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them of the hazard they run, remember, that every excellence borders close upon a blemish; but that unless we risk these blemishes, we can never hope to arrive at excellence.
Vision is a representation of things distant and unseen, as if they were actually present. This is so nearly related to the foregoing figure, as to be often confounded with it; but there seems to be at bottom as much difference between this figure, where the speaker sees the object or transaction, and the hypotyposis, where he only describes them, as there is between a painting and an original. This is certain ; vision requires a much more animated pronunciation than description: in the former, the passions are excited by the sight of the objects themselves; in the latter, only by the remembrance of them. Vision, therefore, is a figure which is never employed, but when the composition is highly impassioned, and the writer becomes a species of actor. Accordingly, we seldom find it employed in prose: it is among the poets we must look for instances; nor are they to be very frequently found even here; for we must not look upon such examples as are generally brought of this figure as real instances of it: this figure is never genuine but when the writer supposes he actually sees the objects he describes; so that however strong and glowing description may be, yet without this circumstance it is not a true example of the figure in question.
Pope has given us a striking instance of this figure in the beginning of his Elegy to the memory of an unfortunate Lady.
What beck'ning ghost, along the moonlight shade,
To act a lover's, or a Roman's part?
Is there no bright reversion in the sky
No composition can require a more animated pronunciation than this passage: if the reader does not repeat it nearly as if he saw a ghost beckoning to him, he cannot be said to deliver it properly; the words would contradict the action. Whether an elegy may with propriety begin with so much fire is a question I leave others to decide; but if so much fire be assumed in the writing, it ought undoubtedly to be expressed in the speaking. The truth is, Pope's personal regard for the subject of this elegy, and his feelings for her unhappy fate, seem to have carried him beyond his usual accuracy in composition, as well as his delicacy of moral sentiments. For what can excuse his reproach of heaven for disapproving of suicide, and his apology for this atrocious crime, by treating those as mean spirited wretches who dare not be guilty of it?* What is remarkable too is, that the lines in which these sentiments are conveyed are as feeble and
* Why bade ye else, ye pow'rs! her soul aspire
childish as the sentiments are shocking: but when the poet descends from this impious flight at heaven, and describes the truly pitiable view of an amiable object driven to an act of desperation, and of the forlorn and neglected state of her poor remains in a foreign clime-then we feel all the magic of his penwe sympathize with the object of his pity, and are transported to the very spot where she lies numbered with the unnonoured dead. These beauties are so bewitching as to make us forget the former part of the elegy, which, if united with lines less enchanting, would have startled us with their falsehood and pernicious tendency. But, to quit this digression, (which it is hoped will be pardoned for the sake of unexperienced youth, to whom it may be useful,) we ought to pronounce the two first lines of this passage with a strong expression of surprise, mixed with some degree of fear, the voice assuming a high and soft tone. 'Tis she must be pronounced with a suddenness expressive of joy at having discovered a lost, loved object; and the rest of the passage must assume the plaintive, with the voice in the rising inflection at the end of every second line.
Shakspeare's description of Dover cliff is a beautiful instance of this figure; for it is not the description of a thing past or absent, but as actually present to the speaker.
Come on, sir, here's the place-stand still. How dreadful
And dizzy 'tis to cast one's eyes so low!
The crows and choughs, that wing the midway air,
Diminish'd to her cock; her cock, a buoy
Shakspeare's King Lear.
This description commences, after a long pause, in a low tone of voice, expressive of surprise and fear, at How dreadful, &c. The crows and choughs, &c. must have more of surprise and less of fear, and be in a somewhat higher tone of voice. The next sentence assumes a lower tone, with more of fear, especially on the exclamation dreadful trade! The succeeding sentences have a little lighter tone of voice, and more of surprise, with a very considerable pause after each, as if the speaker took some time to consider the object before he described it. The last sentence concludes in a lower tone, expressive of uneasiness at the consequences of continuing any longer on so dreadful a precipice.
This figure may be justly esteemed one of the most useful lights and greatest ornaments of composition. In prose it greatly clears and enforces a thought, and in poetry wonderfully enlivens and embellishes it. Little can be said respecting the pronunciation of this figure when in prose, only it may be remarked, that it generally admits of a longer pause than ordinary before it, that the reader may be prepared for the transition. Thus in Cicero's first oration against
If, in so dangerous a rebellion, this parricide alone should be extermin ated, we may perhaps for a short time seem to be relieved from anxiety and terror; but the danger will remain, and will be wholly shut up in
As men grievously sick,
the veins and bowels of the commonwealth. when they are in the burning heat of a raging fever, upon taking a draught of cold water, seem at first to be refreshed by it, but afterwards are more heavily and violently attacked by their distemper; in like manner this disease, under which the republic labours, will gain a respite by the extinction of Catiline, but will afterwards, as the rest of his accomplices still survive, return upon us with redoubled fury.
The simile in this passage has nothing in it that requires a pronunciation different from the rest; but in poetry this figure always admits of being pronounced in a lower tone of voice than the preceding lines; and this tone generally falls into the plaintive, and approaches to a monotone. For as the mind in forming a simile is seldom agitated with any very strong passion, that tone of voice which expresses serene, tranquil contemplation seems to be the tone suitable to the simile; and this, if I am not mistaken, will be found to be the plaintive tone, approaching to a monotone. Not that this monotone is to be continued through the whole simile: if it does but commence with a monotone, it may slide gradually into such a diversity of inflection as the sense seems to require. So in that beautiful simile in Parnel's Hermit, where a pious mind agitated with doubts is compared to a calm lake disturbed by a falling stone.
A life so sacred, such serene repose,
Seem'd heaven itself, till one suggestion rose,-
Swift ruffling circles curl on every side;