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3dly. Comparisons or similies ought to be founded on a likeness neither too obvious nor too remote: if the likeness is too obvious it disgusts, if too remote it perplexes; in the one case the reader easily perceives it, and therefore conceives the writer to be a person of inferior genius; in the other case it savours of af. fectation and pedantry. Some of Milton's seem of too obvious a kind, where he compares Eve to a Dryad, and the bower of Paradise to the arbour of Pomona. For there appears no art or ingenuity in saying one arbour is like another, or that a woman resembles a wood nymph.
Athly. They should not be drawn from objects quite unknown, for these, instead of throwing light upon a subject, can only serve to render it more obscure.
5thly. From what I have observed before, neither this nor any other figure should be borrowed from metaphysical ideas. But for the incomparable exposure of this fault I refer you to Dr. Johnson's Life of the poet Cowley.
LETTER XI. »
MY DEAR JOHN, I OBSERVED in my last letter that a meta. phor is a comparison, without the words indi. cating resemblance. When a savage experienced a sensation, for which he had as yet no name, he applied that of the idea which most resembled it, in order to explain himself. Thus the words expressing the faculties of the mind are taken from sensible images, as fancy from phantasm : idea in the original language means an image or picture; and a way has always been used to express the mode of attaining our end or desire.
There is, however, as I have already expressed, another reason for the use of metaphorical language, and which, in an advanced state of society, is the most common; that is, when the mind is agitated, the associations are more strongly felt, and the connected ideas will more readily present themselves than at another time. On this account a man in a passion will frequently reject the words which simply express his thoughts, and for the sake of giving them more force, will make use of images stronger, more lively, and more congenial to the tone of his mind.
The principal advantage which the metaphor possesses over the simile or comparison, seems to consist in the former transporting the mind, and carrying it nearer the reality than the lat.' ter; as when we say" Achilles rushed like a lion,” we have only the idea of a man going on furiously to battle ; but when we say instead of Achilles " The lion rushed on,” the image is more vivid. Thus also when Virgil calls the Scipios “ the thunderbolts of war," the idea is more animated than if he had compared them to thunderbolts. There is also more of brevity
. in a style that abounds in metaphors, than in a style which consists more of comparisons, and therefore it proves a better vehicle for the passionate or sublime.
The rule which good writers seem to bave adopted respecting the distinct use of similies or metaphors is this: Where the resemblance is very strong and obvious, it may be expressed by a simple metaphor, and it will in general be
expressed more forcibly; but where the resemblance is not so obvious, it requires to be more expanded, and then a comparison or simile will neither appear formal nor pompous.
There is another observation concerning the use of these figures, which is more common, though I do not think the reason of it is generally understood. Comparisons, as I had occasion to observe before, are unnatural in extremes of passion, though metaphors are not. The truth is, the mind, when strongly agitated, readily catches at slight associations, and metaphors therefore are instantaneously formed ; but it is impossible that the imagination in that state should dwell upon them with the formality and exactness of a person making a compari
A metaphor is not always confined to a single word. It may extend to a whole sentence, though when much expanded, rhetoricians call it by another name, an ALLEGORY.
It is not easy to say under which head we should rank the following bold and animated figure:
• The swarm of monks that arose from the Nile, overspread and darkened the face of the Christian world."GIBBON's Hist. c. 20.
Some metaphors, and particularly those which consist of a single word, have become so common that they are scarcely to be considered as figurative. Thus when we speak of an arm of the sea, or of the foot of a mountain, we scarcely seem to speak figurative language; though these are in reality what may be called hard metaphors.
The principal uses of metaphors are,
1st. As was intimated in speaking of the ad. vantages they possess over comparisons, they render a style more animated, by introducing a new idea, in which for the moment the original seems to be lost or absorbed. In this way they serye eyen to enrich a language, and most languages without them would be exceedingly limited, at least in the application of words, which would produce necessarily great stiffness and formality:
2dly. They greatly vary and diversify a style, and consequently relieve us from that tedious uniformity which would be the result of a style where every word was used in the literal sense.
3dly. They serve to enlarge and elevate our subject; for we can borrow a metaphor from something which possesses the quality we mean