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but an allegory may be allowed to stand less connected with the literal meaning; the interpretation not being so plainly pointed out, but left to our own reflection.
HYPERBOLE consists in magnifying an object beyond its natural bounds. This figure occurs very frequently in all languages, even in common conversation. As swift as the wind; as white as snow; and our usual forms of compliment are in general extravagant hyperboles. From habit, however, these exaggerated expressions are seldom considered, as hypers bolical.
Hyperboles are of two kinds; such as are employed in description, or such as are suggested by passion. Those are far best which are the effect of passion; -since it not only gives rise to the most daring figures, but often renders them just and natural. Hence the following passage in Milton, though extremely hyperbolical, contains nothing but what is natural and proper. It exhibits the mind of Satan agitated by rage and despair.
Me miserable! Which way shall I fly
Which way I fly is hell: myself am hell:
In simple description, hyperboles must be employed with more caution. When an earthquake or storm is described, or when our imagination is carried into the midst of a battle, we can bear strong hyperboles without displeasure. But, when only a woman in grief is presented to our view, it is impossible not to be dis gusted with such exaggeration, as the following, in one of our dramatic poets:
-I found her on the floor
In all the storm of grief, yet beautiful,
That, were the world on fire, they might have drown'd
This is mere bombast. The person herself who laboured under the distracting agitations of grief, might be permitted to express herself in strong hyperbole ; but the spectator, who describes her, cannot be allowed equal liberty. The just boundary of this figure cannot be ascertained by any precise rule. Good sense and an accurate taste must ascertain the limit, beyond which if it pass it becomes extravagant.
PERSONIFICATION AND APOSTROPHE.
WE proceed now to those figures, which lie alto. gether in the thought, the words being taken in their common and literal sense. We shall begin with personification, by which life and action are attributed to inanimate objects. All poetry, even in its most humble form, abounds in this figure. From prose it is far from being excluded;, nay, even in common conversation, frequent approaches are made to it. When we say, the earth thirsts for rain, or the fields smile with plenty; when ambition is said to be restless, or a disease to be deceitful; such expressions show the facility with which the mind can accommodate the properties of living creatures to things inanimate, or abstract conceptions.
There are three different degrees of this figure; which it is requisite to distinguish, in order to deter mine the propriety of its use. The first is, when some of the properties of living creatures are ascribed to inanimate objects; the second, when those inanimate objects are described as acting like such as have life; and the third, when they are exhibited either as speaking to us, or as listening to what we say to them.
The first and lowest degree of this figure, which consists in ascribing to inanimate objects some of the qualities of living creatures, raises the style so little,
that the humblest discourse admits it without any force. Thus "a raging storm, a deceitful disease, a "cruel disaster," are familiar expressions. This indeed is so obscure a degree of personification, that it might perhaps be properly classed with simple metaphors which almost escape our obscrvation.
The second degree of this figure is, when we represent inanimate objects acting like those that have life. Here we rise a step higher, and the personification becomes sensible. According to the nature of the action which we ascribe to those inanimate objects, and to the particularity with which we describe it, is the strength of the figure. When pursued to a considerable length it belongs only to studied harangues; when slightly touched, it may be admitted into less. elevated compositions. Cicero, for example, speaking of the cases where killing a man is lawful in self-defence, uses the following expressions: "Aliquando no"bis gladius ad occidendum hominem ab ipsus porrigitur legibus." Here the laws are beautifully personified as reaching forth their hand to give us a sword for putting a man to death.
In poetry, personifications of this kind are extremely frequent, and are indeed the life and soul of it. In the descriptions of à poet, who has a lively fancy, every thing is animated. Homer, the father of poetry, is remarkable for the use of this figure. War, peace, darts, rivers, every thing in short, is alive in his writings.
The same is true of Milton and Shakespeare. No personification is more striking, or introduced on a more proper occasion, than the following of Milton upon Eve's eating the forbidden fruit:
So saying, her rash hand in evil hour
Forth reaching to the fruit, she pluck'd, she ate!
The third and highest degree of this figure is yet to be mentioned; when inanimate objects are represent ed, not only as feeling and acting, but as speaking to us, or listening, while we address them. This is the boldest of all rhetorical figures; it is the style of strong passion only; and therefore should never be at▾ tempted, except when the mind is considerably heated and agitated. Milton affords a very beautiful example of this figure in that moving and tender address which Eve makes to Paradise immediately before she is com pelled to leave it.
Oh, unexpected stroke, worse than of death!