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of good taste; without which even genius itself will be able to effect but little. Several rules have therefore been established with respect to the use of comparisons, which may serve to restrain the vicious exuberances of youthful genius.
1st. A comparison taken from a common or vulgar object, should have something particularly ingenious in it to render it tolerable. I shall not name the poet from whom the following distich is extracted, but you will be surprised to know that he is of a very high reputation.
"The rage of jealousy then fir'd his soul,
Such nonsense as the following is scarcely to be endured...." A good sermon, like a good peach, is indeed a composition of rich materials, which the maker has associated to bring it to its proper flavour, but which the eater may relish, and from which he may derive nourishment without being obliged to learn chemistry, or knowing how to decompound, and reduce the whole to its parts."...ROBINSON'S TRANSLATION OF CLAUDE'S ESSAY, C. 4. NOTE.
Even Dr. Campbell, who has written so well on the principles of rhetoric, is scarcely more fortunate...." A paraphrase," he observes, "is like a torpedo, for it benumbs the sense; and the gospel, by this means, becomes like a wine of a rich flavour, diluted in such a quantity of water as renders it extremely vapid." The same simile, by the way, he has repeated in another place.
You must however be aware that comparisons taken from low and mean objects are well adapted to the burlesque.
2dly. They ought not to be trite; such as comparing a violent passion to a tempest; virtue to the sun; one in distress to a flower drooping its head.
3dly. Comparisons or similies ought to be founded on a likeness neither too obvious nor too remote: if the likeness is too obvious it disgusts, if too remote it per
plexes; in the one case the reader easily perceives it, and therefore conceives the writer to be a person of inferior genius; in the other case it savours of affectation and pedantry. Some of Milton's seem of too obvious a kind, where he compares Eve to a Dryad, and the bower of Paradise to the arbour of Pomona. For there appears no art or ingenuity in saying one arbour is like another, or that a woman resembles a wood nymph.
4thly. They should not be drawn from objects quite unknown, for these, instead of throwing light upon a subject, can only serve to render it more obscure.
5thly. From what I have observed before, neither this nor any other figure should be borrowed from metaphysical ideas. But for the incomparable exposure of this fault I refer you to Dr. Johnson's Life of the poet Cowley.
I OBSERVED in my last letter that a metaphor is a comparison, without the words indicating resemblance. When a savage experienced a sensation, for which he had as yet no name, he applied that of the idea which most resembled it, in order to explain himself. Thus the words expressing the faculties of the mind are taken from sensible images, as fancy from phantasm: idea in the original language means an image or picture; and a way has always been used to express the mode of attaining our end or desire.
There is, however, as I have already expressed, another reason for the use of metaphorical language, and which, in an advanced state of society, is the most common; that is, when the mind is agitated, the associations are more strongly felt, and the connected ideas will more readily present themselves than at another time. On this account a man in a passion will frequently reject the words which simply express his thoughts, and for the sake of giving them more force, will make use of images stronger, more lively, and more congenial to the tone of his mind.
The principal advantage which the metaphor possesses over the simile or comparison, seems to consist in the former transporting the mind, and carrying it nearer the reality than the latter; as when we say...." Achilles rushed like a lion," we have only the idea of a man going on furiously to battle; but when we say instead of Achilles...." The lion rushed on," the image is more vivid. Thus also when Virgil calls the Scipios "the thunderbolts of war," the idea is more animated than if he had compared them to thunderbolts. There is also
more of brevity in a style that abounds in metaphors, than in a style which consists more of comparisons, and therefore it proves a better vehicle for the passionate or sublime.
The rule which good writers seem to have adopted respecting the distinct use of similies or metaphors is this: Where the resemblance is very strong and obvious, it may be expressed by a simple metaphor, and it will in general be expressed more forcibly; but where the resemblance is not so obvious, it requires to be more expanded, and then a comparison or simile will neither appear formal nor pompous.
There is another observation concerning the use of these figures, which is more common, though I do not think the reason of it is generally understood. Comparisons, as I had occasion to observe before, are unnatural in extremes of passion, though metaphors are not. The truth is, the mind, when strongly agitated, readily catches at slight associations, and metaphors therefore are instantaneously formed; but it is impossible that the imagination in that state should dwell upon them with the formality and exactness of a person making a comparison.
A metaphor is not always confined to a single word, It may extend to a whole sentence, though when much expanded, rhetoricians call it by another name, an ALLEGORY. It is not easy to say under which head we should rank the following bold and animated figure:
"The swarm of monks that arose from the Nile, overspread and darkened the face of the Christian world.' GIBBON'S HIST. c. 20.
Some metaphors, and particularly those which consist of a single word, have become so common that they are scarcely to be considered as figurative. Thus when we speak of an arm of the sea, or of the foot of a mountain, we scarcely seem to speak figurative language; though these are in reality what may be called hard metaphors.
The principal uses of metaphors are,
1st. As was intimated in speaking of the advantages they possess over comparisons, they render a style more
animated, by introducing a new idea, in which for the moment the original seems to be lost or absorbed. In this way they serve even to enrich a language, and most languages without them would be exceedingly limited, at least in the application of words, which would produce necessarily great stiffness and formality.
2dly. They greatly vary and diversify a style, and consequently relieve us from that tedious uniformity which would be the result of a style where every word was used in the literal sense.
3dly. They serve to enlarge and elevate our subject; for we can borrow a metaphor from something which possesses the quality we mean to ascribe to it, in a higher or more extensive degree. Thus a huge dog, or even a man, described under the metaphor of an elephant, will appear to the imagination of the hearer as greater perhaps than the object really is. A "torrent of words," magnifies in imagination the loudness and rapidity of the speaker: though this metaphor, like some of those which I have mentioned, is now so common, that its force as a figure is greatly weakened. Sometimes even a metaphor or comparison taken from an inferior subject will have this effect, by impressing the circumstance more strongly on the mind, by means of a familiar idea. Thus, when in the book of Job, leviathan is described as "making the deep to boil like a pot," our notion of the magnitude and strength of the animal is not lessened, since we still carry in our minds the idea of the ocean, and apply the simile of the boiling cauldron only to the agitation occasioned by his motions.
4thly. For these reasons they bestow dignity on composition. How much nobler is it to say, "the vault of heaven," than to use the common word, "the sky." So we say, "the evening of life," for "old age." Thus the expression, "Death spares neither the rich nor the poor," is low, when compared with Horace:
"Pallida mors æquo pulsat pede pauperum tabernas