Imatges de pÓgina
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whether it is more honourable to bear misfortune patiently, than to exert myself in opposing misfortune, and by opposing, end it." Let us throw it into the form of a syllogism, it will stand thus: "I am oppressed with ills; I know not whether it is more honourable to bear those ills patiently, or to end them by taking arms against them: ergo, I am doubtful whether I should slay myself or live. To die, is no more than to sleep; and to say that by a sleep we end the heartache," &c. "'tis a consummation devoutly to be wished." Now to say it, was of no consequence unless it had been true. "I am afraid of the dreams that may happen in that sleep of death; and I choose rather to bear those ills I have in this life, than to fly to other ills in that undiscovered country, from whose bourne no traveller ever returns. I have ills that are almost insupportable in this life. I know not what is in the next, becaue it is an undiscovered country: ergo, I'd rather bear those ills I have, than fly to others which I know not of." Here the conclusion is by no means warranted by the premises. "I am sore afflicted in this life; but I will rather bear the afflictions of this life, than plunge myself in the afflictions of another life: ergo, conscience makes cowards of us all." But this conclusion would justify the logician in saying, negatur consequens; for it is entirely detached both from the major and minor proposition.

This soliloquy is not less exceptionable in the propriety of expression, than in the chain of argumentation. "To die to sleep-no more," contains an ambiguity, which all the art of punctuation cannot remove; for it may signify that "to die," is to sleep no more; or the expression more," may be considered as an abrupt apostrophe in thinking, as if he meant to say "no more of that reflection."

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Ay, there's the rub," is a vulgarism beneath the dignity of Hamlet's character, and the words that follow leave the sense imperfect:

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,

Must give us pause.

Not the dreams that might come, but the fear of what dreams might come, occasioned the pause or hesitation. Respect in the same line may be allowed to pass for consideration but

:

The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,.

according to the invariable acceptation of the words wrong and contumely, can signify nothing but the wrongs sustained by the oppressor, and the contumely or abuse thrown upon the proud man; though it is plain that Shakespeare used them in a different sense: neither is the word spurn a substantive, yet as such he has inserted it in these lines: The insolence of office, and the spurns

That patient merit of th' unworthy takes.

If we consider the metaphors of the soliloquy, we shall find them jumbled together in a strange confusion.

If the metaphors were reduced to painting, we should find it a very difficult task, if not altogether impracticable, to represent with any propriety outrageous fortune using her slings and arrows, between which, indeed, there is no sort of analogy in nature. Neither can any figure be more ridiculously absurd than that of a man taking arms against a sea, exclusive of the incongruous medley of slings, arrows, and seas, justled within the compass of one reflection. What follows is a strange rhapsody of broken images of sleeping, dreaming, and shifting off a coil, which last conveys no idea that can be represented on canvass. A man may

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be exhibited shuffling off his garments, or his chains; but how he should shuffle off a coil, which is another term for noise and tumult, we cannot comprehend. Then we have long-lived calamity," and "time armed with whips and scorns ;" and "patient merit spurned at by unworthiness;' and "misery with a bare bodkin going to make his own quietus," which at best is but a mean metaphor. These are followed by figures, "sweating under fardels of burdens," puzzled with doubts," shaking with fears," and " flying from evils." Finally, we see "resolution sicklied o'er with pale thought," a conception like that of representing health by sickness; and a "current of pith turned awry so as to lose the name of action," which is both an error in fancy, and a solecism in sense. In a word, the soliloquy may be compared to the Egri somnia, and the Tabula, cujus vane fingentur species.

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But while we censure the chaos of broken, incongruous metaphors, we ought also to caution the young poet against the opposite extreme of pursuing a metaphor, until the spirit is quite exhausted in a succession of cold conceits such as we see in the following letter, said to be sent by Tamerlane to the Turkish Emperor Bajazet. "Where is

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the monarch that dares oppose our arms? Where is the potentate who doth not glory in being numbered among our vassals? As for thee, descended from a Turcoman mariner, since the vessel of thy unbounded ambition hath been wrecked in the gulf of thy self-love, it would be proper that thou shouldst furl the sails of thy temerity, and cast the anchor of repentance in the port of sincerity and justice, which is the harbour of safety; lest the tempest of our vengeance make thee perish in the sea of that punishment thou hast deserved."

But if these laboured conceits are ridiculous in poetry, they are still more inexcusable in prose: such as we find them frequently occur in Strada's Bellum Belgicum: “ Vix descenderat à prætoria navi Cæsar; cùm fœda ilico exorta in portu tempestas ; classem impetu disjecit, prætoriam hausit; quasi non vecturam amplius Cæsarem Cæsarisque fortunam.”

“ Cæsar had scarcely set his feet on shore when a terrible tempest arising, shattered the fleet even in the harbour, and sent to the bottom the prætorian ship, as if he resolved it should no longer carry Cæsar and his fortunes."

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Yet this is modest in comparison of the following flowers: 'Alii, pulsis é tormento catenis discerpti sectique, dimidiato corpore pugnabant sibi superstites, ac peremptæ partis ultores." "Others, dissevered and cut in twain by chainshot, fought with one half of their bodies that remained, in revenge of the other half that was slain."

Homer, Horace, and even the chaste Virgil, is not free from conceits. The latter, speaking of a man's hand cut off in battle, says,

Te decisa suum, Laride, dextera quærit:

Semianimesque micant digiti, ferrumque retractant :

thus enduing the amputated hand with sense and volition. This, to be sure, is a violent figure, and hath been justly condemned by some accurate critics; but we think they are too severe in extending the same censure to some other passages in the most admired authors.

Virgil, in his sixth Eclogue, says,

Omnia quæ, Phoebo quondam meditante, beatus
Audiit Eurotas, jussitque ediscere lauros,

Ille canit.

Whate'er, when Phoebus bless'd the Arcadian plain,
Eurotas heard and taught his bays the strain,
The senior sung-

And Pope has copied the conceit in his Pastorals':

Thames heard the numbers as he flow'd along,
And bade his willows learn the mourning song.

Vida thus begins his first Eclogue :

Dicite, vos musæ, et juvenum memorate querelas;
Dicite: nam motas ipsas ad carmina cautes,
Et requiêsse suos perhibent vaga flumina cursus.

Say heavenly muse, their youthful frays rehearse;
Begin, ye daughters of immortal verse;
Exulting rocks have own'd the power of song,
And rivers listen'd as they flow'd along.

Racine adopts the same bold figure in his Phædra:

Le flot qui l'apporta recule epouvanté ;

The wave that bore him, backwards shrunk appall'd.

Even Milton has indulged himself in the same licence of expression:

As when to them who sail

Beyond the Cape of Hope, and now are past
Mozambic, off at sea north-east winds blow
Sabæan odour from the spicy shore

Of Araby the blest; with such delay

Well pleased, they slack their course, and many a league,
Cheer'd with the grateful smell, old Ocean smiles.

Shakespeare says,

I've seen

Th' ambitious ocean swell, and rage, and foam,
To be exalted with the threat'ning clouds.

And indeed more correct writers, both ancient and modern, abound with the same kind of figure, which is reconciled to propriety, and even invested with beauty, by the efficacy of the prosopopoeia, which personifies the object. Thus, when Virgil says Enipeus heard the songs of Apollo, he raises up, as by enchantment, the idea of a river god crowned with sedges, his head raised above the stream, and in his countenance the expression of pleased attention. By the same magic we see, in the couplet quoted from Pope's Pastorals, old father Thames leaning upon his urn, and listening to the poet's strain.

Thus, in the regions of poetry, all nature, even the passions and affections of the mind, may be personified into picturesque figures for the entertainment of the reader. Ocean smiles or frowns, as the sea is calm or tempestuous; a Triton rules on every angry billow; every mountain has its Nymph; every stream its Naiad; every tree its Hamadryad; and every art its Genius. We cannot, therefore, assent to those who censure Thomson as licentious for using the following figure:

O vale of bliss! O softly swelling hills!
On which the power of cultivation lies,
And joys to see the wonders of his toil.

We cannot conceive a more beautiful image than that of the Genius of Agriculture, distinguished by the implements of his art, imbrowned with labour, glowing with health, crowned with a garland of foliage, flowers, and fruit, lying stretched at his ease on the brow of a gentle swelling hill, and contemplating with pleasure the happy effects of his own industry.

Neither can we join issue against Shakespeare for this comparison, which hath likewise incurred the censure of the critics:

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This is no more than illustrating a quality of the mind, by comparing it with a sensible object. If there is no impropriety in saying such a man is true as steel, firm as a rock, inflexible as an oak, unsteady as the ocean; or in describing a disposition cold as ice, or fickle as the wind-and these expressions are justified by constant practice-we shall hazard an assertion, that the comparison of a chaste woman to an icicle is proper and picturesque, as it obtains only in the circumstances of cold and purity; but that the addition of its being curdled from the purest snow, and hanging on the temple of Diana, the patroness of virginity, heightens the whole into a most beautiful simile, that gives a very respectable and amiable idea of the character in question.

The simile is no more than an extended metaphor, introduced to illustrate and beautify the subject; it ought to be apt, striking, properly pursued, and adorned with all the graces

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