« PreviousContinue »
Wallis, the celebrated grammarian, would be the destruction of all says, that “with our early poets it music. is found that that (final) E did or did Tyrwhitt urges the reason of pronot constitute an additional syllable, nouncing the final E ; namely, that just as the structure of the verse re- it remains to us from a language in quired it.” Urry, whose edition of which it formed a syllable. So from Chaucer was published, not long after the Norman French we have fac-E, liis death, in 1721, knows for vocal the host-E, chang-E, &c. This is basing the termination in ES, of genitive singular matter on its true ground. It must, and of the plural—also the past tense however, be acknowledged with some and participle in ED, which, however, sorrow, that this well-schooled, clearcan hardly be thought much of, as it minded, and most laborious editor is a power over one mute E that we did not feel himself bound, for the beretain in use to this day. The final hoof of his author, to master, as far E, too, he marks for a syllable where as the philology of the day might have he finds one wanted, but evidently enabled him, the Saxon tongue itself, without any grammatical reason. and learn from the fountain what Urry was an unfortunate editor. might, and what could not be—the Truly does Tyrwhitt say of him, that language of Chaucer. Imperfect as the “his design of restoring the metre of study of the Anglo-Saxon then was, Chaucer by a collation of MSS., was he would thus have possessed a needas laudable as his execution of it has ful mastery over the manuscripts, certainly been unsuccessful.” The upon which, as it was, he wholly denatural causes of this ill success are pended; and he would have been saved thus severely and distinctly stated, from some unguarded philological as“The strange license in which he sertions and whimsical speculations. appears to have indulged himself, of Wanting this guidance, the work, so lengthening and shortening Chaucer's well executed as it is, is a monument words according to his own fancy, and only the more to be wondered at of of even adding words of his own, his indefatigable industry and extrawithout giving his readers the least ordinary good sense. notice, has made the text of Chaucer Upon any where opening Chaucer, in his edition by far the worst that of the many seemingly defective verses, was ever published.” One is not sur- (Dryden in saying thousands may prised when Tyrwhitt, the model of have exaggerated the number even in a gentlemanly and scholarly editor, a Speght,) by far the greater part will be very pattern of temperate, equitable, found recoverable to measure by that and merciful criticism, cannot refrain restitution of the Mute E which we from closing his preface with this ex- since, too exclusively perhaps, connect tinguishing censure of his wilful pre- with the name of Tyrwhitt. The contidecessor—"Mr Urry's edition should dence felt in his text, however, the never be opened by any one for the only one upon which a metrical schopurpose of reading Chancer.”
lar dares work--in some sort justiMorell, a scholar, published in 1737 fies the honour. Meanwhile, this the Prologue and the Knight's Tale metrical theory, from his time, las —and he, too, marked at need the been generally received; and the reMute E's in his text, but by what nown of the founder of our poetry rule Tyrwhitt does not intimate, nor settled on all the wider and firmer do we now distinctly recollect. He basis, when he appears as the earliest courageously holds that the numbers skilled artificer of the versc itself-of Chaucer TM are always musical, the ten-syllabled or now national whether they want or exceed the verse, of Shakspeare, Spenser, Milton, complement." But that cannot well Dryden, and Pope. be; for except in very peculiar cases, One starts, therefore, to find a such, for example, as the happy line, name of such distinction as the late “ Gingling in the whistling wind full Laureate's formally opposed to Tyrclear"_if the MS. have it so-a line whitt, and committed to the opinion of nine syllables only must be a lame which may seem to have been Dryone-and their frequent recurrence den's, tbat the verse of Chaucer is “ rhythmical, not metrical.". This they's. For we have seen that Souhardly self-explicating distinction of they's ground of distinction is the Dr Geo. Fred. Nott's, Southey in his number of syllables unrestrained or Life of Cowper has explained in set varying, as in Christabel. But Nott terms--a verse for which the number says repeatedly, that the number of of beats or accents is ruled is rhyth- syllables is fixed, namely, to ten; and mical-for example, the verse of Cole- of the five beats he says not a word. ridge's Christabel. In that beautiful To extricate Nott's argument (in poem, the verse is fixed at four beats his edition of Surrey) from entangleor accents, but is free syllabled, ment would not repay a tithe of having six, seven, ten, twelve, or the trouble ; suffice it to say that fourteen. Southey cannot believe he holds that as English verse, bethat the prudent and practical Chau- fore Chaucer, was rhythmical, it is cer would have placed his verse, in- not likely that Chaucer all at once tended for general reception, in the made it metrical. We answer firstjeopardy of a reader's discretion for the question is of a fact offering its determining when the verse required own evidence, not of an anterior likethe sounding, and when the silence, lihood. Secondly-Tyrwhitt's theory of a vowel, by its nature free to be that Chaucer, from his intimacy with sounded or left silent, as exigency the more advanced French and Italian might require. But he misapprehends poetry, adopted their measure, and the proposed remedy; and the discre- stamped art upon a poetry till then tion which he supposes is not given. rude and helpless, has high natural In the two languages from which ours probability, and agrees to the veheis immediately derived, the Anglo- ment early extollings of Chaucer as a Saxon and the Norman-French, there sovereign master of art. Thirdly-we are found many final syllables, entirely desire a better proof and explanation dropped in our pronunciation, and of the difference between rhythmical many of them in our writing, but and metrical verse than Dr Nott has which in the time of Chancer were all given, who has placed some extracts still written, and all with the same from these anterior poets at the side vowel E. The metrical hypothesis of some from Chaucer, which prove to which Tyrwhitt's labours gave a just nothing. Fourthly, there was lustre, much heightened by the Anglo- metrical verse in England before Saxon studies abroad and at home of Chaucer, eight-syllabled and fifteenthe present century, bears—first, that syllabled-if no others. Mr Hallam in the language of Chaucer's day (Introduction to the Literature of these syllables were still audible; and Europe) writes with more commendasecondly, that Chaucer consequently tion of Dr Nott's accomplishments employed them in his verse, like any than they merit; but in the following other syllables, with the due metrical excellent passage he shows his usual value :-herein not, as the Laureate knowledge of his subject, and his usual thought, overruling, but conforming judgment. himself to the use of his mother tongue. To this more than plausible
“ It had been supposed to be proved view,which, if the late studies that have by Tyrwhitt, that Chaucer's lines are been taken in the intelligence of Al
to be read metrically, in ten or eleven fred's speech had been made in Tyr- syllables, like the Italian, and, as I apwhitt's day, would not have waited prehend, the French of his time. For till now for its full establishment, no
this purpose, it is necessary to presume
that many terminations, now mute, were objection has yet been raised that seems to deserve the slightest atten
syllabically pronounced; and where tion. The Laureate's vanish upon
verses prove refractory after all our enthe mere statement. For Dr Nott, declaring them corrupt.
deavours, Tyrwhitt has no scruple in
It may be on whom he triumphantly builds, and added, that Gray, before the appearwhose proofs he seems to adopt–he is ance of Tyrwhitt's essay on the versifithe weakest and most wrongheaded cation of Chaucer, bad adopted without of all possible prosers; and, what is hesitation the same hypothesis. But, more, his opinions, if they deserve according to Dr Nott, the verses of the name, differ toto colo from Sou- Chaucer, and of all his successors down to Surrey, are merely rhythmical, to be aberrant lines are much more common read by cadence, and admitting of con- in the dramatic blank verse of the se. siderable variety in the number of venteenth century. They are, doubtless, syllables, though ten may be the more vestiges of the old rhythmical forms; frequent. In the manuscripts of Chaucer, and we may readily allow that English the line is always broken by a cæsura versification had not, in the fifteenth or in the middle, which is pointed out by a even sixteenth centuries, the numerical virgule; and this is preserved in the regularity of classical or Italian metre. early editions down to that of 1532. In the ancient ballads, Scots and English, They come near, therefore, to the short the substitution of the anapaest for the Saxon line, differing chiefly by the iambic foot, is of perpetual recurrence, alternate rhyme, which converts two and gives them a remarkable elasticity verses into one. He maintains that a and animation; but we never fail to great many lines of Chaucer cannot be
recognize a uniformity of measure, read metrically, though harmonious as which the use of nearly equipollent verses of cadence. This rhythmical feet cannot, on the strictest metrical measure he proceeds to show in Hoc- principles, be thought to impair." cleve, Lydgate, Hawes, Barclay, Skel
Mr Guest, in his work, of which ton, and even Wyatt; and thus concludes,
we hope erelong to give an account, that it was first abandoned by Surrey, in whom it very rarely occurs.
brings to the story of English verse This
far more extensive research than hypothesis, it should be observed, de
had hitherto been bestowed upon rives some additional plausibility from a passage in Gascoyne's Notes of it;, and that special scholarship instruction concerning the making of which was needed—the Anglo-Saxon verse or rhyme in English, printed in language, learned in the new continen1575. Whosoever do peruse and well
tal school of Rask and Grimm. His consider his (Chaucer's) works, he examination of our subject merges in shall find that, although his lines are
a general history of the Language, not always of one selfsame number of viewed as a metrical element or masyllables, yet being read by one that terial; and hence his exposition, which hath understanding, the longest verse, we rapidly collect seriatim, is plainly and that which hath most syllables in different in respect of both order and it, will fall (to the ear) correspondent fulness from what it would have been, unto that which hath fewest syllables; had the illustration of Chaucer been his and likewise that which hath fewest main purpose. He follows down the syllables shall be found yet to consist of gradual Extinction of Syllables; and words that have such natural sound, as in this respect, our anciently syllamay seem equal in length to a verse bled, now mute E, takes high place. which bath many more syllables of and falls first under his consideration, lighter accents.
This now silent or vanished Vowel "A theory so ingeniously maintained,
occurred heretofore, with metrical and with so much induction of exam
power, in adopted FRENCH Substanples, has naturally gained a good deal of credit. I cannot, however, by any
tives, as-eloquenc-E, maladi-E; and
in their plurals, as—maladi-Es. And means concur in the extension given to
in Adjectives of the same origin, asit. Pages may be read in Chaucer, and stili more in Dunbar, where every
It remained from several parts of is regularly and harmoniously decasyllabic; and though the cæsura may per
the Anglo-Saxon grammar.–From haps fall rather more uniformly than it A, E, U, endings of Anglo-Saxon subdoes in modern verse, it would be very
stantives—as nam-A, nam-E ; tim-A, easy to find exceptions, which could
tim-E ; mon-A, (the moon,) mon-E; not acquire a rhythmical cadence by any
sunn-E, (the sun,) sonn-E; heort-E, artifice of the reader. The deviations (the heart,) hert-E; car-E, (the ear,) from the normal type, or decasyllable er-E; scol-u, (school,) scol-x ; luf-v, line, were they more numerous than, lov-E;sccam-u, sham-E;lag-a, law-E; after allowance for the license of pro- sun-u, (a son,) son-E; wud-u, (a nunciation, as well as the probable cor- wood) wod-E.-(To Mr Guest's three ruption of the text, they appear to be, vowels, add 0:—as bræd-o (breadth) would not, I conceive, justify us in con- bred-E.).— From the termination cluding that it was disregarded. These THE; as-streng-THE; yow-TIIE. -From a few adjectives ending in E; Guest's particular regard; but it is as-getrew-E, trew-E; new-E, new-E. easily understood that the Anglo-From adverbs, formed by the same Saxon hlaford, (lord,) gen. sing. vowel from adjectives; as from beorht, hlaford-Es, bad, in Chaucer's day, (bright,) is made, in Anglo-Saxon, become lord, lord-Es;—and that scur, beorht-E, (brightly,) remaining with (shower,) plural scur-As, of our disChaucer, as bright-E.-Inflexion pro- tant progenitors had bequeathed to duces the final E. In substantives, his verse-shour, shour-Es. the prevalent singular dative of the Legitimate scepticism surely ceases mother speech was in E. Chaucer, when it thus appears that ignorance now and then, seems to present us alone has hastily understood that this with a dative; as in the second verse vowel, extant in this or that word, of the Prologue to the Canterbury with a quite alien meaning and use, Tales, from rot, (root,) rot-E. And (e. g. for lengthening a foregoing Mr Guest thinks that he has found vowel -softening an antecedent conONE instance of a genitive plural E sonant,)—or with none, and through from A; namely, from the earlier ath, the pure casualty of negligence or (an oath,) genitive plural, ath-A; with of error, might at any time be pressed Chaucer-oth, oth-E.
irregularly into metrical service. The German family of languages Assuredly Chaucer never used such exhibits a fine and bold peculiarity- blind and wild license of straightening a double declension of its Adjectives, his measure ; but an instructed eye depending on a condition of syntax. sees in the Canterbury Tales—and The Anglo-Saxon adjective, in its or- in all his poetry of which the text is dinary (or, as grammarians have called incorrupt—the uniform application of it, Indefinite) declension, makes the an intricate and thoroughly critical nominative plural for all the genders rule, which fills up by scores, by hunin E; and this remains as the regular dreds, or by thousands, the timeplural termination of the adjective to wronged verses of " the Great FounChaucer. Thus we have, in the morc an- der” to true measure and true music. cient language-eald; plural, eald-E; To sum up in a few words our own with Chaucer-old; plural, old-r, &c. views-First, if you take no account
The rule of the extraordinary (or De- of the mute E, the great majority of finite)declension is thus generallygiven Chaucer's verses in the only justifiable by MrGuest for Chaucer. “When the text-Tyrwhitt's Canterbury Tales adjective follows the definite article, or are in what we commonly call the TENthe definite pronoun, this, that, or any syllabled Iambic metre. one of the possessive pronouns-his, Secondly, if you take account of the her, &c.—it takes what is called its de- metrical E, the great majority of them finite form."—(Vol. i. p. 32.) From appear, if you choose so to call them, the Anglo-Saxon definite declension as ELEVEN-syllabled lambic verses, (running through three genders, five or as the common heroic measure with cases, and two numbers,) remains, to a supernumerary terminal syllable. the language that arose after the Thirdly, if you take xo account of Conquest, one final E. E. g. Inde- the disputed E, a very large number finite-strong; definite, strong-e;- of the verses, but less apparently than indefinite_high ; definite—high-E. the majority, appear as wanting in
The Verb ends the first person sin- ternally one or two syllables. gular, and the three persons plural, Fourthly, if you take account of the of the present tense, and makes im- said troublesome E, almost universally perative and infinitive, in E. The these deficient measures become filled past tense generally ends in DE or up to the due complement- become EDE; (Mr Guest has forgotten TE;) decasyllabic or hendecasyllabic, as sometimes in ED.
the case may be. As for those two principal cndings, Fifthly, if you consent to take acthe genitive singular in ES, which is count of this grammatical metrical E, the Anglo-Saxon termination retain- no inconsiderable number of the verses ed, and the plural in ES, which is --ten-syllabled or eleven-syllabled, the Anglo-Saxon ending obscured, by technical computation-acquire one they happen hardly to fall under Mr or two supernuinerary syllables distributed, if one may so speak, within relief from objections greater than the verse--and to be viewed as en- those who should enquire concerning riching the harmony without distort- perhaps any other poet. In the foring or extending the measure, after mation of bis verse, and the lifting up the manner of the Paradise Lost. of a rude language, more than Dante
Finally, (for the present,) whether himself, a creator! What wonder, the verses in general fall under our then, if he should sometimes make usual English scheme of the one-syl-' mistakes, and that some inconsistenlabled ending, or end, as the Italian cies remain at last irreducible? If for the most part do, dissyllabically, the method undertaken draws the has been disputed by those who agree irreducible cases into a narrower and in the recognition of the metrical E. a narrower compass, that sufficiently To wit-shall the final E of Mr justifies the theory of the method Guest's rule, ending the verse, and against all gainsayers. where it would, consequently, make This copious, and, possibly, tedious a hypercatalectic eleventh_syllable, grammatical display of this once acstill be pronounced as Tyrwhitt, tive metrical element, was forced from although not anxiously, contends ? us as the only proper answer to the If the grammatical rule is imperative doubt revived in our own day on the within the verse, as much, one would versification of Chaucer. We are too think, must it be so at its termination. prone to believe that our forefathers That Chaucer admits the doubled were as rude as their speech, and their ending we see by numerous unequi- speech as they ; but this multitude of vocal instances from all moods of the grammatical delicacies, retained for verse, mirthful and solemn; these centuries after the subjection of the show a versification friendly to the native language by conquest, and sysdoubled ending; and must go far to tematically applied in the versification remove any scruple of admitting Tyr- of the great old poet, shows a feeling whitt's conception of it as generally of language, and an authentic stamp hendecasyllabic.
of art, that claim the most genial and Let the position of Chaucer in the sympathizing respect of a refined history of his art be considered, and posterity, their not wholly unreit will be seen that those who main- fined, more heroic ancestors. tain a systematic art in him have a