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HYTHM is associated with the first utterances de
signed for frequent repeti
tion and continued life. The praise of chiefs, the cherished memories or beliefs of a people, formed into musical sequences of words with alliteration, or other device to secure for each important word both emphasis and good help to its recollection, make the substance of that early literature which lives on the lips of its authors and in the memories of those who learn it from them and diffuse it pleasantly in cadenced chant among the people. Prose was not written when few read and literature lay between the reciters and a world of listeners. When there were more readers, cultivated men and women, with the written page before them, could recite at will for pleasure of their friends. Still, they were supplied chiefly with verse; but the good stories current among daily talk could be collected and written in the manner of those who told them well in the direct phrase of common speech. Such MS. of Mande tales in prose Boccaccio told again for ville's Travels. (Cotton.) the Italians in his "Decameron," about
1 Next to the case containing six books rolled and labelled, are tables, hinged and wax-covered, for writing. Below are a reed pen or
the middle of the fourteenth century. But when Chaucer and Gower followed the example of his story-telling, their English tales were still in verse, except that Chaucer included two prose pieces in his Canterbury Tales-a moral story from the French, and a homily for his Parson. The direct preaching of Wiclif, and his urging of reform upon the Church and people, are represented also by English prose tracts and sermons, which are thoroughly simple and straightforward, as it is the nature of right prose to be. The word "Prose" means straightforward. It is derived from the Latin prorsus, and so was the name of a Roman goddess, Prorsa, called also Prosa, who presided over ordinary births with the head foremost. Prose signifies, therefore, the direct manner of common speech without twists or unusual ways of presentation.
Coleridge said that he wished our clever young poets would remember his "homely definition of prose and poetry- that is, prose is words in their best order; poetry, the best words in the best order." The definition may be homely, but it is not true. writer of prose would wish to use second-best words. Setting aside the difference that lies deep in the nature of the thought, there remains only the mechanical distinction that verse is a contrivance for
calamus and an ink-stand. Behind is another kind of table hanging from a metal pen or style, here used as a pin. To the right of that is a thick book of tables. In front are a style and a group of single volumes in cases or unrolled, with their titles attached, sometimes to the papyrus, sometimes to the wood in the centre.
2 Part of this homily-on Anger-is quoted on pages 103-106 of the volume of this Library illustrating English Religion. In the same volume, on pages 71-73, will be found specimens of Wiclif's prose.