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Even Shakspeare is not always careful to prepare the mind for this bold figure. Take the following instance:
Upon these taxations,
And Danger serves among them. Henry VIII. Act I. Sc. 2. 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, refuses its aid; and the description becomes obscure, instead of being more lively and striking. In this view, the following passage, describing Cleopatra on shipboard, appears to me exceptionable:
The barge she sat in, like a burnish'd throne,
Antony and Cleopatra, Act II. Sc. 2. The winds in their impetuous course have so much the appearance of fury, that it is easy to figure them wreaking their resentment against their enemies, by destroying houses, ships, &c.; but to figure them love-sick, has no resemblance to them in
circumstance. In another passage, where Cleopatra is also the subject, the personification of the air is carried beyond all bounds:
The city cast
Antony and Cleopatra, Act II. Sc. 2. The following personification of the earth or soil is not less wild
She shall be dignified with this high honor,
Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act II. Sc. 4. Shakspeare, far from approving such intemperance of imagination, puts this speech in the mouth of a ranting lover. Neither can I relish what follows:
quæ, Phæbo quondam meditante, beatus
Virgil, Buc. VI, 82.
The cheerfulness singly of a pastoral song, will scarcely support personification in the lowest degree. But admitting, that a river gently flowing may be imagined a sensible being listening to a song, I cannot enter into the conceit of the river's ordering his laurels learn the song: here all resemblance
any thing real is quite lost. This however is copied literally by one of our greatest poets; early indeed, before maturity of taste or judgment:
Thames heard the numbers as he flow'd along,
Pope's Pastorals, Past. IV. 1. 13. This author, in riper years, is guilty of a much greater deviation from the rule. Dulness may be imagined a deity or idol, to be worshipped by bad writers; but then some sort of disguise is requisite, some bastard virtue must be bestowed, to make such worship in some degree excusable. Yet in the Dunciad, Dulness, without the least disguise, is made the object of worship. The mind rejects such a fiction as unnatural; for dulness is a defect, of which even the dullest mortal is ashamed:
Then he: Great tamer of all human art!
B. I. 163. Fifthly, the enthusiasm of passion may have the effect to prolong passionate personification : but descriptive personification cannot be dispatched in too few words: a circumstantiate description dissolves the charm, and makes the attempt to personify appear ridiculous. Homer succeeds in animating his darts and arrows: but such per. sonification, spun out in a French translation, is mere burlesque :
Et la féche en furie, avide de son sang,
Horace says happily,
Post equitem sedet atra Cura.
Dark Care sits behind the horseman. Observe how this thought degenerates by being divided, like the former, into a number of minute parts :
Un fou rempli d'erreurs, que le trouble accompag
Le Chagrin monte en croupe, et galope avec lui. A poet, in a short and lively expression, may animate his muse, his genius, and even his verse: but to animate his verse, and to address a whole epistle to it, as Boileau does,* is insupportable. The following passage is not less faulty:
Her fate is whisper'd by the gentle breeze,
Pope's Pastorals, IV. 61. Let grief or love have the power to animate the winds, the trees, the floods, provided the figure be dispatched in a single expression: even in that case, the figure seldom has a good effect; because grief or love of the pastoral kind, are causes rather too faint for so violent an effect as imagining the winds, trees, or floods, to be sensible beings. But when this figure is deliberately spread out, with great regularity and accuracy, through many lines, the reader, instead of relishing it, is struck with its ridiculous appearance.
Apostrophe, the bestowing of a momentary presence on an absent person-Illustra
tions-The mind to be agitated.
This figure and the former are derived from the same principle. If, to humor a plaintive passion, we can bestow a momentary sensibility upon an inanimate object, it is not more difficult to bestow a momentary presence upon a sensible being who is absent :
Hinc Drepani me portus et illætabilis ora.
Here after endless labors, ofien tossed
My father! thou didst leave me—thee I lost."
Denounced all else, was silent of this ill. Strike the harp in praise of Bragela, whom I left in the isle of mist, the spouse of my love. Dost thou raise thy fair face from the rock to find the sails of Cuchullin? The sea is rolling far distant, and its white foam shall deceive thee for my sails. Retire, for it is night, my love, and the dark winds sigh in thy hair. Retire to the hall of my feasts, and think of the times that are past; for I will not return till the storm of war is gone. O Connal, speak of wars and arms, and send her from my mind; for lovely with her raven-hair is the white-bosom’d daughter of Sorglan.
Fingal, B. I. Speaking of Fingal absent :
Happy are thy people, O Fingal; thine arm shall fight their battles. Thou art the first in their dangers; the wisest in the days of their peace: thou speakest, and thy thousands
obey; and armies tremble at the sound of thy steel. Happy are thy people, O Fingal. This figure is sometimes joined with the former : things inanimate, to qualify them for listening to a passionate expostulation, are not only personified, but also conceived to be present :
Et si fata Deûm, si men non læva fuisset,
Æneid, II. 54.
· Poor Lord, is't I
All's Well that Ends Well, Act III. Sc. And let them lift ten thousand swords, said Nathos, with a smile: the sons of car-borne Usnoth will never tremble in danger. Why dost thou roll with all thy foam, thou roaring sea of Ullin ? why do ye rustle on your dark wings, ye whistling tempests of the sky? Do ye think, ye storms, that ye keep Nathos on the coast? No; his soul 'detains him; children of the night! Althos, bring my father's arms, &c.
Fingal. Whither hast thou fled, O wind, said the King of Morven! Dost thou rustle in the chambers of the south, and pursue the shower in other lands? Why comest not thou to my sails, to the blue face of my seas? The foe is in the land of Morven, and the King is absent.
Fingal. Hast thou left thy blue course in heaven, golden-hair'd son of the sky! The west hath opened its gates; the bed of thy repose is there. The waves gather to behold thy beauty: they lift their trembling heads; they see thee lovely in thy sleep; but they shrink away with fear. Rest in thy shadowy cave, O Sun! and let thy return be in joy.
Daughter of Heaven, fair art thou! the silence of thy face is pleasant. Thou comest forth in loveliness: the stars attend thy blue steps in the east. The clouds rejoice in thy presence, O Moon! and brighten their dark brown sides. Who is like thee in heaven, daughter of the night? The stars are ashamed in thy presence, and turn aside their sparkling eyes. Whither dost thou retire from thy course, when the darkness of thy countenance grows ? Hast thou thy hall like Ossian ? Dwellest thou in the shadow of grief? Have thy sisters fallen from heaven? and are they who rejoiced with thee at night no more?
-Yes, they have fallen, fair light; and often dost thou retire to mourn. -But thou thyself shalt, one night, fail; and leave thy blue path in heaven. The stars will then lift their heads: they, who in thy presence were ashamed, will rejoice.
Fingal. This figure, like all others, requires an agitation of mind. In plain narrative, as, for example, in giving the genealogy of a family, it has no good effect :
- Fauno Picus pater; isque parentem
Æneid, VII. 48.
HYPERBOLE. Magnifying or diminishing an object beyond due bounds, an hyperbolem-Objects
more successfully magnified than diminished-Hyperbole proper when the subject exceeds the common measure-An hyperbole not to be introduced in the description of an ordinary thing-Not suitable to a dispiriting passion--Not to be introduced till the reader is warmed-Not to be overstrained—To comprehend the fewest words possible.
In this figure, by which an object is magnified or diminished beyond truth, we have another effect of the foregoing principle. An object of an uncommon size, either very great of its kind or very little, strikes us with surprise; and this emotion produces a momentary conviction that the object is greater or less than it is in reality * the same effect, precisely, attends figurative grandeur or littleness; and hence the hyperbole, which expresses that momentary conviction. A writer, taking advantage of this natural delusion, warms his description greatly by the hyperbole: and the reader, even in his coolest moments, relishes the figure, being sensible that it is the operation of nature upon a glowing fancy.
It cannot have escaped observation, that a writer is commonly more successful in magnifying by an hyperbole than in diminishing The reason is, that a minute object contracts the mind, and fetters its power of imagination; but that the mind, dilated and inflamed with a grand object, moulds objects for its gratification with great facility. Longinus, with respect to diminishing hyperbole, quotes the following ludicrous thought from a comic poet: "He was owner of a bit of ground no larger than a Lacedæmonian letter.” † But, for the reason now given, the hyperbole has by far the greater force in magnifying objects; of which take the following examples :
* See Chap. VIII. + Chap. XXXI. of his Treatise on the Sublime.