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PAINTED FACE, TIRED HEAD, & EXPOSED SKULL.
2 Kings ix. 30, 35. EZEBEL'S painting her face and tiring her head, is so immediately followed, in the narrative of her death and
non-burial, by there being found no more of her left than the skull, besides the feet and the palms of the hands, that the connection is grimly suggestive of certain stanzas in the “Vision of Sin : "
“You are bones, and what of that ?
Every face, however full,
Is but modell’d on a skull.
Tread a measure on the stones,
From the fashion of your bones.” Byron muses on a skull* from among scattered heaps, as now a shattered cell which even the worm disdains; he ponders on its broken arch, its ruined wall, its chambers desolate, and portals foul; yet,
... “this was once Ambition's airy hall,
And Passion's host, that never brook'd control.” It is Yorick's skull that Hamlet is apostrophizing when he says, “Now get you to my lady's chamber, and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must come.” Tốt ou tard, as le bon réligieux in “Atala” reminds his fair young listener, quelle qu'eût été votre felicité, ce beau visage se fût changé en cette figure uniforme que le sépulcre donne à la famille
* When at Bologna he used to visit the Campo Santo, the sexton of which was a favourite of his, and the “ beautiful and innocent face” of whose daughter of fifteen, he used to contrast with the skulls that peopled several cells there—and particularly with that of one skull dated 1766, “which was once covered (the tradition goes) by the most lovely features of Bologna-noble and rich.”
d'Adam. The good king Réné had painted on the walls of one of the rooms in the Celestine monastery at Avignon, a skeleton-it was that of a once surpassing beauty who had won his heart. How would the moral have lost its point had the head of the skeleton been replaced, like that in the painter's room in the Strada Vecchia of Rome, so graphically described in “Dutch Pictures,” by a mask, or cardboard “dummy” of a superlatively inane cast of beauty—the blue eyes and symmeterical lips (curved into an unmeaning and eternal simper), the pink cheeks, and silken doil's tresses, “contrasting strangely with the terribly matter-of-fact bones and ligaments beneath— the moral to my lady's looking-glass.” Gwillim, the Pursuivant, as quoted, not approvingly, in Southey’s “Doctor,” counsels all gentlewomen that are proud of their beauty to consider that they “carry on their shoulders nothing but a skull wrapt in skin, which one day will be loathsome to be looked on.” The old French poet Villon, aux charniers des Innocents, speculates in a manner that to one critic recalls the graveyard scene in “Hamlet,” on the destiny of corps féminin, qui tant est tendre, poli, suave, gracieux— for how can he help his thoughts running thitherward“ quand il considère ces têtes entassées en ces charniers”? Who, indeed, as Keats once asked,
“ Who hath not loiter'd in a green churchyard,
And let his spirit, like a demon mole,
To see skull, coffin'd bones, and funeral stole ;
And filling it once more with human soul ?”. In such a spot Blair lingers, to apostrophize beauty, as a pretty plaything, a dear deceit, which the grave discredits. The charms expunged, the roses faded, and the lilies soiled, what has beauty more to boast of? Will the lovers of it flock round it now, to gaze and do it homage?
“ Methinks I see thee with thy head low laid,
T'improve those charms, and keep them in repair,
So that much less known, but much more powerful, writer, Thomas Lovell Beddoes, muses in Death's cabinet, the Campo Santo of Ferrara, on the “unfashionable worm," respectless of, alike, the crown-illumined brow and the cheek's bewitchment, as he creeps to his repast-on what? “No matter how clad or nicknamed it might strut above, what age or sex,--it is his dinner-time." The final residuum of such repasts becomes an unrecognisable skull, about which some chance possessor of it shall, in after days, perhaps, indulge in cynical conjectures and speculations in a tone and to a tune like this :
“Did she live yesterday, or ages back ?
What colour were the eyes when bright and waking ?
Poor little head ! that long has done with aching ?” Mercury, in Lucian's dialogue, shows Menippus the skulls of several world-famous beauties; and the philosopher falls to moralizing upon that of Helen. “Was it for this,”* he exclaims, “that a thousand ships sailed from Greece, so many brave men died, and so many cities were destroyed ?" Menippus was so far of the Ralph Nickleby type, “not a man to be moved by a pretty face," with a grinning skull beneath it : men like him profess to look and work below the surface, and so to see the skull, and not its delicate covering.
Where, asks the author of “Esmond,” are those jewels now that beamed under Cleopatra's forehead, or shone in the sockets of Helen? With Mr. Thackeray in another place, again, we take the skull up, and think of the glances that allured, the tears that melted, of the bright eyes that shone in those vacant sockets, and cheeks dimpling with smiles that once covered that ghastly yellow framework. “They used to call those teeth pearls once. See! there's the cup she drank from, the gold chain she wore on her neck, the vase which held the rouge for her cheeks, her lookingglass, and the harp she used to dance to. Instead of a feast we find a gravestone, and in place of a mistress, a few bones." And has not Macaulay his “Sermon in a Churchyard”? wherein one practical improvement of the subject, as conventional pulpiteers phrase it, runs thus :
* Not to be forgotten, however, is the suggestive rejoinder of Mercury, that Menippus would have been as easily fooled as the rest of them, had he but seen, not that grinning skull, but the living face that once concealed it.
“Dost thou beneath the smile or frown
Of some vain woman bend thy knee?
Things that were once as fair as she.
Bosom, and lip, and eye, and chin,
Of Hamiltons and Waldegraves grin.”
THE CARCASE OF JEZEBEL ON THE FACE OF THE
2 Kings ix. 37. IN the portion of Jezreel—by a retributive local coinciI dence--were to lie the mangled remains of Jezebelwhat the dogs should leave of her. “And the carcase of Jezebel shall be as dung upon the face of the field in the portion of Jezreel; so that they shall not say, This is Jezebel.” This, Jezebel ? how could this be identified with the superb wife and superior of the king of Israel, as she was in her prime of life and pride of place? or even with the faded form of her that, newly a widow, but energetic and mancuvring to the last, and defiant in her fall, painted her face, and tired her head, and looked out at the window as Jehu entered in at the gate ? Imperious Jezebel, thrice puissant and insatiably presuming, transformed into a heap of bone dust-reduced to her lowest terms as mere organic matter -resolved into just so much manure upon the face of the field.
"Imperious Cæsar, dead, and turn'd to clay,
Should patch a wall to expel the winter's flaw.” So muses and speculates Hamlet, on the theme of “ to what base uses we may return, Horatio," when his imagination traces the noble dust of Alexander, till he find it stopping a bunghole. 'Twere to consider too curiously to consider so, Horatio may object. Not a jot, is Hamlet's answer to the objection ; for look you, Alexander died, was buried, was resolved into dust; the dust is earth; of earth we make loam. “And why of that loam, whereto he was converted, might they not stop a beer barrel ?” Quod erat demonstrandum.
The Prince of Denmark was in the like mood when, in other company, he talked, to the same purpose, of how a man may fish with the worm* that hath eat of a king; and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.
Well may Juvenal bid the meditative moralist, expende Annibalem, and expound the text that Mors sola fatetur quantula sint hominum corpuscula. But it needs a Shakspeare to reduce these to their lowest terms, in the style of Hamlet with imperious Cæsar,-a reductis ad absurdum indeed.
Sydney Smith somewhere girds at the idea of doctrinaire legislators making irrevocable laws for men who toss their remains about with spades, “and use the relics of these legislators, to give breadth to brocoli, and to aid the vernal eruption of asparagus." Hawthorne once designed a symbolical tale of a young man being slain and buried in the flower garden of his betrothed, and the earth levelled over him. That particular spot, which she happens to plant with some peculiar variety of flowers, produces them of admirable splendour, beauty, and perfume; and thus the classic fantasy is realized, of dead people transformed to flowers.
* In the book called “God's Acre; or, Historical Notices relating to Churchyards,” there is a loathsome story of a Mr. Thompson, of Worcester, who baited his angling-hook with part of the corrupted form of King John, and carried the fish he caught with it in triumph through the streets.