The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume III. Renascence and Reformation.

XIV. Elizabethan Criticism

§ 11. Campion

These two tractates, entitled, respectively, Observations in the Art of English Poesy and A defence of Ryme, appeared in the second and, probably, the third years of the new century, and both the attack and the defence exhibit a most noteworthy alteration when we compare them with the disquisitions on “versing” from fifty to ten years earlier. “Nothing keeps the same,” except Campion’s abuse of the rime that the had used, was using and was to use with such charm. The earlier discussions could hardly be called controversies, because there was practically nothing said on behalf of rime—unless the silent consensus of all good poets in continuing to practicse it may be allowed to be more eloquent than any positive advocacy. And nearly (not quite) the whole energy of the attack had been employed, not merely to dethrone rime, but to install directly classical metres, especially hexameters and elegiacs, in the place of it. Campion still despises rime; but he throws the English hexameter overboard with perfect coolness, without the slightest compunction and, indeed, with nearly as much contempt as he shows towards rime itself. “The Heroical verse that is distinguished by the dactyl hath oftentimes been attempted in our English tongue but with passing pitiful success,” and no wonder, seeing that it is “an attempt altogether against the nature of our language.” Accordingly, in the “reformed unrhymed numbers” which he himself proceeds to set forth, he relies, in the main, on iambs and trochees, though (and this is his distinguishing characteristic and his saving merit) he admits not merely spondees but dactyls, anapaests (rarely) and even tribrachs as substitutes. By the aid of these he works out eight kinds of verse: the “pure iambic” or decasyllabic, the “iambic dimeter or English march” which, in strict classical terminology, is an iambic (or trochaic) monometer hypercatalectic, the English trochaic, a trochaic decasyllable, the English elegiac, an eccentric and not very harmonious combination of an ordinary iambic decasyllable and of two of his “dimeters” run together, the English sapphic, a shortened form of this, a peculiar quintet and the English anacreontic.

He ends with an attempt, as arbitrary and as unsuccessful as Stanyhurst’s, to determine the quantity of English syllables on a general system: e.g. the last syllables of plurals, with two or more vowels before the s, are long, etc.