"That Same Sweet Face"
Selected writings of A. Jackson Howe.
The indelible portraiture of virtue, happiness, and peace; of education and training, or of sorrow, vice, toil, and degradation upon the human features is one of the certainties of life. In this essay Dr. Howe shows himself the skillful physiognomist—as all physicians and surgeons should strive to be. It aids in diagnoses when the burdened victim is loth to reveal past sorrows or a badly spent life. The face of happiness bears its own imprint throughout life, though the ravages of time may have altered the physical features. Yet the tale of love, good cheer, and kind deeds is retold in the light of countenance of what still appears to be "that same sweet face."—Ed. Gleaner.
"THAT SAME SWEET FACE."—As a notable Swedish songstress, who was about to depart from home to win fortune and fame in foreign lands, bid farewell to parents and friends, she said to her mother, "What shall I bring you when I return?" The maternal reply was, "That same sweet face." But the mother was asking for something which is flitting; she was governed by an emotion; she sighed for that which could not be. That face must change—its semblance could only be retained in memory and marble. If the daughter of the Swedish matron had never returned, the same sweet face would have been ever present, but after years of exile, of toil, of hope, of triumph, of rivalry, of disappointment, and of heartrending scenes, the features of that still lovely countenance must have changed. In fact it could not remain as it was. Time is exacting. The varied experiences of each passing year leave their indelible impress. What did it avail when the maiden said,
"Backward, roll backward, O Time in thy flight,
Make me a child again just for to-night."
The man of fifty has a face on which are written in somewhat mysterious hieroglyphics the character of the individual. If the possessor of the countenance chiseled by half a century of time has lived a spiritual, intellectual, and moral life, that face is a study for the painter and the sculptor; but if the owner has indulged in stormy passions, partaken of bloating and gluttonous drinks and foods, and cultivated selfish propensities, the features of such a face beget aversion in the mind of the beholder.
It has been eloquently declared that every man is the architect of his fortune; it might as truthfully be said that every man is the carver of his own facial expression. If a man wear a severe look, he has cultivated that tone of countenance. It never came by accident, nor grew carelessly like a weed. An habitual face is the work of years. That disappointed maiden of fifty never acquired a hateful visage in thinking and wishing well of her neighbors; and the old shrew around the corner never obtained that woeful countenance while doing good to the feeble and unfortunate.
The good Mrs. Bountiful did not stamp that lovable face of hers with benign expressions while trying to pull down a rival or somebody enjoying prosperity. Her smile is a perpetual benediction. Everybody that meets her looks happy.
The Rev. Mr. Holly has the expression which the coal heaver would pronounce "Apostolic," yet how was that facial expression obtained? Why, it was secured during many years of divine thoughts and noble actions. A right-minded man has been "limning that face for a long time. That serene beauty never came by chance—it was attained little by little, and is a marvel of excellence.
Canova said he could not appreciate the beautiful in the world till he had made it a study for years. We are not critics of human faces till we have had great opportunities to study character in its various aspects. A keen detective at a crowded fair will catch a glimpse of every pickpocket present, though he may not catch one in the thieving act. He has cultivated an acuteness for the special work. On the other hand, the experienced thief recognizes the detective at once and avoids meeting him.
The profession a man pursues leaves its mark upon the possessor. The average physician can be pointed out on a crowded thoroughfare; the attorney need not have his green bag with him in order to have his vocation known; nor need the clergyman wear a white neckerchief to be recognized in his true character.
The physiognomy of vocation is well understood and everywhere acknowledged. If a physician would be regarded as an earnest, honest, conscientious man, he must cultivate those qualities of head and heart. If a commonplace doctor thinks he will succeed by thinking and talking ill of his competitors, he will find at length what a grave mistake he has made. If a crusty old physician thinks he can crush that studious, polite, and genial young doctor who has had the hardihood to settle in town, he will egregiously blunder. People have been tired of the old curmudgeon for years, and are delighted with the idea of making a nattering change.
Lately I met on the street a woman clad in sable weeds, and with a face simply stamped with despair. Ten years ago that face and form were divine. What had wrought the change? Thank heaven, she had no mother to ask for "that same sweet face." The original loveliness had nearly all disappeared. The figure was still slight, and the threadbare dress neat and tidy. From a friend I learned that the girl had married a handsome choir singer and speculator. Drink brutalized what manhood there ever was in him, and he beat his poor wife for his bad luck and ill-fortune. The death of a beloved child, sickness, and poverty drove the woman mad with disappointment and hopelessness. In a few years that once beautiful face was fixed and furrowed like the countenance of a maniac. Can lovely features be made to take the place of those so wo-begone? No, time never rolls backward in its flight. Hope and an agreeable change of circumstances would do something toward restoring cheerful features, yet the same sweet face will never return.
But, what is to compensate for this loss of youthful comeliness? Are our faces to be agreeable only in youth? Let us see. Mrs. Linneman, a lady of fifty in our acquaintance, does not appear old, even to children. Her features are those of a cultivated woman; her posture is superb; her general presence is gentle, winning, and commanding. Her face is expressive of matronly goodness, kindness, and grace. Was that face ever so handsome before in her life? Probably not. As a girl she may have been beautiful, but as she lost a feature of mere physical beauty she gained its equivalent in spiritual charms; and as years rolled by the changes necessarily occurring were not against her, but in her favor. Her womanly graces are not less admired than were her youthful at tractions.
The stately gentleman on our streets was said to be handsome when he was twenty-five; he is fifty now, yet he is still handsome— everybody acknowledges it. That head, face, neck, and shoulders all combine to display the portraiture of a man. Those eyes kindle with light almost divine. There is an intellectual halo emanating from that head. It is not the brazen aureola painters have thrown around the head of Christ and the Virgin, but it is appreciable, and actively impresses the beholder. How was that wonderful face obtained? The handsome youth of twenty has no such attraction —his is all physical—it cost no effort—it is what time effaces; but that scholarly and cultivated countenance exhibited by the man of fifty or sixty, or even seventy, is a work of art. It is worthy of study; and the more it is observed the more it is admired. In that maturity of manly beauty are peace, plenty, and assurance. The student in science or morals may show premature wrinkles, but these lines are not repulsive—they seem to be the etchings of elves engaged in the portrayal of expression. The face as a whole may exhibit the marks of care and sorrow, but they do not detract from the interest centering there. The man of fifty who has not passed through solemnizing scenes, who has not been chastened by untoward events, is a phenomenon, and not representative.
I will not depict a face of fifty, wrung with misfortune, pinched with selfishness, and warped by avarice. Such visages are common as clods, and need no delineation. Cultivated faces alone are worthy of study, for they show a subjugation of the lower instincts, and a forcing to the front of the higher intellectual and moral qualities. A fine face costs a lifetime of good thinking and well-doing; bad features are the result of passive negligence. Every individual is largely responsible for facial expression. The juvenile feature is the sport of time, but the beauty of the mature face is a work of artistic elaboration, the soul officiating as the divine limner—HOWE, Miscellaneous Papers.