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Origin and Nature of Figurative Language.
Here the whole year" is plainly meant to signify the productions of the year. The effect is also often put for the cause; as " grey hairs" for "old age," which produces grey hairs; and "shade" for the "trees," which cause the shade. The relation between the container and the thing contained is so intimate and apparent, as naturally to give rise to tropes.
-Ille impiger hausit
Spumantem pateram, et pleno se proluit auro.
Where it is obvious, that the cup and gold are put for the liquor contained in the golden cup. The name of a country is often used to signify its inhabitants. To pray for the assistance of Heaven is the same with praying for the assistance of God, who is in heaven. The relation between a sign and the thing signified is another source of tropes. Thus,
Cedant arma toga; concedat laurea linguæ.
Here the "toga," which is the badge of the civil professions, and the "laurel," that of military honours, are each of them put for the civil and military characters themselves. Tropes, founded on these several relations of cause and effect, container and contained, sign and thing signified, are called by the name of metonymy. When a trope is founded on the relation between an antecedent and its consequent, it is called a metalepsis; as in the Roman phrase, “fuit,' or "vixit," to signify that one was dead. Fuit Illium et ingens gloria Teucrum," expresses that the glory of Troy is no more.
When the whole is put for a part, or a part for the whole; a genus for a species, or a species for a genus; the singular number for the plural, or the plural for the singular; in general, when any thing less or any thing more, is put for the precise object meant ; the figure is then termed a synecdoche. We say, for instance," A fleet of so many sail," instead of so many "ships ;" we frequently use the "head" for the "person," the "pole" for the "earth," the "waves" for the "sea." An attribute is often used for its subject; as," youth and beauty" for the "young and beautiful" and sometimes a subject for its attribute. But the relation by far the most fruitful of tropes, is similitude, which is the sole foundation of metaphor.
METAPHOR is founded entirely on the resemblance which one object bears to another. It is therefore nearly allied to simile or comparison; and is indeed a comparison in an abridged form. When we say of a great minister, "he upholds the state, like a pillar, which supports the weight of an edifice," we evidently make a comparison; but, when we say of him, he is "the pillar of the state," it becomes a metaphor.
Of all the figures of speech none approaches so near to painting, as metaphor. It gives light and strength to description; makes intellectual ideas
in some degree visible, by giving them colour, substance and sensible qualities. To produce this effect, however, a delicate hand is requisite; for by a little inaccuracy we may introduce confusion instead of promoting perspicuity. Several rules therefore must be given for the proper management of metaphors.
The first rule respecting metaphors is, they must be suited to the nature of the subject; neither too numerous, nor too gay, nor too elevated for it; we must neither attempt to force the subject by the use of them into a degree of elevation not congruous to it ; nor on the contrary suffer it to fall below its proper dignity. Some metaphors are beautiful in poetry, which would be unnatural in prose; some are graceful in orations, which would be highly improper in historical or philosophical composition. Figures are the dress of sentiment. They should consequently be adapted to the ideas which they are intended to adorn.
The second rule respects the choice of objects, whence metaphors are to be drawn. The field for figurative language is very wide. All nature opens her stores and allows us to collect them without restraint. But we must beware of using such allusions as raise in the mind disagreeable, mean, low, or dirty ideas. To render a metaphor perfect it must not only be apt, but pleasing; it must entertain as well as enlighten. Dryden therefore can hardly escape the imputation of a very unpardonable breach of delicacy, when he observes to the Earl of Dorset, that "some bad poems carry their owners' marks about them; some brand or other on this buttock, or on that
ear; that it is notorious who are the owners of the cattle." The most pleasing metaphors are derived from the frequent occurrences of art and nature, or from the civil transactions and customs of mankind. Thus, how expressive, yet at the same time how familiar, is the image which Otway has put into the mouth of Metellus in his play of Caius Marius, where he calls Sulpicius,
That mad wild bull, whom Marius lets loose
On each occasion, when he'd make Rome feel him,
In the third place, a metaphor should be founded on a resemblance, which is clear and striking, not far fetched, nor difficult to be discovered. Harsh or forced metaphors are always displeasing, because they perplex the reader, and instead of illustrating the thought, render it intricate and confused. Thus, for instance, Cowley, speaking of his mistress expresses himself in the following forced and obscure verses:
Woe to her stubborn heart; if once mine come
Into the self same room,
"Twill tear and blow up all within,
Like a grenado, shot into a magazine.
Of both our broken hearts;
Shall out of both one new one make;
From her's the alloy, from mine the metal take;
Mine only will remain entire ;
No dross was there, to perish in the fire.
Metaphors, borrowed from any of the sciences, especially from particular professions, are almost always faulty by their obscurity.
In the fourth place, we must never jumble metaphorical and plain language together; never construct a period so, that part of it must be understood metaphorically, part literally; which always produces confusion. The works of Ossian affords an instance of the fault we are now censuring. "Trothal went forth with the stream of his people, but they met a rock; for Fingal stood unmoved; broken, they rolled back from his side. Nor did they roll in safety; the spear of the king pursued their flight." The metaphor at the beginning is beautiful; the "stream," the "unmoved rock," the " waves rolling back broken," are expressions in the proper and consistent language of figure; but in the end, when we are told," they did not roll in safety, because the spear of the king pursued their flight," the literal meaning is injudiciously mixed with the metaphor; they are at the same moment presented to us as waves that roll, and as men that may be pursued and wounded by a spear.
In the fifth place, take care not to make two different metaphors meet on the same object. This, which is called mixed metaphor, is one of the grosest abuses of this figure. Shakespeare's expression, for example, " to take arms against a sea of troubles," makes a most unnatural medley, and entirely confounds the imagination. More correct writers than Shakespeare, are sometimes guilty of this error. Mr. Addison says, "There is not a single view of human nature, which is not sufficient to extinguish the seeds of pride." Here a view is made to extinguish and to extinguish seeds.
In examining the propriety of metaphors it is