Popular Science Monthly/Volume 6/November 1874/Facial Anomalies

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I WAS once sitting in a cool underground saloon at Leipsic, while without people were ready to die from the heat, when a new guest entered and took a seat opposite to me. The sweat rolled in great drops down his face, and he was kept busy with his handkerchief, till at last he found relief in the exclamation, "Fearfully hot!" I watched him attentively as he called for a cool drink, for I expected every moment that he would fall from his chair in a fit of apoplexy. The man must have noticed that I was observing him, for he turned toward me suddenly, saying, "I am a curious sort of person, am I not?" "Why?" I asked. "Because I perspire only on the right side." And so it was; his right cheek and the right half of his forehead were as hot as fire, while the left side of his face bore not a trace of perspiration. I had never seen the like, and, in my astonishment, was about to enter into conversation with him regarding this physiological curiosity, when his neighbor on the left broke in with the remark, "Then we are the opposites and counterparts of each other, for I perspire only on the left side." This, too, was the fact. So the pair took seats opposite to each other, and shook hands like two men who had just found each his other half. "Well! this makes an end of natural history," exclaimed another guest, who hitherto had quietly gazed on this strange performance as though it were a play; and every one that had overheard what was said came to look at this novel wonder.

"This makes an end of natural history!" This expression excited me to laughter, and involuntarily I exclaimed: "No, sir, this is just the beginning of natural history; for Nature has many strange caprices even as regards her symmetry. I then mentioned the case of a man I had known in my boyhood, who, Janus-like, had two totally different faces—on one side laughing, on the other crying. Naturally I dreaded this strange double face, with its one side smooth, plump, and comely, like a girl's cheek, while the other side was all scarred by the small-pox. This side of the face denoted churlishness; and, while the other side wore a smile, this boded mischief. In this instance disease had been unsymmetrical.

Seated again in a different place, I mentioned to a friend, a physiologist, the wonderful anomaly I had seen. "Why," said he, "only look at the young Assessor von Th., yonder; he will show you an asymmetry such as you will not meet with every day." Sure enough, this man had a nose which was situated by no means in the middle of his face. I had seen this young man often before, but had never clearly made out what it was in his face that impressed me. Now I saw it at once: it was the man's nose; and since then I have come to see that only a minority of mankind have their noses right in the middle of their faces; and most of us have our noses very much out of place without suspecting it.

But the eyes! Surely, those windows of the soul, can never be charged with asymmetry! I used to think Nature had too correct an aesthetic sense to do such a thing as that. But I know two persons, one of whom, a man, has one eye brown and one blue; the other of them, a woman, has one eye blue and one black—her hair being brown. In such a state of things, all we can say is, that the blending of the two parents is under some conditions not perfect. Strictly speaking, this too is the case where southron and northern, with black hair and blue eyes, or with light hair and black eyes, are still in antagonism, and where consequently the Darwinian force of inheritance is not yet fully established—in other words, where a new race is not yet formed. And, in the face of these facts, what are we to think of the eye as the "mirror of the soul?" Here one eye flashes and threatens, and the other is as mild as the German spring-time, the while only one heart beats and throbs in the bosom. Nay, the heart itself is not always in its own place; it sometimes occupies the right side of the chest. But it is of the eyes I was speaking, and not of the heart. I do not propose to discuss the whole question of the color of the eyes, down to albinism; I would simply observe that, as seen through them, the world wears a very different aspect for different individuals—a circumstance which, however, has nothing to do with asymmetry. Some eyes see only complementary colors, e. g., red instead of green; others see no color at all, every thing appearing to them like a copperplate engraving.

But color, too, has its caprices, as shown in the hair. I once asked an acquaintance why he did not allow his mustache to grow. His reply was, because on one side it was light brown, and on the other white; and he bade me look at his eyebrows, where I would find at least a partial confirmation of what he said. In fact, my friend had not stated the whole truth, for the dualism was faintly discernible even in the hair of his head. When a boy, I knew a whole family, the young members of which had each on the poll one or two locks of white hair. It was but yesterday I discovered, among my Christian neighbors, a descendant of Abraham, having black, curly hair, but blue eyes, and light eyebrows and mustache—the latter being as becoming to its handsome wearer as if his hair had been brown. Clearly a reversion from Western race-mixture to the Oriental type! I am confident that similar anomalies might often be noted if the attention were directed to them.

There are many other facial anomalies, which fail to attract attention, because we have grown accustomed to them. We should expect the convex cast of one side of the face to fit, line for line, into the concave cast of the other; but it is doubtful if there is to be anywhere found one single head of this ideal perfection. Neither the contour of the cheeks, nor the lines of the countenance, are the same on both sides, and they are all the less so because every one unconsciously tends to perform many unilateral facial movements, which in time cause a divergence between the two sides of the face. Besides, the head, projecting as it does freely into air, is more dependent than we imagine on wind and weather. Suppose a person were to sit constantly at a window, turning one side to the cooler atmosphere out-of-doors, and the other toward a hot stove—the result would be a twofold growth of the facial muscles. One side of the face might become rounded, the other flat or concave; and, though such faces are not unfrequent, we do not notice the anomaly, simply because we are accustomed to it. In the Lapp we have a good illustration of this unequal development. Just as the trees of his native land are stunted, so too his features become monstrous, irregular, and one-sided: the frontal bones are forced, as though by spasm, down on the maxillaries, producing the most singular combinations and contortions of the features. A not uncommon form of asymmetry, in more favored lands, is the presence of a dimple on one cheek, while the other has no such indentation, or but a very faint one. In such cases the face has, as it were, a summer and a winter side, just like the apple, which is round and ruddy on its summer side, but on the shade-side flattened and wan.

We are too much inclined to regard these phenomena of asymmetry as merely accidental, whereas the fact is that they are the result of a universal law. Take, for instance, the case where the mustache is longer or thicker on one side of the lip than on the other; the law is everywhere the same: nothing is like any thing else, as Goethe has said. Throughout the entire organic world, and even down to the inorganic creation, down to the world of crystals, nothing that wears a specific form attains the full perfection of that form. I once requested a friend of mine, a mathematician, to reduce to a single formula the curves of an ivy-leaf. He spent weeks in measuring and calculating, but at last gave up the undertaking as an impossibility: no leaf was like another. Indeed, were Nature's forms ideally perfect, the result would be primness rather than beauty. Observe how powerfully the expression of the face is affected by the asymmetry between the upper and lower rows of teeth. The position of the eyes at equal distances on each side of the median line of the face—the nose—might seem to be indispensable for beauty, and yet how very rarely are the eyes placed with perfect symmetry! The wonder is, that these asymmetries of the face should be, after all, so slight as they are, considering how serious are the impediments placed in its way by the requirements of bodily growth. That the two halves of our body should grow so uniformly as they do, except in a very few instances, is the best evidence of the absolute unity of this form of organism, which is based on the vertebral column, and developed along with it.

The arrogant spirit of man revolts against the idea of its so-called bodily shell being a mere natural product, just like every other organized structure; but, for all that, the universal morphological law still remains. Art alone transcends all the requirements of natural production. Where art comes in play, the individual disappears; the contingent gives way before the eternal, the permanent. But this is a harmony that is never attained by Nature.—Die Natur.