[Milton-L] Selden on verse

J. Michael Gillum mgillum at ret.unca.edu
Mon Oct 21 12:10:48 EDT 2013

Selden's odd comment sounds like a reaction to someone's claim that
versification had some inherent relation to logic.

Everyone understood "quantity" to refer to the patterning of long and
short. Therefore it is not clear why Milton refers to "fit quantity" in his
defense of blank verse, given that he does not attempt to observe quantity
in the versification of PL. Maybe he was not clear on the distinction
between length and accent. (Remember that everyone was confused about
English verse theory.)

Apparently the spoken rhythm of classical Greek (the natural language) was
actually based on duration, some syllables being perceived as about twice
as long as others. So when speech rhythm was stylized as
musical-dance-poetic rhythm, a foot (a term originally referring to a dance
step) had a certain time value. There was a mathematical basis for
foot-substitution, long-long being literally equal to long-short-short.
Notice that, in the branch of modern English verse theory that proposes
nearly free substitution of foot-types, there is no phonetic basis for
substituting a spondee for an iamb except syllable count--so this is merely
a syllabic theory of the line that disguises itself by drawing foot-bars.
Any two syllables may be substituted for two other syllables.

While the rhythm of classical Latin (the natural language) had a durational
aspect, stress accent was more salient, and increasingly so in medieval
Latin. So when the Latin poets adopted Greek quantitative versification, it
was already an artificial imposition, and by early modern times, readers
may not actually have heard a durational rhythm in Latin poetry. Rather,
they perceived a visual pattern created by spelling rules that
distinguished "long" from "short." The aural rhythms of classical Latin
poetry sounded like a sort of free verse, just as the experiments in
English quantitative verse sound like free verse to us today, except for
Campion, who superimposed spelling rules over accentual rhythms.

Everyone knew the substitution rules and spelling rules for long and short
because they were included in the standard Latin textbooks.

See Attridge, *Well-Weigh'd Syllables.*

On Sun, Oct 20, 2013 at 8:07 PM, John Hale <john.hale at otago.ac.nz> wrote:

> 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.*
> Carrol
> 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
> disappointing.
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