Richard Bradford

The Royal Society was founded in 1662, shortly after the Cromwellian Protectorate had given way to the restoration of the monarchy, and in succeeding decades established itself as a kind of barometric guide to developments in key areas of thinking and writing. Its best-known and most widely quoted statement of purpose occurs in Thomas Sprat's 1667 History of the Royal Society (and for "History" we might read "manifesto"):

[The resolution of the Royal Society has been] to reject all amplifications, digressions, and swellings of style; to return back to the primitive purity and shortness, when men, delivered so many things almost in an equal number of words. They have extracted from all their members a close, naked, natural way of speaking, positive expressions, clear senses, a native easiness, bringing all things as near the Mathematical plainness as they can . . . (ii. 117-18)

Sprat respects the status of language as an arbitrary, self-determined medium of representation — there can be only an "almost" equal number of things and words — but he also makes it clear that the ideal, the objective, is linguistic transparency.

At the same time that Sprat and others were evolving a comprehensive model of language, others were considering language's principal aesthetic province, poetry, and pursuing similar objectives. Chief among them was John Dryden. Dryden is best known as a poet, but his work as a critic was equally significant. Often he promised to write an "English Prosodia," a comprehensive account of the form and nature of English verse, and, although this never materialized as a single text, the dozens of prefaces that attended his plays and longer poems and his Essay of Dramatic Poesy (1668) contain the basics of a theory that would be influential for the next hundred years. He proposed that English could produce a version of the classical, quantitative foot, but that, while the latter was a unit of measure, length or duration, its modern counterpart was determined by stress and accent and limited to two syllables —

predominantly in the form of the iamb. Yet accent was not in itself sufficient to replace quantity as the key formal constituent of verse: "No man is tied in modern poesy to observe any farther role in the feet of his verse, but that they are disyllables . . . only he is obliged to rhyme . . . rhyme, and the observation of accent supplying the place of quantity" (Essay of Dramatic Poesy, in Dryden 1926: 97). While Dryden accepted that the stanza would always feature in English verse, his ideal unit was the closed, balanced, decasyllabic couplet, and his criteria for this choice were similar to Sprat's. "But that benefit which I consider most in it, because I have not seldom found it, is, that it bounds and circumscribes the fancy. For imagination in a poet is a faculty so wild and lawless, that like a high ranging spaniel, it must have clogs tied to it, lest it outrun the judgment" (Preface to The Rival Ladies, in Dryden 1926: 8).

Throughout his criticism Dryden returns frequently to two significant points: that verse must formally establish its status as a discourse separate from all others by signaling the presence of the line; and that the defining, formal constituents of poetry should be deployed as a means of organizing, even clarifying, sense rather than complicating it.

Dryden's favorite couplet, which would be presented ceaselessly by subsequent critics as setting the standard to be followed, was Denham's description of the Thames from his Cooper's Hill (1642).

Though deep, yet clear; though gentle, yet not dull;

Strong without rage; without o'erflowing full.

This couplet maintained an almost fetishistic fascination for eighteenth-century commentators because it came as close as was thought possible to making poetry as functional and transparent as prose while retaining its status as an art form. The iambic pattern is regular but not monotonous, the caesurae and demi-caesurae of each line maintain a balance between the structure of the verse and a concatenation of simple antitheses, yet the construction is saved from too glib a symmetry by slight variations in pace and punctuation. The effect is almost entirely dependent upon the formal identity of the couplet, the continual counterposing of the flexible with the rigid. This would become the perfect vehicle for expressing such states of mind or modes of apprehension as the Augustan tendency to perceive pleasant if rather nerveless paradoxes in the natural world.

Donald Davie in Articulate Energy considered the way in which the Augustan couplet deploys syntax: "it follows a form of action, a movement not through my mind but through the world at large" (1955: 79) and, adopting a similar approach, Allan Rodway (1966) averred that Augustan poetic syntax is distinguished from the Romantic and the Modern by its tendency to express relationships rather than states. Both arguments are founded upon the premise that the eighteenth-century couplet impeded the interference of the poet or text in "the world at large" and by implication succeeded in allying poetry with the much broader eighteenth-century ideals and imperatives of "order"

in politics, society, architecture, and philosophic thought. More recent criticism has extended this thesis. Laura Brown states: "Pope's art is at once a mode of representation and an act of adjudication through which an elaborate and sophisticated linguistic structure, emulative of the imperial age of Roman culture, shapes a 'world' where rhetoric, belief and morality perfectly intersect" (1985: 7). Brown's point is based on the overarching poststructuralist notion that the "world," or at least our perception of and engagement with it, is dependent upon the mediating function of language.

There is evidence to suggest that in focusing upon the closed couplet as their ideal poetic vehicle the Augustans were fully aware of the fact that they were indeed employing an "elaborate and sophisticated linguistic structure" to "shape" their world. For example, Francis Atterbury, in his preface to the Second Part of Mr Waller's Poems, treats Waller as Denham's equal in the reformation of a form that in the early seventeenth century had, in Atterbury's view, been shapeless and dissolute. Atterbury argues that Donne's couplets had created deliberate, arbitrary dispersals of unitary meaning. "Their [Donne's and his contemporaries] Verses ran all into one another, and hung together, throughout a whole copy, like the Hook't Attoms that compose a Body in Des Cartes . . . Mr. Waller bound up his thoughts in a cadence more fitting to his world and agreeable to the nature of the verse he wrote in" (1690: sigs. A5v—A6r).

Compare the following extracts from Pope's rewritten version of Donne's Satyres with the original.

Pope: Not more Amazement seiz'd on Circe's Guests,

To see themselves fall endlong into Beasts, Than mine, to find a Subject staid and wise, Already half turned Traytor by surprise.

Donne: I more amaz'd than Circe's prisoner's when

They felt themselves turn beasts, felt myself then Becoming Traytor, and me thought I saw One of our Giant Statutes ope his jaw.

Donne's use of enjambment is mimetic but it is not an attempt to reproduce an orderly state of mind. The relationship between pronouns, relative pronouns, and verbs is constantly unsettled by the intervention of the line endings, and as a consequence the speaker seems in uncertain command of his subject — a characteristic and deliberate use of verse form to represent perplexity as an element of the human condition. Pope substitutes for enjambment a thoughtful, confident progression, and the speaker appears to be in full control both of his perceptual registers and of his text.

The following is from Pope's An Essay on Criticism (1711):

'Tis with our judgments, as our watches; none Go just alike, yet each believes his own.

In poets as true genius is but rare True taste as seldom is the critic's share; Both must alike from Heav'n derive their light, These born to judge, as well as those to write. Let such teach others who themselves excel, And censure freely who have written well. Authors are partial to their wit, 'tis true, But are not critics to their judgment too?

The most remarkable thing about this passage is the way in which the couplet virtually appropriates the role usually discharged by the sentence. The linguistic concept of "cohesion" involves the identification of ties between consecutive sentences in a text. It is employed to demonstrate that coherent prose depends upon there being links between sentences to the extent that each cannot properly be understood without knowledge of the others. In Pope's passage the couplet becomes the principal unit of cohesion.

The theme of literary evaluation as a relative, variable faculty is established in the first couplet. The second, the main clause of a longer sentence, personifies these variables in the figures of the poet and the critic, and the third couplet, the modifying clause, picks up this tie ("Both must"). The fourth couplet, again a complete sentence, returns to the pre-established theme of the division between poetical and critical inclinations, and the fifth offers a new perspective upon the poet-critic comparison of couplet two.

It appears to be demonstrably the case that Pope uses the couplet to create an ever-broadening thematic spiral, with each one variously extending, qualifying, or illustrating a point previously established. I use the term "appears to be" because Pope also cautiously avoids the kind of formal interweaving of couplets apparent in Donne's verse. Indeed, it is possible to rearrange the passage so that, while the overall message is less well coordinated than the original, it does not completely lose its coherence in the way a prose passage would if one were to redistribute its sentences.

Authors are partial to their wit, 'tis true, But are not critics to their judgment too? 'Tis with our judgments as our watches; none Go just alike but each believes his own. In poets as true genius is but rare True taste as seldom is the critic's share. Let such teach others who themselves excel And censure freely who have written well. Both must alike from Heav'n derive their light These born to judge, as well as those to write.

Dryden's concern regarding the specificity of the poetic line was symptomatic of a widespread anxiety that English verse was less formally secure than its classical predecessor. By the time that the couplet had reached its apogee in the work of Pope, the line had not only become invulnerable as a formal integer, it had also begun to function as a unit of sense rather than merely a supplement to grammar and syntax. Indeed, a number of critics of the mid-eighteenth century set about producing guides to the stylistics of poetry which drew upon contemporaneous practice while explaining and adjudicating for the benefit of potential poets.

In his Elements of Criticism (1762), for example, Henry Home, Lord Kames, provides a kind of DIY guide to assembling a good couplet.

In the first line of a couplet, the concluding pause differs little, if at all, from the pause that divides the line; and for that reason, the rules are applicable to both equally. The concluding pause of the couplet is in a different condition: it resembles greatly the concluding pause in an Hexameter line. Both of them indeed are so remarkable, that they never can be graceful, unless where they accompany a pause in the sense. (ii. 137—8)

Kames goes on to pronounce on such matters as the placing of the "capital pause" (caesura) which, except in rare moments of license and abandon, must occur at the fourth, fifth, sixth, or seventh syllables of the line to maintain balance and symmetry. Most significantly, he claims that the given, permissible range of options and variations available to the poet correspond predictably with such effects upon the reader as elevation, joy, depression, sadness, enervation, etc. (ii. 149—60).

The heroic couplet dominated verse during the first two-thirds of the eighteenth century. Numerically, far more poems used it than any other form, with blank verse next, the octosyllabic couplet third, and the stanza taking up the rear (for detailed statistics see Havens 1922). It was ideally suited to the gradual shift in the status of poetry as it began to occupy generic territory that in other periods was the exclusive reserve of the essay or the newspaper article. Verse could directly engage with contemporary political issues (the field of the so-called "poem on affairs of state") or, in the more discursive, "georgic" mode, could address a virtually unlimited range of subjects: thus architecture, dress sense, the sanitary conditions of the streets and the practical conventions of sheep husbandry all vied for the poet's attention. In this environment the closed, balanced couplet was valued because while it was self-evidently poetic

— it attended to a given metrical and rhyming formula — its structural features and their effects were, as Kames and many others demonstrated, relatively predictable. It became like a subsidiary to rhetoric, enabling the poet to write in a way that gave due attention to the progressive, transparent logic of good prose.

Those who transgressed this new system of conventions were widely rebuked. For example, throughout the eighteenth century practitioners of the enjambed couplet were treated as irresponsible eccentrics who were misusing a key element in the process of transference of sense from poet via text to reader: the line. There were certainly very few of them, the most notable being Isaac Watts (1674—1748)

— a nonconformist preacher whose unorthodoxy in religion was mirrored in his use of off-rhymes and couplets resonant of Donne — and, later, Charles Churchill

(1731-64). A satirical parody of Churchill's technique offers a fair reflection of the critical consensus.

And thou, sonorous Ch******, teach my line To flow exuberantly wild like thine: Teach me to twist a thought a thousand ways, And string with idle particles my lays; That, one poor sentiment exhausted, when The weary reader hopes a respite, then I may spring on with force redoubted, till I break him panting breathless to my will; And make him, tired in periods of a mile, Gape in deep wonder at my rapid stile.

(Anon., The Patriot Poet, a Satire, 1764, ll. 167-76)

It is intriguing to compare this assured, almost authoritarian parody with the following piece by Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea.

Happy you three! Happy the Race of Men! Born to inform or to correct the Pen To profits, pleasures, freedom and command While we beside you but as Cyphers stand T'increase your Numbers and to swell th'account Of your delights which from our charms amount, And sadly are by this distinction taught That since the Fall (by our seducement wrought) Ours is the greater losse as ours the fault.

Finch's use of enjambment here is shrewd and ingenious. She frequently employs a technique known as contre-rejet; in basic terms, a double-take where syntax seems to have completed its specification of sense yet then moves on to elaborate on or even disrupt the point already made. This sense of ambiguity is paralleled by the constant shifts in the semantic centre of gravity between three themes; the image of wealth and acquisition, the activity of writing, and the condition of sexual dominance. Each of the principal noun-and-verb phrases resonates with a semantic trace which unsettles its apparent, syntactically determined meaning. In the third line, for example, the word "profits" carries forward a residual sense of the benefits of writing (to profit by informing or correcting the activities of the "Pen"), a sense which will be transformed into a pattern of financial images: "Cyphers," "Numbers," "swell th'account," "amount." The three conditions of "pleasures, freedom and command" are similarly dispersed through several subsequent semantic registers. There are the "pleasures, freedom and command" of writing about women, the "cyphers" (subjects) of poems whose "Numbers" (a contemporary term denoting measure and syllabic length) will as a consequence "increase" and "swell." Carried along with this pattern are images of sexual pleasure, freedom, and command: women are "Cyphers," child-bearers who increase the dynastic "Numbers," and they are also the source of more straightforward sexual "delights," an adverb surrounded by the phallic double entendres of "increase," "swell" and "amount."

The word which at once synthesizes and disrupts these various patterns of form and signification is "Pen." Both feminist and non-feminist critics have often remarked, sometimes farcically, upon the drift between the semantic and contextual conditions of "pen" and "penis," and Finch would indeed seem to have created an intriguing interplay of text and context: it rhymes with men; it features as a vital instrument in the activities of financial gain and poetic endeavor; and its function in the pattern of sexual and procreative images seems clear enough.

Finch's achievements in this short passage are considerable. The rules and conventions embodied in Pope's verse — employed so mercilessly in his misogynistic tour de force, An Epistle to a Lady — and specified by Kames and others are variously transgressed and rewritten. She uses that instrument of formal integrity, the line, quite brilliantly to create a multilayered polyphonic text, combining a method and an effect that run against the predominant mood of Augustan writing: rather than causing the line and the sentence to cooperate as an exercise in forceful transparency, she has them conspire in a state of disruptive interference.

The Augustan couplet was a disciplined version of a form that had occupied a key place in English verse since Chaucer, but after 1667 it faced a competitor whose provenance was less clearly defined. Milton's Paradise Lost had an effect upon the compositional and interpretative conventions of the eighteenth century that is comparable with the effect of free verse in the twentieth. In the sixteenth century there had been a number of attempts, notably by Surrey, to establish blank verse as an acceptable medium for the nondramatic poem, but by 1667 it was agreed by general consensus that its role was limited to drama. There are a number of reasons for this demarcation between formal and generic types, and these are most clearly summarized by Dryden in his Essay of Dramatic Poesy, published, with ironic timing, barely a year after Milton's poem. Correct blank verse observes the conventions of the iambic pentameter, but it does not rhyme; and Dryden and the vast majority of his contemporaries believed that rhyme was the only device by which accentual, rather than classical, quantitative, verse could signal the presence of the poetic line. Dryden called blank verse prose mesurée, and he regarded the measuring of syntax into iambic, decasyllabic units as insufficient to guarantee, for the hearer, the definitive component of poetry: the line. Milton, in his note on "The Verse" of Paradise Lost, disagreed. He stated that in his poem the "sense" would be "variously drawn out from one verse into another," claiming by implication — contra Dryden and everyone else — that the unrhymed pentameter possessed a sufficient degree of formal palpability to register as the point of regularity and stability against which syntax could be counterpointed.

Pedantic as all of this might seem today, its ramifications for the history of poetry were immense and diverse. Milton had, singlehandedly, invented a new poetic genre and, just as significantly, prompted a debate that during the next century would raise questions regarding the essential nature of English poetry.

Samuel Woodford, in the preface to A Paraphrase Upon the Canticles (1679), avers that Paradise Lost is not a poem: "it wants the proper and particular Character, which we assign Verse, Rhythm [Woodford's deliberate, eccentric misspelling of Rhyme] I mean, and were it written as Prose usually is, in its just Periods, would both be read, and be, as indeed it is, no other than Poetical Prose" (sigs. B6r—B6v). To demonstrate his point he reprints a section from Paradise Lost as prose and a passage from one of Milton's political pamphlets as a kind of irregular blank verse.

In this single gesture Woodford, an otherwise obscure country parson, initiated a debate that would occupy the attention of a vast number of eighteenth-century critics and re-emerge in the twentieth century in the feud between New Criticism and its Reader-Centered counterpart. He raised questions regarding the relationship between the abstract conception of metrical form and its concrete realization in the text; and, just as significantly, he implied that the reader's expectations played a role in this.

John Rice, in his Introduction to the Art of Reading with Energy and Propriety (1765), takes up where Woodford left off, claiming that blank verse is an illusion, "unless, indeed, we suppose the Standard of Verse erected in The Printing-House, and that a Compositor can convert Prose into Verse at Pleasure, by printing it in detached Lines of ten Syllables" (p. 177). He goes on to redraft passages from Paradise Lost as a form of free verse with lines of varying length determined by dramatic and accentual centers of gravity.

John Walker in Elements of Elocution (1781) and Joshua Steele in Prosodia Rationalis (1779) expanded upon Rice's thesis and proposed a completely new and radical model for English meter (pre-empting, almost two centuries in advance, the celebrated breakthrough of the two linguists Trager and Smith in 1951). They argued and convincingly demonstrated that the binary opposition of stress and unstress upon which that mainstay of English meter, the iamb, was founded, was a fiction. They claimed instead that English verse was composed of an immensely complex continuum of relative stress values. Steele devised a system of notation to document this which makes a musical score look simplistic and sometimes veers towards the whimsy of Tristram Shandy, but the conclusions of both critics were clear. Although they did not coin the term "free verse," they agreed that attempts to make English comply with expectations established in Greek and Latin went against the state of the language: flexibility in line length and structure was the natural condition of English verse. All of these critics based their postulations exclusively upon readings of Paradise Lost.

Thomas Sheridan, in his Lectures on the Art of Reading (1775), offered an alternative system of interpretation. He contended that, while the unrhymed pentameter does indeed disclose English stress patterns as variable and contingent, Milton had compensated for this by his distribution of syntactic foci. In order to recognize the subtleties of this he proposes that readers employ at each line ending the "pause of suspension" — which, he points out, is neither a "sentential" nor a grammatical pause but rather a "Musical" one where words, like musical notes, are at once conjoined yet discernibly distinct. What Sheridan claimed to have discovered in Milton was a radical and unprecedented method of writing. Milton's enjambments can, he argued, create two simultaneously present but distinct patterns of meaning, and he had made use of the pentameter line not just as a supplement to syntax but as a unit of signification in its own right. This is his reading of the familiar lines concerning Satan's ruminative torment:

Now conscience wakes the bitter memory Of what he was, what is, and what must be Worse . . .

What an amazing force does this position give to the word worse! And in what strong colours does it paint to us the desperate state of reprobation into which Satan has fallen! (Sheridan 1775: ii. 247-8)

His principal point is that the syntax seems to have reached a conclusion at "what must be," yet it moves on to "Worse" and sends a transformative semantic shock back along the sentence - an effect not possible in prose.

In truth, Sheridan's pause of suspension was the mandate for a practice which became fully acknowledged only in the twentieth century, under the title of "close reading." Christopher Ricks, Donald Davie, and John Hollander, among others, concentrate upon the same passages from Milton as Sheridan, employ virtually the same technique, and reach the same conclusions. They treat the text as an assembly of stationary, silent integers and offer complex, enlightening maps of interpretation (see Bradford 2002: 104-17).

The division between the perspectives of Rice, Walker, and Steele and that of Sheridan is fascinating for several reasons. In answer to how they could reach such different conclusions after reading the same poem, we might consult a more recent critic on virtually the same issues. Stanley Fish writes that "line endings exist by virtue of perceptual strategies rather than the other way around. Historically, the strategy that we know as 'reading (or hearing) poetry' has included paying attention to the line as a unit, but it is precisely that attention that has made the line as unit . . . available" (Fish 1980: 165-6). Conversely, one might argue that the eighteenth-century debate on the nature and effect of the unrhymed line was a produce of Milton's deliberate and complex strategy of writing.

The most fascinating feature of the work of Milton's eighteenth-century successors is that all of them systematically eradicated from it those elements of Paradise Lost that puzzled interpreters and caused the likes of Sheridan to become New Critics before their time. The most notorious example of this is Young's Nights Thoughts (1742-6), in which enjambments of any type rarely occur and the lines maintain the same degree of regularity and balance as those of the closed couplet. Most frequently, however, Milton's techniques would reappear in later verse in a subtly chastened form. In Thomson's Seasons we regularly encounter what is apparently the Miltonic imprint of counterpoint between the pentameter and syntax.

Thence expanding far, The huge Dusk, gradual, swallows up the plain. Vanish the woods. The dim-seen river seems Sullen, and slow, to rowl the Misty Wave . . .

The break between verb and adjective at "seems / Sullen" might superficially remind one of moments in Paradise Lost; but it should be noted that Thomson has made sure that "Sullen" is perfectly consistent with the developing sentence that precedes it - the "dim" river enshrouded in the gathering dusk could hardly be anything else. Compare with the following lines from Milton.

Thus with the year

Seasons return, but not to me returns

Sheridan remarks upon how "Day stops you unexpectedly and forcibly strikes the imagination with the immensity of his [Satan's] loss. He can no more see - what? - Day? - Day and all its glories rush into the mind" (ii. 246). Davie and Ricks comment on the sense of shock caused by the use of "Day" instead of, say, the more predictable "Spring."

In virtually every blank verse poem written in the eighteenth century we find the same cautious fettering of techniques as is evident in the above lines by Thomson. Run-on lines occur, but the poet always ensures that isolated words and phrases maintain the continuity of the preceding syntax, usually by sewing into the latter delicate warnings of what will follow the line break.

In answering the question why this curious collective act of formal censorship occurred, we should first consult a passage from the work of Henry Home, Lord Kames. While Sheridan, an elocutionist, falls into the category of the open-minded interpreter, willing to adapt expectations to the actualities of reading, Kames was of the prescriptive school of criticism, always testing the text against authorized criteria. In his Elements of Criticism Kames is concerned by the extent to which Milton unsettles the relationship between language and the prelinguistic world. On the following lines,

Now in loose garlands thick thrown off, the bright Pavement . . .

(Paradise Lost, iii. 362-3)

he comments: "colour, for example, cannot be conceived independent of the surface coloured; but a tree may be conceived, as growing in a certain spot, as of a certain kind, and as spreading its extended branches all around, without ever thinking of its colour" (Kames 1762: ii. 130—1). He regards Milton as having transgressed certain fundamental principles of writing.

Killing cannot be conceived without a being that is put to death, nor painting without the surface upon which the colours are spread. On the other hand, an action and the thing on which it is exerted, are not, like subject and quality, united in one individual object . . . [It is] possible to take the action to pieces, and to consider it first with relation to the agent, and next with relation to the patient. But after all, so intimately connected are the parts of the thought, that it requires an effort to make a separation even for a moment: the subtilising to such a degree is not agreeable, especially in works of imagination. (ii. 133)

Kames's thesis is consistent with prevailing contemporary ideas on language; but intriguingly he is not discussing the potential merely of grammar. He assumes that the single act of putting language into poetic form is to place in jeopardy its given and accepted range of grammatical relationships. In modern terms, he is arguing that while the conventions of nonpoetic discourse secure the axis involving relations between particular signifiers and between signifiers, signifieds, and the referential continuum, poetry by its nature undermines it. But before we celebrate Kames as an eighteenth-century precursor to Jakobson we should remember that he was not only disclosing what poetry could do but contributing to a general consensus on rules that would curb these latent tendencies.

The only poems that reproduced the Miltonic tension between line structure and syntax and created a consequent complexity of meaning were parodies of Paradise Lost, most notably John Philips's The Splendid Shilling and Cyder, which bear comparison with the infamous E. J. Thribb's Private Eye excursions into radical free verse. Philips brilliantly imitates Milton's use of the pentameter as a syntactic supplement, delaying the completion of sense and then subtly disrupting expectations. But the surprise is usually farcical, as when the heroic "Cambro Briton"

O'er many a craggy Hill, and barren Cliff, Upon a Cargo of fam'd Cestrian Cheese, High-overshadowing rides . . .

The poets who elected to seriously employ Milton's new sub-genre effectively neutralized its more controversial features. John Dennis, for example, was in his criticism one of the earliest and most enthusiastic apologists for Paradise Lost, arguing that Milton had shown rhyme to be superfluous to English verse. Yet in his own blank verse poems he used the pentameter as a means of measuring out syntax, a technique that would reappear in the blank verse of Addison and Young.

A number of poets regarded Milton as setting a precedent for narrative or epic verse that would enable English poetry to at last stand comparison with the likes of Homer.

Lyttelton's Blenheim (1727), Glover's Leonidas (1737) and Atheniad (1787), Mallet's Amyntor and Theodora (1747), and Cumberland's Calvary; or The Death of Christ (1792) were the more popular and widely praised efforts. What they all have in common is a generally successful attempt by the poet to make blank verse conform to the expectations of order and transparency embodied in the closed, balanced couplet. In his epic Leonidas Glover pays almost obsessive attention to preventing the line from interfering with the orderly progress of the narrative:

Mindful of their charge The chiefs depart. Leonidas provides His various armour. First the breastplate arms His ample chest . . .

George Saintsbury commented drily that "one really begins to think that Glover (who was a city man) imagined that there was a run on blank verse, and tried to stop it by telling the sum out in half guineas on the counter."

Most of the most popular and famous blank verse poems after The Seasons tended to use narrative as an illustrative digression from the main business of, in varying proportion, description, disquisition, reflection, and philosophizing. Joseph Warton's "The Enthusiast: or the Lover of Nature" (1744), Somervile's The Chace (1735), Dyer's The Fleece (1757), Armstrong's Art of Preserving Health (1744), Akenside's Pleasures of Imagination (1745), Dodsley's Agriculture (1753), Hurdis's "The Village Curate" (1788), and, of course, Cowper's The Task (1785) all appear to have employed blank verse as an ideal vehicle for the pictorial image. Their most significant passages involve a form of narrative in reverse, with the eye of the poet carrying the interpretative resources of the reader across a largely stationary assembly of images. Echoes of Milton are evident in each, but tempered by the standard set by Pope in the century's most celebrated nature poem, in couplets, Windsor-Forest.

Windsor-Forest was praised by Sheridan and many others for the manner in which Pope had adapted a form best suited to rhetorical warfare to the task of representing the natural world. The intrinsic capacity of the couplet to confer symmetry and balance upon polemical declamation became a framing device for the notion of landscape in which chaotic contingency is informed by a vestigial impression of order. But, inferred Sheridan, this sometimes went too far when the "neatness [of the landscape] is still increased in comparing a greater number of lines, and observing the relative proportion of the couplets to each other, in point of similarity and diversity" (Sheridan 1775: ii. 161). Daniel Webb in his Remarks on the Beauties of Poetry (1762) maintains, similarly, that in Windsor-Forest "you cannot but be sensible, how the enthusiasm is tamed by the precision of the couplet, and the consequent littleness of the scenery" (p. 19). Blank verse, however, was capable of emulating the effect of the natural world upon the poet, via "those sudden breaks or transitions in the verse, which so strongly characterise the passions; and dart as it were a sentiment to the utmost soul of the reader" (pp. 20—1). Webb was suggesting that the unpredictable relationship between the lines and syntax in blank verse was the ideal formal counterpart to the equally contingent affinities between nature, perception, and emotion. Webb's thesis sounds radical, but in practice eighteenth-century blank verse stayed within the prescribed regulations governing language, verse form, and representation. Consider the following from Cowper's The Task:

Here Ouse, slow winding through a level plain Of spacious meads with cattle sprinkled o'er Conducts the eye along his sinuous course Delighted.

In Paradise Lost, Milton would have ended the line after rather than before "Conducts," creating just for a second an impression that the syntax will proceed with an objective account of the river's movement and causing the reader to expect the continuation to be something like "conducts / Its glassy thread" or "conducts / The solitary vessel." The revelation that it "conducts / The eye" would create the kind of tension between material and emotive registers that Kames found in Milton and regarded as disruptive of the referential function of language. Instead, however, Cowper creates a pause between the two-line description of the Ouse and the active verb which links this with the perspective of the poet. An orderly distinction is maintained between the scene perceived and the perceiver, and no doubts are cast upon the ability of language to faithfully mediate such states.

These lines and their neutralizing effect upon Milton's precedent were probably in Wordsworth's mind as he composed the famous opening passage to "Tintern Abbey":

Once again Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs That on a wild secluded scene impress Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect The landscape with the quiet of the sky.

The verbs "impress" and "connect," by virtue of their position, operate as double foci, shifting between aspects of the scenery as apprehended objectively and the impressionistic effects of this. We are led to expect that the cliffs will literally "impress" themselves upon the landscape but then find that they convey "thoughts" to the per-ceiver. Similarly, the notion of the landscape connecting with the sky, the horizon, becomes interwoven with the perceiver's role in connecting the actual panorama with thoughts of quietness and seclusion. The effect is Miltonic, and it would not have been attempted by an eighteenth-century blank verse poet.

The most pertinent comment on eighteenth-century blank verse technique comes from Wordsworth in "Home at Grasmere."

Dreamlike the blending of the whole Harmonious landscape; all along the shore The boundary lost, the line invisible That parts the image from reality . . .

The "line" is the poetic line, made much more visible again after its deliberate loss during the preceding century as indeed the "boundary" (a familiar substitute in the eighteenth century for "line ending") capable of "parting the image from reality."

Most eighteenth-century poets and critics agreed that blank verse was by its nature a more flexible device than the couplet, and that as a consequence it broadened the expressive and formal range of poetic discourse. However, both were throughout this period subjected to an overarching compositional and aesthetic dictum: the mechanisms of verse form should function as mediators and receptors of the prelinguistic continuum. If they appeared to play some role in the shaping of this continuum, then they had begun to raise questions regarding the status of language itself - questions addressed by Milton and Wordsworth in their verse and more recently within the vastness of post-Saussurean linguistics.

Seealso chs. 14, "James Thomson, The Seasons"; 23, "William Cowper, The Task"; 26, "Epic and Mock-Heroic ; 32, ^^hig and Tory Poetics.

References and Further Reading

(All page references above are from first editions of reprinted texts.)

Atterbury, Francis (1690). Preface to the Second Part of Mr Waller's Poems. London.

Attridge, Derek (1995). Poetic Rhythm. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Bradford, Richard (1997). Stylistics. London: Routledge.

Bradford, Richard (2002). Augustan Measures: Restoration and Eighteenth Century Writings on Prosody and Metre. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Brown, Laura (1985). Alexander Pope. Oxford: Blackwell.

Davie, Donald (1955). Articulate Energy. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Davie, Donald (1960). "Syntax and Music in Paradise Lost." In F. Kermode (ed.), The Living Milton, 70-84. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Dryden, John (1926). Essays of John Dryden, ed.

W. P. Ker. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Fish, Stanley (1980). Is There a Text in this Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. Havens, Raymond D. (1922). The Influence of Milton on English Poetry. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. Hobsbaum, Philip (1996). Metre, Rhythm and Verse

Form. London: Routledge. Hollander, John (1975). Vision and Resonance: Two Senses of Poetic Form. New York: Oxford University Press. Kames, Henry Home, Lord (1762). Elements of Criticism, 3 vols. London: A. Millar. Repr. Hildesheim, Germany: George Olms, 1970. Rice, John (1765). An Introduction to the Art of Reading with Energy and Propriety. London: J. & R. Tonson. Repr. Menston, Yorks: Scolar, 1969.

Ricks, Christopher (1963). Milton's Grand Style. Oxford: Clarendon.

Rodway, Allan (1966). "By Algebra to Augustan-ism." In Roger Fowler (ed.), Essays on Style and Language, 53—67. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Sheridan, Thomas (1775). Lectures on the Art of Reading in Two Parts. London.

Sprat, Thomas (1908). "The History of the Royal Society." In J. E. Spingarn (ed.), Critical Essays of the Seventeenth Century, 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon.

Steele, Joshua (1779). Prosodia Rationalis: or an Essay Towards Establishing the Melody and Measure of Speech. London. Repr. Menston, Yorks.: Scolar,

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