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E conjungendo à temerario ardire
Che ne trema la terra, e'l ciel balena.-Gierusalem. cant. 6. st. 46. Quintilian* is sensible that this figure is natural: "For," says he, "not contented with truth, we naturally incline to augment or di minish beyond it; and for that reason the hyperbole is familiar even among the vulgar and illiterate:" and he adds very justly, “That the hyperbole is then proper, when the subject of itself exceeds the eommon measure." From these premises one would not expect the following inference, the only reason he can find for justifying this figure of speech: "Conceditur enim amplius dicere, quia dici quantum est, non potest: meliusque ultra quam citra stat oratio.' (We are indulged to say more than enough, because we cannot say enough and it is better to be above than under.) In the name of wonder, why this childish reasoning, after observing that the hyperbole is founded on human nature? I could not resist this personal stroke of criticism; intended not against our author, for no human creature is exempt from error, but against the blind veneration that is paid to the ancient classic writers, without distinguishing their blemishes from their beauties.
Having examined the nature of this figure, and the principle on which it is erected, I proceed, as in the first section, to the rules by which it ought to be governed. And, in the first place, it is a capital fault, to introduce an hyperbole in the description of any thing ordinary or familiar; for, in such a case it is altogether unnatural, being destitute of surprise, its only foundation. Take the following instance, where the subject is extremely familiar, viz. swimming to gain the shore after a shipwreck :
I saw him beat the surges under him,
And ride upon their backs; he trod the water;
To th' shore, that o'er his wave-borne basis bowed,
In the next place, it may be gathered from what is said, that an hyperbole can never suit the tone of any dispiriting passion: sorrow, in particular, will never prompt such a figure; for which reason the following hyperboles must be condemned as unnatural.
K. Rich. Aumerle, thou weep'st, my tender-hearted cousin!
Our sighs, and they, shall lodge the summer-corn,
And make a dearth in this revolting land.-Richard II. act 3. sc. 6.
Draw them to Tyber's bank, and weep your tears
Into the channel, till the lowest stream
Do kiss the most exalted shores of all.-Julius Cæsar, act 1. sc. 1.
Thirdly, A writer, if he wish to succeed, ought always to have the reader in his eye; he ought, in particular, never to venture a bold
*L. 8. cap. 6. in fin.
thought or expression, till the reader be warned and prepared. For that reason, an hyperbole in the beginning of a work can never be in its place.
Jam pauca aratro jugera regiae
Horat. Carm. l. 1. ode 15.
The nicest point of all is to ascertain the natural limits of an hyperbole, beyond which, being overstrained, it hath a bad effect. Longinus, in the above-cited chapter, with great propriety of thought, enters à caveat against an hyperbole of this kind: he compares to a bow-string, which relaxes by overstraining, and produceth an effect directly opposite to what is intended. To ascertain any precise boundary would be difficult, if not impracticable. Mine shall be a humbler task; which is, to give a specimen of what I reckon overstrained hyperbole; and I shall be brief upon them, because examples are to be found everywhere. No fault is more common among writers of inferior rank; and instances are found even among classical writers. Witness the following hyperbole, too bold even for a Hotspur.
Hotspur talking of Mortimer :
In single opposition, hand to hand,
He did confound the best part of an hour
In changing hardiment with Great Glendower.
Three times they breath'd, and three times did they drink,
Speaking of Henry V.:
First Part, Henry IV. act 1. sc. 4.
England ne'er had a king until his time:
His brandish'd sword did blind men with its beams:
His sparkling eyes, replete with awful fire,
First Part, Henry VI. act 1. sc. 1.
Se tutti gli alberi del mondo fossero penne,*
Non basteriano a descrivere la minima
Se tante lingue havessi, e tante voci,
Nel dire a pieno le vostri lodi immensi.—Guarini.
It is observable, that an hyperbole, even the most extravagant, commonly produces some emotion: the present hyperbole is an exception; and the reason is, that numbers, in which the extravagance entirely consists, make no impression upon the imagination when they exceed what can easily be conceived.
Lastly, An hyperbole, after it is introduced with all advantages, ought to be comprehended within the fewest words possible. As it cannot be relished but in the hurry and swelling of the mind, a leisurely view dissolves the charm, and discovers the description to be extravagant at least, and perhaps also ridiculous. This fault is palpable in a sonnet, which passeth for one of the most complete in the French language. Phillis, in a long and florid description, is made as far to outshine the sun as he outshines the stars.
Le silence regnoit sur la terre et sur l'onde,
Vous parûtes alors aussi peu devant elle,
Que les feux de la nuit avoient fait devant vous.-Malleville.
There is in Chaucer a thought expressed in a single line, which gives more lustre to a young beauty, than the whole of this much-laboured poem :
Up rose the sun, and up rose Emelie.
THE MEANS OR INSTRUMENT CONCEIVED TO BE THE AGENT.
WHEN We survey a number of connected objects, that which makes the greatest figure employs chiefly our attention; and the emotion it raises, if lively, prompts us even to exceed nature in the conception we form of it. Take the following examples:
For Neleus' son Alcides' rage had slain.
A broken rock the force of Pirus threw,
In these instances, the rage of Hercules and the force of Pirus being the capital circumstances, are so far exalted as to be conceived the agents that produce the effects.
In the following instances, hunger being the chief circumstance in the description, is itself imagined to be the patient.
Whose hunger has not tasted food these three days.-Jane Shore.
As when the force
Of subterranean wind transports a hill.-Paradise Lost.
A FIGURE WHICH, AMONG RELATED OBJECTS, EXTENDS THE PROPERTIES OF ONE TO ANOTHER.
THIS figure is not dignified with a proper name, because it has been overlooked by writers. It merits, however, a place in this work; and must be distinguished from those formerly handled, as depending on a different principle. Giddy brink, jovial wine, daring wound, are examples of this figure. Here are adjectives that cannot be made to signify any quality of the substantives to which they are joined a brink, for example, cannot be termed giddy in a sense, either proper or figurative, that can signify any of its qualities or attributes. When we examine attentively the expression, we discover, that a brink is termed giddy from producing that effect in those who stand on it. In the same manner, a wound is said to be daring, not with respect to itself, but with respect to the boldness of the person who inflicts it; and wine is said to be jovial, as inspiring mirth and jollity. Thus the attributes of one subject are extended to another with which it is connected; and the expression of such a thought must be considered as a figure, because the attribute is not applicable to the subject in any proper sense.
How are we to account for this figure, which we see lies in the thought, and to what principle shall we refer it? Have poets a pri. vilege to alter the nature of things, and at pleasure to bestow attributes upon a subject to which they do not belong? We have had often occasion to inculcate, that the mind passeth easily and sweetly along a train of connected objects; and, where the objects are intimately connected, that it is disposed to carry along the good and bad properties of one to another, especially when it is in any de. gree inflamed with these properties.* From this principle is derived the figure under consideration. Language, invented for the communication of thought, would be imperfect, if it where not expres. sive even of the slighter propensities and more delicate feelings. But language cannot remain so imperfect among a people who have received any polish; because language is regulated by internal feeling, and is gradually improved to express whatever passes in the mind. Thus, for example, when a sword in the hand of a coward is termed a coward sword, the expression is significative of an internal operation; for the mind in passing from the agent to its instru ment, is disposed to extend to the latter the properties of the former. Governed by the same principle, we say listening fear, by extending the attribute listening of the man who listens, to the passion with which he is moved. In the expression bold deed, or audax facinus, we extend to the effect what properly belongs to the cause. not to waste time by making a commentary upon every expression of this kind, the best way to give a complete view of the subject, is to exhibit a table of the different relations that may give occasion to this figure. And, in viewing the table, it will be observed, that
*See chap. 2. part 1. sect. 5.
the figure can never have any grace but where the relations are of the most intimate kind.
1. An attribute of the cause expressed as an attribute of the ef. fect:
Of yonder fleet a bold discovery make.
An impious mortal gave the daring wound.
-To my advent'rous song.
That with no middle flight intends to soar.-Paradise Lost.
2. An attribute of the effect expressed as an attribute of the
Quos periisse ambos misera consebam in mari.-Plautus.
No wonder, fallen such a pernicious height.—Paradise Lost.
3. An effect expressed as an attribute of the cause:
Jovial wine, Giddy brink, Drowsy night, Musing midnight, Panting height, Astonish'd thought, Mournful gloom.
Casting a dim religious light.-Milton, Comus.
And the merry bells ring round.
And the jocund rebecks sound.-Milton, Allegro.
4. An attribute of a subject bestowed upon one of its parts or members;
It was the nightingale and not the lark,
That pierc'd the fearful hollow of thine ear.—Romeo & Juliet, act 3. sc. 7.
-Oh, lay by
'Those most ungentle looks and angry weapons;
Unless you mean my griefs and killing fears
Should stretch me out at your relentless feet.- Fair Penitent, act 3.
-And ready now
To stoop with wearied wing and willing feet,
On the bare outside of this world.-Paradise Lost, b. 3.
5. A quality of the agent given to the instrument with which it operates :
Why peep your coward swords half out their shells?
6. An attribute of the agent given to the subject upon which it operates;
7. A quality of one subject given to another :
Icci, beatis nunc Arabum invides.
Horal. Carm. l. 1. ode 29.
When sapless age, and weak unable limbs
Should bring thy father to his drooping chair.—Shakspeare.
By art the pilot, through the boiling deep
And howling tempest, steers the fearless ship.-Iliad, xxiii. 385.
Then, nothing loth, th' enamour'd fair he led,
And sunk transported on the conscious bed.—Odyssey, viii. 337.
A stupid moment motionless she stood.-Summer, l. 1336.