Imperishable Beauty (Timothy Shay Arthur, 1858)

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“It was a very plain face. My eye rested upon it for a moment or two, and then wandered away to the countenance of another maiden, whose beauty ravished the eyes of every beholder; and as I gazed with a feeling of delight, upon its transcendent loveliness, an impulse of thankfulness stirred in my heart — thankfulness to the Creator of beauty.
The first maiden sat alone; around the other stood a group of admirers. So marked a contrast between the two, as well in features as in the impression made thereby, excited, first, something like pity for her whom nature had endowed so poorly; and I turned to look at her again with a kinder feeling in my heart.
There she sat all alone. Yes, her face was very, very plain; but it did not strike me as repulsive. The mouth, which had nothing of the ripe fullness that gave such an enamoring grace to the other maiden, was placid; and though not encircled by a perpetual wreath of smiles, calmly enthroned the gentle spirit of contentment. Her eyes were small, the lashes thin, and the arch above them faintly visible. Arch? I can scarcely give it that graceful designation. I had not yet seen the expression of those eyes.
As I looked towards her, with that strange consciousness of observation which all have remarked, but which few can explain, she turned her eyes from another part of the room, and looked at me. They did not flash brilliantly, nor strike me, at the first glance, as having in them anything peculiar. They were the common eyes we meet at every turn — no soul in them. I give my first impression.
My second was different. I had turned my eyes away; but something I had seen, caused them almost involuntarily to wander back to the maiden’s face. A friend whom I highly regarded — a young man of more than common worth — had crossed the room, and was standing before her. She had lifted her eyes to his face, and there was a new light in them — not a dazzling, but a soft, winning light, which purity and love made almost beautiful.
They were conversing, and I watched, for some time, the play of that unattractive countenance — unattractive no longer.
“Ah!” said I, “there is a “beautiful soul within that casket!”
And as I spoke thus, in the silence of my own thoughts, I looked towards the other maiden, who was still surrounded by a crowd of admirers.
“Her beauty is wonderful!” I could not help the utterance of this tribute to her charms. Yet scarcely had I spoken the words, when she turned to one of the group which had gathered about her, a slight curl of unlovely scorn upon her lips, and threw at him an arrowy word that wounded as it struck. She saw that it hurt — and a gleam of pleasure went forth from her brilliant eyes.
A filmy veil came between me and that countenance, which, a little while before, had shone with a loveliness that was absolutely enchanting. I turned again to the other maiden. My friend still stood before her, and her eyes were lifted to his face. She was uttering some sentiments — what, I did not hear — but they must have been good and beautiful in conception, to have filled every lineament with such a winning grace.
“Ah!” said I, the real truth dawning upon my mind, “here is the inner, imperishable beauty. The beauty, which, instead of losing its springtime freshness, forever advances towards eternal youth.”
A few weeks later, and my friend communicated to me the intelligence, that his heart had been won by the charms of this unattractive maiden. Once he had been a worshiper at the other shrine — the shrine of beauty; and I knew that, only a few months before, hand and heart were ready to be offered. Accepted they would have been, for he had personal handsomeness, attractive manners, wealth, and above all, a manly, honorable spirit.
For all I had seen, I was scarcely prepared for this. The maiden might be good — I did not question that — but she was so homely; and this homeliness would be only the more apparent in contrast with his elegant exterior. It was almost on my lip to remonstrate — to suggest this thought to his mind. But I prudently forbore.
“You know her well, I hope.” I could not help the utterance of this caution.
“She is not thought to be beautiful,” he replied, seeming to perceive my thoughts, “indeed, as to features, she is plain; yet, in person, she is tall, graceful, dignified, and with a carriage that a queen might envy.”
This was true to the letter. I had not thought of it before. Nature had given at least this compensation.
“But the higher beauty,” he added, “is of the soul. All else, is soon diminished. Scarcely has the blushing girl stepped forward through the opening door of womanhood, before we see the luster of her blossoming cheek beginning to tarnish in the social atmosphere, or to pale from disease. But the soul’s beauty dims not, wanes not, dies not. It is as imperishable as the soul itself. Our bodies die, but the soul is immortal.”
“Does she possesses this beauty?”
“I know that she possesses it,” he answered, warmly. “I have seen it looking forth from her eyes, wreathing about her lips, and giving to every lineament a heavenly charm. It is musical in every tone of her voice.”
“Goodness alone, is beautiful,” I said.
“And she is good,” he replied. “I never met one who so rarely spoke of herself, or who seemed to take so loving an interest in humanity.”
“That is God-like.”
“Is not God the very source of all beauty? To be God-like, then, is to be beautiful. Ah!” he added, “I have found, indeed, a treasure! Morning and evening I thank the good Giver, that He opened my eyes to see deeper than the unalluring surface. I was dazzled, once, by a glittering exterior; but have a clearer vision now.”
“Win her and wear her, then,” I replied, “and may she be to you all your imagination pictures.”
“She is won,” he answered, “and I shall wear her proudly in the eyes of all men.”
There was a world of surprise when it became known that my handsome friend was about leading his chosen bride to the marriage altar.
“How could he throw himself away upon such an ugly creature?” said one, coarsely.
“He might have taken his choice from the loveliest,” remarked another.
“He will tire of that face in a month. All the gold of Ophir would not bribe me to sit opposite to it for a year.”
And so the comments rang.
But my friend knew what he was doing. I was present at the wedding.
“If she were not so homely!” I heard a lady remark, as she stood beside her handsome young husband. “What can he see in her to love?”
I turned and looked at the speaker. Nature had been kind in giving her an attractive face; but the slight curl of contempt which was on her lip marred everything. I glanced back to the young bride’s countenance; her pure soul was shining through it, like light through a veil. To me, she seemed at that moment, more beautiful than the other; and far more worthy to be loved.
The brilliantly beautiful maiden of whom I have spoken, gave her hand in marriage about the same time. Her husband was a young man of good character, kind feelings, and with sufficient income to enable them to live in a style of imposing elegance. A series of mirthful parties was the social welcome given to the lovely bride. But such honor did not attend the nuptials of the plainer wife.
A few years later, and the spiritual qualities of each were more apparent in their faces. I remember meeting both, in company, ten years after their marriage. I was standing at one end of the room, when an over-dressed woman, with a showy face, came in, accompanied by a gentleman whom I knew not as an acquaintance, but as a man of business and the husband of the beauty. I should scarcely have recognized the latter, but for him. What a change was there! At a distance, the face struck you as still beautiful, but, on a closer view, the illusion vanished. The mouth had grown sensual, peevish, and ill-natured; the eyes were bright, but the brightness repelled rather than attracted.
After a while, wondering at the change, I drew near and entered into conversation with her. The music of her voice I remembered. There was no music in it now; at least none for my ears. A certain abruptness in her manners, born of pride, or superciliousness, was to me particularly offensive. I tried her on various subjects, in order to bring out some better aspects of her character. The Swedish Nightingale had just been here, and had sung to my heart as no living man or woman had ever sung — I spoke of her. “Too artificial,” was the reply, with an air of critical vanity, which gave to my feelings a ripple of indignation. I referred to a new poem, admirable for its purity of style; she coldly remarked with depreciation on some of its special beauties, merely repeating, as I knew, a certain captious reviewer. I was in doubt whether she had read even a page of the book. Then I spoke of a lady present. She tossed her head, and arched her lip, saying, “She’s too fond of gentlemen’s attentions.”
I varied still my efforts, but to no good purpose. The more I conversed with her, the less beautiful became her face, for the unloveliness of her true character was perpetually gleaming through and spoiling the already sadly-marred features. I left her side, on the first good opportunity, glad to get away. Ten years ago, in all companies, she was the center of attention of every eye. The praise of her beauty was on every lip. But so changed was she now, that none bent to do her reverence. I noticed her sitting alone, with a discontented look, long after I had left my place by her side. Her husband, for all the attentions he paid her during the evening, might have been unconscious of her presence.
But there was another lady in the room, who was, all the while, the center of an admiring circle. None, perhaps, considered her face beautiful; yet to every one who looked upon it, came a perception of beauty that associated itself with her individuality. In repose, her features were plain, yet not repulsive in the slightest particular. But, when thought and feeling flowed into them, every eye was charmed. There was a nameless grace in her manner which gave additional power to the attractions of her countenance.
I was half in doubt, at first, of her identity, as I gazed upon her from a distant part of the room; she looked, in my eyes, so really beautiful. But the presence of my old friend in the group, my old friend who had been wise enough to prefer beauty of soul to beauty of face, removed all questions, and passing over, I added another to the circle which had gathered around her.
There was nothing obtrusive in her conversation; nothing of conscious pride; but a calm, and, at times, earnest utterance of true sentiments. Not once during the evening did I hear a word from her lips that jarred the better feelings.
“The good are beautiful!” Many times did this sentiment find spontaneous utterance in my thoughts as I looked upon her; and then turned my eyes to the discontented face of another, who, a few years before, carried off, in every company, the palm of loveliness.
Yes, here was the imperishable beauty!
Maiden! would you find this beauty? No matter if your features were not cast in classic mold — this higher, truer beauty may be yours, if you will seek for it in the denial of selfishness, and the repression of discontent. “The good are beautiful.” Lay that up in your thoughts. Treasure it as the most sublime wisdom.
Gather into the store-house of your minds, sentiments of regard for others; and let your hands engage in gentle charities. “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” If tempted to murmur — think of your many blessings. If tempted to repine — think of the thousands who are sick and in suffering. Be humble, gentle, forgiving, and above all — useful. These are the graces which shine through the outer coverings of the soul, and reveal themselves in light and loveliness to all eyes.
The good never grow homely, as they grow old. The outer eye may become dim, and the cheek loose its freshness — but in the place of earthly charms, will come a spiritual beauty, as unfading as eternity.”
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