That the outside reflects the inner man, and that the face expresses his
whole character, is an obvious supposition and accordingly a safe one,
demonstrated as it is in the desire people have _to see_ on all
occasions a man who has distinguished himself by something good or evil,
or produced some exceptional work; or if this is denied them, at any
rate to hear from others _what he looks like_. This is why, on the one
hand, they go to places where they conjecture he is to be found; and on
the other, why the press, and especially the English press, tries to
describe him in a minute and striking way; he is soon brought visibly
before us either by a painter or an engraver; and finally, photography,
on that account so highly prized, meets this necessity in a most perfect

It is also proved in everyday life that each one inspects the
physiognomy of those he comes in contact with, and first of all secretly
tries to discover their moral and intellectual character from their
features. This could not be the case if, as some foolish people state,
the outward appearance of a man is of no importance; nay, if the soul is
one thing and the body another, and the latter related to the soul as
the coat is to the man himself.

Rather is every human face a hieroglyph, which, to be sure, admits of
being deciphered–nay, the whole alphabet of which we carry about with
us. Indeed, the face of a man, as a rule, bespeaks more interesting
matter than his tongue, for it is the compendium of all which he will
ever say, as it is the register of all his thoughts and aspirations.
Moreover, the tongue only speaks the thoughts of one man, while the face
expresses a thought of nature. Therefore it is worth while to observe
everybody attentively; even if they are not worth talking to. Every
individual is worthy of observation as a single thought of nature; so is
beauty in the highest degree, for it is a higher and more general
conception of nature: it is her thought of a species. This is why we are
so captivated by beauty. It is a fundamental and principal thought of
Nature; whereas the individual is only a secondary thought, a corollary.

In secret, everybody goes upon the principle that a man _is_ what he
_looks_; but the difficulty lies in its application. The ability to
apply it is partly innate and partly acquired by experience; but no one
understands it thoroughly, for even the most experienced may make a
mistake. Still, it is not the face that deceives, whatever Figaro may
say, but it is we who are deceived in reading what is not there. The
deciphering of the face is certainly a great and difficult art. Its
principles can never be learnt _in abstracto_. Its first condition is
that the man must be looked at from a _purely objective_ point of view;
which is not so easy to do. As soon as, for instance, there is the
slightest sign of dislike, or affection, or fear, or hope, or even the
thought of the impression which we ourselves are making on him–in
short, as soon as anything of a subjective nature is present, the
hieroglyphics become confused and falsified. The sound of a language is
only heard by one who does not understand it, because in thinking of the
significance one is not conscious of the sign itself; and similarly the
physiognomy of a man is only seen by one to whom it is still
strange–that is to say, by one who has not become accustomed to his
face through seeing him often or talking to him. Accordingly it is,
strictly speaking, the first glance that gives one a purely objective
impression of a face, and makes it possible for one to decipher it. A
smell only affects us when we first perceive it, and it is the first
glass of wine which gives us its real taste; in the same way, it is only
when we see a face for the first time that it makes a full impression
upon us. Therefore one should carefully attend to the first impression;
one should make a note of it, nay, write it down if the man is of
personal importance–that is, if one can trust one’s own sense of
physiognomy. Subsequent acquaintance and intercourse will erase that
impression, but it will be verified one day in the future.

_En passant_, let us not conceal from ourselves the fact that this first
impression is as a rule extremely disagreeable: but how little there is
in the majority of faces! With the exception of those that are
beautiful, good-natured, and intellectual–that is, the very few and
exceptional,–I believe a new face for the most part gives a sensitive
person a sensation akin to a shock, since the disagreeable impression is
presented in a new and surprising combination.

As a rule it is indeed _a sorry sight_. There are individuals whose
faces are stamped with such naive vulgarity and lowness of character,
such an animal limitation of intelligence, that one wonders how they
care to go out with such a face and do not prefer to wear a mask. Nay,
there are faces a mere glance at which makes one feel contaminated. One
cannot therefore blame people, who are in a position to do so, if they
seek solitude and escape the painful sensation of “_seeing new faces_.”
The _metaphysical_ explanation of this rests on the consideration that
the individuality of each person is exactly that by which he should be
reclaimed and corrected.

If any one, on the other hand, will be content with a _psychological_
explanation, let him ask himself what kind of physiognomy can be
expected in those whose minds, their whole life long, have scarcely ever
entertained anything but petty, mean, and miserable thoughts, and
vulgar, selfish, jealous, wicked, and spiteful desires. Each one of
these thoughts and desires has left its impress on the face for the
length of time it existed; all these marks, by frequent repetition, have
eventually become furrows and blemishes, if one may say so. Therefore
the appearance of the majority of people is calculated to give one a
shock at first sight, and it is only by degrees that one becomes
accustomed to a face–that is to say, becomes so indifferent to the
impression as to be no longer affected by it.

But that the predominating facial expression is formed by countless
fleeting and characteristic contortions is also the reason why the faces
of intellectual men only become moulded gradually, and indeed only
attain their sublime expression in old age; whilst portraits of them in
their youth only show the first traces of it. But, on the other hand,
what has just been said about the shock one receives at first sight
coincides with the above remark, that it is only at first sight that a
face makes its true and full impression. In order to get a purely
objective and true impression of it, we must stand in no kind of
relation to the person, nay, if possible, we must not even have spoken
to him. Conversation makes one in some measure friendly disposed, and
brings us into a certain _rapport_, a reciprocal _subjective_ relation,
which immediately interferes with our taking an objective view. As
everybody strives to win either respect or friendship for himself, a man
who is being observed will immediately resort to every art of
dissembling, and corrupt us with his airs, hypocrisies, and flatteries;
so that in a short time we no longer see what the first impression had
clearly shown us. It is said that “most people gain on further
acquaintance” but what ought to be said is that “they delude us” on
further acquaintance. But when these bad traits have an opportunity of
showing themselves later on, our first impression generally receives its
justification. Sometimes a further acquaintance is a hostile one, in
which case it will not be found that people gain by it. Another reason
for the apparent advantage of a further acquaintance is, that the man
whose first appearance repels us, as soon as we converse with him no
longer shows his true being and character, but his education as
well–that is to say, not only what he really is by nature, but what he
has appropriated from the common wealth of mankind; three-fourths of
what he says does not belong to him, but has been acquired from without;
so that we are often surprised to hear such a minotaur speak so humanly.
And on a still further acquaintance, the brutality of which his face
gave promise, will reveal itself in all its glory. Therefore a man who
is gifted with a keen sense of physiognomy should pay careful attention
to those verdicts prior to a further acquaintance, and therefore
genuine. For the face of a man expresses exactly what he is, and if he
deceives us it is not his fault but ours. On the other hand, the words
of a man merely state what he thinks, more frequently only what he has
learnt, or it may be merely what he pretends to think. Moreover, when we
speak to him, nay, only hear others speak to him, our attention is taken
away from his real physiognomy; because it is the substance, that which
is given fundamentally, and we disregard it; and we only pay attention
to its pathognomy, its play of feature while speaking. This, however, is
so arranged that the good side is turned upwards.

When Socrates said to a youth who was introduced to him so that he might
test his capabilities, “Speak so that I may see you” (taking it for
granted that he did not simply mean “hearing” by “seeing”), he was right
in so far as it is only in speaking that the features and especially the
eyes of a man become animated, and his intellectual powers and
capabilities imprint their stamp on his features: we are then in a
position to estimate provisionally the degree and capacity of his
intelligence; which was precisely Socrates’ aim in that case. But, on
the other hand, it is to be observed, firstly, that this rule does not
apply to the _moral_ qualities of a man, which lie deeper; and secondly,
that what is gained from an _objective_ point of view by the clearer
development of a man’s countenance while he is speaking, is again from a
_subjective_ point of view lost, because of the personal relation into
which he immediately enters with us, occasioning a slight fascination,
does not leave us unprejudiced observers, as has already been explained.
Therefore, from this last standpoint it might be more correct to say:
“Do not speak in order that I may see you.”

For to obtain a pure and fundamental grasp of a man’s physiognomy one
must observe him when he is alone and left to himself. Any kind of
society and conversation with another throw a reflection upon him which
is not his own, mostly to his advantage; for he thereby is placed in a
condition of action and reaction which exalts him. But, on the contrary,
if he is alone and left to himself immersed in the depths of his own
thoughts and sensations, it is only then that he is absolutely and
wholly _himself_. And any one with a keen, penetrating eye for
physiognomy can grasp the general character of his whole being at a
glance. For on his face, regarded in and by itself, is indicated the
ground tone of all his thoughts and efforts, the _arret irrevocable_ of
his future, and of which he is only conscious when alone.

The science of physiognomy is one of the principal means of a knowledge
of mankind: arts of dissimulation do not come within the range of
physiognomy, but within that of mere pathognomy and mimicry. This is
precisely why I recommend the physiognomy of a man to be studied when he
is alone and left to his own thoughts, and before he has been conversed
with; partly because it is only then that his physiognomy can be seen
purely and simply, since in conversation pathognomy immediately steps
in, and he then resorts to the arts of dissimulation which he has
acquired; and partly because personal intercourse, even of the slightest
nature, makes us prejudiced, and in consequence impairs our judgment.

Concerning our physiognomy in general, it is still to be observed that
it is much easier to discover the intellectual capacities of a man than
his moral character. The intellectual capacities take a much more
outward direction. They are expressed not only in the face and play of
his features, but also in his walk, nay, in every movement, however
slight it may be. One could perhaps discriminate from behind between a
blockhead, a fool, and a man of genius. A clumsy awkwardness
characterises every movement of the blockhead; folly imprints its mark
on every gesture, and so do genius and a reflective nature. Hence the
outcome of La Bruyere’s remark: _Il n’y a rien de si delie, de si
simple, et de si imperceptible ou il n’y entrent des manieres, qui nous
decelent: un sot ni n’entre, ni ne sort, ni ne s’assied, ni ne se leve,
ni ne se tait, ni n’est sur ses jambes, comme un homme d’esprit_. This
accounts for, by the way, that instinct _stir et prompt_ which,
according to Helvetius, ordinary people have of recognising people of
genius and of running away from them. This is to be accounted for by the
fact that the larger and more developed the brain, and the thinner, in
relation to it, the spine and nerves, the greater not only is the
intelligence, but also at the same time the mobility and pliancy of all
the limbs; because they are controlled more immediately and decisively
by the brain; consequently everything depends more on a single thread,
every movement of which precisely expresses its purpose. The whole
matter is analogous to, nay dependent on, the fact that the higher an
animal stands in the scale of development, the easier can it be killed
by wounding it in a single place. Take, for instance, batrachia: they
are as heavy, clumsy, and slow in their movements as they are
unintelligent, and at the same time extremely tenacious of life. This is
explained by the fact that with a little brain they have a very thick
spine and nerves. But gait and movement of the arms are for the most
part functions of the brain; because the limbs receive their motion, and
even the slightest modification of it, from the brain through the medium
of the spinal nerves; and this is precisely why voluntary movements tire
us. This feeling of fatigue, like that of pain, has its seat in the
brain, and not as we suppose in the limbs, hence motion promotes sleep;
on the other hand, those motions that are not excited by the brain, that
is to say, the involuntary motions of organic life, of the heart and
lungs, go on without causing fatigue: and as thought as well as motion
is a function of the brain, the character of its activity is denoted in
both, according to the nature of the individual. Stupid people move like
lay figures, while every joint of intellectual people speaks for itself.
Intellectual qualities are much better discerned, however, in the face
than in gestures and movements, in the shape and size of the forehead,
in the contraction and movement of the features, and especially in the
eye; from the little, dull, sleepy-looking eye of the pig, through all
gradations, to the brilliant sparkling eye of the genius. The _look of
wisdom_, even of the best kind, is different from that of _genius_,
since it bears the stamp of serving the will; while that of the latter
is free from it. Therefore the anecdote which Squarzafichi relates in
his life of Petrarch, and has taken from Joseph Brivius, a contemporary,
is quite credible–namely, that when Petrarch was at the court of
Visconti, and among many men and titled people, Galeazzo Visconti asked
his son, who was still a boy in years and was afterwards the first Duke
of Milan, to pick out _the wisest man_ of those present. The boy looked
at every one for a while, when he seized Petrarch’s hand and led him to
his father, to the great admiration of all present. For nature imprints
her stamp of dignity so distinctly on the distinguished among mankind
that a child can perceive it. Therefore I should advise my sagacious
countrymen, if they ever again wish to trumpet a commonplace person as a
genius for the period of thirty years, not to choose for that end such
an inn-keeper’s physiognomy as was possessed by Hegel, upon whose face
nature had written in her clearest handwriting the familiar title,
_commonplace person_. But what applies to intellectual qualities does
not apply to the moral character of mankind; its physiognomy is much
more difficult to perceive, because, being of a metaphysical nature, it
lies much deeper, and although moral character is connected with the
constitution and with the organism, it is not so immediately connected,
however, with definite parts of its system as is intellect. Hence, while
each one makes a public show of his intelligence, with which he is in
general quite satisfied, and tries to display it at every opportunity,
the moral qualities are seldom brought to light, nay, most people
intentionally conceal them; and long practice makes them acquire great
mastery in hiding them.

Meanwhile, as has been explained above, wicked thoughts and worthless
endeavours gradually leave their traces on the face, and especially the
eyes. Therefore, judging by physiognomy, we can easily guarantee that a
man will never produce an immortal work; but not that he will never
commit a great crime.


Author: mmartel

"If he's honest, he'll steal; if he's human, he'll murder; if he's faithful, he'll deceive. Being at a loss to resolve these questions, I am resolved to leave them without any resolution." I have so much to say to you that I am afraid I shall tell you nothing."

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