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For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever. And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth; so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered.
Genesis, XIII. 15, 16.
Atque imo barathri ter gurgite vastos
Horificis juxta tonat Ætna ruinis,
And flakes of mountain flames that lick the sky.
Ipse arduus, altaque pulsat
Æneid, III. 619.
When he speaks,
And slaughter'd heroes swell the dreadful tide. Iliad, IV. 508. The following may also pass, though far stretched:
E conjungendo à temerario ardire
Supporting both with youth and strength untired,
That skies and earth the flying sparkles fired. Fairfar. Quintillian † is sensible that this figure is natural: "For," says he, “ not contented with truth, we naturally incline to augment or diminish 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 common 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,
* Camilla, the Volscian heroine. + L. VIII. cap. 6. in fin.
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,
Tempest, Act II. Sc. I. 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 !
Richard II. Act III. Sc. 3.
Do kiss the most exalted shores of all. Julius Casar, Act I. Sc. I. 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 thought or expression, till the reader be warmed and prepared. For that reason, an hyperbole in the beginning of a work can never be in its place. Example:
Jam pauca aratro jugera regiæ
They'll leave few acres for the plough. The nicest point of all, is to ascertain the natural limits of an hyperbole, beyond which being overstrained it has a bad effect. Longinus, in the above-cited chapter, with great propriety of thought, enters a caveat against an hyperbole of this kind : he compares it to a bow-string, which relaxes by overstraining, and produces an effect
directly opposite to what is intended. To ascertain any precise boun-
In single opposition hand to hand,
First Part Henry IV. Act I. Sc. 3.
England ne'er had a king until his time:
First Part Henry VI. Act I. Sc. I. 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 passes 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,
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
Up rose the sun, and up rose Emelie.
labored poem :
The means or instrument, conceived to be the agent-Examples. 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
A figure which, among related objects, extends the properties of one to another
Without a name— The foundation of this figure-Not warrantable, except among things intimately connected— An attribute of a cause for an attribute of an effect-Ăn effect as of a cause-An effect expressed as an attribute of a cause-An attribute of a subject bestowed on one of its parts—A quality of an agent ascribed to an instrument— The object on which it operates—Quality one subject gives another—Circumstances expressed as a quality of a subject—The property of one object transferred 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 inflicis 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 privilege 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 passes 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 or bad properties of one to another; especially when it is in any degree 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 were not expressive 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 instrument, 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. But 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 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 effect.
-To my advent'rous song,
Paradise Lost. 2. An attribute of the effect expressed as an attribute of the cause.
Quos periisse ambos misera censebam in mari.I Plautus.
No wonder, fallen such a pernicious height. Paradise Lost.
Milton, Allegro. 4. An attribute of a subject bestowed upon one of its parts or members. * See Chap. 2. Part 1. Sect. 5.
+ A bold deed. # Both of whom perished in the miserable ocean.