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An essay by Israel Zangwill

Love In Life And Literature

Title:     Love In Life And Literature
Author: Israel Zangwill [More Titles by Zangwill]

Love! Love! Love! The air is full of it as I write, though the autumn leaves are falling. Shakespeare's immortal love-poem is playing amid the cynicism of modern London, like that famous fountain of Dickens's in the Temple gardens. The "largest circulation" has barely ceased to flutter the middle-class breakfast-table with discussions on "the Age of Love" and Little Billee and Trilby--America's "Romeo and Juliet"--loom large at the Haymarket. Mr. T. P. O'Connor, forgetting even Napoleon, his King Charles's head, is ruling high at the libraries with _rechauffes_ of "Some Old Love Stories," and the "way of a man with a maid" is still the unfailing topic of books and plays. One would almost think that Coleridge was to be taken "at the foot of the letter"--

All thoughts, all passions, all delights
Whatever stirs this mortal frame,
All are but ministers of Love,
And feed his sacred flame.

But alas! suffer me to be as sceptical as Stevenson in "Virginibus Puerisque." In how many lives does Love really play a dominant part? The average taxpayer is no more capable of a "grand passion" than of a grand opera. "Man's love is of man's life a thing apart." Ay, my Lord Byron, but 'tis not "woman's whole existence," neither. Focussed in books or plays to a factitious unity, the rays are sadly scattered in life. Natheless Love remains an interest, an ideal, to all but the hopeless Gradgrinds. Many a sedate citizen's pulse will leap with Romeo's when Forbes-Robertson's eye first lights upon the Southern child "whose beauty hangs upon the cheek of night like a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear." Many a fashionable maid, with an eye for an establishment, will shed tears when Mrs. Patrick Campbell, martyr to unchaffering love, makes her quietus with a bare dagger.

For the traces left by Love in life are so numerous and diverse that even the cynic--which is often bad language for the unprejudiced observer--cannot quite doubt it away. There seems to be no other way of accounting for the facts. When you start learning a new language you always find yourself confronted with the verb "to love"--invariably the normal type of the first conjugation. In every language on earth the student may be heard declaring, with more zeal than discretion, that he and you and they and every other person, singular or plural, have loved, and do love, and will love. "To love" is the model verb, expressing the archetype of activity. Once you can love grammatically there is a world of things you may do without stumbling. For, strange to say, "to love," which in real life is associated with so much that is bizarre and violent, is always "regular" in grammar. Ancient and modern tongues tell the same tale--from Hebrew to street-Arabic, from Greek to the elephantine language that was "made in Germany." Not only is "to love" deficient in no language (as _home_ is deficient in French, and _Geist_ in English), but it is never even "defective." No mood or tense is ever wanting--a proof of how it has been conjugated in every mood and tense of life, in association with every variety of proper and improper noun, and every pronoun at all personal. Not merely have people loved unconditionally in every language, but there is none in which they would not have loved, or might not have loved, had circumstances permitted; none in which they have not been loved, or (for hope springs eternal in the human breast) have been about to be loved. Even woman has an Active Voice in the matter; indeed, "to love" is so perfect that, compared with it, "to marry" is quite irregular. For, while "to love" is sufficient for both sexes, directly you get to marriage you find in some languages that division has crept in, and that there is one word for the use of ladies and another for gentlemen only. Turning from the evidence enshrined in language to the records of history, the same truth meets us at any date we appoint. Everywhere "'T is love that makes the world go round." It is dizzying to think what would have happened if Eve had not accepted Adam. What could have attracted her if it was not love? Surely not his money, nor his family. For these she couldn't have cared a fig-leaf. Unfortunately, the daughters of Eve have not always taken after their mother. The statistics of crime and insanity testify eloquently to the reality of love, arithmetic teaching the same lesson as history and grammar. Consider, too, the piles of love at Mudie's! A million story-tellers in all periods and at all places cannot have all told stories, though they have all, alas! told the same story. They must have had mole-hills for their mountains, if not straw for their bricks. There are those who, with Bacon, consider love a variety of insanity; but it is more often merely a form of misunderstanding. When the misunderstanding is mutual, it may even lead to marriage. As a rule Beauty begets man's love, Power woman's. At least, so women tell me. But then, I am not beautiful. It must be said for the man that every lover is a species of Platonist--he identifies the Beautiful with the Good and the True. The woman's admiration has less of the ethical quality; she is dazzled, and too often feels, "If he be but true to me, what care I how false he be."

"The Stage is more beholding to Love than the life of man," says Bacon. The "Daily Telegraph" is perhaps even more "beholding" to it. The ingenuity with which this great organ raises the cloyless topic every silly season under another name, is beyond all praise. No conclusion will ever be arrived at, of course, because "Love" means a different thing with each correspondent, and it is difficult to lay down general truths about a relation that varies with each of the countless couples that have ever experienced it, or have fancied they experienced it. The set theme of a newspaper correspondence always reminds me of a nervous old lady crossing the roadway: she runs this way and that way, gets splashed by every passing wheel, jumps back, jumps forward again, finds temporary harbour on a crossing-stage under a lamp, darts sideways, and ends by arriving in another street altogether. So that the heading of a correspondence is scant guide as to what is being discussed under it; and no one would be surprised to find a recipe against baldness under the title of "The Age of Love." But then "The Age of Love" is an absurd and answerless question. Experience shows that all ages fall in love--and out again; so that, to quote the pithy Bacon again, "a man may have a quarrel to marry when he will." Octogenarians elope, and Mr. Gilbert's elderly baby died a _blase_ old _roue_ of five.

Romeo's passion was a second, not a first, love: he had already loved Rosaline. Juliet's first--and only--love came to her only eleven years after she had been weaned, "come Lammas." Save that the "Age of Love" may be said to be "Youth"--for Love aye rejuvenates--there is nothing to be said. Wherefore the German gentleman who protested against the _cliches_ of novel-writers in the matter of the eternity of passion was well within the wilderness of the subject. The _cliche_ metaphor, by the way, is itself becoming a _cliche_, so stereotyped do we grow in protesting against the stereotyped. Germans are, perhaps, not the best authorities on passion: they are too sentimental for love and too domestic for romance. Still, our German is justified in his complaint: the love-scenes in our novels and dramas correspond very little to human nature. In works of pure romance this is no drawback to artistic beauty; but in much modern work purporting to mirror contemporary life, the love-making has neither the beauty that springs from idealisation, nor that which springs from reality. Property-speeches and stock-sentiments still do duty for what really takes place in modern love-making. We have played with the traditional puppets so long that we have come to believe they are alive. They may have been alive once--when life was more elemental; they still exist, perchance, in those primitive conditions which are really the past surviving into the present. But in no field of human life is there greater need of fresh observation than in this of love. The ever-increasing subtlety and complexity of modern love have not yet found adequate registration and interpretation in art. Art always seems to me a magic mirror in which the shapes of the past are held long after they have passed away. The author of to-day looks not into his heart--but into the mirror--and writes. Primitive Love found its poet in Longus the Greek, with his "Daphnis and Chloe"; but who has given us Modern Love? Not Meredith himself, despite his sonnets; though "The Egoist" is a terrible analysis of a modern lover, as saddening as the "Modern Lover" of George Moore. The poets are ill guides to love. Their passions are half-fantastic, if not of imagination all compact. Shelley's "Epipsychidion" was the expression of a passing mood; Tennyson's "Come into the Garden, Maud," a lyric exaltation that must have died down when Maud appeared, and could in any case scarce have survived its fiftieth rewriting; Rossetti's interpretation of "The House of Life" is as purely individual as Patmore's "Angel in the House"; Swinburne sings of phantasms; we can no more take our poets for types of modern lovers than we can accept Dante or Petrarch as representatives of the mediaeval lover. These poets used their goddesses as mystic inspirers. Dante was not in love with Beatrice, the daughter of Portinari, but with his own imagination: she married Simone as he Gemma, and thus he was still able to worship her. The devotion of Petrarch to Laura did not prevent his having children by another lady. If we turn to modern prose-writers, we fail to find any really subtle treatment of Modern Love. Henry James himself shrinks from analysing it, even allusively and insinuatingly. Zola's handling of the love-theme is as primary as Pierre Loti's, for Zola has the eye for masses, not for individual subtleties. Tolstoi, informed by something of the rage of the old ascetics, is too iconoclast; Maupassant's stories sometimes suggest a cynicism as profound as Chamfort's or that old French poet's who wrote:

Femme, plaisir de demye heure,
Et ennuy qui sans fin demeure.

Ibsen is as idealistic as Strindberg is materialist. Shall we seek light in the modern lady-novelist, with her demand for phases of passion suited to every stage of existence? Shall we fall in with the agnosticism of John Davidson, and admit that no man has ever understood a woman, a man, or himself, and _vice versa_? 'T is seemingly the opinion of Nordau that, after the first flush of youth, we do but play "The Comedy of Sentiment," feigning and making believe to recapture

That first lyric rapture.

And his friend Auguste Dietrich writes:

Se faire vivement desirer et paraitre refuser alors ce qu'elle brule d'accorder ... voila la comedie que de tout temps ont jouee les femmes.

Not quite a fair analysis, this: like all cynicism, it is crude. Juliet for one did not play this comedy, though she was aware of the role.

Or, if thou think'st I am too quickly won,
I'll frown and be perverse and say thee nay,
So thou wilt woo.

Nor is it always comedy, even when played. Darwin, in his "Descent of Man," recognizes a real innate coyness, and that not merely of the female sex, which has been a great factor in improving the race. And, since we are come to the scientific standpoint, let it be admitted that marriage is a racial safeguard which does not exhaust the possibilities of romantic passion. Nature, as Schopenhauer would say, has over-baited the hook. Our capacities for romance are far in excess of the needs of the race: we have a surplus of emotion, and Satan finds mischievous vent for it. We are confronted with a curious dualism of soul and body, with two streams of tendency that will not always run parallel: _hinc illae lachrymae_. This it is that makes M. Bourget's "Cruel Enigme." Perhaps the ancients were wiser, with whom the woman had no right of choice, passing without will from father to husband. When the Romans evolved their concept of the marriage-contract between man and woman instead of between father and son-in-law, the trouble began. Emancipated woman developed soul and sentiment, and when Roman Law conquered the world, it spread everywhere the seeds of romance. Romance--the very etymology carries its history, for 't is only natural that the first love-stories should have been written in the language of Rome. Nor is it inapt that the typical lover should recall Rome by his name:

O, Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou. Romeo?

Romantic Love is the rose Evolution has grown on earthly soil. _Floreat!_ Strange that Nordau, in his "Conventional Lies of Civilisation," should echo this aspiration and gush over the Goethean _Wahlverwandtschaft_--the elective affinity of souls--almost with the rapture of a Platonist, conceiving love as the soul finding its pre-natal half. Surely, to his way of thinking, scientific selection were better for the race than such natural selection, especially as natural selection cannot operate in our complicated civilisation, where at every turn the poetry of life dashes itself against the dead wall of prose. The miracle has happened. Edwin loves Angelina, and by a strange coincidence Angelina also loves Edwin. But then come the countless questions of income, position, family. Adam and Eve were the only couple that started free from relatives. Else, perhaps, had their garden not been "Paradise." All later lovers have had to consult other people's tastes as well as their own, and there has probably never been a marriage that has pleased all parties unconcerned. And even when the course of true love runs smooth, do the lovers marry whom they were in love with? Alas! marriage is a parlous business: one loves one's ideal, but the beloved is always real. The wiser sort take a leaf out of Dante's book or Petrarch's, and retain their illusions. "The poets call it love--we doctors give it another name," says a kindly old character in one of Echegaray's comedies: "How is it cured? This very day with the aid of the priest; and so excellent a specific is this, that after a month's appliance, neither of the wedded pair retains a vestige of remembrance of the fatal sickness."

There is a kind of scientific selection in the intermarriage of persons of quality, which is at the bottom of their supposed superciliousness and disdain of trade, though blood does not infallibly produce breeding. There is the same tribal instinct in the aversion of Jews from exogamy, and it is this sort of scientific selection which is subconsciously going on when parents and guardians, sisters, cousins, and aunts, interfere with the "elective affinities." Money, too, is really a security for the due rearing of offspring. It is to be hoped there is a tear beneath the sneers of Sudermann's comedy, "Die Schmetterlingschlacht," for the sorrows of moneyless mothers with unmarriageable girls.

Doaen't thou marry for munny, but goae wheer munny is,

said Tennyson's Northern Farmer--a sentiment which was anticipated or plagiarised by Wendell Holmes as "Don't marry for money, but take care the girl you love has money." Few people may marry directly for money, or even for position, but few marriages are uncomplicated by considerations of money and position. Little wonder if

Love, light as air, at sight of human ties
Spreads his light wings and in a moment flies.

Lovers may thrust such thoughts into the background, but is not this wilful blindness as much "The Comedy of Sentiment" as that which supplies the theme of Nordau's novel? It weighed upon Walter Bagehot that "immortal souls" should have to think of tare and tret and the price of butter; but "sich is life"--prose and poetry intertangled. The cloud may have a silver lining, but clouds are not all silver. Wherefore Nordau's glorification of the love-match is curiously unscientific; it belongs to silver-cloudland; it might work among the birds of [Greek: Nephelo-kokkugia]. Loveless marriages may beget happiness, if not ecstacy; and love-matches may be neither for the interest of the individuals nor of the race. They serve, however, to feed Art, and one real love-match will justify a hundred novels and plays, just as one good ghost will supply a hundred ghost-stories. Considering how many dead people there are, the percentage of those permitted to play ghost is so infinitesimal as to be incredible _a priori_; nevertheless, how we snatch at the possibility of ghosts! Even so we like to connect love and marriage, two things naturally divorced, and to fancy that wedding bells are rung by Cupid. But, after all, what is love? In lawn-tennis it counts for nothing. In the dictionary it figures, _inter alia_, as "a kind of light silken stuff." And, as Dumas _fils_ sagely sums it up in "Le Demi-Monde": "Dans le mariage, quand l'amour existe, l'habitude le tue, et quand il n'existe pas elle le fait naitre."

[The end]
Israel Zangwill's essay: Love In Life And Literature