« ForrigeFortsæt »
contributed beyond any other to the improvement of my taste, Bishop Lowth's Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews.
One imperfection, however, I have to remark in the similies of the Hebrews, and of the Orientals in general, that the resemblance is often too fanciful and remote. Of this I shall produce an instance from the book of Job, c. vi. v. 15-20.
My brethren have dealt deceitfully as a brook, and as the stream of brooks they pass away: which are blackish by reason of the ice, and wherein the snow is hid. What time they were warm they vanish: when it is hot they consume out of their place. The paths of their way are turned aside: they go to nothing and perish. The troops of Tema looked, the companions of Sheba waited for them. They were confounded because they had hoped; they came thither and were ashamed."
The 133d Psalm consists of one of these fanciful similies, but it is extremely beautiful. It is somewhat amplified by Buchanan, and in translating it I made use of a part of his imagery.
Sweet is the love that mutual glows
Within each brother's breast;
And binds in gentlest bonds each heart,
Sweet as the odorous balsam pour'd
On Aaron's sacred head,
Which o'er his beard, and down his vest,
Like morning dews on Sion's mount,
That spread their silver rays;
And deck with gems the verdant pomp
Another particular may also be remarked, which is, that the Hebrew similies are frequently very short. The resemblance usually turns upon a single circumstance, which they explain in few words, and seldom introduce any matter at all foreign to the purpose.
The classical writers are more sparing of their similies, and they introduce them with greater pomp and form. There is however a disgusting sameness in those of the antient epic poets. In their descriptions of battles, for instance, the imagery of a lion, a bull, an eagle, and others of the fiercer animals so commonly
occurs, that I am frequently more disposed to pass over their similies than to stop and admire
The modern writers are possessed of considerable advantages, in this respect, and to these they have not been inattentive. The more extensive views which they possess of sciences, and arts, and of the history of nature in particular, has opened to them a wider and more varied field in poetical imagery. They now decorate our gravest productions, and surprize by their novelty and fanciful application. A very beautiful comparison presents itself at this moment to my memory, from the elegant and lively sermons of Dr. Ogden. In one of his discourses against slander-" Censure," says the preacher, "is in season so very seldom, that it may be compared to that bitter plant, which hardly comes to its maturity in the life of a man, and is said to flower but once in a hundred years.
The following is fanciful, yet perhaps the transitory nature, as well as the splendour of traditional fame, is well imagined under this image" Then let us be renowned while we may, and leave our fame behind us, like the
last beams of the sun, when he hides his red head in the west."-OSSIAN.
From what I have observed, it will follow, that the author who possesses the greatest scope of knowledge, if he has an active and lively fancy, will have the greatest command of imagery, and will produce the boldest and most varied comparisons. Yet the metaphysical poets of Charles the Second's reign, as they are very properly termed by Dr. Johnson, were guilty of such abuses that they disgust us with the figurative style. Their imagery was not select, nor under the regulation 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 vi cious exuberances of youthful genius.
1st. A comparison taken from a common or vulgar object, should have something particu- | larly 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 fired 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.