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of poetical melody. But a simile of this kind ought never to proceed from the mouth of a person under any great agitation of spirit; such as a tragic character overwhelmed with grief, distracted by contending cares, or agonizing in the pangs of death. The language of passion will not admit simile, which is always the result of study and deliberation. We will not allow a hero the privilege of a dying swan, which is said to chant its approaching fate in the most melodious strain; and therefore nothing can be more ridicu lously unnatural, than the representation of a lover dying upon the stage with a laboured simile in his mouth.
The orientals, whose language was extremely figurative, have been very careless in the choice of their similes; provided the resemblance obtained in one circumstance, they minded not whether they disagreed with the subject in every other respect. Many instances of this defect in congruity may be culled from the most sublime parts of Scripture.
Homer has been blamed for the bad choice of his similes on some particular occasions. He compares Ajax to an ass, in the Iliad, and Ulysses to a steak broiling on the coals, in the Odyssey. His admirers have endeavoured to excuse him, by reminding us of the simplicity of the age in which he wrote; but they have not been able to prove that any ideas of dignity or importance were, even in those days, affixed to the character of an ass, or the quality of a beef collop; therefore they were very improper illustrations for any situation, in which a hero ought to be represented.
Virgil has degraded the wife of King Latinus, by comparing her, when she was actuated by the Fury, to a top which the boys lash for diversion. This, doubtless, is a low image, though in other respects the comparison is not destitute of propriety: but he is much more justly censured for the following simile, which has no sort of reference to the subject. Speaking of Turnus, he says,
medio dux agmine Turnus
Vertitur arma tenens, et toto vertice supra est: --
Per tacitum Ganges: aut pingui flumine Nilus
Cum refluit campis, et jam se condidit alveo.
But Turnus, chief amidst the warrior train,
Thus Nilus pours from his prolific urn,
When from the fields o'erflow'd his vagrant streams return.
These, no doubt, are majestic images; but they bear no sort of resemblance to a hero glittering in armour at the head of his forces.
Horace has been ridiculed by some shrewd critics for this comparison, which, however, we think is more defensible than the former. Addressing himself to Munatius Plancus, he says:
Albus ut obscuro deterget nubila cœlo
As Notus often, when the welkin lowers,
Sweeps off the clouds, nor teems perpetual showers,
So let thy wisdom, free from anxious strife,
In mellow wine dissolve the cares of life. - DUNKIN.
The analogy, it must be confessed, is not very striking; but, nevertheless, it is not altogether void of propriety. The poet reasons thus: as the south wind, though generally attended with rain, is often known to dispel the clouds, and render the weather serene; so do you, though generally on the rack of thought, remember to relax sometimes, and drown your cares in wine. As the south wind is not always moist, so you ought not always to be dry.
A few instances of inaccuracy, or mediocrity, can never derogate from the superlative merit of Homer and Virgil, whose poems are the great magazines, replete with every species of beauty and magnificence, particularly abounding with similes, which astonish, delight, and transport the reader.
Every simile ought not only to be well adapted to the subject, but also to include every excellence of description, and to be coloured with the warmest tints of poetry. Nothing can be more happily hit off than the following in the Georgics, to which the poet compares Orpheus lamenting his lost Eurydice :
Qualis populeâ morens Philomela sub umbrå
Observans nido implumes detraxit; at illa
So Philomela, from th' umbrageous wood,
Here we not only find the most scrupulous propriety, and the happiest choice, in comparing the Thracian bard to Philomel, the poet of the grove; but also the most beautiful description, containing a fine touch of the pathos-in which last particular, indeed, Virgil, in our opinion, excels all other poets, whether ancient or modern.
One would imagine that nature had exhausted itself, in order to embellish the poems of Homer, Virgil, and Milton, with similes and metaphors. The first of these very often uses the comparison of the wind, the whirlwind, the hail, the torrent, to express the rapidity of his combatants; but when he comes to describe the velocity of the immortal horses that drew the chariot of Juno, he raises his ideas to the subject, and, as Longinus observes, measures every leap by the whole breadth of the horizon.
*Οσσον δ ̓ ἠεροειδὲς ἀνὴς ἴδεν ὀφθαλμοῖσιν
For, as a watchman, from some rock on high,
The celerity of this goddess seems to be a favourite idea with the poet; for, in another place, he compares it to the thought of a traveller revolving in his mind the different places he had seen, and passing through them, in imagination, more swift than the lightning flies from east to west.
Homer's best similes have been copied by Virgil, and almost every succeeding poet, howsoever they may have varied in the manner of expression. In the third book of the Iliad,
Menelaus seeing Paris, is compared to a hungry lion espying a hind or goat :
"Ωστε λέων ἐχάρη μεγάλῳ ἐπὶ σώματι κύρσας
So joys the lion, if a branching deer
The Mantuan bard, in the tenth book of the Eneid, applies the same simile to Mezentius, when he beholds Acron in the battle:
Impastus stabula alta leo ceu sæpe peragrans
Conspexit capream, aut surgentem in cornua cervum ;
Then, as a hungry lion, who beholds
A gamesome goat who frisks about the folds,
The reader will perceive, that Virgil has improved the simile in one particular, and in another fallen short of his original. The description of the lion shaking his mane, opening his hideous jaws distained with the blood of his is ; but, on the other hand, he omitted the circumstance of devouring it without being intimidated, or restrained by the dogs and youths that surround him. -a circumstance that adds greatly to our idea of his strength, intrepidity, and importance.
Of all the figures in poetry, that called the hyperbole is managed with the greatest difficulty. The hyperbole is an exaggeration with which the muse is indulged for the better illustration of her subject, when she is warmed into enthusiasm. Quintilian calls it an ornament of the bolder kind. Demetrius Phalereus is still more severe. the hyperbole is, of all forms of speech, the most frigid; Μάλισα δὲ ἡ 'Υπερβολὴ ψυχρότατον πάντων : but this must be understood with some grains of allowance. Poetry is animated by the passions; and all the passions exaggerate. Passion itself is a magnifying medium. There are beautiful instances of the hyperbole in the Scripture, which a reader of sensibility cannot read without being strongly affected. The difficulty lies in choosing such hyperboles as the subject will admit of; for, according to the definition of Theophrastus, the frigid in style is that which exceeds the expression suitable to the subject. The judgment does not revolt against Homer for representing the horses of Ericthonius running over the standing corn without breaking off the heads, because the whole is considered as a fable, and the north wind is represented as their sire; but the imagination is a little startled, when Virgil, in imitation of this hyperbole, exhibits Camilla as flying over it without even touching the tops.
Illa vel intactæ segetis per summa volaret
This elegant author, we are afraid, has, upon some other occasions, degenerated into the frigid, in straining to improve upon his great master.
Homer, in the Odyssey, a work which Longinus does not scruple to charge with bearing the marks of old age, describes a storm in which all the four winds were concerned together.
Σὺν δ ̓ ̓Ευρός τε, Νοτός τ' ἔπεσε, Ζεφυρός τε δυσαὴς,