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Origin of Figures.-Two sources are named by rhetoricians to account for the origin of figures: 1. The barrenness of language; and, 2. The pleasure which the use of figures gives.
Of the first source it may be said that in their first attempts to use language men would naturally begin by giving names to objects. As the number of ideas increased, their stock of words would also necessarily increase ; but, the number of ideas increasing rapidly and indefinitely, no vocabulary extensive enough could be invented to express all ideas in a literal sense. It therefore became necessary to make a word which already applied to an idea apply to others which bore a real or fancied resemblance to the former. Thus, the word dull, which was applied primarily to an instrument having an edge, as, “a dull knife” or “a dull sword,” has been made to apply figuratively in such expressions as “a dull boy," "a dull book," "a dull lecture,” etc., because there is a fancied resemblance of the mental effect of the latter to the material effect of the former. A large number of figures have arisen in this way. The words have been extended from material objects to mental peculiarities. Hence have arisen such expressions as “a soft heart”, “a rough temper”, “a clear head”, “a piercing judgment”, “a freezing reception”, “inflamed with anger”, and “melted with pity."
Of the second and principal source of figurative language, the pleasure which the use of figures gives, it may be said that a figurative expression is frequently more vivid and more agreeable than a literal one. The figurative expression adds pleasure, because it conveys not only the idea expressed by the literal statement, but also additional ideas.
Thus, we speak of the sun as “the powerful king of day”, of darkness as “the veil of night”, of death as "the king of terrors", of old age as “gray hairs”,—in each not only conveying additional ideas to those expressed by the literal form, but conveying them more impressively.
ADVANTAGES OF FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE. 1. Figures Enrich Language by increasing its facilities for expression. Where by literal language we would frequently be restricted to a single form of statement, figurative language enables us to choose from many forms of expression, and, in addition, to express the most minute differences and shades of thought.
2. Figures Dignify Style.—When treating of elevated and important subjects the words and phrases of everyday life are frequently too familiar and commonplace. In such cases figurative language aids us greatly in dignifying our style and making it suit the importance of the subject. As has been said, figures have much the same effect on language as elegance of dress has on the appearance of persons of rank and importance. Figures often aid greatly in beautifying prose, and in poetry they are indispensable. Note the difference in effect between the plain statement
“We all must die,” and the figurative, meaning the same thing
“With equal pace, impartial Fate
Knocks at the palace and the cottage gate.” 3. Figures Frequently make Language Clearer and More Forcible.—They do this partly by presenting two objects to the mind simultaneously, and yet without confusion, one being used to illustrate the other. Figurative language is especially helpful in illustrating abstract thoughts and in making them more clear and forcible. An appropriate figure often carries the full force of an argument in a single sentence. This is noticeable in the following quotation from Young:
“When we dip too deep in pleasure, we always stir a sediment that renders it impure and noxious.”
Caution. While there can be no question as to the importance and use of rhetorical figures, it must not be supposed that they should in any way take the place of thought. They are simply the ornamental dress of thought. No more severe criticism can be passed on a writer than to say of him that if his composition were stripped of its figures there would be nothing left. The writer should first have something to say, then say it in the clearest, strongest, and most attractive way possible, using figurative language only where it is likely to render the statement clearer, stronger, more dignified, and more pleasing than could be done in plain language.
EXERCISE. Change the figurative expressions in the following to plain language:
Thus: Figurative-A dull essay.
: ; Plain-An uninteresting essay. 1. The morning of life; the evening of life; a frame of adamant; a soul of fire; sinews of steel; a cold heart; a thin congregation; an attack of fever.
2. Curses, like chickens, come home to roost.
6. How often would I have gathered thy children together as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings !
7. She sat like Patience on a monument smiling at grief. 8. Marshal Ney was a lion in battle. 9. Death fell in showers. 10. Strike while the iron is hot. 11. The ship wrestles with the storm. 12. The moon climbs the eastern sky. 13. Athens, the eye of Greece, mother of arts and eloquence.
14. Make hay while the sun shines.
19. Night dropped her sable curtain down, and pinned it with a star.
20. The conscious water saw its Lord and blushed.
KINDS OF FIGURES. Figures have been variously classified by rhetoricians. The arrangement made by the older rhetoricians, based on Resemblance, Contiguity, and Contrast, is probably as good as any. Under this classification the figures may be arranged as follows:
1. Founded on Resemblance.
2. Founded on Contiguity.
3. Founded on Contrast.
1. SIMILE. Similo is a comparison of objects based on resem. blance; as,
“Pleasant words are like oil poured upon the waters;" "The child reclined on its mother's bosom as some infant blossom on its parent stem.”
The comparison in a simile is usually made by the use of like, as, or so. (See examples above:)
Condensed Similes.— What are known as condensed similes do not, however, require the use of connecting words. Note the following:
“Too much indulgence is injurious; hot-house plants rarely flourish in the atmosphere of the outer world.'
The resemblance indicated by the simile is not always between objects themselves. Any comparison by which two objects are so associated in the mind that one suggests the other may produce simile.
The following sentence from Ossian exhibits a simile resulting from the relation or comparison of effect:
“ The music of Carryl was, like the memory of joys that are past, pleasant and mournful to the soul.”
Likeness is the basis of simile, but it must not be likeness of things of the same kind. Thus, the comparison of the likeness of one man to another, one city to another, etc., is not figurative, but plain language. To say that the Hudson, like the Rhine, flows amid beautiful scenery does not produce a simile, because both are rivers. But in saying of one that “His life glides like the streams that make the meadows green," we compare a life to a stream, which gives us a valid simile.
SUGGESTIONS. 1. Similes should not be drawn from the comparison of objects having too close a resemblance.
Much of the pleasure in a simile is derived fro:n the