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“ To Chloris ev'ry flower belonges of right;
“ To Hebe lovely kissing is assigned;
“ To Zephire ev'ry gentle breathing winde.
“O happye howre wherein I did forgoe
Hecatompathia, sonnet 92. I shall not undertake the defence of the Alexandrine. Even if Shakspeare had not been justified in its introduction, by the example of his contemporaries, and the writers who preceded him, I would leave it to those who have no relish for “ the long majestick march and energy divine” of Dryden, and who think “ cousin Swift was a better judge of poetry, to join with the facetious Dean and Mr. Steevens, in decrying its use. But whatever may be its demerits, if it has been shown to have found a place at almost every stage of our language, and in almost every species of composition, the reader will not be surprised at its admission into the laxity of dramatick dialogue. Those of our more ancient tragedies, which were formed upon the model of Ferrex and Porrex, are distinguished by a stately and formal march of rhythm, which admits of no variety whatever; and in them, therefore, the Alexandrine will rarely be found. If it occurs at all, we meet with it when the line begins in one speech and ends in another. Thus, in Kyd's Cornelia :
“ CÆSAR. Whom fearest thou, then, Mark Antony ? " ANTONY.
The hateful crew “ That wanting power in field to conquer you,
“ Have in their coward souls devised snares.” Others, like King Cambyses, were, for the most part, written in the fourteen syllable verse, with more
familiarity of language. The versification of Shakspeare and his contemporaries was formed upon a medium between them both, not so formal as the one, nor so lax as the other. Marlowe, who was the greatest master of harmony in dramatick dialogue, before Shakspeare, has been sparing in the use of the Alexandrine; but in our great poet himself we meet with it in abundance. After all that Mr. Steevens has done, there are hundreds of lines in this measure which he can, by no contrivance, cut down, without totally re-writing the passage. In Massinger and Jonson they are not less frequent. I tried the experiment with Fletcher, and, on counting the number of instances in which an Alexandrine is employed, in one play, selected at random, I found in The Loyal Subject no less than fifty-two. It would be endless to produce instances: they may be easily discovered by the most careless reader, who will read a few pages in any one of the dramatick writers of Shakspeare's time. A similar liberty was taken in our ancient plays, where the eight syllable measure was chosen : it was sometimes mingled with the heroick ten syllable lines. In Pericles, wherever this takes place, Mr. Steevens applies the knife without scruple. In the very first prologue by Gower, where the meaning of the original copy is perfectly clear, he has cut out two syllables from a couplet, and owns that by so doing he has introduced obscurity ; but whimsically contends that he has thus promoted the object of the author, who probably was desirous of being obscure. See vol. xxi. p. 12, n. 6. He has rendered him the same assistance on a multitude of other occasions. He adds, “Of the same licence, I should not have availed myself, had I been employed on any of the undisputed dramas of our author.” If he had adhered to this rule, his slashing mode of emendation might have been pardoned. The prologues of Gower are not of that excellence that we should be anxiously
solicitous about their purity; but how is it possible to restrain a feeling of indignation, when we find him tampering with Macbeth ? In Act III. Sc. V. he has twice mangled the poet upon the pretence of curing inequality of metre. I will mention one of his alterations :
“ I am for the air ; this night I'll spend
“ Unto a dismal and a fatal end." This he reads,
“ Unto a dismal-fatal end :" because the old copy violates the metre. Yet in this very scene we find, at the commencement, three lines which are equally objectionable, but which he has not ventured to touch :
“1 Witch. Why, how now, Hecate? you look angerly.
“ Hecate. Have I not reason, beldames as you are, “ Saucy and over bold ? How did
dare" But the practice of intermingling the eight and tensyllable lines with each other, is not peculiar to Shakspeare. In Fletcher's Faithful Shepherdess, one of the most harmonious poems in our language, we meet with the same variety:
« River God. The blood returns. I never saw
“ R. God. I have healed thy wounds.
Act III. Sc. I.
Oh, my heart !
“ Pan, preserve me! what are you?
“ Her smooth white hand to help her friend.
“ More reproving, and more awe,
“ Eagerly renews again!
Act IV. Sc. II. But there are other redundancies of frequent occurrence in our old poets. At the commencement of a line, we often find a supernumerary syllable. I will not go further back upon this occasion, than to Lord Surrey. His Elegy on Sir Thomas Wyatt begins thus :
“ Wyatt resteth here, that quick could never rest." Again :
“ The great Macedon that out of Persia chased.” Some instances occur in his translation of Virgil, such as
“ Of Deiphobus the palace large and great.” B. ii. 1. 395. Shakspeare has not often indulged in this licence. In his contemporaries it is much more frequent, particularly in Massinger, where it is met with in almost every page. I will give one instance from Fletcher :
“ Thou wast wont to love old women, fat and flat-nosed :
Monsieur Thomas, Act III. Sc. III. A redundant syllable was also sometimes added at the end of a line. Words which naturally terminate in a trochee, are perpetually thus used in all English poetry, both ancient and modern. Dr. Johnson, in his Preface, has traced it no higher than to Hierony
mo; but it is often found in Chaucer; as, for example, in the Nonnes Preestes Tale, speaking of Chaunticleere:
“ For when degrees fifteene were ascended
“ Than crew he, that it might not ben amended.” It is found, I believe, in all subsequent writers; among others, Surrey in his Virgil :
“ There Hecuba I saw with a hundred moe
“ Of her sons wyves, and Priam at the altar.” But the licence which I speak of, is where two words of equal quantity occur at the close of a line, and a trochee is formed of them by an artificial accent laid upon the first*.
Of this also there are not very many instances in Shakspeare; but I will exemplify it by a passage in Cymbeline, vol. xiii. p. 212:
“ Iachimo. I am glad to be constrained to utter that which “ Torments me to conceal.”
So in Henry VIII. vol. ix. p. 432 :
“ Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away ambition :
“ The image of his Maker, hope to win by't.” I have said in a note in the passage quoted from Cymbeline, that this termination is perpetually to be met with in Fletcher. I will give one or two
* It is generally asserted that English verse depends not upon quantity, but accent alone. Surely this is too broadly stated. When Pope'submitted his Pastorals to the correction of "knowing Walsh,” he inquired whether, in the second line of the first Pastoral, which originally stood
“ Nor blush to sport on Windsor's peaceful plains ;" it would be better to alter peaceful to happy, in order to avoid the alliteration. Walsh objected to the substitution of happy for peaceful, from its not being the same quantity, as the first syllable in happy was short. Pope assented to this criticism, and adopted blissful plains.