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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-anhour together, and an eyebrow call a man 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 man's 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.
I cannot recollect the author of a famous saying to a stranger who stood silent in his company,
Speak that I may see thee.' But with submission, I think we may be better known by our looks than by our words; and that a man's speech is much more easily disguised than his countenance. In this case, however, I think the air of the whole face is much more expressive than the lines of it. The truth of it is, the air is generally nothing else but the inward disposition of the mind made visible.
Those who have established physiognomy into an art, and laid down rules of judging men's tempers
1 Unknown persons' (folio).
Shrink his thin essence like a rivelled flower.' 3 Socrates, in Apul. Flor.
by their faces, have regarded the features much more than the air. Martial has a pretty epigram on this subject :
Crine ruber, niger ore, brevis pede, lumine læsus ;
Rem magnam præstas, Zoile, si bonus es. 1
Shouldst thou be honest, thou’rt a devilish cheat. I have seen a very ingenious author on this subject, who founds his speculations on the supposition, that as a man hath in the mould of his face a remote likeness to that of an ox, a sheep, a lion, an hog, or any other creature, he hath the same resemblance in the frame of his mind, and is subject to those passions which are predominant in the creature that appears in his countenance. Accordingly he gives the prints of several faces that are of a different mould; and by a little overcharging the likeness, discovers the figures of these several kinds of brutal faces in human features. I remember in the life of the famous Prince of Condé the writer observes, the * face of that prince was like the face of an eagle, and that the prince was very well pleased to be told
In this case therefore we may be sure that he had in his mind some general implicit notion of this art of physiognomy which I have just now mentioned; and that when his courtiers told him his face was made like an eagle's, he understood them in the same manner as if they had told him, there was something in his looks which showed him to be
1 Epig. liv. 12. 2 Baptista della Porta, De Humanæ Physiognomiæ.' 3 • By overcharging' (folio).
4 «That the' (folio).
strong, active, piercing, and of a royal descent. Whether or no the different motions of the animal spirits in different passions may have any effect on the mould of the face when the lineaments are pliable and tender, or whether the same kind of souls require the same kind of habitations, I shall leave to the consideration of the curious. In the meantime I think nothing can be more glorious than for a man to give the lie to his face, and to be an honest, just, good-natured man, in spite of all those marks and signatures which nature seems to have set upon him for the contrary. This very often happens among those who, instead of being exasperated by their own looks, or envying the looks of others, apply themselves entirely to the cultivating of their minds, and getting those beauties which are more lasting and more ornamental. I have seen many an amiable piece of deformity; and have observed a certain cheerfulness in as bad a system of features as ever was clapped together, which hath appeared more lovely than all the blooming charms of an insolent beauty. There is a double praise due to virtue, when it is lodged in a body that seems to have been prepared for the reception of vice: in many such cases the soul and the body do not seem to be fellows.
Socrates was an extraordinary instance of this nature. There chanced to be a great physiognomist in his time at Athens, who had made strange discoveries of men's tempers and inclinations by their outward appearances. Socrates's disciples, that they might put this artist to the trial, carried him to their master, whom he had never seen before, and did not know he was then in company with him.' After a short examination of his face, the physiognomist pronounced him the most lewd, libidinous, drunken old fellow that he had ever met with in his whole life. Upon which the disciples all burst out a laughing, as thinking they had detected the falsehood and vanity of his art : but Socrates told them, that the principles of his art might be very true, notwithstanding his present mistake; for that he himself was naturally inclined to those particular vices which the physiognomist had discovered in his countenance, but that he had conquered the strong, dispositions he was born with, by the dictates of philosophy.
1 • Know who he was' (folio).
We are indeed told by an ancient author,' that Socrates very much resembled Silenus in his face ; which we find to have been very rightly observed from the statues and busts of both that are still extant; as well as on several antique seals and precious stones, which are frequently enough to be met with in the cabinets of the curious. But however observations of this nature may sometimes hold, a wise man should be particularly cautious how he gives credit to a man's outward appearance. It is an irreparable injustice we are guilty of towards one another, when we are prejudiced by the looks and features of those whom we do not know. How often do we conceive hatred against a person of worth, or fancy a man to be proud and ill-natured by his aspect, whom we think we cannot esteem too much when we are acquainted with his real character ? Dr. More, in his admirable system of ethics, reckons
1 • Ever seen in his’ (folio).
5 Henry More, theologian and Platonist (1614–1687), published his Enchiridion Ethicum in 1667.
this particular inclination to take a prejudice against a man for his looks, among the smaller vices in morality; and, if I remember, gives it the name of a Prosopolepsia.
No. 87. Saturday, June 9, 1711
Nimium ne crede colori.
- Virg., Eclog. ii. 17. T has been the purpose of several of my speculations to bring people to an unconcerned behaviour
with relation to their persons, whether beautiful or defective. As the secrets of the Ugly Club were exposed to the public, that men might see there were some noble spirits in the age, who were not at all displeased with themselves upon considerations which they had no choice in; so the discourse concerning Idols? tended to lessen the value people put upon themselves from personal advantages, and gifts of nature. 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 do 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
1 See Nos. 17, &c.
2 No. 73.