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Title: Letters Concerning Poetical Translations
       And Virgil's and Milton's Arts of Verse, &c.

Author: William Benson

Release Date: January 18, 2006 [EBook #17548]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1


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Poetical Translations, &c.

(Price One Shilling.)



Poetical Translations,


Virgil's and Milton's

ARTS of VERSE, &c.


William Benson


Printed for J. Roberts, near the Oxford-Arms
in Warwick-Lane. Mdccxxxix.
[page 1]



I am now going to obey your Commands; but you must let me do it in my own way, that is, write as much, or as little at a time as I may have an Inclination to, and just as things offer themselves. After this manner you may receive in a few Letters, all that I have said to you about poetical Translations, and the resemblance there is between Virgil's and Milton's Versification, and some other Matters of the same nature.

To begin with the Business of Translation.

Whoever sits down to translate a Poet, ought in the first place to consider his Author's peculiar Stile; for without this, tho' the Translation may be very good in all other respects, it will hardly deserve the Name of a Translation.

The two great Men amongst the Antients differ from each other as much in this particular as in the Subjects they treat of. The Stile of Homer, who sings the Anger or Rage of Achilles, is rapid.[page 2] The Stile of Virgil, who celebrates the Piety of Æneas, is majestick. But it may be proper to explain in what this Difference consists.

The Stile is rapid, when several Relatives, each at the head of a separate Sentence, are governed by one Antecedent, or several Verbs by one Nominative Case, to the close of the Period.

Thus in Homer:

"Goddess, sing the pernicious Anger of Achilles,

which brought infinite Woes to the Grecians,

and sent many valiant Souls of Heroes to Hell,

and gave their Bodies to the Dogs, and to the

Fowls of the Air."

Here you see it is the Anger of Achilles, that does all that is mentioned in three or four Lines. Now if the Translator does not nicely observe Homer's Stile in this Passage, all the Fire of Homer will be lost. For Example: "O Heavenly Goddess, sing the Wrath of the Son of Peleus, the fatal Source of all the Woes of the Grecians, that Wrath which sent the Souls of many Heroes to Pluto's gloomy Empire, while their Bodies lay upon the Shore, and were torn by devouring Dogs, and hungry Vultures."

Here you see the Spirit of Homer evaporates; and in what immediately follows, if the Stile of Homer is not nicely attended to, if any great matter is added or left out, Homer will be fought for in vain in the Translation. He always hurries on as fast as possible, as Horace justly observes, semper ad eventum festinat; and that is the reason why he introduces his first Speech without any Connection, by a sudden Transition; and why he so often brings in his τν δ’ απαμηβόμενος: He has not patience to stay to work his Speeches artfully into the Subject.

Here you see what is a rapid Stile. I will now[page 3] shew you what is quite the contrary, that is, a majestic one. To instance in Virgil: "Arms and the Man I sing; the first who from the Shores of Troy (the Fugitive of Heav'n) came to Italy and the Lavinian Coast." Here you perceive the Subject-matter is retarded by the Inversion of the Phrase, and by that Parenthesis, the Fugitive of Heaven all which occasions Delay; and Delay (as a learned Writer upon a Passage of this nature in Tasso observes) is the Property of Majesty: For which Reason when Virgil represents Dido in her greatest Pomp, it is,

Reginam cunctantem ad limina primi

Pœnorum expectant.—

For the same Reason he introduces the most solemn and most important Speech in the Æneid, with three Monosyllables, which causes great Delay in the Speaker, and gives great Majesty to the Speech.

O Qui Res Hominumq; Deumq;—

These three Syllables occasion three short Pauses. O—Qui—Res—How slow and how stately is this Passage!

But it happens that I can set the Beginning of the Æneid in a clear Light for my purpose, by two Translations of that Passage, both by the same Hand; one of which is exactly in the manner of Virgil, the other in the manner of Homer: The two Translations are made by the Reverend Mr. Pitt. He published the first among some Miscellany Poems several Years since, the latter in his four Books of the Æneid about two Years ago.

[page 4]


"Arms and the Man I sing; the first who driv'n

From Trojan Shores, the Fugitive of Heav'n,

Came to th' Italian and Lavinian Coast;—


"Arms and the Man I sing, the first who bore

His Course to Latium from the Trojan Shore.—

The first Translation is exact in every respect: You have in it the Suspence and Majesty of Virgil. The second is a good Translation, though not at all like Virgil, but exactly like Homer: There is no Hesitation, but the Verse and the Matter hurry on together as fast as possible.

I have now shown you what is a rapid, and what is a majestick Stile. But a few more Lines of the Beginning both of the Iliad and of the Æneid will make it still more plain.


"The Anger of Achilles, Goddess, sing;

Which to the Greeks did endless Sorrows bring;

And sent untimely, to the Realms of Night,

The Souls of many Chiefs, renown'd in Fight:

And gave their Bodies for the Dogs to tear,

And every hungry Fowl that wings the Air.

And thus accomplish'd was the Will of Jove,

Since first Atrides and Achilles strove.

What God the fatal Enmity begun?

Laton's, and great Jove's immortal Son.

He through the Camp a dire Contagion spread,

The Prince offended, and the People bled:

With publick Scorn, Atrides had disgrac'd

The Reverend Chryses, Phœbus' chosen Priest.

"He to redeem his Daughter, sought the Shore,

[page 5]

Where lay the Greeks, and mighty Presents bore:

Deckt with the Ensigns of his God, he stands,

The Crown, the golden Sceptre in his Hands;

To all he su'd, but to the Princes most,

Great Atreus's Sons, the Leaders of the Host:

Princes! and Grecian Warriors! may the Gods

(The Pow'rs that dwell in Heav'ns sublime Abodes)

Give you to level Priam's haughty Tow'rs,

And safely to regain your native Shores.

But my dear Daughter to her Sire restore,

These Gifts accept, and dread Apollo's Pow'r;

The Son of Jove; he bears a mighty Bow,

And from afar his Arrows gall the Foe.


Arms and the Man I sing, the first who driv'n

From Trojan Shores, the Fugitive of Heav'n,

Came to th' Italian and Lavinian Coast;

Much o'er the Earth was He, and Ocean tost,

By Heavenly Powers, and Juno's lasting Rage;

Much too He bore, long Wars compell'd to wage;

E'er He the Town could raise, and of his Gods,

In Latium settle the secure Abodes;

Whence in a long Descent the Latins come,

The Albine Fathers, and the Tow'rs of Rome.

Sept. 6. 1736.

I am, Sir, &c.

[page 6]


I Should not part with the Passage in Homer above-mentioned without observing that the Speech of Apollo's Priest is wonderfully Peinturesque, and in Character. We plainly see the Priest holding up his Hands, and pointing with his Crown and Sceptre to Heaven.

"Princes! and Grecian Warriors! may the Gods

(The Pow'rs that dwell in Heav'ns sublime Abodes)

It is a Priest that speaks, and his Audience is composed of Soldiers who had liv'd ten Years in a Camp. He does not only put them in mind of the Gods, but likewise of the Place where they dwelt, and at the same time points up to it. Neither is the Conclusion of the Speech less remarkable than the Beginning of it: The Priest of Apollo does not end in an humble supplicant manner like a common Suitor; but he frankly offers his Presents, and threatens the Generals and Princes he addresses himself to, with the Vengeance of his God if they refuse his Request: And he very artfully lets them know that his God is not a Deity of inferior Rank, but the Son of Jove; and that his Arrows reach from a great Distance. The next Line to those last mentioned I cannot omit taking notice of, because it contains, in my Opinion, one of the most beautiful Expressions in all the poetical Language. To give to do a thing.

"Princes! and Grecian Warriors! may the Gods

(The Pow'rs that dwell in Heav'ns sublime Abodes)

Give you to level Priam's haughty Tow'rs,

And safely to regain your native Shores.

[page 7]

Virgil was so sensible of this charming Expression, that he has used it in the three following Passages, and I believe in one or two others in the very first Æneid.

"—Tibi Divum paler atque hominum rex

Et mulcere dedit fluctus & tollere vento.—

"—Tu das epulis accumbere Divm.—

"O regina, novam cui condere Jupiter urbem

Justitiaque dedit gentes frænare superbas:—

Salvini in his Italian Translation in 1723, dedicated to his late Majesty, is attentive to all the Beauties of the Passage in Homer last mentioned.

"—A voi gl' Iddii,

Che l'Olimpie magioni abitan, dieno

Espugnar ilio e a casa far ritorno."


[page 8]




Should now go upon the Comparison of Virgil's and Milton's Versification, in which you will meet with that Paradox, as you thought it at first, namely, that the principal Advantage Virgil has over Milton is Virgil's Rhyme. But I beg leave to postpone that matter at present, because I have a mind to make some Remarks upon the second Line in the Translation of the beginning of the Iliad mentioned in my former Letter, in which the auxiliary Verb did (as our Grammarians call it) is made use of. The Line runs thus.

"Which to the Greeks did endless Sorrows bring.

It is commonly apprehended from a Passage in Mr. Pope's Essay on Criticism, that all auxiliary Verbs are mere Expletives.

"While Expletives their feeble Aid do join,

And ten low Words oft creep in one dull Line.

But this I believe Mr. Pope never intended to advance. Milton has used them in many Places, where he could have avoided it if he had pleased. I will produce one.

[page 9]

————————"Him the most High

Wrapt in a balmy Cloud with fiery Steeds

Did, as thou saw'st, receive.———

Milton might have said,

"Receiv'd, as thou hast seen.———

But he thought the auxiliary Verb added Strength to the Expression, as indeed it does. I own where the auxiliary Verb is brought close to its principal, and that a thin monosyllable, as in the Line just now referred to, the Verse is very rude and disagreeable. But to prove that the auxiliary Verb may be employed properly, I will produce an Instance in rhym'd Verse, as strong as that of Milton just mentioned.

"Then did the roaring Waves their Rage compose,

When the great Father of the Flood arose.

Pit's 1st Æneid.

I believe it will not be disputed, but that this Line is as full, as sonorous, and majestick as if the auxiliary Verb had been left out, and the Author had used compos'd instead of did compose. The Expression is certainly more beautiful and more poetical; and the reason of it is, that it occasions suspence, which raises the attention; or in other Words the auxiliary Verb gives notice of something coming, before the principal thing itself appears, which is another Property of Majesty. Mr. Dryden's authority might likewise be added on this occasion; even in his celebrated Lines on Milton it is to be met with.

[page 10]

"Greece, Italy, and England did adorn.

In his Translation of the Æneid there are many Instances of the same nature, one of which I will mention;

"The Queen of Heav'n did thus her fury vent.

The Metre of this Line, as the Words are here rang'd, is not bad, as the Ear can judge; but it would have been extremely so, if he had writ it thus,

"The Queen of Heaven her Fury thus did vent.*

[*His Heart, his Mistress and his Friends did share.

Pope, on Voiture.]

From whence it appears that the auxiliary Verb is not to be rejected at all times; besides, it is a particular Idiom of the English Language: and has a Majesty in it superior to the Latin or Greek Tongue, and I believe to any other Language whatsoever.

Many Instances might be brought to support this Assertion from Great Authorities. I shall produce one from Shakespear.

——————————————This to me

In dreadful Secrecy impart they did.

The Auxiliary Verb is here very properly made use of; and it would be a great loss to English Poetry, if it were to be wholly laid aside. In Translations from the Greek and Latin, I believe it wou'd sometimes be impossible to do justice to an Author without this Help: I think the Passage in Homer before us, I mean the two first Lines of the Iliad, are an Instance of this kind. They have been translated by many Persons of late, Dryden,[page 11] Manwaring, Mr. Tickel, and by Mr. Pope twice, and not by any one of 'em, as I apprehend, in the Spirit of Homer. As to Mr. Pope's two Translations, I don't understand why the latter ought to be preferr'd to the former. Mr. Pope's first Translation stood thus.

The Wrath of Peleus' Son, the direful Spring

Of all the Grecian Woes, O Goddess sing.

Mr. Pope had reason to be dissatisfy'd with the O in the second Line, and to reject it; for Homer has nothing of it. But now let us see how the Vacancy is supplied in Mr. Pope's new Translation.

Achilles' Wrath, to Greece the direful Spring

Of Woes un-number'd, Heav'nly Goddess, sing.

Is not Heav'nly as much an Expletive as O, and can either of these Couplets deserve to be plac'd in the Front of the Iliad? I could wish Mr. Pope would return these two Lines once more to the Anvil, and dismiss all Expletives here at least. But enough of Expletives.

I shall now say something of Monosyllables, which seem to be absolutely condemn'd in the second Line of the two Verses just mention'd from Mr. Pope's Essay on Criticism.

And ten low Words oft creep in one dull Line.

Mr. Dryden indeed has said in several Places, that the vast Number of Monosyllables in our Language makes it barbarous and rough, and unfit for Poetry. I am apt to think Mr. Pope gave into Mr. Dryden's Sentiment a little too hastily. I own ten low Words too frequently creep on in one dull line, in a Poet's Works, whom Mr. Pope has formerly celebrated[page 12] with no mean Encomiums.

The following Lines afford an Example in this respect.

At the beginning of the third Book of the Davideis, this is the Description of Goliah's Sword.

"A Sword so great, that it was only fit

To take off his great Head, who came with it.


Here are ten dull Words most certainly in one dull Line.

"To take off his great Head, who came with it.

And miserable is the Metre in which they creep on. But hundreds of monosyllable Lines are to be found in Milton that are as sublime, as beautiful, and as harmonious as can possibly be written. Look only into the Morning Hymn in the fifth Book.

"Speak ye who best can tell, ye Sons of Light.


"Thou Sun! of this great World both Eye and Soul.


"And when high Noon hast gain'd, and when thou fall'st.


"With the fixt Stars, fixt in their Orb that flies.

[page 13]


"Breathe soft or loud; and wave your Tops, ye Pines.


"Bear on your Wings and in your Notes his Praise.

Can it be said that ten dull Words creep on dully in any one of these Lines? But Examples may likewise be given in rhym'd Verse, of the Harmony of Monosyllables. Harmony consists in mixing rough and smooth, soft and harsh Sounds. What Words can be rougher than such as these, Rides, Rapt, Throws, Storms; or smoother than these, Wheel, Hush, Lull?

"Then mounted on his radiant Carr he rides,

And wheels along the level of the Tides.

Pit's 1st Æneid.

How rough is the first Line, how soft the latter! As soft as the Original, which is a Masterpiece.

"Rapt by his Steeds he flies in open Day,

Throws up the Reins, and skims the watry Way.

"Has given to thee great Æolus to raise

Storms at thy sov'reign Will, and smooth the Seas.

"He spake, and speaking chas'd the Clouds away,

Hush'd the loud Billows, and restor'd the Day.

[page 14]

"Mean time the Goddess on Ascanius throws,

A balmy Slumber and a sweet Repose.

Lull'd in her Lap to Rest, the Queen of Love,

Convey'd him to the soft Idalian Grove.

Pit's 1st Æneid.

Where can a smoother Line than this be found in our Language?

"Lull'd in her Lap to Rest, the Queen of Love.

And it may be observed that this Line is all Monosyllables.

Monosyllables are likewise of great consequence on another account. The Strength of the English Language is greatly owing to them: For to them it is principally obliged for its Conciseness; and Conciseness is Strength. Now Conciseness is not only to express ourselves in as few Words as we can, but the Excellency of the Language shews itself, if those few Words are composed of few Syllables. And herein upon Examination, the Strength of the English Tongue will be found to lye; and for this reason it may be said to be more concise than the Latin; which will appear if Virgil is turned into English, I mean even English Verse. For Example:

"—Ubi tot Simois correpta sub undas

Scuta virum, Galeasq; & fortia Corpora volvit.

"Where Simois Streams incumber'd with the slain,

Roll'd Shields, and Helms, and Heroes to the Main.

Pit's 1st Æneid.

[page 15]

To discover which of these two Passages is the most concise, it is not sufficient to shew, that there are two whole English Lines, and but one Line and three Parts of another in the Latin. Latin and English Lines cannot be compared together, because in a Latin Line there are six Feet, and in an English Line but five. Again, in Latin Verse there must be in every Line one Foot of three Syllables, often three or four, or even five Feet of three Syllables, and sometimes four or five Syllables in one Foot. Whereas in an English Line, there is hardly ever more than two Syllables in a foot. So that an English Verse cannot be compared with the Latin by the Line, or by the Foot, but only by the Syllables of which the Words are composed, which make the Feet in both the Languages. The Business then is to enquire whether we write or pronounce more Syllables in the Latin or English Verses here quoted: Upon Enquiry it appears that there are twenty nine Syllables in the Latin, and but twenty one in the English; so that the English is almost one third part less than the Latin; which certainly shews the former to be much more concise than the latter, there being nothing left out in the English, but the whole Thought is rather more fully expressed: And this we see is owing to Monosyllables both Verbs and Nouns, Streams, Slain, Shields, Roll'd, Helms, Main. In short the whole Passage is equal to the Original in Majesty and Harmony, and superior in Conciseness.

To give another Example or two of the same nature.

"Urbs antiqua fuit, Tyrii tenuere Coloni,

Carthago, Italiam contra, Tyberinaque longe

Ostia, dives opum, studiisque Asperrima Belli.

[page 16]

"Against the Italian Coast, of ancient Fame

A City rose, and Carthage was the Name;

A Tyrian Colony, from Tyber far,

"Rich, rough, and brave, and exercis'd in war.

Mr. Pit's Æneid.

"—Facti de Nomine Byrsam,

Sed vos, qui tandem, quibus aut venistis ab oris,

Quove tenetis iter?

"Hence Byrsa nam'd.—But now ye Strangers, say,

Who, whence you are, and whither lies your Way?

I have chosen here three Passages of three very different kinds, and in all of them the English appears to be much more concise than the Latin; neither is there any thing wanting in the Fulness of the Sense, or in Majesty, or in Harmony of Numbers, any more in the two last Passages than in the former. Another Instance of this kind might be produced out of Virgil's most perfect Work, the Georgick, although it wants the Advantage of being translated by such a Hand as Mr. Pit's.

"Si vero Viciamq; seres vitemq; Faselum,

Nec Pelusiacœ curam aspernabere lentis.

"But if the Vetch you sow, or meaner,

Nor shall disdain th' Ægyptian Lentil's Care.

In the Latin there are thirty Syllables in the two Lines, in the English but twenty one. So that the English is almost one third more concise than the Latin; and at the same time Virgil's Sense fully expressed.

[page 17]

I will conclude this Letter with the Opinion of a Foreigner concerning our Monosyllables: A Person not at all prepossessed in favour of our Language.

"The English Language, besides the most significant Words borrowed from the Latin, Greek, &c. and often shortned, hath a vast Stock of its own, and being for the most part Monosyllables, no Speech is capable of expressing Thought in Sounds so few as the English does: This is easily observed by the Translations of the English into Foreign Languages.

"The Strength and Conciseness that Monosyllables (especially in Verbs) produce, are of wonderful Use in Lyrick Poetry, because they enter into any Foot or Measure of Verses, by different Transpositions; so that I dare venture to assert, there is no Italian or Foreign Song, which English Words will not suit; the Variety of Feet and Metres producing equal Variety of Mode and Movements in Composition. The want of this is what makes the French vocal Musick so confined and uniform; for I cannot recollect above two of their Verbs in use in the infinitive Mood, that are Monosyllables, and not one exact Dactile in all their Polysyllables."

Rner's Preface to his Melopea Sacra.

Sept. 13. 1736.

I am, Sir, &c.

[page 18]




N comparing Virgil's and Milton's Versification, I shall begin with Virgil; and shew some of the principal Beauties of his Poetry in this respect: And here I must own myself not a little indebted to La-Cerda, Pontanus and Pierius, but above all to the most excellent Erythræus, who has not only considered every Paragraph, every Line, every Foot, every Word, and every Syllable, but even every Letter in Virgil; and it is not easy to conceive how much may depend on a single Letter, very often the whole Harmony of a Line; and on this Account we have vast Obligations to Pierius; to him we owe this fine Verse, and many others.

"Atq; rotis summas levibus pellabitur undas.———

All the common Editions read perlabitur; which is horrid to the ear. But to go on with the Matter in hand. The principal Excellencies of Virgil's Versification consist of the several following Particulars.

As these three last Articles arise from Observations perfectly new at the time they were written by Erythræus, namely, about 200 Years ago; and as new at this time, having been almost quite lost by I know not what Accident to the World; I must follow my Master, and use his Terms for his Discoveries, except where I differ a little from him.

1st, To begin with the first Article mentioned in this Letter, The Varying of the Pause. This Subject I have met with in several Books, but not fully explained in any one of them to my Capacity; for I must confess I should never have thoroughly apprehended the Varying of the Pause in any Language, if I had not thought of an Expedient to discover what is the common Pause in a Verse that each Language naturally stops at, of which I have any Knowledge.

To find out this, I consulted the middling sort of Poets, or the first Practicers in this Art: In this Enquiry I observ'd from Hesiod and Ennius among the Greek and Latin Poets, and afterwards from Ovid with relation to the latter, and which I am now to speak of, that the common Pause or Stop in all Latin Heroick Verse (to say nothing of the Greek, which agrees with it in this Respect) is upon the 1st Syllable of the 3d Foot. For[page 20] Example,

"Ante mare & tellus | & quod tegit omnia, cælum,

Unus erat toto | Naturæ vultus in orbe,

Quem dixre Chaos | rudis indigestaque moles;

Nec quicquam, nisi pondus, iners; | congestaque eodem

Non bene junctarum | discordia semina rerum.

Nullus adhuc mundo | præbebat lumina Titan;

Nec nova crescendo | reparabat cornua Phœbe,

Nec circumfuso | pendebat in are tellus———

Here we have eight Lines all paused in the same Place, except one, (the 4th); and in this kind of Measure the Metamorphosis is generally written; from whence I collected the natural Pause in the Latin Language to be as abovementioned: I then consulted the best Poem of the best Latin Poet, which begins with these Lines.

"Quid faciat lætas segetes, | quo Sydere Terram

Vertere, | Mæcenas, | ulmisque adjungere Vites

Conveniat, | quæ cura Boum, | qui cultus habendo

Sit Pecori, | Apibus quanta experientia parcis

Hinc canere incipiam |.———

Here I observed that this great Master had artfully avoided the common Pause till he came to the fifth Line; and he takes care to do it as much as possible throughout the whole Work; from whence arises one of the most material Differences in the Versification of Ovid and Virgil; and to produce more Examples would be a needless Labour. In this Place let me take Notice that it is on Account of Varying the Pause that Virgil makes his broken Lines in the Æneid, which suspend all Pauses, and the Ear is relieved by this Means, and attends with fresh Pleasure. Whoever intends to come up to[page 21] Virgil in Harmony in Heroick Numbers in any long Work, must not omit this Art.

2d, The next thing to be attended to, is, The Inversion of the Phrase. This flings the Stile out of Prose, and occasions that Suspense which is the Life of Poetry. This builds the lofty Rhyme (as Milton expresses it) in such manner as to cause that Majesty in Verse of which I have said so much before, that there is no need of saying any thing more here.

3d. The third thing is, The adapting the Sound to the Sense.

Most People know such Instances of this Nature, as Quadrupedante, &c. and Illi inter sese, &c. But few attend to an Infinity of other Examples.

How is the Verse drawn out in length, and how does it labour when strong heavy Land is to be ploughed!

"—————————————Ergo, age teræ

"Pingue solum, primis extemplo a Mensibus Anni

"Fortes invortant tauri.————————————

How nimbly does the Verse move when the turning over very light Ground is represented!

"———————————Sub ipsum

"Arcturum, tenui sāt erit suspendere sulco.———

How slow does the heavy Waggon proceed in this Line!

"Tardaque Eleusinæ Matris Volventa Plaustra.

How does the Boat bound over the Po in these two Hemisticks!

[page 22]

"——————————————Levis innatat alnus

Missa Pado.———

See Feathers dancing on the Water in this!

"———————In aqua colludere plumas.———

No Stem of the Crab-tree is more rough than this Verse.

"Inseritur vero ex fœtu nucis arbutus horrida:

Water is not more liquid than this.

"Speluncisque lacus Clausos, lucosque sonantis.——

S. & L. liquescit Carmen instar aquarum, says Erythræus in his Note on this Line.

How gently flow the Streams in this Verse!

"Unde pater Tiberinus, & unde Aniena fluenta.

What a roaring do the Hypanis and Caicus make in the next!

"Saxōsumque sōnans Hypanis, Mysusque Cacus.

But now observe how he raises his Song to honour his Favourite Eridanus!

"Et gemina auratus taurino cornua vultu

Eridanus; quo non alius Per Pinguia culta

In mare purpureum vīolentīor īnfluīt amnīs.

The former Line strikes the Ear with Mysus and Cacus; here you have Auratus, Eridanus, and Alius. Then an Alliteration, Per Pinguia, and at[page 23] last the whole Passage rolls on in a Dactyl Line, and rushes into the Sea with an Assultus of the Vowel i, repeated five times in three Words.

"————Violentior influit amnis.

The following Line tours into the Skies with the highest Mountain in Italy.

"—————————————Gaudetque nivali

Vertice se attollens pater Appeninus, ad auras.———

This falls down as low as the deepest Valley.

"Saxa per, & scopulos, & depressas convalles.

In short there is nothing in Nature that Virgil's Verse does not convey to the Ear, and the Eye; so that this Subject is inexhaustible, and must be left to every one's particular Observation.

The learned Morhophius has a Passage relating to this Matter which comes in too properly here to be omitted.

"Solent Carminibus suæ esse a Numeris Veneres, & certa quædam Artificia, quæ mirifice ornant versum, quales apud Virgilium, mirum numeri Poetici Observatorem, frequenter occurrunt, e.g. cum versus terminantur Monosyllabis, ut: procumbit humi bos: nascetur ridiculus mus. Vel cum Spondæi multi adhibentur, ut; media agmina circumspexit: Illi inter sese magn vi brachia tollunt. Aut cum Dactyli & Spondæi ita miscentur, ut rei naturam exprimant, ut cum de turri ruente ait:

[page 24]

"——————————————Convellimus altis

Sedibus; impulimusq;, ea lapsa repente ruinam

Cum sonitu trahit.———

"Talia infinita apud Virgilium habentur quæ

homo in iis non exercitatus contemnat, doctus

vero & prudens admiretur.


There is also a Remark of the judicious Columna on a celebrated Line in Virgil, which is very much to the present Purpose.

Unus Homo Nobis Cunctando Restituit Rem.]

Virgilius de eodem loquens Æneid l. 6. integrum hoc carmen sumpsit, ita tamen, ut spondeorum tarditate Fabii moram referret,

———————————tu Maximus ille es,

Unus, qui nobis cunctando restituis rem.

Enn. Frag.

Sept. 21, 1736,

I am, Sir, &c.


The Passage in the learned Muhlius, which I should have inserted at the beginning of this Letter, I send you in a Postscript. You have seen it before, but it is worth reading more than once. You know it belongs principally to the Article that treats of the varying the Pause.

[page 25]

"Neque potest unus idemque semper tenor in carmine usurpari, sed debet is pro vari periodorum Poeticarum ratione distingui. Et ut insurgat decore & intumescat aliquando, iterumque remittat, ubi opus est, consequimur cæsorum ac periodorum sola inæqualitate. Quod pulcerrime observat Virgilius, cujus alia mensura, alia pedum compositio est in narrationibus, descriptionibus, orationibus, & tanta periodorum numerorumque variatio, ut ad eam perfectionem nihil addi possit. Hujus rei quanta negligentia in Statio, Lucano, Claudiano, Silio Italico? Ubi admirabilis illa harmonia, suavitas, gravitas ipsorum pedum æqualiter, inæqualiter temperatorum, per clausulas verborum fractorum, ac intra regiones suas aliter aliterq; interceptorum? Ut de junctura illa literarum nihil addam, cum vocales ac consonantes ipsæque syllabæ ita miscentur, ut rei naturam tam apte jucundeque exprimant, ut ea geri potius quam cani, spectari magis quam audiri videatur. Talia infinita sunt apud Virgilium, quæ captum imperitorum longe excedunt, doctiores vero & prudentiores impense admirantur; quæ nihil tritum, vulgare, hiuclum nihil elumbe ac contortum patiuntur, at nescio quid virile & stupendum plane, ac majus humana voce videntur sonare. Claudianus certe istud fastigium non attingit, & quod in Maroniana dictione, in illa periodorum ac numerorum varietate præclarum putamus, vix est, ut ejus vel levem umbram ostentet. Sic eadem semper oberrat chorda, quod ridiculum existimat magnus iste dicendi magister."

[page 26]




HE fourth thing to be consider'd is, Virgil's mixing the Singular and Plural Numbers. This has a wonderful Effect, and is very diligently attended to by Virgil; but I believe never once thought of by Ovid, or any other Roman Writer in the Days of Augustus.

"Quid faciat lætas Segetes, quo sidere terram

Vertere, Mæcenas, ulmisque adjungere vites,

Conveniat: quæ cura boum, qui cultus habendo

Sit pecori, apibus quanta experientia parcis.

Here you have segetes and terram, and then vites, and after that pecori and apibus.


"———Camposque, & flumina late

Curva tenent: ut molle siler, lentæque genistæ,

Populus, & glauca canentia fronde Salicta.

Pars autem posito surgunt de semine: ut altæ

Castaneæ; nemorumq; Jovi quæ maxima frondet

Esculus, atque habitæ Graiis oracula quercus.

Here are Siler and Genistæ, Populus and Salicta, Castaneæ and Esculus, and Quercus.

[page 27]


"Arma Virumque cano, Trojæ qui primus ab oris

Italiam, fato profugus, Lavinaque venit

Litora. Multum ille & terris jactatus & alto,

Vi Superum sævæ memorem Junonis ob iram.

Multa quoq; & bello passus, dum conderet urbem,

Inferretque Deos Latio: genus unde Latinum

Albanique patres, atque altæ mœnia Romæ.

These two first Words of the Æneid are an Example of what I am taking notice of; and then we have in this Introduction Italiam and Litora Lavina, Terris and Alto, Superum and Junonis, Urbem and Deos, Genus and Patres.

But the most beautiful Passage of this Nature is in the Georgics. Here the thing to be done, and the Instrument with which it is to be done, are varied alternately.

"Quod nisi & assiduis terram insectabere rastris,

Et sonitu terrebis aves, & ruris opaci

Falce premes umbras, votisq; vocaveris imbrem.

Terram rastris, sonitu aves, falce umbras, votis imbrem.

Upon which La Cerda makes this Remark:

"Placet Virgilius semper, sed cur placeat sæpe ignoratur. In rebus quatuor recensendis numquam pluralem cum plurali, neque singularem cum singulari, quod minus ad varietatem: sed semper cum singulari pluralem. Unica terra multis rastris insectanda est, unica pluvia multis votis petenda. Contra, multæ aves terrendæ unico sonitu, multæ umbræ unica falce compescendæ."

[page 28]

Now in Ovid nothing of this Art is to be found.

"Ante mare & tellus, & (quod tegit omnia) cœlum,

Unus erat toto naturæ vultus in orbe,

Quem dixere chaos: rudis indigestque moles,

Nec quicquam nisi pondus iners.

Here are Mare, Tellus, Cœlum, Vultus, Chaos, Moles, and Pondus, without any one word of the Plural Number amongst them.

V. The next Particular to be taken notice of, is Virgil's uncommon Use of the Particles Et and Que.

"————Multum ille et terris jactatus et alto;

Multa quoque et bello passus———

Et premere, et laxas sciret dare jussus habenas.

And more frequently in his most finish'd Piece.

Quid tibi odorato referam sudantia ligno.

Balsamaque, et Baccas——————————

Quod nisi et assiduis terram insectabere rastris,

Et sonitu terrebis aves, et ruris opaci

Falce premes umbras, votisque vocaveris imbrem.

Si vero viciamque seres, vilemque Faselum.

This Manner of using these connecting Particles, gives Majesty and Strength to the Verse. It gives Majesty, because it occasions Suspense and raises the Attention. For Example:

Si vero Viciamque seres————

Here the que hinders the Sense from being concluded, till you have read the rest of the Line,

————Vilemque Faselum.

[page 29]

But if the Poet had writ (supposing the Verse would have allowed it)

Si vero Viciam seres————

the Reader would have understood him without going any farther; and it is easily perceiv'd the Verse would have been very flat to what it is now. This double Use of the Particles gives Strength to the Verse; because, as the Excellent Erythræus observes, the copulative Conjunctions are in Language of the same Use as Nerves in the Body, they serve to connect the Parts together; so that these Sorts of Verses which we are speaking of may be very properly called, Nervous Lines.

This Art Virgil most certainly learnt from Homer: for there is nothing more remarkable in Homer's Versification, nothing to which the Majesty of it is more owing, than this very thing, and I wonder none of his Commentators (that I have seen) have taken notice of it. There are four in the 23 first Lines of the Iliad, of this Kind. I will put the Latin for the sake of the generality of Readers.

Atridesque, rex virorum, et nobilis Achilles.

Redempturusque filiam, ferensque infinitum pretium liberationis,

Atridæque, et alii bene ocreati Achivi,

Reverendumque esse sacerdotem, et splendidum accipiendum pretium.

Clarke's Translation.

VI. I come now to the Collocatio Verborum, of which there is no occasion to give any more than one Instance:

"Vox quoque per lucos vulgo exaudita silentes


[page 30]

The Reader cannot but perceive that the Manner of placing Ingens has a wonderful Effect; it makes him hear the melancholy Voice groan through the Grove.

VII. The changing the common Pronunciation of Words, as thus:

"Fluviŏrum Rex Eridanus.————


"Stridĕre apes utero & ruptis effervĕre costis.

VIII. Lines contrary to the common Measure, or rather without any Measure at all, viz.

"Quod fieri ferro, liquidove potest electro,

Saxa per & scopulos & depressas convalles.

IX, X, XI. These are the three Articles formerly mentioned, namely, the Alliteratio, the Allusio Verborum, and the Assonantia Syllabarum.

1. As to the Alliteratio. This is of several Kinds, it is Initial, Single and Double; sometimes Treble, or more frequent. It is likewise Mix'd, that is, both in the first Letters of the Words, and in the following Syllables. It is sometimes so often repeated, that it may be term'd Assultus, or an Attack upon, or a storming of the Ear.

The following are Examples of the Single Alliteratio.

"Quid faciat lætas segetes, quo sidere terram

Vertere, Mæcenas, ulmisque adjungere vites,

Conveniat: quæ cura boum, qui cultus habendo.

[page 31]


"————————Sed viva volare

Sideris in numerum.————


"————————Asia longe

Pulia palus.————————

Of the Double initial Alliteratio, this is an Example:

"Totaque thuriferis Panchaia pinguis arenis.

Of the Treble and more frequent initial Alliteratio, this is an Instance:

"Et sola in sicc secum spatiatur arena.

The Mix'd Alliteratio, and the Assultus are to be found in these two Lines:

"Illas ducit amor trans Gargara, transque sonantem

Ascanium: superant montes, & flumina tranant.

In these two Lines the Vowel a is repeated fourteen times, and what an Effect this has upon the Ear, the Reader cannot but perceive.

2. Of the Allusio Verborum, the following are Examples:

"Nec nocturna quidem carpentes pensa puellæ.


"Hoc metuens; molemque & montes insuper altos.

[page 32]


"Stat sonipes, ac frena ferox spumantia mandit.


"Vitavisse vices Danaum.

3. Of the Assonantia Syllabarum or Rhyme, there are in Virgil the several following Sorts.

1. The plain direct Rhyme, which is of two Kinds, Single or Double.

2. The intermediate or casual plain Rhyme.

3. The scanning conclusive Rhyme. So called, because it would hardly be perceived by the Generality of Readers, unless they first scann'd the Verse; but when they have done that in three or four Lines, the Ear will afterwards make the necessary Distinction without any farther trouble.

I will explain and give Examples of all these several sorts of Rhyme in their Order.

1. To treat of the plain Single direct Rhyme. The following Verses are Examples of this sort of Rhyme: But to make them more like our own, I will divide the Verse into two Parts.

"Poculaque inventis

Acheloia miscuit uvis.

"Totaque Thuriferis

Panchaia pinguis arenis.

"Et premere, & laxas

Sciret dare, jussus habenas.

"Atque rotis summas

Levibus pellabitur undas.

[page 33]

"O nimium cœlo

Et pelago confise sereno.

Many more of these Lines might be produced, but these are sufficient.

Of the plain direct Double Rhyme (which is the Sort of Rhyme the Spectator speaks of N 60, and which the Monks were in Love with) the following are Instances.

"Hic labor extremus, longarum hæc meta viarum.


"I nunc & verbis

Virtutem illude superbis.


"Cornua veletarum

Obvertimus Antennarum.

2. Of the intermediate plain Rhyme, the following are Examples.

"Imposuit, regemque dedit, qui fœdere certo.


"Descendo, ac ducente Deo flammam inter & hostes.

In this Passage Virgil uses Deus in speaking of a Goddess, for no other Reason imaginable but to enrich his Verse with Rhyme.

[page 34]

3. Of the scanning conclusive Rhyme the following are Instances.

"Sylvestrem tenui musam medi—taris ā—venā.

"Nudus in ignota pali—nure jā—cebis ā—renā.

From whence it appears that Virgil's Poetry is almost all Rhyme of one kind or other; and it is evident beyond Dispute that he generally concludes his strong, sounding, majestick Paragraphs with a full Rhyme, for which I refer to that fine Line already more than once mentioned, which sums up the Praises of Italy.

"Totaque thuriferis Panchaia pinguis arenis.

And to the Conclusion of his finest work.

"Hic vero subitum, ac dictu mirabile monstrum

Aspiciunt: liquefacta boum per viscera toto

Stridere apes utero, & ruptis effervere costis,

Immensasque trahi nubes; jamque arbore summa

Confluere, & lentis uvam demittere ramis.

And to this I will add the last Line of the Epilogue to the Georgicks.

"Tytyre te patulæ cecini sub tegmine fagi.

Where the two several Hemisticks or Parts of the Verse Rhyme each to itself.

I would observe here that both Ovid and Lucan, for want of Judgment, begin with a full Rhyme; the consequence of which is, that the Conclusion of the Paragraph is less sonorous than the Beginning, which must needs have a bad Effect.

[page 35]

"In nova fert animus mutatas discere formas.


"Bella per Æmathios plus quam Civilia Campos.


But a modern Writer, and a much better Composer of Latin Verses than either Ovid or Lucan, has with great Judgment taken care to follow Virgil's Example in this and many other Particulars. I mean Vanerius. There are a great Number of Lines in his Prædium Rusticum which are worthy of Virgil himself: I shall entertain you with some of them.

In his Kitchen-Garden, the following Passage is a Description of all the numerous Family of Colworts, or the Cabbage-kind.

"Quid dicam quanta jactat se Brassica laude?

Sive volubilibus redit in se frondibus, Orbesque

Orbibus agglomerans, capitis sub mole laborat;

Tornato similes Ebori seu candida Flores

Ediderit, seu Coniacas imitata Cupressus,

Seque suas plicat in frondes, & acumen in album

Desinit, & tenui venit haud ingloria Mensæ.

Sive hieme in media cum cætera frigore torpent

Lœta viret, Boreamque trucem, Caurosque malignos

Despiciens, vacuis ultro Dominatur in hortis."

In his Description of the Farm-yard, he paints the following several Sorts of Fowls in this Manner:

"Se pictæ cervicis Anas | & Garulus Anser

Tarda mole movent: | habitu Gallina modesto

Progreditur: | Caudam Gallus Cristasque rubentes

Erigit, | & motis sibi plaudit Lætior alis."

[page 36]

And I cannot omit this most charming Verse which describes the Courtship of a Pigeon.

"Sæpe solum verrens Penn pendente rotator."

"Oft with his trailing Wing the wanton Dove

Brushes the Ground, and wheels about his Love.

Such Verse as this must please in all Ages, and in all Countries, where the Readers have any Taste and Delicacy of Ear. All the Beauties of Virgil's Poetry are in these Lines; and you may observe in the four last mentioned,

1. How curiously the Pause is varied.

In the first Line it is upon the first Syllable of the fourth Foot.

In the second Line it is upon the first Syllable of the third Foot.

In the third Line it is upon the first Syllable of the second Foot.

In the fourth Line it is upon the last Syllable of the first Foot.

2. Observe the initial Alliteration in the first, second and third Lines.

In the first, Anas and Anser.

In the second, Mole, Movent, and Modesto.

In the third, Caudam, Cristasque.

The mixt Alliteration in the first Line where Garrulus is placed betwixt Anser and Anas, makes the Verse very sonorous; but the mixt Alliteration in the last Line where the Vowel i is repeated eight times in seven Words, is a very masterly Stroke;

"Erigit, & motis sibi plaudit lœtior alis.

[page 37]

————Ille hinc concentus in omni

Carmine Divini vatis.————————

Which extempore Remark is itself an Instance of what I am taking notice of as imitated from Virgil.

3. You will perceive the Allusio Verborum to have a very good Effect in the second Line.

"Tarda mole movent, habitu gallina modesto."

4. The mixing the singular and plural Numbers in the third Line is very judicious.

"Caudam Cristasque rubentes.

Ovid would have said,

"Caudam Cristamque————

Lastly, The full Rhyme in the fourth Line makes the whole Paragraph very harmonious. It is not improper to produce here the Conclusion of the Description of Æolus's Cave, which is one of the finest Passages in the Æneid.

"Sed pater omnipotens speluncis abdidit atris

Hoc metuens, molemque & montis insuper altos

Imposuit, regemque dedit, qui fœdere certo

Et premere, & laxas sciret dare jussus habenas.

Would not any body think that Vanerius intended to vie with Virgil in this Place?

October 2. 1736.

I am, Sir, &c.

[page 38]


The Examples I have given in this Letter of plain direct Rhyme are only in long or heroic Verse, but I might have instanc'd in Lyric Lines. Horace abounds in Rhyme. In the first Ode we find

Metaque fervidis

Evitata rotis

Palmaque nobilis

Illum si proprio

Condidit horreo

and several others.

In two of his finest Odes the following Lines are as full Rhymes as can possibly be made,

Nec venenatis

Gravida sagittis

Pone me Pigris

Ubi nulla campis

Arbor æstiva

Recreatur Aura

Aut in umbrosis

Heliconis Oris

Aut super Pindo

Gelidove in Hæmo.

The two last are doubly rhym'd.

[page 39]




Am now to consider Milton's Versification under the same Heads as I have considered Virgil's, so far as there is Opportunity of doing it.

I. To begin with The Varying of the Pause, which is the Soul of all Versification in all Languages. Verse is Musick, and Musick is more or less pleasing as the Notes are more or less varied, that is, raised or sunk, prolonged or shortned.

In order to judge of the varying of English Versification, I first endeavour'd (as I have already said, with respect to the Latin) to find out the common Pause in English Verse, that is, where the Voice naturally makes some sort of Stop when a Verse is read. To this purpose I look'd into Mr. Cowley's Davideis (for it would be of no use to quote such Authors as Quarles and Ogilby, who never had any Reputation for Poetry; but this Gentleman has been stil'd, and is at present recorded in Westminster-Abbey, as Anglorum Pindarus, Maro, Flaccus) and there I soon found the common Pause to be upon the last Syllable of the second Foot. For Example:

[page 40]

"I sing the Man | who Judah's Sceptre bore

In that Right-hand, | which held the Crook before;

Who from best Poet, | best of Kings did grow:

The two chief Gifts | Heav'n could on Man bestow.

Much Dangers first, | much Toil did he sustain,

Whilst Saul and Hell | crost his strong Fate in vain.

Nor did his Crown | less painful Work afford—

Here we have seven Lines, and all of them, except the third, paus'd in the same place.

Thus I discovered from Cowley in English what I perceived from Ovid in Latin. I then turned to the Paradise Lost, and there I found Milton even surpasses Virgil in this particular. Virgil uses the common Pause at the fifth Line of the Georgicks, but Milton does not use it till he comes to the sixth Line in his Paradise Lost.

"Of Man's first Disobedience | and the Fruit

Of that forbidden Tree | whose mortal Taste

Brought Death into the World | and all our Woe,

With Loss of Eden | 'till one greater Man

Restore us | and regain the blissful Seat,

Sing Heavenly Muse |—————————

It would be needless to produce more Examples to this purpose; and I believe I may venture to affirm that the Verse is varied at least with as much Skill in the Paradise Lost, as even in the Georgick itself: I am inclinable to think with more, because in this respect the English Language surpasses the Latin, by reason of its Monosyllables, of which I have said enough for any body at all versed in these Matters, to be able to make out what is here advanc'd. But before I quit this Article, I will observe that it is to the artful and uncommon varying the Pause, that the Harmony is owing in those two[page 41] celebrated Lines of Sir John Denham.

"Tho' deep | yet clear; | tho' gentle | yet not dull.

Strong | without Rage, | without o'erflowing | full.

This is one of those Mysteries in Versification which the late Duke of Bucks would not suffer Mr. Dryden to communicate to the Publick. To the same Art is owing the Delicacy of two of the finest Lines in all the Latin Tongue.

"Te | dulcis conjux | te | solo in littore | secum,

Te | veniente die | te | decedente | canebat.

Of the same Nature are many Lines in Milton, of which this is one:

"Him first | Him last | Him midst | and without End.

II. I come now to the second Particular: The Inversion of the Phrase. Every Page affords Instances of this Nature.

"———————Him the Almighty Pow'r

Hurl'd headlong flaming from the ethereal Sky.


"———Up stood the Corny Reed

Embattell'd in her Field.————


"————————Him the most High

Rapt in a balmy Cloud with winged Steeds

Did, as thou saw'st, Receive.

[page 42]

And in one of Milton's juvenile Poems we have

"Trip the pert Fairies.———————


"Revels the spruce jocund Spring.


III. The third thing to be consider'd, is, The adapting the Sound to the Sense.

Who does not hear the Warbling of a Brook, the Rustling of Wings, the rough Sound of Trumpets and Clarions, and the soft one of Flutes and Recorders in the following Lines?

"Fountains, and ye that warble as ye flow

Melodious Murmur warbling, tune his Praise.


"———————But Chief the spacious Hall

Thick swarm'd, both on the Ground and in the Air,

Brush'd with the Hiss of rustling Wings.


"Then strait commands, that at the warlike Sound

Of Trumpets loud and Clarions, be uprear'd

His mighty Standard.—————


"———Nor with less Dread, the loud

Ethereal Trumpet from on High 'gan blow.

[page 43]


"———————————Thus they

Breathing united Force with fixed Thought

Mov'd on in Silence to soft Pipes.

Who does not see Porpoises and Dolphins tumbling about in the Ocean when he reads this Line?

"———————————On smooth the Seal,

And bended Dolphins play: part huge of Bulk,

Wallowing unwieldy, enormous in their Gate,

Tempest the Ocean.———————

How variously the Rivers run in these Verses?

"——————————So the watry Throng

Wave rowling after Wave, where way they found,

If steep, with Torrent rapture, if through plain

Soft Ebbing.——————————

How is the Verse extended where the Whale lies at length upon the Ocean!

"—————————There Leviathan

Hugest of living Creatures, on the Deep

Stretch'd like a Promontory sleeps.———

How does the Line labour when the Elephant is working himself through the stiff Clay, whilst the lesser Animals sprout up as it were in an Instant!

"————————Scarce thro' his Mould

Behemoth, biggest born of Earth, upheav'd

His Vastness.——————————

[page 44]


"———Fleec'd the Flocks and bleating, rose

As Plants.————

But I shall have occasion to take notice of this Subject hereafter.

IV. The fourth thing to be enquir'd into is, The mixing of singular and plural Numbers, in which Milton excels.

"———————Flowers were the Couch

Pansies, and Violets, and Asphodel,

And Hyacinth, Earth's freshest softest Lap.


"———Through many a dark and dreary Vale

They pass'd, and many a Region dolorous,

O'er many a frozen, many a fiery Alp,

Rocks, Caves, Lakes, Fens, Bogs, Dens, and

Shades of Death.


"Sporting the Lion ramp'd, and in his Paw

Dandled the Kid; Bears, Tigers, Ounces, Pards,

Gambol'd before them.————


"———————Sweet Interchange

Of Hill and Valley, Rivers, Woods and Plains,

Now Land, now Sea, and Shores with Forest crown'd

Rocks, Dens and Caves.

[page 45]


"The glittering Guard he pass'd, and now is come

Into the blissful Field, thro' Groves of Myrrh,

And flow'ry Odours, Cassia, Nard, and Balm.

V. As to the fifth Remark upon Virgil, which relates to his using the Particles Que and Et in his Verse, there can be nothing of that nature in Milton. So that I proceed to

VI. The sixth thing to be observed, which is, The Collocatio Verborum.

Milton often places the Adjective after the Substantive, which very much raises the Stile.

"Strait he commands that at the warlike Sound

Of Trumpets loud, and Clarions, be uprear'd

His mighty Standard. That proud Honour claim'd

Azazel, as his Right; a Cherub tall.————


"Thy Goodness beyond Thought and Pow'r Divine.———

And again,

"Then from the Mountain hewing Timber tall.

But the utmost of his Art in this respect consists in his removing the Adjective, the Substantive, and even the Verb, from the Line or Verse in which the Sense is previously contained, and the grammatical Construction inverted, to the Beginning of the[page 46] next Line. This has a wonderful Effect; especially when the Word is a Monosyllable.

"Here finish'd he, and all that he had made

View'd—and behold all was entirely good.


"Over their Heads triumphant Death his Dart

Shook—But refus'd to strike.

This artful Collocation commands the Attention, and makes the Reader feel and see what is offer'd to him.

That this Effect is owing to the Collocation will appear by considering any one of the Instances now produc'd. For Example:

"Over their Heads triumphant Death his Dart


This Passage makes the Reader see Death with his Dart in his Hand, making it over the Heads of the unhappy Creatures describ'd in the Lazar-house, as plainly as if the whole was painted upon Canvas. But let this Line be alter'd thus:

"Over their Heads Death shook his dreadful Dart.

How much of the Fire and Spirit of this Passage is lost, will be easily perceiv'd.

I was long of Opinion that Milton had invented this Art himself, for I knew he had it not from Virgil: The Latin Language is hardly capable of it. But by Accident I found Milton learn'd it from Homer, though it is plain what is Art in the former was Chance in the latter; which cannot be disputed when[page 47] it is considered that in so many thousand Lines that we have of Homer's, there is I believe but one single Instance of this Monosyllable Collocation; but in Milton there are many, both Substantives, Adjectives and Verbs. The single Instance in Homer is in Odysse 9. in the Story of Polyphemus.

Συν δὲ δύω μαρπσας, ὥς τε φύλακας ποτὶ γαίη

[ Συν δε δύω μαρπσας, ώς τε φύλακας ποτι γαίη
    Κοπτ'. ]

Hom. Odyss. &c.

"Two of my hapless Friends with all his Pow'r,

Like Dogs, the Monster on the rocky Floor


Can any body be insensible of the Power of this Word, Dash'd, as it is here plac'd.

I remember an Instance of this Monosyllable Collocation at the Beginning of a Line in rhym'd Verse, which is very well worth inserting here. It is at the Conclusion of Mr. Pit's 4th Æneid, when Juno sends Iris from Heaven in haste to relieve Dido from the Agonies of Death.

"Tum Juno Omnipotens, longum miserata dolorem,

Difficilesque obitus, Irim Demisit Olympo

Quæ luctantem animam, nexosque resolveret artus.

"Then mighty Juno with a melting Eye,

Beheld her dreadful Anguish from the Sky;

And bade fair Iris from the starry Pole,

Fly, and enlarge her agonizing Soul.

How is the Verse animated by the placing that Monosyllable, Fly, at the Beginning of the last Line.—The Reader sees all the Concern of Juno, and all the Hurry she is in to get the unhappy Queen released from the Pangs of Death.

[page 48]

Milton likewise uses his Monosyllables very artfully in placing them at the Conclusion of a Line, so as to divide the last Foot of the Verse, which has a very extraordinary Effect.

"Silence, ye troubled Waves, and thou, Deep,


Again he divides the last Foot by making a Monosyllable the Beginning of a new Sentence, which is very pleasing.

"——————Up flood the Corny Reed

Imbattled in his Plain, the humble Furz

And Bush with frisled Hair implicit. Last

Rose as in Dance the stately Trees.

Milton also sometimes places two Monosyllables at the End of the Line, stopping at the 4th Foot, to adapt the Measure of the Verse to the Sense; and then begins the next Line in the same manner, which has a wonderful Effect.

"Now at their shady Lodge arriv'd, both stopt,

Both turn'd, and under open Sky ador'd

The God who made, &c.

This artful Manner of writing makes the Reader see them Stop and Turn to worship God before they went into their Bower. If this Manner was alter'd, much of the Effect of the Painting would be lost.

"And now arriving at their shady Lodge

Both stopt, both turn'd, and under open Sky

Ador'd the God, &c.

This falls very short of the Original. So in Latin,

[page 49]

"Jamq; doms ventum est umbrosæ ad limina: sistunt

Ambo, ambo vertunt, & aperto numen adorant

Sub Cœlo.——————

Alter these Lines, thus,

"Et nunc Arborei ventum est ad limina tecti;

Sistunt Ambo, Ambo vertunt, & numen Adorant

Sub Cœlo.——————

There is here just the same Difference in the Latin as in the English.

I cannot omit two other Instances of Milton's wonderful Art in the Collocation of Words, by which the Thoughts are exceedingly heighten'd.

"Under his forming Hands a Creature grew

Manlike, but different Sex, so lovely fair,

That what seem'd fair in all the World, seem'd now

Mean, or in her summ'd up.————

What a Force has that Word mean, as it is plac'd!


"I turn'd my Thoughts, and with capacious Mind

Considered all Things visible in Heav'n,

Or Earth, or Middle, all Things fair and good;

But all that Fair and Good, in thy Divine

Semblance, and in thy Beauty's heav'nly Ray

United I beheld————————

I presume there is no other Language in which Perfection equal to this is to be found: And I could give many more Instances of the same kind out of the Paradise Lost.

[page 50]

VII. The seventh Particular in Virgil was his Varying the Common Pronunciation, in which Milton has imitated him in several Places; the following is one Instance.

———Thus to his Son au—di—bly spake.

For so it must be read, and not after the common manner.


"Hoarse Murmur eccho'd to his Words Applause

"Thro' the in—fi—nite Host————

And the like in many other Places.

VIII. His Verses contrary to the Common Measure. The following is an Example of this kind.

"Drove headlong down to the Bottomless Pit.—

Those who may be apt to find fault with such Arts as these (for Arts they are in Virgil and Milton) little think what it is to write 10 or 12 thousand Lines, and to vary the Sound of them in such manner as to entertain the Ear from the Beginning to the End of the Work.

IX. I come now to the Alliteratio.

And 1. To speak of the single Alliteratio. This is so common in Milton, that you need but begin the Poem, or open any Page of it, and you will meet with it.

[page 51]

"Of Man's first Disobedience, and the Fruit

Of that forbidden Tree, whose mortal Taste

Brought Death into the World, and all our Woe.


"Restore us, and Regain the blissful Seat.


"Sing Heav'nly Muse! that on the Secret Top.

And a little lower,

"That Shepherd who first taught the chosen Seed.

But I will produce an Example or two of this kind out of our Author's juvenile Poems. His Verses upon the Circumcision are addressed to the Angels that appear'd to the Shepherds, and begin thus,

"Ye flaming Pow'rs, and winged Warriors bright,

That erst with Musick and triumphant Song

Through the soft Silence of the listning Night

So sweetly sung your Joy the Clouds along.

All the Masters of Verse from Chaucer to Milton, and from Milton to this time, were sensible of this Art. Dryden attends to it more than any thing else.

"Beneath the Shade which Beechen Boughs diffuse,

You Tityrus entertain your Sylvan Muse:

Round the wide World in Banishment we roam,

Forc'd from our pleasing Fields and native Home.

[page 52]


Arms and the Man I sing, who forc'd by Fate

And haughty Juno's unrelenting Hate,

Expell'd and Exil'd, left the Trojan Shore:

Long Labours, both by Sea and Land he bore.

Mr. Pope begins his Poems with this Delicacy.

"First in these Fields I try the Sylvan Strains,

Nor blush to sport on Windsor's blissful Plains.

Fair Thames flow gently from thy Sacred Spring,

While on thy Banks Sicilian Muses Sing;

Let Vernal Airs thro' trembling Osiers play,

And Albion's Cliffs resound the rural Lay.

You, that too wise for Pride, too good for Pow'r

Enjoy the Glory to be great no more.

Mr. Pitt has the following Lines in his 2d Æneid.

"So when an aged Ash, whose Honours rise

From some steep Mountain tow'ring to the Skies,

With many an Axe by shouting Swains is ply'd,

Fierce they repeat the Strokes from every Side;

The tall Tree trembling, as the Blows go round,

Bows the high Head, and nods to every Wound.

Sir Philip Sidney, who was very unhappy in Versification, seems to have despised this Beauty in Verse, and even to have thought it an Excellence to fix the Pause always in one Place, namely at the End of the second Foot: So that he must have had no more Ear for Poetry than Mr. Cowley. Not but that I am apt to think some Writers in Sir Philip Sidney's time carried this matter to a ridiculous Extreme. Others thought this Beauty a Deformity, and concluded it so from two or three silly Latin[page 53] Lines of Ennius and Tully, such as,

O Tite, Tute, Tati, &c.


O Fortunatam, natam, &c.

without ever attending to Virgil in the least.

Spencer every where abounds in all his Works with Alliterations; I will produce but one, which is exceeding beautiful.

"The Lilly, Lady of the Flow'ry Field.

Here is a double initial Alliteration, and a continual mix'd Alliteration of the liquid L, which makes the Verse so very musical that there are few such Lines in our, or any other Language.

Fairfax, who was one of the first curious Versifyers amongst us, embellishes his Lines continually with this Ornament.

In his Description of a Troop of fighting Monks, in his first Book of his Translation of Tasso, are these Lines.

"Their jolly Notes, they Chanted loud and Clear:

And horrid Helms high on their Heads they bear.

Than which Verses nothing can be more truly poetical.

But to go farther back than either Fairfax or Spencer, those celebrated Lines in our antient Translation of the Psalms owe their greatest Beauty to their Alliteration.

[page 54]

"The Lord descended from above,

And bow'd the Heavens high,

And underneath his Feet he cast

The Darkness of the Sky.

"On Cherubs and on Cherubims

Full royally he rode,

And on the Wings of mighty Winds

Came flying all abroad.

A Line of Chaucer's just now offers itself to my Memory, which has almost all the Arts of Poetry in it.

"A Sheffield Whittle bare he in his Hose.

There is a fine Alliteration in the Conclusion of the Line, Bare he in his Hose, and a mix'd one at the Beginning of it. The h in the first Syllables of the second and third Words mixes the Sound very agreeably; and lastly, the Inversion of the Phrase (where the Nominative is put immediately after the Verb) is extremely poetical. Bare he. Chaucer seems (to me) by the help of a delicate Ear, and a curious Judgment, to have learnt all his Graces from Virgil. 1. His Rhyme. 2. His Inversion of the Phrase: And 3. His Alliteratio. The Varying of the Pause he does not seem to have attended to. But to return to Milton.

Having spoken sufficiently of the Initial, I come now to the mix'd Alliteration. And this latter is almost as common as the former, and is to be found in all such Lines as these.

"————————And now is come

Into the blissful Field.———————

Every Ear must perceive how the f and the l are mingled in the two last Words.

[page 55]


"—————Thro' Groves of Myrrh.———

Here the rough r predominates as much as the soft l did in the first Part of the Verse.


"And Flow'ry Odours.————

Here the Allusio Verborum is introduc'd. Flow'r at the Beginning of the first Word, and Dour at the End of the second, make a most agreeable Harmony. The Line concludes with what may be call'd the Assultus, or the Attack upon the Ear.

"———Cāssiā, Nārd ānd Bālm.———

These five A's in four Words at the End of the Line must make themselves perceiv'd if Words can do it. 'Tis of the same kind as Virgil's,

"————Tumidā æquorā plācāt.

But it may be proper to add another Instance or two of the Allusio Verborum.

"So talk'd the spirited sly Snake, and Eve

Yet more amaz'd.————————


"When from the Boughs a savoury Odour blown.

[page 56]


"Immediately the Mountains huge appear

Emergent, and their broad bare Backs upheave

Into the Clouds.————


"—Scarce from his Mould

Behemoth, biggest born of Earth, upheav'd

His Vastness.———————

Spirited sly Snake.———Boughs blown.———

Broad bare Backs.———Behemoth biggest born.

All these Passages are in the same Stile of Sound as Virgil's—Metuens, Molem, Montis.

"Hoc metuens, molemque & montis insuper altos


Observe how the molemque & montis labour in the Verse exactly in the same manner as

Broad, bare Backs, and Behemoth biggest born.

But here let me give you a few more Instances of the Allusio Verborum, or the mixing of Sounds of Words in rhym'd Verse.

"As o'er th'Aerial Alps sublimely spread

Some aged Oak uprears his reverend Head.

Pit's Æneid.

A Gentleman justly esteemed for his great Learning and excellent Skill in Criticism, but not of so delicate an Ear as Mr. Pit, would have had him writ, As on th'Aerial Alps.

[page 57]

But then the Verse would have wanted much of its Harmony, because O'er mingles in Sound with A'er which On does not; and the same thing would have happen'd in the next Line, if it had stood thus—Some aged Oak uplifts his mighty Head.—Because uplifts and mighty have no Resemblance in Sound to each other, or to Aged and Head; but as the Line stands,

"Some aged Oak uprears his Reverend Head,

the Words all melt into one another, and the Musick dies along the Verse from the Beginning to the End. This is the greatest Delicacy of Poetry, neither are the other Graces wanting in this Verse. The Pause is properly varied, the first Line is entirely suspended. There is in it a double Alliteration, Aerial Alps, sublimely spread: And to conclude all, the Rhyme is as perfect as possible.

Octob. 11. 1736.

I am, Sir, &c.


In looking over this Letter I observe a Passage in Milton, which merits a very particular Consideration, and which I ought to have taken notice of before, when I was speaking of the Collocation of Words; the Passage I mean is, For since I first, &c. The entire Passage runs thus,

[page 58]

Eve, easily may Faith admit that all

The Good which we enjoy, from Heav'n descends;

But, that from us ought should ascend to Heav'n

So prevalent as to concern the Mind

Of God high-blest, or to incline his Will,

Hard to belief may seem; yet this will Prayer,

Or one short Sigh of human Breath, up born

Ev'n to the Seat of God. For since I sought

By Pray'r th' offended Deity to appease;

Kneel'd and before him humbled all my Heart,

Methought I saw him placable and mild,

Bending his Ear, &c.

How extremely fine is the Poetry of this Passage? How soft is the beginning, occasion'd by the Assonance of the two first Words, Eve, Easily, and of the five next all alliterated with the same Vowel, A

"——————May Faith admit that all.

How solemn is the Pause at the 1st Syllable of the 3d Line! But————

And the Cæsure upon the Monosyllable Us that follows immediately,

"But—that from us————

And the same Energy is plainly perceiv'd at the End of the 6th Line, where the Cæsure is plac'd upon the Monosyllable yet,

"Yet—this will Prayer, &c.

But when we come to that Line,

"Kneel'd; and before Him humbled all my Heart,

[page 59]

such is the Force of the Word kneel'd in that Situation, that we actually see Adam upon his Knees before the offended Deity; and by the Conclusion of this Paragraph,———Bending his Ear, Infinite Goodness is visibly as it were represented to our Eyes as inclining to hearken to the Prayers of his penitent Creature.


[page 60]




 AM now to proceed to the Assonantia Syllabarum or Rhyme. I have shown under this Head how much Virgil abounds in Rhyme; from whence I conclude, that it may be reasonably supposed Rhyme had its Original from a nobler Beginning than the Barbarity of Druids and Monks. It is very probable that Chaucer, Dante, and Petrarch learnt it from Virgil, and that other Nations follow'd the Example they had set them.

To say the Bards rhym'd in the Times of grossest Ignorance, merely by their own Invention, only proves that Rhyme is naturally harmonious. We are told by the Learned that the Hebrew Poetry is in Rhyme, and that where-ever any Footsteps of this Art are to be trac'd, Rhyme is always found, whether in Lapland or in China.

If it should be objected that the Greek Tongue is an Exception to this general Rule; that Matter perhaps may be disputed, or a particular Answer might be given. But that the Latin Language is a Friend to Rhyme is clear beyond all doubt; and the same is as true of all the living Tongues that are distinguished in the learned World.

It is no wonder that Verse without Rhyme has so many Advocates amongst the Dealers in Poetry, because of its Facility. Rhym'd Verse, with all its Ornaments, especially the artful Way of varying the[page 61] Pause, is exceeding difficult; and so are all the curious Productions of Art. Fine Painting, fine Musick or Sculpture, are all very hard to perform; it is the Difficulty that makes those Performances so deserving of Applause when they attain the highest Perfection. As to the Matter before us; Rhyme (as Mr. Dryden justly observes) never was Milton's Talent: This appears from his juvenile Poems. And when he sate down to write the Paradise lost, his Imagination was too vigorous, too lofty to be shackled by Rhyme. It must be own'd that a thousand Beauties would have been lost, which now shine with amazing Splendor in that Poem, if Milton had writ in the most exquisite Rhyme. But then on the other hand, it is as certain that upon the whole it would have been a more agreeable Poem to the Generality of Readers than it is at present. Of this Opinion was the learned Foreigner mentioned in a former Letter, a judicious Critick both in the ancient and modern Languages.

"Quicquid tamen ejus sit, ostendunt Miltoni scripta virum vel in ips juventute: quæ enim ille adolescens scripsit carmina Latina, un cum Anglicis edita, ætatem illam long superant, qu ille vir scripsit pomata Anglica, sed sine rythmis, quos, ut pestes carminum vernaculorum, abesse volebat, quale illud decem libris constans, The Paradise Lost, plena ingenii & acuminis sunt, sed insuavia tamen videntur ob rythmi defectum; quem ego abesse tali carminum genere non posse existimo, quicquid etiam illi, & Italis nonnullis, & nuper Isaaco Vossio in libro de Poematum cantu, videatur."


[page 62]

However, we must take Paradise Lost as it is, and rejoice that we have in it, one of the finest Works that ever the Wit of Man produc'd: But then the Imperfection of this Work must not be pleaded in favour of such other Works as have hardly any thing worthy of Observation in them. Placing Milton with his blank Verse by himself (as indeed he ought to be in many other respects, for he certainly has no Companion) this Dispute about the Excellency of blank Verse, and even the Preference of it to rhym'd Verse, may be determined by comparing two Writers of Note, who have undertaken the same Subject; that is, Virgil's Æneid.

Now I will take all the Passages of that Poem mentioned in my Letters to you, and compare them in these two Translations: And if it shall appear by the Comparison that the rhym'd Verses have not only more Harmony and Conciseness, but likewise that they express Virgil's Sense more fully and more perspicuously than the blank Verse, will it not be easy to determine which of these two Sorts ought to be preferr'd?

Octob. 22. 1736.

I am, Sir, &c.


When I was taking notice of Virgil's Arts of Versification, I should not have omitted his sudden varying the Tense of the Verb from the Preterperfect to the Present.

"Non tua te nobis, Genitrix pulcherrima talem

Promisit, Graiisque ideo bis vindicat armis.

[page 63]

This is very agreeable both as to the Verse and the Sense; for it makes the thing described more immediately present than it would be otherwise. I cannot just now recollect an Example in Milton of this nature, but I remember one in Fairfax, in a Couplet already cited.

"Their jolly Notes they chanted loud and clear,

And horrid Helms high on their Heads they bear.

This is much more lively and peinturesque than if he had writ bore, and you will easily perceive it. It may be said, perhaps, that Fairfax used bear here for the sake of the Verse; let that be allow'd, but then it must be likewise granted, that Virgil uses vindicat instead of vindicavit, for the sake of his Verse, which he would not have done, if it had not been more beautiful than the common Prose way of writing: And as it is an Excellency in Virgil, so it is in Fairfax.


[page 64]




AM now to collect the Passages of the Æneid, mentioned in my former Letters, and bring them together with the rhym'd and blank Verse Translations.

The first Passage is this (not to take notice of the very first Lines, which Mr. Pit has translated in two different manners)

"Sic cunctus pelagi cecidit fragor, æquora postquam

Prospiciens genitor, cœloque invectus aperto

Flectit equos, curruque volans dat lora secundo.

Dr. Trapp,

"So all the hurry of the Ocean ceas'd,

Soon as its God appear'd above the Waves:

Who, managing his Steeds in Air serene,

Flies swift with slacken'd Reins and loose Career.

Mr. Pit,

"Then did the roaring Waves their Rage compose,

When the great Father of the Flood arose,

Rapt by his Steeds he flies in open Day,

Throws up the Reins, and skims the watry Way.

"Atque rotis summas levibus pellabitur undas.

[page 65]

Dr. Trapp,

"And with light Wheels upon the Surface rides,

Mr. Pit,

"Then mounted on his radiant Carr he rides,

And wheels along the Level of the Tides.


"Æole (namque tibi divm pater atque hominum rex

mulcere dedit fluctus, & tollere vento)

Dr. Trapp,

"———————O Æolus (for thee

The Sire of Gods, and King of Men impow'rs

To smooth the Waves, or raise them with the Wind.)

Mr. Pit,

"———————Since mighty Jove,

The King of Men, and Sire of Gods above,

Gives thee, great Æolus, the Power to raise

Storms at thy sovereign Will, and smooth the Seas.


"Sit ait, & dicto citius tumida æquora placat,

Collectasque fugat nubes, solemque reducit.

[page 66]

Dr. Trapp,

"So spake the God, and sooner than he spoke

Appeas'd the tossing of the Waves, dispell'd

The Clouds collected, and restor'd the Sun.

Mr. Pit,

"He spoke, and speaking chas'd the Clouds away:

Hush'd the loud Billows, and restor'd the Day.


"———————Fotum Gremio dea tollit in altos

Idaliæ lucos.

Dr. Trapp,

"———————And on her Bosom hush'd,

Carries him to Idalia's lofty Groves.———

Mr. Pit,

"Lull'd in her Lap to rest, the Queen of Love

Conveys him to the soft Idalian Grove.


"————Ubi tot Simois correpta sub undis

Scuta virm, galeasque, & fortia corpora volvit,

Dr. Trapp,

"Where Simois in his rapid Torrent rolls

So many Warriour Bodies, Helms and Shields.

[page 67]

Mr. Pit,

"Where Simois Streams incumber'd with the Slain,

Roll'd Shields, and Helms, and Heroes to the Main.


"Urbs antiqua fuit, Tyrii tenuere coloni

Carthago, Italiam contra, Tiberinaque longe

Ostia, dives opum, studiisque asperrima belli,

Dr. Trapp,

"Fronting th' Italian Coast, and Tyber's Mouth,

Tho' far remote, an ancient City stood.

Carthage its Name, a Colony of Tyre,

Mighty in Wealth, and rough in study'd War,

Mr. Pit,

"Against th' Italian Coast, of ancient Fame,

A City rose, and Carthage was the Name;

A Tyrian Colony: From Tyber far,

Rich, rough, and brave, and exercis'd in War,


"Hoc metuens, molemque & montis insuper altos

Imposuit, regemque dedit, qui fœdere certo

Et premere, & laxas sciret dare jussus habenas,

Dr. Trapp,

"But fearing this, the Sovereign of the Gods

Pent them in gloomy Caves, and o'er them threw

Vast Piles of massy Rocks; impos'd a King,

Who should by certain Measures know to curb,

Or, when commanded, to indulge their Rage.

[page 68]

Mr. Pit,

"But Jove, the mighty Ruin to prevent,

In gloomy Caves th'Aereal Captives pent:

O'er their wild Rage the pond'rous Rock he spread,

And hurl'd huge Heaps of Mountains on their Head;

And gave a King commissioned to restrain

And curb the Tempest, or to loose the Rein.

Hurl'd, huge, Heaps, Head, all in the same Line, imitate Virgil's Metuens, Molem, Montis.

And again,

"————————Facti de nomine Byrsam;

Sed vos qui tandem, quibus aut venistis ab oris,

Quove tenetis iter?—————————

Dr. Trapp,

"———————And the Name of Byrsa gave

In Mem'ry of the Deed. But, in your turn,

At length inform me, who, and whence you are,

And whither bound?——————

Mr. Pit,

"Hence Byrsa nam'd: But now ye Strangers, say,

Who? Whence you are? And whither lies your way?———

There is no Occasion to make any more Remarks upon these Lines.

Nov. 20. 1736.

I am, Sir, &c.

[page 69]




T has been said by several Persons, especially by Foreigners, that there is no such thing as Measure or Feet, or long and short Syllables in English Words. This Mistake, I believe, is chiefly owing to Vossius, who has advanc'd it in his Treatise De Poematum Cantu, &c. As also, that the French Language is more fit for Heroick Verse than the English. To examine one or both of these Points will be the Subject of this Letter.

That our Language does not abound with Dactyls and Spondees is very true; but that we have Words enough which are perfect Iambick and Trochaick Feet is very certain, and this naturally makes our Verse Iambick.

Divine, Attend, Directs, are as perfect Iambicks as any Latin Words of two Syllables, and so are most of our Monosyllable Nouns with their Particles.

The Lord, The Man, The Rock. Every one must perceive that in all these Words, the last Syllable strikes the Ear more than the first, or, in other Words, the last is longer than the first, which is all that makes an Iambick Latin Foot.

The following Words, People, Substance, Angels, Chearful, and the like, are all Trochaick Feet; for it is easily observ'd, that the first Syllable dwells[page 70] longer on the Ear than the latter.

I wonder that Vossius, who was a Canon of Windsor, did not perceive this in the Metre which he could not but often have heard at Church.

"All People that on Earth do dwell

Sing to the Lord with chearful Voice.

Suppose these two Lines were alter'd thus,

"All ye People that on Earth dwell,

Sing to the Lord with Voice chearful.

Here the natural Sound of the Words People and Chearful is very much alter'd, by their being wrong plac'd; or rather, the Verse is quite destroy'd: But to chuse an Example from Milton.

"And if our Substance be indeed Divine.————

Let this be alter'd,

"And indeed Divine if be our Substance.————

Is not the Verse quite destroy'd by this Alteration? And does it not appear to be so, because Indeed and Divine, which are Iambick Feet, are plac'd as if they were Trochaick, and Substance, which is a Trochaick Foot, is plac'd as if it were an Iambick? But I might have omitted the altering of this Line of Milton's, if I had thought of one in Cowley's Davideis, which is as barbarous as it is possible for the Wit of Man to make a Verse.

"To Divine Nob directs then his Flight.

Lib. 3. v. 3.

[page 71]

Nob, Mr. Cowley says in his Notes, he puts instead of Nob, because that Word seem'd to him to be unheroical. But that is not what I am chiefly to take notice of. Divine and Directs are both Iambicks, but Mr. Cowley has made them both Trochaicks, which makes this Line so terrible to the Ear.

It is plain that Vossius, who came into England when he was pretty much advanc'd in Years, and in all probability convers'd chiefly in Latin or French, knew nothing at all of the Pronunciation of English Words. We have as certainly Feet or Numbers in our Language, as in the Latin; and indeed the Latin seems to me to be rather more arbitrary in this respect than the English. What Reason can be given why ma in manus is short, and ma in manes long? Why is a in amens long, and a in amans short, and the like of other Words too numerous to relate?

That all English Verses are Iambick, appears most plainly by considering Monosyllable Lines. For Example:

"Arms and the Man I sing, who forc'd by Fate.

Here Arms, the, I, who, by, appear to be shorter in their Sound than and, man, sing, forc'd, fate.


"Breathe soft or loud, and wave your Tops, ye Pines.

In this Line the same Difference is perceiv'd between breathe, or, your, ye; and soft, loud, wave, tops, pines.

[page 72]

Whence it is evident that these Lines are perfectly Iambick.

The Particle and, as well as some other Monosyllables, may be said to be common, like many Words in Latin; they submit themselves to be alter'd by the Voice in reading, and may be pronounced either long or short: But this is not so in other Words. And here it may be proper to observe, that Milton has a very artful Way of varying his Numbers, by putting a Trochaick Foot at the Beginning of a Verse; and the Reason why he could do it, is, that the Verse is not enough form'd in that place for the Ear to perceive the Want of the proper Measure. The Examples of this kind are very numerous: I will mention but two.

"Angels, for ye behold him, and with Song.

And again,

"Fountains, and ye that warble as ye flow.

Nov. 27. 1736.

I am, Sir, &c.

[page 73]




O reply to the Opinion that Vossius has given in favour of French Verse compared with English, I would observe in the first Place that what the French call Heroick Verse, is the very worst Sort of Verse that can be contriv'd. If the Excellence of Verse consists chiefly in varying the Pause, as I have shewn it does in the Latin, and could do the same in the Greek and other Languages; what must be thought of that Sort of Versification in which the Pause is most strictly preserv'd in the same Place in every Line, be it for 10 or 20 thousand together, especially in Verses of 12 Syllables? Perhaps an Englishman may not be a very proper Person to make this Objection to French Verse: I will therefore produce the Opinion of several of their own Writers.

Ronsard, in the Preface to his Franciade, owns that their Alexandrine Lines have too much prattle (ils ont trop de caquet) and that it is a Fault in their Poetry that one Line does not run into another, and therefore he wrote his Franciade in Verses of ten Syllables, and broke the Measure. The Author of the History of French Poetry confesses, that the constant Pause in their Lines makes the Poetry tedious; and the judicious and learned Translator of[page 74] Quintilian says directly, that it is owing to the continual Sameness of Numbers that their Verse cannot please long. In reality, it is a kind of Stanza, and ought to be so writ.

Jeune & vaillant Heros

Dont la haute sagesse

N'est point le fruit tardif

D'une lente vieillesse.

Not to insist upon the Prattle (as Ronsard calls it) of these two celebrated Lines; for what does Vaillant add to Heros, or haute to sagesse, and what is the Difference between tardif and lente? I say to let this pass, the eternal Repetition of the same Pause is the Reverse of Harmony: Three Feet and three Feet for thousands of Lines together, make exactly the same Musick as the ting, tong, tang of the same Number of Bells in a Country-Church. We had this wretched sort of Metre amongst us formerly, and Chaucer is justly stil'd the Father of English Verse, because he was the first that ever wrote in rhym'd Couplets of ten Syllables each Line. He found, by his Judgment, and the Delicacy of his Ear, that Lines of eight Syllables, such as Gower his Cotemporary wrote in, were too short, and the twelve Syllable-Lines too long. He pitch'd upon the other Sort just mentioned, and that is now found, by the Experience of so many Ages, to be the most majestick and most harmonious kind of Verse. Just the same Obligation the Romans had to Ennius: He first introduc'd the Hexameter Line, and therefore is properly called the Father of their Poetry; and it is judiciously said, that if they had never had Ennius, perhaps they had never had Virgil. If the French had taken Ronsard's Advice instead of following Malherbe, perhaps they might, and indeed they certainly would have arriv'd at a better Art of[page 75] Versification than we see now amongst them: But they have miss'd their Way; tho' had it happen'd otherwise, they could never have equall'd the English in Poetry, because their Language is not capable of it, for two Reasons which I shall mention, and many others that I could add to them.

1st, Their Words do not sound so fully as ours, of which these Nouns are Examples, God, Dieu. Man, L'Homme. In both the English Words every Letter is perceiv'd by the Ear. In the French the first Word is of a very confused Sound, and the latter dies away in the e mute. So Angels, Ange. Head, Tete. And innumerable others. And in Verbs, to love, to hate, Aimer, Hayir. In the English the Sound is clear and strong. In French the last Letter is dropp'd, and the Words don't dwell upon the Ear like the English.

2d, They have too many Particles: To shew how much more their Verse is incumber'd by them than the English, I will give you an Example from a Passage in Milton.

"So spoke, so wish'd much humbled Eve, but

Subscrib'd not; Nature first gave Signs, imprest

On Bird, Beast, Air; Air suddenly eclips'd

After short blush of Morn.——————

Now to put this Passage into French all the following Particles must be added.

Le, La, Des, Les, Les, Le, Le, Un, Du. Of which there is not one in the English: And what an Effect this would have in Heroick Verse, you will easily judge.

[page 76]

Upon the whole, Vossius was very little acquainted with English Heroic Poetry. Hudibras was the favourite Bard in his time, and therefore he does us the Honour to say, the English is extremely fit for that sort of Poetry which the Italians call Sdruccioli, that is, Doggrel Verse.

Thus much for Vossius, and his French and English Poetry. I will now shew you a very different Opinion of another learned Foreigner, referr'd to more than once already, and I will give it you in his own Words.

"Sane in Epico Carminum genere; Joh. Miltoni insigne poema, The Paradise Lost, Gallos omnes in epicis inseliciores longo post se intervallo reliquit.

Morhosius Polyhistor.

This judicious Critick gave the same Opinion of Mr. Cowley above 50 Years ago, which Mr. Pope has given of him lately in one of his Horatian Epistles.

"Abr. Cowley seu Coulejus poemata scripsit, &c. Quæ ad genium Virgiliani Carminis non accedunt: argutiis enim nimium indulget, ut Epigrammaticum potius quod interdum scribat, quam planum carmen: Ac præterea non ubique purus est: quanquam Angli illum omnes veterum Poetarum numeros implevisse sibi persuadeant.

Foreigners, I am apt to think, frequently judge with more Exactness of our Countrymen's Performances than the generality of the Natives. I think the Judgment of another learned Foreigner very sensible, when he says upon reading Virgilium Dryděni, "That if the Original had been no better than the Copy, Augustus would have done well to have committed it to the Flames." But the Author's own Words are worth perusing.

[page 77]

"Sæpe, Maro, dixi, quantum mutatus ab illo es!

Romani quondam qui stupor orbis eras.

Si te sic tantum voluisset vivere Cæsar,

Quam satius, flammis te periisse foret.

Vid. Fabric. Bib. Lat.

December 4. 1736,

I am, Sir, &c.


[page 78]




Y what I have shewn in the preceding Letters, it sufficiently appears that Virgil and Milton had good reason to begin with Hinc canere incipiam. Nunc te Bacche canam. Arma Virumque cano. Sing Heavenly Muse. Their Verse is all Musick, and that is the reason why their Poems please, though ever so often read: And all Poetry that is not attended with Harmony, is properly speaking no Poetry at all.

Let the Sense be ever so fine, if the Verse is not melodious, the Reader will undoubtedly find himself soon overtaken with Drowsiness. But what I chiefly hope I have made out, is, that Rhyme does not owe its Original to Druids, or to dreaming Monks, since it is certain there is more Rhyme in Virgil, than there can be in any English Translation of his Works. English Verse never admits but of two Syllables that Rhyme in two Lines. But in Virgil, it is not easy to tell how many Rhymes there are in a single Line; as for Example,

[page 79]

"O nimium Cœlo, & pelago confise sereno,

"Et sola in sicc secum spatiatur aren.

And the like. But what would you say, if I was to observe to you all that Erythræus has writ of the Rhyme Cum intervallo, & sine intervallo in Virgil? Of the Rhyme sine intervallo there are four Examples in the two first Lines of the neid, namely, in the first, notro, and quipri. In the second, topro, and queve.

"Arma virumque canō, trōjæ quī prīmus ab oris

Italiam, fatō prōfugus, Lavinaquē vēnit.

But for this particular, and the other just mentioned, I refer you to Erythræus himself, if you would be fully instructed on this Subject. The Conclusion of this whole Matter is this: Rhyme is certainly one of the chief Ornaments of Latin Verse, even of Virgil's Verse: Most of his wonderful, harmonious Paragraphs are concluded with a full, strong, plain Rhyme: And if this is the Case; if Virgil's Verse would lose one of its chief Ornaments by being stript of Rhyme, What would English Verse do without it? Those learned Persons who in their Writings have treated Rhyme only as a needless Gingle, had not fully considered all that could be said on this Subject: Rhyme, as I have observed once before, has many Enemies because of its Difficulty, when accompanied with all the other necessary Arts of Versification. It is a particular Talent which very few are blessed with, and ought to be esteemed accordingly: But if we give way to the Disuse of it, and even suffer Blank Verse to be brought in Competition with it, Poetry will in a short time be lost in England, as it has been long[page 80] since in Italy, and, if I mistake not, from this very Cause. They have Blank-vers'd Homer, Virgil, and Milton, and I believe all the Classick Poets: And if we follow their Example in giving Applause to this kind of Verse, we must expect the same Consequences. We should be the more to blame in this respect, because we have lately had so many excellent Writers of proper Verse amongst us, as Addison, Rowe, Prior, and many others; and have now Mr. Pope, Mr. Pit, and some whom I do not just now recollect.

Milton, as I observ'd already, is never to be mention'd as an Example in favour of Blank-Verse: To supply the Want of Rhyme in him, there are so many Arts of Verse, such Variety of Melody, that it would require no small Volume to point them out.

I have nothing more to add, but that it is a very surprizing thing, that Milton ever undertook to write in such a Stile as he has made use of, and yet more surprizing that he should be read by all sorts of People, considering that the Stile is more properly Latin or Greek than English.

I believe both these Things arise from the same Cause, which to me seems to be the English Bible; at least, as to the latter, it cannot be from any thing else. That Milton acquir'd his Stile from the Common Bible, is not at all improbable, though he understood the Original. It is certain he was entirely conversant with the Bible, and, in all Probability frequently made use of the English Translation. Now this Translation is, by Great Providence, (give me leave to call it so) adapted to the Latin and Greek Collocation, or Arrangement of Words; that is, the Words are placed in the English as they stand in those Languages, which, perhaps, you may not have so much attended to but that you may be glad to see some Examples of what[page 81] I am speaking of.

Psalm v. 3. My Voice shalt thou hear in the Morning, O Lord; in the Morning will I direct Prayer unto thee, and will look up.

Matthew xiii. 1. The same Day went Jesus out of the House, and sat by the Sea-side.

Matthew xxvii. 32. And as they came out, they found a Man of Cyrene, Simon by Name: Him they compelled to bear his Cross.

John ii. 11. This Beginning of Miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee.

John xii. 16. These things understood not his Disciples at the first.

John viii. 44. Ye are of your Father the Devil, and the Lusts of your Father will ye do.

"Verbo sensum cludere, multo, si compositio patiatur, optimum est.

In Verbis enim Sermonis vis inest."


By these Passages, and innumerable others that might be produc'd, it appears that the English Bible is translated in such a manner as I have mentioned above: And as we see many Places in the Paradise Lost, which are exactly taken from this Translation, Why may we not conclude Milton acquir'd much of his Stile from this Book? I can give an Instance of another very learned Person, who certainly learnt his way of Writing from it. I mean the late Dr. Clarke. Nothing can be more clear than his Stile, and yet nothing can be more like the Greek or Latin, agreeably to the English Bible. I beg leave to produce one Instance from his Exposition of the Church Catechism.

[page 82]

"Next after the Creed are in natural Order plac'd the Ten Commandments.

Is there any thing in Demosthenes or Tully more inverted than this Passage? And yet the meanest Persons understand it, and are not at all shock'd at it; and this cannot possibly, with respect to them, proceed from any thing else, but their having been from their Childhood accustomed to this Language in the Bible, and their still continuing frequently to hear it in the publick Offices of the Church, and elsewhere: From whence I am apt to think Mr. Pope's Opinion is not to be subscrib'd to, when he says,

"And what now Chaucer is, shall Dryden be."

It did not occur to that ingenious Writer, that the State of the English Language is very different at this time from what it was in Chaucer's Days: It was then in its Infancy: And even the publick Worship of God was in a foreign Tongue, a thing as fatal to the Language of any Country, as to Religion itself. But now we have all that Service in the vernacular Tongue; and besides that, the Bible in English, which may be properly called the Standard of our Language: For this Book contains a Variety of every kind of Stile, the Poetick, the Historick, the Narrative, and all framed after the manner of the most learned Tongues. So that whilst this Book continues to be as publickly used among us as it is at present, the English Language cannot receive any great Alteration; but all sorts of learned Men may write, either in Verse or Prose, in the most learned manner in their native Tongue, and at the same time be perfectly understood by the common People. Indeed, if ever we should be so unhappy as to be depriv'd[page 83] of the publick Use of that Book, all that came with it, must go with it; and then Farewel the English Language, Farewel Milton, Farewel Learning, and Farewel all that distinguishes Man from Beasts.

Decemb. 9. 1736.

I am, Sir, &c.



Transcriber's Note

Page 3: Superfluous opening quotes removed from "Subject-matter

Page 42: Section numbered "3." in original; changed to "III" for consistency.

Page 79: corrected typo: 'primns' changed to 'primus'

ton d' apameibomenos return

Sun de du marpsas, hs te phulakas poti gai / Kopt' return

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