And in the same way the paint on the face and the dye on the hair never really achieve their object. If they did they would not cease to be a sham, but at least they would not be a transparent sham. There are, of course, degrees of failure. Mrs. Gamp’s curls were so obviously false that they could not be said to be intended to deceive. On the other hand, the great lady who employs the most scientific face-makers in order to defeat the encroachments of Time does very nearly succeed. But her failure is really more tragic than that of Mrs. Gamp. How tragic I realised one day when I was introduced to a distinguished “society” woman, whose youthful beauty was popularly supposed to have survived to old age. At a distance she did indeed seem to be a miracle of girlish loveliness. But when I came close to her and saw the old, bleared eyes in the midst of that beautifully enamelled face, the shock had in it something akin to horror. It was as though Death himself was peeping out triumphantly through the painted mask. And in that moment I seemed to see all the pitiful years of struggle that this unhappy woman had devoted to the pretence of never growing older. Her pink and white cheeks were not a thing of beauty. They were only a grim jest on herself, on her ambitions, her ideals, her poor little soul.
Why should we be so much afraid of wrinkles and grey hairs? In their place they can be as beautiful as the freshest glow on the face of youth. There is a beauty of the sunrise and a beauty of the sunset. And of the two the beauty of the sunset is the deeper and more spiritual. There are some faces that seem to grow in loveliness as the snows fall around them, and the acid of Time bites the gracious lines deeper. The dimple has become a crease, but it is none the less beautiful, for in that crease is the epic of a lifetime. To smooth out the crease, to cover it with the false hue of youth, is to turn the epic into a satire.
And if the painted face of age is horrible the painted face of youth is disgusting. It is artistically bad and spiritually worse. It is the mark of a debased taste and a shallow mind. It is like painting the lily or adding a perfume to the violet, and has on one the unpleasant effect that is made by the heavy odours in which the same type of person drenches herself, so that to pass her is like passing through a sickly fog. These things are the symptom of a diseased mind—a mind that has lost the healthy love of truth and nature, and has taken refuge in falsities and shams. The paint on the face does not stop at the cheeks. It stains the soul.