( Originally Published 1879 )
Beauty! thou pretty plaything! dear deceit!
WE doubt not that God is a lover of beauty. He fashioned the worlds in beauty, when there was no eye to behold them but his own. All along the wild old forest he has carved the forms of beauty. Every cliff, and mountain, and tree is a statue of beauty. Every leaf, and stem, and vine, and flower is a form of beauty. Every hill, and dale, and landscape is a picture of beauty. Every cloud, and mist-wreath, and vapor-vail is a shadowy reflection of beauty. Every diamond, and rock, and pebbly beach is a mine of beauty. Every sun, and planet, and star is a blazing face of beauty. All along the aisles of earth, all over the arches of heaven, all through the expanses of the universe, are scattered in rich and infinite profusion the life-gems of beauty. All this great realm of dazzling and bewildering beauty was made by God. What shall we say then, is he not a lover of beauty?
There is beauty in the songsters of the air. The symmetry of their bodies, the wing so light and expert in fanning the breeze, the graceful neck and head, their tiny feet and legs, all so well fitted for their native element, and more than this, their sweet notes that awaken delight in every heart that loves to rejoice. Who can range the sunny fields and shady forests on a bright summer's day, and listen to the melody of a thousand voices chanting their Maker's praise, and not feel the soul melt with joy and gratitude for such refreshing scenes.
The universe is its temple; and those men who are alive to it cannot lift their eyes without feeling them-selves 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 highest style of beauty to be found in nature pertains to the human form, as animated and lighted up by the intelligence within. It is the expression of the soul that constitutes this superior beauty. It is that which looks out at the eye, which sits in calm majesty on the brow, lurks on the lip, smiles on the cheek, is set forth in the chiselled lines and features of the countenance, in the general contour of figure and form, in the movement, and gesture, and tone ; it is this looking out of the invisible spirit that dwells within, this manifestation of the higher nature, that we admire and love; this constitutes to us the beauty of our species. Hence it is that certain features, not in themselves particularly attractive, wanting, it may be, in certain regularity of outline, or in certain delicacy and softness, are still invested in a peculiar charm and radiance of beauty from their peculiar expressiveness and animation. The light of genius, the superior glow of sympathy, and a noble heart, play upon those plain, and it may be, homely features, and light them up with a brilliant and regal beauty. Those, as every artist know, are the most difficult to portray. The expression changes with the instant. Beauty flashes, and is gone, or gives place to a still higher beauty, as the light that plays in fitful corruscations along the Northern sky, coming and going, but never still.
We would now dwell upon the beauty of spirit, soul, mind, heart, life. There is a beauty which perishes not. It is such as the angels wear. It forms the washed white robes of the saints. It wreathes the countenance of every doer of good. It adorns every honest face. It shines in the virtuous life. It molds the hands of charity. It sweetens the voice of sympathy. It sparkles on the brow of wisdom. It flashes in the eye of love. It breathes in the spirit of piety. It is the beauty of the heaven of heavens. It is that which may grow by the hand of culture in every human soul. It is the flower of the spirit which blossoms on the tree of life. Every soul may plant and nurture it in its own garden, in its own Eden. This is the capacity for beauty that God has given to the human soul, and this the beauty placed within the reach of us all. We may all be beautiful. Though our forms may be uncomely and our features not the prettiest, our spirits may be beautiful. And this inward beauty always shines through. A beautiful heart will flash out in the eye. A lovely soul will glow in the face. A sweet spirit will tune the voice, wreathe the countenance in charms. Oh, there is a power in interior beauty that melts the hardest heart!
Woman, by common consent, we regard as the most perfect type of beauty on earth. To her we ascribe the highest charms belonging to this wonderful element so profusely mingled in all God's works. Her form is molded and finished in exquisite delicacy of perfection. The earth gives us no form more perfect, no features more symmetrical, no style more chaste, no movements more graceful, no finish more complete; so that our artists ever have and ever will regard the woman-form of humanity as the most perfect earthly type of beauty. This form is most perfect and symmetrical in the youth of womanhood; so that youthful woman is earth's queen of beauty. This is true, not only by the common consent of mankind, but also by the strictest rules of scientific criticism.
This being an admitted fact, woman, and especially youthful woman, is laid under strong obligations and exposed to great temptations. Beauty has wonderful charms. A charming gift of pleasure. Beauty will not only win for her admiring eyes, but it will win her favor; it will draw hearts toward her; it will awaken tender and agreeable feelings in her behalf; it will disarm the stranger of the peculiar prejudices he often has toward those he knows not; it will pave the way to esteem; it will weave the links to friendship's chain; it will throw an air of agreeableness into the manners of all who approach her. All this her beauty will do for her before she puts forth a single effort of her own to win the esteem and love of her fellows.
Socrates called beauty a short-lived tyranny; Plato, a privilege of nature; Theophrastus, a silent cheat; Theocritus, a delightful prejudice; Cameades, 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 it was a glorious gift of nature; and Ovid calls it a favor bestowed by the gods. But, as regards the elements of beauty in women, it is not too much to say that no woman can be beautiful by force of features alone; there must be as well sweetness and beauty of soul. Beauty has been called "the power and aims of woman." Diogenes called it "woman's most forcible letter of recommendation." Caoneades represented it as "a queen without soldiers;" and Theocritus says it is "a serpent covered with flowers;" while a modern author defines it " a bait that as often catches the fisher as the fish." Nearly all the old philosophers denounced and ridiculed beauty as evanescent, worthless and mischievous; but, alas! while they preached against it they were none the less its slaves. None of them were able to withstand "the sly, smooth witchcraft of a fair young face." A really beautiful woman is a natural queen in the universe of love, where all hearts pay a glad tribute to her reign.
Nothing is all dark.' There cannot be a picture without its bright spots; and the steady contemplation of what is bright in others, has a reflex influence upon the beholder. It reproduces what it reflects. Nay, it seems to leave an impress even upon the countenance. The feature, from having a dark, sinister aspect, be-comes open, serene, and sunny. A countenance so impressed, has neither the vacant stare of the idiot, nor the crafty, penetrating look of the basilisk, but the clear placid aspect of truth and goodness. The woman who has such a face is beautiful. She has a beauty which changes not with the features, which fades not with years. It is beauty of expression. It is the only kind of beauty which can be relied upon for a permanent influence with the other sex. The violet will soon cease to smile. Flowers must fade. The love that has nothing but beauty to sustain it soon withers away. A pretty woman pleases the eye; a good woman, the heart. The one is a jewel, the other a treasure. Invincible fidelity, good humor, and complacency of temper, outlive all the charms of a fine face, and make the decay of it invisible. That is true beauty which has not only a substance, but a spirit; a beauty that we must intimately know to justly appreciate.
Beauty has been not unaptly, though perhaps rather vulgarly, defined as "all in my eye," since it addresses itself solely to that organ, and is intrinsically of little value. From this ephemeral flower spring many of the ingredients of matrimonial unhappiness. It is a dangerous gift for both its possessor and its admirer. If its possession, as is often the case, turns the head, while its loss sours the temper, if the long regret of its decay outweighs the fleeting pleasure of its bloom, the plain should pity rather than envy the handsome. Beauty of countenance, which, being the light of the soul shining through the face, is independent of features or complexion, is the most attractive as well as the most enduring charm. Nothing but talent and amiability can bestow it, no statue or picture can rival it, and time itself cannot destroy it.
Beauty, dear reader, is probably the woman you love lest, but we trust it is the beauty of soul and character, which sits in calm majesty on the brow, lurks on the lip, and will outlive what is called a fine face.
Man, however, is not the highest type of beauty; for in him, as in all things on earth, is mingled along with the beauty much that is deformedówith the excellence much imperfection. We can conceive forms superior to hisófaces radiant with a beauty that sin has never darkened, nor passion nor sorrow dimmed. We can conceive forms of beauty more perfect, purer, brighter, loftier than anything that human eyes have ever seen. Imagination fashions these conceptions, and art produces it. This, the poet, the painter, the sculptor, the architect, the orator, each in his own way, is ever striving to do, to present, under sensible forms,- the ideal of a more perfect loveliness and excellence than the .actual world affords. This, however, cannot be done successfully, as perfection of beauty dwells alone with God.