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Roll'd inward, and a spacious gap disclos'd
Into the wasteful deep: the monstrous sight
Struck them with horror backward, but far worse
Urg'd them behind; headlong themselves they threw
Down from the verge of heav'n.


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.
Guardian No. 153.

But without

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:

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Nay, then, farewell;

I've touch'd the highest point of all my greatness,
And from that full meridian of my glory
I haste now to my setting. I shall fall,
Like a bright exhalation in the evening,
And no man see me more.


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,
Which, like unruly children, make their sire
Stoop with oppression of their prodigal weight:
Give some supportance to the bending twigs.
Go thou; and, like an executioner,
Cut off the heads of too fast growing sprays,
That look too lofty in our commonwealth:
All must be even in our government.

*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 :
There shalt thou find my cousin Beatrice;
Whisper her ear, and tell her, I and Ursula
Walk in the orchard, and our whole discourse
Is all of her; say, that thou overheard'st us:
And bid her steal into the pleached bower.
Where honeysuckles, ripen'd by the sun,
Forbid the sun to enter; like to favorites,
Made proud by princes, that advance their pride
Against that power that bred it.


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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
That trembles under his devouring paws;
And so he walks insulting o'er his prey,
And so he comes to rend his limbs asunder.
Ah, gentle Clifford, kill me with thy sword,
And not with such a cruel threat'ning look.


Nothing appears more out of place, nor more awkwardly introduced, than the following simile:

Farewell, my Portius;
Farewell, though death is in the word, for ever!

Portius. Stay, Lucia, stay; what dost thou say? for ever?
Lucia. Have I not sworn? If, Portius, thy success
Must throw thy brother on his fate, farewell:
Oh, how shall I repeat the word, for ever!

Portius. Thus o'er the dying lamp th' unsteady flame
Hangs quivering on a point, leaps off by fits,
And falls again, as loath to quit its hold.

-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,
The king that parted hence! Frowning he went;
His eyes like meteors roll'd, then darted down
Their red and angry beams; as if his sight
Would, like the raging dog-star, scorch the earth,
And kindle ruin in its course.


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!
We bodg'd again; as I have seen a swan
With bootless labor swim against the tide,
And spend her strength with over-matching waves.
Ah! hark, the fatal followers do pursue;
And I am faint, and cannot fly their fury.
The sands are number'd that make up my life;
Here must I stay, and here my life must end.

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,
My blood, my want of strength, my sick heart shows,
That I must yield my body to the earth,
And, by my fall, the conquest to my foe.
Thus yields the cedar to the axe's edge,
Whose arms gave shelter to the princely eagle;
Under whose shade the ramping lion slept;
Whose top-branch overpeer'd Jove's spreading tree,
And kept low shrubs from winter's pow'rful wind.

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,
Shipwreck'd upon a kingdom where no pity,
No friends, no hope! no kindred weep for me!
Almost no grave allow'd me! like the lily,

That once was mistress of the field, and flourish'd,
I'll hang my head, and perish.

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.
Now is this golden crown like a deep well,
That owes two buckets, filling one another;
The emptier ever dancing in the air,
The other down, unseen and full of water:
That bucket down, and full of tears, am I,
Drinking my griefs, whilst you mount up on high.

K. John. Oh! cousin, thou art come to set mine eye;
The tackle of my heart is crack'd and burnt;
And all the shrouds wherewith my life should sail,
Are turned to one thread, one little hair:
My heart hath one poor string to stay it by,
Which holds but till thy news be uttered.


York. My uncles both are slain in rescuing me:
And all my followers to the eager foe

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