Caplin - Health and Beauty (1864)/Chapter XI

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"Health, brightest visitant from heaven,
Grant me with thee to rest;
For the short term by nature given,
Be thou my constant guest."


"Yet oft we slight thy worth, Oh, blessed health,
Poor mortals as we are, till thou art flown;
And thy sweet joys, more dear than fame or wealth,
Touch not our hearts, but pass unfelt, unknown."

Rev. E. Hawley.

WE propose in this chapter to offer a few miscellaneous observations on the preservation of the health, and also on the adaptation of the costume to the particular type of beauty which it is intended to adorn. This will naturally involve some observation in reference to simple hygienic rules; the quality and material most suitable for general wear, and the adaptation of the colour of the garment to the complexion of the wearer.

We have already spoken of the action and func­tion of the lungs, liver, stomach, and other prin­cipal organs of life; we now call special attention to the skin, for it is here that all beauty is ultimately seen. The internal organs are indeed beautiful in their structure and wonderful in their operations, but their beauty is only perceived by the artist and anatomist; the external covering of the body however, is advertised to all. The elegant form, the flexibility of motion, the gentle warmth, the cheeks crimsoned with the roses of delight, the brilliant eyes darting rays of love, or sparkling with the fire of genius, enlivened by the sallies of wit, or animated by the glow of passion, are the inheritance of those only who are in good health, and a moment is sufficient to destroy them. Motion and sense often cease without any apparent cause. The body loses its heat; the muscles become flat; and the angular prominences of the bones appear; the lustre of the eye is gone, the cheeks and lips are livid;—­and why? The whole is expressed in one word,—­there is an absence of health.

The reader will please, therefore, to recollect all that has been said in reference to health in a preceding chapter, and take as a supplement to the operations of those internal organs the additional observation that the skin is the great external laboratory through which the effete matter passes from the body, and that unless this be in a proper state there can be neither health nor beauty.

It is scarcely necessary for us to give in this brief chapter anything like an anatomical and physiolo­gical description of the skin, since a very few remarks are sufficient to illustrate the principal points which we have to consider, and to go beyond this would lead us into minute delineations of micro­scopic anatomy, which would be out of place in a volume of this kind. It is only its general functions and relations which we are concerned with.

The skin itself, as is known to everyone, is an envelope which contains the whole body within it. It is composed of three separate layers, the outer being insensible, and laid on as a protection to the delicate and tender structures which lie beneath. It is hardly possible to convey to the general reader a notion of the intricate and wonderfully complicate nature of the dermis, or true skin. The capillaries or bloodvessels are finer than hairs, and they are so interlaced and interwoven with nerves that it is impossible to put down the point of the finest needle without wounding several of those minute organs. Here all the blood in the body comes for the purpose of being transmitted, or rather decanted, from the arteries to the veins, that it may go back to its fountain, the heart, and thence to the lungs, to be renewed with a fresh supply of oxygen; and so numerous are the operations of the skin that, be­sides affording protection and giving beauty to the body, it exudes above thirty different substances, which have become effete and noxious in conse­quence of the almost infinite number of vital and chemical changes which are constantly taking place within.

Again, the skin has a direct and important influ­ence on several of the vital organs, but more parti­cularly on the lungs, the digestive organs, the kid­neys, and the brain: on the lungs, if it does not throw off its proper quantity of carbon, because in this case the blood returns through the veins darker than it should appear, and these organs have a double task to perform; on the digestive organs, because when the perspiration is checked, the action of the pneumo-gastric nerves becomes feeble; on the kidneys, because they have double duty to perform when the skin ceases to exhale its proper quantity of fluid, and throws this with all the noxious par­ticles associated with it upon the renal organs; and lastly, upon the brain, by obstructing the action of the nerves at the periphery the brain is thrown into a state of chronic irritability, the mind becomes dull, the temper sour, and the disposition disagreeable. Indeed, it is impossible for any person whose skin is inactive, or who is suffering from a cutaneous disease, to be good-tempered, and everyone knows how necessary this quality is to domestic happiness.

We have to remark again here, as we have done in many other places in this work, that we have nothing to do with the medical department of our subject, not even to the recommending of lotions, washes, cosmetics, and other things for the purpose of improving the complexion. This, however, does not prevent us from offering a few general sanitary observations which are of universal application.

The first, the greatest, the commonest, the best of all cosmetics, is pure water and good soap used daily on every part of the body in all ages, and, except in sickness, at all times from the cradle to the grave. A daily bath is worth more to preserve the health and improve the personal appearance than all the Kalydor that was ever manufactured in the world. It may be used in anyway, cold, tepid, warm, or hot, according as the circumstances of the case require; but this strict cleanliness is the first thing necessary for a healthy skin and all the desirable things associated with it. The pallor of ill health; the blotches and pimples which advertise an obstructed perspiration, and in many cases the wrinkles of advancing age, will all disappear before the soothing influence of this agreeable and inex­pensive luxury. Milk baths, once so fashionable and highly esteemed, only clog the skin which they ought to cleanse.

Next to the treatment of the skin comes the question of what should be worn next to it; and this must depend upon several circumstances, such as the state of the epidermis itself, whether it be firm, healthy, or irritable; the natural heat of the body, dependent on the low or high state of the circulation; the state of the atmosphere, whether it be dry, humid cold or hot; and, finally, in some small measure upon the nature and fashion of the external garments. The general principle, however, which is applicable to all articles of clothing, and which renders them good or bad, is whether they are conductors or non-conductors of caloric from the quantity of moisture which they imbibe, either from the external air or from the emanations from the body, and from the facility with which they allow it to escape.

From these observations it will be clear that the substance which is a bad conductor of caloric will be the warmest, because it neither allows the escape of the caloric from the body nor permits any caloric to penetrate it, and consequently leaves the internal heat to concentrate on the surface of the skin; for the body is not warmed from without, but from within, and the feeling of warmth is pro­duced by preventing the heat from going off from the body. Materials will also impart a sensation of cold or heat according to the readiness with which they imbibe moisture; this is one reason why linen always feels comparatively cold to the skin.

Linen is the best article to be worn next to the skin for all persons who are predisposed to heat and irritation of the cuticle; but for others we doubt its advantages, since it predisposes the body to chills and colds, to which it would not otherwise be liable.

In a climate so variable as ours, garments made of cotton and wool are to be preferred to linen. By careful selection they may be obtained as soft and agreeable to the wearer; and they are to be pre­ferred to all other fabrics, except silk, which, from its warmth, lightness, and beauty, is more desirable than any other article from which apparel can be made.

In a former chapter we spoke of the dress and fashion in reference to health, and must here offer a few further observations in reference to taste, or the adaptation of dress to the individual temperament or style of beauty.

By temperament is always meant the peculiar constitution of the individual, such as the develop­ment of the body, whether it be slight, meagre, plump, or fat; the colour and structure of the skin, whether it be fair or dark, coarse or fine; the colour and quality of the hair; the colour of the eyes; and the general expression of the whole per­son. Of these temperaments, the ancients reckoned four. The bilious—or dark; the sanguine—fair, florid, and blue—eyed; the nervous—thin, keen, grey—eyed, and restless; and the lymphatic—dull, plump, hazel—eyed, and sleepy. These primitive types and their numerous combinations are what the artist in dress must study in adapting colour to the complexion and expression.

Nothing contributes more to improve the appearance of an elegant woman than the taste displayed in the selection of the colours of her dress. With taste in dress we readily associate the idea of a cultivated mind.

In the composition, then, of colours for a dress there ought to be one predominating colour, to which the rest should be subordinate. As painters—

"Permit not two conspicuous lights to shine
With rival radiance in the same design,"

so in dress; one part of the body should never be distinguished by one colour, and the other by another. Whatever divides the attention dimi­nishes the beauty of the object; and though each part taken separately may appear beautiful, yet as a whole the effect is destroyed.

"It may be observed," says Mr. Alison, in his work on Taste, "that no dress is beautiful in which there is not some leading or predominant colour displayed, or in which, if I may use the expression, there is not some unity of colour. A dress in which different colours were employed in equal quantities, in which one half of the body was dis­tinguished by one colour and the other by another, or in which each particular limb was differently coloured, would be ridiculous instead of being beautiful. It is in this way, accordingly, that mountebanks are dressed, and it never fails to produce the effect that is intended by it—to excite the mirth and the ridicule of the common people.

"No dress is ever remarked as beautiful in which the prevailing colour has not some pleasing or affecting expression.

"There are a variety of colours which are chosen for common apparel which have no character or expression in themselves, and which are chosen for no other reason but because they are convenient for the peculiar occupations or amusements in which we are engaged. Such dress, accordingly, has no beauty; when we say it is a useful or a conve­nient colour we give it all the approbation it is entitled to.

"There are, on the contrary, a variety of colours which are expressive from peculiar associations, which are either gay or delicate, or rich or grave, or melancholy. It is always such colours that are chosen for what is properly called dress, or for that species of apparel in which something more than mere convenience is intended. When we speak of such dress, accordingly we generally describe its beauty by its character, by its being delicate, or rich, or gay, or magnificent, or in other words, by its being distinguished by some pleasing or affecting expression.

"We shall find an equal impropriety in any per­sons choosing the colour of ornamental dress on account of its convenience, or in his choosing the colour of his common apparel because it was gay, or delicate, or splendid.

"This difference of expression constitutes the only distinction that seems to subsist between the colours that are fit for common and those that are fit for ornamental purposes.

"But besides this there is another constituent of beauty of the prevailing colour—its relation to the character or situation of the person who wears it. The same colour which would be beautiful in the dress of a prince would be ridiculous in that of a peasant. We expect gay colours in the dress of youth, and sober and temperate colours in the dress of age. We feel a propriety in the cheerful colours of marriage, and in the melancholy colours of mourning. There is a propriety of relation also between the colours which distinguish the dress of certain situations, and those situations themselves which we can never see violated without some de­gree of pain.

"Besides all this, there is a relation of a still more delicate kind between the colours of dress and the character that distinguishes the countenance and form of the person who wears it; which, however little attended to, is one of the most important articles in the composition of dress, which is never observed or violated without either increasing or diminishing the beauty of the person it distinguishes.

"As the general beauty of the dress depends upon the predominant colour being distinguished by some pleasing or interesting expression, so the beauty of dress in any particular situation or cha­racter depends upon this expression being suited to that particular character or situation."

But as the scope and character of the work pre­vents us from following the artist into his minute analysis of colour, we shall conclude this branch of our subject with the lines of Ovid, addressed to the ladies of Rome nearly two thousand years ago:—

"One with a dye is tinged of lovely blue,
Such as through air serene the sky we view;
With yellow lustre see another spread,
As if the golden fleece composed the thread.
Some of the seagreen wave the cast display,—
With this the nymphs their beauteous forms array;
And some the saffron hue will well adorn:
Such is the mantle of the blushing morn.
Of myrtle-berries one the tincture shows;
In this of amethyst the purple glows,
And that more imitates the paler rose.
Nor Thracian cranes forget whose silvery plumes
Give patterns which employ the mimic looms,
Nor almonds, nor the chesnut dye disdain,
Nor others which from wax derive their name,
As fields you find with various flowers o'erspread,
When vineyards bud and Winter's frost is fled.
So various are the colours, you may try
Of which the thirsty wool imbibes the dye.
Try everyone, what best becomes you wear,
For no complexion all alike can bear."

Here end our remarks on dress and its relation to the body, anatomically, physiologically, and socially considered. We have gone over a wide field, and taken note of the most of the important phenomena which lie at the base of "Health and Beauty." Our object has been to set down that which is really useful to be known by our fair countrywomen, who are without rivals in all that makes women adorable. We were ambitious to say something worth remembering to those who adorn the present generation by their virtue and beauty, and who are destined to be the mothers of those who shall bear up the ark of England's greatness, when those who bore them shall have passed away.

"Go now, my little book; from this my solitude
I cast thee on the waters. Go thy way;
And if, as I believe, the vein be good,
Thou shalt be found again ere many a day."