« السابقةمتابعة »
the natural one implies that it is the one spontaneously employed by the common people; that is, the one easiest for undisciplined minds.
21. Before dismissing this branch of our subject, it should be remarked, that, even when addressing the most vigorous intellects, the direct style is unfit for communicating thoughts of a complex or abstract character. So long as the mind has not much to do, it may be well able to grasp all the preparatory clauses of a sentence, and to use them effectively; but if some subtlety in the argument absorb the attention, if every faculty be strained in endeavoring to catch the speaker's or writer's drift, it may happen that the mind, unable to carry on both processes at once, will break down, and allow all its ideas to lapse into confusion.
FIGURES OF SPEECH. 22. Turning now to consider figures of speech, we may equally discern the same general law of effect. Underlying all the rules that may be given for the choice and right use of them, we shall find the same fundamental requirement, — economy of attention. It is indeed chiefly because of their great ability to subserve this requirement that figures of speech are employed. To bring the mind more easily to the desired conception, is in many cases solely, and in all cases mainly, their object.
23. Let us begin with the figure called Synecdoche. The advantage sometimes gained by putting a part for the whole is due to the more convenient or more accurate presentation of the idea thus secured. If, instead of saying, “ A fleet of ten ships,” we say, “A fleet of ten sail,” the picture of a group of vessels at sea is more readily suggested, and is so because the sails constitute the most conspicuous part of vessels so circumstanced; whereas the word “ships" would very likely remind us of vessels in dock. Again, to say, “ All hands to the pumps !” is better than to say, “All men to the pumps !” as it suggests the men in the special attitude intended, and so saves effort. Bringing " gray hairs with sorrow to the grave" is another expression, the effect of which has the same cause.
24. The occasional increase of force produced by Metonymy may be similarly accounted for. “ The low morality of the bar" is a phrase both briefer and more significant than the literal one it stands for. A belief in the ultimate supremacy of intelligence over brute force is conveyed in a more concrete, and therefore more realizable form, if we substitute “the pen” and “the sword” for the two abstract terms. To say, “Beware of drinking!” is less effective than to say “Beware the bottle !” and is so, clearly, because it calls up a less specific image.
25. The Simile, though in many cases employed chiefly with a view to ornament, yet, whenever it increases the force of a passage, does so by being an economy. Here is an instance:
“The illusion, that great men and great events came oftener in early times than now, is partly due to historical perspective. As, in a range of equidistant columns, the farthest off look the closest, so the conspicuous objects of the past seem more thickly clustered the more remote they are."
To construct, by a process of literal explanation, the thought thus conveyed, would take many sentences; and the first elements of the picture would become faint whilst the imagination was busy in adding the others. But, by the help of a comparison, all effort is saved: the picture is instantly realized, and its full effect produced.
26. Of the position of the Simile,* it needs only to remark, that what has been said respecting the order of the adjective and substantive, predicate and subject, principal and subordinate propositions, &c., is applicable here. As whatever qualifies should precede whatever is qualified, force will generally be gained by placing the simile before the object to which it is applied. That this arrangement is the best, may be seen in the following passage from “The Lady of the Lake:" —
“As wreath of snow, on mountain breast,
And at the monarch's feet she`lay." Inverting these couplets will be found to diminish the effect considerably. There are cases, however, even where the simile is a simple one, in which it may with advantage be placed last; as in these lines from Alexander Smith’s “Life Drama:" —
"I see the future stretch
All dark and barren as a rainy sea.” The reason for this seems to be, that so abstract an idea as that attaching to the “future” does not present itself to the mind in any definite form ; and hence the subsequent arrival at the simile entails no reconstruction of the thought.
27. Nor are such the only cases in which this order is the most forcible. As the advantage of putting the simile before the . object depends on its being carried forward in the mind to assist in forming an image of the object, it must happen, that if, from length or complexity, it can not be so carried forward, the advan
* Properly the term “simile” is applicable only to the entire figure, inclusive of the two things compared and the comparison drawn between them. But, as there exista po name for the illustrative member of the figure, there seems no alternative but to employ " simile” to express this also. The context will in each case show in which sense the word is used.
tage is not gained. The annexed sonnet by Coleridge is defective from this cause :
As when a child, on some long winter's night,
Here, from the lapse of time and accumulation of circumstances, the first part of the comparison becomes more or less dim before its application is reached, and requires re-reading. Had the main idea been first mentioned, less effort would have been required to retain it, and to modify the conception of it in conformity with the comparison, than to retain the comparison, and refer back to the recollection of its successive features for help in forming the final image.
28. The superiority of the Metaphor to the Simile is ascribed by Dr. Whately to the fact that “all men are more gratified at catching the resemblance for themselves than in having it pointed out to them.” But, after what has been said, the great economy it achieves will seem the more probable cause. If, drawing an analogy between mental and physical phenomena, we say, “ As, in passing through the crystal, beams of white light are decomposed into the colors of the rainbow; so, in traversing the soul of the poet, the colorless rays of truth are transformed into brightly-tinted poetry," it is clear, that, in receiving the double set of words expressing the two portions of the comparison, and in carrying the one portion to the other, a considerable amount of attention is absorbed. Most of this is saved, however, by putting the comparison in a metaphorical form, thus:
“ The white light of truth, in traversing the many-sided, transparent soul of the poet, is refracted into iris-hued poetry.”
29. How much is conveyed in a few words by the help of the Metaphor, and how vivid the effect consequently produced, may be abundantly exemplified. From "A Life Drama” may be quoted the phrase, –
“I speared him with a jest," as a fine instance among the many which that poem contains. A passage in the “Prometheus Unbound” of Shelley displays the power of the Metaphor to great advantage :
“ Methought among the lawns together
Shepherded by the slow, unwilling wind." This last expression is remarkable for the distinctness with which it realizes the features of the scene; bringing the mind, as it were, by a bound, to the desired conception.
30. But a limit is put to the advantageous use of the Metaphor by the condition that it must be sufficiently simple to be understood from a hint. Evidently, if there be any obscurity in the meaning or application of it, no economy of attention will be gained, but rather the reverse. Hence, when the comparison is complex, it is usual to have recourse to the Simile. There is, however, a species of figure, sometimes classed under Allegory, but which, perhaps, might be better called Compound Metaphor, that enables us to retain the brevity of the metaphorical form even where the analogy is intricate. This is done by indicating the application of the figure at the outset, and then leaving the mind to continue the parallel itself. Emerson has employed it with great effect in the first of his “ Lectures on the Times:” –
“ The main interest which any aspects of the times can have for us is the great spirit which gazes through them; the light which they can shed on the wonderful questions, What are we? and Whither do we tend ? We do not wish to be deceived. Here we drift, like white sail across the wild ocean, now bright on the wave, now darkling in the trough of the sea. But from what port did we sail ? Who knows? Or to what port are we bound? Who knows? There is no one to tell us but such poor weather-tossed mariners as ourselves, whom we speak as we pass, or who have hoisted some signal, or floated to us some letter in a bottle from afar. But what know they more than we? They also found themselves on this wondrous sea. No: from the older sailors nothing. Over all their speaking-trumpets the gray sea and the loud winds answer, ‘Not in us; not in Time.'”
31. The division of the Simile from the Metaphor is by no means a definite one. Between the one extreme in which the two elements of the comparison are detailed at full length and the analogy pointed out, and the other extreme in which the comparison is implied instead of stated, come intermediate forms, in which the comparison is partly stated and partly implied. For instance:
“ Astonished at the performance of the English plow, the Hindoos paint it, set it up, and worship it; thus turning a tool into an idol : linguists do the same with language."
There is an evident advantage in leaving the reader or hearer to complete the figure; and generally these intermediate forms
are good in proportion as they do this, provided the mode of coinpleting it be obvious.
32. Passing over much that may be said of like purport upon Hyperbole, Personification, Apostrophe, &c., let us close our remarks upon construction by a typical example. The general principle that has been enunciated is, that the force of all verbal forms and arrangements is great in proportion as the time and mental effort they demand from the recipient is small. The special applications of this general principle have been severally illustrated; and it has been shown that the relative goodness of any two modes of expressing an idea may be determined by observing which requires the shortest process of thought for its comprehension. But, though conformity in particular points has been exemplified, no cases of complete conformity have yet been quoted. It is indeed difficult to find them; for the English idiom scarcely permits the order which theory dictates. A few, however, occur in Ossian. Here is one:
“As autumn's dark storms pour from two echoing hills, so towards each other approached the heroes. As two dark streams from high rocks meet and mix, and roar on the plain; loud, rough, and dark in battle meet Lochlin and Inisfail. . . . As the troubled poise of the ocean when roll the waves on high, as the last peal of the thunder of heaven; such is the noise of the battle."
Except in the position of the verb in the first two similes, the theoretically best arrangement is fully carried out in each of these sentences. The simile comes before the qualified image, the adjectives before the substantives, the predicate and copula before the subject, and their respective complements before them. That the passage is more or less open to the charge of being bombastic proves nothing, or, rather, proves our case; for what is bombast but a force of expression too great for the magnitude of the ideas embodied ? All that may rightly be inferred is, that only in very rare cases, and then only to produce a climax, should all the conditions of effective expression be fulfilled.
33. Passing on to a more complex application of the doctrine with which we set out, it must now be remarked, that not only in the structure of sentences, and the use of figures of speech, may economy of the recipient's mental energy be assigned as the cause of force, but that, in the choice and arrangement of the minor images out of which some large thought is to be built, we may trace the same condition of effect. To select from the sentiment, scene, or event described, those typical elements which carry many others along with them, and so, by saying a few things, but suggesting many, to abridge the description, is the secret of producing a vivid impression. Thus if we say, “Real