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Roll'd inward, and a spacious gap disclos'd
In the same view, Homer, I think, may be justified in comparing the shouts of the Trojans in battle to the noise of cranes,* and to the bleating of a flock of sheep:† it is no objection that these are low images; for it was his intention to lessen the Trojans, by opposing their noisy march to the silent and manly march of the Greeks. Addison, describing the figure that men make in the sight of a superior being, takes opportunity to mortify their pride by comparing them to a swarm of pismires.
A comparison that has none of the good effects mentioned in this discourse, but is built upon common and trifling circumstances, makes a mighty silly figure.
By this time, the different purposes of comparison, and the various impressions it makes on the mind, are sufficiently illustrated. This was an easy task. It is more difficult to lay down rules about the propriety or impropriety of comparisons; in what circumstances they may be introduced, and in what circumstances they are out of place. A comparison is not proper on every occasion: a man, when cool and sedate, is not disposed to poetical flights, nor to sacrifice truth and reality to imaginary beauties: far less is he so disposed when oppressed with care, or interested in some important transaction. On the other hand, a man, when animated by passion, is disposed to elevate all his objects: he avoids familiar names, exalts objects by circumlocution and metaphor, and gives even life and voluntary action to inanimate beings. In this heat of mind, the highest poetical flights are indulged, and the
† Book IV. 1, 498.
* Beginning of Book III.
boldest similies and metaphors relished. soaring so high, the mind is frequently in a tone to relish chaste and moderate ornament; such as comparisons that place the principal object in a strong light, or embellish and diversify the narration. In general, when, by an animating passion, an impulse is given to the imagination, we are disposed to figurative expression, and particularly to comparisons. This in a great measure is evident from the comparisons already mentioned; and shall be further illustrated by other instances.
The dread of a misfortune, however imminent, involving always some doubt and uncertainty, agitates the mind, and excites the imagination:
Nay, then, farewell;
I've touch'd the highest point of all my greatness,
HENRY VIII.-ACT III. Sc. 4.
But it will be a better illustration of the present head, to give examples where comparisons are improperly introduced. I have had already occasion to observe, that similies are not the language of a man in his ordinary state of mind, dispatching his daily and usual work. For that reason, the following speech of a gardener to his servants is extremely improper:
Go, bind thou up yon dangling apricots,
*It is accordingly observed by Longinus, in his Treatise of the Sublime, that the proper time for metaphor, is when the passions are so swelled as to hurry on like a torrent.
The fertility of Shakspeare's vein betrays him frequently into this error. There is the same impropriety in another simile of his:
-Hero. Good Margaret, run thee into the parlor :
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.-ACT III. Sc. 1.
Rooted grief, deep anguish, terror, remorse, despair, and all the dispiriting passions, are enemies to the pomp and solemnity of comparison. Upon that account, the simile pronounced by Rutland, under terror of death from an inveterate enemy, and praying mercy, is unnatural.
So looks the pent-up lion o'er the wretch
THIRD PART HENRY VI.-ACT I. Sc. 5.
Nothing appears more out of place, nor more awkwardly introduced, than the following simile:
Portius. Stay, Lucia, stay; what dost thou say? for ever?
Portius. Thus o'er the dying lamp th' unsteady flame
-Thou must not go; my soul still hovers o'er thee, And can't get loose. CATO. ACT III. Sc. 2. Nor doth the simile which closes the first act of the same tragedy make a better appearance; the situation there represented being too dispiriting for a simile.
A simile is improper for one who dreads the discovery of a secret machination.
Zara. The mute not yet return'd! Ha! 'twas the king,
MOURNING BRIDE.-ACT V. Sc. 3.
A man spent and dispirited after losing a battle, is not disposed to heighten or illustrate his discourse by similies:
York. With this we charg'd again; but out, alas!
Far less is a man disposed to similies, who is not only defeated in a pitched battle, but lies at the point of death mortally wounded:
My mangled body shows,
Queen Katharine, deserted by the king, and in the deepest affliction on her divorce, could not be disposed to any sallies of imagination; and for that reason the following simile, however beautiful in the mouth of a spectator, is scarce proper in her own:
I am the most unhappy woman living,
That once was mistress of the field, and flourish'd,
KING HENRY VIII.-ACT III. Sc. 1. Similies thus unseasonably introduced, are finely ridiculed in the Rehearsal.
Bayes. Now here she must make a similie.
Smith. Where's the necessity of that, Mr. Bayes?
Bayes. Because she's surprised; that's a general rule; you must ever make a similie when you are surprised; 'tis a new way of writing.
A comparison is not always faultless, even where it is properly introduced. I have endeavored above to give a general view of the different ends to which a comparison may contribute. A comparison, like other human productions, may fall short of its aim; of which defect, instances are not rare even among good writers; and to complete the present subject, it will be necessary to make some observations upon such faulty comparisons. I begin with observing, nothing can be more erroneous than to institute a comparison too faint: a distant resemblance, or contrast, fatigues the mind with its obscurity, instead of amusing it; and tends not to fulfil any one end of a comparison. The following similies seem to labor under this defect:
K. Rich. Give me the crown.-Here, cousin, seize the
Here, on this side, my hand; on that side, thine.
K. John. Oh! cousin, thou art come to set mine eye;
KING JOHN.-ACT V. Sc. 10.
York. My uncles both are slain in rescuing me: