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Bouts-Rimes

BOUTS-RIMES, literally (from the French) "rhymed ends," the name given in all literatures to a kind of verses of which no better definition can be found than was made by Addison, in the Spectator, when he described them as "lists of words that rhyme to one another, drawn up by another hand, and given to a poet, who was to make a poem to the rhymes in the same order that they were placed upon the list." The more odd and perplexing the rhymes are, the more ingenuity is required to give a semblance of common-sense to the production. For instance, the rhymes breeze, elephant, squeeze, pant, scant, please, hope, pope are submitted, and the following stanza is the result: -

Escaping from the Indian breeze,

The vast, sententious elephant

Through groves of sandal loves to squeeze

And in their fragrant shade to pant;

Although the shelter there be scant,

The vivid odours soothe and please,

And while he yields to dreams of hope,

Adoring beasts surround their Pope.

The invention of bouts-rimés is attributed to a minor French poet of the 17th century, Dulot, of whom little else is remembered. According to the Menagiana, about the year 1648, Dulot was complaining one day that he had been robbed of a number of valuable papers, and, in particular, of three hundred sonnets. Surprise being expressed at his having written so many, Dulot explained that they were all "blank sonnets," that is to say, that he had put down the rhymes and nothing else. The idea struck every one as amusing, and what Dulot had done seriously was taken up as a jest. Bouts-rimés became the fashion, and in 1654 no less a person than Sarrasin composed a satire against them, entitled La Défaite des bouts-rimés, which enjoyed a great success. Nevertheless, they continued to be abundantly composed in France throughout the 17th century and a great part of the 18th century. In 1701 Etienne Mallemans (d. 1716) published a collection of serious sonnets, all written to rhymes selected for him by the duchess of Maine. Neither Piron, nor Marmontel, nor La Motte disdained this ingenious exercise, and early in the 19th century the fashion was revived. The most curious incident, however, in the history of bouts-rimés is the fact that the elder Alexandre Dumas, in 1864, took them under his protection. He issued an invitation to all the poets of France to display their skill by composing to sets of rhymes selected for the purpose by the poet, Joseph Méry (1798-1866). No fewer than 350 writers responded to the appeal, and Dumas published the result, as a volume, in 1865.

W.M. Rossetti, in the memoir of his brother prefixed to D.G. Rossetti's Collected Works (1886), mentions that, especially in 1848 and 1849, he and Dante Gabriel Rossetti constantly practised their pens in writing sonnets to bouts-rimés, each giving the other the rhymes for a sonnet, and Dante Gabriel writing off these exercises in verse-making at the rate of a sonnet in five or eight minutes. Most of W.M. Rossetti's poems in The Germ were bouts-rimés experiments. Many of Dante Gabriel's, a little touched up, remained in his brother's possession, but were not included in the Collected Works.

(E. G.)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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