Page images

the imitation of nature; and since no man, without premeditation, speaks in rhyme, neither ought he to do it on the stage. This hinders not but the fancy may be there elevated to a higher pitch of thought than it is in ordinary discourse; for there is a probability that men of excellent and quick parts may speak noble things extempore: but those thoughts are never fettered with numbers, or sound of verse, with out study; and therefore it cannot be but unnatural to present the most free way of speaking in that which is the most constrained. For this reason, says Aristotle, 'tis best to write tragedy in that kind of verse which is the least such, or which is nearest prose: and this amongst the ancients was the iambic, and with us is blank verse, or the measure of verse kept exactly without rhyme. These numbers therefore are fittest for a play; the others, for a paper of verses, or a poem; blank verse being as much below them, as rhyme is improper for the drama. And if it be objected, that neither are blank verses made extempore, yet, as nearest nature, they are still to be preferred. But there are two particular exceptions, which many besides myself have had to verse, by which it will appear yet more plainly, how improper it is in plays. And the first of them is grounded on that very reason for which some have commended rhyme: they say, the quickness of repartees in argumentative scenes receives an ornament from verse. Now, what is more unreasonable than to imagine, that a man should not only light upon the wit, but the rhyme too, upon the sudden? This nicking of him who spoke before both in sound and measure, is so great a happiness, that you must at least suppose the persons of your play to be born poets:

(I mean good ones) do in their height of fancy declare the labour that brought them forth, like majesty, that grows with care; and Nature, that made the poet capable, seems to retire, and leave its offers to be made perfect by pains and judgment. Against

this I can raise no argument but my Lord of Orrery's writings, in whose verse the greatness of the majesty seems unsullied with the cares, and his inimitable fancy descends to us in such easy expressions, that they seem as if neither had ever been added to the other, but both together flowing from a height; like birds got so high, that use no labouring wings, but only with an easy care preserve a steadiness in motion. But this particular happiness, among those multitudes which that excellent person is owner of, does not convince my reason, but employ my wonder: yet I am glad such verse has been written for our stage, since it has so happily exceeded those whom we seemed to imitate. But while I give these arguments against verse, I may seem faulty that I have not only written ill ones, but written any: but, since it was the fashion, I was resolved, as in all indifferent things, not to appear singular. the danger of the vanity being greater than the error; and therefore I followed it as a fashion, though very far off."

Arcades omnes, et cantare pares, et respondere parati: they must have arrived to the degree of quicquid conabar dicere, to make verses almost whether they will or no. If they are any thing below this, it will look rather like the design of two, than the answer of one: it will appear that your actors hold intelligence together; that they perform their tricks like fortune-tellers, by confederacy. The hand of art will be too visible in it, against that maxim of all professionsArs est celare artem: that it is the greatest perfection of art to keep itself undiscovered. Nor will it serve you to object, that however you manage it, 'tis still known to be a play; and consequently, the dialogue of two persons understood to be the labour of one poet. For a play is still an imitation of nature; we know we are to be deceived, and we desire to be so; but no man ever was deceived but with a probability of truth; for who will suffer a gross lie to be fastened on him? Thus we sufficiently un. derstand, that the scenes which represent cities and countries to us are not really such, but only painted on boards and canvass; but shall that excuse the ill painture or designment of them? Nay rather ought they not to be laboured with so much the more diligence and exactness, to help the imagination? since the mind of man does naturally tend to truth; and therefore the nearer any thing comes to the imitation of it, the more it pleases.

Thus, you see, your rhyme is incapable of expressing the greatest thoughts naturally, and the lowest it cannot with any grace: for what is more unbefitting the majesty of verse, than to call a servant, or bid a door be shut in rhyme? and yet you are often forced on this miserable necessity. But verse, you say, circumscribes a quick and luxuriant fancy, which would extend itself too far on every subject, did not the labour which is required to well-turned and polished rhyme set bounds to it. Yet this argument, if granted, would only prove, that we may write better in verse, but not more naturally. Neither is it able to evince that; for he who wants judgment to confine his fancy in blank verse, may want it as much in rhyme; and he who has it, will avoid errors in both kinds. Latin verse was as great a confinement to the imagination of those poets, as rhyme to ours: and yet you find Ovid saying too much on every subject. Nescivit (says Seneca) quod bene cessit relinquere: of which he gives you one famous instance in his description of the deluge:

Omnia pontus erat, deerant quoque litora ponto. Now all was sea nor had that sea a shore.

[blocks in formation]

It concerns me less than any, said Neander, (seeing he had ended,) to reply to this discourse, because when I should have proved, that verse may be natural in plays, yet I should always be ready to confess, that those which I have written in this kind come short of that perfection which is required.* Yet since you are pleased I should undertake this province, I will do it, though with all imaginable respect and deference, both to that person from whom you have borrowed your strongest arguments, and to whose judgment, when I have said all, I finally submit. But before I proceed to answer your objections, I must first remember you, that I exclude all comedy from my defence; and next, that I deny not but blank verse may be also used; and content myself only to assert, that in serious plays, where the subject and characters are great, and the plot unmixed with mirth, which might allay or divert those concernments which are produced, rhyme is there as natural, and more effectual, than blank verse.

And now having laid down this as a foundation, to begin with Crites,-I must crave leave to tell him, that some of his arguments against rhyme reach no farther than, from the faults or defects of ill rhyme, to conclude against the use of it in general. May not I conclude against blank verse by the same reason? If the words of some poets, who write in it, are either ill chosen, or ill placed, (which makes not only rhyme, but all kind of verse in any language un natural,) shall I, for their vicious affectation, condemn those excellent lines of Fletcher, which are written in that kind? Is there any thing in rhyme more constrained than this line in blank verse?

I heaven invoke, and strong resistance make. where you see both the clauses are placed unnaturally; that is, contrary to the common way of speaking, and that without the excuse of a rhyme to cause it: yet you would think me very ridiculous, if I should accuse the stubbornness

* This makes it obvious, that Neander is Dryden


of blank verse for this, and not rather the stiffness of the poet. Therefore, Crites, you must either prove, that words, though well chosen, and duly placed, yet render not rhyme natural in itself; or that, however natural and easy the rhyme may be, yet it is not proper for a play. If you insist on the former part, I would ask you, what other conditions are required to make rhyme natural in itself, besides an election of apt words, and a right disposition of them? For the due choice of your words expresses your sense naturally, and the due placing them adapts the rhyme to it. If you object, that one verse may be made for the sake of another, though both the words and rhyme be apt, I answer, it cannot possibly so fall out; for either there is a dependence of sense betwixt the first line and the second, or there is none: if there be that connexion, then in the natural position of the words the latter line must of necessity flow from the former; there be no dependence, yet still the due ordering of words makes the last line as natural in itself as the other: so that the necessity of a rhyme never forces any but bad or lazy writers to say what they would not otherwise. 'Tis true, there is both care and art required to write in verse. A good poet never establishes the first line, till he has sought out such a rhyme as may fit the sense, already prepared to heighten the second: many times the close of the sense falls into the middle of the next verse, or farther off, and he may often avail himself of the same advantages in English which Virgil had in Latin, he may break off in the hemistich, and begin another line. Indeed, the not observing these two last things, makes plays which are writ in verse so tedious: for though, most commonly, the sense is to be confined to the couplet, yet nothing that does perpetuo tenore fluere, run in the same channel, can please always. 'Tis like the murmuring of a stream, which, not varying in the fall, causes at first attention, at last drowsiness. Variety of cadences is the best rule; the greatest help to the actors, and refreshment to the audience.

If then verse may be made natural in itself, how becomes it unnatural in a play? You say the stage is the representation of nature, and no man in ordinary conversation speaks in rhyme. But you foresaw, when you said this, that it might be answered-neither does any man speak in blank verse, or in measure without rhyme. Therefore you concluded, that which is nearest nature is still to be preferred. But you took no notice, that rhyme might be mado as natural as blank verse, by the well placing of the words, &c. All the difference between them, when they are both correct, is the sound

in one, which the other wants; and if so, the sweetness of it, and all the advantage resulting from it, which are handled in the preface to the "Rival Ladies," will yet stand good. As for that place of Aristotle, where he says plays should be writ in that kind of verse which is nearest prose, it makes little for you; blank verse being properly measured prose. Now measure alone, in any modern language, does not constitute verse; those of the ancients in Greek and Latin consisted in quantity of words, and a determinate number of feet. But when, by the inundation of the Goths and Vandals into Italy, new languages were introduced, and barbarously mingled with the Latin, of which the Italian, Spanish, French, and ours, (made out of them and the Teutonic,) are dialects, a new way of poesy was practised; new, I say, in those countries, for in all probability it was that of the conquerors in their own nations; at least we are able to prove, that the eastern people have used it from all antiquity.* This new way consisted in measure or number of feet, and rhyme. The sweetness of rhyme, and observation of accent, supplying the place of quantity in words, which could neither exactly be observed by those barbarians, who knew not the rules of it, neither was it suitable to their tongues as it had been to the Greek and Latin. No man is tied in modern poesy to observe any farther rule in the feet of his verse, but that they be dissyllables; whether Spondee, Trochee, or Iambic, it matters not; only he is obliged to rhyme: neither do the Spanish, French, Italians, or Germans, acknowledge at all, or very rarely, any such kind of poesy as blank verse amongst them. Therefore, at most 'tis but a poetic prose, a sermo pedestris; and, as such, most fit for comedies, where I acknowledge rhyme to be improper. Farther, as to that quotation of Aristotle, our couplet verses may be rendered as near prose as blank verse itself, by using those advantages I lately named, -as breaks in a hemistich, or running the sense into another line, thereby making art and order appear as loose and free as nature: or, not tying ourselves to couplets strictly, we may use the benefit of the Pindaric way, practised in the "Siege of Rhodes;" where the numbers vary, and the rhyme is disposed carelessly, and far from often chiming. Neither is that other advantage of the ancients to be despised, of changing the kind of verse when they please, with the change of the scene, or some new entrance; for they confine not themselves always to iambics, but extend their liberty to

• Vide Daniel, his Defence of Rhyme. Dryden.

all lyric numbers, and sometimes even to hexameter. But I need not go so far to prove, that rhyme, as it succeeds to all other offices of Greek and Latin verse, so especially to this of plays, since the custom of nations at this day confirms it; the French, Italian, and Spanish tragedies are generally writ in it; and sure the universal consent of the most civilized parts of the world, ought in this, as it doth in other customs, to include the rest.


But perhaps you may tell me, I have proposed such a way to make rhyme natural, and consequently proper to plays, as is impracticable; and that I shall scarce find six or eight lines together in any play, where the words are so placed and chosen as is required to make it natural. I answer, no poet need constrain himself at all times to it. It is enough he makes it his general rule; for I deny not but sometimes there may be a greatness in placing the words otherwise; and sometimes they may sound better; sometimes also the variety itself is excuse enough. But if, for the most part, the words be placed as they are in the negligence of prose, it is sufficient to denominate the way practicable; for we esteem that to be such, which in the trial oftener succeeds than misses. And thus far you may find the practice made good in many plays: where you do not, remember still, that if you cannot find six natural rhymes together, it will be as hard for you to produce as many lines in blank verse, even among the greatest of our poets, against which cannot make some reasonable exception. And this, sir, calls to my remembrance the beginning of your discourse, where you told us we should never find the audience favourable to this kind of writing, till we could produce as good plays in rhyme as Ben Jonson, Fletcher, and Shakspeare had writ out of it. But it is to raise envy to the living, to compare them with the dead. They are honoured, and almost adored by us, as they deserve; neither do I know any so presumptuous of themselves as to contend with them. Yet give me leave to say thus much, without injury to their ashes, that not only we shall never equal them, but they could never equal themselves, were they to rise and write again. We acknowledge them our fathers in wit, but they have ruined their estates themselves, before they came to their children's hands. There is scarce a humour, a character, or any kind of plot, which they have not used. All comes sullied or wasted to us: and were they to entertain this age, they could not now make so plenteous treatments out of such decayed fortunes. This therefore will be a good argument to us either not to write at

all, or to attempt some other way. There is no bays to be expected in their walks: tentanda via est, quâ me quoque possum tollere humo.

This way of writing in verse, they have only left free to us; our age is arrived to a perfection in it, which they never knew; and which (if we may guess by what of theirs we have seen in verse, as the "Faithful Shepherdess," and "Sad Shepherd ") it is probable they never could have reached. For the genius of every age is different; and though ours excel in this, I deny not but that to imitate nature in that perfection which they did in prose, is a greater commendation than to write in verse exactly. As for what you have added,--that the people are not generally inclined to like this way,-if it were true, it would be no wonder, that betwixt the shaking off an old habit, and the introducing of a new, there should be difficulty. Do we not see them stick to Hopkins and Sternhold's Psalms, and forsake those of David, I mean Sandys his translation of them? If by the people you understand the multitude, the oi Todoì, it is no matter what they think; they are sometimes in the right, sometimes in the wrong their judgment is a mere lottery. Est ubi plebs recté putat, est ubi peccat.* Horace says it of the vulgar, judging poesy. But if you mean the mixed audience of the populace and the noblesse, I dare confidently affirm, that a great part of the latter sort are already favourable to verse; and that no serious plays, written since the king's return, have been more kindly received by them, than "The Siege of Rhodes," the "Mustapha," ""The Indian Queen," and "Indian Emperor."t

But I come now to the inference of your first argument. You said, that the dialogue of plays is presented as the effect of sudden thought, but no man speaks suddenly, or extempore, in rhyme; and you inferred from thence, that rhyme, which you acknowledge to be proper to epic poesy, cannot equally be proper to dramatic, unless we could suppose all men born so much more than poets, that verses should be made in them, not by them.

It has been formerly urged by you, and confessed by me, that since no man spoke any kind of verse extempore, that which was nearest nature was to be prefered. I answer you, there fore, by distinguishing betwixt what is nearest

* Accurately,

Interdum vulgus recte videt est ubi peccat. "The Siege of Rhodes," by Sir William D'Avenant; "Mustapha," by Lord Orrery: "The Indian Queen," by Sir Robert Howard and Dryden; and "The Indian Emperor," by Dryden alone.

VOL. II.-17

to the nature of comedy, which is the imitation of common persons and ordinary speaking, and what is nearest the nature of a serious play: this last is indeed the representation of nature, but tis nature wrought up to a higher pitch. The plot, the characters, the wit, the passions, the descriptions, are all exalted above the level of common converse, as high as the imagination of the poet can carry them, with proportion to verisimility. Tragedy, we know, is wont to image to us the minds and fortunes of noble persons, and to portray these exactly; heroic rhyme is nearest nature, as being the noblest kind of modern verse.

Indignatur enim privatis, et probe socco Dignis, carminibus, narrari cœna Thyeste,says Horace: and in another place,

Effutire leves indigna tragœdia versus. Blank verse is acknowledged to be too low for a poem, nay, more, for a paper of verses; but if too low for an ordinary sonnet, how much more for tragedy, which is, by Aristotle, in the dispute betwixt the epic poesy and the dramatic, for many reasons he there alleges, ranked above it?

But setting this defence aside, your argument is almost as strong against the use of rhyme in poems as in plays; for the epic way is every where interlaced with dialogue, or discoursive scenes; and therefore you must either grant rhyme to be improper there, which is contrary to your assertion, or admit it into plays by the same title which you have given it to poems. For though tragedy be justly preferred above the other, yet there is a great affinity between them, as may easily be discovered in that definition of a play which Lisideius gave us. The genus of them is the same,--a just and lively image of human nature, in its actions, passions, and traverses of fortune: so is the end,--namely for the delight and benefit of mankind. The characters and persons are still the same, viz. the greatest of both sorts; only the manner of acquainting us with those actions, passions, and fortunes, is different. Tragedy performs it viva voce, or by action in dialogue; wherein it excels the epic poem, which does it chiefly by narration, and therefore is not so lively an image of human nature. However, the agreement betwixt them is such, that if rhyme be proper for one, it must be for the other. Verse, 'tis true, is not the effect of sudden thought; but this hinders not that sudden thought may be represented in verse, since those thoughts are such as must be higher than nature can raise them without premeditation, especially to a continuance of them, even out of verse; and

consequently you cannot imagine them to have been sudden, either in the poet or the actors. A play, as I have said, to be like nature, is to be set above it; as statues which are placed on high are made greater than the life, that they may descend to the sight in their just proportion.

Perhaps I have insisted too long on this objection; but the clearing of it will make my stay shorter on the rest. You tell us, Crites, that rhyme appears most unnatural in repartees, or short replies; when he who answers, (it being presumed he knew not what the other would say, yet) makes up that part of the verse which was left incomplete, and supplies both the sound and measure of it. This, you say, looks rather like the confederacy of two, than the answer of one.

This, I confess, is an objection which is in every man's mouth, who loves not rhyme: but suppose, I beseech you, the repartee were made only in blank verse, might not part of the same argument be turned against you? for the measure is as often supplied there as it is in rhyme; the latter half of the hemistich as commonly made up, or a second line subjoined, as a reply to the former; which any one leaf in Jonson's plays will sufficiently clear to you. You will often find in the Greek tragedians, and in Seneca, that when a scene grows up into the warmth of repartees, (which is the close fighting of it,) the latter part of the trimeter is supplied by him who answers; and yet it was never observed as a fault in them by any of the ancient or modern critics.* The case is the same in our verse as it was in theirs; rhyme to us being in lieu of quantity to them. But if no latitude is to be allowed a poet, you take from him not only his license of quidlibet audendi, but you tie him up in a straiter compass than you would a philosopher. This is indeed Musas colere severiores. You would have him follow nature, but he must follow her on foot: you have dismounted him from his Pegasus. But you tell us, this supplying the last half of a verse, or adjoining a whole second to the former, looks more like the design of two, than the answer of one. Suppose we acknowledge it: How comes this confederacy to be more displeasing to you than in a dance which is well contrived? You see there the united design of many persons to make up one figure: after they have separated themselves in many petty divis

• There is this great difference, that, from the mode of pronouncing, the rhythm of the blank verse does not necessarily obtrude itself on the audience: that of the couplet indubitably must.

ions, they rejoin one by one into a gross: the confederacy is plain amongst them, for chance could never produce any thing so beautiful; and yet there is nothing in it that shocks your sight.


acknowledge the hand of art appears in repartees, as of necessity it must in all kind of verse. But there is also the quick and poignant brevity of it (which is a high imitation of nature in those sudden gusts of passion) to mingle with it; and this, joined with the cadency and sweetness of the rhyme, leaves nothing in the soul of the hearer to desire. It is an art which appears: but it appears only like the shadowings of painture, which being to cause the rounding of it, cannot be absent; but while that is considered, they are lost: so while we attend to the other beauties of the matter, the care and labour of the rhyme is carrried from us, or at least drowned in its own sweetness, as bees are sometimes buried in their honey. When a poet has found the repartee, the last perfection he can add to it is, to put it into verse. However good the thought may be, however apt the words in which it is couched, yet he finds himself at a little unrest, while rhyme is wanting. He cannot leave it till that comes naturally, and then is at ease, and sits down contented.

From replies, which are the most elevated thoughts of verse, you pass to those which are most mean, and which are common with the lowest of household conversation. In these, you say, the majesty of verse suffers. You instance in the calling of a servant, or commanding a door to be shut, in rhyme. This, Crites, is a good observation of yours, but no argument; for it proves no more but that such thoughts should be waived, as often as may be, by the address o. the poet. But suppose they are necessary in the places where he uses them, yet there is no need to put them into rhyme. He may place them in the beginning of a verse, and break it off, as unfit, when so debased, for any other use; or granting the worst,-that they require more room than the hemistich will allow, yet still there is a choice to be made of the best word and least vulgar, provided they be apt to express such thoughts. Many have blamed rhyme in general for this fault, when the poet, with a little care, might have redressed it. But they do it with no more justice, than if English poesy should be made ridiculous for the sake of the Water-poet's rhymes.* Our language is

* John Taylor, the Water-poet, as he called himself from his profession of a waterman, was, according to Wood, a man who, having a prodigious genic to poetry, wrote eighty books, which not only made

« EelmineJätka »