Page images



blood-red, he hangs in the Old Testament sky, rather burning as a portent than shining as a prophet.”

A continued succession of metaphors is wearisome. They are a dinner made up wholly of spices. They are pompous ceremonials employed in every-day life. The ablest writers and strongest speakers use them sparingly, and often give us hours of speaking or many pages of writing, without any metaphors but ordinary tropes.

(2.) Metaphors should not generally be dwelt upon long, and run out into comparisons, or too minutely amplified.

Lord Brougham illustrates, by his own fault, the practice of undue amplification, which he condemns as follows:

"In nothing, not even in beauty of collocation and harmony of rhythm, is the vast superiority of the chaste, vigorous, manly style of the Greek orators and writers more conspicuous than in the abstinent use of their prodigious powers of expression. A single phrase-sometimes a word—and the work is done; the desired impression is made, as it were, with one stroke, there being nothing superfluous interposed to weaken the blow or break its fall. The commanding idea is singled out; it is made to stand forward; all auxiliaries are rejected: as the Emperor Napoleon selected one point in the heart of his adversary's strength, and brought all his power to bear upon that, careless of the other points, which he was sure to carry if he won the centre, as sure to have carried in vain if he left the centre unsubdued. Far otherwise do modern writers make their onset. They resemble those campaigners who fit out twenty little expeditions at a time, to be a laughing-stock if they fail, and useless if they succeed; or if they do attack in the right place, so divide their forces, from the dread of leaving any one point unassailed, that they can make no sensible impressing where alone it avails them to be felt. It seems the principle of such authors never to leave any thing unsaid that can be said on any one topic; to run down every idea they start; to let nothing pass; to leave nothing to the reader, but harass him with anticipating every thing that could possibly strike his mind."

Had the orator omitted superfluous expressions, he would have imitated what he eulogized, and given us the substance of the above in less than one-fourth of the words. The beauty, however, of his own expressions shows that not always his advice, but occasionally his example, should be followed.

Sometimes a metaphor may be dwelt upon and amplified with good effect so as to resemble an allegory, from which it differs then only in the fact that the interest is confined to the metaphorical idea. The following is a good illustration from the pen of Peter Bayne:

"Born into the world in ignorance, man is impelled by an imperious instinct to know. 'Seek,' whispers a voice in his soul, 'and thou shalt find?' He seeks, he observes, he inquires. He ascends the mountain of knowledge-rugged, precipitous; he climbs with difficulty from crag to crag; on the topmost peak, in the clear evening of an intellectual life, he beholds, not the sterile boundaries of a universe explored, but an ocean of knowledge yet to be traversed—a Pacific of truth stretching on and on into the deeps of eternity. The fascination of that placid splendor is as great upon him as when he first aspired to know. He yearns to begin a new voyage. He looks into the eyes of his fellows with a 'dumb surmise' of endless progress, and limitless attainment, and hope sublime. The promise-whisper of his infancy has not deceived him; he has upon earth made some onward steps, and tasted of the ecstasy of knowledge; his eyes have been opened, and life has taught him that there is an infinite to be known. And now that transporting whisper is once more at his ear, 'What thou knowest not now thou shalt know hereafter.' Mind, the angel of the universe, ready to soar out of the mists of the earth, prunes her wings for everlasting flight. The instinct which forbids her to close her pinions and to die has been veracious for time, and it is justly trusted for eternity."

Such well-sustained metaphors are often exceeding ly beautiful and impressive, and it would be indeed hypercritical to condemn them.



(3.) Incongruous metaphors should not be employed, except when strong passion will justify them. It has been maintained that no metaphor should be used that is not capable of being presented in a picture. This is too rigid. Shakspeare, in one of his most celebrated passages, has the following:

"Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The stings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And, by opposing, end them ?"

The "taking arms against a sea" has been condemned by some who were too cool and hypercritical to see the real beauty and force of the expression. Hamlet was represented as alone when he uttered the words, with none to criticise, and so excited as to be querying with himself whether he had not better commit suicide. His brain was on fire. Thoughts chased each other through his mind so fast that he was not able to finish one before he attempted to express another. He thought of "taking arms" against troubles that seemed in multitude and power like "a sea," and of using those arms, not against the troubles, but against himself, and thus, by ending his own life, to end them. All these thoughts and more forced themselves tumultuously into a single utterance. Could a more nervous expression be devised than that of the great poet? Those who condemn it expose feebleness in themselves, not in Shakspeare.

[ocr errors]

Shakspeare abounds in such "mixed metaphors when the circumstances justified them. He had no occasion to resort to metaphors from a paucity of

terms, for he used about fifteen thousand wordsmore perhaps than any other writer in the English language before or since. And yet his writings

abound in metaphors.

Generally, incongruous metaphors should be avoided. "The corner-stone of this edifice will soon fall prostrate to the earth," is very absurd.

Many ludicrous mixed metaphors are thrown off by imaginative speakers which are offensive to good taste, unless the object is to amuse by their extravagance. The following are specimens:

"The apple of discord is now fairly in our midst, and if not nipped in the bud it will burst forth into a conflagration which will deluge the sea of politics with an earthquake of heresies."

"This man, gentlemen of the jury, walks into court like a motionless statue, with the cloak of hypocrisy in his mouth, and is attempting to screw three large oaks out of my clients' pockets."

"Boyle was the father of chemistry, and brother to the Earl of Cork."

At the same time, on this subject as on others, it is possible to use the pruning-knife too severely.

Many eminent writers have been entirely destitute of bold metaphors, but a talent to employ them should be cultivated by observation and exercise.

[blocks in formation]

34. The Mind notices both Similarities and Differences of Objects.-WE have remarked under Comparison that it is a law of the mind to observe the similarity of objects, in one or more particulars, that differ in other respects. It is also a law of the mind's action to observe the differences of objects, in one or more particulars, that are alike in all other respects. On the action of these laws does the mind depend for the classification of facts and objects. Promptitude and power in this exercise characterize the strongest minds.

35. Definitions and Illustrations.-Antithesis (from the Greek avrı, against, and rioŋμ, to place) is the collocation of two objects together that differ distinctly, at least in one particular, and agree in others.

The simplest antitheses are those in which the attention is called to the difference between two objects of the same kind for the purpose of definition. For instance, "The brig is a square-rigged vessel with two masts; the sloop is a fore-and-aft-rigged vessel with one mast and a jib-stay."

"The old Roman had an aquiline nose, the Greek, a nose long and straight."

« PreviousContinue »