“Something there is moves me to love; and I
Do know I love, but know not how, or why.”
There is in love no “wherefore;” and we scarcely expect it. The working-world around must indeed give us an account of their actions, but lovers are not worth much in the way of rendering a reason; for half the charm of love-making lies in the defiance of everything that is reasonable, in asserting the incredible, and in believing the impossible. And surely we may afford ourselves this little bit of glamour in an age judging everything by the unconditional and the positive; we may make little escapades into love-land, when all the old wonder-lands, from the equator to the pole, are being mapped out, and dotted over with railway depots, and ports of entry.
Falling in love is an eminently impractical piece of business, and yet Nature—who is no blunderer—generally introduces the boy and girl into active adult life by this very door. In the depths of this delicious foolishness the boyish heart grows to the measure of manhood; bats and boats and “fellows” are forever deposed, and lovely woman reigns in their stead. To boys, first love is, perhaps, more of an event than to girls, for the latter have become familiar with the routine of love-making long before they are seriously in love. They sing about it in connection with flowers and angels and the moon; they read Moore and Tennyson; they have perhaps been the confidants of elder sisters. They are waiting for their lover, and even inclined to be critical; but the first love of a boy is generally a surprise—he is taken unawares, and surrenders at discretion.
Perhaps it is a good stimulant to faith in general, that in the very outset of it we should believe in such an unreasonable and wonderful thing as first love. Tertullian held some portions of his faith simply “because they were impossible.” It is no bad thing for a man to begin life with a grand passion,—to imagine that no one ever loved before him, and that no one who comes after him will ever love to the same degree that he does.
This absolute passion, however, is not nearly so common as it might well be; and Rochefoucauld was not far wrong when he compared it to the ghosts that every one talks about, but very few see. It generally arises out of extreme conditions of circumstances or feelings; its food is contradiction and despair. It is doubtful if Romeo and Juliet would have cared much for each other if the Montagues and Capulets had been friends and allies, and the marriage of their children a necessary State arrangement; and Byron is supported by all reasonable evidence when he doubtfully inquires:
“If Laura, think you, had been Petrarch’s wife,
Would he have written sonnets all his life?”
This excessive passion does not thrive well either in a high state of civilization. “King Cophetua and the Beggar-maid” is the ballad of an age when love really “ruled the court, the camp, the grove.” The nineteenth century is not such an age. At the very best, King Cophetua would now do pretty much as the judge did with regard to Maud Muller. Still no one durst say that even in such a case it was not better to have loved and relinquished than never to have loved at all.
“Better for all that some sweet hope lies
Deeply buried from human eyes.”
How can love be the be-all and the end-all of life with us, when steam-looms and litigation, railway shares and big bonanzas, cotton and corn, literature and art, politics and dry goods, and a thousand other interests share our affections and attentions? It is impossible that our life should be the mere machinery of a love plot; it is rather a drama in which love is simply one of the dramatis personæ.
This fact is well understood, even if not acknowledged in words; the sighs and the fevers, the hoarding of flowers and gloves, the broken hearts and shattered lives, all for the sake of one sweet face, still exist in literature, but not much in life. Lovers of to-day are more given to considering how to make housekeeping as easy as matrimony than to writing sonnets to their mistresses’ eyebrows. The very devotion of ancient times would now be tedious, its long protestations a bore, and we lovers of the nineteenth century would be very apt to yawn in the very face of a sixteenth-century Cupid. Let the modern lover try one of Amadis’ long speeches to his lady, and she would likely answer, “Don’t be tiresome, Jack; let us go to Thomas’ and hear the music and eat an ice-cream.”
Is love, then, in a state of decay? By no means—it has merely accommodated itself to the spirit of the age; and this spirit demands that the lives of men shall be more affected by Hymen than by Cupid. Lovers interest society now solely as possible husbands and wives, fathers and mothers of the republic. Lord Lytton points out this fact as forcibly exemplified in our national dramas. Every one feels the love scenes in a play, the sentimental dialogues of the lovers, fatiguing; but a matrimonial quarrel excites the whole audience, and it sheds its pleasantest tears over their reconciliation. For few persons in any audience ever have made, or ever will make, love as poets do; but the majority have had, or will have, quarrels and reconciliations with their wives.
“Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them—but not for love;” and if this was true of Shakespeare’s times, it is doubly so of ours. If there ever was any merit in dying for love, we fail to see it; occasionally a man will wildly admit that he is making a fool of himself for this or that woman, but though we may pity him, we don’t respect him for such a course. Women, still more rarely than men, “make fools of themselves” on this score; and in spite of all poets assert to the contrary, they are eminently reasonable, and their affections bear transplanting.
In other respects we quite ignore the inflation of old love terms. “Our fate,” “our destiny,” etc., resolve themselves into the simplest and most natural of events; a chat on a rainy afternoon, a walk home in the moonlight, mere contiguity for a season, are the agents which often decide our love affairs. And yet, below all this, lies that inexplicable something which seems to place this bit of our lives beyond our wisest thoughts. We can’t fall in love to order, and all our reasoning on the subject resolves itself into a conviction that under certain inexplicable conditions, “it is possible for anybody to fall in love with anybody else.”
Perhaps this is a part of what Artemus Ward calls the “cussedness” of things in general; but at any rate we must admit that if “like attracts like,” it attracts unlike too. The scholar marries the foolish beauty; the beauty marries an ugly man, and admires him. Poverty intensifies itself by marrying poverty; plenty grows plethoric by marrying wealth. But how far love is to blame for these strange attractions, who can tell? Probably a great deal that passes for love is only reflected self-love, the passion to acquire what is generally admired or desired. Thus beautiful women are often married as the most decorous way of gratifying male vanity. A pleasant anecdote, as the Scotch say, anent this view, is told of the Duc de Guise, who after a long courtship prevailed on a celebrated beauty to grant him her hand. The lady observing him very restless, asked what ailed him. “Ah, madame,” answered the lover, “I ought to have been off long ago to communicate my good fortune to all my friends.”
But the motives and influences that go to make up so highly complex an emotion as love are beyond even indication, though the subject has been a tempting one to most philosophical writers. Even Comte descends from the positive and unconditional to deify the charmingly erratic feminine principle; Michelet, after forty volumes of history, rests and restores himself by penning a book on love; the pale, religious Pascal, terrified at the vastness of his own questions, comforts himself by an analysis of the same passion; and Herbert Spencer has gone con amore into the same subject. But love laughs at philosophy, and delights in making fools of the wise for its sake.
It is easy to construct a theory, but the first touch of a white hand may demolish it; easy to make resolutions, but the first glance of a pair of bright eyes may send them packing. It is easy for men to be philosophers, when they are not lovers; but when once they fall in love there is no distinction then between the fool and the wise man. However, we can be thankful that love no longer demands such outward and visible tokens of slavery as she used to. In this day lovers address their mistresses as women—not goddesses. Indeed we should say now of men who serve women on their knees, “When they get up, they go away.”
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