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An ordinary SONG or BALLAD, that is the delight of the common people, cannot fail to please all such readers as are not unqualified for the entertainment by their affectation or their ignorance; and the reason is plain, because the same paintings of Nature which recommend it to the most ordinary reader, will appear beautiful to the most refined.

ADDISON, in SPECTATOR, No. 70.

RELIQUES

OF

ANCIENT POETRY, &c.

BOOK VI.

I.

The Complaint of Conscience.

I SHALL begin this Sixth Book with an old allegoric Satire: a manner of moralizing, which, if it was not first introduced by the author of Pierce Plowman's Visions, was at least chiefly brought into repute by that ancient satirist. It is not so generally known that the kind of verse used in this ballad hath any affinity with the peculiar metre of that writer, for which reason I shall throw together some cursory remarks on that very singular species of versification, the nature of which has been so little understood.

ON THE ALLITERATIVE METRE, WITHOUT RHYME,

IN PIERCE PLOWMAN'S VISIONS.

We learn from Wormius,' that the ancient Islandic poets used a great variety of measures: he mentions 136 different kinds, without including rhyme, or a correspondence of final syllables: yet this was occasionally used, as appears from the Ode of Egil, which Wormius hath inserted in his book.

He hath analyzed the structure of one of these kinds of verse, the harmony of which neither depended on the quantity of the syllables, like that of the ancient Greeks and Romans, nor on the rhymes at the end, as in modern poetry, but consisted altogether in alliteration, or a certain artful repetition of the sounds in the middle of the verses. This was adjusted according to certain rules of their prosody, one of

1 Literatura Runica. Hafnia, 1636, 4to.-1651, fol. The Islandic language is of the same origin as our Anglo-Saxon, being both dialects of the ancient Gothic or Teutonic.-Vide Hickesii Præfat. in Grammat. AngloSaxon, and Meso-Goth. 4to, 1689.

VOL. II.

B

which was that every distich should contain at least three words beginning with the same letter or sound. Two of these correspondent sounds might be placed either in the first or second line of the distich, and one in the other; but all three were not regularly to be crowded into one line. This will be best understood by the following examples, 2 "Gab Ginunga

"Meire og Minne
Mogu heimdaller."

Enn Gras huerge."

There were many other little niceties observed by the Islandic poets, who, as they retained their original language and peculiarities longer than the other nations of Gothic race, had time to cultivate their native poetry more, and to carry it to a higher pitch of refinement, than any of the rest.

Their brethren, the Anglo-Saxon poets, occasionally used the same kind of alliteration, and it is common to meet in their writings with similar examples of the foregoing rules. Take an instance or two in modern characters: 3

"Skeop tha and Skyrede
Skyppend ure."

"Ham and Heahsetl
Heofena rikes."

I know not, however, that there is anywhere extant an entire Saxon poem all in this measure. But distichs of this sort perpetually occur in all their poems of any length.

Now, if we examine the versification of Pierce Plowman's Visions, we shall find it constructed exactly by these rules: and therefore each line, as printed, is in reality a distich of two verses, and will, I believe, be found distinguished as such, by some mark or other in all the ancient MSS., viz.

"In a Somer Season, | when 'hot' was the Sunne,
I Shope me into Shroubs, as I a Shepe were;
I Habite as an Harmet | un Holy of werkes,
Went Wyde in thys world | Wonders to heare," &c.

So that the author of this poem will not be found to have invented any new mode of versification, as some have supposed, but only to have retained that of the Old Saxon and Gothic poets, which was probably never wholly laid aside, but occasionally used at different intervals: though the ravages of time will not suffer us now to produce a regular series of poems entirely written in it.

There are some readers whom it may gratify to mention, that these Visions of Pierce [i. e. Peter] the Plowman, are attributed to Robert Langland, a secular priest, born at Mortimer's Cleobury in Shropshire, and Fellow of Oriel College in Oxford, who flourished in the reigns of Edward III. and Richard II., and published his poem a few years after

2 Vide Hickes, Antiq. Literatur. Septentrional. tom. i. p. 217.

3 Ibid.

4 So I would read with Mr. Warton, rather than either soft,' as in MS. orset,' as in P.CC.

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