It may not be absolutely futile if we bestow a little more attention upon the details of these laxities of rhyme. The repetition of an identical syllable has been cited 6 times. In 4 instances the sound of taught is assimilated to that of not (I take here no account of differences of spelling, but only of the sounds); in 4, the sound of ground and of renown to that of moaned, or of Chatterton; in 2, the sound of o in road, both, and wove, to that in God, youth, and of; in 3, the sound of song to that of stung; in 2, the sound of ee in compeers, steel, cheek, and grief, to that in dares, fell, break and knife; in 2, the sound of e in wert and earth to that in heart and forth; in 3, the sound of o in moan and home to that in one, dawn, and tomb; in 2, the sound of thither to that of together. The other cases which I have cited have only a single instance apiece. It results therefore that the vowel-sound subjected to the most frequent variations is that of o, whether single or in combination.
Shelley may be considered to allow himself more than an average degree of latitude in rhyming: but it is a fact that, if the general body of English poetry is scrutinized, it will be found to be more or less lax in this matter. This question is complicated by another question—that of how words were pronounced at different periods in our literary history: in order to exclude the most serious consequent difficulties, I shall say nothing here about any poet prior to Milton. I take at haphazard four pages of rhymed verse from each of the following six poets, and the result proves to be as follows:—
Milton.—Pass, was; feast, rest; come, room; still, invisible; vouchsafe, safe; moon, whereon; ordained, land. 7 instances.
Dryden.—Alone, fruition; guard, heard; pursued, good: procured, secured, 4 instances.
Pope.—Given, heaven; steer, character; board, lord; fault, thought; err, singular. 5 instances.
Gray.—Beech, stretch; borne, thorn; abode, God; broke, rock, 4 instances.
Coleridge.—Not a single instance.
Byron.—Given, heaven; Moore, yore; look, duke; song, tongue; knot, not; of, enough; bestowed, mood. 7 instances.
In all these cases, as in that of Shelley’s Adonais, I have taken no count of those instances of lax sound-rhyme which are correct letter-rhyme—such as the coupling of move with love, or of star with war; for these, however much some more than commonly purist ears may demur to them, appear to be part and parcel of the rhyming system of the English language. I need hardly say that, if these cases had been included, my list would in every instance have swelled considerably; nor yet that I am conscious how extremely partial and accidental is the test, as to comparative number of laxities, which I have here supplied.