The Literary Salon

A free salon wherein patrons and passers-by may view or contribute ideas on literary and generally intellectual matters. The blog will strive to maintain its commitment to wit, humour and perspicuous analysis.

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Location: Toronto, now Ottawa, Ont, Canada

Friday, March 24, 2006

Siraki's Miscellanies

Nothing coherent, but some usually desultory (for me) observations and tid bits from the last couple of days:

--I was reading W.K. Wimsatt's Introduction to his selection of Pope's Works (published by Rinehart originally in the 1940s), and he very briefly makes a connection between the rhyme of heroic coupletsand classical rhetoric. As we know, classical poetry (Latin, Greek, etc) didn't rhyme; this was a much later invention, something Milton, who refused to employ it in Paradise Lost, considered "barbaric." Here's an example of a heroic couplet off the top o'my head:

In pious times, ere priestcraft did begin,
Before polygamy was made a sin...

Although the 18th century is my thing, it is a little odd that I only started to read Pope and Dryden recently again (after about a 3 year hiatus). I was busy deepening my knowledge of literature in general, but of course, the academy makes little sense thus (a rant for another post).
Nonetheless, I find it interesting that Pope and Dryden, quintessentially neoclassical poets, consistently used rhyme, usually in the form of couplets. Wimsatt briefly points this out, and it is something which I recently read in one of Adam Smith's Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (how's that for an arcane reference). In it, Smith briefly considers authors of antiquity who used the inflectional nature of especially Latin to create harmony or rhyme in, not poetry, but prose. Anyone who knows as little Latin as me knows that such a language will have a greater potential for similar endings given the case system (declensions). Here is I think a wonderful example:

lateritiam invenit, marmoream reliquit [he found it stone, and left it marble].

Lateritiam and marmoream are both nouns in the accusative case, and invenit and reliquit, both verbs in the perfect or simple past, but one can see the cadence in this sentence of prose. Perhaps this is why (Wimsatt suggests, Smith doesn't) the ardent classicists such as Pope and Dryden preferred Rhyme.

--I just recently found out (or, rather, remembered) that John Dryden, made poet Laureate in 1668, paid a visit to Milton in the year of the publication of Paradise Lost, 1674 (I know the correspondence of the two exists, although it is not something you usually hear about). Anyway, Dryden asked Milton if he could have leave to "tagge his verses," in other words, to take his lines and versify them. Dryden in fact did this: he turned Paradise Lost into an opera called State of Innocence. I'll bet it's nearly impossible to find in print. Some sources describe the opera as a failure whereas others merely state that it was never performed, but neither was Milton's Samson Agonistes, a "closet drama" (i.e., a drama not meant to be acted).

--It is perhaps for this reason that a rift developed between Dryden and his once famous contemporary, Andrew Marvell. The latter publicly derided Dryden, and Dryden returned the favour in Religio Laici (it was basically poetical name calling). At this point all I know, based on my limited sources, is that Marvell was appaled at Dryden's "misappropriation."

--The Libertine, a movie about the Earl of Rochester, is currently playing, and it has garnered mixed reviews. I'm not sure if this is out of date or not, but according to some sources, it was postulated that the same man (John Wilmot) ordered John Dryden to be beaten up in Covent garden around 1689. I'm not sure if this has been substantiated or disproven, but Dryden was indeed beaten up in that year, although we're not quite sure why. There was speculation that a publication which ridiculed the Earl was responsible, although Dryden never wrote anything of the like.

-I'm currently reading Camus' L'Etranger en francais, bien sur! It's an interesting little book that I couldn't put down, perhaps owing to the fact that the French is fairly simple (if only Racine were as simple...)

--Last but not least, I recently discovered a band whose CD I will likely buy soon (as I purchase around half a dozen CDs a year, this is a big deal). Their name is Mortiis, not, as the name suggests, a death metal group, but something more like indstrial/techno/rock. Their website is, I believe,, whence you maybe download song clips. The album with the word "rain" in the title is worth listening to.

A hundred bucks to the one who can gimme the source of this posts title (if this ain't obscure, I don't know what is).


Blogger Dr J said...

Several possibilities in re your entry title-- Tottel's Miscellany?

9:41 a.m.  
Blogger Pious Labours said...

Perhaps, but the one in mind is Tonson's Miscellanies (early 1700s, after all).

3:29 p.m.  

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