The Greek fable attributes to the goddess of beauty a wonderful girdle which has the quality of lending grace and of gaining hearts in all who wear it. This same divinity is accompanied by the Graces, or goddesses of grace. From this we see that the Greeks distinguished from beauty grace and the divinities styled the Graces, as they expressed the ideas by proper attributes, separable from the goddess of beauty. All that is graceful is beautiful, for the girdle of love winning attractions is the property of the goddess of Cnidus; but all beauty is not of necessity grace, for Venus, even without this girdle, does not cease to be what she is.
However, according to this allegory, the goddess of beauty is the only one who wears and who lends to others the girdle of attractions. Juno, the powerful queen of Olympus, must begin by borrowing this girdle from Venus, when she seeks to charm Jupiter on Mount Ida [Pope's "Iliad," Book XIV. v. 220]. Thus greatness, even clothed with a certain degree of beauty, which is by no means disputed in the spouse of Jupiter, is never sure of pleasing without the grace, since the august queen of the gods, to subdue the heart of her consort, expects the victory not from her own charms but from the girdle of Venus.
But we see, moreover, that the goddess of beauty can part with this girdle, and grant it, with its quality and effects, to a being less endowed with beauty. Thus grace is not the exclusive privilege of the beautiful; it can also be handed over, but only by beauty, to an object less beautiful, or even to an object deprived of beauty.
If these same Greeks saw a man gifted in other respects with all the advantages of mind, but lacking grace, they advised him to sacrifice to the Graces. If, therefore, they conceived these deities as forming an escort to the beauty of the other sex, they also thought that they would be favorable to man, and that to please he absolutely required their help.
But what then is grace, if it be true that it prefers to unite with beauty, yet not in an exclusive manner? What is grace if it proceeds from beauty, but yet produces the effects of beauty, even when beauty is absent. What is it, if beauty can exist indeed without it, and yet has no attraction except with it? The delicate feeling of the Greek people had marked at an early date this distinction between grace and beauty, whereof the reason was not then able to give an account; and, seeking the means to express it, it borrowed images from the imagination, because the understanding could not offer notions to this end. On this score, the myth of the girdle deserves to fix the attention of the philosopher, who, however, ought to be satisfied to seek ideas corresponding with these pictures when the pure instinctive feeling throws out its discoveries, or, in other words, with explaining the hieroglyphs of sensation. If we strip off its allegorical veil from this conception of the Greeks, the following appears the only meaning it admits.
Grace is a kind of movable beauty, I mean a beauty which does not belong essentially to its subject, but which may be produced accidentally in it, as it may also disappear from it. It is in this that grace is distinguished from beauty properly so called, or fixed beauty, which is necessarily inherent in the subject itself. Venus can no doubt take off her girdle and give it up for the moment to Juno, but she could only give up her beauty with her very person. Venus, without a girdle, is no longer the charming Venus, without beauty she is no longer Venus.
But this girdle as a symbol of movable beauty has this particular feature, that the person adorned with it not only appears more graceful, but actually becomes so. The girdle communicates objectively this property of grace, in this contrasting with other articles of dress, which have only subjective effects, and without modifying the person herself, only modify the impression produced on the imagination of others. Such is the express meaning of the Greek myth; grace becomes the property of the person who puts on this girdle; she does more than appear amiable, it is so in fact.
No doubt it may be thought that a girdle, which after all is only an outward, artificial ornament, does not prove a perfectly correct emblem to express grace as a personal quality. But a personal quality that is conceived at the same time as separable from the subject, could only be represented to the senses by an accidental ornament which can be detached from the person, without the essence of the latter being affected by it.
Thus the girdle of charms operates not by a natural effect (for then it would not change anything in the person itself) but by a magical effect; that is to say, its virtue extends beyond all natural conditions. By this means, which is nothing more, I admit, than an expedient, it has been attempted to avoid the contradiction to which the mind, as regards its representative faculty, is unavoidably reduced, every time it asks an expression from nature herself, for an object foreign to nature and which belongs to the free field of the ideal. If this magic girdle is the symbol of an objective property which can be separated from its subject without modifying in any degree its nature, this myth can only express one thing—the beauty of movement, because movement is the only modification that can affect an object without changing its identity.
The beauty of movement is an idea that satisfies the two conditions contained in the myth which now occupies us. In the first place, it is an objective beauty, not entirely depending upon the impression that we receive from the object, but belonging to the object itself. In the second place, this beauty has in itself something accidental, and the object remains identical even when we conceive it to be deprived of this property. The girdle of attractions does not lose its magic virtue in passing to an object of less beauty, or even to that which is without beauty; that is to say, that a being less beautiful, or even one which is not beautiful, may also lay claim to the beauty of movement. The myth tells us that grace is something accidental in the subject in which we suppose it to be. It follows that we can attribute this property only to accidental movements. In an ideal of beauty the necessary movements must be beautiful, because inasmuch as necessary they form an integral part of its nature; the idea of Venus once given, the idea of this beauty of necessary movements is that implicitly comprised in it; but it is not the same with the beauty of accidental movements; this is an extension of the former; there can be a grace in the voice, there is none in respiration.
But all this beauty in accidental movements—is it necessarily grace? It is scarcely necessary to notice that the Greek fable attributes grace exclusively to humanity. It goes still further, for even the beauty of form it restricts within the limits of the human species, in which, as we know, the Greeks included also their gods. But if grace is the exclusive privilege of the human form, none of the movements which are common to man with the rest of nature can evidently pretend to it. Thus, for example, if it were admitted that the ringlets of hair on a beautiful head undulate with grace, there would also be no reason to deny a grace of movement to the branches of trees, to the waves of the stream, to the ears of a field of corn, or to the limbs of animals. No, the goddess of Cnidus represents exclusively the human species; therefore, as soon as you see only a physical creature in man, a purely sensuous object, she is no longer concerned with him. Thus, grace can only be met with in voluntary movements, and then in those only which express some sentiment of the moral order. Those which have as principle only animal sensuousness belong only, however voluntary we may suppose them to be, to physical nature, which never reaches of itself to grace. If it were possible to have grace in the manifestations of the physical appetites and instincts, grace would no longer be either capable or worthy to serve as the expression of humanity. Yet it is humanity alone which to the Greek contains all the idea of beauty and of perfection. He never consents to see separated from the soul the purely sensuous part, and such is with him that which might be called man's sensuous nature, which it is equally impossible for him to isolate either from his lower nature or from his intelligence. In the same way that no idea presents itself to his mind without taking at once a visible form, and without his endeavoring to give a bodily envelope even to his intellectual conceptions, so he desires in man that all his instinctive acts should express at the same time his moral destination. Never for the Greek is nature purely physical nature, and for that reason he does not blush to honor it; never for him is reason purely reason, and for that reason he has not to tremble in submitting to its rule. The physical nature and moral sentiments, matter and mind, earth and heaven, melt together with a marvellous beauty in his poetry. Free activity, which is truly at home only in Olympus, was introduced by him even into the domain of sense, and it is a further reason for not attaching blame to him if reciprocally he transported the affections of the sense into Olympus. Thus, this delicate sense of the Greeks, which never suffered the material element unless accompanied by the spiritual principle, recognizes in man no voluntary movement belonging only to sense which did not at the same time manifest the moral sentiment of the soul. It follows that for them grace is one of the manifestations of the soul, revealed through beauty in voluntary movements; therefore, wherever there is grace, it is the soul which is the mobile, and it is in her that beauty of movement has its principle. The mythological allegory thus expresses the thought, "Grace is a beauty not given by nature, but produced by the subject itself."
Up to the present time I have confined myself to unfolding the idea of grace from the Greek myth, and I hope I have not forced the sense: may I now be permitted to try to what result a philosophical investigation on this point will lead us, and to see if this subject, as so many others, will confirm this truth, that the spirit of philosophy can hardly flatter itself that it can discover anything which has not already been vaguely perceived by sentiment and revealed in poetry?
Without her girdle, and without the Graces, Venus represents the ideal of beauty, such as she could have come forth from the hands of nature, and such as she is made without the intervention of mind endowed with sentiment and by the virtue alone of plastic forces. It is not without reason that the fable created a particular divinity to represent this sort of beauty, because it suffices to see and to feel in order to distinguish it very distinctly from the other, from that which derives its origin from the influence of a mind endowed with sentiments.
This first beauty, thus formed by nature solely and in virtue of the laws of necessity, I shall distinguish from that which is regulated upon conditions of liberty, in calling it, if allowed, beauty of structure (architectonic beauty). It is agreed, therefore, to designate under this name that portion of human beauty which not only has as efficient principle the forces and agents of physical nature (for we can say as much for every phenomenon), but which also is determined, so far as it is beauty solely, by the forces of this nature.
Well-proportioned limbs, rounded contours, an agreeable complexion, delicacy of skin, an easy and graceful figure, a harmonious tone of voice, etc., are advantages which are gifts of nature and fortune: of nature, which predisposed to this, and developed it herself; of fortune, which protects against all influence adverse to the work of nature.
Venus came forth perfect and complete from the foam of the sea. Why perfect? because she is the finished and exactly determined work of necessity, and on that account she is neither susceptible of variety nor of progress. In other terms, as she is only a beautiful representation of the various ends which nature had in view in forming man, and thence each of her properties is perfectly determined by the idea that she realizes; hence it follows that we can consider her as definitive and determined (with regard to its connection with the first conception) although this conception is subject, in its development, to the conditions of time.
The architectonic beauty of the human form and its technical perfection are two ideas, which we must take good care not to confound. By the latter, the ensemble of particular ends must be understood, such as they co-ordinate between themselves towards a general and higher end; by the other, on the contrary, a character suited to the representation of these ends, as far as these are revealed, under a visible form, to our faculty of seeing and observing. When, then, we speak of beauty, we neither take into consideration the justness of the aims of nature in themselves, nor formally, the degree of adaptation to the principles of art which their combination could offer. Our contemplative faculties hold to the manner in which the object appears to them, without taking heed to its logical constitution. Thus, although the architectonic beauty, in the structure of man, be determined by the idea which has presided at this structure, and by the ends that nature proposes for it, the aesthetic judgment, making abstraction of these ends, considers this beauty in itself; and in the idea which we form of it, nothing enters which does not immediately and properly belong to the exterior appearance.
We are, then, not obliged to say that the dignity of man and of his condition heightens the beauty of his structure. The idea we have of his dignity may influence, it is true, the judgment that we form on the beauty of his structure; but then this judgment ceases to be purely aesthetic. Doubtless, the technical constitution of the human form is an expression of its destiny, and, as such, it ought to excite our admiration; but this technical constitution is represented to the understanding and not to sense; it is a conception and not a phenomenon. The architectonic beauty, on the contrary, could never be an expression of the destiny of man, because it addresses itself to quite a different faculty from that to which it belongs to pronounce upon his destiny.
If, then, man is, amongst all the technical forces created by nature, that to whom more especially we attribute beauty, this is exact and true only under one condition, which is, that at once and upon the simple appearance he justifies this superiority, without the necessity, in order to appreciate it, that we bring to mind his humanity. For, to recall this, we must pass through a conception; and then it would no longer be the sense, but the understanding, that would become the judge of beauty, which would imply contradiction. Man, therefore, cannot put forward the dignity of his moral destiny, nor give prominence to his superiority as intelligence, to increase the price of his beauty. Man, here, is but a being thrown like others into space—a phenomenon amongst other phenomena. In the world of sense no account is made of the rank he holds in the world of ideas; and if he desires in that to hold the first place, he can only owe it to that in him which belongs to the physical order.
But his physical nature is determined, we know, by the idea of his humanity; from which it follows that his architectonic beauty is so also mediately. If, then he is distinguished by superior beauty from all other creatures of the sensuous world, it is incontestable that he owes this advantage to his destiny as man, because it is in it that the reason is of the differences which in general separate him from the rest of the sensuous world. But the beauty of the human form is not due to its being the expression of this superior destiny, for if it were so, this form would necessarily cease to be beautiful, from the moment it began to express a less high destiny, and the contrary to this form would be beautiful as soon as it could be admitted that it expresses this higher destination. However, suppose that at the sight of a fine human face we could completely forget that which it expresses, and put in its place, without chancing anything of its outside, the savage instincts of the tiger, the judgment of the eyesight would remain absolutely the same, and the tiger would be for it the chef-d'oeuvre of the Creator.
The destiny of man as intelligence contributes, then, to the beauty of his structure only so far as the form that represents this destiny, the expression that makes it felt, satisfies at the same time the conditions which are prescribed in the world of sense to the manifestations of the beautiful; which signifies that beauty ought always to remain a pure effect of physical nature, and that the rational conception which had determined the technical utility of the human structure cannot confer beauty, but simply be compatible with beauty.
It could be objected, it is true, that in general all which is manifested by a sensuous representation is produced by the forces of nature, and that consequently this character cannot be exclusively an indication of the beautiful. Certainly, and without doubt, all technical creations are the work of nature; but it is not by the fact of nature that they are technical, or at least that they are so judged to be. They are technical only through the understanding, and thus their technical perfection has already its existence in the understanding, before passing into the world of sense, and becoming a sensible phenomenon. Beauty, on the contrary, has the peculiarity, that the sensuous world is not only its theatre, but the first source from whence it derives its birth, and that it owes to nature not only its expression, but also its creation. Beauty is absolutely but a property of the world of sense; and the artist, who has the beautiful in view, would not attain to it but inasmuch as he entertains this illusion, that his work is the work of nature.
In order to appreciate the technical perfection of the human body, we must bear in mind the ends to which it is appropriated; this being quite unnecessary for the appreciation of its beauty. Here the senses require no aid, and of themselves judge with full competence; however they would not be competent judges of the beautiful, if the world of sense (the senses have no other object) did not contain all the conditions of beauty and was therefore competent to produce it. The beauty of man, it is true, has for mediate reason the idea of his humanity, because all his physical nature is founded on this idea; but the senses, we know, hold to immediate phenomena, and for them it is exactly the same as if this beauty were a simple effect of nature, perfectly independent.
From what we have said, up to the present time, it would appear that the beautiful can offer absolutely no interest to the understanding, because its principle belongs solely to the world of sense, and amongst all our faculties of knowledge it addresses itself only to our senses. And in fact, the moment that we sever from the idea of the beautiful, as a foreign element, all that is mixed with the idea of technical perfection, almost inevitably, in the judgment of beauty, it appears that nothing remains to it by which it can become the object of an intellectual pleasure. And nevertheless, it is quite as incontestable that the beautiful pleases the understanding, as it is beyond doubt that the beautiful rests upon no property of the object that could not be discovered but by the understanding.
To solve this apparent contradiction, it must be remembered that the phenomena can in two different ways pass to the state of objects of the understanding and express ideas. It is not always necessary that the understanding draws these ideas from phenomena; it can also put them into them. In the two cases, the phenomena will be adequate to a rational conception, with this simple difference, that, in the first case, the understanding finds it objectively given, and to a certain extent only receives it from the object because it is necessary that the idea should be given to explain the nature and often even the possibility of the object; whilst in the second case, on the contrary, it is the understanding which of itself interprets, in a manner to make of it the expression of its idea, that which the phenomenon offers us, without any connection with this idea, and thus treats by a metaphysical process that which in reality is purely physical. There, then, in the association of the idea with the object there is an objective necessity; here, on the contrary, a subjective necessity at the utmost. It is unnecessary to say that, in my mind, the first of these two connections ought to be understood of technical perfection, the second, of the beautiful.
As then in the second case it is a thing quite contingent for the sensuous object that there should or should not be outside of it an object which perceives it—an understanding that associates one of its own ideas with it, consequently, the ensemble of these objective properties ought to be considered as fully independent of this idea; we have perfectly the right to reduce the beautiful, objectively, to the simple conditions of physical nature, and to see nothing more in beauty than effect belonging purely to the world of sense. But as, on the other side, the understanding makes of this simple fact of the world of sense a transcendent usage, and in lending it a higher signification inasmuch as he marks it, as it were, with his image, we have equally the right to transport the beautiful, subjectively, into the world of intelligence. It is in this manner that beauty belongs at the same time to the two worlds—to one by the right of birth, to the other by adoption; it takes its being in the world of sense, it acquires the rights of citizenship in the world of understanding. It is that which explains how it can be that taste, as the faculty for appreciating the beautiful, holds at once the spiritual element and that of sense; and that these two natures, incompatible one with the other, approach in order to form in it a happy union. It is this that explains how taste can conciliate respect for the understanding with the material element, and with the rational principle the favor and the sympathy of the senses, how it can ennoble the perceptions of the senses so as to make ideas of them, and, in a certain measure, transform the physical world itself into a domain of the ideal.
At all events, if it is accidental with regard to the object, that the understanding associates, at the representation of this object, one of its own ideas with it, it is not the less necessary for the subject which represents it to attach to such a representation such an idea. This idea, and the sensuous indication which corresponds to it in the object, ought to be one with the other in such relation, that the understanding be forced to this association by its own immutable laws; the understanding then must have in itself the reason which leads it to associate exclusively a certain phenomenon with a certain determined idea, and, reciprocally, the object should have in itself the reason for which it exclusively provokes that idea and not another. As to knowing what the idea can be which the understanding carries into the beautiful, and by what objective property the object gifted with beauty can be capable of serving as symbol to this idea, is then a question much too grave to be solved here in passing, and I reserve this examination for an analytical theory of the beautiful.
The architectonic beauty of man is then, in the way I have explained it, the visible expression of a rational conception, but it is so only in the same sense and the same title as are in general all the beautiful creations of nature. As to the degree, I agree that it surpasses all the other beauties; but with regard to kind, it is upon the same rank as they are, because it also manifests that which alone is perceptible of its subject, and it is only when we represent it to ourselves that it receives a super-sensuous value.
If the ends of creation are marked in man with more of success and of beauty than in the organic beings, it is to some extent a favor which the intelligence, inasmuch as it dictated the laws of the human structure, has shown to nature charged to execute those laws. The intelligence, it is true, pursues its end in the technique of man with a rigorous necessity, but happily its exigencies meet and accord with the necessary laws of nature so well, that one executes the order of the other whilst acting according to its own inclination.
But this can only be true respecting the architectonic beauty of man, where the necessary laws of physical nature are sustained by another necessity, that of the teleological principle which determines them. It is here only that the beautiful could be calculated by relation to the technique of the structure, which can no longer take place when the necessity is on one side alone, and the super-sensuous cause which determines the phenomenon takes a contingent character. Thus, it is nature alone who takes upon herself the architectonic beauty of man, because here, from the first design, she had been charged once for all by the creating intelligence with the execution of all that man needs in order to arrive at the ends for which he is destined, and she has in consequence no change to fear in this organic work which she accomplishes.
But man is moreover a person—that is to say, a being whose different states can have their cause in himself, and absolutely their last cause; a being who can be modified by reason that he draws from himself. The manner in which he appears in the world of sense depends upon the manner in which he feels and wills, and, consequently, upon certain states which are freely determined by himself, and not fatally by nature.
If man were only a physical creature, nature, at the same time that she establishes the general laws of his being, would determine also the various causes of application. But here she divides her empire with free arbitration; and, although its laws are fixed, it is the mind that pronounces upon particular cases.
The domain of mind extends as far as living nature goes, and it finishes only at the point at which organic life loses itself in unformed matter, at the point at which the animal forces cease to act. It is known that all the motive forces in man are connected one with the other, and this makes us understand how the mind, even considered as principle of voluntary movement, can propagate its action through all organisms. It is not only the instruments of the will, but the organs themselves upon which the will does not immediately exercise its empire, that undergo, indirectly at least, the influence of mind; the mind determines then, not only designedly when it acts, but again, without design, when it feels.
From nature in herself (this result is clearly perceived from what precedes) we must ask nothing but a fixed beauty, that of the phenomena that she alone has determined according to the law of necessity. But with free arbitration, chance (the accidental), interferes in the work of nature, and the modifications that affect it thus under the empire of free will are no longer, although all behave according to its own laws, determined by these laws. From thence it is to the mind to decide the use it will make of its instruments, and with regard to that part of beauty which depends on this use, nature has nothing further to command, nor, consequently, to incur any responsibility.
And thus man by reason that, making use of his liberty, he raises himself into the sphere of pure intelligences, would find himself in danger of sinking, inasmuch as he is a creature of sense, and of losing in the judgment of taste that which he gains at the tribunal of reason. This moral destiny, therefore, accomplished by the moral action of man, would cost him a privilege which was assured to him by this same moral destiny when only indicated in his structure; a purely sensuous privilege, it is true, but one which receives, as we have seen, a signification and a higher value from the understanding. No; nature is too much enamored with harmony to be guilty of so gross a contradiction, and that which is harmonious in the world of the understanding could not be rendered by a discord in the world of sense.
As soon, then, as in man the person, the moral and free agent, takes upon himself to determine the play of phenomena, and by his intervention takes from nature the power to protect the beauty of her work, he then, as it were, substitutes himself for nature, and assumes in a certain measure, with the rights of nature, a part of the obligations incumbent on her. When the mind, taking possession of the sensuous matter subservient to it, implicates it in his destiny and makes it depend on its own modifications, it transforms itself to a certain point into a sensuous phenomenon, and, as such, is obliged to recognize the law which regulates in general all the phenomena. In its own interest it engages to permit that nature in its service, placed under its dependence, shall still preserve its character of nature, and never act in a manner contrary to its anterior obligations. I call the beautiful an obligation of phenomena, because the want which corresponds to it in the subject has its reason in the understanding itself, and thus it is consequently universal and necessary. I call it an anterior obligation because the senses, in the matter of beauty, have given their judgment before the understanding commences to perform its office.
Thus it is now free arbitration which rules the beautiful. If nature has furnished the architectonic beauty, the soul in its turn determines the beauty of the play, and now also we know what we must understand by charm and grace. Grace is the beauty of the form under the influence of free will; it is the beauty of this kind of phenomena that the person himself determines. The architectonic beauty does honor to the author of nature; grace does honor to him who possesses it. That is a gift, this is a personal merit.
Grace can be found only in movement, for a modification which takes place in the soul can only be manifested in the sensuous world as movement. But this does not prevent features fixed and in repose also from possessing grace. There immobility is, in its origin, movement which, from being frequently repeated, at length becomes habitual, leaving durable traces.
But all the movements of man are not capable of grace. Grace is never otherwise than beauty of form animated into movement by free will; and the movements which belong only to physical nature could not merit the name. It is true that an intellectual man, if he be keen, ends by rendering himself master of almost all the movements of the body; but when the chain which links a fine lineament to a moral sentiment lengthens much, this lineament becomes the property of the structure, and can no longer be counted as a grace. It happens, ultimately, that the mind moulds the body, and that the structure is forced to modify itself according to the play that the soul imprints upon the organs, so entirely, that grace finally is transformed—and the examples are not rare—into architectonic beauty. As at one time an antagonistic mind which is ill at ease with itself alters and destroys the most perfect beauty of structure, until at last it becomes impossible to recognize this magnificent chef-d'oeuvre of nature in the state to which it is reduced under the unworthy hands of free will, so at other times the serenity and perfect harmony of the soul come to the aid of the hampered technique, unloose nature and develop with divine splendor the beauty of form, enveloped until then, and oppressed.
The plastic nature of man has in it an infinity of resources to retrieve the negligencies and repair the faults that she may have committed. To this end it is sufficient that the mind, the moral agent, sustain it, or even withhold from troubling it in the labor of rebuilding.
Since the movements become fixed (gestures pass to a state of lineament), are themselves capable of grace, it would perhaps appear to be rational to comprehend equally under this idea of beauty some apparent or imitative movements (the flamboyant lines for example, undulations). It is this which Mendelssohn upholds. But then the idea of grace would be confounded with the ideal of beauty in general, for all beauty is definitively but a property of true or apparent movement (objective or subjective), as I hope to demonstrate in an analysis of beauty. With regard to grace, the only movements which can offer any are those which respond at the same time to a sentiment.
The person (it is known what I mean by the expression) prescribes the movements of the body, either through the will, when he desires to realize in the world of sense an effect of which he has proposed the idea, and in that case the movements are said to be voluntary or intentional; or, on the other hand, they take place without its will taking any part in it—in virtue of a fatal law of the organism—but on the occasion of a sentiment, in the latter case, I say that the movements are sympathetic. The sympathetic movement, though it may be involuntary and provoked by a sentiment, ought not to be confounded with those purely instinctive movements that proceed from physical sensibility. Physical instinct is not a free agent, and that which it executes is not an act of the person; I understand then here exclusively, by sympathetic movements, those which accompany a sentiment, a disposition of the moral order.
The question that now presents itself is this: Of these two kinds of movement, having their principle in the person, which is capable of grace?
That which we are rigorously forced to distinguish in philosophic analysis is not always separated also in the real. Thus it is rare that we meet intentional movements without sympathetic movements, because the will determines the intentional movements only after being decided itself by the moral sentiments which are the principle of the sympathetic movements. When a person speaks, we see his looks, his lineaments, his hands, often the whole person all together speaks to us; and it is not rare that this mimic part of the discourse is the most eloquent. Still more there are cases where an intentional movement can be considered at the same time as sympathetic; and it is that which happens when something involuntary mingles with the voluntary act which determines this movement.
I will explain: the mode, the manner in which a voluntary movement is executed, is not a thing so exactly determined by the intention which is proposed by it that it cannot be executed in several different ways. Well, then, that which the will or intention leaves undetermined can be sympathetically determined by the state of moral sensibility in which the person is found to be, and consequently can express this state. When I extend the arm to seize an object, I execute, in truth, an intention, and the movement I make is determined in general by the end that I have in view; but in what way does my arm approach the object? how far do the other parts of my body follow this impulsion? What will be the degree of slowness or of the rapidity of the movement? What amount of force shall I employ? This is a calculation of which my will, at the instant, takes no account, and in consequence there is a something left to the discretion of nature.
But nevertheless, though that part of the movement is not determined by the intention itself, it must be decided at length in one way or the other, and the reason is that the manner in which my moral sensibility is affected can have here decisive influence: it is this which will give the tone, and which thus determines the mode and the manner of the movement. Therefore this influence, which exercises upon the voluntary movement the state of moral sensibility in which the subject is found, represents precisely the involuntary part of this movement, and it is there then that we must seek for grace.
A voluntary movement, if it is not linked to any sympathetic movement—or that which comes to the same thing, if there is nothing involuntary mixed up with it having for principle the moral state of sensibility in which the subject happens to be—could not in any manner present grace, for grace always supposes as a cause a disposition of the soul. Voluntary movement is produced after an operation of the soul, which in consequence is already completed at the moment in which the movement takes place.
The sympathetic movement, on the contrary, accompanies this operation of the soul, and the moral state of sensibility which decides it to this operation. So that this movement ought to be considered as simultaneous with regard to both one and the other.
From that alone it results that voluntary movement not proceeding immediately from the disposition of the subject could not be an expression of this disposition also. For between the disposition and the movement itself the volition has intervened, which, considered in itself, is something perfectly indifferent. This movement is the work of the volition, it is determined by the aim that is proposed; it is not the work of the person, nor the product of the sentiments that affect it.
The voluntary movement is united but accidentally with the disposition which precedes it; the concomitant movement, on the contrary, is necessarily linked to it. The first is to the soul that which the conventional signs of speech are to the thoughts which they express. The second, on the contrary, the sympathetic movement or concomitant, is to the soul that which the cry of passion is to the passion itself. The involuntary movement is, then, an expression of the mind, not by its nature, but only by its use. And in consequence we are not authorized to say that the mind is revealed in a voluntary movement; this movement never expresses more than the substance of the will (the aim), and not the form of the will (the disposition). The disposition can only manifest itself to us by concomitant movements.
It follows that we can infer from the words of a man the kind of character he desires to have attributed to him; but if we desire to know what is in reality his character we must seek to divine it in the mimic expression which accompanies his words, and in his gestures, that is to say, in the movements which he did not desire. If we perceive that this man wills even the expression of his features, from the instant we have made this discovery we cease to believe in his physiognomy and to see in it an indication of his sentiments.
It is true that a man, by dint of art and of study, can at last arrive at this result, to subdue to his will even the concomitant movements; and, like a clever juggler, to shape according to his pleasure such or such a physiognomy upon the mirror from which his soul is reflected through mimic action. But then, with such a man all is dissembling, and art entirely absorbs nature. The true grace, on the contrary, ought always to be pure nature, that is to say, involuntary (or at least appear to be so), to be graceful. The subject even ought not to appear to know that it possesses grace.
By which we can also see incidentally what we must think of grace, either imitated or learned (I would willingly call it theatrical grace, or the grace of the dancing-master). It is the pendant of that sort of beauty which a woman seeks from her toilet-table, reinforced with rouge, white paint, false ringlets, pads, and whalebone. Imitative grace is to true grace what beauty of toilet is to architectonic beauty. One and the other could act in absolutely the same manner upon the senses badly exercised, as the original of which they wish to be the imitation; and at times even, if much art is put into it, they might create an illusion to the connoisseur. But there will be always some indication through which the intention and constraint will betray it in the end, and this discovery will lead inevitably to indifference, if not even to contempt and disgust. If we are warned that the architectonic beauty is factitious, at once, the more it has borrowed from a nature which is not its own, the more it loses in our eyes of that which belongs to humanity (so far as it is phenomenal), and then we, who forbid the renunciation lightly of an accidental advantage, how can we see with pleasure or even with indifference an exchange through which man sacrifices a part of his proper nature in order to substitute elements taken from inferior nature? How, even supposing we could forgive the illusion produced, how could we avoid despising the deception? If we are told that grace is artificial, our heart at once closes; our soul, which at first advanced with so much vivacity to meet the graceful object, shrinks back. That which was mind has suddenly become matter. Juno and her celestial beauty has vanished, and in her place there is nothing but a phantom of vapour.
Although grace ought to be, or at least ought to appear, something involuntary, still we seek it only in the movements that depend more or less on the will. I know also that grace is attributed to a certain mimic language, and we say a pleasing smile, a charming blush, though the smile and the blush are sympathetic movements, not determined by the will, but by moral sensibility. But besides that, the first of these movements is, after all, in our power, and that it is not shown that in the second there is, properly speaking, any grace, it is right to say, in general, that most frequently when grace appears it is on the occasion of a voluntary movement. Grace is desired both in language and in song; it is asked for in the play of the eyes and of the mouth, in the movements of the hands and the arms whenever these movements are free and voluntary; it is required in the walk, in the bearing, and attitude, in a word, in all exterior demonstrations of man, so far as they depend on his will. As to the movements which the instinct of nature produces in us, or which an overpowering affection excites, or, so to speak, is lord over; that which we ask of these movements, in origin purely physical, is, as we shall see presently, quite another thing than grace. These kinds of movements belong to nature, and not to the person, but it is from the person alone, as we have seen, that all grace issues.
If, then, grace is a property that we demand only from voluntary movements, and if, on the other hand, all voluntary element should be rigorously excluded from grace, we have no longer to seek it but in that portion of the intentional movements to which the intention of the subject is unknown, but which, however, does not cease to answer in the soul to a moral cause.
We now know in what kind of movements he must ask for grace; but we know nothing more, and a movement can have these different characters, without on that account being graceful; it is as yet only speaking (or mimic).
I call speaking (in the widest sense of the word) every physical phenomenon which accompanies and expresses a certain state of the soul; thus, in this acceptation, all the sympathetic movements are speaking, including those which accompany the simple affections of the animal sensibility.
The aspect, even, under which the animals present themselves, can be speaking, as soon as they outwardly show their inward dispositions. But, with them, it is nature alone which speaks, and NOT LIBERTY. By the permanent configuration of animals through their fixed and architectonic features, nature expresses the aim she proposed in creating them; by their mimic traits she expresses the want awakened and the want satisfied. Necessity reigns in the animal as well as in the plant, without meeting the obstacle of a person. The animals have no individuality farther than each of them is a specimen by itself of a general type of nature, and the aspect under which they present themselves at such or such an instant of their duration is only a particular example of the accomplishment of the views of nature under determined natural conditions.
To take the word in a more restricted sense, the configuration of man alone is speaking, and it is itself so only in those of the phenomena that accompany and express the state of its moral sensibility.
I say it is only in this sort of phenomena; for, in all the others, man is in the same rank as the rest of sensible beings. By the permanent configuration of man, by his architectonic features, nature only expresses, just as in the animals and other organic beings, her own intention. It is true the intention of nature may go here much further, and the means she employs to reach her end may offer in their combination more of art and complication; but all that ought to be placed solely to the account of nature, and can confer no advantage on man himself.
In the animal, and in the plant, nature gives not only the destination; she acts herself and acts alone in the accomplishment of her ends. In man, nature limits herself in marking her views; she leaves to himself their accomplishment, it is this alone that makes of him a man.
Alone of all known beings—man, in his quality of person, has the privilege to break the chain of necessity by his will, and to determine in himself an entire series of fresh spontaneous phenomena. The act by which he thus determines himself is properly that which we call an action, and the things that result from this sort of action are what we exclusively name his acts. Thus man can only show his personality by his own acts.
The configuration of the animal not only expresses the idea of his destination, but also the relation of his present state with this destination. And as in the animal it is nature which determines and at the same time accomplishes its destiny, the configuration of the animal can never express anything else than the work of nature.
If then nature, whilst determining the destiny of man, abandons to the will of man himself the care to accomplish it, the relation of his present state with his destiny cannot be a work of nature, but ought to be the work of the person; it follows, that all in the configuration which expresses this relation will belong, not to nature, but to the person, that is to say, will be considered as a personal expression; if then, the architectonic part of his configuration tells us the views that nature proposed to herself in creating him, the mimic part of his face reveals what he has himself done for the accomplishment of these views.
It is not then enough for us, when there is question of the form of man, to find in it the expression of humanity in general, or even of that which nature has herself contributed to the individual in particular, in order to realize the human type in it; for he would have that in common with every kind of technical configuration. We expect something more of his face; we desire that it reveal to us at the same time, up to what point man himself, in his liberty, has contributed towards the aim of nature; in other words, we desire that his face bear witness to his character. In the first case we see that nature proposed to create in him a man; but it is in the second case only that we can judge if he has become so in reality.
Thus, the face of a man is truly his own only inasmuch as his face is mimic; but also all that is mimic in his face is entirely his own. For, if we suppose the case in which the greatest part, and even the totality, of these mimic features express nothing more than animal sensations or instincts, and, in consequence, would show nothing more than the animal in him, it would still remain that it was in his destiny and in his power to limit, by his liberty, his sensuous nature. The presence of these kinds of traits clearly witness that he has not made use of this faculty. We see by that he has not accomplished his destiny, and in this sense his face is speaking; it is still a moral expression, the same as the non-accomplishment of an act commanded by duty is likewise a sort of action.
We must distinguish from these speaking features which are always an expression of the soul, the features non-speaking or dumb, which are exclusively the work of plastic nature, and which it impresses on the human face when it acts independently of all influence of the soul. I call them dumb, because, like incomprehensible figures put there by nature, they are silent upon the character. They mark only distinctive properties attributed by nature to all the kind; and if at times they are sufficient to distinguish the individual, they at least never express anything of the person.
These features are by no means devoid of signification for the physiognomies, because the physiognomies not only studies that which man has made of his being, but also that which nature has done for him and against him.
It is not also easy to determine with precision where the dumb traits or features end, where the speaking traits commence. The plastic forces on one side, with their uniform action, and, on the other, the affections which depend on no law, dispute incessantly the ground; and that which nature, in its dumb and indefatigable activity, has succeeded in raising up, often is overturned by liberty, as a river that overflows and spreads over its banks: the mind when it is gifted with vivacity acquires influence over all the movements of the body, and arrives at last indirectly to modify by force the sympathetic play as far as the architectonic and fixed forms of nature, upon which the will has no hold. In a man thus constituted it becomes at last characteristic; and it is that which we can often observe upon certain heads which a long life, strange accidents, and an active mind have moulded and worked. In these kinds of faces there is only the generic character which belongs to plastic nature; all which here forms individuality is the act of the person himself, and it is this which causes it to be said, with much reason, that those faces are all soul.
Look at that man, on the contrary, who has made for himself a mechanical existence, those disciples of the rule. The rule can well calm the sensuous nature, but not awaken human nature, the superior faculties: look at those flat and inexpressive physiognomies; the finger of nature has alone left there its impression; a soul inhabits these bodies, but it is a sluggish soul, a discreet guest, and, as a peaceful and silent neighbour who does not disturb the plastic force at its work, left to itself. Never a thought which requires an effort, never a movement of passion, hurries the calm cadence of physical life. There is no danger that the architectonic features ever become changed by the play of voluntary movements, and never would liberty trouble the functions of vegetative life. As the profound calm of the mind does not bring about a notable degeneracy of forces, the expense would never surpass the receipts; it is rather the animal economy which would always be in excess. In exchange for a certain sum of well-being which it throws as bait, the mind makes itself the servant, the punctual major-domo of physical nature, and places all his glory in keeping his books in order. Thus will be accomplished that which organic nature can accomplish; thus will the work of nutrition and of reproduction prosper. So happy a concord between animal nature and the will cannot but be favorable to architectonic beauty, and it is there that we can observe this beauty in all its purity. But the general forces of nature, as every one knows, are eternally at warfare with the particular or organic forces, and, however cleverly balanced is the technique of a body, the cohesion and the weight end always by getting the upper hand. Also architectonic beauty, so far as it is a simple production of nature, has its fixed periods, its blossoming, its maturity, and its decline—periods the revolution of which can easily be accelerated, but not retarded in any case, by the play of the will, and this is the way in which it most frequently finishes; little by little matter takes the upper hand over form, and the plastic principle, which vivified the being, prepares for itself its tomb under the accumulation of matter.
However, although no dumb trait, considered in an isolated point of view, can be an expression of the mind, a face composed entirely of these kinds of features can be characterized in its entireness by precisely the same reason as a face which is speaking only as an expression of sensuous nature can be nevertheless characteristic. I mean to say that the mind is obliged to exercise its activity and to feel conformably to its moral nature, and it accuses itself and betrays its fault when the face which it animates shows no trace of this moral activity. If, therefore, the pure and beautiful expression of the destination of man, which is marked in his architectonic structure, penetrates us with satisfaction and respect for the sovereign, reason, who is the author of it, at all events these two sentiments will not be for us without mixture but in as far as we see in man a simple creation of nature. But if we consider in him the moral person, we have a right to demand of his face an expression of the person, and if this expectation is deceived contempt will infallibly follow. Simply organic beings have a right to our respect as creatures; man cannot pretend to it but in the capacity of creator, that is to say, as being himself the determiner of his own condition. He ought not only, as the other sensuous creatures, to reflect the rays of a foreign intelligence, were it even the divine intelligence; man ought, as a sun, to shine by his own light.
Thus we require of man a speaking expression as soon as he becomes conscious of his moral destiny; but we desire at the same time that this expression speak to his advantage, that is to say, it marks in him sentiments conformable to his moral destiny, and a superior moral aptitude. This is what reason requires in the human face.
But, on the other side, man, as far as he is a phenomenon, is an object of sense; there, where the moral sentiment is satisfied, the aesthetic sentiment does not understand its being made a sacrifice, and the conformity with an idea ought not to lessen the beauty of the phenomenon. Thus, as much as reason requires an expression of the morality of the subject in the human face, so much, and with no less rigor, does the eye demand beauty. As these two requirements, although coming from the principles of the appreciation of different degrees, address themselves to the same object, also both one and the other must be given satisfaction by one and the same cause. The disposition of the soul which places man in the best state for accomplishing his moral destiny ought to give place to an expression that will be at the same time the most advantageous to his beauty as phenomenon; in other terms, his moral exercise ought to be revealed by grace.
But a great difficulty now presents itself from the idea alone of the expressive movements which bear witness to the morality of the subject: it appears that the cause of these movements is necessarily a moral cause, a principle which resides beyond the world of sense; and from the sole idea of beauty it is not less evident that its principle is purely sensuous, and that it ought to be a simple effect of nature, or at the least appear to be such. But if the ultimate reason of the movements which offer a moral expression is necessarily without, and the ultimate reason of the beautiful necessarily within, the sensuous world, it appears that grace, which ought to unite both of them, contains a manifest contradiction.
To avoid this contradiction we must admit that the moral cause, which in our soul is the foundation of grace, brings, in a necessary manner, in the sensibility which depends on that cause, precisely that state which contains in itself the natural conditions of beauty. I will explain. The beautiful, as each sensuous phenomenon, supposes certain conditions, and, in as far as it is beautiful, these are purely conditions of the senses; well, then, in that the mind (in virtue of a law that we cannot fathom), from the state in which it is, itself prescribes to physical nature which accompanies it, its own state, and in that the state of moral perfection is precisely in it the most favorable for the accomplishment of the physical conditions of beauty, it follows that it is the mind which renders beauty possible; and there its action ends. But whether real beauty comes forth from it, that depends upon the physical conditions alluded to, and is consequently a free effect of nature. Therefore, as it cannot be said that nature is properly free in the voluntary movements, in which it is employed but as a means to attain an end, and as, on the other side, it cannot be said that it is free in its involuntary movements, which express the moral, the liberty with which it manifests itself, dependent as it is on the will of the subject, must be a concession that the mind makes to nature; and, consequently, it can be said that grace is a favor in which the moral has desired to gratify the sensuous element; the same as the architectonic beauty may be considered as nature acquiescing to the technical form.
May I be permitted a comparison to clear up this point? Let us suppose a monarchical state administered in such a way that, although all goes on according to the will of one person, each citizen could persuade himself that he governs and obeys only his own inclination, we should call that government a liberal government.
But we should look twice before we should thus qualify a government in which the chief makes his will outweigh the wishes of the citizens, or a government in which the will of the citizens outweighs that of the chief. In the first case, the government would be no more liberal; in the second, it would not be a government at all.
It is not difficult to make application of these examples to what the human face could be under the government of the mind. If the mind is manifested in such a way through the sensuous nature subject to its empire that it executes its behests with the most faithful exactitude, or expresses its sentiments in the most perfectly speaking manner, without going in the least against that which the aesthetic sense demands from it as a phenomenon, then we shall see produced that which we call grace. But this is far from being grace, if mind is manifested in a constrained manner by the sensuous nature, or if sensuous nature acting alone in all liberty the expression of moral nature was absent. In the first case there would not be beauty; in the second the beauty would be devoid of play.
The super-sensuous cause, therefore, the cause of which the principle is in the soul, can alone render grace speaking, and it is the purely sensuous cause having its principle in nature which alone can render it beautiful. We are not more authorized in asserting that mind engenders beauty than we should be, in the former example, in maintaining that the chief of the state produces liberty; because we can indeed leave a man in his liberty, but not give it to him.
But just as when a people feels itself free under the constraint of a foreign will, it is in a great degree due to the sentiments animating the prince; and as this liberty would run great risks if the prince took opposite sentiments, so also it is in the moral dispositions of the mind which suggests them that we must seek the beauty of free movements. And now the question which is presented is this one: What then are the conditions of personal morality which assure the utmost amount of liberty to the sensuous instruments of the will? and what are the moral sentiments which agree the best in their expression with the beautiful?
That which is evident is that neither the will, in the intentional movement, nor the passion, in the sympathetic movement, ought to act as a force with regard to the physical nature which is subject to it, in order that this, in obeying it, may have beauty. In truth, without going further, common sense considers ease to be the first requisite of grace. It is not less evident that, on another side, nature ought not to act as a force with regard to mind, in order to give occasion for a fine moral expression; for there, where physical nature commands alone, it is absolutely necessary that the character of the man should vanish.
We can conceive three sorts of relation of man with himself: I mean the sensuous part of man with the reasonable part. From these three relations we have to seek which is that one which best suits him in the sensuous world, and the expression of which constitutes the beautiful. Either man enforces silence upon the exigencies of his sensuous nature, to govern himself conformably with the superior exigencies of his reasonable nature; or else, on the contrary, he subjects the reasonable portion of his being to the sensuous part, reducing himself thus to obey only the impulses which the necessity of nature imprints upon him, as well as upon the other phenomena; or lastly, harmony is established between the impulsions of the one and the laws of the other, and man is in perfect accord with himself.
If he has the consciousness of his spiritual person, of his pure autonomy, man rejects all that is sensuous, and it is only when thus isolated from matter that he feels to the full his moral liberty. But for that, as his sensuous nature opposes an obstinate and vigorous resistance to him, he must, on his side, exercise upon it a notable pressure and a strong effort, without which he could neither put aside the appetites nor reduce to silence the energetic voice of instinct. A mind of this quality makes the physical nature which depends on him feel that it has a master in him, whether it fulfils the orders of the will or endeavors to anticipate them. Under its stern discipline sensuousness appears then repressed, and interior resistance will betray itself exteriorly by the constraint. This moral state cannot, then, be favorable to beauty, because nature cannot produce the beautiful but as far as it is free, and consequently that which betrays to us the struggles of moral liberty against matter cannot either be grace.
If, on the contrary, subdued by its wants, man allows himself to be governed without reserve by the instinct of nature, it is his interior autonomy that vanishes, and with it all trace of this autonomy is exteriorly effaced. The animal nature is alone visible upon his visage; the eye is watery and languishing, the mouth rapaciously open, the voice trembling and muffled, the breathing short and rapid, the limbs trembling with nervous agitation: the whole body by its languor betrays its moral degradation. Moral force has renounced all resistance, and physical nature, with such a man, is placed in full liberty. But precisely this complete abandonment of moral independence, which occurs ordinarily at the moment of sensuous desire, and more still at the moment of enjoyment, sets suddenly brute matter at liberty which until then had been kept in equilibrium by the active and passive forces. The inert forces of nature commence from thence to gain the upper hand over the living forces of the organism; the form is oppressed by matter, humanity by common nature. The eye, in which the soul shone forth, becomes dull, or it protrudes from its socket with I know not what glassy haggardness; the delicate pink of the cheeks thickens, and spreads as a coarse pigment in uniform layers. The mouth is no longer anything but a simple opening, because its form no longer depends upon the action of forces, but on their non-resistance; the gasping voice and breathing are no more than an effort to ease the laborious and oppressed lungs, and which show a simple mechanical want, with nothing that reveals a soul. In a word, in that state of liberty which physical nature arrogates to itself from its chief, we must not think of beauty. Under the empire of the moral agent, the liberty of form was only restrained, here it is crushed by brutal matter, which gains as much ground as is abstracted from the will. Man in this state not only revolts the moral sense, which incessantly claims of the face an expression of human dignity, but the aesthetic sense, which is not content with simple matter, and which finds in the form an unfettered pleasure—the aesthetic sense will turn away with disgust from such a spectacle, where concupiscence could alone find its gratification.
Of these two relations between the moral nature of man and his physical nature, the first makes us think of a monarchy, where strict surveillance of the prince holds in hand all free movement; the second is an ochlocracy, where the citizen, in refusing to obey his legitimate sovereign, finds he has liberty quite as little as the human face has beauty when the moral autonomy is oppressed; nay, on the contrary, just as the citizens are given over to the brutal despotism of the lowest classes, so the form is given over here to the despotism of matter. Just as liberty finds itself between the two extremes of legal oppression and anarchy, so also we shall find the beautiful between two extremes, between the expression of dignity which bears witness to the domination exercised by the mind, and the voluptuous expression which reveals the domination exercised by instinct.
In other terms, if the beauty of expression is incompatible with the absolute government of reason over sensuous nature, and with the government of sensuous nature over the reason, it follows that the third state (for one could not conceive a fourth)—that in which the reason and the senses, duty and inclination, are in harmony—will be that in which the beauty of play is produced. In order that obedience to reason may become an object of inclination, it must represent for us the principle of pleasure; for pleasure and pain are the only springs which set the instincts in motion. It is true that in life it is the reverse that takes place, and pleasure is ordinarily the motive for which we act according to reason. If morality itself has at last ceased to hold this language, it is to the immortal author of the "Critique" to whom we must offer our thanks; it is to him to whom the glory is due of having restored the healthy reason in separating it from all systems. But in the manner in which the principles of this philosopher are ordinarily expressed by himself and also by others, it appears that the inclination can never be for the moral sense otherwise than a very suspicious companion, and pleasure a dangerous auxiliary for moral determinations. In admitting that the instinct of happiness does not exercise a blind domination over man, it does not the less desire to interfere in the moral actions which depend on free arbitration, and by that it changes the pure action of the will, which ought always to obey the law alone, never the instinct. Thus, to be altogether sure that the inclination has not interfered with the demonstrations of the will, we prefer to see it in opposition rather than in accord with the law of reason; because it may happen too easily, when the inclination speaks in favor of duty, that duty draws from the recommendation all its credit over the will. And in fact, as in practical morals, it is not the conformity of the acts with the law, but only the conformity of the sentiments with duty, which is important. We do not attach, and with reason, any value to this consideration, that it is ordinarily more favorable to the conformity of acts with the law that inclination is on the side of duty. As a consequence, this much appears evident: that the assent of sense, if it does not render suspicious the conformity of the will with duty, at least does not guarantee it. Thus the sensuous expression of this assent, expression that grace offers to us, could never bear a sufficient available witness to the morality of the act in which it is met; and it is not from that which an action or a sentiment manifests to the eyes by graceful expression that we must judge of the moral merit of that sentiment or of that action.
Up to the present time I believe I have been in perfect accord with the rigorists in morals. I shall not become, I hope, a relaxed moralist in endeavoring to maintain in the world of phenomena and in the real fulfilment of the law of duty those rights of sensuous nature which, upon the ground of pure reason and in the jurisdiction of the moral law, are completely set aside and excluded.
I will explain. Convinced as I am, and precisely because I am convinced, that the inclination in associating itself to an act of the will offers no witness to the pure conformity of this act with the duty, I believe that we are able to infer from this that the moral perfection of man cannot shine forth except from this very association of his inclination with his moral conduct. In fact, the destiny of man is not to accomplish isolated moral acts, but to be a moral being. That which is prescribed to him does not consist of virtues, but of virtue, and virtue is not anything else "than an inclination for duty." Whatever, then, in the objective sense, may be the opposition which separates the acts suggested by the inclination from those which duty determines, we cannot say it is the same in the subjective sense; and not only is it permitted to man to accord duty with pleasure, but he ought to establish between them this accord, he ought to obey his reason with a sentiment of joy. It is not to throw it off as a burden, nor to cast it off as a too coarse skin. No, it is to unite it, by a union the most intimate, with his Ego, with the most noble part of his being, that a sensuous nature has been associated in him to his purely spiritual nature. By the fact that nature has made of him a being both at once reasonable and sensuous, that is to say, a man, it has prescribed to him the obligation not to separate that which she has united; not to sacrifice in him the sensuous being, were it in the most pure manifestations of the divine part; and never to found the triumph of one over the oppression and the ruin of the other. It is only when he gathers, so to speak, his entire humanity together, and his way of thinking in morals becomes the result of the united action of the two principles, when morality has become to him a second nature, it is then only that it is secure; for, as far as the mind and the duty are obliged to employ violence, it is necessary that the instinct shall have force to resist them. The enemy which only is overturned can rise up again, but the enemy reconciled is truly vanquished. In the moral philosophy of Kant the idea of duty is proposed with a harshness enough to ruffle the Graces, and one which could easily tempt a feeble mind to seek for moral perfection in the sombre paths of an ascetic and monastic life. Whatever precautions the great philosopher has been able to take in order to shelter himself against this false interpretation, which must be repugnant more than all else to the serenity of the free mind, he has lent it a strong impulse, it seems to me, in opposing to each other by a harsh contrast the two principles which act upon the human will. Perhaps it was hardly possible, from the point of view in which he was placed, to avoid this mistake; but he has exposed himself seriously to it. Upon the basis of the question there is no longer, after the demonstration he has given, any discussion possible, at least for the heads which think and which are quite willing to be persuaded; and I am not at all sure if it would not be better to renounce at once all the attributes of the human being than to be willing to reach on this point, by reason, a different result. But although he began to work without any prejudice when he searched for the truth, and though all is here explained by purely objective reasons, it appears that when he put forward the truth once found he had been guided by a more subjective maxim, which is not difficult, I believe, to be accounted for by the time and circumstances.
What, in fact, was the moral of his time, either in theory or in its application? On one side, a gross materialism, of which the shameless maxims would revolt his soul; impure resting-places offered to the bastard characters of a century by the unworthy complacency of philosophers; on the other side, a pretended system of perfectibility, not less suspicious, which, to realize the chimera of a general perfection common to the whole universe, would not be embarrassed for a choice of means. This is what would meet his attention. So he carried there, where the most pressing danger lay and reform was the most urgent, the strongest forces of his principles, and made it a law to pursue sensualism without pity, whether it walks with a bold face, impudently insulting morality, or dissimulates under the imposing veil of a moral, praiseworthy end, under which a certain fanatical kind of order know how to disguise it. He had not to disguise ignorance, but to reform perversion; for such a cure a violent blow, and not persuasion or flattery, was necessary; and the more the contrast would be violent between the true principles and the dominant maxims, the more he would hope to provoke reflection upon this point. He was the Draco of his time, because his time seemed to him as yet unworthy to possess a Solon, neither capable of receiving him. From the sanctuary of pure reason he drew forth the moral law, unknown then, and yet, in another way, so known; he made it appear in all its saintliness before a degraded century, and troubled himself little to know whether there were eyes too enfeebled to bear the brightness.
But what had the children of the house done for him to have occupied himself only with the valets? Because strongly impure inclinations often usurp the name of virtue, was it a reason for disinterested inclinations in the noblest heart to be also rendered suspicious? Because the moral epicurean had willingly relaxed the law of reason, in order to fit it as a plaything to his customs, was it a reason to thus exaggerate harshness, and to make the fulfilment of duty, which is the most powerful manifestation of moral freedom, another kind of decorated servitude of a more specious name? And, in fact, between the esteem and the contempt of himself has the truly moral man a more free choice than the slave of sense between pleasure and pain? Is there less of constraint there for a pure will than here for a depraved will? Must one, by this imperative form given to the moral law, accuse man and humble him, and make of this law, which is the most sublime witness of our grandeur, the most crushing argument for our fragility? Was it possible with this imperative force to avoid that a prescription which man imposes on himself, as a reasonable being, and which is obligatory only for him on that account, and which is conciliatory with the sentiment of his liberty only—that this prescription, say I, took the appearance of a foreign law, a positive law, an appearance which could hardly lessen the radical tendency which we impute to man to react against the law?
It is certainly not an advantage for moral truth to have against itself sentiments which man can avow without shame. Thus, how can the sentiment of the beautiful, the sentiment of liberty, accord with the austere mind of a legislation which governs man rather through fear than trust, which tends constantly to separate that which nature has united, and which is reduced to hold us in defiance against a part of our being, to assure its empire over the rest? Human nature forms a whole more united in reality than it is permitted to the philosopher, who can only analyze, to allow it to appear. The reason can never reject as unworthy of it the affections which the heart recognizes with joy; and there, where man would be morally fallen, he can hardly rise in his own esteem. If in the moral order the sensuous nature were only the oppressed party and not an ally, how could it associate with all the ardor of its sentiments in a triumph which would be celebrated only over itself? how could it be so keen a participator in the satisfaction of a pure spirit having consciousness of itself, if in the end it could not attach itself to the pure spirit with such closeness that it is not possible even to intellectual analysis to separate it without violence.
The will, besides, is in more immediate relation with the faculty of feeling than with the cognitive faculties, and it would be regrettable in many circumstances if it were obliged, in order to guide itself, to take advice of pure reason. I prejudge nothing good of a man who dares so little trust to the voice of instinct that he is obliged each time to make it appear first before the moral law; he is much more estimable who abandons himself with a certain security to inclination, without having to fear being led astray by her. That proves in fact that with him the two principles are already in harmony—in that harmony which places a seat upon the perfection of the human being, and which constitutes that which we understand by a noble soul.
It is said of a man that he has a great soul when the moral sense has finished assuring itself of all the affections, to the extent of abandoning without fear the direction of the senses to the will, and never incurring the risk of finding himself in discord with its decisions. It follows that in a noble soul it is not this or that particular action, it is the entire character which is moral. Thus we can make a merit of none of its actions because the satisfaction of an instinct could not be meritorious. A noble soul has no other merit than to be a noble soul. With as great a facility as if the instinct alone were acting, it accomplishes the most painful duties of humanity, and the most heroic sacrifice that she obtains over the instinct of nature seems the effect of the free action of the instinct itself. Also, it has no idea of the beauty of its act, and it never occurs to it that any other way of acting could be possible; on the contrary, the moralist formed by the school and by rule, is always ready at the first question of the master to give an account with the most rigorous precision of the conformity of its acts with the moral law. The life of this one is like a drawing where the pencil has indicated by harsh and stiff lines all that the rule demands, and which could, if necessary, serve for a student to learn the elements of art. The life of a noble soul, on the contrary, is like a painting of Titian; all the harsh outlines are effaced, which does not prevent the whole face being more true, lifelike and harmonious.
It is then in a noble soul that is found the true harmony between reason and sense, between inclination and duty, and grace is the expression of this harmony in the sensuous world. It is only in the service of a noble soul that nature can at the same time be in possession of its liberty, and preserve from all alteration the beauty of its forms; for the one, its liberty would be compromised under the tyranny of an austere soul, the other, under the anarchical regimen of sensuousness. A noble soul spreads even over a face in which the architectonic beauty is wanting an irresistible grace, and often even triumphs over the natural disfavor. All the movements which proceed from a noble soul are easy, sweet, and yet animated. The eye beams with serenity as with liberty, and with the brightness of sentiment; gentleness of heart would naturally give to the mouth a grace that no affectation, no art, could attain. You trace there no effort in the varied play of the physiognomy, no constraint in the voluntary movements—a noble soul knows not constraint; the voice becomes music, and the limpid stream of its modulations touches the heart. The beauty of structure can excite pleasure, admiration, astonishment; grace alone can charm. Beauty has its adorers; grace alone has its lovers: for we pay our homage to the Creator, and we love man. As a whole, grace would be met with especially amongst women; beauty, on the contrary, is met with more frequently in man, and we need not go far without finding the reason. For grace we require the union of bodily structure, as well as that of character: the body, by its suppleness, by its promptitude to receive impressions and to bring them into action; the character, by the moral harmony of the sentiments. Upon these two points nature has been more favorable to the woman than to man.
The more delicate structure of the woman receives more rapidly each impression and allows it to escape as rapidly. It requires a storm to shake a strong constitution, and when vigorous muscles begin to move we should not find the ease which is one of the conditions of grace. That which upon the face of woman is still a beautiful sensation would express suffering already upon the face of man. Woman has the more tender nerves; it is a reed which bends under the gentlest breath of passion. The soul glides in soft and amiable ripples upon her expressive face, which soon regains the calm and smooth surface of the mirror.
The same also for the character: for that necessary union of the soul with grace the woman is more happily gifted than man. The character of woman rises rarely to the supreme ideal of moral purity, and would rarely go beyond acts of affection; her character would often resist sensuousness with heroic force. Precisely because the moral nature of woman is generally on the side of inclination, the effect becomes the same, in that which touches the sensuous expression of this moral state, as if the inclination were on the side of duty. Thus grace would be the expression of feminine virtue, and this expression would often be wanting in manly virtue.