« PreviousContinue »
Pour moi sur cette mer, qu'ici bas nous courons,
Et sauver, s'il se peut, ma Raison du naufrage.
Boileau, Epitre 5. Lord Halifax, speaking of the ancient fabulists: "They (says he) wrote in signs, and spoke in parables: all their fables carry a double meaning; the story is one and entire; the characters the same throughout; not broken or changed, and always conformable to the nature of the creature they introduce. They never tell you, that the dog which snapp'd at a shadow, lost his troop of horse; that would be unintelligible. This is his (Dryden's) new way of telling a story, and confounding the moral and the fable together." After instancing from the hind and panther, he goes on thus: "What relation has the hind to our Saviour; or what notion have we of a panther's Bible? If you say he means the church, how does the church feed on lawns, or range in the forest? Let it be always a church, or always a cloven-footed beast, for we cannot bear his shifting the scene every line."
A few words more upon allegory. Nothing gives greater pleasure than this figure, when the representative subject bears a strong analogy, in all its circumstances, to that which is represented: but the choice is seldom so lucky; the analogy being generally so faint and obscure, as to puzzle and not please. An allegory is still more difficult in painting than in poetry: the former can show no resemblance but what appears to the eye; the latter has many other resources for showing the resemblance. And therefore, with respect to what the Abbe du Bos* terms mixt allegorical compositions, these may do in poetry; because, in writing, the allegory can easily be distinguished from the historical part: no person, for example, mistakes Virgil's Fame for a real being. But such a mixture in a picture is intolerable; because in a picture the objects must appear all of the same kind, wholly real or wholly emblematical. For this reason, the history of Mary de Medicis, in the palace of Luxembourg, painted by Rubens, is unpleasant by a perpetual jumble of real and allegorical personages, which produce a discordance of parts, and an obscurity upon the whole: witness, in particular, the tablature representing the arrival of Mary de Medicis at Marseilles; where, together with the real personages, the Nereids and Tritons appear sounding their shells: such a mixture of fiction and reality in the same group, is strangely absurd. The picture of Alexander and Roxana, described by Lucian, is gay and fanciful; but it suffers by the allegorical figures. It is not in the wit of man to invent an allegorical representation deviating farther from any shadow of resemblance, than one exhibited by Lewis XIV. anno 1664; in which an enormous chariot, intended to represent that of the sun, is dragg'd along, surrounded with men and women, representing the four ages of the world, the celestial signs, the seasons, the hours, &c.; a monstrous composition, suggested probably by Guido's tablature of Aurora, and still more absurd.
* Reflections sur la Poesie, vol. I. sect. 24.
In an allegory as well as in a metaphor, terms ought to be chosen that properly and literally are applicable to the representative subject: nor ought any circumstance to be added that is not proper to the representative subject, however justly it may be applicable properly or figuratively to the principal. The following allegory is therefore faulty:
Ferus et Cupido,
Semper ardentes acuens sagittas
Horat. 1. II. ode 8.
And love, still whetting on a stone
His darts in crimson dyed.
For though blood may suggest the cruelty of love, it is an improper or immaterial circumstance in the representative subject: water, not blood, is proper for a whetstone.
We proceed to the next head, which is, to examine in what circumstance these figures are proper, in what improper. This inquiry is not altogether superseded by what is said upon the same subject in the chapter of Comparisons; because upon trial it will be found, that a short metaphor or allegory may be proper, where a simile, drawn out to a greater length, and in its nature more solemn, would scarcely be relished.
And, first, a metaphor, like a simile, is excluded from common conversation, and from the description of ordinary incidents.
Second, in expressing any severe passion that wholly occupies the mind, metaphor is improper. For which reason, the following speech of Macbeth is faulty.
Methought I heard a voice cry, Sleep no more!
Act II. Sc. 2.
The following example, of deep despair, beside the highly figurative style, has more the air of raving than of sense:
Calista. Is it the voice of thunder, or my father?
Fair Penitent, Act IV.
The metaphor I next introduce, is sweet and lively, but it suits not a fiery temper inflamed with passion: parables are not the language of wrath venting itself without restraint:
Chamont. You took her up a little tender flower,
Where the sun always shines: there long she flourish'd,
Till at the last a cruel spoiler came,
Cropt this fair rose, and rifled all its sweetness,
Then cast it like a loathsome weed away.
Orphan, Act IV,
The following speech, full of imagery, is not natural in grief and dejection of mind:
Gonsalez. O my son! from the blind dotage
Of a father's fondness these ills arose.
For thee I've been ambitious, basc and bloody:
Mourning Bride, Act V. Sc. 6.
There is an enchanting picture of deep distress in Macbeth, where Macduff is represented lamenting his wife and children, inhumanly murdered by the tyrant. Stung to the heart with the news, he questions the messenger over and over: not that he doubted the fact, but that his heart revolted against so cruel a misfortune. After struggling some time with his grief, he turns from his wife and children to their savage butcher; and then gives vent to his resentment, but still with manliness and dignity:
Q, I could play the woman with mine eyes,
And braggart with my tongue. But, gentle Heav'n!
Cut short all intermission; front to front
Bring thou this fiend of Scotland and myself;
Within my sword's length set him—If he 'scape,
The whole scene is a delicious picture of human nature. One expression only seems doubtful: in examining the messenger, Macduff expresses himself thus:
He hath no children-all my pretty ones!
Did you say, all? what, all? Oh, hell-kite! all?
What, all my pretty little chickens and their dam,
Metaphorical expression, I am sensible, may sometimes be used with grace, where a regular simile would be intolerable: but there are situations so severe and dispiriting, as not to admit even the slightest metaphor. It requires great delicacy of taste to determine with firmness, whether the present case be of that kind: I incline to think it is; and yet I would not willingly alter a single word of this admirable scene.
But metaphorical language is proper when a man struggles to bear with dignity or decency a misfortune however great: the struggle agitates and animates the mind:
Wolsey. Farewell, a long farewell, to all my greatness!
The tender leaves of hope; to-morrow blossoms,
And bears his blushing honours thick upon him;
* Act IV. Se. 3.
Henry VIII. Act III. Sc. 2.
FIGURE OF SPEECH.
The using of a word in a sense which is not proper to it-Two objects presented, the principal and the accessory-Aggrandizes its object-Prevents the familiarity of proper names-Enriches and renders language more copious.
In the section immediately foregoing, a figure of speech is defined, The using of a word in a sense different from what is proper to it ;" and the new or uncommon sense of the word is termed the figurative sense. The figurative sense must have a relation to that which is proper; and the more intimate the relation is, the figure is the more happy. How ornamental this figure is to language, will not be readily imagined by any one who has not given peculiar attention; and therefore I shall endeavor to unfold its capital beauties and advantages. In the first place, a word used figuratively or in a new sense, suggests at the same time the sense it commonly bears: and thus it has the effect to present two objects; one signified by the figurative sense, which may be termed the principal object; and one signified by the proper sense which may be termed accessory: the principal makes a part of the thought; the accessory is merely ornamental. In this respect, a figure of speech is precisely similar to concordant sounds in music, which without contributing to the melody, makes it harmonious. I explain myself by examples. Youth, by a figure of speech, is termed the morning of life. This expression signifies youth, the principal object, which enters into the thought: it suggests, at the same time, the proper sense of morning; and this accessory object, being in itself beautiful, and connected by resemblance to the principal object, is not a little ornamental. Imperious ocean is an example of a different kind, where an attribute is expressed figuratively together with stormy, the figurative meaning of the epithet imperious, there is suggested its proper meaning, viz. the stern authority of a despotic prince; and these two are strongly connected by resemblance. Upon this figurative power of words, Vida descants with elegance:
Nonne vides, verbis ut veris sæpe relictis
Accersant simulata, aliundeque nomina porro
Mutatoque habitu, nec jam sua nomina malent?
Permutantque, juvantque vicissim; et mutua sese
Tum specie capti gaudent spectare legentes:
Poet. lib. III. 1. 44.
See how the poet banishes with grace
Alarm the deeps, and wage the stormy war;
To the fierce shock th' embattled tempests pour,
Waves charge on waves, th' encountering billows roar.
By turns the objects shift their proper signs;
To borrow others' charms, and lend their own;
Pleased with the borrowed charms, the readers find
Rise from a single object to the mind.
In the next place, this figure possesses a signal power of aggrandizing an object, by the following means. Words which have no original beauty but what arises from their sound, acquire an adventitious beauty from their meaning: a word signifying any thing that is agreeable, becomes by that means agreeable; for the agreeableness of the object is communicated to its name. This acquired beauty by the force of custom, adheres to the word even when used figuratively; and the beauty received from the thing it properly signifies, is communicated to the thing which it is made to signify figuratively. Consider the foregoing expression Imperious ocean, how much more elevated it is than Stormy ocean.
Thirdly, this figure has a happy effect by preventing the familiarity of proper names. The familiarity of a proper name, is communicated to the thing it signifies by means of their intimate connection; and the thing is, thereby brought down in our feeling. This bad effect is prevented by using a figurative word instead of one that is proper; as, for example, when we express the sky by terming it the blue vault of heaven; for though no work of art can compare with the sky in grandeur, the expression however is relished, because it prevents the object from being brought down by the familiarity of its proper name. With respect to the degrading familiarity of proper names, Vida has the following passage:
*See Chap. 2. Part 1. Sect. 5.
+ I have often regretted, that a factious spirit of opposition to the reigning family makes it necessary in public worship to distinguish the king by his proper name. One will scarce imagine who has not made the trial, how much better it sounds to pray for our sovereign lord the king, without any addition.