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[295] he calls ‘a remarkably anomalous line, consisting of twelve or even thirteen syllables.’ Surely Milton's ear would never have tolerated a dissyllabic ‘spirit’ in such a position. The word was then more commonly of one syllable, though it might be two, and was accordingly spelt spreet (still surviving in sprite), sprit, and even spirt, as Milton himself spells it in one of Mr. Masson's facsimiles.1 Shakespeare, in the verse

Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,

uses the word admirably well in a position where it cannot have a metrical value of more than one syllable, while it gives a dancing movement to the verse in keeping with the sense. Our old metrists were careful of elasticity, a quality which modern verse has lost in proportion as our language has stiffened into uniformity under the benumbing fingers of pedants.

This discussion of the value of syllables is not so trifling as it seems. A great deal of nonsense has been written about imperfect measures in Shakespeare, and of the admirable dramatic effect produced by filling up the gaps of missing syllables with pauses or prolongations of the voice in reading. In rapid, abrupt, and passionate dialogue this is possible, but in passages of continuously level speech it is barbarously absurd. I do not believe that any of our old dramatists has knowingly left us a single imperfect verse. Seeing in what a haphazard way and in how mutilated a form their plays have mostly reached us, we should attribute such faults (as a geologist would call them) to anything rather than to the deliberate design of the poets. Marlowe and Shakespeare, the two best metrists among them, have given us a standard by which to measure what licenses they took in versification,— the one in his translations,

1 So spirito and spirto in Italian, esperis and espirs in Old French.

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