Caplin - Health and Beauty (1864)/Chapter I
HEALTH AND BEAUTY.
OF HEALTH AND BEAUTY IN WOMAN.
"A woman in the pride of beauty's bloom."
"For her own person
It beggar'd all description; she did lie
In a pavilion, cloth of gold and tissue,
O'er-picturing that Venus where we see
The fancy outwork nature."
IT is scarcely necessary, for the purpose for which this chapter is written, to give anything like an anatomical and physiological description of the human body. We must, however, assume, that since there is no beauty without health, so, also, that without a good general knowledge of the conditions under which health may be preserved, there will always be a vast amount of sickness and deformity in the community. This, then, we may take for granted, that all the ills which flesh is heir to arise from one simple cause—ignorance, and the consequent indulgence and imbecility of mankind—for Nature is beneficent in all her operations, both in the construction of the body, and in its relations and adaptation to the external circumstances by which it is surrounded.
For the body itself is "fearfully and wonderfully made." Supported by over two hundred bones, which are welded together by ligaments and tendons, and again overlaid by hundreds of muscles—the bands and pulleys by which action and locomotion become possible—permeated by thousands of nerves which give sensibility and vitality to the living mass, and clothed by a soft and flexible skin which charms at once the eye and the touch. The different cavities, also—see how wonderfully they are filled. The head is the treasure-vault of all our thoughts, emotions, sensations, and passions; the thorax contains the heart and lungs; the abdomen all the digestive and secretive organs; and even the orifices are all mysteriously furnished. How wonderfully is the eye embedded in its socket, the palate and tongue in the mouth, the organs of speech in the larynx, the olfactory nerve in the nostrils, the auditory nerve in the ears, and what exquisite sensibility is treasured up in the tips of the fingers!
It is as well, also, to remember that besides beauty and utility, a grand adaptation of the most simple means to the great end and purposes of life is always kept in view in the structure and relation of all the organs. The mechanical powers, the geometrical figures, the motion and weight of the fluids, and the operations of chemistry, are continually engaged in the support and renewal of the frame; uniting an accumulation of force with a simplicity of operation truly wonderful—all contributing by their million operations to produce that beauty of the outward form which we are now seeking to illustrate. See how the head—the seat and treasure-chamber of the soul—is balanced on the neck; the spine, how it curves in beautiful arches; the body, with its graceful lines, enclosing, as in a casket, the other vital organs. We must come to regard this mass as a whole, and must, as before remarked, understand the utility and relations of the various organs to one great end, before we can properly appreciate the conditions of health and the means of cultivating or preserving beauty.
Nor has nature been niggardly in furnishing the external universe to supply us with everything that can minister to our wants and pleasures. For the eye, what scenes of beauty and objects of wonder; for the ear, what sounds of divine harmony; what luxuries for the palate; what balmy objects for the touch; what fragrance for the smell. To the intellect she presents the key of the treasures of knowledge; to the heart she opens the fountains of love, and in life and death links our destiny with the beautiful, the pure, and the good. Nature, our beneficent mother, like a careful parent, has surrounded us with the best possible conditions, and all she requires from us is obedience to her laws.
Health, then, depends upon the manner in which the various organs of the body are enabled to perform their several functions. There must, in order that this desirable state of existence may be fully enjoyed, be perfect respiration—the air passing down into the lungs, and inflating every little cell where the new blood comes to be baptized in a fresh atmosphere. The mouth, the pharynx, the œsophagus, the stomach, and other digestive apparatus throughout the long winding circle through which the food passes on its way to the heart, must digest and transmute the whole mass so as to eliminate every nutritive particle from it. The heart must always beat and keep the blood in constant circulation, and the various secretions and excretions of the body go on without let or hindrance. The air and the food must be pure, the skin refreshed by daily ablutions, and the body strengthened by proper exercise, or perfect health cannot be long enjoyed. These conditions pertain to, and are applicable to all people; but in a proper system of hygiene, regard must always be had to age, sex, temperament, and constitutional force.
But as we write exclusively for the use of ladies, it may be as well here to notice some of the more striking distinctions between the perfect male and female form that may be easily perceived. The bones of the female are lighter, softer, and more elegantly shaped than those of the male. The female head is smaller, the pelvis is broader and deeper, and the cavity of the acetabulum less deeply sunk than in man. The neck of the thigh-bone is shorter and more sloping in man than in woman, and in him, therefore, the basis of support is greater, and is more immediately in the centre of gravity. The femurs being further apart, and the knees closer in woman, diminishes the base of support, and imparts a peculiar rolling motion to her progression; hence, walking is more difficult in woman than in man, and cannot be so long continued. The stature of woman is about five or six inches below that of man, and her muscles are less projecting—partly because they are smaller and less powerful, and partly from their fatty covering, which contributes so much to the rounded and undulating outline of her form. The breast and haunches of the male and female are in inverse proportion—the chest being broad, and the hips narrow in the former, the reverse in the latter; or, in other words, if a plumb-line be let fall from the points of the shoulders of both, the hips of the woman would project beyond the line, while those of the man would fall considerably within it. Again, when in a recumbent posture on the back, the breast of the man will be the highest part, but the pubes in the woman. The female loins are also the broadest, and the hollow of her back the greatest, in order that the due inclination may be given to the pelvis.
It is hardly necessary to remind the reader that tastes differ widely in reference to what constitutes female beauty. Fortunately for us, the goddess which one man adores, is only a plain, homely, and very ordinary person to another; and so far does this vagary of liking extend, that more than one learned author has written in favour of a woman with a crooked leg. But for this variety of taste, marriages would seldom take place, except with those of one particular temperament. It is impossible, therefore, to establish a standard which shall comprehend all, without discrimination. Among the ancients, a small forehead and joined eyebrows were charming features in a female countenance; and in Persia, large joined eyebrows are highly esteemed. In some Indian countries, black teeth and white hair are necessary ingredients in the character of a beauty; and in the Marian Islands it is a capital object with ladies to blacken their teeth with herbs, and to blanch their hair with certain liquors. Beauty, in China and Japan, is composed of a large countenance, small and half-concealed eyes, a broad nose, minute feet, and a prominent abdomen. Some tribes, both in America and Asia, compress the heads of their children between two wooden planks, with a view to enlarge and beautify the face; others compress them laterally; others depress the crown only; and others make the head as round as possible. Every nation has an idea of beauty peculiar to itself; and almost every individual has his own notions and taste concerning this quality. The empire of beauty, however, amidst all these discordant ideas with respect to the qualities in which it consists, has been very generally acknowledged, and particularly in all civilized countries; and when it is united with other accomplishments that tend to render females amiable, it contributes in no small degree to give them importance and influence, to polish the manners of society, and to contribute to its order and happiness.
And here we may be permitted to define what we mean by a beautiful woman, since much of the value of our suggestions will depend upon our having a correct standard or idea of beauty, and a proper appreciation of the manner in which a prompt obedience to the laws of health will enable everyone to approximate to that standard. For although the individual type of beauty must always be in the grace and the expression, and be therefore innate, still it depends neither upon the size nor temperament of the possessor: the stature may be tall, or even short; the eyes, hair, and complexion, either fair or dark; the body plump or slim; and yet the person may be exceedingly beautiful. What we require in a beautiful woman is, that the head should be compact and well rounded, and should not appear too large; the forehead white, smooth, and open, with the hair receding from it. The hair should be bright and glossy, and if falling in curls around the neck the better, as it serves to relieve the deadness of the skin. The eyes should be bright, full, and lively, expressive of kindness, affection, and good humour. The cheeks should be firm, yet soft and plump, with the red and white finely blended together; the ears small, well folded, and having an agreeable tinge of red; the nose straight, and the mouth small; the lips well turned, and soft, even to the eye, with a living red in them. "A truly pretty mouth," says an old author, "is like a rosebud that is beginning to blow." The teeth should be middle-sized, white, well arranged, and even. The chin of moderate size, white, soft, and agreeably round. The neck should be of a moderate size, white, straight, and of a soft, easy, and flexible make, less above, and gently increasing towards the shoulders. The whiteness and delicacy of the skin should be continued, or rather go on improving, to the bosom. The skin in general should be white, properly tinged with red, with a softness and visible sign of shining health in it. The shoulders should be gently spread, the arms white, round, firm, and soft, more particularly from the elbow to the hand. The hands should be long, delicate, and the joints and palms without either harshness or dryness, and should appear to unite insensibly with the arm. The fingers should be fine, long, round, and soft, lessening towards the tips; the nails long, rounded at the ends, and pellucid. The bosom should be white and full, and the breasts equal in roundness, whiteness, and firmness, neither too much elevated nor too much depressed—rising gently, and very distinctly separated; in one word, just like those of the Venus de Medici. The sides should be long, and the hips wider than the shoulders, and should turn off and go down gradually to the knee. The knee should be even and well rounded; the legs straight, but varied by a proper rounding of the more fleshy parts; and the feet finely turned, white, and small. Beauty, therefore, is not a question of face only. If you look at the face alone of the Venus de Medici, it appears extremely beautiful, but if you consider all the other elegancies of her make, the beauty of her face becomes less striking, and is almost lost in a multiplicity of charms. This idea of the Queen of Love was doubtless in the mind of the poet when he wrote—
"Slow, melting strains their queen's approach declare;
Where'er she turns the Graces homage pay:
With arms sublime that float upon the air,
In gliding state she wins her easy way;
O'er her warm cheek and rising bosom move
The bloom of young desire and purple light of love."
Mr. Walker, in his elaborate work on Female Beauty, describes three several varieties, each of which is perfect in its kind. He arranges them under the heads of—
- Intellectual beauty, as shown in the statue of Minerva.
- Nutritious beauty, as shown in the statue of Venus.
- Locomotive beauty, as shown in the statue of Diana.
In the first, the intellectual qualities predominate, and the figure is slight, yet capable of supporting great fatigue. The head is large in proportion to the body, and the intellectual powers seem to absorb the nutrition required for the growth of the physical organization. In the second, the trunk is larger and longer, the waist and hips broader, the lower limbs shorter, affording ample space for the development of all the vital organs. In the third, the trunk is shorter, the extremities longer and more powerful, the head smaller, and generally speaking, the character more determined. He also gives the different mixtures of each of these temperaments which give rise to the intermediate forms. It is enough for our purpose to observe that no absolute standard of beauty can be fixed, each style having its own peculiar excellences; and that, therefore, before any adaptation of dress can be successfully constructed, the contour of the body should be carefully observed, and no attempt made to regulate its form by any preconceived standard of fashion which is based upon any but that particular type.
The great secret of beauty, however, is expression; and this, although varied in everyone according to age, sex, and temperament, is always adorable. Cousin, in his Philosophy of the Beautiful, says:—"The figure of man is of a grave and severe beauty, because it announces dignity and power; the figure of woman is of a delicate beauty, because it reflects kindness, tenderness, and grace. In each sex the beauty will be different only according as the expression differs."
This idea was no doubt present to the mind of the poet, when he wrote his description of our first parents:—
"Two of far nobler shape, erect and tall,
Godlike erect! with native honour clad,
In naked majesty, seemed lords of all.
And worthy seemed, for in their looks divine
The image of their glorious Maker shone:
Truth, wisdom, sanctitude severe and pure;
Severe, but in true filial freedom plac'd,
Whence true authority in man. Though both
Not equal, as their sex not equal seem'd:
For contemplation he, and valour form'd;
For softness she, and sweet attractive grace."
It is this expression which constitutes the great charm in the statuary of the ancient Greeks. All their works of art are animated by, and expressive of some thought, sentiment, or feeling. Love, wisdom, goodness, mirth, grief, anger, and rage are still seen in the productions of those old artists. The first class of beauty was assigned to the superior divinities, the second to heroes, and the third to fauns. Of the superior gods, the Saturnian family possess the rank of sublimity in the Καλὸς, or beautiful. In the fine head of Jupiter the hair rises from the forehead, and descends in abundant flowing locks on each side of the face and neck to the shoulders; the forehead is muscular, expressive of great strength; the nose and cheeks correspondent; the eyes and mouth express benevolence; the wise and serious brow, the placid countenance and full beard, inspire reverence and awe. His figure is the mightiest of the superior gods. His right arm moderately raised with his thunderbolt, or leaning on his sceptre, presents the habitual act of governing the universe. And all his family partake more or less of those same characteristics, excepting that his brother Neptune's countenance is more severe and his hair more disturbed. Pluto's hair hanging over his forehead gives a gloomy cast to his countenance, which is increased by his more open and staring eyes. Winckelmann has observed that something of the lion may be traced in the forehead, nose, and hair of Jupiter, which adds might and magnanimity to the benevolence and awful majesty of his character. In the youthful beauty of Apollo, Bacchus, and Mercury the same benevolence and wisdom are expressed, modified by their peculiar characteristics and offices. But the most engaging and captivating species of beauty exists in the female sex, and was represented by the Greeks in a superior class of statues. The large eye and full lip of Juno gives an air of haughtiness to her countenance; her limbs are round, and her figure is majestic. Minerva's figure partakes of Juno's majesty, but her face is not so full, and has an expression of abstract wisdom. Venus is represented as an assemblage of female charms; her form is delicate, perfect, and elegant in the highest degree; her motions graceful, and her countenance expressive of love and sweetness.
Neither were those consummate artists less careful in their more minute delineations of the female form. The limbs are round and delicate; the knuckles of the hands and feet expressed by simple dimples; the fingers tapered, and their outline determined by a long curve; whilst over the whole is shed that indescribable grace which is beauty, fairness—endearing, agreeable, elegant; and which may be seen in perfection in the three Graces, all sisters, whose innocence is their only garment, embracing each other in the gentlest manner.
It only remains to offer a few remarks on the recognition of beauty in the different stages of life. The beauty of childhood is in its simplicity and helplessness, in the utter unconsciousness of everything but its own feelings and desires. In youth it is the budding graces that we admire; it is the springtime of life. Womanhood is the summer and full bloom of beauty. Middle age is the autumn, when the ripe and mellow fruit of life attains perfection. Nor is advanced life without its beauties; the icicles and snows of age have charms and glories peculiarly their own. Thus, from the cradle to the grave, the pure, the wise, the good, the well-developed, are always beautiful.
Beauty then is spiritual, moral, intellectual, as well as physical. Without beauty of the mind and heart, beauty of person is only evanescent, if indeed it can exist at all. A loving heart brightens and glorifies the plainest face. This is a pearl of great price wherever it is found, and should be treated with reverence as a gem that reflects a ray of the divinity.
Upon this subject Mr. Thomson has the following judicious reflections:—"If we should see a person employ himself with a sledge-hammer to dash the enchanting form of the Venus de Medici to pieces, break her lovely limbs and deface her beauteous features, we should not hesitate for a moment to pronounce him a savage barbarian, without taste, feeling, or sentiment, though his frenzy was employed only on a senseless piece of stone. What, then, must we think of the diabolical savage who exercises the worst of all cruelties, because the most lasting and affecting to both body and mind, on the most beautiful and amiable of all creatures on this side heaven, made expressly for his happiness, solace, and delight, by first corrupting and betraying her, and then basely abandoning her to perish in want, pain, wretchedness, and misery?"