirable; but in proportion as rhyme became substituted, the uncouth numbers and inequalities of old were gradually toned down.

Early writers do not appear to bave regulated the accent out of any other regard than the attainment of smoothness. Their aim appears to have been to reduce the disturbing influence of the accent to a minimum ; and this, whether they would or not, could only be attained by placing the prominent syllables one remove apart. The effect of accents in this position was to beat time gently, without any elevations or depressions—a gain indeed to smoothness, but a loss to force and character.

Úp then stárted King Arthúr, and swáre by hill and dále,
He né’er would quít that bold barón till hé had made him quáil.

Go fétch my sword Excálibár, go sáddle mé my stéed ;
Now by my fay, that grím baron shall rúe his rúthful deed.
And when he came to Teárne Wadling beneath the castle wall:
• Come fórth, come fórth, thou proud barón, or yield thyself my thráll.'

Here, it is seen, the accents have become strictly alternate; but not as yet is there a thorough distinction made whether the accent fall on the first syllable of the foot or on the other.

To reckon, or as it is technically called, scan, the verse according to the number and position of the beats, appeared henceforward an obvious enough procedure. Whether or not suggested by a study of the Latin, the lines could be easily meted of any determinate length by merely allotting a certain number of accents to each. It was thus that English feet took their rise accentual from the beginning.

There appears to have been a slight struggle in the poetic mind of the period under discussion, whether the old rhythmic structure might not survive, even though alliteration itself passed away. In one rare instance, that of the well-known song of The Old English Gentleman,' we have an example of the old rhythm intact, or what so appears, but yet conjoined with rhyme. If this guess be right, to estimate the verse by the later contrivance of regular accentual feet is manifestly unfair; it must be regarded as simply having the run of words before required to make prominent the alliterative letter.

An old song made by an aged old pate,
Of an old worshipful gentleman who had a great estate,
That kept a brave old house at a bountiful rate;
And an old porter to relieve the poor at his gate ;
Like an old courtier of the queen’s, and the queen's old courtier,
With an old lady whose anger one word assuages,
That every quarter paid their old servants their wages,
And never knew what belonged to coachmen, footmen, nor pages,
But kept twenty old fellows with blue coats and badges;
Like an old, &c.

[ocr errors]


With reference to this kind of metre, see more under “main, Chaps. XXI. and XXII.

« PreviousContinue »