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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.




CHAPTER II

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


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