Page images
PDF
EPUB

mind, is expressed by an elevation of body: pride, magnanimity, courage, and the whole tribe of elevating passions, are expressed by external gestures that are the same as to the circumstance of eleva tion, however distinguishable in other respects; and hence an erect posture is a sign or expression of dignity:

[blocks in formation]

Grief, on the other hand, as well as respect, which depresses the Inind, cannot, for that reason, be expressed more significantly than by a similar depression of the body; and hence, to be cast down, is a common phrase, signifying to be grieved or dispirited.*

One would not imagine who has not given peculiar attention, that the body should be susceptible of such variety of attitude and motion, as readily to accompany every different emotion with a corresponding expression. Humility, for example, is expressed naturally by hanging the head; arrogance, by its elevation; and languor or despondence, by reclining it to one side. The expressions of the hands are manifold by different attitudes and motions, they express, desire, hope, fear; they assist us in promising, in inviting, in keeping one at a distance; they are made instruments of threatening, of supplication, of praise, and of horror; they are employed in approving, in refusing, in questioning; in showing our joy, our sorrow, our doubts, our regret, our admiration. These expressions, so obedient to passion, are extremely difficult to be imitated in a calm state: the ancients, sensible of the advantage as well as difficulty of having these expressions at command, bestowed much time and care in collecting them from observation, and in digesting them into a practical art, which was taught in their schools as an important branch of education. Certain sounds are by nature allotted to each passion for expressing it externally. The actor who has these sounds at command to captivate the ear, is mighty: if he have also proper gestures at command to captivate the eye, he is irresistible.

The foregoing signs, though in a strict sense voluntary, cannot however be restrained but with the utmost difficulty when prompted by passion. We scarcely need a stronger proof than the gestures of a keen player at bowls: observe only how he writhes his body, in order to restore a stray bowl to the right track. It is one article of good breeding, to suppress, as much as possible, these external signs of passion, that we may not in company appear too warm, or too interested. The same observation holds in speech: a passion, it is true, when in extreme, is silent; but when less violent it must be vented in words, which have a peculiar force not to be equalled in a

* Instead of a complimental speech in addressing a superior, the Chinese deliver the compliment in writing, the smallness of the letters being proportioned to the degree of respect; and the highest compliment is, to make the letters so small as not to be legible. Here is a clear evidence of a mental connection between respect and littleness: a man humbles himself before his superior; and endeavors to conruct himself and his hand-writing within the smallest bounds.

+ See Chap. 17.

sedate composition. The ease and security we have in a confidant, may encourage us to talk of ourselves and of our feelings: but the cause is inore general; for it operates when we are alone as well as in company. Passion is the cause; for in many instances it is no slight gratification, to vent a passion externally by words as well as by gestures. Some passions, when at a certain height, impel us so strongly to vent them in words, that we speak with an audible voice even when there is none to listen. It is that circumstance in passion which justifies soliloquies; and it is that circumstance which proves them to be natural. The mind sometimes favors this impulse of passion, by bestowing a temporary sensibility upon any object at hand, in order to make it a confidant. Thus, in the Winter's Tale,t Antigonus addresses himself to an infant whom he was ordered to expose;

Come, poor babe,

I have heard, but not believ'd, the spirits of the dead
May walk again; if such things be, thy mother
Appear'd to me last night; for ne'er was dream
So like a waking.

we

The involuntary signs, which are all of them natural, are either peculiar to one passion, or common to many. Every vivid passion hath an external expression peculiar to itself; not excepting pleasant passions witness admiration and mirth. The pleasant emotions that are less vivid have one common expression; from which w may gather the strength of the emotion, but scarce the kind: we perceive a cheerful or contented look; and we can make no more of it. Painful passions, being all of them violent, are distinguishable from each other by their external expressions: thus fear, shame, anger, anxiety, dejection, despair, have each of them peculiar expressions; which are apprehended without the least confusion: some painful passions produce violent effects upon the body, trembling, for example, starting, and swooning; but these effects, depending in a good measure upon singularity of constitution, are not uniform in all

men.

The involuntary signs, such of them as are displayed upon the countenance, are of two kinds: some are temporary, making their appearance with the emotions that produce them, and vanishing with these emotions; others, being formed gradually by some violent passion often recurring, become permanent signs of that passion, and

Though a soliloquy in the perturbation of passion is undoubtedly natural, and indeed not unfrequent in real life; yet Congreve, who himself has penned several good soliloquies, yields, with more candor than knowledge, that they are unnatural; and he only pretends to justify them from necessity. This he does in his dedication of the Double Dealer, in the following words: "When a man in a soliloquy reasons with himself, and pro's and con's, and weighs all his designs; we ought not to imagine, that this man either talks to us, or to himself: he is only thinking, and thinking (frequently) such matter as it were inexcusable folly in him to speak. But because we are concealed spectators of the plot in agitation, and the poet finds it necessary to let us know the whole mystery of his contrivance, he is willing to inform us of this person's thoughts; and to that end is forced to make use of the expedient of speech, no other better way being yet invented for the communication of thought."

+ Act 3. sc. 3.

serve to denote the disposition or temper. The face of an infant indicates no particular disposition, because it cannot be marked with any character, to which time is necessary. Even the temporary signs are extremely awkward, being the first rude essays of Nature to discover internal feelings: thus the shrieking of a new born infant, without tears or sobbings, is plainly an attempt to weep; and some of these temporary signs, as smiling and frowning, cannot be observed for some months after birth. Permanent signs, formed in youth while the body is soft and flexible, are preserved entire by the firmness and solidity that the body acquires, and are never obliterated even by a change of temper. Such signs are not produced after the fibres become rigid; some violent cases excepted, such as reiterated fits of the gout or stone through a course of time: but these signs are not so obstinate as those which are produced in youth; for when the cause is removed, they gradually wear away, and at last vanish.

The natural signs of emotions, voluntary and involuntary, being nearly the same in all men, form a universal language, which no distance of place, no difference of tribe, no diversity of tongue, can darken or render doubtful: even education, though of mighty influ ence, has not power to vary nor sophisticate, far less to destroy, their signification. This is a wise appointment of Providence; for if these signs were, like words, arbitrary and variable, the thoughts and volitions of strangers would be entirely hid from us; which would prove a great, or rather invincible, obstruction to the formation of societies: but as matters are ordered, the external appearances of joy, grief, anger, fear, shame, and of the other passions, forming a universal language, open a direct avenue to the heart. As the arbitrary signs vary in every country, there could be no communication of thoughts among different nations, were it not for the natural signs, in which all agree: and as the discovering of passions instantly at their birth, is essential to our well-being, and often necessary for self-preservation, the Author of our nature, attentive to our wants has provided a passage to the heart, which never can be obstructed while eyesight remains.

In an inquiry concerning the external signs of passion, actions must not be overlooked; for though singly they afford no clear light, they are, upon the whole, the best interpreters of the heart.* By observing a man's conduct for a course of time, we discover unerringly the various passions that move him to action, what he loves, and what he hates. In our younger years, every single action is a mark, not at all ambiguous, of the temper; for in childhood

The actions here chiefly in view, are what a passion suggests in order to its gratification. Beside these, actions are occasionally exerted to give some vent to passion, without any view to an ultimate gratification. Such occasional action is characteristical of the passion in a high degree; and for that reason, when hap pily invented, has a wonderfully good effect:

Hamlet. Oh most pernicious woman!

Oh villain, villain, smiling damned villain!
My tables-meet it is I set it down,

That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain

At least I'm sure it may be so in Denmark. [Writing.
So, uncle, there you are.

Hamlet, Act I. Se. 5.

there is little or no disguise: the subject becomes more intricate in advanced age; but even there, dissimulation is seldom carried ou for any length of time. And thus the conduct of life is the most perfect expression of the internal disposition. It merits not indeed the title of a universal language; because it is not thoroughly understood except by those of penetrating genius or extensive observation: it is a language, however, which every one can decipher in some measure; and which, joined with the other external signs, affords sufficient means for the direction of our conduct with regard to others if we commit any mistake when such light is afforded, it can never be the effect of unavoidable ignorance, but of rashness or inadvertence.

Reflecting on the various expressions of our emotions, we recognise the anxious care of Nature to discover men to each other. Strong emotions, as above hinted, beget an impatience to express them externally by speech and other voluntary signs, which cannot be suppressed without a painful effort: thus a sudden fit of passion, is a common excuse for indecent behavior or opprobrious language. As to involuntary signs, these are altogether unavoidable: no volition nor effort can prevent the shaking of the limbs, nor a pale visage, in a fit of terror: the blood will fly to the face upon a sudden emotion of shame, in spite of all opposition.

Emotions indeed, properly so called, which are quiescent, produce no remarkable signs externally. Nor is it necessary that the more deliberate passions should, because the operation of such passions is neither sudden nor violent. These, however, remain not altogether in obscurity; for being more frequent than violent passion, the bulk of our actions are directed by them. Actions therefore display, with sufficient evidence, the more deliberate passions; and complete the admirable system of external signs, by which we become skilful in human nature.

What comes next in order is, to examine the effects produced upon a spectator by external signs of passion. None of these signs are beheld with indifference: they are productive of various emotions, tending all of them to ends wise and good. This curious subject makes a capital branch of human nature: it is peculiarly useful to writers who deal in the pathetic; and to history painters it is indispensable.

It is mentioned above, that each passion, or class of passions, has its peculiar signs; and, with respect to the present subject, it must be added, that these invariably make certain impressions on a spectator: the external signs of joy, for example, produce a cheerful emotion; the external signs of grief produce pity; and the external signs of rage produce a sort of terror even in those who are not aimed at.

Secondly, it is natural to think, that pleasant passions should express themselves externally by signs that to a spectator appear agreeable, and painful passions by signs that to him appear disagreeable. This conjecture, which Nature suggests, is confirmed by experience. Pride possibly may be thought an exception, the

external signs of which are disagreeable, though it is commonly reckoned a pleasant passion: but pride is not an exception, being in reality a mixed passion, partly pleasant, and partly painful; for when a proud man confines his thoughts to himself, and to his own dignity or importance, the passion is pleasant, and its external signs agreeable; but as pride chiefly consists in undervaluing or contemning others, it is so far painful, and its external signs disagreeable.

Thirdly, it is laid down above, that an agreeable object produces always a pleasant emotion, and a disagreeable object one that is pain ful. According to this law, the external signs of a pleasant passion, being agreeable, must produce in the spectator a pleasant emotion: and the external signs of a painful passion, being disagreeable, must produce in him a painful emotion.

Fourthly, in the present chapter it is observed, that pleasant passions are, for the most part, expressed externally in one uniform manner; but that all the painful passions are distinguishable from each other by their external expressions. The emotions accordingly raised in a spectator by external signs of pleasant passions, have little variety: these emotions are pleasant or heerful, and we have not words to reach a more particular description. But the external signs of painful passions produce in the spectator emotions of different kinds: the emotions, for example, raised by external signs of grief, of remorse, of anger, of envy, of malice, are clearly distinguishable from each other.

Fifthly, external signs of painful passions are some of them attractive, and some repulsive. Of every painful passion that is also disagreeable, the external signs are repulsive, repelling the spectator from the object and the passion raised by such external signs may be also considered as repulsive. Painful passions that are agreeable produce an opposite effect. Their external signs are attractive, drawing the spectator to them, and producing in him benevolence to the person upon whom these signs appear: witness distress painted on the countenance, which instantaneously inspires the spectator with pity, and impels him to afford relief. And the passion raised by such external signs may also be considered as attractive. The cause of this difference among the painful passions raised by their external signs may be readily gathered from what is laid down, chap. 2. part 7.

It is now time to look back to the question proposed in the beginning, How we come to understand external signs, so as to refer each sign to its proper passion! We have seen that this branch of knowledge cannot be derived originally from sight, nor from experience Is it then implanted in us by nature? The following considerations will incline us to answer the question in the affirmative. In the first place, the external signs of passion must be natural; for they are invariably the same in every country, and among the different tribes of men pride, for example, is always expressed by an erect posture reverence by prostration, and sorrow by a dejected look. Secondly

* See Chap. 2. Part 7.

+ See passions explained as agreeable or disagreeable, Chap. 2. Part 2.

« PreviousContinue »