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between the Grammar of a book in the ninth and that of a book in the fourteenth century; and nearly as great a difference between the Grammar of a book in the fourteenth and that of a book in the nineteenth century.
3. Language in all literatures appears in two forms: as (a) PROSE, or as (6) Verse.
(a) PROSE is a Latin word, and means straightforward. The Romans called language oratio, and this straight-going language they called oratio prorsa, and then prosa; and from this comes our
(b) VERSE is also a Latin word, and means turned. It is akin to the word reverse. The Romans called Verse oratio versa, or language that is turned; because, when we come to the end of a line, we turn back and go to the beginning of a new one, without regard to the fact that the line does not go to the end of the space upon the printer's page. In Verse, it is the number of beats, the rhythm, the music of the words, which arranges the words or sense in lines, and which hence compels the printer to print them so; but in Prose there is no reason, but one of convenience, why the line which the printer employs should not be a mile long In Verse, the lines must be of a particular length; in Prose, they may be of any length.
4. The earliest form of literature in all languages seems to be Verse. Not only are the great poems of the world much older than any prose writings, but the earliest fragments of literary expression are always found to be in the form of verse.* indeed, we owe the words and phrases which we employ in prose to the creative power and invention of the great poets of every age. Just as the rivers bring down from the mountains the triturated rocks and mud which are to spread over and fertilise the plain, so the intercourse of man with man has gradually borrowed and withdrawn from the writings of the poets those words and phrases which have enriched our means of communicating with the minds of each other. This has been very neatly expressed by an American writer: SO
* This fact is also, perhaps, apparent in the other Latin name for
prose, which was oratio soluta, or loosened speech-loosened, that is, from the trammels and laws of verse.
“ I looked upon a plain of green,
Which some one called the Land of Prose,
In movement or repose,
I looked upon a stately hill
That well was named the Mount of Song,
The woods and streams among.
But most this fact my wonder bred
(Though known by all the nobly wise), It was the mountain stream that fed
That fair green plain's amenities."
The name Poet is derived from the Greek, and means maker. The term maker was in use both in England and in Scotland (but most in Scotland) to signify the poet; and Gawain Douglas, the Bishop of Dunkeld and the translator of Virgil, generally signed his name Makker. Among the Norsemen a poet was a Scald, a word which means polisher ; with the Germans he is still Dichter*, the polisher. The French of the Middle Ages called him a finderTrouvère in the North, and Troubadour in the South. The art of making verses was called La
5. The tendency of Prose has been always towards shorter and more compact sentences. In the fourteenth century, for example, Sir John Mandeville hardly knows when to end his sentences, some of which even overflow the page; and his notion of organizing a sentence is extremely weak and vague. On the other hand, the sentences of Macaulay, in the nineteenth century, are short, compact, and highly organized. Dr. Johnson says that Sir Wm. Temple was the first writer to introduce the compact sentence; but this is doubtful. Defoe's sentences are long and clumsy; Dr. Johnson's sentences too ponderous and pompous; Charles Lamb's are infinitely
* It is just possible for the name to have been the same in English. A poet might have been called a dighter. Spenser constantly uses the word for making verses. In Astrophel, for example, a poem on the death of his friend Sir Philip Sidney,-be says:
"For wel I wot my rymes ben rudely dight.”
sweet and pleasant to the ear; and perhaps Thackeray's are the most genuinely attractive, and easy to read. There is as much difference between the prose of the fourteenth and the prose of the nineteenth century, as there is between an English bridle-road of the fourteenth century, full of mud and ruts and deep holes, and a modern English railroad, or between the heavy, springless broadwheeled wagon of the fourteenth century and the light-hung and graceful carriage of the nineteenth.
6. LITERATURE is divided into Prose and Poetical Literature. The two great powers of the Mind are Reason and Imagination; and the writers in whom each of these predominates might be called respectively Thinkers and Makers; or, in the Greek terms we have brought into use, Philosophers and Poets. In Prose, Reason predominates; in Poetry, Imagination : but neither is ever entirely dissociated from the other. It is almost impossible to strictly define Prose Literature, or to classify its kinds with anything like adequacy or definiteness. But it is variously divided (according to its subject) into History, Biography, Fiction, Oratory, Essays, and Miscellaneous Literature. Poetry, again, is divided into Epic, Dramatic, Lyric, Elegiac, and Didactic. An Epic is a poetical narration of a number of great and heroic deeds which cluster round some great central event. This narrative was called by the Greeks an Epos. A Drama is a poem which represents a set of events which arise from the actions of the characters in it—which characters are not described by the author, but made to show themselves in their acts and speeches. The word drama means a deedsomething done. A Lyric is a short burst of song; and the lyrical poet is not supposed to narrate what happens to others or what others feel, but only to give expression to his own feelings, which are at the time strong and overmastering. The word lyric means sung to a lyre. An Elegiac might be classed as a sub-division of the Lyric. The word means mournful; and Elegiac poetry is devoted to sorrow or to lamentation for the dead. Didactic Poetry is that which instructs. But, as the chief object of Poetry is to delight, the term didactic poetry is a self-contradiction. There is, however, in fact, a kind of verse (or poetry) like Cowper's Sofa, or Pope's Essay on Man, which conveys thought and information on various subjects, but in a poetical and agreeable form.
7. But the external form of Poetry—the body and dress of it—is VERSE. Verse is measured language ; and it is measured by the number of accents. These measurements are now always given in Greek terms. If a verse or line of poetry contains
ONE accent, it is called MONOMETER. Compare Mon-arch.
8. Again, VERSE is found either with or without RHYME. The word rhyme is a corruption of the Old English word rime, which meant number. In King Alfred's time, arithmetic was called rimecraft; just as astronomy was called star-craft. But the word rime, finding itself frequently in the company of rhythm (a Greek word which means flow), borrowed from it the h and the y, and henceforth masqueraded as a Greek native. Rhyme is of three kinds: Headrhyme, Middle-rhyme, and End-rhyme.
(a) Head-rhyme is usually called Alliteration, and it simply means the repetition of the same letter at the beginning of different words. Almost all the old English poetry, down to the fourteenth century, was alliterative. This device seems to have been invented for the purposes of memory: as, when poetry was not committed to writing, the wandering minstrels could learn it from each other with more ease if one word suggested another which began with the same letter. End-rhyme came to us from the Romancists of France and Italy; was not introduced till the fourteenth century; and was then employed chiefly by Chaucer. Alliteration is exemplified in such sen. tences as :
“ Peter Piper picked a peck of pepper off a pewter plate." Churchill calls it, and uses it at the same time,
“ Apt alliteration's artful aid.” Now this form of verse was in use from the fifth to the fourteenth century. It follows, that if the best and liveliest and most inventive minds were busy for nine centuries in making phrases in this form, then it must have obtained a seat in the heart of the language
-must have got into the very bones and blood of the language,– that it cannot now be driven out. And this is the case. Shakspeare himself, who ridicules it (and in his time the making of alliterative verses had come down to be a kind of parlour game), is constantly falling into it, because it was impossible for him to avoid it.
“ Full fathom five thy father lies".
“In maiden meditation, fancy free" are only two lines among hundreds. Milton seems consciously fond of the device; and we find in his Paradise Lost many lines like
“ Fixed fate, free-will, fore-knowledge absolute;" or (in Lycidas) like
“Weep no more, woful shepherds, weep no more." Spenser in the sixteenth, and Tennyson in the nineteenth, century, are most addicted to alliteration. Innumerable lines like
“ Add faith unto your force, and be not faint
I follow here the footing of thy feet," are to be found in Spenser; and in Tennyson many verses like
“ And o’er them many a sliding star
And many a merry wind was borne,
The twilight melted into morn." The fashion, too, has got into the popular and the proverbial phraseology, as we might have expected. Thus we find “Far fowls have fair feathers;" “ Love me little, love me long;” and such phrases as weal and woe, rhyme nor reason, and cark and care.
9. MIDDLE-RHYME is the correspondence of vowels; and it is also called Assonance. It has not been much cultivated in English Poetry. It is the distinctive feature of Icelandic verse; and Mr. Marsh gives the following excellent example:
Roll, O rill,* for ever!
* A vowel correspondence like roll and rill is called a half-assonance.