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til Bernard." Without occupying our pages or the reader's time with the motives which have induced us to make choice of him, we shall offer some preliminary remarks on the structure of French verse, and proceed at once to the subjectmatter.
The singular inability of English readers to appreciate the merits of French style, has often been remarked by foreign critics. We are apt to see no difference between the most polished and barbarous verses; and are scarcely able to distinguish the style of Racine and Voltaire from that of Pellegrin or Danchet. Nothing, it is true, is more difficult than to write elegantly in French verse. The difficulty is enhanced by many causes, of which the most obvious are the remarkable restraints imposed by the peculiarity of the rhymes, and the extreme simplicity of the language, which absolutely forbids the inversions so familiar in the ancient, and recognised in most of the modern tongues. But these obstacles are not insuperable. In the productions of the great poets they are unobserved; and none but the great poets are worth reading in any language.
But the main embarrassment of English readers arises from the construction of the verse. The only school, where it can be learned with accuracy, is the French Theatre. In the mouth of Talma or Duchesnoi, the "monotonous creaking" of the alexandrine melts down into an harmonious and expressive softness, and exhibits all the varieties of easy and graceful cadence. The principal points which demand our attention in the verses of twelve and ten syllables, are the management of the mute e, and the hemistiche. The former can only be acquired by a careful examination of the rhythm peculiar to each foot of the verse. On its dexterous management depends the chief beauty of the cadence, both in prose and poetry. Empire, courorme, diftdeme, fiamme, tendresse, victoire—all these harmonious terminations leave a sound upon the ear, which remains after the utterance of the word, like the expiring thrill of the piano, when the finger is removed from the key. On this subject we have nothing more perfect than Voltaire's letter to Deodati de Tovazzi,* in which the reader will find an amusing and ingenious comparison of the French and Italian languages.
The hemistiche, a division of the alexandrine into two equal parts, is almost peculiar to French prosody. The necessity of avoiding a monotonous intonation of the verse, by
Corresp. Generale, Jan. 24,1761.
sometimes observing, and at others omitting, the pause, render it equally important to the poet and the reader. The technical verses of Voltaire, composed for the instruction of both, contain all that can be usefully said about it.
"Observez l'hemistiche, et redoutez l'ennui
The hemistiche must be distinguished from the caesura, which is common to all languages. The former falls invariably on the sixth, the latter on any syllable. In the following verse we have denoted the caesuras by a line; the hemistiche occurs at the comma.
"Tiens—le voila—marchons, il est a nous—viens—frappe."
Again, the hemistiche is at the word prix;
From these examples it is plain, that the variety of cadence in French verse must depend on the use of the caesura, and not on the arbitrary division at the third foot.
The attempt to measure modern verse by iambic and trochaic feet is attended with such uncertain results, that it can never be successfully adopted in our scansion. The French alexandrine, it is true, may be divided into six feet, each consisting of two syllables; but these are indifferently iambi or trochees, and occur with so much uncertainty as to defy any general rule, as may be easily seen in the scansion of the foregoing couplets. In that English verse which, in its form, approaches nearest to the French heroic, the classical scansion is rendered more hopeless by the impossibility of dividing it into any regular number of feet. This is owing to the absence of the hemistiche. In its most regular form it consists of four places, each of which contains three syllables. Of this verse the second, third, fourth, and seventh lines in the following stanza are examples. In its more irregular shape, the first place is sometimes made to consist of two syllables; and occasionally the others are curtailed in the same manner. The stanza we quote is from one of Moore's most popular songs.
"Oh, think—not my spi—rits are al—ways as light
Of these verses, the second, which is divided by a hemistiche, is the only one which can be scanned by the rules of the French alexandrine; although there are three others, the third, fourth, and seventh, which contain the legitimate number of syllables.
Voltaire denies the existence of the proper hemistiche in verses of ten syllables; although, as they are divided by a regular pause,* the objection only arises from his indisposition to use a word which imports division into two equal parts, when the parts are actually unequal.+ This pause falls upon the fourth syllable, and is invariably preserved in the verses of Bernard.
"J'ai vu Bacchus—sans chanter son delire;
* There are some few exceptions in very short, and very long poems; in the former, because the monotony of such verses as
"L'amour est un Dieu—que la terre adore,
is not intolerable for two or three stanzas—in the latter they occasionally relieve the ear by interrupting the regular pause.
f Rather than employ the Greek term in a sense not exactly consonant with its derivation, Voltaire has taken the word ccesura to denote in the ten-syllable line what is expressed by himistiche in the alexandrine. In consequence of this arbitrary selection, the csesura marks two different pauses, accordingly as we are speaking of the tensyllable or any other verse.
In this regular return of the hemistiche, the French verse of ten-syllables differs from the Italian and English heroic. In these languages we observe a marked but irregular caesura. For instance, in the first stanza of the Jerusalem, so remarkable for its discordant o's, which Voltaire first rang in our ears, to prove that the Italian was not perfect—
"Canto Parme pietose, e'l capitano
Che '1 gran Sepolcro liberb di Cristo.
Molto soffrl nel glorioso acquisto."—
Again, in those four lines which the same illustrious critic has scanned with that perfect accuracy, than which no better evidence of his intimate acquaintance with our language and versification can be wanted, we meet with the same caesura.
"At Trumpington—not far from Cambridge, stood
Across a pleasing stream—a bridge of wood;
Near it a mill—in low and plashy ground,
Where corn for all the neighbouring parts—was ground."
In verses of eight and fewer syllables, as in some of our own, there is no caesura; and their time is measured simply by the number of feet and the rhyme. As thus:
"L'amant frivole et volage
But it is time to abandon this discussion, and return to the subject of our critique.
Of the poems of Bernard, the most prominent are his Art d'aimer, and the tale of Phrosine et Melidore. With us the latter is so much the greater favorite, that we shall scarcely find it necessary, in the course of the present article, to borrow from the former, either for the purpose of extract or illustration. But first we must tell the story.
This we remember in Bandello. The tales of that jovial priest are not before us; but the reader will recognise the story in turning over the first edition of that amusing Italian novelist, which he happens to meet with. Whence it was stolen by Bandello, we cannot say. That he invented it himself is scarcely probable—he would never have put himself to the pains. It was, doubtless, originally adapted from the old and beautiful tale of Hero and Leander; a subject so exquisitely fitted for poetry, that it has been sung in every language, and will be read by every generation with unexhausted pleasure, while the deeply-rooted feelings shall remain on which its interest is founded. Whether it has been improved by the alterations in the present story, the reader will best decide.
In the opulent city of Messina, the illustrious family of the Faventini were distinguished by their wealth and dignity. Aymar, the representative of his race, and the haughtiest of the Sicilian nobles, was guardian of an only sister, whose beauty and accomplishments were not inferior to her birth. With these pretensions Phrosine might look forward to the most splendid connexions in her country, and Aymar was determined to match her into none but the noblest families. He was constantly urging her marriage, and it was only retarded by the intrigues of a second brother—for a purpose almost too revolting for the deepest strain of poetry. Julius had no design upon her portion, nor did he obstruct his sister's nuptials for the purpose of delivering her from a marriage which he knew she hated. The motive of the licentious noble was love— if so execrable a passion may be called by a name so gentle. With an avowal of his guilty flame, great part of the first canto is occupied. The knowledge of this desperate passion determined Phrosine to accede to the proposition of Melidore—a lover whose pretensions, though favoured by herself, were contemptuously rejected by her guardian. After repeated refusals, grounded on his ignoble origin, Melidore appealed from Aymar to his mistress; and purposed, as the reader will have anticipated, to dispense with the permission of the former. Their escape, however, is thwarted by meeting this froward guardian, who returns unexpectedly with Julius, and having measured his sword with that of the plebeian suitor, locks up his sister and concludes the canto.
Not far from Messina, and opposite the Faventine palace, was a small, desolate island, in which an ancient hermit, disgusted with life and mankind, had erected his solitary hut. Here, too, the disconsolate Melidore sought a refuge for his grief and disappointment. Shortly after the arrival of the martyr of love, the martyr of religion expired, and left the undisturbed possession of his cell, and its spare accommodations, to its new proprietor. Here Melidore hoped to avoid the persecution of mankind; for in his flight from Messina he had escaped in a single boat, and all the world concluded him dead—all but a