"From every blush that kindles in thy cheeks
Ten thousand little loves and graces spring,
To revel in the roses."--ROWE, Tamerlane.
PERHAPS one of the most charming characteristics of maidenhood is its transient blush, which poets with all their wealth of poetic imagery have depicted in a thousand pretty ways, so often described by them as playing on the cheeks with all the roseate hue of loveliness, and what more graceful picture can there be than Gay has given us:--
"The rising blushes which her cheek o'erspread,
Are opening roses in the lily's bed."
Such Shakesperian expressions as "Bid the cheek ready with a blush, modest as morning," "Thy cheeks blush with pure shame to counterfeit our roses," and "To blush and beautify the cheek again," would seem to suggest the high charm blushes had for Shakespeare; although, on the other hand, expressions like the following must be held to imply a very different meaning--"Her blush is gluttiness, not modesty," and "Blushing cheeks by faults are bred, and fears by white shown." But, however numerous the diverse views of this kind may be--many of which have been embodied in proverbial literature--there can be no doubt that the consensus of opinion, both at home and abroad, has always been in favour of a woman's blush, for, in accordance with the time-honoured adage, "Blushing is virtue's colour."
Even the Circassian women who are capable of blushing fetch a higher price in the seraglio of the Sultan than less susceptible women; and Darwin quotes from Humboldt an adage of the Spaniard, "How can those be trusted who know not how to blush?"
Indeed, it has been observed, she who has lost the art of blushing has lost the most powerful charm of beauty, for deprived of her most maidenly blushes what would Parnell's beauty have been:--
"A crimson blush her beauteous face o'erspread,
Varying her cheeks, by turn, with white and red;
The driving colours, never at a stay,
Run here and there, and flush, and fade away."
But the Italians have a proverb, which is often applied to those who mar their features by artificial colouring, "Women rouge that they may not blush." As might be expected, all kinds of strange views have at one time or another been held in most countries respecting blushing, some of the explanations not always being very complimentary to the fair sex. Thus, according to one popular fancy, it is supposed to be an indication of conscious deceit, and in the "Passionate Pilgrim," we find this allusion to blushing, which under one form or another has been variously expressed:--
"Yet will she blush, here be it said,
To hear her secrets so betrayed."
Pope writes, "Do good by stealth, and blush to find it fame;" but George Eliot, in "Daniel Deronda," speaks somewhat disparagingly of the blush, which she says "is no language; only a dubious flag-signal, which may mean either of two contradictions;" and Moore speaks of--
"Playful blushes that seem nought
But luminous escapes of thought."
It has long been a much disputed question--and one which does not seem altogether to have been satisfactorily answered--as to whether blushing takes place in the dark, an interesting correspondence relative to which was carried on a few years back in the pages of Notes and Queries, when Mr. J. C. Galton expressed his opinion in the negative.
Darwin, however, appears to have thought differently, for, in his "Expressions of the Emotions," he thus alludes to this subject:--
"The fact that blushes may be excited in absolute solitude seems opposed to the view, namely, that the habit originally arose from thinking about what others think of us. Several ladies who are great blushers, are unanimous in regard to solitude, and some of them believe that they have blushed in the dark. From what Mr. Forbes has stated with regard to the Aymaras, and from my own sensations, I have no doubt that this latter statement is correct. Shakespeare, therefore, erred when he made Juliet, who was not even by herself, say to Romeo (act ii. sc. 2):--
"'Thou know'st the mark of night is on my face;
Else would a maiden's blush bedeck my cheek,
For that which thou hast heard me speak to-night.'"