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Comes at the last, and with a little pin
Bores through his castle walls, and farewell king.
Richard II. act 3. sc. 4
Not less successfully is life and action given even to sleep :
King Henry. How many thousands of my poorest subjects
Nature's soft nurse, how have I frighted thee,
That thou no more wilt weigh my eyelids down,
And steep my senses in forgetfulness?
Why rather, Sleep, ly'st thou in smoky cribs,
Upon uneasy pallets stretching thee,
And hush'd with buzzing night-flies to thy slumber,
Under the canopies of costly state,
And lull'd with sounds of sweetest melody?
Who take the ruffian billows by the top,
Curling their monstrous heads, and hanging them
Second Part, Henry IV. act 3. sc. 1.
I shall add one example more, to show that descriptive personification may be used with propriety, even where the purpose of the discourse is instruction merely :
Oh! let the steps of youth be cautious,
How they advance into a dangerous world:
Our passions are seducers; but of all,
The strongest Love. He first approaches us
We should take warning: he is painted blind,
Therefore, let Virtue take him by the hand:
Hitherto success has attended our steps; but whether we shall complete our progress with equal success, seems doubtful; for when we look back to the expressions mentioned in the beginning, thirsty ground, furious dart, and such like, it seems no less difficult than at first, to say whether there be in them any sort of personification. Such expressions evidently raise not the slightest conviction of sensibility; nor do I think they amount to descriptive personification;
because, in them, we do not even figure the ground or the dart to be animated. If so, they cannot at all come under the present subject. To shew which, I shall endeavour to trace the effect that such expressions have in the mind Doth not the expression angry ocean, for example, tacitly compare the ocean in a storm to a man in wrath? By this tacit comparison, the ocean is elevated above its rank in nature; and yet personification is excluded, because, by the very nature of comparison, the things compared are kept distinct, and the native appearance of each is preserved. It will be shown afterward, that expressions of this kind belong to another figure, which I term a figure of speech, and which employs the seventh section of the present chapter.
Though thus in general we can distinguish descriptive personification from what is merely a figure of speech, it is, however, often difficult to say, with respect to some expressions, whether they are of the one kind or of the other. Take the following instances:
The moon shines bright: in such a night as this,
Where Cressid lay that night.—Merchant of Venice, act 5. sc. I.
-I have seen
Th' ambitious ocean swell, and rage, and foam,
To be exalted with the threat'ning clouds.-Julius Cæsar, act 1. sc. 6.
With respect to these and numberless other examples of the same kind, it must depend upon the reader, whether they be examples of personification, or of a figure of speech merely. A sprightly imagi nation will advance them to the former class, with a plain reader they will remain in the latter.
Having thus at large explained the present figure, its different kinds, and the principles upon which it is founded; what comes next in order is, to shew in what cases it may be introduced with propriety, when it is suitable, when unsuitable. I begin with observing, that passionate personification is not promoted by every passion indifferently. All dispiriting passions are averse to it; and remorse, in particular, is too serious and severe to be gratified with a phantom of the mind. I cannot, therefore, approve the following speech of Enobarbus, who had deserted his master Antony :
Be witness to me, O thou blessed moon!
Oh sovereign mistress of true melancholy!
The poisonous damp of night dispunge upon me;
That life, a very rebel to my will,
May hang no longer on me.-Antony and Cleopatra, act 4. sc. 7.
If this can be justified, it must be upon the Heathen system of theo. logy, which converted into deities the sun, moon, and stars.
Secondly, After a passionate personification is properly introduced, it ought to be confined to its proper province, that of gratifying the
passion, without giving place to any sentiment or action but what answers that purpose; for personification is at any rate a bold figure, and ought to be employed with great reserve. The passion of love, for example, in a plaintive tone, may give a momentary life to woods and rocks, in order to make them sensible of the lover's distress; but no passion will support a conviction so far stretched, as that these woods and rocks should be living witnesses to report the distress to others.
Ch'i' t'ami piu de la mia vita,
Se tu nol sai, crudele,
Chiedilo à queste selve
Che te'l diranno, et fe'l diran con esse
Le fere loro e i duri sterpi, di sassi
Di questi alpestri monti,
Ch'i' ho si spesse volte
Inteneriti al suon de' miei lamenti.-Pastor Fido, act 3. sc. 3.
No lover who is not crazed will utter such a sentiment. It is plainly the operation of the writer, indulging his inventive faculty without. regard to nature. The same observation is applicable to the following passage:
In winter's tedious nights sit by the fire
With good old folks, and let them tell their tales.
Of woful ages, long ago betid:
And ere thou bid good night, to quit their grief,
Tell them the lamentable fall of me,
And send thy hearers weeping to their beds.
For why the senseless brands will sympathize
The heavy accent of thy moving tongue,
And in compassion weep the fire out.-Richard II. act 5. sc. 2.
One must read this passage very seriously to avoid laughing. The following passage is quite extravagant. The different parts of the human body are too intimately connected with self, to be personi. fied by the power of any passion; and after converting such a part into a sensible being, it is still worse to make it be conceived as rising in rebellion against self:
Cleopatra. Haste, bare my arm, and rouse the serpent's fury.
Would'st thou conspire with Cæsar to betray me,
Dryden, All for Love, act 5.
Next comes descriptive personification; upon which I must observe, in general, that it ought to be cautiously used. A personage in a tragedy, agitated by a strong passion, deals in warm sentiments; and the reader, catching fire by sympathy, relishes the boldest personifications. But a writer, even in the most lively description, taking a lower flight, ought to content himself with such easy per. sonifications as agree with the tone of mind inspired by the description. Nor is even such easy personification always admitted; for, in plain narrative, the mind, serious and sedate, rejects personifica. tion altogether. Strada, in his history of the Belgic wars, has the following passage, which, by a strained elevation above the tone of the subject, deviates into burlesque.
Vix descenderat a praetoria navi Caesar; cum fœda illico exorta in portu tempestas, classem impetu disjecit, praetoriam hausit; quasi non vecturam amplius Caesarem, Caesarisque fortunam.-Dec. 1.7. 1.
Neither do I approve, in Shakspeare, the speech of King John, gravely exhorting the citizens of Angiers to a surrender; though a tragic writer has much greater latitude than a historian. Take the following specimen :
The cannons have their bowels full of wrath;
And ready mounted are they to spit forth
Their iron-indignation 'gainst your walls.-Act 2. st. 3.
Secondly, If extraordinary marks of respect to a person of low rank be ridiculous, no less so is the personification of a low subject. This rule chiefly regards descriptive personification; for a subject can hardly be low that is the cause of a violent passion; in that circumstance, at least, it must be of importance. But to assign any rule other than taste merely, for avoiding things below even descrip. tive personification, will, I am afraid, be a hard task. A poet of superior genius, possessing the power of inflaming the mind, may take liberties that would be too bold in others. Homer appears not extravagant in animating his darts and arrows; nor Thomson in animating the seasons, the winds, the rains, the dews; he even ventures to animate the diamond, and doth it with propriety :
That polish'd bright
And all its native lustre let abroad,
Dares, as it sparkles on the fair one's breast,
But there are things familiar and base, to which personification cannot descend. In a composed state of mind, to animate a lump of matter even in the most rapid flight of fancy, degenerates into burlesque :
How now? What noise! that spirit's possessed with haste,
Shakspeare, Measure for Measure, act 4. sc. 6
-Or from the shore
The plovers when to scatter o'er the heath,
Speaking of a man's hand cut off in battle:
Te decisa suum, Laride, dextera quærit :
Thomson, Spring, 1. 23.
Semianimesque micant digiti: ferrumque retractant.-Æneid, x. 395.
The personification here of a hand is insufferable, especially in a plain narration; not to mention that such a trivial incident is too minutely described.
The same observation is applicable to abstract terms, which ought not to be animated unless they have some natural dignity. Thomson, in this article, is licentious; witness the following instances out of many :
O vale of bliss! O softly swelling hills!
On which the power of cultivation lies,
And joys to see the wonders of his toil.-Summer, l. 1435
Then sated Hunger bids his brother Thirst
Nor wanting is the brown October, drawn,
Thirdly, it is not sufficient to avoid improper subjects. Some preparation is necessary, in order to rouse the mind; for the imagi. nation refuses its aid till it be warmed at least, if not inflamed. Yet Thomson, without the least ceremony or preparation, introduceth each season as a sensible being :
From brightening fields of æther fair diselos'd,
In pride of youth, and felt through Nature's depth. '
And-ever fanning breezes, on his way;
While from his ardent look, the turning Spring
Averts her blushful face, and earth and skies
All smiling to his hot dominion leaves.—Summer, l. 1.
See Winter comes, to rule the vary'd year,
Vapours, and clouds, and storms.—Winter, l. 1.
This has violently the air of writing mechanically, without taste. It is not natural that the imagination of a writer should be so much heated at the very commencement; and, at any rate, he cannot ex. pect such ductility in his readers. But if this practice can be justified by authority, Thomson has one of no mean note. Vida begins his first eclogue in the following words:
Dicite, vos Musæ, et juvenum memorate querelas ;
Et requiesse suos perhibent vaga flumina cursus.
Even Shakspeare is not always careful to prepare the mind for this bold figure. Take the following instance :
-Upon these taxations,
The clothiers all, not able to maintain
And Danger serves among them.-Henry VIII. act 1. sc. 4.
Fourthly, Descriptive personification, still more than what is passionate, ought to be kept within the bounds of moderation. A reader, warmed with a beautiful subject, can imagine, even without passion, the winds, for example, to be animated; but still the winds are the subject; and any action ascribed to them beyond or contrary to their usual operation, appearing unnatural, seldom fails to banish the illusion altogether. The reader's imagination too far strained,