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I am the larger on this head to shew that it is not a mere verbal dispute, as it is commonly thought, whether poems should be written in verse, or no. Men may include, or not include, the idea of metre in their complex idea of what they call a Poem. What I contend for, is, that metre, as an instrument of pleasing, is essential to every work of poetic art, and would therefore enter into such idea, if men judged of poetry according to its confessed nature and end.
Whence it may seem a little strange, that my Lord Bacon should speak of poesy as a part of learning in measure of words FOR THE MOST PART restrained; when his own notion, as we have seen above, was, that the essence of poetry consisted in submitting the shews of things to the desires of the mind. For these shews of things could only be exhibited to the mind through the medium of words : and it is just as natural for the mind to desire that these words should be harmonious, as that the images, conveyed in them, should be illustrious ; there being a capacity in the mind of! being delighted through its organ, the ear, as well as through its power, or faculty of imagination. And the wonder is the greater, because the great philosopher himself was aware
of the agreement and consort which poetry hath with music, as well as with man's nature and pleasure, that is, with the pleasure which naturally results from gratifying the imagination. So that, to be consistent with himself, he should, methinks, have said — that poesy was a part of learning in measure of words ALWAYS restrained; such poesy, as, through the idleness or negligence of writers, is not so restrained, not agreeing to his own idea of this part of learning
These reflexions will afford a proper solution of that question, which has been agitated by the critics, " Whether a work of fiction " and imagination (such as that of the arch
bishop of Cambray, for instance) conducted, “ in other respects, according to the rules of “ the epic poem, but written in prose, may “ deserve the name of POEM, or not.” For, though it be frivolous indeed to dispute about names, yet from what has been said it appears, that if metre be not incongruous to the nature of an epic composition, and it afford a pleasure which is not to be found in mere prose, metre is, for that reason, essential to this mode of
e Adv. OF LEARNING, vol. i. p. 50. Dr. Bireh's Ed. 1765.
II, v, 1
writing; which is only saying in other words, that an epic composition, to give all the pleasure which it is capable of giving, must be written in verse.
But, secondly, this conclusion, I think, extends farther than to such works as aspire to the name of epic. For instance, what are we to think of those novels or romances, as they are called, that is, fables constructed on some private and familiar subject, which have been so current, of late, through all Europe? As they propose pleasure for their end, and prosecute it, besides, in the way of fiction, though without metrical numbers, and generally, indeed, in harsh and rugged prose, one easily sees what their pretensions are, and under what idea they are ambitious to be received. Yet, as they are wholly destitute of measured sounds (to say nothing of their other numberless defects) they can, at most, be considered but as hasty, imperfect, and abortive poems ; whether spawned from the dramatic, or narrative species, it may
be hard to sayUnfinish'd things, one knows not what to
However, such as they are, these novelties have been generally well received: Some, for the real merit of their execution ; Others, for their amusing subjects; All of them, for the gratification they afford, or promise at least, to a vitiated, palled, and sickly imagination that last disease of learned minds, and sure prognostic of expiring Letters. But whatever may be the temporary success of these things (for they vanish as fast as they are produced, and are produced as soon as they are conceived) good sense will acknowledge no work of art but such as is composed according to the laws of its kind. These KINDS, as arbitrary things as we account them (for I neither forget nor dispute what our best philosophy teaches concerning kinds and sorts), have yet so far their foundation in nature and the reason of things, that it will not be allowed us to multiply, or vary them, at pleasure. We may, indeed, mix and confound them, if we will (for there is a sort of literary luxury, which would engross all pleasures at once, even such as are contradictory to each other), or, in our rage for incessant gratification, we may take up with half-formed pleasures, such as come first to hand, and may be administered by any body: But true taste requires chaste, serere, and simple pleasures; and true genius will only be concerned in administering such.
Lastly, on the same principle on which we have decided on these questions concerning the absolute merits of poems in prose, in all languages, we may, also, determine another, which has been put concerning the comparative merits of RHYMED, and what is called BLANK verse, in our own, and the other modern languages.
Critics and antiquaries have been sollicitous to find out who were the inventors of rhyme, which some fetch from the Monks, some from the Goths, and others from the Arabians : whereas, the truth seems to be, that rhyme, or the consonance of final syllables, occurring at stated interyals, is the dictate of nature, or, as we may say, an appeal to the ear, in all languages, and in some degree pleasing in all. The difference is, that, in some languages, these consonances are apt of themselves to occur so often that they rather nauseate, than please, and so, instead of being affected, are studiously avoided by good writers; while in others, as in all the modern ones, where these consonances are less frequent, and where the quantity of syllables