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This kind of decline is furthered, and sometimes perhaps in great measure caused, by a man's associating for a long time chiefly with persons of inferior mind, and gradually imbibing their prejudices, and discontinuing such studies and such mental exercise as they have no sympathy with. He thus becomes what has been called a Palimpsest. A literal 'palimpsest' is— as is generally known—a parchment from which the original manuscript—perhaps some precious work of an ancient classic— has been scraped off, to make room for some monkish legend, or mediaeval treatise. But by holding it in a strong light, a person of good eyes, may, by great patience, make out (as Signor Angelo Maio has) the faint traces of the old writing.
A man who in early life has resided in a University, or a Metropolis, among men of superior mind, and of literary and scientific tastes, will sometimes retire for the rest of his life to some locality where he is surrounded by persons comparatively unintellectual and narrow-minded; and will then perhaps have so completely let himself down to their level, that one of his former associates would hardly recognise him: though in the course of conversation he may by degrees recall some portion of the former man. He may, as it were, gaze steadily on the Palimpsest till he perceives the traces of the original writing, which had been nearly obliterated, and replaced by a legend.
The decay which is most usually noticed in old people, both by others and by themselves, is a decay of memory. But this is perhaps partly from its being a defect easily to be detected and distinctly proved. When a decay of judgment takes place —which is perhaps oftener the case than is commonly supposed —the party himself is not likely to be conscious of it; and his friends are more likely to overlook it, and even when they do perceive it, to be backward in giving him warning, for fear of being met with such a rebuff as Gil Bias received in return for his candour from the Archbishop, his patron.
It is remarkable, that there is nothing less promising than, in early youth, a certain full-formed, settled, and, as it may be called, adult character. A lad who has, to a degree that excites wonder and admiration, the character and demeanour of an intelligent man of mature age, will probably be that, and nothing more, all his life, and will cease accordingly to be anything remarkable, because it was the precocity alone that ever made him so. It is remarked by greyhound-fanciers that a well-formed, compact-shaped puppy never makes a fleet dog. They see more promise in the loose-jointed, awkward, clumsy ones. And even so, there is a kind of crudity and unsettledness in the minds of those young persons who turn out ultimately the most eminent.
'Some natural dispositions which have better grace in youth than in age, such as is a fluent and luxuriant speech.'
It is remarkable, that, in point of style of writing, Bacon himself, at different periods of life, showed differences just opposite to what most would have expected. His earlier writings are the most unornamented; and he grew more ornate as he advanced. So also Burke. His earliest work, On the Sublime, is in a brief, dry, philosophical style; and he became florid to an excess as he grew older.
ESSAY XLIII. OF BEAUTY.
VIRTUE is like a rich stone, best plain set; and surely virtue is best in a body that is comely, though not of delicate features, and that hath rather dignity of presence than beauty of aspect; neither is it almost1 seen that very beautiful persons are otherwise of great virtue, as if nature were rather busy not to err, than in labour to produce excellency,3 and therefore they prove accomplished, but not of great spirit, and study rather behaviour than virtue. But this holds not always; for Augustus Caesar, Titus Vespasianus, Philip le Bel of France, Edward IV. of England, Alcibiades of Athens, Ismael the sophy3 of Persia, were all high and great spirits, and yet the most beautiful men of their times. In beauty, that of favour4 is more than that of colour, and that of decent" and gracious6 motion more than that of favour. That is the best part of beauty which a picture cannot express, no, nor the first sight of the life. There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion. A man cannot tell whether Apelles or Albert Durer were the more7 trifler; whereof the one
1 Almost. For the most part; generally. 'Who is there almost, whose mind at some time or other, love or anger, fear or grief, has not fastened to some clog, that it could not turn itself to any other object.'
* Excellency. Excellence. 'That the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.'—2 Cor. iv. 7.
* Sophy. Sultan.
'With letters, him in cautious wise,
—St. George and the Dragon.
* Favour. Countenance.
'I know your favour well, Percy,
* Decent. Becoming; fit. 'All pastimes, generally, which be joyned with labour and in open place, and on the day-lighte, be not only comelie and decent, but verie necessarie for a courtly gentleman.'—Roger Atcham.
'Those thousand decenciet that daily flow From all her words and actions.'—Milton. 'Gracious. Graceful.
'There was ne'er such a gracious creature born.'—Shakespere. More. Greater; great. 'The moreness of Christ's virtues are not measured by worldly moreness.'—Wickliff.
would make a personage by geometrical proportions, the other, by taking the best parts out of divers' faces, to make one excellent. Such personages, I think, would please nobody but the painter that made them—not but I think a painter may make a better face than ever was, but he must do it by a kind of felicity (as a musician that maketh an excellent air in music), and not by rule. A man shall see faces, that if you examine them part by part you shall find never a good, and yet altogether do well. If it be true that the principal part of beauty is in decent motion, certainly it is no marvel2 though persons in years seem many times more amiable: 'Pulchrorum autumnus pulcher"—for no youth can be comely but by pardon, and considering the youth as to make up the comeliness. Beauty is as summer-fruits, which are easy to corrupt, and cannot last, and, for the most part, it makes a dissolute youth, and an age a little out of countenance; but yet certainly again, if it light well, it maketh virtue shine, and vices blush.
1 Divers. Many. 'For that divers of the English do maintain and succour sundry thieves, robbers, and rebels, because that the same do put them into their safeguard and counsel . . . '—Statutet and Ordinances made in the 4th year of Henry VI., before the Most Reverend Richard, Archbishop of Dublin, and Lord Justice of Ireland, A.u. 1440.
3 Marvel. A wonder. 'No marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an nngel of light.'—3 Cor. xi. 14.
3 'The autumn of the beautiful is beautiful.'
ESSAY XLIV. OF DEFORMITY.
DEFORMED persons are commonly even with nature; for as nature hath done ill by them, so do they by nature, being for the most part (as the Scripture saith) 'void of natural affection:" and so they have their revenge of nature.1 Certainly there is a consent3 between the body and the mind, and 'where nature erreth in the one she ventureth in the other' (' Ubi peccat in uno, periclitatur in altero'): but because there is in man an election touching the frame of his mind, and a necessity in the frame of his body, the stars of natural inclination are sometimes obscured by the sun of discipline and virtue; therefore, it is good to consider of deformity, not as a sign which is more deceivable, but as a cause which seldom faileth of the effect. Whosoever hath anything fixed in his person that doth induce contempt, hath also a perpetual spur in himself to rescue and deliver himself from scorn; therefore, all deformed persons are extreme4 bold—first, as in their own defence, as being exposed to scorn, but in process of time by a general habit. Also, it stirreth in them industry, and especially of this kind, to watch and observe the weakness of others, that they may have somewhat to repay. Again, in their superiors, it quencheth jealousy towards them, as persons that they think they may at pleasure despise; and it layeth their competitors and emulators asleep, as never believing they should be in possibility of advancement, till they see them in possession; so that upon the matter,4 in a great wit, deformity is an advantage to rising. Kings, in ancient times (and at this present, in
1 Mom. i. 31.
3 'Then since the Heavens have shaped my body so,
Shakespere's Michard III. * Consent. Agreement.
'With one content, let all the earth
4 Extreme. Extremely.
1 Matter. Whole. ('Upon the matter'— On the whole.) 'He grants the deluge to have come so very near the matter, that but very few escaped.'—Tilloleon.