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Where expressions have a prescriptive right to be admired, it will perhaps be thought superfluous, if not presumptuous, to examine the reason why we admire. But the following pages are addressed to those who have no literary prejudices; the author shields himself from the indignation of the learned, by professing to write only for the unlearned reader; and, without any ambition to shine, he is content with the humble hope of being useful.
Young readers need not be made accurately acacquainted with the various definitions which have been given of poetry. If, however, a preceptor wish to determine in his pupil's mind the limits of prose and poetry, he may refer to some excellent remarks in Lord Kaimes's Elements of Criticism, in Gray's Letters to West, and in Mr. West's Answers, and also in the interlude between the first and second cantos of the second part of the Botanic Garden.
It is sufficient for the present purpose to inform the learner, that poetry is generally written in verse; and that verse differs from prose by being divided into lines, each of which contains a certain number of syllables.
Heroic metre, which is the most usual kind, con: sists of lines of ten syllables. Pope's and Milton's works are chiefly written in this metre; but Pope writes in rhyme, and Milton in blank verse :
“ Soft as the wily fox is seen to creep,
Each of these lines consists of ten syllables; and the last words of each of them, “ creep” and “ sheep," rhyme to each other ; that is to say, resemble each other in sound.
«Ye mists and exhalations that now rise
MILTON. Each of these lines also consists of ten syllables ; but though they are not in rhyme, we easily distinguish them from prose. The difference consists in the choice of the words, and in their arrangement, as may be perceived by reading the same words in an order different from that in which they are at present placed. The ear will feel that the cadence or sound is unlike verse ; and the under standing will know that the sense is conveyed ini words different from those used in history or in a newspaper ; for instance, the following passage cannot be mistaken for prose :-" Ye exhalations and mists that now rise from steaming lake, or gray or dusky hill, till the sun paints with gold your fleecy skirts." : All verses are not written in lines of ten syllables ; some are written in eight, and some few in twelve ; indeed we meet with lines in poetry of every number of syllables from three to fourteen; and if the reader have a mind to be informed more particularly, he may consult a pretty little book which was published some years ago, the fourth volume of the Circle of Sciences. He should, however, ask some friend to point out what parts of the book he may consult with advantage.
In poetry, words are not used literally; that is to say, they are not to be understood exactly in the usual manner: for example, when we say the “golden sun,” we do not mean to say that the sun is Wade of gold. This mode of speaking is called figurative, or speaking in figures or tropes; the word trope being used by the best writers indiscriminately with figure, when inanimate substances are described as if they were capable of action: when qualities are attributed to any thing which do not exactly belong to it, or when an adjective which is suited to one word is joined to another in a sentence, this manner of speaking, or writing, is called figurative, probably because qualities of the mind are in this manner changed into ideal figures or persons.
The words to speak truth are prose: the truth here means merely what is true; but he spoke witk the voice of Truth is figurative, because Truth is here represented as a person that lias a voice..
Not only a single word, but several words together, or a whole sentence, may be figurative; as, “ The trembling Grove confessed it's fright.” In this line, not only every word, but all the sentiments, are figurative.
Figures of rhetorick are of various sorts, and have particular names, all of which are well described in the following passage from Blackwell.. which I do not quote as necessary to be got by heart by my young readers, but that it may be referred to upon occasion :
“ There is a general analogy and relation between all tropes, and that in all of them, a man uses a foreign or strange word instead of a proper one, and therefore says one thing and means something different. When he says one thing and means another
almost the same, it is a synecdoche. When he says one thing and means another mutually depending, it is a 'metonymy. When he says one thing and means another opposite or contrary, it is an irony. When he says one thing and means another like it, it is a metaphor. A metaphor continued and often Tepeated, becomes an allegory. A metaphor carried to a great degree of boldness, is an hyperbole; and when at first sound it seems a little harsh and shocking, and may be imagined to carry some impropriety, it is a catachresis.”
The reader is referred for a full and easy ex. planation of the figures of speech to Mr. Lindly Murray's excellent English Grammar, 5th edition.--Longman and Rees.