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with some errors not to be avoided in that age, had, undoubtedly, a larger soul of poesy than ever any of our nation) was the first, who, to shun the pains of continual rhyming, invented that kind of writing, which we call blank verse, but the French more properly, prose mesuré : into which the English tongue so naturally slides, that in writing prose 'tis hardly to be avoided. And therefore I admire, some men should perpetually stumble in a way so easy ; and inverting the order of their words, constantly close their lines with verbs; which though commended sometimes in writing Latin, yet we were whipped at Westminster if we used it twice together. I know some, who, if they were to write in blank verse, Sir, I ask your pardon, would think it sounded more heroically to write, Sir, I your pardon ask. I should judge him to have little command of English, whom the necessity of a rhyme should force upon this rock, though sometimes it cannot easily be avoided : and indeed this is the only inconvenience with which rhyme can be charged. This is that which makes them say, rhyme is not natural ; it being only so, when the poet either makes a vicious choice of words, or places them for rhyme-sakc so unnaturally, as no man would in ordinary speaking: but when 'tis so judiciously ordered, that the first word in the verse seems to beget the second, and that the next,
6 Our author is here again inaccurate. Many plays before those of Shakspeare exhibit passages in blank verse.
till that becomes the last word in the line, which in the negligence of prose would be so, it must then be granted, rhyme has all the advantages of prose, besides its own. But the excellence and dignity of it were never fully known, till Mr. Waller taught it; he first made writing easily an art; first shewed us to conclude the sense, most .commonly in distichs; which in the verse of those before him, runs on for so many lines together, that the reader is out of breath to overtake it. This sweetness of Mr. Waller's lyrick poesy, was afterwards followed in the epick by Sir John Denham, in his Cooper's-Hill; a poem which your Lordship knows, for the majesty of the style, is, and ever will be, the exact standard of good writing. But if we owe the invention of it to Mr. Waller, we are acknowledging for the noblest use of it to Sir William D'Avenant, who at once brought it upon the stage, and made it perfect, in the SIEGE OF RHODES.?
The advantages which rhyme has over blank verse, are so many, that it were lost time to name them. Sir Philip Sydney, in his Defence of Poesy, gives us one, which, in my opinion, is not the least considerable; I mean the help it brings to memory : which rhyme so knits up by the affinity of sounds, that by remembering the last word in one line, we often call to mind both the verses. Then in the quickness of repartees, which in discoursive scenes fall very often, it has so parti
; First acted at the Duke's Theatre in 1662, and printed in 4to. in 1663
čular a grace, and is so aptly suited to them, that 1 the sudden smartness of the answer, and the sweetness of the rhyme, set off the beauty of each other. But that benefit which I consider most in it, because I have not seldom found it, is, that it bounds and circumscribes the fancy: for imagination in a poet is a faculty so wild and lawless, that, likean high-ranging spaniel, it must have clogs tied to it, lest it outrun the judgment. The great easiness of blank verse renders the poet too luxuriant; he is tempted to say many things which might better be omitted, or at least shut up in fewer words : but when the difficulty of artful rhyming is interposed, where the poet commonly confines his sense to his couplet, and must contrive that sense into such words, that the rhyme, shall naturally follow them, not they the rhyme; the fancy then gives leisure to the judgment to come in; which seeing so heavy a tax imposed, is ready to cut off all unnecessary expences. This last consideration has already answered an objection which some have made; that rhyme is only an embroidery of sense, to make that which is ordinary in itself, pass for excellent with less examination. But certainly, that which most regulates the fancy, and gives the judgment its busiest employment, is like to bring forth the richest and clearest thoughts. The poet examines that most which he produceth with the greatest leisure, and which, he knows, must pass the severest test of the audience, because they are aptest to have it ever in their memory; as the
stomach makes the best concoction, when it strictly embraces the nourishment, and takes account of every little particle as it passes through. But as the best medicines may lose their virtue by being ill applied, so is it with verse, if a fit subject be not chosen for it. Neither must the argument alone, but the characters and persons, be great and noble; otherwise (as Scaliger says of Claudian) the poet will be ignobiliore materia depressus. The scenes, which, in my opinion, most commend it, are those of argumentation and discourse, on the result of which the doing or not doing some considerable action should depend.
But, my Lord, though I have more to say upon this subject, yet I must remember, 'tis your Lord, ship to whom I speak; who have much better commended this way by your writing in it, than I can do by writing for it. Where my reasons cannot prevail, I am sure your Lordship's example must. Your rhetorick has gained my cause; at least the greatest part of my design has already. succeeded to my wish, which was to interest só noble a person in the quarrel, and withal to testify to the world how happy I esteem myself in the honour of being,
SIR ROBERT HOWARD'S PLAYS,
PIRST PRINTED IN FOLIO, IN 1665.
TO THE READER.
1 HERE is none more sensible than I am, how great a charity the most ingenious may need, that expose their private wit to a publick judgment; since the same fancy from whence the thoughts proceed, must probably be kind to its own issue. This renders men no perfecter judges of their own writings, than fathers are of their own children; who find out that wit in them which another discerns not, and see not those errors which are evident to the unconcerned. Nor is this self-kindness more fatal to men in their writings, than in their actions; every man being a greater flatterer to himself than he knows how to be to another : otherwise it were impossible that things of such distant natures should find their own authors so equally kind in their affections to them, and men so different in parts and virtues, should rest equally contented in their own opinions.