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And all who since, baptized or infidel,
Jousted in Aspramont or Montalban,
Damasco or Morocco or Trebizond,
Or whom Biserta sent from Afric shore,
When Charlemagne with all his peerage fell

By Fontarabbia. After perusing this quotation, let the reader compare it with Claudio's speech on Death in Measure for Measure, and observe the difference between Shakspearian and Miltonic, between dramatic and epical blank verse. The one is simple in construction and progressive, the other is complex and stationary; but both are musical beyond the possibility of imitation. The one exhibits a thought, in the process of formation, developing itself from the excited fancy of the speaker. The other presents to us an image crystallized and perfect in the poet's mind, the one is in time, the other in space—the one is a growing and the other a complete organism. The whole difference between the drama and the epic is implicit in these periods. The one resembles Music and the other Architecture.

In this again we find a proof that the structure of blank verse depends entirely upon the nature of the thought which it is meant to clothe. The thoughts of a dramatist—whether his characters converse or soliloquizeare, of necessity, in evolution ; the thoughts of an epical poet are before him, as matter which he must give form to. The richness and melody and variety of his versification will, in either case, depend upon the copiousness of his language, the delicacy of his ear, and the fertility of his invention. We owe everything to the nature of the poet, and very little to the decasyllables which he is using.

Milton was the last of the Elizabethans. With him the spirit of our literary renaissance became for the time extinct. Even during his lifetime the taste and capacity for blank verse composition had expired. It is said that Dryden wished to put Paradise Lost into couplets, and received from Milton the indifferent answer, “ Let the young man tag his rhymes.” Dryden, in his essay on dramatic poetry, defended the use of rhyme, and introduced the habit of writing plays in heroics, to the detriment of sense and character and freedom. Yet there are passages in his later tragedies -All for Love, Cleopatra, King Arthur, and The Spanish Friar—which show that he could use the tragic metre of blank verse with moderate ability. The Elizabethan inspiration still feebly survives in lines like these :

The gods are just,
But how can finite measure infinite ?
Reason, alas! it does not know itself!
Yet man, vain man, will, with this short-lined plummet,
Fathom the vast abyss of heavenly justice.
Whatever is, is in its causes just,
Since all things are by fate. But purblind man
Sees but a part of the chain, the nearest links ;
His eyes not carrying to that equal beam
That poises all above.

This is average thought expressed in average words. But Absalom and Achitophel is a work of the very highest genius in its kind, written not under the influence and inspiration of another age, but produced as the expression of a different and no less genuine phase of national development. During the period of Dryden's ascendancy over English literature, very little blank verse was written of much moment. Yet, it must be remembered, that the passage of the Journing Bride, which Johnson preferred to any singlo piece of English descriptive poetry, first saw the light in 1697. The lines begin—“How reverend is the face of this tall pile.” They are dignified, melodious, and clear ; but we already trace in the handling of the language more of effort after neatness and precision, and less of nature than was common with the elder dramatists. After the death of Otway and Congreve, blank verse held the stage in the miserable compositions of the eighteenth century; but it had no true vitality. The real works of genius in that period were written in couplets, and it was not until the first dawn of a second renaissance in England, that blank verse began again to be practised. Meanwhile the use of the couplet had unfitted poets for its composition. Their acquired canons of regularity, when applied to that loose and flowing metre, led them astray. They no longer trusted exclusively to their ear, but to a mechanism which rendered accuracy of ear almost useless, not to say impossible. Hence it followed, that when blank verse began again to be written, it found itself very much at the point where it had stood before the appearance of Marlowe. Even Thomson, who succeeded so well in imitating Spenserian stanza, wrote stiff and languid blank verse with monsyllabic terminations and monotonous cadences-a pedestrian style."

Cowper, in his translation of Homer, aimed at the Miltonic structure, and acquired a fine and solemn versification. The description of the Russian empress's ice-palace in The Winter Morning Walk, proves how he had imbued himself with the language of the Paradise Lost, and how naturally he adapted it to his own thoughts. Coleridge's blank verse has a kind of inflated grandeur, but not much of Elizabethan variety of music, subtlety of texture, and lightness of movement. His lines written in the Valley of Chamouni are sonorous; but they want elasticity, and are inferior in quality to his lyrics. Heaviness of style and turgid rhetoric deface his verse and prose alike. Wordsworth again could not handle blank verse with any certainty of success. Wildernesses of the Excursion extend for pages and pages barren of any beauty. We plod over them on foot, sinking knee-deep into the clinging sand; whereas the true master of blank verse carries us aloft as on a winged steed through cloud and sunshine in a yielding air. Wordsworth mistook the language of prose for that of Nature, and did not understand that natural verse might be written without the tedious heaviness of common disquisitions. One of his highest efforts is the poem on the Simplon Pass, introduced into the Prelude. This owes its great beauty to the perfect delineation which he has succeeded in producing by suggestive images, by reiterated cadences, by


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solitary lines, by breathless repetitions, by the perfect union in short which subsists between the poet's mind and the nature he is representing.

Byron again is uncertain in his blank verse. The lines on the Coliseum in Manfred are as good as a genuine Elizabethan passage, because they are spoken from the fulness of a poet's heart, and with a continuity of thought and copiousness of language which insured their organic vitality. But they are exceptional. Byron needed rhyme as an assistance to his defective melody. He did not feel that inner music which is the soul if true blank verse and sounding prose. In Keats at last we reach this power. His Hyperion is sung, not written ; governed in all its parts by the controlling force of imagined melody. Its music is fluid, bound by no external measurement of feet, but determined by the sense and intonation of the poet's thought, while like the crotalos of the Athenian flute-player, the decasyllabic beat maintains an uninterrupted undercurrent of regular pulsations. Keats studied Milton and strove to imitate him. But he falls below the majesty and breadth of Milton's manner. He is too lururiant in words and images, too loose in rhythm and prone to description. In fact, he produces an Elizabethan poem of even more wanton superfluity than those which he imitates. The entrance of Phæbus into his desecrated palace is a gorgeous instance of the plasticity of language in a master's hand. But it smacks of a degenerating taste in art. Some of Shelley's blank verse is perhaps the best which this century has produced. In Alastor he shows what he can do both without imitation and by its help. The lines on Egypt are written with a true Miltonic roll and popderous grandiloquence of aggregated names. But in the last paragraph of the poem we find the vernal freshness, elasticity, and delicacy that are Shelley's own. It is noticeable that both Keats and Shelley make an Elizabethan use of the so-called heroic couplet. Epipsychilion and Lamia are written, not in the metre of Dryden, Churchill, Pope, and Crabbe, but in that of Marlowe and Fletcher. Nothing proves more sig. nificantly the distance between the Elizabethan spirit and the taste of the eighteenth century, than the utter dissimilarity of these two metres, syllabically, and in point of rhyme identical. The couplets of Marlowe, Fletcher, Shelley, and Keats follow the laws of blank verse, and adult rhyme ;—that is to say, their periods and pauses are entirely determined by the sense. The couplets of Dryden and his followers resemble Ovid's elegiacs in the permanence of their form and the restriction of their thought. Mr. Browning, who is one of the latest and most characteristie products of the Elizabethan revival, has made good use of this loose rhyming metre in Sordello. Among the few intelligible passages of that poem may be found the following :

You can believe
Sordello foremost in the regal class
Nature has broadly severed from the mass
Of men, and framed for pleasure, as she frames
Some happy lands that have luxurious names

For loose fertility; a foot-fall there
Suffices to upturn to the warm air
Half germinating spices, mere decay
Produces richer life, and day by day
New pollen on the lily petal grows,

And still more labyrinthine buds the rose. The whole structure of this period, in its pauses and utter disregard of the rhymed system, is that of blank verse. The final couplet completes the sense and satisfies the ear with regularity. Browning by fits and starts produces passages of fine blank verse, blowing out bubbles of magnificent sound as glass is blown from red-hot matter by the fierco breath and fiery will. Swinburne, with more extravagance, sweeps the long purple, blows the golden trumpet, and intones the sacrificial chaunt of the Elizabethan hierarchy. Yet with him it is " a song of little meaning, though the words are strong." He is an artist in words; they obey him as the keys obey an organist, and from their combination he builds up melodious palaces of vacuous magnificence. How different is the art of Tennyson, the greatest living writer of blank verse. Here all is purity and elegance, and skill. We trace design and calculation in his style. The linea labor is perceptible. The classical beauty of the Illylls of the King, the luxuriant eloquence of the Princess, the calm majesty of Ulysses, the idyllic sweetness of Enone, the grandeur of the Mort d'Arthur, are monuments to the variety and scientific grasp of his genius. Subtle melody and self-restrained splendour are observable throughout his compositions. Ho has the power of selection and of criticism, the lack of which makes blank verse timid or prosaic. It may be noticed that Tennyson has not only created for himself a style in narrative and descriptive blank verse, but that he has also adapted this Protean metre to lyrical purposes. in the Princess, “ Tears, idle tears," “ Now sleeps the crimson petal,” and “Come down, O maid," are perfect specimens of most melodious and complete minstrelsy in words. We observe that the first of these songs is divided into periods of five lines, each of which terminates with the words “days that are no more.” This recurrence of sound and meaning is a substitute for rhyme, and suggests rhyme so persuasively that it is impossible to call the poem mere blank verse.

The second song is less simple in its construction : it consists of a quatrain followed by three couplets, and succeeded by a final quatrain, each group of lines ending with the word “me.” The lines are so managed, by recurrences of sound and by the restriction of the sense to separate lines, that the form of lyric verse is again imitated without aid of rhyme. Theocritus, in his Amæbean Idylls, had suggested this system; and Shakspeare, in the Merchant of Venice (Act v. sc. 1), had shown what could be made of it in English. But the third song which I have mentioned depends for its effect upon no artificial structure, no reiterated sounds. The poet calls it an idyll : I think it may be referred to as a most convincing proof that the English language can be made perfectly lyrical and musical without the need of stanzas or of rhyme.

Three songs


I have now passed in brief review the greatest writers of blank verse, and have shown that this metre, originally formed for dramatic elocution, became epical, idyllic, lyrical, didactic, according to the will of the poets who made use of it. In conclusion, I may repeat some of the points which are established with reference to the scope and purpose of the

It seems adapted specially for thought in erolution ; it requires progression and sustained effort.

As a consequence of this, its melody is determined by the sense which it contains, and depends more upon proportion and harmony of sounds, than upon recurrences and regularities of structure. This being its essential character, it follows that blank verse is better suited for descriptions, eloquent appeals, rhetorical declamations, for all those forms of poetry which imply a continuity and development of thought, than for the setting forth of some one perfect and full-formed idea. The thought or “ moment” which is sufficient for a sonnet wouli seem poor and fragmentary in sixteen lines of blank verse, unless they were distinctly understood to form a part of some continuous poem or dramatic dialogue. When, therefore, blank verse is used lyrically, the poet who manipulates it, has to deceive the ear by structures analogous to those of rhymed stanzas. The harmony of our language is such as to admit of exquisite finish in this style ; but blank verse sacrifices a portion of its characteristic freedom, and assimilates itself to another type of metrical expression, in the process. Another point about blank verse is that it admits of no mediocrity ; it must be either clay or gold. Its stite: gains no unreal advantage from the form of his versification, but has to produce fine thoughts in vigorous and musical language. Hence, we find that blank verse is the metre of genius, that it is only used successfully by indubitable poets, and that it is no favourite in a mean, contracted and unimaginative age. The freedom of the renaissance created it in England. The freedom of our own century has reproduced it. Blank verse is a type and symbol of our national literary genius—uncontrolled by precedent or rule, inclined to extravagance, and apt to degenerate into nonsense, yet reaching perfection at intervals by an inuer force and virida ris of native inspiration.

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