Of Prosody.

An Essay towards a practical English Grammar, describing the Genius and Nature of the English Tongue. [By James Greenwood.]

John Dennis

"Mr. Dennis" declares that stanzas are "certainly very improper for long and noble Poems," citing the Faerie Queene and Gondibert as examples. In his Arts of Logick and Rhetorick (1728) John Oldmixon compares the use of stanzas in narrative poetry to reviving "the Ruff and Fardingale." This remained the orthodox view until the publication of James Beattie's The Minstrel in 1771; it was still being invoked by reviewers in the first decade of the nineteenth century.

In Remarks on Pope's Homer (1717) John Dennis praises "the fine Painting of Spenser" Critical Works, ed. Edward Niles Hooker (1939) 2:122; he also makes passing reference to Mother Hubberd and Colin Clouts Come Home Again, Critical Works (1939) 2:284.


Of Measure and Cadence.

As Numbers imply Measure, they likewise include Cadence: The Measure of our English Verse is different, according to the different kinds of it. The Measure of our common Pentameter or Heroick Verse is usually ten Syllables, but sometimes when there are Dactyles, 'tis extended to eleven or twelve, as in this Verse of Dryden.

Thee Saviour, Thee the Nations Vows confess.

In our Stanza's, according to the different kinds of them the Measure differs. Two of our Poets, have writ long Poems in Stanza's, Spencer, and Sir William Davenant. The Stanza of Sir William Davenant is what they call the Quaternion, which consists of four Pentameters with alternate Rhyme. The Stanza of Spencer consists of nine Verses, the eight first of which are Pentameters, and the ninth is an Alexandrine or an Hexameter. But the Stanza is certainly very improper for long and noble Poems. It seems to belong in a peculiar manner to our Lyric Poetry.

The Measures of our Lyrical Stanza's are as different as the Odes which are writ in those Stanza's. There is the Regular Stanza and the Irregular. The Irregular Stanza belongs to the Ode which is Vulgarly called Pindarick, in which no one stanza unless by chance answers exactly to another. The Regular Stanza is that, whose Measures and the different placings of its Rhymes answer exactly to every one of the same Ode, and even of these there is a vast Variety, as every one knows who is acquainted with our Poets who have writ Odes and Songs; as Suckling, Waller, Cowley, Sedley, Wilmot, Sackville, with a long et ceteri.

To treat of Cadence as one ought to do, would require an entire Treatise. The Word seems to me to be a Metaphor drawn from the Dancing-School, where it properly signifies a Pause or Fall from Motion to rest: Taken metaphorically, it signifies a Pause in Sound, or Fall from Sound to Silence, or from a stronger Sound to a softer, and is regulated by the natural Stops of the Sense, and influenced by the Accents. In our most musical Pentameters or Heroicks, the Pauses which are most remarkable, are those which are in the Middle of a Verse, or those which are at the End of it.

The Pauses in the Middle of the Verse, are either upon the fourth Syllable, as in these Verses of Denham.

Tho' deep, yet clear, tho' gentle, yet not dull,
Strong without Rage, without oreflowing full.

Or upon the Sixth, as in the following Verse of Roscommon.

Vain are our Neighbours Hopes, and vain their Cares.

The Pause at the End of a Verse ought to be greater than any Pause that may preced it in the same Verse, and the Pause at the End of a Couplet ought to be greater than that which is at the End of the first Verse.

But it is not necessary that the Pause at the End of a Couplet should be a full one, that is a Point; it is often a Colon, often a Semicolon, often a Comma only. But if the Rhyme is carried on to the third Verse, which causes the three to be called a Triplet, then it is necessary there should be a full Pause, that is a Point; especially if the last Verse of the three is an Hexameter, as it often happens.

[pp. 267-68]