Page images
PDF
EPUB

On the principle, that the mind is pleased with animated beings in preference to those which are inanimate, a writer sometimes calls on the dead, or absent, as if living or present. This is termed APOSTROPHE.

The following example is from Webster's Address on Bunker's Hill :

“ Him! cut off by Providence in the hour of overwhelming anxiety and thick gloom; falling, ere he saw the star of his country rise ; pouring out his generous blood, like water, before he knew whether it would fertilize a land of freedom or of bondage ! how shall I struggle with the emotions that stifle the utterance of thy name ! Our poor work may perish; but thine shall endure! This monument may moulder away; the solid ground it rests upon may sink down to a level with the sea; but thy memory shall not fail !”

It will be observed in reading this passage, that the Orator, after speaking of the “first great Martyr in the cause of Independence," as of one absent or dead, suddenly changes the train of his thought, and addresses himself directly to the same personage as one present and listening. It is this sudden turn from one manner of speaking of a subject to another, that is referred to by the word Apostrophe, which etymologically signifies a breaking off, or turning from one object to another.

Attempts of this kind to excite emotions of taste, are but seldom made. They are evidence of strong excitement, and are found in prose only in high flights of oratory. In poetical writings, they are more frequent. The same cautions and directions may be applied to them, as to personifications of the bolder kind.

It may be remarked, that the word Apostrophe is often used in a more general signification, than that here ascribed

Thus we have in Byroni an Apostrophe to the Ocean, and also to Mount Parnassus. All that is meant in this use of the word is, that the author turns himself to these objects

to it.

with a direct address to them. So far as these instances come under the examination of literary taste, it is as examples of personification of the bolder kind.

Writers under the influence of strong excitement, sometimes break forth in incoherent and extravagant expressions, which will not bear the examination of common sense, and which, unless viewed as the language of passion, would be · condemned by good taste as unnatural and inconsistent. Such expressions however are excused as the language of passion, and to instances of this kind the name of HYPERBOLE is applied. But as such instances are of rare occurrence, and are not subject to rule, one example only will be given. It is extracted from the Siege of Valencia.

6 Flow forth, thou noble blood !

Bathe the land,
But there thou shalt not sink! our very air.
Shall take thy coloring, and our loaded skies
O'er the infidel hang dark and ominous,
With battle hues of thee! And thy deep voice,
Rising above them to the judgment-seat,
Shall call a burst of gathered vengeance down,
To sweep the oppressor from us! For thy wave
Hath made his guilt run o'er.”

To call upon the blood of youth to 'bathe the land,' or to speak of it as 'tinging the skies,' and 'uttering a voice,' is an extravagance, to be excused only on the ground of the wildness of passion; but when the character of the individual by whom these expressions were uttered, and the circumstances in which he was placed, are known, the language used is not only allowed but approved.

But there is another form of the Hyperbole, which comes more strictly under the cognizance of literary taste. It is when a writer, with the design of producing a strong impression on the mind, and thus gratifying a fondness for dis

tinct and vivid views of objects, exaggerates what he relates. Instances of this kind are frequent in common conversation ; but such instances, from their frequency, lose their influence on the imagination, and are regarded as common forms of speech. Of instances less common, a few examples will now be given. The following is from the Siege of Valen

cia;

" A rescued land
Sent up a shout of victory from the field,
That rocked her ancient mountains."

This is evidently exaggeration, and it is the language of an excited mind; but since the occasion authorizes this excitement, and the effect of the strong expression used, is to produce a clear and vivid conception of the event described, it is approved by good taste. It will be noticed in examining examples of this kind, that there is some apparent foundation for the exaggeration used. What is asserted does not at once strike the mind as improbable, though upon reflection it is seen to be impossible. Hence, when an exaggeration appears at first view both improbable and impossible, the effect is unfavorable. Such is the example given by Dr. Blair ;

"I found her on the floor
In all the storm of grief, yet beautiful,
Pouring out tears at such a lavish rate,
That were the world on fire, they might have drowned
The wrath of heaven, and quenched the mighty ruin."

The following is from Milman's Belshazzar;

“Oh maid! thou art so beauteous That yon bright moon is rising, all in haste To gaze on thee."

This example evidently differs from the preceding, since

it-is rather the language of adulation than of passion. In the use of Hyperboles of this kind, much skill is necessary. They should appear to be naturally suggested, and not be too bold, nor pursued too far. This last caution is one of general application to all instances of exaggeration ; for even to the extravagance of passion there is a limit, and if this limit be passed, the effect must be to disgust. What this limit is in any particular case, the good sense of every one must determine.

It has been my object in this chapter to direct the attention of the student to those attempts to please by exciting emotions of taste, which are of most frequent occurrence. At the same time, such cautions and directions have been given, as are of most practical importance. There are besides certain nameless graces, which are the objects of the attention of literary taste. But these, except such as may be mentioned in describing the qualities of a good style, must be left to be pointed out by the instructor.

In concluding this chapter, I would recommend to the student the study of models of excellence in literature. The value of these models to the learner, and the manner in which the study of them tends to the improvement of a literary taste, may be inferred from what was said in a preceding chapter. It is not enough that the productions of good writers are read. They must be studied as models of style. Let the student in literature imitate in this respect the course pursued by the artist in the acquisition of skill in his profession. The painter does not rest satisfied with a single look at a fine picture. He emphatically studies it, both as to its design and execution. Knowing that it is fitted to give pleasure, he would discover wherein its excellency consists; and thus derives from the study of it, rules which may guide him in his own efforts, and assist in his judgment of the works of others. At the same time, from his famil

iarity with works of excellence, his taste becomes in a manner assimilated to the tastes of those who are the masters of the art. The same is true in literature, and hence it is, that familiarity with the best literary productions, both of our own language and of other languages, is so highly conducive to excellence as a writer. The remark is often made, that the best writers are almost uniformly the best classical scholars. The connexion here stated, may easily be explained. The models of fine writing, which have come down to us from former periods of the world, furnish ample opportunity for the exercise of the imagination and the improvement of the taste. To him then who aspires to become a good writer, I would recommend the study of those ancient models, with all the earnestness of Horace, Nocturna versate manu, versate diurna,

« PreviousContinue »