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the other for affliction, on account of some analogy which,
they are supposed to bear to these conditions of life. Figures

VOL. J. L



146 BELLES LETTRES.

of thought, suppose the words to be used In their proper and
literal meaning ; and the figure consists in the turn of thought^
as is the case in exclamations, interrogations, apostroplies, and
comparisons. This distinction is of no great use, nor is it of
much importance, whether we assign to any particular mode
of expression the name of trope or figure, provided we remem-
ber, that figurative language imports some colouring of the
imagination, or some emotion of passion.

Ancieut writers classed as tropes, the metaphor, metonymy,
93necdoche, and irony: with ihem, Jigures were almost innu-
merable. It is not necessary to follow rhetoricians in all their
several distinctions ; we shall very briefly proceed to treat of
those forms of expression which are suggested by the relations
of resemblance, contiguity, and cause and effect. From the
/elation of resemblance proceed the comparison or simile, the
metaphor, the allegory, and the allusion.

The COMPARISON is the first and most natural of all rhe-
torical figures. Comparisons serve two purposes ; when ad-
dressed to the understanding, their object is to instruct ; when
to the heart, their purpose is to please. Objects of different
senses cannot be compared together ; because such objects
4)eing entirely separated from each other, have no circumstance
in common to admit either resemblance or contrast. Objects
of hearing may be compared, and so also of the odier senses ;
but the chief sources of comparison are objects of sight, as
being more distinct and lively than those of any other sense.
Similies are not the natural language of passion ; they will not
serve to express the vehement emotions of the mind ; for if,
at that time, the imagination is disposed to be excursive, it
will drop the words expressing the resemblance, and adopt the
'Metaphor. Hence the difference between a simile and meta-
phor : in the former, Uie resemblance is brought before the
reader's view, by comparing the ideas together, and by words
expressing a likeness ; a metaphor is a comparison, without
the words expressing resemblance. A distinction may likewise
be established between comparisons and similies: the one'w



FIGURATIVE IjVNGUAGE. 14?

the general word, comprehending the whole class, or, at least,
is appropriated to the most perfect of the kind ; the other is
cbie% used in poetry, and implies, perhaps, a slighter and
more fanciful resemblance. The comparisons in the Scrip-
tures of the Old Testament are bold, and remarkably beautiful;
but, like those of the Orientalists in general, the resemblance
is frequently too fanciful and remote. They are frequently
very short, and the resemblance usually turns upon a single
circumstance, which is explained in few words, without the
introduction of any matter foreign to the purpose. Classical
writers are more sparing in their similies ; but there is too
great a sameness in those of Virgil and Homer. In their de-
scriptions of battles, the imagery of a lion, bull, an eagle, &c.
occurs so often, as to render them tedious rather than attrac-
tive. Modem writers enjoy greater advantages in this respect,
and to these they have not been inattentive. The superior
knowledge which they possess of the arts and sciences, and of
the history of nature in particular, has opened to them a wider
and more varied field in poetical imagery. It will of course
follow, that the author who possesses the greatest scope of
knowledge, ceteris paribus, will have the greatest command
of imagery, and will produce the boldest and most varied
comparisons. They are often to be met with in our gravest
productions ; thus, in a sermon on slander, we have the fol-
lowing beautiful comparison : *' Censure is in season so very
seldom, that it may be compared to that bitter plant which
hardly comes to maturity in the life of a man, and is said to
flower but once in a hundred years."

The several rules which have been given with respect to the
use of comparisons are as follow: (1.) They should not be
taken from common or vulgar objects. (2.) They ought not
to be trite, such as comparing a violent passion to a tempest.
(3.) They ought to be founded on a likeness, neither too ob-
vious nor too remote : if the likeness is too obvious, it dis-
gusts ; if too remote, it perplexes ; and, instead of assisting,
strains the fancy to comprehend them. (4.) Comparisons

I. 2



148 BELLES LETTRES.

should never be drawn from an nnknown object, or one of
>vhich few people can form clear ideas. Therefore, in works
of general reading, or in discourses addressed to popular as-
sembliee, comparisons founded oh philosophical discoveries,
or on any thing with which persons of a certain trade only, or
a particular profession, are conversant, cannot produce iheit
proper effect. They should, in general, be taken from those
illustrious, noted objects, vhich most readers either have seen,
or can strongly conceive. Thus Homer compares Achilles,
shining in armour, to the sun in its ascent to the meridian.
Milton, also, has taken the sun, moon, and other heavenly
bodies, as noted objects, with which he forms some of his
noblest similies :



' as when the san, new risen,



Looks throagh the horizontal misty air,

Shorn of his beams, or from behind the moon

In dim eclipse disastrous twilight sheds

On half the nations, darkcn'd so, yet shone

Above them all, th' Archangel. Pab.Lost. B.Jf.-

In this fme simile, the resemblance consists aot only in sen-
sible properties, but in character. 'J^hus it is not only the
' form of Satan, still retaining its brightness, though obscured,
which is compared to that of the sun behind a mist ; but his
malignant cjiaracter is also expressed by the ominous nature of
an eclipse, according to the superstitious notions then so gene-
rally admitted concerning tliat phenomenon.

Homer likens the shield of Achilles to the moon, and Mil-
ton does the same with respect to the shield of Satan :

And next he raised his ample, ponderous shield,

Whence beam'd from far a lustre, Uke the moon's. III. xix.



his ponderona shield,

EUicrcal temper, niasjy, large, and round,
Behind him cast, the broad circumference
Hung on his shoulders like the moon, &c.

Comparisons are not proper on all occasions : the mind must



FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE. 149

be disposed foiOhein to render them acceptable ; and in gene-
ral, when by any animating passion, whether pleasant or pain-
ful, an impulse is given to the imagination, we are in a condi-
tion to admit figurative expressions, especially comparisons:
^hus, in Shakespeare, the dread of misfortune, always involv-
ing some doubt and uncertainty, agitates the mind, excites the
imagination, and fits it for Wolsey's soliloquy



Nay, then, farewell !



I've tonch'd tlie liigliest point of all my greatness,

And from that full meridian of my glory

I haste now to my setting. I shall fall,

Like a bright exhalation in the evening.

And no man see me more. Henry VIII.

i
Happy as the poet often is in his similies, he sometimes in-
troduces them very improperly. As they are not the language
of a man in his ordinary state of mind, dispatching his usual
employment, the speech of the gardener, therefore, to his ser-
vants, in his Richard II., is very improper :

Go, bind thou up yon dangling apricots.
Which, like unruly children, make their sire
Stoop with oppression of their prodigal weight :
Qive some supportance to the bending twigs.

As comparison is founded on the resemblance, so Anti-
thesis depends on the contrast or opposition of two objects.
Contrast has always this effect : it makes each of the contrasted
objects appear in the stronger light. Antithesis may, there-
fore, on many occasions, be employed to advantage, in order
to strengthen the impression which we intend that any object
should make. On this account, Cicero makes considerable
use of it . in his orations ; as in the second against Catiline :
" On one side stands modesty, on the other impudenge ; on
the one fidelity, on the other deceit; here piety, ther^
sacrilege; here continency, there lust," &c. Such is also
that of Augustus, to certain seditious young men: " Audite



VtO BELLES LETTRES.

juvenes senem, quern juvenem senes audivdr ;" and this of

Vii^I:

Flectere si ncqueo superos, AchcroDta movebo.

IVom simities we proceed to Metaphors, which are the
most common of all figures of speech ; so much so, that when
we say a thing is spoken figuratively, we refer to the metaphor.
The n)etaphor is a short simile, or, as it has been called by
Cicero, a similitude reduced to a single word, and it differs
from it only in this ; that the former is conipared to the thing
we design to express, and the latter is put for it. The prin-
cipal advantage which the metaphor possesses over the simile,
is, that the former carries the mind nearer the reality than the
latter : as when it is said of Achilles, that " ^e rushed like a
lion," we have the idea of a man going on furiously to battle ;
but M'hen it is said, " the lion rushed oo," the image is more
vivid. So also when Virgil calls the Scipio's the thunder-bolts
of war, the idea is much more animated than if he had com-
pared them to thunder-bolts. By nieaus of a metaphor, the
rudder of a ship is called its reins ; for, what reins are to the
horse, that the rudder is to a ship in guiding and directing it.
When Christ called Herod a fox, it was by the use of the
metaphor : in the same way, a great minis*ter, as the illus-
trious Earl of Chatham, was aptly denominated the " pillar
of the state."

As the metaphor is intended to set things before the eyes,
it becomes so much the more perfect, as it shews them the
more vividly by representing them in motion and action. The
metaphor is described by Cicero as the most florid manner of
expression, and the brightest ornament of language that con-
sists in single words.

A metaphor should have nothing in it coarse or shocking, or
that iTiay raise it above the simplicity of nature, so as to be
forced or harsh ; it should never be carried too far, for in that
case it is apt to degenerate into puerility. Metaphors should
always be followed in the same kind, otherwise they become



FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE. 151

mixed, unnatural, and unpleasing. We cannot, for instance,
say, that a place was besieged by a deluge of troubles ; because
die two iopiages of a siege and deluge have no sort of relation.
A very striking metaphor from Lord Bolingbroke's " Remarks
on the History of England" has been noticed by writers on
Rhetoric. Speaking of the behaviour of Charles I. to his last
parliament, he says, " About a month after their meeting, lie
dissolved them ; and as soon as he had dissolved them, he re-
pented; but he repented too* late, of his rashness. Well might
he repent, for the vessel was now full, and this last drop made
the waters of bitterness to flow. Here," the historian adds,
*' we draw the curtain, and put an end to our remarks." The
vessel is put for the state or temper of the 'nation, already full,
that is, provoked to the highest by former oppressions and
wrongs : this last drop stands for the provocation recently re-
ceived by the abrupt dissglution of the parliament; and the
overflowing of the waters of bitterness, beautifully expresses
all the effects of resentment let loose by an exasperated people.
There is nothing in which young writers are more faulty, than in
the indiscreet use of metaphors : they who understand them
the best, use them with the greatest caution and reserve. Mr.
Addison proposes it as a rule, for writers to imagine their
metaphors actually painted before them, and to view and ex-
amine the justness of their application and assemblage under
those circumstances ; throwing every thing out of the writing
but what might be retained in the picture.

A metaphor is not always confined to a single word ; it may
extend to a whole sentence, as is the case in the following ani-
piated figure :

*' The swarm of monks that arose from the Nile, over-
spread and darkened the face of the Christian world." Gibbon.
Some metaphors, particularly those comprized in a single
word, have become so common, that they are scarcely to bq
considered as figurative. Thus we speak of an arm of the
sea ; the foot of a mountain; &tc. without thinking of figurative
language.



Id^ BELLES LETTRES.

The uses of metaphor are, that they render the style more
animated and striking, by introducing a new idea, in which
for the moment the original seems to be lost: they diversify
and vary a style, arid relieve it from that tedious uniformity,
which would be the result of a style, in which every word was
used in the literal sense : they serve to enlarge and elevate
our subject, and bestow dignity on composition. Thus the
expression, " Death spares neither the rich nor the poor," is
low, when compared with the beautiful lines of Horace,
expressive of the same idea :

Pallida mors spqno pulsat pede pauperuiu tabernas,
Regumque turres.

In English,

With eqaal pace, impartial fate

Knocks at the palace, as the cottage gate.

The rules laid down with regard to metaphors are as follow :
They should be suited to the nature of the subject of which
we treat : they should be neither too many, nor too gay, nor
too elevated : they should not be calculated to raise in the
mind disagreeable, mean, vulgar, or dirty ideas : the resem-
blance, which is the foundation of the metaphor, should be
clear and perspicuous, not far-fetched, nor difficult of disco-
very : two different metaphors should never be made to meet
on the same object. This is what is called a mixed meta-
phor, and is a wretched abuse of the figure. Such is Shake-
speare's expression, to " take arms against a sea of troubles :"
such, also, is the metaphor in Mr. Addisoq's letter from
Italy

I bridle in my struggling Muse in vaip.

That longs to launch into a bolder strain.

It is highly improper to change the muse from a horse to a
ship.

Lastly, metaphors ought not to be crowded or heaped one
upon another, nor should they be pursued too far. It is true,



FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE. 153

that, under circumstances of great agitation, a flow of metaphors
may be allowed ; of this we have an instance in Macbeth,
against which the most fastidious reader will scarcely object :

Can'st tlion not minister to a mind diseased?

Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow?

Rase out the living tablets of the brain ;

And, with some sweet oblivious antidote

Cleanse the foul bosom of that periloas stuff*,

That weighs upon the heart ?



4fr



^



*^-



CHAP. X.



FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE,.

Continued,



Allegory Catacbresis Metonymy Synecdoche Periphrasis Prosopo*
poeia, or Personification Rules for the managenieut of: Apostrophe-^
Hyperbole Irony Paraleipsis Interrogation-^ExcIamation ; and Re*
petition.

An allegory is, properly, a continued metaphor, or per-
haps more correctly, a series of metaphors in one or more
sentences; such is that contained in the 14lh Ode of the
First Book of Horace :

O navis, referent in marc te novi

Fluctus? O! quid agisP fortiter occnpa *

Fortum, &c.

In which, the ship is usually held to stand for the Republic j
waves, for civil war; port, for peace and concord; oars, for
soldiers ; and mariners, for magistrates. In Prior's Henry
and Emma, the latter describes her constancy to Henry in the
following allegorical manner:

Did I bat purpose to embark with thee
On the smooth surface of a summer's sea,
While gentle zephyrs play with prosperous galea,
And fortune's favour fills the swelling sails ;
But would forsake the ship, and make the shore,
When the winds whistle, and the tempests roar?



FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE. 155

A fine example of an allegory is to be found in the 80th
Psalm, in which the people of Israel are represented under the
image of a vine, and the figure is supported tliroughout with
great correctness and beauty.

Bishop Lowth has, in his " De Sacra Poesi Hebraeorum,"
specified three forms of allegory that occur in sacred poetry.
The first is, that which rhetoricians call a cohtinued meta-
phor ; an example of this kind occurs in the beginning of the
twelfth chapter of the book of Ecclesiastes, in which old
age is so admirably depicted. A second kind of allegory is
that which, in a proper and more restricted sense, may be
called a parable, and consists of a continued narration of some
fictitious event, accommodated by way of similitude to the
illustration of certain important truths. Allegories of this kind
are called by the Greeks, apologues ; by the Latins, fables.
Such are the fables of ^sop, and Pilpay, the Indian sage ;
and such are the narratives of Christ, conveyed under the
pame of parables. Such, in later times, is Spenser's Fairy
Queen, which consists of a series of these allegories ; and the
very popular work of John Bunyan, "The Pilgrim's Pro-
gress." The third species of allegory, which often occurs in
prophetic poetry, is that in which a double meaning is couched
under the same words ; or when the same discourse, differently
interpreted, designates different events, dissimilar in their na-
ture, and remote as to time.

The first of these kinds of allegory differs only in length
from the simple metaphor ; and it may he observed, that no
figure is more delicate or difficult in the hands of a young
writer. If the great difficulty in the use of a metaphor, is to
preserve the allusion in all its parts, it must be increased, by
applying a series of metaphors, to illustrate the same subject
Accordingly we perpetually find even good writers forgetting
the figurative, and resorting to the literal sense.

The following are given by Dr. Gregory, as excellent (the
first, however, is not altogether faultless) allegorical composi-
tions :



156 BELLES LETTRES.

This is the state of man : to-day, be puts forth

The tender leaves of hope ; to-morrow, blossomS;

And bears his blushing lionours tliick upon him:

The third day comes a frost, a killing frost !

And when he thinks, good easy man, full surely

Hit greatn'ss is a ripening nips his root,

And then he falls, &c. Henry "VIII.

In the fifth line, the literal is, in a measure, confounded
with the figurative meaning ; but, as a whole, it is very beauti-
ful, and the third line is finely descriptive ; but it*^cannot be
concealed, that it is unnatural, as coming from Wolsey after his
fall ; for we cannot imagine such an exuberance of allegory
and metaphor, as we meet with in this speech, ever fell from
the lips of a man overwhelmed in distress and grief.

The next is taken from Gibbon's Roman History. The
author, in speaking of the speculative dissensions which existed
in the Christian church at the period he is describing, says,
" It will not be expected, it would not, perhaps, be endured,
that I should swell this theological discussion, by a minute ex-
amination of eighteen creeds, the authors of which, for the
most part, disclaimed the odious name of their parent, Arius.
It is amusing enough to delineate the form, and to trace the
vegetation of this singular plant; but the tedious detail of
leaves without flowers, and of branches without fruit, would
soon exhaust the patience, and disappoint the curiosity of the
laborious student."

The CATACHRESis is a figure, which signifies, according
to the true meaning of the Greek term, an abuse of words ;
that is, when the words are too far wTested from their native
signification, as a voice heaiittful to the ear. The catachresis,
in oratory, is very likely tooccur, when, in the eagerness and
warmth inspired by true eloquence, a man, for want of a
word proper to express a thought, uses, or, as the term
xalax^aofAai expresses, abuses a word that comes near it : as
when we call a person who has killed his mother, his master,
or his sovereign, a parricide) a tertn which can, in strictness
of language, only be applied to one who has murdered his



FIGltRATIVE LANGUAGE. 157

father. The Latin phrase vir gregis ipse caper, is also a ca-
tachresis. This figure, though not justifiable according to
the principles of rhetoric, is often employed by poets for
the sake of novelty, and to enforce expression, when the pro-
per word does not seem strong enough. Thus, Milton adopts
the catachresis, when he describes Raphael's descent from
heaven,.



-Down thitlier prone inflight



He speeds, and through the vast ethereal sky
Sails between worldjs and worlds.

Here the novelty of the word enlivens the image much
more than if he had said flies. This trope is used occasionally
by the gravest authors, and is to be found in the Scriptures.
Thus, we read of the " blood of the grape ;" and in the book
of Proverbs, " The horse-leech hath two daughters." In these
instances, the trope is, perhaps, a metaphor ; but when St.
John, in the book of Revelations says, " I turned to see the
voice that spake to me/' it is a metonymy^ the voice being put
for the person who uttered it. St. Matthew mentions " Simon,
the leper," not that he was then a leper, but had been so,
and was cured ; which is a synecdoche. When a criminal is
said to " have had his reward,'* that is, his punishment, it is irony.
But to return to the catachresis: the vivid imagination of
Mr. Burke, together with the violence of his temper, led him
frequently to the use of this figure : thus, he describes the
revolutionists of Francp, " Architects of ruin."

Metonymy, to w^ich we have already alluded, consists in
a transmutation, or change of names ; or putting the effect for
the cause, or the subject for the adjunct. There are four
kinds of metonymy chiefly used : in ik\e first, the external cause
is put for the effect, which may be said to occur when the
inventor's name is used for the thing invented ; thus Mars is
put for War : Ceres, for Corn; owdi Bacchus, iot Wine: hen^e
Virgil says,

Implentur veteris BaccU pinquisqiie farinse. :



158 BELLES LETTRES.

Agreeably to this figure, the author's name is employed to
designate his works : thus we say, that we have read Homer,
Virgil, or Milton, that is, the works of these authors. The
second metonymy puts the effect for the cause, whether the
agent, or only the means and instrument, tlius Virgil calls the
two Scipio's the destruction of Libya, but they were the
agents who effected it. Horace speaks of Pale Death, Pal-
lida Mors, instead of Death that makes or causes paleness :
the same author compliments Maecenas,

O, et prssidiiim, et dulce decns menm,

in which, the titles of his guard and honour are put for
guardian and vindicator of his honour. By the third figure
of metonymy, the adjunct is used for the subject, as when we
speak of \k\e fasces for the magistrate : thus also Cicero says, in
the time of battle the lazes, that is, \\\e judges, are silent. The
fourth kind of metonymy is when the subject is put for the
adjunct, that is, when we speak of statues or pictures, as the
persons whom they represent. By this figure of metonymy,
one name is often put for another, for which it may be allow-
ed to stand, on account of some striking relation between the
two : thus we call a very mild and humane prince, a Titus : a
cruel one, a Nero ; and a great conqueror, Alexander.

Another rhetorical figure is called synecdoche, which puts
the whole for a part, or a part for the whole, a genus for a
species, or a species for a genus, thus a man is said to get his
. bread by his labour, that is, his whole subsistence. If we say, he
obtains his bread by the sweat of his brcfw, there are two figures ;
the bread is put for the subsistence, and by the phrase, " the
meat of the brow** the effect i^ put for the cause, viz. labour.

The PERIPHRASIS is a metonymy in which more words are
employed than are necessary, or usual, which is much affected
by orators to give variety to their mode of expression : thus
we may speak of the Duke of Wellington as the " Immortal
liberator of the Peninsula," and no person would mistake the
man. It is often a mark of politeness to suppress the names



FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE. K19

of persons spoken of, who happen to be present, and only to
point them out by their cliaracteristic. In parliament, the
name is never used, but instead of it, the person who would
point out another, says, the noble Lord, or the honourable
member on the right, or left, or who has just spoken, &c.

One of the most animated figures in rheforic, when pro-
perly managed, is the prosopopceia, or personification. It



Online LibraryWilliam ShepherdSystematic education: or Elementary instruction in the various departments of literature and science; with practical rules for studying each branch of useful knowledge (Volume 1) → online text (page 13 of 44)