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THE Latin poetry of the Christian Church presents
a subject which might well deserve a treatise of its own; offering, as it does, so many sides upon which
, it is most worthy of regard. It is not, however, my intention to consider it except upon one, or to prefix to this volume more than some necessary remarks on the relation in which the forms of that poetry stand to the forms of the classic poetry of Rome; tracing, if I may, the most characteristic differences between the forms of the earlier and heathen, and the later and Christian, art. Yet shall I not herein be dealing so merely with externals, as might at first sight appear. For since the form of ought which has any real significance is indeed the manifestation of its innermost life-is the making visible, so far as that is possible, of its most essential spirit-I shall, if I rightly seize and explain the difference of the forms, be implicitly saying something, indeed much, concerning the differences between the spirit of this poetry, and that of the elder or heathen poetry of Rome. A few considerations on this matter may help to remove offences which the reader, nourished exclusively upon classical lore, might casily take at many things which in this volume he [T. L. P.]
will find; and may otherwise assist to put him in a fairer position for appreciating the compositions which it contains.
When, then, we attempt to trace the rise and growth of the Latin poetry of the Christian Church, and the manner in which, making use, in part and for a season, of what it found ready to its hand, it did yet detach itself more and more from the classical poetry of Rome, we take note of the going forward at the same time of two distinct processes. But these, distinct as they are, we observe also combining for the formation of the new, together giving to it its peculiar character, and constituting it something more than such a continuation of the old classical poetry, as should only differ from it in the subjects which supplied to it its theme, while in all things else it remained unchanged. These processes I have said we may contemplate as entirely distinct from one another, as having no absolutely necessary connexion, closely related as undoubtedly they were—the first, the disintegration of the old prosodical system of Latin verse, under the gradual substitution of accent for quantity—and the second, the employment of rhyme, within, or at the close of, the verse, as a mean for marking rhythm, and as a resource for the producing of melody. They have no absolutely necessary connexion ; for there might have been the first without the second accent without rhyme—as in our own blank verse, and occasional blank lyrics; nor are there wanting various and successful examples, in this very later Latin poetry, of the same kind. There was the second, rhyme without the displacing of quantity by accent, in the rhymed hexameters, pentameters, and sapphics wherein the monkish poets of the middle ages indulged, still preserving as far as they knew, and often altogether, the laws of metrical quantity, but adding rhyme as a further ornament to the verse.
Thus the results of the two processes, namely, an accented, and a rhymed, poetry, might have existed separately, as indeed occasionally they do; and growing up independently of one another, they ought to be traced independently also. Yet still, since only in the union of the two could results have been produced so satisfying, so perfect in their kind, as those which the Latin sacred poetry offers to us; since they did in fact essentially promote and further one another; the manner in which they mutually re-acted one on the other, in which the one change rendered almost imperative the other, the common spirit out of which both the transformations proceeded, should not be allowed to pass unobserved-should be rather one of the chiefest matters to which he, who would explain and trace the change, should direct his own and his reader's especial attention.
I shall first take occasion to speak of this substitution of accent for quantity, an accented for a prosodic verse; which, however, is a subject that will demand one or two preliminary remarks.
There is one very obvious, and yet very noticeable, difference between the Christian literature of the Greek and Roman world on the one side, and all other and
later Christian literatures on the other—namely, that those Greek and Latin are, so to speak, a new budding and blossoming out of an old stock, which, when the Church was founded, had already put forth, or was in the act of putting forth, all which in the natural order of things, and but for the quickening breath of a new and unexpected life, it could ever have unfolded. They are as a second and a later spring, coming in the rear of the timelier and the first. For that task which the word of the Gospel had to accomplish in all other regions of man's life, it had also to accomplish in this. It was not granted to it at first entirely to make or mould a society of its own.
A harder task was assigned it—being, as it was, superinduced on a society which had come into existence, and had gradually assumed the shape which now it wore, under very different conditions, and in obedience to very different influences. Of this it had to make the best which it could; only to reject and to put under ban that which was absolutely incurable therein, and which directly contradicted its own fundamental idea; but of the rest to assimilate to itself what was capable of assimilation; to transmute what was willing to be transmuted; to consecrate what was prepared to receive from it an higher consecration; and altogether to adjust, not always with perfect success, but as best it might, often at the cost of much forbearance and self-sacrifice, its relations to the old, which had grown up under heathen auspices, and was therefore very different from what it would have been, had the leaven of the word of Life mingled with and wrought in it from the first, instead of coming in, a later addition to it now, at the end of time.
Thus was it in almost every sphere of man's life and of his moral and intellectual activity; yet we have here to speak only of one—namely, that of literature and language. All the modern literatures and languages of Europe Christianity has mainly made what they are; to it they owe all that characterizes them the most strongly. For although, as it needs not to say, the languages themselves reach back in their elemental rudiments to a time far anterior to the earliest in which the Gospel came, or could have come, in contact with them, or indeed had been proclaimed at all; yet it did thus mingle with them early enough to find them still in that wondrous and mysterious process of their first evolution. They were yet plastic and fluent, as all languages are at a certain period of their existence, though a period generally just out of the ken of the history. And the languages rose to a level with the claims which the new religion of the Spirit made upon them. Formed and fashioned under its influence, they dilated till they were equal to its needs, and adequate exponents, as far as language ever can become so, of the deepest things which it possessed.
But it was otherwise in regard of the Latin language. That, when the Church arose, requiring of it to be the organ of her Divine Word, to tell out all the new, and as yet undreamt of, which was stirring in her bosom; demanding of it that it should reach her needs, needs which had hardly or not at all existed, while the lan