Page images



it is said a contemporary writer in France was actually deceived by it, and denounced it as horribly inhuman. The design of Swift was to censure England for an alleged disregard for the rights of the Irish people.

Henry Ward Beecher commends fishing thus:

"Alas! that a world should be so barbarous as to condemn piscatory sports so long as they contribute to exercise taste, sentiment, and moral enjoyment; and that all objection ceases when a man can prove that he labored for his mouth alone. It is all right, if it was eating that he had in mind. The frying-pan is in universal favor. This is the modern image that fell down from heaven, which all men hold in reverence!"*

In the above, an idea which the author disapproves is first soberly stated. It is then repeated in other forms again and again, till the very strength of statement begins to make it ridiculous, and the mind recoils from accepting it, when it becomes Irony. By the punctuation the author indicates that the last sentence alone is ironical. We think the two preceding sentences should be punctuated in the same way. This gradual sliding into irony is common with earnest, eloquent controversialists who have a vein of wit in their nature.

62. Ironical Questions.-Irony is often forcibly ex pressed in the form of questions:

"Can gray hairs render folly venerable ?"

Hon. Mr. Fessenden, in the Senate, inquired:

"Are we not men of some degree of sense and discretion? Are we sent here, senators, chosen men of states, representatives, the se

* Star-Papers; or, Experiences of Art and Nature. By Henry Ward Beecher (New York, 1855), p. 238.

lectmen of the people in the several districts, without any idea whatever of a correct course of proceeding in this matter ?"

So Hon. Mr. Corwin represented the people of Mexico as saying:

"Have you not room in your own country to bury your dead men? If you come into mine, we will greet you-with bloody hands, and welcome you to hospitable graves!"

Such questions are not asked because they require an answer, but because the very opposite to what they suggest is true; they are therefore Irony.

63. Directions upon the Use of Irony.—The following directions on the use of Irony should be observed.

(1.) Let it be suited to the subject and occasion, If light and humorous, let it not be associated with grave instruction, or the earnest expression of feeling, so as to awaken a sense of inconsistency. If severe and sarcastic, be sure that the occasion will justify it.

(2.) In oral productions the intonations of the voice should always indicate Irony when it is employed; in written productions be careful, either by giving some intimation of your purpose, or by the punctuation, to enable the reader to perceive your meaning, so as not to mistake Irony for the direct expression of sentiment, unless, indeed, it be your sober purpose to leave your expressions obscure, or to test the mental ability of your reader.

(3.) Do not neglect to cultivate the use of so efficient a weapon, but bear in mind that the frequent use of Irony is unpleasant to a well-cultivated taste.





64. Definition.—WHEN a lifeless object is represented or addressed as though it had life, it is said to be personified..

65. Philosophy of it.-Personification is a natural expression of strong feeling connected with the object personified. A child will often vent his anger upon a stone or stick by which he has been struck, and older persons who have not yet passed out of the childhood stage of development are sometimes betrayed into similar folly. Many who would not strike an insensible object may often feel an impulse to blame it. When we censure or praise a senseless thing, we fancy it for the time endowed with life. What seems unreasonable in its rudimentary manifestations may, if done in a cultivated manner, please the taste and task the highest mental energy.

66. First Degree of Personification. - Personification exists in three degrees. In Personification of the first degree the object is presented as having some qualities that properly belong only to living creatures.

Thus we speak of an obedient ship, or say that a house befriends a weary traveller. This degree of Personification is most frequently exhibited by the use of some appellative that strictly applies only to G

living beings. In many instances this has become so common, and in many others it requires so little effort of the imagination, that it is scarcely noticed. Trees are called majestic, rivers or breezes gentle, the spring is said to smile, and winter is termed frowning, with no conscious excitement or extraordinary effort of the mind.

67. Often indicated by the Use of Personal Pronouns having Genders.-This degree of Personification is often exhibited by simply using the masculine or feminine pronoun instead of the neuter. Thus a boat is represented as a female, war as a male, in these expressions: "Pull a stroke or two-away with her into deep water;" "War then showed his devastations."

In a well-written review article we read:

"Liberalism was rising steadily on all sides. Was the Church to be a Church, to oppose her advancing enemy, to curse him, to have no terms with him?"


In this sentence Liberalism is spoken of as a man, or a masculine enemy, the Church (as often in the Bible) is spoken of as a woman. The reviewer adds another sentence, in which he begins with the same personification, but absurdly mixes his metaphors, and metamorphoses the woman into a ship, thus:

"Or was she [the Church] to let him [Liberalism] in, to become a mere receptacle for sects, and gradually drift away with the liberal tide from her old orthodox moorings?"

It would be strange indeed to see a woman drift away from her moorings?"

An eloquent writer says:

"Science can not work with a halter about her neck."


Rev. Dr. Hitchcock, in speaking of the effects of old age, says:


"The mind, too, dependent on bodily organization by unalterable laws for its free exercise, sympathizes in the decline of the physical powers. The proud heights which she once scaled can no longer be reached; the heavy blows which she once dealt out can no longer be given. * * * First of all, the memory feels the change, and reels, and staggers, and sinks under her charge. Next, the judgment begins to waver; and, last of all, the imagination comes fluttering to the earth."

Rev. Dr. Bellows, in a sermon, thus represents truth:

"Truth is as jealous, capricious, and shy a mistress as was ever wooed. She eludes her lover as a hunted deer her pursuer. Her votary must follow her in all the circuits and involutions of her flight-now doubling on her track, now making the North Star, and now the Southern Cross her beacon-now on the earth, now in water or wood, and again in the sky, but always having it for her purpose to lead her wooer through every parallel and point of latitude and longitude in her domain, that he may view her and her possessions from all quarters of the moral compass, and see her full shape and whole fortune-and so be the more in love with his holy, heavenly bride, his destined partner for eternity.*


* Sometimes we meet with her and his instead of its in the English Bible, and in other ancient books, when no personification was intended; for its, the possessive case of it, is a modern word, and began to be used only about the middle of the 16th century, and did not become common till many years after. In such expressions as "It shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel;" "Put up thy sword into his place," in the Bible, there is no personification, because the neuter possessive pronoun its was not then used. From an ignorance of this fact, Dr. Jamieson, in his Rhetoric, wrongly charges Milton with using a false gender in this passage:

"His form

Had not lost all her original brightness,
Nor appeared less than archangel ruined."

Milton did not wish to use its, which was then a novel word; indeed he employed it only two or three times in his "Paradise Lost." In this case, forma, the Latin word for form, being feminine, he

« PreviousContinue »