Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XX: Figures - Elements of Criticism, vol. 2
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
CHAPTER XX: Figures - Henry Home, Lord Kames, Elements of Criticism, vol. 2 
Elements of Criticism, Edited and with an Introduction by Peter Jones (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005). 2 vols. Vol. 2.
Part of: Elements of Criticism, 2 vols.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
The endless variety of expressions brought under the head of tropes and figures by ancient critics and grammarians, makes it evident, that they had no precise criterion for distinguishing tropes and figures from plain language. It was accordingly my opinion, that little could be made of them in the way of rational criticism; till discovering, by a sort of accident, that many of them depend on principles formerly explained, I gladly embrace the opportunity to show the influence of these principles where it would be the least expected. Confining myself therefore to such figures, I am luckily freed from much trash; without dropping, as far as I remember, any trope or figure that merits a proper name. And I begin with Prosopopoeia or personification, which is justly intitled to the first place.<228>
The bestowing sensibility and voluntary motion upon things inanimate, is so bold a figure, as to require, one should imagine, very peculiar circumstances for operating the delusion: and yet, in the language of poetry, we find variety of expressions, which, though commonly reduced to that figure, are used without ceremony, or any sort of preparation; as, for example, thirsty ground, hungry church-yard, furious dart, angry ocean. These epithets, in their proper meaning, are attributes of sensible beings: what is their meaning, when applied to things inanimate? do they make us conceive the ground, the church-yard, the dart, the ocean, to be endued with animal functions? This is a curious inquiry; and whether so or not, it cannot be declined in handling the present subject.
The mind, agitated by certain passions, is prone to bestow sensibility upon things inanimate.* This is an additional instance of the influence of passion upon our opinions and belief.† I give examples. Antony, mourning over the body of Cae-<229>sar murdered in the senate-house, vents his passion in the following words:
Here Antony must have been impressed with a notion, that the body of Caesar was listening to him, without which the speech would be foolish and absurd. Nor will it appear strange, considering what is said in the chapter above cited, that passion should have such power over the mind of man. In another example of the same kind, the earth, as a common mother, is animated to give refuge against a father’s unkindness:
Plaintive passions are extremely solicitous for vent; and a soliloquy commonly answers the purpose: but when such a passion becomes excessive, it cannot be gratified but by sympathy from others; and if denied that consolation in a natural way, it will convert even things inanimate into sympathising beings. Thus Philoctetes complains to the rocks and promontories of the isle of Lemnos;* and Alcestes dying, invokes the sun, the light of day, the clouds, the earth, her husband’s palace, &c.† Moschus, lamenting the death of Bion, conceives, that the birds, the fountains, the trees, lament with him. The shepherd, who in Virgil bewails the death of Daphnis, expresseth himself thus:
That such personification is derived from nature, will not admit the least remaining doubt, after finding it in poems of the darkest ages and remotest countries. No figure is more frequent in Ossian’s works; for example,
The sword of Gaul trembles at his side, and longs to glitter in his hand.
King Richard having got intelligence of Bolingbroke’s invasion, says, upon landing in England from his Irish expedition, in a mixture of joy and resentment,
After a long voyage, it was customary among the ancients to salute the natal soil. A long voyage being of old a greater enterprise than at present, the safe return to one’s country after much fatigue and danger, was a delightful circumstance; and it was natural to give the natal soil a temporary life, in order to sympathise with the traveller. See an example, Agamemnon of Aeschilus, act 3. in the beginning. Regret for leaving a place one has been accustomed to, has the same effect.* <233>
Terror produceth the same effect: it is communicated in thought to every thing around, even to things inanimate:
Speaking of Polyphemus,
Go, view the settling sea. The stormy wind is laid; but the billows still tremble on the deep, and seem to fear the blast.
Racine, in the tragedy of Phedra, describing the sea-monster that destroyed Hippolytus, conceives the sea itself to be struck with terror as well as the spectators:
Le flot qui l’ apporta recule epouvanté.7
A man also naturally communicates his joy to all objects around, animate or inanimate:
I have been profuse of examples, to show what power many passions have to animate their objects. In all the foregoing examples, the personification, if I mistake not, is so complete as to afford conviction, momentary indeed, of life and intelligence. But it is evident from numberless instances, that personification is not always so complete: it is a common figure in descriptive poetry, understood to be the language of the writer, and not of the persons he describes: in this case, it seldom or never comes up to conviction, even momentary, of life and intelligence. I give the following examples.
It may, I presume, be taken for granted, that, in the foregoing instances, the personification, either with the poet or his reader, amounts not to a conviction of intelligence: that the sun, the moon, the day, the morn, are not here understood to be sensible beings. What then is the nature of this personification? I think it must be referred to the imagination: the inanimate object is imagined to be a sensible being, but without any conviction, even for a moment, that it really is so. Ideas or fictions of imagination have power to raise emotions in the mind;† and when any thing inanimate is, in imagination, supposed to be a sensible<236> being, it makes by that means a greater figure than when an idea is formed of it according to truth. This sort of personification, however, is far inferior to the other in elevation. Thus personification is of two kinds. The first, being more noble, may be termed passionate personification: the other, more humble, descriptive personification; because seldom or never is personification in a description carried to conviction.
The imagination is so lively and active, that its images are raised with very little effort; and this justifies the frequent use of descriptive personification. This figure abounds in Milton’s Allegro, and Penseroso.
Abstract and general terms, as well as particular objects, are often necessary in poetry. Such terms however are not well adapted to poetry, because they suggest not any image: I can readily form an image of Alexander or Achilles in wrath; but I cannot form an image of wrath in the abstract, or of wrath independent of a person. Upon that account, in works addressed to the imagination, abstract terms are frequently personified: but such personification rests upon imagination merely, not upon conviction.
Thus, to explain the effects of slander, it is imagined to be a voluntary agent:
As also human passions: take the following example:
Virgil explains fame and its effects by a still greater variety of action.* And Shakespeare personifies death and its operations in a manner singularly fanciful:
Not less successfully is life and action given even to sleep:
I shall add one example more, to show that descriptive personification may be used with propriety, even where the purpose of the discourse is instruction merely:
Hitherto success has attended our steps: but whether we shall complete our progress with equal success, seems doubtful; for when we look back<240> to the expressions mentioned in the beginning, thirsty ground, furious dart, and such like, it seems no less difficult than at first, to say whether there be in them any sort of personification. Such expressions evidently raise not the slightest conviction of sensibility: nor do I think they amount to descriptive personification; because, in them, we do not even figure the ground or the dart to be animated. If so, they cannot at all come under the present subject. To show which, I shall endeavour to trace the effect that such expressions have in the mind. Doth not the expression angry ocean, for example, tacitly compare the ocean in a storm to a man in wrath? By this tacit comparison, the ocean is elevated above its rank in nature; and yet personification is excluded, because, by the very nature of comparison, the things compared are kept distinct, and the native appearance of each is preserved. It will be shown afterward, that expressions of this kind belong to another figure, which I term a figure of speech, and which employs the seventh section of the present chapter.
Tho’ thus in general we can distinguish descriptive personification from what is merely a figure of speech, it is, however, often difficult to say, with respect to some expressions, whether they are of the one kind or of the other. Take the following instances.<241>
With respect to these and numberless other examples of the same kind, it must depend upon the reader, whether they be examples of personification, or of a figure of speech merely: a sprightly imagination will advance them to the former class; with a plain reader they will remain in the latter.
Having thus at large explained the present figure, its different kinds, and the principles upon which it is founded; what comes next in order, is, to show in what cases it may be introduced with propriety, when it is suitable, when unsuitable. I begin with observing, that passionate personification is not promoted by every passion indifferently. All dispiriting passions are averse to it; and remorse, in particular, is too serious and severe to be gratified with a phantom of the mind. I cannot<242> therefore approve the following speech of Enobarbus, who had deserted his master Antony:
If this can be justified, it must be upon the Heathen system of theology, which converted into deities the sun, moon, and stars.
Secondly, After a passionate personification is properly introduced, it ought to be confined to its proper province, that of gratifying the passion, without giving place to any sentiment or action but what answers that purpose; for personification is at any rate a bold figure, and ought to be employed with great reserve. The passion of love, for example, in a plaintive tone, may give a momentary life to woods and rocks, in order to make them sensible of the lover’s distress; but no passion will support a conviction so far stretched, as that these woods and rocks should be living witnesses to report the distress to others:<243>
No lover who is not crazed will utter such a sentiment: it is plainly the operation of the writer, indulging his inventive faculty without regard to nature. The same observation is applicable to the following passage:
One must read this passage very seriously to avoid laughing. The following passage is quite extravagant: the different parts of the human body are too intimately connected with self, to be personified by the power of any passion; and after con-<244>verting such a part into a sensible being, it is still worse to make it be conceived as rising in rebellion against self:
Next comes descriptive personification; upon which I must observe, in general, that it ought to be cautiously used. A personage in a tragedy, agitated by a strong passion, deals in warm sentiments; and the reader, catching fire by sympathy, relisheth the boldest personifications: but a writer, even in the most lively description, taking a lower flight, ought to content himself with such easy personifications as agree with the tone of mind inspired by the description. Nor is even such easy personification always admitted; for in plain narrative, the mind, serious and sedate, rejects personification altogether. Strada, in his history of the Belgic wars, has the following passage, which, by a strained elevation above the tone of the subject, deviates into burlesque.
Vix descenderat a praetoria navi Caesar; cum foeda illico exorta in portu tempestas, classem impetu disjecit,<245> praetoriam hausit; quasi non vecturam amplius Caesarem, Caesarisque fortunam.
Dec. 1. l. 1.17
Neither do I approve, in Shakespear, the speech of King John, gravely exhorting the citizens of Angiers to a surrender; though a tragic writer has much greater latitude than a historian. Take the following specimen:
Secondly, If extraordinary marks of respect to a person of low rank be ridiculous, no less so is the personification of a low subject. This rule chiefly regards descriptive personification; for a subject can hardly be low that is the cause of a violent passion; in that circumstance, at least, it must be of importance. But to assign any rule other than taste merely, for avoiding things below even descriptive personification, will, I am afraid, be a hard task. A poet of superior genius, possessing the power of inflaming the mind, may take liberties that would be too bold in others. Homer appears not extravagant in animating his darts and arrows: nor Thomson in animating the seasons, the winds, the rains, the dews; he even<246> ventures to animate the diamond, and doth it with propriety:
But there are things familiar and base, to which personification cannot descend. In a composed state of mind, to animate a lump of matter even in the most rapid flight of fancy, degenerates into burlesque:
Speaking of a man’s hand cut off in battle:
The personification here of a hand is insufferable, especially in a plain narration: not to mention that such a trivial incident is too minutely described.<247>
The same observation is applicable to abstract terms, which ought not to be animated unless they have some natural dignity. Thomson, in this article, is licentious; witness the following instances out of many:
Thirdly, It is not sufficient to avoid improper subjects: some preparation is necessary, in order to rouse the mind; for the imagination refuses its aid, till it be warmed at least, if not inflamed. Yet Thomson, without the least ceremony or preparation, introduceth each season as a sensible being:
This has violently the air of writing mechanically without taste. It is not natural that the imagination of a writer should be so much heated at the very commencement; and, at any rate, he cannot expect such ductility in his readers. But if this practice can be justified by authority, Thomson has one of no mean note: Vida begins his first eclogue in the following words:
Even Shakespear is not always careful to prepare the mind for this bold figure. Take the following instance
Fourthly, Descriptive personification, still more than what is passionate, ought to be kept within the bounds of moderation. A reader warmed with a beautiful subject, can imagine, even without passion, the winds, for example, to be animated: but still the winds are the subject; and any action ascribed to them beyond or contrary to their usual operation, appearing unnatural, seldom fails to banish the illusion altogether: the reader’s imagination too far strained, refuses its aid; and the description becomes obscure, instead of being more lively and striking. In this view, the following passage, describing Cleopatra on shipboard, appears to me exceptionable.
The winds in their impetuous course have so much the appearance of fury, that it is easy to figure them wreaking their resentment against their enemies, by destroying houses, ships, &c.; but to figure them love-sick, has no resemblance to them in any circumstance. In another passage, where<250> Cleopatra is also the subject, the personification of the air is carried beyond all bounds:
The following personification of the earth or soil is not less wild:
Shakespear, far from approving such intemperance of imagination, puts this speech in the mouth of a ranting lover. Neither can I relish what follows:
The cheerfulness singly of a pastoral song, will<251> scarce support personification in the lowest degree. But admitting, that a river gently flowing may be imagined a sensible being listening to a song, I cannot enter into the conceit of the river’s ordering his laurels to learn the song: here all resemblance to any thing real is quite lost. This however is copied literally by one of our greatest poets; early indeed, before maturity of taste or judgement:
This author, in riper years, is guilty of a much greater deviation from the rule. Dullness may be imagined a deity or idol, to be worshipped by bad writers; but then some sort of disguise is requisite, some bastard virtue must be bestowed, to make such worship in some degree excusible. Yet in the Dunciad, Dullness, without the least disguise, is made the object of worship. The mind rejects such a fiction as unnatural; for dullness is a defect, of which even the dullest mortal is ashamed:
The following instance is stretched beyond all resemblance: it is bold to take a part or member of a living creature, and to bestow upon it life, volition, and action: after animating two such members, it is still bolder to make one envy the other; for this is wide of any resemblance to reality:
Fifthly, The enthusiasm of passion may have the effect to prolong passionate personification: but descriptive personification cannot be dispatched in too few words: a circumstantiate description dissolves the charm, and makes the attempt to personify appear ridiculous. Homer succeeds in animating his darts and arrows: but such personification spun out in a French translation, is mere burlesque:
Horace says happily,
Post equitem sedet atra Cura.30
Observe how this thought degenerates by being divided, like the former, into a number of minute parts:<254>
A poet, in a short and lively expression, may animate his muse, his genius, and even his verse: but to animate his verse, and to address a whole epistle to it, as Boileau doth,* is insupportable.
The following passage is not less faulty:
Let grief or love have the power to animate the winds, the trees, the floods, provided the figure be dispatched in a single expression: even in that case, the figure seldom has a good effect; because grief or love of the pastoral kind, are causes rather too faint for so violent an effect as imagining the winds, trees, or floods, to be sensible beings. But when this figure is deliberately spread out,<255> with great regularity and accuracy, through many lines, the reader, instead of relishing it, is struck with its ridiculous appearance.
This figure and the former are derived from the same principle. If, to humour a plaintive passion, we can bestow a momentary sensibility upon an inanimate object, it is not more difficult to bestow a momentary presence upon a sensible being who is absent:
Strike the harp in praise of Bragela, whom I left in the isle of mist, the spouse of my love. Dost thou raise thy fair face from the rock to find the sails of Cuchullin? The sea is rolling far distant, and its white foam shall deceive thee for my sails. Retire, for it is night, my love, and the dark winds sigh in<256> thy hair. Retire to the hall of my feasts, and think of the times that are past; for I will not return till the storm of war is gone. O Connal, speak of wars and arms, and send her from my mind; for lovely with her raven-hair is the white-bosom’d daughter of Sorglan.
Fingal, b. 1.
Speaking of Fingal absent,
Happy are thy people, O Fingal; thine arm shall fight their battles. Thou art the first in their dangers; the wisest in the days of their peace: thou speakest, and thy thousands obey; and armies tremble at the sound of thy steel. Happy are thy people, O Fingal.
This figure is sometimes joined with the former: things inanimate, to qualify them for listening to a passionate expostulation, are not only personified, but also conceived to be present:
And let them lift ten thousand swords, said Nathos with a smile: the sons of car-borne Usnoth will never tremble in danger. Why dost thou roll with all thy foam, thou roaring sea of Ullin? why do ye rustle on your dark wings, ye whistling tempests of the sky? Do ye think, ye storms, that ye keep Nathos on the coast? No; his soul detains him; children of the night! Althos, bring my father’s arms,
Whither hast thou fled, O wind, said the King of Morven! Dost thou rustle in the chambers of the south, and pursue the shower in other lands? Why comest not thou to my sails, to the blue face of my seas? The foe is in the land of Morven, and the King is absent.
Hast thou left thy blue course in heaven, golden-hair’d son of the sky! The west hath open’d its gates; the bed of thy repose is there. The waves gather to behold thy beauty: they lift their trembling heads; they see thee lovely in thy sleep; but they shrink away with fear. Rest in thy shadowy cave, O Sun! and let thy return be in joy.
Daughter of Heaven, fair art thou! the silence of<258>thy face is pleasant. Thou comest forth in loveliness: the stars attend thy blue steps in the east. The clouds rejoice in thy presence, O Moon! and brighten their dark-brown sides. Who is like thee in heaven, daughter of the night? The stars are ashamed in thy presence, and turn aside their sparkling eyes. Whither dost thou retire from thy course, when the darkness of thy countenance grows? Hast thou thy hall like Ossian? Dwellest thou in the shadow of grief? Have thy sisters fallen from heaven? and are they who rejoiced with thee at night no more? ——— Yes, they have fallen, fair light; and often dost thou retire to mourn. ——— But thou thyself shalt, one night, fail; and leave thy blue path in heaven. The stars will then lift their heads: they, who in thy presence were ashamed, will rejoice.
This figure, like all others, requires an agitation of mind. In plain narrative, as, for example, in giving the genealogy of a family, it has no good effect:
In this figure, by which an object is magnified or diminished beyond truth, we have another effect of the foregoing principle. An object of an uncommon size, either very great of its kind or very little, strikes us with surprise; and this emotion produces a momentary conviction that the object is greater or less than it is in reality:* the same effect, precisely, attends figurative grandeur or littleness; and hence the hyperbole, which expresses that momentary conviction. A writer, taking advantage of this natural delusion, warms his description greatly by the hyperbole: and the reader, even in his coolest moments, relishes the figure, being sensible that it is the operation of nature upon a glowing fancy.
It cannot have escaped observation, that a writer is commonly more successful in magnifying by a hyperbole than in diminishing. The reason is, that a minute object contracts the mind, and fetters its power of imagination; but that the mind, dilated and inflamed with a grand object, moulds<260> objects for its gratification with great facility. Longinus, with respect to a diminishing hyperbole, quotes the following ludicrous thought from a comic poet: “He was owner of a bit of ground no larger than a Lacedemonian letter.”* But, for the reason now given, the hyperbole has by far the greater force in magnifying objects; of which take the following examples:
For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever. And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered.
Genesis xiii. 15. 16.
Speaking of Polyphemus,
The following may also pass, though far stretched.
Quintilian* is sensible that this figure is natural: “For,” says he, “not contented with truth, we naturally incline to augment or diminish beyond it; and for that reason the hyperbole is<262> familiar even among the vulgar and illiterate”: and he adds, very justly, “That the hyperbole is then proper, when the subject of itself exceeds the common measure.” From these premisses, one would not expect the following inference, the only reason he can find for justifying this figure of speech, “Conceditur enim amplius dicere, quia dici quantum est, non potest: meliusque ultra quam citra stat oratio.” (We are indulged to say more than enough, because we cannot say enough; and it is better to be above than under). In the name of wonder, why this childish reasoning, after observing that the hyperbole is founded on human nature? I could not resist this personal stroke of criticism; intended not against our author, for no human creature is exempt from error, but against the blind veneration that is paid to the ancient classic writers, without distinguishing their blemishes from their beauties.
Having examined the nature of this figure, and the principle on which it is erected, I proceed, as in the first section, to the rules by which it ought to be governed. And, in the first place, it is a capital fault, to introduce an hyperbole in the description of any thing ordinary or familiar; for in such a case, it is altogether unnatural, being destitute of surprise, its only foundation. Take the following instance, where the subject is extremely familiar, viz. swimming to gain the shore after a shipwreck.<263>
In the next place, it may be gathered from what is said, that an hyperbole can never suit the tone of any dispiriting passion: sorrow in particular will never prompt such a figure; for which reason the following hyperboles must be condemned as unnatural.
Thirdly, A writer, if he wish to succeed, ought always to have the reader in his eye: he ought in particular never to venture a bold thought or<264> expression, till the reader be warmed and prepared. For that reason, an hyperbole in the beginning of a work can never be in its place. Example:
The nicest point of all, is to ascertain the natural limits of an hyperbole, beyond which being overstrained it hath a bad effect. Longinus, in the above-cited chapter, with great propriety of thought, enters a caveat against an hyperbole of this kind: he compares it to a bow-string, which relaxes by overstraining, and produceth an effect directly opposite to what is intended. To ascertain any precise boundary, would be difficult, if not impracticable. Mine shall be an humbler task, which is, to give a specimen of what I reckon overstrained hyperboles; and I shall be brief upon them, because examples are to be found every where: no fault is more common among writers of inferior rank; and instances are found even among classical writers; witness the following hyperbole, too bold even for an Hotspur.
Hotspur, talking of Mortimer:
Speaking of Henry V.
It is observable, that a hyperbole, even the most extravagant, commonly produces some emotion: the present hyperbole is an exception; and the reason is, that numbers, in which the extravagance entirely consists, make no impression upon the imagination when they exceed what can easily be conceived.
Lastly, An hyperbole, after it is introduced with all advantages, ought to be comprehended within the fewest words possible: as it cannot be relished but in the hurry and swelling of the mind, a leisurely view dissolves the charm, and discovers the description to be extravagant at least, and perhaps also ridiculous. This fault is palpable in a sonnet which passeth for one of the most complete in the French language. Phillis, in a long and florid description, is made as far to outshine the sun as he outshines the stars:
There is in Chaucer a thought expressed in a single line, which gives more lustre to a young beauty, than the whole of this much-laboured poem:
Up rose the sun, and up rose Emelie.48
The Means or Instrument conceived to be the Agent.
When we survey a number of connected objects, that which makes the greatest figure employs chiefly our attention; and the emotion it raises, if lively, prompts us even to exceed nature in the conception we form of it. Take the following examples.
In these instances, the rage of Hercules and the<268> force of Pirus, being the capital circumstances, are so far exalted as to be conceived the agents that produce the effects.
In the following instances, hunger being the chief circumstance in the description, is itself imagined to be the patient.
Whose hunger has not tasted food these three days.
A Figure, which, among related Objects, extends the Properties of one to another.
This figure is not dignified with a proper name, because it has been over-looked by writers. It merits, however, a place in this work; and must be distinguished from those for-<269>merly handled, as depending on a different principle. Giddy brink, jovial wine, daring wound, are examples of this figure. Here are adjectives that cannot be made to signify any quality of the substantives to which they are joined: a brink, for example, cannot be termed giddy in a sense, either proper or figurative, that can signify any of its qualities or attributes. When we examine attentively the expression, we discover, that a brink is termed giddy from producing that effect in those who stand on it. In the same manner a wound is said to be daring, not with respect to itself, but with respect to the boldness of the person who inflicts it: and wine is said to be jovial, as inspiring mirth and jollity. Thus the attributes of one subject are extended to another with which it is connected; and the expression of such a thought must be considered as a figure, because the attribute is not applicable to the subject in any proper sense.
How are we to account for this figure, which we see lies in the thought, and to what principle shall we refer it? Have poets a privilege to alter the nature of things, and at pleasure to bestow attributes upon a subject to which they do not belong? We have had often occasion to inculcate, that the mind passeth easily and sweetly along a train of connected objects; and, where the objects are intimately connected, that it is disposed to carry along the good or bad properties of one to<270> another; especially when it is in any degree inflamed with these properties.* From this principle is derived the figure under consideration. Language, invented for the communication of thought, would be imperfect, if it were not expressive even of the slighter propensities and more delicate feelings: but language cannot remain so imperfect among a people who have received any polish; because language is regulated by internal feeling, and is gradually improved to express whatever passes in the mind. Thus, for example, when a sword in the hand of a coward, is termed a coward sword, the expression is significative of an internal operation; for the mind, in passing from the agent to its instrument, is disposed to extend to the latter the properties of the former. Governed by the same principle, we say listening fear, by extending the attribute listening of the man who listens, to the passion with which he is moved. In the expression, bold deed, or audax facinus, we extend to the effect what properly belongs to the cause. But not to waste time by making a commentary upon every expression of this kind, the best way to give a complete view of the subject, is to exhibit a table of the different relations that may give occasion to this figure. And in viewing the table, it will be observed, that the<271> figure can never have any grace but where the relations are of the most intimate kind.
1. An attribute of the cause expressed as an attribute of the effect.
2. An attribute of the effect expressed as an attribute of the cause.
3. An effect expressed as an attribute of the cause.
Jovial wine, Giddy brink, Drowsy night, Musing midnight, Panting height, Astonish’d thought, Mournful gloom.
4. An attribute of a subject bestowed upon one of its parts or members.
5. A quality of the agent given to the instrument with which it operates.
Why peep your coward swords half out their shells!
6. An attribute of the agent given to the subject upon which it operates.
7. A quality of one subject given to another.
A stupid moment motionless she stood.
Summer, l. 1336.55
8. A circumstance connected with a subject, expressed as a quality of the subject.
’Tis ours the chance of fighting fields to try.
Iliad i. 301.
Oh! had I dy’d before that well-fought wall.
Odyssey v. 395.
From this table it appears, that the adorning a cause with an attribute of the effect, is not so agreeable as the opposite expression. The progress<274> from cause to effect is natural and easy: the opposite progress resembles retrograde motion;* and therefore panting height, astonish’d thought, are strained and uncouth expressions, which a writer of taste will avoid.
It is not less strained, to apply to a subject in its present state, an epithet that may belong to it in some future state:
Submersasque obrue puppes.
Aeneid. i. 73.56
And mighty ruins fall.
Iliad v. 411.
Impious sons their mangled fathers wound.
Another rule regards this figure, That the property of one subject ought not to be bestowed upon another with which that property is incongruous:
The connection between an awful superior and his submissive dependent is so intimate, that an attribute may readily be transferred from the one to the other: but awfulness cannot be so transferred, because it is inconsistent with submission.<275>
Metaphor and Allegory.
A Metaphor differs from a simile, in form only, not in substance: in a simile, the two subjects are kept distinct in the expression, as well as in the thought; in a metaphor, the two subjects are kept distinct in the thought only, not in the expression. A hero resembles a lion, and upon that resemblance many similes have been raised by Homer and other poets. But instead of resembling a lion, let us take the aid of the imagination, and feign or figure the hero to be a lion: by that variation the simile is converted into a metaphor; which is carried on by describing all the qualities of a lion that resemble those of the hero. The fundamental pleasure here, that of resemblance, belongs to the thought. An additional pleasure arises from the expression: the poet, by figuring his hero to be a lion, goes on to describe the lion in appearance, but in reality the hero; and his description is peculiarly beautiful, by expressing the virtues and qualities of the hero in new terms, which, properly speaking, belong not to him, but to the lion. This will better be understood by examples. A family connected with a common pa<276>rent, resembles a tree, the trunk and branches of which are connected with a common root: but let us suppose, that a family is figured, not barely to be like a tree, but to be a tree; and then the simile will be converted into a metaphor, in the following manner:
Figuring human life to be a voyage at sea:
Figuring glory and honour to be a garland of flowers:
Figuring a man who hath acquired great reputation and honour to be a tree full of fruit:
Blest be thy soul, thou king of shells, said Swaran of the dark-brown shield. In peace thou art the gale of spring; in war, the mountain-storm. Take now my hand in friendship, thou noble king of Morven.
Thou dwellest in the soul of Malvina, son of mighty Ossian. My sighs arise with the beam of the east: my tears descend with the drops of night. I was a lovely tree in thy presence, Oscar, with all my branches round me: but thy death came like a blast from the desert, and laid my green head low; the spring returned with its showers, but no leaf of mine arose.
I am aware that the term metaphor has been used in a more extensive sense than I give it; but I thought it of consequence, in a disquisition of some intricacy, to confine the term to its proper sense, and to separate from it things that are distinguished by different names. An allegory differs from a metaphor; and what I would choose to call a figure of speech, differs from both. I proceed to explain these differences. A metaphor is defined above to be an act of the imagination, figuring one thing to be another. An allegory requires no such operation, nor is one thing figured to be another: it consists in choosing a subject having properties or circumstances resembling those of the principal subject; and the former is described in such a manner as to represent the latter: the subject thus represented is kept out of view; we are left to discover it by reflection; and we are pleased with the discovery, because it is our own work. Quintilian* gives the following instance of an allegory,
and explains it elegantly in the following words: “Totusque ille Horatii locus, quo navim pro re-<279>publica, fluctuum tempestates pro bellis civilibus, portum pro pace atque concordia, dicit.”62
A finer or more correct allegory is not to be found than the following, in which a vineyard is made to represent God’s own people the Jews.
Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: thou hast cast out the Heathen, and planted it. Thou didst cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land. The hills were covered with its shadow, and the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedars. Why hast thou then broken down her hedges, so that all which pass do pluck her? The boar out of the wood doth waste it, and the wild beast doth devour it. Return, we beseech thee, O God of hosts: look down from heaven, and behold, and visit this vine, and the vineyard thy right hand hath planted, and the branch thou madest strong for thyself.
In a word, an allegory is in every respect similar to an hieroglyphical painting, excepting only that words are used instead of colours. Their effects are precisely the same: a hieroglyphic raises two images in the mind; one seen, which represents one not seen: an allegory does the same; the representative subject is described; and resemblance leads us to apply the description to the subject represented. In a figure of speech, there is no fiction of the imagination employed, as in a metaphor, nor a representative subject introduced, as<280> in an allegory. This figure, as its name implies, regards the expression only, not the thought; and it may be defined, the using a word in a sense different from what is proper to it. Thus youth, or the beginning of life, is expressed figuratively by morning of life: morning is the beginning of the day; and in that view it is employed to signify the beginning of any other series, life especially, the progress of which is reckoned by days.
Figures of speech are reserved for a separate section; but metaphor and allegory are so much connected, that they must be handled together: the rules particularly for distinguishing the good from the bad, are common to both. We shall therefore proceed to these rules, after adding some examples to illustrate the nature of an allegory. Horace, speaking of his love to Pyrrha, which was now extinguished, expresseth himself thus:
My well-beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill. He fenced it, gathered out the stones thereof, planted it with the choicest vine, built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a wine-press therein: he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done? Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes? And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and<282> break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down. And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged, but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant.
Isaiah, v. 1.
The rules that govern metaphors and allegories, are of two kinds: the construction of these figures comes under the first kind: the propriety or impropriety of introduction comes under the other. I begin with rules of the first kind; some of which coincide with those already given for similes; some are peculiar to metaphors and allegories.
And, in the first place, it has been observed, that a simile cannot be agreeable where the resemblance is either too strong or too faint. This holds equally in metaphor and allegory; and the reason is the same in all. In the following instances, the resemblance is too faint to be agreeable.
The best way to judge of this metaphor, is to convert it into a simile; which would be bad, because<283> there is scarce any resemblance between lust and a cistern, or betwixt enormous lust and a large cistern.
There is no resemblance between a distempered cause and any body that can be confined within a belt.
Poverty here must be conceived a fluid, which it resembles not in any manner.
Speaking to Bolingbroke banished for six years:
Tantae molis erat Romanam condere gentem.
Aeneid. i. 37.70
The following metaphor is strained beyond all endurance: Timur-bec, known to us by the name of Tamerlane the Great, writes to Bajazet Emperor of the Ottomans in the following terms:
Where is the monarch who dares resist us? where is the potentate who doth not glory in being numbered among our attendants? As for thee, descended from a Turcoman sailor, since the vessel of thy unbounded ambition hath been wreck’d in the gulf of thy self-love, it would be proper, that thou shouldst take in the sails of thy temerity, and cast the anchor of repentance in the port of sincerity and justice, which is the port of safety; lest the tempest of our vengeance make thee perish in the sea of the punishment thou deservest.
Such strained figures, as observed above,* are not unfrequent in the first dawn of refinement: the mind in a new enjoyment knows no bounds, and is generally carried to excess, till taste and experience discover the proper limits.
Secondly, Whatever resemblance subjects may have, it is wrong to put one for another, where they bear no mutual proportion: upon comparing a very high to a very low subject, the simile takes on an air of burlesque; and the same will be the effect, where the one is imagined to be the other,<285> as in a metaphor; or made to represent the other, as in an allegory.
Thirdly, These figures, a metaphor especially, ought not to be crowded with many minute circumstances; for in that case it is scarcely possible to avoid obscurity. A metaphor above all ought to be short: it is difficult, for any time, to support a lively image of a thing being what we know it is not; and for that reason, a metaphor drawn out to any length, instead of illustrating or enlivening the principal subject, becomes disagreeable by over-straining the mind. Here Cowley is extremely licentious: take the following instance.
For the same reason, however agreeable long allegories may at first be by their novelty, they never afford any lasting pleasure: witness the Fairy Queen, which with great power of expression, variety of images, and melody of versification, is scarce ever read a second time.<286>
In the fourth place, the comparison carried on in a simile, being in a metaphor sunk by imagining the principal subject to be that very thing which it only resembles; an opportunity is furnished to describe it in terms taken strictly or literally with respect to its imagined nature. This suggests another rule, That in constructing a metaphor, the writer ought to make use of such words only as are applicable literally to the imagined nature of his subject: figurative words ought carefully to be avoided; for such complicated figures, instead of setting the principal subject in a strong light, involve it in a cloud; and it is well if the reader, without rejecting by the lump, endeavour patiently to gather the plain meaning regardless of the figures:
Copied from Ovid,
Sorbent avidae praecordia flammae.
Metamorph. lib. ix. 172.72
Let us analyse this expression. That a fever may be imagined a flame, I admit; though more than one step is necessary to come at the resemblance: a fever, by heating the body, resembles fire; and it is no stretch to imagine a fever to be a fire:<287> again, by a figure of speech, flame may be put for fire, because they are commonly conjoined; and therefore a fever may be termed a flame. But now admitting a fever to be a flame, its effects ought to be explained in words that agree literally to a flame. This rule is not observed here; for a flame drinks figuratively only, not properly.
King Henry to his son Prince Henry:
Such faulty metaphors are pleasantly ridiculed in the Rehearsal:
Sir, to conclude, the place you fill has more than amply exacted the talents of a wary pilot; and all these threatening storms, which, like impregnate clouds, hover o’er our heads, will, when they once are grasp’d but by the eye of reason, melt into fruitful showers of blessings on the people.
Pray mark that allegory. Is not that good?
Yes, that grasping of a storm with the eye is admirable.
Act 2. sc. 1.
Fifthly, The jumbling different metaphors in the same sentence, beginning with one metaphor and ending with another, commonly called a mixt<288> metaphor, ought never to be indulged. Quintilian bears testimony against it in the bitterest terms; “Nam id quoque in primis est custodiendum, ut quo ex genere coeperis translation is, hoc definas. Multi enim, cum initium a tempestate sumpserunt, incendio aut ruina finiunt: quae est inconsequentia rerum foedissima.” L. 8. cap. 6. § 2.74
In the sixth place, It is unpleasant to join different metaphors in the same period, even where they are preserved distinct: for when the subject is imagined to be first one thing and then another in the same period without interval, the mind is distracted by the rapid transition; and when the imagination is put on such hard duty, its images are too faint to produce any good effect:<289>
In the last place, It is still worse to jumble together metaphorical and natural expression, so as that the period must be understood in part metaphorically in part literally; for the imagination cannot follow with sufficient ease changes so sudden and unprepared: a metaphor begun and not carried on, hath no beauty; and instead of light there is nothing but obscurity and confusion. Instances of such incorrect composition are without number. I shall, for a specimen, select a few from different authors.
Speaking of Britain,
In the first line Britain is figured to be a precious stone: in the following lines, Britain, divested of her metaphorical dress, is presented to the reader in her natural appearance.
The following is a miserable jumble of expressions, arising from an unsteady view of the subject, between its figurative and natural appearance:
Dryden, in his dedication of the translation of Juvenal, says,
When thus, as I may say, before the use of the loadstone, or knowledge of the compass, I was sailing in a vast ocean, without other help than the pole-star of the ancients, and the rules of the French stage among the moderns, &c.
There is a time when factions, by the vehemence of their own fermentation, stun and disable one another.
This fault of jumbling the figure and plain expression into one confused mass, is not less common in allegory than in metaphor. Take the following examples.
Lord Halifax,86 speaking of the ancient fabulists: “They (says he) wrote in signs and spoke in parables: all their fables carry a double meaning: the story is one and entire; the characters the same throughout; not broken or changed, and always conformable to the nature of the creature they introduce. They never tell you, that the dog which snapp’d at a shadow, lost his troop of horse; that would be unintelligible. This is his (Dryden’s) new way of telling a story, and confounding the moral and the fable together.” After instancing from the hind and panther, he goes on thus: “What relation has the hind to our Saviour? or what notion have we of a panther’s Bible? If you say he means the church, how does the church feed on lawns, or range in the forest? Let it be always a church or always a cloven-footed beast, for we cannot bear his shifting the scene every line.”
A few words more upon allegory. Nothing gives greater pleasure than this figure, when the representative subject bears a strong analogy, in all its circumstances, to that which is represented: but the choice is seldom so lucky; the analogy<293> being generally so faint and obscure, as to puzzle and not please. An allegory is still more difficult in painting than in poetry: the former can show no resemblance but what appears to the eye; the latter hath many other resources for showing the resemblance. And therefore, with respect to what the Abbé du Bos* terms mixt allegorical compositions, these may do in poetry; because, in writing, the allegory can easily be distinguished from the historical part: no person, for example, mistakes Virgil’s Fame for a real being. But such a mixture in a picture is intolerable; because in a picture the objects must appear all of the same kind, wholly real or wholly emblematical. For this reason, the history of Mary de Medicis, in the palace of Luxenbourg, painted by Rubens, is unpleasant by a perpetual jumble of real and allegorical personages, which produce a discordance of parts, and an obscurity upon the whole: witness, in particular, the tablature representing the arrival of Mary de Medicis at Marseilles; where, together with the real personages, the Nereids and Tritons appear sounding their shells: such a mixture of fiction and reality in the same group, is strangely absurd. The picture of Alexander and Roxana, described by Lucian, is gay and fanciful; but it suffers by the allegorical figures. It is not in the wit of man to invent an allegorical re-<294>presentation deviating farther from any shadow of resemblance, than one exhibited by Lewis XIV. anno 1664; in which an enormous chariot, intended to represent that of the sun, is dragg’d along, surrounded with men and women, representing the four ages of the world, the celestial signs, the seasons, the hours, &c.; a monstrous composition, suggested probably by Guido’s tablature of Aurora, and still more absurd.
In an allegory as well as in a metaphor, terms ought to be chosen that properly and literally are applicable to the representative subject: nor ought any circumstance to be added that is not proper to the representative subject, however justly it may be applicable properly or figuratively to the principal. The following allegory is therefore faulty:
For though blood may suggest the cruelty of love, it is an improper or immaterial circumstance in the representative subject: water, not blood, is proper for a whetstone.
We proceed to the next head, which is, to examine in what circumstance these figures are proper, in what improper. This inquiry is not alto-<295>gether superseded by what is said upon the same subject in the chapter of Comparisons; because upon trial it will be found, that a short metaphor or allegory may be proper, where a simile, drawn out to a greater length, and in its nature more solemn, would scarce be relished.
And, first, a metaphor, like a simile, is excluded from common conversation, and from the description of ordinary incidents.
Second, in expressing any severe passion that wholly occupies the mind, metaphor is improper. For which reason, the following speech of Macbeth is faulty.
The following example, of deep despair, beside the highly figurative style, hath more the air of raving than of sense:
The metaphor I next introduce, is sweet and lively, but it suits not a fiery temper inflamed with passion: parables are not the language of wrath venting itself without restraint.
The following speech, full of imagery, is not natural in grief and dejection of mind:
There is an enchanting picture of deep distress in Macbeth,* where Macduff is represented lamenting his wife and children, inhumanly murdered by the tyrant. Stung to the heart with the news, he questions the messenger over and over: not that he doubted the fact, but that his heart revolted against so cruel a misfortune. After struggling some time with his grief, he turns from his wife and children to their savage butcher; and then gives vent to his resentment, but still with manliness and dignity:
Figure of Speech.
In the section immediately foregoing, a figure of speech is defined, “The using a word in a sense different from what is proper to it”; and the new or uncommon sense of the word is termed the figurative sense. The figurative sense must have a relation to that which is proper; and the more intimate the relation is, the figure is the more happy. How ornamental this figure is to language, will not be readily imagined by any one who hath not given peculiar attention; and therefore I shall endeavour to unfold its capital beauties and advantages. In the first place, a word used figuratively or in a new sense, suggests at the same time the sense it commonly bears: and thus it has the effect to present two objects; one signified by the figurative sense, which may be termed the principal object; and one signified by the proper sense, which may be termed accessory: the principal makes a part of the thought; the accessory is merely ornamental. In this respect, a figure of speech is precisely similar to concordant sounds in music, which, without contributing to the melody, make it harmonious. I explain myself by examples.<300> Youth, by a figure of speech, is termed the morning of life. This expression signifies youth, the principal object, which enters into the thought: it suggests, at the same time, the proper sense of morning; and this accessory object, being in itself beautiful, and connected by resemblance to the principal object, is not a little ornamental. Imperious ocean is an example of a different kind, where an attribute is expressed figuratively: together with stormy, the figurative meaning of the epithet imperious, there is suggested its proper meaning, viz. the stern authority of a despotic prince; and these two are strongly connected by resemblance. Upon this figurative power of words, Vida descants with elegance:
In the next place, this figure possesses a signal power of aggrandising an object, by the following means. Words, which have no original beauty but what arises from their sound, acquire an adventitious beauty from their meaning: a word signifying any thing that is agreeable, becomes by that means agreeable; for the agreeableness of the object is communicated to its name.* This acquired beauty by the force of custom, adheres to the word even when used figuratively; and the beauty received from the thing it properly signifies, is communicated to the thing which it is made to signify figuratively. Consider the foregoing expression Imperious ocean, how much more elevated it is than Stormy ocean.
Thirdly, This figure hath a happy effect by preventing the familiarity of proper names. The familiarity of a proper name, is communicated to the thing it signifies by means of their intimate connection; and the thing is thereby brought<302> down in our feeling.† This bad effect is prevented by using a figurative word instead of one that is proper; as, for example, when we express the sky by terming it the blue vault of heaven; for though no work of art can compare with the sky in grandeur, the expression however is relished, because it prevents the object from being brought down by the familiarity of its proper name. With respect to the degrading familiarity of proper names, Vida has the following passage:
Lastly, by this figure language is enriched, and rendered more copious; in which respect, were there no other, a figure of speech is a happy invention. This property is finely touched by Vida:
The beauties I have mentioned belong to every figure of speech. Several other beauties peculiar to one or other sort, I shall have occasion to remark afterward.
Not only subjects, but qualities, actions, effects, may be expressed figuratively. Thus, as to subjects, the gates of breath for the lips, the watery kingdom for the ocean. As to qualities, fierce for stormy, in the expression Fierce winter: Altus for profundus; Altus puteus, Altum mare: Breathing for perspiring; Breathing plants. Again, as to actions, The sea rages, Time will melt her frozen thoughts, Time kills grief. An effect is put for the cause, as lux for the sun; and a cause for the effect, as boum labores for corn. The relation of resemblance is one plentiful source of figures of speech; and nothing is more common than to apply to one object the name of another that resembles it in any respect: height, size, and worldly greatness, resemble not each other; but the emotions they produce resemble each other, and prompted by this resemblance, we naturally express worldly greatness by height or size: one feels a certain uneasiness in seeing a great depth;<304> and hence depth is made to express any thing disagreeable by excess, as depth of grief, depth of despair: again, height of place, and time long past, produce similar feelings; and hence the expression, Ut altius repetam: distance in past time, producing a strong feeling, is put for any strong feeling, Nihil mihi antiquius nostra amicitia: shortness with relation to space, for shortness with relation to time, Brevis esse laboro, obscurus fio:93 suffering a punishment resembles paying a debt; hence pendere poenas. In the same manner, light may be put for glory, sunshine for prosperity, and weight for importance.
Many words, originally figurative, having, by long and constant use, lost their figurative power, are degraded to the inferior rank of proper terms. Thus the words that express the operations of the mind, have in all languages been originally figurative: the reason holds in all, that when these operations came first under consideration, there was no other way of describing them but by what they resembled: it was not practicable to give them proper names, as may be done to objects that can be ascertained by sight and touch. A soft nature, jarring tempers, weight of wo, pompous phrase, beget compassion, assuage grief, break a vow, bend the eye downward, shower down curses, drown’d in tears, wrapt in joy, warm’d with eloquence, loaded with spoils, and a thousand other expressions of the like nature, have<305> lost their figurative sense. Some terms there are, that cannot be said to be either altogether figurative or altogether proper: originally figurative, they are tending to simplicity, without having lost altogether their figurative power. Virgil’s Regina saucia cura,94 is perhaps one of these expressions: with ordinary readers, saucia will be considered as expressing simply the effect of grief; but one of a lively imagination will exalt the phrase into a figure.
For epitomising this subject, and at the same time for giving a clear view of it, I cannot think of a better method, than to present to the reader a list of the several relations upon which figures of speech are commonly founded. This list I divide into two tables; one of subjects expressed figuratively, and one of attributes.
1. A word proper to one subject employed figuratively to express a resembling subject.
There is no figure of speech so frequent, as what is derived from the relation of resemblance. Youth, for example, is signified figuratively by the morning of life. The life of a man resembles<306> a natural day in several particulars: the morning is the beginning of day, youth the beginning of life; the morning is cheerful, so is youth, &c. By another resemblance, a bold warrior is termed the thunderbolt of war; a multitude of troubles, a sea of troubles.
This figure, above all others, affords pleasure to the mind by variety of beauties. Beside the beauties above mentioned, common to all sorts, it possesses in particular the beauty of a metaphor or of a simile: a figure of speech built upon resemblance, suggests always a comparison between the principal subject and the accessory; whereby every good effect of a metaphor or simile, may in a short and lively manner, be produced by this figure of speech.
2. A word proper to the effect employed figuratively to express the cause.
Lux for the sun. Shadow for cloud. A helmet is signified by the expression glittering terror. A tree by shadow or umbrage. Hence the expression:
Nec habet Pelion umbras.
Where the dun umbrage hangs.
Spring, l. 1023.<307>
A wound is made to signify an arrow:
Vulnere non pedibus te consequar.
There is a peculiar force and beauty in this figure: the word which signifies figuratively the principal subject, denotes it to be a cause by suggesting the effect.
3. A word proper to the cause, employed figuratively to express the effect.
Boumque labores, for corn. Sorrow or grief, for tears.
Blindness for darkness:
There is a peculiar energy in this figure, similar to that in the former: the figurative name denotes the subject to be an effect, by suggesting its cause.
4. Two things being intimately connected, the proper name of the one employed figuratively to signify the other.<308>
Day for light. Night for darkness; and hence, A sudden night. Winter for a storm at sea:
This last figure would be too bold for a British writer, as a storm at sea is not inseparably connected with winter in this climate.
5. A word proper to an attribute, employed figuratively to denote the subject.
Youth and beauty for those who are young and beautiful:
Youth and beauty shall be laid in dust.
Majesty for the King:
Verdure for a green field.
Summer, l. 301.<309>
The peculiar beauty of this figure arises from suggesting an attribute that embellishes the subject, or puts it in a stronger light.
6. A complex term employed figuratively to denote one of the component parts.
Funus for a dead body. Burial for a grave.
7. The name of one of the component parts instead of the complex term.
Taeda for a marriage. The East for a country situated east from us. Jovis vestigia servat, for imitating Jupiter in general.
8. A word signifying time or place, employed figuratively to denote what is connected with it.
Clime for a nation, or for a constitution of government: hence the expression, Merciful clime, Fleecy winter for snow, Seculum felix.<310>
9. A part for the whole.
The Pole for the earth. The head for the person:
Triginta minas pro capite tuo dedi.
Tergum for the man:
Vultus for the man:
Dumque virent genua?
The silent heart with grief assails.
Grove for the birds in it, Vocal grove. Ships for the seamen, Agonizing ships. Mountains for the sheep pasturing upon them, Bleating mountains. Zacynthus, Ithaca, &c. for the inhabitants. Ex moestis domibus, Livy.
11. The name of the sustainer, employed figuratively to signify what is sustained.
Altar for the sacrifice. Field for the battle fought upon it, Well-fought field.
12. The name of the materials, employed figuratively to signify the things made of them.
Ferrum for gladius.
13. The names of the Heathen deities, employed figuratively to signify what they patronise.
Jove for the air, Mars for war, Venus for beauty, Cupid for love, Ceres for corn, Neptune for the sea, Vulcan for fire.
This figure bestows great elevation upon the subject; and therefore ought to be confined to the higher strains of poetry.<312>
1. When two attributes are connected, the name of the one may be employed figuratively to express the other.
Purity and virginity are attributes of the same person: hence the expression, Virgin snow, for pure snow.
2. A word signifying properly an attribute of one subject, employed figuratively to express a resembling attribute of another subject.
Tottering state. Imperious ocean. Angry flood. Raging tempest. Shallow fears.
Black omen, for an omen that portends bad fortune.
The peculiar beauty of this figure arises from suggesting a comparison.<313>
3. A word proper to the subject, employed to express one of its attributes.
Mens for intellectus. Mens for a resolution:
Istam, oro, exue mentem.106
4. When two subjects have a resemblance by a common quality, the name of the one subject may be employed figuratively to denote that quality in the other.
Summer life for agreeable life.
5. The name of the instrument made to signify the power of employing it.
The ample field of figurative expression displayed in these tables, affords great scope for reasoning. Several of the observations relating to metaphor, are applicable to figures of speech: these I shall slightly retouch, with some additions peculiarly adapted to the present subject.
In the first place, as the figure under consideration is built upon relation, we find from experience, and it must be obvious from reason, that the beauty of the figure depends on the intimacy<314> of the relation between the figurative and proper sense of the word. A slight resemblance, in particular, will never make this figure agreeable: the expression, for example, Drink down a secret, for listening to a secret with attention, is harsh and uncouth, because there is scarce any resemblance between listening and drinking. The expression weighty crack, used by Ben Johnson for loud crack, is worse if possible: a loud sound has not the slightest resemblance to a piece of matter that is weighty. The following expression of Lucretius is not less faulty, “Et lepido quae sunt fucata sonore.” i. 645.108
Strepitumque exterritus hausit.
Aeneid. vi. 559.110
As thus th’ effulgence tremulous I drink.
Summer, l. 1684.<315>
Neque audit currus habenas.
Georg. i. 514.111
The following figures of speech seem altogether wild and extravagant, the figurative and proper meaning having no connection whatever. Moving softness, Freshness breathes, Breathing prospect, Flowing spring, Dewy light, Lucid coolness, and many others of this false coin, may be found in Thomson’s Seasons.
Secondly, The proper sense of the word ought to bear some proportion to the figurative sense, and not soar much above it, nor sink much below it. This rule, as well as the foregoing, is finely illustrated by Vida:
Thirdly, In a figure of speech, every circumstance ought to be avoided that agrees with the proper sense only, not the figurative sense; for it is the latter that expresses the thought, and the former serves for no other purpose but to make harmony:
Zacynthus here standing figuratively for the inhabitants, the description of the island is quite out of place: it puzzles the reader, by making him doubt whether the word ought to be taken in its proper or figurative sense.
How does your Grace?
Ulysses speaking of Hector:
No; my heart is turn’d to stone: I strike it, and it hurts my hand.
Othello, act 4. sc. 5.116
This would be very right, if there were any inconsistence, in being interred in one place really, and in another place figuratively.
From considering that a word used in a figurative sense suggests at the same time its proper meaning, we discover a fifth rule, That we ought not to employ a word in a figurative sense, the proper sense of which is inconsistent or incongruous with the subject: for every inconsistency, and even incongruity, though in the expression only and not real, is unpleasant:<320>
The foregoing rule may be extended to form a sixth, That no epithet ought to be given to the figurative sense of a word that agrees not also with its proper sense:
Seventhly, The crowding into one period or thought different figures of speech, is not less faulty than crowding metaphors in that manner: the mind is distracted in the quick transition from one image to another, and is puzzled instead of being pleased:
Eighthly, If crowding figures be bad, it is still worse to graft one figure upon another: For instance,
While his keen falchion drinks the warriors’ lives.
Iliad xi. 211.
A falchion129 drinking the warriors’ blood is a figure built upon resemblance, which is passable. But then in the expression, lives is again put for blood; and by thus grafting one figure upon another, the expression is rendered obscure and unpleasant.
Ninthly, Intricate and involved figures that can scarce be analysed, or reduced to plain language, are least of all tolerable:
Votis incendimus aras.
Aeneid. iii. 279.130
Vulcan to the Cyclopes:
Else shall our fates be number’d with the dead.
Iliad v. 294.
Commutual death the fate of war confounds.
Iliad viii. 85. and xi. 117.
Speaking of Proteus,
The mingling tempest weaves its gloom.
Autumn, 337.136 <323>
A various sweetness swells the gentle race.
A sober calm fleeces unbounded ether.
The distant water-fall swells in the breeze.
In the tenth place, When a subject is introduced by its proper name, it is absurd to attribute to it the properties of a different subject to which the word is sometimes apply’d in a figurative sense:
Neptune is here introduced personally, and not figuratively for the ocean: the description therefore, which is only applicable to the latter, is altogether improper.
It is not sufficient, that a figure of speech be regularly constructed, and be free from blemish: it requires taste to discern when it is proper when improper; and taste, I suspect, is our only guide. One however may gather from reflection and experience, that ornaments and graces suit not any of the dispiriting passions, nor are proper for expressing any thing grave and important. In familiar conversation, they are in some measure ridicu-<324>lous: Prospero, in the Tempest, speaking to his daughter Miranda, says,
No exception can be taken to the justness of the figure; and circumstances may be imagined to make it proper; but it is certainly not proper in familiar conversation.
In the last place, Though figures of speech have a charming effect when accurately constructed and properly introduced, they ought however to be scattered with a sparing hand: nothing is more luscious, and nothing consequently more satiating, than redundant ornaments of any kind.<325>
[* ]Page 204.
[† ]Chap. 2. part 5.
[1. ]Act 3, sc. 1: read “times” for “time.”
[* ]Philoctetes of Sophocles, act 4. sc. 2.
[† ]Alcestes of Euripides, act 2. sc. 1.
[2. ]“Daphnis, the wild mountains and woods tell us that even the African lions moaned over thy death.”
[3. ]“For him, even the laurels, even the tamarisks wept. For him, as he lay beneath a lonely rock, even the pine-crowned Maenalus wept, and the crags of cold Lycacus.”
[4. ]“Rocks and waves I have seen moved to pity by my complaints—I have heard the trees accompany my tears with sighs, but I have never found, nor hope to find, compassion in this cruel fair.” (Aminta, trans. E. Grillo)
[5. ]Read “rebellion’s” in the last line.
[* ]Philoctetes of Sophocles, at the close.
[6. ]“He raises a mighty roar, whereat the sea and all its waves shuddered and the land of Italy was affrighted far within, and Aetna bellowed in its winding caverns.” Read “Construemere” for “Intremuere.”
[7. ]“The wave that brought it in recoiled aghast” (act 5, sc. 5).
[* ]The chastity of the English language, which in common usage distinguishes by genders no words but what signify beings male and female, gives thus a fine opportunity for the prosopopoeia; a beauty unknown in other languages, where every word is masculine or feminine.
[8. ]Act 3, sc. 5.
[† ]See Appendix, containing definitions and explanations of terms, § 29.
[9. ]“But rather, I would pray, may earth yawn for me to its depths, or may the Almighty Father hurl me with his bolt to the shades—the pale shades and abysmal might of Erebus—before, O Shame, I violate thee or break thy laws!”
[10. ]Act 2, sc. 2.
[* ]Aeneid iv. 173.
[11. ]Act 3, sc. 2: read “As if this flesh” for “As if his flesh.”
[12. ]Second line read: “Are at this hour asleep! O Sleep! O gentle Sleep, . . .” Read “clouds” for “shrouds”; “and most stillest night” for “the stillest night.”
[13. ]Act 2, sc. 1, The Fate of Capua—A Tragedy, 1700.
[14. ]Act 1, sc. 2.
[15. ]Act 4, sc. 9.
For the first line, read “Ch’i’ t’ami e t’ami piu de la mia vita.”
[17. ]“Hardly had Caesar descended from his praetorian ship, than a dreadful storm arose in the port, which by its violence scattered the fleet and sank his ship, as if it would no longer bear Caesar or the Fortune of Caesar.”
[18. ]Act 2, sc. 1.
[19. ]Act 4, sc. 2: read “unsisting” for “unresisting.”
[20. ]“while thy severed hand, Larides, seeks its master, and the dying fingers twitch and clutch again at the sword.”
[21. ]Kames omits five lines between the second and third lines.
[23. ]Act 1, sc. 2.
[24. ]Act 2, sc. 2.
[25. ]Act 2, sc. 2.
[26. ]Act 2, sc. 4.
[29. ]“And the arrow in its fury, thirsty for blood, departs, flies towards him, reaches him, and pierces his side.”
[30. ]“Black Care even takes her seat behind the horseman” (Odes 3.1.40).
[31. ]“A blundering fool, whom trouble and sickness afflicts in town and country alike, in vain mounts his steed to escape his worries, because Sorrow rides as pillion and gallops along with him.”
[* ]Epistle 10.
[32. ]“Next the harbour of Drepanum and its joyless shore receive me. Here I, who have been driven by so many ocean-storms, lose, alas! my father Anchises, solace of every care and chance; here, best of fathers, thou leavest me in my weariness, snatched, alas! From such mighty perils all for naught. Nor did the seer Helenus, though he warned me of many horrors, nor grim Celaeno foretell me this grief.”
[33. ]“And had the gods’ decrees, had our mind not been perverse, he had driven us to befoul with steel the Argive den, and Troy would now be standing, and thou, lofty citadel of Priam, wouldst still abide!”
[34. ]Act 3, sc. 2.
[35. ]“Faunus’ sire was Picus, and he boasts thee, O Saturn, as his father; thou art first founder of the line.”
[* ]See chap. 8.
[* ]Chap. 31. of his Treatise on the Sublime.
[36. ]“She might have flown o’er the topmost blades of unmown corn, nor in her course bruised the tender ears.”
[37. ]“And at the bottom of her seething chasm thrice she sucks the vast waves into the abyss, and again in turn casts them upwards, lashing the stars with spray.”
[38. ]“Near at hand Aetna thunders with terrifying crashes, and now hurls forth to the sky a black cloud, smoking with pitch-black eddy and glowing ashes, and uplifts balls of flame and licks the stars.”
[39. ]“He, gigantic, strikes the stars on high.”
[* ]L. 8. cap. 6. in fin.
[41. ]Act 3, sc. 3.
[42. ]“A short time and our princely piles will leave but a few acres to the plough.”
[43. ]Act 1, sc. 3.
[44. ]Act 1, sc. 1: read “his beams” for “its beams,” “wrathful” for “awful.”
[45. ]“If all the trees were pens, the sky was paper and the sea was ink, they would not capture the smallest part of your perfections.”
[46. ]Il Pastor Fido, act 5, sc. 2:
[47. ]Claude de Malleville (1597–1647), cited in the first edition as from Collection of French Epigrams, vol. 1, p. 66. “Silence reigned over land and sea, the sky became calm and Olympus vermilion, and the amorous West Wind shaking off sleep revived the flowers with a second breath. Dawn spread out the gold of her flaxen hair, and sowed with rubies the path of the sun; at last the God appeared in his finest array, that he might ever light the world. But when young and smiling Phillis left his palace more radiant than the east, he shone forth as a light yet brighter still and more beautiful. O sacred flame of day, do not be jealous that you seemed as dim beside him as the stars of the night beside you.”
[48. ]Geoffrey Chaucer, The Knight’s Tale, 2273.
[* ]See chap. 2. part 1. sect. 5.
[49. ]“rash deed” (Terence, Eunuch 4.3.2).
[50. ]Titus Maccius Plautus (ca. 205–184 ), a comic playwright whose plays are the earliest Latin works to have survived complete: “I thought that both of them had perished in the miserable sea.”
[51. ]Act 3, sc. 5.
[52. ]Paradise Lost, 3.546.
[53. ]“Iccius, art thou looking now with envious eye at the rich treasures of the Arabians.”
[54. ]Henry VI, Part 1, act 4, sc. 5.
[55. ]Line 1346.
[* ]See chap. 1.
[56. ]“sink and o’erwhelm the ships.”
[57. ]Act 3, sc. 3.
[58. ]Act 1, sc. 2. Modern texts read as follows:
[59. ]Act 4, sc. 3.
[60. ]Act 5, sc. 4.
[* ]L. 8. cap. 6. sect. 2. [Sect. 44]
[61. ]“O ship, new billows threaten to bear thee out to sea again. Beware! Haste valiantly to reach the haven!”
[62. ]“And the rest of the ode, in which Horace represents the state under the semblance of a ship, the civil wars as tempests, and peace and good-will as the haven.”
[63. ]“As for me, the temple wall with its votive tablet shows I have hung up my dripping garments to the god who is master of the sea.”
[64. ]Book 4, ode 15: “When I wished to sing of fights and cities won, Apollo checked me, striking loud his lyre, and forbade my spreading tiny sails upon the Tuscan Sea.”
[65. ]Act 5, sc. 4.
[66. ]Act 4, sc. 3.
[67. ]Act 4, sc. 2.
[68. ]Act 1, sc. 3.
[69. ]Act 3, sc. 2 to read:
[70. ]“So vast was the struggle to found the race of Rome.”
[* ]Chap. 19. Comparisons.
[71. ]“The Constant.”
[72. ]“Greedy flames sucked in his heart.”
[73. ]Act 4, sc. 5: delete “frail.”
[74. ]“For it is all important to follow the principle illustrated by this passage and never to mix your metaphors, But there are many who, after beginning with a tempest, will end with a fire or a falling house, with the result that they produce a hideously incongruous effect.” Read “Multi autem” for “multi enim.”
[75. ]Henry IV, Part 1, act 5, sc. 1.
[76. ]Act 3, sc. 1: read “slings” for “stings.”
[77. ]“But the queen, long since smitten with a grievous love-pang, feeds the wound with her life-blood, and is wasted with fire unseen.”
[78. ]“All the while the flame devours her tender heart-strings, and deep in her breast lives the silent wound.”
[79. ]“Thou art treating of the civil strife that with Metellus’ consulship began, the causes of the war, its blunders, and its phases, and Fortune’s game, friendships of leaders that boded ill, and weapons stained with blood as yet unexpiated—a task full of dangerous hazard—and art walking, as it were, over fires hidden beneath treacherous ashes.”
[80. ]Read “set in the silver sea.”
[81. ]“In times of stress shew thyself bold and valiant! Yet wisely reef thy sails when they are swollen by too fair a breeze.” (Odes II.x)
[82. ]“Yes, his modesty is but a shameless grimace, that a cloak of virtue poorly disguises, and which vanishes, as one comes to realise, in the light of day when a purse appears.”
[84. ]“Alas! How often shall he lament changed faith and gods, and marvel in surprise at waters rough with darkening gales, who now enjoys thee, fondly thinking thee all golden, who hopes that thou wilt ever be free of passion for another, ever lovely—ignorant of the treacherous breeze.” Read “quotiens fidem” for “quoties fidem.”
[86. ]Charles Montague, Earl of Halifax (1661–1715): statesman, poet, disciple, and subsequently patron of Isaac Newton and of Addison. He was one of the commissioners who negotiated the union with Scotland in 1706.
[* ]Reflections sur la Poesie, vol. 1. sect. 24.
[87. ]“cruel Cupid, ever whetting his fiery darts on blood-stained stone.”
[88. ]Act 2, sc. 2: read “death” for “birth.”
[* ]Act 4. sc. 6. [Act 4, sc. 3: delete “then” in last line.]
[* ]See chap. 2. part. 1. sect. 5.
[† ]I have often regretted, that a factious spirit of opposition to the reigning family makes it necessary in public worship to distinguish the King by his proper name. One will scarce imagine who has not made the trial, how much better it sounds to pray for our Sovereign Lord the King, without any addition.
[93. ]The preceding three phrases are translated as:
[94. ]Aeneid 4.1: “The queen, long since smitten with a grievous love pang.”
[95. ]Metamorphoses 12.513: “Pelion stripped of its forest shade.”
[96. ]“With my wound I will follow you, not my feet.”
[97. ]“We wander on the blind waves.”
[98. ]“Meanwhile Neptune saw the sea in a turmoil of wild uproar.”
[99. ]Circilio 2.3.65: “I gave thirty minae for your head.”
[100. ]“Fleeing, with back turned.”
[101. ]Odes 2.1: “Even now the gleam of weapons strikes terror into timid horses and into the horsemen’s faces.”
[102. ]Odes 1.24: “What restraint should there be to grief for one so dear?”
[103. ]Epodes 13.4: “While our limbs are strong [literally ‘knees’]”
[104. ]Thomas Parnell (1679–1718), friend of Swift, and of Pope who published his works posthumously.
[105. ]“Black odour” (bad smell).
[106. ]“I beg you, make clear your resolution.”
[107. ]Horace Odes 3.13: “O Melpomene, thou to whom the Father gave a liquid voice and music of the lyre.”
[108. ]“And are varnished over with finely sounding phrase.”
[109. ]“But the dense throng, shoulder to shoulder packed, drinks in more eagerly with listening ear stories of battles and of tyrants banished.”
[110. ]“Rooted to the spot in terror of the din.”
[111. ]“The chariot heeds not the rein.”
[114. ]Act 3, sc. 2.
[115. ]Act 4, sc. 5.
[116. ]Act 4, sc. 1.
[117. ]John Dryden.
[118. ]From “The Long Life.”
[119. ]From “The Tree.”
[120. ]From “Weeping.”
[121. ]François de Maynard (1583–1646) Oeuvres poétiques: untitled epigram.
[122. ]“Upon me Venus, leaving her Cyprus, has fallen with all her power.”
[123. ]“Meanwhile by the wave of the Tiber river, the father staunched his wounds with water, and rested his reclining frame against a tree’s trunk.”
[124. ]“For full three days, shrouded in misty gloom, we wander in the deep, for as many starless nights.”
[125. ]“Then let Opuntian Megylla’s brother tell with what wound, what shaft, he languishes in bliss.”
[126. ]“I, a chary and infrequent worshipper of the gods, what time I wandered, the votary of a foolish wisdom.”
[127. ]Act 3, sc. 1: read “And I of ladies” for “I am of ladies.”
[128. ]“Ah! Wretched youth! In what fatal whirlpool art thou caught, lad worthy of a better flame! What witch, what wizard with Thessalian charms, nay, what god, can rescue thee! Entangled, as thou art, in the triple-formed Chimaera’s toils, scarce Pegasus shall set thee free.”
[129. ]Broad, curved convex-edged sword.
[130. ]“And kindle the altars with offerings.”
[131. ]“And pile on baskets the gifts of Ceres.”
[132. ]“Arms for a brave warrior must ye make. Now is need of strength, now of swift hands, now of all your masterful skill. Fling off delay!”
[133. ]“Driven through the brazen joints and through tunic rough with gold, the sword drank from his pierced side.”
[134. ]“And the doom of death, that before had been slow and distant, quickened its pace.”
[135. ]“Thou shalt be heralded by Varius, a poet of Homeric flight, as valiant and victorious o’er the foe.”
[136. ]Line 333.
[137. ]Line 633.
[138. ]Line 957.
[139. ]Line 735.
[140. ]Act 1, sc. 2.