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And yet expect to live-the spirit of life,
Is its peculiar home.' Now we conceive that there is no little beauty in this passage, and yet the sensation after reading it is that of confusion and fatigue. Its beauties come upon the eye by glimpses, like the sparkling of a river, here and there, through the hills and forests, among which it winds. The writer's thoughts poured fast, and without selection or amendment he transferred them to his
page. But it is obvious, that a careful revision, which should reduce the lines to half their number, would more than double the value of those that remain. We are stopped at the very outset by an obscurity arising from the circumstance, that the poet uses the words one and the other, to refer to the form in which the preceding sentence lay in his own mind, instead of its form as written. The reader is obliged to study for some time ere he can discover to what two things he alludes. “To know, it has the genuine stamp. Here too the construction disturbs him; he must read a second time before he sees, that 'whether it have' would give the true sense. In the next sentence, which contains fifteen lines, he very soon becomes a little bewildered, and when he reaches the words ó so often,' he is thrown out of his
track altogether and compelled to try again. For ourselves we confess, that even the second reading did not sufficiently disentangle the construction. In the next sentence, he stumbles at once upon a parenthesis of ten lines, without any intimation from any quarter that his path is thus turned aside, and he travels on to the end, blindfold, not knowing whither he is going. After a few pages like this, most readers would be inclined to give up the study in despair ; and if called upon to remark how wonderful it is, that it should have been written in so short a time; they might be expected to reply, Very true, but Sheridan's remark is true also, · Easy writing is hard reading.'
A similar example occurs in the long chain of sentences, which are linked together on pages 14, 15, 16, and which evidently owe their blemishes to their extemporaneous composition.
Chasing him in his exile till they left
No pillow for his head.'
•O! it is painful,
How they were made the butt and sport of fools.'
· We may well
Such fond imaginings.'
* And all the skyey creatures have a touch
Whose love is change, so they are still above it.'
6 In a passage already quoted, he makes the visions of the soul higher than the leap of Execution ; and Execution lagging behind the glance of Conception.
We are inclined to attribute many of the blemishes of Mr
Percival's general manner, and of the present poem in particular, to the want of sufficient respect for the mechanical laws of metrical composition. We know it is the tendency of the age to give them as liberal an interpretation as possible, and to assume the greatest license in breaking them. But few have so often and perseveringly broken them as our author. He delights in the anomalies of verse; he prefers the exception to the rule ; he sets at defiance the established accents and pauses, and loves to baffle the ear that seeks the accustomed rhythm, and is expecting the close of the line to be signified by a pause. In some of his smaller pieces he has done otherwise ; and in them his success has been complete; as for example, in the Coral Grove, one of the most distinct and exquisite pieces of fancy work, which the muse ever sketched. And in general, where he has been most observant of the laws of metre, and has been willing to submit to their severest restraint, there he has succeeded best in avoiding his characteristic blemishes. But in some of his longer poems, he defies all restraint, and bursts from all shackles; pauses where he pleases, changes the rhythm when he pleases, rushes by the termination, and tramples down the cæsura, and brings rhyme as nearly as possible to blank verse, and blank verse as nearly as possible to prose.
We apprehend indeed that the rules of blank verse are far too loosely observed by most writers of the present day. Too great care is taken to conceal its structure, and to prevent the ear from detecting the close of the lines. It is doubtless necessary to avoid that formality of construction, by which the march of the lines could be all distinctly told, as if it were intended that they should be counted off as they were uttered. For it is the privilege and charm of this verse to admit a musical succession of unequal sentences, a melody forever sustained and forever varied. But then it is of the utmost importance, that strict attention should be paid to this succession of sentences, that the rhythm should be skilfully adjusted, and the pauses distinctly marked and harmoniously arranged. Poetry, as far as it consists in words, depends upon the rhythmical structure of the language; and this depends on the return, at intervals which the ear can mark, of certain accents and pauses. In order to secure this the sentences must not be extended beyond a certain length. They must for the most part be short. Otherwise the ear becomes wearied in beating the time, and perhaps is bewildered in the intricacy of the elongation. Accordingly we believe it will be found, that the most admired poets express themselves uni
formly in short sentences, with frequent pauses. This circumstance constitutes, in no small degree, the charm of their verse. And this also is a great part of the charm of those writers, who have been most admired for their elegant and melodious prose. They present no more at a time than the ear can compass. In this respect there is a coincidence between poetry and music. All music is made up of short measured passages, in which the pauses and semipauses are distinct and frequent. No musical composition would be tolerable, which should run on through twenty bars without such resting places for the ear. It would be but a wilderness of sounds, without sense or expression. The pleasure of verse depends on the same principle, and is as surely destroyed if it be unobserved. A long passage of verse, in which the metrical pauses do not strike the ear with decision, comes to it as prose. Its character changes from the poetical to the rhetorical; and the rhetorical style, which delights in protracted periods and accumulated members, is as much out of place in a poem, as the flowers, and tears, and sentiment of poetry are out of place in the senate, or at the bar.
Now we conceive that these principles, however essential and fundamental, are too much winked out of sight at the present day; and that the ridicule of sing song' and cuckoo song verses has persuaded many to think that prosaic lines are beautiful, and that a breach of established rules is better than the observance. Hence feeble and halting verses are thrown in to disturb the metre and create a salutary discord; and paragraphs, which should be adjusted to the musical movement of poetry, are lengthened out in the measure and emphasis of rhetoric.
Through this mistake the peculiar excellencies of blank verse are made to disappear. It is a noble verse in itself, capable of wonderful variety and almost unequalled expression. It sustains the sublime, it gives grace to the little ; and by its many modulations and combinations, may take as wide a range as the organ with its many stops. But in order to this, it must be managed by a skilful hand. A tyro, or a careless performer, may bring out only discordant and disagreeable tones. It is an instrument, whose power must be studied. It requires the touch of a master, whose soul is not only a fountain of harmony itself, but who by diligent study has become acquainted with the mysterious contrivances, by which it can be made to vary and increase its effect. This is impossible without a rigid observance of its laws. These are but few, but for that very reason they should be sacredly observed. There is no verse, which so imperiously demands a strict conformity to the principles of its construction. Yet the impression with many writers seems to be, that the greatest latitude is allowable; that as the laws are few, they must be of small consequence; that having thrown off the fetters of rhyme, all others may be rejected also. But this is the best reason why all others should be retained. If the rhyme remains as a landmark, irregularities are of less importance, for they will be set right by the termination of the line. But there is no such redeeming power in blank verse; and an irregularity turns it to prose at once.
We believe it will be found true of the successful poets, that their success has been very much in proportion to the strictness of their fidelity to the laws of metre. We of course do not speak without exception, nor forget that genius will oftentimes snatch a grace beyond the reach of art.'. But as a general remark, we hold it to be incontrovertible. Indeed, if it were otherwise, why not write in prose? We throw thoughts into verse, in order to aid the impression of the sentiment on the mind by the gratification of the ear. The ear then must be gratified. There must be a modulation, which it can detect and recognise. If not, the very object of writing in this mode is defeated. Burke once said, that “ blank verse seems to be verse only to the eye. Now this is not true of good blank verse ; it ought not to be true of any. Take the true poetry of Milton, Thomson, Cowper ; let it be read aloud, and the ear will decipher it, and pronounce it to be verse, as unerringly as the eye. Burke must have merely intended to say a smart thing, without regard to truth, or else he had been accustomed to very bad readers, or was a bad reader himself
, or had never paid attention to the laws of English prosody, or he wanted a discriminating ear. Could he detect no difference between the rhetorical rhythm of his own speeches, and the poetical rhythm of Milton ? Could his ear perceive no difference between the prose and the verse of Shakspeare, as recited on the stage? Yet many
writers appear to have taken up this off hand saying of the eloquent statesman, as if it were an authorized canon of criticism ; and seem to have endeavored after a construction of their lines, which should give as few hints as possible to the ear, of the class of composition to which their works belong. We regret to find Mr Percival encouraging this lax notion ; and are persuaded, that he can never do full justice to his own fine powers, until he changes both his opinion and his practice. VOL. XXII.-N0. 51.