On the Alliterative Metre, without Rhyme, in Pierce Plowman's Visions.
I shall begin this Third Book with an old allegoric satire: a manner of moralizing, which, if it was not first introduced by the author of Pierce Plowman's Visions, was at least chiefly brought into repute by that ancient satirist. It is not so generally known that the kind of verse used in this ballad hath any affinity with the peculiar metre of that writer, for which reason I shall throw together some cursory remarks on that very singular species of versification, the nature of which has been so little understood.
We learn from Wormius,[ 1] that the ancient Islandic poets used a great variety of measures: he mentions 136 different kinds, without including rhyme, or a correspondence of final syllables; yet this was occasionally used, as appears from the Ode of Egil, which Wormius hath inserted in his book.
He hath analysed the structure of one of these kinds of verse, the harmony of which neither depended on the quantity of the syllables, like that of the ancient Greeks and Romans; nor on the rhymes at the end, as in modern poetry; but consisted altogether in alliteration, or a certain artful repetition of the sounds in the middle of the verses. This was adjusted according to certain rules of their prosody, one of which was, that every distich should contain at least three words beginning with the same letter or sound. Two of these correspondent sounds might be placed either in the first or second line of the distich and one in the other: but all three were not regularly to be crowded into one line. This will be beet understood by the following examples.[ 2]
"Meire og mine
Enn Gras huerge."
There were many other little niceties observed by the Islandic poets, who, as they retained their original language and peculiarities longer than the other nations of Gothic race, had time to cultivate their native poetry more, and to carry it to a higher pitch of refinement, than any of the rest.
Their brethren the Anglo-Saxon poets occasionally used the same kind of alliteration, and it is common to meet in their writings with similar examples of the foregoing rules. Take an instance or two in modern characters:[ 3]
"Skeop tha and skyrede
"Ham and Heahsetl
I know not, however, that there is any where extant an entire Saxon poem all in this measure. But distichs of this sort perpetually occur in. all their poems of any length.
Now, if we examine the versification of Pierce Plowman's Visions we shall find it constructed exactly by these rules; and therefore each line, as printed, is in reality a distich of two verses, and will, I believe, be found distinguished as such, by some mark or other in all the ancient MSS. viz.:
"In a Somer Season,[ 4] | when hot was the Sunne,
I Shope me into Shroubs, | as I a Shepe were;
In Habite as an Harmet | unHoly of werkes,
Went Wyde in thys world | Wonders to heare, &c."
So that the author of this poem will not be found to have invented any new mode of versification, as some have supposed, but only to have retained that of the old Saxon and Gothic poets: which was probably never wholly laid aside, but occasionally used at different intervals: though the ravages of time will not suffer us now to produce a regular series of poems entirely written in it.
There are some readers whom it may gratify to mention, that these Visions of Pierce [i.e. Peter] the Plowman, are attributed to Robert Langland, a secular priest, born at Mortimer's Cleobury in Shropshire, and fellow of Oriel college in Oxford, who flourished in the reigns of Edward III. and Richard II. and published his poem a few years after 1350. It consists of twenty passus or breaks,[ 4] exhibiting a series of visions, which he pretends happened to him on Malvern hills in Worcestershire. The author excels in strong allegoric painting, and has with great humour, spirit, and fancy, censured most of the vices incident to the several professions of life but he particularly inveighs against the corruptions of the clergy, and the absurdities of superstition. Of this work I have now before me four different editions in black-letter quarto. Three of them are printed in 1550 by Robert Crowley dwelling in Ely rentes in Holbourne. It is remarkable that two of these are mentioned in the title-page as both of the second impression, though they contain evident variations in every page.[ 5] The other is said to be newly imprinted after the authors olde copy . . . by Owen Rogers, Feb. 21, 1561.
As Langland was not the first, so neither was he the last that used this alliterative species of versification. To Rogers's edition of the Visions is subjoined a poem, which was probably writ in imitation of them, intitled Pierce the Ploughman's Crede. It begins thus:
"Cros, and Curteis Christ, this beginning spede
For the Faders Frendshipe, that Fourmed heaven,
And through the Special Spirit that Sprung of hem tweyne,
And al in one godhed endles dwelleth."
The author feigns himself ignorant of his creed, to be instructed in which he applies to the four religious orders, viz. the gray friars of St. Francis, the black friars of St, Dominic, the Carmelities or white friars, and the Augustines. This affords him occasion to describe in very lively colours the sloth, ignorance, and immorality of these reverend drones. At length he meets with Pierce, a poor Ploughman, who resolves his doubts, and instructs him in the principles of true religion. The author was evidently a follower of Wiccliff, whom he mentions (with honour) as no longer living.[ 6] Now that reformer died in 1384. How long after his death this poem was written, does not appear.
In the Cotton library is a volume of ancient English poems,[ 7] two of which are written in this alliterative metre, and have the division of the lines into distichs distinctly marked by a point, as is usual in old poetical MSS. That which stands first of the two (though perhaps the latest written) is intitled The Sege of I'erlam, [i.e. Jerusalem], being an old fabulous legend composed by some monk, and stuffed with marvellous figments concerning the destruction of the holy city and temple. It begins thus:
"In Tyberius Tyme . the trewe emperour
Sir Sesar hymself . beSted in Rome
Whyll Pylat was Provoste . under that Prynce ryche
And Jewes Justice also . of Judeas londe
Herode under empere . as Herytage wolde
The other is intitled Chevalere Assigne [or De Cigne], that is, The Knight of the Swan, being an ancient romance, beginning thus:
"All-Weldynge God . When it is his Wylle
Wele he Wereth his Werke . With his owene honde
For ofte Harmes were Hente . that Helpe wene myzte
Nere the Hyznes of Hym . that lengeth in Hevene
For this," &c.
Among Mr. Garrick's collection of old plays[ 8] is a prose narrative of the adventures of this same Knight of the Swan, "newlye translated out of Frenshe into Englyshe, at thinstigacion of the puyssaunt and illustryous prynce, Lorde Edward Duke of Buckynghame." This lord it seems had a peculiar interest in the book, for in the preface the translator tells us, that this "highe dygne and ilIustryous prynce my lorde Edwarde by the grace of God Duke of Buckyngham, Erle of Hereforde, Stafforde, and Northampton, desyrynge cotydyally to encrease and augment the name and fame of such as were relucent in vertuous feates and triumphaunt actes of chyvalry, and to encourage and styre every lusty and gentell herte by the exemplyficacyon of the same, havyng a goodli booke of the highe and miraculuos histori of a famous and puyssaunt kynge, named Oryant, sometime reynynge in the parties of beyonde the sea, havynge to his wife a noble lady; of whome she conceyved sixe sonnes and a daughter, and chylded of them at one only time; at whose byrthe ech one of them had a chayne of sylver at their neckes, the whiche were all tourned by the provydence of God into whyte swannes, save one, of the whiche this present hystory is cornpyled, named Helyas, the knight of the swanne, of whom linially is dyscended my sayde lorde. The whiche ententifly to have the sayde hystory more amply and unyversally knowen in thys hys natif countrie, as it is in other, hath of his hie bountie by some of his faithful and trusti servauntes cohorted mi mayster Wynkin de Worde[ 9] to put the said vertuous hystori in prynte at whose instigacion and stiring I (Roberte Copeland) have me applied, moiening the helpe of God, to reduce and translate it into our maternal and vulgare english tonge after the capacite and rudenesse of my weke entendement."-- A curious picture of the times! While in Italy literature and the fine arts were ready to burst forth with classical splendor under Leo X., the first peer of this realm was proud to derive his pedigree from a fabulous knight of the swan.[ 10]
To return to the metre of Pierce Plowman: In the folio MS. so often quoted in these volumes, are two poems written in that species of versification. One of these is an ancient allegorical poem, entitled Death and Life, (in two fitts or parts, containing 458 distichs) which, for aught that appears, may have been written as early, if not before, the time of Langland. The first forty lines are broke as they should be into distichs, a distinction that is neglected in the remaining part of the transcript, in order I suppose to save room. It begins:
"Christ Christen king,
that on the Crosse tholed;
Hadd Paines and Passyons
to defend our soules;
Give us Grace on the Ground
the Greatlye to serve,
For that Royall Red blood
that Rann from thy side."
The subject of this piece is a vision, wherein the poet sees a contest for superiority between "our lady Dame LIFE," and the "ugly fiend Dame DEATH;" who with their several attributes and concomitants are personified in a fine vein of allegoric painting. Part of the description of Dame LIFE is:
"Shee was Brighter of her Blee,
then was the Bright soon:
Her Rudd Redder than the Rose,
that on the Rise hangeth:
Meekely smiling with her Mouth
and Merry in her lookes;
Ever Laughing for Love,
as shee Like would.
And as shee came by the Bankes,
the Boughes eche one
They Lowted to that Ladye,
and Layd forth their branches;
Blossomes and Burgens
Breathed full sweete;
Flowers Flourished in the Frith,
where shee Forth stepped;
And the Grasse, that was Gray,
DEATH is afterwards sketched out with a no less bold and original pencil.
The other poem is that, which is quoted in the preface to Book iv. No. vi., and which was probably the last that was ever written in this kind of metre in its original simplicity unaccompanied with rhyme. It should have been observed in in that preface, that in this poem the lines are throughout divided into distichs, thus:
"Grant Gracious God,
Grant me this time," &c.
It is intitled Scottish Feilde (in 2 fitts, 420 distichs), containing a very circumstantial narrative of the battle of Flodden, fought Sept. 9, 1513: at which the author seems to have been present, from his speaking in the first person plural:
"Then WE Tild downe OUR Tents,
that Told were a thousand."
In the conclusion of the poem he gives this account of himself:
"He was a Gentleman by Jesu,
that this Gest made:
Which Say but as he Sayd[ 11]
far Sooth and noe other.
At Bagily that Bearne
his Biding place had:
And his ancestors of old time
have yearded[ 12] theire longe,
Before William Conqueror
this Cuntry did inhabitt.
Jesus Bring them to Blisse,
that Brought us forth of BALE,
That hath Hearkned me Heare
or Heard my TALE."
The village of Bagily or Baguleigh is in Cheshire, and had belonged to the ancient family of Legh for two centuries before the battle of Flodden. Indeed that the author was of that country appears from other passages in the body of the poem, particularly from the pains he takes to wipe off a stain from the Cheshire-men, who it seems ran away in that battle, and from his encomiums on the Stanleys, Earls of Derby, who usually headed that county. He laments the death of James Stanley, Bishop of Ely, as what had recently happened when this poem was written; which serves to ascertain its date, for that prelate died March 22, 1514-5.
Thus we have traced the alliterative measure so low as the sixteenth century. It is remarkable that all such poets as used this kind of metre, retained along with it many peculiar Saxon idioms, particularly such as were appropriated to poetry: this deserves the attention of those who are desirous to recover the laws of the ancient Saxon poesy, usually given up as inexplicable: I am of opinion that they will find what they seek in the metre of Pierce Plowman.[ 13]
About the beginning of the sixteenth century, this kind of versification began to change its form: the author of Scottish Field, we see, concludes his poem with a couplet in rhyme: this was an innovation that did but prepare the way for the general admission of that more modish ornament: till at length the old uncouth verse of the ancient writers would no longer go down without it. Yet when rhyme began to be superadded, all the niceties of alliteration were at first retained along with it, and the song of Little John Nobody exhibits this union very clearly. By degrees, the correspondence of final sounds engrossing the whole attention of the poet, and fully satisfying the reader; the internal embellishment of alliteration was no longer studied, and thus was this kind of metre at length swallowed up and lost in our common Burlesque Alexandrine, or Anapestic verse,[ 14] now never used but in ballads and pieces of light humour, as in the following song of Conscience, and in that well-known doggrel,
"A cobler there was, and he lived in a stall."
But although this kind of measure hath with us been thus degraded, it still retains among the French its ancient dignity; their grand heroic verse of twelve syllables[ 15] is the same genuine offspring of the old alliterative metre of the ancient Gothic and Francic poets, stript like our Anapestic of its alliteration, and ornamented with rhyme; but with this difference, that whereas this kind of verse hath been applied by us only to light and trivial subjects, to which, by its quick and lively measure, it seemed best adapted, our poets have let it remain in a more lax unconfined state,[ 16] as a greater degree of severity and strictness would have been inconsistent with the light and airy subjects to which they have applied it. On the other hand, the French having retained this verse as the vehicle of their epic and tragic flights, in order to give it a stateliness and dignity were obliged to confine it to more exact laws of scansion; they have therefore limited it to the number of twelve syllables, and by making the cæsura or pause as full and distinct as possible, and by other severe restrictions, have given it all the solemnity of which it was capable. The harmony of both, however, depends so much on the same flow of cadence and disposal of the pause, that they appear plainly to be of the same original ; and every French heroic verse evidently consists of the ancient distich of their Francic ancestors : which, by the way, will account to us why this verse of the French so naturally resolves itself into two complete hemistichs; And, indeed, by making the cæsura or pause always to rest on the last syllable of a word, and by making a kind of pause in the sense, the French poets do in effect reduce their hemistichs to two distinct and independent verses, and some of their old poets have gone so far as to make the two hemistichs rhyme to each other.[ 17]
After all, the old alliterative and anapestic metre of the English poets, being chiefly used in a barbarous age and in a rude unpolished language, abounds with verses defective in length, proportion, and harmony, and therefore cannot enter into a comparison with the correct versification of the best modern French writers; but making allowances for these defects, that sort of metre runs with a cadence so exactly resembling the French heroic Alexandrine, that I believe no peculiarities of their versification can be produced which cannot be exactly matched in the alliterative metre. I shall give, by way of example, a few lines from the modern French poets, accommodated with parallels from the ancient poem of Life and Death; in these I shall denote the cæsura or pause by a perpendicular line, and the cadence by the marks of the Latin quantity.
Lĕ sŭccēs fŭt toŭjoūrs | ŭn ĕnfānt dĕ l'ăudāce;
All shăll drŷe wĭth thĕ dīnts | thăt I dēal wĭth mў hānds.
L'hŏmmĕ prūdĕnt vŏit trōp | L'ĭllūsĭŏn lē sūit,
Yōndĕr dāmsĕl ĭs dēath | thăt drēssĕth hĕr tŏ smīte.
L'ĭntrĕpīde vŏit mīeux | ĕt lĕ fantōme fūit,[ 18]
Whĕn shĕ dōlefŭllў sāw | hŏw shĕ dāng dōwne hĭr fōlke.
Mĕme aŭx yeūx dĕ l'ĭnjūste | ŭn ĭnjūste ĕst hŏrrīblĕ.[ 19]
Thĕn shĕ cāst ūp ă crŷe | tŏ thĕ hīgh kĭng ŏf hēavĕn.
Dŭ mĕnsōngĕ toŭjoūrs | lĕ vrāi dĕmēurĕ māitrĕ,
Thŏu shălt bīttĕrlўe bŷe | ŏr ēlsĕ the bōokĕ fāilĕth,
Poŭr părōitrĕ hōnnĕte | ĕn ŭn mōt, ĭl făut l'ētre.[ 20]
Thŭs I fāred thrōughe ă frŷthe | whĕre thĕ flōwĕrs wĕre mānўe.
To conclude: the metre of Pierce Plowman's Visions has no kind of affinity with what is commonly called blank verse; yet has it a sort of harmony of its own, proceeding not so much from its alliteration, as from the artful disposal of its cadence, and the contrivance of its pause; so that when the ear is a little accustomed to it, it is by no means unpleasing; but claims all the merit of the French heroic numbers, only far less polished; being sweetened, instead of their final rhymes, with the internal recurrence of similar sounds.
This Essay will receive illustration from another specimen in Warton's History of English Poetry, vol. i. p. 309, being the fragment of a manuscript poem on the subject of Alexander the Great, in the Bodleian Library, which he supposes to be the same with Number 44, in the Ashmol. manuscripts, containing 27 passus, and beginning thus:
"Whener folk fastid [feasted, qu.] and fed,
Fayne wolde thei her [i.e. hear]
Some farand thing, &c."
It is well observed by Mr. Tyrwhitt, on Chaucer's sneer at this old alliterative metre (vol. iii. p. 305): viz.
"--- I am a Sotherne [i.e. Southern] man,
I cannot geste, rom, ram, raf, by my letter,"
that the fondness for this species of versification, &c. was retained longest in the northern provinces: and that the author of Plowman's Visions is in the best MSS., called William, without any surname. -- See vol. iv. p. 74.
ADDITIONS TO THE ESSAY ON THE ALLITERATIVE METRE
Since the foregoing Essay was first printed, the Editor hath met with some additional examples of the old alliterative metre. The first is in MS.,[ 21] which begins thus:
"Crist Crowned Kyng, that on Cros didest,[ 22]
And art Comfort of all Care, thow[ 23] kind go out of Cours,
With thi Halwes in Heven Heried mote thu be,
And thy Worshipful Werkes Worshiped evre,
That suche Sondry Signes Shewest unto man,
In Dremyng, in Drecchyng,[ 24] and in Derke swevenes."
The author, from this prmium, takes occasion to give an account of a dream that happened to himself, which he introduces with the following circumstances:
"Ones y me Ordayned, as y have Ofte doon,
With Frendes and Felawes, Frendemen, and other;
And Caught me in a Company on Corpus Christi even,
Six other[ 25] Seven myle, oute of Suthampton,
To take Melodye and Mirthes, among my Makes;
With Redyng of ROMAUNCES, and Revelyng among,
The Dym of the Derknesse Drewe me into the west;
And beGon for to spryng in the Grey day.
Than Lift y up my Lyddes, and Loked in the sky,
And Knewe by the Kende Cours, hit clered in the est:
Blyve y Busked me down, and to Bed went,
For to Comforte my Kynde, and Cacche a stepe."
He then describes his dream:
"Methought that y Hoved on High on an Hill,
And loked Doun on a Dale Depest of othre;
Ther y Sawe in my Sight a Selcouthe peple;
The Multitude was so Moche, it Mighte not be nombred.
Methoughte y herd a Crowned King of his Comunes axe
A Soleyne[ 26] Subsidie, to Susteyne his werres.
* * * * * *
With that a Clerk Kneled adowne and Carped these wordes,
Liege Lord, yif it you Like to Listen a while,
Some Saws of Salomon y shall you Shewe Sone."
The writer then gives a solemn lecture to kings on the art of governing. From the demand of subsidies "to susteyne his werres," I am inclined to believe this poem composed in the reign of King Henry V. as the manuscript appears, from a subsequent entry, to have been written before the 9th of Henry VI. The whole poem contains but 146 lines.
The alliterative metre was no less popular among the old Scottish poets, than with their brethren on this side the Tweed. In Maitland's Collection of ancient Scottish Poems, MS. in the Pepysian Library, is a very long poem in this species of versification, thus inscribed:
"HEIR begins the Tretis of the twa Marriit Wemen and the Wedo, compylit be Maister William Dunbar.[ 27]
"Upon the Midsummer evven Mirriest of nichtis
I Muvit furth alane quhen as Midnight was past
Besyd ane Gudlie Grene Garth[ 28] full of Gay flouris
Hegeit[ 29] of ane Huge Hicht with Hawthorn treeis
Quairon ane Bird on ane Bransche so Birst out hir notis
That nevir ane Blythfuller Bird was on the Beuche[ 30] hard," &c.
The author pretends to overhear three gossips sitting in an arbour, and revealing all their secret methods of alluring and governing the other sex. It is a severe and humorous satire on bad women, and nothing inferior to Chaucer's Prologue to his Wife of Bath's Tale. As Dunbar lived till about the middle of the sixteenth century, this poem was probably composed after Scottish Field (described above), which is the latest specimen I have met with written in England. This poem contains about 500 lines.
But the current use of the alliterative metre in Scotland, appears more particularly from those popular vulgar prophecies, which are still printed for the use of the lower people in Scotland, under the names of Thomas the Rymer, Marvellous Merling, &c. This collection seems to have been put together after the accession of James I. to the crown of England, and most of the pieces in it are in the metre of Pierce Plowman's Visions. The first of them begins thus:
"Merling sayes in his book, who will Read Right,
Although his Sayings be uncouth, they Shall be true found,
In the seventh chapter, read Whoso Will,
One thousand and more after Christ's birth," &c.
And the Prophesie of Beid:
"Betwixt the chief of Summer and the Sad winter;
Before the Heat of summer Happen shall a war
That Europ's lands Earnestly shall be wrought
And Earnest Envy shall last but a while," &c.
So again the Prophesie of Berlington:
"When the Ruby is Raised, Rest is there none,
But much Rancour shall Rise in River and plain,
Much Sorrow is Seen through a Suth-hound
That beares Hornes in his Head like a wyld Hart," &c.
In like metre is the Prophesie of Waldhave:
"Upon Lowdon Law alone as I Lay,
Looking to the Lennox, as me Lief thought,
The first Morning of May Medicine to seek
For Malice and Melody that Moved me sore," &c.
And lastly, that intitled, the Prophesie of Gildas:
"When holy kirk is Wracked and Will has no Wit
And Pastors are Pluckt, and Pil'd without Pity
When Idolatry Is In ENS and RE
And spiritual pastours are vexed away," &c.
It will be observed in the foregoing specimens, that the alliteration is extremely neglected, except in the third and fourth instances; although all the rest are written in imitation of the cadence used in this kind of metre. It may perhaps appear from an attentive perusal, that the poems ascribed to Berlington and Waldhave are more ancient than the others: indeed the first and fifth appear evidently to have been new-modelled, if not entirely composed about the beginning of the last century, and are probably the latest attempts ever made in this species of verse.
In this and the foregoing Essay are mentioned all the specimens I have met with of the alliterative metre without rhyme: but instances occur sometimes in old manuscripts, of poems written both with final rhymes and the internal cadence and alliterations of the metre of Pierce Plowman.
1. Literatura Runica. Hafniæ, 1636, 4to.--1651, fol. The Islandic language is of the same origin as our Anglo-Saxon, being both dialects of the ancient Gothic or Teutonic.-- Vid. Hickesii Præfat. in Grammat. Anglo-Saxon & Mso-Goth. 4to. 1689.
2. Vid. Hickes Antiq. Literatur. Septentrional. tom. i. p. 217.
4. The poem properly contains xxi. parts. The word Passus, adopted by the author, seems only to denote the break or division between two parts, though, by the ignorance of the printer, applied to the parts themselves. See Book vii. preface to ballad iii, where Passus seems to signify pause.
5. That which seems the first of the two, is thus distinguished in the title page: nowe the seconde time imprinted by Roberte Crowlye; the other thus, nowe the seconde time imprinted by Robert Crowley. In the former the folios are thus erroneously numbered, 34, 39, 41, 63, 43, 42, 45, &c. The booksellers of those days did not ostentatiously affect to multiply editions.
6. Signature C ii.
7. Caligula A. ij. fol. 109, 123.
8. K. vol. x.
9. W. de Worde's edit. is in 1512.-- See Ames, p. 92. Mr. G.'s copy is --"¶Emprinted at London by me William Copland."
10. He is said in the story book to be the grandfather of Godfrey of Boulogne, through whom I suppose the duke made out his relation to him. This duke was beheaded May 17, 1521, 13 Henry VIII.
11. Probably corrupted for --"Says but as he Saw."
12. "Yearded," i.e. buried, earthed, earded. It is common to pronounce "earth," in some parts of England, "yearth," particularly in the north.-- Pitscottie, speaking of James III. slain at Bannockbourn, says, "Nae man wot whar they yearded him."
13. And in that of Robert of Gloucester.-- See the next note.
14. Consisting of four anapests (˘˘ˉ) in which the accent rests upon every third syllable. This kind of verse, which I also call the burlesque Alexandrine (to distinguish it from the other Alexandrines of eleven and fourteen syllables, the parents of our lyric measure: see examples, preface to book v. no. vi &c.) was early applied by Robert of Gloucester to serious subjects. That writer's metre, like this of Langland's, is formed on the Saxon models (each verse of his containing a Saxon distich); only instead of the internal alliterations adopted by Langland, he rather chose final rhymes, as the French poets have done since. Take a specimen:
"The Saxons tho in ther power, tho thii were so rive,
Seven kingdoms made in Engelonde, and sutlie but vive:
The king of Northomberlond, and of Eastangle also
Of Kent, and of Westsex, and of the March, therto."
Robert of Gloucester wrote in the western dialect, and his language differs exceedingly from that of other contemporary writers, who resided in the metropolis, or in the midland counties. Had the Heptarchy continued, our Engilsh language would probably have been as much distinguished for its different dialects as the Greek; or at least as that of the several independent states of Italy.
15. Or of thirteen syllables, in what they call a feminine verse. It is remarkable that the French alone have retained this old Gothic metre for their serious poems; while the English, Spaniards, &c., have adopted the Italic verse of ten syllables, although the Spaniards, as well as we, anciently used a short-lined metre. I believe the success with which Petrarch, and perhaps one or two others, first used the heroic verse of ten syllables in Italian poesy, recommended it to the Spanish writers; as it also did to our Chaucer, who first attempted it in English; and to his successors Lord Surrey, Sir Thomas Wyat, &c.; who afterwards improved it and brought it to perfection. To Lord Surrey we also owe the first introductlon of blank verse in his versions of the second and fourth books of the Æneid, 1567, 4to.
16. Thus our poets use this verse indifferently with twelve, eleven, and even ten syllables. For though regularly it consists of four anapests (˘˘ˉ) or twelve syllablles, yet they frequently retrench a syllable from the first or third anapest and sometimes from both; as in these instances from Prior, and from the following song of Conscience:
"Whŏ hăs eēr beĕn ăt Pārĭs, mŭst nēeds knŏw thĕ Grēve,
Thĕ fātăl rĕtrēat ŏf th'ŭnfōrtŭnăte brāve.
Hĕ stēpt tŏ hĭm strāight, ănd dīd hĭm rĕquīre."
17.See instances in L'Hist. de la Poésie Françoise, par Massieu, &c. In the same book are also specimens of alliterative French verses.
18. Catalina, A. 3.
19. Boileau, Sat.
20. Boil., Sat 11.
21. In a small 4to. MS., containing 38 leaves, in private hands.
22. Didst dye.
24. Being overpowered.
25. i.e. either, or.
27. Since the above was written, this poem hath been printed in "Ancient Scottish Poems, &c. from the MS. Collections of Sir R. Maitland of Lethington, knight." London, 1786, 2 vols. 12mo. The two first lines are here corrected by that edition.