248. Uvedale Price to EBB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 2, 24–29.

[Not all marks of stress and pronunciation have been reproduced in this transcript. They are all reproduced in the print volume.]


Febry 16th 1827

Dear Ba

In the course of a few days you will probably receive a MS, of some length, with which you have been threaten’d ever since you were at Foxley: tho’ it often refers, & with a constant connection, to what precedes, it is in some measure a detached part of the subject; so that like Homer (who would have thought of such a likeness?) I am hurrying you,

ĭn mē′ dĭăs rē′s

Nŏn sē′cŭs ăc nō′tas. [1]

Some part, however, of what is preparatory you looked over when you were here; & may remember a paper on the Ictus Metricus, & another on Elisions. What I now send, will, I believe, be of no little use in explaining the cause of a delusion which has given rise to the notion that the rhythm of greek & latin verses is improved by the accentual pronunciation, however the metre may be injured: this is a point of great consequence, which I have endeavoured to prove in the most convincing manner: you will find a good deal of it—perhaps necessarily—somewhat dry & minute: but will not mind it, if you can extract any pith & marrow: I may, perhaps, introduce a few remarks on the Charter-house pronunciation. I am persuaded, that, according to your impression, Dr Russel kept a dos a dos [2] position with regard to my MS; for I am well persuaded that after their first interview, they never were vis a vis l’un de l’autre. [3] In many disputable cases, the two parties may approach by mutual explanations & concessions, but between us there can be no compromise: the two modes of pronouncing, & the principles on which they are founded are so irreconcilably opposed to each other, that nothing is left but total adoption, or total rejection: he has rejected mine, & I, most certainly shall not adopt his. Our system is throughout at variance with the rules of prosody & of common sense: he has left the great mass of false quantities, which so loudly call for reform, in statu quo; but on most occasions (for he sometimes could not, & at other times would not) has alter’d the usual sound of the iambus & pyrrhic, much for the worse; not perceiving, what really is obvious enough on a little reflection, that by restoring their true quantity, he must have restored their true, & perfectly harmonious & consistent sound & cadence. Now for my own transgression & your remarks. I at once must own that the words “if on no other acco[u]nt” are at best but vague, & had better have been omitted: without them the sense would have been clear, & not liable to objection. I will not say that you have taken advantage of these careless words, for nothing can be less hostile than your feelings towards me, but perhaps I might have expected from your discernment, & from your favorable opinion that you would have said “this must be a slip of the pen; Mr Price could not be ignorant of what every body knows, that there are a number of compound words of the same character with those he has mentioned, but in which the first syllable is short; & it is impossible that, against all his fundamental principles, he could mean that a marked emphasis, implying length, should be given to short syllables.” It was a slip of the pen; I meant shortly to indicate that, if we could suppose quantity out of the question, such emphatic & discriminating first syllables, would, on that account alone, require a marked emphasis: this, I must allow, is vaguely indicated; all I contend for is, that the words cannot be made to signify, that such an emphasis ought to be given in the very teeth of quantity, & in defiance of prosody. A slip of the pen, tho’ it should evidently be nothing more, would be of some consequence in what was likely to be printed; & therefore, if you should meet with any such slips, or with any thing that appeared to you erroneous, or even doubtful I shall depend upon your letting me know of them; you did quite right in mentioning the one in question; & tho’ what passes in a private letter between friends is of little moment, I am in one respect provoked at my heedlessness, as your thoughts have been chiefly turned to it, instead of being solely directed to the point I had in view. I wished you to consider the wide difference, & the striking contrast between the two modes, in pronouncing such a word as εξερ′ĭπη on the score of expression: when the ‘pronunciation’ is guided by the ictus, a marked emphasis is given to the highly emphatic syllable εξ, from which the voice springs over the two short syllables, & drops at once on the long final, which likewise has the ictus; & a force & spirit are given to the rhythm, in my mind admirably suited (you will know the simile) to the rapidity & vehemence of the thunder-bolt, as well as to the sudden fall of the up-rooted oak: in our mode the long & emphatic first syllable is shortened & slurred over; the whole length & stress (a very small portion of either) is given to the second syllable, a short one, & where we pass over the vowel to the consonant—εξερ′—what with that circumstance, & our hurried utterance, there is little difference between the accented & unaccented syllables, & all the force, spirit, & expression are lost. Now if you consider the number of greek & latin choriambi that begin with such a syllable as I have described, that it must always be long, must always—as likewise the final—receive the ictus, you will be sensible of the great & extensive injury done to expression in this one foot only. The expression is no less injured whenever a molossus occurs—as it so often does—with a first syllable of the same emphatic character, as εῠδᾱι′ μων -fē′lĭx where ευ & in are passed over; &, what perhaps may shock our eyes on seeing the mark of short upon them, such shorten’d finals as μων & lix: as to our ears, habit has made them callous.

When I quoted the simile, it was chiefly on account of the sulphur & its smell: I shall now put it down for the sake of the choriambus in the first line, & of the molossus at the beginning of the second; &, I may add, tho’ not to the present point, of the complete destruction both of metre & rhythm throughout the foot.

Ω′ς δ' ŏθ’ ‘ῡ′πᾰι ρι′πης πᾱτ′ ρŏς Δῑ′ŏς εξερ′ῐπη δρῡ′ς

Προρρῑ′ζŏς δει′νη δε θεε′οῠ γι′νετᾰι ōδ′μη [4]

Five successive, &, of course, unconnected trochees, followed by a word that bids defiance to all prosody, & that again by a solitary unconnected monosyllable, convert this most expressive line into a comedy of errors, or rather a farce of cthem; for such a conversion is quite burlesque. In the second line we hurry over the emphatic Προ, shorten two out of three long syllables, & make the word an amphibrach: & then, by shortening the final of δεινη [5] , destroy, with the next dactyl, all the connection & harmonious blending, till you come to the adonic. Sometimes the image, the picture designed by the poet disappears with the emphatic syllable; or, at least, is much weakend by its being passed over; as in the charming picture of Astyanax

Αψ δ’ŏ πᾱῐς πρŏς κōλπŏν ε′ζωνōιŏ τιθηνης

Εκλῑν′θη ῑάχων [6]

as also on Virgil’s touching picture of Andromache, when the cold-blooded Æneas asks so insulting & unprovoked a question.

Dĕje′cĭt vul′tŭm ĕt sŭbmi′ssă vō′cĕ lŏqta ē′st [7]

De is addressed to the eyes, sub to the ears; both are slurred over. You may observe that the molossus at the beginning has the ictus on the first, & on the last syllable; that in the middle, on the second only, on which our accent also is laid; but with this material difference; that our accent shortens two of the long syllables, the ictus does not affect their quantity: sub therefore had the same length as mis, & probably, on such an occasion, nearly an equal stress. We steadily adhere to the rules of our system, & so far are consistent; but as they are founded in error, we are forced by them into a thousand inconsistencies & incongruities: thus, on the point in discussion, we pronounce the dactyl εκ′φῠγε exactly as we ought, laying the full stress on the first syllable, & passing rapidly over the two last; why then not do the same—there being no change in the quantity—with the same three syllables in the Choriambus εκφυγε—ειν the last being avowedly long? It is, that we are bound to do otherwise by two rules; the one positive, the other negative: the Romans did lay their acute on the second syllable of all latin choriambi, & they did not lay it on any final; & therefore we say εκφῡ′γεειν but this is a greek word; did then the Greeks lay the acute on the second of all their choriambi? by no means: in the present, & I believe in most instances, they laid on the third, the penulti; & consequently, according to the spirit [of] our rule, we ought to say εκφῠγε′εῐν. Again, did the Greeks avoid laying the acute on any final? So much the contrary that they did not merely lay the acute on finals, but the circumflex, which includes it, as in θεῶν ανδρῶν δαμᾶ ημῖν ευχωλῆς, all of which with a number of others, we make short, & in the iambi, reverse the quantity! Our misapplication of the rules that solely concern latin accent, to latin quantity, is not less really, tho’ less strikingly absurd: ōb′stĭtĕt, like εκ′φῠγε we pronounce right; & no reason, that does not involve a manifest absurdity, can be given, why we should not in the same manner say obstite—rit; we are driven, however, by the rule to say “Frigidus ŏbstīt′ĕrit,[”] & at once injure, & most cruelly, metre, rhythm, expression, euphony, & articulation: & with regard to the last, if you were to change the first i into a u it would very aptly indicate to an english ear the effect of an accent so misplaced. I will now ask whether the heinous crime of shortening slurring over a number of long emphatic syllables is at all diminished or renderd of less consequence, from there being also a number of words in which such discriminating syllables are short, & therefore cannot have that marked emphasis which is connected with length, unless at the expense of metre.

The two sorts sometimes occur in the same line, as

Αφρη′ τωρ, ᾱθεμῑσ′τŏς, ᾰνεσ′τῐŏς εσ′τῐν εκει′νος [8]

Is it then any sort of excuse for our shortening the long & emphatic first syllable of the first word (not to mention the final ω) that in the two others that syllable is really short? I say really, for in consequence of our shortening τωρ, we are in a manner obliged to lay an accent on the first of αθεμισ′τος & make it a ditrochee; & thus actually do, what no one who had any regard for prosody would think of doing,—give length & emphasis to a short privative: not, however, for the sake of the expression, which would be some excuse, but driven to it by a tissue of errors. The third of these words, ᾰνεσ′τῐŏς we pronounce according to quantity; the length & stress not being given to the first of the compound, but to that of the simple εστ, & very properly; for expression & discrimination, however desirable, must give way to what is paramount—the “salus metri,” the “suprema lex:” no one, however, could deny that αφρητωρ, by means of the ictus on the alpha, expresses much more strongly the idea of privation, so studiously & repeatedly enforced throughout the line. There is the same sort of mixture where Drances says to Turnus

Nŏs ā′nĭmæ vi′lĕs īnhŭmātă ĭnflĕ′tăqŭe tūr′ba [9]

where most perversely, & with as little thought of expression as of metre, we lengthen the short, & shorten the long syllable. These are no peccadillos; & surely the extensive injury done to an expression at once so striking & discriminating, aggravates, & in no slight degree, that which is done to metre, & well deserved a particular notice. I am not aware of its having been noticed by any writer on the subject; & about three or four years ago I put down my remarks on it pretty much at length: & a good deal on the point, & of what is closely connected with it you will find in the MS. I have sent you. All that is contained in this letter, was written at once from what was in my mind or my memory; but without copying, or even looking at any thing in the MSS. so I hope there may be something new in the statements, tho’ a good deal of repetition. As I have so strongly expressed my opinion that all long emphatic syllables in compounds should be marked in recitation, & have dwelt on the striking effect of them when so marked, you may perhaps be inclined to ask whether I could wish that all compounds of the same character had been originally formed with a long first syllable? I should at once answer by no means: a varied harmony in the structure & cadence of words is a prime object in versification, & could not in any way be compensated: I only contend that where the first syllable is long, it should have it’s full length, emphasis & effect. The remedy for all our inconsistencies,—to give them no harsher a name,—is simple, & easy & efficacious; that of laying our accent on all long syllables & on them only: we then should give—(what our accent constantly produces in our own language)—length & stress where it ought to be given, never where it ought not.— I am glad you liked my renewed attack on the Charterhouse pronunciation: that of the u was a dilemma from which there was no escaping: I rather think that of the two evils Dr Russel chose the least: still to be reduced to say fu′gax su′mus &cæ, like the common herd, when for the express & sole purpose of avoiding such false quantities his mode was produced, in a sort of “reductio ad absurdum.” Where one vowel comes before another, as in me′us di′u fu′it, he had no choice: here he had one; & by that which he made, so increased the number of what he himself avows & condemns as false quantities, that his

Mode of ter′es er′at an′us &cæ, had it been

good for any thing, would be good for nothing.

Believe me

Most truly your’s

U Price

As I do not hear of any private conveyance I shall send this by the Mail to be left at the Feathers to the care of Mr Taylor: [10] it will go on Wednesday next.

Addressed and franked on integral page: Hereford February eighteen / 1827 / Miss Barrett / Hope End / Ledbury / Robert Price.

Publication: None traced.

Manuscript: Armstrong Browning Library.

1. “In the story’s midst, and not otherwise known” (Horace, De Arte Poetica, 148–149).

2. “Back to back.”

3. “Face to face, one to the other.”

4. “As by the stroke of Father Zeus a tree is uprooted, and there comes the terrible smell of sulphur” (Iliad, XIV, 414–415).

5. Price has inserted the following note at the foot of the page: “I find that in the present practice they say δεινη δε tho’ δε is not an enclitic, & only make a second amphibrach; θεειŏυ being a third in succession.”

6. “But the boy shrank back into the bosom of his fair-girdled nurse” (Iliad, VI, 467–468). Astyanax, the son of Hector and Andromache, was thrown to his death from the walls of Troy.

7. “With downcast face, she spoke with quiet voice” (Æneid, III, 320).

8. “He is a homeless, lawless outcast” (Iliad IX, 63).

9. “We, worthless souls, a crowd unburied and unwept” (Æneid, XI, 372). Drances, the enemy of Turnus, goaded Turnus to engage in single combat with Æneas, who killed him with a sword-thrust through the throat.

10. Luke Taylor kept the Feathers Inn, Ledbury.


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