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We know that such a contention of contrary blasts could not possibly exist in nature; for, even in hurricanes, the winds blow alternately from different points of the compass. Nevertheless, Virgil adopts the description, and adds to its extravagance.
Incubuere mari, totumque à sedibus imis
Una Eurusque Notusque ruunt, creberque procellis
Here the winds not only blow together, but they turn the whole body of the ocean topsy-turvy:
East, west, and south, engage with furious sweep,
The north wind, however, is still more mischievous:
Stridens aquilone procella
The sail then Boreas rends with hideous cry,
The motion of the sea between Scylla and Charybdis is still more magnified; and Ætna is exhibited as throwing out volumes of flame, which brush the stars.* Such expressions as these are not intended as a real representation of the thing specified: they are designed to strike the reader's imagination; but they generally serve as marks of the author's sinking under his own ideas, who, apprehensive of injuring the greatness of his own conception, is hurried into excess and extravagance.
Quintilian allows the use of hyperbole, when words are wanting to express any thing in its just strength or due energy then, he says, it is better to exceed in expression than fall short of the conception; but he likewise observes, that there is no figure or form of speech so apt to run into fustian. "Nec alia magis via in xaxonλav itur."
Speaking of the first, he says,
Tollimur in cœlum curvato gurgite, et ijdem
Of the other,
Attollitque globos flammarum, et sidera lambit.
If the chaste Virgil has thus trespassed upon poetical probability, what can we expect from Lucan but hyperboles even more ridiculously extravagant? He represents the winds in contest, the sea in suspense, doubting to which it shall give way. He affirms, that its motion would have been so violent as to produce a second deluge, had not Jupiter kept it under by the clouds; and as to the ship during this dreadful uproar, the sails touch the clouds, while the keel strikes the ground.
Nubila tanguntur velis, et terra carina.
This image of dashing water at the stars, Sir Richard Blackmore has produced in colours truly ridiculous. Describing spouting whales in his Prince Arthur, he makes the following comparison:
Like some prodigious water-engine made
To play on heaven, if fire should heaven invade.
The great fault in all these instances is a deviation from propriety, owing to the erroneous judgment of the writer, who, endeavouring to captivate the admiration with novelty, very often shocks the understanding with extravagance. Of this nature is the whole description of the Cyclops, both in the Odyssey of Homer, and in the Eneid of Virgil. It must be owned, however, that the Latin poet, with all his merit, is more apt than his great original to dazzle us with false fire, and practise upon the imagination with gay conceits, that will not bear the critic's examination. There is not in any of Homer's works now subsisting such an example of the false sublime, as Virgil's description of the thunderbolts forging under the hammers of the Cyclops.
Tres imbris torti radios, tres nubis aquosæ
Three rays of writhen rain, of fire three more,
This is altogether a fantastic piece of affectation, of which we can form no sensible image, and serves to chill the fancy, rather than warm the admiration of a judging reader.
Extravagant hyperbole is a weed that grows in great plenty through the works of our admired Shakespeare. In the following description, which hath been much celebrated, one sees he has had an eye to Virgil's thunderbolts.
Oh, then, I see Queen Mab hath been with you.
Her wagon-spokes made of long spinner's legs;
Even in describing fantastic beings there is a propriety to be observed; but surely nothing can be more revolting to common sense, than this numbering of the moon-beams among the other implements of Queen Mab's harness, which, though extremely slender and diminutive, are nevertheless objects of the touch, and may be conceived capable
The Ode and Satire admit of the boldest hyperboles such exaggerations suit the impetuous warmth of the one; and, in the other, have a good effect in exposing folly, and exciting horror against vice. They may be likewise successfully used in Comedy, for moving and managing the powers of ridicule.
VERSE is a harmonious arrangement of long and short syllables, adapted to different kinds of poetry, and owes its origin entirely to the measured cadence, or music, which was used when the first songs and hymns were recited. This music, divided into different parts, required a regular return of the same measure, and thus every strophe, antistrophe, stanza, contained the same number of feet. To know what constituted the different kinds of rhythmical feet
among the ancients, with respect to the number and quantity of their syllables, we have nothing to do but to consult those who have written on grammar and prosody: it is the business of a schoolmaster, rather than the accomplishment of a man of taste.
Various essays have been made in different countries to compare the characters of ancient and modern versification, and to point out the difference beyond any possibility of mistake. But they have made distinctions, where, in fact, there was no difference, and left the criterion unobserved. They have transferred the name of rhyme to a regular repetition of the same sound at the end of the line, and set up this vile monotony as the characteristic of modern verse, in contradistinction to the feet of the ancients, which they pretend the poetry of modern languages will not admit.
Rhyme, from the Greek word 'guemos, is nothing else but number, which was essential to the ancient, as well as to the modern versification. As to the jingle of similar sounds, though it was never used by the ancients in any regular return in the middle, or at the end of the line, and was by no means deemed essential to the versification, yet they did not reject it as a blemish, where it occurred without the appearance of constraint. We meet with it often in the epithets of Homer; Αργυρείοιο Βιοιο— Αναξ Ανδρων Αγαμɛvwv-almost the whole first ode of Anacreon is what we call rhyme. The following line of Virgil has been admired for the similitude of sound in the first two words.
Ore Arethusa tuo Siculis confunditur undis.
Rhythmus, or number, is certainly essential to verse, whether in the dead or living languages; and the real difference between the two is this: the number in ancient verse relates to the feet, and in modern poetry to the syllables; for to assert that modern poetry has no feet, is a ridiculous absurdity. The feet that principally enter into the composition of Greek and Latin verses, are either of two or three syllables: those of two syllables are either both long, as the spondee; or both short, as the pyrrhic; or one short, and the other long, as the iambic ; or one long, and the other short, as the trochee. Those of three syllables are the dactyl, of one long and two short syllables; the
anapest, of two short and one long the tribrachium, of three short; and the molossus, of three long.
From the different combinations of these feet, restricted to certain numbers, the ancients formed their different kinds of verses, such as the hexameter, or heroic, distinguished by six feet dactyls and spondees, the fifth being always a dactyl, and the last a spondee: exempli gratiâ.
1 2 3 4 5 6 Principi-is obs-ta, se-ro medi-cina pa-ratur.
The pentameter of five feet, dactyls and spondees, or of six, reckoning two cæsuras.
1 2 8 4 5 6 Cum mala per lon-gas invalu-ere mo-ras.
They had likewise the iambic of three sorts, the dimeter, the trimeter, and the tetrameter, and all the different kinds of lyric verse specified in the odes of Sappho, Alcæus, Anacreon, and Horace. Each of these was distinguished by the number, as well as by the species of their feet; so that they were doubly restricted. Now all the feet of the ancient poetry are still found in the versification of living languages for as cadence was regulated by the ear, it was impossible for a man to write melodious verse without naturally falling into the use of ancient feet, though perhaps he neither knows their measure nor denomination. Thus Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden, Pope, and all our poets, abound with dactyls, spondees, trochees, anapests, &c. which they use indiscriminately in all kinds of composition, whether tragic, epic, pastoral, or ode, having in this particular greatly the advantage of the ancients, who were restricted to particular kinds of feet in particular kinds of verse. If we, then, are confined with the fetters of what is called rhyme, they were restricted to particular species of feet; so that the advantages and disadvantages are pretty equally balanced: but indeed the English are more free, in this particular, than any other modern nation. They not only use blank verse in tragedy and the epic, but even in lyric poetry. Milton's translation of Horace's ode to Pyrrha is universally known and generally admired, in our opinion much above its merit. There is