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Turn back, and fly like ships before the wind,
Or lambs pursu'd by hunger-starved wolves.

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
Invade the Trojans, and commence the war.
As wasps, provok'd by children in their play,
Pour from their mansions by the broad highway,
In swarms the guiltless traveller engage,
Whet all their stings, and call forth all their rage;
All rise in arms, and, with a general cry,
Assert their waxen domes, and buzzing progeny.
Thus from the tents the fervent legion swarms,
So loud their clamors, and so keen their arms.

ILIAD, XVI. 312.

So burns the vengeful hornet (soul all o'er)
Repuls'd in vain, and thirsty still of gore;
(Bold son of air and heat) on angry wings,
Untam'd, untir'd, he turns, attacks and stings.
Fir'd with like ardor fierce Atrides flew,
And sent his soul with ev'ry lance he threw.

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
Did'st thou beat heav'n with blessing Bolingbroke
Before he was what thou would'st have him be!
And now being trimm'd up in thine own desires,
Thou, beastly feeder, art so full of him,
That thou provok'st thyself to cast him up.
And so, thou common dog, did'st thou disgorge
Thy glutton bosom of the royal Richard,
And now thou wouldst eat thy dead vomit up,
And howl'st to find it.


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,
And hangs on Dian's temple.


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,
This word rebellion had froze them up
As fish are in a pond.


Queen. The pretty vaulting sea refus'd to drown me;
Knowing, that thou wouldst have me drown'd on shore,
With tears as salt as sea, through thy unkindness.

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,
Like Aaron's serpent, swallows up the rest.

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;
Reason itself but gives it edge and power;
As heav'n's bless'd beam turns vinegar more sour.

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.

worm-eaten nut.

This sword a dagger had his page,
That was but little for his age;
And therefore waited on him so,
As dwarfs upon knights-errant do.


Description of Hudibras's horse:

He was well stay'd, and in his gait
Preserv'd a grave majestic state.
At spur or switch no more he skipt,
Or mended pace, than Spaniard whipt:
And yet so fiery, he would bound
As if he griev'd to touch the ground:
That Cæsar's horse, who as fame goes,
Had corns upon his feet and toes,
Was not by half so tender hooft,
Nor trod upon the ground so soft.
And as that beast would kneel and stoop,
(Some write) to take his rider up;
So Hudibras his ('tis well known)
Would often do to set him down.

The sun had long since, in the lap
Of Thetis, taken out his nap;
And like a lobster boil'd, the morn
From black to red began to turn.



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;
And ever and anon with frightful din
The leather sounds; he trembles from within.
So when Troy's chairmen bore the wooden steed,
Pregnant with Greeks, impatient to be freed
(Those bully Greeks, who, as the moderns do,
Instead of paying chairmen, run them through,)
Laocoon struck the outside with his spear,
And each imprison'd hero quak'd for fear.



What are the purposes of comparisons?
What objects cannot be compared?

What occurs in the early poems of every nation?
What are proper subjects for a simile?

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?
Who excels in it?

Give an example.

When are comparisons improper?

When are the boldest similies and metaphors relished?
When are we disposed to figurative expression?

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?
Why should not a simile be raised on a low image?

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.


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