Australian Tales

by Marcus Clarke

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Our Ancestors

The Future Australian Race

There has been much vaguely talked and written about the Coming Man. There is certainly no doubt but that in a few years the inhabitants of the colony of Australasia will differ materially in their mental and physical characteristics from ourselves. Let us consider for a few moments why and in what probable respect this difference will occur.

The tendency of that abolition of boundaries which men call civilisation is to destroy individuality. The more railways, ships, wars, and international gatherings we have, the easier is it for men to change skies, to change food, to intermarry, to beget children from strange loins. The "type"--that is to say, the incarnated result of food, education, and climate--is lost. Men rolled together by the waves of social progress lose their angles and become smooth, round, differing in size only; as differ, and remain similar, the stones of the sea beach. The effect of the increase of ease in the means of locomotion has been making itself apparent for the last three hundred years. With the discovery of the Americas there came upon all nations a sort of spirit of freedom and a desire for change. Though the terms "Greek" and "Roman" had been held to signify two distinct and certain forms of physiognomy, yet, in the feudal towns of moyen age Europe, were priest-artisans who revived the one, and stern Crusaders who re-begat the other. The Moors brought the eagle beak of the East into Arabian Spain; and the fair-haired Northmen, precursors of Columbus, sailing to the site of Boston city, bid their savage virtues live again in their descendant redskin warriors. The only "types" which have come down to predecessors of Columbus as unaltered, say the archaeologists and the naturalists, are those of the Copt, the Ass, and the Hyæna. The Chaldean is much the same as he was pictured on the Ninevite marbles 3000 years ago, but in 1600 years the Egyptian has had far less change than the average face of the dweller by the Mediterranean knew during the three hundred years between the death of Phidias and the placing of the Castellani sacrophagus in the British Museum.

As for England, variation in national physiognomy is so astounding that one is tempted to suspect the representation as untrustworthy. Yet Holbein, Vandyke, Reynolds and Romney were fully competent to represent what they saw, and we are forced to admit that, from the chivalresque attitudes of Vandyke, through the sedate romance of Reynolds, to the grosser intelligence of Romney, and up again to the spiritual brightness of Richmond, the changes are true, though sudden. When we say of a portrait, "What an old-fashioned air," we are really saying, "That is the grandfather's face come back again." Even in the rudest times, and under the most unfavourable conditions, those who drew the human face did their best to copy the faces of their neighbours. An Egyptian artist never presented a fair-haired or round-eyed face as his type of beauty. An English manuscript-illuminator made his saints and virgins always delicate and blue-eyed. Through the clumsy handling of the monkish painters, we can still understand that our ancestors had, for the most part, rolling eyes, fleshy noses, larger at the tip than the bridge, long upper lips, strong chins, and coarse jaws. The long, symmetrical, oval face, with its arched eyebrows and melancholy air, has, in these days, disappeared. The Norman type is becoming absorbed. The face is square. The Danish eagle-beak--the characteristic of the predatory race--sinks down and broadens into the sensual and cogitative proboscis of the ruminating animal. Those stern eyes which glowered in the semi-darkness of a down-drawn visor have vanished. The cheeks, no longer pressed forward by the locked helmet plates, relieve the mouth and raise the corners of the lips. The nation, recovered from the Wars of the Roses, seems to breathe freely. A chastened air of spirituality is cast over the brows, and the features appear moulded by serious thoughts and high emotions. The liberal patronage which the Tudors bestowed upon art culminated with the arrival of Holbein in England, and from that date we can examine at our leisure the gradual collection and assimilation of those features which make up the "English Face."

Let us turn to the Royal portraits, as they are produced for us by photography, and understand how it comes that at masquerades and on the stage the modern countenance looks so obtrusively out of place. The type of his nation during his life was Henry the Eighth, and Holbein's picture of him does more than Froude's whole history to show us his real character. Broad, burly, somewhat sullenly he stands, his feet wide apart, his hands thrust into his belt, and his eyes looking straight at you; his lips are full, sensual, firmly shut; his nose footed, and his ears widely opened. The expression is that of the elephant--great sagacity, little refinement, strong will, and courage dauntless to resist. Anne of Cleves, who simpers beside him, is a long-chinned, big-eyed, narrow-browed creature, perfectly placid and wholly uninteresting.

But when we come to Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Kate Howard, and Parr, we see the vivacity which was to thrill the next generation already stirring. Anne Boleyn is plump, voluptuous, but refined and daring. Seymour has an intelligent, earnest, and thoughtful face; Howard a sly, sensual, and self-restrained one; Parr has the forehead of an artist, and the mouth of a wit. Intelligence gleams from each head. In the next generation of courseness of lip and jaw vanish. Mary has no sexuality save that which springs from disease. Her pressed, vinegar lips, the lower one almost split, the wide nostrils, and the prominent cheek bones, give ample assurance that the broad lips, the high brow, and the somewhat aesthetic weakness of her husband, could never match her temper. Elizabeth's fine and haughty face comes like a burst of sunshine among these gloomy intellects. Who is accountable for that aquiline nose, and that firm, sweetly-moulded chin of Louis de Hervè's picture? Anne Boleyn perhaps alone could tell. Elizabeth's nose is a revelation in national physiognomy.

The club nose was the characteristic of the age. Louis XII had it, so had the noble, serious face of the Duke of Suffolk, so had Dorset, Jane Grey, James IV., Francis II., Mary of Guise; the beautiful, intellectual face of Guilford Dudley would be nearly Greek but for this trait. Elizabeth and her rival, Mary of Scots, were almost alone in exception. Were not the supposition too fanciful, one might imagine that they escaped from the influence of parental impress, and that their minds moulded their features wholly. The heads of both women are keen with intelligence. There is not a trace of sensual weakness or the sensual strength of the last generation. An age of Spensers, Wriotheselys, and Raleighs was at hand. Women began to rule, not through the flesh, as in the days of chivalry and lust, but through the spirit. Elizabeth and Mary were alike in one regard. They were both incapable of loving, and both for the same reason. They never met a master, or at least one who cared to master them. Elizabeth was too contemptuous to surrender, Mary too confident to keep. One scorned to admit a lover, the other disdained to obey him. The keynote of passion struck by these two women vibrated through Britain. Men became adorers, poets, adventurers to win the one; murderers, rebels, plotters, martyrs, to secure a lasting claim upon the other. What result had this state of things in moulding the fleshy masks which these daring and impetuous spirits wore? Let us see.

The portrait of Spenser shows us a haggard-eyed, eager-browed and disappointed man. From the eagerness, the disappointment, came the banishment of the world, the turning to nature, the yearning for the good--the Faery Queene. Sir Nicholas Poyntz has a long, curling upper-lip and no chin; Babington is an ardent visionary; Drake has soft, curling hair, a streaming silk beard, a full face, and a look of deep melancholy. A beautiful miniature of Barbor (who, by the death of Mary, was delivered from the stake) is a most noticeable face. Nothing of the former generation but the firm jaw remains. The nose describes a waved line, the lips are keen and close, the forehead broad and slightly retreating, the eyes large, well opened, and at once sad and scornful. When we compare these faces with those of the Duc d'Anjou, cold, cruel, and selfish; Henry Valois, weak, mean, and treacherous; the Duc de Guise, violent and conceited, we begin to understand how England succeeded in creating a literature and reforming a religion. The only French face which presents strongly the characteristics of the English one of 1500?1600 is that of Coligni, the Admiral of France, murdered at the Huguenot massacre. The type of the intellect which was foreshadowing the reign of the Grand Monarque is to be seen in the wonderful and beautiful face of the infamous and delightful Catherine de Medicis.

Out of this melancholy and thoughtful splendour what came. That the portrait of William Lenthall, Speaker of the Rump Parliament, on the one hand; and Charles the First, when Prince of Wales, on the other. Charles is a young man of high brow, secretive mouth, heavy nose, and a head remarkable for its narrowness. There can be no question that the spirit which animates such features is at once irresolute, rash, and untrustworthy. Lenthal is sour, grim, and bitterly in earnest. The relentless mouth, with its snag-tooth, the pinched nostrils, the long, sloping nose, the eyes scaled like those of a snake, present a type of extravagant melancholy even more detestable than that of the English king. Between these extremes, however, there is a whole gamut of notes. Cavaliers and Round-heads were both gallant fellows, and if some portion of the dash and fire of the old barons held the one, the grave and serious air of the thinking thrall gave solidity to the courage of the other. The square brows, serious eyes, and stern air of the daughter of Sir Richard Stewart is preserved in the rugged and thoughtful face of her son, Oliver Cromwell.

With the restoration came the reaction. Black-browed hysterical-lipped Charles loved pleasure, and gathered round him wits and rakes. Have not all the portraits of this Court the same air? Make allowance for the similarity of costume, for the fact that the artist, having to paint every woman half naked, endowed each with the same redundant bosom and flowing hair, and we shall yet be forced to admit that all the "beauties" are very stupid, sleepy-eyed, over-fed persons; in their "fitness" resembling Dudu, but though "large, languishing and lazy," yet by no means of a "beauty that would drive you crazy." The men are better. Rochester and Sedley had brains enough to have made them great men; but the large mouths and bald temples show that the curse of the age was upon them and that they were too lazy to be virtuous. Across the Channel, however, men of the world enjoyed life still. The Court of Louis le Grand was crowded with men of genius, and the best of much that was good in a society which existed on a quagmire, looks out of the serene and religious eyes of the second wife of Louis Quatorze, Francoise D'Aubignè, Madame de Maintenon. There was no woman in England equal in sense and wit to the widow of Scarron, but there was also no one equal in boldness and villainy to Frances Howard, the poisoner of Sir Thomas Overbury.

During the next century the increase of the means of living gave a solidity to the jaw, and banished the wrinkling lines of thought around the eyes. There arose a race of refined Elizabethans. The English face in the days of Anne was the face of indolent greatness. The very vices of the age were those which sprang from a disdain of consequences. Men, lived, made love, fought, drank, got into debt, or died in a stately manner, doing out of sheer indolence all those things which the train of the French Regent--his clever, pimpled, careless face is the mirror of his age--did in laborious pursuit of pleasure. The strain of French vivacity yet lingering in the airs which blew over the kingdom, gave us eager, impulsive Pope; genial, careless Steele; brought us, by force of its example, the bitterness of Swift; the salacious humour of Sterne; nay, even the jovial tenderness of Goldsmith; while the backbone of "old English manners" (as eating, drinking, and healthful profligacy were termed) saved the nation from ruin in the general overturn of the long-threatened French Revolution.

From this period the country of English physiognomy lies straight before us, with finger-posts on either side. Gainsborough, Reynolds, and Lawrence have reproduced our ancestors in their habits as they lived; Hogarth, Rawlandson, and Gilray have taught us how to recognise them, Lavater how to talk with them. These men and women were our immediate forbears, and yet we are no more like them as a race than they were like the Elizabethans, or than the heroes of the Armada and the Spanish man resembled the feudal barons or the knights of chivalry.

With this much of introduction, let us proceed from the accession of George I., and note the causes which have continued to produce those nondescript physiognomies which we meet in our daily walk. We are all familiar with the terms--"An Elizabethan face," "a Puritan face," "a face for hair powder," "a nineteenth century face." We know still better the expressions--"An Oriental face," "an Italian face," "an English face." Let us endeavour to understand what these terms mean. Let us see why, in a few years, we may talk of an Australian face, and what that face may be like.

Return to the Australian Tales Summary Return to the Marcus Clarke Library

Anton Chekhov
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Susan Glaspell
Mark Twain
Edgar Allan Poe
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Herman Melville
Stephen Leacock
Kate Chopin
Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson