Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

issue, whether it is verse at all, save in the one sense of being in metrical structure.

This dependence and inter-dependence of forms can, however, best be seen through the medium of historical proof,by noting the large and illustrious list of authors who have been writers both of prose and verse-in some cases, making prose subordinate; in others, verse; and in others, still, dividing their time and talent so evenly as to make it quite impossible to say in which department they have done the better work.

Of the first class we may cite such names as, Chaucer, Spenser, Ben Jonson, Milton, Pope, Mrs. Browning, and Longfellow; of the second order, such as, Addison, Dr. Johnson, Swift, Macaulay, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Matthew Arnold, George Eliot, and Emerson; and of the third order, such names as, Dryden, Sir Walter Scott, Swinburne, Holmes, Bryant and Lowell. Such variety of literary product from our classic authors reveals, beyond question, the mutual indebtedness of one form of literature to another, and, most especially, that on which we are now insisting—the indebtedness of prose to verse.

The cases in English Letters, or, indeed, in general literature, are comparatively rare in which standard poets have written nothing but poetry, or standard prose writers nothing but prose. Examples of the first class, such as Shakespeare, Burns, Byron, Shelley, Robert Browning and Tennyson, and examples of the second order, such as, Bacon, De Quincey, Burke, Carlyle and Irving, are not sufficiently numerous as exceptions to invalidate the principle of this clearness of connection. It would be difficult, if not impossible, for such prose writers as Scott and Swinburne to state the full character and measure of their indebtedness as prose writers to poetry itself and to the reactive influence of their own poetic work. A part of such influence is discernible and measurable, but the larger part is an unconscious one and, of course, not reducible to exact estimate. If this be so, there must be qualities of style and art common to both, and, it is, therefore, our special purpose at present to discover and discuss such qualities.

Stating the idea in the form of a question, we may ask-What those qualities are, as we find them in the best prose and prose style, which have largely or mainly been secured from the domain of verse. In answering this question, we shall find it best to follow, though in a different order, the fourfold division of the representative types of style that we have already discussed, viz:- The Intellectual, Impassioned, Popular and Literary.

I. The Intellectual Element. We encounter here, at once, the open question as to whether there is, indeed, any strictly intellectual element in verse, and, if conceded to exist, whether it can be said to be sufficiently prominent to make it an essential quality, and thus to make its influence on prose style materially effective. As the subject lies before us, it must, at the outset, be acknowledged that poetry has distinctively mental features and must, therefore, to a degree exert a mental influence upon other forms of literature. There is such a thing as creative verse, what Mr. Arnold would call—the Poetry of Ideas—the specific product of original suggestion. It is inventive and indicative, rather than imitative or exhaustive-a type of poetic effort in which poetic genius finds its fullest exercise. Homer and Dante, Shakespeare and Milton, Æschylus and Racine, were such poets and have thus written, and, in so far as they have affected prose expression and general letters, have affected them on the intellectual side. Who of us could with certainty aver that such a creative author as Goethe was intellectually greater in prose than he was in verse, or fail to concede that to each of these species of authorship he brought the same genius with equally effective results!

Such an order of poetic genius, however, is historically rare—so rare, indeed, as to constitute the exception rather than the rule. We see its presence in a few epics; in a few dramatic masterpieces and, here and there, in the domain of lyric, as in Schiller and Burns. Hence, we must affirm that, while poetry is possessed of an intellectual quality and has an influence on prose along mental lines, such a quality and such an influence are so limited, as to make them comparatively indirect and incidental, and we must look elsewhere for the dominant influence of verse over prose.

II. The Impassioned Element. Here we come within an area definitely poetic, both as to character and extent. Most of the definitions of poetry, as given by the older and later writers, not only include this emotional feature, but make it the conspicuous one. Aristotle and Longinus, Byron and Macaulay, Mill and Ruskin so represented it. This is what Shakespeare means by the “fine frenzy " of the inspired bard. Poetry is pre-eminently the language of the heart, the most natural and potent interpreter of the soul of man, his joys and sorrows, hopes and fears, loves and hates. Hence the antiquity and prevalence of lyric verse, in ode and sonnet, in elegy and pastoral, -as old as the race and as wide-reaching as the experiences of man. That distinctively spiritual element which is of the very essence of poetry is essentially emotional—the expression of the nature in its most devout and intense interior life. Hence, Poetry is an inspiration and an aspiration-a deep, all-controlling sense and an equally far-reaching outlook into the infinite and supernal.

The effect of all this upon prose and prose style is manifest at once. Simply because feeling is so natural, self-expressive and unconfined in its range,

, no conventional distinction between prose and poetry can suffice to check its outflow or confine it to this or that particular sphere of authorship. The impassioned poet will be the impassioned prose writer, and, even when the

prose author never enters the domain of verse, his style and method will be emotive just to the degree in which he comes in contact with poetry as sensuous and fervent. No writer of prose can place himself in constant contact with such poets as Burns and Mrs. Browning, Schiller and Herder, and our American Longfellow, and not be moved to some measure of passion. No better school could be found for the cultivation of style on the side of genuine sentiment, than a personal and profound acquaintance with the leading lyrics and lyrists of the world. It would be difficult, indeed, for such an author to write prosaic prose, or to be technical, didactic and dispassionate, to any extreme degree.

Feeling is begotten by feeling, and the deepest sensibilities of our natures are awakened by such lyrists as Milton and Wordsworth, Gray and Moore, in that they sing from the heart out and only because they must. All prose writing of the highest order, as we have seen, must be, to a degree, impassioned, in order to be effective, and such a quality is due, in no small measure, to the natural influence of verse.

III. The Popular Element. Next to fiction and descriptive miscellany, poetry is probably the most widely diffused and widely read form of modern literature, partly, by reason of its metrical struct. ure; partly, because of the wide variety of its topics in epic, drama and lyric; partly, because of the flexibility and freeness of its method and range, but, mainly, because of its final purpose, to gratify.

« ZurückWeiter »