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compressed extracts from Shakespeare, as an author most eminently useful in the promotion of the object of the volume: and accordingly he was forced to abandon the greater number of the poets whose works form that singular galaxy of dramatic power, which filled the half century between the later portion of Elizabeth's reign and that of Charles I. An absence of comic extracts has also been noticed. The Compiler was anxious to have furnished some of this class; but, besides the difficulty of finding pieces of a length and character adapted to his purpose, he conceived that the specimens which he could have selected would have afforded but a very defective and meagre view of the progress of the comic drama, whose history is distinct from that of every other department of our literature, and whose character has continually varied with the various changes of English manners and tastes. The illustration by extracts of the English drama in both its departments is extensive enough to form material for a separate volume.
It has also been remarked as anomalous, that so much space has been afforded to Swift, a writer of an unami. able and even objectionable character, and destitute of the true spirit and feeling of a poet, while so little room has been accorded to the charming descriptions of Thomson. The compiler conceived that Swift is an author so remarkable, as differing in spirit and style from the artificial mannerism of his age, both in prose and verse, and as furnishing examples of the purest simplicity in English writing, that, independently of his historical influence on the thinking and the writing of the times in which he lived, he seemed to merit a conspicuous place in the list of English classics. Besides, the extract from his poem on his own death furnishes an interesting example of the phenomena of a mind, whose singular psychological structure has been an object of wonder and mystery to all his biographers. On the other hand, descriptive poetry is sufficiently abun. dant in the Extracts, and has in general too much en
cumbered works of a cast similar to that of the present volume.
Of the vast body of poetry produced in the island since the commencement of the present century, a portion of a limited volume can present but a slender outline; and the compiler regrets the reluctant omission of many authors, whose original thinking, and correct and beautiful poetic sentiment, have added lustre to the literature of the pre
The selections from the very early poets bave been made more extensive than is usual in works of this character, chiefly on account of the facilities afforded by these writers for tracing the history and the vicissitudes of the language. The changes undergone by our tongue, between the beginning of the fifteenth century, the period of Chaucer's death, and the seventeenth, are, as is natural from the circumstances of the history of literature among all modern nations, far more striking and observable than in the two centuries which have since elapsed. It has long been an object of regret among literary men, that our elder authors have been buried under the weight of an absurd, and often apparently fortuitous, orthography, which obscures to the eye, and consequently to the intelligence, the meaning and beauty of the text. Accordingly, in the extracts from Chaucer and his immediate successors, the modern orthography has been adopted, except in so far as is requisite for the harmony of the lines, or for the preservation of the antique aspect of the pieces. The controversy respecting the theory of the versification of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries rendered this limitation necessary. For a brief view of the principles of this controversy, we place before our readers the following two quotations; the one from the late Mr D'Israeli's “ Amenities of Literature," the other from the Introductory Essay of Mr R. H. Horne, prefixed to “Chaucer Modernised by Wordsworth, Leigh Hunt, &c."
“Tyrwhit has ingeniously constructed a metrical sys
tem to arrange the versification to the ear of a modern reader: by this contrivance he would have removed all obstructions in the pronunciation and syllabic quantities. He maintained that the lines were regular decasyllables. But who can read this poet for any length, even the Canterbury Tales in the elaborated text of Tyrwbit, without being reminded of its fallacy ? Even the E final, on which our critic has laid such stress, though often sounded, assuredly is sometimes mute. Dan Chaucer makes at his pleasure words long or short, and dissyllabic or trisyllabic ; and this he has himself told us:
• But for the rime is light and lewde,
Though some verse fail in a syllàble.' Our critic was often puzzled by his own ingenuity, for in some inveterate cases he has thrown out in despair an observation, that a reader who cannot perform such operations for himself (that is, helping out the metre) had better not trouble his head about the versification of our ancient authors.' The verse of Chaucer seems more carefully regulated in his later work, the Tales; but it is evident that Chaucer trusted his cadences to his ear, and his verse is therefore usually rhythmical and accidentally metrical.
“ This circumstance arose from the custom of the age, when poems were recited, and not read. Readers there were none among the people, though auditors were never wanting; it was much the same among the higher orders. Poems were usually performed in plain chant, and a verse was musical by the modulation of the harp.
There was no typographical metre placed under the eye of the reciter; the melody of the poet too often depended on the adroitness of the perforiner ; and the only publishers of the popular poems of Chaucer were the harpers, who, in stately halls on festal days, entranced their audience with Chaucer's Tale, or his · Ballade.'
His poem of Troilus and Cres
sida, although almost as long as the Æneid, was intended to be sung to the harp as well as read, as the poet himself tells us in addressing his poem-
"And redde whereso thou be, or elles sung.' In the most ancient manuscripts of Chaucer's works, the Caesura of every line is carefully noted, to preserve the rhythmical cadence with precision ; without this precaution, the harmony of such loose versification would be lost. In the later editions, when the race of roaming minstrels had departed, and our verse had become solely metrical, the printers omitted this guide to the ancient recitation. We perceive this want in the uncertain measures of Chaucer's versification; and a dexterous modulation is still required to catch the recitative of Chaucer's poems.”D'Israeli's Amenities of Literature, vol. i. p. 269.
Mr Horne's statement is the following:
“Our position is that Chaucer was a most harmonious and melodious poet, and that he was a perfect master of the various forms of versification in which he wrote; that the principle on which his rhythm is founded fuses and subjects within itself all the minor details of metre; that this principle, though it has been understood only by the few, and never systematically explained, is more or less inseparable from the composition of an harmonious versification in the English language, and that he, the first man, if not unrivalled in the varied music of his verse, has scarcely been surpassed by any succeeding poet." Then, after a quotation from Tyrwhit, containing Dryden's strictures on the unmusicalness of Chaucer's irregularly syllabized versification, Mr Horne proceeds,-“The foregoing quotation affords us undeniable proof of the reason why Chaucer was considered, then and ever since, as a writer of rugged verses, which few (except his contemporaries, who understood the quantity he attached to his words, and the rhythm he adopted) could read so as to discover their continuous music. No doubt but Dryden was right in oppo
sition to Mr Speght. There are not ten syllables in every heroic of Chaucer: occasionally, but very rarely indeed there are only nine ; sometimes there are eleven, reckoning a double syllable or double rhyme at the end as two; but continually there are eleven, without a final double syllable ;-and this was Chaucer's favourite variation. But to assert that the poet's verse is rendered unmusical by any of these variations, is a mistake, resulting from not perceiving the principle of his rhythm, a principle which is inseparable from a full or fair exercise of the genius of our language in versification."
Mr Horne then proceeds to show how the rhythmic principle has been applied with delightful effect by all the most musical and harmonious of our more modern poets.- Introduction to 66 Chaucer Modernised by Wordsworth, Leigh Hunt, &c."
These quotations will furnish an idea of the shape of the controversy respecting the rhythmical or metrical principles on which our forefathers constructed their versification. The works of Warton, Tyrwhit, &c., may be consulted for specific information. Our very early writers will possibly never be again popular, except in occasional selections in the translated or modernised shape with which they have been sometimes invested: but to the philosophical student of language they are indispensably necessary, as containing the true key to a proper knowledge of his vernacular tongue; while to the general student their reflections and descriptions throw frequent and interesting lights on the history, manners, and government of the country and people. It is, moreover, no uninteresting speculation, to contemplate how, from the lispings of a barbarous age, jejune often in thought, and meagre in expression, the English mind has reared a literature inferior to none in depth of thinking, splendour of originality, and dignity and harmony of language: wbile no poetical literature is, as a whole, purer in its religious principle, or higher in its moral aims.
It is hoped that the annotations intended for the illus