UPON THE assumption that the five decades of the 'forties may represent their respective five centuries, as the thousand lines of twenty poets in each of these decades represent the poets and their eras, one may base some brief and tentative generalizations about the nature and development of English poetic usage.
Most generally, one may assert the homogeneity of five centuries of practice and at the same time the details of singularity. None of the hundred poets seems to work outside the frame of the whole; he always has companions. But none is close to complete likeness to any other, even in major vocabulary, or even in proportioning, which is necessarily limited by the capacities of the poetic line and the common sentence structure.
Second, one may note that groupings of poets are based more solidly on time than on type. Each decade has its own homogeneity, though each has a different degree of heterogeneity. There is, moreover, a clear direction of development from one century to another, not a mere moving back and forth of tendencies. This directional force is what alters type and revises it to temporal ends. A type does prevail and progress, but as it progresses it seems to merge with other types into the specific mode of the new day, and therefore is only partly recognizable, in new shape.
Rearrangements within time and type are flexible because of the adjustability of the various characteristics of the medium used. The sound, reference, and sentence structure of language may not all change at once or in regular parallel, but may make numerous small changes in interrelation. Internal proportions may be stabilized, as external controls decline; sound in qualitative reflection may take over some of the function of qualification by epithet. The stresses and strains of material seem to alter and readjust themselves to new modes of thought and feeling.
The table of proportions (table A) shows even at one glance the