HENRY CROMWELL, ESQUIRE
NOVEMBER 25, 1710
Your mention in this and your last letter of the defect in numbers of several of our poets, puts me upon communicating a few thoughts, or rather doubts, of mine on that head, some of which it is likely I may have hinted to you formerly in conversation: but I will here put together all the little niceties I can recollect in the compass of my observation.
I. As to the hiatus, it is certainly to be avoided as often as possible; but on the other hand, since the reason of'it is only for the sake of the numbers, so if, to avoid it, we incur another fault against their smoothness, methinks the very end of that nicety is destroyed: as when we say for instance,
But th' old have int'rest ever in their view,
to avoid the hiatus in
The old have int'rest.
Does not the ear in this place tell us, that the hiatus is smoother, less constrained, and so preferable to the cæsura?
2. I would except against all expletives in verse, as do before verbs plural, or even too frequent use of did or does, to change the termination of the rhyme; all these being against the usual manner of speech, and mere fillers-up of unnecessary syllables.
3. Monosyllabic lines, unless very artfully managed, are stiff, languishing, and hard.
4. The repeating of the same rhymes within four or six lines of each other, which tire the ear with too much of the like sound.
5. The too frequent use of Alexandrines, which are never graceful but when there is some majesty added to the verse by them, or where there cannot be found a word in them but what is absolutely needful.
6. Every nice ear must, I believe, have observed that in any smooth English verse of ten syllables, there is naturally a pause