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that is, such as have the common accent on the last syllable, which the poet removes to the first.
Next Chemos, th' obscene dread of Moab's sons.
P. L. i. 123.
In placing the accent on the first syllable instead of the second on these words, as the poet has done, we find no such harshness to the ear as in the former examples, and I think we may therefore conclude that something like a rule is discovered respecting words of two syllables.
The management of the misaccented words of three syllables is not perhaps so easy. After trying every possible way to reconcile the accent and the metre, I have not been able to conceive a better method than that of compromising the demands of each. Perhaps the least offensive method to the ear of preserving the accent, and not entirely violating the quantity, would be to place an accent on the syllable immediately preceding that on which the poet has misplaced it, without dropping that which is so misplaced; by this means the word will be heard with the true accent, which will in some measure abate the impropriety of the false one: and thus, by the succession of two accents, we shall only seem to be enforcing the sense, while we are really hiding the fault of the measure. Thus the word blasphemous may be accented both on the first and second syllable:
O argument blasphemous, false, and proud!
P. L. v. 809.
Ibid. vi. 360.
Here the ear feels no great impropriety, especially as this word is still accented by many speakers (though of the lower order) on the second syllable. But the words odorous, infinite, and voluble, accented by Milton on the second syllable, must be nicely managed in order to prevent a cacophony.
Spirits odorous breathes; flow'rs, and their fruit
The same rule seems to hold good where the poet has placed the accent on the first and last syllable of a word which ought to have it on the middle syllable.
-and as is due
With glory attributed to the high
Only to shine, yet scarce to contribute
Shoots invisible virtue, e'en to the deep.
P. L. viii. 12.
Ibid. iii. 586.
If any thing can render the pronunciation of this very unpoetic line tolerable, it must be placing the accent on the first and third syllable of invisible.
After all the attention that can possibly be paid to many of these rugged lines, rugged they will still remain ; and when the reader has done his best to make them as smooth as possible, the author is justly chargeable with the want of poetic harmony. Dr. Watts, who to learning and judgment united a poetical ear, directs us, in his rules for reading verse, so to favour
the rhyme as to pronounce the word liberty, either as libertee or libertie, just as it rhymes with the end of the former line, Thus,
"Were I but once from bondage free,
I'd never sell my liberty.
"Here," he says, "I must pronounce the word liberty, as if it were written with a double ee, libertee, to rhyme with the word free. But if the verse ran thus, "My soul ascends above the sky,
And triumphs in her liberty.
The word liberty must be sounded as ending in i, that sky may have a juster rhyme to it." But as this compliance with the rhyme is now justly exploded, such verses as these ought never to appear in any modern poetry. The ear of a foreigner (which, as Mr. Addison observes, is perhaps the best judge in this case) is shocked beyond measure at such verses; and natives only bear them because they are accustomed to them. How strangely do two lines that rhyme appear in blank verse where we do not expect them? and can such lines as have no agreement in sound, appear less strange when a rhyme is expected? Certainly not. But as judicious readers of the present day would rather the verse should appear strange by not rhyming, than strange by altering the accent or sound of a word, so, in a choice of evils, the less seems to be that of preserving as much as possible the proper accent in blank verse, and making the poet answerable for the rest: but, as we have observed above, if there are cases in which the poet may be favoured without departing too widely from general usage, it is incumbent on the reader to pronounce his author to the best advantage, not only by heightening
his beauties, but, as much as possible, by hiding his faults.
I am indebted to the Rev. Mr. Robertson, in his elegant Essay on the Nature of English Verse, for many of the examples I have made use of, as well as for many judicious observations on them; and have much to regret, that a gentleman of his real learning and good taste did not carry his observations farther.
RULE III. How the vowels e and o are to be pronounced, when apostrophised.
The vowel e, which, in poetry, is so often cut off by an apostrophe in the word the, and in unaccented syllables before r, as dang'rous, gen'rous, &c. ought always to be preserved in pronunciation, because the syllable it forms is so short as to admit of being sounded with the succeeding syllable, so as not to increase the number of syllables to the ear, or at all to hurt the melody.
'Tis hard to say, if greater want of skill
Hurl'd headlong flaming from th' ethereal sky,
To bottomless perdition, there to dwell
In adamantine chains and penal fire,
Who durst defy th' Omnipotent to arms.
In these examples, we see the particle the may either form a distinct syllable or not. In the third line from Pope, the first the forms a distinct syllable, but the second is sunk into the succeeding noun. The same may be observed of this particle in the passages from Milton. The same observations in every res
pect, hold good in the pronunciation of the preposition to, which ought always to be sounded long, like the adjective two, however it may be printed, whether as we see it in Pope's Essay on Man,
Say what the use were finer optics given,
T' inspect a mite, not comprehend the heaven:
Or in Milton, either abbreviated as in
A third part of the gods in synod met
Their deities t' assert: who, while they feel
Vigour divine within them, can allow
Par. Lost, b. vi. v. 155.
Or at length, as in the following passage,
Yet still they knew, and ought to have still remember'd
Having premised these observations on words, we shall next proceed to sentences; as words arranged into sentences may be properly called the subject matter of the art of reading.
Of the pause or cæsura of verse.
RULE IV. Almost every verse admits of a pause in or near the middle of the line, which is called the cæsura; this must be carefully observed in reading verse, or much of the distinctness, and almost all the harmony, will be lost.
Nature to all things fix'd the limits fit,
And wisely curb'd proud man's pretending wit: