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FOR THE USE OF
AN ESSAY ON ENGLISH VERSIFICATION,
EXPLANATORY OBSERVATIONS ON THE SELECTION
AND USE OF THE RHYMES.
E DIN BURGH: JAMES HO G G.
LONDON: R. GROOMBRIDGE & SONS.
The maxim of Cicero, Poeta nascitur, non fit (A Poet is born, not made), is one often and emphatically cited. Certainly, cases strongly confirmatory, to appearance, of the truth of the saying in question are of frequent occurrence in the world; and yet it is but a doubtful saying after all, and one that seems to have sprung in the first instance from the unlucky personal experiences of the great orator of Rome. With all his genius, and his unequalled power of expressing its conceptions eloquently, the famous Tully could scarcely write one tolerable hexameter verse. Strange to say, he failed to display even his wonted aptitude of language when he attempted poetical composition, not to speak of his deficiency in the fire and spirit of poetry. He was well aware of the state of the case, and his maxim may be held as something delivered confessionally in the ear of posterity. But it is one which, in its full and literal sense, will not bear the test of inquiry and experience. As far as Versification, at least, is concerned, nature alone will certainly not enable mankind to make good Poetry; and Versification is to Poetry specially what Speech generally is to
Thought. Just as the utterance or expression is perfect or imperfect, so does the thought rise or sink in intelligibility, and consequently in value; and almost precisely the like dependence bas poetry on versification. It is purposed in the present preface to enter into some details on this subject, and to show how far, and in what modes, the Art of Versification really and practically affects the operations of the poet. “Art” is the term used, because versifying is an art beyond dispute. Horace, in fact, viewing the question in all its combinations and aspects, distinctly gives the name of an art to the poetical calling itself in the aggregate; and, by exhibiting the important influence of versification, with its varied and numerous Rules, on poetical composition, it may be possible here to demonstrate that Horace approached much nearer to the truth than Cicero. Which of them does the history of poetry countenance ?
Even in the cases of the illustrious poets, Greeks chiefly, who preceded Marcus Tullius, the maxim, “Poeta nascitur, non fit,” does not hold good; and Virgil, his own countryman, and in part his contemporary, forms a strong illustration of the very contrary factto wit, that “poets are made," at least as much as born." Though the “Æneid” is perhaps the most polished production that ever came from the pen of man, its author, when on his deathbed, was so little satisfied with the condition in which he found himself forced to leave it, that he was anxious for its total destruction, and could only be kept by force from effecting that wild design. Not only the individual writings of Horace, again, but the literary axioms which he laid down for the service of others, evince that he considered Poetry to be at least as much of an art, resting on culture and study, as of an innate and congenital gift or endowment.
All the mighty poets of the later epochs of the human annals bear out the same conclusion. If ever man possessed pretensions to be held a born or natural poet, that man, it will be allowed, was William Shakspere. And yet, even regarding Shakspere, one who knew him well has expressed the following sentiments:
« Nature herself was proud of his designs,
For a good Poet's Made as well as Born.” Of William Shakspere was this said by Ben Jonson, the most competent of all the contemporaries of the great poet, from powers and position, to pronounce on the relative shares which Nature and Art had in the constitution and development of his amazing genius. But the fact that Shakspere, to the vast powers which he assuredly had derived from Nature, added all the accomplishments (however acquired) of the masterly artist, is placed beyond a doubt by a comparison of the first edition of his works with the revised and later ones. The noblest passages
of “The Hamlet” itself, as is there seen, were “second heats,” struck on the “Muses' anvil”—to use the apt words of Rare Ben, himself one of the most elaborate and artistic of poets. Jonson rightly thought this circumstance no disparagement to his name and fame. When an epigram was addressed to him, asking satirically why he entitled his