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importance in determining the nature of Chaucer's versification? Mr. Guest holds, as well as Dr. Nott, that each line in Chaucer consists properly of two parts, which the cæsural mark was designed to indicate: "Still, as it seems to me," he observes, after describing the irregularity with which this mark is introduced in the manuscripts, we can only come to one conclusion in examining these manuscripts; namely, that each verse was looked upon as made up of two sections, precisely in the same way as the alliterative couplet of the AngloSaxons."* Yet Mr. Guest (strange as this may seem in a professed historian of English versification) is not aware that what Dr. Nott calls the metrical character of Chaucer's verse has ever been disputed. He finds no difficulty in reconciling with the principles of syllabical rhythm this fact of the division of each verse by the cæsural mark which Dr. Nott regards as demonstrative of the rhythm being not syllabical but only accentual.
Nor is there, in truth, anything in the cæsura to decide the matter either one way or the other. The middle pause, as found in the manuscripts of Chaucer, appears to be as consistent with the syllabical as with the merely accentual scanning of the verse, if the right text be followed. For example, in printing the first eighteen lines of the Canterbury Tales with accentual marks, to show in what manner the verse was, as he apprehends, recited, Dr. Nott gives the first line thus :—
"When that April | with his shoures soote;" marking the three syllables, when, with, and shour, as long the last syllable of April and the word soote with * History of English Rhythms, i. 216.
a grave accent, and the syllables that, his, and es (of shoures) as short. The first syllable of April is left without any mark. It is not very clear what all the parts of this apparatus of notation are intended to mean; but certainly, however the words so set down may be meant to be read or sung, they are not reducible to the regular metre of our modern heroic verse. It is by no means either certain or probable, however, that when is Chaucer's word; the reading adopted by Tyrwhitt is whanne, which he regards as a dissyllable, and he has as good a right to select that form, which occurs in some of the manuscripts, as Dr. Nott has to select the monosyllabic form, when, or whan, from other manuscripts, for the purposes of his theory. The next five lines are every one of them, even as printed by Dr. Nott, of perfect metrical regularity; the cæsura is also where it should be upon either system; the only thing that interferes with their being read like any modern English heroic verse is Dr. Nott's own notation of their supposed temporal and accentual character. All that is wanting to make the seventh line a correct modern verse, is to be read younge (in two syllables) with Tyrwhitt, instead of young with Nott, there being manuscript authority for both forms. The eighth line Dr. Nott prints
"Hath in the Ram | half his course y-run."
We doubt whether there be any authority for this form of the verse; but, at any rate, Tyrwhitt's form,
"Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne"
(where halfe is a dissyllable), is supported by the Harleian MS. 7333. In the ninth line Nott obtains his text
by changing the dissyllabic smale of both the Harleian MSS. into the modern monosyllable small. The next three lines are equally regular upon either system. The thirteenth line will scan metrically, even as given by Nott, provided we reckon strange a dissyllable; but we do not know where he has got his text; it does not agree with either of the Harleian MSS., and as little with the Stafford MS. as exhibited by himself in another page. The last five lines, again, are regular upon both systems.
Upon the whole it does not appear that the cæsural mark of the manuscripts can be regarded as indicating or proving, at the most, anything more than that, by the rule of the verse, the place where it fell should always be at the termination and never in the middle of a word-a rule which is also generally, though not always, observed in our modern prosody. As far as can be ascertained, the two parts into which, when it is employed, it divides each of Chaucer's lines, are as much the hemistichs of what Dr. Nott calls a metrical, as of what he calls a merely rhythmical, verse.
We do not understand what notion of the harmony of English verse can have led Dr. Nott to quote the following line from the Canterbury Tales,
"In her is high beauty withouten pride
as one which, unless read rhythmically (as he calls it), has no principle of harmony at all, even if we read beauty with the accent on the last syllable. It is in fact a perfectly correct heroic verse according to the strictest laws of our modern prosody. Yet he asserts that, if Chaucer had followed that prosody, he would unquestionably have written the verse
"In her high beauty is withouten pride”—
thus making it a perfect Iambic decasyllabic line "by the transposition of a single word." Let the reader who has any feeling of Chaucer's direct, natural, manly diction, or even of the most common proprieties of speech, decide. Yet upon this single instance Dr. Nott lays it down that a large proportion of Chaucer's verses cannot be read metrically "without doing the utmost violence to our language; all which verses are harmonious as verses of cadence, if read with the caesura rhythmically;" and further, that all those verses might easily, by a slight transposition, have been reduced to the pure Iambic decasyllabic measure, "if Chaucer had either known that mode of versification, or intended to have adopted it.' Such an assertion, by the bye, would be a somewhat bold one, even if a hundred instances were quoted instead of one, and those really instances in point.
While insisting that Chaucer's verses are constructed upon what he describes as the rhythmical principle, which he has begun by defining as independent of the number of feet or syllables, Dr. Nott, strangely enough, admits that the chief improvement which Chaucer made in our versification was the introduction of the line of ten syllables (Diss. p. clviii.); and he afterwards repeatedly calls his verses "Decasyllabic" (or, as he more usually chooses to express himself, "Decasyllables"). But he cannot possibly mean that Chaucer's versification is really syllabically, any more than that it is accentually, correct, according to our modern notions. In fact, of the eighteen lines which he has printed from the commencement of the Canterbury Tales, "to show in what manner rhythmical Decasyllabic verses were recited," no fewer than seven are, according to his own notation,
not decasyllabic at all: they are verses of nine syllables (sometimes with an unaccented syllable at the end, which counts for nothing in prosody), not of ten.*
Finally, before dismissing Dr. Nott and his theory, we may remark that no attempt is made by him or it to meet the apparently conclusive proof of the now silent final e having been enunciable as a distinct syllable in Chaucer's age derived from the occurrence of such rhymes as Ro-me and to me, ti-me and by me. Indeed he expressly states (Diss. p. clxxxiii. note), that with the exception of a passage in Occleve, of which he shows that the received reading is most probably incorrect (and which, by the bye, would scarcely have been in point at any rate), he had nowhere met with a single rhyme "to justify the notion that the final e, which we properly call the e mute, was ever pronounced."
More recently, however, Tyrwhitt's main principle for the scanning of Chaucer's verse, the occasional pro
* Either from a misprint, or from something in his system of notation which is not explained, it is difficult with regard to certain of these lines to say in what manner Dr. Nott intends that they should be read. For instance, in the couplet (as he prints it),
"And palmeres to seeken strange strondes,
the appearance of ten syllables is given to each of the two lines by throwing a double accent upon the terminating words-thus stròndès, lòndès- as if the rhyme lay in the des. But it is plain that, if strondes and londes are to be accounted dissyllables, we have here what is called a double rhymewhich can only count as one syllable in the measure- -just as in the immediately preceding couplet, which Dr. Nott himself prints
“So pricketh them nature in their couràges;