« PreviousContinue »
Daughter of Heaven, fair art thou! the silence of 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.
Fingal. 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:
Fauno Picus pater; isque parentem
But Faunus came from Picus-Picus drew
Eneid, VII. 48.
Magnifying or diminishing an object beyond due bounds, an hyperbole-Objects more successfully magnified than diminished-Hyperbole proper when the subject exceeds the common measure-An hyperbole not to be introduced in the description of an ordinary thing-Not suitable to a dispiriting passion-Not to be introduced till the reader is warmed-Not to be overstrained-To comprehend the fewest words possible.
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 an 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 objects for its gratification with great facility. Longinus, with respect to diminishing hyperbole, quotes the following ludicrous thought from a comic poet: "He was owner of a bit of ground no larger than a Lacedæmonian letter." † But, for the reason now given, the hyperbole has by far the greater force in magnifying objects; of which take the following examples: See Chap. VIII. + Chap. XXXI. of his Treatise on the Sublime.
For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed før 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.
Illa vel intactæ segetis per summa volaret
* Outstripped the winds in speed upon the plain,
Æneid, III. 421.
Atque imo barathri ter gurgite vastos
Interdumque atram prorumpit ad æthera nubem,
Speaking of Polyphemus:
Eneid, III. 571
Eneid, III. 619.
Henry V. Act I. Sc. 1.
Now shield with shield, with helmet helmet clos'd,
Host against host with shadowy squadrons drew,
The following may also pass, though far stretched:
E conjungendo à temerario ardire
Iliad, IV. 508.
Gierusalem, Cant. VI. st. 46.
Uniting force extreme, with endlesse wrath,
Supporting both with youth and strength untired,
Quintilliant 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 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 premises, one would not expect the following inference, the only reason he can find for justifying this figure of speech, "Conceditur enim amplius dicere * Camilla, the Volscian heroine. + L. VIII, cap. 6. in fin.
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.
I saw him beat the surges under him,
And ride upon their backs; he trode the water,
The surge most swoln that met him: his bold head
To th' shore, that o'er his wave-borne basis bow'd,
Tempest, Act II. Sc. I.
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:
K. Rich. Aumerle, thou weep'st, my tender-hearted cousin'
Our sighs, and they, shall lodge the summer-corn,
Richard II. Act III. Sc. 3.
Draw them to Tyber's bank, and weep your tears
Julius Casar, Act I. Sc. I.
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 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 has 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 produces 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 hyperbole; 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:
In single opposition hand to hand,
He did confound the best part of an hour
In changing hardiment with great Glendower.
Three times they breath'd, and three times did they drink,
Speaking of Henry V.,
First Part Henry IV. Act I. Sc. 3.
England ne'er had a king until his time:
His brandish'd sword did blind men with its beams:
First Part Henry VI. Act I. Sc. I.
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 passes 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.
Le silence régnoit sur la terre et sur l'onde,
Que les feux de la nuit avoient fait devant vous.
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. labored poem:
Up rose the sun, and up rose Emelie.
The means or instrument, conceived to be the agent--Examples.
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:
For Neleus' son Alcides' rage had slain.
A broken rock the force of Pirus threw.
In these instances, the rage of Hercules and the 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 anotherWithout a name-The foundation of this figure-Not warrantable, except among things intimately connected-An attribute of a cause for an attribute of an effect-An effect as of a cause-An effect expressed as an attribute of a cause-An attribute of a subject bestowed on one of its parts-A quality of an agent ascribed to an instrument-The object on which it operates-Quality one subject gives another-Circumstances expressed as a quality of a subject-The property of one object transferred to another.
THIS figure is not dignified with a proper name, because it has been overlooked by writers. It merits, however, a place in this work; and must be distinguished from those formerly 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.