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much Macaulay owed, in the line of poetic beauty, to his "Lays of Ancient Rome;" how much more pacific and graceful Milton would have been in his political writings, had he written his poetry first; how the elegance of verse would have softened and subdued the crabbed character of Carlyle as a writer, and how, as a matter of fact, it did modify the style of Addison and Dryden, Pope and Wordsworth and Coleridge!
We have, as it occurs to us, in our own American Emerson, a striking example of the benign and beautifying effect of poetry over prose. Possessed of a style naturally intellectual, philosophic and ethical rather than artistic, his prose authorship clearly evinces the æsthetic effect of his verse, until, at the close of his career as an author, when we are called upon to estimate his rank and influence as a writer, we are constrained to give the poetic feature a much larger place than was assigned it by his earlier critics. In a word, poetry poetizes prose. In the form of the epic and tragic drama, it imparts to it sublimity, while in the lighter forms of comedy, lyric and descriptive verse, it imparts beauty and grace. Dignity and finish of structure are alike derived. The elevating influences of such productions as the “Iliad,” “ Paradise Lost," "Hamlet," "The Medea" and “The Divina Commedia," combine with the classical correctness of such poems as "The Endymion " of Keats; Tennyson's “Princess;” Shelley's “Adonais” and Lowcll's “Vision of Sir Launfal.”
The late Matthew Arnold was never weary
of calling our attention to what he styled "the genius and instinct for beauty,”—a quality of verse which his own poetry exemplifies, and a quality of prose which, in so far as it exists, is mainly derivable from verse itself. To this extent, at least, every prose author must be a poet.
2. Imagery and Figurative Force. In speaking of the office of the imagination relative to authorship, a distinction is carefully to be made between what metaphysicians call, the philosophic imagination, and that which literary critics call, the poetic. The one is especially exercised within the sphere of mental philosophy and higher discussion, while the other finds its natural province within the sphere of verse. It is to this latter, therefore, that we refer in speaking of the indebtedness of
prose to poetry. While in the elevated strains of epic and tragic verse, the imagination is employed in its highest constructive and, combining work, as “the vision and faculty divine, this is rather its exceptional function. Shakespearean, Homeric and Miltonic song is not the prevailing order, so that in the expression of the vast body of poetry as a literary product,-in ode and sonnet, sketch and pastoral—it is the poetic or descriptive imagination that is called into play. The Fancy as distinct from the imagination has a function here. The work is graphic, delineative and pictorial rather than philosophic. It is the “poet's eye with a fine frenzy rolling, glancing from heaven to earth and
earth to heaven." It is the specifically discursive or excursive office of this faculty, as confined to no assigned bounds, but roaming and moving at will to the farthest ends of the earth and to the highest heights of heaven.
Here, again, our best prose authorship is much indebted to verse. Poetry is essentially imaginative and figurative, as prose is essentially unimaginative and literal. Our very word prose signifies directness—the clearest, tersest expression of the thought, and, as a theory, allows of no margin or license. Hence, the danger of undue compactness, tending to the rigid, monotonous and mechanical; and it is just here that literature on its imaginative, metrical side enters to poetize prose, to emancipate it from its restrictions; to enlarge its scope and bounds, and, while allowing it to retain its fundamental features, to insist on adding thereto something of the poetic. There is such a thing as a symbolic prose style—a picturesque method of setting forth abstract truth so that it shall reveal the idea as a painter reveals character in scenery.
Historical Portraiture is a striking example of this, as seen in Macaulay's description of the trial of Hastings; or in Prescott's description of Mexican and Peruvian life; or in Motley's recital of the trial and death of John of Barnevelde.
Fiction is full of this verbal delineation, as seen, especially, in Victor Hugo. Forensic address, as illustrated in Grattan and Burke, has notable examples of it, just enough to illustrate the possibility of its expression and just enough to show the desirability of its fuller expression. Poetry is eminently symbolic. Personal contact with it, in its best forms, will make a style symbolic. Plato cannot safely be followed, as he excludes it from his ideal republic, and we are rather to follow those illustrious prose authors, from Cicero on to Bacon and De Quincey, who, while devoting their best energies as authors to prose production, recognize, throughout, the validity of verse and its manifold ministries to the writers of prose.
3. Euphony. In such a literary quality of poetry as this, so essential to the very existence of it, we notice several characteristics, each of which is important in its place, and each of which may be said to have a helpful relation to prose. We are not speaking now, exclusively, of poetry as metrical, based on what is called, the science of versification and subject to its principles. This, of course, is involved. We include all that pertains to poetic sound-to the way in which poetry strikes the ear and appeals, through that medium, to the poetic sense within us. There is such a law as agreeableness of sounds, of sounds in themselves, as uttered in the form of vowels and liquids, and of sounds, as expressive of the meaning behind them. All that is included in melody and harmony is here designated. Alliteration, as seen in First English verse, expressed it, while alliterative usage, as even now allowable, is especially euphonic. No one word will better express what we here mean by euphony, whether confined to poetry or transferred to prose, than rhythm. Poetry is essentially rhythmic, and it is in point to add, that the best prose and prose style should be, to an extent, rhythmic. It should be euphonic. It should sound well, pleasing the ear as well as the mind and ästhetic taste,-never, indeed, becoming, as in verse, a primary feature but, still, existent and evident and more and more so as the particular idea of the poem demands it. Edgar Allan Poe's “Bells" is the success that it is because he gave it the special euphonic element that the idea demanded. Wordsworth's “ Excursion” has less and needed less. So, in prose, the euphonic element may vary, called for, in large measure, in such a production as Sidney's “Arcadia” or Johnson's “Rasselas
or Mills' “ History of the Crusades,” while less urgently demanded in more didactic authorship.
There is, of course, a vast natural difference here in the standard prose of different peoples. That of the Greek and Latin races is more rhythmic than that of the Teutonic. Such a language as the Italian, whether in prose or poetry, is essentially euphonic, full of vowel and liquid resonance, falling upon the ear so pleasantly as, at the time, to charm and captivate us and tempt us to forget the idea itself in its fascinating utterance. As to our vernacular English, though the South European element is large, the old Northern element is larger and more potent. English is not conspicuously musical. Its complexity forbids this, while the