Imatges de pÓgina

I found myself at a loss, when I attempted to write a french tragedy. I was almost accustomed to think in English. I perceived that the french terms did not offer themselves to my imagination in the same abundance they formerly did. It was a rivulet whose fource had been diverted another way: both time and pains were necessary to bring it back to its former channel. I became sensible that, to succeed in an art, we must cultivate it our whole life.

What terrified me most, was the great strictness of our poetry and the slavery of rhime. I regretted that liberty you pofsess of writing your tragedies in blank verse, of lengthening, or of shortening almost all your words at pleasure, of throwing one line into another, and of creating new terms at will, which are always adopted by the nation when their necessity is obvious, their sense easily understood, and their found harmonious *


* It must be remarked that in France the admittance of new words finds much more difficulty


B 2

An english poet, I used to say, is a free man, who subjects his language to his genius; the Frenchman is a constant slave to rhime, often obliged to write four verses to convey a thought, which in English can be expressed in one. An Englishman says what he will say, but a Frenchman, only what he can. The one runs on boldly in a vast career; the other, loaded with chains, steps on slowly in a slippery narrow path.

Notwithstanding these reflections and complaints, we shall never be able to free ourselves from the yoke of rhime. It is effential to french poetry. Our language does not admit of transpositions, our verse does not allow of lines running into each other, our fyllables are incapable of caufing any sensible harmony by long or short measures. Our hemiítics * and a stated number of feet are not alone sufficient to distinguish prose from verse, and therefore the addition of rhime is absolutely necefsary in french poetry.

than the naturalization of a foreign subject. One remarkable instance I remember, which is the word Prosateur, prose-writer; the famous Menage, who wrote fo much and so well on the French language, and of its origin, was very fond of Profateur, and laboured forty years, tis said, among his brethren of the French academy to introduce this really-useful term; but without success. The writers of that nation are fince grown a little less difficult, and among others, this word has gained admittance.


Besides, fo many great writers, who have made use of rhime, fuch as the Corneilles, Racines and Boileaus, have so accustomed our ears to that kind of harmony, that we can endure no other; and I must repeat it, whoever attempts to get rid of a burden which was borne by the great Corneille, will be, with justice, looked upon, not as an enterprizing genius, who opens out to himself a new road, but as a very weak man unable to support himself in the ancient track.

It has been attempted to give us tragedies in profe ; but I do not suppose that this undertaking will ever fucceed. They

* In French verse, there is, generally, a pause about the middle of every line, which is called Céfure, and each half-line is distinct from the other, and called Hémistiche. B 3.


[6] who have more will not be easily fatisfied with less. He that diminishes the public's pleasure, will be always ill received by them. If, among the pictures of Rubens or of Paul Veronese, any body placed his own designs in crayon, would he not be in the wrong to put himself in competition with these painters ? We are accustomed at feasts to sing and dance ;-would it be enough merely to walk and speak, because it would be easier and more natural ?

It is probable that verse will be every where found necessary in the tragic scene, and rhime always in our's. It is even to this constraint of rhime, and to the extreme severity of our versification, that we are indebted for the excellent performances we poffefs in our language.

We insist that rhime should not be at the expence of thought; it must be neither trivial nor far-fetched. We require the same purity and exactness in our poetry as in our prose. We do not suffer the least license. An author must never discontinue to wear his chains, and yet he


must always appear as if free from them. We acknowledge for poets, only such as have fulfilled all these conditions.

On this account it is easier to make an hundred verses in any other language than four in French. The example of our abbé Regnier Desmarais of the french academy, and of the academy della crusca, is an evident proof of this assertion. He translated Anacreon into italian verse, with success; and yet his french poetry, excepting a few stanzas, is extremely indifferent.

Our Menage was just in the same case. How many of our ingenious countrymen have wrote excellent latin verse; whose french poetry is not even tolerable.

I know how many disputes I have had about our versification, in England, and the reproaches made me by the learned bishop of Rochester * on this puerile constraint, which, he pretends, we impose on ourselves without any colour of necessity. But be assured, my lord, that the more a

* Dr. Atterbury



« AnteriorContinua »