[Milton-L] Selden on verse

John Hale john.hale at otago.ac.nz
Sun Oct 20 20:07:58 EDT 2013

When Selden or any contemporary speaks of "quantity" of syllables, they are using the language of verse composition in Latin, first, rather than English. Quantity is length or duration of a syllable, which is the key to musical or Latin composition. English *accent* may fall on a long or a short vowel, and a long vowel may be unaccented. So Selden, albeit a notable Latinist in prose, may be disapproving of neo-Latin versification, as an artificial exercise. 
     I don't see what "Pope" or *the* Pope has to do with it.
     Another thing: Does "prove" mean "test" here, as in "the proof of the pudding..."? Does the phrase "proves nothing but the quantity of syllables" mean that verse "tests" only the technical skill of getting the vowels in the right relations? and that the whole thing looks inwards, and does not engage with realities outside itself? 
     In writing this away from home base, I don't have access to a copy of Selden. Did he comment on any English poems by name? And if so, does he talk about their quantities, or mention accent?
John Hale

From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] on behalf of Carrol Cox [cbcox at ilstu.edu]
Sent: Saturday, 19 October 2013 2:10 p.m.
To: 'John Milton Discussion List'
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Selden on verse

Bob Blair: I'm making some notes on Selden's Table-talk, and it may be
driving me silly, but in Reynold's edition, the last entry under the head
'Poetry' is "Verse proves nothing but the quantity of syllables; they are
not meant for logic." The next head is "Pope".


Well, what Pope provides is a wonderful _simulation_ or _imitation_ of Logic
in action rather than logical argument as such. We experience what it _feels
like_ to reason. So "Pope" doesn't necessarily contradict Selden.*


P.S. Listening to recordings of Paradise Regained does not come close to the
experience of _seeing_ the verse paragraphs. I has long seemed to me that
those paragraphs provide, as I have said of Pope above, a powerful imitation
of thought in action. I find merely hearing them on a CD quite

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