Personification in Eighteenth-Century English Poetry

By Chester F. Chapin | Go to book overview

Part Two

CHAPTER VI
PERSONIFICATION AS A FIGURE OF RHETORIC: JOHNSON

IN PART ONE I discussed a type of eighteenth-century personification which was intended to make a strong appeal to the sense of sight. A distinction was made in chapter V between this type of personification and the type which Gray employs in the Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard. As used in the Elegy, personification was found to enhance the value of statement in poetry by giving dramatic emphasis to the idea or sentiment which the poet was concerned to express. It was maintained, however, that Gray's use of the figure in the Elegy did not, in every instance, reflect a "positive feeling for the Augustan." This part of the book deals with poets whose best verse more fully and more adequately reflects the varied elements of strength which belong to the Augustan tradition in eighteenth-century verse.

The theory of poetic imagination examined in chapter V was criticized because it led poets and their readers to place too much emphasis on the image-making faculty. The views of the major Augustan poets are nearer to the modern concept of poetic imagination as a faculty which involves an effort of the total mind. No attempt is made in these chapters at a comprehensive definition of the term "imagination." To say that imagination involves an effort of the total mind is only to recognize the inadequacy of eighteenth-century "mechanical" or "divisive" theories of mental operations. While it is maintained in the following chapters that the use of the prosopopoeia in certain poems of Pope and

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