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- be without them, is evident from this, that children and illiterate people, whose admiration we cannot suppose to be the effect of habit or prejudice, are exceedingly delighted with them. In many proverbial sayings, where there is neither rhyme nor alliteration* rhythm is obviously studied. Nay, the use of rhythm in poetry is universal: whereas alliteration and rhyme, though relished by some nations, are not much sought after by others. And we need not be at a loss to account for the agreeableness of proportion and order, if we reflect, that they suggest the
agreeable ideas of contrivance and skill, at the same time that they render the connection of things obvious to the understanding, and imprint it deeply on the memory.t Verse, by promoting distinct and easy remembrance, conveys ideas to the mind with energy, and enlivens every emotion the poet intends to raise in the reader or hearer. Besides, when we attend to verses, after hearing one or two, we become acquainted with the measure, which therefore we always look for in the sequel. This perpetual interchange of hope and gratification is a source of delight; and to this in part is owing the pleasure we take
* See Essay on Laughter, chap. 2. sect. 3.
† On the effects of rhythm in musick, see above, part 1. chap. 6. sect. 2. $ 4.
in the rhymes of modern poetry. And hence we see, that though an incorrect rhyme, or untuneable verse, be in itself, and compared with an important sentiment, a very trifling matter; yet it is no trifle in regard to its effects on the hearer; because it brings disappointment, and so gives a temporary shock to the mind, and interrupts the current of the affections; and because it suggests the disagreeable ideas of negligence or want of skill on the part of the author. And therefore, as the publick ear becomes more delicate, the negligence will be more glaring, and the disappointment more intensely felt; and correctness of rhyme and of measure will of course be the more indispensable. In our tongue, rhyme is more necessary to lyrick, than to heroick poetry. The reason seems to be, that in the latter the ear can of itself perceive the boundary of the measure, because the lines are all of equal length nearly, and every good reader makes a short pause at the end of each; whereas, in the former, the lines vary in length; and therefore the rhyme is requisite to make the measure and rhythm sufficiently perceptible. Custom too may have some influence. English odes without rhyme are uncommon; and therefore have something awkward about them, or something at least to which the publick ear is not yet thoroughly reconciled.
Moreover, in poetry, as in musick, rhythm is the source of much pleasing variety; of variety tempered with uniformity, and regulated by art: insomuch, that, notwithstanding the likeness of one hexameter verse to another, it is not common, either 'in Virgil or in Homer, to meet with two contiguous hexameters, whose rhythm is exactly the same. And though all English heroick verses consist of five feet, among which the iambick predominates; yet this measure, in respect of rhythm alone, is susceptible of more than thirty varieties. And let it be remarked further, that different kinds of verse, by being adapted to different subjects and modes of writing, give variety to the poetick language, and multiply the charms of this pleasing art.
What has formerly been shown to be true in regard to style, will also in many cases hold true of versification, “ that it is then natural “ when it is adapted to the supposed condition 6 of the speaker.” In the epopee, poet assumes the character of calm inspiration; and therefore his language must be elevated, and his numbers majestick and uniform. A peasant speaking in heroick or hexameter verse is no
improbability here; because his words are supposed to be transmitted by one who will of his own accord give them every ornament necessary to reduce them into dignified measure; as an eloquent man, in a solemn assembly, recapitulating the speech of a clown, would naturally express it in pure and perspicuous language. The uniform heroick measure will suit any subject of dignity, whether narrative or didactick, that admits or requires uniformity of style. In tragedy, where the imitation of real life is more perfect than in epick poetry, the uniform magnificence of epick numbers might be improper; because the heroes and heroines are supposed to speak in their own persons, and according to the immediate impulse of passion and sentiment. Yet even in tragedy, the versification may be both harmonious and dignified; because the characters are taken chiefly from high life, and the events from a remote period; and because the higher poetry is permitted to imitate nature, not as it is, but in that state of perfection, in which it might be. The Greeks and Romans considered their hexameter as too artificial for dramatick poetry, and therefore in tragedy, and even in comedy, made use of the iambick, and some other measures that came near the cadence of conversation: we use the iambick, both in the epick and dramatick poem; but, for the most part, it is, or ought to be, much more elaborate in the former, than in the latter. In dramatick comedy, where the manners and concerns of familiar life are exhibited, verse would seem to be unnatural, except it be so like the sound of common discourse, as to be hardly distinguishable from it. Custom, however, may in some countries determine otherwise; and against custom, in these matters, it is vain to argue. The professed enthusiasm of the dithyrambick poet renders wildness, variety, and a sonorous harmony of numbers peculiarly suitable to his odes. The love sonnet, and anacreontick song will be less various, more regular, and of a softer harmony; because the state of mind expressed in it has more composure. Philosophy can scarce go further, in this investigation, without deviating into whim and hypothesis. The particular sorts of verse, to be adopted in the lower species of poetry, are determined by fashion chiefly, and the practice of approved authors.