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L E C T U R E XVIII.

FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE-GENERAL CHARACTERS OF STYLE-DIFFUSE, CONCISE-FEEBLE, NERVOUSDRY, PLAIN, NEAT, ELEGANT,

FLOWERY.

HA

AVING 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 difcussion, before finally dismissing this subject, I think it incumbent on me, to make some obfervations 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 may be of use that I bring together, under one view, the most material directions on this head.

I begin with repeating an observation, forinerly 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 pallages of the most admired authors, both in prose and poetry, are expressed in the most

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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 precifion, 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 shown, that all of them are the language either of imagination, or of passion; some of them fuggested 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 fought after coolly, and fastened on as designed rnaments, 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 fplendeat unus aut alter
Afluitur pannas.

ARS POET.

« Shreds of purple with broad lustre fhine,
* Sew'd on your poem,"

FRANCIS.

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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 ;" fuppofing 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 naturally gives rise to figures, they must, however, not be employed too frequently. In all beauty, “fimplex 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 5 though they fhould cost us none, still the reader or hearer may be surfeited with them; and when they come too thick, they give the impression of a light and frothy genius, that evaporates in show, 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. L. iii. 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 intermillione, " quamvis claris sit coloribus picta, vel poefis, vel

“ oratio, non poffe, in delectatione effe diuturna. " Quare, bene, et præclare, quamvis nobis fæpe " dicatur, belle et festive nimium fæpe nolo*.” To the same purpose, are the excellent directions with which Quintilian concludes his discourse concerning figures, L. ix. C. 3. “Ego illud de iis fi

guris quæ vere fiunt, adjiciam breviter, ficut

ornant orationem opportunæ pofitæ, ita ineptif“ fimas effe cum immodice petuntur. Sunt, qui “ neglecto rerum pondere et viribus sententiaruin, " si vel inania verba in hos modos depravarunt, “ summos se judicant artifices ; ideoque non defi- :

nunt eas neatere ; quas fine sententia fectare, “ tam est ridiculum quam quærere habitum gef“tumque fine corpore. Ne hæ quidem quæ rec

tæ fiunt, densandæ funt nimis. Sciendum impri" mis quid quisque poftulet locus, quid persona, " quid tempus. Major enim pars harum figura

rum posita est in delectatione. Ubi vero, a“ trocitate, invidia, miseratione pugnandum est; " quis ferat verbis contrapositis, et confimilibus,

et pariter cadentibus, irafcentem, fientem, rogantem ? Cum in his rebus, cura verborum de

roget affectibus fidem ; et ubicunque ars often“ tatur, veritas abeffe videatur.After thefe judicious and useful observations, I have no more to add, on this subject, except this admorition :

In the fourth place, that without a genius for figurative language, none should attempt it. Ima

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* " In all human things, disgust borders so nearly on the most lively pleasures, that we need not be surprised to find this hold in eloquence. From reading either poets or orators we may easily satisfy ourselves, that neither a poem nor an oration, which, without intermillion, 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 fplendid.”

+" I must add concerning those figures which are proper

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gination is a power not to be acquired; it must be derived from nature. 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 aukward and disgusting. Let us fatisfy 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, perfpicuity of language, and proper arrangement of words and thoughts, will always command attention. These are, indeed, the foundations of all folid merit, both in speaking and writing. Many subjects require nothing more ; and those which admit of ornament, admit it, only as a secondary requisite. To study and to know our own genius well-to follow nature--to seek to improve, but not to force it-are directions which cannot be too often given to those who desire to excel in the liberal

arts.

in themselves, that as they beautify a compofition when they are seasonably introduced, so they deform it greatly, if too frequently fought after. There are fome, who, neglecting strength of sentiment and weight of matter, if they can only force their empty words into a figurative style, imagine them. felves great writers, and therefore continually string together such ornaments ; which is just as ridiculous, where there is no fetiment to fupport 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 confi. dering 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 recomes deeply serious, and strong passions are to be moved, who can bear the orator, wlio, in affected language and balanced phrases, endeavours to express wrath, cominiseration, or earnest entreaty ? On all such occasions, a solicitous attention to words weakens paflion ; and when so much art is fhown, there is fufpected to be little fincerity.”

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