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« Every day you are fatigued and disgusted with this cant, the Carnatic is a country that will soon recover, and become instantly as prosperous as ever. They think they are talking to innocents, who believe that by the sowing of dragon's teeth, men may come up ready grown and ready made.”
In classical allusions of this form, the writer is not confined within such narrow limits, as in those of the preceding. Still, care should be taken, that what is thus alluded to should be generally known. Miss H. More is a writer, who has not sufficiently observed this caution. We not unfrequently find classical allusions in her writings, of which, even to the classical student, it is no shame to be ignorant.
Example 3. Robert Hall, in his Sermon to the Volunteers at Bristol, says :
“ But the inundation of lawless power, after covering the rest of Europe, threatens England ; and we are most exactly, most critically placed in the only aperture, where it can be most successfully repelled, in the Thermopylæ of the universe.”
This is a historical allusion. In most instances of this kind the design is to illustrate. The caution is, therefore, peculiarly necessary, that in historical allusions the facts alluded to be such as are generally known. Otherwise such allusions will only throw deeper shade on those objects, which they were designed to illuminate.
Example 4. There are some instances, in which historical allusions are designed not only to illustrate, but to awaken grateful emotions. Such are the following, found in the last speech delivered by the Earl of Chatham :
“ Shall this great kingdom, that has survived, whole and entire, the Danish depredations, the Scottish inroads, the Norman conquest; that has stood the threatened invasion of the Spanish armada, now fall prostrate before the house of Bourbon ???
Historical allusions of this kind, which bring to view important events or characters in the history of a nation, are ever grateful to the people of that nation. Hence they are so often found in public addresses on occasions of national celebrations, and serve to gratify the pride of national feeling. One caution may be given respecting allusions of this kind—that they be not worn out, or such as are too commonly made.
Example 5. The following is an English classical allusion. Milton, who was a contemporary with Cromwell, was a zealous republican. He wrote much and ably against the monarchical and aristocratical institutions of his time; and, in so doing, condemned many of those elegant amusements which were congenial to his own feelings :
“ He sacrifices his private tastes and feelings, that he might do what he considered his duty to mankind. It is the very struggle of the noble Othello. His heart relents, but his hand is firm. He does nought in hate, but all in honour. He kisses the beautiful deceiver before he destroys her.”
This allusion is to the Othello of Shakspeare; and such is the rank and antiquity of his writings, that allusions to passages found in them, are regarded much in the same manner as classical allusions. We have in fact our English classical writers, who have outlived their century, and who from their pre-eminence, may be supposed to be familiarly known by every scholar. To such writers, it is lawful to make allusions, and when happily introduced, will please us in the same manner and degree as those made to the ancient classics.
Example 6. The following example is from Washington Irving, and is taken from his account of James of Scotland, the “ Royal Poet" :
“ James is evidently worthy of being enrolled, in that little constellation of remote, but never failing luminaries, who shine in the highest firmament of literature, and who, like morning stars, sang together at the bright dawning of British Poetry.”
This beautiful passage affords an example of a Scriptural allusion, and is highly pleasing. Allusions of this kind will always be well understood, and often, from their elevated nature, add much to the beauty of writings. But there is need of caution in their use.
With the example that has been given, no fault can be found. It is rather to be commended as an embellishment. But it is too frequently the case, that the same innocency cannot be affirmed of allusions to our sacred writings. This remark is not meant to imply, that such allusions should never be made, except when the subject of discourse is of a serious or religious nature; it is enough that the subject be one of importance, that it have some dignity attached to it, and that there be nothing in it ludicrous or trifling. Let ludicrous or trifling associations be connected with a passage of Scripture, and whenever this passage meets our attention, even in our most sober hours, there will be danger that these associations will come with it, and exert an unfavourable influence on the state of our feelings. Besides, there is something which savours much of profanity in such allusions to Scripture; it shows, that that reverence is not felt for it, which, as God's word, it should command.
These remarks are intended to be applied more particularly to the introduction of the language of Scripture. There may be instances, in which we may innocently make use of historical facts found in Scripture, in the way of allusion, when the introduction of a phrase or sentence from the same source, would manifestly be improper. The reason of this distinction is obvious. Our associations with particular forms of expression are close and strong; with facts, much less so. There is more need of caution also, because the temptations in one case are much more frequent than in the other. From the antiruity of our translation of the Bible, there is sometimes a quaintness in its expressions, and the introduction of
such passages may give a point to some satirical remark. or furnish a striking form for some sally of wit. But we should beware: - Scripture is a pure stream, flowing forth from the throne of God, and it should never be made to reflect the fantastic images of human folly.
In the productions of writers of taste, there are many allusions made to the literature of the times. When any literary production gains celebrity, it is supposed to be known to literary men ; and allusions may be made to such writings without incurring the charge of obscurity, and sometimes with a favourable effect. Such allusions form a kind of bond between literary men. They are the language of the fraternity; and one cause of the pleasure which they afford, is found in the complacency and pride which are felt in being able to understand them. It is unnecessary to give many examples of this class of allusions. Two only are brought forward, which furnish opportunity for some additional remark,
EXAMPLE 7.-"A stone, perhaps, may tell some wanderer where we lie, when we came here, and when we went away; but even that will soon refuse to bear us record :-time's effacing fingers' will be busy on its surface, and at length will wear it smooth.”
The quotation in this passage is from one of the popular poets of the day. The allusion to the admirable description, where it is originally found, will be perceived and relished by every man of taste who is familiar with the writings of Byron; and the pleasure, with which the passage that has been cited, will be read, is much greater, than if the same thought had been expressed without the allusion.
We have in this instance an example of a method often resorted to by writers in prose to embellish their productions. Poetry is the language of the imagination. Its aim is to please, and hence the happy introduction of poetical language is justly considered an ornament of
prose. Poetry also allows of the inversion of clauses, and of the use of words forbidden to prose ; hence it enables the writer to convey a thought in a sententious and striking manner. But here the caution may be given, not to introduce poetical expressions too frequently. To say in verse what might as well be said in prose, and thus to be continually introducing scraps of poetry, may shew a familiarity with poetical writers, but is no evidence of a good literary taste.
Example 8. A writer in the Edinburgh Review, thus remarks on the poetry of Milton :
Change the structure of the sentence; substitute one synonyme for another, and the whole effect is destroyed. The spell loses its power; and he who should then hope to conjure with it, would find himself as much mistaken as Cassim, in the Arabian tale, when he cried “Open Wheat,' 'Open Barley,' to the door which obeyed no sound but 'Open Sesame.''
Here the allusion is to one of the popular plays of the day, and hence it is pleasing, and easily understood.
Example 9. The following example is from a review of the works of Milton. The author is stating, that while, in the time of the English rebellion, others were desirous only of reforming some prevalent abuses, it was Milton's aim to attain the freedom of the human mind to deliver men from moral and intellectual slavery :
“ Milton was desirous that the people should think for themselves, as well as tax themselves, and be delivered from the dominion of prejudice, as well as from that of Charles. He knew, that those, who with the best intentions overlooked these schemes of reform, and contented themselves with pulling down the king and imprisoning the malignants, acted like the heedless brothers in his own poems, who, in their eagerness to disperse the train of the sorcerer, neglected the means of liberating the captive. They thought only of conquering, when they should have thought of disenchanting.
• Oh ye mistook. Ye should have snatched the wand.
Without the rod reversed,