FROM the class of figures, which convey a meaning different from the import of their words, by means of the association of ideas, resulting from similitude, let us now pass to those, where the connexion [sic] is formed by means of certain relations. Of these the two principal figures have been nominated the metonymy, and synecdoche.
These are both in common discourse; and even by the principal modern rhetorical writers confounded under the general denomination of the metaphor. There is however a very important distinction between them, affecting the principles of composition and of criticism. I have heretofore told you, that the test of a correct metaphor is to examine how it would appear upon canvass [sic]; and this trial may be proper for all the figures, founded upon similitude; since resemblance or imitation is the essential object of painting. But between cause and effect, between the whole and its parts, there is no resemblance, which would bear a picture representing one as the substitute of the other. And if you should apply to a metonymy or a synecdoche the same rule, which would be proper to determine the correctness of a metaphor, you would find nothing but absurdity in images of the highest elegance and beauty.
The principal relation, upon which the metonymy takes its name, is that between cause and effect. But there are also various others, which I think you will most easily understand by direct exemplifications.
In my last lecture I told you, that when Shakspeare’s [sic] Coriolanus calls Valeria the moon of Rome, the moon was put for the goddess Diana. This is a metonymy. Thus Virgil in one passage says, that the companions of Æneas made a meal upon Ceres, corrupted by the waves; that is, upon bread damaged by the sea water; in another, that their bottles were filled with an old Bacchus; though Dryden tells us, that Bacchus was ever young, But Virgil’s Bacchus is mere wine.
So Ovid tells us that a flame will revive, by infusing Pallas into the lamp. Plautus makes one of his characters ask another where he is going with that Vulcan shut up in a horn; that is, with a lanthorn [sic] in his hand. And Juvenal advises a young poet to call for some sticks of wood, and give his verses to the husband of Venus; that is, to throw them in the fire.
In the ancient mythology each of the principal divinities presided over some material substance, or some moral or political relation. To these the poets, orators, and historians often gave the names of the presiding deities themselves, by a metonymy of the cause for the effect.
It is by a figure of the same class, that the general of an army is said to have fought a battle; that the works of an orator are designated by his name; as when you say you have read Cicero or Demosthenes; and that a mechanical instrument passes by the name of its inventor; as an Orrery, a Wedgewood, a Rumford.
In the holy scriptures each of the twelve tribes of Israel is often called by the name of the patriarch, from whom they descended; and the whole nation was in like-manner included in the name of their last common ancestor, Israel, or Jacob.
In the most familiar language of conversation, when you say that a man writes a good hand, or writes a handsome style, or holds a powerful pen, you speak in this same figure; a metonymy of the cause for the effect. A common expression in the scriptures is, that a soul which has sinned shall bear its iniquity, or shall bear the indignation of the Lord; both which are causes, put instead of their effect; the punishment, flowing from the iniquity, and inflicted by the indignation.
2. With equal freedom the metonymy substitutes the effect instead of the cause. Thus Ovid, intending to tell us that there were no trees upon mount Pelion, says that Pelion has no shades.
In the personification of the passions, of diseases, and of death, their attributed, as causes, are often taken from their effects.
These shall the fury passions tear,
The vultures of the mind;
Disdainful anger, palid [sic] fear
And shame, that skulks behind.
“O thou man of God,” said the sons of the prophets in Gilgal to Elisha, “there is death in the pot;” meaning, that there were poisonous herbs, which it would be death to eat. The effect is here again put for the cause.
3. A third species of metonymy is that, which names the container for the contents; as we every day speak of the bottle, or the glass, for the liquor, contained in them.
“O my father,” said the Saviour of men, “if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.”
The cup is a metaphor, signifying that apparently ignominious death, he was about to suffer; drinking the cup is a metonymy, where the cup is put for the bitter potion, which he has to drain from it.
Says Johnson, speaking of Charles the twelfth of Sweden,
He left the name, at which the world grew pale,
To point a moral, or adorn a tale.
By the world is intended here its inhabitants.
4. The name of a place is often substituted for things produced in it. This is one of the domesticated figures, which we continually meet in the most most ordinary discourse. Manufactured articles are often known by no other names, than those of the places, whence they came. Such are China and Nankins. Others are indiscriminately mentioned by the name of their place with or without the name of the article itself; as Madeira, Champaign, and Burgundy. These examples show how little foundation there is for the opinion, that figurative speech is a departure from the common forms of discourse. We are so familiarized to these modifications, that, in asking a friend to drink a glass of Madeira, you would hardly imagine it had cost you a double metonymy to put so simple a question. In these cases the figurative meaning is worn out. But let the article be of rarer use, and the substitution less hackneyed, and you will immediately perceive the figure.
Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare says, “all the perfumes of Arabia would not sweeten this little hand.” In the words “all the perfumes of Arabia” there is no figure. But when Pope in the rape of lock says,
And all Arabia breathes from yonder box,
he puts Arabia for the perfumes of Arabia; and every reader of taste is delighted with the beauty of the image.
5. The sign for the thing signified. So the sceptre [sic], the throne, the crown, are all taken as expressive of royal authority. The sword and the gown indicate the military and clerical professions. The symbols and armorial bearings of nations, of heathen gods, of christian saints and martyrs, the oak, the palm, and the laurel, as expressive of civic virtue, of martyrdom, and of glory, come under this modification of the figure.
6. “Who hath redness of eyes;" says Solomon, meaning to say, who hath red eyes. Redness is mere abstraction; and, when connected with any substance, becomes one of its attributes. With the distinction between qualities in the abstract, and the same qualities, as they are logically said to be concrete, you are well acquainted. In this question of Solomon the abstract is substituted for the concrete term. The abstract for the concrete is a metonymy frequently used, and equally accessible to every gradation of style.
Here is an example from the historian, Gibbon.
“The experience of so many princes, whom he had esteemed, or endured, from the vain follies of Elagabalus to the useful rigor of Aurelian, taught him, to form a just estimate of the duties, the dangers, and the temptations of their sublime station.”
You observe, that neither the follies of Elagabalus nor the rigor of Aurelian were princes, either to be esteemed or endured. Yet the figure is not incorrect. In literal language we would have said, from the vain and foolish Elagabalus to a just and rigorous Aurelian. He substitutes the abstract for the concrete terms.
7. There is a particular species of metonymy, which has obtained a name for itself. It is the substitution of the antecedent for the consequent, or of the consequent for the antecedent. It is called a metalepsis; as in the line, Troy has been, and Ilium was a town. Such too is the scriptural prayer; “remember not, Lord, our transgressions;” intending to deprecate the punishment of them.
There is an example of this figure in the speech, upon the the British treaty, of our illustrious countryman, whose recent loss we deplore. A speech which, for splendor and eloquence, may be compared with the brightest beams of eloquence, ever emitted from the European world.
He has been arguing, that one inevitable consequence of rejecting the treaty would be an Indian war; the horrors of which he paints with a glow of coloring adequate to the subject, and to the richness of his imagination. It concludes thus;
“The darkness of midnight will glitter with the blaze of your dwellings. You are a father; the blood of your sons shall fatten your corn-field. You are a mother; the war-whoop shall wake the sleep of the cradle.”
The representation of Indian cruelties had arrived at the highest pitch, before he came to the last clause. That idea was too shocking to be exhibited by direct expression. It is therefore veiled with equal judgment and elegance under a double figure. The cradle is put by synecdoche for the infant in the cradle, and the antecedent is put for the consequent; the waking of the infant’s sleep, for the fate, which must anon befal [sic] him.
In all these varieties of the metonymy you will remark, that there is no identity between the thing intended and the thing expressed. They exist independent of each other; although so connected together, that the name of the one is sufficient to excite the idea of the other. The term, metonymy, implies in its original derivation the substitution of one name for another; being compounded from the Greek words, μετα and ονομα, a by name.
Synecdoche Is likewise a Greek compound of the two words, συν and εκδοχη, signifying to take with;In this of the figure, by which the whole is taken for part, or part taken for the whole. there is therefore absolute identity between the image and the object represented, which have no existence independent of each other. The varieties of this synecdoche are nearly as numerous, as those of them metonymy. Thus the genus is put for the species; as in that common phrase, the race of mortals, for the race of man; or the species for the genus; as when a beautiful garden is called a paradise; or you say, so many souls, intending so many human beings. Thus in numbers the singular is put for the portal, in the plural for the singular. Him the Ammonite worshiped in Rabba, says Milton. The supple Gaul was born a parasite, says Johnson. In these examples the singular is put for the plural. Lord Chatham said of Dr. Franklin that Europe reckons him among her Newtons and her Boyles; which was putting the plural for the singular. So the material is put for the thing made of it; as steel for sword; Oaks, for ships; as in these lines of Pope,
Let India boast her plants, nor in the we
The weeping Amber and the balmy tree;
While by our Oaks the precious loads are born,
And realms commanded which those trees adorn.
POPE’S WINDSOR FOREST.
Marble, for a monument of that stone; as in these other lines of Pope,
This modest stone, what few vain marbles can,
May truly say, here lies an honest man.
Dust, for the human body; as in that's home sentence upon our first father, dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
Certain parts of the human body, and of some other compounded material objects, are often taken for the whole. But every part cannot bus be indiscriminately used. Custom exercises in this respect a very extensive sway, and with different impressions upon different languages. A sail is, I believe, universally taken for ship under sail; though it would be improper to express a ship at anchor. The head and the heart are often put for the home in; but the usage of every language modifies the ideas, with which they can be thus associated. In lamenting the death of a friend, Horace says “what bounds can there be to the desire of so dear a head?” But this figure will not bear translation, thus applied, into English.
There is also a species of select the key, applied principally to persons, and called antonomasia. It is the substitution of the proper name for common one, or the reverse. As the philosopher, the prophet, the general, are common names to indicate certain individuals; and, on the other hand, a wise legislator is called a Solon; a cruel tyrant a Nero; a learned judge a second Daniel; and Thompson calls Charles the twelfth of Sweden “the frantic Alexander of the North.”
Perhaps of all the figures of speech, that, which would least require an explanation, is the irony; which is so convenient and instrument of that mutual benevolence, which mankind are delighted to extend to one another, that I question whether there was ever a student, who had made the proficiency necessary for obtaining admission within these walls, but understood its character, as well as any of his teachers. It is the nature of irony to mean directly the contrary of what it says; and yet not to be chargeable with falsehood. Irony has a double face; not like Janus looking in opposite directions; but fronting each other. Irony may be used for panegyric, as well as for satire. But, as praise is seldom under the necessity of assuming a mask for its own safety, it is not often fond of assuming the language of censure.
Examples of irony are to be found in the holy scriptures; but they are extremely rare; while the sacred books lavish every other figure of speech, with the utmost profusion.
Homer has made one of his characters in the Odyssey much addicted to irony. This is Antinoüs, the principal suitor of Penelope, in the first slain by Ulysses. The first words he speaks in the poem are in the answer to the severe reproaches of Telemachus.
Silence at length the gay Antinoüs broke,
Constrain'd a smile, and thus ambiguous spoke;
What God to your untutor’d you affords
This headlong torrent of amazing words?
May Jove delay thy reign, and cumber late
so bright a genius with the toils of state!
Irony, like allegory, is not merely a figure of speech, but a modification of sentiment and language, which may be continued through long discourses. In this respect it may afford us a theme for further consideration hereafter.
There are two other figures, which seem to have some relation to this and to each other; the litotes, which means more than it says, and the hyperbole, which says more than it means.
In the Paradise Lost Satan, addressing the sun, says,
to thee I call,
But with no friendly voice; and add thy name,
O sun, to tell thee how I hat thy beams.
It is obvious that the words, “with no friendly voice,” say much less than they mean; since in the next line he declares how much he hates the object, to which they apply.
So St. Paul told the people of Jerusalem, that he was a citizen of no mean city; that is of Rome, the mistress of the world. He says less than he means. These are examples of litotes.
The hyperbole is a figure much more in use, and better understood, in just as much as it is natural to men to say more than they mean, rather than to mean more than they say. Hyperbolical expressions mingle themselves very much in ordinary conversation, and especially in proverbial phrases. They are admissible into every kind of composition in discourse; but they should be used with caution.
The last figure, which I shall notice for the present, is the catachresis; a term which literally signifies abuse; and it consists of a misapplication, purposely made, of a proper term to some use, bearing a resemblance more or less remote to that of its just destination. As it has thus its foundation in similitude, is sometimes classed among the metaphors. But as by its very name it imports transgression, is not confined to that particular tribe of figures; but occasionally herds with others.
In the treatise upon the art of sinking, which was the joint composition of Pope, Swift, and Arbuthnot, the catachresis is said to be the most copious of all the sources of the Bathos. The examples of this figure there given are, mow the beard; shave the grass; pin the plank; nail my sleeve. “ From whence,” says he, “ results the same kind of pleasure to the mind, as to the eye, when we behold harlequin trimming himself with a hatchet; hewing down a tree with a razor; making his tea in a cauldron, and brewing his ale in a tea-pot; to the incredible satisfaction of the British spectator.”
The catachresis is perhaps appalled the figures that, which deserves least indulgence; for it seems by its appellation to glory in its shame. It professes to turn imperfection into a beauty; and, being by its own confession abuse, it must be the most unpardonable all, when it fails to redeem the sin of its own intrusion by the introduction of an equivalent beauty. It such beauties are often introduced by means of this figure; and, ludicrous as the examples I have just given up year, it will not be difficult to produce passages from eminent writers, where precisely the images, here ridiculed, are rendered highly ornamental by the misapplication of the very same words.
In Dryden's translation of Virgil, describing the death of Tarquitus in battle, the poet says, that Æneas
Stands o’er the prostrate wretch, and as he lay
Vain tails inventing, and preapr’d to pray,
Mows off his head
A head is not a more proper subject to be mowed, then a beard. But substitute in this passage the proper term, cuts off his head, and you will instantly perceive how the expression has flattened the idea.
In Gray’s bard, years are turned into mowers.
Long years of havoc urge their destin’d course,
And through the kindred squadrons mow their way.
The image is allegorical. It is a prediction of the dreadful wars between the houses of York and Lancaster. The scythe of time is indeed a very old figure; but here its use is to mow through kindred squadrons. Suppose now the literal term should be here restored to its place, and you were to read, “and through the kindred squadrons make their way;” the abuse of the term mow would disappear; and with it would go all the energy of the image. Pope himself, describing a game of cards, played in his rape of the lock, makes a mower of Pam.
E'en mighty Pam, who Kings and Queens o’erthrew,
And mow’d down armies in the fights of lu,
Sad chance of war! now destitute of aid,
Falls undistinguished by the Victor, spade.
Pam is a mighty conqueror by the help of the metaphor; but he must use a catachresis to mow down armies.
Dryden again nails a man’s hand to his side with an arrow.
He clasp’d his hand upon the wounded part;
The second shaft came swift and unespy’d,
And pierc’d his hand, and nail’d to his side.
Shakspeare [sic] does not pin a plank; but he pins gates.
Which yet seem shut, we have but pinn’d with rushes;
They’ll open for themselves.
CORIOL. i. 4.
And St. Paul, in his epistle to the Colossians, nails hand-writing.
“ Blotting out the hand-writing of ordinances, that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took out of the way, nailing it to his cross.”
What then, is it the application of mowing to a beard, and of shaving to the grass, which constitutes the absurdity of the examples, given by Scriblerus? Not even that; for Milton in his Allegro says,
And missing the, I walk unseen
On the dry, smooth shaven green.
Where then is the incongruity of shaving grass, so humorously exposed in the treatise on the Bathos? Assuredly no critic of taste would think these lines improved by reading
On the dry, smooth mowed green.
Try by the same standard the character, painted by Shakspeare’s [sic] Hotspur.
A certain lord, neat, trimly dress’d,
Fresh as a bridegroom, and his chin new-reap’d,
Show’d like a stubble-land at harvest home.
What would you think of exchanging here the term reap’d for the proper word shav’d? And his chin new shav’d! You would think that none, but a master of the Bathos, could propose it.
The justification of this figure then must always be in affair of taste. The Catachresis indeed is not one of those figures, which will escape from a lively imagination before he is aware of it; and which cool reflection will discover to be incorrect. It springs from analogies, which must have been compared together in the mind of him, who employs it. The best criterion therefore to ascertain its merit in every particular instance is that, which I have recommended for these quotations. Substitute the proper, instead of the figurative word, which has taken its place; and determine between them from the comparative satisfaction or displeasure, with which the respective combinations affect your fancy.
Let me conclude these remarks within earnest recommendation to those of you, who intend to devote your future lives to literary professions or pursuits, not only to examine and to meditate upon the extent and boundaries of figurative language in theory, but to peruse those writers, who use it most freely; habitually to inquire, and, as far as may be, ascertain the kernel of thought, contained within the shell of imagery. This advice is above all important to those, whose duties will lead them to the study of the Scriptures; and who, “ desiring to be teachers of law, would be ashamed of understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm.”* we often hear of the sublime simplicity of the sacred books; and, if by simplicity be meant the total exemption from affectation, this quality is justly ascribed to them. But there is not in the world a volume of equal size, more abounding in imagery of every description, than the Bible. It is a remark of learned Selden, that the doctrine of transubstantiation, that amazing error of the Romish church, was only rhetoric, turned into logic. That is, it was the folly of understanding, in their literal sense, expressions manifestly figurative. What a world of calamity this single blunder has brought upon mankind! yet the same kind of mistakes have laid the foundation of almost all the schisms in the christian church, and many of the bloodiest wars between christian nations.
Here too I shall close my observations upon the third principal division of the rhetorical science, elocution.
* 1. Tim. i. 17.