Page images

any opinion about the comparative value of marble and coarse stones; but while he used those words he intended that his readers should understand that a good thought poorly expressed (a block of marble roughly hewed) is better than a poor thought rhetorically expressed (a statue made of a millstone by Praxiteles); but that he would prefer the good thought beautifully expressed (the marble block wrought up and polished):

Happy is the author who can judiciously illustrate and ornament his productions with the occasional use of allegory.

48. Relation of Allegory to Art.-The principle of the Allegory is the foundation of a large department of the works of art; Temperance is represented as a woman with a bridle; Firmness as a woman leaning against a pillar. Hope, Courage, War, Peace, Commerce, Life, Death, all have their appropriate emblems. An emblematic painting may be intrinsically beautiful, and also strikingly illustrate some passion or the result of some custom, or some law of mind. The "Voyage of Life" has been allegorically presented in a series of pictures. The career of a gambler, a drunkard, an ambitious man, a Christian, might be represented in a series of paintings or statues. Even architecture derives an interest from the principle of the Allegory. The heavy Gothic style is felt to symbolize mystery, profundity, and to awaken reverence, and is therefore suited to a house of worship, while the lighter Grecian styles betoken rather cheerfulness and social pleasure. Many of these suggestions may be deemed



fanciful, but it will be found that allegory is very prevalent in literature and art, and that its principles will richly deserve careful attention.

49. Elements of a good Allegory.-Three qualities are demanded in every written allegory:

(1.) The narrative must be so constructed as to please and interest, even if the real lesson designed to be conveyed is overlooked.

(2.) The real lesson or object of the Allegory should be easily seen; and if there would be any doubt about its being understood, let a few words of explanation be prefaced.

(3.) Both meanings of the Allegory should, if possible, be valuable.

A strict adherence to an order of nature or facts in a long allegory, so that every thing said of the secondary subject should illustrate some truth, is not always possible, and the writer of an allegory or parable is allowed to combine incidents in any way that imagination, guided by reason, sees conducive to the end in view.


Inasmuch as this figure is much more frequently employed by some good writers than has been usually supposed, we give a few more specimens.

The first two are from Macaulay:

"The final and permanent fruits of liberty are wisdom, moderation, and mercy. Its immediate effects are often atrocious crimes, conflicting errors, skepticism on points the most clear, dogmatism on points the most mysterious. It is just at this crisis that its enemies love to exhibit it. They pull down the scaffolding from the half

finished edifice; they point to the flying dust, the falling bricks, the comfortless rooms, the frightful irregularity of the whole appearance, and then ask in scorn where the promised splendor and comfort are to be found."

"A pedestrian may show as much muscular vigor on a treadmill as on the highway road. But on the road his vigor will assuredly carry him forward; on the tread-mill he will not advance an inch. The ancient philosophy was a tread-mill, not a path.”

"There stands an ancient architectural pile, with tokens of its venerable age covering it from its corner-stone to its topmost turret; and some imagine these to be tokens of decay, while to others they indicate, by the years they chronicle, a massiveness that can yet defy more centuries than it has weathered years. Its foundation is buried in the accumulated mould and clustered masses of many generations. Its walls are mantled and hidden by parasitic vines. Its apartments are some of them dark and cold, as if their very cement were dissolving in chilly vapors. Others, built against the walls, were never framed into them; and now their ceilings are broken, their floors are uneven as the surface of a billow, their timbers seem less to sustain one another than to break one another's fall. You dig away the mould, and lo! the foundation was laid by no mortal hand; it is primitive rock that strikes its roots down an unfathomable depth into the solid earth, so that no frosts can heave it, no convulsions shake it. Such an edifice is Christianity" (Dr. A. P. Peabody's Christianity the Religion of Nature).

[blocks in formation]


50. Definition.—AN expression which, literally understood, means more than the author really intends to utter, is called a Hyperbole. The word is derived from two Greek words which signify to throw beyond.

Under the influence of strong emotion, this is the most natural and the most common figure of speech. It abounds in conversation, oratory, poetry, in descriptions of persons, places, and events, and indeed is found in almost every species of composition.

The last verse of the Gospel according to St. John informs us, "And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written." This can not be supposed to be the literal, arithmetical calculation of the writer, but it is a hyperbolical way of conveying the thought that what he had written was but a scanty description of the deeds and words of the eventful life of Jesus. There are but a few passages of the Bible undoubtedly hyperbolical.

51. Is Hyperbole morally Wrong?-Some critics and moralists have wholly disapproved of its use, but such persons are hypercritical, if not hyperbolical, and,

upon a narrow, undiscriminating basis of morality and taste, would rob the world of the most of its healthful passion and poetry. One of the chief elements of efficiency in oratory, and one of the chief charms of poetry, is Hyperbole. Language is not always to be understood literally, or according to what the words would mean if employed without passion and with scientific precision, but according to what the speaker may be properly supposed to mean when he uses it. The hearer is presumed to be able to make all due allowance for strong emotion, and there is a pleasure in feeling the power communicated to thought even by extravagant expression.

Many of the common expressions used in conversation and in epistolary writings are not designed to be construed with literal exactness. Washington, when elected Commander-in-chief of the American forces in 1775, wrote to his wife thus: "I should enjoy more real happiness with you at home than I have the most distant prospect of finding abroad, if my stay were to be seven times seven years." Evidently he meant simply to be understood that it was a great sacrifice for him to yield the pleasures of domestic life, to respond to the call of his country. Many years afterward, though his writings are generally very cool and free from extravagance, he wrote to another lady thus: "None of which events, however, nor all of them together, have been able to eradicate from my mind the recollection of those happy moments, the happiest of my life, which I have enjoyed in your company."

« PreviousContinue »