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imagined nature. This suggests another rule; That in constructing a metaphor, the writer ought to make use of such words only as are applicable literally to the imagined nature of his subject. Figurative words ought carefully to be avoided; for such complicated figures, instead of setting the principal subject in strong light, involve it in a cloud; and it is well if the reader, without rejecting by the lump, endeavor patiently to gather the plain meaning, regardless of its figures:
A stubborn and unconquerable flame
Let us analyze this expression. That a fever may be imagined a flame, I admit; though more than one step is necessary to come at the resemblance. A fever, by heating the body, resembles fire; and it is no stretch to imagine a fever to be a fire. Again, by a figure of speech, flame may be put for fire, because they are commonly conjoined; and therefore a fever may be termed a flame. But now, admitting a fever to be a flame, its effects ought to be explained in words that agree literally to a flame. This rule is not observed here; for a flame drinks figuratively only, not properly.
King Henry to his son, Prince Henry:
Thou hid'st a thousand daggers in thy thoughts,
SECOND PART HENRY IV.-Act IV. Sc. 11.
Such faulty metaphors are pleasantly ridiculed in the Rehearsal:
Physician. Sir, to conclude, the place you fill has more than amply exacted the talents of a wary pilot; and all these threatening storms, which, like impregnate clouds, hover o'er our heads, will, when they once are grasped but by the eye of reason, melt into fruitful showers of blessings on the people.
Bayes. Pray, mark that allegory. Is not that good?
Johnson. Yes, that grasping of a storm with the eye is admirable. ACT II. Sc. 1.
Fifthly, The jumbling different metaphors in the
same sentence, beginning with one metaphor and ending with another, commonly called a mixed metaphor, ought never to be indulged.
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind, to suffer
HAMLET. ACT III. Sc. 2.
In the sixth place, It is unpleasant to join different metaphors in the same period, even where they are preserved distinct; for when the subject is imagined to be first one thing and then another in the same period without interval, the mind is distracted by the rapid transition; and when the imagination is put on such hard duty, its images are too faint to produce any good effect.
In the last place, It is still worse to jumble together metaphorical and natural expression, so as that the period must be understood in part metaphorically, in part literally; for the imagination cannot follow with sufficient ease changes so sudden and unprepared. A metaphor begun and not carried on, hath no beauty; and, instead of light, there is nothing but obscurity and confusion. Instances of such incorrect composition are without number. I shall, for a specimen, select a few from different authors. Speaking of Britain:
This precious stone set in the sea,
In the first line, Britain is figured to be a precious stone. In the following lines, Britain, divested of her metaphorical dress, is presented to the reader in her natural appearance
These growing feathers, pluck'd from Cæsar's wing,
JULIUS CESAR.--ACT I. Sc. 1.
The following is a miserable jumble of expressions, arising from an unsteady view of the subject, between its figurative and natural appearance:
But now from gath'ring clouds destruction pours,
To thee the world its present homage pays, The harvest early, but mature the praise. POPE'S IMITATION OF HORACE, B. 2. Dryden, in his dedication of the translation of Juvenal, says―
When thus, as I may say, before the use of the loadstone, or knowledge of the compass, I was sailing in a vast ocean, without other help than the pole-star of the ancients, and the rules of the French stage among the moderns, &c.
There is a time when factions, by the vehemence of their own fermentation, stun and disable one another. BOLINGBROKE.
This fault of jumbling the figure and plain expression into one confused mass, is not less common in allegory than in metaphor.
A few words more upon allegory. Nothing gives greater pleasure than this figure, when the representative subject bears a strong analogy, in all its circumstances, to that which is represented: but the choice is seldom so lucky; the analogy being generally so faint and obscure, as to puzzle and not please. An allegory is still more difficult in painting than in poetry: the former can show no resemblance but what appears to the eye; the latter has many other resources for showing the resemblance; and, therefore, with respect to what the Abbé du Bos terms mixed allegorical compositions, these may do in poetry; because, in writing, the allegory can easily be distinguished from the historical part; no person, for example, mistakes Virgil's Fame for a real being. But such a mixture in a
picture is intolerable; because, in a picture, the objects must appear all of the same kind, wholly real, or wholly emblematical. For this reason, the history of Mary de Medicis, in the palace of Luxembourg, painted by Rubens, is unpleasant by a perpetual jumble of real and allegorical personages, which produce a discordance of parts, and an obscurity upon the whole; witness, in particular, the tablature representing the arrival of Mary de Medicis at Marseilles, where, together with the real personages, the Nereids and Tritons appear sounding their shells; such a mixture of fiction and reality in the same group is strangely absurd. The picture of Alexander and Roxana, described by Lucian, is gay and fanciful; but it suffers by the allegorical figures. It is not in the wit of man to invent an allegorical representation deviating farther from any shadow of resemblance, than one exhibited by Lewis XIV. anno 1664; in which an enormous chariot, intended to represent that of the sun, is dragged along, surrounded with men and women, representing the four ages of the world, the celestial signs, the seasons, the hours, &c.; a monstrous composition, suggested, probably, by Guido's tablature of Aurora, and still more absurd.
In an allegory, as well as in a metaphor, terms ought to be chosen that properly and literally are applicable to the representative subject; nor ought any circumstance to be added that is not proper to the representative subject, however justly it may be applicable, properly or figuratively, to the principal.
We proceed to the next head, which is, To examine in what circumstances these figures are proper, and in what improper. This inquiry is not altogether superseded by what is said upon the same subject in the chapter of Comparisons; because, upon trial, it will be found, that a short metaphor, or allegory, may be proper, where a simile, drawn out to a greater length, and in its nature more solemn, would scarce be relished.
And first, A metaphor, like a simile, is excluded from
common conversation, and from the description of ordinary incidents.
Second, In expressing any severe passion that wholly occupies the mind, metaphor is improper. For which reason, the following speech of Macbeth is faulty:
Methought I heard a voice cry, Sleep no more!
The following example of deep despair, beside the highly figurative style, hath more the air of raving than of sense:
Calista. Is it the voice of thunder, or my father?
FAIR PENITENT.—ACT IV.
The metaphor I next introduce is sweet and lively; but it suits not a fiery temper inflamed with passion. Parables are not the language of wrath, venting itself without restraint:
Chamont. You took her up a little tender flower,
ORPHAN. ACT IV.
The following speech, full of imagery, is not natural
in grief and dejection of mind:
Gonsalez. O my son! from the blind dotage