S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
Every one is in some degree a master of that art which is generally distinguished by the name of Physiognomy; and naturally forms to himself the character or fortune of a stranger, from the features and lineaments of his face. We are no sooner presented to any one we never saw before, but we are immediately struck with the idea of a proud, a reserved, an affable, or a good-natured man; and upon our first going into a company of strangers, our benevolence or aversion, awe or contempt, rises naturally towards several particular persons, before we have heard them speak a single word, or so much as know who they are.
Every passion gives a particular cast to the countenance, and is apt to discover itself in some feature or other. I have seen an eye curse for half an hour together, and an eyebrow call a man a scoundrel. Nothing is more common than for lovers to complain, resent, languish, despair, and die, in dumb show. For my own part, I am so apt to frame a notion of every mans humour or circumstances by his looks, that I have sometimes employed myself from Charing-Cross to the Royal Exchange in drawing the characters of those who have passed by me. When I see a man with a sour rivelled face, I cannot forbear pitying his wife: and when I meet with an open ingenuous countenance, think on the happiness of his friends, his family, and relations.
While the bloom of youth lasts, and the smoothness of feature peculiar to that period, the human face is less marked with any strong character than in old age. A peevish or surly stripling may elude the eye of the physiognomist; but a wicked old man whose visage does not betray the evil temperature of his heart must have more cunning than it would be prudent for him to acknowledge. Even by the trade or profession the human countenance may be characterized. They who employ themselves in the nicer mechanic arts, that require the earnest attention of the artist, do generally contract a fixedness of feature suited to that one uniform sentiment which engrosses them while at work. Whereas other artists, whose work requires less attention, and who ply their trade and amuse themselves with conversation at the same time, have, for the most part, smoother and more unmeaning faces: their thoughts are more miscellaneous, and therefore their features are less fixed in one uniform configuration. A keen penetrating look indicates thoughtfulness and spirit: a dull torpid countenance is not often accompanied with great sagacity.
This, though there may be many an exception, is in general true of the visible signs of our passions; and it is no less true of the audible. A man habitually peevish, or passionate, or querulous, or imperious, may be known by the sound of his voice, as well as by his physiognomy.
He maintained not (when near death) his proper countenance, but looked like his uncle, the lines of whose face lay deep and invisible in his healthful visage before: for as from our beginning we run through variety of looks before we come to consistent and settled faces, so before our end, by sick and languishing alterations, we put on new visages, and in our retreat to earth may fall upon such looks which from our community of seminal originals were before latent in us.
Since the brow speaks often true, since eyes and noses have tongues, and the countenance proclaims the heart and inclinations, let observation so far instruct thee in physiognomical lines as to be some rule for thy distinction, and guide for thy affection unto such as look most like men. Mankind, methinks, is comprehended in a few faces, if we exclude all visages which in any way participate of symmetries and schemes of look common unto other animals. For as though man were the extract of the world, in whom all were in coagulato, which in their forms were in soluto and at extension; we often observe that men do most act those creatures whose constitutions, parts, and complexion do most predominate in their mixtures. This is a corner-stone in physiognomy, and holds some truth not only in particular persons, but also in whole nations. There are, therefore, provincial faces, national lips and noses, which testify not only the natures of those countries, but of those which have them elsewhere.
Peoples opinions of themselves are legible in their countenances. Thus a kind imagination makes a bold man have vigour and enterprise in his air and motion: it stamps value and significancy upon his face.
Alas! how few of natures faces there are to gladden us with their beauty! The cares, and sorrows, and hungerings of the world change them as they change hearts; and it is only when those passions sleep, and have lost their hold forever, that the troubled clouds pass off, and leave heavens surface clear. It is a common thing for the countenances of the dead, even in that fixed and rigid state, to subside into the long-forgotten expression of sleepless infancy, and settle into the very look of early life; so calm, so peaceful, do they grow again, that those who knew them in their happy childhood kneel by the coffins side in awe, and see the angel even upon earth.
In passing, we will express an opinion that Nature never writes a bad hand. Her writing, as it may be read in the human countenance, is invariably legible, if we come at all trained to the reading of it. Some little weighing and comparing are necessary.
There are some physiognomies that are favourable, so that in a crowd of victorious enemies you shall presently chuse, amongst men you never saw before, one rather than another to whom to surrender, and with whom to intrust your life, and yet not properly upon the consideration of beauty. A mans look is but a feeble warranty, and yet is something considerable too: and if I were to lash them I would most severely scourge the wicked ones who belye and betray the promises that nature has planted in their foreheads. I should with great severity punish malice in a mild and gentle aspect. It seems as if there were some happy and some unhappy faces; and I believe there is some art in distinguishing affable from simple faces, severe from rude, malicious from pensive, scornful from melancholick, and such other bordering qualities. There are beauties which are not only fair but sour; and others that are not only sweet, but more than that, faint. To prognosticate future adventures is a thing that I shall leave undecided.
Michel de Montaigne: Essays, Cottons 3d ed., ch. cvi.