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A Vision of Judgement

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Poet Laureate;








ONLY to Your Majesty can the present publication with propriety be addressed. As a tribute to the sacred memory of our late revered Sovereign, it is my duty to present it to Your Majesty’s notice; and to whom could an experiment, which, perhaps, may be considered hereafter as of some importance to English
Poetry, be so fitly inscribed, as to the Royal and munificent Patron of science, art, and literature?

We owe much to the House of Brunswick; but to none of that illustrious House more than Your Majesty, under whose government the military renown of Great Britain has been carried to the highest point of glory. From that pure glory there has been nothing to detract; the success was not more splendid than the cause was good; and the event was deserved by the generosity, the justice, the wisdom, and the magnanimity of the counsels which prepared it. The same perfect integrity has been manifested in the whole administration of public affairs. More has been done than was ever before attempted, for mitigating the evils incident to our stage of society; for imbuing the rising race with those sound principles of religion on which the welfare of states
has its only secure foundation; and for opening new regions to the redundant enterprize and industry of the people. Under Your Majesty’s government, the Metropolis is rivalling in beauty those cities which it has long surpassed in greatness: science, arts, and letters are flourishing beyond all former example; and the last triumph of nautical discovery and of the British flag, which had so often been essayed in vain, has been accomplished. The brightest portion of British history will be that which records the improvements, the works, and the achievements of the Georgian Age.

That Your Majesty may long continue to reign over a free and prosperous people, and that the blessings of the happiest form of government which has ever been raised by human wisdom under the favour of Divine Providence may,
under Your Majesty’s protection, be transmitted unimpaired to posterity, is the prayer of

Your Majesty’s

Most dutiful Subject and Servant



HAVING long been of opinion that an English metre might be constructed in imitation of the ancient hexameter, which would be perfectly consistent with the character of our language, and capable of great richness, variety, and strength, I have now made the experiment. It will have some disadvantages to contend with, both among learned and unlearned readers; among the former especially, because, though they may divest themselves of all prejudice against an innovation, which has generally been thought impracticable, and might even be disposed to regard the attempt favourably, nevertheless they will, from inveterate association, be continually reminded of rules which are inapplicable to our tongue; and looking for quantity where emphasis only ought to be expected, will perhaps less easily be reconciled to the
measure, than those persons who consider it simply as it is. To the one class it is necessary that I should explain the nature of the verse; to the other, the principle of adaption which has been followed.

First, then, to the former, who, in glancing over these long lines, will perceive that they have none of the customary characteristics of English versification, being neither marked by rhyme, nor by any certain number of syllables, nor by any regular recurrence of emphasis throughout the verse. Upon clear observation, they will find that (with a very few exceptions,) there is a regular recurrence of emphasis in the last five syllables of every line, the first and the fourth of those syllables being accented, the others not. These five syllables form two of the feet by which the verse is measured, and which are called dactyls and trochees, the dactyl consisting of one long syllable and two short ones, as exemplified in the name of Wellington; the trochee, of one long and one short, as exemplified in the name of Nelson. Of such feet, there are six in every verse. The first four are disposed according to the judgement and convenience of the writer; that is, they may be all dactyls or all trochees, or any mixture of both in any arrangement: but the fifth is always a dactyl, and the sixth always a trochee, except in some rare instances, when, for the sake of variety,
or of some particular effect, a trochee is admitted in the fifth place. One more remark will suffice for this preliminary explanation. These feet are not constituted each by a separate word, but are made up of one or more, or of parts of words, the end of one and the beginning of another, as may happen. A verse of the Psalms, originally pointed out by
Harris of Salisbury, as a natural and prefect hexameter, will exemplify what has been said:
Why do the | heathen | rage, and the | people i-|-magine a | vain thing?

This, I think, will make the general construction of the metre perfectly intelligible to those persons who may be unacquainted with the rules of Latin versification; those especially who are still to be called gentle readers, in this ungentle age. But it is not necessary to understand the principle upon which the verse is constructed, in order to feel the harmony and power of a metrical composition; . . if it were, how few would be capable of enjoying poetry! In the present case, any one who reads a page of these hexameters aloud, with just that natural regard to emphasis which the sense of the passage indicates, and the usual pronunciation of the words requires, will perceive the rhythm, and find no more difficulty in giving it its proper effect, than in reading
blank verse. This has often been tried, and with invariable success. If, indeed, it were not so, the fault would be in the composition, not in the measure.

The learned reader will have perceived by what has already been said, that in forming this English measure in imitation, rather than upon the model of the ancient hexameter, the trochee has been substituted for the spondee, as by the Germans. This substitution is rendered necessary by the nature of our pronunciation, which is so rapid, that I believe the whole vocabulary of the language does not afford a single instance of a genuine native* spondee. The spondee, of course, is not excluded from the verse; and where it occurs, the effect, in general, is good. This alteration was necessary; but it is not the only one which, upon mature consideration and fair trial, it has been

* And only one of foreign derivation, which is the word Egypt. Some readers, who have never practised metrical composition in their own language, may perhaps doubt this, and suppose that such words as twilight and evening, are spondaic; bat they only appear so when they are pronounced singly, the last syllable then hanging upon the tongue, and dwelling on the rar, like the last stroke of the clock. Used in combination, they become pure trochees.

deemed expedient to make. If every line were to begin with a long syllable, the measure would presently appear exotic and forced, as being directly opposite to the general character of all our dignified metres, and indeed to the genius of the English language. Therefore the license has been taken of using any foot of two or three syllables at the beginning of a line; and sometimes, though less frequently, in the second, third, or fourth place. The metre, thus constructed, bears the same analogy to the ancient hexameter that our ten-syllable or heroic line does to iambic verse: iambic it is called, and it is so in its general movement; but it admits of many other feet, and would, in fact, soon become insupportably monotonous without their frequent intermixture.


Twenty years ago, when the rhythmical romance of Thalaba was sent from Portugal to the press, I requested, in the preface to that poem, that the author might not be supposed to prefer the rhythm in which it was written, abstractedly considered, to the regular blank verse, the noblest measure, in his judgement, of which our admirable language is capable: it was added, that the measure which was there
used, had, in that instance, been preferred, because it suited the character of the poem, being, as it were, the Arabesque ornament of an Arabian tale. Notwithstanding this explicit declaration, the duncery of that day attacked me as if I had considered the measure of Thalaba to be in itself essentially and absolutely better than blank verse. The duncery of this day may probably pursue the same course on the present occasion. With that body I wage no war, and enter into no explanations. But to the great majority of my readers, who will take up the book without malevolence, and having a proper sense of honour in themselves, will believe the declarations of a writer whose veracity they have no reason to doubt, I will state what are the defects, and what the advantages, of the metre which is here submitted to their judgement, as they appear to me after this fair experiment of its powers.

It is not a legitimate inference, that because the hexameter has been successfully introduced in the German language, it can be naturalized as well in English. The English is not so well adapted for it, because it does not abound in like manner with polysyllabic words. The feet, therefore, must too frequently be made up of monosyllables, and of distinct words, whereby the verse is resolved and decomposed into its component feet, and the feet into their component syllables, instead of
being articulated and inosculated throughout, as in the German, still more in the Greek, and most in the Latin measure. This is certainly a great* defect. From the same cause the cæsura generally coincides with a pause in the sentence; but, though this breaks the continuity of the verse, it ought perhaps rather to be considered as an advantage; for the measure, like blank verse, thus acquires a greater variety. It may possibly be objected, that the four first feet are not metrical enough in their effect, and the two last too much so. I do not feel the objection; but it has been advanced by one, whose opinion upon

* It leads also to this inconvenience, that the English line greatly exceeds the ancient one in literal length, so that it is actually too long for any page, if printed in types of the ordinary proportion to the size of the book, whatever that may be. The same inconvenience was formerly felt in that line measure of the Elizabethan age, the seven-footed couplet; which, to the diminution of its powers, was, for that reason, divided into quatrains (the pause generally falling upon the eighth syllable), and then converted into the common ballad stanza. The hexameter cannot be thus divided, and therefore must generally look neither like prose nor poetry. This is noticed as merely a dissight, and of no moment, our poetry not being like that of the Chinese, addressed to the eye instead of the ear.

any question, and especially upon a question of poetry, would make me distrust my own, where it happened to be different. Lastly, the double-ending may be censured as double rhymes used to be; but that objection belongs to the duncery.

On the other hand, the range of the verse being from thirteen syllables to seventeen, it derives from that range an advantage in the union of variety with regularity, which is peculiar to itself. The capability which is thus gained, may perhaps be better appreciated by a few readers from their own sense of power, than it is exemplified in this experiment.

I do not, however, present the English hexameter as something better than our established metres, but as something different, and which therefore, for that reason, may sometimes advantageously be used. Take our blank verse, for all in all, all its gradations, from the elaborate rhythm of Milton, down to its loosest structure in the early dramatists, and I believe that there is no measure comparable to it, either in our own or in any other language, for might and majesty, and flexibility and compass. And this is affirmed, not as the predilection of a young writer, or the preference of one inexperienced in the difficulties of composition, but as an opinion formed and confirmed
during the long and diligent study, and the long and laborious practice of the art. But I am satisfied also that the English hexameter is a legitimate and good measure, with which our literature ought to be enriched. “I first adventure; follow me who list!”


I am well aware that the public are peculiarly intolerant of such innovations; not less than the populace used to be of any foreign fashion, whether of foppery or convenience. Would that this literary intolerance were under the influence of a saner judgement, and regarded the morals rather than the manner of a composition; the spirit rather than the form! Would that it were directed against those monstrous combinations of horrors and mockery, lewdness and impiety, with which English poetry has, in our days, first been polluted! For more than half a century English literature had been distinguished by its moral purity, the effect, and in turn, the cause of an improvement in national manners. A father might, without apprehension of evil, have put into the hands of his children any book which issued from the press, if it did not bear, either in its title-page or frontispiece, manifest signs that it was intended as furniture for the brothel.
xviii PREFACE.
There was no danger in any work which bore the name of a respectable publisher, or was to be procured at any respectable bookseller’s. This was particularly the case with regard to our poetry. It is now no longer so; and woe to those by whom the offence cometh! The greater the talents of the offender, the greater is his guilt, and the more enduring will be his shame. Whether it be that the laws are in themselves unable to abate an evil of this magnitude, or whether it be that they are remissly administered, and with such injustice that the celebrity of an offender serves as a privilege whereby he obtains impunity, individuals are bound to consider that such pernicious works would neither be published nor written, if they were discouraged as they might, and ought to be, by public feeling; every person, therefore, who purchases such books, or admits them into his house, promotes the mischief, and thereby, as far as in him lies, becomes an aider and abettor of the crime.

The publication of a lascivious book is one of the worst offences that can be committed against the well-being of society. It is a sin, to the consequences of which no limits can be assigned, and those consequences no after repentance in the writer can counteract. Whatever remorse of conscience he may feel when his hour comes (and
come it must!) will be of no avail. The poignancy of a death-bed repentance cannot cancel one copy of the thousands which are sent abroad; and as long as it continues to be read, so long is he the pandar of posterity, and so long is he heaping up guilt in his soul in perpetual accumulation.

These remarks are not more severe than the offence deserves, when applied to those immoral writers who have not been conscious of any evil intention in their writings, who would acknowledge a little levity, a little warmth of colouring, and so forth, in that sort of language with which men gloss over their favourite vices, and deceive themselves. What then should be said of those for whom the thoughtlessness and inebriety of wanton youth can no longer be pleaded, but who have written in sober manhood and with deliberate purpose? . . Men of diseased* hearts and depraved imaginations, who, forming a

* Sommi poetæ in omni poetarum sæculo viri fuerunt probi: in nostris id vidimus et videmus; neque alius est error a verltate longiùs quàm magna ingenia magnis necessario corrumpi vitiis. Secundo plerique posthabent primum, hi malignitate, illi ignorantiâ; et quum aliquem inveniunt siyli morumque vitiis notatum, nec inficetum tamen nec in libris edendis parcum, cum

system of opinions to suit their own unhappy course of conduct, have rebelled against the holiest ordinances of human society, and hating that revealed religion which, with all their efforts and bravadoes, they are unable entirely to disbelieve, labour to make others as miserable as themselves, by infecting them with a virus that eats into the soul! The school which they have set up may properly be called the

stipant, prædicant, occupant, amplectuntur. Si mores aliquantulum vellet corrigere, si stylum curare paululum, si fervido ingenio temperare, si moræ tantillum interponere, tum ingens nescio quid et verè ac epicum, quadraginta annos natus, procuderat. Ignorant verò fabriculis non indicari vires, impatientiam ab imbecilliate non differre; ignorant a levi homine et inconstante multa fortasse scribi posse plusquam mediocria, nihil compositum, arduum, æternum. Savigius Landor, De Cultu atque Usu Latini Sermonis.

This essay, which is full of fine critical remarks and striking thoughts felicitously expressed, reached me from Pisa, while the proof of the present sheet was before me. Of its author (the author of Gebir and Count Julian), I will only say in this place, that, to lave obtained his approbation as a poet, and possessed his friendship as a man, will be remembered among the honours of my life, when the petty enmities of this generation will be forgotten, and its ephemeral reputations will have past away.

Satanic school; for though their productions breathe the spirit of Belial in their lascivious parts, and the spirit of Moloch in those loathsome images of atrocities and horrors which they delight to represent, they are more especially characterised by a Satanic spirit of pride and audacious impiety, which still betrays the wretched feeling of hopelessness wherewith it is allied.

This evil is political as well as moral, for indeed moral and political evils are inseparably connected. Truly it has been affirmed by one of our ablest and clearest* reasoners, that “the destruction of governments may be proved by and deduced from the general corruption of the subjects’ manners, as a direct and natural cause thereof, by a demonstration as certain as any in the mathematics.” There is no maxim more frequently enforced by Machiavelli, than that where the manners of a people are generally corrupted, there the government cannot long subsist, . . a truth which all history exemplifies; and there is no means whereby that corruption can be so surely and rapidly diffused, as by poisoning the waters of literature.

* South.


Let the rulers of the state look to this, in time! But, to use the words of South, if “our physicians think the best way of curing a disease is to pamper it, . . the Lord in mercy prepare the kingdom to suffer, what He by miracle only can prevent!”

No apology is offered for these remarks. The subject led to them; and the occasion of introducing them was willingly taken, because it is the duty of every one, whose opinion may have any influence, to expose the drift and aim of those writers who are labouring to subvert the foundations of human virtue and of human happiness.


Returning to the point from whence I digressed, I am aware not only that any metrical innovation which meets the eye of the reader generally provokes his displeasure, but that there prevails a particular prejudice against the introduction of hexameters in our language. The experiment, it is alleged, was tried in the Elizabethan age, and failed, though made under the greatest possible advantages of favour, being encouraged by that great patron of literature, Sir Philip Sidney, (in letters, as well as in all other accomplishments and all virtues, the most illustrious ornament of that illustrious court,) and by the Queen herself.

PREFACE. xxiii

That attempt failed, because it was made upon a scheme which inevitably prevented its success. No principle of adaption was tried. Sidney and his followers wished to subject the English pronunciation to the rules of Latin prosody: but if it be difficult to reconcile the public to a new tune in verse, it is plainly impossible to reconcile them to a new* pronunciation. There was the farther obstacle of unusual and violent elisions; and, moreover, the easy and natural order of our speech was distorted by the frequent use of forced inversions, which are utterly improper in an uninflected language. Even if the subjects for the experiment had been judiciously chosen, and well composed in all other respects, these errors must have been fatal; but Sidney, whose prose is so full of imagery and felicitous ex-

* For example:

Neither he bears reverēnce to a prince, nor pity to a beggar.
That to my ādvancement their wisdoms have me abased.
Well may a pastor plain; but, alas! his plaints he not ēsteemed.
ōpprest with ruinoūs conceits by the help of an outcry.
Dēspair most tragicāl clause to a deadly request.
Hard like a rich marblē; hard but a fair diamōnd.

pressions that he is one of our greatest poets in prose, and whose other poems contain beauties of a high order, seems to have lost all ear* for rhythm, and all feeling of poetry, when he was engaged in metrical experiments.

What in Sidney’s hands was uncouth and difficult, was made ridiculous by Stanihurst, whose translation of the first four books of the Æneid into hexameters is one of the most portentous compositions in any language. No satire could so effectually have exposed the measure to derision. The specimens which Abraham Fraunce produced were free from Stanihurst’s eccentricities, and were much less awkward and constrained than Sidney’s. But the mistaken principle upon which the metre was constructed was fatal, and would have proved so even if Fraunce had possessed greater powers of thought and diction. The failure therefore was complete†, and for some gener-

* That the reader may not suppose I have depreciated Sidney and his followers, by imputing to the faults of their execution a failure which the nature of the metre itself might explain, I have added a few fair samples at the end of the volume.

† A writer in the Censura Literaria (vol. iv. 386) has said, that hexameters were “much in vogue, owing to the pernicious example of Spenser and

ations it seems to have prevented any thought of repeating the experiment.

Goldsmith, in later days, delivered* an opinion in its favour, ob-

Gabriel Harvey.” They were never in vogue. There is no reason to believe, that Spenser ever wrote an English hexameter; . . and Gabriel Harvey’s example only incurred ridicule. With so little knowledge of facts, and so little regard to accuracy, are confident assertions sometimes made!

Gabriel Harvey was one of the great promoters of the attempt; and Spenser, who was his intimate friend, is believed to have sanctioned it by his opinion, . . certainly not by his example. That great master of versification has left only one piece which is not written in rhyme. It was printed in Davison’s Poetical Rhapsodie, and is inserted in Warton’s Observations on the Faery Queen, vol. ii, p. 245. The author has called it an Iambic Elegy, but neither by any rule of quantity, or violence of accentuation, can it be reduced to iambics.

* “It is generally supposed,” says Goldsmith, “that the genius of the English language will not admit of Greek or Latin measure; but this, we apprehend, is a mistake owing to the prejudice of education. It is impossible that the same measure, composed of the same times, should have a good effect upon the ear in one language, and a bad effect in another. The truth is, we have been accustomed from our infancy to the numbers of English poetry, and the very sound and signification of

serving, that all the feet of the ancient poetry are still found in the versification of living languages, and that it is impossible the same measure, composed of the same times, should have a good effect upon the ear in one language, and a bad effect in another. He had seen, he says, several late specimens of English hexameters and sapphics, so happily composed, that they were, in all respects, as melodious and agreeable to the ear as the works of
Virgil and Horace. What these specimens were I have not discovered: . . the sapphics may pos-

the words dispose the ear to receive them in a certain manner; so that its disappointment must he attended with a disagreeable sensation. In imbibing the first rudiments of education, we acquire, as it were, another ear for the numbers of Greek and Latin poetry; and this being reserved entirely for the sounds and significations of the words that constitute those dead languages, will not easily accommodate itself to the sounds of our vernacular tongue, though conveyed in the same time and measure, In a word, Latin and Greek have annexed to them the ideas of the ancient measure, from which they are not easily disjoined. But we will venture to say, this difficulty might be surmounted by an effort of attention and a little practice; and, in that case, we should in time be as well pleased with English, as with Latin hexameters.” Goldsmith’s Essays, vol. ii, p. 265.

* Mr Park [Censura Literaria, vol. iv, 233) mentions an attempt to revive what he calls “this obsolete whimsey, by an anonymous writer in

PREFACE. xxvii
sibly have been those by
Dr. Watts. Proofs of the practicability of the hexameter were given about twenty years ago, by some translations from the Messiah of Klopstock, which appeared in the Monthly Magazine; and by an eclogue, entitled The Showman, printed in the second volume of the Annual Anthology. These were written by my old friend Mr. William Taylor of Norwich, the translator of Burger’s Lenora: . . of whom it would be difficult to say, whether he is more deservedly admired by all who know him for the variety of his talents, the richness and ingenuity of his discourse, and the liveliness of his fancy, or loved and esteemed by them for the goodness of his heart. In repeating the experiment upon a more adequate scale, and upon a subject suited to the movement, I have fulfilled one of the hopes and intentions of my early life.

1737, who translated the first and fourth Eclogues of Virgil, etc. into hexametrical verse; and prefixed a vindication of his attempt, with directions for the reader’s pronunciation.”

I venture to hope that this excellent English scholar will no longer think the scheme of writing English hexameters a mere whimsey. Glad, indeed, should I be, if my old acquaintance were to be as well pleased with the present attempt, as I have been with some of his Morning Thoughts and Midnight Musings.