Page images


[ocr errors]

Secondly, I argue from the effects of metre.

I As far as metre acts in and for itself, it tends to increase the vivacity and susceptibility both of the general feelings and of the attention. This effect it produces by the continued excitement of surprize, and by the quick reciprocations of curiosity still gratified and still re-excited, which are too slight indeed to be at any one moment objects of distinct consciousness, yet become considerable in their aggregate influ

As a medicated atmosphere, or as wine during animated conversation; they act powerfully, though themselves unnoticed. Where, therefore, correspondent food and appropriate matter are not provided for the attention and feelings thus roused, there must needs be a disappointment felt ; like that of leaping in the dark from the last step of a stair-case, when we had prepared our muscles for a leap of three or four,

The discussion on the powers of metre in the preface is highly ingenious and touches at all points on truth. But I cannot find any statement of its powers considered abstractly and separately. On the contrary Mr. Wordsworth seems always to estimate metre by the powers, which it exerts during (and, as I think, in consequence of) its combination with other elements of poetry. Thus the previous difficulty is left unanswered, what the elements are, with


[ocr errors]

which it must be combined in order to produce its own effects to any pleasureable purpose. Double and tri-syllable rhymes, indeed, form a lower species of wit, and attended to exclusively for their own sake may become a source of momentary amusement; as in poor Smart's distich to the Welch 'Squire who had promised him a hare:


“ Tell me thou son of great Cadwallader!

Hast sent the hare? or hast thou swallow'd her ?"

But for any poetic purposes, metre resembles (if the aptness of the simile may excuse its meanness) yeast, worthless or disagreeable by itself, but giving vivacity and spirit to the liquor with which it is proportionally combined.

The reference to the “ Children in the Wood” by no means satisfies my judgement. We all willingly throw ourselves back for awhile into the feelings of our childhood.

This ballad, therefore, we read under such recollections of our own childish feelings, as would equally endear to us poems, which Mr. Wordsworth himself would regard as faulty in the opposite extreme ofgaudy and technical ornament. Before the invention of printing, and in a still greater degree, before the introduction of writing, metre, especially alliterative metre, (whether alliterative at the beginning of the words, as in “ Pierce Plouman," or at the end as in rhymes)


[ocr errors][ocr errors]

possessed an independent value as assisting the recollection, and consequently the preservation, of any series of truths or incidents. But I am not convinced by the collation of facts, that the “ Children in the Woodowes either its preservation, or its popularity, to its metrical form. Mr. Marshal's repository affords a number of tales in prose inferior in pathos and general merit, some of as old a date, and many as widely popular. Tom HICKATHRIFT, JACK THE GIANT-KILLER, GOODY Two-SHOES, and LITTLE RED RIDING-HOOD are formidable rivals. And that they have continued in prose, cannot be fairly explained by the assumption, that the comparative meanness of their thoughts and images precluded even the humblest forms of metre. The scene of GOODY TWO-Shoes in the church is perfectly susceptible of metrical nar, ration; and among the Θαύματα θαυμαςότατα even of the present age, I do not recollect a more astonishing image than that of the " whole rookery, that flew out of the giant's beardscared by the tremendous voice, with which this mon, ster answered the challenge of the heroic Tom HICKATHRIFT!:

If from these we turn to compositions univer, sally, and independently of all early associations, beloved and admired ; would the MARIA, THE Monk, or The Poor Man's Ass of STERNE, be read with more delight, or have a better


chance of immortality, had they without any change in the diction been composed in rhyme, than in their present state? If I am not grossly mistaken, the general reply would be in the negative. Nay, I will confess, that in Mr. Wordsworth's own volumes the ANECDOTE FOR FATHERS, Simon LEE, Alice Fell, THE BEGGARS, AND THE SAILOR'S MOTHER, notwithstanding the beauties which are to be found in each of them where the poet interposes the music of his own thoughts, would have been more delightful to me in prose, told and managed, as by Mr. Wordsworth they would have been, in a moral essay, or pedestrian tour.

Metre in itself is simply a stimulant of the attention, and therefore excites the question : Why is the attention to be thus stimulated? Now the question cannot be answered by the pleasure of the metre itself: for this we have shown to be conditional, and dependent on the appropriateness of the thoughts and expressions, to which the metrical form is superadded. Neither can I conceive any other answer that can be rationally given, short of this: I write in metre, because I am about to use a language different from that of prose. Besides, where the language is not such, how interesting soever the reflections are, that are capable of being drawn by a philosophic mind from the thoughts or incidents of the poem, the metre itself must

often become feeble. Take the three last stanzas of the Sailor's MOTHER, for instance. If I could for a moment abstract from the effect produced on the author's feelings, as a man, by the incident at the time of its real occurrence, I would dare appeal to his own judgement, whether in the metre itself he found a sufficient reason for their being written metrically?

“And thus continuing, she said
I had a son, who inany a day
Sailed on the seas; but he is dead;
In Denmark he was cast away :
And I have travelled far as Hull, to see
What clothes he might have left, or other property.

The bird and cage, they both were his ;

my son's bird ; and neat and trim
He kept it; many voyages
This singing bird hath gone with him;
When last he sailed he left the bird behind ;
As it might be, perhaps, from bodings of his mind.

He to a fellow-lodger's care
Had left it, to be watched and fed,
Till he came back again ; and there
I found it when my son was dead;
And now, God help me for my little wit!
I trail it with me, Sir! he took so much delight in it."

If disproportioning the emphasis we read these stanzas so as to make the rhymes perceptible, even tri-syllable rhymes could scarcely produce an equal sense of oddity and strange

« PreviousContinue »