ページの画像
PDF
ePub

some affinity. Thus we speak of, a piercing judgment, and a clear head ; a fost or a hard heart ; a rough or a smooth behaviour. We say, inflamed by anger, warmed by love, swelled with pride, melted into.grief ; and these are almost the only significant words which we have for such ideas.

But, although the barrenness of language, and the want of words, be doubtless one cause of the invention of tropes ; yet it is not the only, nor, perhaps, even the principal source of this form of speech. Tropes have arisen more frequently, and spread themselves wider, from the influence which imagination possesses over language. The train on which this has proceeded among all nations, I fhall endeavour to explain.

Every object which makes any impression on the human mind, is constantly accompanied with certain circumstances and relations, that strike us at the same time. It never presents itself to our view, isole, as the French express it ; that is, independent 'on, and separated from, every other thing ; but always occurs as somehow related to other objects; going before them, or following them ; their effect or their cause; resembling them, or opposed to them; distinguished by certain qualities, or surrounded with certain circumstances. By this means, every idea or object carries in its train some other ideas, which may be considered as its accessories. These accessories often strike the imagination more than the principal idea itself. They are, perhaps, more agreeable ideas ; or they are more familiar to our conceptions; or they recal to our memory a greater variety of important circumstances. The imagination is more disposed to rest upon some of them ; and therefore, instead of using the proper name of the principal idea which it means to express, it employs, in its place, the name of the accessory or correspondent idea ; although the principal have

a proper and well-known name of its own. Hence a vast variety of tropical or figurative words obtain currency in all languages, through choice, not ne-) cessity; and men of lively imaginations are every day adding to their number.

Thus, when we design to intimate the period at which a state enjoyed most reputation or glory, it were easy to employ the proper words for exprefsing this, but as this is readily connected, in our imagination, with the flourishing period of a plant or a tree, we lay hold of this correspondent idea, and say, “ The Roman empire flourished most un“ der Augustus.” The leader of a faction is plain language ; but, because the head is the principal: part of the human body, and is supposed to direct all the animal operations, resting upon this refemblance, we say, “Catiline was the head of the par- .

ty.” The word, voice, was originally invented to signify the articulate found; formed by the organs of the mouth; but, as by means of it men signify their ideas and their intentions to each other, voice foon assumed a great many other meanings, all derived from this primary effect." To give our “ voice” for any thing, signified to give our sentiment in favour of it. Not only fo ; but voice was transferred to signify any intimation of will or: judgment, though given without the least interposition of voice, in its literal sense, or any found uttered at all. Thus we speak of listening to the voice of conscience, the voice of nature, the voice, of God. This usage takes place, not fo much from barrenness of language, or want of a proper word, as from an allusion which we choose to make to voice, in its primary sense, in order to convey our idea, connected with a circumstance which appears to the fancy to give it more fprightliness and force. · The acount which I have now given, and which

feems to be a full and fair one, of the introduction of tropes into all languages, coincides with what Cjcero briefly hints, in his third book, de Oratore. “ Modus transferendi verba late patet ; quam ne“ cesitas primum genuit, coacta inopia et anguf “ tiis ; poft' autem delectatio, jucunditafque cele" bravit. Nam ut vestis frigoris depellendi causa

reperta primo, poft adhiberi cæpta eft ad orna

tum etiam corporis et dignitatem, fic verbi trans“ latio instituta eft inopiæ causa, frequentata, delec<tationis*."

From what has been said, it clearly appears, how that must come to pass, which I had occasion to mention in a former lecture, that all languages are most figurative in their early state. Both the causes to which I ascribed the origin of figures, concur in producing this effe&t at the beginnings of society. Language is then most barren ; the stock of proper names, which have been invented for things, is finall; and, at the same time, imagination exerts great influence over the conceptions of men, and their method of uttering them ; fo that, both from necessity, and from choice, their speech will, at that period, abound in tropes. For the savage tribes of men are always inuch given to wonder and asto-, nishment. Every new obje&t surprises, terrifies, and makes a strong impression on their mind; they are governed by imagination and paflion, more than by reason; and, of course, their speech must be deeply tinctured by their genius. In fact, we find, that this is the character of the American and In

• “ The figurative usage of words is very extensive ; an usage to which necellity first gave rise, on account of the pav. city of words, and barrenness of language ; but which the pleasure that was found in it afterwards rende; ed frequent. for, as garments were first contrived to defend ahr bedies from the cold, and afterwards were employed for the purpose of ornament and dignity, so figures of speech, introduced by want, were cultivated for the sake of entertainment."

dian languages ; bold, picturesque, and metaphorical; full of strong allusions to fensible qualities, and to such objects as struck tirem most in their wild and solitary life. An Indian chief makes a harangue to his tribe, in a style full of stronger metaphors than an European would use in an epic poem.

As language makes gradual progress towards refinement, almost every object comes to have a proper name given to it, and perfpicuity and pre- + cifion are more studied. But, itill, for the reasons before given, borrowed words, or, as rhetoricians call them, tropes, must continue to occupy a considerable place. In every language, too, there are a multitude of words, which, though they were figurative in their first application to certain objects, yet, by long use, lose that figurative power wholly, and come to be considered as fimple and literal expressions. In this case, are the terms which I remarked before, as transferred from senlible qualities to the operations or qualities of the mind, a piercing judgment, a clear head, a hard heart, and the like. There are other words which remain in a fort of middle state; which have neither lost wholly their figurative application, nor yet retain so much of it, as to imprint any remarkable character of figured language on our style ; such as these phrases, “ apprehend " one's meaning;” “ enter on a subject ;” “ fol“low out an argument ;” “ stir up strife;" and a great many more, of which our language is full. In the use of such phrases, correct writers will always preserve a regard to the figure or allusion on which they are founded, and will be careful not to apply them in any way that is inconfistent with it. One may be “ sheltered under the patronage of

a great man;" but it were wrong to fay, “ shel

tered under the masque of dissimulation ;” as a masque conceals, but does not shelter. An objects Vol. I,

2 L

in description, may be “ clothed,” if

you will, " with epithets ;" but it is not so proper to speak of its being “ clothed with circumstances ;" as the word “ circumstances," alludes to standing round, not to clothing. Such attentions as these, to the propriety of language, are requisite in every composition.

What has been said on this subject, tends to throw light on the nature of language in general ; and will lead to the reasons, why tropes or figures contribute to the beauty and grace of style.

First, They enrich language, and render it more copious. By their means, words and phrases are multiplied for expressing all sorts of ideas; for defcribing even the minutest differences; the nicest fhades and colours of thought ; which no language could poflibly do by proper words alone, without a listance from tropes.

Secondly, They bestow dignity upon style. The familiarity of common words, to which our ears are much accuftomed, tends to degrade style. When we want to adapt our language to the tone of an elevated subject, we should be greatly at a loss, if we could not borrow assistance from figures ; which, properly employed, have a similar effect on language, with what is produced by the rich and splendid dreis of a person of rank; to create respect, and to give an air of magnificence to him who wears it. A listance of this kind is often needed in profe compositions ; but poetry could not subsist without it. Hence figures form the constant language of poetry. To say, that “ the sun rises,” is trite and common; but it becomes a magnificent image when expressed, as mr. Thomson has done :

But yonder comes the powerful king of day
Rejoicing in the eart.-

To say, that “all men are subject alike to death,

« 前へ次へ »