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of mind, to animate a lump of matter, even in the most rapid flight of fancy, degenerates into burlesque :
How now? What noise! that spirit's possess'd with haste,
SHAKSPEARE.-MEASURE FOR MEASURE, Act IV. Sc. 6.
The same observation is applicable to abstract terms, which ought not to be animated unless they have some natural dignity. Thomson, in this article, is licentious; witness the following instances, out of many:
O vale of bliss! O softly-swelling hills!
SUMMER, 1. 1435.
Then sated Hunger bids his.brother Thirst
Nor wanting is the brown October, drawn,
AUTUMN, 1. 516.
Thirdly, It is not sufficient to avoid improper subjects. Some preparation is necessary, in order to rouse the mind; for the imagination refuses its aid till it be warmed at least, if not inflamed. Yet Thomson, without the least ceremony or preparation, introduceth each season as a sensible being:
From brightening fields of ether fair disclos'd,
In pride of youth, and felt through Nature's depth.
SUMMER, 1. 1.
WINTER, 1. 1.
See Winter comes, to rule the varied year, Sullen and sad, with all his rising train, Vapors, and clouds, and storms. This has violently the air of writing mechanically, without taste. It is not natural that the imagination of a writer should be so much heated at the very commencement; and, at any rate, he cannot expect such ductility in his readers. But if this practice can be
justified by authority, Thomson has one of no mean
Even Shakspeare is not always careful to prepare the mind for this bold figure. Take the following instance:
Upon these taxations,
The clothiers all, not able to maintain
HENRY VIII.-ACT I. Sc. 2.
Fourthly, Descriptive personification, still more than what is passionate, ought to be kept within the bounds of moderation. A reader, warmed with a beautiful subject, can imagine, even without passion, the winds, for example, to be animated; but still the winds are the subject; and any action ascribed to them beyond or contrary to their usual operation, appearing unnatural, seldom fails to banish the illusion altogether. The reader's imagination, too far strained, refuses its aid; and the description becomes obscure, instead of being more lively and striking. In this view, the following passage, describing Cleopatra on shipboard, appears to me exceptionable.
The barge she sat in, like a burnish'd throne,
ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA.-ACT II. Sc. 3.
The winds, in their impetuous course, have so much the appearance of fury, that it is easy to figure them wreaking their resentment against their enemies, by destroying houses, ships, &c.; but to figure them lovesick has no resemblance to them in any circumstance. In another passage, where Cleopatra is also the subject, the personification of the air is carried beyond all bounds:
The city cast
Its people out upon her; and Antony
ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA.-Act II. Sc. 3.
The following personification of the earth, or soil, is not less wild:
She shall be dignified with this high honor,
To bear my Lady's train; lest the base earth
ACT II. Sc. 7. Shakspeare, far from approving such intemperance of imagination, puts this speech in the mouth of a ranting lover.
Dullness may be imagined a deity or idol, to be worshipped by bad writers; but then some sort of disguise is requisite, some bastard virtue must be bestowed, to make such worship in some degree excusable. Yet, in the Dunciad, Dullness, without the least disguise, is made the object of worship. The mind rejects such a fiction as unnatural; for dullness is a defect, of which even the dullest mortal is ashamed.
Then he, great tamer of all human art!
As, forced from wind-guns, lead itself can fly,
Book I. 163.
Fifthly, The enthusiasm of passion may have the effect to prolong passionate personification; but descriptive personification cannot be dispatched in too few words. A circumstantial description dissolves the charm, and makes the attempt to personify appear ridiculous.
Her fate is whisper'd by the gentle breeze,
POPE'S PASTORALS, iv. 61.
Let grief or love have the power to animate the winds, the trees, the floods, provided the figure be dispatched in a single expression: even in that case, the figure seldom has a good effect; because grief or love of the pastoral kind, are causes rather too faint for so violent an effect as imagining the wind, trees, or floods, to be sensible beings. But when this figure is deliberately spread out, with great regularity and accuracy, through many lines, the reader, instead of relishing it, is struck with its ridiculous appearance.
What is personification?
Give examples of it.
When does the mind bestow sensibility on inanimate things?
Is personification natural?
What evidence have we of this fact?
What examples from Ossian are given?
What example from Shakspeare?
Does terror bestow sensibility on inanimate objects?
What is the effect of joy?
Give an example.
Does personification always attribute life and intelligence to the objects personified?
Give examples in which it falls short of this effect.
Is passionate personification promoted by every passion?
What speech is disapproved, on this ground?
To what should passionate personification be confined?
How should descriptive personification be used?
Give an example of its improper use.
What is the effect of personifying familiar and base objects? Give an example.
To what else does the observation apply?
What is necessary in order to introduce a personification properly?
What writers sometimes violate this rule?
What observations are made on Shakspeare's personification of the winds?-on Pope's personification of dullness?
What is the effect of dwelling too long on descriptive personifi
What remark is made on the passage from Pope?
This figure, and the former, are derived from the same principle. If, to humor a plaintive passion, we can bestow a momentary sensibility upon an inanimate object, it is not more difficult to bestow a momentary presence upon a sensible being who is absent:
Strike the harp in praise of Bragela, whom I left in the isle of mist, the spouse of my love. Dost thou raise thy fair face from the rock to find the sails of Cuchullin? The sea is rolling far distant, and its white foam shall deceive thee for my sails. Retire, for it is night, my love; and the dark winds sigh in thy hair. Retire to the hall of my feasts, and think of the times that are past; for I will not return till the storm of war is gone. O Connal, speak of wars and arms, and send her from my mind; for lovely with her raven-hair is the white-bosom'd daughter of Sorglan.
Speaking of Fingal absent:
Happy are thy people, O Fingal; thine arm shall fight their battles. Thou art the first in their dangers, the wisest in the days of their peace: thou speakest, and thy thousands obey; and armies. tremble at the sound of thy steel. Happy are thy people, O Fingal.