Sunday, July 11, 2021

Refresher on heroic measure

"Let America, then, prize and cherish her writers; yea, let her glorify them."
-- A Virginian Spending July in Vermont

While we wait around for scanned images of John Chipman Hoadley's manuscript poem "Destiny," now ordered from The New York Public Library, let me explain why I expect (before seeing any of it) to find that Hoadley composed the long unpublished work he called his "national poem" in iambic pentameter. What I don't know is if Hoadley developed his patriotic theme using rhymed couplets in the manner of Joel Barlow in The Vision of Columbus and The Columbiad and Richard Emmons in The Fredoniad, Americanizing British models by Dryden and Pope. My best guess is YES. But it would be wonderful to find Melville's future brother-in-law on a more daring and ambitious course, sounding off like Milton or Marlowe in mighty MAGA lines of blank verse. 

Rhymed elsewhere in the stanza or not, however arranged in couplets or triplets or quatrains, Hoadley's usual verse line in "Destiny" will contain five metrical feet, mostly iambs. The iamb as English majors recall without any help from Google consists of one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one. Five iambs or iambuses = iambic pentameter. 
Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. "Hoadley, John Chipman (1818-1886)" The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1851.
Cited above and transcribed in the Melvilliana post on Melville's hearty praises, John C. Hoadley's note of September 9, 1851 to Evert Duyckinck offers good evidence for supposing that Hoadley's pro-American "Destiny" (originally titled "The Union" and declaimed by the author on July 4, 1851 according to Jay Leyda in The Melville Log volume 1 page 416) is the versified "glorification of the United States" that Herman Melville read aloud in August 1851--with great gusto, and in the author's presence, according to Duyckinck. Previously unrecorded in Melville scholarship, this letter firmly links Hoadley to Duyckinck, Melville, and one or more of their Berkshire excursions during the previous month. Hoadley was already a prominent resident of Pittsfield, having moved there in 1848. Hoadley addressed Duyckinck formally as "Dear Sir," indicating a recent and not very close acquaintance. Hoadley thanked Duyckinck for sending him a copy of the Literary World with Duyckinck's account of a trip to Mt. Greylock. Hoadley regretted having to miss the Greylock outing, implying he had been invited as one of the group that included Duyckinck and Melville. Gratefully and casually, as something already known to Duyckinck, Hoadley acknowledged "Melville's hearty praises" for his unpublished "national poem." Since Hoadley had just unveiled his poem in Pittsfield, Mass. on the 4th of July 1851, that leaves only a month or two at most during which Herman Melville could have read it and responded so encouragingly. 

Here is the relevant passage from Duyckinck's letter to his wife dated August 8, 1851, describing how Melville entertained his audience of Berkshire excursionists with a dramatic reading of stirring patriotic verse. It happened in a barn during a summer shower. First, they had to kick out the chickens:
... The morning had been warm and the afternoon was showery, clouds and shadows being the moving scenery to the permanent stagery of the hills. We went on our way rejoicing till a dragging cloud bore down upon us when we turned to the shelter of a barn. Mr M[elville] spied out the loft and we boarded the rafters, dislodging the hens and were nestled here and there in the warm dry hay, the rain pattering its musical accompaniment on the roof. 
Mrs M [Sarah Morewood] had a poet in the company and his poem too a stout MSS of heroic measure, a glorification of the United States in particular with a polite slanging of all other nations in general. The English lady in the straw was not particularly complimented as to her native country in sounding lines which H M read with emphasis (interrupting the flattered author who sat thoughtful on a hay tuft--with such phrases as "great glorious" "By Jove that's tremendous" &c)--but perhaps the most noticeable incident was a gathering of the exiled fowls in a corner who cackled a series of noisy resolutions, levelled at the party. "Turn em out!" was the cry. The author impelled by the honor of his poem charged fearlessly, scattered the critics of the pit, clasping the most obstinate bodily and "rushing" her a rapid descent below." --as transcribed in Steven Olsen-Smith, Melville in His Own Time (University of Iowa Press, 2015) page 58.
About the poem that Melville read aloud in August 1851, certain defining features are revealed in the eye and ear-witness account that Evert A. Duyckinck gave his wife. As described by Duyckinck
  1. The poem was a long one, taking up "a stout MSS." The impressive size indicates a poem with hundreds of lines, maybe thousands.
  2. The poem was composed in iambic pentameter, as specified by Duyckinck's term "heroic measure." (More on that below.)
  3. The poem was extremely patriotic in theme, being "a glorification of the United States." The strong America-First argument of the poem involved "a polite slanging of all other nations in general." Despite whatever formal courtesies may be implied in Duyckinck's adjective "polite," the rhetorical "slanging" at Great Britain might well have offended one of Melville's listeners that showery afternoon in a Berkshire barn: Mrs. Pollack the "English lady in the straw" who according to Duyckinck "was not particularly complimented as to her native country." 
None of these qualities is shared by On Onota's Graceful Shore, the ballad by J. E. A. Smith that Leyda identified (wrongly) as the poem Melville honored by reading aloud, with dramatic "emphasis" and positive commentary. With only 11 stanzas, 88 lines in all, Smith's poem is too short. The subject is one particular Berkshire farmer-soldier and his heroic sacrifices as the American Revolution dawned--not the glory of these United States and Manifest Destiny. 

The meter of "Onota's Graceful Shore" is iambic but does not qualify as "heroic measure" since each line contains only four feet. According to standard 19th century textbooks of English grammar, the "heroic line" was understood to mean iambic pentameter, a line of verse "composed of five Iambuses." Iambic pentameter was considered the metrical form best "suited to solemn and sublime subjects" with "far more dignity" than other kinds of meter.

§ 9. The Heroic line.
We now come to the eighth species of Iambic line. This is the heroic line composed of five Iambuses. This line is suited to solemn and sublime subjects, and it has far more dignity than any of the measures before mentioned. In long pieces it is frequently varied by the intermingling of secondary feet, but there are numerous in. stances of a succession of Iambuses through several lines.

It is employed in couplets, as in POPE's Essay on Man, PARNELL's Hermit, and GOLDSMITH's Deserted Village; it is employed in quatrains, as in GRAY's Elegy in a Country Churchyard; it is employed in the Spenserean stanza, as in the Faery Queen and Childe Harold; it is employed in blank verse, as in MILTON's Paradise Lost, THOMSON'S Seasons, ROGERS’ Italy, and COWPER's Task; lastly, it is employed in triplets, with an additional short line to complete the stanza. It is peculiarly suited to all subjects where dignity is required, and should never be employed when the subject is either trivial or gay. A specimen from GRAY's Elegy, showing the fitness of this measure for solemn subjects, will furnish the first example:
The curfew tolls, the knell of parting day,
   The lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way
   And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

-- Erastus Everett, A System of English Versification (New York and Philadelphia, 1848) page 36.

Numerous editions of Lindley Murray's English Grammar uphold the definition of heroic measure as the conventional term for a line that specifically "consists of five Iambuses." 


5 The fifth species of English Iambic, consists of five Iambuses.
How lov'd, how valu'd once, avails thee not,
To whom related, or by whom begot,
A heap of dust alone remains of thee;
'Tis all thou art, and all the proud shall be. [Alexander Pope, Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady
Be wise to-day, 'tis madness to defer:
Next day the fatal precedent will plead;
Thus on, till wisdom is pushed out of life. [Edward Young on procrastination, from Night Thoughts, Night 1]
This is called the Heroic measure. In its simplest form it consists of five Iambuses; but by the admission of other feet, as Trochees, Dactyls, Anapæsts, &c. it is capable of many varieties. Indeed, most of the English common measures may be varied in the same way, as well as by the different position of their pauses. 

Heroic Measure (Pentameter) is made up of five iambic feet. In its rhymed form it is the measure of Chaucer and Spenser, of Dryden and Pope, of Cowper, Campbell, and Byron; as, 
True ease in writing comes from art, not chance
As those move easiest who have learn'd to dance....
[Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism]
-- Charles William Bardeen, A System of Rhetoric (New York, 1884) page 639.
Unlike Smith's ballad, Hoadley's "Destiny" is a genuinely "stout" production taking up 53 manuscript sheets in the bound copy now held in the Gansevoort-Lansing collection of The New York Public Library. Both the original title "The Union" and the revised one, "Destiny," are consistent with a work devoted to glorifying the United States, as is Hoadley's own reference to his "national poem." How well the actual content matches Evert Duyckinck's description, including the "polite slanging" at other nations, remains to be seen. Likewise the number of feet or beats per line. "Onota's graceful shore" has only four. The one that Melville read and loved has five, if Duyckinck got the meter right. Obviously, I'm trusting that the veteran New York editor and literary critic knew heroic measure when he heard it. Confidence! Heroic measure means pentameter. Wherever you hear it, even in the rafters. 

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1 comment:

  1. Confirmed! Hoadley's 1851 manuscript poem "Destiny" comprises 648 lines of heroic measure. Rhymed, in heroic couplets. It's all iambic pentameter, all the way down.