Saturday, May 7, 2011

"The rudiments of Paradise"

More stuff from Saintsbury's History of English Prose Rhythm. (Prev. remarks here.)

Robert South on Paradise (proto-Augustan style, re "sin and time" cf. Auden's "time and fevers"):
All those arts, rarities, and inventions, which vulgar minds gaze at, the ingenious pursue, and all admire, are but the relics of an intellect defaced with sin and time. We admire it now, only as antiquaries do a piece of old coin, for the stamp it once bore, and not for those vanishing lineaments and disappearing draughts that remain upon it at present. And certainly, that must needs have been very glorious, the decays of which are so admirable. He that is comely, when old and decrepit, surely was very beautiful when he was young. An ARISTOTLE was but the rubbish of an ADAM, and Athens but the rudiments of Paradise.

Abraham Cowley on solitude ("plain style" approaching chattiness):
The First Minister of State has not so much business in public as a wise man has in private; if the one have little leisure to be alone, the other has less leisure to be in company; the one has but part of the affairs of one nation, the other all the works of God and nature under his consideration. There is no saying shocks me so much as that which I hear very often, "That a man does not know how to pass his time."

Coleridge, in Anima Poetae, trying to get past the antitheses of Augustan prose (the "return of rhythm" in Saintsbury's rather questionable typology):
The thin scattered rain-clouds were scudding along the sky; above them, with a visible interspace, the crescent moon hung, and partook not of the motion; her own hazy light filled up the concave, as if it had been painted and the colors had run. 

(Everything that is good and worthwhile in Coleridge or Wordsworth is bleak; pace Larkin, deprivation was for Wordsworth what daffodils are sometimes supposed to have been.)

More from Anima Poetae. Saintsbury is overly indulgent to this entry:
Leaves of trees upturned by the stirring wind in twilight, -- an image of paleness, wan affright.

Structurally it is not entirely unrelated to Pound's metro poem. I think it is rather bad, on the whole, because I find "leaves of trees" cheap and redundant, and the rhyme annoying, but Saintsbury's real point -- that omitting the conjunction gives the passage a distinctly and pleasantly un-Augustan feel, of a kind the Romantics would continue to exploit -- is valid.

Coleridge's throwaway lines and diary entries are sometimes extraordinarily tantalizing, consider this one (not quoted in Saintsbury):
Analyze the causes that the ludicrous weakens memory, and laughter, mechanically, makes it difficult to remember a good story.


In general, as I remarked earlier, Saintsbury seems to me far too cavalier about the constraints imposed by meaning; for instance he quotes the Coleridge passages above after a string of excerpts from Gibbon and Johnson -- he anticipates the objection that most of his so-called "rhythmical revival" is simply a revival of descriptive prose, and of the diffuse at the expense of the crisp, but doesn't really answer it except to say that it's ipso facto good for prose to have complex harmonies.

(Topic for another post: scattered protestations aside this book does very little, directly, to counter one's naive belief that stylistic elaboration is possible and non-distracting only to the extent that the subject matter is already familiar to readers. Jeremy Taylor is explicitly an example of this. If granted, this has the corollary that useful prose is never particularly good. The main counterexamples appear to be Hobbes (clever arrangement of clauses) and Gibbon (musical use of foreign names) -- one could do both, I think, in scientific discourse. Ancient prose could be expository and beautiful because the ancients had so little to expound. (But what about Tacitus?))

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