S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
There is nothing that makes its way more directly to the soul than beauty, which immediately diffuses a secret satisfaction and complacency through the imagination, and gives a finishing to anything that is great or uncommon. The very first discovery of it strikes the mind with an inward joy, and spreads a cheerfulness and delight through all its faculties.
There is a second kind of beauty that we find in the several products of art and nature; which does not work in the imagination with that warmth and violence as the beauty that appears in our proper species, but is apt, however, to raise in us a secret delight, and a kind of fondness for the places or objects in which we discover it. This consists either in the gaiety or variety of colours, in the symmetry and proportion of parts, in the arrangement and disposition of bodies, or in a just mixture and concurrence of all together. Among these several kinds of beauty the eye takes most delight in colours.
The head has the most beautiful appearance, as well as the highest station, in a human figure. Nature has laid out all her art in beautifying the face; she has touched it with vermilion, planted in it a double row of ivory, made it the seat of smiles and blushes, lighted it up and enlivened it with the brightness of the eyes, hung it on each side with curious organs of sense, given it airs and graces that cannot be described, and surrounded it with such a flowing shade of hair as sets all its beauties in the most agreeable light. In short, she seems to have designed the head as the cupola to the most glorious of her works.
Ask any of the husbands of your great beauties, and they will tell you that they hate their wives nine hours of every day they pass together. There is such a particularity ever affected by them that they are encumbered with their charms in all they say or do. They pray at public devotions as they are beauties. They converse on ordinary occasions as they are beauties . Good nature will always supply the absence of beauty, but beauty cannot long supply the absence of good nature.
In beauty, that of favour is more than that of colour; and that of decent and gracious motion more than that of favour. That is the best part of beauty which a picture cannot express; no, nor the first sight of the life. There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.
A man shall see faces that, if you examine them part by part, you shall find never a good; and yet altogether do well. If it be true that the principal part of beauty is in decent motion, certainly it is no marvel though persons in years seem many times more amiable: pulchorum autumnus pulcher; for no youth can be comely but by pardon, and considering the youth as to make up the comeliness. Beauty is as summer fruits, which are easy to corrupt, and that cannot last; and for the most part, it makes a dissolute youth, and an age a little out of countenance: but yet certainly again, if it light well, it maketh virtues shine and vices blush.
Female beauties are as fickle in their faces as their minds; though casualties should spare them, age brings in a necessity of decay; leaving doters upon red and white perplexed by incertainty both of the continuance of their mistresss kindness and her beauty, both of which are necessary to the amorists joy and quiet.
I cannot understand the importance which certain people set upon outward beauty or plainness. I am of opinion that all true education, such at least as has a religious foundation, must infuse a noble calm, a wholesome coldness, an indifference, or whatever people may call it, towards such-like outward gifts, or the want of them. And who has not experienced of how little consequence they are in fact for the weal or woe of life? Who has not experienced, how, on nearer acquaintance, plainness becomes beautified, and beauty loses its charm, exactly according to the quality of the heart and mind? And from this cause am I of opinion that the want of outward beauty never disquiets a noble nature or will be regarded as a misfortune. It never can prevent people from being amiable and beloved in the highest degree; and we have daily proof of this.
Beauty is an all-pervading presence. It unfolds to the numberless flowers of the spring; it waves in the branches of the trees and the green blades of grass; it haunts the depths of the earth and the sea, and gleams out in the hues of the shell and the precious stone. And not only these minute objects, but the ocean, the mountains, the clouds, the heavens, the stars, the rising and setting sun, all overflow with beauty. The universe is its temple; and those men who are alive to it cannot lift their eyes without feeling themselves encompassed with it on every side. Now, this beauty is so precious, the enjoyments it gives are so refined and pure, so congenial with our tenderest and noblest feelings, and so akin to worship, that it is painful to think of the multitude of men as living in the midst of it, and living almost as blind to it as if, instead of this fair earth and glorious sky, they were tenants of a dungeon. An infinite joy is lost to the world by the want of culture of this spiritual endowment. The greatest truths are wronged if not linked with beauty, and they win their way most surely and deeply into the soul when arrayed in this their natural and fit attire.
There are of these sorts of beauties which last but for a moment; as the different airs of an assembly upon the sight of an unexpected and uncommon object; some particularity of a violent passion, some graceful passion, some graceful action, a smile, a glance of an eye, a disdainful look, a look of gravity, and a thousand other such-like things.
The fashion of the day should always be reflected in a womans dress, according to her position and age; the eye craves for variety as keenly as the palate; and then, I honestly protest, a naturally good-looking woman is always handsome. For, happily, there exists more than one kind of beauty. There is the beauty of infancy, the beauty of youth, the beauty of maturity, and, believe me, ladies and gentlemen, the beauty of age, if you do not spoil it by your own want of judgment. At any age, a woman may be becomingly and pleasingly dressed.
Leanness, hitherto, has been considered a reproach, rather than a merit, either in an individual or a nation . We cannot fancy a fat Macbeth; a corpulent traitor in Venice Preserved, or an obese Iago, are impossibilities. Assuredly. Falstaff was not scrupulously honest or honourable; but what was he, after all, but a merry rogue? Plumpness and beauty have often been regarded as inseparable Siamese twins, from the illustrious regent whose ideal of female loveliness was summed up in fat, fair, and forty, to the Egyptians who fattened their dames systematically, by making them sit in a bath of chicken-broth; the etiquette being that the lady under treatment is to eat, while sitting in the broth-bath, one whole chicken of the number of those of which the bath was made, and that she is to repeat both bath and dose for many days. A doubt, one should think, must have sometimes arisen, whether the beauty thus in training would fatten or choke first.
I can tell Parthenissa, for her comfort, that the beauties, generally speaking, are the most impertinent and disagreeable of women. An apparent desire of admiration, a reflection upon their own merit, and a precise behaviour in their general conduct, are almost inseparable accidents in beauties. All you obtain of them is granted to importunity and solicitation for what did not deserve so much of your time, and you recover from the possession of it as out of a dream.
You are ashamed of the vagaries of fancy which so strangely misled you, and your admiration of a beauty, merely as such, is inconsistent with a tolerable reflection upon yourself. The cheerful good-humoured creatures, into whose heads it never entered that they could make any man unhappy, are the persons formed for making men happy.
Take the whole sex together, and you find those who have the strongest possession of mens hearts are not eminent for their beauty. You see it often happen that those who engage men to the greatest violence are such as those who are strangers to them would take to be remarkably defective for that end.
He will always see the most beauty whose affections are warmest and most exercised, whose imagination is the most powerful, and who has the most accustomed himself to attend to the objects by which he is surrounded.
We may say of agreeableness, as distinct from beauty, that it consists in a symmetry of which we know not the rules, and a secret conformity of the features to each other, and to the air and complexion of the person.
Socrates called beauty a short-lived tyranny; Plato, privilege of nature; Theophrastus, a silent cheat; Theocritus, a delightful prejudice; Carneades, a solitary kingdom; Domitian said that nothing was more grateful; Aristotle affirmed that beauty was better than all the letters of recommendation in the world; Homer, that twas a glorious gift of nature; and Ovid calls it a favour bestowed by the gods.
As to the latter species of mankind, the beauties, whether male or female, they are generally the most untractable people of all others. You are so excessively perplexed with the particularities in their behaviour, that to be at ease, one would be apt to wish there were no such creatures. They expect so great allowances, and give so little to others, that they who have to deal with them find, in the main, a man with a better person than ordinary, and a beautiful woman, might be very happily changed for such to whom nature has been less liberal. The handsome fellow is usually so much a gentleman, and the fine woman has something so becoming, that there is no enduring either of them. It has therefore been generally my choice to mix with cheerful ugly creatures, rather than gentlemen who are graceful enough to omit or do what they please, or beauties who have charms enough to do and say what would be disobliging in anybody but themselves.
Beauty has been the delight and torment of the world ever since it began. The philosophers have felt its influence so sensibly that almost every one of them has left some saying or other which intimated that he knew too well the power of it. One has told us that a graceful person is a more powerful recommendation than the best letter that can be writ in your favour. Another desires the possessor of it to consider it is a mere gift of nature, and not any perfection of its own. A third calls it a short-lived tyranny; a fourth, a silent fraud, because it imposes upon us without the help of language. But I think Carneades spoke as much like a philosopher as any of them, though more like a lover, when he calls it royally without force. It is not indeed to be denied but there is something irresistible in a beauteous form; the most severe will not pretend that they do not feel an immediate prepossession in favour of the handsome.