Other parts of the body assist the speaker, but these speak themselves. By them we ask, we promise, we invoke, we dismiss, we threaten, we entreat, we deprecate; we express fear, joy, grief, our doubts, our assent, our penitence; we show moderation, profusion; we mark number and time.
The Greeks adored their gods by the simple compliment of kissing their hands; and the Romans were treated as atheists if they would not perform the same act when they entered a temple. This custom, however, as a religious ceremony declined with paganism, but was continued as a salutation by inferiors to their superiors, or as a token of esteem among friends.
Lavater told Goethe that, on a certain occasion when he held the velvet bag in the church as collector of the offerings, he tried to observe only the hands; and he satisfied himself that in every individual the shape of the hand and of the fingers, the action and sentiment in dropping the gift into the bag, were distinctly different and individually characteristic.
There is a hand that has no heart in it, there is a claw or paw, a flipper or fin, a bit of wet cloth to take hold of, a piece of unbaked dough on the cooks trencher, a cold clammy thing we recoil from, or greedy clutch with the heat of sin, which we drop as a burning coal. What a scale from the talon to the horn of plenty, is this human palm-leaf! Sometimes it is what a knife-shaped, thin-bladed tool we dare not grasp, or like a poisonous thing we shake off, or unclean member, which, white as it may look, we feel polluted by!