Reference > Cambridge History > The Period of the French Revolution > The Prosody of the Eighteenth Century > Mitford
  John Mason Cowper  


The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XI. The Period of the French Revolution.

XI. The Prosody of the Eighteenth Century.

§ 12. Mitford.

In the case of Mitford, also, musical considerations and musical methods 4  stand rather where they should not, assisted by some superfluous considerations of abstract phonetics; but here, also, they do little harm. And, here (at least in the second edition of his work), there is what is not in Mason, what is not in any other prosodist of the eighteenth century except Gray, and only fragmentarily in him, a regular survey of actual English poetry from the time that its elements came together. Even now, more than a century after the second edition and nearly a century and a half after the first, this indispensable basis for prosodic enquiry has been provided in scarcely more than two other books on the subject. His is, of course, partial and not always sufficiently informed; though it is most usefully supplemented by enquiries into metre as it exists outside English in both ancient and modern languages. He dwelt too much on accent; he confused vowel and syllabic quantity; and he allowed extra-metrical syllables—a constant indication of something wrong in the system, which, in his case, was probably brought about partly by his musical ideas, and partly by the syllabic mania of the time still existing in him. But he constantly comes right in result, even when the right-coming is not quite easy to reconcile with some of his principles; and there is no doubt that this is mainly due to his study of English poetry at various times and of English poetry in comparison with ancient and modern examples in other tongues.   19

Note 4. Little room as there is here for quotations, two sentences of his book, 2nd edn., p. III, should be given, inasmuch as they put briefly and in Mitford’s clear and intelligible language the source of myriad confusions at that time and since:

“Five bars are perhaps never found forming an integral portion of an air or tune. The divisions of modern musical air run mostly in two or rather four bars, and multiplications of four.”

Nothing more should be necessary for showing to anyone acquainted with actual English poetry, that its laws, though they may, in part, coincide with, are essentially independent of, those of modern music. [ back ]

  John Mason Cowper  

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