Thomas Reid.

The works of Thomas Reid, D.D.; now fully collected, with selections from his umpublished letters online

. (page 114 of 114)
Online LibraryThomas ReidThe works of Thomas Reid, D.D.; now fully collected, with selections from his umpublished letters → online text (page 114 of 114)
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kinder passions, that lovers not only seem,
but really are, more beautiful to each other
than they are to the rest of the world ; be-
cause, when they are together, themostpleas-
ing passions are more frequently exerted in
each of their faces than they are in either
before the rest of the world. There is then,
as a French author very well expresses ir,
a soul upon their countenances, which does
not appear when they are absent from one
another, or even in company that lays a re-
straint upon their features.

There is a great difference in the same

face, according as the person is in a bettei

or a worse humour, or more or less lively.

The best complexion, the finest features,

[?5!> Tfil]




and the exactest shape, without anything
of the mind expressed in the face, is insipid
and unmoving. The finest eyes in the
world, with an excess of malice or rage in
them, will grow shocking. The passions
can give beauty without the assistance of
colour or form, and take it away where
these have united most strongly to give it ;
and therefore this part of beauty is greatly
superior to the other two. [762]

The last and noblest part of beauty is
grace, which the author thinks undefin-

Nothing causes love so generally and ir-
resistibly as grace. Therefore, in the my-
thology of the Greeks and Romans, the
Graces were the constant attendants of
Venus the goddess of love. Grace is like
the cestus of the same goddess, which was
supposed to comprehend everything that
was winning and engaging, and to create
love, by a secret and inexplicable force, like
that of some magical charm.

There are two kinds of grace — the majes-
tic and- the familiar ; the first more com-
manding, the last more delightful and en-
gaging. The Grecian painters and sculp-
tors used to express the formermost strongly
in the looks and attitudes of their Miner-
vas, and the latter in those of Venus. This
distinction is marked in the description of
the personages of Virtue and Pleasure in
the ancient fable of the Choice of Hercules.
*' Graceful, bui each with different grace they move,
This striking sacred awe, that softer winning love."

In the persons of Adam and Eve in Pa-
radise, Milton has made the same distinc-
tion —

" For contemplation he, and valour formed,

For softness she, and sweet attractive grace." [7631

Though grace be so difficult to be defined,
there are two things that hold universally
with relation to it. First, There is no
grace without motion ; some genteel or
pleasing motion, either of the whole body
or of some limb, or at least some feature.
Hence, in the face, grace appears only on
those features that are movable, and change
with the various emotions and sentiments
of the mind, such as the eyes and eye-
brows, the mouth and parts adjacent.
When Venus appeared to her son ^Eneas
in disguise, and, after some conversation
with him, retired, it was by the grace of
her motion in retiring that he discovered
her be to truly a goddess.

" Dixit, et avertens rosea cervice refulsit,
Ambrosisque com» divinum vertice odorem
Spiravere j pedes vestis defluxit ad imos ;
Et vera incessu patuit dea. Illc, ubi matrcm
Apuovit," &c.
A second observation is, That there can
be no grace with impropriety, or that no-
thing can be graceful that is not adapted to
the character and situation of the person.

From these observations, which appear

to me to lie just, wc may, I think, conclude,
that grace, as far as 'it is visil'le, consists of
those motions, either of the whole body, or
of a part or feature, which express the mo&t
perfect propriety of conduct and sentiment
in an amiable character.

Those motions must be different in dif-
ferent characters; they must vary with
every variation of emotion and sentiment ;
they may express either dignity or respect,
confidence or reserve, love or just resent-
ment, esteem or indignation, zeal or indif-
ference. Every passion, sentiment, or emo-
tion, that in its "nature and degree is just
and proper, and corresponds perfectly with
the character of the person, and with the oc-
casion, is what may we call the soul of grace.
The body or visible part consists of those
emotions and features which give the true
and unaffected expression of this soul. [7G4 ]

Thus, I think, all the ingredients of
human beauty, as they are enumerated and
described by this ingenious author, termi-
nate in expression : they either express
some perfection of the body, as a part of the
man, and an instrument of the mind, or
some amiable quality or attribute of the
mind itself.

It cannot, indeed, be denied, that the
expression of a fine countenance may l.e
unnaturally disjoined from the amiable qua-
lities which it naturally expresses : but we
presume the contrary till we have clear evi-
dence ; and even then we pay homage to
the expression, as we do to the throne when
it happens to be unworthily filled.

Whether what I have offered to shew,
that all the beauty of the objects of sense
is borrowed, and derived from the beauties
of mind which it expresses or s ggests to
the imagination, be well-founded or not, 1
hope this terrestrial Venus will not be
deemed less worthy of the homage which
has always been paid to her, by being con-
ceived more nearly allied to the celestial
than she has commonly been represented.

To make an end of this subject, taste
seems to be progressive as man is. Child-
ren, when refreshed by sleep, and at ease
from pain and hunger, are disposed to at-
tend to the objects about them ; they are
pleased with brilliant colours, gaudy orna-
ments, regular forms, cheerful counte-
nances, noisy mirth and glee. Such is
the taste of childhood, which we must con-
clude to be given for wise purposes. A
great part of the happiness of that period
of life is derived from it ; and, therefore, it
ought to be indulged. It leads them to
attend to objects which they may afterwards
find worthy of their attention. It puts them
upon exerting their infant faculties of body
and mind, which, by such exertions, are
daily strengthened and improved. [765]

As they advance iiv years and in under-



standing, other beauties attract their atten-
tion, which, by their novelty or superiority,
throw a shade upon those they formerly ad-
mired. They delight in feats of agility,
strength, and art ; they love those that ex-
cel in them, and strive to equal them. In
the tales and fables they hear, they begin to
discern beauties of mind. Some characters
and actions appear lovely, others give dis-
gust. The intellectual and moral powers
begin to open, and, if cherished by favour-
able circumstances, advance gradually in
strength, till they arrive at that degree
of perfection to which human nature, in its
present state, is limited.

In our progress from infancy to maturity,
our faculties open in a regular order ap-
pointed by Nature ; the meanest first, those
,f more dignity in succession, until the mo-
ral and rational powers finish the man.
Every faculty furnishes new notions, brings
new beauties into view, and enlarges the
province of taste ; so that we may say,
there is a taste of childhood, a taste of
youth, and a manly taste. Each is beau-
tiful in its season ; but not so much so,
when carried beyond its season. Not that
the man ought to dislike the things that
please the child or the youth, but to put
less value upon them, compared with other
beauties, with which he ought to be ac-

Our moral and rational powers justly
claim dominion over the whole man. Even
taste is not exempted from their authority ;
it must be subject to that authority in
every case wherein we pretend to reason or
dispute about matters of taste ; it is the voice
of reason that our love or our admiration

ought to be proportioned to the merit of the
object. When it is not grounded on real
worth, it must be the effect of constitution,
or of some habit, or casual association. A
fond mother may see a beauty in her dar-
ling child, or a fond author in his work, to
which the rest of the world are blind. In
such cases, the affection is pre-engaged,
and, as it were, bribes the judgment, to
make the object worthy of that affection.
For the mind cannot be easy in putting a
value up ^n an object beyond what it con-
ceives to be due. When affection is not
carried away by some natural or acquired
bias, it naturally is and ought to be led by
the judgment. [766]

As, in the division which I have followed
of our intellectual powers, I mentioned
Moral Perception and Consciousness, the
reader -may expect that some reason should
be given, why they are not treated of in
this place.

As to Consciousness, what I think neces-
sary to be said upon it has been already
said, Essay vi., chap. 5. As to the faculty
of moral perception, it is indeed a most im-
portant part of human understanding, and
well worthy of the most attentive considera-
tion, since without it we could have no con-
ception of right and wrong, of duty and
moral obligation, and since the first princi-
ples of morals, upon which all moral rea-
soning must be grounded, are its immediate
dictates ; but, as it is an active as well as
an intellectual power, and has an immediate
relation to the other active powers of the
mind, I apprehend that it is proper to defer
tho consideration of it till these be explained


Online LibraryThomas ReidThe works of Thomas Reid, D.D.; now fully collected, with selections from his umpublished letters → online text (page 114 of 114)