1825
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Criticism on Female Beauty. No. II.

New Monthly Magazine NS 14 (August 1825) 140-59.

Leigh Hunt


Leigh Hunt (writing without a signature) presents an anatomy of feminine beauty as delineated by the poets, Spenser among them. The essay is partitioned into sections on eyes, head, face, ears, cheeks, nose, mouth and chin, neck and shoulders, hand and arm, figure and carriage. Hunt observes, "This article is written neither for the prudish nor the meretricious; but for those who have a genuine love of the beautiful, and can afford to hear of it. It is not the poets and other indulgers in a lively sense of the beautiful, that are deficient in a respect for it; but they who suppose that every lively expression must of necessity contain a feeling of the gross and impertinent. I do not regard these graces, as they pass in succession before me, with the coarse and cunning eye of a rake at a tavern-door" p. 150.

In his discussion of bosoms, Hunt traces the Spenser's account of Belphoebe's paps back to Theocritus and forward to Dryden: "'The sage and serious Spenser,' as Milton called him, is a great master of the beautiful in all its branches. He also, as well as any poet, how to help himself to beauty out of others" p. 152. Hunt quotes from Phineas Fletcher's Brittain's Ida as a work of Spenser's, though this attribution had long since been called into question. He concludes this section with the observation that "I quit this tender ground, prepared to think very ill of any person who thinks I have said too much of it. Its beauty would not allow me to say less; but not the less do I 'with reverence deem' of those resting-places for the head of love and sorrow — 'Those dainties made to still an infant's cries'" p. 152-53.




EYES. — The finest eyes are those that unite sense and sweetness. They should be able to say much, and all charmingly. The look of sense is proportioned to the depth from which the thought seems to issue; the look of sweetness to an habitual readiness of sympathy, an unaffected willingness to please and be pleased. We need not be jealous of

Eyes affectionate and glad,
That seem to love whate'er they look upon.

They have always a good stock in reserve for their favourites; especially if like those mentioned by the poet, they are conversant with books and nature. Voluptuaries know not what they talk about, when they profess not to care for sense in a woman. Pedantry is one thing: sense, taste, and apprehensiveness are another. Give me an eye that draws equally from head above and heart beneath; that is equally full of ideas and feelings, of intuition and sensation. If either must predominate, let it be the heart. Mere beauty is nothing at any time but a doll, and should be packed up and sent to Brobdignag. The colour of the eye is a very secondary matter. Black eyes are thought the brlghtest, blue the most feminine, grey the keenest. It depends entirely on the spirit within. I have seen all these colours change characters; though I must own, that when a blue eye looks ungentle, it seems more out of character than the extremest diversity expressed by others. The ancients appear to have associated the idea of gladness with blue eyes; which is the colour given to his heroine's by the author just alluded to. Anacreon attributes a blue or a grey eye to his mistress, it is difficult to say which: but he adds, that it is tempered with the moist delicacy of the eye of Venus. The other look was Minerva's, and required softening. It is not easy to distinguish the shades of the various colours anciently given to eyes; the blues and greys, sky-blues, sea-blues, sea-greys, and even cat-greys. But it is clear that the expression is every thing. The poet demanded this or that colour, according as he thought it favourable to the expression of acuteness, majesty, tenderness, or a mixture of all. Black eyes were most lauded; doubtless because in a southern country the greatest number of beloved eyes must be of that colour. But on the same account of the predominance of black, the abstract taste was in favour of lighter eyes and fair complexions. Hair being of a great variety of tint, the poet had great licence in wishing or feigning on that point. Many a head of hair was exalted into gold, that gave slight colour for the pretension; nor is it to be doubted, that auburn, and, red, and yellow, and sand-coloured, and brown with the least surface of gold, all took the same illustrious epithet on occasion. With regard to eyes, the ancients insisted much on one point, which gave rise to many happy expressions. This was a certain mixture of pungency with the loot, of sweetness. Sometimes they call it severity, sometimes sternness, and even acridity, and terror. The usual word was Gorgon-looking. Something of a frown was implied, mixed with a radiant earnestness. This was commonly spoken of men's eyes. Anacreon, giving directions for the portrait of a youth, says

Dark and "gorgon" be his eye,
Tempered with hilarity.

A taste of it, however, was sometimes desired in the eyes of the ladies. Theagenes, in Heliodorus's Ethiopics, describing his mistress Chariclea, tells us, that even when a child, something great, and with a divinity in it, shone out of her eyes; and encountered his, as he examined them, with a mixture of the gorgon and the alluring. Perhaps the best word m general for translating "gorgon" would be "fervent"; something earnst, fiery, and pressing, onward. Anacreon, with his usual exquisite taste, allays the fierceness of the term with the word "kekerasmenon," tempered. The nice point is, to see that the terror itself be not terrible, but only a poignancy brought in to assist the sweetness. It is the salt in the tart; the subtle sting of the essence. It is to the eye intellectual, what the apple of the eye is to the eye itself, — the dark part of it, the core, the innermost look; the concentration and burning-glass of the rays of love. I think, however, that Anacreon did better than Heliodorus, when he avoided attributing this look to his mistress, and confined it to the other sex. He tells us, that she had a look of Minerva as well as Venus; but it is Minerva without the gorgon. There is sense and apprehensiveness, but nothing to alarm. No drawback upon beauty ought to be more guarded against, than a character of violence about the eyes. I have seen it become very touching, when the violence had been conquered by suffering and reflection, and a generous turn of mind; nor perhaps does a richer soil for the production of all good things take place any where than over these spent volcanoes. But the experiment is dangerous, and the event rare.

Large eyes were admired in Greece, where they still prevail. They are the finest of all, when they have the internal look; which is not common. The stag or antelope eye of the orientals is beautiful and lamping, but is accused of looking skittish and indifferent. "The epithet of stag-eyed," says Lady Wortley Montague, speaking of a Turkish love-song, "pleases me extremely; and I think it a very lively image of the fire and indifference in his mistress's eyes." We lose in depth of expression, when we go to inferior animals for comparisons with human beauty. Homer calls Juno ox-eyed; and the epithet suits well with the eyes of that goddess, because she may be supposed, with all her beauty, to want a certain humanity. Her large eye looks at yo with a royal indifference; Shakspeare has kissed them, and made them human. Speaking of violets, he describes them as being "Sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes." This is shutting up their pride, and subjecting them to the lips of love. Large eyes may become more touching under this circumstance than any others; because of the field they give for the veins to wander in, and the trembling amplitude of the ball beneath. Little eyes must be good-tempered, or they are ruined. They have no other resource. But this will beautify them enough. They are made for laughing, and should do their duty. In Charles the Second's time, it was the fashion to have sleepy, half-shut eyes, sly and meretricious. They took an expression, beautiful and warrantable on occasion, and made a commonplace of it, and a vice. So little do "men of pleasure" understand the business from which they take their title. A good warmhearted poet shall shed more light upon real voluptuousness and beauty, in one verse from his pen, than a thousand rakes shall arrive at, swimming in claret, and bound on as many voyages of discovery.

In attending to the hair and eyes, I have forgotten the eye-brows, and the shape of the head. They shall be dispatched before we come to the lips; as the table is cleared before the dessert. This is an irreverent simile, nor do I like it; though the pleasure even of eating and drinking, to those who enjoy it with temperance, may be traced beyond the palate. The utmost refinements on that point are, I allow, wide of the mark on this. The idea of beauty, however, is lawfully associated with that of cherries and peaches; as Eve set forth the dessert in Paradise.

EYEBROWS. — Eyebrows used to obtain more applause than they do. Shakspeare seems to jest upon this eminence, when he speaks of a lover

Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow.

Marot mentions a poem on an eyebrow, which was the talk of the court of Francis the First. The taste of the Greeks on this point was remarkable. They admired eyebrows that almost met. It depends upon the character of the rest of the face. Meeting eyebrows may give a sense and animation to looks that might otherwise be over-feminine. They have certainly not a foolish look. Anacreon's mistress has them:

Taking care her eyebrows be
Not apart, nor mingled neither,
But as hers are, stol'n together.
Met by stealth yet leaving too
O'er the eyes their darkest hue.

In the Idyl of Theocritus before mentioned, one of he speakers values himself upon the effect his beauty has had on a girl with joined eyebrows.

Passing a bower last evening with my cows,
A girl look'd out, — a girl with meeting brows.
"Beautiful! beautiful!" cried she. I heard,
But went on, looking down, and gave her not a word.

This taste in female beauty appears to have been confined to the ancients. Boccaccio, in his Ameto, the precursor of the Decameron, where he gives several pictures of beautiful women, speaks more than once of disjoined eyebrows. Chaucer, in the Court of Love, is equally express in favour of "a due distaunce." An arched, eyebrow was always in request; but I think it is doubtful whether we are to understand that the eyebrows were always desired to form separate arches, or to give an arched character to the brow considered in unison. In either case the curve should be very delicate. A strait eyebrow is better than a very arching one, which has a look of wonder and silliness. To have it immediately over the eye, is preferable, for the same reason, to its being too high and lifted. The Greeks liked eyes leaning upwards towards each other; which indeed is a rare beauty, and, the reverse of the animal character. If the brows over these took a similar direction, they would form an arch together. Perhaps a sort of double curve was required, the particular one over the eye, and the general one in the look altogether. But these are unnecessary refinements. Where great difference of taste is allowed, the point in question can be of little consequence. I cannot think, however, with Ariosto, that fair locks with black eyebrows are desirable. I see, by an article in an Italian catalogue, that the taste provoked a dissertation. It is to be found, however, in Achilles Tatius; and in the poem beginning "Lydia, bella puella, candida," attributed to Gallus. A moderate distinction is desirable, especially where the hair is very light. Hear Burns, in a passage full of life and sweetness,

Sae flaxen were her ringlets,
Her eyebrows of a darker hue,
Bewitchingly o'er-arching
Twa laughing e'en o' bonny blue.

It is agreed on all hands, that a female eyebrow ought to be delicate, and nicely pencilled. Dante says of his mistress's, that it looked as if it was painted.

The eyebrow,
Polished and dark, as though the brush had drawn it.

Brows ought to be calm and, even.

Upon her eyelids, many graces sat,
Under the shadow of her even brows.
Faery Queen.

Eyelids have been mentioned before. The lashes are best when they are dark, long, and abundant without tangling. — But I shall never get on at this rate.

SHAPE of HEAD and FACE, EARS, CHEEKS, &c. The shape of the head, including the face, is handsome in proportion as it inclines from round into oval. This should particularly appear, when the face is looking down. The skull should be like a noble cover to a beautiful goblet. The principal breadth is at the temples, and over the ears. The ears ought to be small, delicate, and compact. I have fancied that musical people have fine ears, in that sense, as well as the other. But the internal conformation must be the main thing with them. The same epithets of small, delicate, and compact, apply to the jaw; which loses in beauty, in proportion as it is large and angular. The cheek is the seat of great beauty and sentiment. It is the region of passive and habitual softness. Gentle acquiescence is there; modesty, is there; the lights and colours of passion play tenderly in and out its surface, like the Aurora of the northern sky. It has been seen how Anacreon has painted a cheek. Sir Philip Sidney has touched it with no less delicacy, and more sentiment: — "Her cheeks blushing and withal, when she was spoken to, a little smiling, were like roses when theirs leaves are with a little breath stirred." — Arcadia, Book I. Beautiful cheeked is a favourite epithet with Homer. There is an exquisite delicacy, rarely noticed, in the transition from the cheek to the neck, under the ear. Akenside has observed it; but hurts his real feeling as usual, with common-place epithets:—

Hither turn
Thy graceful footsteps; hither, gentle maid,
Incline thy polish'd forehead; let thy eyes
Effuse the mildness of their azure dawn;
And may the fanning breezes waft aside
Thy radiant locks, disclosing, as it bends
With airy softness from the marble neck,
The cheek fair blooming.
Pleasures of Imagination.

The "marble neck" is too violent a contrast; but the picture is delicate. "Effuse the mildness of their azure dawn" is an elegant and happy verse. I will here observe, that rakes and men of sentiment appear to have agreed in objecting to ornaments for the ears. Ovid, Sir Philip Sidney, and, I think, Beaumont and Fletcher, have passages against earrings; but I cannot refer to the last.

Load not your ears with costly jewelry,
Which the swart Indian culls from his green sea.

This, to be sure, might be construed into a warning against the abuse, rather than the use, of such ornaments; but the context is in favour of the latter supposition. The poet is recommending simplicity, and extolling the age he lives in, for its being sensible enough to dispense with show and finery. The passage in Sidney is express, and is a pretty conceit. Drawing a portrait of his heroine, and coming to the ear, he tells us, that

The tip no jewel needs to wear;
The tip is jewel to the ear.

I confess when I see a handsome ear without an ornament, I am glad it is not there; but if it has an ornament, and one in good taste, I know not how to wish it away. There is an elegance in the dangling of a gem suitable to the complexion. I believe the ear better without it. Akenside's picture, for instance, would be spoiled by a ring. Furthermore, it is in the way of a kiss.

NOSE. — The nose has the least character, of any, of the features. When we meet with a very small one, we only wish. it larger; with a large one, we would fain request it to be smaller. In itself it is rarely any thing. The poets have been puzzled to know what to do with it. They are generally contented with describing it a straight, and in good proportion. The straight nose, quoth Dante; — "Il dritto naso." "Her nose directed streight," saith Chaucer. "Her nose is neither too long nor too short," say the Arabian Nights. Ovid makes no mention of a nose. Ariosto says of Alcina's (not knowing what else to say), that envy could not find fault with it. Anacreon contrives to make it go shares with the cheek. Boccaccio, in one of his early works, the Ameto abovementioned, where he has an epithet for almost every noun, is so puzzled what to say of a nose, that he calls it "odorante," the smelling nose. Fielding, in his contempt for so unsentimental a part of the visage, does not scruple to beat Amelia's nose to pieces by an accident; in order to shew how contented her lover can be, when the surgeon has put it decently to rights. This has been reckoned hazardous experiment; not that a lover, if he is worth any thing, would not remain a lover after such an accident, but that we do not choose to have a member injured, which has so little character to support its adversity. The commentators have a curious difficulty with a line in Catullus. They are not sure whether he wrote

Salve, nec "nimio" puella naso—
Hail, damsel, with by no means too much nose;—

or

Salve, nec "minimo" puella naso—
Hail, damsel, with by no means nose too little.

It is a feature to be described by negatives. It is of importance, however, to the rest of the face. If a good nose will do little for a countenance otherwise poor, a bad one is a great injury to the best. An indifferent one is so common, that it is easily tolerated. It appears, from the epithets bestowed upon that part of the face by the poets and romance-writers, that there is no defect more universal than a nose twisted or out of proportion. The reverse is desirable accordingly. A nose should be firmly yet lightly cut, delicate, spirited, harmonious in its parts, and proportionate with the rest of the features. A nose merely well-drawn and proportioned, can be very insipid. Some little freedom and delicacy is required to give it character. Perhaps the highest character it can arrive at, is a look of taste and apprehensiveness. That of dignity is more equivocal. Junius adduces the authority of the sophist Philostratus for tetragonal or quadrangular noses, — noses like those of statues; that is to say, broad and level. in the bridge, with distinct angles to the parallelogram. These are better for men than women. The genders of noses are more distinct than those of eyes and ups. The neuter are the commonest. A nose little aquiline has been admired in some women. Cyrus's Aspasia had one, according to Aelian. "She had very large eyes," quoth he, "and was a little upon the griffin;" [Greek characters]. The less the better. It trenches upon the other sex, and requires all the graces of Aspasia to carry it off. Those indeed will carry off any thing. There are many handsome and agreeable women with aquiline noses; but they are agreeable in spite of them, not by their assistance. Painters do not give them to their ideal beauties. We do not imagine angels with aquiline noses. Dignified men have them. Plato calls them royal. Marie Antoinette was not the worse for an aquiline nose; at least in her triumphant days, when she swam through an antichamber like a vision, and swept away the understanding of Mr. Burke. But if a royal nose has any thing to do with a royal will, she would have been the better for one of a less dominant description, at last. A Roman nose may establish a tyranny: — according to Marmontel, a little turn-up nose overthrew one. At all events, it is more feminine; and La Fontaine was of Marmontel's opinion. Writing to the Duchess of Bouillon, who had expressed a fear that he would grow tired of Chateau Thierry, he says,

How can one tire in solitudes and nooks,
Graced by the steps, enlighten'd by the looks,
Of the most piquant of princesses,
With little darling foot, and long dark tresses?
A turn-up nose too, between you and me,
Has something that attracts me mightily.
My loving days, I must confess, are over,
A fact it, does me honour to discover;
Though, I suppose, whether I love or not,
That brute, the public, will not care a jot.
The dev'l a bit will their hard hearts look to it.
But should it happen, some fine day,
That any thing should lead me round that way,
A long and beaky nose will certainly not do it.

MOUTH and CHIN. — The mouth, like the eyes, gives occasion to so many tender thoughts, and is so apt to lose and supersede itself in the affectionate softness of its effect upon us, that the first impulse, in speaking of it, is to describe it by a sentiment and a transport. Mr. Sheridan has hit this very happily — see his Rivals:—

Then, Jack, such eyes! Such ups! Eyes so, &c. &c.

I never met with a passage in all the poets, that gave me a livelier and softer idea of this charming feature, than a stanza in a homely old writer of our own country. He is relating the cruelty of Queen Eleanor to the Fair Rosamond.

With that she dash'd her on the lips,
So dyed double red:
Hard was the heart that gave the blow,
Soft were those lips that bled.
WARNER'S Albion's England, Book viii. Chap. 41.

Sir John Suckling, in his taste of an under lip, is not easily to be surpassed.

Her lips were red, and one was thin
Compared with that was next her chin,
Some bee had stung it newly.

The upper lip, observe, was only comparatively thin. Thin lips become none but shrews or niggards. A rosiness beyond that of the cheeks, and a good-tempered sufficiency and plumpness, are the indispensible requisites of a good mouth. Chaucer, a great judge, is very peremptory in this matter.

With pregnant lips, and thick to kiss percase;
For lippes thin, not fat, but ever lean,
They serve of naught; they be not worth a bean;
For if the vase be full, there is delight.
The Court of Love.

For the consolation of those who have thin lips, and are not shrews or niggards, I must give it here as my firm opinion, founded on what I have observed, that lips become more or less contracted, in the course of years, in proportion as they are accustomed to express good-humour and generosity, or peevishness and a contracted mind. Remark the effect which a moment of ill-temper or grudgingness has upon the lips, and judge what may be expected from an habitual series of such moments. Remark the reverse, and make a similar judgment. The mouth is the frankest part of the face. It can the least conceal its sensations. We can hide neither ill-temper with it nor good. We may affect what we please; but affectation will not help us. In a wrong cause, it will only make our observers resent the endeavour to impose upon them The mouth is the seat of one class of emotions, as the eyes are of another, or rather, it expresses the same emotions but in greater detail, and with a more irrepressible tendency to be in motion. It is the region of smiles and dimples, and of a trembling tenderness; of sharp sorrow, of a full and breathing joy, of candour, of reserve, of a carking care, of a liberal sympathy. The mouth, out of its many sensibilities, may be fancied throwing up one great expression into the eyes; as many lights in a city reflect a broad lustre into the heavens. On the other hand, the eyes may be supposed the chief movers, influencing the smaller details of their companion, as heaven influences earth. The first cause in both is internal and deep-seated.

The more we consider beauty, the more we recognise its dependence on sentiment. The handsomest mouth without expression, is no better than a mouth in a drawing-book. An ordinary one, on the other hand, with a great deal of expression, shall become charming. One of the handsomest smiles I ever saw in a man, was that of a celebrated statesman who is reckoned plain. How handsome Mrs. Jordan was, when she laughed; who, nevertheless, was not a beauty. If we only imagine a laugh full of kindness and enjoyment, or a "little giddy laugh," as Marot calls it, — "un petit ris follatre," — we imagine the mouth handsome as a matter of course: at any rate, for the time. The material obeys the spiritual. Anacreon beautifully describes a lip as "a lip like Persuasion's," and says it calls upon us to kiss it. "Her lips," says Sir Philip Sidney, "though they were kept close with modest silence, yet with a pretty kind of natural swelling, they seemed to invite the guests that looked on them." — Arcadia, Book I. Let me quote another passage from that noble romance, which was written to fill a woman's mind with all beautiful thoughts, and which I never met with a woman that did not like, notwithstanding its faults, and in spite of the critics. "Her tears came dropping down like rain in sunshine; and she not taking heed to wipe the tears, they hung upon her cheeks and lips, as upon cherries, which the dropping tree bedeweth." — Book the Third. Nothing can be more fresh and elegant than this picture.

A mouth should be of good natural dimensions, as well as plump in the lips. When the ancients, among their beauties, make mention of small mouths and lips, they mean small only, as opposed to an excess the other way; a fault very common in the south. The sayings in favour of small mouths, which have been the ruin of so many pretty looks, are very absurd. If there must be an excess either way, it had better be the liberal one. A petty, pursed-up mouth, is fit for nothing but to be left to its self-complacency. Large mouths are oftener found in union with generous dispositions, than very small ones. Beauty should have neither; but a reasonable look of openness and delicacy. It is an elegance in lips, when, instead of making sharp angles at the corner of the mouth, they retain a certain breadth to the very verge, and shew the red. The corner then looks painted with a free and liberal pencil.

Beautiful teeth are of a moderate size, even, and white; not a dead white like fish bones, which has something ghastly in it, but ivory or pearly white with an enamel. Bad teeth in a handsome mouth present a contradiction, which is sometimes extremely to be pitied; for a weak or feverish state of body may occasion them. Teeth, not kept as clean as possible, are unpardonable. Ariosto has a celebrated stanza upon a mouth.

Next, as between two little vales, appears
The mouth, where spices and vermilion keep:
There lurk the pearls, richer than sultan wears,
Now casketed, now shewn, by a sweet lip:
Thence issue the soft words and courteous prayers,
Enough to make a churl for sweetness weep:
And there the smile taketh its rosy, rise,
That opens upon earth a paradise.

To the mouth belong not only its own dimples, but those of the face;

The delicate wells
Which a sweet smile forms in a lovely cheek.

The chin, to be perfect, should be round and delicate, neither advancing nor retreating too much. If it exceed either way, the latter defect is on the side of gentleness. The former anticipates old age. A rounded and gentle prominence is both spirited and beautiful; and is eminently Grecian. It is an elegant countenance, (affectation of course apart) where the forehead and eyes have an inclined and over-looking aspect, while the mouth is delicately full and dimpled, and the chin supports it like a cushion, leaning a little upward. A dimple in the chin is almost invariably demanded by the poets, and has a character of grace and tenderness.

NECK and SHOULDERS. The shoulders in a female ought to be delicately plump, even, and falling without suddenness. Broad shoulders are admired by many. It is difficult not to like them, when. handsomely turned. It seems as if "the more of a good thing, the better." At all events, an excess that way may divide opinion, while of the deformity of pinched and mean-looking shoulders there can be no doubt. A good-tempered woman, of the order yclept buxom, not only warrants a pair of expansive shoulders, but bespeaks our approbation of them. Nevertheless, they are undoubtedly a beauty rather on the masculine than feminine side. They belong to manly strength. Achilles had them. Milton gives them to Adam. His

Hyacinthine locks
Round from his parted forelock manly hung
Clustering; but not beneath his shoulders broad.

Fielding takes care to give all his heroes huge calves and Herculean shoulders, — graces, by the way, in which he was himself eminent. Female shoulders ought rather to convey a sentiment of the gentle and acquiescent. They should lean under those of the other sex, a protecting shade. Looking at the male and female figure with the eye of a sculptor, our first impression with regard to the one, should be, that it is the figure of a noble creature, prompt for action, and with shoulders full of power; — with regard to the other, that it is that of a gentle creature, made to be beloved, and neither active nor powerful, but fruitful: — the mould of humanity. Her greatest breadth ought not to appear to beat the shoulders. The figure should resemble the pear on the tree, "Winding gently to the waist."

Of these matters, and of the bosom, it is difficult to speak: but "Honi soit qui mal y pense." This article is written neither for the prudish nor the meretricious; but for those who have a genuine love of the beautiful, and can afford to hear of it. It is not the poets and other indulgers in a lively sense of the beautiful, that are deficient in a respect for it; but they who suppose that every lively expression must of necessity contain a feeling of the gross and impertinent. I do not regard these graces, as they pass in succession before me, with the coarse and cunning eye of a rake at a tavern-door. I will venture to say that I am too affectionate and even voluptuous for such a taste; and that the real homage I pay the sex, deserves the very best construction of the most amiable women, and will have it.

Fathers and husbands, I do claim a right
In all that is call'd lovely. Take my sight
Sooner than my affection from the fair.
No face, no hand, proportion, line, or air
Of beauty, but the muse hath interest in.
BEN JONSON.

A bosom is most beautiful when it presents none of the extremes which different tastes have demanded for it. Its only excess should be that of health. This is not too likely to occur in a polite state of society. Modern customs and manners too often leave to the imagination the task of furnishing out the proper quantity of beauty, where it might have existed in perfection. And a tender imagination will do so. The only final ruin of a bosom in an affectionate eye, is the want of a good heart. Nor shall the poor beauty which a mother has retained by dint of being no mother, be lovely as the ruin. O Sentiment! Beauty is but the outward and visible sign of thee; and not always there, where thou art most. Thou canst supply her place when she is gone. Thou canst remain and still make an eye sweet to look into; a bosom beautiful to rest the heart on.

A favourite epithet with the Greek poets, lyrical, epic, and dramatic, is deep-bosomed. Mr. Moore, in one of his notes on Anacreon, says, that it literally means "full-bosomed." But surely it literally means what it literally says. "Full-bosomed" might imply a luxuriance every way. "Deep-bosomed" is spoken in one of those poetical feelings of contrast, which imply rather a dislike of the reverse quality, than an extravagant demand of the one which is praised. If it is to be understood more literally, still the taste is to be vindicated. A Greek meant to say, that he admired a chest truly feminine. It is to be concluded, that he also demanded one left to its natural state, as it appeared among the healthiest and loveliest of his countrywomen; neither compressed, as it was by the fine ladies nor divided and divorced in that excessive manner, which some have accounted beautiful. It was certainly nothing contradictory to grace and activity, which he demanded.,

Crown me then, I'll play the lyre,
Bacchus, underneath thy shade:
Heap me, heap the higher and higher;
And I'll lead a dance of fire,
With a dark, deep-bosom'd maid.
ANACREON, Ode V.

The ladies ought to understand the spirit of epithets like these: for the tight-lacing and other extravagances, of which they are too justly accused, originated in a desire, not to make the waist preposterously small as they do make it, but to convey to their admirers a general sense of the beauty of smallness in that particular, and their own consciousness of the grace of it.

"Rosy-bosom'd" is another epithet in the Greek taste. Milton speaks in Comus of "The Graces and the rosy-bosom'd Hours." Virgil says of Venus,

—She said,
And turn'd, refulgent with a rosy neck.

O'er her warm neck and rising bosom move
The bloom of young Desire, and purple light of Love;
GRAY.

which is a couplet made up of this passage in Virgil and another. Virgil follows the Greeks; and the Greeks followed Nature. All this bloom and rosy refulgence, which are phrases of the poets, mean nothing more than that healthy colour, which ought to appear in the finest skin. See the next section of this paper, upon Hands and Arms.

A writer in the Anthology makes use of the pretty epithet, "vernal-bosom'd." The most delicate painting of vernal bosom is in Spenser:

And in her hand a sharp boar-spear she held,
And at her back a bow and quiver gay
Stuft with steel-headed darts, wherewith alto quell'd
The salvage beasts in her victorious play,
Knit with a golden bauldrick, which forelay
Athwart her snowy breast, and did divide
Her dainty paps; which, like young fruit in May,
Now little gan to swell; and being tied,
Through their thin weeds their places only signified.

Dryden copies after Spenser, but not with such refinement. His passage, however, is so beautiful, and has a gentleness and movement so much to the urpose, that I cannot resist the pleasure of quoting it. He is describing Boccaccio's heroine in the story of Cymon and Iphigenia:—

By chance, conducted, or by thirst constrain'd,
The deep recesses of the grove he gain'd;
Where, in a plain defended by the wood,
Crept through the matted grass a crystal flood,
By which an alabaster fountain stood:
And on the margin of the fount was laid
Attended by her slaves, a sleeping maid;
Like Dian and her nymphs, when, tired with sport,
To rest by cool Eurotas they resort.
The dame herself the goddess well express'd,
Not more distinguish'd by her purple vest,
Than by the charming features of her face,
And e'en in slumber a superior grace.
Her comely limbs composed with decent care,
Her body shaded with a slight cymar,
Her bosom to the view was only bare;
Where two beginning paps were scarcely spied,
For yet their places were but signified.
The fanning wind upon her bosom blows;
To meet the fanning wind the bosom rose;
The fanning wind, and purling streams, continue her repose.

This beautiful conclusion, with its repetitions, its play to and fro, and the long continuous line with which it terminates, is delightfully soft and characteristic. The beauty of the sleeper and of the landscape mingle one another. The wind and the bosom are gentle challengers.

Each softer seems than each, and each than each seems smoother.
SPENSER'S Britain's Ida.

Even the turn of the last triplet is imitated from Spenser. — See the divine passage of the concert in the Bower of Bliss, Faery Queen, book ii. canto 12. stanza 71. "The sage and serious Spenser," as Milton called him, is a great master of the beautiful in all its branches. He also knew, as well as any poet, how to help himself to beauty out of others. The former passage imitated by Dryden, was, perhaps, suggested by one in Boccaccio. The simile of "young fruit in May" is undoubtedly from Ariosto.

Her bosom is like milk, her neck like snow;
A rounded neck; a bosom, where you see
Two crisp young ivory apples come and go,
Like waves that on the shore beat tenderly,
When a sweet air is ruffling to and fro.

But Ariosto has been also to Boccaccio, and he to Theocritus; in whom, I believe, this fruitful metaphor is first to be met with. It is very suitable to his shepherds, living among the bowers of Sicily. — See Idyl xxvii. v. 49. Sir Philip Sidney has repeated it in the Arcadia. But poets in all ages have drawn similar metaphors from the gardens. Solomon's Song abounds in them. There is a hidden analogy, more than poetical, among all the beauties of. Nature.

I quit this tender ground, prepared to think very ill of any person who thinks I have said too much of it. Its beauty would not allow me to say less; but not the less do I "with reverence deem" of those resting-places for the head of love and sorrow — "Those dainties made to still an infant's cries."

HAND AND ARM. — A beautiful arm is of a round and flowing outline, and gently tapering; the hand long, delicate, and well turned, with taper fingers, and a certain buoyancy and turn upwards in their very curvature and repose. I fear this is not well expressed. I mean, that when the hand is at rest, and displayed, the wrist a little bent, and the other part of it, with the fingers, stretching and dipping forwards with the various undulations of the joints, it ought, however plump and in good condition, to retain a look of promptitude and lightness. The spirit of the guitar ought to be in it; of the harp and the piano-forte, of the performance of all elegant works, even to the dairy of Eve, who "tempered dulcet creams." — See a picture in Spenser, not to be surpassed, as usual, by any Italian pencil:

In her left hand a cup of gold she held,
And with her right the riper fruit did reach,
Whose sappy liquor, that with fulness swell'd,
Into her cu she scruz'd with dainty breach
Of her tine fingers, without foul empeach,
That so fair wine-press made the wine more sweet.
Book ii. canto 12.

It is sometimes thought that hands and arms cannot be too white. A genuine white is very beautiful, and is requisite to give them perfection; but shape and spirit are the first things in all beauty. Complexion follows. A hand and arm may be beautiful, without being excessively fair: they may also be very fair, and not at all beautiful. Above all, a sickly white is not to be admired, whatever may be thought of it by, the sallow Italian, who praises a white hand for being "morbida." I believe, however, he means nothing more than a contradiction to his own yellow. He would have his mistress's complexion unspoilt by oil and macaroni at any rate. These excessive terms, as I have before noticed, are not to be taken to the letter. A sick hand has its own merits, if it be an honest one; and may excite a feeling beyond beauty. But sickliness is not beauty. In the whitest skin there ought to be a look of health. The nails of the fingers ought to be tinged with a healthy red. When the Greeks spoke of the rosy-finger'd Morn, it was not a mere metaphor, alluding to the ruddiness of the time of day. They referred also to the human image: the metaphor was founded in Nature, whether the goddess's office, or person, was to be considered. My friend, George Bustle used to lament, that, in consequence of the advancement of knowledge, and politeness, there was no longer any distinguishing mark of gentility but a white hand. Poor George! He had better have thought otherwise. He attempted one day to shew off among us, by letting the blood be drawn out of his fingers' ends; which, acting upon an ill constitution, was the death of him. People who have nothing but a white hand to shew for their breeding, are in a bad way. I would as soon trust the long nails of a Chinese dandy, who thinks it vulgar to be without talons. He supposes that nobody can be polite, whose hands retain a look of utility. Unreflecting Hi-Fong! not to know, that beauty, grace, and utility are fellow-workers. A sculptor might as well shut up his tools. "The instrument of instruments, the hand," is not a thing to be stuck in a scutcheon, like a baronet's device. The most delicate need not be afraid of turning it to account, even on the score of delicacy. If it is worth any thing at all, it is worth preserving; and a reasonable exercise of the various joints, muscles, and other useful pieces of machinery which Nature, whatever some may think, has really bestowed on that graceful member serves to keep it in health and perfectness. Look at the delicate withered claw of some foolish old lady, West Indian for instance, who has never been suffered to lift a comb to her head, or carry a bundle of music across a threshold; and compare it with many accomplished hands, that have been used to fifty good offices, and that remain soft and young-looking to the last. Wherever a genuine and lasting beauty is desired, the blood must be circulated.

FIGURE, CARRIAGE, &c. — The beauty of the female figure consists in being gently serpentine. Modesty and luxuriance, fulness and buoyancy, a rising, as if to meet; a falling, as if to retire; spirit, softness, apprehensiveness, self-possession, a claim on protection, a superiority to insult, a sparkling something enshrined in gentle proportions and harmonious movement, should all be found in that charming mixture of the spiritual and material. Mind and body are not to be separated, where real beauty exists. Should there be no great intellect, there will be a sort of intellectual instinct, a grace, an address, a naturally wise amiableness. Should intellect unite with these, there is nothing upon earth so powerful, except the spirit whom it shall call master.

Beauty too often sacrifices to fashion. The spirit of fashion is not the beautiful, but the wilful; not the graceful, but the fantastic; not the superior in the abstract, but the superior in the worst of all concretes, the vulgar. It is the vulgarity that can afford to shift and vary itself, opposed to the vulgarity that longs to do so, but cannot. The high point of taste and elegance is to be sought for, not in the most fashionable circles, but in the best-bred, and such as can dispense with the eternal necessity of never being the same thing. Beauty there, both moral and personal, will do all it can to resist the envy of those who would deface, in order to supersede it. The highest dressers, the highest painters, are not the loveliest women, but, such as have lost their loveliness, or never had any. The others know the value of their natural appearance too well. It is these that inspire the manua-maker or milliner with some good thought. The fantastics of fashion take it up, and spoil it. Sixty or seventy years ago, it was the fashion for ladies to have long waists like a funnel. Who would suppose that this originated in a natural and even rustic taste? And yet the stomachers of that time were only caricatures of the bodice of a country beauty. Some handsome women brought the original to town; fashion proceeded to render it ugly and extravagant; and posterity laughs with derision at the ridiculous portraits of its grandmothers. The poet might have addressed a beauty forced into this fashion, as he did his devoted heroine in those celebrated lines:

No longer shall the bodice, aptly laced,
From thy full bosom to thy slender waist,
That air and harmony of shape express,
Fine by degrees, and beautifully less.
PRIOR'S Henry and Emma.

No: it was

Gaunt all at once, and hideously little.

It was like a pottle of strawberries, with two oranges at the top of it. Now-a-days it is the fashion to look like an hour-glass, or a huge insect, or any thing else cut in two, and bolstered out at head and feet. A fashion that gracefully shews the figure is one thing: a fashion that totally conceals it, may have its merits; but voluntarily to accept puffed shoulders in lieu of good ones, and a pinch in the ribs for a body like that of the Venus de' Medici, is what no woman of taste should put up with, who can avoid it. They are taking her in. The levelling rogues know what they are about, and are for rendering their crook backs and unsatisfactory waists indistinguishable. If the levelling stopped here, it might be pardonable. Fair play is a jewel, that one wishes to see every body enriched by. But as fashion is naturally at variance with beauty, it is also at variance with health. The more a woman sacrifices of the one, the more she loses of the other. Thick legs are the least result of these little waists. Bad lungs, bad livers, bad complexions, deaths, melancholie, and worse than all, rickety and melancholy children, are too often the undeniable consequences of the tricks that fashion plays with the human body. By a perverse spirit of justice, the children are revenged on the parents; and help, when they grow up, to pervert those who have the advantage of them.

It is a truism to say that a waist should be neither pinched in, nor shapeless, neither too sudden nor too shelving, &c. but a natural unsophisticated waist, properly bending when at rest, properly falling in when the person is in motion. But truisms are sometimes as necessary to repeat in writing, as to abide by in painting or sculpture. The worst of it is, they are not always allowed to be spoken of. For instance, there is a truism called a hip. It is surely a very modest and respectable joint, and of great use to the rising generation; a sculptor could no more omit it in a perfect figure, than he could omit a leg or an arm: and yet, by some very delicate chain of reasoning, known only to the double-refined, not merely the word, but the thing, was suppressed about twenty years back. The word vanished: the joint was put under the most painful restrictions: it seemed as if there were a Society for the Suppression of Hips. The fashion did not last, or there is no knowing what would have become of us. We should have been the most melancholy, hipped, unhipped generation, that ever walked without our proper dimensions. Moore's Almanack would have contained new wonders for us. Finally, we should have gone out, wasted, faded, old maided-and-bachelored ourselves away, grown "Fine by degrees and beautifully less," till a Dutch jury (the only survivors) brought in the verdict of the polite world, — Died for want of care in the mother. At present a writer may speak of hips, and live. Nay, the fancies of the men seem to have been so wrought upon by the recollection of those threatening times, that they have amplified into hips themselves, and even grown pigeon-breasted. Such are the melancholy consequences of violating the laws of Nature.

A true female figure, then, is falling and not too broad in the shoulders; moderate, yet inclining to fulness rather than deficiency, in the bosom; gently tapering, and without violence of any sort, in the waist; naturally curving again in those never-to-be-without-apology alluded-to hips; and, finally, her buoyant lightness should be supported upon natural legs, not at all like a man's; and upon feet, which, though little, ought to be able to support all the rest. Ariosto has described a foot, — "The short, and neat, and little rounded foot." The shortness, however, is not to be made by dint of shoes. It must be natural. It must also be not too short. It should be short and delicate, compared with that of the other sex; but sufficient for all purposes of walking, and running, and dancing, and dispensing with tight shoes; otherwise it is neither handsome in itself, nor will give rise to graceful movements. It is better to have the sentiment of grace in a foot, than a forced or unnatural smallness. The Chinese have three ideas in their heads: — tea, the necessity of keeping off ambassadors, and the beauty of small feet. The way in which they caricature this beauty, is a warning to all dull understandings. We make our feet bad enough already by dint of squeezing. Nations with shoes have no proper feet, like those who wear sandals. But the Chinese out-pinch an Inquisitor. I have seen a model of a lady's foot or that country, in which the toes were fairly turned underneath. They looked as if they were almost jammed into and made part of the sole. In the British Museum, if I remember, there is a pair of shoes that belonged to such a foot as this, which are shewn in company with another pair, the property of Queen Elizabeth. Her Majesty stood upon no ceremony in that matter, and must have stamped to some purpose.

But what are beautiful feet, if they support not, and carry about with them, other graces? What are the most harmonious proportions, if the soul of music is not within? Graceful movement, an unaffected elegance of demeanour, is to the figure what sense and sweetness are to the eyes. It is the soul looking out. It is what a poet has called the "thought of the body." The ancients, as the moderns do still in the south, admired a stately carriage in a woman: though the taste seems to have been more general in Rome than Greece. It is to be observed, that neither in Greece nor Rome had the women at any time received that truly feminine polish, which renders their manners a direct though not an unsuitable contrast to those of the other sex. It was reserved for the Goths and their chivalry to reward them with this refinement; and their northern descendants have best preserved it. The walk which the Latin poets attribute to their beauties, is still to be seen in all its stateliness at Rome. "Shall I be treated in this manner?" says Juno, complaining of her injured dignity, — "I, who walk the queen of the gods, the sister and the wife of Jove?" — Venus, meeting Aeneas, allows herself to be recognized in departing:—

In length of train descends her sweeping gown,
And by her graceful walk the queen of love is known.
DRYDEN.

A stately verse; — but "known" is not strong enough for "patuit," and Virgil does not say the "the queen of love," but simply the goddess — the divinity. The walk included every kind of superiority. It is the step of Homer's ladies.

Or Troy's proud dames whose garments sweep the ground.
POPE.

The painting has more of Rubens than Raphael; and I could not help thinking, when I was in Italy, that the walk of the females had more spirit than feminine grace. They know nothing of the swimming voluptuousness with which our ladies at court used to float into the drawing-room with their hoops; or the sweet and modest sway hither and thither, a little bending, with which a young girl shall turn and wind about a garden by herself, half serious, half playful. Their demeanour is sharper and more vehement.. The grace is less reserved. There is, perhaps, less consciousness of the sex in it, but it is not the most modest or touching on that account. The women in Italy sit and sprawl about the doorways in the attitudes of men. Without being viragoes, they swing their arms as they walk. There is infinite self-possession, but no subjection of it to a sentiment. The most graceful and modest have a certain want of retirement. Their movements do not play inwards, but outwards: do not wind and retreat upon themselves, but are developed as a matter of course. If thought of, they are equally suffered to go on, with an unaffected and crowning satisfaction, conquering and to conquer. This is evidently the walk that Dante admired.

Sweetly she goes, like the bright peacock; straight
Above herself, like to the lady crane.

This is not the way we conceive Imogen or Desdemona to have walked. The head is too stiffly held up; admiration is too much courted: there is perking consciousness in it, as if the lady, like the peacock, could spread out her shawl the next minute, and stand for us to gaze at it.

The carriage of Laura, Petrarch's mistress, was gentle; but; she was a Provencal, not an Italian. He counts it among the four principal charms, which rendered him so enamoured. They were all identified with a sentiment. There was her carriage or walk; her sweet looks; her dulcet words; and her kind, modest, and self-possessed demeanour.

From these four sparks it was, nor those alone,
Sprung the great fire, that makes me what I am,
A bird nocturnal, warbling to the sun.

And in another beautiful sonnet, where he describes her sparkling with more than her wonted lustre, he says,

Her going was no mortal thing; but shaped
Like to an angel's.

Now this is the difference between the walk of the ancient and modern heroine; of the beauty classical and Provencal, Italian and English. The one was like a goddess's, stately and at the top of earth; the other is like an angel's, humbler but nearer heaven.

It is the same with the voice. The southern voice is loud and uncontrolled; the women startle you, bawling and gabbling in the summer air. In the north, the female seems to bethink her of a thousand delicate restraints: her words issue forth with a sort of cordial hesitation. They have a breath and apprehensiveness in them, as if she spoke with every part of her being.

Her voice was ever soft, gentle, and low,
An excellent thing in woman.
SHAKSPEARE.

As the best things, however, are the worst when spoiled, it is not easy to describe how much better the unsophisticated bawling of the Italian is, than the affectation of a low and gentle voice in a body full of furious passions. The Italian nature is a good one, though run to excess. You can pare it down. A good system of education would as surely snake it a fine thing morally, as good training renders Italian singing the finest in the world. But a furious English woman affecting sweet utterance! — "Let us take any man's horses," as Falstaff says.

It is an old remark, that the most beautiful women are not always the most fascinating. It may be added, I fear, that they are seldom so. The reason is obvious. They are apt to rely too much on their beauty; or to give themselves too many airs. Mere beauty ever was, and ever will be, but a secondary thing, except with fools. And they admire it for as little time as any body else; perhaps not so long. They have no fancies to adorn it with. If this secondary thing fall into disagreeable ways, it becomes but a fifth or sixth-rate thing, or nothing at all, or worse than nothing. We resent the unnatural mixture. We shrink from it, as we should from a serpent with a beauty's head. The most fascinating women, generally speaking, are those that possess the finest powers of entertainment. In a particular and attaching sense, they are those that can partake our pleasures and our pains in the liveliest and most devoted manner. Beauty is little without this. With it, she is indeed triumphant, unless affection for a congenial object has forestalled her. In that case, fascination fixed carries the day hollow against fascination able to fix. I speak only of hearts capable of being fixed as well as fascinated; nor are they so few, as it is the interest of too many to make out. A good heart, indeed, requires little to fix it, if the little be good, and devoted, and makes it the planet round which it turns.

I reckon myself a widower, though I was never wedded; and yet with all my love for a departed object, a sympathizing nature would inevitably have led me to love again, had not travelling and one or two other circumstances thrown me out of the way of that particular class of my countrywomen, among whom I found the one, and always hoped to meet with the other. When I do, she may, or may not, as it happens, be beautiful; but the following charms, I undertake to say, she will and must have; and as they are haveable by others, who are not in possession of beauty, I recommend them as an admirable supply. They are far superior to the shallower perfections enumerated in this paper, and their only preservative where they exist.

Imprimis, an eye, whether blue, black, or grey, that has given me the kindest looks in the world, and is in the habit of looking kindly on others.

Item, a mouth — I do not choose to say much about the mouth, but it must be able to say a good deal to me, and all sincerely. Its teeth, kept as clean as possible, must be an argument of cleanliness in general; and, finally, it must be very good-natured to servants, and to friends who come in unexpectedly to dinner.

Item, a figure, which shall preserve itself, not by neglecting any of its duties, but by good taste and exercise, and the dislike of gross living. I would have her fond of all the pleasures under the sun, except those of tattling, and the table, and ostentation.

Fourthly, a power to like a character in a book, though it is not an echo of her own.

Fifthly, a great regard for the country.

Item, a hip.


[pp. 140-59]