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Keeps Death his court; and there the antic sits,
Not less successfully is life and action given even to sleep:
King Henry. How many thousands of my poorest subjects
Why rather, Sleep, ly'st thou in smoky cribs,
And hush'd with buzzing night-flies to thy slumber,
SECOND PART HENRY IV. ACT III. Sc. 1.
I shall add one example more, to show that descriptive personification may be used with propriety, even where the purpose of the discourse is instruction merely :
Oh! let the steps of youth be cautious,
How they advance into a dangerous world:
Our duty only can conduct us safe.
SOUTHERN. Hitherto success has attended our steps; but whether we shall complete our progress with equal success, seems doubtful; for when we look back to the expressions mentioned in the beginning, thirsty ground, furious dart, and such like, it seems no less difficult than at first, to say whether there be in them any sort of personification. Such expressions evidently raise not the slightest conviction of sensibility; nor do I think they amount to descriptive personification: because, in them, we do not even figure the ground or the dart to be animated. If so, they cannot at all come under the present subject. To show which, I shall endeavor to trace the effect that such expressions have in the mind. Doth not the expression angry ocean, for example, tacitly compare the ocean in a storm to a man in wrath? By this tacit comparison, the ocean is elevated above its rank in nature; and yet personification is excluded, because, by the very nature of comparison, the things compared are kept distinct, and the native appearance of each is preserved. It will be shown afterward, that expressions of this kind belong to another figure, which I term a figure of speech, and which employs the seventh section of the present chapter.
Though thus in general we can distinguish descriptive personification from what is merely a figure of speech, it is, however, often difficult to say, with respect to some expressions, whether they are of the one kind or of the other. Take the following instances:
The moon shines bright: in such a night as this,
MERCHANT OF VENICE.-ACT V. Sc. 1. I have seen
Th' ambitious ocean swell, and rage, and foam,
JULIUS CESAR.-ACT I. Sc. 6.
With respect to these and numberless other examples of the same kind, it must depend upon the reader, whether they be examples of personification, or of a figure of speech merely. A sprightly imagination will advance them to the former class, with a plain reader they will remain in the latter.
Having thus at large explained the present figure, its different kinds, and the principles upon which it is founded; what comes next in order is, to show in what cases it may be introduced with propriety, when it is suitable, when unsuitable. I begin with observing, that passionate personification is not promoted by every passion indifferently. All dispiriting passions are averse to it; and remorse, in particular, is too serious and severe to be gratified with a phantom of the mind. I cannot, therefore, approve the following speech of Enobarbus, who had deserted his master Antony:
Be witness to me, O thou blessed moon!
Oh sovereign mistress of true melancholy!
ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA.-ACT 4. Sc. 7.
If this can be justified, it must be upon the heathen system of theology, which converted into deities the sun, moon, and stars.
Secondly, After a passionate personification is properly introduced, it ought to be confined to its proper province, that of gratifying the passion, without giving place to any sentiment or action but what answers that purpose; for personification is at any rate a bold figure, and ought to be employed with great reserve. The passion of love, for example, in a plaintive tone, may give a momentary life to woods and rocks, in order to make them sensible of the lover's distress; but no passion will support a conviction so far stretched, as that these woods and rocks should be living witnesses to report the distress to others.
It is plainly the operation of the writer, indulging his inventive faculty without regard to nature. The same observation is applicable to the following passage:
In winter's tedious nights, sit by the fire
With good old folks, and let them tell thee tales,
And ere thou bid good-night, to quit their grief,
And send the hearers weeping to their beds.
RICHARD II.-Act V. Sc. 2.
One must read this passage very seriously, to avoid laughing. The following passage is quite extravagant. The different parts of the human body are too intimately connected with self, to be personified by the power of any passion; and after converting such a part into a sensible being, it is still worse to make it be conceived as rising in rebellion against self:
Cleopatra. Haste, bare my arm, and rouse the serpent's fury. Coward flesh!
Wouldst thou conspire with Cæsar to betray me,
DRYDEN. ALL FOR LOVE, ACT V.
Next comes descriptive personification; upon which I must observe, in general, that it ought to be cautiously used. A personage in a tragedy, agitated by a
strong passion, deals in warm sentiments; and the reader, catching fire by sympathy, relishes the boldest personifications. But a writer, even in the most lively description, taking a lower flight, ought to content himself with such easy personifications as agree with the tone of mind inspired by the description. Nor is even such easy personification always admitted; for, in plain narrative, the mind, serious and sedate, rejects personification altogether.
I do not approve, in Shakspeare, the speech of King John, gravely exhorting the citizens of Angiers to a surrender; though a tragic writer has much greater latitude than an historian. Take the following speci
The cannons have their bowels full of wrath;
ACT II. Sc. 3.
Secondly, If extraordinary marks of respect to a person of low rank be ridiculous, no less so is the personification of a low subject. This rule chiefly regards descriptive personification; for a subject can hardly be low that is the cause of a violent passion; in that circumstance, at least, it must be of importance. But to assign any rule other than taste merely, for avoiding things below even descriptive personification, will, I am afraid, be a hard task. A poet of.superior genius, possessing the power of inflaming the mind, may take liberties that would be too bold in others. Homer appears not extravagant in animating his darts and arrows; nor Thomson in animating the seasons, the winds, the rains, the dews; he even ventures to animate the diamond, and doth it with propriety:
That polish'd bright
Dares, as it sparkles on the fair one's breast,
With vain ambition emulate her eyes.
But there are things familiar and base, to which personification cannot descend. In a composed state