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"With equal pace impartial fate
"Knocks at the palace, as the cottage gate."
5thly. By metaphors, two objects are presented at the same time, without any confusion; as in the example already mentioned, we can, at the same time, have a clear and distinct view of the evening and of old age.
6thly. They often afford us a more clear and striking view of things; they place them in a picturesque manner before our eyes; so in that example we easily call to mind, that as noon succeeds to morning, and evening to noon, so youth is followed by manhood, and that by old age. The dark and silent evening too presents us with a striking picture of the gradual decline and deprivation of the faculties, both bodily and mental," When the grasshopper shall be a burthen, and desire shall fail," &c.
Though however metaphors thus enliven and diversify composition, much taste is required in the employment of them. Young writers especially are too apt to be enamoured of them, and to use them in too great profusion, and with too little discrimination and selection. Nearly the same rules will apply to metaphors, as I have endeavoured to establish with respect to comparisons. I shall however subjoin a few further practical instructions.
The first rule then that I would lay down is not to be too profuse of them. By introducing too many metaphors into one sentence, we render it obscure, instead of more perspicuous. If they are too gay also, they probably may not suit the subject. Young authors are very apt to fall into this mistake; they commonly think that composition the best that is crowded with shining metaphors; but, as Dr. Blair justly remarks, we should remember that they are only the dress of the thoughts, and as the dress ought always to be suited to the station of the person who wears it, so language should be suited to the nature of the subject and the sentiment. We expect different language in argument and description;
in the first clearness only, in the other ornament also. When a man wears the dress of a person above his rank he is always accounted a vain coxcomb; so when mean sentiments are clothed in a pompous style, they only serve to make them more ridiculous. We have an example of this (quoted by the author to whom I have just referred) in Dr. Smollet's history, concerning the passing of a bill for preventing clandestine marriages. "At length it floated through both houses, on the tide of a great majority, and passed safe into the port of royal approbation.'
2dly. They should not be taken from objects which are mean, disgusting, or vulgar. These inevitably debase a subject instead of exalting it. So Cicero blames some orators of his time for calling his fellow citizens “stercus curiæ." Tillotson is sometimes guilty of this fault when he speaks of "thrusting religion," "driving a strict bargain with God." And, speaking of the last judgment, he talks of the "heavens cracking about our ears." See his sermon preached before Queen Ann, when Princess of Denmark. So Shakspeare alludes to a dunghill, in his Henry the Fifth, when describing the death of those who fell in France, fighting bravely in defence of their country. A similar one is introduced into one of the execrable versions of the Psalms, which have been “done” into English verse.
"And Sis'ra which at Endor fell,
Mr. Burke, though a writer of incomparable fancy, is very faulty in this respect.
3dly. Metaphors ought not to be "far fetched,” as it is sometimes, though not elegantly, termed; in other words, they should be clear, easy, and natural. This circumstance has not escaped the notice of Cicero, in his book De Oratore, who says, they ought naturally to rise from the subject. In opposition to this, Cowley is always searching where he can find the most remote
connexion;* he frequently uses metaphors where the reader cannot trace the smallest resemblance; thesc darken the subject and bewilder by their perplexity, instead of throwing light on what was obscure. Thus when a common reader meets such a passage as this: "When the radical idea branches out into parallel ramifications, how can a consecutive series be formed of senses in their nature collateral," he knows not what to think; he pauses, and is perplexed, but not instructed. You will perhaps, think I have selected this example to show what perplexed figures may be, or that it is taken from an author remarkably dull, neither of which is the case; you will find it in Dr. Johnson's preface to his Dictionary of the English Language. There is a metaphor equally harsh and obscure in Dr. Armstrong's Poem on Health, where he speaks of " tenacious paste of solid milk," which no ordinary reader would be likely to take for a cheese! Dr. Young is an author, many of whose metaphors are new, striking, and admirably conducted, and yet he is very often faulty in this respect. Mr. Addison, on the contrary, excels in his metaphors; they seem always to arise naturally and unsought, from the very series of thought in which the subject engages him. Thomson is on the whole a chaste writer, yet the metaphors in his Seasons are often forced, and what some have called unideal: such as, "Showery radiance, breezy coolness, moving softness, refreshing breaths, dewy light, lucid coolness," &c.
4thly. We should never confound the figurative and liter?' sense; as when Penelope, in the Odyssey, complains that her son had left her without taking leave.
"Now from my fond embrace by tempests torn,
"Nor took a kind adieu, nor sought consent," &c.
First Telemachus, in these lines, is made a column, and
* See Johnson's Life of Cowley.
that with propriety; but that column is blamed for not bidding farewel and saluting, which changes the column again into a person.
5thly. Metaphors should not be mixed or confounded together. Thus Shakspeare speaks of taking "arms against a sea of troubles," and of "war snarling at the very picked bone of majesty," "charms dissolve apace," &c. Mr. Addison himself has fallen into this mistake. In his letter from Italy he says,
"I bridle in my struggling Muse in vain,
Here the first line is proper enough; but when the Muse is changed from a horse to a ship, it becomes improper. It has, therefore, been given as a rule to be observed by orators, that they ought to figure to themselves the metaphors they employ as if painted before them, and observe whether any thing would appear improper or ridiculous, if the whole was drawn by the pencil of an artist.
6thly. They ought not to be crowded or heaped one upon another. Horace is guilty of this, in joining three metaphors in a few lines, lib. ii. ode 1.
"Motum ex Metello consule civicum
Bellique causas, et vitia et modos,
"Ludumque fortunæ, gravesque
Principum amicitias et arma
"Nondum expiatis uncta cruoribus.:
"Periculosæ plenum opus alex
"Of warm contentions, wrathful jars
"Of mighty legions late subdu'd,
And arms with Latian blood embru'd ¿
"Yet unaton'd (a labour vast,
"Doubtful the dice, and dire the cast)
"You treat adventurous, and incautious tread
Under circumstances of great agitation, however, a flow of metaphors seems allowable, and even natural. No critic, I believe, ever found the following fine passage of Shakspeare too redundant in metaphor:
"Can'st thou not minister to a mind diseased?
7thly. They should not be too far pursued. Cowley is often faultyin this respect. Shaftesbury also frequently pursues his metaphors too far; he is so fond of embellishing his style with them, that when he has once found one to please him, he can never think of parting with it. This author, indeed, from his strained metaphors, and his inversion of language, is scarcely better understood than if he had written in Greek or Latin.