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PERSONAL BEAUTY PRODUCED BY MORAL
Nunc scio quid sit AMOR.
Though the danger of disappointment is always in pro. portion to the height of expectation, yet I now claim the attention of the ladies, and profess to teach an art by which all may obtain what has hitherto been deemed the prerogative of a few; an art by which their predominant passion may be gratified, and their conquests not only extended but secured : “ the art of being pretty."
But though my subject may interest the ladies, it may, perhaps, offend those profound moralists, who have long since determined, that beauty ought rather to be despised than desired; that, like strength, it is a mere natural excel. lence, the effect of causes wholly out of our power, and not intended either as the pledge of happiness or the distinc. tion of merit.
To these gentleman I shall remark, that beauty is among those qualities which no effort of human wit could ever bring into contempt; it is, therefore, to be wished at least, that beauty was in some degree dependent upon sentiment and manners, that so high a privilege might not be possessed by the unworthy, and that human reason might no longer suffer the mortification of those who are compelled to adore an idol, which differs from a stone or a log only by the skill of the artificer: and if they cannot themselves behold beauty with indifference, they must, surely, approve an attempt to show that it merits their regard.
I shall, however, principally consider that species of beauty which is expressed in the countenance; for this
alone is peculiar to human beings, and is not less complicated than their nature. In the countenance there are but two requisites to perfect beauty, which are wholly produced by external causes, colour and proportion : and it will appear that even in common estimation these are not the chief; but that though there may be beauty without them, yet there cannot be beauty without something more.
The finest features, ranged in the most exact symmetry, and heightened by the most blooming complexion, must be animated before they can strike ; and when they are animated, will generally excite the same passions which they express. If they are fixed in the dead calm of insensibility, they will be examined without emotion ; and if they do not express kindness, they will be beheld without love. Looks of contempt, disdain, or malevolence, will be reflected, as from a mirror, by every countenance on which they are turned; and if a wanton aspect excites desire, it is but like that of a savage for his prey, which cannot be gratified without the destruction of its object.
Among particular graces the dimple has always been allowed the pre-eminence, and the reason is evident ; dimples are produced by a smile, and a smile is an expression of complacency : so the contraction of the brows into a frown, as it is an indication of a contrary temper, has always been deemed a capital defect.
The lover is generally at a loss to define the beauty by which his passion was suddenly and irresistibly determined to a particular object: but this could never happen, if it depended upon any known rule of proportion, upon the shape or the disposition of features, or the colour of the skin : he tells you that it is something which he cannot fully express, something not fixed in any feature, but diffused over all; he calls it a sweetness, a softness, a placid sensibility, or gives it some other appellation which connects beauty with senti. ment, and expresses a charm which is not peculiar to any set of features, but is perhaps possible to all.
This beauty, however, does not always consist in smiles, but varies as expressions of meekness and kindness vary with their objects: it is extremely forcible in the silent complaint of patient sufferance, the tender solicitude of friendship, and the glow of filial obedience; and in tears, whether of joy, of pity, or of grief, it is almost irresistible.
This is the charm which captivates without the aid of nature, and without which her utmost bounty is ineffectual. But it cannot be assumed as a mask to conceal insensibility or malevolence; it must be the genuine effect of corresponding sentiments, or it will impress upon the countenance a new and more disgusting deformity, affectation : it will produce the grin, the simper, the stare, the languish, the pout, and innumerable other grimaces, that render folly ridiculous, and change pity to contempt. By some, indeed, this species of hypocrisy has been practised with such skill as to deceive superficial observers, though it can deceive even these but for a moment. Looks which do not correspond with the heart, cannot be assumed without labour, nor continued without pain ; the motive to relinquish them must therefore soon preponderate, and the aspect and apparel of the visit will be laid by to. gether, the smiles and the languishments of art will vanish, and the fiercenesss of rage, or the gloom of discontent, will either obscure or destroy all the elegance of symmetry and complexion.
The artificial aspect is, indeed, as wretched a substitute for the expression of sentiment, as the smear of paint for the blushes of health : it is not only equally transient, and equally liable to detection ; but as pain leaves the countenance yet more withered and ghastly, the passions burst out with more violence after restraint, the features become more distorted, and excite more determined aversion.
Beauty, therefore, depends principally upon the mind, and consequently may be influenced by education. It has been remarked, that the predominant passion may generally be discovered in the countenance; because the muscles by which it is expressed, being almost perpetually contracted, lose their tone, and never totally relax; so that the expres. sion remains, when the passion is suspended : thus an angry, a disdainful, a subtil, or a suspicious temper, is displayed in characters that are almost universally understood. It is equally true of the pleasing and the softer passions, that they leave their signatures upon the countenance when they cease to act: the prevalence of these passions, therefore, produces a mechanical effect upon the aspect, and gives a turn and cast to the features, which make a more favourable and forcible impression upon the mind of others, than any charm produced by mere external causes.
Neither does the beauty which depends upon temper and sentiment equally endanger the possessor: “ It is," to use an eastern metaphor, “ like the towers of a city, not only an ornament but a defence." If it excite desire, it at once controls and refines it; it represses with awe, it softens with delicacy, and it wins to imitation. The love of reason and of virtue is mingled with the love of beauty ; because this beauty is little more than the emanation of intellectual ex. cellence, which is not an object of corporeal appetite. As it excites a purer passion, it also more forcibly engages to fidelity : every man finds himself more powerfully restrained from giving pain to goodness, than to beauty; and every look of a countenance in which they are blended, in which beauty is the expression of goodness, is a silent reproach of the first irregular wish ; and the purpose immediately appears to be disingenuous and cruel, by which the tender hope of ineffable affection would be disappointed, the placid confidence of unsuspecting simplicity abused, and the peace even of virtue endangered by the most sordid infidelity, and the breach of the strongest obligations.
But the hope of the hypocrite must perish. When the factitious beauty has laid by her smiles; when the lustre of her eyes and the bloom of her cheeks have lost their influence with their novelty ; what remains but a tyrant divested of wer, who will never be seen without a mix. ture of indignation and disdain ? The only desire which this object could gratify, will be transferred to another, not only without reluctance, but with triumph. As resentment will succeed to disappointment, a desire to mortify will succeed to a desire to please; and the husband may be urged to solicit a mistress, merely by a remembrance of the beauty of his wife, which lasted only till she was known.
Let it, therefore, be remembered, that none can be disci. ples of the races, but in the school of virtue ; and that those who wish to be lovely, must learn early to be good