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Sect. II. Rhetorical tropes... Part ill. The use of trepes obstructive to vivacity.
priated by custom. The name inkhorn, denoting a portable case for holding ink, probably at first made only of horn, is a similar instance. In like manner the word parricide in English, like paricida in Latin, at first perhaps signified only the murderer of his father, but hath come to be equally applied to him who murders his mother, his brother, or his sister. In all these instances there was an excuse at first from necessity, the language not affording words strictly proper. But now, having obtained the universal suffrage, which in every country gives law to language, they need no excuse.
There is an instance of a cataclıresis of this kind in our translation of the Bible, which (not being supported by the plea of necessity) ought to be considered as a glaring impropriety : “ He made " the laver of brass, and the foot of it of brass, of the " looking-glasses of the women *”It is however probable, that the word mirror was not in such common use then as it is now. There are a few phrases which come under the same denomination, and which, though favoured by custom, being quite unnecessary, deserve to be exploded. Such, amongst others, are the following: the workmanship of God, for the work of God; a man of war, for a ship of war; and a merchantman, for a trading vessel. The absurdity in the last two instances is commonly augmented by the words connected in the sequel, in which, by the application of the pronouns she and her, we are made to
Of vivacity as depending on the choice of words.
understand that the man spoken of is a female. I think this gibberish ought to be left entirely to mariners; amongst whom, I suppose, it hath originated.
The only remaining species of the catachresis, which I can recollect at present, is no other than a far-fetched and incongruous metaphor. Nothing can more justly be reduced under this class, than the application of the attributes of one corporeal sense to the objects of another; as if we should say of a voice, that it is beautiful to the ear; or of a face, that it is melodious to the eye. Nothing succeeds better, as hath been observed already, than metaphors taken from the objects of sensation, to denote the objects of pure intellection ; yet nothing generally succeeds worse than metaphors that are only transferred from sense
I say generally, because such is the omnipotence of fashion in respect of language, that it is capable of conciliating us even to such applications. Thus the term sweet belongs properly to the sense of tasting alone ; yet it hath been transferred to the senses of smelling, of hearing, and of seeing. We say, a sweet scent, sweet melody, a sweet prospect. The word soft, in like manner, belonged originally to the sense of touching, and to it only. Yet it hath been applied metaphorically, and (as we learn by the event) successfully to other senses. Thus we talk of a soft whisper, and Pope speaks of the soft-eyed virgin. Customary applications at length become proper, though they do not exhibit the primitive sense.
For this rea
Sect. II. Rhetorical tropes...Part III. The use of tropes obstructive to vivacity.
son, several of the aforesaid instances are not to be considered at present as examples of the catachresis. Sometimes, however, even a new catachresis of the last mentioned kind, which is the most hazardous, will please the most fastidious critic. Take the following example from Young,
Her voice is but the shadow of a sound *.
The reason of our approbation in this case, is, if I mistake not, that an allusion or comparison is suggested which exhibits more strongly the author's meaning, than it could have been exhibited by any other words in the same compass. The sentiment is, that the same relation which the shadow bears to the substance of which it is the shadow, the lady's voice bears to an ordinary sound.
HAVING now discussed what was proposed here concerning tropes, I shall conclude with observing, that, in this discussion, there hath been access, as it were, incidentally to discover,—that they are so far from being the inventions of art, that, on the contrary, they result from the original and essential principles of the human mind ;—that accordingly they are the same upon the main, in all nations, barbarous and civilized ;--that the simplest and most ancient tongues do most abound with them, the natural effect of improvement in science and language, which common
* Universal Passion.
Of vivacity as depending on the choice of words.
ly go together, being to regulate the fancy and to restrain the passions ;—that the sole business of art in this subject, is to range the several tropes and figures into classes, to distinguish them by names, and to trace the principles in the mind which gave them birth.
The first, indeed, or rather the only people upon the earth, who have thought of classing under proper appellations, the numerous tropes and figures of elocution, common to all languages, were the Greeks. The Latins, and all modern nations, have, in this particular, only borrowed from them, adopting the very names they used. But, as to the tracing of those figures to the springs in human nature from which they flow, extremely little hath as yet been attempted. Nay, the names that have been given are but few, and by consequence very generical. Each class, the metaphor and the metonymy in particular, is capable of being divided into several tribes, to which no names have yet been assigned.
It was affirmed that the tropes and figures of eloquence are found to be the same upon the main in all ages and nations. The words upon the main were added, because though the most and the principal of them are entirely the same, there are a few which presuppose a certain refinement of thought, not natural to a rude and illiterate people. Such in particular is that species of the metonymy, the concrete for the abstract, and possibly some others. We shall
afterwards perhaps have occasion to remark, that the modern improvements in ridicule have given rise to some which cannot properly be ranged under any of the classes above mentioned ; to which, therefore, no name hath as yet been appropriated, and of which I am not sure whether antiquity can furnish us with an example.
SECT. III....Words considered as sounds.
When I entered on the consideration of vivacity as depending on the choice of words, I observed that the words may be either proper terms, or rhetorical tropes ; and, whether the one or the other, they may be regarded not only as signs but as sounds, and consequently as capable in certain cases of bearing, in some degree, a natural resemblance or affinity to the things signified. The two first articles, proper terms and rhetorical tropes, I have discussed already, regarding only the sense and application of the words, whether used literally or figuratively. It remains now to consider them in regard to the sound, and the affinity to the subject of which the sound is susceptible. When, as Pope expresseth it, " the sound is made an echo to “ the sense *,” there is added, in a certain degree, to the association arising from custom, the influence of resemblance between the signs and the things sig
* Essay on Criticism.