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We met with several young Americans also, whose time might have been better passed, perhaps, in some provincial town, where they could have gone into company and have acquired the language; advantages which, singular as it may seem, are not to be enjoyed in Paris, but with more exertion and more philosophy than very young men are generally capable of; it is too much their custom to live together, and in a circle of idle amusements. They were chiefly from the southern states, and among them were some Virginians. It will be interesting to perceive the effects of a more polished education upon these last, who, though strong in numbers, and distinguished by their talents, owe a great part of their influence in public affairs to a sort of national character. People who never enjoy the amusements of society in cities, who consider their citizens as the tallest, their State as the largest, and its natural characteristic as the most stupendous in America; who govern several of the neighbouring States by the colonies they have sent out, who have their university within their own jurisdiction, and who have furnished from among them our greatest general, and our most distinguished philosopher and author, to say nothing of our present first magistrate, whom they so universally think highly of,—such people, I say, very naturally assume an ascendency, which is not easily resisted: it will be a long time before the foreign polish, which they seem at length desirous of acquiring, will have any visible effect, and before they lose somewhat of that loftiness of mind which is founded upon so many circumstances, which acquires strength upon the solitary domain of a planter, and which learns to aid itself with the powers of popular eloquence in the tumultuous assembly of a county court. I should not be surprised if the Virginians, in losing somewhat of their native roughness, should also lose a portion of their energy, and consequently of their preponderance in our national councils.
We were at two or three private balls in Paris, where you would have been pleased with the dancing, and with the elegant simplicity which distinguished the dress of the young ladies. In America, a mother makes every sacrifice to the appearance of a daughter, and attaches but little importance to her own; in Paris it is quite the contrary. Feathers, lace, jewels, and rouge are for the mother, while the daughter in white, of muslin, or of crape, with a wreath of flowers in the hair, and a string of artificial pearls around the neck, is sufficiently dressed for any occasion whatsoever. The restraint to which a lady in France is subjected, lasts till she is married, but her freedom then operates like a spring, that has been violently compressed. It is now time that I should finish this letter, in which I thought to have comprised all that I had to say of Paris, but I hope in my next to set you down at Nants.
RHETORIC FOR THE PORT FOLIO.
LECTURE VII.—ON LOOKS;
Their proper application to language, and powerful influence when judiciously exerted.
The natural connexion which exists between tones, looks, and gesture, those external channels, by which we convey our sentiments and emotions to others, induces me to direct your attention this evening, to the second of those important principles of elocution, having discussed in my last lecture the subject of tones. Every part of the human frame contributes to express the passions and emotions of the mind: especially the face; being furnished with a great variety of muscles calculated to produce that effect. The countenance may be called the seat of the soul. Every passion whilst uttered with the tongue should, at the same time, be painted in the face. There is often there more true eloquence than any words can express. By looks we are awed, charmed, incensed, softened, grieved, rejoiced, raised, or dejected, according as we catch the fire of the speaker's passion from his face. As what passes in the mind of one man cannot itself appear to another man; it must be imparted by means of signs, or outward actions, obvious to sense. These signs may be divided into natural and artificial.
The natural signs of thought are those changes in the complexion, eyes, features, and attitude, and those peculiar tones of the voice, which all men know to be significant of certain passions and sentiments. Thus, anger, joy, sorrow, hope, fear, scorn, contentment, pity, admiration, appear in the voice, looks, and gesture; and the appearance is everywhere understood, either by a natural instinct; or by our having learned experimentally, that a certain sign accompanies and indicates, a certain feeling, or idea. And that this kind of sign admits of considerable variety is evident, not only from the pantomime, in which the whole progress of a dramatic table is represented in dumb show, and by natural signs only; but also from the manifold expressions of human thought, which are exhibited to the eye by painters and statuaries. Yet, when compared with the endless variety of our ideas, these natural signs will appear to be but few. And many thoughts there are in the mind of every man, which produce no sensible alteration in his body.
Artificial signs (or language) have therefore been employed universally for the purpose of communicating thought; and are found so convenient, as to have superseded in a great measure, at least in many nations, the use of the natural. Yet, where language has been little improved as among savages, and is of course defective in clearness and energy, it is for the most part enforced by looks, gestures, and tones naturally significant: and even some polite nations (the French, for example) from an inborn vivacity, or acquired restlessness, accompany their speech with innumerable gestures, and contortions of countenance, in order to make it the more emphatical, while people of a graver turn, like the English and Spaniards, and who have words for all their ideas, trust to language alone for a full declaration of their mind, and seldom have recourse to gesticulation, unless when violence of passion throws them off their guard. However, as the natural signs may give grace and strength to the artificial, it is expected, even where the greatest national gravity prevails, that in his public performances, the former should in such a degree be adopted by the orator, as to show that he is in earnest, and by the stage-player, as that he may the more effectually imitate nature. For elocution is not perfect, unless the artificial signs of thought are enforced by the natural; or at least by such of them, as are neither troublesome to the speaker, nor offensive to the hearer. Words of indignation pronounced with a soft voice and a smile, jokes accompanied with a melancholy countenance and weeping, or lamentation with laughter, would be ridiculous, and consequently disgusting: but, on the other hand, in reciting a melancholy strain, were the speaker to burst out into real tears, he would lose that self-command, without which nothing can be done with elegance. No man will ever express naturally what he does not intensely feel. Horace justly says,
Arte Peetka, J. 105.
"Pathetic accents suit a melancholy countenance: words full of menaces require an angry aspect: wanton expressions a sportive look; and serious matter an austere one. For nature forms us first within to every modification of fortune; she prompts or impels us to anger, or depresses us to the earth, and afflicts us with insupportable sorrow: then expresses those emotions of the mind by the tongue its interpreter."—Art of Poetry, 1.105.
In that oratory which is addressed to the passions, the natural signs of thought must enforce the artificial with a very strong energy, when exhibited on the stage. But the public speaker, whose aim is to instruct and persuade, should give scope to those natural expressions only, that imply conviction and earnestness, with a mild and benevolent demeanor, and sometimes a modest dignity, becoming the cause of truth and virtue. And in polite conversation, no tones, looks, or attitudes are allowable, but such as betoken kindness, attention, good humour, and a desire to please. Descartes and some other philosophers have endeavoured to explain the physical cause which connects human passion with its correspondent natural sign. They wanted to show, from the principles of motion, and of the animal economy, why fear, for example, produces trembling and paleness; why laughter attends the perception of incongruity; why anger inflames the blood, contracts the brows and distends the nostrils; why shame is accompanied with blushing; why despair fixes the teeth together, distorts the joints, and disfigures the features, why scorn shoots out the lip; why sorrow overflows at the eyes; why envy and jealousy look askance, and why ambition raises the eyebrows and opens the mouth. Such inquiries may give rise to ingenious observations, but are not in other respects useful, because they are never attended with success. He who established the union of the soul and body knows how, and by what intermediate instruments, the one operates upon the other. But to man this is a mystery unsearchable. We can only say that tears accompany sorrow, and the other natural signs their respective sentiments and passions, because such is the will of our great Creator, and the law of the human constitution.
The artificial signs of thought derive their meaning from human custom and compact; and are not understood except by those who have been taught how to use them. Of these any man may invent a system; and by their means converse with those who are in the secret, so as that nobody else shall understand him. Such is the art of conveying thought by the motions of the fingers, &c. Human sentiments may no doubt be thus expressed; but visible signs of this kind are of no use in the dark, and when distant are not perceptible; nor do they admit of sufficient variety; nor are they so easy in the performance, as the necessities of life would often require. Any human action, indeed, may by previous agreement be made the sign of thought; but is incompetent to the full, proper, and continued expression of sentiment. For our ideas arise and change with great quickness; and therefore, those actions or signs can only do them justice in the expression, which are easily performed and of great variety; and, in each variety, obvious to sense: audible signs therefore,
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or language, constitutes the general channel through which thoughts are conveyed in all nations.
But the eyes and countenance, as well as the voice, are capable of an endless variety of expression, suited to every possible diversity of feeling; and with these the general air and gesture naturally accord. The use of this language is not confined to the more vehement passions. Upon every subject and occasion on which we speak, some kind of feeling accompanies the words; and this feeling, whatever it be, has its proper expression.
Thus, besides the particular tones and modifications of voice which always accompany and express our inward agitations, nature has endowed us with another language, which instead of the ear addresses itself to the eye, thereby giving the communications of the heart a double advantage over those of the understanding: every one being formed to understand, by a kind of intuition, the different emotions of the mind, by the configurations and movements of the face and body. He, for instance, who puts his hand upon his sword, shakes his fist at us, or holds a cane over our heads, affects us much more sensibly than he who only in words threatens to assault us. It is an essential part of elocution therefore, to imitate this language of nature. No one can deserve the appellation of a good reader or speaker, much less of a complete orator, who does not to a distinct articulation, a ready command of voice, just pronunciation, accent and emphasis, add the various expressions of emotion and passion, by his countenance and gesture; particularly the former; the face being furnished with a variety of muscles calculated to express the passions of the mind. The change of colour shows by turns, anger by redness and sometimes by paleness, and shame by blushing. Every feature contributes its part. The forehead wrinkled into frowns shows one state of the mind—the forehead smoothed, and the muscles of the mouth expanded into a smile designates the opposite state. The force of looks alone appears in a wonderfully striking manner in the works of the painter and the statuary, who have the delicate art of making the flat canvass and the rocky marble utter every passion of the human mind, and touch the soul of the spectator, as if the picture or statue spoke the pathetic language of Shakspeare.
Hence we form a judgment not only of a person's present temper, but of his capacity and natural disposition ; the several parts of the face bearing their part, and contributing to the proper and forcible expression of the whole. In a calm and sedate discourse, for instance, all the features retain their natural state and situation. In sorrow the forehead and eyebrows lour, and the cheeks hang down: but in expressions of joy and cheerfulness, the forehead and eyebrows are