Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

that the report of a man's death was a presage of his death; and Orestes, in the first act of Electra, spreading a report of his own death, in order to blind his mother and her adulterer, is even in that case affected with the presage. Such imbecility can never find grace with a modern audience: it may indeed produce some compassion for a people afflicted with absurd terrors, similar to what is felt in perusing a description of the Hottentots; but such manners will not interest our affections, nor attach yrs to the personages represented.

CHAPTER XV.

EXTERNAL SIGNS OF EMOTIONS AND PASSIONS.

So intimately connected are the soul and body, that every agitation in the former produceth a visible effect upon the latter. There is, at the same time, a wonderful uniformity in that operation ; each class of emotions and passions being invariably attended with an external appearance peculiar to itself.* These external appearances or signs may not improperly be considered as a natural language, expressing to all beholders emotions and passions as they arise in the heart. Hope, fear, joy, grief, are displayed externally: the character of a man can be read in his face; and beauty, which makes so deep an impression, is known to result, not so much from regular features, or a fine complexion, as from good nature, good sense, sprightliness, sweetness, or other mental quality, expressed upon the countenance. Though perfect skill in that language be rare, yet what is generally known is sufficient for the ordinary purposes of life. But by what means we come to understand the language, is a point of some intricacy: it cannot be by sight merely; for upon the most attentive inspection of the human face, all that can be discerned, are figure, colour, and motion, which, singly or combined, never can represent a passion, nor a sentiment: the external sign is indeed visible; but to understand its meaning we must be able to connect it with the passion that causes it, an operation far beyond the reach of eye-sight. Where, then, is the instructor to be found that can unveil this secret connexion? If we apply to experience, it is yielded, that from long and diligent observation, we may gather, in some measure, in what manner those we are acquainted with express their passions externally : but with respect to strangers, we are left in the dark; and yet we are not puzzled about the meaning of these external expressions in a stranger, more than in a bosom-companion. Further, had we no other means but experience for understanding the external signs of passion, we could not expect any degree of skill in the bulk of individuals : yet matters are so much better ordered, that the external expressions of passions form a language understood by all, by the young as well as the old, by the ignorant as well as the learned: I talk of the plain and legible characters of that language; for undoubtedly we are much indebted to experience in decyphering the dark and more delicate expressions. Where then shall we apply for a solution of this intricate problem. which seems to penetrate deep into human nature? In

* Omnis enim motus animi, suum quemdam a natura habet vultum et bonum et gestum. Cicero, l. iii. De Oratore,

[ocr errors]

my mind it will be convenient to suspend the inquiry, till we are better acquainted with the nature of external signs, and with their operations. These articles, therefore, shall be premised.

The external signs of passion are of two kinds, voluntary and involuntary. The voluntary signs are also of two kinds : some are arbitrary, some natural. Words are obviously voluntary signs: and they are also arbitrary ; excepting a few simple sounds expressive of certain internal emotions, which sounds being the same in all languages, must be the work of nature : thus the unpremeditated tones of admiration are the same in all men ; as also of compassion, resentment, and despair. Dramatic writers ought to be well acquainted with this natural language of passion: the chief talent of such a writer is a ready command of the expressions that nature dictates to every person, when any vivid emotion struggles for utterance; and the chief talent of a fine reader is a ready command of tones suited to these expressions.

The other kind of voluntary signs comprehends certain attitudes or gestures that naturally accompany certain emotions with a surprising uniformity ; excessive joy is expressed by leaping, dancing, or some elevation of the body : excessive grief, by sinking or depressing it: and prostration and kneeling have been employed by all nations, and in all ages, to signify profound veneration. Another circumstance, still more than uniformity, demonstrates these gestures to be natural, viz. their remarkable conformity or resemblance to the passions that produce them. * Joy, which is a cheerful elevation of 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 elevation, however distinguishable in other respects; and hence an erect posture is a sign or expression of dignity:

* See Chapter is. Part vi.

Two of far nobler shape, erect and tall,
Godlike erect, with native honour clad,
In naked majesty, seem'd lords of all.

Paradise Lost, book iv.

Grief, on the other hand, as well as respect, which depress the mind, cannot, for that roason, 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 threatning, of supplication, of praise, and of horror ; they are employed in approving, in refusing, in questioning; in showing our joy, our sorrow, 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,

our

* 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 connexion between respect and littleness: a man humbles himself before his superior: and endeavours to contract himself and his handwriting within the smallest bounds.

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 we 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 scarce 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 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 more 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.t The mind sometimes favours this impulse of pas

* See Chapter xvii.

+ Though a soliloquy in the perturbation of passion is undoubtedly natural, and indeed, not unfrequent in real life; yet Congreve, who himself

« AnteriorContinua »