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conftitutes the difference between verfe and profe. Verfe, I think, may be defined as a fpecies of compofition, in which the arrangement of words is fubject to certain precife rules; and the ear, as Lord Kaims obferves, must be appealed to, as the proper judge for deciding upon the effects produced by these rules. By what mark then does the ear distinguish verse from profe? The proper and fatisfactory answer, according to his Lordship, is, that "these make different impreffions upon every one who hath an ." "This advances us," fays he, "one step in our enquiry." Now I own I cannot perceive that the smallest advance is made in the enquiry by this answer. Verse and profe are allowed to be dif ferent kinds of compofition diftinguishable by the ear. The queftion is, By what criterion the ear afcertains the diftinction between them; and we are told it is by the different impreffions made upon it. But the question itself implies, that dif ferent impreflions are made upon that organ; and it is the nature of this difference only that needs to be explained: but, in anfwer to the enquiry refpecting that point, we are gravely informed, that we have advanced one step in our enquiry, by be, ing affured that their certainly is a difference. This is one inftance out of a thousand which might be adduced of the pompous inanity of Lord Kaims's modę of writing; his Lordship's critical talents, however, have been held in fuch high and general estimation, that I know not well to whom I can appeal as an authority
authority upon this occafion, in order to corroborate my own fentiments, excepting the celebrated Abbé Winckleman; and he indeed speaks in much more contemptuous terms than I choose to adopt of the whole performance. The proper answer to the question feems to be, that the ear diftinguishes verfe from profe by its uniformity; for though it may be capable of confiderable variety in fome refpects, yet in others, as it is fubject to fixed rules, it must be easily distinguishable by the regular recurrence of those peculiarities of found which must refult from their operation: for I think none of the various modes of Verfification in ufe amongst us is fo loose and irregular, as not to be very diftinguishable from profe according to this criterion, even by an indifferent ear. In fhort, the effential difference between verfe and profe confifts in the measure; for if we admit fuch performances as elemaque or Fingal into the clafs of poems, how is it poffible to draw any precise line between these two fpecies of compofition?
In order to preserve fome degree of method in the remaining part of this Effay, I fhall first offer some remarks upon the different kinds of Verfification of which our language and poetry are fufceptible; and, 2dly, I fhall add a few reflections refpecting the merit or demerit of the most celebrated English poets as to this fundamental excellence of that divine art. Of all the different kinds of verfe known in Englifh
lish poetry, blank verfe is undoubtedly entitled to be first mentioned as firft in dignity and importance. Voltaire has obferved, that blank verfe is of fo loose a texture, that it costs nothing but the trouble of writing; upon which account he feems to intend to reprefent it as fcarcely worth the trouble of reading, or as far inferior at least to French heroic verfe, which confifting of four regular anapests, and admitting little or no variation of pauses, accents, or arrangement, is confequently of much more difficult construction; but this difficulty furmounted, he pretends, is the fource of great delight to every reader of taste; a ftrange criterion, indeed, by which to judge of the comparative merit of these two different kinds of Verfification. If that mode of compofition, which is moft difficult in itself, be upon that ac count moft pleafing, our greatest poets ought no doubt to have retired into " fome peaceful province of acroftic land."
"There they might wings difplay, and altars raife, "And torture one poor word ten thousand ways.”
It is certainly true that blank verfe is very easy to write; but for this reafon it is as certain, that it is the more difficult to excel in writing it. Such blank verfe as Monf. de Voltaire himself has given us a fpecimen of is, no doubt, to do him justice, truly contemptible: but if Mons. de Voltaire had been competently qualified to criticize upon English poetry, he would have known that the
blank verfe of Milton and Shakespeare is, of all the various measures practifed among us, that which is most difficult of imitation. Blank verfe has fo near an affinity to profe, that it requires the most confummate skill and judgment in the arrangement of the periods, as well as the utmost force and elevation of language to preferve the distinction between. them. But when the requifite proportion of skill and genius is exerted, and that degree of perfection attained, which genius, conducted by application, never fails to reach, the wonderful effects. of this fpecies of poetical compofition become fully apparent; and we admire the Verfification of the "Paradife Loft," not because Milton has furmounted great difficulties, for this alone is a very weak foundation for applaufe, but because he has attained to pofitive beauties of the most exquifite kind. Doubtlefs, that egregious blockhead who took the trouble to tranflate the Iliad, and in each of the twenty-four books omitted fome one letter of the alphabet, furmounted a difficulty of great magnitude; but is he therefore the fubject of our admiration or derifion? The truth is, that the conqueft of difficulties is never a fource of pleasure, at least to men of refinement, except fome purpose either of use or beauty is accomplished by it; but, when any fuch purpofe is effected, the emotion of wonder excited by the. removal of the difficulty, agreeably to the laws of affociation, blends itfelf with the emotion of esteem or admiration excited by the contempla
tion of utility or beauty; and the complex emotion acquires by this conjunction a high degree of force and vigour. Thus our admiration of the Miltonic Verfification, which is in itself exquifitely beautiful, is very much heightened by our knowledge of the extreme difficulty of fucceeding in that measure; but the difficulty of writing French heroic verfe does not at all induce us to admire the Verfification of the Henriade, which is in itself destitute of beauty, being tame, languid, and monotonous. But if it should now be afked, What are those exquifite beauties of which blank verfe is fufceptible, and for which it is fo much celebrated, I think we may reply in a few words, that they are majefty, melody, and variety. I fhould far exceed the limits of my paper, were I to pretend to enlarge upon thefe heads. A hint or two is all that an effayift, who attempts flight fketches only, and leaves to more elaborate artists the praise of finished productions, can be expected to offer. The firft characteristic of blank verse then, as it appears in the productions of Milton and Shakespeare, is "majefty." I do not think that even the hexameter of the ancients poffeffes this property in an equal degree. The hexameter is no doubt a very noble poetical measure, but it does not feem capable of that long continued pomp of found of which we have for , many examples in our great poets. There are hexameter verses which will be found fuperior perhaps to any fingle lines or periods in the Paradife