網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

Such a poem would doubtless be esteemed in the days of corrupt taste, in very deed, as Petronius saith, “ fasciculus munditiarum ;" though we should be disposed to class such writers, not as artists, but as tradesmen : and worthy of those days only, when poetry was one of the incorporate trades of German cities; and the burghers obtained the freedom of that, as of any other corporation. There have been almost always persons, whose writings, exemplify literally and scrupulously the sentiment of Horace, “labor ipse voluptas :" persons, who are a practical confutation of Master Gildon's thoughts on Mrs. Aphara Behn, “that poetry is begot and born in pleasure, but oppressed and killed by pain.” Such writings were the egg, the altar, &c. of Symmias Rhodius, the versus anacyclici of Rufinus, the centones Homerici of Pelagius and Eudocia, the Alphabet poems of the Anthology, and the perfect divan of the Arabians,* the boutsrimés of Dulot, and the ridiculous rhymes of Marot, called La Fraternisée, L'enchainée, &c. The history of literature in every age, shows a tendency of the mind to such trifles. And surely, if Homer condescended to write “ The Battle of the Frogs and Mice,” the solemn Goff,—“Cupid's Whirligig," and Cowper“Johnny Gilpin,” we have not much reason to be surprised, that ordinary minds should take a pleasure in the anagram and acrostic, the charade and enigma. If Malebranche could not read the most sublime verses without disgust, we may well imagine that thousands would be pleased with John Gilpin, who could not enjoy the Task. How many, in like manner, would admire the fantastic tomb of Sir Julius Cæsar, (sculptured in the form of a deed of ruffled parchment, in allusion to his office as Master of the Rolls), more than Girardon's noble monument to Cardinal Richelieu.

To retrace then our steps, we are not surprised, on the decline of Roman literature, that any thing should have been courted as a beauty, which possessed the attraction of novelty, especially of singularity. Rhyme, indeed, if taste be the arbiter, is as inconsistent with the genius of Latin and Greek versification, as the hexameters of Passerat and Southey, are with the French and English languages. If then, in the ages which followed that of Augustus, a false and corrupt taste prevailed so extensively, in sentiment as well as in style, we are ready to believe, that in the anxiety for the curious and the strange, the

[ocr errors]

*“Un divan parfait à leurs yeux est celui au le počte a régulièrement suivi daus ses vers toutes les lettres de l'Alphabet; car ils ont le goût de la gêne sans barmonie." I Sism, 61.

occasional rhyme in the classics could not have escaped notice. Nor is this at all improbable, when we consider how purely accidental have been many of the most ingenious and valuable inventions and discoveries, such as Glass, the Peruvian Bark, Coffee, Mezzotinto, the Spy-Glass, and the Corinthian Capital. Thousands had doubtless beard the succession of sounds from the anvil, had seen the wounded murex on the shore, the winnowing of wheat, and the curvature of the beach, and yet not one of all the multitudes, who had witnessed those things, before Pythagoras, Melcartus, Kepler, and James Moore, ever took from them the hint of musical notes, of the 'Tyrian dye, of the centripetal and centrifugal forces, and of the appropriate contour of the breakwater. The instant that any one was struck by the casual rhymes in the classics, if he were a writer of no taste, we might venture to pronounce, with absolute certainty, that he would regard the discovery as a prize. Now, it so happens, that the two earliest writers, in whom we have found distinct, unquestionable traces of rhyme, undoubtedly intentional, are both pre-eminent sinners against good taste. The first, is Commodianus Afer, who lived at the end of the third, or beginning of the fourth century.* “He has left us a philological curiosity, in a series of attacks on the Pagan superstitions, composed in what are meant to be verses, regulated by accent, instead of by quantity.The second, is Publilius Optatianus Porphyrius, the author of the Altar, Acrostic, Pipe, and Organ in Verse, and of those odd, ridiculous compositions, so checkered with lines of red letters, across those of black letters, that we might almost suppose the poet bad employed a surveyor, to lay out his ground-plan, from field-notes of angles and triangles, courses and distances. Commodianus lived at the end of the third, or beginning of the fourth century, and Porphyrius wrote A. D. 326. The work of Commodianus consists of eighty parts, called Instructions, all but the last, being acrostical. The eightieth is entitled “Gazæi Nomen," containing twenty-six lines, all in rhyme : and what is more remarkable, we have here the supposed Arabic model of one pre

* 4 Hall, M. A. p. 168. We are rather disposed, however, to believe with the learned Dodwell, in his Dissert. de Commod. Ætate, Oxon. 1698, that Commodianus lived at the end of the second, or beginning of the third century, because Commodianus only counts two hundred years from the Saviour, and speaks of the per secutions against the Christian Church as still raging (Vid. F.b. Bib. Lat. tom. i. pp. 244-5.) The tenth and last persecution ceased 311, so that he must hare written, at least four hundred years, before the invasion of Spain by the Moore.

vailing rhyme; for the vowel o ends every line. We insert the poem below, as in every respect a curiosity.*

No one, after reading these lines, can readily believe such a specimen of rhyme to be accidental. We have heard of extraordinary coincidences, of Muncer and the Rainbow, of Peutman and the Earthquake, of Protogenes and the Sponge, of the two Johnsons and Father Paul's History; but such a series of accidental coincidences, as these twenty-six lines exhibit, would be altogether incredible. The imperfect character of these

• GAZÆI NOMEN.
Incolæ Cælorum futuri cum Deo Christo
Tenente principium, vidente cuncta de cælo.
Simplicitas, bonitas habitet in corpore vestro
Irasci nolite sine causâ fratri devoto.
Recipietis enim quidquid feceritis ab illo.
Hoc placuit Christo resurgere mortuos imo
Cum suis corporibus, et quos ignis ussit in ævo.
Sex millibus annis completis mundo finito
Vertitur interea cælum tenore mutato.
Comburuntur enim impii tunc igni divino
Ira Dei summi ardet creatura gemendo.
Digniores, stemmate et generati præclaro,
Nobilesque viri sub Antichristo devicto,
Ex præcepto Dei rursum viventis in ævo,
Mille quidem annis ut serviant sanctis et alto,
Sub jugo servili, ut portent victualia collo
Ut iterum autem judicentur regno finito.
Nullificantes Deum, completo millessimo anno,
Ab igne peribunt, cum montibus ipsi loquendo.
In bustis, et tumulis omnis caro redditur acto,
Demerguntur inferno. trahunt pænas in ævo.
Ostenduntur illis et legunt gesta de cælo,
Memoria prisca debito, et merita digno,
Merces in perpetuo secundum facta tyranno.
Omnia non possum comprehendere parvo libello,

Curiositas docti conveniei nomen in isto. We are so accustomed to take our notions of rhyme from the single accented rhymes of English, or from the double rhymes of Italian poetry, having the accent on the penult, that we hardly seem willing to admit these lines of Commodianus, to be rhyme. But if we consider that every one of these final syllables is long, and must have been there. fore pronounced with a fulness and distinctness, fully equivalent to the accent on our final syllables, we must admit that a Roman ear would acknowledge them as excellent rhymes, although we should deny them that character. Besides, a great proportion of French and Provençal rhyme must be rejected, on the same principle, and all the admitted rhymes of Hilary, Damasus, Ambrose, of Ambrose's imitators, of Aldhelm, Boniface, Ethilwald, Bede, &c. &c. must be equally rejected. We cannot regard this poem, as merely an instance of that affectation, which seeks to terminate every line with the same letter. That is strictly true of consonants; but the instant you adopt a vowel termination, unless every last syllable consist merely of that vowel, the poet passes at once from the affectation of an identily of literal terminations, to the similarity of syllabic final sounds; and these are rhyme. In these lines of Commodianus, every line ends in a long syllable, composed of a consonant and a vowel, whereas, in the Latin song for the Modenese soldiery, (Sism. tom. i. p. 27, N.) admitted as an unquestionable instance of assonant rhyme, the termi. nations are constantly changing from the simple vowel to the consonant and vowel. and from the long to the short vowel.

1. 111, NO.5.

rhymes, being neither the accented rhyming syllables of Eng. lish, nor the double rhymes of Spanish and Italian poetry, nor even the peculiar rhymes of French verse (already spoken of), does certainly indicate this specimen, as the original of modern rhyme.* It has seemed to us very probable, that Commodianus being a Christian, and writing sacred poetry against the Pagans, might have desired to find out a mode of versification, which should distinguish sacred from profane poetry. Does it not indeed appear to be a very remarkable fact, that the rhyme found in the Latin writers, after the decline of letters, makes its appearance co-existently with the establishment of Christianity, and in Christian writers : and this too, at a time when classic versification and pronunciation had undoubtedly disappeared extensively, throughout the Roman empire. Pliny, in his memorable Epistle to Trajan, and Justin Martyr, in his first Apology, inform us, that the Christians assembled to sing sacred songs; and the Epistles in the New Testament, show that the practice prevailed in the earliest times of the Church. Doubtless, the first hymns of the Christians were either the Psalms of David, or imitations of them. That the versification of the heathen poets would not be adopted, in the composition of Christian hymns, seems obvious; at all events, not until after the accession of Constantine. But we might well expect an earlier effort at a species of composition totally different from the forms of Greek and Roman verse. Accordingly, we find that Commodianus, in his forty-ninth and fifty-eighth Instructious, has prepared the way for the complete rhymed poem, No. 80. May he not have executed the two former, in such a manner as to insure the merit of the discovery, without disclosing the plan so obviously, as is done in the last Instruction; just as Leibnitz published in the Acta Eruditorum of Leipsic, his scheme of differential calculation, so as to disclose neither the method nor

• We have not had the pleasure of seeing several writers, who have treated the subject of rhyme. T. Swift, who has an elaborate dissertation, in the ninth volume of the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, says little or nothing, as we have been informed, of Latin rhymes. Muratori, it seems from Ginguené, tom. i. p. 244, goes no farther back, than St. Columbanus, in the sixth century. Sharon Turner, in his vindication of the Welsh Bards, (4 Edinb. Rev. 205) has enumerated eleven authors, between the sixth and ninth centuries, in whom rhyme occurs, and has even traced it into the fourth century to St. Augustine, who died A. D. 430. See also 2, T. A. S. p. 349. Hallam also notices the rhymes of Austin, (vol. iv. p. 109 but though he quotes Commodianus, p. 168, be is silent as to his rhymes. Tyrwhit appears to have gone no farther back, than Ambrose and Damasus, (1 Rits. Metrie. Rom. Diss. sviii.); and Pelloutier, in his memoirs of the Celtic language, does not ascend higher than the seventh century, (1 Wart 2 Diss. N. r.) As far, therefore, as we have been able to ascertain, it appears that the specimens offered are not of an earlier date than Damasus, who died 384. There are some essays in the Ar chæologia, (vol. xiv. pp. 168, 204), which we have got bad an opportunity of consulting.

[ocr errors]

the object. Leibnitz, it is true, was detected by the comsummate mathematical science of the brothers, James and John Bernouilli; and if Commodianus had not left the eightieth poem, we might have considered the nineteenth of Porphyry, as proof that he had discovered the contrivance of his predecessor.

The next specimen of Latin rhyme, which we shall offer, is from Publilius Optatianus Porphyrius, who wrote his pieces about A. D. 326, a little before the murder of Crispus by Constantine. His fourth and twenty-sixth poems,t leave on the mind a doubt, whether rhyme was contemplated; because the intention seems to be the repetition of the same words, not of the same sounds. But the nineteenth poem of seven lines, cannot possibly be mistaken, not only on account of the obvious rhyme, but because the poet, faithful to his own taste, has not only ended, but has commenced every line with the letter a; and the first halves of six out of the seven lines rhyme with each other in as. But if any one should be such a sceptic as still to doubt, he has only to examine the Carmen Quadratum (as Aldhelm calls bis address to the Abbess Maxima, which the reader will find on the same page, (51) and, in this specimen of “the loves of the triangles," he will see, from the excessive attention paid to every letter of every line, that the author must have designed the similar terminations of his lines. Indeed, that the same letter at the beginning and end of his lines was indispensable, is obvious from an inspection of this “tesselated pavement,” this "pavement of square within square,” to use Mr. Burkes's phrases. It is possible that our Philoponus (laborlover) may not have designed the rhyme, because he had his eye on a different object; but we think it much more likely that he had both in view. When, however, we call to mind the Sortes Virgilianæ of Charles I. and Falkland; the singular fate of the Somnium Astronomicum of Kepler; and the very odd coincidence of Ariosto's father scolding him accidentally, just as he had stopped in the composition of a comedy, at a similar scene, we are disposed to admit it to be possible. Our readers, however, may judge for thmselves.

* Newton, in like manner, (vol. viii. Biog. Dy. in 12 vols. 8vo. p. 586) in 1676, explained his invention of infinite series, and yet concealed it by a transposition of the letters, that make up the two fundamental propositions, into an alphabetical order. So also, Algebra, as far as the Arabians knew it, extending to quadratic equations, was in the hands of some Italians, and was preserved nearly 300 years as a secret, though without any conception of its importance.—4 Hall, 395.

t Coll. Pis. tom. v. pp. 39, 57.
Alme tuas laurus ætas sustollet in astra,
Aurea lux vatum silvæ mibi præmia serva,
Aucta Deo virtus musas magis ornat aperta,
Aurea victorem pietas sonat ubere lingua,
Aonios latices pietas juvat, armaque diva,
Augusti florem pietas juvat arma tropæa,
Aonii frutice pietas juvat ubere glæba.

« 上一頁繼續 »