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is the nature of this personification? I think it must be referred 10 the imagination: the inanimate object is imagined to be a sensible being, but without any conviction, even for a moment, that it really is so. Ideas or fictions of imagination have power to raise emotions in the mind;* and when any thing inanimate is, in imagination, supposed to be a sensible being, it makes by that means a greater figure than when an idea is formed of it according to truth. This sort of personification, however, is far inferior to the other in elevaTion. Thus personification is of two kinds. The first, being more noble, may be termed passionate personification: the other, more humble, descriptive personification, because seldom or never is personification in a description carried to conviction.
The imagination is so lively and active, that its images are raised with very little effort; and this justifies the frequent use of descriptive personification. This figure abounds in Milton's Allegro, and Penseroso.
Abstract and general terms, as well as particular objects, are often necessary in poetry. Such terms, however, are not well adapted to poetry, because they suggest not any image: I can readily form an image of Alexander or Achilles in wrath; but I cannoi forın an image of wrath in the abstract, or of wrath independent of a person. Upon that account, in works addressed to the imagination, abstract terms are frequently personified; but such personification rests upon imagination merely, not upon conviction.
Sed mihi vel Tellus optem prius ima dehiscat;
Æneid, IV. 1. 24.
Before I break the plighted faith I gave! Thus, to explain the effects of slander, it is imagined to be a voluutary agent.
No, 'tis Slander;
Shakspeare, Cymbeline, Act III. Sc. 2. As also human passions: take the following example:
For Pleasure and Rerenge
Of any true decision. Troilus and Cressida, Act II. Sc. 4. Virgil explains fame and its effects by a still greater variety of action.f
• See Appendix, containing definitions and explanations of terms 922
And Shakspeare personifies death and its operations in a manner singularly fanciful:
-Within the hollow crown
Richard II. Act III. Sc. 2.
King Henry. How many thousands of my poorest subjects
Second Part Henry IV. Act III. Sc. I. I shall add one example more, to show that descriptive personib:a. tion may be used with propriety, even where the purpose of the discourse is instruction merely:
Oh! let the steps of youth be cautious,
Therefore let Virtue take him by the hand :
be animated. If so, they cannot at all come under the present subben
ject. To show which, I shall endeavor to trace the effect that such 121 expressions have in the mind. Does not the expression angry ocean,
for example, tacitly compare the ocean in a storm to a man in wrath?
Though thus in general we can distinguish descriptive personification from what is merely a figure of speech, it is, however, often difficult to say, with respect to some expressions, whether they are of the one kind or of the other. Take the following instances:
The moon shines bright: in such a night as this,
Merchant of Venice, Acı V. Sc. 1.
-I have seen
Julius Casar, Act I, Sc. 3. With respect to these, and numberless other examples of the same kind, it must depend upon the reader, whether they are examples of personification, or of a figure of speech merely: a sprightly imagination will advance them to the former class; with a plain reader they will remain in the latter.
Having thus at large explained the present figure, its different kinds, and the principles upon which it is founded; what comes next in order, is, to show in what cases it may be introduced with propriety, when it is suitable, when unsuitable. I begin with observ. ing, that passionate personification is not promoted by every passion indifferently. All dispiriting passions are averse to it; and remorse, in particular, is too serious and severe to be gratified with a phantora of ihe mind. I cannot therefore approve of the following speech of Enobarbus, who had deserted his master Antony:
Be witness to me, O thou blessed moon,
Bear hateful memory, poor Enobarbus did
Anthony and Cleopatra, Act IV. Sc. 9. If this can be justified, it must be upon the Heathen system of theo logy, which converted into deities the sun, moon, and stars.
Secondly, after a passionate personification is properly introduced, it ought to be confined to its proper province, that of gratifying the passion, without giving place to any sentiment or action but what answers that purpose; for personification is at any rate a bold figure, and ought to be employed with great reserve. The passion of love, for example, in a plaintive tone, may give a momentary life to woods and rocks, in order to make them sensible of the lover's distress; but no passion will support a conviction so far-stretched, as that these woods and rocks should be living witnesses to report the dis tress to others :
Ch'i' t'ami piu de la mia vita
Pastor Fido, Act III. Sc. 3. No lover who is not crazed will utter such a sentiment: it is plainly the operation of the writer, indulging his inventive faculty without regard to nature. The same observation is applicable to the following passage.
In winter's tedious nights sit by the fire
Richard II. Act V. Sc. I. One must read this passage very seriously to avoid laughing. The following passage is quite extravagant: 'the different parts of the human body are too intimately connected with self, to be personified by the power of any passion, and after converting such a part into a sensible being, it is still worse to make it be conceived as rising in rebellion against self:
Cleopatra. Haste, bare my arm, and rouse the serpent's fury.
Dryden, Au for Love, Act V.
Next comes descriptive personification; upon which I must observe, in general, that it ought to be cautiously used. A person. age in a tragedy, agitated by a strong passion, deals in warm senti. ments; and the reader, catching fire by, sympathy, relishes the boldest personifications: but a writer even in the most lively description, taking a lower flight, ought to content himself with such easy personifications as agree with the tone of mind inspired by the description. Nor is even such easy personification always admitted; for in plain narrative, the mind, serious and sedate, rejects personification altogether. Strada, in his history of the Belgic wars, has the following passage, which, by a strained elevation above the tone of the subject, deviates into burlesque.
Vix descenderat a prætoria navi Cæsar; cum foeda illico exorta in portu tempestas, classem impetu disjecit, prætoriam hausit; quasi non vecturum amplius Cæsarem, Cæsarisque fortunam.*
Dec. I. L. 1. Neither do I approve, in Shakspeare, the speech of King John, gravely exhorting the citizens of Angiers to a surrender; though a iragic writer has much greater latitude than a historian.' Take the following specimen:
The cannons have their bowels full of wrath;
Their iron-indignation ’gainst your walls. Act II. Sc. 1. Secondly, if extraordinary marks of respect to a person of low rank be ridiculous, no less so is the personification of a low subject. This rule chiefly regards descriptive personification; for a subject can hardly be low that is the cause of a violent passion; in ihat circumstanee, at least, it must be of importance. But to assign any rule other than taste merely, for avoiding things below even descriptive personification, will, I am afraid, be a hard task. A poet of superior genius, possessing the power of inflaming the mind, may take liberties that would be too bold in others. Homer appears not extravagant in animating his darts and arrows: nor Thomson in animating the seasons, the winds, the rains, the dews; he even ventures to animate the diamond, and does it with propriety:
That polish'd bright
With 'vain ambition emulate her eyes. But there are things familiar and base, to which personification cannot descend. In a composed state of mind, to animate a lump of matter even in the most rapid flight of fancy, degenerates into burlesque:
How now! What noise! that spirit's possessed with haste,
Shakspeare, Measure for Measure, Act IV. Sc. 2.
Or from the shore
Thomson, Spring, 1. 23. • Scarcely had Cæsar descended from the Prætorian ship, when a boisterous tempest broke out in that harbor, scattered the fleet by its violence, and sunk the Prætorian, as if it was no more to carry Cæsar and Cæsar's fortunes.