Nobody with any claims to commonsense would wish to minimise the power of beauty. It is one of Nature's greatest gifts to woman - some, indeed, claim that it is the supreme gift. At any rate, even its shadow is sought after by most of us with a zeal, a determination, and a persistence given to few other quests. From the coster girl who weights her head with uncountable curling-pins, and who pays a week's wages for a brilliantly coloured feather for her hat, to the society lady who spends her most precious hours in the parlour of the beauty doctor, the idea is ever the same - to capture some of the radiance shed by the ideal of beauty. Take from the world all the trades and arts which have for their basis woman's personal adornment - woman's desire to create, embellish, or simulate personal beauty - and you destroy the bigger portion of the activities of the world ; while the amount of poetry, music, and painting which owes nothing to the inspiration of woman's beauty is hardly worth the keeping.
No, we cannot deny to beauty its importance and its significance. At best, the satisfaction to be got from such sayings as " Beauty is only skin deep," " Handsome is that handsome does," has a tincture of bitterness in its depths.
But while acknowledging the power of beauty, and admitting that we all would have the best of good looks if we could, it may not be without profit to ask how far beauty as a gift adds to the happiness of life. When reckoning is made, success or failure for any of us is really a matter of the amount of happiness that comes to our share. And can anyone, looking round even a small circle of friends and acquaintances, say that the women with a superlative share of good looks have always the brightest and most satisfying existences ? Is it not more often than not the other way about ?
Here this question of good looks is merely treated from the simple standpoint of what is most for one's happiness in life, merely from the point of view of the average acceptation of beauty. Women who, by the sublime charm of their beauty, become a law unto themselves and to everybody else are, like the masterpieces of genius, above criticism and comparison ; one can only look and admire and wonder.
Beauty, however, of this perfect and bewildering order is rare ; what passes for it generally is merely a more than average share of good looks. A girl whose face pleases by its symmetry and its colouring, by the brightness of the eyes and the soft luxuriance of its halo of hair, a girl who has a lithe, graceful figure and small, well-made feet and hands, has prominence in every gathering ; she holds sway in many a home. It is easy, therefore, to use her to point a moral. And perhaps in this respect the first thing that strikes one is how often the beautiful girl is wanting in real attractiveness, her charm being of so superficial a character that it fades with the first touch of intimacy ; so much so, indeed, that, both in friendship and in love, beauty often proves a handicap instead of an advantage.
In the lottery of marriage it is a commonplace of observation that the beauty of a family is more likely to remain unmarried or to choose a worthless husband than her plainer sisters. The reason is not far to seek. From her earliest childhood everything conspires to make the beauty consider herself the centre of the universe ; admiration and homage are so freely hers that she takes them without thought or even thanks. She were hardly human did she keep balance of judgment in a world where all do their best to spoil her. She cannot help seeing that all eyes follow her when she walks abroad ; she cannot help knowing that her smile is a lodestone for men's hearts in gatherings great and small; she cannot help feeling that her face makes her a greater social attraction than a host of influential or scholastic attributes. We all admit her rights of precedence ; we are even thankful for the streak of brightness she stretches across a somewhat grey and monotonous world ; but it must be confessed we like to admire from a distance ; there is often a chilliness about beauty's immediate presence that checks warmer feelings than admiration in the hearts of other women.
A Law of Life
In her progress of triumphant admiration the beauty often loses sight of one of the great fundamental truths of life - that, if we take, we must also give; that the soul needs nourishment of expansion outside of self, and that no bodily graces can cover starvation of the mind and heart. She becomes exacting and selfish, more so with every year that passes. There is not, I suppose, a more miserable or discontented being under the sun than the passee beauty, the woman who has lived solely in the glow of admiration and now sees darkness ahead
Of course, it would be foolish to conclude that every beautiful woman is heartless and selfish. Good training and a supply of brains may be the salt to preserve that most finished of all Nature's works - a beautiful, good, unselfish woman. But the exception only proves the rule that the beauty lives for self, and for self alone. She expands and flourishes in the sun of prosperity, and shrivels and hardens under even mild winds of adversity. Nature's Justice
Now, in what may be called the beauty's cult of self we see something of the great compensatory law which works so constantly through Nature. Were the girl with superlative good looks to realise that the furnishing of brain and the development of character is in the long run of much greater importance than the preservation of beauty, the world would surely be hers, and the girl with plain looks would hardly find her opportunity.
As it happens, however, the beauty is so content with her appearance that she considers it asset enough for advancement in life and the attainment of her desires ; her thirst for admiration ever grows ; nothing, indeed, keeps pace with it but her sense of self-complacency.