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Of the Affinity between certain English and Italian Verses - Adam Smith, Glasgow Edition of the Works and Correspondence Vol. 3 Essays on Philosophical Subjects 
Essays on Philosophical Subjects, ed. W. P. D. Wightman and J. C. Bryce, vol. III of the Glasgow Edition of the Works and Correspondence of Adam Smith (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1982).
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Of the Affinity between certain English and Italian Verses
The composition of this essay can be dated c. 1782. A fragmentary first draft in Adam Smith’s hand survives among the Bannerman MSS.—Glasgow University Library MS. Gen. 1035(v)—written on a folded sheet whose watermark, T FRENCH, is not known to occur before 1780.1 On 17 March 1783 Smith wrote from Edinburgh to Lady Frances Scott thanking her for returning him his ‘paper upon Italian and English Verse’ and renewing a promise to send her ‘a more perfect copy as soon as he has compleated his plan’. The other business which, he says, will prevent this completion for some time—presumably the preparation of the new materials for the third edition of the Wealth of Nations—would not leave Smith free to rewrite this essay, if he ever did, until after 1784.
The critical background of the essay is established by the illustration used in § 11. In 1738 Samuel Say (1676–1743),2 a dissenting minister and minor poet, wrote ‘An Essay on The Harmony, Variety, and Power of Numbers, Whether in Prose or Verse’, in which he attacked the statement made by Edward Bysshe in his Art of English Poetry (1702) that English metre is based simply on the counting of syllables. To show that it is primarily a matter of stresses or accents and not syllables Say made up the couplet
adapted from a line he claimed to have seen in a Chaucer manuscript—
And mány̆ ă Rīme, ănd mány̆ ă Léchĕroŭs Lāy,
and one from The Faerie Queene, IV.vii.8—
Whĭch mány̆ ă Knīght hăd sōūght, sŏ mány̆ ă Dāy.
His demonstration of the absurdity of scanning the lines as decasyllables by eliding certain vowels led to the frequent quotation and adaptation of his couplet, usually as in Smith’s case without acknowledgement, by later prosodists. We find it in for instance John Mason’s Essay on the Power of Numbers and the Principles of Harmony in Poetical Compositions (1749, 27); Thomas Sheridan’s Lectures on the Art of Reading (1775, ii.4, 86–91); and John Rice’s Introduction to the Art of Reading with Energy and Propriety (1765, 112). James Beattie was using it in the Aberdeen lectures on rhetoric which later appeared as The Theory of Language (1783, 279–80).
That Smith’s essay was at once seen to belong to this tradition in prosodic debate is shown by Pierre Prevost’s note to his translation of it in 1797 (Essais philosophiques, ii.142–5): the affinity between English and Italian verse is their accentual basis, as distinct from the quantitative basis of Latin and Greek verse and the syllabic basis of French. The point was made by Henry Pemberton in 1738 (Observations on Poetry, 125–6):
Trissino, a famous Italian poet, and an early writer on the measures of their verse, lays down this rule; that as the ancient feet were determined by the quantity of the syllables only, in his language they are determined by the accent. This is equally true in our tongue, and for this reason, that whereas the ancient accent is represented to be only a variation in the tone of the voice . . . ours is constantly attended with an emphasis . . .
The passage was quoted by John Mason (11 n.) and became influential. Jean–François Marmontel observed in his Poëtique françoise (1763; i.269) that English and Italian verse share a freedom in the placing of the pause—after the fourth, fifth, or sixth syllables—but he defends the rigidity of French practice in this; and his note was incorporated (with a denial of French superiority) in the Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres which Hugh Blair eventually published in 1783 (Lect. 38:ii.328) after many years of reading them in the University of Edinburgh. (Blair finds a pause after the seventh syllable most striking.) Monboddo included in his Of the Origin and Progress of Language (1787, iv.148 f.) a comparison of English and Italian methods in verse and a claim that they were both superior to French in variety. There is a brief application of Italian metrical terminology (verso sdrucciolo) to the opening lines of Rowe’s Fair Penitent in Joseph Baretti’s Dictionary of the English and Italian Languages (1760, xxxii); but this was justly criticized by William Mitford (An Essay upon the Harmony of Language, 1774, 187) for its insensitivity to the movement of English verse.
The immediate inspiration of Smith’s essay was an unsigned article entitled ‘Réflexions sur le Méchanisme de la Versification Italienne, Angloise et Allemande’ contributed by the Marquis François–Jean de Chastellux (1734–88) to the Journal étranger for June 1760 (Paris: 1–58). ‘Le vers Italien et le vers Anglois ont une analogie frappante’ (10): they are founded on the prosody of their languages and on the value (not merely the number) of the syllables (36). The affinity is worked out, as by Smith, in terms of the placing of accent and of pause, of elision, of the varieties of rhyme etc. in Heroic Verse of the two languages. Most significantly, the essayists share a misinterpretation of the term verso cadente—i.e. verse which ‘falls away’ at the close in unaccented syllables—as synonymous with verso tronco, i.e. verse ending in an accented syllable (op. cit., 14; Smith, § 9). Chastellux repeats the misuse of the terms in a long footnote to his Essai sur l’union de la poésie et de la musique (1765, 64–6)—a note which probably sent Smith to the 1760 article. Chastellux imagines verso cadente as making us hear ‘une espèce de chûte, . . . de résonnance dure’ (Essai, 67). The work of Chastellux, which may have afforded hints for the treatment of poetry set to music in the essay on the Imitative Arts, suggests that this prosodic discussion had links with the lively controversy begun by Rousseau’s Lettre sur la musique françoise (1753) as to the relative suitability of Italian and French for opera. Incidentally Chastellux, unlike Smith, acknowledges indebtedness to Johnson on the subject of the pause: ‘M. Rambler est le seul auteur que je connoisse qui en ait parlé’ (‘Réflexions’, 47).3
Adam Smith’s interest in Italian literature dated from his Oxford days (Stewart, I. 10), and the fact that in 1781 his library4 included the works of all the principal Italian poets—heroic, lyric, burlesque, dramatic—from Dante and Petrarch to his own day shows that he shared the catholic tastes of his Scottish contemporaries in this field of ‘polite letters’. Perhaps the essay on verse (born of the same interest in the workings of rhythm as the essay on the Imitative Arts) would have found a place in the ‘Philosophical History of all the different branches of Literature, of Philosophy, Poetry and Eloquence’ which in 1785 he was still hoping to write.5 As it stands it cannot be said to advance or to clarify its subject; and it is difficult to believe that its repetitions, its confusions (e.g. of phonetic and orthographic accents, §§ 19–20), and its obscurities (e.g. § 18) would have survived a revision. But it throws valuable light on Smith’s familiarity with some of the critical discussions of his day.
of THE AFFINITY between certain ENGLISH and ITALIAN VERSES
The measure of the verses, of which the octave1 of the Italians, their terzetti, and the greater part of their sonnets, are composed, seems to be as nearly the same with that of the English Heroic Rhyme, as the different genius and pronunciation of the two languages will permit.
The English Heroic Rhyme is supposed to consist sometimes of ten, and sometimes of eleven syllables: of ten, when the verse ends with a single; and of eleven, when it ends with a double rhyme.
The correspondent Italian verse is supposed to consist sometimes of ten, sometimes of eleven, and sometimes of twelve syllables, according as it happens to end with a single, a double, or a triple rhyme.
The rhyme ought naturally to fall upon the last syllable of the verse; it is proper likewise that it should fall upon an accented syllable, in order to render it more sensible. When, therefore, the accent happens to fall, not upon the last syllable, but upon that immediately before it, the rhyme must fall both upon the accented syllable and upon that which is not accented. It must be a double rhyme.
In the Italian language, when the accent falls neither upon the last syllable, nor upon that immediately before it, but upon the third syllable from the end, the rhyme must fall upon all the three. It must be a triple rhyme, and the verse is supposed to consist of twelve syllables:
Triple rhymes are not admitted into English Heroic Verse.
In the Italian language the accent falls much more rarely, either upon the third syllable from the end of a word, or upon the last syllable, than it does upon the one immediately before the last. In reality, this second syllable from the end seems, in that language, to be its most common and natural place. The Italian Heroic Poetry, therefore, is composed principally of double rhymes, or of verses supposed to consist of eleven syllables. Triple rhymes occur but seldom, and single rhymes still more seldom.
In the English language the accent falls frequently upon the last syllable of the word. Our language, besides, abounds in words of one syllable, the greater part of which do (for there are few which do not) admit of being accented. Words of one syllable are most frequently the concluding words of English rhymes. For both these reasons, English Heroic Rhyme is principally composed of single rhymes, or of verses supposed to consist of ten syllables. Double Rhymes occur almost as rarely in it, as either single or triple do in the Italian.
The rarity of double rhymes in English Heroic Verse makes them appear odd, and aukward, and even ludicrous, when they occur. By the best writers, therefore, they are reserved for light and ludicrous occasions; when, in order to humour their subject, they stoop to a more familiar style than usual. When Mr. Pope says;3
he means, in compliance with his subject, to condescend a good deal below the stateliness of his diction in the Essay on Man. Double rhymes abound more in Dryden than in Pope, and in Hudibras more than in Dryden.
The rarity both of single and of triple rhyme in Italian Heroic Verse, gives them the same odd and ludicrous air which double rhymes have in English Verse. In Italian, triple rhymes occur more frequently than single rhymes. The slippery, or if I may be allowed to use a very low, but a very expressive word, the glib pronunciation of the triple rhyme (verso sdrucciolo4) seems to depart less from the ordinary movement of the double rhyme, than the abrupt ending of the single rhyme (verso tronco e cadente5) of the verse that appears to be cut off, and to fall short of the usual measure. Single rhymes accordingly appear in Italian verse much more burlesque than triple rhymes. Single rhymes occur very rarely in Ariosto; but frequently in the more burlesque poem of Ricciardetto.6 Triple rhymes occur much oftener in all the best writers. It is thus, that what in English appears to be the verse of the greatest gravity and dignity, appears in Italian to be the most burlesque and ludicrous; for no other reason, I apprehend, but because in the one language it is the ordinary verse, whereas in the other it departs the most from the movement of the ordinary verse.
The common Italian Heroic Poetry being composed of double rhymes, it can admit both of single and of triple rhymes; which seem to recede from the common movement on opposite sides to nearly equal distances. The common English Heroic Poetry, consisting of single rhymes, it can admit of double; but it cannot admit of triple rhymes, which would recede so far from the common movements as to appear perfectly burlesque and ridiculous. In English, when a word accented upon the third syllable from the end happens to make the last word of a verse, the rhyme falls upon the last syllable only. It is a single rhyme, and the verse consists of no more than ten syllables: but as the last syllable is not accented, it is an imperfect rhyme, which, however, when confined to the second verse of the couplet, and even there introduced but rarely, may have a very agreeable grace, and the line may even seem to run more easy and natural by means of it:
When by a well accented syllable in the end of the first line of a couplet, it has once been clearly ascertained what the rhyme is to be, a very slight allusion to it, such as can be made by a syllable of the same termination that is not accented, may often be sufficient to mark the coincidence in the second line; a word of this kind in the end of the first line seldom succeeds so well:
A couplet in which both verses were terminated in this manner, would be extremely disagreeable and offensive.
In counting the syllables, even of verses which to the ear appear sufficiently correct, a considerable indulgence must frequently be given, before they can, in either language, be reduced to the precise number of ten, eleven, or twelve, according to the nature of the rhyme. In the following couplet, for example, there are, strictly speaking, fourteen syllables in the first line, and twelve in the second.
By the rapidity, however, or, if I may use a very low word a second time, by the glibness of the pronunciation, those fourteen syllables in the first line, and those twelve in the second, appear to take up the time but of ten ordinary syllables. The words many a, though they plainly consist of three distinct syllables, or sounds, which are all pronounced successively, or the one after the other, yet pass as but two syllables; as do likewise these words hŭmoǔroǔs and amorous. The words heaven and given, in the same manner, consist each of them of two syllables, which, how rapidly soever they may be pronounced, cannot be pronounced but successively, or the one after the other. In verse, however, they are considered as consisting but of one syllable each.
In counting the syllables of the Italian Heroic Verse, still greater indulgences must be allowed: three vowels must there frequently be counted as making but one syllable, though they are all pronounced, rapidly indeed, but in succession, or the one after the other, and though no two of them are supposed to make a dipththong. In these licences too, the Italians seem not to be very regular, and the same concourse of vowels which in one place makes but one syllable, will in another sometimes make two. There are even some words which in the end of a verse are constantly counted for two syllables, but which in any other part of it are never counted for more than one; such as suo, tuo, suoi, tuoi.
Ruscelli10 observes, that in the Italian Heroic Verse the accent ought to fall upon the fourth, the sixth, the eighth, and the tenth syllables; and that if it falls upon the third, the fifth, the seventh, or the ninth syllables, it spoils the verse.
In English, if the accent falls upon any of the above–mentioned odd syllables, it equally11 spoils the verse.
though a line of Milton has not the ordinary movement of an English Heroic Verse, the accent falls upon the third and fifth syllables.
In Italian frequently, and in English sometimes, an accent is with great grace thrown upon the first syllable: in which case it seldom happens that any other syllable is accented before the fourth:
Both in English and in Italian the second syllable may be accented with great grace, and it generally is so when the first syllable is not accented:
Both in English and in Italian Verse, an accent, though it must never be misplaced, may sometimes be omitted with great grace. In the last of the above–quoted English Verses there is no accent upon the eighth syllable; the conjunction and not admitting of any. In the following Italian Verse there is no accent upon the sixth syllable:
The preposition18di will as little admit of an accent as the conjunction and. In this case, however, when the even syllable is not accented, neither of the odd syllables immediately before or behind it must be accented.
Neither in English nor in Italian can two accents running be omitted.
It must be observed, that in Italian there are two accents, the grave and the acute: the grave accent is always marked by a slight stroke over the syllable to which it belongs; the acute accent has no mark.
The English language knows no distinction between the grave and the acute accents.
The same author observes, that in the Italian Verse the Pause, or what the grammarians call the Cesura, may with propriety be introduced after the third, the fourth, the fifth, the sixth, or the seventh syllables. The like observations have been made by several different writers upon the English Heroic Verse. Dobie admires particularly the verse in which there are two pauses; one after the fifth, and another after the ninth syllable. The example he gives is from Petrarch:
In this verse, the second pause, which he says comes after the ninth syllable, in reality comes in between the two vowels, which, in the Italian way of counting syllables, compose the ninth syllable. It may be doubtful, therefore, whether this pause may not be considered as coming after the eighth syllable. I do not recollect any good English Verse in which the pause comes in after the ninth syllable. We have many in which it comes in after the eighth:
In which verse there are two pauses; one after the second, and the other after the eighth syllable. I have observed many Italian Verses in which the pause comes after the second syllable.
Both the English and the Italian Heroic Verse, perhaps, are not so properly composed of a certain number of syllables, which vary according to the nature of the rhyme; as of a certain number of intervals, (of five invariably,) each of which is equal in length, or time,21 to two ordinary distinct syllables, though it may sometimes contain more, of which the extraordinary shortness compensates the extraordinary number. The close frequently of each of those intervals, but always of every second interval, is marked by a distinct accent. This accent may frequently, with great grace, fall upon the beginning of the first interval; after which, it cannot, without spoiling the verse, fall any where but upon the close of an interval. The syllable or syllables which come after the accent that closes the fifth interval are never accented. They make no distinct interval, but are considered as a sort of excrescence of the verse, and are in a manner counted for nothing.22
[1 ]W. A. Churchill, Watermarks in paper . . . 17th and 18th centuries (1935), 50 and watermark 144. The letter of 1783 (No. 225) has been pointed out by Prof. A. S. Skinner.
[2 ]Say’s essay was published posthumously, with a second on Milton’s prosody, in his Poems on Several Occasions (1745): reference to pp. 131–2. It was reprinted with introduction by Paul Fussell in 1955: Augustan Reprint Society Publications 55 (University of California, Los Angeles). Paul Fussell’s Theory of Prosody in Eighteenth Century England (1954) surveys the subject.
[3 ]Only one verse example is common to Chastellux and Smith: the first line of the Gerusalemme Liberata, which Chastellux uses several times. Both read l’arme for l’armi. Smith had a copy of the 1765 Essai.
[4 ]See H. Mizuta, Adam Smith’s Library, a supplement to J. Bonar’s Catalogue (1967).
[5 ]Letter 248 addressed to Le Duc de La Rochefoucauld, dated 1 November 1785.
[1 ]Octave: ottava rima, abababcc. Terzetti: terza rima, the metre of the Divina Commedia, rhyming aba bcb cdc . . . English Heroic Rhyme: pentameters rhyming in couplets.
[2 ]Ariosto, Orlando Furioso, i.56.1. Read ‘. . . ma non però credibile’.
[3 ]Pope, Essay on Man, iv.203–4. Read ‘prunella’.
[4 ]All edd. (except Basel 1799) follow 1795 in misprinting as ‘sotrucciolo’; Pierre Prevost’s French translation (1797) has ‘strudciolo’. ‘Slippery’ is a correct rendering.
[5 ]A misunderstanding: tronco describes single or monosyllabic rhyme, cadente disyllabic or ‘falling’ rhyme (not ‘falling short of . . .’).
[6 ]Ricciardetto, a burlesque chivalric epic by Niccolò Forteguerri (1674–1735) in thirty cantos, very popular in the mid–eighteenth century and translated into French in 1766 as Richardet. It was published in Venice (not ‘Parigi’) in 1738 as by ‘Niccolò Carteromaco’.
[7 ]Pope, Essay on Man, i.29–30. Read ‘strong connections’. Quoted (correctly) by Kames, Elements of Criticism (1762), chap. xviii, sect. 4, on versification.
[8 ]Dryden, Absalom and Achitophel, 85–6.
[9 ]On Samuel Say’s couplet see the editor’s Introduction. The last two syllables of ‘humorous’ should have the breve, not the first.
[10 ]Girolamo Ruscelli (d. 1566), whose Del modo di comporre in versi nella lingua italiana (1559) enjoyed immense popularity because of its rimario or rhyming dictionary and was still in print at the end of the eighteenth century. The above metrical topics are treated in chapters iii–v, pp. xlviii–lxxxvi.
[11 ]1795 has ‘syllables it, qually’; corrected in Dublin 1795 ed.
[12 ]1795 has ‘blasts./ Though’. Pierre Prevost (1797) renders the sense correctly; and Essays (1869), 471, emends the punctuation as above. The line is Paradise Regained, iv.418. The whole storm passage is quoted and its metrics discussed by Samuel Say in his essay ‘On the Numbers of Paradise Lost’, in Poems on Several Occasions (1745), 166, with emphasis on this line.
[13 ]Tasso, Gerusalemme Liberata, i.1. Read ‘armi’.
[14 ]Pope, Pastorals—Spring, 1.
[15 ]Tasso, ibid.
[16 ]Pope, Essay on Man, i.3–4.
[17 ]Tasso, ibid. (st.2).
[18 ]1795 has ‘proposition’; corrected in Dublin 1795 ed.
[19 ]Petrarch, Rime, xxiii.1. Ruscelli (‘the same author’) quotes the line to identify a canzone which exemplifies one of his types: op. cit., cxxxiii. Dobie has not been identified. On disposition of pauses see for example Johnson, Rambler, 90, 26 Jan. 1751; The Beauties of Poetry Display’d (1757), i.xxvii ff.; J. Rice, Introd. to the Art of Reading (1765), 155; S. Say (see the editor’s Introduction), 136.
[20 ]Gray, Progress of Poesy, 118. Smith thought Gray’s Odes ‘the standard of lyric excellence’ (report by ‘Amicus’, The Bee or Literary Weekly Intelligencer, iii (Edinburgh, 1791), 6). Cf. TMS III.ii.19; LRBL ii.96 (ed. Lothian, 123).
[21 ]This passage echoes the Essai by Chastellux (see the editor’s Introduction), 79n., where short syllables ‘ne valent qu’un tems’. They are isochrone.
[22 ]Chastellux several times says that these syllables ‘ne sont comptées pour rien’ (Essai, 64,66).