Monday, May 14, 2012

May 14

May 14, 1843 brings a wonderful letter from Miss Barrett to Mr. Hugh Boyd, her Greek scholar friend, who objected to her description of some lines of verse he had penned as 'octosyllabic'. Miss Barrett corrects the record:

"My very dear Friend,—I hear with wonder from Arabel of your repudiation of my word 'octosyllabic' for the two lines in your controversial poem. Certainly, if you count the syllables on your fingers, there are ten syllables in each line: of that I am perfectly aware; but the lines are none the less belonging to the species of versification called octosyllabic. Do you not observe, my dearest Mr. Boyd, that the final accent and rhyme fall on the eighth syllable instead of the tenth, and that that single circumstance determines the class of verse—that they are in fact octosyllabic verses with triple rhymes?

Hatching succession apostolical,
With other falsehoods diabolical.

Pope has double rhymes in his heroic verses, but how does he manage them? Why, he admits eleven syllables, throwing the final accent and rhyme on the tenth, thus:

Worth makes the man, and want of it the fellow,
The rest is nought but leather and prunella.

Again, if there is a double rhyme to an octosyllabic verse, there are always nine syllables in that verse, the final accent and rhyme falling on the eighth syllable, thus:

Compound for sins that we're inclined to,
By damning those we have no mind to.

Again, if there is a triple rhyme to an octosyllabic verse (precisely the present case) there must always be ten syllables in that verse, the final accent and rhyme falling on the eighth syllable; thus from 'Hudibras' again:

Then in their robes the penitentials
Are straight presented with credentials.
Remember how in arms and politics,
We still have worsted all your holy tricks.

You will admit that these last couplets are precisely of the same structure as yours, and certainly they are octosyllabics, and made use of by Butler in an octosyllabic poem, whereas yours, to be rendered of the heroic structure, should run thus:

Hatching at ease succession apostolical,
With many other falsehoods diabolical.

I have written a good deal about an oversight on your part of little consequence; but as you charged me with a mistake made in cold blood and under corrupt influences from Lake-mists, why I was determined to make the matter clear to you. And as to the influences, if I were guilty of this mistake, or of a thousand mistakes, Wordsworth would not be guilty in me. I think of him now, exactly as I thought of him during the first years of my friendship for you, only with an equal admiration. He was a great poet to me always, and always, while I have a soul for poetry, will be so; yet I said, and say in an under-voice, but steadfastly, that Coleridge was the grander genius. There is scarcely anything newer in my estimation of Wordsworth than in the colour of my eyes!
Perhaps I was wrong in saying 'a pun.' But I thought I apprehended a double sense in your application of the term 'Apostolical succession' to Oxford's 'breeding' and 'hatching,' words which imply succession in a way unecclesiastical.
After all which quarrelling, I am delighted to have to talk of your coming nearer to me—within reach—almost within my reach. Now if I am able to go in a carriage at all this summer, it will be hard but that I manage to get across the park and serenade you in Greek under your window.
Your ever affectionate

Well, I don't know about you, but I certainly learned something. To use the modern parlance, she schooled Mr. Boyd on the true nature of his own clever rhymes. And her defense against the Lake-mist influences of Wordsworth was charming, ending well for Coleridge! I appreciate the fact that she stood up for herself and didn't back down or simply drop the matter. Woman liberated.

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