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Speaking of a man's hand cut off in battle:
Te decisa suum, Laride, dextera quærit:
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.
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:
O vale of bliss! O softly swelling hills!
Then sated Hunger bids his brother Thirst
Nor wanting is the brown October, drawn
Summer, 1. 1435.
Autumn, 1. 516.
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, introduces each season as a sensible being:
From brightening fields of æther fair disclos'd,
See Winter comes, to rule the vary'd year,
Summer, 1. 1.
Winter, 1, 1. 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:
Dicite, vos Musæ, et juvenum memorate querelas
Sing, ye Muses, and record the repinings of youth-sing, for song has moved the rocks and stopped the course of the wandering rivers.
Even Shakspeare is not always careful to prepare the mind for this bold figure. Take the following instance:
Upon these taxations,
And lack of other means, in desp'rate manner
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 barge she sat in, like a burnish'd throne,
Antony and Cleopatra, Act II. Sc. 2.
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 Cleopatra is also the subject, the personification of the air is carried beyond all bounds:
The city cast
Antony and Cleopatra, Act II. Sc. 2.
The following personification of the earth or soil is not less wild
She shall be dignified with this high honor,
Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act II. Sc. 4. Shakspeare, far from approving such intemperance of imagination, puts this speech in the mouth of a ranting lover. Neither can I relish what follows:
Omnia quæ, Phœbo quondam meditante, beatus
Virgil, Buc. VI. 82.
Whatever songs besides the Delphian god
The cheerfulness singly of a pastoral song, will scarcely 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 judgment:
Thames heard the numbers as he flow'd along,
This author, in riper years, is guilty of a much greater deviation from the rule. Dulness 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 excusable. Yet in the Dunciad, Dulness, without the least disguise, is made the object of worship. The mind rejects such a fiction as unnatural; for dulness is a defect, of which even the dullest mortal is ashamed:
Then he Great tamer of all human art!
B. I. 163.
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:
Et la flécke en furie, avide de son sang,
Horace says happily,
Post equitem sedet atra Cura.
Dark Care sits behind the horseman.
Observe how this thought degenerates by being divided, like the former, into a number of minute parts:.
Un fou rempli d'erreurs, que le trouble accompagne
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 does, is insupportable. The following passage is not less faulty:
Her fate is whisper'd by the gentle breeze,
Pope's Pastorals, IV. 61.
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, with great regularity and accuracy, through many lines, the reader, instead of relishing it, is struck with its ridiculous appearance.
Apostrophe, the bestowing of a momentary presence on an absent person-Illustrations-The mind to be agitated.
THIS figure and the former are derived from the same principle. If, to humor 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:
Hinc Drepani me portus et illætabilis ora.
Eneid, III. 707.
Here after endless labors, often tossed
By raging storms and driven on every coast,
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 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. I.
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:
Et si fata Deûm, si mens non læva fuisset,
And had not Heaven the fall of Troy designed,
That chase thee from thy country, and expose
Eneid, II. 54.
That drive thee from the sportive court, where thou
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, &c. Fingal. 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. Fingal.
Hast thou left thy blue course in heaven, golden-hair'd son of the sky! The west hath opened 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. Fingal.