1819 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Chalkhill

Thomas Campbell, in "Essay on English Poetry" Specimens of the British Poets (1819; 1841) lxvi-lxvii.



Chalkhill is a writer of pastoral romance, from whose work of Thealma and Clearchus a specimen should have been given in the body of these Selections, but was omitted by an accidental oversight. Chalkhill's numbers are as musical as those of any of his contemporaries, who employ the same form of versification. It was common with the writers of the heroic couplet of that age to bring the sense to a full and frequent pause in the middle of the line. This break, by relieving the uniformity of the couplet measure, sometimes produces a graceful effect and a varied harmony which we miss in the exact and unbroken tune of our later rhyme; a beauty of which the reader will probably be sensible, in perusing such lines of Chalkhill as these:—

And ever and anon he might well hear
A sound of music steal in at his ear,
As the wind gave it being. So sweet an air
Would strike a siren mute—.

This relief, however, is used rather too liberally by the elder rhymists, and is perhaps as often the result of their carelessness as of their good taste. Nor is it at all times obtained by them without the sacrifice of one of the most important uses of rhyme; namely, the distinctness of its effect in marking the measure. The chief source of gratification which the ear finds in rhyme is our perceiving the emphasis of sound coincide with that of sense. In other words, the rhyme is best placed on the most emphatic word in the sentence. But it is nothing unusual with the ancient couplet writers, by laying the rhyme on unimportant words, to disappoint the ear of this pleasure, and to exhibit the restraint of rhyme without its emphasis. As a poetical narrator of fiction, Chalkhill is rather tedious; but he atones for the slow progress of his narrative by many touches of rich and romantic description.