1906 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Hookham Frere

George Saintsbury, in History of English Prosody (1906-10) 2:99-101.



I have pointed out, in speaking of Fairfax's Tasso, the tendency of the couplet to separate itself from the sixain, and collect itself into a sort of 'pointe.' The value of this peculiarity for burlesque or serio-comic purposes is obvious, and can hardly be exaggerated.... In the Monks and the Giants the handling of Beppo, Don Juan, and the Vision of Judgment is all ready. The means consist chiefly of a double management of the separated couplet just referred to. Sometimes the poet avails himself of it, as it were to 'turn upon himself': after having written a tolerably serious sixain he crowns it with a comic cap-and-bells. At other times he lets the whole proceed to this culmination or explosion. Another very important point illustrates the curious chance-medleys of prosodic biology. Double rhymes are necessities in Italian, and there have not essentially comic tendency. In English they have something of the sort; while triple rhymes require the utmost care in management, and the strongest infusion of passion of some kind, to save them from the burlesque effect. Now the serio-comic writer has unmatched opportunities, with these lengthened echoes, in the octave. Frere used them uncommonly well, but Byron, beyond all doubt, used them better.