Figure Name allusion
Source Johnson (1903) ("allusion"); Kellog (1880)
Earliest Source
Type None
Linguistic Domain

1. Allusion.—This is the finest of all rhetorical figures, partly for the reason that it most directly compliments the reader's intelligence and education. It assumes that he is familiar with the story, passage, character, or fact alluded to, and that he will see the resemblance without having it pointed out and explained. It often enables the writer to suggest a great deal with a word or two or a short sentence... Two qualities are requisite in an allusion: it must have point by reason of an evident similarity in the circumstances, characters, or relations that are compared ; and it must allude to something that the reader may be supposed to be familiar with, or at least to have heard of. It would not be possible to define any strict boundary for the realm of allusion, and a boundary that might be proper for one set of readers would not do for another. (Johnson, 17-19)

2. A figure of speech may contain a reference to some noteworthy incident in history, in classic story or literature, in the Bible, or to some fable or proverb or well-known custom, and so may carry additional authority and beauty. Figures containing such allusions show not only the author's perception of the relations which things sustain to each other but that he has read as well as observed, and for that reason are grateful to the reader or hearer. (Kellog, 120)


1. For instance, it should always be allowable to allude to anything in the Bible or in Shakespeare, assuming that every intelligent reader has some familiarity with them. Perhaps if we could have a committee on the subject, they would agree in adding Pilgrim's Progress, Robinson Crusoe, Don Quixote, and AEsop's Fables. (Johnson. 19)

1. An example of a very common Bible allusion occurs in Frederic Harrison's Biography of Cromwell: " The voice was the voice of Fairfax; but the hands were the hands of Oliver." The Old Choir, by Benjamin F. Taylor, contains a similar but less common allusion:

The three-score grief is not akin to youth's:
The words are Rachel's, but the lips are Rutb's.

And Whittier, in The Crisis, has these lines:

Even now, from starry Gerizim or Ebal's cloudy crown,
We call the dews of blessing or the bolts of cursing down.

A delicate and beautiful Bible allusion occurs in John Williamson Palmer's For Charlie's Sake:

I would not any seer might place
His staff on my immortal's face.
Or, lip to lip and eye to eye.
Charm back his pale mortality.
No, Shunamite, I would not break
God's stillness—let them weep who wake. (Johnson, 20)

Kind Of
Part Of
Related Figures
Confidence Unconfident
Last Editor Ioanna Malton
Confidence Unconfident
Editorial Notes
Reviewed No