Page images

Hinc si dura mihi passus dicendus Ulysses,
Non illum vero memorabo nomine, sed qui
Et mores hominum multorum vidit, et urbes,
Naufragus eversæ post sæva incendia Troja.

Poet. lib. II. 1. 46.

T'hus great Ulysses' toils were I to choose,
For the main theme that should employ my muse;
By his long labors of immortal fame,

Should shine my hero, but conceal his name;

As one, who lost at sea, had nations seen,

And marked their towns, their manners, and their men,
Since Troy was levelled to the dust by Greece.—

Lastly, by this figure language is enriched, and rendered more copious; in which respect, were there no other, a figure of speech is a happy invention. This property is finely touched by Vida:

Quinetiam agricolas ea fandi nota voluptas

Exercet, dum læta seges, dum trudere gemmas
Incipiunt vites, sitientiaque ætheris imbrem
Prata bibunt, ridentque satis surgentibus agri.
Hanc vulgo speciem propriæ penuria vocis
Intulit, indictisque urgens in rebus egestas.
Quippe ubi se vera ostendebant nomina nusquam,
Fas erat hinc atque hinc transferre simillima veris.
Poet. lib. III. 1. 90.

Ev'en the rough hinds delight in such a strain,
When the glad harvest waves with golden grain,
And thirsty meadows drink the pearly rain;
On the proud vine her purple gems appear;

The smiling fields rejoice, and hail the pregnant year.
First from necessity the figure sprung,

For, things, that would not suit our scanty tongue,
When no true names were offered to the view,
Those they transferred that bordered on the true;
Thence by degrees the noble license grew.

The beauties I have mentioned belong to every figure of speech. Several other beauties peculiar to one or other sort, I shall have occasion to remark afterward.

Not only subjects, but qualities, actions, effects, may be expressed figuratively. Thus, as to subjects, the gates of breath for the lips, the watery kingdom for the ocean. As to qualities, fierce for stormy, in the expression Fierce winter: Altus for profundus; Altus puteus, Altum mare; Breathing for perspiring; Breathing plants. Again, as to actions, the sea rages, Time will melt her frozen thoughts, Time kills grief. An effect is put for the cause, as lux for the sun; and a cause for the effect, as boum labores for corn. The relation of resemblance is one plentiful source of figures of speech; and nothing is more common than to apply to one object the name of another that resembles it in any respect: height, size, and worldly greatness, resemble not each other; but the emotions they produce resemble each other, and prompted by this resemblance, we naturally express worldly greatness by height or size: one feels a certain uneasiness in seeing a great depth; and hence depth is made to express any thing disagreeable by excess, as depth of grief, depth of despair: again, height of place, and time long past, produce similar feelings; and hence the expression, Ut altius repetam: distance in past time,

producing a strong feeling, is put for any strong feeling. Nihil mihi antiquius nostra amicitia: shortness with relation to space, for shortness with relation to time, Brevis esse laboro, obscurus fio: suffering a punishment resembles paying a debt; hence pendere panas. In the same manner light may be put for glory, sunshine for prosperity, and weight for importance,

Many words, originally figurative, having by long and constant use, lost their figurative power, are degraded to the inferior rank of proper terms. Thus the words that express the operations of the mind, have in all languages been originally figurative: the reason holds in all, that when these operations came first under consideration, there was no other way of describing them than by what they resembled: it was not practicable to give them proper names, as may be done to objects that can be ascertained by sight and touch. A soft nature, jarring tempers, weight of wo, pompous phrase, beget compassion, assuage grief, break a vow, bend the eye downward, shower down curses, drown'd in tears, wrapt in joy, warm'd with eloquence, loaded with spoils, and a thousand other expressions of the like nature, have lost their figurative sense. Some terms there are, that cannot be said to be either altogether figurative or altogether proper originally figurative, they are tending to simplicity, without having lost altogether their figurative power. Virgil's Regina saucia cura, is perhaps one of these expressions: with ordinary readers, saucia will be considered as expressing simply the effect of grief; but one of a lively imagination will exalt the phrase into a figure.

For epitomising this subject, and at the same time for giving a clear view of it, I cannot think of a better method, than to present to the reader a list of the several relations upon which figures of speech are commonly founded. This list I divide into two tables one of subjects expressed figuratively, and one of attributes.


Subjects expressed figuratively.

1. A word proper to one subject employed figuratively to express a resembling subject.

There is no figure of speech so frequent, as what is derived from the relation of resemblance. Youth, for example, is signified figuratively by the morning of life. The life of a man resembles a

natural day in several particulars: the morning is the beginning of day, youth the beginning of life; the morning is cheerful, so is youth, &c. By another resemblance, a bold warrior is termed the thunderbolt of war; a multitude of troubles, a sea of troubles.

This figure, above all others, affords pleasure to the mind by variety of beauties. Besides the beauties above mentioned, common to all sorts, it possesses in particular the beauty of a metaphor or of a simile: a figure of speech built upon resemblance, suggests always a comparison between the principal subject and the accessory; whereby every good effect of a metaphor or simile, may in a short and lively manner, be produced by this figure of speech

2. A word proper to the effect employed figuratively to express

the cause.

Lux for the sun. Shadow for cloud. A helmet is signified by the expression glittering terror. A tree by shadow or umbrage. Hence the expression:

Nec habet Pelion umbras.*

Where the dun umbrage hangs.

A wound is made to signify an arrow:

Vulnere non pedibus te consequar.t


Spring, L 1023.


There is a peculiar force and beauty in this figure: the word which signifies figuratively the principal subject, denotes it to be a cause by suggesting the effect.

3. A word proper to the cause, employed figuratively to express the effect.

Boumque labores, for corn. Sorrow or grief, for tears.

Again, Ulysses veil'd his pensive head;
Again, unmann'd, a show'r of sorrow shed.
Streaming Grief his faded cheek bedew'd.

Blindness for darkness:

Cæcis erramus in undis.+

Eneid, III. 200.

There is a peculiar energy in this figure, similar to that in the former the figurative name denotes the subject to be an effect, by suggesting its cause.

4. Two things being intimately connected, the proper name of the one employed figuratively to signify the other.

Day for light. Night for darkness; and hence, A sudden night. Winter for a storm at sea:

Interea magno misceri murmure pontum,
Emissamque Hyemem sensit Neptunus.

Meantime imperial Neptune heard the sound
Of raging winter breaking on the ground.

Eneid, I. 128.

This last figure would be too bold for a British writer, as a storm at sea is not inseparably connected with winter in this climate.

5. A word proper to an attribute, employed figuratively to denote the subject.

Youth and beauty for those who are young and beautiful:

Youth and beauty shall be laid in dust.

Majesty for the King:

What art thou, that usurp'st this time of night,
Together with that fair and warlike form,

In which the Majesty of buried Denmark

Did sometime march?

-Or have ye chosen this place

After the toils of battle, to repose

Your weary'd virtue,

* Nor hath Pelion shadows.

Hamlet, Act I. Sc. 1.

Paradise Lost.

t I will follow thee with a wound, not with feet.

We wander midst the blind waves.

Verdure for a green field. Summer, 1. 301.
Speaking of cranes,

The pigmy nations wounds and death they bring,
And all the war descends upon the wing.

Cool age advances venerably wise.

Iliad, III. 10.

Iliad, III. 149.

The peculiar beauty of this figure arises from suggesting an attribute that embellishes the subject, or puts it in a stronger light. 6. A complex term employed figuratively to denote one of the component parts.

Funus for a dead body. Burial for a grave.

7. The name of one of the component parts instead of the complex term.

Tadat for a marriage. The East for a country situated east from us. Jovis vestigia servat,t for imitating Jupiter in general. 8. A word signifying time or place, employed figuratively to denote what is connected with it.

Clime for a nation, or for a constitution of government: hence the expression Merciful clime, Fleecy winter for snow, Seculum felix.§ 9. A part for the whole.

The Pole for the earth. The head for the person :

Triginta minas pro capite tuo dedi.ll

Tergum for the man :

Fugiens tergum.¶

Vultus for the man:



[blocks in formation]

Men in armor bright,

The routed horse and horsemen with their lightnings fright.

[blocks in formation]

The silent heart with grief assails




Iliad, IX. 616.

Paradise Lost.


The peculiar beauty of this figure consists in marking that part

which makes the greatest figure.

10. The name of the container, employed figuratively to signify what is contained.

Grove for the birds in it, Vocal grove. Ships for the seamen,

* A funeral.

+ A marriage torch. He follows the steps of Jove.

A happy age.
T Fleeing from his back.

I gave thirty pounds for thy head. **Whilst my knees have strength.

Agonizing ships. Mountains for the sheep pasturing upon them, Bleating mountains. Zacynthus, Ithaca, &c. for the inhabitants. Ex mastis domibus, Livy.

11. The name of the sustainer, employed figuratively to signify what is sustained.

Altar for the sacrifice. Field for the battle fought upon it, Wellfought field.

12. The name of the materials, employed figuratively to signify the things made of them.

Ferrum for gladius.

13. The names of the Heathen deities, employed figuratively to signify what they patronise.

Jove for the air, Mars for war, Venus for beauty, Cupid for love, Ceres for corn, Neptune for the sea, Vulcan for fire.

This figure bestows great elevation upon the subject; and therefore ought to be confined to the higher strains of poetry.


Attributes expressed figuratively.

When two attributes are connected, the name of the one may be employed figuratively to express the other.

1. Purity and virginity are attributes of the same person: hence the expression, Virgin snow, for pure snow.

2. A word signifying properly an attribute of one subject, employed figuratively to express a resembling attribute of another subject. Toltering state. Shallow fears.


Imperious ocean. Angry flood. Raging

My sure divinity shall bear the shield,

And edge thy sword to reap the glorious field. Odyssey, XX. 61.

Black omen, for an omen that portends bad fortune.

Ater odor.


The peculiar beauty of this figure arises from suggesting a comparison.

3. A word proper to the subject, employed to express one of its


Mens for intellectus. Mens for a resolution:

Istam, oro, exue mentem.

4. When two subjects have a resemblance by a common quality, the name of the one subject may be employed figuratively to denote that quality in the other.

Summer life for agreeable life.

5. The name of the instrument made to signify the power of employing it.

Melpomene, cui liquidam pater

Vocem cum cithera, dedit.

The ample field of figurative expression displayed in these tables,

« PreviousContinue »