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An example in assonance from our Irish ballad :
Oh! the groves of Blarney,
They are so charming,
And the banks of roses,
That spontaneous grow there,
A further example from the Spanish :
Aquardate dixo el pavo
Que eros negro y feo. Although the harmonious effect of placing the word with a similar sound at the end of a line or couplet has rendered that form of poetry most general, yet the reverse has been the plan sometimes adopted, and the consonance has been produced in the first or other words in the line, as in the well-known Latin production of the Middle Ages, the Pugna Porcorum per Publium Porcium Poetam, the first lines of which run thus :
Propterea properans proconsul, poplite prono,
At other times the first letter of the first word has been repeated throughout a canto, or section of the poem, and then another taken up, and so on.
We have a remarkable example of this latter method in the original Hebrew of the 119th Psalm. Here the sacred poet selected the letters of the Hebrew alphabet
as what we may term key-notes, and repeated eight verses in succession with the same initial letter, and then passed to another. Whilst referring to this psalm we may also instance it as an example of that recurrence of ideas which formed a substitute for metre in Hebrew poetry.
Having, up to this, occupied your attention in tracing the general principles and universality of alliteration, we shall now direct our inquiries to that period of our own history in which it constituted a characteristic feature of the poetry of the day.
The world's history, carefully analysed, shows that impulsive waves of development in arts, science, politics, and literature, have been found to prevail at intervals throughout its progress. We are at this moment, and have for the last fifty years, been borne along upon the crest of one of no ordinary magnitude and scope. We point with wonder and astonishment to the progress made in the portion of this century already passed; but if we look back to other periods, we find instances as striking, and waves more sweeping and astounding in their magnitude and grandeur. Although we shall subsequently have to deal with the early Saxon era, it suits our present purpose to dwell for a moment upon one of those historic waves, in the contemplation of that period of our history, which embraced about a century and a-half, commencing exactly six hundred years
from this date. The third Henry, feeble and incapable, nominally filled the throne of England in 1265. Turbulence and disaffection prevailed to such an extent that Leicester
and his committee of peers exercised the regal authority. They, in this year, laid the foundation of one of the greatest institutions that ever the ingenuity of man devised—the British House of Commons, by summoning the representatives of counties, cities, and boroughs, to meet the barons in a great council of the nation.
Strange to say, the fact of this being the sixth centenary anniversary of the formation of the House of Commons appears to have attracted no notice.
Many circumstances had led to the great intestine movement in the people that helped to call forth the swelling wave; but none had proved more potent in its influence than the Crusades. For nearly two hundred years, commencing in 1095, this extraordinary series of fanatic invasions had been persisted in, rendering the Crusaders the carriers of knowledge and civilization into Northern and Western Europe.
That a tone was getting up amongst the Anglo-Saxon population, for some time, to eschew the prevalent habit of using the language of their Norman invaders—which had become so general among the upper
classes and to recur to their native language, is quite evident from Robert of Gloucester's chronicle, written about the year 1297, in which, in the same breath, he condemns the ignorance of those who could not speak French, and taunts his fellow-countrymen for being ignorant of their own language. The Saxon language had been gradually invaded, or more or less displaced, from the period of the Norman invasion; but more than that, it had been following the natural laws of decay and death, like the laws of matter, to break forth into new combi
nations, the result of new affinities, rising ever higher in the scale of development.
It would occupy an exclusive lecture to deal with the transition of the Saxon in its subsequent changes, from the addition of the Latin, Romance, and other elements; its conversion into Anglo-Saxon, and eventually into English. Suffice it to say, that throughout these transitions we find the taste for alliteration steadily persisted in, despite the temptation to adopt the metrical romance. Its thorough establishment, maintained to an extent that constituted it a school of poetry, carried into a system under their management, together with its general adoption by them, rendered it the especial property of the Anglo-Saxon and English people, at the time of its prevalence, as it is now theirs by the rights of the history of literature.
Whatever doubt may exist on the vexed question of the laws of Anglo-Saxon metre, one conclusion has been arrived at by all authorities--namely, that in it the lines are associated together in couplets by the alliteration ; and, when most perfect, that this system contains three recurrences of the same initial letter two in the former, the third in the latter line of the couplet. Two such recurrences, one in each line, are however held sufficient.
If the alliteral initials are consonants, absolute identity is required, but, if vowels, every one is regarded as equivalent. The Saxon ode on the victory of Athelstane affords an example :
The Scottish people
Gewiton hym Northmen
The Northmen departed
The same alliterative system prevailed for centuries, from the earliest historic times, in both the Islandic and early Teutonic languages, but is not traceable in the oldest specimens of Celtic poetry. It formed, however, an essential feature in the Irish poetry of the ninth and following centuries. The following is a specimen from an Irish historical poem :
Bo connarb a Bhrathair Bras
Go roinn Feaghnach Follindain. Later still, in the twelfth century, the English and Welsh were so fond of this figure of speech, which Giraldus Cambrensis calls “ Annominatio," that they deemed no “composition to be elegant, or other than rude and barbarous, in which it was not plentifully employed.” To such a pitch was this carried, and so great were the refinements introduced, that it is even difficult, unless prepared to expect it, to detect the alliteration in the construction of the verses. I