Arthur Hugh Clough: The Critical Heritage

By Michael Thorpe | Go to book overview

12.

From William Whewell’s review ‘English Hexameters’, in North British Review

May 1853, 143-6

In this review Whewell chiefly discusses Cochrane’s translation of Herman and Dorothea, Longfellow’s Evangeline and The Bothie, finding in these cases especially, as he says of the Goethe translation, that hexameters are better fitted than ‘ordinary couplets’ to convey ‘homely reality’. In the remainder of the review he tries to establish rules for the dactylic hexameter, but without referring to The Bothie for his illustrations. It has been preferred here to Whewell’s earlier ‘Dialogues on English Hexameters’, Fraser’s Magazine, January 1849, xxxix.

Whewell (1794-1866) was Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, a mathematician and natural scientist; he also wrote on philosophical, theological and literary subjects. This article is ascribed to him by his biographer, Isaac Todhunter (see A. H. C. Descr. Cat. 68).

We have been unfortunate, in recent as well as in ancient times, in the original attempts which have been made at hexameters in England. Southey’s Vision of Judgment combined almost every fault which can repel the lover of poetry. Politics and political intolerance, religious images and expressions bordering upon profaneness, machinery strange and yet mean, a multitude of personages and no drama, with the utter want of poetical interest, would have weighed down the most musical lines. But besides these faults, the Laureate’s hexameters were, we are obliged to declare, tainted with the most shocking heresies in the article of versification, of which we may hereafter have a word to say. Passing over several minor essays in the same measure, all of which were more or less sportive, and therefore tended to diffuse a persuasion that hexameters could not be earnest, we may notice a little production which, though partly tinged by the same spirit, has still some remarkable characters in its composition. We speak of

-65-

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