Tears are the mute language of sorrow. But why? What connection is there
between a sad idea and this limpid, salt liquid, filtered through a
little gland at the external corner of the eye, which moistens the
conjunctiva and the small lachrymal points, whence it descends into the
nose and mouth through the reservoir called the lachrymal sack and its
Why in women and children, whose organs are part of a frail and delicate
network, are tears more easily excited by sorrow than in grown men,
whose tissue is firmer?
Did nature wish compassion to be born in us at sight of these tears
which soften us, and lead us to help those who shed them? The woman of a
savage race is as firmly determined to help the child that cries as
would be a woman of the court, and maybe more, because she has fewer
distractions and passions.
In the animal body everything has an object without a doubt. The eyes
especially bear such evident, such proven, such admirable relation to
the rays of light; this mechanism is so divine, that I should be tempted
to take for a delirium of burning fever the audacity which denies the
final causes of the structure of our eyes.
The use of tears does not seem to have so well determined and striking
an object; but it would be beautiful that nature made them flow in order
to stir us to pity.
There are women who are accused of weeping when they wish. I am not at
all surprised at their talent. A live, sensitive, tender imagination can
fix itself on some object, on some sorrowful memory, and picture it in
such dominating colours that they wring tears from it. It is what
happens to many actors, and principally to actresses, on the stage.
The women who imitate them in their own homes add to this talent the
petty fraud of appearing to weep for their husbands, whereas in fact
they are weeping for their lovers. Their tears are true, but the object
of them is false.
One asks why the same man who has watched the most atrocious events
dry-eyed, who even has committed cold-blooded crimes, will weep at the
theatre at the representation of these events and crimes? It is that he
does not see them with the same eyes, he sees them with the eyes of the
author and the actor. He is no longer the same man; he was a barbarian,
he was agitated by furious passions when he saw an innocent woman
killed, when he stained himself with his friend's blood. His soul was
filled with stormy tumult; it is tranquil, it is empty; nature returns
to it; he sheds virtuous tears. That is the true merit, the great good
of the theatres; there is achieved what can never be achieved by the
frigid declamations of an orator paid to bore the whole of an audience
for an hour.
David the capitoul, who, without emotion, caused and saw the death of
innocent Calas on the wheel, would have shed tears at the sight of his
own crime in a well-written and well-spoken tragedy.
It is thus that Pope has said in the prologue to Addison's Cato:--
"Tyrants no more their savage nature kept;
And foes to virtue wondered how they wept."