Charm is the ultimate weapon, the supreme seduction, against which there are few defenses. If you've got it, you need neither money, looks, nor pedigree. It's a gift, given only to give away, and the more used, the more there is. It is also a climate of behavior set for perpetual summer and thermostatically controlled by taste and tact.
True charm is an aura, an invisible musk in the air; if you see it working, the spell is broken. Charm is dynamic, and cannot be turned on and off at will. As to its ingredients, there is no fixed formula. A whole range of mysteries goes into the caldron, but the magic it offers must be absolute-one cannot be "almost" or "partly" charmed.
In a woman, charm is probably more exacting than in a man, requiring a wider array of subtleties. It is a light in the face, an air of exclusive welcome, an almost impossibly sustained note of satisfaction in one's company, and regret without fuss at parting. A woman with charm finds no man dull; indeed, in her presence he becomes not just a different person but the person he most wants to be. Such a woman gives life to his deep-held fantasies by adding the necessary conviction to his long suspicion that he is king.
Of those women who have most successfully charmed me I remember chiefly their voices and eyes. Their voices were intimate and enveloping. The listening eyes, supreme charm in a woman, betrayed no concern with any other world than this, warmly wrapping one round with total attention and turning one's lightest words to gold. Theirs was a charm that must have continued to exist, like the flower in the desert, even when there was nobody there to see it.
A woman's charm spreads round her that particular glow of well-being for which any man will want to seek her out and, by making full use of her nature, celebrates the fact of his maleness and so gives him an extra shot of life. Her charm lies also in that air of timeless maternalism, that calm and pacifying presence, which can dispel a man's moments of frustration and anger and restore his failures of will.
Charm in a man, I suppose, is his ability to capture the complicity of a woman by a single-minded acknowledgment of her uniqueness. Here again it is a question of being totally absorbed, of really forgetting that anyone else exists, for nothing more fatally betrays than the suggestion of a wandering eye. Silent devotion is fine, but seldom sufficient; it is what a man says that counts, the bold declarations, the flights of fancy, the uncovering of secret virtues. A man is charmed through his eyes, a woman by what she hears, so no man need to be too anxious about his age: As wizened Voltaire once said: "Give me a few minutes to talk away my face and I can seduce the Queen of France."
But charm isn't exclusively sexual; it comes in a variety of cooler flavors. Most children have it--till they are told they have it--and so do old people with nothing to lose; animals, too, of course. With children and smaller animals, it is often in the shape of the head and in the chaste unaccusing stare; with young girls and ponies, a certain stumbling awkwardness, a leggy inability to control their bodies. But all these are passive and appeal by capturing one's protective instincts.
You know who has charm. But can you acquire it? Properly, you can't, because it's an originality of touch you have to be born with. Or it's something that grows naturally out of another quality, like the simple desire to make people happy. Certainly, charm is not a question of learning palpable tricks, like wrinkling your nose, or having a laugh in your voice. On the other hand, there is an antenna, a built-in awareness of others, which most people have, and which care can nourish.
But in a study of charm, what else does one look for? Apart from the ability to listen--rarest of all human virtues--apart from warmth, sensitivity, and the power to please, there is a generosity which makes no demands. Charm spends itself willingly on young and old alike, on the poor, the ugly, the dim, the boring, on the last fat man in the corner. It reveals itself also in a sense of ease, in casual but perfect manners, and often in a physical grace which springs less from an accident of youth than from a confident serenity of mind. Any person with this is more than just a popular fellow; he is also a social healer.
Charm, in the end, is a most potent act of behavior, the laying down of a carpet by one person for another to give his existence a moment of honor. It is close to love in that it moves without force, bearing gifts like the growth of daylight. It snares completely, but is never punitive. It disarms by being itself disarmed, strikes without wounds, wins wars without casualties--though not, of course, without victims.
In the armory of man, charm is the enchanted dart, light and subtle as a hummingbird. But it is deceptive in one thing--like a sense of humor, if you think you've got it, you probably haven't.