Dennis, John, 1657-1734. Britannia triumphans: or the Empire sav'd: and Europe deliver'd. By the success of her Majesty's forces under the wise and heroick conduct of his Grace the Duke of Marlborough. A poem, by Mr. Dennis. London: printed for J. Nutt, 1704. ,72p.; 8⁰. (ESTC T29691; Foxon D222; OTA K033915.000)
- To Her Most Sacred Majesty ANNE, Queen of Great Britain, France and Ireland.
- THE EMPIRE Sav'd, AND EUROPE Deliver'd.
OR THE EMPIRE Sav ` d, AND EUROPE Deliver'd. BY THE Success of her Majesty's Forces under the Wise and Heroick Conduct of his Grace the DUKE of MARLBOROUGH.
A POEM, By Mr. Dennis.
LONDON: Printed for J. Nutt near Stationers-Hall. 1704.
The True Defender of the Protestant Faith;
The Great Supporter of the Liberties of Europe;
The Illustrious Maintainer of the Honour of the English Nation; and,
The Victorious Asserter of the Empire of the Ocean,
THE FOLLOWING POEM,
That it may live with the Immortality of Her Renown, is with all Humility Dedicated by Her
I Must confess I cannot in the Beginning of this Preface bespeak the Reader's good Opinion, by informing him that I was put upon the following Work by the Command of some great Man, who has Pow'r and Interest. My Friends can bear me witness that I wanted no such Incitement: That as soon as ever I heard of the Victory I resolv'd upon writing the Verses; And though my Interest at that time, as all who know me know very well, extreamly requir'd that I should do something else, yet it was enough for me that I look'd upon my self to be oblig'd to do this, by the Duty which I owe to the Publick; which I have always preferr'd before my Interest. Thus I quickly came to a Resolution of writing the following Verses, but as to the Form and the Manner of them I remain'd something doubtful, till I was determined by her Majesty's Proclamation for a general Thanksgiving. And that joyn'd to the Consideration of reducing some former critical Speculations into Practice, made me resolve as far I was able to make the following Verses turn upon Religion. My Design,[Page] when I began them, was to publish them upon the 7th of September, but besides that ill Health intervening caus'd Delay, I soon found to my Sorrow that a Poem is not so easily compos'd as a Prayer.
If the following Poem has any Degree of Force or Elevation in it, the judicious Reader will easily discern that it owes them in a great measure to the Religion which is mingled with it; for Religion, as I have formerly prov'd, is the best and most solid Foundation of a great and lofty Spirit in Poetry.
If any one objects that the Religion is double in the following Poem, he will find upon a more strict Enquiry that he is mistaken. For tho' I have made the Danube a Person, that is not making him a Heathen God. David has done the same thing by Jordan, and Deborah by Kishon.
I resolv'd to make the Religion that is mingled with the following Verses, as Poetical as I could without making it Pagan. Though Fame is call'd a Goddess there; I by no means design the Goddess of the Ancient Poets; but an Angel or Celestial Spirit: For which I have the Authority of Milton, who in the seventh Book of his Poem, by Urania does not mean the Heathen Muse, tho' he calls her Goddess, but an Angel or Celestial Spirit. And he there makes a second Invocation which is addrest to her, after he has invok'd God himself in the Beginning of his Poem. 'Tis true indeed Angels have been always painted Masculine, but without either any sufficient Reason or divine Authority. If they have Bodies I see no Reason why they mayn't be of both Sexes. If they have none, I cannot imagine how they can be of[Page] either. But a Poet who must of Necessity give them Bodies before they can be proper Machines for him; since he gives them the Beauty of Women may very well give them the Sex too.
The following Verses were written without Rime, which I have a long time believed to be below the Majesty of the greater Poetry; for which I have the Authority of three eminent Poets, Mr. Milton, my Lord Roscommon, and Mr. Dryden. The Reader may see Mr. Milton's Sentiments in the Preface to his Paradise lost, and Mr. Drydens, and my Lord Roscommon's before the Beginning and at the End of the Essay on translated Verse.
But only the Humble or the Weak will yield to meet Human Authority. They who are conceited of their own Understandings will submit to Reason alone; And yet methinks the former Authorities carry Reason along with them: For they who best understand a Controversy, if they have Sincerity, are fittest to decide it. Now the Sincerity of the three forementioned Writers in relation to Rime ought never to be call'd in question; for Mr. Dryden and my Lord Roscommon are known to have exploded it, at the very time that they wrote in it; and Mr. Milton was very well known to be one who would not deceive either himself or his Reader. It therefore follows that those three Gentlemen had less Understanding of the Efficacy of Poetry, and the Power of Numbers, than our vulgar Readers who are fond of Rime, or that Rime was very justly condemned by them.
We shall now with as much Brevity as we can, give some Reasons that are independant of Authority, why[Page] Rime must of Necessity debase the Majesty and weaken the Spirit of the greater Poetry, which, bceause the Arguments are entirely new, may not perhaps be disagreeable to those who have a tast of Poetry.
The Sentiments in Poetry ereate the Spirit, or the Passion, which are but two Words for the same thing; and the Spirit or Passion produces the Expression, and begets the Harmony. Now 'tis the Expression which shews the Spirit, and 'tis the Harmony which causes it to make its utmost Impression. And when all these things are adjusted, when the Sentiments are adapted to the Subject, the Spirit or Passion in a just Degree to the Sentiments, and the Harmony and the Expression to the particular Kind and Degree of Spirit or Passion, why then the Result of all this is what the Men of Art call Perfection or the Truth of Nature. I know indeed very well, that Expression and Harmony go together, because the Expression includes the Harmony; yet for the better clearing of the Matter we shall distinctly treat of them.
This then is certain, that ev'ry Sentiment or Thought has a Degree of Spirit, or Passion, or Fire, call it what you please, which is proper to it, and every thing above or below that Degree is utterly wrong. Now this is as certain that there is but just one Expression which can convey that Spirit or Passion in its true Proportion. And every thing that is not that one Expression is false, and weakens the Spirit, and obscures the Sentiment. Now Nature whose Sagacity is most admirable, and her Operations of Celerity almost infinite, and who goes the shortest way to her Works, very often dictates that Expression at[Page] first, especially in the greater Poetry, where the Imagination is always warm, and the Thoughts are always flowing.
But this is plain from common Experience, that the Expression, which Nature dictates at first, and whieh is powerful, sounding, significant, and in short the true one, is very often alter'd upon the Account of the Rhime. And a Word or two are chang'd, which destroys its Beauty, and the greater part of its Force; makes it less strong, less sounding, less significant, and weakens the Spirit, and sets the Sentiment in a false Light: From whence it follows that Rime in the greater Poetry running counter to Nature must be against Art.
But as every Sentiment has but one particular Expression which of Right belongs to it, so that Expression has but one particular Harmony which is adapted to that peculiar Degree of Spirit which naturally attends on the Sentiment. Now Nature, who, as we observed before, is wonderful in her Operations, very often in the greater Poetry dictates that Harmony together with the Expression. Every Poet must know by Experience that the Harmony which we naturally slide into in the greater Poetry is that of Blank Verse, which whenever we are oblig'd to alter to introduce the Rime, we for the most part impair the Harmony, infeeble the Expression, debase the Spirit, and set the Sentiment in a wrong View.
There can be no nearer Relation between any two things in the World, than there is, in writing, between Passion and Harmony. Harmony may be said to be both the Father and the Child of Passion: 'tis[Page] produced by it, and begets it; and the more pathetick any Discourse is, the more harmonious it must of Necessity be. Even of Discourses in Prose, those are the most musical which are the most passionate. The Orations of Cicero have more harmonious Periods than his philosophical Discourses. And therefore Poetry is more harmonious than Prose because it is more pathetick. And the more pathetick Poetry is, the greater must be its Harmony. And therefore the Spirit, the Passion, the Fire, or the Flame, being very great in the greater Poetry, and sometimes very violent, have as it were a natural Tendency to the producing perfect Harmony.
But Rime being utterly false in Harmony, as we shall shew immediately, must be contrary to true Passion, and to the greater Poetry. Rime is the same thing in Relation to Harmony that a Pun is in Relation to Wit; as a Pun is false Wit, or a foolish Affectation of Wit, Rime is false Harmony, or an Affectation of Harmony. Rime may not so absurdly be said to be the Pun of Harmony.
There are in our English Poetry four things which have been thought to cndouce to Harmony; which are Number, Measure, Cadence, and Rime. Of these the three first consist of several different Sounds which are dependant one of another.
Rime is wholly independant of the other three; and consists in the greater Poetry but of two Sounds, which are Unisons. Now I appeal to all the Masters of Musick if Unisons can make any Harmony. Harmony is the Agreement of different Sounds, and the[Page] Perfection of Harmony is the Agreement of discordant Sound by the Mediation of others. And there is a great deal of Chromatick Harmony in Poetry as well as in Musick. And such particularly is a great deal of Virgil's Harmony. Well then! Rime consisting of Unisons can have no Harmony in it self, and being independant of Numbers, Cadence and Measure can never promote the Harmony which they produce. And a Poet's constant Application to rime, diverts his Application, in a great Degree, from Numbers, Measure, and Cadence, and consequently is a severe Restraint upon the three Producers of Harmony. And as it diverts the Application of the Writer, so by alluring the Attention of vulgar Readers, it diverts them from the other three.
But besides that, Rime, by the Constraint that it puts upon the Writer, impairs the Beauty and the natural Force of the Expression, and the Power of true Harmony; it has something effeminate in its jingling Nature, and emasculates our English Verse, and consequently is utterly unsit for the greater Poetry. English Tragedies that have been writ in Rime most of them rowl upon Love. The Soul of a Tragick Poet, who has giv'n himself up to Rime, has seldom been capable of Terror or Majesty, or the Instruction of the noblest Philosophy, or any thing that is truly great.
Besides Rime has in its Nature something that is low and comical, and the more of Rime there is in a Verse, the nearer it comes to the Comick. Double Rimes are more comical than the Single, and Treble Ones than Either. A Rime alone is very often a Jest,[Page] as all who are acquainted with Hudibras very well know; but never any one was extravagant enough to affirm that there was any thing great and noble in Rime alone.
But the last Consideration but one, viz. The Effeminacy of Rime, and the Influence which it had upon Tragedy, brings me to enquire further into the Matter of Fact; and to add the Proof of Experience to those which we have drawn from Authority and Reason. For Men of Sense are too proud to yield to Authority, and Fools are too weak to submit to Reason, but Experience, which never deceived any one, carries Conviction both for the one and the other.
The Matter of Fact then is, that most of our Plays that have been writ in Rime, have been most abominably out of Nature. And where in Rime we have one tolerable Tragedy, in Blank Verse we have ten. So that those very numerical Persons who declare for Rime in other kinds of Poetry, are utterly against it in Tragedy. But not only the Tragedies in Blank Verse are the best, but the very best of our Epick Poems is writ in the same Verse. And that is the Paradise lost of Milton. And though this may in some Measure be attributed to the admirable and extraordinary Choice of the Subject, yet I am satisfied that something of its Excellence is owing to the Blank Verse. For Mr. Dryden has handled the very same Subject in Rime, but has faln so infinitely short of the Sublimity, the Majesty, the Vehemence, and the other great Qualities of Milton, that they are never to be nam'd together.[Page]
Well! But since it is manifest from what has been said, that Rime is prejudicial both to Poetry and to true Harmony. The Reader may very naturally enquire how it came at first to be introduced into our English Verse? Why, Milton has given a very good Account of that; It was, says he, the Invention of a barbarous Age, to set of wretched Matter and lame Meeter. When Rime was first introduced into this Island, the Language was without Harmony, and the Writers were without Genius. And Rime after all that has been said against it, must be allowed to be an admirable Invention to conceal the want of Spirit, and the want of Harmony. Verse with Rime seems to me to be like the Musick of a Bagpipe, where the Drone, by continually stunning your Ears, hinders you from nicely enquiring into the Notes. And what a dexterous Expedient Rime is to conceal the want of Genius, may appear abundantly from most of the Riming Plays that were writ and acted in King Charles the Second's Time. In most of which it is very plain that Rime made extravagant Simile pass for Nature, abominable Fustan for fine Language, ridiculous Rant for great Spirit, and senseless Whining for true Passion. Well! But is our Language now without Harmony? So far from that that it is the most musical perhaps of the Western. Are now our Writers without Genius! No certainly; not all of them. But why does Rime continue then? Why is it writ? Why does it please! Why, in the first place, there are Thousands who read Rime, who never so much as heard of Blank Verse; and when we consider those who have heard of it, we have little Reason[Page] to wonder that a great many of them can by no means tast it, if we reflect upon the Prevalence of Prejudice, and the Force of Custom. They who read Poetry, have been us'd to Rime from their Infancy; and what cannot long Habititude render agreeable? Let us instance particularly in Sounds. Enquire of the Inhabitants of London Bridge, if the Fall of the Water there is not grown as it were natural to them by long use? Ask them if it be not necessary either to compose their Spirits, or to keep them up? If they do not sleep with the more Soundness for it, and wake with the more Chearfulness? Examine a Fellow who has liv'd all his Life in a Paper-mill, and he shall assure you, that not only the Running round of the Wheels, and the hurrying Noise of the Mill, but even the insupportable Jangling of the Cogs, is a thing that sooths him, is a thing that pleases him; that he is melancholly when he is long out of the Hearing of it; and even weary and sick of less tumultuons Sounds. Nay ask even a Fellow that has been bred to sawing of Marble, and he shall tell you that the Sound which it makes is Musick to him. And sawing of Marble, is next to Riming, the most impertinent Noise in Nature.
After what has been said, no Man will wonder if Readers, who have all their Life Time been used to Rime, soon grow weary and sick of true Harmony unless in Case of a delicate Ear, which is so rare a Gift of Nature, that it has been observed in every Nation that Harmony has been the very last thing that has been improved in Poetry, and as soon as in any Nation the Poetical Harmony has grown perfect, there the whole Art of Poetry has been accomplish'd.[Page]
But to come from the Readers of Poetry to the Writers: These last are of two Sorts; the good and the bad. The bad will certainly endeavour to maintain Rime, because Rime does in some measure conceal their want of Ear, and their want of Genius, and is perhaps as necessary to the giving them a sort of a dull Mettle, and to the keeping them jogging on with their Burden of Dulness, as Bells are requisite to a Cart-horse or to a Pack-horse; which very Bells upon the Course at New-Market, would but render the Racer ridiculous, and would but stop his Speed. Rime has the last of these Effects upon a good Writer, and would have the first, if it were not for the Force of Custom. And 'tis the Prevalence of Custom alone, that keeps good Writers fast to it. Some great Men who have writ well in spight of it, serve to keep them in Countenance: for they little consider that those great Men would have writ much better, if they had writ without it. Besides the Business of most even good Writers is to make themselves popular, there are but few, very few of them who are capable of sacrificing their Interest ro their Reputations, and to the Service which they do to the Publick by improving a noble Art; and they are rather vain than ambitious, and had rather have a present general Applause, than a Reputation in time to come lasting and universal.
The universal use of Blank Verse in Tragedy, and be spreading Fame of Milton is a sure Prognostick of he decaying Reputation of Rime. A Man may venure to foretell without incurring the Censure of being〈◊〉or visionary; that before this Century is half expir'd[Page] Rime will be wholly banished from our greater Poetry. A Custom that has been a long time generally received, cannot be broke at once; but nothing that is false can remain always. 'Tis true indeed, Prejudice, and Opinion, and Interest, and Vanity are frequent Friends to Falshood; but Time, the most sagacious of all Criticks, will surely be a Friend to Truth.
I desire that the Reader would take notice that it is only in the greater Poetry that I have been condemning Rime. It may do well enough in Amorous Verses, and it may be necessary in some sorts of Satyr. For the following Verses, I do not pretend that because they are without Rime they are without all Defects; If I had had more time they should have been less numerous, and some Expressions should not have been repeated. Not but that there are several Repetitions in the following Poem which were studied and sought for upon the acc ount ofGrace and Ornament, but there is here and there one which should have been omitted.