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casion requires will be performed, when it is shown, in what respects tropical and figurative language is more necessary to poetry than to any other sort of composition.
If it appear, that, by means of figures, language may be made more pleasing, and more natural, than it would be without them; it will follow that to poetick language, whose end is to please by imitating nature, figures must be not only ornamental, but necessary. I shall therefore, first, make a few remarks on the importance and utility of figurative language; secondly, show, that figures are more necessary to poetry in general, than to any other mode of writing; and, thirdly, assign a reason why they are more necessary in some kinds of poetry than in others.
I. I purpose to make a few remarks on the importance and utility of figurative expression, in making language more pleasing and more natural.
1. The first remark is, that tropes and figures are often necessary to supply the unavoidable defects of language. When proper words are wanting, or not recollected, or when we do not choose to be always repeating them, we must have recourse to tropes and figures. When philosophers began to explain the operations of the mind, they found, that most of the words in common use, being framed to answer the more obvious exigencies of life, were in their proper signification applicable to matter only and its qualities. What was to be done in this case? Would they think of making a new language to express the qualities of mind? No: that would have been difficult, or impracticable; and granting it both practicable and easy, they must have foreseen, that nobody would read or listen to what was thus spoken or written in a new, and consequently, in an unknown tongue. They therefore took the language as they found it; and, wherever, they thought there was a similarity or analogy between the qualities of mind and the qualities of matter, scrupled not to use the names of the material qualities tropically, by applying them to the mental qualities. Hence came the phrases, sclidity of judgment, warmth of imagination, enlargement of understanding, and many others: which, though figurative, express the meaning just as well as proper words would have done. In fact, numerous as the words in every language are, they must always fall short of the unbounded variety of human thoughts and perceptions. Tastes and smells are almost as numerous as the species of bodies. Sounds admit of perceptible varieties
that surpass all computation, and the sei primary colours may be diversified without end. If each variety of external perception were to have a name, language would be insurmountably difficult; nay, if men were to appropriate a class of names to each particular sense, they would multiply words exceedingly, without adding any thing to the clearness of speech. Those words, therefore, that in their proper significations denote the objects of one sense, they often apply tropically to the objects of another; and say, sweet taste, sweet smell, sweet sound; sharp point, sharp taste, sharp sound; harmony of sounds, harmony of colours, harmony of parts; soft silk, soft colour, soft sound, soft temper;
in a thousand instances; and yet these words, in their tropical signification, are not less intelligible than in their proper one; for sharp taste and sharp sound, are as expressive as sharp sword; and harmony of tones is not better understood by the musician, than harmony of parts by the architect, and harmony of colours by the painter.
Savages, illiterate persons, and children, have comparatively but few words in proportion to the things they may have occasion to speak of; and must therefore recur to tropes and figures more frequently, than persons of copious elo
cution. A seaman, or mechanick, even when he talks of that which does not belong to his art, borrows his language from that which does; and this makes his diction figurative to a degree that is sometimes entertaining enough.“ Death, “ (says a seaman in one of Smollet's novels) has “ not yet boarded my comrade; but they have “ been yard arm and yard arm these three glasses. “ His starboard eye is open, but fast jamm'd « in his head; and the haulyards of his under “ jaw have given way.” These phrases are exaggerated; but we allow them to be natural, because we know that illiterate people are apt to make use of tropes and figures taken from their own trade, even when they speak of things that are very remote and incongruous. In those poems, therefore, that imitate the conversation of illiterate persons, as in comedy, farce, and pastoral, such figures judiciously applied may render the imitation more pleasing, because more exact and natural.
Words that are untuneable and harsh the poet is often obliged to avoid, when perhaps he has no other way to express their meaning than by tropes and figures; and sometimes the measure of his verse may oblige him to reject a proper word that is not harsh, merely on account of its being too long, or too short, or in any other way unsuitable to the rhythm, or to the rhyme. And hence another use of figurative language, that it contributes to poetical harmony. Thus, to press the plain is frequently used to signify to be slain in battle; liquid plain is put for ocean, bluc serene for sky, and sylvan reign for country life.
2. Tropes and figures are favourable to delicacy. When the proper name of a thing is in any respect unpleasant, a well chosen trope will convey the idea in such a way as to give no offence. This is agreeable, and even necessary, in polite conversation, and cannot be dispensed with in elegant writing of any kind. Many words, from their being often applied to vulgar use, acquire a meanness that disqualifies them for a place in serious poetry; while perhaps, under the influence of a different system of manners, the corresponding words in another language may be elegant, or at least not vulgar. When one reads Homer in the Greek, one takes no offence at his calling Eumeus by a name which, literally rendered, signifies swineherd; first, because the Greek word is well sounding in itself; secondly, because we have never heard it pronounced in conversation, nor consequently debased by vulgar use; and, thirdly, because we know, that the office denoted by it was, in the age of Eumeus, both important and honour