BOOKS AND HABITS
from the lectures of
Selected and Edited with an Introduction by
Professor of English Columbia University
London: William Heinemann
[Transcriber's note: Contents moved to precede the Introduction.]
INTRODUCTION I THE INSUPERABLE DIFFICULTY II ON LOVE IN ENGLISH POETRY III THE IDEAL WOMAN IN ENGLISH POETRY IV NOTE UPON THE SHORTEST FORMS OF ENGLISH POETRY V SOME FOREIGN POEMS ON JAPANESE SUBJECTS VI THE BIBLE IN ENGLISH LITERATURE VII THE "HAVAMAL" VIII BEYOND MAN IX THE NEW ETHICS X SOME POEMS ABOUT INSECTS XI SOME FRENCH POEMS ABOUT INSECTS XII NOTE ON THE INFLUENCE OF FINNISH POETRY IN ENGLISH LITERATURE XIII THE MOST BEAUTIFUL ROMANCE OF THE MIDDLE AGES XIV "IONICA" XV OLD GREEK FRAGMENTS INDEX
These chapters, for the most part, are reprinted from Lafcadio Hearn's "Interpretations of Literature," 1915, from his "Life and Literature," 1916, and from his "Appreciations of Poetry," 1917. Three chapters appear here for the first time. They are all taken from the student notes of Hearn's lectures at the University of Tokyo, 1896-1902, sufficiently described in the earlier volumes just mentioned. They are now published in this regrouping in response to a demand for a further selection of the lectures, in a less expensive volume and with emphasis upon those papers which illustrate Hearn's extraordinary ability to interpret the exotic in life and in books.
It should be remembered that these lectures were delivered to Japanese students, and that Hearn's purpose was not only to impart the information about Western literature usually to be found in our histories and text-books, but much more to explain to the Oriental mind those peculiarities of our civilization which might be hard to understand on the further side of the Pacific Ocean. The lectures are therefore unique, in that they are the first large attempt by a Western critic to interpret us to the East. That we shall be deeply concerned in the near future to continue this interpretation on an even larger scale, no one of us doubts. We wish we might hope for another genius like Hearn to carry on the work.
The merit of the chapters printed or reprinted in the present volume seems to me their power to teach us to imagine our familiar traditions as foreign and exotic in the eyes of other peoples. We are accustomed, like every one else, to think of our literature as the final product of other literatures—as a terminal in itself, rather than as a channel through which great potentialities might flow. Like other men, we are accustomed to think of ourselves as native, under all circumstances, and of other people at all times as foreign. While we were staying in their country, did we not think of the French as foreigners? In these chapters, not originally intended for us, we have the piquant and salutary experience of seeing what we look like on at least one occasion when we are the foreigners; we catch at least a glimpse of what to the Orient seems exotic in us, and it does us no harm to observe that the peculiarly Western aspects of our culture are not self-justifying nor always justifiable when looked at through eyes not already disposed in their favour. Hearn was one of the most loyal advocates the West could possibly have sent to the East, but he was an honest artist, and he never tried to improve his case by trimming a fact. His interpretation of us, therefore, touches our sensitiveness in regions—and in a degree—which perhaps his Japanese students were unconscious of; we too marvel as well as they at his skill in explaining, but we are sensitive to what he found necessary to explain. We read less for the explanation than for the inventory of ourselves.
Any interpretation of life which looks closely to the facts will probably increase our sense of mystery and of strangeness in common things. If on the other hand it is a theory of experience which chiefly interests us, we may divert our attention somewhat from the experience to the theory, leaving the world as humdrum as it was before we explained it. In that case we must seek the exotic in remote places and in exceptional conditions, if we are to observe it at all. But Lafcadio Hearn cultivated in himself and taught his students to cultivate a quick alertness to those qualities of life to which we are usually dulled by habit. Education as he conceived of it had for its purpose what Pater says is the end of philosophy, to rouse the human spirit, to startle it into sharp and eager observation. It is a sign that dulness is already spreading in us, if we must go far afield for the stimulating, the wondrous, the miraculous. The growing sensitiveness of a sound education would help us to distinguish these qualities of romance in the very heart of our daily life. To have so distinguished them is in my opinion the felicity of Hearn in these chapters. When he was writing of Japan for European or American readers, we caught easily enough the exotic atmosphere of the island kingdom—easily enough, since it was the essence of a world far removed from ours. The exotic note is quite as strong in these chapters. We shall begin to appreciate Hearn's genius when we reflect that here he finds for us the exotic in ourselves.
The first three chapters deal from different standpoints with the same subject—the characteristic of Western civilization which to the East is most puzzling, our attitude toward women. Hearn attempted in other essays also to do full justice to this fascinating theme, but these illustrations are typical of his method. To the Oriental it is strange to discover a civilization in which the love of husband and wife altogether supersedes the love of children for their parents, yet this is the civilization he will meet in English and in most Western literatures. He can understand the love of individual women, as we understand the love of individual men, but he will not easily understand our worship of women as a sex, our esteem of womankind, our chivalry, our way of taking woman as a religion. How difficult, then, will he find such a poem as Tennyson's "Princess," or most English novels. He will wonder why the majority of all Western stories are love stories, and why in English literature the love story takes place before marriage, whereas in French and other Continental literatures it usually follows marriage. In Japan marriages are the concern of the parents; with us they are the concern of the lovers, who must choose their mates in competition more or less open with other suitors. No wonder the rivalries and the precarious technique of love-making are with us an obsession quite exotic to the Eastern mind. But the Japanese reader, if he would understand us, must also learn how it is that we have two ways of reckoning with love—a realistic way, which occupies itself in portraying sex, the roots of the tree, as Hearn says, and the idealistic way, which tries to fix and reproduce the beautiful illusion of either happy or unhappy passion. And if the Japanese reader has learned enough of our world to understand all this, he must yet visualize our social system more clearly perhaps than most of us see it, if he would know why so many of our love poems are addressed to the woman we have not yet met. When we begin to sympathize with him in his efforts to grasp the meaning of our literature, we are at last awakened ourselves to some notion of what our civilization means, and as Hearn guides us through the discipline, we realize an exotic quality in things which formerly we took for granted.
Lecturing before the days of Imagism, before the attention of many American poets had been turned to Japanese art, Hearn recognized the scarcity in our literature of those short forms of verse in which the Greeks as well as the Japanese excel. The epigram with us is—or was until recently—a classical tradition, based on the brief inscriptions of the Greek anthology or on the sharp satires of Roman poetry; we had no native turn for the form as an expression of our contemporary life. Since Hearn gave his very significant lecture we have discovered for ourselves an American kind of short poem, witty rather than poetic, and few verse-forms are now practised more widely among us. Hearn spoke as a prophet or as a shrewd observer—which is the same thing—when he pointed out the possibility of development in this field of brevity. He saw that Japan was closer to the Greek world in this practice than we were, and that our indifference to the shorter forms constituted a peculiarity which we could hardly defend. He saw, also, in the work of Heredia, how great an influence Japanese painting might have on Western literature, even on those poets who had no other acquaintance with Japan. In this point also his observation has proved prophetic; the new poets in America have adopted Japan, as they have adopted Greece, as a literary theme, and it is somewhat exclusively from the fine arts of either country that they draw their idea of its life.
The next chapters which are brought together here, consider the origin and the nature of English and European ethics. Hearn was an artist to the core, and as a writer he pursued with undivided purpose that beauty which, as Keats reminded us, is truth. In his creative moments he was a beauty-lover, not a moralist. But when he turned critic he at once stressed the cardinal importance of ethics in the study of literature. The art which strives to end in beauty will reveal even more clearly than more complex forms of expression the personality of the artist, and personality is a matter of character, and character both governs the choice of an ethical system and is modified by it. Literary criticism as Hearn practised it is little interested in theology or in the system of morals publicly professed; it is, however, profoundly concerned with the ethical principles upon which the artist actually proceeds, the directions in which his impulses assert themselves, the verdicts of right and wrong which his temperament pronounces unconsciously, it may be. Here is the true revelation of character, Hearn thinks, even though our habitual and instinctive ethics may differ widely from the ethics we quite sincerely profess. Whether we know it or not, we are in such matters the children of some educational or philosophical system, which, preached at our ancestors long ago, has come at last to envelop us with the apparent naturalness of the air we breathe. It is a spiritual liberation of the first order, to envisage such an atmosphere as what it truly is, only a system of ethics effectively inculcated, and to compare the principles we live by with those we thought we lived by. Hearn was contriving illumination for the Japanese when he made his great lecture on the "Havamal," identifying in the ancient Northern poem those precepts which laid down later qualities of English character; for the Oriental reader it would be easier to identify the English traits in Thackeray or Dickens or Meredith if he could first consider them in a dogmatic precept. But the lecture gives us, I think, an extraordinary insight into ourselves, a power of self-criticism almost disconcerting as we realize not only the persistence of ethical ideals in the past, but also the possible career of new ethical systems as they may permeate the books written to-day. To what standard will the reader of our contemporary literature be unconsciously moulded? What account will be given of literature a thousand years from now, when a later critic informs himself of our ethics in order to understand more vitally the pages in which he has been brought up?
Partly to inform his Japanese students still further as to our ethical tendencies in literature, and partly I think to indulge his own speculation as to the morality that will be found in the literature of the future, Hearn gave his remarkable lectures on the ant-world, following Fabre and other European investigators, and his lecture on "The New Ethics." When he spoke, over twenty years ago, the socialistic ideal had not gripped us so effectually as it has done in the last decade, but he had no difficulty in observing the tendency. Civilization in some later cycle may wonder at our ambition to abandon individual liberty and responsibility and to subside into the social instincts of the ant; and even as it wonders, that far-off civilization may detect in itself ant-like reactions which we cultivated for it. With this description of the ant-world it is illuminating to read the two brilliant chapters on English and French poems about insects. Against this whole background of ethical theory, I have ventured to set Hearn's singularly objective account of the Bible.
In the remaining four chapters Hearn speaks of the "Kalevala," of the mediaeval romance "Amis and Amile," of William Cory's "Ionica," and of Theocritus. These chapters deal obviously with literary influences which have become part and parcel of English poetry, yet which remain exotic to it, if we keep in mind the Northern stock which still gives character, ethical and otherwise, to the English tradition. The "Kalevala," which otherwise should seem nearest to the basic qualities of our poetry, is almost unique, as Hearn points out, in the extent of its preoccupation with enchantments and charms, with the magic of words. "Amis and Amile," which otherwise ought to seem more foreign to us, is strangely close in its glorification of friendship; for chivalry left with us at least this one great ethical feeling, that to keep faith in friendship is a holy thing. No wonder Amicus and Amelius were popular saints. The story implies also, as it falls here in the book, some illustration of those unconscious or unconsidered ethical reactions which, as we saw in the chapter on the "Havamal," have a lasting influence on our ideals and on our conduct.
Romanticist though he was, Hearn constantly sought the romance in the highway of life, the aspects of experience which seem to perpetuate themselves from age to age, compelling literature to reassert them under whatever changes of form. To one who has followed the large mass of his lectures it is not surprising that he emphasized those ethical positions which are likely to remain constant, in spite of much new philosophy, nor that he constantly recurred to such books as Cory's "Ionica," or Lang's translation of Theocritus, in which he found statements of enduring human attitudes. To him the Greek mind made a double appeal. Not only did it represent to him the best that has yet been thought or said in the world, but by its fineness and its maturity it seemed kindred to the spirit he found in ancient Japan. Lecturing to Japanese students on Greek poetry as it filters through English paraphrases and translations, he must have felt sometimes as we now feel in reading his lectures, that in his teaching the long migration of the world's culture was approaching the end of the circuit, and that the earliest apparition of the East known to most of us was once more arriving at its starting place, mystery returning to mystery, and its path at all points mysterious if we rightly observe the miracle of the human spirit.
BOOKS AND HABITS
THE INSUPERABLE DIFFICULTY
I wish to speak of the greatest difficulty with which the Japanese students of English literature, or of almost any Western literature, have to contend. I do not think that it ever has been properly spoken about. A foreign teacher might well hesitate to speak about, it—because, if he should try to explain it merely from the Western point of view, he could not hope to be understood; and if he should try to speak about it from the Japanese point of view, he would be certain to make various mistakes and to utter various extravagances. The proper explanation might be given by a Japanese professor only, who should have so intimate an acquaintance with Western life as to sympathize with it. Yet I fear that it would be difficult to find such a Japanese professor for this reason, that just in proportion as he should find himself in sympathy with Western life, in that proportion he would become less and less able to communicate that sympathy to his students. The difficulties are so great that it has taken me many years even to partly guess how great they are. That they can be removed at the present day is utterly out of the question. But something may be gained by stating them even imperfectly. At the risk of making blunders and uttering extravagances, I shall make the attempt. I am impelled to do so by a recent conversation with one of the cleverest students that I ever had, who acknowledged his total inability to understand some of the commonest facts in Western life,—all those facts relating, directly or indirectly, to the position of woman in Western literature as reflecting Western life.
Let us clear the ground it once by putting down some facts in the plainest and lowest terms possible. You must try to imagine a country in which the place of the highest virtue is occupied, so to speak, by the devotion of sex to sex. The highest duty of the man is not to his father, but to his wife; and for the sake of that woman he abandons all other earthly ties, should any of these happen to interfere with that relation. The first duty of the wife may be, indeed, must be, to her child, when she has one; but otherwise her husband is her divinity and king. In that country it would be thought unnatural or strange to have one's parents living in the same house with wife or husband. You know all this. But it does not explain for you other things, much more difficult to understand, especially the influence of the abstract idea of woman upon society at large as well as upon the conduct of the individual. The devotion of man to woman does not mean at all only the devotion of husband to wife. It means actually this,—that every man is bound by conviction and by opinion to put all women before himself, simply because they are women. I do not mean that any man is likely to think of any woman as being his intellectual and physical superior; but I do mean that he is bound to think of her as something deserving and needing the help of every man. In time of danger the woman must be saved first. In time of pleasure, the woman must be given the best place. In time of hardship the woman's share of the common pain must be taken voluntarily by the man as much as possible. This is not with any view to recognition of the kindness shown. The man who assists a woman in danger is not supposed to have any claim upon her for that reason. He has done his duty only, not to her, the individual, but to womankind at large. So we have arrived at this general fact, that the first place in all things, except rule, is given to woman in Western countries, and that it is given almost religiously.
Is woman a religion? Well, perhaps you will have the chance of judging for yourselves if you go to America. There you will find men treating women with just the same respect formerly accorded only to religious dignitaries or to great nobles. Everywhere they are saluted and helped to the best places; everywhere they are treated as superior beings. Now if we find reverence, loyalty and all kinds of sacrifices devoted either to a human being or to an image, we are inclined to think of worship. And worship it is. If a Western man should hear me tell you this, he would want the statement qualified, unless he happened to be a philosopher. But I am trying to put the facts before you in the way in which you can best understand them. Let me say, then, that the all-important thing for the student of English literature to try to understand, is that in Western countries woman is a cult, a religion, or if you like still plainer language, I shall say that in Western countries woman is a god.
So much for the abstract idea of woman. Probably you will not find that particularly strange; the idea is not altogether foreign to Eastern thought, and there are very extensive systems of feminine pantheism in India. Of course the Western idea is only in the romantic sense a feminine pantheism; but the Oriental idea may serve to render it more comprehensive. The ideas of divine Mother and divine Creator may be studied in a thousand forms; I am now referring rather to the sentiment, to the feeling, than to the philosophical conception.
You may ask, if the idea or sentiment of divinity attaches to woman in the abstract, what about woman in the concrete—individual woman? Are women individually considered as gods? Well, that depends on how you define the word god. The following definition would cover the ground, I think:—"Gods are beings superior to man, capable of assisting or injuring him, and to be placated by sacrifice and prayer." Now according to this definition, I think that the attitude of man towards woman in Western countries might be very well characterized as a sort of worship. In the upper classes of society, and in the middle classes also, great reverence towards women is exacted. Men bow down before them, make all kinds of sacrifices to please them, beg for their good will and their assistance. It does not matter that this sacrifice is not in the shape of incense burning or of temple offerings; nor does it matter that the prayers are of a different kind from those pronounced in churches. There is sacrifice and worship. And no saying is more common, no truth better known, than that the man who hopes to succeed in life must be able to please the women. Every young man who goes into any kind of society knows this. It is one of the first lessons that he has to learn. Well, am I very wrong in saying that the attitude of men towards women in the West is much like the attitude of men towards gods?
But you may answer at once,—How comes it, if women are thus reverenced as you say, that men of the lower classes beat and ill-treat their wives in those countries? I must reply, for the same reason that Italian and Spanish sailors will beat and abuse the images of the saints and virgins to whom they pray, when their prayer is not granted. It is quite possible to worship an image sincerely and to seek vengeance upon it in a moment of anger. The one feeling does not exclude the other. What in the higher classes may be a religion, in the lower classes may be only a superstition, and strange contradictions exist, side by side, in all forms of superstition. Certainly the Western working man or peasant does not think about his wife or his neighbour's wife in the reverential way that the man of the superior class does. But you will find, if you talk to them, that something of the reverential idea is there; it is there at least during their best moments.
Now there is a certain exaggeration in what I have said. But that is only because of the somewhat narrow way in which I have tried to express a truth. I am anxious to give you the idea that throughout the West there exists, though with a difference according to class and culture, a sentiment about women quite as reverential as a sentiment of religion. This is true; and not to understand it, is not to understand Western literature.
How did it come into existence? Through many causes, some of which are so old that we can not know anything about them. This feeling did not belong to the Greek and Roman civilization but it belonged to the life of the old Northern races who have since spread over the world, planting their ideas everywhere. In the oldest Scandinavian literature you will find that women were thought of and treated by the men of the North very much as they are thought of and treated by Englishmen of to-day. You will find what their power was in the old sagas, such as the Njal-Saga, or "The Story of Burnt Njal." But we must go much further than the written literature to get a full knowledge of the origin of such a sentiment. The idea seems to have existed that woman was semi-divine, because she was the mother, the creator of man. And we know that she was credited among the Norsemen with supernatural powers. But upon this Northern foundation there was built up a highly complex fabric of romantic and artistic sentiment. The Christian worship of the Virgin Mary harmonized with the Northern belief. The sentiment of chivalry reinforced it. Then came the artistic resurrection of the Renaissance, and the new reverence for the beauty of the old Greek gods, and the Greek traditions of female divinities; these also coloured and lightened the old feeling about womankind. Think also of the effect with which literature, poetry and the arts have since been cultivating and developing the sentiment. Consider how the great mass of Western poetry is love poetry, and the greater part of Western fiction love stories.
Of course the foregoing is only the vaguest suggestion of a truth. Really my object is not to trouble you at all about the evolutional history of the sentiment, but only to ask you to think what this sentiment means in literature. I am not asking you to sympathize with it, but if you could sympathize with it you would understand a thousand things in Western books which otherwise must remain dim and strange. I am not expecting that you can sympathize with it. But it is absolutely necessary that you should understand its relation to language and literature. Therefore I have to tell you that you should try to think of it as a kind of religion, a secular, social, artistic religion, not to be confounded with any national religion. It is a kind of race feeling or race creed. It has not originated in any sensuous idea, but in some very ancient superstitious idea. Nearly all forms of the highest sentiment and the highest faith and the highest art have had their beginnings in equally humble soil.
ON LOVE IN ENGLISH POETRY
I often imagine that the longer he studies English literature the more the Japanese student must be astonished at the extraordinary predominance given to the passion of love both in fiction and in poetry. Indeed, by this time I have begun to feel a little astonished at it myself. Of course, before I came to this country it seemed to me quite natural that love should be the chief subject of literature; because I did not know anything about any other kind of society except Western society. But to-day it really seems to me a little strange. If it seems strange to me, how much more ought it to seem strange to you! Of course, the simple explanation of the fact is that marriage is the most important act of man's life in Europe or America, and that everything depends upon it. It is quite different on this side of the world. But the simple explanation of the difference is not enough. There are many things to be explained. Why should not only the novel writers but all the poets make love the principal subject of their work? I never knew, because I never thought, how much English literature was saturated with the subject of love until I attempted to make selections of poetry and prose for class use—naturally endeavouring to select such pages or poems as related to other subjects than passion. Instead of finding a good deal of what I was looking for, I could find scarcely anything. The great prose writers, outside of the essay or history, are nearly all famous as tellers of love stories. And it is almost impossible to select half a dozen stanzas of classic verse from Tennyson or Rossetti or Browning or Shelley or Byron, which do not contain anything about kissing, embracing, or longing for some imaginary or real beloved. Wordsworth, indeed, is something of an exception; and Coleridge is most famous for a poem which contains nothing at all about love. But exceptions do not affect the general rule that love is the theme of English poetry, as it is also of French, Italian, Spanish, or German poetry. It is the dominant motive.
So with the English novelists. There have been here also a few exceptions—such as the late Robert Louis Stevenson, most of whose novels contain little about women; they are chiefly novels or romances of adventure. But the exceptions are very few. At the present time there are produced almost every year in England about a thousand new novels, and all of these or nearly all are love stories. To write a novel without a woman in it would be a dangerous undertaking; in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred the book would not sell.
Of course all this means that the English people throughout the world, as readers, are chiefly interested in the subject under discussion. When you find a whole race interested more in one thing than in anything else, you may be sure that it is so because the subject is of paramount importance in the life of the average person. You must try to imagine then, a society in which every man must choose his wife, and every woman must choose her husband, independent of all outside help, and not only choose but obtain if possible. The great principle of Western society is that competition rules here as it rules in everything else. The best man—that is to say, the strongest and cleverest—is likely to get the best woman, in the sense of the most beautiful person. The weak, the feeble, the poor, and the ugly have little chance of being able to marry at all. Tens of thousands of men and women can not possibly marry. I am speaking of the upper and middle classes. The working people, the peasants, the labourers, these marry young; but the competition there is just the same—just as difficult, and only a little rougher. So it may be said that every man has a struggle of some kind in order to marry, and that there is a kind of fight or contest for the possession of every woman worth having. Taking this view of Western society not only in England but throughout all Europe, you will easily be able to see why the Western public have reason to be more interested in literature which treats of love than in any other kind of literature.
But although the conditions that I have been describing are about the same in all Western countries, the tone of the literature which deals with love is not at all the same. There are very great differences. In prose they are much more serious than in poetry; because in all countries a man is allowed, by public opinion, more freedom in verse than in prose. Now these differences in the way of treating the subject in different countries really indicate national differences of character. Northern love stories and Northern poetry about love are very serious; and these authors are kept within fixed limits. Certain subjects are generally forbidden. For example, the English public wants novels about love, but the love must be the love of a girl who is to become somebody's wife. The rule in the English novel is to describe the pains, fears, and struggles of the period before marriage—the contest in the world for the right of marriage. A man must not write a novel about any other point of love. Of course there are plenty of authors who have broken this rule but the rule still exists. A man may represent a contest between two women, one good and one bad, but if the bad woman is allowed to conquer in the story, the public will growl. This English fashion has existed since the eighteenth century. since the time of Richardson, and is likely to last for generations to come.
Now this is not the rule at all which governs making of novels in France. French novels generally treat of the relations of women to the world and to lovers, after marriage; consequently there is a great deal in French novels about adultery, about improper relations between the sexes, about many things which the English public would not allow. This does not mean that the English are morally a better people than the French or other Southern races. But it does mean that there are great differences in the social conditions. One such difference can be very briefly expressed. An English girl, an American girl, a Norwegian, a Dane, a Swede, is allowed all possible liberty before marriage. The girl is told, "You must be able to take care of yourself, and not do wrong." After marriage there is no more such liberty. After marriage in all Northern countries a woman's conduct is strictly watched. But in France, and in Southern countries, the young girl has no liberty before marriage. She is always under the guard of her brother, her father, her mother, or some experienced relation. She is accompanied wherever she walks. She is not allowed to see her betrothed except in the presence of witnesses. But after marriage her liberty begins. Then she is told for the first time that she must take care of herself. Well, you will see that the conditions which inspire the novels, in treating of the subjects of love and marriage, are very different in Northern and in Southern Europe. For this reason alone the character of the novel produced in England could not be the same.
You must remember, however, that there are many other reasons for this difference—reasons of literary sentiment. The Southern or Latin races have been civilized for a much longer time than the Northern races; they have inherited the feelings of the ancient world, the old Greek and Roman world, and they think still about the relation of the sexes in very much the same way that the ancient poets and romance writers used to think. And they can do things which English writers can not do, because their language has power of more delicate expression.
We may say that the Latin writers still speak of love in very much the same way that it was considered before Christianity. But when I speak of Christianity I am only referring to an historical date. Before Christianity the Northern races also thought about love very much in the same way that their best poets do at this day. The ancient Scandinavian literature would show this. The Viking, the old sea-pirate, felt very much as Tennyson or as Meredith would feel upon this subject; he thought of only one kind of love as real—that which ends in marriage, the affection between husband and wife. Anything else was to him mere folly and weakness. Christianity did not change his sentiment on this subject. The modern Englishman, Swede, Dane, Norwegian, or German regards love in exactly that deep, serious, noble way that his pagan ancestors did. I think we can say that different races have differences of feeling on sexual relations, which differences are very much older than any written history. They are in the blood and soul of a people, and neither religion nor civilization can utterly change them.
So far I have been speaking particularly about the differences in English and French novels; and a novel is especially a reflection of national life, a kind of dramatic narration of truth, in the form of a story. But in poetry, which is the highest form of literature, the difference is much more observable. We find the Latin poets of to-day writing just as freely on the subject of love as the old Latin poets of the age of Augustus, while Northern poets observe with few exceptions great restraint when treating of this theme. Now where is the line to be drawn? Are the Latins right? Are the English right? How are we to make a sharp distinction between what is moral and good and what is immoral and bad in treating love-subjects?
Some definition must be attempted.
What is meant by love? As used by Latin writers the word has a range of meanings, from that of the sexual relation between insects or animals up to the highest form of religious emotion, called "The love of God." I need scarcely say that this definition is too loose for our use. The English word, by general consent, means both sexual passion and deep friendship. This again is a meaning too wide for our purpose. By putting the adjective "true" before love, some definition is attempted in ordinary conversation. When an Englishman speaks of "true love," he usually means something that has no passion at all; he means a perfect friendship which grows up between man and wife and which has nothing to do with the passion which brought the pair together. But when the English poet speaks of love, he generally means passion, not friendship. I am only stating very general rules. You see how confusing the subject is, how difficult to define the matter. Let us leave the definition alone for a moment, and consider the matter philosophically.
Some very foolish persons have attempted even within recent years to make a classification of different kinds of love—love between the sexes. They talk about romantic love, and other such things. All that is utter nonsense. In the meaning of sexual affection there is only one kind of love, the natural attraction of one sex for them other; and the only difference in the highest for of this attraction and the lowest is this, that in the nobler nature a vast number of moral, aesthetic, and ethical sentiments are related to the passion, and that in lower natures those sentiments are absent. Therefore we may say that even in the highest forms of the sentiment there is only one dominant feeling, complex though it be, the desire for possession. What follows the possession we may call love if we please; but it might better be called perfect friendship and sympathy. It is altogether a different thing. The love that is the theme of poets in all countries is really love, not the friendship that grows out of it.
I suppose you know that the etymological meaning of "passion" is "a state of suffering." In regard to love, the word has particular significance to the Western mind, for it refers to the time of struggle and doubt and longing before the object is attained. Now how much of this passion is a legitimate subject of literary art?
The difficulty may, I think, be met by remembering the extraordinary character of the mental phenomena which manifest themselves in the time of passion. There is during that time a strange illusion, an illusion so wonderful that it has engaged the attention of great philosophers for thousands of years; Plato, you know, tried to explain it in a very famous theory. I mean the illusion that seems to charm, or rather, actually does charm the senses of a man at a certain time. To his eye a certain face has suddenly become the most beautiful object in the world. To his ears the accents of one voice become the sweetest of all music. Reason has nothing to do with this, and reason has no power against the enchantment. Out of Nature's mystery, somehow or other, this strange magic suddenly illuminates the senses of a man; then vanishes again, as noiselessly as it came. It is a very ghostly thing, and can not be explained by any theory not of a very ghostly kind. Even Herbert Spencer has devoted his reasoning to a new theory about it. I need not go further in this particular than to tell you that in a certain way passion is now thought to have something to do with other lives than the present; in short, it is a kind of organic memory of relations that existed in thousands and tens of thousands of former states of being. Right or wrong though the theories may be, this mysterious moment of love, the period of this illusion, is properly the subject of high poetry, simply because it is the most beautiful and the most wonderful experience of a human life. And why?
Because in the brief time of such passion the very highest and finest emotions of which human nature is capable are brought into play. In that time more than at any other hour in life do men become unselfish, unselfish at least toward one human being. Not only unselfishness but self-sacrifice is a desire peculiar to the period. The young man in love is not merely willing to give away everything that he possesses to the person beloved; he wishes to suffer pain, to meet danger, to risk his life for her sake. Therefore Tennyson, in speaking of that time, beautifully said:
Love took up the harp of Life, and smote on all the chords with might, Smote the chord of Self, that, trembling, pass'd in music out of sight.
Unselfishness is, of course, a very noble feeling, independently of the cause. But this is only one of the emotions of a higher class when powerfully aroused. There is pity, tenderness—the same kind of tenderness that one feels toward a child—the love of the helpless, the desire to protect. And a third sentiment felt at such a time more strongly than at any other, is the sentiment of duty; responsibilities moral and social are then comprehended in a totally new way. Surely none can dispute these facts nor the beauty of them.
Moral sentiments are the highest of all; but next to them the sentiment of beauty in itself, the artistic feeling, is also a very high form of intellectual and even of secondary moral experience. Scientifically there is a relation between the beautiful and the good, between the physically perfect and the ethically perfect. Of course it is not absolute. There is nothing absolute in this world. But the relation exists. Whoever can comprehend the highest form of one kind of beauty must be able to comprehend something of the other. I know very well that the ideal of the love-season is an illusion; in nine hundred and ninety-nine cases out of the thousand the beauty of the woman is only imagined. But does that make any possible difference? I do not think that it does. To imagine beauty is really to see it—not objectively, perhaps, but subjectively beyond all possibility of doubt. Though you see the beauty only in your mind, in your mind it is; and in your mind its ethical influence must operate. During the time that a man worships even imaginary bodily beauty, he receives some secret glimpse of a higher kind of beauty—beauty of heart and mind. Was there ever in this world a real lover who did not believe the woman of his choice to be not only the most beautiful of mortals, but also the best in a moral sense? I do not think that there ever was.
The moral and the ethical sentiments of a being thus aroused call into sudden action all the finer energies of the man—the capacities for effort, for heroism, for high-pressure work of any sort, mental or physical, for all that requires quickness in thought and exactitude in act. There is for the time being a sense of new power. Anything that makes strong appeal to the best exercise of one's faculties is beneficent and, in most cases, worthy of reverence. Indeed, it is in the short season of which I am speaking that we always discover the best of everything in the character of woman or of man. In that period the evil qualities, the ungenerous side, is usually kept as much out of sight as possible.
Now for all these suggested reasons, as for many others which might be suggested, the period of illusion in love is really the period which poets and writers of romance are naturally justified in describing. Can they go beyond it with safety, with propriety? That depends very much upon whether they go up or down. By going up I mean keeping within the region of moral idealism. By going down I mean descending to the level of merely animal realism. In this realism there is nothing deserving the highest effort of art of any sort.
What is the object of art? Is it not, or should it not be, to make us imagine better conditions than that which at present exist in the world, and by so imagining to prepare the way for the coming of such conditions? I think that all great art has done this. Do you remember the old story about Greek mothers keeping in their rooms the statue of a god or a man, more beautiful than anything real, so that their imagination might be constantly influenced by the sight of beauty, and that they might perhaps be able to bring more beautiful children into the world? Among the Arabs, mothers also do something of this kind, only, as they have no art of imagery, they go to Nature herself for the living image. Black luminous eyes are beautiful, and wives keep in their tents a little deer, the gazelle, which is famous for the brilliancy and beauty of its eyes. By constantly looking at this charming pet the Arab wife hopes to bring into the world some day a child with eyes as beautiful as the eyes of the gazelle. Well, the highest function of art ought to do for us, or at least for the world, what the statue and the gazelle were expected to do for Grecian and Arab mothers—to make possible higher conditions than the existing ones.
So much being said, consider again the place and the meaning of the passion of love in any human life. It is essentially a period of idealism, of imagining better things and conditions than are possible in this world. For everybody who has been in love has imagined something higher than the possible and the present. Any idealism is a proper subject for art. It is not at all the same in the case of realism. Grant that all this passion, imagination, and fine sentiment is based upon a very simple animal impulse. That does not make the least difference in the value of the highest results of that passion. We might say the very same thing about any human emotion; every emotion can be evolutionally traced back to simple and selfish impulses shared by man with the lower animals. But, because an apple tree or a pear tree happens to have its roots in the ground, does that mean that its fruits are not beautiful and wholesome? Most assuredly we must not judge the fruit of the tree from the unseen roots; but what about turning up the ground to look at the roots? What becomes of the beauty of the tree when you do that? The realist—at least the French realist—likes to do that. He likes to bring back the attention of his reader to the lowest rather than to the highest, to that which should be kept hidden, for the very same reason that the roots of a tree should be kept underground if the tree is to live.
The time of illusion, then, is the beautiful moment of passion; it represents the artistic zone in which the poet or romance writer ought to be free to do the very best that he can. He may go beyond that zone; but then he has only two directions in which he can travel. Above it there is religion, and an artist may, like Dante, succeed in transforming love into a sentiment of religious ecstasy. I do not think that any artist could do that to-day; this is not an age of religious ecstasy. But upwards there is no other way to go. Downwards the artist may travel until he finds himself in hell. Between the zone of idealism and the brutality of realism there are no doubt many gradations. I am only indicating what I think to be an absolute truth, that in treating of love the literary master should keep to the period of illusion, and that to go below it is a dangerous undertaking. And now, having tried to make what are believed to be proper distinctions between great literature on this subject and all that is not great, we may begin to study a few examples. I am going to select at random passages from English poets and others, illustrating my meaning.
Tennyson is perhaps the most familiar to you among poets of our own time; and he has given a few exquisite examples of the ideal sentiment in passion. One is a concluding verse in the beautiful song that occurs in the monodrama of "Maud," where the lover, listening in the garden, hears the steps of his beloved approaching.
She is coming, my own, my sweet, Were it ever so airy a tread, My heart would hear her and beat, Were it earth in an earthy bed; My dust would hear her and beat, Had I lain for a century dead; Would start and tremble under her feet, And blossom in purple and red.
This is a very fine instance of the purely idea emotion—extravagant, if you like, in the force of the imagery used, but absolutely sincere and true; for the imagination of love is necessarily extravagant. It would be quite useless to ask whether the sound of a girl's footsteps could really waken a dead man; we know that love can fancy such things quite naturally, not in one country only but everywhere. An Arabian poem written long before the time of Mohammed contains exactly the same thought in simpler words; and I think that there are some old Japanese songs containing something similar. All that the statement really means is that the voice, the look, the touch, even the footstep of the woman beloved have come to possess for the lover a significance as great as life and death. For the moment he knows no other divinity; she is his god, in the sense that her power over him has become infinite and irresistible.
The second example may be furnished from another part of the same composition—the little song of exaltation after the promise to marry has been given.
O let the solid ground Not fail beneath my feet Before my life has found What some have found so sweet; Then let come what come may, What matter if I go mad, I shall have had my day.
Let the sweet heavens endure, Not close and darken above me Before I am quite, quite sure That there is one to love me; Then let come what come may To a life that has been so sad, I shall have had my day.
The feeling of the lover is that no matter what happens afterwards, the winning of the woman is enough to pay for life, death, pain, or anything else. One of the most remarkable phenomena of the illusion is the supreme indifference to consequences—at least to any consequences which would not signify moral shame or loss of honour, Of course the poet is supposed to consider the emotion only in generous natures. But the subject of this splendid indifference has been more wonderfully treated by Victor Hugo than by Tennyson—as we shall see later on, when considering another phase of the emotion. Before doing that, I want to call your attention to a very charming treatment of love's romance by an American. It is one of the most delicate of modern compositions, and it is likely to become a classic, as it has already been printed in four or five different anthologies. The title is "Atalanta's Race."
First let me tell you the story of Atalanta, so that you will be better able to see the fine symbolism of the poem. Atalanta, the daughter of a Greek king, was not only the most beautiful of maidens, but the swiftest runner in the world. She passed her time in hunting, and did not wish to marry. But as many men wanted to marry her, a law was passed that any one who desired to win her must run a race with her. If he could beat her in running, then she promised to marry him, but if he lost the race, he was to be killed. Some say that the man was allowed to run first, and that the girl followed with a spear in her hand and killed him when she overtook him. There are different accounts of the contest. Many suitors lost the race and were killed. But finally young man called Hippomenes obtained from the Goddess of Love three golden apples, and he was told that if he dropped these apples while running, the girl would stop to pick them up, and that in this way he might be able to win the race. So he ran, and when he found himself about to be beaten, he dropped one apple. She stopped to pick it up and thus he gained a little. In this way he won the race and married Atalanta. Greek mythology says that afterwards she and her husband were turned into lions because they offended the gods; however, that need not concern us here. There is a very beautiful moral in the old Greek story, and the merit of the American composition is that its author, Maurice Thompson, perceived this moral and used it to illustrate a great philosophical truth.
When Spring grows old, and sleepy winds Set from the South with odours sweet, I see my love, in green, cool groves, Speed down dusk aisles on shining feet. She throws a kiss and bids me run, In whispers sweet as roses' breath; I know I cannot win the race, And at the end, I know, is death.
But joyfully I bare my limbs, Anoint me with the tropic breeze, And feel through every sinew run The vigour of Hippomenes.
O race of love! we all have run Thy happy course through groves of Spring, And cared not, when at last we lost, For life or death, or anything!
There are a few thoughts here requiring a little comment. You know that the Greek games and athletic contests were held in the fairest season, and that the contestants were stripped. They were also anointed with oil, partly to protect the skin against sun and temperature and partly to make the body more supple. The poet speaks of the young man as being anointed by the warm wind of Spring, the tropic season of life. It is a very pretty fancy. What he is really telling us is this:
"There are no more Greek games, but the race of love is still run to-day as in times gone by; youth is the season, and the atmosphere of youth is the anointing of the contestant."
But the moral of the piece is its great charm, the poetical statement of a beautiful and a wonderful fact. In almost every life there is a time when we care for only one person, and suffer much for that person's sake; yet in that period we do not care whether we suffer or die, and in after life, when we look back at those hours of youth, we wonder at the way in which we then felt. In European life of to-day the old Greek fable is still true; almost everybody must run Atalanta's race and abide by the result.
One of the delightful phases of the illusion of love is the sense of old acquaintance, the feeling as if the person loved had been known and loved long ago in some time and place forgotten. I think you must have observed, many of you, that when the senses of sight and hearing happen to be strongly stirred by some new and most pleasurable experience, the feeling of novelty is absent, or almost absent. You do not feel as if you were seeing or hearing something new, but as if you saw or heard something that you knew all about very long ago. I remember once travelling with a Japanese boy into a charming little country town in Shikoku—and scarcely had we entered the main street, than he cried out: "Oh, I have seen this place before!" Of course he had not seen it before; he was from Osaka and had never left the great city until then. But the pleasure of his new experience had given him this feeling of familiarity with the unfamiliar. I do not pretend to explain this familiarity with the new—it is a great mystery still, just as it was a great mystery to the Roman Cicero. But almost everybody that has been in love has probably had the same feeling during a moment or two—the feeling "I have known that woman before," though the where and the when are mysteries. Some of the modern poets have beautifully treated this feeling. The best example that I can give you is the exquisite lyric by Rossetti entitled "Sudden Light."
I have been here before, But when or how I cannot tell: I know the grass beyond the door, The sweet keen smell, The sighing sound, the lights around the shore.
You have been mine before,— How long ago I may not know: But just when at that swallow's soar Your neck turn'd so, Some veil did fall,—I knew it all of yore.
Has this been thus before? And shall not thus time's eddying flight Still with our lives our loves restore In death's despite, And day and night yield one delight once more?
I think you will acknowledge that this is very pretty; and the same poet has treated the idea equally well in other poems of a more complicated kind. But another poet of the period was haunted even more than Rossetti by this idea—Arthur O'Shaughnessy. Like Rossetti he was a great lover, and very unfortunate in his love; and he wrote his poems, now famous, out of the pain and regret that was in his heart, much as singing birds born in cages are said to sing better when their eyes are put out. Here is one example:
Along the garden ways just now I heard the flowers speak; The white rose told me of your brow, The red rose of your cheek; The lily of your bended head, The bindweed of your hair: Each looked its loveliest and said You were more fair.
I went into the woods anon, And heard the wild birds sing How sweet you were; they warbled on, Piped, trill'd the self-same thing. Thrush, blackbird, linnet, without pause The burden did repeat, And still began again because You were more sweet.
And then I went down to the sea, And heard it murmuring too, Part of an ancient mystery, All made of me and you: How many a thousand years ago I loved, and you were sweet— Longer I could not stay, and so I fled back to your feet.
The last stanza especially expresses the idea that I have been telling you about; but in a poem entitled "Greater Memory" the idea is much more fully expressed. By "greater memory" you must understand the memory beyond this life into past stages of existence. This piece has become a part of the nineteenth century poetry that will live; and a few of the best stanzas deserve to be quoted,
In the heart there lay buried for years Love's story of passion and tears; Of the heaven that two had begun And the horror that tore them apart; When one was love's slayer, but one Made a grave for the love in his heart.
The long years pass'd weary and lone And it lay there and changed there unknown; Then one day from its innermost place, In the shamed and ruin'd love's stead, Love arose with a glorified face, Like an angel that comes from the dead.
It uplifted the stone that was set On that tomb which the heart held yet; But the sorrow had moulder'd within And there came from the long closed door A dear image, that was not the sin Or the grief that lay buried before.
* * * * *
There was never the stain of a tear On the face that was ever so dear; 'Twas the same in each lovelier way; 'Twas old love's holier part, And the dream of the earliest day Brought back to the desolate heart.
It was knowledge of all that had been In the thought, in the soul unseen; 'Twas the word which the lips could not say To redeem or recover the past. It was more than was taken away Which the heart got back at the last.
The passion that lost its spell, The rose that died where it fell, The look that was look'd in vain, The prayer that seemed lost evermore, They were found in the heart again, With all that the heart would restore.
Put into less mystical language the legend is this: A young man and a young woman loved each other for a time; then they were separated by some great wrong—we may suppose the woman was untrue. The man always loved her memory, in spite of this wrong which she had done. The two died and were buried; hundreds and hundreds of years they remained buried, and the dust of them mixed with the dust of the earth. But in the perpetual order of things, a pure love never can die, though bodies may die and pass away. So after many generations the pure love which this man had for a bad woman was born again in the heart of another man—the same, yet not the same. And the spirit of the woman that long ago had done the wrong, also found incarnation again; and the two meeting, are drawn to each other by what people call love, but what is really Greater Memory, the recollection of past lives. But now all is happiness for them, because the weaker and worse part of each has really died and has been left hundreds of years behind, and only the higher nature has been born again. All that ought not to have been is not; but all that ought to be now is. This is really an evolutionary teaching, but it is also poetical license, for the immoral side of mankind does not by any means die so quickly as the poet supposes. It is perhaps a question of many tens of thousands of years to get rid of a few of our simpler faults. Anyway, the fancy charms us and tempts us really to hope that these things might be so.
While the poets of our time so extend the history of a love backwards beyond this life, we might expect them to do the very same thing in the other direction. I do not refer to reunion in heaven, or anything of that sort, but simply to affection continued after death. There are some very pretty fancies of the kind. But they can not prove to you quite so interesting as the poems which treat the recollection of past life. When we consider the past imaginatively, we have some ground to stand on. The past has been—there is no doubt about that. The fact that we are at this moment alive makes it seem sufficiently true that we were alive thousands or millions of years ago. But when we turn to the future for poetical inspiration, the case is very different. There we must imagine without having anything to stand upon in the way of experience. Of course if born again into a body we could imagine many things; but there is the ghostly interval between death and birth which nobody is able to tell us about. Here the poet depends upon dream experiences, and it is of such an experience that Christina Rossetti speaks in her beautiful poem entitled "A Pause."
They made the chamber sweet with flowers and leaves, And the bed sweet with flowers on which I lay, While my soul, love-bound, loitered on its way. I did not hear the birds about the eaves, Nor hear the reapers talk among the sheaves: Only my soul kept watch from day to day, My thirsty soul kept watch for one away:— Perhaps he loves, I thought, remembers, grieves.
At length there came the step upon the stair, Upon the lock the old familiar hand: Then first my spirit seemed to scent the air Of Paradise; then first the tardy sand Of time ran golden; and I felt my hair Put on a glory, and my soul expand.
The woman is dead. In the room where her body died, flowers have been placed, offerings to the dead. Also there are flowers upon the bed. The ghost of the woman observes all this, but she does not feel either glad or sad because of it; she is thinking only of the living lover, who was not there when she died, but far away. She wants to know whether he really loved her, whether he will really be sorry to hear that she is dead. Outside the room of death the birds are singing; in the fields beyond the windows peasants are working, and talking as they work. But the ghost does not listen to these sounds. The ghost remains in the room only for love's sake; she can not go away until the lover comes. At last she hears him coming. She knows the sound of the step; she knows the touch of the hand upon the lock of the door. And instantly, before she sees him at all, she first feels delight. Already it seems to her that she can smell the perfume of the flowers of heaven; it then seems to her that about her head, as about the head of an angel, a circle of glory is shaping itself, and the real heaven, the Heaven of Love, is at hand.
How very beautiful this is. There is still one line which requires a separate explanation—I mean the sentence about the sands of time running golden. Perhaps you may remember the same simile in Tennyson's "Locksley Hall":
Love took up the glass of Time, and turn'd it in His glowing hands; Every moment, lightly shaken, ran itself in golden sands.
Here time is identified with the sand of the hour glass, and the verb "to run" is used because this verb commonly expresses the trickling of the sand from the upper part of the glass into the lower. In other words, fine sand "runs" just like water. To say that the sands of time run golden, or become changed into gold, is only a poetical way of stating that the time becomes more than happy—almost heavenly or divine. And now you will see how very beautiful the comparison becomes in this little poem about the ghost of the woman waiting for the coming step of her lover.
Several other aspects of the emotion may now be considered separately. One of these, an especially beautiful one, is memory. Of course, there are many aspects of love's memories, some all happiness, others intensely sorrowful—the memory of a walk, a meeting, a moment of good-bye. Such memories occupy a very large place in the treasure house of English love poems. I am going to give three examples only, but each of a different kind. The first poet that I am going to mention is Coventry Patmore. He wrote two curious books of poetry, respectively called "The Angel in the House" and "The Unknown Eros." In the first of these books he wrote the whole history of his courtship and marriage—a very dangerous thing for a poet to do, but he did it successfully. The second volume is miscellaneous, and contains some very beautiful things. I am going to quote only a few lines from the piece called "Amelia." This piece is the story of an evening spent with a sweetheart, and the lines which I am quoting refer to the moment of taking the girl home. They are now rather famous:
... To the dim street I led her sacred feet; And so the Daughter gave, Soft, moth-like, sweet, Showy as damask-rose and shy as musk, Back to her Mother, anxious in the dusk. And now "Good Night!"
Why should the poet speak of the girl in this way? Why does he call her feet sacred? She has just promised to marry him; and now she seems to him quite divine. But he discovers very plain words with which to communicate his finer feelings to the reader. The street is "dim" because it is night; and in the night the beautifully dressed maiden seems like a splendid moth—the name given to night butterflies in England. In England the moths are much more beautiful than the true butterflies; they have wings of scarlet and purple and brown and gold. So the comparison, though peculiarly English, is very fine. Also there is a suggestion of the soundlessness of the moth's flight. Now "showy as damask rose" is a striking simile only because the damask-rose is a wonderfully splendid flower—richest in colour of all roses in English gardens. "Shy as musk" is rather a daring simile. "Musk" is a perfume used by English as well as Japanese ladies, but there is no perfume which must be used with more discretion, carefulness. If you use ever so little too much, the effect is not pleasant. But if you use exactly the proper quantity, and no more, there is no perfume which is more lovely. "Shy as musk" thus refers to that kind of girlish modesty which never commits a fault even by the measure of a grain—beautiful shyness incapable of being anything but beautiful. Nevertheless the comparison must be confessed one which should be felt rather than explained.
The second of the three promised quotations shall be from Robert Browning. There is one feeling, not often touched upon by poets, yet peculiar to lovers, that is here treated—the desire when you are very happy or when you are looking at anything attractive to share the pleasure of the moment with the beloved. But it seldom happens that the wish and the conditions really meet. Referring to this longing Browning made a short lyric that is now a classic; it is among the most dainty things of the century.
Never the time and the place And the loved one all together! This path—how soft to pace! This May—what magic weather! Where is the loved one's face? In a dream that loved one's face meets mine, But the house is narrow, the place is bleak Where, outside, rain and wind combine With a furtive ear, if I try to speak, With a hostile eye at my flushing cheek, With a malice that marks each word, each sign!
Never can we have things the way we wish in this world—a beautiful day, a beautiful place, and the presence of the beloved all at the same time. Something is always missing; if the place be beautiful, the weather perhaps is bad. Or if the weather and the place both happen to be perfect, the woman is absent. So the poet finding himself in some very beautiful place, and remembering this, remembers also the last time that he met the woman beloved. It was a small dark house and chilly; outside there was rain and storm; and the sounds of the wind and of the rain were as the sounds of people secretly listening, or sounds of people trying to look in secretly through the windows. Evidently it was necessary that the meeting should be secret, and it was not altogether as happy as could have been wished.
The third example is a very beautiful poem; we must content ourselves with an extract from it. It is the memory of a betrothal day, and the poet is Frederick Tennyson. I suppose you know that there were three Tennysons, and although Alfred happened to be the greatest, all of them were good poets.
It is a golden morning of the spring, My cheek is pale, and hers is warm with bloom, And we are left in that old carven room, And she begins to sing;
The open casement quivers in the breeze, And one large musk-rose leans its dewy grace Into the chamber, like a happy face, And round it swim the bees;
* * * * *
I know not what I said—what she replied Lives, like eternal sunshine, in my heart; And then I murmured, Oh! we never part, My love, my life, my bride!
* * * * *
And silence o'er us, after that great bliss, Fell like a welcome shadow—and I heard The far woods sighing, and a summer bird Singing amid the trees;
The sweet bird's happy song, that streamed around, The murmur of the woods, the azure skies, Were graven on my heart, though ears and eyes Marked neither sight nor sound.
She sleeps in peace beneath the chancel stone, But ah! so clearly is the vision seen, The dead seem raised, or Death has never been, Were I not here alone.
This is great art in its power of picturing a memory of the heart. Let us notice some of the beauties. The lover is pale because he is afraid, anxious; he is going to ask a question and he does not know how she may answer him. All this was long ago, years and years ago, but the strong emotions of that morning leave their every detail painted in remembrance, with strange vividness After all those years the man still recollects the appearance of the room, the sunshine entering and the crimson rose looking into the room from the garden, with bees humming round it. Then after the question had been asked and happily answered, neither could speak for joy; and because of the silence all the sounds of nature outside became almost painfully distinct. Now he remembers how he heard in that room the sound of the wind in far-away trees, the singing of a bird—he also remembers all the colours and the lights of the day. But it was very, very long ago, and she is dead. Still, the memory is so clear and bright in his heart that it is as if time had stood still, or as if she had come back from the grave. Only one thing assures him that it is but a memory—he is alone.
Returning now to the subject of love's illusion in itself, let me remind you that the illusion does not always pass away—not at all. It passes away in every case of happy union, when it has become no longer necessary to the great purposes of nature. But in case of disappointment, loss, failure to win the maiden desired, it often happens that the ideal image never fades away, but persistently haunts the mind through life, and is capable thus of making even the most successful life unhappy. Sometimes the result of such disappointment may be to change all a man's ideas about the world, about life, about religion; and everything remains darkened for him. Many a young person disappointed in love begins to lose religious feeling from that moment, for it seems to him, simply because he happens to be unfortunate, that the universe is all wrong. On the other hand the successful lover thinks that the universe is all right; he utters his thanks to the gods, and feels his faith in religion and human nature greater than before. I do not at this moment remember any striking English poem illustrating this fact; but there is a pretty little poem in French by Victor Hugo showing well the relation between successful love and religious feeling in simple minds. Here is an English translation of it. The subject is simply a walk at night, the girl-bride leaning upon the arm of her husband; and his memory of the evening is thus expressed:
The trembling arm I pressed Fondly; our thoughts confessed Love's conquest tender; God filled the vast sweet night, Love filled our hearts; the light Of stars made splendour.
Even as we walked and dreamed, 'Twixt heaven and earth, it seemed Our souls were speaking; The stars looked on thy face; Thine eyes through violet space The stars were seeking.
And from the astral light Feeling the soft sweet night Thrill to thy soul, Thou saidst: "O God of Bliss, Lord of the Blue Abyss, Thou madest the whole!"
And the stars whispered low To the God of Space, "We know, God of Eternity, Dear Lord, all Love is Thine, Even by Love's Light we shine! Thou madest Beauty!"
Of course here the religious feeling itself is part of the illusion, but it serves to give great depth and beauty to simple feeling. Besides, the poem illustrates one truth very forcibly—namely, that when we are perfectly happy all the universe appears to be divine and divinely beautiful; in other words, we are in heaven. On the contrary, when we are very unhappy the universe appears to be a kind of hell, in which there is no hope, no joy, and no gods to pray to.
But the special reason I wished to call attention to Victor Hugo's lyric is that it has that particular quality called by philosophical critics "cosmic emotion." Cosmic emotion means the highest quality of human emotion. The word "cosmos" signifies the universe—not simply this world, but all the hundred millions of suns and worlds in the known heaven. And the adjective "cosmic" means, of course, "related to the whole universe." Ordinary emotion may be more than individual in its relations. I mean that your feelings may be moved by the thought or the perception of something relating not only to your own life but also to the lives of many others. The largest form of such ordinary emotion is what would be called national feeling, the feeling of your own relation to the whole nation or the whole race. But there is higher emotion even than that. When you think of yourself emotionally not only in relation to your own country, your own nation, but in relation to all humanity, then you have a cosmic emotion of the third or second order. I say "third or second," because whether the emotion be second or third rate depends very much upon your conception of humanity as One. But if you think of yourself in relation not to this world only but to the whole universe of hundreds of millions of stars and planets—in relation to the whole mystery of existence—then you have a cosmic emotion of the highest order. Of course there are degrees even in this; the philosopher or the metaphysician will probably have a finer quality of cosmic emotion than the poet or the artist is able to have. But lovers very often, according to their degree of intellectual culture, experience a kind of cosmic emotion; and Victor Hugo's little poem illustrates this. Night and the stars and the abyss of the sky all seem to be thrilling with love and beauty to the lover's eyes, because he himself is in a state of loving happiness; and then he begins to think about his relation to the universal life, to the supreme mystery beyond all Form and Name.
A third or fourth class of such emotion may be illustrated by the beautiful sonnet of Keats, written not long before his death. Only a very young man could have written this, because only a very young man loves in this way—but how delightful it is! It has no title.
Bright star! would I were steadfast as thou art— Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night And watching, with eternal lids apart, Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite, The moving waters at their priest-like task Of pure ablution round earth's human shores, Or gazing on new soft-fallen mask Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—
No—yet still steadfast, still unchangeable, Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast, To feel forever its soft fall and swell, Awake forever in a sweet unrest, Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath, And so live ever—or else swoon to death.
Tennyson has charmingly represented a lover wishing that he were a necklace of his beloved, or her girdle, or her earring; but that is not a cosmic emotion at all. Indeed, the idea of Tennyson's pretty song was taken from old French and English love songs of the peasants—popular ballads. But in this beautiful sonnet of Keats, where the lover wishes to be endowed with the immortality and likeness of a star only to be forever with the beloved, there is something of the old Greek thought which inspired the beautiful lines written between two and three thousand years ago, and translated by J.A. Symonds:
Gazing on stars, my Star? Would that I were the welkin, Starry with myriad eyes, ever to gave upon thee!
But there is more than the Greek beauty of thought in Keats's sonnet, for we find the poet speaking of the exterior universe in the largest relation, thinking of the stars watching forever the rising and the falling of the sea tides, thinking of the sea tides themselves as continually purifying the world, even as a priest purifies a temple. The fancy of the boy expands to the fancy of philosophy; it is a blending of poetry, philosophy, and sincere emotion.
You will have seen by the examples which we have been reading together that English love poetry, like Japanese love poetry, may be divided into many branches and classified according to the range of subject from the very simplest utterance of feeling up to that highest class expressing cosmic emotion. Very rich the subject is; the student is only puzzled where to choose. I should again suggest to you to observe the value of the theme of illusion, especially as illustrated in our examples. There are indeed multitudes of Western love poems that would probably appear to you very strange, perhaps very foolish. But you will certainly acknowledge that there are some varieties of English love poetry which are neither strange nor foolish, and which are well worth studying, not only in themselves but in their relation to the higher forms of emotional expression in all literature. Out of love poetry belonging to the highest class, much can be drawn that would serve to enrich and to give a new colour to your own literature of emotion.
THE IDEAL WOMAN IN ENGLISH POETRY
As I gave already in this class a lecture on the subject of love poetry, you will easily understand that the subject of the present lecture is not exactly love. It is rather about love's imagining of perfect character and perfect beauty. The part of it to which I think your attention could be deservedly given is that relating to the imagined wife of the future, for this is a subject little treated of in Eastern poetry. It is a very pretty subject. But in Japan and other countries of the East almost every young man knows beforehand whom he is likely to marry. Marriage is arranged by the family: it is a family matter, indeed a family duty and not a romantic pursuit. At one time, very long ago, in Europe, marriages were arranged in much the same way. But nowadays it may be said in general that no young man in England or America can even imagine whom he will marry. He has to find his wife for himself; and he has nobody to help him; and if he makes a mistake, so much the worse for him. So to Western imagination the wife of the future is a mystery, a romance, an anxiety—something to dream about and to write poetry about.
This little book that I hold in my hand is now very rare. It is out of print, but it is worth mentioning to you because it is the composition of an exquisite man of letters, Frederick Locker-Lampson, best of all nineteenth century writers of society verse. It is called "Patchwork." Many years ago the author kept a kind of journal in which he wrote down or copied all the most beautiful or most curious things which he had heard or which he had found in books. Only the best things remained, so the value of the book is his taste in selection. Whatever Locker-Lampson pronounced good, the world now knows to have been exactly what he pronounced, for his taste was very fine. And in this book I find a little poem quoted from Mr. Edwin Arnold, now Sir Edwin. Sir Edwin Arnold is now old and blind, and he has not been thought of kindly enough in Japan, because his work has not been sufficiently known. Some people have even said his writings did harm to Japan, but I want to assure you that such statements are stupid lies. On the contrary, he did for Japan whatever good the best of his talent as a poet and the best of his influence as a great journalist could enable him to do. But to come back to our subject: when Sir Edwin was a young student he had his dreams about marriage like other young English students, and he put one of them into verse, and that verse was at once picked out by Frederick Locker-Lampson for his little book of gems. Half a century has passed since then; but Locker-Lampson's judgment remains good, and I am going to put this little poem first because it so well illustrates the subject of the lecture. It is entitled "A Ma Future."
Where waitest thou, Lady, I am to love? Thou comest not, Thou knowest of my sad and lonely lot— I looked for thee ere now!
It is the May, And each sweet sister soul hath found its brother, Only we two seek fondly each the other, And seeking still delay.
Where art thou, sweet? I long for thee as thirsty lips for streams, O gentle promised angel of my dreams, Why do we never meet?
Thou art as I, Thy soul doth wait for mine as mine for thee; We cannot live apart, must meeting be Never before we die?
Dear Soul, not so, For time doth keep for us some happy years, And God hath portioned us our smiles and tears, Thou knowest, and I know.
Therefore I bear This winter-tide as bravely as I may, Patiently waiting for the bright spring day That cometh with thee, Dear.
'Tis the May light That crimsons all the quiet college gloom, May it shine softly in thy sleeping room, And so, dear wife, good night!
This is, of course, addressed to the spirit of the unknown future wife. It is pretty, though it is only the work of a young student. But some one hundred years before, another student—a very great student, Richard Crashaw,—had a fancy of the same kind, and made verses about it which are famous. You will find parts of his poem about the imaginary wife in the ordinary anthologies, but not all of it, for it is very long. I will quote those verses which seem to me the best.
Whoe'er she be, That not impossible She, That shall command my heart and me;
Where'er she lie, Locked up from mortal eye, In shady leaves of Destiny;
Till that ripe birth Of studied Fate stand forth, And teach her fair steps to our earth;
Till that divine Idea take a shrine Of crystal flesh, through which to shine;
Meet you her, my wishes, Bespeak her to my blisses, And be ye called my absent kisses.
The poet is supposing that the girl whom he is to marry may not as yet even have been born, for though men in the world of scholarship can marry only late in life, the wife is generally quite young. Marriage is far away in the future for the student, therefore these fancies. What he means to say in short is about like this:
"Oh, my wishes, go out of my heart and look for the being whom I am destined to marry—find the soul of her, whether born or yet unborn, and tell that soul of the love that is waiting for it." Then he tries to describe the imagined woman he hopes to find:
I wish her beauty That owes not all its duty To gaudy 'tire or glist'ring shoe-tie.
Something more than Taffeta or tissue can; Or rampant feather, or rich fan.
More than the spoil Of shop or silk worm's toil, Or a bought blush, or a set smile.
A face that's best By its own beauty drest And can alone command the rest.
A face made up Out of no other shop Than what nature's white hand sets ope.
A cheek where grows More than a morning rose Which to no box his being owes.
* * * * *
Eyes that displace The neighbor diamond and outface That sunshine by their own sweet grace.
Tresses that wear Jewels, but to declare How much themselves more precious are.
Smiles, that can warm The blood, yet teach a charm That chastity shall take no harm.
* * * * *
Life, that dares send A challenge to his end, And when it comes, say "Welcome, friend!"
There is much more, but the best of the thoughts are here. They are not exactly new thoughts, nor strange thoughts, but they are finely expressed in a strong and simple way.
There is another composition on the same subject—the imaginary spouse, the destined one. But this is written by a woman, Christina Rossetti.
SOMEWHERE OR OTHER
Somewhere or other there must surely be The face not seen, the voice not heard, The heart that not yet—never yet—ah me! Made answer to my word.
Somewhere or other, may be near or far; Past land and sea, clean out of sight; Beyond the wondering moon, beyond the star That tracks her night by night.
Somewhere or other, may be far or near; With just a wall, a hedge between; With just the last leaves of the dying year, Fallen on a turf grown green.
And that turf means of course the turf of a grave in the churchyard. This poem expresses fear that the destined one never can be met, because death may come before the meeting time. All through the poem there is the suggestion of an old belief that for every man and for every woman there must be a mate, yet that it is a chance whether the mate will ever be found.
You observe that all of these are ghostly poems, whether prospective or retrospective. Here is another prospective poem:
Somewhere beneath the sun, These quivering heart-strings prove it, Somewhere there must be one Made for this soul, to move it; Someone that hides her sweetness From neighbors whom she slights, Nor can attain completeness, Nor give her heart its rights; Someone whom I could court With no great change of manner, Still holding reason's fort Though waving fancy's banner; A lady, not so queenly As to disdain my hand, Yet born to smile serenely Like those that rule the land; Noble, but not too proud; With soft hair simply folded, And bright face crescent-browed And throat by Muses moulded;
Keen lips, that shape soft sayings Like crystals of the snow, With pretty half-betrayings Of things one may not know; Fair hand, whose touches thrill, Like golden rod of wonder, Which Hermes wields at will Spirit and flesh to sunder. Forth, Love, and find this maid, Wherever she be hidden; Speak, Love, be not afraid, But plead as thou art bidden; And say, that he who taught thee His yearning want and pain, Too dearly dearly bought thee To part with thee in vain.
These lines are by the author of that exquisite little book "Ionica"—a book about which I hope to talk to you in another lecture. His real name was William Cory, and he was long the head-master of an English public school, during which time he composed and published anonymously the charming verses which have made him famous—modelling his best work in close imitation of the Greek poets. A few expressions in these lines need explanation. For instance, the allusion to Hermes and his rod. I think you know that Hermes is the Greek name of the same god whom the Romans called Mercury,—commonly represented as a beautiful young man, naked and running quickly, having wings attached to the sandals upon his feet. Runners used to pray to him for skill in winning foot races. But this god had many forms and many attributes, and one of his supposed duties was to bring the souls of the dead into the presence of the king of Hades. So you will see some pictures of him standing before the throne of the king of the Dead, and behind him a long procession of shuddering ghosts. He is nearly always pictured as holding in his hands a strange sceptre called the caduceus, a short staff about which two little serpents are coiled, and at the top of which is a tiny pair of wings. This is the golden rod referred to by the poet; when Hermes touched anybody with it, the soul of the person touched was obliged immediately to leave the body and follow after him. So it is a very beautiful stroke of art in this poem to represent the touch of the hand of great love as having the magical power of the golden rod of Hermes. It is as if the poet were to say: "Should she but touch me, I know that my spirit would leap out of my body and follow after her." Then there is the expression "crescent-browed." It means only having beautifully curved eyebrows—arched eyebrows being considered particularly beautiful in Western countries.