Home  »  Volume XI: English THE PERIOD OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION  »  § 7. Eighteenth Century Prosodists

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

§ 7. Eighteenth Century Prosodists

Now, this gives us a miserably restricted prosody; but, in the first place, it is the prosody of the eighteenth century, and, in the second place, it had never been thus formulated before.

But, although hardly any poets except Chatterton and Blake (for Gray and Collins themselves do not show any formal rebellion) were rebels to this until Southey and Coleridge broke it down at the end of the century, the preceptive prosodists—who, in most cases, were not poets at all—by no means showed equal docility, although their recalcitrance was seldom of the right kind. Pope, indeed, in almost his only prosodic passage, the early Letter to H. Cromwell (1710), follows Bysshe literally in some points, virtually, in almost all. On the other hand, Pope’s enemy Gildon (who, like Dennis, has of late years been “taken up” in some quarters) revolted against Bysshe’s syllables and accents, and, though in a vague manner, introduced a system of employing musical terms and notes to prosody—a specious proceeding which has had many votaries since. He, also, with John Brightland and one or two more, started another hare—the question of accent v. quantity—which has been coursed ever since, and which, also, will probably never be run down. This latter point attracted much attention, especially as it connected itself with a contemporary discussion, to which Foster, Gally and others contributed, on classical accentuation. Henry Pemberton was so ferocious a champion of accentuation that he would have rewritten Milton, altering, for instance

  • And towards the gate rolling her bestial train
  • into
  • And rolling towards the gate her bestial train.
  • Edward Mainwaring followed the musical line, and began a practice, frequently revived to the present day, of turning the heroic topsy-turvy and beginning with an anacrusis or single syllable foot
  • And &pipe; mounts ex &pipe; ulting &pipe; on tri &pipe; umphant &pipe; wings.
  • The catalogue of eighteenth century prosodists, thenceforward, is a long one, and it cannot be said that a thorough student of the subject is justified in neglecting even one of the following: Harris (Hermes Harris), Say, Lord Kames, Lord Monboddo, Webb, Abraham Tucker, Herries, Thomas Sheridan, Steele, Tyrwhitt, Young, Nares and Fogg. But, with some notice of Steele and Young, we may pass here to half-a-dozen others (four of whom are of general interest and one of real importance)—Shenstone, Gray, Johnson, John Mason, Mitford and Cowper.