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Obnixae frumenta humeris: pars agmina cogunt,
Castigantque moras: opere omnis semita fervent.-Æneid, iv. 397.
The following simile has not any one beauty to recommend it. The subject is Amata, the wife of King Latinus.
Tum vero infelix, ingentibus excita monstris,
Per medias urbes agitur, populosque feroces.-Eneid, vii. 376.
This simile seems to border upon the burlesque.
An error opposite to the former, is the introducing a resembling image so elevated or great as to bear no proportion to the principal subject. Their remarkable disparity, seizing the mind, never fails to depress the principal subject by contrast, instead of raising it by resemblance and if the disparity be very great, the simile degenerates into burlesque ; nothing being more ridiculous than to force an object out of its proper rank in nature, by equalling it with one greatly superior or greatly inferior. This will be evident from the following comparisons :
Fervet opus, redolentque thymo fragrantia mella.
In numerum; versantque tenaci forcipe ferrum.
At fessae multâ referunt se nocte minores,
Crura thymo plenae: pascuntur et arbuta passim,
Et pinguem tiliam, ferrugineos hyacinthos,
Omnibus una quies operum, labor omnibus unus.-Georgie. iv. 169.
The Cyclops make a better figure in the following simile:
The Thracian leader prest,
With eager courage, far before the rest ;
Him Ajax met, inflam'd with equal rage:
Between the wond'ring hosts the chiefs engage;
Their weighty weapons round their heads they throw,
And swift, and heavy, falls each thund'ring blow.
As when in Ætna's caves the giant brood,
The one-ey'd servants of the Lemnian god,
In order round the burning anvil stand,
And forge, with weighty strokes, the forked brand;
Tum Bitian ardentem oculis animisque frementem:
Sed magnum stridens contorta falarica venit,
Loud as a bull makes hill and valley ring,
So roar'd the lock when it releas'd the spring.-Odyssey, xxi. 51.
Such a simile upon the simplest of all actions, that of opening a door, is pure burlesque.
A writer of delicacy will avoid drawing his comparisons from any image that is nauseous, ugly, or remarkably disagreeable; for, however strong the resemblance may be, more will be lost than gained by such comparison. Therefore I cannot help condemning, though with some reluctance, the following simile, or rather meta. phor :
O thou fond many! with what loud applause
Did'st thou beat heav'n with blessing Bolingbroke
And now thou would'st eat thy dead vomit up,
And howl'st to find it.-Second Part, Henry IV. act 1. sc. 6.
The strongest objection that can lie against a comparison, is, that it consists in words only, not in sense. Such false coin, or bastard wit, does extremely well in burlesque; but is far below the dignity of the epic, or of any serious composition :
The noble sister of Poplicola,
The moon of Rome; chaste as the icicle
And hangs on Dian's temple.-Coriolanus, act 5. sc. 3.
There is evidently no resemblance between an icicle and a woman, chaste or unchaste; but chastity is cold in a metaphorical sense, and an icicle is cold in a proper sense; and this verbal resemblance in the hurry and glow of composing, has been thought a sufficient foundation for the simile. Such phantom similies are mere witticisms, which ought to have no quarter, except where purposely introduced to provoke laughter. Lucian, in his dissertation upon history, talking of a certain author, makes the following comparison, which is verbal merely :
This author's descriptions are so cold, that they surpass the Caspian snow, and all the ice of the north.
Virgil has not escaped this puerility:
-Galathaen thymo mihi dulcior Hyblae.-Bucol. vii, 37.
-Ego Sardois videar tibi amarior herbis.-Ibid. 41.
Gallo, cujus amor tantum mihi crescit in horas,
Nor Tasso, in his Aminta:
Picciola e' l' ape, e fa col picciol morso
E cosi immedicabili le piaghe.-Act 2. sc. 1.
Nor Boileau, the chastest of all writers; and that even in his art of
Ainsi tel autrefois, qu'on vit avec Faret
Charbonner de ses vers les murs d'un cabaret,
Et poursuivant Moise au travers des déserts,
Court avec Pharaon se noyer dans les mers.-Chant. 1. l. 21.
Mais allons voir le Vrai, jusqu'en sa source même.
Sois devot: elle dit, Sois doux, simple, equitable :
La distance est deux fois plus longue, à mon avis,
Que du Pôle Antarctique au Détroit de Davis.-Boileau, Satire 11.
-But for their spirits and souls
This word rebellion had froze them up
As fish are in a pond.—Second Part, Henry IV. act 1. sc. 3.
Queen. The pretty vaulting sea refus'd to drown me;
Second Part, Henry VI. act 3. sc. 6.
Here there is no manner of resemblance but in the word drown; for there is no real resemblance between being drowned at sea, and dying of grief at land. But perhaps this sort of tinsel wit may have a propriety in it, when used to express an affected not a real passion, which was the Queen's case.
Pope has several similies of the same stamp. I shall transcribe one or two from the Essay on Man, the gravest and most instructive of all his performances :
And hence one master passion in the breast,
Like Aaron's serpent, swallows up the rest.-Epist. 2. l. 131.
And, again, talking of this same ruling or master passion :
Nature its mother, Habit is its nurse:
Wit, spirit, faculties, but make it worse;
Reason itself but gives it edge and power;
As heav'n's bless'd beam turns vinegar more sour.-Ibid. 1. 145.
Lord Bolingbroke speaking of historians:
Where their sincerity as to fact is doubtful, we strike out truth by the confrontation of different accounts; as we strike out sparks of fire by the collision of flints and steel.
Let us vary the phrase a very little, and there will not remain a shadow of resemblance. Thus:
We discover truth by the confrontation of different accounts; as we strike out sparks of fire by the collision of flints and steel.
Racine makes Pyrrhus say to Andromaque,
Vaincu, chargé de fers, de regrets consumé,
And Orestes in the same strain :
Que les Scythes sont moins cruel qu' Hermione.
Similies of this kind put one in mind of a ludicrous French song:
Je croyois Janneton
Aussi douce que belle :
Je croyois Janneton
Plus douce qu'un mouton ;
Elle est cent fois mille fois, plus cruelle
Que n'est le tigre aux bois.
Helas! l'amour m'a pris,
Comme le chat fait la souris.
A vulgar Irish ballad begins thus:
I have as much love in store
As there's apples in Portmore.
Where the subject is burlesque or ludicrous, such similies are far from being improper. Horace says pleasantly,
Quanquam tu levior cortice.-L. 3. ode 9.
In breaking oaths he's stronger than Hercules.
And this leads me to observe, that, beside the foregoing comparisons, which are all serious, there is a species, the end and purpose of which is to excite gaiety or mirth. Take the following examples :
Fallstaff speaking to his page :
I do here walk before thee, like a sow that hath overwhelmed all her litter but one.-Second Part, Henry VI, act 1. sc. 4.
I think he is not a pick-purse, nor a horse-stealer; but for his verity in love, I do think him as concave as a covered goblet, or a worm-eaten nut.—As you Like it, act 3. sc. 10.
This sword a dagger had his page,
As dwarfs upon knights-errant do.-Hudibras, canto 1.
Description of Hudibras's horse :
He was well stay'd, and in his gait
And as that beast would kneel and stoop,
So Hudibras his ('tis well known)
Would often do to set him down.-Canto 1.
Honour is like a widow won,
With brisk attempt and putting on,
With entering manfully, and urging;
Not slow approaches, like a virgin.-Canto 1.
The sun had long since, in the lap
Of Thetis, taken out his nap;
And like a lobster boil'd, the morn
From black to red began to turn.-Part 2. canto 2.
Books, like men their authors, have but one way of coming into the world; but there are ten thousand to go out of it, and return no more.-Tale of a Tub.
And in this the world may perceive the difference between the integrity of a generous author, and that of a common friend. The latter is observed to adhere close in prosperity, but on the decline of fortune, to drop suddenly off; whereas the generous author, just on the contrary, finds his hero on the dunghill, from thence, by gradual steps, raises him to a throne, and then immediately withdraws, expecting not so much as thanks for his pains.-Ibid.
The most accomplished way of using books at present, is to serve them as some do Lords,-learn their titles, and then brag of their acquaintance.-Ibid. Box'd in a chair the beau impatient sits,
While spouts run clatt'ring o'er the roof by fits;
The leather sounds; he trembles from within.
Description of a City Shower. Swift.
Clubs, diamonds, hearts, in wild disorder seen,