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Of all the implements of poetry, the metaphor is the most generally and successfully used, and indeed may be termed the Muse's caduceus, by the power of which she enchants all nature. The metaphor is a shorter simile, or rather a kind of magical coat, by which the same idea assumes a thousand different appearances. Thus the word plough, which originally belongs to agriculture, being metaphorically used, represents the motion of a ship at sea, and the effects of old age upon the human countenance
-Plough'd the bosom of the deep
verage chastised by the sober deity,”—a metaphor that signifies nothing more than "mixed or lowered with water." Demetrius Phalereus justly observes, that though a judicious use of metaphors wonderfully raises, sublimes, and adorns oratory or elocution, yet they should seem to flow naturally from the subject; and too great a redundancy of them inflates the discourse to a mere rhapsody. The same observation will hold in poetry; and the more liberal or sparing use of them will depend in a great measure on the nature of the subject.
Passion itself is very figurative, and often bursts out into metaphors; but in touching the pathos, the poet must be perfectly well acquainted with the emotions of the human soul, and carefully distinguish between those metaphors which rise glowAnd time had plough'd his venerable front. ing from the heart, and those cold conceits which Almost every verb, noun substantive, or term of are engendered in the fancy. Should one of these art in any language, may be in this manner ap- last unfortunately intervene, it will be apt to deplied to a variety of subjects with admirable effect; stroy the whole effect of the most pathetical incibut the danger is in sowing metaphors too thick dent or situation. Indeed it requires the most so as to distract the imagination of the reader, and delicate taste, and a consummate knowledge of proincur the imputation of deserting nature, in order priety, to employ metaphors in such a manner as to hunt after conceits. Every day produces poems to avoid what the ancients call the Jux, the of all kinds, so inflated with metaphor, that they frigid, or false sublime. Instances of this kind may be compared to the gaudy bubbles blown up were frequent even among the correct ancients. from a solution of soap. Longinus is of opinion, Sappho herself is blamed for using the hyperbole that a multitude of metaphors is never excusable, λeuxorapor Xovos, whiter than snow. Demetrius is except in those cases when the passions are rous- so nice as to be disgusted at the simile of swift as ed, and like a winter torrent rush down impetu- the wind; though, in speaking of a race-horse, we ous, sweeping them with collective force along. know from experience that this is not even an hyHe brings an instance of the following quotation perbole. He would have had more reason to censure from Demosthenes; "Men," says he, "profli- that kind of metaphor which Aristotle styles T gates, miscreants, and flatterers, who having seve-vestav, exhibiting things inanimate as endued with rally preyed upon the bowels of their country, at sense and reason; such as that of the sharp pointed length betrayed her liberty, first to Philip, and now arrow, eager to take wing among the crowd. again to Alexander; who, placing the chief felici- O' Eubenus næð' ¡μinov TITTED μervær. Not but ty of life in the indulgence of infamous lusts and that in descriptive poetry this figure is often allowappetites, overturned in the dust that freedom and ed and admired. The cruel sword, the ruthless independence which was the chief aim and end of all our worthy ancestors."*
dagger, the ruffian blast, are epithets which frequently occur. The faithful bosom of the earth, Aristotle and Theophrastus seem to think it is the joyous boughs, the trees that admire their imrather too bold and hazardous to use metaphors so ages reflected in the stream, and many other examfreely, without interposing some mitigating phrase, ples of this kind, are found disseminated through such as "if I may be allowed the expression," or the works of our best modern poets; yet still they some equivalent excuse. At the same time Lon- must be sheltered under the privilege of the poetica ginus finds fault with Plato for hazarding some licentia; and, expect in poetry, they would give metaphors, which indeed appear to be equally affected and extravagant, when he says, "The government of a state should not resemble a bowl of hot fermenting wine, but a cool and moderate be
More chaste metaphors are freely used in all kinds of writing; more sparingly in history, and more abundantly in rhetoric: we have seen that Plato indulges in them even to excess. The ora* Ανθρωποι, φησι, μικροί, και αλάστορες, και κολακες, tions of Demosthenes are animated and even inακρωτηριασμένοι τας ἑαυτῶν ἕκαστοι πατρίδας την flamed with metaphors, some of them so bold as ελευθερίαν προπεπωκότες, πρότερον Φιλίππῳ, νυν δ' Αλεξ- even to entail upon him the censure of the critics. ανδρο, τη γαστρι μετρούντες και τοις αισχίστοις την Τοτε τῳ Πυθωνι τῷ ρητορι ρέοντι καθ' υμων." Then ευδαιμονίαν, την δ' ελευθερίαν, και To undeva exer I did not yield to Python the orator, when he overδεσποτην αύτων, ὁ τοις προτέροις, Ἑλλησιν οροι των αγα... Howed you with a tide of eloquence.” Cicero is θων ήσαν και κανονες, etc. still more liberal in the use of them: he ransacks
all nature, and pours forth a redundancy of figures, an author so universally held in veneration, whose even with a lavish hand. Even the chaste Xeno- very errors have helped to sanctify his character phon, who generally illustrates his subject by way among the multitude, we will descend to particuof simile, sometimes ventures to produce an ex-lars, and analyze this famous soliloquy. pressive metaphor, such as, part of the phalanx Hamlet, having assumed the disguise of madness, fluctuated in the march; and indeed nothing can as a cloak under which he might the more effecbe more significant than this word exuunve, to tually revenge his father's death upon the murderer represent a body of men staggered, and on the and usurper, appears alone upon the stage in a point of giving way. Armstrong has used the pensive and melancholy attitude, and communes word fluctuate with admirable efficacy, in his phi- with himself in these words: losophical poem, entitled, The Art of Preserving Health.
O! when the growling winds contend, and all
The word fluctuate on this occasion not only exhibits an idea of struggling, but also echoes to the sense like the opižev di μann of Homer; which, by the by, it is impossible to render into English, for the verb poca signifies not only to stand erect like prickles, as a grove of lances, but also to make a noise like the crashing of armour, the hissing of javelins, and the splinters of spears.
To be, or not to be, that is the question:--
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Over and above an excess of figures, a young author is apt to run into a confusion of mixed metaphors, which leave the sense disjointed, and distract the imagination: Shakspeare himself is often guilty of these irregularities. The soliloquy in Hamlet, which we have so often heard extolled in terms of admiration, is, in our opinion, a heap of absurdities, whether we consider the situation, the sentiment, the argumentation, or the poetry. Hamlet is informed by the Ghost, that his father was murdered, and therefore he is tempted to murder himself, even after he had promised to take vengeance on the usurper, and expressed the utmost eagerness to achieve this enterprise. It does not appear that he had the least reason to wish for death; but every motive which may be supposed We have already observed, that there is not any to influence the mind of a young prince, concurred apparent circumstance in the fate or situation of to render life desirable-revenge towards the usur- Hamlet, that should prompt him to harbour one per; love for the fair Ophelia; and the ambition thought of self-murder: and therefore these exof reigning. Besides, when he had an opportu- pressions of despair imply an impropriety in point nity of dying without being accessary to his own of character. But supposing his condition was death; when he had nothing to do but, in obe- truly desperate, and he saw no possibility of repose dience to his uncle's command, to allow himself to but in the uncertain harbour of death, let us see in be conveyed quietly to England, where he was what manner he argues on that subject. The sure of suffering death; instead of amusing him- question is, "To be, or not to be;" to die by my self with meditations on mortality, he very wisely own hand, or live and suffer the miseries of life. consulted the means of self-preservation, turned He proceeds to explain the alternative in these the tables upon his attendants, and returned to terms, "Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer, Denmark. But granting him to have been re- or endure the frowns of fortune, or to take arms, duced to the lowest state of despondence, surround- and by opposing, end them." Here he deviates ed with nothing but horror and despair, sick of from his first proposition, and death is no longer this life, and eager to tempt futurity, we shall see the question. The only doubt is, whether he will how far he argues like a philosopher. stoop to misfortune, or exert his faculties in order In order to support this general charge against to surmount it. This surely is the obvious mean
ing, and indeed the only meaning that can be im- question. Hamlet was deterred from suicide by a plied to these words,
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind, to suffer
full conviction, that, in flying from one sea of troubles which he did know, he should fall into another which he did not know.
His whole chain of reasoning, therefore, seems inconsistent and incongruous. "I am doubtful whether I should live, or do violence upon my own He now drops this idea, and reverts to his reason-life: for I knew not whether it is more honourable ing on death, in the course of which he owns him- to bear misfortune patiently, than to exert myself self deterred from suicide by the thoughts of what in opposing misfortune, and by opposing, end it." may follow death;
-The dread of something after death,The undiscover'd country, from whose bourn No traveller returns.
This might be a good argument in a Heathen or Pagan, and such indeed Hamlet really was; but Shakspeare has already represented him as a good Catholic, who must have been acquainted with the truths of revealed religion, and says expressly in this very play,
-Had not the everlasting fix'd
Moreover, he had just been conversing with his father's spirit piping hot from purgatory, which we presume is not within the bourn of this world. The dread of what may happen after death,
Makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Let us throw it into the form of a syllogism, it will stand thus: "I am oppressed with ills; I know not whether it is more honourable to bear those ills patiently, or to end them by taking arms against them: ergo, I am doubtful whether I should slay myself or live. To die, is no more than to sleep; and to say that by a sleep we end the heart-ache," etc. "tis a consummation devoutly to be wish'd." Now to say it was of no consequence unless it had been true. "I am afraid of the dreams that may happen in that sleep of death; and I choose rather to bear those ills I have in this life, than to fly to other ills in that undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveller ever returns. I have ills that are almost insupportable in this life. I know not what is in the next, because it is an undiscovered than fly to others which I know not of." Here country: ergo, I'd rather bear those ills I have,
the conclusion is by no means warranted by the premises. "I am sore afflicted in this life; but I will rather bear the afflictions of this life, than
This declaration at least implies some knowledge plunge myself in the afflictions of another life: of the other world, and expressly asserts, that there ergo, conscience makes cowards of us all." But must be ills in that world, though what kind of ills this conclusion would justify the logician in saythey are, we do not know. The argument, there-ing, negatur consequens; for it is entirely defore, may be reduced to this lemma: this world tached both from the major and minor propoabounds with ills which I feel; the other world
abounds with ills, the nature of which I do not This soliloquy is not less exceptionable in the know; therefore, I will rather bear those ills I propriety of expression, than in the chain of arguhave, "than fly to others which I know not of: " mentation. "To die-to sleep-no more," cona deduction amounting to a certainty, with respect tion can not remove: for it may signify that "to tains an ambiguity, which all the art of punctuato the only circumstance that could create a doubt, namely, whether in death he should rest from his die," is to sleep no more; or the expression "no misery; and if he was certain there were evils in more," may be considered as an abrupt apostrophe in thinking, as if he meant to say "no more of that the next world, as well as in this, he had no room reflection." to reason at all about the matter. What alone could justify his thinking on this subject, would
"Ay, there's the rub," is a vulgarism beneath have been the hope of flying from the ills of this the dignity of Hamlet's character, and the words world, without encountering any others in the that follow leave the sense imperfect:
Nor is Hamlet more accurate in the following reflection:
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all.
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
Not the dreams that might come, but the fear of
A bad conscience will make us cowards; but a what dreams might come, occasioned the pause or good conscience will make us brave. It does not hesitation. Respect in the same line may be alappear that any thing lay heavy on his conscience; lowed to pass for consideration: but
and from the premises we can not help inferring,
that conscience in this case was entirely out of the
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
according to the invariable acceptation of the words the anchor of repentance in the port of sincerity wrong and contumely, can signify nothing but and justice, which is the harbour of safety; lest the wrongs sustained by the oppressor, and the the tempest of our vengeance make thee perish in contumely or abuse thrown upon the proud man; the sea of that punishment thou hast deserved." though it is plain that Shakspeare used them in a But if these laboured conceits are ridiculous in different sense: neither is the word spurn a sub-poetry, they are still more inexcusable in prose: stantive, yet as such he has inserted it in these lines:
The insolence of office, and the spurns
If we consider the metaphors of the soliloquy, we shall find them jumbled together in a strange confusion.
such as we find them frequently occur in Strada's Bellum Belgicum. Vix descenderat à prætoria navi Cæsar; cùm fæda ilico exorta in portu tempestas; classem impetu disjecit, prætoriam hausit; quasi non vecturam amplius Cæsarem Cæsarisque fortunam. "Cæsar had scarcely set his feet on shore, when a terrible tempest arising, shatterIf the metaphors were reduced to painting, we ed the fleet even in the harbour, and sent to the should find it a very difficult task, if not altogether bottom the prætorian ship, as if he resolved it impracticable, to represent with any propriety out- should no longer carry Cæsar and his fortunes." rageous fortune using her slings and arrows, be- Yet this is modest in comparison of the followtween which indeed there is no sort of analogy in ing flowers: Alii, pulsis è tormento catenis disnature. Neither can any figure be more ridiculous-cerpti sectique, dimidiato corpore pugnabant sibi ly absurd than that of a man taking arms against superstites, ac peremtæ partis ultores. "Others, a sea, exclusive of the incongruous medley of slings, dissevered and cut in twain by chain-shot, fought arrows, and seas, justled within the compass of with one-half of their bodies that remained, in reone reflection. What follows is a strange rhapsody venge of the other half that was slain.” of broken images of sleeping, dreaming, and shift- Homer, Horace, and even the chaste Virgil, is ing off a coil, which last conveys no idea that can not free from conceits. The latter, speaking of a be represented on canvass. A man may be ex-man's hand cut off in battle, says, hibited shuffling off his garments or his chains: but how he should shuffle off a coil, which is another term for noise and tumult, we cannot comprehend. Then we have "long-lived calamity," thus enduing the amputated hand with sense and and "time armed with whips and scorns;" and volition. This, to be sure, is a violent figure, and "patient merit spurned at by unworthiness;" and hath been justly condemned by some accurate cri"misery with a bare bodkin going to make his own tics; but we think they are too severe in extending quietus," which at best is but a mean metaphor. the same censure to some other passages in the These are followed by figures "sweating under most admired authors. fardels of burdens," "puzzled with doubts," "shaking with fears," and "flying from evils." Finally, we see "resolution sicklied o'er with pale thought," a conception like that of representing health by sickness; and a "current of pith turned awry so as to lose the name of action," which is both an error in fancy, and a solecism in sense. In a word, this soliloquy may be compared to the Egri somnia, and the Tabula, cujus vana fingentur species.
But while we censure the chaos of broken, incongruous metaphors, we ought also to caution the young poet against the opposite extreme of pursuing a metaphor, until the spirit is quite exhausted in a succession of cold conceits; such as we see in the following letter, said to be sent by Tamerlane to the Turkish emperor Bajazet. "Where is the monarch that dares oppose our arms? Where is the potentate who doth not glory in being numbered among our vassals? As for thee, descended
Te decisa suum, Laride, dextera quærit;
Virgil, in his sixth Eclogue, says,
Omnia quæ, Phœbo quondam meditante, beatus
Whate'er, when Phœbus bless'd the Arcadian plain
And Pope has copied the conceit in his Pastorals,
Thames heard the numbers as he flow'd along,
Vida thus begins his first. Eclogue,
Dicite, vos musæ, et juvenum memorate querelas
from a Turcoman mariner, since the vessel of thy Racine adopts the same bold figure in his Phædra:
unbounded ambition hath been wrecked in the gulf of thy self-love, it would be proper that thou shouldest furl the sails of thy temerity, and cast
Le flot qui l'apporta recule epouvante:
The wave that bore him, backwards shrunk appall'd
Even Milton has indulged himself in the same there is no impropriety in saying such a man is
license of expression
As when to them who sail
Beyond the Cape of Hope, and now are past
Of Araby the blest; with such delay
Well pleased they slack their course, and many a league,
true as steel, firm as a rock, inflexible as an oak, unsteady as the ocean; or in describing a disposi tion cold as ice, or fickle as the wind;-and these expressions are justified by constant practice ;-we shall hazard an assertion, that the comparison of a chaste woman to an icicle is proper and picturesque, as it obtains only in the circumstances of cold and purity: but that the addition of its being curdled from the purest snow, and hanging on the temple of Diana, the patroness of virginity, heightens the whole into a most beautiful simile, that gives a very respectable and amiable idea of the character in question.
The simile is no more than an extended meta
And indeed more correct writers, both ancient and modern, abound with the same kind of figure, phor, introduced to illustrate and beautify the subwhich is reconciled to propriety, and even invested ject; it ought to be apt, striking, properly pursued, with beauty, by the efficacy of the prosopopia, and adorned with all the graces of poetical melody. which personifies the object. Thus, when Virgil But a simile of this kind ought never to proceed says Enipeus heard the sons of Apollo, he raises from the mouth of a person under any great agitaup, as by enchantment, the idea of a river god tion of spirit; such as a tragic character overcrowned with sedges, his head raised above the whelmed with grief, distracted by contending cares, stream, and in his countenance the expression of pleased attention. By the same magic we see, in the couplet quoted from Pope's Pastorals, old father Thames leaning upon his urn, and listening to the poet's strain.
Thus in the regions of poetry, all nature, even the passions and affections of the mind, may be personified into picturesque figures for the entertainment of the reader. Ocean smiles or frowns, as the sea is calm or tempestuous; a Triton rules on every angry billow; every mountain has its Nymph; every stream its Naiad; every tree its Hamadryad; and every art its Genius. We can not therefore assent to those who censure Thomson as licentious for using the following figure:
O vale of bliss! O softly swelling hills!
We can not conceive a more beautiful image than that of the genius of agriculture distinguished by the implements of his art, imbrowned with labour, glowing with health, crowned with a garland of foliage, flowers, and fruit, lying stretched at his ease on the brow of a gentle swelling hill, and contemplating with pleasure the happy effects of his own industry.
Neither can we join issue against Shakspeare for this comparison, which hath likewise incurred the censure of the critics:
-The noble sister of Poplicola,
or agonizing in the pangs of death. The language of passion will not admit simile, which is always the result of study and deliberation. We will not allow a hero the privilege of a dying swan, which is said to chant its approaching fate in the most melodious strain; and therefore nothing can be more ridiculously unnatural, than the representation of a lover dying upon the stage with a laboured simile in his mouth.
The orientals, whose language was extremely figurative, have been very careless in the choice of their similes; provided the resemblance obtained in one circumstance, they minded not whether they disagreed with the subject in every other respect. Many instances of this defect in congruity may be culled from the most sublime parts of Scripture.
Homer has been blamed for the bad choice of his similes on some particular occasions. He comsteak broiling on the coals in the Odyssey. His pares Ajax to an ass in the Iliad, and Ulysses to a admirers have endeavoured to excuse him, by reminding us of the simplicity of the age in which he wrote; but they have not been able to prove that those days, affixed to the character of an ass, or the any ideas of dignity or importance were, even in quality of a beef-collop; therefore, they were very improper illustrations for any situation, in which a hero ought to be represented.
Virgil has degraded the wife of king Latinus, by comparing her, when she was actuated by the Fury, to a top which the boys lash for diversion. This doubtless is a low image, though in other respects the comparison is not destitute of propriety; but he is much more justly censured for the followthe ing simile, which has no sort of reference to the mind, by comparing it with a sensible object. If subject. Speaking of Turnus, he says,
This is no more than illustrating a quality of