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THE SMILE AND BEAUTY
We here encounter a very important question. Why do people wear such serious faces on the street? Someone will say, “Because life is seri
“Therefore you see," they continue, “the superficiality of the smile. No sensible person goes around with a grin on his face. When one happens to smile to himself on the street, he is laughed at. Life is serious, thus men demand that the habitual attitude of the face should be solemn.”
Is there no explanation of the fact that the attitude of discouragement and the attitude, which is almost a frown and certainly expresses discouragement, is the conventional attitude worn on the street? Is this a social requirement? Is it that life is so filled with gloom that such a vinegar aspect has become general? Or is it fear? Is it because a man feels he has enemies? Is it lack of sympathy? Is it because the average man in the midst of his illusions allows negative conditions to make their home in his heart and face?
He does brighten up for a moment when he meets a friend. Sometimes the smile lasts for a whole block, then he suddenly thinks someone is laughing at him, and gives the corners of his mouth a jerk downward into their accustomed gloom and gradually allows the serious mood which expresses, to use a phrase which Kipling has called detestable,—“The battle of life.” Why should we re
press all our better feelings merely because we are in public or in the company of strangers? Conventional politeness demands that a stranger be treated as a superior. The moment he speaks to you on the street you give him your attention and bow with deference, direct him kindly or even go with him, if necessary, to point out the way.
Once, while walking alone through the Forest of Fontainebleau, trying to find the village of Barbazon where the great artists Rousseau, Millet and others had lived, I inquired the way of a French gentleman who was on horseback. I saw from his smile how difficult was the task. I asked him to give me general direction, and this he indicated to me kindly and carefully.
I trudged on, feeling grateful for such careful instructions. At length I came to a point where it seemed, a dozen roads branched from one little circle. As I stood in doubt, wondering which road to take, the same gentleman galloped up, waved his hand toward the one I was to take, bowed and rode away.
Once on a hasty trip through old Heidelberg, I felt I was near the old University and must see the place where so many great men had taught. My friends were in a hurry, so we accosted the only person near us, a passing lady, and asked her for directions. She motioned for us to follow. Possibly our broken German indicated that she would not be understood even if she should explain. Noticing that she turned out of her way, we tried to apologize and asked her not to trouble herself. She shook her head and hurried on. At a corner she suddenly waved her hand toward the university buildings and was gone before we had time to thank her.
An American and his wife were once dining in a restaurant on a Parisian boulevard. Suddenly the lady fainted. Her husband picked her up in his arms and carried her, as best he could, across the sidewalk, motioning to a cab. A passing stranger saw him, ran, brought the cab, and helped place the lady in it. When the American turned to thank the stranger, he caught sight of him lifting his hat with a kind smile as he disappeared in the crowd. They never met before or afterwards, but how such a look lingers in the memory!
Such kind acts occur in every nation and every community. They are beautiful and are recognized as beautiful. Why should we not cultivate a more kindly attitude toward men, and the smile, expressing a readiness to do such deeds, instead of that cold, severe, critical bearing, which is considered appropriate for the street?
Does the conventional gloomy face really express the spirit of the human heart? It certainly does not express man's aspirations or the ideal toward which he is striving. Do men habitually hide their better selves? Do they conceal what they are trying to be? Is a solemn face a mere conventionality?
This conventional, ironclad face is certainly not beautiful. People will pose before a glass and carefully arrange their hair and examine critically every article of dress to appear to others as beautiful as possible. We all know that there is no greater ambition with many people than to appear beautiful before others. Then why neglect the greatest source of beauty? Why daub the face with poison and neglect the smile? True beauty is not regularity of feature or softness of the skin.
But, alas! how many regard beauty as only
skin deep.” True beauty belongs to the soul. It is created out of the affections, the sympathies, the emotions and the attitude toward life.
Quite the ugliest face I ever saw,” says Whittier, was that of a woman whom the world calls beautiful. Through its silver veil' the evil and ungentle passions looked out hideous and hateful. On the other hand, there are faces, which, the multitude, at the first glance, pronounce homely, unattractive, and such as ‘Nature fashions by the gross,' which I always recognize with a warm heart-thrill; not for the world would I have one feature changed; they please me as they are; they are hallowed by kind memories; they are beautiful through their associations; nor are they any the less welcome that, with my admiration of them, “the stranger intermeddleth not.'”
The greatest beauty of the human face is its power to express the feelings of the heart. Without expression the countenance is cold and lifeless. The mobility of the features, allowing the smile to permeate every part, reveals the highest elements of human nature. It shows that deep in the heart there is the constant attitude of sympathy; the wish to share, not to dominate; not to secrete and possess but to live in union with others; to spread, not terror and antagonism, but joy and love. When such emotions are really felt, the face and form kindle and the thought shines through the countenance. The smile is the key that unlocks the door to beauty and loveliness.
Who does not remember faces that according to the world's standard were not beautiful? That is, their features were not regular and well proportioned. They lacked delicacy and softness of skin, yet the whole countenance seemed alive with
beautiful thoughts, genuine sympathies and exalted feelings.
There were Jenny Lind, Charlotte Cushman, William Warren; there are Sembrich and hundreds of others, whose kindly faces live for a generation in the thoughts and feelings of those who have seen them. Such faces may be found in every walk of life. Who does not know of some good woman who has been a mother to the whole neighborhood? Who has not known faces that could never be photographed?
It is the power to express, which creates real beauty, something all can cultivate.
The smile, or rather the underlying cause of the smile, is the supreme beautifier of the human countenance. True beauty is an emanation of life, joy, peace, contentment, and sympathy with one's kind.