Nonfiction > G. Gregory Smith, ed. > Elizabethan Critical Essays
G. Gregory Smith, ed.  Elizabethan Critical Essays.  1904.
George Gascoigne (d. 1577)
Certayne Notes of Instruction
[Gascoigne’s Certayne Notes of Instruction first appeared in the quarto edition of The Posies of George Gascoigne, Esquire, corrected, perfected, and augmented by the Author, London (Feb.) 1575, 1 and was reprinted in the Whole Woorkes (1587). The text is taken from the copy of the Posies in the Bodleian Library (Malone, 792), which is freely annotated in the handwriting of Gabriel Harvey (see notes passim). The Notes occupy five leaves, in black-letter (sig. Tij—Uij).]

Certayne Notes of Instruction Concerning the Making of Verse or Ryme in English, Written at the Request of Master Edouardo Donati.

Signor Edouardo, since promise is debt, and you (by the lawe of friendship) do burden me with a promise that I shoulde lende you instructions towards the making of English verse or ryme, I will assaye to discharge the same, though not so perfectly as I would, yet as readily as I may: and therwithall I pray you consider that Quot homines, tot Sententiae, especially in Poetrie, wherein (neuerthelesse) I dare not challenge any degree, and yet will I at your request aduenture to set downe my simple skill in such simple manner as I haue vsed, referring the same hereafter to the correction of the Laureate. And you shall haue it in these few poynts followyng.
  The first and most necessarie poynt that euer I founde meete to be considered in making of a delectable poeme is this, to grounde it upon some fine inuention. For it is not inough to roll in pleasant woordes, nor yet to thunder in Rym, Ram, Ruff by letter (quoth my master Chaucer), nor yet to abounde in apt vocables or epythetes, vnlesse the Inuention haue in it also aliquid salis. By this aliquid salis I meane some good and fine deuise, shewing the quicke capacitie of a writer: and where I say some good and fine inuention I meane that I would haue it both fine and good. For many inuentions are so superfine that they are Vix good. And, againe, many Inuentions are good, and yet not finely handled. And for a general forwarning: what Theame soeuer you do take in hande, if you do handle it but tanquam in oratione perpetua, and neuer studie for some depth of deuise in the Inuention, and some figures also in the handlyng thereof, it will appeare to the skilfull Reader but a tale of a tubbe. To deliuer vnto you generall examples it were almoste vnpossible, sithence the occasions of Inuentions are (as it were) infinite; neuerthelesse, take in worth mine opinion, and perceyue my furder meanyng in these few poynts. If I should vndertake to wryte in prayse of a gentlewoman, I would neither praise hir christal eye, nor hir cherrie lippe, etc. For these things are trita et obuia. But I would either finde some supernaturall cause wherby my penne might walke in the superlatiue degree, or els I would vndertake to aunswere for any imperfection that shee hath, and therevpon rayse the prayse of hir commendacion. Likewise, if I should disclose my pretence in loue, I would eyther make a strange discourse of some intollerable passion, or finde occasion to pleade by the example of some historie, or discouer my disquiet in shadowes per Allegoriam, or vse the couertest meane that I could to auoyde the vncomely customes of common writers. Thus much I aduenture to deliuer vnto you (my freend) vpon the rule of Inuention, which of all other rules is most to be marked, and hardest to be prescribed in certayne and infallible rules; neuerthelesse, to conclude therein, I would haue you stand most vpon the excellencie of your Inuention, and sticke not to studie deepely for some fine deuise. For, that beyng founde, pleasant woordes will follow well inough and fast inough.  2
  2. Your Inuention being once deuised, take heede that neither pleasure of rime nor varietie of deuise do carie you from it: for as to vse obscure and darke phrases in a pleasant Sonet is nothing delectable, so to entermingle merie iests in a serious matter is an Indecorum.  3
  3. I will next aduise you that you hold the iust measure wherwith you begin your verse. I will not denie but this may seeme a preposterous ordre; but, bycause I couet rather to satisfie you particularly than to vndertake a generall tradition, I wil not somuch stand vpon the manner as the matter of my precepts. I say then, remember to holde the same measure wherwith you begin, whether it be in a verse of sixe syllables, eight, ten, twelue, etc.: and though this precept might seeme ridiculous vnto you, since euery yong scholler can conceiue that he ought to continue in the same measure wherwith he beginneth, yet do I see and read many mens Poems now adayes, whiche beginning with the measure of xij. in the first line, and xiiij. in the second (which is the common kinde of verse), they wil yet (by that time they haue passed ouer a few verses) fal into xiiij. and fourtene, et sic de similibus, the which is either forgetfulnes or carelesnes.  4
  4. And in your verses remembre to place euery worde in his natural Emphasis or sound, that is to say, in such wise, and with such length or shortnesse, eleuation or depression of sillables, as it is commonly pronounced or vsed. To expresse the same we haue three maner of accents, grauis, leuis, et circumflexa, the whiche I would english thus, the long accent, the short accent, and that whiche is indifferent: the graue accent is marked by this caracte [grave], the light accent is noted thus [acute], and the circumflexe or indifferent is thus signified [tilde]: the graue accent is drawen out or eleuate, and maketh that sillable long wherevpon it is placed; the light accent is depressed or snatched vp, and maketh that sillable short vpon the which it lighteth; the circumflexe accent is indifferent, sometimes short, sometimes long, sometimes depressed and sometimes eleuate. For example of th’ emphasis or natural sound of words, this word Treasure hath the graue accent vpon the first sillable; whereas if it shoulde be written in this sorte Treasúre, nowe were the second sillable long, and that were cleane contrarie to the common vse wherwith it is pronounced. For furder explanation hereof, note you that commonly now a dayes in English rimes (for I dare not cal them English verses) we vse none other order but a foote of two sillables, wherof the first is depressed or made short, and the second is eleuate or made long; and that sound or scanning continueth throughout the verse. We haue vsed in times past other kindes of Meeters, as for example this following:
  Also our father Chaucer hath vsed the same libertie in feete and measures that the Latinists do vse: and who so euer do peruse and well consider his workes, he shall finde that although his lines are not alwayes of one selfe same number of Syllables, yet, beyng redde by one that hath vnderstanding, the longest verse, and that which hath most Syllables in it, will fall (to the eare) correspondent vnto that whiche hath fewest sillables in it: and like wise that whiche hath in it fewest syllables shalbe founde yet to consist of woordes that haue suche naturall sounde, as may seeme equall in length to a verse which hath many moe sillables of lighter accentes. And surely I can lament that wee are fallen into suche a playne and simple manner of wryting, that there is none other foote vsed but one; wherby our Poemes may iustly be called Rithmes, and cannot by any right challenge the name of a Verse. But, since it is so, let vs take the forde as we finde it, and lette me set downe vnto you suche rules or precepts that euen in this playne foote of two syllables you wreste no woorde from his natural and vsuall sounde. I do not meane hereby that you may vse none other wordes but of twoo sillables, for therein you may vse discretion according to occasion of matter, but my meaning is, that all the wordes in your verse be so placed as the first sillable may sound short or be depressed, the second long or eleuate, the third shorte, the fourth long, the fifth shorte, etc. For example of my meaning in this point marke these two verses:
  In these two verses there seemeth no difference at all, since the one hath the very selfe same woordes that the other hath, and yet the latter verse is neyther true nor pleasant, and the first verse may passe the musters. The fault of the latter verse is that this worde vnderstand is therein so placed as the graue accent falleth upon der, and therby maketh der in this worde vnderstand to be eleuated; which is contrarie to the naturall or vsual pronunciation, for we say image27 and not image28  7
  5. Here by the way I thinke it not amisse to forewarne you that you thrust as few wordes of many sillables into your verse as may be: and herevnto I might alledge many reasons. First, the most auncient English wordes are of one sillable, so that the more monasyllables that you vse the truer Englishman you shall seeme, and the lesse you shall smell of the Inkehorne: Also wordes of many syllables do cloye a verse and make it vnpleasant, whereas woordes of one syllable will more easily fall to be shorte or long as occasion requireth, or wilbe adapted to become circumflexe or of an indifferent sounde.  8
  6. I would exhorte you also to beware of rime without reason: my meaning is hereby that your rime leade you not from your firste Inuention, for many wryters, when they haue layed the platforme of their inuention, are yet drawen sometimes (by ryme) to forget it or at least to alter it, as when they cannot readily finde out a worde whiche maye rime to the first (and yet continue their determinate Inuention) they do then eyther botche it vp with a worde that will ryme (howe small reason soeuer it carie with it), or els they alter their first worde and so percase decline or trouble their former Inuention: But do you alwayes hold your first determined Inuention, and do rather searche the bottome of your braynes for apte wordes than chaunge good reason for rumbling rime.  9
  7. To help you a little with ryme (which is also a plaine yong schollers lesson), worke thus: when you haue set downe your first verse, take the last worde thereof and coumpt ouer all the wordes of the selfe same sounde by order of the Alphabete: As, for example, the laste woorde of your firste line is care, to ryme therwith you haue bare, clare, dare, fare, gare, hare, and share, mare, snare, rare, stare, and ware, &c. Of all these take that which best may serue your purpose, carying reason with rime: and if none of them will serue so, then alter the laste worde of your former verse, but yet do not willingly alter the meanyng of your Inuention.  10
  8. You may vse the same Figures or Tropes in verse which are vsed in prose, and in my iudgement they serue more aptly and haue greater grace in verse than they haue in prose: but yet therein remembre this old adage, Ne quid nimis, as many wryters which do not know the vse of any other figure than that whiche is expressed in repeticion of sundrie wordes beginning all with one letter, the whiche (beyng modestly vsed) lendeth good grace to a verse, but they do so hunte a letter to death that they make it Crambe, and Crambe bis positum mors est: therfore Ne quid nimis.  11
  9. Also, asmuche as may be, eschew straunge words, or obsoleta et inusitata, vnlesse the Theame do giue iust occasion: marie, in some places a straunge worde doth drawe attentiue reading, but yet I woulde haue you therein to vse discretion.  12
  10. And asmuch as you may, frame your stile to perspicuity and to be sensible, for the haughty obscure verse doth not much delight, and the verse that is to easie is like a tale of a rosted horse; but let your Poeme be such as may both delight and draw attentiue readyng, and therewithal may deliuer such matter as be worth the marking.  13
  11. You shall do very well to vse your verse after thenglishe phrase, and not after the maner of other languages. The Latinists do commonly set the adiectiue after the Substantiue: As, for example, Femina pulchra, aedes altae, &c.; but if we should say in English a woman fayre, a house high, etc. it would haue but small grace, for we say a good man, and not a man good, etc. And yet I will not altogether forbidde it you, for in some places it may be borne, but not so hardly as some vse it which wryte thus:
Now let vs go to Temple ours.
I will go visit mother myne &c.
  Surely I smile at the simplicitie of such deuisers which might aswell haue sayde it in playne Englishe phrase, and yet haue better pleased all eares, than they satisfie their owne fancies by suche superfinesse. Therefore euen as I haue aduised you to place all wordes in their naturall or most common and vsuall pronunciation, so would I wishe you to frame all sentences in their mother phrase and proper Idióma; and yet sometimes (as I haue sayd before) the contrarie may be borne, but that is rather where rime enforceth, or per licentiam Poëticam, than it is otherwise lawfull or commendable.  15
  12. This poeticall licence is a shrewde fellow, and couereth many faults in a verse; it maketh wordes longer, shorter, of mo sillables, of fewer, newer, older, truer, falser; and, to conclude, it turkeneth all things at pleasure, for example, ydone for done, adowne for downe, orecome for ouercome, tane for taken, power for powre, heauen for heaun, thewes for good partes or good qualities, and a numbre of other, whiche were but tedious and needelesse to rehearse, since your owne iudgement and readyng will soone make you espie such aduauntages.  16
  13. There are also certayne pauses or restes in a verse, whiche may be called Ceasures, whereof I woulde be lothe to stande long, since it is at discretion of the wryter, and they haue bene first deuised (as should seeme) by the Musicians: but yet thus much I will aduenture to wryte, that in mine opinion in a verse of eight sillables the pause will stand best in the middest; in a verse of tenne it will best be placed at the ende of the first foure sillables; in a verse of twelue, in the midst; in verses of twelue in the firste and fouretene in the seconde wee place the pause commonly in the midst of the first, and at the ende of the first eight sillables in the second. In Rithme royall it is at the wryters discretion, and forceth not where the pause be vntill the ende of the line.  17
  14. And here, bycause I haue named Rithme royall, I will tell you also mine opinion aswell of that as of the names which other rymes haue commonly borne heretofore. Rythme royall is a verse of tenne sillables; and seuen such verses make a staffe, whereof the first and thirde lines do aunswer (acrosse) in like terminations and rime, the second, fourth, and fifth do likewise answere eche other in terminations, and the two last do combine and shut vp the Sentence: this hath bene called Rithme royall, and surely it is a royall kinde of verse, seruing best for graue discourses. There is also another kinde, called Ballade, and thereof are sundrie sortes: for a man may write ballade in a staffe of sixe lines, euery line conteyning eighte or sixe sillables, whereof the firste and third, second and fourth do rime acrosse, and the fifth and sixth do rime togither in conclusion. You may write also your ballad of tenne sillables, rimyng as before is declared; but these two were wont to be most commonly vsed in ballade, which propre name was (I thinke) deriued of this worde in Italian Ballare, whiche signifieth to daunce. And in deed those kinds of rimes serue beste for daunces or light matters. Then haue you also a rondlette, the which doth alwayes end with one self same foote or repeticion, and was thereof (in my iudgement) called a rondelet. This may consist of such measure as best liketh the wryter. Then haue you Sonnets: some thinke that all Poemes (being short) may be called Sonets, as in deede it is a diminutiue worde deriued of Sonare, but yet I can beste allowe to call those Sonnets whiche are of fouretene lynes, euery line conteyning tenne syllables. The firste twelue do ryme in staues of foure lines by crosse meetre, and the last two ryming togither do conclude the whole. There are Dyzaynes, and Syxaines, which are of ten lines, and of sixe lines, commonly vsed by the French, which some English writers do also terme by the name of Sonettes. Then is there an old kinde of Rithme called Ver layes, deriued (as I haue redde) of this worde Verd, whiche betokeneth Greene, and Laye, which betokeneth a Song, as if you would say greene Songes: but I muste tell you by the way that I neuer redde any verse which I saw by aucthoritie called Verlay but one, and that was a long discourse in verses of tenne sillables, whereof the foure first did ryme acrosse, and the fifth did aunswere to the firste and thirde, breaking off there, and so going on to another termination. Of this I could shewe example of imitation in mine own verses written to the right honorable the Lord Grey of Wilton upon my iourney into Holland, etc. There are also certaine Poemes deuised of tenne syllables, whereof the first aunswereth in termination with the fourth, and the second and thirde answere eche other: these are more vsed by other nations than by vs, neyther can I tell readily what name to giue them. And the commonest sort of verse which we vse now adayes (viz. the long verse of twelue and fourtene sillables) I know not certainly howe to name it, vnlesse I should say that it doth consist of Poulters measure, which giueth xii. for one dozen and xiiij. for another. But let this suffise (if it be not to much) for the sundrie sortes of verses which we vse now adayes.  18
  15. In all these sortes of verses, when soeuer you vndertake to write, auoyde prolixitie and tediousnesse, and euer, as neare as you can, do finish the sentence and meaning at the end of euery staffe where you wright staues, and at the end of euery two lines where you write by cooples or poulters measure: for I see many writers which draw their sentences in length, and make an ende at latter Lammas: for, commonly, before they end, the Reader hath forgotten where he begon. But do you (if you wil follow my aduise) eschue prolixitie and knit vp your sentences as compendiously as you may, since breuitie (so that it be not drowned in obscuritie) is most commendable.  19
  16. I had forgotten a notable kinde of ryme, called ryding rime, and that is suche as our Mayster and Father Chaucer vsed in his Canterburie tales, and in diuers other delectable and light enterprises; but, though it come to my remembrance somewhat out of order, it shall not yet come altogether out of time, for I will nowe tell you a conceipt whiche I had before forgotten to wryte: you may see (by so the way) that I holde a preposterous order in my traditions but, as I sayde before, I wryte moued by good wil, and not to shewe my skill. Then to returne too my matter, as this riding rime serueth most aptly to wryte a merie tale, so Rythme royall is fittest for a graue discourse. Ballades are beste of matters of loue, and rondlettes moste apt for the beating or handlyng of an adage or common prouerbe: Sonets serue aswell in matters of loue as of discourse: Dizaynes and Sixaines for shorte Fantazies: Verlayes for an effectual proposition, although by the name you might otherwise iudge of Verlayes; and the long verse of twelue and fouretene sillables, although it be now adayes vsed in all Theames, yet in my iudgement it would serue best for Psalmes and Himpnes.  20
  I woulde stande longer in these traditions, were it not that I doubt mine owne ignoraunce; but, as I sayde before, I know that I write to my freende, and, affying my selfe therevpon, I make an ende.  21
Note 1. In 1573 Richard Willes published (a) Poematum Liber (London, Tottell), and (b) In suorum Poemat. librum Ricardi Willeii Scholia (London, Tottell), a separate issue, though also contained in (a). The second book, which is dedicated to the Warden and Scholars of Wykeham’s College of Winchester, is divided into (1) De Re Poetica Disputatio (Aj—Cj), and (2) Scholia (Cj vo—E iiij). It is prefaced by an Epistola (three leaves) and by two pages of introduction to the Disputatio praising Wykeham’s domicile (the school) and exalting the study of poetry. ‘Erunt igitur nostrae disputationis partes tres. Primo commentarium de Poeticae natura atque ortu, de Poeticae significatione, diversisque Poetarum generibus, de origine metri atque usu carminum diversis ex auctoribus colligam’: and he goes on to explain his plan. He has three theses, viz. (1) Poeticam esse praestantiorem caeteris artibus (four pages); (2) Poeticen artem esse fruciuosam (one and a half pages); and (3) Poeticen esse incundissimam, with a sub-section, Quae obiici contra Poeticam solent, illa modo erunt diluenda, containing calumnia and resp[onsiones] (about six leaves). The Scholia explain and expound various words, figures, and technical matters used in poetry (about a page to each), such as Donat atque dedicat (being the first title), Quincunx, Ara, Gladius, Paruum ovum, Pyrum, Pastoricia fistula, Alae, Cantuariensis ecclesiae insignia, Pyramis inversa, Securis, Cento, Rhapsodia, &c. Willes is not tempted to refer to contemporary English verse, or to any of the problems of versification. The volume concludes with a poem on the life of William of Wykeham and a number of distichs on the Wardens of the School, and with a ‘didascalorum elenchus.’ [From the copy preserved in the Bodleian Library (Wood, 105).] [back]

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