« PreviousContinue »
engrosses him totally. On the other hand, a man, when elevated or animated by passion, is disposed to elevate or animate all his objects: he avoids familiar names, exalts objects by circumlocution and metaphor, and gives even life and voluntary action to inanimate beings. In this heat of mind, the highest poetical flights are indulged, and the boldest similies and metaphors relished.* But without soaring so high, the mind is frequently in a tone to relish chaste and moderate ornament; such as comparisons that set the principal object in a strong point of view, or that embellish and diversify the narration. In general, when by any animating passion, whether pleasant or painful, an impulse is given to the imagination, we are, in that condition, disposed to every sort of figurative expression, and in particular to comparisons. This in a great measure is evident from the comparisons already mentioned; and shall be further illustrated by other instances. Love, for example, in its infancy, rousing the imagination, prompts the heart to display itself in figurative language, and in similies:
Troilus. Tell me, Apollo, for thy Daphne's love.
Troilus and Cressida, act 1. sc. 1.
Come, gentle Night; come, loving black-brow'd Night!
Take him, and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heav'n so fine,
That all the world shall be in love with Night,
And pay no worship to the garish sun.-Romeo and Juliet, act 3. sc. 4.
The dread of a misfortune, however eminent, involving always some doubt and uncertainty, agitates the mind, and excites the imagina tion :
-Nay, then, farewell;
I've touch'd the highest point of all my greatness,
I haste now to my setting. I shall fall,
Like a bright exhalation in the evening,
And no man see me more.-Henry VIII. act 3. st. 4.
But it will be a better illustration of the present head, to give examples where comparisons are improperly introduced. I have had already occasion to observe, that similies are not the language of a man in his ordinary state of mind, dispatching his daily and usual
It is accordingly observed by Longinus, in his Treatise of the Sublime, that the proper time for metaphor, is when the passions are so swelled as to hurry on like a torrent.
work. For that reason, the following speech of a gardener to his servants is extremely improper:
Go, bind thou up yon dangling apricots,
Cut off the heads of too fast-growing sprays,
All must be even in our government.-Richard II. act 3. sc. 7.
The fertility of Shakspeare's vein betrays him frequently into this There is in the same impropriety in another simile of his :
Hero. Good Margaret, run thee into the parlour :
There shalt thou find my cousin Beatrice;
Made proud by princes, that advance their pride
Against that power that bred it.—Much ado about Nothing, act 3. sc. 1. Rooted grief, deep anguish, terror, remorse, despair, and all the severe dispiriting passions, are declared enemies, perhaps not to figurative language in general, but undoubtedly to the pomp and solemnity of comparison. Upon that account, the simile pronounced by young Rutland, under terror of death from an inveterate enemy, and praying mercy, is unnatural:
So looks the pent-up lion o'er the wretch
Third Part Henry VI. act 1. sc. 5.
Nothing appears more out of place, nor more awkardly introduced, than the following simile:
-Farewell, my Portius;
Farewell, though death is in the word, for-ever!
Portius. Stay. Lucia, stay; what dost thou say? for-ever ?
Must throw thy brother on his fate, farewell:
Oh, how shall I repeat the word, for-crer!
Portius. Thus o'er the dying lamp th' unsteady flame
Hangs quivering on a point, leaps off by fits,
And falls again as loth to quit its hold.*
-Thou must not go; my soul still hovers o'er thee,
And can't get loose.-Cato, act 3. sc.2.
Nor doth the simile which closes the first act of the same tra
* This simile would have a fine effect, pronounced by the chorus in a Greek tragedy.
gedy make a better appearance; the situation there represented being too dispiriting for a simile. A simile is improper for one who dreads the discovery of a secret machination.
Zara. The mute not yet return'd! Ha! 'twas the King,
Would, like the raging dog-star, scorch the earth,
And kindle ruin in its course.-Mourning Bride, act 5. sc. 3.
A man spent and dispirited after losing a battle is not disposed to heighten or illustrate his discourse by similies:
York. With this we charg'd again; but out, alas!
The sands are number'd that make up my life;
Third Part, Henry VI. act 1. sc. 6.
Far less is a man disposed to similies who is not only defeated in a pitched battle, but lies at the point of death mortally wounded:
My blood, my want of strength, my sick heart shews,
That I must yield my body to the earth,
And, by my fall, the conquest to my foe.
Thus yields the cedar to the axe's edge,
Whose arms gave shelter to the princely eagle;
Under whose shade the ramping lion slept;
Whose top-branch overpeer'd Jove's spreading tree,
Third Part, Henry VI. act 5. sc. 3.
Queen Katharine, deserted by the King, and in the deepest afflic. tion on her divorce, could not be disposed to any sallies of imagination; and for that reason the following simile, however beautiful in the mouth of a spectator, is scarce proper in her own:
I am the most unhappy woman living,
That once was mistress of the field, and flourish'd,
I'll hang my head, and perish.-King Henry VIII. act 3. sc. 1.
Similies thus unseasonably introduced, are finely ridiculed in the Rehearsal;
Bayes. Now here she must make a simile.
Smith. Where's the necessity of that, Mr. Bayes?
Bayes. Because she's surprised: That's a general rule; you must ever make a simile when you are surprised: 'tis a new way of writing.
A comparison is not always faultless even where it is properly introduced. I have endeavoured above to give a general view of the different ends to which a comparison may contribute. A compa.
rison, like other human productions, may fall short of its aim; of which defect instances are not rare even among good writers: and to complete the present subject, it will be necessary to make some observations upon such faulty comparisons. I begin with observing, that nothing can be more erroneous than to institute a comparison too faint a distant resemblance, or contrast, fatigues the mind with its obscurity, instead of amusing it; and tends not to fulfil any one end of a comparison. The following similies seem to labour under this defect:
Albus ut obscuro deterget nubila cœlo
Molli, Plance, mero.-Horat. Carm. l. 1. ode 7.
-Medio dux agmine Turnus
Vertitur, arma tenens, et toto vertice supra est.
Per tacitum Ganges; aut pingui flumine Nilus
Cum refluit campis, et jam se condidit alveo.-Eneid, ix. 28.
Talibus orabat, talesque miserrima fletus
Fata obstant: placidasque viri Deus obstruit aures.
Haud secus assiduis hinc atque hinc vocibus heros
Mens immota manet, lacrymae volvuntur inanes.-Eneid, iv. 437.
K. Rich. Give me the crown.-Here, Cousin, seize the crown,
Now is this golden crown like a deep well,
The emptier ever dancing in the air,
The other down, unseen and full of water:
That bucket down, and full of tears, am I,
Drinking my griefs, whilst you mount up on high.-Richard II. act 4. sc. 3.
King John. Oh! Cousin, thou art come to set mine eye;
The tackle of my heart is crack'd and burnt;
And all the shrowds wherewith my life should sail,
Are turned to one thread, one little hair:
My heart bath one poor string to stay it by,
Which holds but till thy news be uttered.-King John, act 5. sc. 10.
York. My uncles both are slain in rescuing me :
And all my followers to the eager foe
Turn back, and fly like ships before the wind,
Or lambs pursu'd by hunger-starved wolves.-- Third Part, Henry VI. act 1. sc. 6.
The latter of the two similies is good; the former, by its faintness of resemblance, has no effect but to load the narration with an useless image.
The next error I shall mention is a capital one. In an epic poem, or in a poem upon an elevated subject, a writer ought to
avoid raising a simile on a low image, which never fails to bring down the principal subject. In general, it is a rule, That a grand object never ought to be resembled to one that is diminutive, however delicate the resemblance may be; for it is the peculiar character of a grand object to fix the attention and swell the mind; in which state, to contract it to a minute object is unpleasant. The resembling an object to one that is greater, has, on the contrary, a good effect, by raising or swelling the mind; for one passes with satisfaction from a small to a great object; but cannot be drawn down, without reluctance, from great to small. Hence the following similies are faulty:
Meanwhile the troops beneath Patroclus' care
Assert their waxen domes, and buzzing progeny:
Thus from the tents the fervent legion swarms,
So loud their clamours, and so keen their arms.-Iliad, xvi. 312.
So burns the vengeful hornet (soul all o'er)
And sent his soul with ev'ry lance he threw.-Iliad, xvii. 642.
Instant ardentes Tyrii: pars ducere muros,
Aut onera accipiunt venientum, aut agmine facto
Ignavum fucos pecus a praesepibus arcent.
Fervet opus, redolentque thymo fragrantia mella.-Æneid, i. 427.
To describe bees gathering honey as resembling the builders of Carthage, would have a much better effect.*
Tum vero Teucri incumbunt, et littore celsas
Migrantes cernas, totaque ex urbe ruentes.
Ac veluti, ingentem formicae farris acervum
Cum populant, hyemis memores, tectoque reponunt;
It nigrum campis agmen, praedamque per herbas
*And accordingly Demetrius Phalereus (of Elocution, sect. 85.) observes, that it has a better effect to compare small things to great than great things to small.