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Turn back, and fly like ships before the wind,
The latter of the two similies is good; the former, by its faintness of resemblance, has no effect but to load the narration with an useless image.
The next error is a capital one. In an epic poem, or in a poem upon an elevated subject, a writer ought to avoid raising a simile on a low image, which never fails to bring down the principal subject. A grand object ought never to be resembled to one that is diminutive, however delicate the resemblance; for it is the peculiar character of a grand object to fix the attention, and swell the mind; to contract it to a minute object, is therefore unpleasant. The resembling an object to one that is greater, has a good effect, by raising the mind: for one passes with satisfaction from small to great; but cannot be drawn down, without reluctance, from great to small. Hence the following similies are faulty:
Meanwhile the troops beneath Patroclus' care
ILIAD, XVI. 312.
So burns the vengeful hornet (soul all o'er)
ILIAD, Xvii. 642.
An error, opposite to the former, is the introducing a resembling image, so elevated or great as to bear no proportion to the principal subject. Their remarkable disparity never fails to depress the principal subject by contrast, instead of raising it by resem
blance: if the disparity be great, the simile degenerates into burlesque; nothing being more ridiculous than to force an object out of its proper rank in nature, by equalling it with one greatly superior or greatly inferior.
A writer of delicacy will avoid drawing his comparisons from any image that is nauseous, ugly, or remarkably disagreeable; for, however strong the resemblance may be, more will be lost than gained by such comparison.
O thou fond many! with what loud applause
SECOND PART HENRY IV.-ACT I. Sc. 6.
The strongest objection that can lie against a comparison is, that it consists in words only, not in sense. Such false coin, or spurious wit, does extremely well in burlesque; but is far below the dignity of the epic, or of any serious composition.
The noble sister of Poplicola,
The moon of Rome; chaste as the icicle
That's curdled by the frost from purest snow,
CORIOLANUS.-AcT V. Sc. 3.
There is evidently no resemblance between an icicle and a woman, chaste or unchaste; but chastity is cold in a metaphorical sense, and an icicle is cold in a proper sense; and this verbal resemblance, in the hurry and glow of composing, has been thought a sufficient foundation for the simile. Such phantom similies are mere witticisms, which ought to have no quarter, except where purposely introduced to provoke laughter.
This author's descriptions are so cold, that they surpass the Caspian snow, and all the ice of the north.
But for their spirits and souls,
SECOND PART HENRY IV.-ACT I. Sc. 2.
Queen. The pretty vaulting sea refus'd to drown me;
SECOND PART HENRY VI.-Act I. Sc. 6. Here there is no manner of resemblance but in the word drown; for there is no real resemblance between being drowned at sea, and dying of grief at land. But perhaps this sort of tinsel wit may have a propriety in it, when used to express an affected, not a real passion, which was the queen's case.
Pope has several similies of the same stamp in his Essay on Man, the most instructive of all his performances.
And hence one master passion in the breast,
EPIST. 2. 1. 131.
And, again, talking of this same ruling or master passion:
Nature its mother, Habit is its nurse:
Wit, spirit, faculties, but make it worse;
IBID. 1. 145.
Lord Bolingbroke, speaking of historians:
Where their sincerity as to fact is doubtful, we strike out truth by the confrontation of different accounts; as we strike out sparks of fire by the collision of flints and steel.
Let us vary the phrase a very little, and there will not remain a shadow of resemblance. Thus:
We discover truth by the confrontation of different accounts; as we strike out sparks of fire by the collision of flints and steel.
Beside the foregoing comparisons, which are all serious, there is a species, the purpose of which is to excite gaiety or mirth. Take the following examples:
I think he is not a pick-purse, nor a horse-stealer; but for his verity in love, I do think him as concave as a covered goblet, or a AS YOU LIKE IT.-ACT III. Sc. 10.
This sword a dagger had his page,
HUDIBRAS, CANTO I.
Description of Hudibras's horse:
He was well stay'd, and in his gait
The sun had long since, in the lap
PART II. CANTO 2.
The most accomplished way of using books at present, is to serve them as some do lords,-learn their titles, and then brag of their acquaintance. IBID.
Box'd in a chair the beau impatient sits,
While spouts run clatt'ring o'er the roof by fits;
DESCRIPTION OF A CITY SHOWER. SWIFT.
What are the purposes of comparisons?
What occurs in the early poems of every nation?
What are the two kinds of comparisons?
Give an example of the latter kind.
Give examples of comparisons which suggest some unusual resemblance or contrast.
Give examples of comparisons which place the object in a strong point of view.
How does a poet convey the idea of vast numbers.
What is the third end of comparison?
Give an example.
When are comparisons improper?
When are the boldest similies and metaphors relished?
Give examples of similies improperly introduced.
What passions are enemies to the pomp and solemnity of comparison?
Give an example of a disregard of this principle.
How is the improper introduction of similies ridiculed in the Rehearsal?
What is the effect of a faint resemblance in a comparison?
What is the fault opposite to this?
What is the strongest objection that can lie against a comparison ?
Give specimens of these similies.
Give examples of humorous comparisons.
THE endless variety of expression brought under the head of tropes and figures by ancient critics and grammarians, makes it evident that they had no precise criterion for distinguishing tropes and figures from plain language. It was accordingly my opinion, that little could be made of them in the way of rational criticism, till discovering, by a sort of accident, that many of them depend on principles formerly explained, I gladly embrace the opportunity to show the influence of these principles where it would be the least expected. Confining myself therefore to such figures, I am luckily freed from much trash, without dropping, as far as I remember, any trope or figure that merits a proper name. And I begin with Prosopopoeia, or Personification, which is justly entitled to the first place.