Imatges de pÓgina
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other considerations to render the scansion of Chaucer's lines a very easy matter.

As this question of the scansion of Chaucer has attracted a good deal of attention, a few general considerations affecting the whole subject may not be out of place here.

Feminine Rimes. We have seen that Chaucer derived the forms of his metre from the French. It has been a subject of discussion, whether in his rimes he followed the French habit of riming, where masculine rimes are the rule, or the Italian habit, where feminine rimes are the rule; it being understood that by masculine rimes are meant monosyllabic ones, as in day, lay, and by feminine rimes such as are disyllabic, as in asunder, thunder. Undoubted instances of both kinds occur frequently; but as regards the above question, the right answer is that Chaucer had no need to follow either the French or the Italian in this particular; we had, long before his time, a well established English habit, and it is the Old English of an earlier period that we may most reasonably consult for our guidance here. Examination of earlier poems shews that he was at perfect liberty to use either masculine or feminine rimes at pleasure, and this is just what he has done. The English feminine rimes are a stumbling-block to some, no doubt because modern English is, from the nature of the case, very sparing in their use, but in old English they were all-abundant. Dr. Guest, in his History of English Rhythms, instances rimes like widë, sidë, frodne, godne, lænne, sænne, as occurring in early alliterative poems; and whoever will turn to a curious poem in the Codex Exoniensis known as the Riming Poem (p. 353 in Thorpe's edition) will find that the masculine and feminine rimes are freely intermixed, the number of lines with monosyllabic rime-endings being only 47 out of 172, or a little more than a quarter of the whole. In the remarkable poem called A Moral Ode (printed in Old English Homilies, ed. Morris, ist Series, p. 159) consisting of 396 lines, there is not one undoubted instance of masculine rime from beginning to end; and again, in a poem entitled a Good Orison of Our Lady (id. p. 191), consisting of 171 lines, the masculine

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lines are in a small minority, though we find just a few, as biset, let, was, þes, me, de, beo, iþeo, þin, min, charite, me, dai, lai, leafdi, marie. So again, in such a poem as Havelok the Dane, the number of feminine rimes is really very large, though a number of them are due to a final -e, and therefore less striking to a reader acquainted with modern English only. Yet even here, the frequent appearance of rimes like i-maked, naked, sellen, dwellen, kesten, festen, maked, quaked, herden, ferden, sungen, dungen, &c., are quite enough to shew even the beginner that feminine rimes were distinctly sought after; especially when he observes such lines as 1l. 240-245, where the rimes laten, graten, ringen, singen, reden, leden, occur in an unbroken succession.

If again, leaving these early examples, we turn to Spenser's Mother Hubbard's Tale, written in the same metre as the greater part of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, we find that the fifth and sixth lines are as follows:

And the hot Syrian dog on him awayting,

After the chafed Lyons cruell bayting,' where the effect of the feminine rime is well exemplified. There are several more of them in the same poem, as geason, reason, 11. 11, 12; betided, misguided, 11. 37, 38; civill, evill, 11. 45, 46, and the like; and it is clear that Spenser recognised them as a beauty, and would no doubt have employed them more freely, only the language of his day did not permit of their frequent use. Chaucer was more fortunate, and has accordingly used them in abundance.

A good deal of misconception, and much needless mystification of what is really very simple when rightly explained, have arisen from the absurdity of confusing different dialects of English. It has been argued that we need not expect to find many examples of the final -e in Chaucer, because there are few to be found in Robert of Brunne, or in Hampole, or in Minot! The expectation of finding examples of the final -e in poems of the Northern dialect can only have arisen from not recognising that it is precisely in this respect that the Northern and Southern dialects are most opposed; on which account the non-occurrence of the final -e in Northern poems is a phenomenon of no importance whatever to the right scansion of Chaucer: and if any one should expect to learn something further about Chaucer's metre from a consideration of the system of scansion employed in Barbour's Bruce, for example, he would certainly meet with disappointment. Yet even in a Midland poem with Northern tendencies, like Havelok the Dane, we find plenty of examples of feminine rimes and of the final -e; much more then may we claim feminine rimes and frequent examples of the use of final -e for poems like Chaucer's, in which the Midland dialect has tendencies decidedly Southern. In one word, if the student who compares one poem with another neglects the consideration of the dialects employed, he will hardly obtain other than confused and contradictory ideas upon the subject.

There is yet another difficulty that has been raised. It has been argued that the metre of Occleve's and Lydgate's poems is rather rough, halting, and irregular; and that therefore we ought not to expect perfect smoothness in Chaucer. Even if we grant one of the premises, the conclusion does not follow. Chaucer seems to have had a perfect ear for melody, such as his successors did not attain to; and again, Chaucer lived just at the very end of the inflected period of English, when the traditions of the usages of Anglo-Saxon grammar were only just preserved in the Southern dialect, and in the Midland dialect where it bordered on the Southern, but had wellnigh disappeared in the North as far as the inflections in -e are concerned. In confirmation of this we may point to Gower's Confessio Amantis, written as late as 1393, but with an abundance of inflectional endings; whilst another excellent example is presented by a translation of Palladius on Husbandry, written perhaps after 1400, and lately published by the Early English Text Society. In this work, the author sometimes copies Chaucer's phrases, and has throughout adopted Chaucer's seven-line stanza; and many of the peculiarities of Chaucer's diction and metre can be found in it. Here, for example, we may find the plural in -es constituting a distinct syllable, as in

• The chenës, holës, pottës, polës, mende;' i. 442.

*Set rakës, crookës, adsës, and bycornës; ' i. 1161. Here too is the plural adjective in -e, as in

• Oute of the kynde of wildë gees cam thay;' i. 705. Here is the adverbial ending in -es ;

"Wol onës sitte on eyron (eggs] twiës ten ; ' i. 672. So too we find the adverbial -e in ilichë, i. 167; the -e in a nominative case of substantive, due to an A.S. -a, as in balkë, ii. 16, from the A.S. balca; the -e sounded in the middle of a word, as in moldewarp, i. 924; the imperative plural in -eth, as in ennointeth, i. 191; the coalescence of the definitive article with the substantive, as thende for the ende, iii. 1106, and of the word to with a gerund, as to eschew= teschew, i. 776; and many other things worthy of note, as being common in the poems of Chaucer. Feminine rimes ccur frequently, as shewn by such rimes as redes, drede is, i. 743; season, reason, i. 258; mewes, necessárie, eschéw is, adversárie, wárie, all in succession, i. 526; and a whole host of rimes involving the sonant -e final.

If then we do not permit our familiarity with modern English to stand in our way; if we will but recognise the fact that the Old English poets delighted in feminine rimes, such as the grammatical usage of the period often furnished in abundance; if we can but remember that the rimes of the Northern dialect are, on account of the grammatical difference, more likely to differ from than to resemble those of the Southern dialect, and must therefore be kept distinct from them; if we can remember that Chaucer's metre is to be compared with Gower's Confessio Amantis and such a poem as that of the translation of Palladius on Husbandry; and if we observe that even Pope did not consider it 'incorrect' to rime cowards with Howards, we shall be enabled to steer clear of the worst error which the student of Chaucer's metre can commit, viz. the ignoring of final -e as a distinct syllable at the end of a line. Instead of this, we shall be prepared to expect the frequent occurrence of feminine rimes, and to be best satisfied when they come most often.' And on the other hand, we shall by no means always expect that, after ending a line (F 675) with youthë, the poet will take the trouble to end the next line with allow the, merely to impress upon our dulness that youthë is disyllabic. Rather should we be prepared to be fully awake to this peculiarity of his, and at once recognise whole stanzas equipped with feminine rimes, as in B 99-105, 113-119, 713-1719, 1755-1761, 1783-1789, 3317-3324, 33893396, and a number of others, the discovery of which may now be left to the reader's sagacity, noting only, by way of conclusion, the wonderful Envoy to the Clerk’s Tale, E 1177-1212, with its thirty-six consecutive rimes of this character.

Cæsura. The above question, of the frequent occurrence of feminine rimes, has been discussed rather fully, because it tends to throw some light upon the use made by Chaucer of the c@sura or middle pause. Let us ask ourselves why feminine rimes are permissible, and we shall reflect that it is because, at the end of a line, the poet is FREE; because the pause that naturally occurs there enables him to insert an additional syllable with ease, or even two additional syllables, as is so constantly the case, for example, in Shakespeare, who thinks nothing of lengthening out a line into such a form as

*Untainted, unexamined, free, at liberty;' Rich. III, iii. 6. 9. Now, just as this pause at the end of the line leaves the poet free, so, in a lesser degree, does the medial pause or cæsura which occurs near the middle of every line, leave him free likewise. We might from this naturally expect to find that, at this point also, an additional syllable is occasionally inserted. And this is precisely what we sometimes do find, the following being examples:

* And stéleth from us—what príuelý slepíngë ;' B 21.
• Or élles, cértës—ye bén to daungerous ;' 2129.
• Which thát my fáder-in hís prospéritée;' 3385.
* That god of héuen—hath dóminácioún ;' 3409.
* And hím restórëd—his régne and his figúre;' 3412.
• To Médës ánd to Pérses yíuen—quod hé;' 3425.

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