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Me when a child, as tir'd with play
In careless slumbers bound,
The gentle doves protecting found,
I have heard that the late Lord Dorset, who had the greatest wit tempered with the greatest candour, and was one of the finest critics as well as the best poets of his age, had a numerous collection of old English ballads, and took a particular pleasure in the reading of them. I can affirm the same of Mr. Dryden, and know several of the most refined writers of our present age who are of the same humour.
I might likewise refer my reader to Moliere's thoughts on this subject, as he has expressed them in the character of the Misanthrope; but those only who are endowed with a true greatness of soul and genius, can divest themselves of the little images of ridicule, and admire nature in her simplicity and nakedness. As for the little conceited wits of the age, who can only shew their judgment by finding fault, they cannot be supposed to admire these productions which have nothing to recommend them but the beauties of nature, when they do not know how to relish even those compositions that, with all the beauties of nature, have also the additional advantages of art.
N° 86. FRIDAY, JUNE 8, 1711.
Heu quàm difficile est crimen non prodere vultu !
OVID. Met. ii. 447.
How in the looks does conscious guilt appear!
THERE are several arts which all men are in some measure masters of, without having been at the pains of learning them. Every one that speaks or reasons is a grammarian and a logician, though he may be wholly unacquainted with the rules of grammar or logic, as they are delivered in books and systems. In the same manner, every one is in some degree a master of that art which is generally distinguished by the name of Physiognomy; and naturally forms to himself the character or fortune of a stranger, from the features and lineaments of his face. We are no sooner presented to any one we never saw before, but we are immediately struck with the idea of a proud, a reserved, an affable, or a good-natured man; and upon our first going into 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 an hour together, and an eye-brow call a man a 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 rivell'd 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 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:
EPIG. liv. 12.
Thy beard and head are of a different dye;
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, a hog, or any other creature; he hath the same resemblance in the frame of his mind, and is subject to those pas
sions 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 Conde, 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 so. 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 shewed him to be 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 mean time 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, and 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.
This doubtless refers to Raptista della Porta's famous book De humana Physiognomia: which has run through many editions both in Latin and Italian. He died in 1615.
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".
We are indeed told by an ancient authort, 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
*Cicer. Tusc. Qu. 5. et De Fato.