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This figure is sometimes joined with the former. Things inanimate, to qualify them for listening to a passionate expostulation, are not only personified, but also conceived to be present:
Poor lord, is 't I
That drive thee from the sportive court, where thou
ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL. ACT III. Sc. 4.
And let them lift ten thousand swords, said Nathos with a smile; the sons of car-borne Usnoth will never tremble in danger. Why dost thou roll with all thy foam, thou roaring sea of Ullin? why do ye rustle on your dark wings, ye whistling tempests of the sky? Do ye think, ye storms, that ye keep Nathos on the coast? No; his soul detains him, children of the night! Althos, bring my father's arms, &c. FINGAL.
Whither hast thou fled, O wind, said the king of Morven! Dost thou rustle in the chambers of the south, and pursue the shower in other lands? Why comest not thou to my sails, to the blue face of my seas? The foe is in the land of Morven, and the King is absent. IBID.
Hast thou left thy blue course in heaven, golden-hair'd son of the sky? The west hath opened its gates; the bed of thy repose is there. The waves gather to behold thy beauty: they lift their trembling heads; they see thee lovely in thy sleep; but they shrink away with fear. Rest in thy shadowy cave, O Sun! and let thy return be in joy. IBID.
Daughter of Heaven, fair art thou! the silence of thy face is pleasant. Thou comest forth in loveliness: the stars attend thy blue steps in the east. The clouds rejoice in thy presence, O Moon! and brighten their dark-brown sides. Who is like thee in heaven, daughter of the night? The stars are ashamed in thy presence, and turn aside their sparkling eyes. Whither dost thou retire from thy course, when the darkness of thy countenance grows? Hast thou thy hall like Ossian? Dwell'st thou in the shadow of grief? Have thy sisters fallen from heaven? and are they who rejoiced with thee at night no more?—Yes, they have fallen, fair light; and often dost thou retire to mourn.- -But thou thyself shalt, one night, fail; and leave thy blue path in heaven. The stars will then lift their heads: they who in thy presence were ashamed, will rejoice.
This figure, like all others, requires an agitation of
mind. In plain narrative, as for example, in giving the genealogy of a family, it has no good effect.
In this figure, by which an object is magnified or diminished beyond truth, we have another effect of the foregoing principle. An object of an uncommon size, either very great of its kind, or very little, strikes us with surprise; and this emotion produces a momentary conviction, that the object is greater or less than it is in reality. The same effect, precisely, attends figurative grandeur or littleness; and hence the hyperbole, which expresses that momentary conviction. A writer, taking advantage of this natural delusion, warms his description greatly by the hyperbole; and the reader, even in his coolest moments, relishes the figure, being sensible that it is the operation of nature upon a glowing fancy.
It cannot have escaped observation, that a writer is commonly more successful in magnifying by an hyperbole, than in diminishing. The reason is, that a minute object contracts the mind, and fetters the power of imagination; but that the mind, dilated and inflamed with a grand object, moulds objects for its gratification with great facility. Longinus, with respect to a diminishing hyperbole, quotes the following ludicrous thought from a comic poet: "He was owner of a bit of ground no larger than a Lacedæmonian letter."* But, for the reason now given, the hyperbole has by far the greatest force in magnifying objects; of which take the following examples:
For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever. And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth; so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered. GENESIS, xiii. 15, 16.
When he speaks,
HENRY V.-Act I. Sc. 1.
* Chapter 31, of his Treatise on the Sublime.
Now shield with shield, with helmet helmet clos'd,
ILIAD, iv. 508. Quintilian is sensible that this figure is natural: "For," says he, "not contented with truth, we naturally incline to augment or diminish beyond it; and for that reason the hyperbole is familiar even among the vulgar and illiterate:" and he adds, very justly, "that the hyperbole is then proper, when the subject of itself exceeds the common measure."
Having examined the nature of this figure, and the principle on which it is erected, I proceed, as in the first section, to the rules by which it ought to be governed. And, in the first place, it is a capital fault to introduce an hyperbole in the description of any thing ordinary or familiar; for, in such a case, it is altogether unnatural, being destitute of surprise, its only foundation. Take the following instance, where the subject is extremely familiar, viz. swimming to gain the shore after a shipwreck:
I sa him beat the surges under him,
And ride upon their backs; he trod the water;
TEMPEST.-ACT II. Sc. 1.
In the next place, it may be gathered from what is said, that an hyperbole can never suit the tone of any dispiriting passion: sorrow, in particular, will never prompt such a figure; for which reason the following hyperboles must be condemned as unnatural:
K. Rich. Aumerle, thou weep'st, my tender-hearted
We'll make foul weather with despised tears;
Our sighs, and they, shall lodge the summer-corn,
Draw them to Tyber's bank, and weep your tears
JULIUS CESAR.-ACT I. Sc. 1.
Thirdly, A writer, if he wish to succeed, ought always to have the reader in his eye; he ought, in particular, never to venture a bold thought or expression, till the reader be warned and prepared. For that reason, an hyperbole in the beginning of a work can never be in its place.
The nicest point of all is to ascertain the natural limits of an hyperbole, beyond which, being overstrained, it hath a bad effect. Longinus, in the abovecited chapter, with great propriety of thought, enters a caveat against an hyperbole of this kind: he compares it to a bow-string, which relaxes by overstraining, and produces an effect directly opposite to what is intended. To ascertain any precise boundary, would be difficult, if not impracticable. Mine shall be an humbler task; which is, to give a specimen of what I reckon overstrained hyperbole; and I shall be brief upon them, because examples are to be found everywhere. No fault is more common among writers of inferior rank; and instances are found even among classical writers. Witness the following hyperbole, too bold even for a Hotspur. Hotspur, talking of Mortimer:
In single opposition, hand to hand,
He did confound the best part of an hour
In changing hardiment with great Glendower.
Three times they breath'd, and three times did they drink,
FIRST PART HENRY IV.-Act I. Sc. 3.
Speaking of Henry V.:
England ne'er had a king until his time:
His brandish'd sword did blind men with its beams:
FIRST PART HENRY VI.-ACT I. Sc. 1.
Lastly, An hyperbole, after it is introduced with all advantages, ought to be comprehended within the fewest words possible. As it cannot be relished but in the hurry and swelling of the mind, a leisurely view dissolves the charm, and discovers the description to be extravagant at least, and perhaps also ridiculous.
There is in Chaucer a thought expressed in a single line, which gives more lustre to a young beauty, than the whole of this much-labored poem:
Up rose the sun, and up rose Emilie.
SECTION IV.-The means or instrument conceived to be the Agent.
When we survey a number of connected objects, that which makes the greatest figure, employs chiefly our attention; and the emotion it raises, if lively, prompts us even to exceed nature in the conception we form of it. Take the following examples:
For Neleus' son Alcides' rage had slain.
In these instances, the rage of Hercules and the force of Pirus, being the capital circumstances, are so far exalted as to be conceived the agents that produce the effects.
In the following instances, hunger being the chief circumstance in the description, is itself imagined to be the patient.
Whose hunger has not tasted food these three days.
As when the force