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To these sources literature forms a most valuable supplement; but I am convinced, that the experience of the majority of its votaries will declare, that when it is pursued as the chief business of life, the sum of its en. joyments is below the ordinary standard of human happiness.
ON DEFORMITY. Of moral disquisitions, the most useful probably are those which, leaving out of view the considerations common to the species, exclusively address themselves to particular classes of readers. In this way of writing, what is lost by the limitation of the subject is abundantly compensated by the additional interest excited in those whom it concerns; for, in proportion as we recede from abstraction and approach to individuality, we touch the feelings of self more nearly, and hence awaken a more animated attention. The circumstances which afford a basis for the classifications of the moralist are infinitely diversified, and admit of all gradations of descent, from the broadest generality to the most subtle minuteness. Among such as hold an important rank may be reckoned those defects of conformation which destroy the symmetry of the person, and render it an object of surprise and disgust to the beholder. Deformity, as a cir: cumstance of considerable importance in the state of the individual, must exert a specific influence over his mind, and will, therefore, in the majority of instances, produce a certain distinctive character, which is very perceptible to an accurate observer. It was evidently the opinion of Lord Verulam, though he has expressed himself with reserve and tenderness, that this character is by no means that of benevolence; and certainly, on a general view, the charge seems not entirely destitute of foundation. By making the case our own for a moment, we may form a tolerably correct idea of the feelings which must pass through the mind of a deformed person, on comparing himself with those of the same age and rank around him. He will necessarily feel indignant at being thus disgraced by the hand of nature; and, for want of a direct object on which to vent his resentment, he will be apt to transfer a part of it to mankind in general, who, he thinks, can never look upon him but with aversion. If he be of an aspiring disposition, his ambition will prompt him rather to make himself feared than beloved, as the chief pleasure which he proposes to himself in the exercise of power, is to punish mankind for their imagined contempt, by enjoying their homage and mortifying their pride.Obscure feelings of this kind will occasionally enter even the best-regulated minds, however carefully they may be repressed and discouraged; but in tempers of a bold and unprincipled cast, they will be explicitly stated and avowedly acted upon. Shakspeare has admirably exemplified this effect of deformity in his character of Richard the Third ; and, contrary to his usual manner of leaving the character to develop itself by degrees, has expressly stated it in the soliloquy with which the play opens:
“ 1, that am curtail'd of this fair proportion,
With the sentiments here expressed, every man of a form like Richard's cannot help feeling a momentary sympathy ; nor is it possible for him to possess the same complete detestation of the tyrant as an indifferent spectator of the drama.
This tendency to malignity, every reflecting person will consider as by much the most serious evil attending deformity; and he will exert himself to overcome it, with an energy of resolution proportioned to the comprehension of his views and the strength of his moral feelings. Besides the common motives, he has an interest peculiar to himself in avoiding the displeasure of mankind, because on him it would fall with an accumulated weight. It may be remarked, that, owing to the salutary restraints imposed by civilized manners, the natural sentiments of mankind, with respect to deformity, are seldom displayed in their full extent. We sometimes observe them very strongly expressed by the vulgar, who are less accustomed than their superiors to disguise their emotions, or to repress them by considerations of propriety. Sensible of the injustice of treating an involuntary misfortune as a crime, mankind en. deavour as much as possible to rectify their sentiments. But when malice and deformity are united in the same individual, they think themselves at liberty to indulge their feelings to the utmost. Fear and hatred then combine with disgust to produce a fervour of abhorrence, in many cases to be compared only to that sensation with which the sight of a venomous reptile inspires us.
A regard to safety, therefore, as well as to tranquillity of mind, should prompt the deformed by every honest method to cultivate the good graces of mankind; and this is only to be done effectually by cherishing real benevolence, which alone has the power of exciting
reciprocal sentiments in the breasts of others. To this purpose nothing would contribute more essentially than a sober and philosophical view of his case, considered merely as an abstract subject of investigation. Such a view, however, like all the children of misfortune, he is very little disposed to take. On the contrary, he wil. fully shuts his eyes to the alleviating circumstances of his lot, and dwells on those which accord with the gloomy state of his feelings. He laments that the tenderest affection he conceives for others can only be returned with a fixed aversion or a cold pity ; that, by the sentence of nature written on his forehead, he is cut off from the common privilege of the human face divine, endearing smiles and sympathetic expression; and, amid the gayety of the festive circle, even while his heart overflows with kindness, is compelled to look on with the countenance of a demon repining at human happiness. Such exaggerated complaints are not unfrequently poured into the ear of friendship; but they imply an evident inattention to the power of custom, in familiarizing and rendering indifferent whatever is originally most shocking to imagination. There are few who have not remarked how completely the greatest deformity of countenance is overlooked and forgotten after some acquaintance, especially when there are agreeable qualities of mind to counterbalance its impression.Custom, in this respect, exerts an equalizing property, and diminishes the power both of beauty and deformity. On this principle, by which the female is prompted to half conceal her charms, the deformed person ought boldly to bring his defects into view, that those with whom he associates may the sooner arrive at the state of indifference. The less he seems to think of his misfortune, the more quickly will they forget it. By this magnanimous policy, he will at the same time avoid the many awkward tricks contracted by those who are con
stantly endeavouring to hide defects impossible to be concealed, which endeavours only serve to draw the attention of the spectator more particularly.
Besides custom, there is another principle, which has probably a considerable influence in reconciling us to deformity. In proportion as we become familiar with the countenance, we acquire a knowledge of its peculiar modes of expression ; and hence are often enabled to discern benevolence, where we formerly thought we saw only malignity. It is the happiness of beauty that the external signs of kindness are natural to it, and, whenever they appear, are intelligible at first sight to all mankind. In deformity, on the contrary, these signs are perhaps various and accidental ; or, at least, they are so strongly obscured by the unfavourable cast of the features, that they require to be studied in order to be understood. When this has been done, however, we learn to make such ample allowances, that a homely countenance will come in time to communicate its emotions not less distinctly than the most finished beauty. To this consideration may be added, the progressive effect of habitual good-nature in moulding the looks to a conformable expression, which is universally admitted to be considerable, and is perhaps still greater than is commonly apprehended. The sunshine of the mind will at last break through the cloudiest features. The elegant, but mystical genius of Lavater, has both illustrated and obscured this subject, which, stript of the dress of imagination, may be comprehended in this plain and rational position, that a homely face, though it can never produce the appropriate sensation of beauty, may yet serve as the index of so many agreeable moral qualities in the mind, as to be on the whole a pleasing object.
An important mistake, into which deformed people and old men are very apt to fall, is to suppose them