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Hea pietas! heu prisca fides! invictaque bello
Dextra! Both interrogation and exclamation, and, indeed, all passionate figures of speech, operate upon us by means of sympathy. Sympathy is a very pow. erful and extensive principle in our nature, disposing us to enter into every feeling and passion, which we behold expressed by others. Hence, a single person coming into company with strong marks, either of melancholy or joy, upon his countenance, will diffuse that passion, in a moment, through the whole circle. Hence, in a great crowd, passions are so easily caught, and so fast spread, by that powerful contagion which the animated looks, cries, and gestures of a multitude never fail to carry. Now, interrogations and exclamations, being natural signs of a moved and agitated mind, always, when they are properly used, dispose us to sympathise with the dispositions of those who use them, and to feel as they feel.
From this it follows, that the great rule with regard to the conduct of such figures is, that the writer attend to the manner in which nature dictates to us to express any emotion or passion, and that he give his language that turn, and no other; above all, that he never affect the style of a passion which he does not feel. With interrogations he may use a good deal of freedom; these, as above observed, falling in so much with the ordinary course of language and reasoning, even when so great vehemence is supposed to have place in the mind. But, with respect to exclamations, he must be more reserved. Nothing has a worse effect than the frequent and unseasonable use of them. Raw, juvenile writers imagine, that, by pouring them forth often, they render their compositions warm and animated. Whereas quite the contrary follows. They render it frigid to excess. When an author is always calling upon us to enter into transports which he has said nothing to inspire, we are both disgusted and enraged at him. He raises no sympathy; for the gives us no passion of his own, in which we can take part. He gives us words, and not passion; and of course, can raise no passion, unless that of isdignation. Hence, I am inclined to think, he was not much mistaken, who said, that when, on looking into a book, he found the pages thick bespangled with the point which is called, " Punctum admirationis,' he judged this to be a sufficient reason for his laying it aside. And, indeed, were it not for the help of this punctum admirationis,' with which many writers of the rapturous kind so much abound, one would be often at a loss to discover, whether or not was exclamation which they aimed at. For, it has now become a fashion, among these writers, to subjoin points of admiration to sentences, which contain nothing but simple affirmations, or propositions; as if, by an affected method of pointing, they could transform them in the reader's mind into high figures of eloquence. Much akin to this, is another contrivance practised by some writers, of separating almost all the members of their sentences from each other, by blank lines ; as if, by setting them thus asunder, they bestowed some special importance upon them; and required us, in going along, to make a pause at every other word, and weigh it well. This, I think, may be called a typographical figure of speech. Neither, indeed, since we have been led to mention the arts of writers for increasing the importance of their words, does another custom, which prevailed very much some time ago, seem worthy of imitation; I mean ihat of distinguishing the significant words, in every sentence, by italic characters. On some occasions; it is very proper to use such dis
tinctions. But when we carry therd so far, as to mark with them every supposed emphatical word, these words are apt to multiply so fast in the author's imagination, that every page is crowded with italics; which can produce no effect whatever, but to hurt the eye, and create confusion. Indeed, if the sense point not out the most emphatical expressions, a variation in the type, especially when occurring so frequently, will give small aid. And, accordingly, the most masterly writers, of late, have with good reason, laid aside all those feeble props of significancy, and trusted wholly to the weight of their sentiments for commanding attention. But to return from this digression.
Another figure of speech, proper only to animated and warm composition, is what some critical writers call vision; when, in place of relating some thing that is past, we use the present tense, and describe it as actually passing before our eyes. Thus Cicero, in his fourth ora. tion against Catiline. • Videor enim mihi hanc urbem videre, lucem orbis terrarum atque arcem omnium gentium, subito uno incendio concidentem; ceruo animo sepulta in patria miseros atque insepaltos acervos civium; versatur mihi ante oculos aspectus Cethegi, et furor, in vestra cæde bacchantis."* This manner of description supposes a sort of enthusiasm, which carries the person who describes it in some measure out of himself; and when well executed, must needs impress the reader or hearer strongly, by the force of that sympathy which I have before explained. But, in order to a successful execution, it requires an uncommonly warm imagination, and such a happy selection of cir, cumstances, as shall make us think we see before our eyes the scene that is described. Otherwise, itk sbares the same fate with all feeble attempts towards passionate figures ; that of throwing ridicule upon the author, and leaving the reader more cool and uninterested than he was before. The same observations are to be applied to Repetition, Sus, pension, Correction, and many more of those figurative forms of speech, which rhetoricians have enumerated among the beauties of eloquence. They are beautiful, or not, exactly in proportion as they are native expressions of the sentiment or passion intended to be heightened by them. Let nature and passion always speak their own language, and they will suggest figures in abundance. But when we seek to counterfeit a warmth which we do not feel, no figures will either supply the defect, or conceal the imposture.
There is one figure (and I shall meation no more) of frequent use among all public speakers, particularly at the bar, which Quintilian insists upon considerably and calls amplification. It consists in an artful exaggeration of all the circumstances of some object or action which we want to place in a strong light, either a good or a bad one. It is not so properly one figure, as the skilful management of several which we make to tend to one point. It may be carried on by a proper use of magnifying or extenuating terms, by a regular enumeration of particulars, or by throwing together, as into one mass, a crowd of circumstances; by suggesting comparisons also with things of a like nature. But the principal instrument by which it works, is by a climax, or gradual rise of one circumstance above another, till our idea be raised to the utmost. I spoke
| seem to myself to behold this city, the ornament of the earth, and the capital of all nations, suddenly involved in one conflagration. I see before me the slaughtered heaps of citizens lying unburied in the midst of their ruined country. The furious, countenance of Cethegus rises to my view, while with a savage joy he is triumphing in your miseries'
formerly of a climax in sound; a climax in sense, wlien well carried on, is a figure which never fails to amplify strongly. The common example of this, is that noted passage in Cicero which every schcol-boy knows : (Facinus est vincere civem Romanum ; scelus verberare, prope parricidium, necare; quid dicam in crucem tollere ?* I shall give an instance from a printed pleading of a famous Scotch lawyer, Sir George M'Kenric. It is in a charge to the jury, in the case of a woman accused of murdering her own child. • Gentlemen, if one man had any how slain another, if an adversary had killed his opposer, or a woman occasioned the death of her enemy, even these criminals would have been capitally punished by the Cornelian law: but, if this guiltless infant, who could make no enemy, had been mordered by its own nurse, what punishments would not then the mother have demanded ? With what cries and excla. mations would she have stunned your ears? What shall we say then, when a woman, guilty of homicide, a mother, of the murder of her innocent child, hath comprised all those misdeeds in one single crime; a crime, in its own nature detestable; in a woman prodigions ; in a mother, incredible ; and perpetrated against one whose age called for compassion, whose near relation claimed affection, and whose innocence' deserved the highest favour.! I must take notice, however, that such regular climaxes as these, though they have considerable beauty, have, at the same time, no small appearance of art and study; and, therefore though they may be admitted into formal harangues, yet they speak nor the language of great earnestness and passion, which seldom proceed by steps so regular. Nor, indeed, for the purposes of effectual persuasion, are they likely to be so successful, as an arrangement of circumstances in a less artificial order. For, when much art appears, we are always put on our guard against the deceits of eloquence; but when a speaker has reasoned strongly, and by force of argument, has made good his main point, he may then, taking advantage of the favourable bent of our minds, make use of such artificial figures to confirm our belief, and to warm our minds.
FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE....GENERAL CHARACTERS OF
DRY, PLAIN, NEAT, ELEGANT, FLOWERY. HAVING treated at considerable length, of the figures of speech, of their origin, of their nature, and of the management of such of them as are important enough to require a particular discussion, before finally dismissing this subject, I think it incumbent on me, to make some observations concerning the proper use of figurative language in general. These, indeed, I have, in part, already anticipated. But as great errors are often committed in this part of style, especially by young writers, it
** It is a crime to put a Roman citizen in bonds : it is the height of guilt to scourge him : little less than parricide to put bim to death. What name then shall I give 19 crucifying him?"
may be of use that I bring together, under one view, the most material directions on this head.
I begin with repeating an observation, formerly made, that neither all the beauties, nor even the chief beauties of composition, depend upon tropes and figures. Some of the most sublime and most pathetic passages of the most admired authors, both in prose and poetry, are expressed in the most simple style, without any figure at all ; instances of which I have before given. On the other hand, a composition may abound with these studied ornaments; the language may be artful, splendid, and highly figured, and yet the composition be on the whole frigid and unaffecting. Not to speak of sentiment and thought, which constitute the real and lasting merit of any work, if the style be stiff and affected, if it be deficient in perspicuity or precision, or in ease and neatness, all the figures that can be employed will never render it agreeable: they may dazzle a vulgar, but will never please a judicious eye.
In the second place, figures, in order to be beautiful, must always rise naturally from the subject. I have shewn that all of them are the language either of imagination, or of passion; some of them suggested by imagination, when it is awakened and sprightly, such as metaphors and comparisons; others by passion or more heated emotion, such as personifications and apostrophes. Of course, they are beautiful then only, when they are prompted by. fancy, or by passion. They must rise of their own accord; they must flow from a mind warmed by the object which it seeks to describe; we should never interrupt the course of thought to cast about for figures. If they be sought after coolly, and fastened on as designed ornaments, they will have a miserable effect. It is a very erroneous idea, which many have of the ornaments of style, as if they were things detached from the subject, and that could be stuck to it, like lace upon a coat: this is indeed,
Purpureus late qui splendeat unus aut alter
ARS Poer. And it is this false idea which has often brought attention to the beauties of writing into disrepute. Whereas, the real and proper ornaments of style arise from sentiment. They flow in the same stream with the current of thought. A writer of genius conceives his subject strongly; his imagination is filled and impressed with it; and pours itself forth in that figurative language which imagination naturally speaks. He puts on no emotion which his subject does not raise in him; he speaks as he feels; but his style will be beautiful, because his feelings are lively. On occasions, when fancy is languid, or finds nothing to rouse it, we should never attempt to hunt for figures. We then work, as it is said, 'invita Minerva;' supposing figures invented, they will have the appearance of being forced; and in this case, they had much better be omitted.
In the third place, even when imagination prompts, and the subject Daturally gives rise to figures, they must, however, not be employed too frequently. In all beauty, simplex munditiis,' is a capital quality. Nothing derogates more from the weight and dignity of any composition, than too great attention to ornament. When the ornaments cost labour, that labour always appears; though they should cost us none, still the reader or hearer may be surfeited with them; and when they come too
** Shreds of purple with broad lustre shine, Sew'd on your poem,'
thick, they give the impression of a light and frothy genius, that evapo rates in shew, rather than brings forth what is solid. The directions of the ancient critics, on this head, are full of good sense, and deserve careful attention.“ Voluptatibus maximis,' says Cicero, de Orat. I. ij.
fastidium finitimum est in rebus omnibus; quo hoc minus in oratione miremur. In qua vel ex poetis, vel oratoribus possumus judicare, concinnam, ornatam, festivam, sine intermissione quamvis claris sit colori. bus picta, vel poesis, vel oratio, non posse in delectatione esse diuturna. Quare, bene et præclare, quamvis nobis sæpe dicatur, belle et sestive nimium sæpe nolo.'* To the same purpose are the excellent directions with which Quintilian concludes his discourse concerning figures, I. ix.e. 3. Ego illud de iis figuris quæ veræ fiunt, adjiciam breviter, sicut ornant orationem opportunæ positæ, ita ineptissimas esse cum immodice petuntur. Sunt, qui neglecto rerum pondere et viribus sententiarum, si veli nania verba in hos modos depravarunt, summos se judicant arti fices : ideoque non desinunt eas neetere; quas sine sententia sectare, tam est ridiculum quam quærere habitum gestumque sine corpore. Ne hæ quidem quæ rectæ fiunt, densandae 'sunt nimis. Sciendum imprimis quid quisque postulet locus, quid persona, quid tempus. Major enim pars harum figurarum posita est in delectatione. Ubi vero, atrocitate, invidia, miseratione pugnandum est: quis ferat verbis contrapositis, et consimilibus et pariter cadentibus, irascentem, flentem, rogantem ? Cum in his rebus, cura verborum deroget affectibus fidem; et ubicunque ars ostentatur, veritas abesse videatur.'+ After these judicious and useful observations, I have no more to add, on this subject, except this admonition:
In the fourth place, that, without a genius for figurative language, none should attempt it. Imagination is a power not to be acquired; it must be derived from pature. Its redundancies we may prune, its deviations we may correct, its sphere we may enlarge; but the faculty itself we cannot create: and all efforts towards a metaphorical ornamented style, if we are destitute of the proper genius for it, will prove awkward and disgusting. Let us satisfy ourselves, however, by considering, that without this talent, or at least with a very small measure of it, we may both write and speak to advantage. Good sense, clear ideas, perspi. cuity of language, and proper arrangement of words and thoughts, will
• In all buman things, disgust borders so nearly on the most lively pleasures, that we need not be surprised to find this hold ju eloquence. From reading either poets or orators we may easily satisfy ourselves, that neither a poem noran oration which, without intermission, is showy and sparkling, can please us long. Wherefore, though we may wish for the frequent praise of having expressed ourselves well and properly, we should not covet repeated applause, for being bright and splendid.
t'I must add, concerning those figures wbich are proper in themselves, that, as they beautify a composition when they are seasonably introduced, so they deform it greatly, if too frequently sought after. There are some who, neglecting strength of sentiment and weight of matter, if they can only force their empty words into a fig. urative style, imagine themselves great writers; and therefore continually string together such ornaments; which is just as ridiculous, where there is no sentiment to support them, as to contrive gestures and dresses for what wants a body. Even those figures which a subject admits, must not come too thick. We must begin with considering what the occasion, the time, and the person who speaks, render proper. For the object aimed at by the greater part of these figures is entertainment But when the subject becomes deeply serious and strong passions are to be moved, who can hear the orator, in affected language and balanced phrages, endeayours to express wrath, commiseration, or earnest entreaty ? On all such occasions, a solicitous attention to words weakens passion; and when so much art is shewn, ibere is saspected to be litdle sincerity.'