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whole portion; and which was undoubtedly the intention of the poet.
Having premised these observations, we shall endeavour to throw together a few rules for the reading of verse, which, by descending to particulars, it is hoped, will be more useful than those very general ones which are commonly to be met with on this subject; and which, though very ingenious, seem calculated rather for the making of verses than the reading of them.
Rule I. As the exact tone of the passion, or emotion, which verse excites, is not at first easy to hit, it will be proper always to begin a poem in a sim. ple and almost prosaick style, and so proceed till we are warmed with the subject, and feel the emotion we wish to express.
Thus in Gray's Elegy in a Country Church-yard, if we cannot immediately strike into the solemn style with which that poem begins, it will be better to commence with an easier and less marking tone; and somewhat like the style of reading prose, till the subject becomes a little familiar. There are few poems which will not allow of this prosaick commencement; and where they do not, it is a much less fault in reading to begin with too little emphasis, than either to strike into a wrong one, or to execute the right emphasis awkwardly. Gray's Ode on the Extirpation of the Bards, is almost the only one that does not admit of commencing moderately.
Ruin seize thee, ruthless king !
Rule II. In verse every syllable is to have the same accent, and every word the same emphasis, as in prose: for though the rhythmical arrangement of the accent and emphasis is the very definition of poetry, yet, if this arrangement tends to give an emphasis to words which would have none in prose, or an accent to such syllables as have properly no accent, the rhythmus, or musick of the verse, must be entirely neglected. Thus the article the ought never to have a stress, though placed in that part of the verse where the ear expects an accent.
Of all the causes which conspire to blind
An injudicious reader of verse would be very apt to lay a stress upon the article the in the third line, but a good reader would infallibly neglect the stress on this, and transfer it to the words what and weak. Thus also in the following example, no stress must be laid on the word of, because we should not give it any in prosaick pronunciation :
Ask of thy mother earth why oaks are made
Taller and stronger than the weeds they shade. Ibid. For the same reason the word as, either in the first or second line of the following couplet, ought to have no stress :
Eye nature's walks, shoot folly as it flies,
The last syllable of the word excellent, in the following couplet, being the place of the stress, is very apt to draw the organs to a wrong pronunciation of the word, in compliance with the rhythmus of the verse :
Their praise is still the style is excellent :
The sense they humbly take upon content. Ibid. But a stress upon the last syllable of this word must be avoided upon pain of the greatest possible seproach to a good reader; which is that of altering the accent of a word, to indulge the ear in a childish jingle of syllables. The same may be observed of the word eloquence and the particle the in the following couplet :
False eloquence like the prismatick glass
If, in compliance with the rhythmus, or tune of the verse, we were to lay a stress on the last syllable of eloquence, and on the particle the in the first of these verses, scarcely any thing can be conceived more disgusting to a good judge of reading.
A bad fault opposite to this is very common among bad readers; and that is, hurrying over the two last syllables of such words so as to reduce the pronunciation to prose : for it must be carefully noted, that the beauty of reading verse depends exceedingly upon the tune in which we pronounce it. The unaccented syllables, though less forcible, ought to have the same time as those that are accented ; a regular march, an agreeable movement, ought to reign through the whole.
This rule, however, with respect to the place of the accent, admits of some few exceptions. Milton has sometimes placed words so unfavourably for pronunciation in the common way, that the ear would be more disgusted with the harshness of the verse, if the right accent were preserved, than with a wrong accent which preserves the harmony of the verse : for it is not merely reducing a line to prose if the sense requires it, which is a capital fault in reading poetry, but reducing it to very harsh and disagreeable prose. Thus the Angel in Milton, reasoning with Adam about the planets, says,
For such vast room in nature unpossess'd
Only to shine yet scarce to contribute
Parad. Lost. B. viii. v. 153.
The word contribute has properly the accent on the second syllable ; but the verse would be so harsh with this accent, that it is presumed a good reader would, for the sake of sound, lay the principal accent on the first syllable, and a subordinate stress on the third. The same may be observed of the word attribute, in the following passage from the same author :
The swiftness of those circles attribute,
Ibid. B. viii. v. 197.
Where a word admits of some diversity in placing the accent, it is scarcely necessary to observe, that the verse ought in this case to decide. Thus in the following passage :
Now gentle gales
For Hamlet and the trilling of his favour
The word perfume in the passage from Milton ought to be accented on the last syllable, and the same word in Shakespeare on the first; for both these modes of placing the accent are allowable in prose, though the last seems the preferable ; as it is agreeable to that analogy of dissyllable nouns and
verbs of the same form, which requires the accent to be on the first syllable of the noun, and on the last of the verb.
But when the poet has with great judgment con. trived that his numbers shall be harsh and grating, in order to correspond to the ideas they suggest, the common accentuation must be preserved.
On a sudden open fly
Parad. Lost. B. ii v. 879.
Here the harshness arising from the accent on the second syllable of the word impetuous, finely expresses the recoil and jarring sound of the gates of hell.
Rule III. the vowel e, which is often cut off by an apostrophe in the word the, and in syllables be. fore r, as dang’rous, gen'rous, &c. ought to be preserved in the pronunciation, because the syllable it forms is so short as to admit of being sounded with the preceding syllable, so as not to increase the number of syllables to the ear, or at all hurt the har. mony.
'Tis hard to say, if greater want of skill
Him the Almighty power
In the example from Milton, we have an instance that the particle the may either form a distinct syllable in poetry or not; in the first line it must necessarily form a distinct syllable; in the second and last it may be so blended with the succeeding word