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SIMILE AND METAPHOR.



Similarity.--In order to describe an object that has not been seen we use the description of some object or objects that have been seen. Thus, to describe a lion to a person who had never seen one, we should say that it had something like a horse's mane, the claws of a cat, &c. We might say, "A lion is like a monstrous cat with a horse's mane." This sentence expresses a likeness of things, or a similarity:


Simile.--In order to describe some relation that cannot be seen, e.g. the relation between a ship and the water, as regards the action of the former upon the latter, to a landsman who had never seen the sea or a ship, we might say, "The ship acts upon the water as a plough turns up the land." In other words, "The relation between the ship and the sea is similar to the relation between the plough and the land." This sentence expresses a similarity of relations, and is called a simile. It is frequently expressed thus:

"As the plough turns up the land, so the ship acts on the sea."

Def. A Simile is a sentence expressing a similarity of relations.

Consequently a simile is a kind of rhetorical proportion, and must, when fully expressed, contain four terms:

A : B :: C : D.


Compression of Simile into Metaphor.--A simile is cumbrous, and better suited for poetry than for prose. Moreover, when a simile has been long in use, there is a tendency to consider the assimilated relations not merely as similar but as identical. The simile modestly asserts that the relation between the ship and the sea is like ploughing. The compressed simile goes further, and asserts that the relation between the ship and the sea is ploughing. It is expressed thus: "The ship ploughs the sea."

Thus the relation between the plough and the land is transferred to the ship and the sea. A simile thus compressed is called a Metaphor, i.e. transference.

Def. A Metaphor is a transference of the relation between one set of objects to another, for the purpose of brief explanation.


Metaphor fully stated or implied.--A metaphor may be either fully stated, as "The ship ploughs (or is the plough of) the sea," or implied, as "The winds are the horses that draw the plough of the sea." In the former case it is distinctly stated, in the latter implied, that the "plough of the sea" represents a ship.


Implied Metaphor the basis of language.--A great part of our ordinary language, all that relates to the relations of invisible things, necessarily consists of implied metaphors; for we can only describe invisible relations by means of visible ones. We are in the habit of assuming the existence of a certain proportion or analogy between the relations of the mind and those of the body. This analogy is the foundation of all words that express mental and moral qualities. For example, we do not know how a thought suggests itself suddenly to the mind, but we do know how an external object makes itself felt by the body. Experience teaches us that anything which strikes the body makes itself suddenly felt. Analogy suggests that whatever is suddenly perceived comes in the same way into contact with the mind. Hence the simile--"As a stone strikes the body, so a thought makes itself perceptible to the mind." This simile may be compressed into the full metaphor thus, "The thought struck my mind," or into the implied metaphor thus, "This is a striking thought." In many words that express immaterial objects the implied metaphor can easily be traced through the derivation, as in "excellence," "tribulation," "integrity," "spotlessness," &c.

N.B. The use of metaphor is well illustrated in words that describe the effects of sound. Since the sense of hearing (probably in all nations and certainly among the English) is less powerful and less suggestive of words than the senses of sight, taste, and touch, the poorer sense is compelled to borrow a part of its vocabulary from the richer senses. Thus we talk of "a sweet voice," "a soft whisper," "a sharp scream," "a piercing shriek," and the Romans used the expression "a dark-coloured voice,"1 where we should say "a rough voice."


Metaphor expanded.--As every simile can be compressed into a metaphor, so, conversely, every metaphor can be expanded into its simile. The following is the rule for expansion. It has been seen above that the simile consists of four terms. In the third term of the simile stands the subject ("ship," for instance) whose unknown predicated relation ("action of ship on water") is to be explained. In the first term stands the corresponding subject ("plough") whose predicated relation ("action on land") is known. In the second term is the known relation. The fourth term is the unknown predicated relation which requires explanation. Thus--

the plough turns up the land, so the ship acts on the sea.
Known subject. Known predicate.   Subject whose predicate is unknown. Unknown predicate.

Sometimes the fourth term or unknown predicate may represent something that has received no name in the language. Thus, if we take the words of Hamlet, "In my mind's eye," the metaphor when expanded would become--

As the body is enlightened by the eye, so the mind is enlightened by a certain perceptive faculty.
  Known subject. Known predicate.   Subject whose predicate is unknown. Unknown predicate.

For several centuries there was no word in the Latin language to describe this "perceptive faculty of the mind." At last they coined the word "imaginatio," which appears in English as "imagination." This word is found as early as Chaucer; but it is quite conceivable that the English lan guage should, like the Latin, have passed through its best period without any single word to describe the "mind's eye."


The details of the expansion will vary according to the point and purpose of the metaphor. Thus, when Macbeth (act iii. sc. 1) says that he has "given his eternal jewel to the common enemy of man," the point of the metaphor is apparently the pricelessness of a pure soul or good conscience, and the metaphor might be expanded thus--

"As a jewel is precious to the man who wears it, so is a good conscience precious to the man who possesses it."

But in Rich. II. i. 1. 180, the same metaphor is expanded with reference to the necessity for its safe preservation :--

A jewel in a ten-times barr'd-up chest Is a bold spirit in a loyal breast.


Personal Metaphor.--There is a universal desire among men that visible nature, e.g. mountains, winds, trees, rivers and the like, should have a power of sympathising with men. This desire begets a kind of poetical belief that such a sympathy actually exists. Further, the vocabulary expressing the variable moods of man is so much richer than that which expresses the changes of nature that the latter borrows from the former. Hence the morn is said to laugh, mountains to frown, winds to whisper, rivulets to prattle, oaks to sigh. Hence arises what may be called Personal Metaphor.

Def. A Personal Metaphor is a transference of personal relations to an impersonal object for the purpose of brief explanation.


Personal Metaphors expanded.--The first term will always be "a person;" the second, the predicated relation properly belonging to the person and improperly transferred to the impersonal object; the third, the impersonal object. Thus--

"As a person frowns, so an overhanging mountain (looks gloomy).

"As a child prattles, so a brook (makes a ceaseless cheerful clatter)."


Personifications.--Men are liable to certain feelings, such as shame, fear, repentance and the like, which seem not to be originated by the person, but to come upon him from without. For this reason such impersonal feelings are in some languages represented by impersonal verbs. In Latin these verbs are numerous, "pudet," "piget," "tædet," "pœnitet," "libet," &c. In Early English they were still more numerous, and even now we retain not only "it snows," "it rains," but also (though more rarely) "methinks," "meseems," "it shames me," "it repents me." Men are, however, not contented with separating their feelings from their own person; they also feel a desire to account for them. For this purpose they have often imagined as the causes of their feelings, Personal Beings, such as Hope, Fear, Faith, &c. Hence arose what may be called Personification.

In later times men have ceased to believe in the personal existence of Hope and Fear, Graces and nymphs, Flora and Boreas; but poets still use Personification, for the purpose of setting before us with greater vividness the invisible operations of the human mind and the slow and imperceptible processes of inanimate nature.

Def. Personification is the creation of a fictitious Person in order to account for unaccountable results, or for the purpose of vivid illustration.


Personifications cannot be expanded.--The process of expansion into simile can be performed in the case of a Personal Metaphor, because there is implied a comparison between a Person and an impersonal object. But the process cannot be performed where (as in Personifications) the impersonal object has no material existence, but is the mere creation of the fancy, and presents no point of comparison. "A frowning mountain" can be expanded, because there is implied a comparison between a mountain and a person, a gloom and a frown. But "frowning Wrath" cannot be expanded, because there is no comparison.

It is the essence of a metaphor that it should be literally false, as in "a frowning mountain." It is the essence of a personification that, though founded on imagination, it is conceived to be literally true, as in "pale fear," "dark dishonour." A painter would represent "death" as "pale," and "dishonour" as "dark," though he would not represent a "mountain" with a "frown," or a "ship" like a "plough."


Apparent Exception.--The only case where a simile is involved and an expansion is possible is where a person, as for instance Mars, the God of War, is represented as doing something which he is not imagined to do literally. Thus the phrase "Mars mows down his foes" is not literally true. No painter would represent Mars (though he would Time) with a scythe. It is therefore a metaphor and, as such, capable of expansion thus :--

"As easily as a haymaker mows down the grass, so easily does Mars cut down his foes with his sword."

But the phrase "Mars slays his foes" is, from a poet's or painter's point of view, literally true. It is therefore no metaphor, and cannot be expanded.


Personification analysed.--Though we cannot expand a Personification into a simile, we can explain the details of it. The same analogy which leads men to find a correspondence between visible and invisible objects leads them also to find a similarity between cause and effect. This belief, which is embodied in the line--
Who drives fat oxen should himself be fat,
is the basis of all Personification. Since fear makes men look pale, and dishonour gives a dark and scowling expression to the face, it is inferred that Fear is "pale," and Dishonour "dark." And in the same way Famine is "gaunt;" Jealousy "green-eyed;" Faith "pure-eyed;" Hope "white-handed."


Good and bad Metaphors.--There are certain laws regulating the formation and employment of metaphors which should be borne in mind.

(1.) A metaphor must not be used unless it is needed for explanation or vividness, or to throw light upon the thought of the speaker. Thus the speech of the Gardener, Rich. II. iii. 4. 33,--

Go then, and like an executioner
Cut off the heads of our fast-growing sprays, &c.
is inappropriate to the character of the speaker, and conveys an allusion instead of an explanation. It illustrates what is familiar by what is unfamiliar, and can only be justified by the fact that the gardener is thinking of the disordered condition of the kingdom of England and the necessity of a powerful king to repress unruly subjects.

(2.) A metaphor must not enter too much into detail: for every additional detail increases the improbability that the correspondence of the whole comparison can be sustained. Thus, if King Richard (Rich. II. v. 5. 50) had been content, while musing on the manner in which he could count time by his sighs, to say--

For now hath Time made me his numbering clock,
there would have been little or no offence against taste. But when he continues--
My thoughts are minutes, and with sighs they jar
Their watches on unto mine eyes, the outward watch,
Whereto my finger, like a dial's point,
Is pointing still, in cleansing them from tears.
Now, sir, the sound that tells what hour it is
Are clamorous groans which strike upon my heart,
Which is the bell,--
we have an excess of detail which is only justified because it illustrates the character of one who is always "studying to compare,"2 and "hammering out" unnatural comparisons.

(3.) A metaphor must not be far-fetched nor dwell upon the details of a disgusting picture: “Here lay Duncan,
His silver skin laced with his golden blood;
. . . . . there the murderers
Steep'd in the colours of their trade, their daggers
Unmannerly breech'd with gore.Macbeth, ii. 3. 117. There is but little, and that far-fetched, similarity between gold lace and blood, or between bloody daggers and breech'd legs. The slightness of the similarity, recalling the greatness of the dissimilarity, disgusts us with the attempted comparison. Language so forced is only appropriate in the mouth of a conscious murderer dissembling guilt.

(4.) Two metaphors must not be confused together, particularly if the action of the one is inconsistent with the action of the other.

It may be pardonable to surround, as it were, one metaphor with another. Thus, fear may be compared to an aguefit, and an ague-fit passing away may be compared to the overblowing of a storm. Hence, "This ague-fit of fear is overblown" (Rich. II. iii. 2. 190) is justifiable. But “Was the hope drunk
Wherein you dressed yourself? Hath it slept since?” Macbeth, i. 7. 36. is, apart from the context, objectionable; for it makes Hope a person and a dress in the same breath. It may, however, probably be justified on the supposition that Lady Macbeth is playing on her husband's previous expression--

I have bought
Golden opinions from all sorts of people,
Which would be worn now in their newest gloss,
Not cast aside so soon.

(5.) A metaphor must be wholly false, and must not combine truth with falsehood.

"A king is the pilot of the state," is a good metaphor. "A careful captain is the pilot of his ship," is a bad one. So “Ere my tongue
Shall wound mine honour with such feeble wrong,
Or sound so base a parle,” Rich. II. i. 1. 190. is objectionable. The tongue, though it cannot "wound," can touch. It would have been better that "honour's" enemy should be intangible, that thereby the proportion and the perfection of the falsehood might be sustained. Honour can be wounded intangibly by "slander's venom'd spear" (Rich. II. i. 1. 171); but, in a metaphor, not so well by the tangible tongue. The same objection applies to “Ten thousand bloody crowns of mothers' sons
Shall ill-become the flower of England's face,
Change the complexion of her maid-pale peace
To scarlet indignation, and bedew
Her pastures' grass with faithful English blood.” Rich. II. iii. 3. 96. If England is to be personified, it is England's blood, not the blood of ten thousand mothers, which will stain her face. There is also a confusion between the blood which mantles in a blush and which is shed; and, in the last line, instead of "England's face," we come down to the literal "pastures' grass."

(6.) Personifications must be regulated by the laws of personality. No other rule can be laid down. But exaggerations like the following must be avoided:-- “Comets, importing change of times and states,
Brandish your crystal tresses in the sky,
And with them scourge the bad revolting stars.” 1 Hen. VI. i. 1. 2. The Furies may be supposed to scourge their prostrate victims with their snaky hair, and comets have been before now regarded as scourges in the hand of God. But the liveliest fancy would be tasked to imagine the stars in revolt, and scourged back into obedience by the crystal hair of comets.

1 "Vox fusca."

2 “I have been studying how I may compare
This prison where I live unto the world;
* * * * *
I cannot do it; yet I'll hammer it out.Rich. II. v. 5. 1.

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