« PreviousContinue »
Steep me in poverty to the very lips.
Othello, at 4. fc. 9.
Poverty here must be conceived a fluid, which it refembles not in any manner.
Speaking to Bolingbroke banished for fix years:
The fullen paffage of thy weary fteps
Richard II. a 1. fc. 6.
Here is a letter lady,
And every word in it a gaping wound
Merchant of Venice, act 3. fe 3.
The following metaphor is ftrained beyond all endurance: Timur-bec, known to us by the name of Tamerlane the Great, writes to Bajazet Emperor of the Ottomans in the following terms:
Where is the monarch who dares refift us? where is the potentate who doth not glory in being numbered among our attendants? As for thee, defcended from a Turcoman failor, fince the veffel of thy unbounded ambition hath been wreck'd in the gulf of thy felf-love, it would be proper, that thou shouldft take in the fails of thy temerity, and caft the anchor of repentance in the port of fincerity and juftice, which is the port of fafety; left the tempest of our vengeance make thee perifh in the fea of the punishment thou deferveft.
Such ftrained figures, as obferved above,* are not unfrequent in the first dawn of refinement: the mind in a new enjoyment knows no bounds, and is generally carried to excefs, till taste and experience discover the proper limits.
Secondly, Whatever refemblance fubjects may have, it is wrong to put one for another, where they bear no mutual proportion: upon comparing a very high to a very low fubject, the fimile takes on an air of burlesque; and the fame will be the effect, where the one is imagined to be the other, as in a metaphor; or made to reprefent the other, as in an allegory.
Thirdly, Thefe figures, a metaphor efpecially, ought not to be crowded with many minute circumftances; for in that cafe it is fcarcely poffible to avoid obfcurity. A metaphor above all ought to be short: it is difficult, for any time, to fupport a lively image of a thing being what we know it is not; and for that reason, a metaphor drawn out to any length, inftead of illuftrating or enlivening the principal fubject, becomes difagreeable by overftraining the mind. Here Cowley is extremely licentious: take the following inflance.
Great and wife conqu'ror, who where-e'er
For the fame reason, however agreeable long allegories may at first be by their novelty, they never afford any lasting pleasure witnefs the Fairy-Queen, which with great power of expreffion, variety of images, and melody of verfification, is fcarce ever read a fec
In the fourth place, the comparison carried on in a fimile, being in a metaphor funk by imagining the principal fubject to be that very thing which it only resembles; an opportunity is furnished to describe it in terms taken strictly or literally with refpect to its imagined nature. This fuggefts another rule, That in conftructing a metaphor, the writer ought to make ufe of fuch words only as are applicable literally to the imagined nature of his fubject: figurative words ought carefully to be avoided; for fuch complicated figures, instead of fetting the principal fubject in a ftrong light, involve it in a cloud; and it is well if the reader, without rejecting by the lump, endeavour patiently to gather the plain meaning regardless of the figures:
A ftubborn and unconquerable flame
Creeps in his veins, and drinks the streams of life.
Copied from Ovid,
Sorbent avidæ præcordia flammæ.
Let us analyfe this expreffion. That a fever may be imagined a flame, I admit; though more than one ftep is neceffary to come at the refemblance: a fever, by heating the body, refembles fire; and it is no ftretch to imagine a fever to be a fire: Again, by a figure of fpeech, 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 fon Prince Henry :
Thou hid'ft a thousand daggers in thy thoughts,
Second Part, Henry IV. at 4. fc. 11.
Such faulty metaphors are pleasantly ridiculed in the Rebearfal:
Phyfician, Sir, to conclude, the place you fill, has more than amply exacted the talents of a wary pilot; and all thefe threatening ftorms, which, like impregnate clouds, hover o'er our heads, will, when they once are grasp'd but by the eye of reason, melt into fruitful thowers of bleffings on the people.
Bayes. Pray mark that allegory. Is not that good? Johnfon. Yes, that grafping of a storm with the eye is Act 2. fc. 1.
Fithly, The jumbling different metaphors in the fame fentence, beginning with one metaphor and ending with another, commonly called a mixt metaphor, ought never to be indulged. Quintilian bears teftimony against it in the bittereft terms; "Nam id quoque in primis eft cuftodiendum, ut quo ex genere – cœperis tranflationis, hoc definas. Multi enim, cum initium a tempeftate fumpferunt; incendio aut ruina finiunt: quæ eft inconfequentia rerum fœdiffima." L. 8, cap. 6. § 2.
K. Henry. Will you again unknit This churlish knot of all-abhorred war, And move in that obedient orb again, Where you did give a fair and natural light? Firft part, Henry VI. að 5. Sc. 1.
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind, to fuffer
Hamlet, at 3. fc. 2.
In the fixth place, It is unpleasant to join different metaphors in the fame period, even where they are preserved diftinct for when the subject is imag ined to be first one thing and then another in the fame period without interval, the mind is diftracted by the rapid tranfition; and when the imagination is put on fuch hard duty, its images are too faint to produce any good effect:
At regina gravi jamdudum faucia cura,
Eneid, iv. 1.
Eft mollis flamma medullas Interea, et tacitum vivit fub pectore vulnus.
Eneid, iv. 66.
Motum ex Metello confule civicum,
Ludumque fortunæ gravesque
Principum amicitias, et arma
Horat. Carm. 1. 2. ode 1.
In the last place, It is ftill worse to jumble together metaphorical and natural expreffion, fo as that