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Love In Life And Literature
by [?]

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.”