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their own finest effusions; I refer to Coleridge's Christabel, in which a variety of line and rhyme, and even blank verse is wrought into a marvellous unity-nowhere more than in that passage picturing Christabel in the forest, when she hears the moaning of the witch.
“Is the night chilly and dark !
She stole along, she nothing spoke,
The sighs she heav'd were soft and low;
But moss and rarest mistletoe;
The lady sprang up suddenly,
The lovely lady, Christabel!
But what it is, she cannot tell;
The night is chill, the forest bare :
Is it the wind that moaneth bleak.
There is not wind enough in the air
To move away the ringlet curl
There is not wind enough to twirl
Hush, beating heart of Christabel !" There is one more principle in the study of language in poetic literature which I wish to notice, and that is the beauty of the adaptation in all true poetry of the metrical form to the subject and feeling of the poem. “Every true poet,” it has been well said, “has a song in his mind, the notes of which, little as they precede his thoughts—so little as to seem simultaneous with them—do precede, suggest and inspire many of these, modify and beautify
How this connection exists between the poet's thought and passion, and their apt tune in language, is more, perhaps, than philosophy can discover; but there is an interest in observing the fact; and this also is to be thought of, that the true poet awakens this spiritual song in the mind of his reader.
Even the same form of verse is very different in the hands of different poets, and has great and characteristic variety of excellence—the blank verse of Milton, of Cowper, and of Wordsworth, having each a beautiful melody of its own.
It adds to our knowledge of our language and its powers, and also greatly to the cultivated enjoyment of poetical reading, if we take the pains to observe and appreciate the harmonious relation of the measure and
* Darley's Introduction to Beaumont and Fletcher, as quoted in “Chaucer Modernized,” p. 48.
the subject. I will give an illustration of this relation, by quoting two pieces by the same poet, and then will detain
you but a few minutes longer. The contrast between the pieces is a refined one, because in each there is an adaptation to deep pathos, but exquisitely varied to different forms of pathos, the emotion at the aspect of death in its gentleness, and of death in its terrible tragedy.
“We watched her breathing through the night,
Her breathing soft and low,
Kept heaving to and fro.
So silently we seemed to speak,
So slowly moved about,
To eke her living out.
Our fears our hopes belied;
And sleeping when she died.
For when the morn came dim and sad
And chill with early showers,
Another morn than ours."*
What perfect tranquillity and sense of resignation there is in these purely simple English words and their gentle flow. Turn from them to that other poem of the same author, “ The Bridge of Sighs,”—a poet's feeling rebuke of the vice and inhumanity of a great metropolis, and of sympathy with its poor, degraded victims, driven to suicide in the midnight waters of the city's river. The tranquil, soul-subduing music of the former piece is
* Collected Edition of Hood's Poems, vol. ii., p. 98, and vol. i., p. 264.
changed to a short and abrupt measure, in which the passions of pity, bitter anger, and grief are stirring for utterance. *
It is thus in a nation's poetry (that is, of course, when it is really poetry of a high and worthy kind) that the language will be found in its highest perfection, in its truest cultivation; for a poet can never suffer his style to fall short of a well-sustained purity. It is, therefore, in the poetry that a language may best be studied, even for prose uses; that is, when any one would know to what state of excellence the language may be carried, he must look to that chiefly, but, of course, not exclusively, in the poetical literature.
We are living at a period when the language has attained a high degree of excellence, both in prose and verse,—when it has developed largely, for all the uses of language, its power and its beauty. It is one of the noblest languages that the earth has ever sounded with; it is our endowment, our inheritance, our trust. ciates us with the wise and good of olden times, and it couples us with the kindred peoples of many distant regions. It is our duty, therefore, to cultivate, to cherish, and to keep it from corruption. Especially is this a duty for us, who are spreading that language over such vast territory; and not only that, but having such growing facilities of intercommunication, that the language is perpetually speeding from one portion of the land to another with wondrous rapidity, equally favourable to the diffusion of either purity or corruption of speech, but, certainly, calculated to break down narrow and false provincialisms of speech.
* I have not thought it worth while to reprint at length a poem so familiar as the “Bridge of Sighs;" but those who heard this lecture will not easily forget the beautiful and tearful manner-his own gentle nature agitated by uncontrollable sympathy-in which he recited its beautiful stanzas. W. B. R.
In the culture and preservation of a language, there are two principles, deep-seated in the philosophy of language, which should be borne in mind. One is, that every living language has a power of growth, of expansion, of development; in other words, its life-that which makes it a living language, having within itself a power to supply the growing wants and improvements of a living people that uses it. If by any system of rules restraint is put on this genuine and healthful freedom, on this genial movement, the native vigour of the language
is weakened. It may be asked whether, by this principle of the life of a language, it is meant that the language has no law. Very far from it. The other principle (and with which the first is in perfect harmony) is, that every language, living or dead, has its laws. Indeed it has been wisely said that,
whatever be the object of our study, be it language, or history, or whatsoever province of the material or spiritual world, we ought, in the first instance, to be strongly impressed with the conviction that every thing in it is subject to the operation of certain principles, to the dominion of certain laws; that there is nothing lawless in it, nothing unprincipled, nothing insulated or capricious, though, from the fragmentary nature of our knowledge, many things may possibly appear so.”
Now this willing, dutiful belief in the existence of the laws of a language, however concealed they may be under apparent anomalies, will not unfrequently evolve