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OF HYPERBOLE AND IRONY.
Q. What do you understand by Hyperbole?
A. The representation of a thing as either far greater, or far less, better or worse, than it is in reality: greater, as when we call a tall person a giant, or steeple; less, as when we say of a lean man he is a mere skeleton, or a shadow.
Q. On what is this figure founded?
A. On that propensity in human nature, which prompts either to extol or vilify, beyond measure, whatever excites admiration or creates dislike...
Q. Of what, then, is it generally the result?
A. Either of strong passion, or of want of due discrimination.
Q. Is it a common figure of speech?
A. Very common in the conversation of passionate and ignorant people; and it is frequently to be found in the compositions of all bombastic writers.
Q. Is it, then, a figure always to be avoided?
A. By no means; it gives vivacity to the expression, and sometimes entertains by presenting a ludicrous image; and it may be, and often is used with excellent effect, especially when it is the spontaneous result of strong feeling.
Q. Can you give examples of this latter kind?
A. "They were swifter than eagles; they were stronger than lions." "Rivers of waters run down mine eyes because they keep not thy law."
What do you mean by Irony?
A. The expression of strong reproof or censure, under the appearance of praise.
Q. How, then, must the true meaning be known?
A. By the circumstances of the speaker in relation to the object that he means to censure.
Q. What end does irony serve?
A. It often gives greater poignancy to reproof, as it is generally calculated to bring ridicule upon the object to which it is applied.
Q. How is it best applied?
A. In reproving folly or vice; for, as applied to persons, it more frequently produces irritation than amendment.
Q. Can you give an example of this figure?
A. In saying of a very impudent fellow, "A person of his distinguished modesty could surely not be guilty of such a deed," would be an instance of strong irony, in which is said the very opposite of what is intended.
Q. What is the rule for the use of hyperbole and irony?
In regard to hyperbole, care is to be taken, in the use of it, not to lead others into any mistake concerning the real nature of things. The frequent use of this figure is offensive to persons of taste, and also to those who have a strict regard for truth.
It is not needful to present exercises for the practice of the student, as every person is liable, without instruction, to a too frequent use of this figure.
In regard to irony, it is sometimes entertaining, by giving variety and vivacity to discourse, but becomes offensive when too frequent. It has been employed by teachers of respectable and even of sacred characters, in exposing folly and absurdity. For instances, see 1 Kings, xviii., 27; Eccles., xi., 9; Mark, vii., 9. Socrates used it happily for the instruction of his friends and the confutation of the sophists, and thence got the name of 'O epov, or the ironical philosopher.
Care should be taken in the use of this trope, that there be such a choice of words and such an accent in pronunciation, as that our meaning may not be misunderstood; and with respect to all other tropes and figures, care should be taken that our meaning be cleared and enforced, but never obscured or weakened, by the use of them.
Q. Can you give an illustration of the danger sometimes attendant upon the use of irony and raillery?
A. The talented author of "Lacon," having remarked that some good-natured fellows have thus lost their lives, at the hands of a foe who found it easier to point a sword than a repartee, proceeds to illustrate his position as follows:
"I have heard of a man in the province of Bengal, who had been a long time very successful in hunting the tiger. His skill gained him great éclat, and insured him much diversion; at length he narrowly escaped with his life; he then relinquished the sport with this observation: Tiger hunting is very fine amusement, so long as we hunt the tiger, but it is rather awkward when the tiger takes it into his head to hunt us.'
"Again, this skill in small wit, like skill in small arms, is very apt to beget a confidence which may prove fatal in the end. We may either mistake the proper moment, for even cowards have their fighting days, or we may mistake the proper man. A certain Savoyard got his livelihood by exhibiting a monkey and a bear. He gained so much applause from his tricks with the monkey, that he was encouraged to practice some of them on the bear. He was dreadfully lacerated, and on being rescued with great ficulty from the gripe of Bruin, he exclaimed, 'What a fool was I not to distinguish between a monkey and a bear! A bear, my friends, is a very grave kind of personage, and, as you plainly see, does not understand a joke!'
EXAMPLES OF IRONY.
We owe the ancients something. You have read
I scorn equivocation or evasion,
And own, it must, in candor, be confess'd,
"Twas their misfortune to be born too soon
By centuries, and in the wrong place, too;
Or wore a pair of Back's black satin breeches,
In short, in every thing we far outshine them-
More than ten years' hard study of the whole
And on our City Hall a justice stands;
A pair of steelyards and a wooden sword,
A finer example of irony can scarcely be found than the prose article by Washington Irving on the Right of the Colonists to America,” quoted in the Young Ladies' Reader," by Mrs. Tuthill, an excellent work for classes, as a storehouse of rhetorical illustrations.
Shakspeare abounds in examples of hyperbole. It is heard, also, if not practiced, every day in conversa tion. Junius abounds in irony and satire.
OF INTERROGATION AND EXCLAMATION.
Q. What do you mean by Interrogation?
4. Such a form of speech as serves to put in form of a question what is meant to be strongly affirmative. Q. Is interrogation always used figuratively?
A. It is never so used when employed to make inquiry about any thing of which one is ignorant.
Q. When may it be said to be used figuratively?
A. Only when so used that, under the form of a question, it serves the purpose of strong declaration.
Q. Can you exemplify this?
A. "Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection?"
Q. What is implied in these questions?
A. A strong declaration that the Supreme Being is quite incomprehensible, and can not be found out. Q. Is this a common figure?
4. Very much so; and it is often the strongest mode of reasoning, as implying the absence of all doubt respecting the object of the interrogation.
Q. What do you understand by Exclamation?
A. A mode of expression which exhibits great emotion of mind.
Q. By what is it generally produced?
A. By the deep or lively sense which we have of the greatness or importance of any object.
Q. In what does it differ from interrogation
A. Chiefly in its being the language of passion and emotion; while interrogation is principally that of reason and judgment.
Q. Can you give an example of this figure?
A. "O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!"
Q. Is this figure ever combined with any other?
A. It is often combined with climax, as in the following example: "What a piece of work is man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculties! in action, how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a god!"
OF VISION AND ALLITERATION.
Q. What do you mean by Vision?
A. That figure by which past, future, or distant objects are described as if they were actually present to the view of the speaker or writer.
Q. To what sort of composition is this figure adapted?
A. Only to such as is highly glowing and passionate. Q. What effect has it when properly introduced?
A. It excites deep interest in the objects contemplated, and makes us fancy we see them present before our eyes.
Q. Can you give an example of this?
A. Cheever, in the use of this figure, thus describes Bunyan, when in prison, nearly two hundred years ago:
"And now it is evening. A rude lamp glimmers darkly on the table, the tagged laces are laid aside, and Bunyan, alone, is busy with his Bible, the concordance, and his pen, ink, and paper. He writes as though joy did make him write. His pale, worn coun tenance is lighted with a fire, as if reflected from the radiant jas per walls of the Celestial City. He writes, and smiles, and clasps his hands, and looks upward, and blesses God for his goodness,