Page images
[ocr errors]

" Seneca, is extended with this view, that by 56 falshood it may arrive at the truth. . So he " who said,

• In colour whiter than the snow,

« In swiftness Aleeter than the wind, « said indeed what was impossible ; but it was “ with a design, that as inuch as was possible

might be credited. In like manner he who sc said,

" He is less moveable than rocks,

“ And more impetuous than the sea, “ did not imagine that he should persuade man“ kind that there was any person so immoveable

as a rock. An Hyperbole never expects fo 66 much as it dares; but affirms what is incredi

ble, that it may reach what is credible *."

(3) The Hyperbole is one of the boldest freedoms in all language. It is a most exquisite, elevated, and impassioned form of speech. Like

a flame

non poteft; meliusque ultra quam citra ftat oratio. Quint. lib. viii. cap. 6. 2.

* In hoc omnis Hyperbole extenditur, ut ad veram men, dacio veniat. Itaque qui dixit,

Qui candore nives anteirent, cursibus auras'; quod non poterat fieri, dixit; ut crederetur quantum plurimum posset. Et qui dixit,

His immobilior fcopulis, violentior amne : ne hoc quidem se persuasurum putavit, aliquem tam immobilem effe, quàm fcopulum. Nunquam tantum fperat Hyperbola, quantum audet ; fed incredibilia affirmat, 'ut ad credibilià perveniat. Senec. de Beneficiis, lib. vii. $ 23.

a flame from a strong internal fire, it breaks out at once into a blaze, and mounts with an irresistible power and rapidity to heaven itself.

(4) Great judgment is required in the use of the Hyperbole. To this end let us remember, that there must be some truth or resemblance, that must be laid as the foundation of the Hyperbole; though the superstructure is allowed to rise, and enlarge itself far above and beyond it, If there is no truth nor resemblance in the Hyperbole, our compositions are wretchedly debased, and the understandings of our audience art hurt and affronted, when they should be entertained and charmed. But as to the Hyperbole itself, “ says QUINTILIAN, let there be fome measure u obferved; for though every Hyperbole is be

yond belief, yet it ought not to be beyond 6 bounds, nor is there a more ready way to the 4 bombast, than a transgression in this kind. It 6 would be disagreeable to repeat how many er6. rors have sprung from this source, especially « as they are far from being secret and unknown. 6. It is sufficient to say, that the Hyperbole speaks « what is false, but not so as to desire to deceive

by its falfhood; upon which account we should « be very careful how far we may exceed with propriety, and where it is that we are to stop *.”


i by

* Sed hujus quoque rei fervetur menfura quædam ; quamvis enim eft omnis Hyperbole ultra fidem, non tamen esse debet ultra modum, nec alia magis via in xaxonusar itur. Pi. get referré plurima hinc orta vitia, cùm præfertim minimè fint

[ocr errors]

Mr Pope, in his humorous piece on the Art of Sinking to gives us several instances of this fort, one of which is the following, where it is faid of a lion,

He roar'd so fierce, and look'd so wondrous grim,

His very shadow durft not follow him. An assertion void of all possibility or colour of truth, and therefore wild and extravagant,

Another Hyperbole, no less intolerable, we have in the following lines ;":

See these dead bodies hence convey'd with care :

Life may perhaps return with change of air. Whereas, when the union between foul and body is dissolved, there can be no hope by any means whatever of a restoration to life, and consequently there is not the least ground for such an Hy. perbole.

I might add, to the number of these vain túmors in language, two lines which I have heard repeated :

Collected in himself Prince ARTHUR stood,

Himself an army, and his spear a wood. But how could a single man, however majestic, be mistaken for an army, or his spear, however great, be imagined to be a wood?


ignota & obscura. Manore fatis est, mentiri Hyperbolem, nec ita ut mendacio fallere velit. Quo magis intuendum eft, quouf. que deceat extollere, quod nobis non creditur. QUINTIL. lib. viii. cap. 6. $z.

+ Vol. vi. page 196.

This extravagant Hyperbole, as I have heard, was burlesqued by a keen Satirist in the following imitation:

Prodigious bard! thy muse let loose !

Thy stand a tub, thy quill a goose ! I fear Dr Young himself may be justly condemned for a fault of this kind, when, speaking of the luminaries of heaven, he says,

So bright, with such a wealth of glory stor's,

'Twere fin in Heathens not to have ador'd*. How monstrously absurd is it in a Christian Writer thus to affirm that idolatry, though of the host of heaven, was ever the duty. God required of the Pagan world, and that it was sin in them not to pay that divine homage to the works of the Deity, which should center only in himself!.... -... Dr TRAPP, who bestows his highest praises upon Virgil, yet arraigns his description of CAMILLA, as an unnatural flight of the hyperbolic kind t:

She o'er the tops of corn her fight could steer,
Nor ever bend, nor touch the golden ear;;.


Young's Last Day, book i. + Extant pauca, fateor, apud Homerum verè improbabilia ; eft & apud Virgilium unum hujus generis specimen, Camillam intelligo elegantiflimis versibus descriptam. Pulcherrimi fanè funt versus, quo circa magis dolendum rem effe impoflibilem. Preleet. Poetic, vol. ii. p. 299.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]


93 Or o'er the sea suspended she could glide,

Nor tinge her flying footsteps in the tide *. In this description of Virgil there is not the least truth. No one person, however light and agil, being ever able to run along unbending corn, or skim along the main without wetting the feet, or do any thing that might give a colour for any such imagination.

The account Lord LANSDOWNE gives of Hyperboles is very just and suitable to pur purpose;

Hyperboles, fo daring and so bold,
Disdaining bounds, are yet by bounds control'd ;
Above the clouds, but still within our sight,
They mount with truth, and make a tow'ring flight;
Presenting things impoffible to view,
They wander thro' incredible to true :
Falfhoods thus mix'd, like metals, are refin'd;

And truth, like silver, leaves the dross behind.
And his censure upon the madness of Hyperboles,
well deserves our remembrance:

Thus Poetry has ample space to soar,
Nor needs forbidden regions to explore :
Such vaunts as his who can with patience read,
Who thus describes his Hero slain and dead ?
“ Killid as he was, insensible of death,
He ftill fights on, and scorns to yield his breath t."


* Illa vel intactæ segetis per summa volaret

Gramina, nec teneras cursu læsisset aristas:
Aut mare per medium, fluctu suspensa tumenti,
Ferret iter ; celeres neque tingeret æquore plantas.

Æneid. lib. vii, ver. 808. + ARIOSTO.

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »