Page images

The pierc d battalions disunited, fall

In heaps on heaps; one fate o'erwhelms them all.

He does not consider, that sincerity in love is as much out of fashion as sweet snuff; nobody takes it now.-Careless Husband.


Lady Essay. My dear, I am afraid you have provok'd her a little too far. Sir Charles. O! Not at all. You shall see; I'll sweeten her, and she'll cool like a dish of tea.-Ibid.

Rape of the Lock, canto 3



THE endless variety of expressions brought under the head of tropes and figures by ancient critics and grammarians, makes it evident that they had no precise criterion for distinguishing tropes and figures from plain language. It was accordingly my opinion, that little could be made of them in the way of rational criticism, till discovering, by a sort of accident, that many of them depend on principles formerly explained, I gladly embrace the opportunity to show the influence of these principles where it would be the least expected. Confining myself therefore to such figures, I am luckily freed from much trash, without dropping, as far as I remember, any trope or figure that merits a proper name.. And I begin with Prosopopæia, or Personification, which is justly entitled to the first place.


THE bestowing sensibility and voluntary motion upon things in animate, is so bold a figure, as to require, one should imagine, very peculiar circumstances for operating the delusion: and yet, in the language of poetry, we find a variety of expressions, which, though commonly reduced to that figure, are used without ceremony, or any sort of preparation: as, for example, thirsty ground, hungry church-yard, furious dart, angry ocean. These epithets, in their proper meaning, are attributes of sensible beings. What is their meaning when applied to things inanimate? Do they make us conceive the ground, the church-yard, the dart, the ocean, to be endued with animal functions? This is a curious inquiry; and whether so or not, it cannot be declined in handling the present subject.

The mind, agitated by certain passions, is prone to bestow sensi. bility upon things inanimate.* This is an additional instance of the influence of passion upon our opinions and belief.† I give examples: Antony, mourning over the body of Cæsar, murdered in the senatehouse, vents his passion in the following words:

* Page 319.

Chap. 2. part 5.

Here Antony must have been impressed with a notion that the body of Cæsar was listening to him, without which the speech would be foolish and absurd. Nor will it appear strange, considering what is said in the chapter above cited, that passion would have such power over the mind of man. In another example of the same kind, the earth, as a common mother, is animated to give refuge against a father's unkindness:


Antony. O pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,
That I am meek and gentle with these butchers.
Thou art the ruins of the noblest man

That ever lived in the tide of time.-Julius Cæsar, act 3. sc. 4.


Almeria. O Earth! behold I kneel upon thy bosom,

And bend my flowing eyes to stream upon
Thy face, imploring thee that thou wilt yield!
Open thy bowels of compassion; take
Into thy womb, the last and most forlorn

Of all thy race. Hear me, thou common parent

-I have no parent else. Be thou a mother;
And step between me and the curse of him,
Who was who was, but is no more, a father;
But brands my innocence with horrid crimes;
And, for the tender names of child and daughter,

Now calls me murderer and parricide.—Mourning Bride, act 4. sc. 7.

[ocr errors]

Plaintive passions are extremely solicitous for vent; and a soliloquy commonly answers the purpose: but when such a passion be. comes excessive, it cannot be gratified but by sympathy from others; and if denied that consolation in a natural way, it will convert even. things inanimate into sympathizing beings. Thus, Philoctetes complains to the rocks and promontories of the isle of Lemnos ;* and Alcestes dying, invokes the sun, the light of day, the clouds, the earth, her husband's palace, &c.† Moschus, lamenting the death of Bion, conceives that the birds, the fountains, the trees, lament with him. The shepherd, who in Virgil bewails the death of Daphnis, expresses himself thus :

Daphni, tuam Ponos etiam ingemuisse leones

Interitum, montesque feri silvæque loquuntur.-Eclogue, v. 27.

Illum etiam lauri, illum etiam fevere myricæ.

Pinifer illum etiam sola sub rupe jacentem

Mænalus, et gelidi fleverunt saxa Lycœi.—Eclogue, x. 13.

Ho vista al pianto mio

Responder per pietate i sassi e l'onde ;

E sospirar le fronde

Ho visto al pianto mio.

Ma non ho visto mai,
Ne spero di vedere

Compassion ne la crudele, e bella.-Aminta di Tasso, act 1. sc. 2.

That such personification is derived from nature, will not admit the *Philoctetes of Sophocles, act 4. sc. 2. + Alcestes of Euripides, act 2. sc. 1.

least remaining doubt, after finding it in poems of the darkest ages and remotest countries. No figure is more frequent in Ossian's works; for example :

The battle is over, said the King, and I behold the blood of my friends. Sad is the heath of Lena, and mournful the oaks of Cromla.

Again :

The sword of Gaul trembles at his side, and longs to glitter in his hand.

King Richard having got intelligence of Bolingbroke's invasion, says, upon landing in England from his Irish expedition, in a mix. ture of joy and resentment,

-I weep for joy

To stand upon my kingdom once again.
Dear earth, I do salute thee with my hand,

Though rebels wound thee with their horses' hoofs.
As a long parted mother with her child
Plays fondly with her tears, and smiles in meeting;
So weeping, smiling, greet I thee, my earth,
And do thee favour with my royal hands.
Feed not thy sov'reign's foe, my gentle earth,
Nor with thy sweets comfort his rav'nous sense :
But let thy spiders that suck up thy venom,
And heavy-gaited toads, lie in their way;
Doing annoyance to the treacherous feet,
Which with usurping steps do trample thee.
Yield stinging nettles to mine enemies ;
And, when they from thy bosom pluck a flower,
Guard it, I pr'ythee, with a lurking adder;
Whose double tongue may with a mortal touch
Throw death upon thy sov'reign's enemies.
Mock not my senseless conjuration, Lords:
This earth shall have a feeling; and these stones
Prove armed soldiers, ere her native king

Shall faulter under foul rebellious arms.-Richard II. act 3. sc. 2.

After a long voyage, it was customary among the ancients to salute the natal soil. A long voyage being of old a greater enterprize than at present, the safe return to one's country, after much fatigue and danger, was a delightful circumstance; and it was natural to give the natal soil a temporary life, in order to sympathize with the traveller. See an example, Agamemnon of Eschylus, act 3, in the beginning. Regret for leaving a place one has been accustomed to, has the same effect.*

Terror produceth the same effect; it is communicated in thought to every thing around, even to things inanimate :

Speaking of Polyphemus,

Clamorem immensum tollit, quo pontus et omnes
Intremuere undæ, penitusque exterrita tellus
Eneid, iii. 672.

-As when old Ocean roars,

And heaves huge surges to the trembling shores.-Iliad, ii. 249. Go, view the settling sea. The stormy wind is laid; but the billows stil! tremble on the deep, and seem to fear the blast.-Fingal.

* Philoctetes of Sophocles, at the close.


Racine, in the tragedy of Phædra, describing the sea-monster that destroyed Hyppolitus, conceives the sea itself to be struck with terror as well as the spectators :

Le flot qui l'apporta recule epouvanté.

A man also naturally communicates his joy to all objects around, animate or inanimate :

As when to them who sail

Beyond the Cape of Hope, and now are past
Mozambic, off at sea north-east winds blow
Sabean odour from the spicy shore

Of Araby the Blest; with such delay

Well pleas'd they slack their course, and many a league
Cheer'd with the grateful smell old Ocean smiles.

Paradise Lost, b. 4.

I have been profuse of examples, to show what power many passions have to animate their objects. In all the foregoing examples, the personification, if I mistake not, is so complete as to afford conviction, momentary indeed, of life and intelligence. But it is evident from numberless instances, that personification is not always so complete it is a common figure in descriptive poetry, understood to be the language of the writer, and not of the persons he describes : in this case, it seldom or never comes up to conviction, even momentary, of life and intelligence. I give the following examples:

First in his east the glorious lamp was seen,
Regent of day, and all th' horizon round
Invested with bright rays; jocund to run
His longitude through heaven's high road: the gray
Dawn and the Pleiades before him danc'd,
Shedding sweet influence. Less bright the moon,
But opposite, in levell'd west was set
His mirror, with full face borrowing her light
From him; for other light she needed none.

Paradise Lost, b. 7. l. 370.*

Night's candles are burnt out, and jocund Day
Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain-tops.

Romeo and Juliet, act 3. sc. 7.

But look, the morn, in russet mantle clad,
Walks o'er the dew of yon high eastward hill.-Hamlet, act 1. sc. 1.

It may, I presume, be taken for granted, that in the foregoing instances, the personification, either with the poet or his reader, amounts not to a conviction of intelligence, that the sun, the moon, the day, the morn, are not here understood to be sensible beings. What then is the nature of this personification? I think it must be referred to the imagination. The inanimate object is imagined to be a sensible being, but without any conviction, even for a moment, that it really is so. Ideas or fictions of imagination have power to raise

The chastity of the English language, which in common usage distinguishes by genders no words but what signify beings male and female, gives thus a fine opportunity for the prosopopeia; a beauty unknown in other languages, where every word is masculine or feminine.

[ocr errors]

emotions in the mind; and when any thing inanimate is, in imagi. nation, supposed to be a sensible being, it makes, by that means, a greater figure than when an idea is formed of it according to truth. This sort of personification, however, is far inferior to the other in elevation. Thus personification is of two kinds. The first being more noble, may be termed passionate personification: the other, more humble, descriptive personification; because seldom or never is personification in a description carried to conviction.

The imagination is so lively and active, that its images are raised with very little effort; and this justifies the frequent use of descriptive personification. This figure abounds in Milton's Allegro and Penseroso.

Abstract and general terms, as well as particular objects, are often necessary in poetry. Such terms, however, are not well adapted to poetry, because they suggest not any image. I can readily form an image of Alexander or Achilles in wrath; but I cannot form an image of wrath in the abstract, or of wrath independent of a person. Upon that account, in works addressed to the imagination, abstract terms are frequently personified; but such personification rests upon imagination merely, not upon conviction.

Sed mihi vel Tellus optem prius ima dehiscat ;

Vel Pater omnipotens adigat me fulmine ad umbras,
Pallentes umbras Erebi, noctemque profundam,

Ante pudor quam te violo, aut tua jura resolvo.-Æneid, iv. l. 24.

Thus to explain the effects of slander, it is imagined to be a voluntary agent.

-No, 'tis Slander;

Whose edge is sharper than the sword; whose tongue
Out-venoms all the worms of Nile; whose breath
Rides on the posting winds, and doth belie

All corners of the world, kings, queens, and states,
Maids, matrons: nay, the secrets of the grave

This viperous Slander enters.-Shakspeare, Cymbeline, act 3. sc. 4.

As also human passions. Take the following example :

-For Pleasure and Revenge
Have ears more deaf than adders, to the voice

Of any true decision.-Troilus and Cressida, act 2. sc. 4.

Virgil explains fame and its effects by a still greater variety of action. And Shakspeare personifies death and its operations in a manner singularly fanciful.

-Within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king,
Keeps Death his court; and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state, and grinning at his pomp ;
Allowing him a breath, a little scene

To monarchize, be fear'd, and kill with looks;
Infusing him with self and vain conceit,
As if his flesh, which walls about our life,
Were brass impregnable: and humour'd thus,

See Appendix, containing definitions and explanations of terms, § 28.
Eneid, iv. 173.

« PreviousContinue »