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Typo: A Monthly Newspaper and Literary Review, Volume 4

Verse Deafness

page 24

Verse Deafness.

Writing of Mr Mansfield's representation of Richard III, Mr W. Archer says: « Close observation has convinced me that there exists a disease of verse-deafness, analogous to color-blindness, and far more common. Thousands of estimable people go through life, and even literary life, in the full conviction that they have all the normal faculties about them, yet are ignorant to the last of what English blank verse really is. They have have a sincere love for poetry; the roll of a Miltonic period may give them very genuine pleasure; but they have no notion of the strict laws governing the collocation of the syllables, and distinguishing the imperial march of Milton's verse from the democratic go-as-you-please movement of Walt Whitman's rhythms. And of these thousands a large percentage drifts towards the stage, either as actors or as 'poetic' dramatists. A playwright once read me a romantic drama, apologising before he began for having written it in blank verse. When it was over I had to assure him that the apology was unnecessary, for there was scarcely a line of any known measure in the entire composition. The poet's verse-deafness was almost complete. So simple is the structure of blank verse that even the deafest, if they would but try, could quickly master it by the rule of thumb. It is an 'excellent mystery,' indeed, but scarcely, if at all, mysterious. Of course it needs a cultivated sense to note the the shades that differentiate a good verse from a bad; but mere correctness depends not on opinion but on rule. »

Mr Archer is perfectly right, except, perhaps in applying the term « disease » to a mere absence of faculty. For instance, a person with « no ear » for music, may have the sense of hearing perfectly sound and even exceptionally acute. The total absence of « an » ear for ordered measure is a puzzling deficiency to those who possess the faculty; it is often lamentably absent in writers of verse. One who is not « verse-deaf » has no more need to count the syllables in a line to detect a false quantity, than a proof-reader would to spell a familiar word letter by letter. Mr Archer might have mentioned « rhyme-deafness » as well as « rhythm-deafness. » They are both admirably illustrated in the following published in the British Journal of Photography a few months ago, as samples of fourteen stanzas sent to the editor by a contributor who imagined that he could write poetry:

Printing takes only one-third the time
Than the process of albumen fame;
The advantage above all,
Ease in working I should call.
Results so fine which will last
In their kind quite unsurpassed!
The Hackney Photo Club can't miss
In all its stages to discuss.

People afflicted with this malady are responsible for one of the minor but exasperating trials with which editors have to contend.

A wonder of modern journalism is the new London Daily Graphic—sixteen pages demy, profusely illustrated, for one penny! Much thought and long preparation has been bestowed on the details, and the paper is a grand success from the start. The rapidly-produced process-blocks of course do not compare with the fine woodcuts of the weekly, but they are wonderfully good, and admirably printed.