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The pierc'd battalions disunited, fall
Rape of the Lock, Canto III. He does not consider that sincerity in love is as much out of fashion as sweet snuff; nobody takes it now.
Careless Husband. Lady Easy. My dear, I am afraid you have provoked 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.
The bestowing of sensibility and voluntary motion upon inanimate things, a bold
figure—Illustrations-Personification of two kinds—The former attended with conviction- Abstract terms not well adapted to poetry- The difficulty of distinguishing between descriptive personification and a figure of speech-Dispiriting passions unfavorable to passionate personification-Passionate personification to be exclusively confined to the gratification of the passionDescriptive personification- The writer always to confine himself to easy personification-Personification of low objects, ridiculous-The same remark applicable to abstract terms— Terms of dignity excepted--Preparation necessary to personification-Descriptive personification to be especially restrained within due bounds—Descriptive personification to be dispatched in few words.
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 of sensibility and voluntary motion upon things inanimate, 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 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 churchyard, 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 sensibility, 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 senate-house, vents his passion in the following words:
Antony. O pardon me thou bleeding piece of earth,
Julius Cæsar, Act III. Sc. I. 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 should 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:
Almeria. O Earth, behold, I kneel upon thy bosom,
Mourning Bride, Act IV. Sc. 7. Plaintive passions are extremely solicitous for vent; and a soliloquy commonly answers the purpose : but when such passion becomes 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 sympathising beings. Thus Philoctetes complains to the rocks and promontories of the isle of Lemnos; I and Alcestes dying, invokes the sun, the light of day, the clouds, the earth, her husband's palace, &c. 9 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, expresseth himself thus:
Daphni, tuum Pænos etiam ingemuisse leones
The Lybian lions hear, and hearing roar.
Illum etiam lauri, illum etiam flevere myricæ.
Mænalus, et gelidi fleverunt saxa Lycæi. Eclogue X. 13. * Page 335.
# Philoctetes of Sophocles, Act IV. Sc. 2. +Chap. 2. part $ Alcestes of Euripides, Act II. Sc. 1.
For him the lofty laurel stands in tears,
And cold Lycæus wept from every dropping stone. That such personification is derived from nature, will not admit the 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 mixture of joy and resentment:
-I weep for joy
Richard II. Act III. Sc. 1. After a long voyage it was customary among the ancients to salute the natal soil. A long voyage being of old a greater enterprise 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 sympathise with the traveller. See an example, Agamemnon of Æschilus, Act III. in the beginning. Regret for leaving a place to which one has been accustomed, has the same effect."
Terror produces 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
Æneid, III. 672.
With that he roared aloud, the dreadful cry
As when old Ocean roars,
Fingal. Racine, in the tragedy of Phedra, describing the sea-monster that destroyed Hippolytus, 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
Cheer'd with the grateful smell old Ocean smiles. Paradise Lost, b. IV. 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,
Paradise Lost, b. VII. I. 370.1
Romeo and Juliet, Act III. Sc. 5.
Hamlet, Act I. Sc. I. 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
* Philoctetes of Sophocles, at the close.
+ 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.
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 sb. Ideas or fictions of imagination have power to raise emotions in the mind;* and when any thing inanimate is, in imagination, 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;
Æneid, IV. 1. 24.
Before I break the plighted faith I gave! Thus, to explain the effects of slander, it is imagined to be a voluntary agent.
No, 'tis Slander;
Shakspeare, Cymbeline, Act III. Sc. 2.
For Pleasure and Revenge
Of any true decision. Troilus and Cressida, Act II. Sc. 4. Virgil explains fame and its effects by a still greater variety of action.
* See Appendix, containing definitions and explanations of terms $ 28. # Æneid, Iy. 173