Of Face Architecture
THE interest in face architecture is, in certain circles, centred almost exclusively in one department of it, that of decoration. From "smart society " emerge from time to time hints of the ever deepening mysteries of the lady's dressing-table. Fortune awaits the producer of a successful wash or dye or powder. There are face artists who specialise upon the lip, the nose, the eye, the eyebrow. There is, indeed, nothing new in this. The story is as old as the world. Montaigne gives us astonishing stories of the tortures undergone by ladies of his time in the pursuit of beauty. There was one at Paris who, " to get new skin, endured having her face flayed." He adds : " I have seen some swallow gravel, ashes, coals, dust, tallow, candles, only to get a pale, bleak colour." Things were as bad evidently in the classic times. Tibullus has some amusing lines on the expedients of the Roman ladies for getting rid of grey hairs and for the securing of fresh complexions. And ancient Egypt and antique Babylon were in these respects no whit better.
Outside the circle of beauties, professional and otherwise, there are other forms of face architecture, still of the external and decorative order, that are not without interest. It is a marvellous gift, which only a fool would despise, that enables a Macready or an Irving to reproduce the living aspect of a Richard III., to look on us with the face of Hamlet, to make hate and love, ferocity and magnanimity, humour and grief reveal themselves successively in glance and feature. Great mimicry has its place and function. But it is horrible out of place. Cowper has drawn the picture of the pulpit poseur " who mounts the rostrum with a skip," and there scans and arranges hair and feature with a pocket glass. Goethe deals this performer an even heavier blow when, in the conversation between Wagner and Faust, to the former's remark, " A preacher has a good deal to learn from the actor," Faust replies, "Yes, when the preacher is simply an actor himself." There are, however, face arrangements, still only in the region of mere feature drill, which we regard with a kindlier feeling.
What a moving passage that where Cicero describes the "death etiquette" of the gladiator ! " What gladiator, however mediocre, ever groans ? Who of them ever changes countenance ? Which of them, when down, ready to be despatched, as much as draws back his neck from the stroke ? " It is the demeanour sought by the modern army officer, who in the service books is directed, when his men are under fire, to keep at the front with an unconcerned air, and if himself struck to fall with as little noise as possible. A pose this, if you will, but one worthy of a man.
But these, after all, are only surface views on the subject of face architecture. It is astonishing, considering the interest people have in such phases of it, that they do not go a little deeper. For we are not yet arrived at the real face artists. To know them and their work is to know the central powers in heaven and earth. The human face, in any approach of it to the ideal, is the greatest creation of time. That such a result should have been brought out of man's prehistoric and animal ancestry overwhelms us with the thought of the measureless duration, the infinite patience, the unswerving continuity of Nature's process. Everything conceivable of beauty and power is summed up for us in a great face. Plato saw there the consummation of the moral and the physical. "All the greatest painting," says Ruskin, "is of the human face." The true artist always knows this, and makes the rest of his canvas an accessory to those two or three inches at the centre where a living soul looks on us through luminous eyes. In a picture such as that of " Christ leaving the Pretorium " we study in succession the steps, the building, the crowd, the soldiers as all leading us onward to the central interest -- that thorn-crowned face, marred and worn, on which we could gaze for ever.
What builds the face P Environment, of course, for one thing. The degree of latitude in which a man finds himself not only paints his complexion, but alters the ground-plan of his features. America and Australia are developing each a distinct expression of their own. Climate, soil, food and occupation among them have wrought the race physiognomy which separates Turanian from Semite and Aryan from Negro. Buckle and his school have sought to make this the whole explanation. Give them these factors and they will manufacture our whole man for us, face and all. But their easy induction does not satisfy the deeper thought of to-day. Humanity, it is being discovered, cannot be reckoned up in terms of a rule-of-three sum. We have not yet reached our real face-builder.
As we traverse that unrivalled picture-gallery the open street, and study what we find there, we get the certainty that what has made the faces here is not so much the force without as the force within. We are in the presence of spirits who are the true artists of feature. Charles Kingsley has somewhere a quaint sentence in which he speaks of the soul secreting the body as a crustacean secretes its shell. It exaggerates, doubtless, but the truth lies on that line. If we try to be materialists on this point, our very language turns upon us. W hat do we mean when we speak of " a pure face" P Nothing that can be expressed in terms of flesh and blood. What was it that Charles Lamb saw on the countenances of the Quaker ladies on their way to the Bishopsgate meeting, making them " as troops of shining ones " ? Very much, we suppose, like the something that people saw on the face of St. Vincent de Paul, and which transfigured features that were in themselves homely to ugliness. It was the gleam of the supernatural in man, the shining through mortal flesh of a sun behind the sun.
This is the highest beauty of the world. There are faces that are gospels, and there is only one way of making them. They shine along the course of Christian history as no-where else. It was such a face as looked upon England at the close of the fourteenth century from over the emaciated form of John Wycliffe. We do not wonder that, as his disciple, John Thorpe, says, " Very many of the chief men of this kingdom frequently held counsel with him, were devotedly attached to him, and guided themselves by his manner of life." There was a sunshine here, they realised, which savoured of another summer than England's June could create. It has been so with all the great souls. To look at these faces people have made pilgrimages and endured all manner of privations. We feel what throbbed in the heart of Peter the Venerable when, writing to Bernard, he declares: "If it were permitted to me, and if God willed it, I should prefer to live with you and be attached to you by an indissoluble tie, than to be first among mortals and to sit on a throne." We do not know what the features were of Macrina, the sister of Basil, and of Gregory of Nyssa. But we know the kind of light that shone through them when we read what they say of her, how she woke the one "as out of a deep sleep to the true light of the Gospel," and excited in the other an affection so deep that, as he tells us, " when they had buried her body he kissed the earth of her grave."
It is this mystery of the face and what is behind it, that has set Christian minds in every age wondering what were the lines of that Galilean countenance, the radiance from which has made another and a higher daylight for the world. Beneath the dust that covers old-world cities are lying, perhaps, precious memorials that may yet be unearthed. Who knows that we may not yet recover the statue of Christ that Eusebius saw at Caesarea Philippi, or some of those portraits of the Master which he had also seen P Which tradition of the face was the true one, that followed by Justin Martyr, by Clement of Alexandria and by Tertullian, which spoke of it as " without form or comeliness " ; or that of Jerome and Augustine, which declared it divinely beautiful P It may be both are true. We are sure, at least, of the latter. With a possible homeliness, or even ruggedness, of outline there shone through a trans-figuring splendour which awed and fascinated. Christ's " Follow Me " conquered men not so much by the words as by the look that accompanied.
When we now ask again how the great faces arise we seem nearer the answer. They are reflections of faces that belong to another world. Behind the fleshly face is the soul's face. And the soul's face is a great spiritual absorbent. As plants spread their surface to the sun and drink in the rays that beat upon them, transforming all into life and beauty, so in these natures the spiritual upper surface along its whole length and breadth, is open to the impact of pulsations emanating incessantly from the Centre by which all souls live. And not one of these pulsations is lost. It is woven into the structure of the soul and reflected in its expression. The face becomes thus a register of the life we are living. It is the book in which our history is written, a faithful record, with no item omitted, and which, to eyes deeply enough initiated, can be read clear from end to end.
A topic like this teems with practical lessons. The Church should be a great face builder. It has been in the past, but it needs to study its models afresh. Historical Christianity has developed face types that were never in the world before. The spiritual riches to which it has introduced humanity have translated them-selves into new glances of the eye, into fresh, beautiful harmonisations of feature. But its artistry here has not been always of the best. By crude, at times terrible, misrepresentations of Divine things, it has created the morbid face and the fanatic face; it has overspread honest features with the gloom of religious melancholia. Religion must have done with this business. Its work is to weave brightness into human souls. Let us take to heart this saying of Robert Louis Stevenson : "In my view one dark dispirited word is harmful, a crime of lèse humanite, a piece of acquired evil ; every bright word or picture, like every pleasant air of music, is a piece of pleasure set afloat." Fathers and mothers are perhaps here the most potent workers in humanity's church. It is theirs to mould their children's faces into the comeliness wrought by high thought and noble inspirations. Goodness is the beginning of beauty. Young spirits growing in an atmosphere of true thinking and true feeling are all unconsciously being penetrated by harmonies which shape their nature into ideal forms.
And with an eye thus upon others we are to look also to ourselves. A hundred artists within and without are at work upon our feature and expression, but it is from us they take their orders. The question as to how joy, grief, gains, losses, the shocks of change and fortune are to use their graving tools, depends on the instructions we give them. For no event is wholly outward or has an existence in itself. Its whole colour and aspect are derived from the soul on which it strikes. To be crucified is one thing to a thief, a wholly other thing to a Christ. If we accept all life as a process for the building of the soul, we shall find in the end that the process has been a double one. For with the building of souls there has been also the building of bodies. Not these of flesh through which the soul faintly shines, but spiritual ones, fit for immortal life. And to these shall be given the vision of that Model after which all their Divine lineaments have been fashioned. " For they shall see His face, and His name shall be in their foreheads."
( Originally Published 1903 )
Ourselves And The Universe:
A Roomier Universe
The Divine Indifference
Truth's Spiritual Equivalents
The Inwardness Of Events
The Sins Of Saints
The World's Beauty
Of Face Architecture
Westward Of Fifty
The Art Of Happiness
The Mission Of Illusion
Read More Articles About: Ourselves And The Universe