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that, in fifty lines, thirty words are impossible words for the most usual forms of Latin verse.
The study of English poetry, being in closer affinity with the prose, admits of an important use in the formation of a good prose style. A mind as earnestly practical as Dr. Franklin's observed this, and he recommended the study of poetry and the writing of verse for this very purpose : it was one of the sources of his own excellent English. It is a species of early training for prosewriting which he recommended, having recognised it in his own case as having given a genuine copiousness and command of language. This certainly is worth reflection, too, that all the great English poets, Chaucer, Spenser, Shakspeare, Milton, Dryden, Cowper, Byron, Southey, and Wordsworth, have displayed high power as prose-writers.
It is sometimes supposed that the laws of metrical language must, of necessity, produce a style more or less artificial, and therefore alien from prose uses ; but the very opposite is the fact. The true poet is always a true artist, and words are the instruments of his art. The laws of metre are no bondage to him, but genial self-control; he asks less license of language than any one, and the constraint of rhyme will often increase and not lesseu the precision and clearness of expression. It is, in truth, one of the cases which prove the great moral truth, that willing obedience gains for itself unwonted power: submitting to the control of his art, bowing to its laws with happy loyalty, the poet's reward is the endowment of an ampler command of expression and of the music of the language. Verse and metre are wings, and not fetters, to the true poet.
Observe the matchless English everywhere in Shakspeare—how free it is with all the art that is to be discovered in it; how true it is, and full of beautiful and almost familiar simplicity! If, in the recollection of any passage, a word shall escape your memory, you may hunt through the thirty-eight thousand words in the language, and no word shall fit the vacant place but the one that the poet put there. Take that exquisite lament of the banished Norfolk over his native English: the words are all simple, homely words, such as anybody might use, (for Shakspeare never made his language “ too bright or good for human nature's daily food.") Notice, too, if you can do so without impairing the general effect, that there are in the passage no fewer than eight alliterations :
“ A heavy sentence, my most sovereign liege,
Or turn to those beautiful sentences in Coriolanus, where the Roman hero, returning with wounds and victory, is met by his exulting mother and his silent, weeping wife :
“My gracious silence, hail!
Or, to take what is not so much used by Shakspeare, the
That give a name to every fixed star,
Than those that walk, and wot not what they are.”
How true is it what Coleridge said, “that you might as well think of pushing a brick out of a wall with your forefinger, as attempt to remove a word out of any of the finished passages of Shakspeare."*
To show the wonderful power of expression that belongs to poetry, under even the most severe laws of verse,
what mere prose-writer or reader would suppose it possible, within the narrow limit of fourteen lines, and with all the complex structure and redoubled rhymes of the sonnet, for a poet to speak of no fewer than seven of the illustrious poets of modern Europe, and to touch upon
their characters and the story of their lives; and yet this has been achieved, apparently without effort—so natural is the flow of the language—in that well-known sonnet of Wordsworth, wherein he at once defends and illustrates that form of composition :
“Scorn not the Sonnet; Critic, you have frowned,
* Table Talk, vol. ii., p. 211.
A thousand times this pipe did Tasso sound;
The Sonnet glittered a gay myrtle-leaf
His visionary brow; a glow-worm lamp,
To struggle through dark ways, and when a damp
The thing became a trumpet; whence he blew
It is the poets who have best revealed the hidden harmony that lies in our short Saxon-English words—the monosyllabic music of our language. This was one of the secrets of the charm and the popularity of Lord Byron's poetry—his eminently English choice of words. Twoshort passages of Mr. Landor's Poems will serve to show, the metrical effect of simple words of one syllable. In the sentence I am about to quote, out of thirty such words, there is but one long latinized word—the rest are nearly all monosyllables, the last line wholly so:
“She was sent forth
The next will better exemplify the harmonious combination of the simple English and the classical or Southern words.
“Crush thy own heart, Man! but fear to wound
The gentler, that relies on thee alone,
* Landor's Works, vol. ii. p. 480. Hellenics viii.
Touch it not but for worship; watch before
The temple-doors, and the last lamp is spent." The combination of the various elements of the language will be found most abundantly illustrated in the poems of Milton, but from such a theme, too large for me to venture on now, let me pass to a few other illustrations more readily to be disposed of.
The poetry of our own times has done high service to the language by expanding its metrical discipline, opening a larger freedom and variety, and yet keeping aloof from mere license. Observe, for instance, in these lines, the effect produced at the close by a change in the structure of the stanza and the single long line with which, at the end, the imagination travels forth;
“O! that our lives, which flee so fast,
In purity were such,
Should fear that pencil's touch!
Upon a soothing scene;
Contented and serene;
In frosty moonlight glistening;
To their own far-off murmurs listening."* One of the most exquisite studies of the beautiful freedom of English verse is to be found in that poem,
the music of which so fascinated the spirit of Sir Walter Scott and of Lord Byron, as to prompt them both to some of