Page images

Queen. Great lords, wise men ne'er sit and wail their loss,
But cheerly seek how to redress their harms.

What though the mast be now thrown overboard,

The cable broke, the holding anchor lost,

And half our sailors swallow'd in the flood;
Yet lives our pilot still. Is't meet, that he
Should leave the helm, and, like a fearful lad,
With tearful eyes, add water to the sea,

And give more strength to that which hath too much;
While in his moan the ship splits on the rock,
Which industry and courage might have sav'd?
Ah, what a shame! ah, what a fault were this!

Third Part Henry VI. Act V. Sc. 4.

Oroonoko. Ha! thou hast rous'd

The lion in his den: he stalks abroad,
And the wide forest trembles at his roar.
I find the danger now.

Oroonoko, Act III. Sc. 2.

My well-beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill. He fenced it, gathered out the stones thereof, planted it with the choicest vines, built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a wine-press therein: he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done? Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes? And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down. And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged, but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant.

Isaiah, V. 1.

The rules that govern metaphors, and allegories, are of two kinds : the construction of these figures comes under the first kind: the propriety or impropriety of introduction comes under the other. I begin with rules of the first kind; some of which coincide with those already given for similes; some are peculiar to metaphors and allegories.

And, in the first place, it has been observed, that a simile cannot be agreeable where the resemblance is either too strong or too faint. This holds equally in metaphor and allegory; and the reason is the same in all. In the following instances, the resemblance is too faint to be agreeable.


-But there's no bottom, none
In my voluptuousness: your wives, your daughters,
Your matrons and your maids, could not fill up
The cistern of my lust.

Macbeth, Act IV. Sc. 3.

The best way to judge of this metaphor, is to convert it into a simile; which would be bad, because there is scarcely any resemblance between lust and a cistern, or betwixt enormous lust and a large cistern. Again:

He cannot buckle his distemper'd cause
Within the belt of rule.

Macbeth, Act V. Sc. 2. There is no resemblance between a distempered cause and any body that can be confined within a belt.


Steep me in poverty to the very lips.

Othello, Act IV. Sc. 2,

Poverty here must be conceived a fluid, which it resembles not in

any manner.

Speaking to Bolingbroke banished for six years:


The sullen passage of thy weary steps
Esteem a soil wherein thou art to set
The precious jewel of thy home-return.

Here is a letter, lady,

And every word in it a gaping wound
Issuing life-blood.

Richard II. Act I. Sc. 3.

Merchant of Venice, Act III. Sc. 2.

Tantæ molis erat Romanam condere gentem.* Eneid, I. 37. The following metaphor is strained beyond all endurance: Timurbec, known to us by the name of Tamerlane the Great, writes to Bajazet, Emperor of the Ottomans, in the following terms:

Where is the monarch who dares resist us? where is the potentate who doth not glory in being numbered among our attendants? As for thee, descended from a Turcoman sailor, since the vessel of thy unbounded ambition hath been wreck'd in the gulf of thy self-love, it would be proper, that thou should'st take in the sails of thy temerity, and cast the anchor of repentance in the port of sincerity and justice, which is the port of safety; lest the tempest of our vengeance make thee perish in the sea of the punishment thou deservest.

Such strained figures, as observed above,† are not unfrequent in the first dawn of refinement: the mind in a new enjoyment knows no bounds, and is generally carried to excess, till taste and experience discover the proper limits.

Secondly, whatever resemblance subjects may have, it is wrong to put one for another, where they bear no mutual proportion: upon comparing a very high to a very low subject, the simile takes on an air of burlesque; and the same will be the effect, where the one is imagined to be the other, as in a metaphor; or made to represent the other, as in an allegory.

Thirdly, these figures, a metaphor especially, ought not to be crowded with many minute circumstances; for in that case it is scarcely possible to avoid obscurity. A metaphor above all ought to be short it is difficult, for any time, to support a lively image of a thing being what we know it is not; and for that reason, a metaphor drawn out to any length, instead of illustrating or enlivening the principal subject, becomes disagreeable by overstraining the Here Cowley is extremely licentious take the following


Great and wise conqu'ror, who where e'er
Thou com'st, doth fortify and settle there!
Who canst defend as well as get,

And never hadst one quarter beat up yet;
Now thou art in, thou ne'er will part
With one inch of my vanquish'd heart;

For since thou took'st it by assault from me,
'Tis garrison'd so strong with thoughts of thee,

It fears no beauteous enemy.

For the same reason, however agreeable long allegories may at first be by their novelty, they never afford any lasting pleasure: witness the So great a weight was it to build up the Roman nation.

+ Chap. 19. Comparisons.

Fairy-Queen, which with great power of expression, variety of images, and melody of versification, is scarcely ever read a second time.

In the fourth place, the comparison carried on in a simile, being in a metaphor sunk by imagining the principal subject to be that very thing which it only resembles; an opportunity is furnished to describe it in terms taken strictly or literally with respect to its imagined nature. This suggests another rule, that in constructing a metaphor, the writer ought to make use of such words only as are applicable literally to the imagined nature of his subject: figurative words ought carefully to be avoided; for such complicated figures, instead of setting the principal subject in a strong light, involve it in a cloud; and it is well if the reader, without rejecting by the lump, endeavors patiently to gather the plain meaning regardless of the figures: A stubborn and unconquerable flame Creeps in his veins, and drinks the streams of life.

Copied from Ovid,

Lady Jane Grey, Act I. Sc. 1.

Metamorph. Lib. IX. 172.

Sorbent avidæ præcordia flammæ. The greedy flames drink his heart. Let us analyze this expression. That a fever may be imagined a flame, I admit; though more than one step is necessary to come at the resemblance: a fever, by heating the body, resembles fire; and it is no stretch to imagine a fever to be a fire: again, by a figure of speech, flame may be put for fire, because they are commonly conjoined; and, therefore, a fever may be termed a flame. But now admitting a fever to be a flame, its effects ought to be explained in words that agree literally to a flame. This rule is not observed here; for a flame drinks figuratively only, not properly. King Henry to his son Prince Henry:

Thou hid'st a thousand daggers in thy thoughts,
Which thou hast whetted on thy stony heart
To stab at half an hour of my frail life.

Second Part Henry IV. Act IV. Sc. 2.

Such faulty metaphors are pleasantly ridiculed in the Rehearsal: Physician. Sir, to conclude, the place you fill has more than amply exacted the talents of a wary pilot; and all these threatening storms, which like impregnate clouds, hover o'er our heads, will, when they on ceare grasp'd but by the eye of reason, melt into fruitful showers of blessings on the people.

Bayes. Pray mark that allegory. Is not that good?

Johnson. Yes, that grasping of a storm with the eye is admirable.

Act II. Sc. 1.

Fifthly, the jumbling of different metaphors in the same sentence, beginning with one metaphor and ending with another, commonly called a mixt metaphor, ought never to be indulged. Quintilian bears testimony against it in the bitterest terms: "Nam id quoque in primis est custodiendum, ut quo ex genere cœperis translationis, hoc desinas. Multi enim, cum initium a tempestate sumpserunt, incendio aut ruina finiunt: quæ est inconsequentia rerum fœdissima."* L. 8. cap. 6. § 2.

This also must be most cautiously observed, that you end with the kind of

K. Henry

-Will you again unknit
This churlish knot of all-abhorred war,
And move in that obedient orb again,
Where you did give a fair and natural light?

First Part Henry VI. Act V. Sc. 1.

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind, to suffer
The stings and arrows of outrag'ous fortune;
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them.

Hamlet, Act III. Sc. 1.

In the sixth place, it is unpleasant to join different metaphors in the same period, even where they are preserved distinct: for when the subject is imagined to be first one thing, and then another in the same period without interval, the mind is distracted by the rapid transition; and when the imagination is put on such hard duty, its images are too faint to produce any good effect:

At regina gravi jamdudum saucia cura,
Vulnus alit venis, et cæco carpitur igni.
But anxious cares already seize the queen,
She fed within her veins a flame unseen.
Motum ex Metello consule civicum,
Bellique causas, et vitia, et modos,
Ludumque fortunæ, gravesque
Principum amicitias, et arma

Nondum expiatis uncta cruoribus,
Periculosæ plenum opus aleæ,
Tractas, et incedis per ignes
Subpositos cineri doloso.

The war that rose from civil hate,

In that Metellian consulate,

Eneid, IV.

Horat. Carm. I. ii. Ode 1.

Our vices, measures, and the sport of chance,

The famous triple league, the Roman shield and lance,
With gore unexpiated, smeared,

A work whose fate is to be feared,

You treat, and on those treacherous ashes tread,

Beneath whose seeming surface glow the embers dead.

In the last place, it is still worse to jumble together metaphorical and natural expression, so as that the period must be understood in part metaphorically, in part literally; for the imagination cannot follow with sufficient ease changes so sudden and unprepared: a metaphor begun and not carried on has no beauty; and instead of light there is nothing but obscurity and confusion. Instances of such incorrect composition are without number. I shall, for a specimen, select a few from different authors.

Speaking of Britain,

This precious stone set in the sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house
Against the envy of less happier lands.

Richard II. Act I. Sc. 1.

In the first line Britain is figured to be a precious stone: in the fol lowing lines, Britain, divested of her metaphorical dress, is presentea to the reader in her natural appearance.

These growing feathers, pluck'd from Cæsar's wing,

metaphor with which you begin. For many, when they have commenced with a storm, end with a conflagration, or the fall of a building; which incongruity is most vile.

Will make him fly an ordinary pitch,
Who else would soar above the view of men,
And keep us all in servile fearfulness.

Julius Cæsar, Act I. Sc. 1.

Rebus angustis animosus atque
Fortis adpare: sapienter idem
Contrahes vento nimium secundo
Turgida vela.

When times are hardest, then a face
Of constancy and spirit wear;
But wise contract your sails apace
When once the wind's too fair.


The following is a miserable jumble of expressions, arising from an unsteady view of the subject, between its figurative and natural appearance:

But now from gath'ring clouds destruction pours,
Which ruins with mad rage our halcyon hours:
Mists from black jealousies the tempest form,
Whilst late divisions reinforce the storm.
To thee, the world it present homage pays,
The harvest early, but mature the praise.

Dispensary, canto 3.

Pope's Imitation of Horace, b. ii.

Oui, sa pudeur n'est que franche grimace,
Qu'une ombre de vertu qui garde mal la place,
Et qui s'évanouit, comme l'on peut savoir,
Aux rayons du soleil qu'une bourse fait voir.

Molière, l'Etourdi, Act III. Sc. 2.

Et son feu, depourvu de sens et de lecture,
S'éteint à chaque pas, faute de nourriture.

Boileau, l'Art Poetique, Chant 3. 1. 319.

Dryden, in his dedication of the translation of Juvenal, says,

When thus, as I may say, before the use of the load-stone, or knowledge of the compass, I was sailing in a vast ocean, without other help than the pole-star of the ancients, and the rules of the French stage among the moderns, &c.

There is a time when factions, by the vehemence of their own fermentation, stun and disable one another. Bolingbroke. This fault of jumbling the figure and plain expression into one confused mass, is not less common in allegory than in metaphor. Take the following examples:

Heu! quoties fidem,

Mutatosque Deos flebit, et aspera
Nigris æquora ventis

Emirabitur insolens,

Qui nunc te fruitur credulus aurea,

Qui semper vacuam, semper amabilem

Sperat, nescius auræ


Horat. Carm. 1. 1. ode 5.

Alas! how oft shall he protest

Against his confidence misplaced,

And love's inconstant powers deplore,

And wondrous winds, which, as they roar,

Throw black upon the altered scene

Who now so well himself deceives,
And thee all sunshine, all serene
For want of better skill believes.

« PreviousContinue »