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Studious of flight. The beach is covered o'er
The following simile has not any one beauty to recommend it. The subject is Amata, the wife of King Latinus.
Tum vero infelix, ingentibus excita monstris,
Eneid, VII. 376.
She flew to rage; for now the snake possess'd
This simile seems to border upon the burlesque.
An error, opposite to the former, is the introducing of a resembling image, so elevated or great as to bear no proportion to the principal subject. Their remarkable disparity, seizing the mind, never fails to depress the principal subject by contrast, instead of raising it by resemblance: and if the disparity be very great, the simile degenerates into burlesque; nothing being more ridiculous than to force an object out of its proper rank in nature, by equalling it with one greatly superior or greatly inferior. This will be evident, from the following comparisons.
Fervet opus, redolentque thymo fragrantia mella.
In numerum; versantque tenaci forcipe ferrum.
At fessæ multâ referunt se nocte minores,
Georgic. IV. 169.
With diligence the fragrant work proceeds,
Strongly they strike, huge flakes of flames expire,
The youthful swain, the grave experienced bee-
The Cyclopes make a better figure in the following simile:
With eager courage, far before the rest;
Him Ajax met, inflam'd with equal rage:
Between the wond'ring hosts the chiefs engage;
Their weighty weapons round their heads they throw,
And swift, and heavy, falls each thund'ring blow.
As when in Ætna's caves the giant brood,
The one-eyed servants of the Lemnian god,
In order round the burning anvil stand,
And forge, with weighty strokes, the forked brand
Epigoniad, B. &.
Tum Bitian ardentem oculis animisque frementem;
Tum sonitu Prochyta alta tremit, durumque cubile
Eneid, IX. 703.
The gigantic size
Down sunk the monster-bulk, and press'd the ground,
Raised on the seas, the surges to control,
At once come tumbling down the rocky wall-
Of the vast pile-the scattered ocean flies,
Black sands, discolored froth, and mingled mud arise;
Odyssey, XXI. 51. Such a simile upon the simplest of all actions, that of opening a door, is pure burlesque.
A writer of delicacy will avoid drawing his comparisons from any image that is nauseous, ugly, or remarkably disagreeable: for, however strong the resemblance may be, more will be lost than gained by such comparison. Therefore I cannot help condemning, though with some reluctance, the following simile, or rather metaphor:
O thou fond many! with what loud applause
Second Part Henry IV. Act I. Sc. 3. The strongest objection that can lie against a comparison is, that it consists in words only, not in sense. Such false coin, or bastard wit, does extremely well in burlesque; but is far below the dignity of the epic, or of any serious composition:
The noble sister of Publicola,
The moon of Rome; chaste as the icicle
That's curled by the frost from purest snow,
Coriolanus, Act V, Sc. 3.
There is evidently no resemblance between an icicle and a woman,
chaste or unchaste: but chastity is cold in a metaphorical sense, and an icicle is cold in a proper sense: and this verbal resemblance, in the hurry and glow of composing, has been thought a sufficient foundation for the simile. Such phantom similes are mere witticisms, which ought to have no quarter, except where purposely introduced to provoke laughter. Lucian, in his dissertation upon history, talking of a certain author, makes the following comparison, which is verbal merely:
This author's descriptions are so cold that they surpass the Caspian snow, all the ice of the north."
Virgil has not escaped this puerility:
Galathæa thymo mihi dulcior Hyblæ.
Bucol. VII. 37.
Galatea, sweeter to me than Hyblean thyme.
Ego Sardois videar tibi amarior herbis.
I may appear more bitter to thee than Sardian herbs.
Gallo, cujus amor tantum mihi crescit in horas,
Bucol. X. 37
Gallus, for whom my love increases hourly, as the green alder subjects itself to the new spring.
Nor Boileau, the chastest of all writers; and that even in his art of poetry:
Ainsi tel autrefois, qu'on vit avec Faret
Charbonner de ses vers les murs d'un cabaret,
Chant 1. 1. 21.
Mais allons voir le Vrai, jusqu'en sa source même.
Boileau, Satire XL
But for their spirits and souls
Second Part Henry IV. Act I. Sc. 1.
Queen. The pretty vaulting sea refus'd to drown me;
Second Part Henry VI. Act III. Sc. 2.
Here there is no manner of resemblance but in the word drown; for there is no real resemblance between being drowned at sea, and dying of grief at land. But perhaps this sort of tinsel wit may have a propriety in it, when used to express an affected, not a real passion, which was the Queen's case.
Pope has several similes of the same stamp. I shall transcribe
one or two from the Essay on Man, the gravest and most instructive of all his performances:
And hence one master passion in the breast,
Epist. II. I. 131.
And again, talking of this same ruling or master passion:
Nature its mother, habit is its nurse;
As heav'n's bless'd beam turns vinegar more sour.
Lord Bolingbroke, speaking of historians:
Ib. 1. 145.
Where their sincerity as to fact is doubtful, we strike out truth by the confrontation of different accounts; as we strike out sparks of fire by the collision of flints and steel.
Let us vary the phrase a very little, and there will not remain a shadow of resemblance. Thus,
We discover truth by the confrontation of different accounts; as we strike out sparks of fire by the collision of flints and steel.
Racine makes Pyrrhus say to Andromaque,
Vaincu, chargé de fers, de regrets consumé,
And Orestes in the same strain :
Que les Scythes sont moins cruels qu' Hermoine.
Similes of this kind put one in mind of a ludicrous French song:
Je croyois Janneton
Aussi douce que belle:
Je croyois Janneton
Plus douce qu'un mouton;
Elle est cent fois, mille fois, plus cruelle
Que n'est le tigre aux bois.
Hélas! l'amour m'a pris,
A vulgar Irish ballad begins thus:
I have as much love in store
As there's apples in Portmore.
Where the subject is burlesque or ludicrous, such similes are far from being improper. Horace says pleasantly,
Quanquam tu levior cortice.*
In breaking oaths he's stronger than Hercules.
L. 3. Ode 9.
And this leads me to observe, that beside the foregoing comparisons, which are all serious, there is a species, the end and purpose of which is to excite gayety or mirth. Take the following examples: Falstaff, speaking to his page:
I do here walk hefore thee, like a sow that hath overwhelmed all her litter but one. Second Part Henry IV. Act I. Bc. 2.
* Although you are of less value than the rind.