Monday, February 2, 2015

Blockes For Their Pillowes

F. L. Lucas on the technique of John Webster.

Really dead metaphors, like really dead nettles, cannot sting; but often the metaphors are only half dead; and these need careful handling. It may, of course, be argued that some mixed metaphors bother none but readers with too vivid imaginations. Yet I doubt if readers can have too vivid imaginations. At all events you will find, I think, that you lose esteem with many readers if they come to feel that you have a less vivid imagination than they have themselves. A main purpose of imagery is to make a style more concrete and definite; and it is interesting to note how much that imagery itself may gain by being made still more concrete and still more definite, as when Webster borrows images from Sidney or Montaigne.

She was like them that could not sleepe, when they were softly layd. -- Sidney, Arcadia.

You are like some, cannot sleepe in feather-beds, But must have blockes for their pillowes. -- Duchess of Malfi.

See whether any cage can please a bird. Or whether a dogge grow not fiercer with tying. -- Sidney, Arcadia.

Like English Mastiffes, that grow fierce with tying.
-- Duchess of Malfi.

The opinion of wisedome is the plague of man. -- Montaigne.

Oh Sir, the opinion of wisedome is a foule tettor, that runs all over a mans body. -- Duchess of Malfi.

Never, it seems to me, was theft better justified -- the plagiarist here is far more praiseworthy than his victims; simply because in each case the picture becomes much more precisely visualized. ‘A dogge’ is vague beside ‘English Mastiffes’; a ‘plague’ is feeble compared to ‘a foule tettor’. Here, as with other kinds of clarity, preferences may indeed differ according to taste and temperament; there are doubtless times when, here too, writing gains by half-lights, mists, and shadows; but I own that I love particularly in prose, keen vision; sharp focus; and clearest air.
Style, by F. L. Lucas.
Cassell, London, 1955.
Harriman House Ltd, 2012.

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