the simple speech of the primitive man (that long-suffering
Ulysses of latter-day mythology) the scanty vocabulary
may perhaps have had no significations other than those
inherent and native in tones, as in exclamations and
the cries of animals. Indeed, there are animals who
make music, to which verse is so nearly akin, but none
who make poetry, of which verse is only a part. Probably,
the first thing added to the original animal tone-language
was in the form of imitative names, imitative being
the lowest of the intellectual powers, and the earliest
in development. Adam in the garden (to hark back to
the older and more poetical account) would be likely
to name the animals by imitations of their cries, just
as the modern baby calls the locomotive a "choo-choo,"
with the "isolating" Chinese habit that characterizes
the language of the nursery.
the development began, we find in all human speech since
man became historic, two quite distinguishable groups
of qualities—those which inhere in sounds as such,
and those which, through untold ages of accretion, have
come to inhere in the specialized functions of sounds
which we call words. In versification, we dealt with
one only of these groups, sounds as such; for verse
would remain verse to every ear, tho uttered in a language
absolutely unknown. The other, the linguistic qualities,
remain to be examined. If the principles of opposition,
succession and parallelism be veritable esthetic laws,
they will be found to apply here also.
In the first
section of this article I spoke of the influence of
the parallelism of meter as an element of restraint
in style, and said that for that reason what would be
dangerously near bombast in prose might at the appropriate
occasion be said safely in verse. At first glance there
seems to be a striking contradiction of this statement
in the King James Version of the Hebrew poets—if
not in the Hebrew poets themselves. I cannot enter here
into the question of the metrical or non-metrical nature
of these poems in the original Hebrew; but in the English
version, at any rate, they are prose in form. Yet they
venture the most sublime audacities of thought and expression
to be found in the literature of the world, and this,
too with so little approach toward any blatancy of effect
that they stand as a perpetual monument of what is excellent
in style, in the English version even more, almost,
than in the original. But in these poems the place of
meter is supplied by a parallelism even more marked,
a rhetorical parallelism, a repetition sometimes of
the same phrase with an emphatic addition, as "better
than gold, yea, than much fine gold," frequently
the restatement of the same idea in a new image, as
thou bind the sweet influences of the Pleiades, or loosen
the bands of Orion?"
the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless
his holy name."
is this that cometh from Edom? with dyed garments from
doth magnify the Lord; and my spirit hath rejoiced in
God my Savior."
parallelism of thought is absent, but the parallelism
of structure remains. Indeed, this feature of Hebrew
poetry has long been recognized and discussed under
the very name I am using.
in his recent essay on the "Origin of Rhythms,"
takes the view that from such rhetorical parallelisms
meter is a development, and many of the facts undoubtedly
support his opinion, altho he seems too much to overlook
the innate rhythmical sense of children, savages and
primitive people. But this is a question of the evolution
of rhythms rather than of their expression. Mark how
the pseudo-Ossian, ignorant of this principle, aims
at the Hebrew grandeur and attains only grandiloquence.
is, perhaps, the best example of the extreme use of
oppositions in style with success. Rugged and virile,
it often fails of sweetness and clarity; yet no better
instrument could be found to express the colossal Titanism
of the French Revolution.
But I cannot
do more here than offer a hint at the realm of these
laws in linguistic and rhetorical matters, a realm which
I think will be found vast and far-reaching by whoever
takes the trouble to follow out the suggestion. I wish
to devote the few paragraphs that remain to me to a
brief consideration of the application of our principles
knows, since Aristotle, that the groundwork of a dramatic
action is what is technically known as the collision;
that is, the antagonism of two moral forces or ideas.
In other words, the basis of every plot is an opposition.
In the Oresteia, for example, the opposition at the
start is between the love of Clytemnestra for Ægisthus,
which is right subjectively, so to speak, and her marriage
relation to Agamemnon, which at once makes her love
for the other objectively wrong. This collision is solved
by the murder of Agamemnon, which at once raises another
in its place, which is the true collision of the trilogy.
For now one and the same principle, love of parents,
manifests itself in a self-contradiction. Orestes is
bidden by filial duty to avenge his father's murder,
and he is also bidden by the same duty to "contrive
against his mother naught." But his father's murderer
and his mother are one and the same person; and so,
whatever he may do, he must necessarily destroy the
very principle upon which he acts. This is a true collision
of the most essential kind—fateful, necessary,
But a collision
by itself does not make a plot. There must be an action,
and this action must be not merely the sequence but
the consequence of the collision; it must reveal its
necessary issue. The end must grow out of the beginning
by the same natural development as the fruit out of
the seed. Change there must be, else there were no movement
and no action; but the change must be by development—that
is, by successions—and never suddenly and without
reason. This is not to say that effects of suddenness
may not be used if subtly and carefully led up to and
motived. The fruit matures slowly and by gradual change,
but there is a moment when it falls, to all appearances,
suddenly. The grub in its cocoon becomes a butterfly
by degrees; but, finally, at one dramatic moment, bursts
its shell. So in the tale or drama, every situation
must be reached by gradations, successions, developments;
but the situation itself will properly be to a greater
or less extent oppositional. Every one will remember
the element of contrast in most dramatic situations.
I say in most
dramatic situations, because there is a large class
in which parallelism rather than opposition is the dominant
characteristic. Especially is this true of comedy, for
there seems to be something ludicrous oftentimes in
the repetition of things in themselves indifferent.
But the important and necessary part played by parallelism
in the structure of an action is not in the individual
situation, but in the linking together of the situations
into a coherent unity.
If, for example,
there be more than one thread of action; if, as is the
invariable usage of Shakespeare, there be at least one
underplot in addition to the central action, the mere
physical coexistence of such plots and underplots in
time and space, and their chance relation through incidents,
becomes a rational connection by the repetition in a
different key of the motive of the plot in the underplot.
That is, through parallelism of motive mere juxtaposition
becomes unity. If, however, the parallelism be too exact,
a sense of artificiality will be felt which will destroy
the verisimilitude; for we may concede to the ultra-realists
that, if it be not necessary to depict things exactly
as they are, it is necessary to avoid seeming to depict
them as they are not.
Thus in "Lear"
the terrible madness of the old king is repeated fugue-like
in the assumed madness of Edgar and the professional
weakness of the Fool, an awful diapason of unreason,
bassed by the echoing physical confusion of the storm.
Again, in the "Merchant of Venice," the love
of Bassanio and Portia is repeated in the love of Gratiano
and Nerissa, and again in that of Lorenzo and Jessica,
a decorative background of lovers, against which the
melancholy Antonio and Shylock the Jew stand out in
dramatic relief. In this connection it is interesting
to remark Shakespeare's habit of introducing his important
characters in pairs—Salarino and Solario, Rosencranz
and Guildenstern, etc.
I have spoken
now of the collision, which is the inception of the
plot, and of the action, which is its development; there
remains the outcome, the dénouement,
the catastrophe. This may be of three kinds, in accordance
with which the drama is classified into tragedy, comedy,
and what Mr. Denton J. Snider calls the mediated drama.
When the opposition
between the colliding principles becomes greater and
greater, until the story ends without solution or with
the solution of death, the play is a tragedy (in the
modern sense of the word).
When the opposition
is solved by the voluntary relinquishment of one of
the principles, as when Lydia Languish foregoes the
desire for an elopement and consents to be married in
a decent but unromantic manner, altho the entire play
has been based on her determination to do the opposite,
the result is a comedy.
In the mediated
drama (would that some enterprising philologist would
coin us the word needed here) [harmonedy? Ed.] the collision
is solved by the reconciliation of both the antagonistic
aims in a higher synthesis.
In the tragedy
the initial opposition maintains itself, with changing
form to the end; in the comedy, it is brought to a parallelism,
but with some violence, which, being taken necessarily
in good part by the characters, is of an amusing nature;
in the mediated drama the opposition is carried over
by mediation into complete harmony, and the three elements
are most completely balanced.
being the most perfect literary form, is the best in
which to study these principles of structure. But they
apply equally well to the organization of epic, romance,
idyl, lyric or epigram.