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Sweet Thames, run softly 'till I end my song.
Talfourd, in his life of Lamb, tells us that Coleridge was sometimes induced to recite portions of " Christabel," "then enshrined in manuscript from eyes profane;" and that he gave a bewitching effect to its wizard lines." "But more peculiarly beautiful than this," continues Talfourd, was his recitation of Kubla-Khan. As he repeated the passage
A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw :
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she play'd
his voice seemed to mount and melt into air as the images grew more visionary, and the suggested associations more remote."
Very little attention is paid at the generality of schools to accuracy and variety of emphasis and cadence. The consequence is that few persons, even amongst those who have received what is called an elegant education, are able to read either prose or verse with propriety and effect. Most readers hurry over the finest prose composition like a paragraph in a newspaper, as if they had no time to spare; or turn poetry into prose by a cold and careless intonation, or by harsh and erroneous accents. Faults in prosereading, however, though more easily avoided, are far less disgusting than in the recitation of verse. Even so early as the time of Elizabeth, the poets used to complain of the manner in which their works were recited. Beaumont, in his lines to Fletcher on the failure of his Faithful Shepherd," speaks with impatient contempt of bad readers of verse:
Whose very reading makes verse senseless prose."
The first and most important requisite for excellence in reading, is a thorough comprehension of the author's meaning; for unless we fully apprehend his sentiment or intention, it is impossible to give the right tone and cadence. The slightest error in these
respects has such a serious effect, that a writer is quite at the mercy of his reader. A greater punishment to a poet could hardly be conceived than that of making him listen to his own compositions inaccurately or untastefully recited*. I have never met with more than two or three individuals in private life who could read an ode or an elegy in a style that was not absolutely offensive.
The two most common though opposite faults in the reading of verse are a disregard of those fine harmonies which distinguish verse from prose, and a whine or sing-song. These are the Scylla and Charybdis of recitation. To avoid such serious dangers requires the nicest art-the utmost delicacy of taste. The reader who can succeed in this difficult task, and keep precisely the right tone, accent, and emphasis, and preserve at the same time an air of ease and freedom in the management of his voice, must be no ordinary person. Such excellence is not a mere mechanical accomplishment. It not only requires something of the perseverance of a Demosthenes, but many personal and intellectual qualities of a rare and brilliant order.
The rules for reading verse are so unsettled, that many points of considerable importance must be left entirely to the taste and feeling of the reciter. It is not, for instance, yet agreed amongst the teachers of elocution, whether or not a slight pause should be made at the end of every line of verse just sufficient to mark its limits. Dr. Lowth, Mr. Garrick, Dr. Johnson, Dr. Blair and Mr. Sheridan are in favour of this pause; Walker and others are against it. I am inclined to agree with the former, that
"I laugh heartily," says Owen Feltham (in his Resolves), " at Philoxenus's jest, who passing by and hearing some masons mis-sensing his lines, (with their ignorant sawing of them,) falls to breaking amain. They ask the cause, and he replies, they spoil his work, and he theirs. Certainly a worthy poet is so far from being a fool, that there is some wit required in him that shall be able to read him well; and without the true accent, numbered poetry does lose of the gloss. It was a speech becoming an able poet of our own, when a lord read his verses crookedly, and he beseeched his lordship not to murder him in his own lines, He that speaks false Latin breaks Priscian's head; but he that repeats a verse ill puts Homer out of joint.'"'
there ought to be a very slight, and except to a fine ear, a scarcely perceptible pause of suspension at the end of every line, whether of rhymed or blank verse; but it should seem, if I may say so, more like a link than a break in the chain of harmony.
If any one is asked a second time to read aloud by any number of persons of good taste whom he has no reason to suppose are inclined to flatter him, he may congratulate himself upon the possession of a very rare and delightful accomplishment. For my own part I repeat, that I have heard very few persons in private life attempt to read poetry aloud who did not either irritate their auditors or lull them into an untimely slumber. I have met with many who could write good poetry, but very few who could read it properly. They who have been present at poetical readings in private parties know what a wearisome trial of courtesy it is to keep up an air of attention. The eyes begin to close in spite of one's politeness, and to make those "pictures when they're shut" of which Coleridge speaks; while like the waves on the sea-shore as described by Shelley, the reader's voice breathes over the slumbering brain a dull monotony. That Anna Seward deserved her reputation as a fine reader is sufficiently evident from the circumstance of her having been so frequently solicited to read Shakspeare aloud to different companies, that at last the task was beyond her strength. One evening, from reading all the principal scenes in Macbeth, she found herself so much injured that as she assured her friends, she never breathed freely afterwards.
Mr. Southey in the preface to his Madoc, in the new edition of his poems, has made the following complimentary mention of Miss Seward, with which I shall conclude the present article :-" Sir Walter Scott has estimated with characteristic skill Miss Seward's powers of criticism and her strong prepossessions on literary points. And believing that the more she was known the more she would have been esteemed and admired, I bear a willing testimony to her accomplishments and her genius, to her generous disposition, her frankness, her sincerity and warmth of heart."
2 s 2
SPRING. THE fresh and joyous Spring at length is seen, And all things breathe of bliss. The youthful year Hath burst the barriers time and tempest rear ; And clothed in vernal beauty, smiles serene
The quick-reviving earth. Though long hath been The trance of Nature on the naked bier
Where ruthless Winter mocked her slumbers drear,
OH! I have sought thee over hill and plain,
ON PROSE MEMORANDA FOR POETICAL
LORD BYRON made frequent poetical use of his own journals and letters. He sometimes even repeated the same thought in several different prose writings, and then finally enshrined it in immortal verse. In a letter to Mr. Murray, dated Diodati, Sept. 29, 1816, he says, "We have been to the Grindelwald, and the Jungfraw, and stood on the summit of the Wengen Alp, and seen torrents of nine hundred feet in fall, and glaciers of all dimensions: we have heard shepherds' pipes and avalanches, and looked on the clouds foaming up from the valley below us, like the spray of the ocean of hell." In his journal, there is the following similar passage;—" Heard the avalanches falling every five minutes nearly. From whence we stood, on the Wengen Alp, we had all these in view on one side; on the other, the clouds rose from the opposite valley, curling up perpendicular precipices like the foam from the ocean of hell. It was white and sulphury.” These descriptions were at last reproduced in Manfred.
I hear ye momently above, beneath
Crash with a frequent conflict.
The mists boil up around the glaciers; clouds
Rise curling fast beneath me, white and sulphury,
I will give two further specimens "Arrived at the Grindelwald; rode to the higher glacier-like a frozen hurricane.” ** ** * "Passed whole woods of withered pines, all withered; trunks stripped and barkless, branchless, lifeless; done by a single winter."