The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

IV. The New South: Lanier

§ 30. The Science of English Verse

The most valuable critical work of Lanier is undoubtedly his Science of English Verse. For the consideration of the structure of English verse he was peculiarly well prepared. His own unusually sensitive organism enabled him to respond very delicately to musical effects in verse. Besides, the early impulse to science given by Professor Woodrow in that “farcical college” of his boyhood stimulated him to an investigation of the physics of sound and to a desire for reducing to law the apparent chaos of English versification. The result was pioneer work which appealed to many as the most sensible treatment of the subject which had then appeared. What differentiates this treatment from preceding ones is the insistence that the laws of music and verse are identical, that every foot represents a mathematically equal time interval. Length of interval, and not accent, is therefore the determining element in prosody. The valuable feature of this theory is that it emphasizes the relation of music and poetry and the fundamental importance of rhythm in poetry. Its unfortunate feature is that it insists too strongly on law. No such mathematical relation exists. Accent normally appears at equal time intervals and an accented syllable tends to acquire length. But Lanier wrote long before the psychological investigation of rhythm had begun. He therefore could not see the impossibility of trying to reduce to one rule all the innumerable individual senses of rhythm. Not only no two poets but no two readers would exactly coincide in their sense of rhythm. Lanier was on the right road. He merely made the mistake of taking his own sense of rhythm for a universal law.