As grace is the expression of a noble soul, so is dignity the expression of elevated feeling.
It has been prescribed to man, it is true, to establish between his two natures a unison, to form always an harmonious whole, and to act as in union with his entire humanity. But this beauty of character, this last fruit of human maturity, is but an ideal to which he ought to force his conformity with a constant vigilance, but to which, with all his efforts, he can never attain.
He cannot attain to it because his nature is thus made and it will not change; the physical conditions of his existence themselves are opposed to it.
In fact, his existence, so far as he is a sensuous creature, depends on certain physical conditions; and in order to insure this existence man ought—because, in his quality of a free being, capable of determining his modifications by his own will—to watch over his own preservation himself. Man ought to be made capable of certain acts in order to fulfil these physical conditions of his existence, and when these conditions are out of order to re-establish them.
But although nature had to give up to him this care which she reserves exclusively to herself in those creatures which have only a vegetative life, still it was necessary that the satisfaction of so essential a want, in which even the existence of the individual and of the species is interested, should not be absolutely left to the discretion of man, and his doubtful foresight. It has then provided for this interest, which in the foundation concerns it, and it has also interfered with regard to the form in placing in the determination of free arbitration a principle of necessity. From that arises natural instinct, which is nothing else than a principle of physical necessity which acts upon free arbitration by the means of sensation.
The natural instinct solicits the sensuous faculty through the combined force of pain and of pleasure: by pain when it asks satisfaction, and by pleasure when it has found what it asks.
As there is no bargaining possible with physical necessity, man must also, in spite of his liberty, feel what nature desires him to feel. According as it awakens in him a painful or an agreeable sensation, there will infallibly result in him either aversion or desire. Upon this point man quite resembles the brute; and the stoic, whatever his power of soul, is not less sensible of hunger, and has no less aversion to it, than the worm that crawls at his feet.
But here begins the great difference: with the lower creature action succeeds to desire or aversion quite as of necessity, as the desire to the sensation, and the expression to the external impression. It is here a perpetual circle, a chain, the links of which necessarily join one to the other. With man there is one more force—the will, which, as a super-sensuous faculty, is not so subject to the law of nature, nor that of reason, that he remains without freedom to choose, and to guide himself according to this or to that. The animal cannot do otherwise than seek to free itself from pain; man can decide to suffer.
The will of man is a privilege, a sublime idea, even when we do not consider the moral use that he can make of it. But firstly, the animal nature must be in abeyance before approaching the other, and from that cause it is always a considerable step towards reaching the moral emancipation of the will to have conquered in us the necessity of nature, even in indifferent things, by the exercise in us of the simple will.
The jurisdiction of nature extends as far as the will, but there it stops, and the empire of reason commences. Placed between these two jurisdictions, the will is absolutely free to receive the law from one and the other; but it is not in the same relation with one and the other. Inasmuch as it is a natural force it is equally free with regard to nature and with respect to reason; I mean to say it is not forced to pass either on the side of one or of the other: but as far as it is a moral faculty it is not free; I mean that it ought to choose the law of reason. It is not chained to one or the other, but it is obliged towards the law of reason. The will really then makes use of its liberty even whilst it acts contrary to reason: but it makes use of it unworthily, because, notwithstanding its liberty, it is no less under the jurisdiction of nature, and adds no real action to the operation of pure instinct; for to will by virtue of desire is only to desire in a different way.
There may be conflict between the law of nature, which works in us through the instinct, and the law of reason, which comes out of principles, when the instinct, to satisfy itself, demands of us an action which disgusts our moral sense. It is, then, the duty of the will to make the exigencies of the instinct give way to reason. Whilst the laws of nature oblige the will only conditionally, the laws of reason oblige absolutely and without conditions.
But nature obstinately maintains her rights, and as it is never by the result of free choice that she solicits us, she also does not withdraw any of her exigencies as long as she has not been satisfied. Since, from the first cause which gave the impulsion to the threshold of the will where its jurisdiction ends, all in her is rigorously necessary, consequently she can neither give way nor go back, but must always go forward and press more and more the will on which depends the satisfaction of her wants. Sometimes, it is true, we could say that nature shortens her road and acts immediately as a cause for the satisfaction of her needs without having in the first instance carried her request before the will. In such a case, that is to say, if man not simply allowed instinct to follow a free course, but if instinct took this course of itself, man would be no more than the brute. But it is very doubtful whether this case would ever present itself, and if ever it were really presented it would remain to be seen whether we should not blame the will itself for this blind power which the instinct would have usurped.
Thus the appetitive faculty claims with persistence the satisfaction of its wants, and the will is solicited to procure it; but the will should receive from the reason the motives by which she determines. What does the reason permit? What does she prescribe? This is what the will should decide upon. Well, then, if the will turns towards the reason before consenting to the request of the instinct, it is properly a moral act; but if it immediately decides, without consulting the reason, it is a physical act.
Every time, then, that nature manifests an exigence and seeks to draw the will along with it by the blind violence of affective movement, it is the duty of the will to order nature to halt until reason has pronounced. The sentence which reason pronounces, will it be favorable or the contrary to the interest of sensuousness? This is, up to the present time, what the will does not know. Also it should observe this conduct for all the affective movements without exception, and when it is nature which has spoken the first, never allow it to act as an immediate cause. Man would testify only by that to his independence. It is when, by an act of his will, he breaks the violence of his desires, which hasten towards the object which should satisfy them, and would dispense entirely with the co-operation of the will,—it is only then that he reveals himself in quality of a moral being, that is to say, as a free agent, which does not only allow itself to experience either aversion or desire, but which at all times must will his aversions and his desires.
But this act of taking previously the advice of reason is already an attempt against nature, who is a competent judge in her own cause, and who will not allow her sentences to be submitted to a new and strange jurisdiction; this act of the will which thus brings the appetitive faculty before the tribunal of reason is then, in the proper acceptation of the word, an act against nature, in that it renders accidental that which is necessary, in that it attributes to the laws of reason the right to decide in a cause where the laws of nature can alone pronounce, and where they have pronounced effectively. Just, in fact, as the reason in the exercise of its moral jurisdiction is little troubled to know if the decisions it can come to will satisfy or not the sensuous nature, so the sensuous in the exercise of the right which is proper to it does not trouble itself whether its decisions would satisfy pure reason or not. Each is equally necessary, though different in necessity, and this character of necessity would be destroyed if it were permitted for one to modify arbitrarily the decisions of the other. This is why the man who has the most moral energy cannot, whatever resistance he opposes to instinct, free himself from sensuousness, or stifle desire, but can only deny it an influence upon the decisions of his will; he can disarm instinct by moral means, but he cannot appease it but by natural means. By his independent force he may prevent the laws of nature from exercising any constraint over his will, but he can absolutely change nothing of the laws themselves.
Thus in the affective movements in which nature (instinct) acts the first and seeks to do without the will, or to draw it violently to its side, the morality of character cannot manifest itself but by its resistance, and there is but one means of preventing the instinct from restraining the liberty of the will: it is to restrain the instinct itself. Thus we can only have agreement between the law of reason and the affective phenomena, under the condition of putting both in discord with the exigencies of instinct. And as nature never gives way to moral reasons, and recalls her claims, and as on her side, consequently, all remains in the same state, in whatever manner the will acts towards her, it results that there is no possible accord between the inclination and duty, between reason and sense; and that here man cannot act at the same time with all his being and with all the harmony of his nature, but exclusively with his reasonable nature. Thus in these sorts of actions we could not find moral beauty, because an action is morally good only as far as inclination has taken part in it, and here the inclination protests against much more than it concurs with it. But these actions have moral grandeur, because all that testifies to a preponderating authority exercised over the sensuous nature has grandeur, and grandeur is found only there.
It is, then, in the affective movements that this great soul of which we speak transforms itself and becomes sublime; and it is the touchstone to distinguish the soul truly great from what is called a good heart, or from the virtue of temperament. When in man the inclination is ranged on the side of morality only because morality itself is happily on the side of inclination, it will happen that the instinct of nature in the affective movements will exercise upon the will a full empire, and if a sacrifice is necessary it is the moral nature, and not the sensuous nature, that will make it. If, on the contrary, it is reason itself which has made the inclination pass to the side of duty (which is the case in the fine character), and which has only confided the rudder to the sensuous nature, it will be always able to retake it as soon as the instinct should misuse its full powers. Thus the virtue of temperament in the affective movements falls back to the state of simple production of nature, whilst the noble soul passes to heroism and rises to the rank of pure intelligence.
The rule over the instincts by moral force is the emancipation of mind, and the expression by which this independence presents itself to the eyes in the world of phenomena is what is called dignity.
To consider this rigorously: the moral force in man is susceptible of no representation, for the super-sensuous could not explain itself by a phenomenon that falls under the sense; but it can be represented indirectly to the mind by sensuous signs, and this is actually the case with dignity in the configuration of man.
When the instinct of nature is excited, it is accompanied just as the heart in its moral emotions is, by certain movements of the body, which sometimes go before the will, sometimes, even as movements purely sympathetic, escape altogether its empire. In fact, as neither sensation, nor the desire, nor aversion, are subject to the free arbitration of man, man has no right over the physical movements which immediately depend on it. But the instinct does not confine itself to simple desire; it presses, it advances, it endeavors to realize its object; and if it does not meet in the autonomy of the mind an energetic resistance, it will even anticipate it, it will itself take the initiative of those sorts of acts over which the will alone has the right to pronounce. For the instinct of conservation tends without ceasing to usurp the legislative powers in the domain of the will, and its efforts go to exercise over man a domination as absolute as over the beast. There are, then, two sorts of distinct movements, which, in themselves and by their origin, in each affective phenomenon, arise in man by the instinct of conservation: those firstly which immediately proceed from sensation, and which, consequently, are quite involuntary; then those which in principle could and would be voluntary, but from which the blind instinct of nature takes all freedom. The first refer to the affection itself, and are united necessarily with it; the others respond rather to the cause and to the object of the affections, and are thus accidental and susceptible of modification, and cannot be mistaken for infallible signs of the affective phenomena. But as both one and the other, when once the object is determined, are equally necessary to the instinct of nature, so they assist, both one and the other, the expression of affective phenomena; a necessary competition, in order that the expression should be complete and form a harmonious whole.
If, then, the will is sufficiently independent to repress the aggressions of instinct and to maintain its rights against this blind force, all the phenomena which the instinct of nature, once excited, produce, in its proper domain, will preserve, it is true, their force; but those of the second kind, those which came out of a foreign jurisdiction, and which it pretended to subject arbitrarily to its power, these phenomena would not take place. Thus the phenomena are no longer in harmony; but it is precisely in their opposition that consists the expression of the moral force. Suppose that we see a man a prey to the most poignant affection, manifested by movements of the first kind, by quite involuntary movements. His veins swell, his muscles contract convulsively, his voice is stifled, his chest is raised and projects, whilst the lower portion of the torso is sunken and compressed; but at the same time the voluntary movements are soft, the features of the face free, and serenity beams forth from the brow and in the look. If man were only a physical being, all his traits, being determined only by one and the same principle, would be in unison one with the other, and would have a similar expression. Here, for example, they would unite in expressing exclusively suffering; but as those traits which express calmness are mixed up with those which express suffering, and as similar causes do not produce opposite effects, we must recognize in this contrast the presence and the action of a moral force, independent of the passive affections, and superior to the impressions beneath which we see sensuous nature give way. And this is why calmness under suffering, in which properly consists dignity, becomes—indirectly, it is true, and by means of reasoning—a representation of the pure intelligence which is in man, and an expression of his moral liberty. But it is not only under suffering, in the restricted sense of the word, in the sense in which it marks only the painful affections, but generally in all the cases in which the appetitive faculty is strongly interested, that mind ought to show its liberty, and that dignity ought to be the dominant expression. Dignity is not less required in the agreeable affections than in the painful affections, because in both cases nature would willingly play the part of master, and has to be held in check by the will. Dignity relates to the form and not to the nature of the affection, and this is why it can be possible that often an affection, praiseworthy in the main, but one to which we blindly commit ourselves, degenerates, from the want of dignity, into vulgarity and baseness; and, on the contrary, a condemnable affection, as soon as it testifies by its form to the empire of the mind over the senses, changes often its character and approaches even towards the sublime.
Thus in dignity the mind reigns over the body and bears itself as ruler: here it has its independence to defend against imperious impulse, always ready to do without it, to act and shake off its yoke. But in grace, on the contrary, the mind governs with a liberal government, for here the mind itself causes sensuous nature to act, and it finds no resistance to overcome. But obedience only merits forbearance, and severity is only justifiable when provoked by opposition.
Thus grace is nothing else than the liberty of voluntary movements, and dignity consists in mastering involuntary movements. Grace leaves to sensuous nature, where it obeys the orders of the mind, a certain air of independence; dignity, on the contrary, submits the sensuous nature to mind where it would make the pretensions to rule; wherever instinct takes the initiative and allows itself to trespass upon the attributes of the will, the will must show it no indulgence, but it must testify to its own independence (autonomy), in opposing to it the most energetic resistance. If, on the contrary, it is the will that commences, and if instinct does but follow it, the free arbitration has no longer to display any rigor, now it must show indulgence. Such is in a few words the law which ought to regulate the relation of the two natures of man in what regards the expression of this relation in the world of phenomena.
It follows that dignity is required, and is seen particularly in passive affection, whilst grace is shown in the conduct, for it is only in suffering that the liberty of the soul can be manifested, and only in action that the liberty of the body can be displayed.
If dignity is an expression of resistance opposed to instinct by moral liberty, and if the instinct consequently ought to be considered as a force that renders resistance necessary, it follows that dignity is ridiculous where you have no force of this kind to resist, and contemptible where there ought not to be any such force to combat. We laugh at a comedian, whatever rank or condition he may occupy, who even in indifferent actions affects dignity. We despise those small souls who, for having accomplished an ordinary action, and often for having simply abstained from a base one, plume themselves on their dignity.
Generally, what is demanded of virtue is not properly speaking dignity, but grace. Dignity is implicitly contained in the idea of virtue, which even by its nature supposes already the rule of man over his instincts. It is rather sensuous nature that, in the fulfilment of moral duties, is found in a state of oppression and constraint, particularly when it consummates in a painful sacrifice. But as the ideal of perfection in man does not require a struggle, but harmony between the moral and physical nature, this ideal is little compatible with dignity, which is only the expression of a struggle between the two natures, and as such renders visible either the particular impotence of the individual, or the impotence common to the species. In the first case, when the want of harmony between inclination and duty, with regard to a moral act, belongs to the particular powerlessness of the subject, the act would always lose its moral value, in as far as that combat is necessary, and, in consequence, proportionally as there would be dignity in the exterior expression of this act; for our moral judgment connects each individual with the common measure of the species, and we do not allow man to be stopped by other limits than those of human nature.
In the second case, when the action commanded by duty cannot be placed in harmony with the exigencies of instinct without going against the idea of human nature, the resistance of the inclination is necessary, and then only the sight of the combat can convince us of the possibility of victory. Thus we ask here of the features and attitudes an expression of this interior struggle, not being able to take upon ourselves to believe in virtue where there is no trace of humanity. Where then the moral law commands of us an action which necessarily makes the sensuous nature suffer, there the matter is serious, and ought not to be treated as play; ease and lightness in accomplishing this act would be much more likely to revolt us than to satisfy us; and thus, in consequence, expression is no longer grace, but dignity. In general, the law which prevails here is, that man ought to accomplish with grace all the acts that he can execute in the sphere of human nature; and with dignity all those for the accomplishment of which he is obliged to go beyond his nature.
In like manner as we ask of virtue to have grace, we ask of inclination to have dignity. Grace is not less natural to inclination than dignity to virtue, and that is evident from the idea of grace, which is all sensuous and favorable to the liberty of physical nature, and which is repugnant to all idea of constraint. The man without cultivation lacks not by himself a certain degree of grace, when love or any other affection of this kind animates him; and where do we find more grace than in children, who are nevertheless entirely under the direction of instinct. The danger is rather that inclination should end by making the state of passion the dominant one, stifling the independence of mind, and bringing about a general relaxation. Therefore in order to conciliate the esteem of a noble sentiment—esteem can only be inspired by that which proceeds from a moral source—the inclination must always be accompanied by dignity. It is for that reason a person in love desires to find dignity in the object of this passion. Dignity alone is the warrant that it is not need which has forced, but free choice which has chosen, that he is not desired as a thing, but esteemed as a person.
We require grace of him who obliges, dignity of the person obliged: the first, to set aside an advantage which he has over the other, and which might wound, ought to give to his actions, though his decision may have been disinterested, the character of an affective movement, that thus, from the part which he allows inclination to take, he may have the appearance of being the one who gains the most: the second, not to compromise by the dependence in which he put himself the honor of humanity, of which liberty is the saintly palladium, ought to raise what is only a pure movement of instinct to the height of an act of the will, and in this manner, at the moment when he receives a favor, return in a certain sense another favor.
We must censure with grace, and own our faults with dignity: to put dignity into our remonstrances is to have the air of a man too penetrated by his own advantage: to put grace into our confessions is to forget the inferiority in which our fault has placed us. Do the powerful desire to conciliate affection? Their superiority must be tempered by grace. The feeble, do they desire to conciliate esteem? They must through dignity rise above their powerlessness. Generally it is thought that dignity is suitable to the throne, and every one knows that those seated upon it desire to find in their councillors, their confessors, and in their parliaments—grace. But that which may be good and praiseworthy in a kingdom is not so always in the domain of taste. The prince himself enters into this domain as soon as he descends from his throne (for thrones have their privileges), and the crouching courtier places himself under the saintly and free probation of this law as soon as he stands erect and becomes again a man. The first we would counsel to supplement from the superfluity of the second that which he himself needs, and to give him as much of his dignity as he requires to borrow grace from him.
Although dignity and grace have each their proper domain in which they are manifest, they do not exclude each other. They can be met with in the same person, and even in the same state of that person. Further, it is grace alone which guarantees and accredits dignity, and dignity alone can give value to grace.
Dignity alone, wherever met with, testifies that the desires and inclinations are restrained within certain limits. But what we take for a force which moderates and rules, may it not be rather an obliteration of the faculty of feeling (hardness)? Is it really the moral autonomy, and may it not be rather the preponderance of another affection, and in consequence a voluntary interested effort that restrains the outburst of the present affection? This is what grace alone can put out of doubt in joining itself to dignity. It is grace, I mean to say, that testifies to a peaceful soul in harmony with itself and a feeling heart.
In like manner grace by itself shows a certain susceptibility of the feeling faculty, and a certain harmony of sentiment. But may this not be a certain relaxation of the mind which allows so much liberty to sensuous nature and which opens the heart to all impressions? Is it indeed the moral which has established this harmony between the sentiments? It is dignity alone which can in its turn guarantee this to us in joining itself to grace; I mean it is dignity alone which attests in the subject an independent force, and at the moment when the will represses the license of involuntary movement, it is by dignity that it makes known that the liberty of voluntary movements is a simple concession on its part.
If grace and dignity, still supported, the one by architectonic beauty and the other by force, were united in the same person, the expression of human nature would be accomplished in him: such a person would be justified in the spiritual world and set at liberty in the sensuous world. Here the two domains touch so closely that their limits are indistinguishable. The smile that plays on the lips; this sweetly animated look; that serenity spread over the brow—it is the liberty of the reason which gleams forth in a softened light. This noble majesty impressed on the face is the sublime adieu of the necessity of nature, which disappears before the mind. Such is the ideal of human beauty according to which the antique conceptions were formed, and we see it in the divine forms of a Niobe, of the Apollo Belvedere, in the winged Genius of the Borghese, and in the Muse of the Barberini palace. There, where grace and dignity are united, we experience by turns attraction and repulsion; attraction as spiritual creatures, and repulsion as being sensuous creatures.
Dignity offers to us an example of subordination of sensuous nature to moral nature—an example which we are bound to imitate, but which at the same time goes beyond the measure of our sensuous faculty. This opposition between the instincts of nature and the exigencies of the moral law, exigencies, however, that we recognize as legitimate, brings our feelings into play and awakens a sentiment that we name esteem, which is inseparable from dignity.
With grace, on the contrary, as with beauty in general, reason finds its demands satisfied in the world of sense, and sees with surprise one of its own ideas presented to it, realized in the world of phenomena. This unexpected encounter between the accident of nature and the necessity of reason awakens in us a sentiment of joyous approval (contentment) which calms the senses, but which animates and occupies the mind, and it results necessarily that we are attracted by a charm towards the sensuous object. It is this attraction which we call kindliness, or love—a sentiment inseparable from grace and beauty.
The attraction—I mean the attraction (stimulus) not of love but of voluptuousness—proposes to the senses a sensuous object that promises to these the satisfaction of a want, that is to say a pleasure; the senses are consequently solicited towards this sensuous object, and from that springs desire, a sentiment which increases and excites the sensuous nature, but which, on the contrary, relaxes the spiritual nature.
We can say of esteem that it inclines towards its object; of love, that it approaches with inclination towards its object; of desire, that it precipitates itself upon its object; with esteem, the object is reason, and the subject is sensuous nature; with love, the object is sensuous, and the subject is moral nature; with desire, the object and the subject are purely sensuous.
With love alone is sentiment free, because it is pure in its principle, and because it draws its source from the seat of liberty, from the breast of our divine nature. Here, it is not the weak and base part of our nature that measures itself with the greater and more noble part; it is not the sensibility, a prey to vertigo, which gazes up at the law of reason. It is absolute greatness which is reflected in beauty and in grace, and satisfied in morality; it becomes the legislator even, the god in us who plays with his own image in the world of sense. Thus love consoles and dilates the heart, whilst esteem strains it; because here there is nothing which could limit the heart and compress its impulses, there being nothing higher than absolute greatness; and sensibility, from which alone hinderance could come, is reconciled, in the breast of beauty and of grace, with the ideas even of the mind. Love has but to descend; esteem aspires with effort towards an object placed above it. This is the reason that the wicked love nothing, though they are obliged to esteem many things. This is why the well-disposed man can hardly esteem without at once feeling love for the object. Pure spirit can only love, but not esteem; the senses know only esteem, but not love.
The culpable man is perpetually a prey to fear, that he may meet in the world of sense the legislator within himself; and sees an enemy in all that bears the stamp of greatness, of beauty, and of perfection: the man, on the contrary, in whom a noble soul breathes, knows no greater pleasure than to meet out of himself the image or realization of the divine that is in him; and to embrace in the world of sense a symbol of the immortal friend he loves. Love is at the same time the most generous and the most egotistical thing in nature; the most generous, because it receives nothing and gives all—pure mind being only able to give and not receive; the most egotistical, for that which he seeks in the subject, that which he enjoys in it, is himself and never anything else.
But precisely because he who loves receives from the beloved object nothing but that which he has himself given, it often happens that he gives more than he has received.
The exterior senses believe to have discovered in the object that which the internal sense alone contemplates in it, in the end believing what is desired with ardor, and the riches belonging to the one who loves hide the poverty of the object loved. This is the reason why love is subject to illusion, whilst esteem and desire are never deceived. As long as the super-excitement of the internal senses overcomes the internal senses, the soul remains under the charm of this Platonic love, which gives place only in duration to the delights enjoyed by the immortals. But as soon as internal sense ceases to share its visions with the exterior sense, these take possession of their rights and imperiously demand that which is its due—matter. It is the terrestrial Venus who profits by the fire kindled by the celestial Venus, and it is not rare to find the physical instinct, so long sacrificed, revenge itself by a rule all the more absolute. As external sense is never a dupe to illusion, it makes this advantage felt with a brutal insolence over its noble rival; and it possesses audacity to the point of asserting that it has settled an account that the spiritual nature had left under sufferance.
Dignity prevents love from degenerating into desire, and grace, from esteem turning into fear. True beauty, true grace, ought never to cause desire. Where desire is mingled, either the object wants dignity, or he who considers it wants morality in his sentiments. True greatness ought never to cause fear. If fear finds a place, you may hold for certain either that the object is wanting in taste and grace, or that he who considers it is not at peace with his conscience.
Attraction, charm, grace: words commonly employed as synonyms, but which are not, or ought not to be so, the idea they express being capable of many determinations, requiring different designations.
There is a kind of grace which animates, and another which calms the heart. One touches nearly the sphere of the senses, and the pleasure which is found in these, if not restrained by dignity, would easily degenerate into concupiscence; we may use the word attraction [Reiz] to designate this grace. A man with whom the feelings have little elasticity does not find in himself the necessary force to awaken his affections: he needs to borrow it from without and to seek from impressions which easily exercise the phantasy, by rapid transition from sentiment to action, in order to establish in himself the elasticity he had lost. It is the advantage that he will find in the society of an attractive person, who by conversation and look would stir his imagination and agitate this stagnant water.
The calming grace approaches more nearly to dignity, inasmuch as it manifests itself through the moderation which it imposes upon the impetuosity of the movements. It is to this the man addresses himself whose imagination is over-excited; it is in this peaceful atmosphere that the heart seeks repose after the violence of the storm. It is to this that I reserve especially the appellation of grace. Attraction is not incompatible with laughter, jest, or the sting of raillery; grace agrees only with sympathy and love.
Dignity has also its degrees and its shades. If it approaches grace and beauty, it takes the name of nobleness; if, on the contrary, it inclines towards the side of fear, it becomes haughtiness.
The utmost degree of grace is ravishing charm. Dignity, in its highest form, is called majesty. In the ravishing we love our Ego, and we feel our being fused with the object. Liberty in its plenitude and in its highest enjoyment tends to the complete destruction of liberty, and the excitement of the mind to the delirium of the voluptuousness of the senses. Majesty, on the contrary, proposes to us a law, a moral ideal, which constrains us to turn back our looks upon ourselves. God is there, and the sentiment we have of His presence makes us bend our eyes upon the ground. We forget all that is without ourselves, and we feel but the heavy burden of our own existence.
Majesty belongs to what is holy. A man capable of giving us an idea of holiness possesses majesty, and if we do not go so far as to kneel, our mind at least prostrates itself before him. But the mind recoils at once upon the slightest trace of human imperfection which he discovers in the object of his adoration, because that which is only comparatively great cannot subdue the heart.
Power alone, however terrible or without limit we may suppose it to be, can never confer majesty. Power imposes only upon the sensuous being; majesty should act upon the mind itself, and rob it of its liberty. A man who can pronounce upon me a sentence of death has neither more nor less of majesty for me the moment I am what I ought to be. His advantage over me ceases as soon as I insist on it. But he who offers to me in his person the image of pure will, before him I would prostrate myself, if it is possible, for all eternity.
Grace and dignity are too high in value for vanity and stupidity not to be excited to appropriate them by imitation. There is only one means of attaining this: it is to imitate the moral state of which they are the expression. All other imitation is but to ape them, and would be recognized directly through exaggeration.
Just as exaggeration of the sublime leads to inflation, and affectation of nobleness to preciosity, in the same manner affectation of grace ends in coquetry, and that of dignity to stiff solemnity, false gravity.
There where true grace simply used ease and provenance, affected grace becomes effeminacy. One is content to use discreetly the voluntary movements, and not thwart unnecessarily the liberty of nature; the other has not even the heart to use properly the organs of will, and, not to fall into hardness and heaviness, it prefers to sacrifice something of the aim of movement, or else it seeks to reach it by cross ways and indirect means. An awkward and stiff dancer expends as much force as if he had to work a windmill; with his feet and arms he describes lines as angular as if he were tracing figures with geometrical precision; the affected dancer, on the other hand, glides with an excess of delicacy, as if he feared to injure himself on coming in contact with the ground, and his feet and hands describe only lines in sinuous curves. The other sex, which is essentially in possession of true grace, is also that one which is more frequently culpable of affected grace, but this affectation is never more distasteful than when used as a bait to desire. The smile of true grace thus gives place to the most repulsive grimace; the fine play of look, so ravishing when it displays a true sentiment, is only contortion; the melodious inflections of the voice, an irresistible attraction from candid lips, are only a vain cadence, a tremulousness which savors of study: in a word, all the harmonious charms of woman become only deception, an artifice of the toilet.
If we have many occasions to observe the affected grace in the theatre and in the ball-room, there is also often occasion of studying the affected dignity in the cabinet of ministers and in the study-rooms of men of science (notably at universities). True dignity is content to prevent the domination of the affections, to keep the instinct within just limits, but there only where it pretends to be master in the involuntary movements; false dignity regulates with an iron sceptre even the voluntary movements, it oppresses the moral movements, which were sacred to true dignity, as well as the sensual movements, and destroys all the mimic play of the features by which the soul gleams forth upon the face. It arms itself not only against rebel nature, but against submissive nature, and ridiculously seeks its greatness in subjecting nature to its yoke, or, if this does not succeed, in hiding it. As if it had vowed hatred to all that is called nature, it swathes the body in long, heavy-plaited garments, which hide the human structure; it paralyzes the limbs in surcharging them with vain ornaments, and goes even the length of cutting the hair to replace this gift of nature by an artificial production. True dignity does not blush for nature, but only for brute nature; it always has an open and frank air; feeling gleams in its look; calm and serenity of mind is legible upon the brow in eloquent traits. False gravity, on the contrary, places its dignity in the lines of its visage; it is close, mysterious, and guards its features with the care of an actor; all the muscles of its face are tormented, all natural and true expression disappears, and the entire man is like a sealed letter.
But false dignity is not always wrong to keep the mimic play of its features under sharp discipline, because it might betray more than would be desired, a precaution true dignity has not to consider. True dignity wishes only to rule, not to conceal nature; in false dignity, on the contrary, nature rules the more powerfully within because it is controlled outwardly. [Art can make use of a proper solemnity. Its object is only to prepare the mind for something important. When the poet is anxious to produce a great impression he tunes the mind to receive it.]