— A picture before me has a strangely haunting character. It is the face of a young girl, — calm, serious, and kindly ; very beautiful in features, but unimpassioned; the impersonation of youthful grace and health, yet wonderfully spiritual with its deep, mysterious eyes, soft, indeterminate outlines, and cloudy hair. Though taken from life, it portrays no being that ever had mortal existence.
It is the fruit of one of the modern miracles by which mechanical science now and then attains ends for which art vainly strives. For though it is that prosaic thing, a common photograph, — or, I should say, an uncommon one, — the face is ideal. Mr. Galton, in his curious book, made us familiar several years ago with the process that produced it. To the creation of this face the features of the young ladies of a class in one of our New England colleges contributed. The mystic number, Self-multiplied, — there were forty-nine in the class, — wrought out of the bloom of maidenhood this spell of nineteenthcentury witchery.
It is as if some wizard had held up his magic mirror before them at the same moment, bringing all faces to one focus, and there, by some alchemistic power, had transmuted and reflected them as one, the result containing the few ideal traits common to each, and combining them in an ideal totality. A brief consideration will show that this is, substantially, indeed the case, the only difference being that a separate moment is given to each face in assimilating it with its fellows. In the composite portrait no resemblance to any one of the fortynine individuals can be traced. It may be perceived how, in the brief rephotographing of each of the originals upon the same plate, their features continually correct each other, only those lines that agree remaining and strengthening the total, while the parts that do not correspond neutralize each other, and make those vague, mysterious shadings which lend fascination to the face. Thus Nature, the consummate artist, finds in each of her children something of the wherewithal for the painting of a perfect picture.
If we consider the Soul of the World, the anima mundi, to be formed through the union of the souls of all mankind, what better expression thereof could be imagined than a face and form to whose composition humanity should contribute the features of all its countless millions, — all who exist and who ever have existed ? What majesty, what power, what serenity what radiant beauty, what dazzling glory, might be imagined incorporate in such a being, whom we might call the Regent of our planet! — divine, because the concrete expression of the divine element in man.
Probably no mortal is so wholly bad as to contain no spark of the divine ; probably no one born of woman, however base, can have traveled the path that leads from birth to death without knowing some moments when the light of the soul gleamed through the mask. Therefore with every such moment contributing its share to the perfection of that countenance, — all that the world has ever known of the splendor of youth, the grace of maidenhood, the nobility of heroes, the wisdom of sages, — we shall find all showing there; all of the highest beauty of mankind perpetuated, making its indelible impress, and, as the ages roll on, heightening the glory of the Divine One, who gathers the goodness of the wide earth unto himself.
And the evil ? As each earth-child returns to the bosom of its mother, we may believe that only that which is perfect is joined to perfection; that the imperfect is but the shadow upon the countenance of the Divine, the mystery that veils it. Evil is naught but imperfection, and is therefore impermanent, ever changing, and in the ineffable light is perceived as only a soft play of shifting shadows, that, by their contrast, heighten and make manifest the beauty of godliness.
In man’s imperfections we have the veil that hides the face of the Divine from his vision. Could we but stand at the altitude of that high soul, with what calm unconcern should we behold all the strivings of the world, even all the sin and sorrow and suffering which impart their dark figures to the fabric ever weaving in the loom of life! The keenest pangs, the wildest griefs, the darkest tragedies, the deepest despair, would seem of less moment than now appear the moanings of a child over its broken toy. The sorrows of the child are as real to it as we find our greatest woes ; but we, in our superior wisdom, know that in the next moment they will be over, and the child’s face will again be lit with smiles. So to the Soul of the World the troubles of men occupy but moments in the march of the ages. In its wide vision, as it beholds the mystic processes of creation unfold their results, it knows that all of that which we call evil is an essential to the instruction of man and the formation of his character under the manipulation of the manifold experiences of life. Therefore, as well might the melting and welding and working and cutting which the metal has to undergo before it takes the finished shape which will make it a joy and a blessing to man be condemned as evil. Could the metal but feel sensation as its molecules are torn apart and pressed together, its experiences would doubtless be no more pleasing than ours while undergoing the tortures of pain and grief.
May not this conception of the Soul of the World be more than a fancy? While hearing an account of one of those strange experiences which now and then come to certain persons, and carry them beyond the border of dreamland into a realm that seems more real than this every-day world of ours, — though our friends of the microscope and the crucible are apt to give a pitying shrug thereat, — the vision of a transcendently glorious and majestic face was described, so overpowering that the beholder shrank from the sight in awe. With the foregoing reflections in mind, I was startled at the words: “ It seemed like all the faces that ever existed put together into one stupendous whole.”