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we would form an accurate judgment on the human countenance.” “ Characters pregnant with strong contending powers generally contain in the great mass—the prominent feature of the face—somewhat of severe, violent, and perplexed, consequently are very different from what Grecian artists and men of taste name beauty; while the signification, the expression of such prominent features are not studied and understood, such countenances will offend the eye that searches only for beauty. The countenance of Socrates is manifestly of this kind.”
Truly great men seldom or never express what is called beauty in their countenances. Good-looking women, it may be observed, are said to be beautiful, and good-looking men are termed handsome; but the great are neither beautiful nor handsome; they are noble, impressive, sublime. An examination of the features of the most renowned and illustrious geniuses of the world would, I think, bear out this remark, by presenting to us, not beauty, but greatness, strength, power. This, however, it is impossible to do; for when a man dies, his features, like the colour of flowers, are gone. Pictures and engravings are generally most misleading, the latter more especially; it is extremely improbable that more than a very few engravings of great men bear a faithful resemblance to their professed originals; while it very often happens that separate and independent plates of the same person bear no greater likeness to one another than a negro to an Englishman, and that even after taking the difference of age, growth, or decay into consideration. “I shudder," says Lavater,“ when I remember the supposed likenesses which are found between certain portraits and shades and the living originals.” Making every allowance, however, for these facts, dispensing with particulars, and satisfying ourselves with such portraits as agree in the general delineation of features or expression, we shall, I think, in certain pictures of great men find confirmation of the proposition above put forward. Without going back to such antiquity as would render fidelity impossible, we may, I apprehend, trace sublimity in the received representations of Peter the Great, of Henry IV. of France, of Luther, of Hobbes, of Lord Chatham, of Dante, of Milton (in his old age), of Beethoven, of Michael Angelo, of Handel, of the Duke of Wellington, of Galileo, of Benjamin Franklin, of Burke, of Newton, of Humboldt, and others. If we occasionally find something decidedly ominous in the countenance of a great man, we should inquire whether there was not likewise something decidedly ominous in his character; for no character is without its vices, no life without its errors. If, therefore, we find something forbidding in the features of Swift, we should remember that there was also something forbidding in his character-misanthropy, haughtiness, virulence; if we find something revolting in the countenance of Voltaire, we should remember that there was also something revolting in his character-meanness, ferocity, contempt; if we find something disagreeable in the countenance of Johnson, we must also remember that there was something disagreeable in his character—slovenliness, bigotry, superstition; if we find something vulgar in the face of Hogarth, we must remember that there was something vulgar in his character-propensity for depicting low, vile, degraded humanity; and so on. The predilections of strong-minded men, whether good or bad, will be strong and deep-rooted, and, as such, will be strongly asserted in the countenance. This principle extended and applied to all cases would, I apprehend, account for the various conditions which constitute beauty and ugliness, sublimity and meanness in the human form, which awaken our admiration or disgust, our awe or contempt.
Lastly, it may be remarked that “awful” no longer signifies “full of awe,” but refers rather to the external quality than to the mental affection. The word is used, moreover, very loosely, as synonymous with terrible, frightful, dangerous, &c. I have therefore omitted to employ it altogether in this disquisition.
1. Meanness attaches only to impotence.
BEAUTY and sublimity are distinct phenomena, and have, as has been said, distinctly appropriated emotions, that of the first being admiration, and that of the second awe. These phenomena and these emotions have their antitheses, the former in ugliness and meanness, the latter in disgust and contempt. It is not given to all animals to feel contempt—the appropriate emotion for meanness; and amongst human beings some are much more susceptible to it than others.
Meanness is a relative term and implies two things :first, an objective quality of matter, and secondly, a subjective affection of the mind. The objective quality is impotence or the want of power; the subjective affection is contempt. Beauty and sublimity often co-exist in various proportions; nevertheless, the two phenomena are too important and distinct to be confounded under one name, or considered together, because though they co-exist they do not coalesce. It is likewise with their antitheses, ugliness and meanness, so that it has been found convenient to separate the quality of ugliness from that of meanness, the emotion of disgust from that of contempt.
Meanness depends, as has been said, upon impotence or the want of power. I say the want of power—not its absence,—the difference is not unimportant; it is, in fact, momentous, and is this: absence of power is purely a negative quality, and awakens no emotion in the mind; it implies nothing more than at first presents itself to view; in other words, it is an innate though negative quality beyond which we cannot go. Now, all æsthetic qualities are, as has been shown, based and built, not upon innate but upon suggested qualities. Impotence is a suggested quality ; it suggests an effort, a desire, or a wish to attain power, and that effort, desire, or wish frustrated or denied. It betokens the intention without the ability to express itself. It suggests, in short, a positive tendency negatived; and it is this suggestion that generates contempt. Birds and plants and flowers, apart from their organisms, though they may exhibit the absence of power, do not suggest the want of it. Flies, inasmuch as they consume putrid matter, filth, and ordure, and thus prevent it from remaining noxious or breeding fever, are useful, and not at all ugly or contemptible; but inasmuch as these insects also come into our chambers, and crawl over our victuals and our persons, they are disgusting and provoking; and inasmuch as they are incapable of defending themselves or retaliating, should we yield to the provocation and make a raid upon them, they are contemptible.
The sudden withdrawal of power from whatever or wherever we are accustomed to find it, suggests impotence and generates contempt. Wasps and scorpions deprived of their stings become thereby contemptible; whether they will remain so depends upon whether they can be made in any way subservient to our pleasure or our interests. Sheet lightning as compared with forked is contemptible, because it suggests the absence of the characteristic of lightning; compared with the artificial flashing of lime lights, fireworks, electric lights, &c., it is not all contemptible, because it suggests greater height, distance, and immensity. Millionaires and very wealthy persons are regarded by the crowd as petty monarchs, the centre of attraction, the observed of all observers, high and mighty personalities; and all because their condition and state are so suggestive—suggestive of the power of having servants and authority and everything that money can procure. Reduced to beggary, such persons are regarded by the crowd with contempt, are, in fact, no longer thought of, heard of, or looked at. Monarchs who have abdicated share to a certain extent the same fate, their authority is crippled, their influence is extinguished, their grandeur, majesty, dignity, and all the power these suggested, are taken away; the awe, therefore, with which these qualities were regarded being suddenly stopped, contempt takes possession of the mind.
On the same principle it is that hand-made ornament, if sufficiently considerable, may easily be thought sublime, while machine-made ornament, though ever so perfect and elaborate, would probably never be regarded with awe. We were acquainted with the former long before we knew anything of the latter; the former, moreover, suggests the trouble and anxiety of human design, the pains and skill of human execution; each feature and each detail bespeak attention and solicitude, and, like each leaf of the forest, imply an individuality which defies complete similarity with anything else. Machine-made ornament suggests nothing of this, but on the contrary implies a thousand other specimens exactly similar in construction, and turned out with ease from the same machine; compared with hand-made ornament, therefore, it is contemptible. So likewise the painting or carving of artificial objectsglass, clothes, paper, ribbons, houses, furniture, &c., is, other things being equal, much less sublime than representations of natural objects, human beings, animals, trees, flowers, and insects; for the latter suggest organic structure or creation, and consequently design and power, while the former betray an inorganic structure or manufacture, and consequently the absence of design and the triviality of