"Beauty Is The Lover's Gift"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Mrs. Millamant, attended by her admirer Witwoud, joins Mrs. Fainall and Mirabell, whom she loves. Mrs. Millamant has been late in arriving for this rendezvous and gropes for an explanation for her tardiness. She finally says that she had been reading a batch of just-arrived letters. She loathes letters, which serve only one useful purpose–to pin up one's hair. It seems that those in prose are useless; she tried some once and her hair was in such a wretched condition that her maid, Mincing, had to work all morning in an effort to rectify matters. Letters in poetry, however, make the hair sit properly the next day. It then develops that Mrs. Millamant loves to inflict pain, as when one parts with her cruelty she parts with her power; when one parts with her power she is old and ugly. Mirabell, however, says that if a woman destroys her lover she destroys herself. She is no longer beautiful when she has lost her lover, because her beauty dies in the instant of losing him. It is the lover who bestows beauty on the beloved; the old and ugly, who cannot bear to look in their mirrors, can be flattered, for the mirror reflects men's praises–what they say about their ladies–rather than accurate reflections of the faces.

Ay, ay, suffer your cruelty to ruin the object of your power, to destroy your lover–and then how vain, how lost a thing you'll be! Nay, 'tis true: you are no longer handsome when you've lost your lover; your beauty dies upon the instant; for beauty is the lover's gift; 'tis he bestows your charms–your glass is all a cheat. The ugly and the old, whom the looking-glass mortifies, yet after commendation can be flattered by it, and discovers beauties in it; for that reflects our praises, rather than your face.