Page images

For reasons like these our words of Anglo-Saxon origin are more representative of their sense, and hence more forcible and expressive, than our words of foreign extraction, even if, at times, less elegant and more homely, Homeliness, however, is not a wholly unpleasant characteristic. “Who can enjoy a chat with a man,” says a writer in one of the old numbers of the London Saturday Review,“ who always talks of women as females, and of a man as an individual; with whom things are never like, but similar; who never begins a thing, but commences it ; who does not choose, but elects; who does not help, but facilitates; nor buy, but always purchases; who calls a beggar a mendicant; with whom a servant is always a domestic when he is not a menial ; who calls a house a residence, in which he does not live but resides; with whom a place is always a locality, and things do not happen but transpire. The little girl working in the brick-fields, who told the commissioners, “We swills the spottles off us faces before we has us dinners,' made them understand exactly the degree of cleansing she went through. If the time ever comes when she will say instead, 'We perform our ablutions before we dine,' more will be left to guesswork. The cook-maid of the future may count up the dishes she has to wash, and expatiate on the toil of her task in pedantic English ; but when the char-woman of the present day says: 'He fouled a matter o' six plates,' there is a protest against luxury in the use of a verb that conveys more than the simple numbers would do if twice told."

The lack of representative power in the majority of words introduced from foreign languages, is probably one reason why, from Homer to Shakespear, poets have ranked highest who have written at an early stage in the

history of a nation's language, before it has become corrupted by the introduction of foreign words and phrases. It may furnish one reason, too, why Dante, near the end of his life, thought fit to deliver lectures to the people of Ravenna upon the use of their vernacular. It may explain why Goethe, at the beginning of his career, turned his back upon the fashionable French language, and gave himself to the cultivation of the neglected tongue of his fatherland. At any rate, it does explain, as has been said before, why most of the great poets of England, from Chaucer to Tennyson, have been distinguished among other things for their predominating use of words derived from the Anglo-Saxon. These words still exist in our tongue; and fortunately, notwithstanding the natural tendency of all words to grow less poetic, they have lost little of their original significance and force; because side by side with them there exist other words, almost synonymous, derived mainly from Latin sources. The fact that these latter by common consent are used almost exclusively for the technical purposes of science, philosophy, and trade, thus leaving the Anglo-Saxon terms to the slighter changes and deteriorations that take place in literature, may furnish the best reason that we have for hoping that this composite language of ours will continue to be for centuries in the future, as it has been in the past, perfectly fitted to give form to the grandest poetry.



Two kinds of Language used in Poetry, that depending for its Meaning on

Association and that depending on Comparison-Distinction between the Term Figurative Language, as applied to Poetry and as used in ordinary Rhetoric-Figures of Rhetoric containing no Representative Pictures : Interjection, Interrogation, Apostrophe, Vision, Apophasis, Irony, Antithesis, Climax-Figures of Rhetoric necessitating Representative Language: Onomatopoeia, Metonymy, Synecdoche, Trope, Simile, Metaphor, Hyperbole, Allegory-Laws to be observed, and Faults to be avoided, in using Similes and Metaphors-When Plain

Language should be used-And when Figurative. FROI ROM the facts noticed in the last chapter, we may infer

that two kinds of language-whether we apply this term to single words or to consecutive onescan be used in poetry: that which depends for its meaning upon the associations which the words suggest, and that which depends upon the comparisons which they embody. The former corresponds in most of its features, but not in all of them, to what is ordinarily called plain language, and its words have a tendency to appeal to us like arbitrary symbols. The latter corresponds in a similar way to what is called figurative language, and its words have a tendency to appeal to us like pictures.

A distinction needs to be drawn, however, between the term figurative language as it is generally applied to poetic phraseology, and the same term as used in rhetoric. Many of the so-called " figures of rhetoric" scarcely necessitate

using any actual figure at all, in the sense of representing one phase or process through mentioning another to which it is compared. They are little more than modifications of plain language. The moment we recall some of them, this fact will be apparent. Take, for instance, what is termed Interjection, the using of an interjection for a verb, as in, “Oh for a lodge in some vast wilderness"; or take Interrogation, the using of a question for a direct statement, as in, “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed ?" or take Apostrophe, the turning of a statement into an invocation, as in, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" or take Vision or Imagery, the representation of what is in the past through the use of the historical present, as in “ Cæsar leaves Gaul, crosses the Rubicon, and enters Italy," instead of "left Gaul,” etc.; or take Apophasis, Paralipsis, or omission, the pretended suppression of what one is all the time mentioning, as in, “I say nothing of the notorious profligacy of his character, nothing of the reckless extravagance with which he has wasted an ample fortune”; or take Irony, the statement of a fact or idea through using words which literally interpreted mean the opposite of what is intended, as in, “Oh yes, you are honest, you are, your actions show it !" or take Antithesis, the placing of opposite thoughts in juxtaposition so as to heighten the effect of each by contrast, as in, “ Though grave yet trifling, zealous yet untrue"; or take Climax, the arrangement of a series of words, clauses or sentences in such a way that each, to the end of the passage, is of greater importance than the one preceding it, as in, “He not only spared his enemies, but continued them in employment; not only continued them in employment, but advanced them ”;--all these "figures of rhetoric" can be

used, as will be recognized, without any very apparent exercise of the principle of representation.

There are others, however, of which this is not true. One of these, Onomatopeia, under the head of imitative sounds, as also several “ figures of syntax" rather than “ of rhetoric," have been considered in the former part of this work, and do not immediately concern us here, where we are dealing with the representation of one phase or process through employing words that refer to another. Of the figures that do concern us, it may be said, in general, that they all have a tendency to present the thought in some picturesque way. In all of them some special phase or process, which can be perceived, is used in order to bring vividly before the mind some other like it, which cannot be perceived,—at least, as easily. Ordinarily they are used in order to illustrate some general principle more or less abstract in its nature, and of wide applicability, as where Jacob in the Scriptures is made to say : “ Judah is a lion's whelp,” or Paul to say: "For me to live is Christ," each statement putting into the concrete form of a picture what it would take pages to express in full.

These figures, in which the pictures are perceptible, can be classified under two heads, corresponding to those already used in classifying words; they may be said to depend for their meaning largely upon the principle of association, or entirely upon that of comparison. The chief of the former class of figures that, in fact, of which all of the class are varieties—is Metonymy. By this is meant a change of names between things related : as, e.g., between cause and effect, as in: “When every rood of ground maintained its man," instead of “all the products of the ground,” and “Gray hairs should be respected," instead of “old age"; between place and its inhabitants, as in:

« PreviousContinue »