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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XI. The Period of the French Revolution.

XI. The Prosody of the Eighteenth Century

§ 5. Lyric Poetry of the Eighteenth Century

Still, as a rule, the lyric poet of the eighteenth century was confined, or confined himself, to very few metres. Stiff and sing-song “common” or ballad measure; rather better, but too uniform, “long” measure or octosyllabic quatrains alternately rimed; and (somewhat curiously) the old romance-six or rime couée (8 8 6 8 8 6 a a b c c b) with occasional decasyllabic quatrains, of which the great Elegy is the chief, will probably account for three-quarters, if not even more, of the lyrical verse of the period; and almost the whole of it displays that submission to a cast-iron law of syllabic number and accentual distribution to which reference has been made. The reason of this we shall understand better when we have surveyed the preceptist or theoretical literature of prosody which, almost for the first time since the Elizabethan period, makes its reappearance.

For if, during this period, practical prosody enjoyed or suffered from a kind of stationary state, it was very much the reverse with prosodic theory. It is, in fact, from the second year of the eighteenth century that attempts to deal with English prosody as a subject practically date. Gascoigne’s examination was too slight, Puttenham’s too ineffectually systematised, the studies of the other Elizabethans, directed too much to one particular, and for the most part non-essential, point (classical versing) and all too little historical; while the, possibly, more pertinent treatises of Jonson and Dryden are not extant, and the very distribution or trend of them is only to be guessed.