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As the tasteful and judicious use of metaphor serves to enliven the expression and to give energy to the sentiment, but as when unskilfully employed the sense and meaning are clouded and concealed, rhetoricians have laid down the following rules for its choice and application.
First. Metaphors should be adapted to the nature of the subject and the character of the style which they are intended to illustrate or embellish ; and therefore Tillotson's expressions
driving a strict bargain with God," and when speaking of the last judgment, “ Heaven cracking about our ears,” are a reprehensible use of this figure, as treating grand and sublime subjects in low and familiar language.
Secondly. They should be drawn from such objects as will not raise mean, low, or disagreeable ideas in the mind. Thus, Dryden's metaphor, in his Dedication of Juvenal,“ Some bad
poems carry their owners' marks about them, some brand
or other on this buttock or that ear, that it is notorious who « is the owner of the cattle,” is objectionable, as tending to vilify and degrade what it was intended to illustrate.
Thirdly. A metaphor should be founded on a resemblance which is evident and natural ; it should not be far-fetched, forced, or difficult to discover. All technical phrases and allusions to the most abstruse branches of art and science which are not familiar to the generality of readers, should be avoided. Therefore Smollett's use of this figure, as descriptive of the passing of a bill in parliament for preventing clandestine marriages is a violation of the proper use of this figure: “At length « it floated through both houses on the tide of a great majority, “ and passed safe into the port of royal approbation.” Armstrong's “ tenacious paste of solid milk” for cheese is also a transgression of this canon of metaphorical composition.
Fourthly. Care should be taken to avoid an intermixture of metaphorical and plain language together in the same period or description, lest the mind be distracted by the association of incongruous ideas, or by the multiplicity of images presented to it. Thus the figurative language in which Lord Bolingbroke describes the effects of the operation of factions in a state, produces a confused and indistinct conception in the mind by the heterogeneous combination of ideas which it presents, some of which are to be understood literally, others metaphorically : “ There is a time when factions, by the vehemence of their
own fermentation, stun and disable one another.”
The following sentence of Pope's Translation of the Odyssey is also censurable in this respect :
“ New from my fond embrace by tempests torn,
Our other column of the state is borne,
Nor took a kind adieu, nor sought consent." In both examples the language is partly metaphorical and partly literal, and presents incongruous ideas, instead of being expressed throughout in suitable or congruous language.
Where Demosthenes speaking of Æschines says, that after lying in wait to destroy an honest and an upright member of the commonwealth, as soon as he had found an opportunity to accomplish his purpose, “ he bursts like a tempest from the “ place of his retreat,” the image employed is admirably expressive and significant; but when immediately after he is described with the orator's other enemies, “ like a wild beast furiously assaulting him," and in order to preserve the force of both illustrations, he concludes with saying, that such assaults had failed of “ rendering him cold in the cause of his country," the improper mixture of the images is reprehensible as violating this rule for the construction of a correct metaphor.
And though the works of Ossian and Shakspeare abound with beautiful and correct metaphors, they afford (particularly Shakspeare, whose genius was not chastened by the most correct taste) instances of the fault above censured. One quotation from each work may be sufficient.
Shakspeare, having introduced Alonzo, king of Naples, as lamenting the supposed loss of his son by shipwreck, thus represents Francisco, one of the Neapolitan lords, as addressing the king:
“ Sir, he may live;
in which description plain and metaphorical language is intermixed ; besides the strange incongruity of description which occurs of riding on the backs of waves, of treading water under foot, and of the enmity of surges,
&c. “ Trothal,” says Ossian, “ went forth with the stream of his
people, but they met a rock; for Fingal stood unmoved ; “ broken they rolled back from his side. Nor did they roll in
safety: the spear of the king pursued their flight.” The metaphor at the beginning of this sentence is very beautiful and correct. “ The stream,” “ the unmoved rock,” “ the waves rolling back broken,” are expressions perfectly agreeable to the proper and consistent language of figurative composition; hut when we are told in the conclusion that they did not roll in safety because “the spear of the king pursued their flight,” literal language is injudiciously mixed with metaphor.
Fifthly. Metaphors of different meanings should not occur in the same period or description; for all metaphorical combi
nations of objects that do not coalesce, or, in technical language, do not group well together, make a ridiculous or a monstrous appearance. Shakspeare's expressions, therefore, “ to take arms against a sea of troubles,” “ war snarling against the very picked bone of majesty,” “ charms dissolve apace;" Milton's “ Eternal Eye smiling,” and where in Samson Agonistes he makes his shipwrecked vessel loquacious, and in another part of that fine specimen of dramatic composition adds fuel to flame in a report: and Addison's “ There is not a single view of “ human nature which is not sufficient to extinguish the seeds “ of pride,” as also his expression women were formed to
temper mankind, and not to set an edge on the minds of men, and blow
in them those passions which are apt to their own accord,” are unnatural combinations of heterogeneous objects, couched in a jumble of metaphorical language, not only contrary to all the canons of criticism and good taste, but also at variance with the first principles of common sense, and the very instructions of Addison himself. “I have “ known," says that most tasteful critic, “ a hero compared to
a thunderbolt, a lion, and the sea ; all of them proper meta“ phors for impetuosity, courage, and force; but by mismanage“ ment it has happened that the thunderbolt has overflowed “ its banks, the lion has been darted through the skies, and the “ billows have rolled out of the Lybian desart.” An amusing illustration of the violation of this rule of metaphorical propriety is given in Fitzosborne's Letters, where he makes mention of an honest sailor, who, in giving an account to his owners of an engagement in which his ship had been, said, that he had “ the good fortune to have only one of his hands (meaning the “ sailors) shot through the nose.” The observations of Quinctilian and Swift on this subject are particularly deserving attention. “ We should not,” observes the Roman rhetorician, “ begin with a tempest and end with a fire.” The ludicrous jumble of metaphorical language in the combination of heterogeneous objects is admirably displayed by the English satirist, in the citation from Prince Arthur, in his Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus:
“ The gasping clonds pour lakes of sulphur down,
Whose livid Aashes sickening sunbeams drown.”
It has been said that in the following current expressions, there appears an incongruity of metaphor not quite accordant to the canons of just criticism : “resting on the soundness of one's view "_“ rebutting unfounded calumnies "_" bolstering up corrupt systems ”_“ following out an argument "_" a man's rising by the weight of his character arguments being too deep for minds of a certain calibre,” &c. But it should be recollected, that many mixed metaphors are sanctioned by usage, without any direct or implied violation of the laws of metaphorical language ; many words, while they are used metaphorically, having by gradual and immemorial usage almost ceased, in their figurative acceptation, to retain their original or etymological signification; this apparent inconsistency between the primitive philological import of words and their application in a figurative sense being occasioned by the poverty and barrenness of language. Therefore when words and expressions, though of a heterogeneous nature, have by long use in a transferred sense lost nearly all their metaphorical nature, they may be combined in a manner which in their literal sense would be incongruous, and the effect of the expression will thereby be rendered more vivid and striking. It would be hypercritical to consider the expression “a fertile source” and others of a