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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 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.
Sed mihi vel Tellus optem prius ima dehiscat;
Eneid, IV. 1. 24.
But first let yawning earth a passage rend,
Condemned with ghosts in endless night to lie-
Thus, to explain the effects of slander, it is imagined to be a voluntary agent.
No, 'tis Slander;
Whose edge is sharper than the sword; whose tongue
Rides on the posting winds, and doth belie
All corners of the world, kings, queens, and states,
Shakspeare, Cymbeline, Act III. Sc. 2.
As also human passions: take the following example:
For Pleasure and Revenge
Have ears more deaf than adders, to the voice
Of any true decision. Troilus and Cressida, Act II. Sc. 4.
Virgil explains fame and its effects by a still greater variety of action.†
See Appendix, containing definitions and explanations of terms § 28. + Eneid, IV. 173.
And Shakspeare personifies death and its operations in a manner singularly fanciful:
-Within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king,
To monarchize, be fear'd, and kill with looks;
Bores through his castle-walls, and farewell king.
Richard II. Act III. Sc. 2.
Not less successfully is life and action given even to sleep:
King Henry. How many thousands of my poorest subjects
Nature's soft nurse, how have I frighted thee,
That thou no more wilt weigh my eye-lids down,
And steep my senses in forgetfulness?
Why rather, Sleep, ly'st thou in smoky cribs,
And hush'd with buzzing night-flies to thy slumber
And lull'd with sounds of sweetest melody?
Who take the ruffian billows by the top,
Curling their monstrous heads, and hanging them
Deny it to a King? Then, happy low! lie down
Second Part Henry IV. Act III. Sc. 1.
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:
Oh! let the steps of youth be cautious,
Our passions are seducers: but of all
The strongest Love. He first approaches us
In childish play, wantoning in our walks:
As he will pick out all the dancing-way,
We should take warning: he is painted blind,
Therefore let Virtue take him by the hand:
Hitherto success has attended our steps: but whether we shall complete our progress with equal success, seems doubtful; for when we look back 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 is 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 endeavor to trace the effect that such expressions have in the mind. Does 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.
Though 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: The moon shines bright: in such a night as this, When the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees, And they did make no noise; in such a night, Troilus methinks mounted the Trojan wall, And sigh'd his soul towards the Grecian tents, Where Cressid lay that night.
Merchant of Venice, Act V. Sc. 1.
Th' ambitious ocean swell, and rage, and foam,
Julius Cæsar, Act I. Sc. 3.
With respect to these, and numberless other examples of the same kind, it must depend upon the reader, whether they are 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 therefore approve of the following speech of Enobarbus, who had deserted his master Antony:
Be witness to me, O thou blessed moon,
Bear hateful memory, poor Enobarbus did
Oh sovereign Mistress of true melancholy,
The poisonous damp of night dispunge upon me,
May hang no longer on me.
Anthony and Cleopatra, Act IV. Sc. 9.
If this can be justified, it must be upon the Heathen system of theo logy, 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 dis tress to others:
Ch' i' t'ami piu de la mia vita
Se tu nol sai, crudele,
Chiedilo à queste selve
Che te'l diranno, et te'l diran con esse
Le fere loro e i duri sterpi, e i sassi
Di questi alpestri monti,
Ch'ì' ho si spesse volte
Inteneriti al suon de' miei lamenti.
Pastor Fido, Act III. Sc. 3.
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.
In winter's tedious nights sit by the fire
With good old folks, and let them tell their tales
Of woful ages, long ago betid:
And ere thou bid good night, to quit their grief,
Tell them the lamentable fall of me,
And send the hearers weeping to their beds.
For why! the senseless brands will sympathise
Richard II. Act V. Sc. 1.
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 converting such a part into a sensible being, it is still worse to make it be conceived as rising in rebellion against self:
Cleopatra. Haste, bare my arm, and rouse the serpent's fury.
Would'st thou conspire with Cæsar, to betray me,
As thou wert none of mine? Ill force thee to't.
Dryden, All for Love, Act V.
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, relishes 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 prætoria navi Cæsar; cum fœda illico exorta in portu tempestas, classem impetu disjecit, prætoriam hausit; quasi non vecturam amplius Cæsarem, Cæsarisque fortunam.* Dec. I. L. 1.
Neither do I approve, in Shakspeare, 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:
Act II. Sc. 1.
The cannons have their bowels full of wrath; And ready mounted are they to spit forth Their iron-indignation 'gainst your walls. 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 ventures to animate the diamond, and does it with propriety:
That polish'd bright
And all its native lustre let abroad,
Dares, as it sparkles on the fair one's breast,
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 :
How now! What noise! that spirit's possessed with haste,
Shakspeare, Measure for Measure, Act IV. Sc. 2.
Or from the shore
The plovers when to scatter o'er the heath,
And sing their wild notes to the list'ning waste.
Thomson, Spring, 1. 23.
Scarcely had Cæsar descended from the Prætorian ship, when a boisterous tempest broke out in that harbor, scattered the fleet by its violence, and sunk the Prætorian, as if it was no more to carry Cæsar and Cæsar's fortunes.