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The idea of a grave rending in sunder, you see makes a very indifferent picture. I should not however have quoted this poem, had it not been made a subject of panegyric by a modern critic, whose genius is at least equal to his eccentricity.
2dly. Mean and vulgar objects should never be personified: for as the prosopopæia is a bold figure, it should only be introduced to confer dignity on a subject. It follows of course that nothing vulgar or contemptible should be al. lowed to disgrace the figure. For this reason the following image from the poem I have just quoted, is not only unpoetical, but disgus& ing
“O great man-eater!
Here are two personifications, and the imagery, as well as the language in both, is as mean and colloquial as possible. The same want of dignity, and the same impropriety, pervade all the imagery of this writer. For ins stance
“ Now tame and humble, like a child that's whipt, “ Shake hands with dust.”
Here is another most extraordinary picture, “a man skaking hands with dust.” Such writers are of use, because they teach us better than any precept can, what to avoid.
3dly. I do not subscribe to Dr. Blair's rule, 66 that this figure should never be attempted but when prompted by strong passion;" for in the happiest instances I have already given, there is no passion at all. Indeed it seems to me more a figure of fancy than of passion, and it is most happily introduced in those composia tions where the fancy sports most uncontrouled, as in lyric productions. In very serious compositions, however, it is sometimes well in troduced accompanied with passion ; but then the effect will be destroyed if it appears artificial; for all art is inconsistent with strong emotion.
The apostrophe is a more animated prosopo« pæia, where the object personified is addressed in the second person. A real personage, howe ever, may be addressed in an apostrophe, but be must be supposed either dead or absent ; which almost rcduces it to a mere personificaa
tion. It is a figure more fit for poetry than prose; and nothing can excuse it in the latter but the very effervescence of passion. On this account, though it may be tolerated in oratory, it cannot be admitted in narrative or didactic compositions. In truth, the French preachers, who are very partial to this figure, render their discourses sometimes exceedingly frigid, by its too frequent and artificial introduction.
The apostrophe never was more properly and naturally introduced than in Lear's address to the elements, when discarded and turned out by Regan. There is a peculiar beauty in this part
Spit fire, spout rain! “ Nor rain, wind, thunder, fire, are my daughters. “I tax not you, ye elements, with unkindness, “ I never gave you kingdom, called you children, “ You owe me no subscription,” &c.
That of Eve in the 11th book of Paradise Lost, v. 269, is also beautiful and proper
“O unexpected stroke, worse than of death! “Must I thus leave thee, Paradise, thus leave “ Thee, native soil, these happy walks and shades, “ Fit haunt of Gods? Where I had hope to spend,
“Quiet, though sad, the respite of that day
last “ At even, which I bred up with tender hand, “ From the first opening bud, and gave you names; “ Who now shall rear ye to the sun, or rank “ Your tribes, and water from th' ambrosial fount?" &c.
I have already laid down one rule concerna ing the use of this figure, which is, that it is only adapted to impassioned expression, otherwise its introduction is frigid, if not ridiculous. I may add, as a second rule, that it should always be made with gravity and dignity. The following instance is a breach of both these rules
* But tell us, why this waste,
The hyperbole is nothing more than an excess of figurative language; the effect, when it is natural, of passion. All the passions are inclined to magnify their objects. Injuries seem greater than they really are to those who have received
them; and dangers, to those who are in fear. The lover naturally makes a divinity of his mistress; valour and contempt are equally inclined to degrade and diminish. This figure, therefore, in particular, requires passion to give it force or propriety, and if this is not the casey it renders a style very bombastic and frigid. Lucan is too fond of this figure. See the first six lines of Rowe's Lacan, where
« The sun
sicken'd to behold Emathia's plain, * And would have sought the backward east again.”
And in book vi. v. 329
" The missive arms fix'd all around he wears, “ And even his safety in his wounds he bears, * Fenc'd with a fatal wood, a deadly grove of spears."
Nothing indeed can be more bombastic than the whole description of this warrior's death. The poet calls upon the Pompeians to lay siege to him as they would to a town; to bring battering engines, flames, racks, &c. to subdue him. He is first compared to an elephant, and again to a hunted boar; at length
" When none were left him to repel,
Fainting for want of foes the victor fell."