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A Comparison or simile, is, when the resemblance between two objects is expressed in form, and generally pursued more fully than the nature of a metaphor admits; as when it is said, “ The actions of princes are like those great rivers, the course of which every one beholds, but their springs have been seen by few.” " As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about his people.” “ Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brettiren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment, &c. and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion.”
The advantage of this figure arises from the illustration which the simile employed gives to the principal object; from the clearer view which it presents; or the more strong impression which it stamps upon the mind. Observe the effect of it in the following instance. The author is explaining the distinction between the powers of sense and imagination in the hunian mind. “ As wax," says he, “ would not be adequate to the purpose of signature, if it had not the power to retain as well as to receive the impression, the same holds of the soul with respect to sepse and imagination. Sense is its receptive power ; imagination, its retentive. Had it sense without imagination, it would not be as wax, but as water, where, though all impressions are instantly made, yet as soon as they are made, they are instantly lost,"
In comparisons of this nature, the understanding is concerned much more than the fancy: and therefore the rules to be observed, with respect to them, are, that they be clear, and that they be useful; that they tend to render our conception of the principal object more distinct; and that they do not lead our view aside, and bewilder it with any false light. We should always remember that similes are not arguments. However apt they may be, they do no more than explain the writer's sentiments; they do not prove them to be founded on truth.
Comparisons ought not to be founded on likenesses which are too faint and remote. For these, in place of
assisting, strain the mind to comprehend them, and throw no light upon the subject. It is alsu to be observed, that a comparison which, in the principal circumstances, carries . a sufficiently near resemblance, may become unnatural and obscure, if pushed too far. Nothing is more opposite to the design of this figure, than to hunt after a great number of coincidences in minute points, merely to show how far the writer's ingenuity can stretch the resemblance.
A Asetonymy is founded on the several relations, of cause and effect, container and contained, sign and thing signified. When we say: " They read Milton,” the cause is put instead of the effect ; meaning “ Milton's works.” On the other hand, when it is said, “ Gray hairs should be respected,” we put the effect for the cause, meaning by “gray hairs," old age. “ The kettle boils,” is a phrase where the name of the container is substituted for that of the thing contained. " To assume the sceptre” is a common ex• pression for entering on royal authority; the sign being put for the thing signified.
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; in general, when any thing less, or any thing more, is put for the precise object meant; the figure is then called a Synecdoche or Comprehension. It is very common, for instance, to describe a whole object by some remarkable part of it: as when we say:
“ A fileet of twenty sail,” in the place of “ships ;” when we use the “ head” for the “ person,” the "waves" for the “ sea.” In like manner, an attribute may be put for a subject : as, " Youth” for the “ young,” the “ deep" for the “ sea ;” and sometimes a subject for its attribute.
Personification or Prosopopoeia, is that figure by which we attribute life and action to inanimate objects. The use of this figure is very natural and extensive: there is a won. derful proneness in human nature, under emotion, to animate all objects. When we say, “the ground thirsts 'for rain,” or, “ the earth smiles with plenty;" when we
speak of « ambition's being restless," or, “a disease's being deceitful;" such expressions show the facility with which the mind can accommodate the properties of living creatures to things that are inanimate, or to abstract conceptions of its own forming. The following are striking examples from the Scriptures : ac When Israel went out of Egypt, the house of Judah from a people of strange language; the sea saw it, and fed: Jordan was driven back! The mountains skipped like rams, and the little hills like lambs. What ailed thee, O thou sea! that thou fleddest? Thou Jordan, that thou wast driven back? Ye mountains, that ye skipped like rams; and ye little hills, like lambs? Tremble, thou earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob.”
“ The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them: and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose.”
Milton thus describes the immediate effects of eating the forbidden fruit. Terror produces the figure.
Earth trembled from her entrails, as again
Wept, at completing of the mortal sin. The impatience of Adam to know his origin, is supposed to prompt the personification of all the objects he beheld, in order to procure information.
Thou sun, said I, fair light!
that live and move, fair creatures, tell, Tell, if you saw, how came I thus, how here? We shall give a remarkably fine example of this figure, from bishop Sherlock. He has beautifully personified natural religion: and we may perceive, in the personification, the spirit and grace which the figure, when well conducted, bestows on discourse. The author is comparing together our Saviour and Mahomet. “Go (says he) to your Natural Religion: Jay before her Mahoniet, and his disciples, arrayed in armour and blood, riding in triumph over the spoils of thousands who fell by his victorious sword. Show her the cities which he set in flames, the countries which he ravaged and destroyed, and the miserable distress of all the inhabitants of the earth. When she has viewed him in this scene, carry her into his retirement; show her the Prophet's chamber; his concubines and his wives; and let her hear him allege revelation, and a Divine command, 10 justify his adultery and lust.”
“ When she is tired with this prospect, then show her the blessed Jesus, humble and meek, doing good to all the sons of men. Let her see him in his most retired privacies ; let her foilow him to the mount, and hear his devotions and supplications to God. Carry her to his table, to view his poor fare; and hear his heavenly discourse. Let her attend him to the tribunal, and consider the patience with which he endured the scoffs and reproaches of his enemies. Lead her, to his cross; let her view him in the agony of death, and hear his last prayer for his persecutors; “ Father forgive them, for they know not what they do."—When Natural Religion has thus viewed both, ask her, which is the Prophet of God?— But her answer we have already had, when she saw part of this sceae, through the eyes of the Centurion, who attended at the
By him she spoke, and said, Truly this man was the Son of God.'» This is more than elegant; it is truly sublime. The whole passage is animated; and the Figure rises at the conclusion, when Natural Religion, who, before, was only a spectator, is introduced as speaking by the Centurion's voice.
This figure of speech is sometimes very improperly and extravagantly applied. A capital error in personifying objects, is, to deck them with fantastic and trifling circumstances. A practice of this sort dissolves the potent charm, which enchants and deceives the reader; and either leaves him dissatisfied, or excites, perhaps, his
risibility. Another error, frequent in descriptive personifications, consists in introducing them, when the subject of discussion is destitute of dignity, and the reader is not prepared to relish them. One can scarcely peruse, with composure, the following use of this figure. It is the language of our elegant poet Thomson, who thus personifies and connects the bodily appetites, and their gratifications.
Then sated Hunger bids his brother Thirst
Flames in the light refulgent. It is to be remarked, concerning this figure, and short metaphors and similes, which also have been allowed to be the proper language of high passion, that they are the proper expression of it, only on those occasions when it is so far moderated as to admit of words. The first and highest transports seem to overwhelm the mind, and are denoted by silence or groans: next succeeds the violent and passionate language, of which these figures constitute a great part. Such agitation, however, cannot long continue; the passions having spent their force, the mind soon subsides into that exhausted and dispirited state, in which all figures are improper.
Apostrophe is a turning off from the regular course of the subject, to address some person or thing; as, “ Death is swallowed up in victory. O death! where is thy sting? O grave! where is thy victory :"
The following is an instance of personification and apostrophe united: “O thou sword of the Lord ! how long will it be ere thou be quiet? put thyself up into thy scabbard, rest and be still! How can it be quiet, seeing the Lord hath given it a charge against Askelon, and against the seashore? there hath he appointed it." See also an extr.