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AN

ESSAY

ON

THE NATURE OF THE ENGLISH VERSE,

WITH

DIRECTIONS FOR READING POETRY,

BY THE AUTHOR

OF THE

ISS AT ON PUNCTUATION.

MUSAS NONNULLI SACRO VENERANTUR AMORE ;
PLURES IN DOCTI DILACERARE SOLENT.

Incerti auctoris.

London:
PRINTED FOR J. WALTER, CHARING-Cross,

By LUKE HANGARD,
No. 6, Great Turnstile, Lincoln's Inn-Fields.

1799

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THE

P R E F A C E.

A

N easy and familiar treatise on the Nature of

the English verse, with practical directions for reading poetry, has been long wanted for the use of schools, and those, who have formed no regular ideas on the subject.

Some learned writers * would persuade us; that our verses are composed of iambics, trochees, fpondees, pyrrhics, dactyls, &c, or a mechanical arrangement of long and short fyllables. This notion has involved the subject in darkness and perplexity. In the following Effay, the author has rejected all those scholastic terms, which have been ufed in Greek and Latin prosody, and considered the English versification as founded, not on Greek and Roman feet; but on a certain

or

* Foster on Accent and Quantity, ch, iii, &c.

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der and fucceffion of accented and unaccented Bllables. This order depends on the nature of the poem; and wherever it is violated, he does not attempt to vindicate such an irregularity by classical authority, or the principles of a foreign language, with which it has no concern; but, though he allows, that fuch a violation of an established rule may sometimes be admitted, with a design to make the found an echo to the sense, he presumes, that it is more frequently owing to the negligence of the poet, and fometimes to his want of taste for the harmony of numbers.

A small list of poetical names of gods, god. desses, heroes, cities, &c. is subjoined, in order to give young students some idea of the accuracy and uniformity, with which the Greek and Latin poets have ascertained the quantity of their fyllables *; and to enable them to avoid those

grofs

* It is very remarkable that the ancient Greek and Roman poets should agree in fixing the quantity of almost every fyllable, in their respective languages, even in cases where no modern

reader

1

grofs and vulgar errors in pronunciations which betray the ignorance of the fpeaker.

. It is to be lamented, that many of our English poets have run into needless deviations from the legitimate pronunciation of ancient names, merely because the accentuation they chofe to adopt, was more eafily accommodated to the measure of their verfe.

We smile at the foppery of the French for using such finical appellations, as Herodote, Aristote, Polybe, Denys d'Halicarnaffe, Etienne

de

reader can possibly afcertain the length of a fyllable by any reasons, à priori. The Greeks paid the most scrupulous attention to their numbers. And Cicero informs us, that if a Roman actor made the smallest mistake in the measure of a verse, or the quantity of a fyllable, be was hissed off thelftage. Histrio, fi panlum se movit extra numerum, aut fi versus pronuntiatus est syllablâ unâ brevior aut longior, exfibilatur, et exploditur, Cic. Parad. iii. To an Englishman, who pretends to classical learning, it is a disgrace to violate the rules of profody, and to have less taste and discernment, than the common auditors of a Roman theatre.

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