« AnteriorContinuar »
of at least half the birds whose voices were then all music, has degenerated into a mere chirp; but most of all we smile, because that bright being whose brow was garnished with a glory-at whose feet we would have laid the accumulated treasures of the whole world had we possessed them—the idol whom irreligiously we had placed upon the high altar of the soul, has stepped down from that exalted pedestal, and passing forth into the world endowed only with the customary functions of humanity, has mixed in the common avocations of life, and become
“An eating, drinking, bargain-making man.” Or if after such a retrospection, perchance we sigh, it is not so much with any positive regret, as with a vague sense of some indefinite loss—a mere illusion-a false colouring-a deceitful tone-an evanescent charm which owed its existence to the infatuation of the mind, and yet we sigh; because not the longest period of man's natural life, not the rapid and entire success of all our schemes, not the riches of prosperity poured into our lap, around our feet, and even beyond the circle of our hopes, can restore what is lost to us, when we are driven to the conviction that we can love no more. It was an idle phantasy, we tell ourselves in after lise, and we join in the ridicule that reprobates this foolish passion; but would we not give all that time and tears have purchased for us, to sit again in the bright sunshine, to look round upon the fields and the woods, to listen to the singing of the birds, and without the exciteinent of art, or the aid of borrowed attributes, to feel each individual moment sufficient in its fulness of felicity to lull the memory of the past, and soothe down the anxieties of the future, concentrating into one point of present time, all that we spend after years in search of, and realizing without purchase, and without sacrifice, in one single isolated particle of
blissful experience, the happiness for which countless myriads are pining in vain.
It is a strong proof of the poetical character of love, that all the contempt, and all the ridicule it meets with in the world, are unable to deprive it of the legitimate place which it holds in the popular works of our best authors. Caleb Williams is the only novel that occurs to me, in which the interest of the story is in no way connected with love. The author has supplied this deficiency, by conducting the reader through his pages with an intensity of anxiety, scarcely equalled elsewhere; but well as this story is penned, we arrive in the end at the unsatisfactory conviction, that we have been reading an uncongenial, hard, bad book, the whole tenor of which is in direct opposition to the good providence of God. It may be remarked, in connexion with the same fact, that Sir Walter Scott after he had spell-bound the public by the easy natural flow of his first poems, tried his skill upon the battle of Waterloo, and produced one which it is difficult to read, though the same master hand is there. He has since atoned for this want of fealty to the tender passion, by the most delicate and judicious distribution of it through the whole of his novels, where we find always enough, and (what is saying a great deal for the writer) never too much. At the same time however that love forms an essential part in our popular works of fiction, it seems to be inconsistent with the genius of the English nation, to make it the entire, or even the leading subject of any particular work. Richardson approaches the nearest to this extreme, but his novels are more remarkable in this day, for presenting minute descriptions of human character, of the social habits and customs of the times in which he lived, than as dissertations upon love. Miss Porter, kind as she is in mating all her characters, and marching them off the stage in couples, gives us battles innumerable, with lively exhibitions of valour, patriotism, and various
other passions good and evil, among which her love scenes form a very small, and certainly part. And Miss Edgeworth, “ the great enchantress,' who manages love with more tact, and often with exquisite pathos, introduces it always with due subserviency to that substantial, sound moral, which to the honour of her sex and the benefit of her fellow-creatures, she makes the chief object of her clear, well regulated, and comprehensive mind.
We have no work in our language which bears any resemblance to the Sorrows of Werter or to Corinne, each admirable in their way, and far above the praise of an ordinary pen. No Englishman could possibly have written either. He could not have resigned himself so entirely to any subject of a tender and evanescent nature, as to have studied it metaphysically. The spirit of sarcasm is so predominant in the English constitution, that he would have laughed at his work before it was half completed, and the other half would have remained unfinished, for fear of bringing upon himself the contempt of his friends, and the sneers of his enemies. The loves of Black-eyed Susan, Will Watch, and Roderick Random, are more pleasing to John Bull; because such is his extreme sensitiveness on the score of ridicule, that as soon as the fatal smile appears, love, such as it is in these and similar productions, can be dismissed altogether as a joke, and no more need be said or done about it. But to be convicted of sentimentality-to be detected in the act of exhibiting or infusing, pathos, would be a dilemma as unprecedented, as insupportable to that powerful stubborn genius, the grand aim of whose life is never to commit himself; and that man is unquestionable committed--committed beyond the power of redemption, who writes a book about love.' Still even to critics--to John Bull, who on the score of noncommitment, constitutes himself the chief of critics, love must be allowed to have the power of developing
human character beyond what is possessed by any other passion, sentiment, or feeling.
There is a class of beings so numerous that they form a very important, and in many respects a very useful part of society, who can listen to the most enchanting music, with ears, and thoughts, and memory alive only to the sound of individual notes, imprinting them separately upon the tablet of their minds, in order that they may be carried home, pricked down upon paper, and played upon their own pianos; or who on beholding the finest specimens of ancient painting, or sculpture, immediately-before they have had time to take in the whole view, snatch out the ready sketch-book, and with that energy which men exhibit in associating themselves and their own powers with all that they admire, apply the busy pencil to the outline, in order that they may exhibit to their wondering friends a pattern of the colouring of the ancients, of a Roman sandal, or a Grecian nose. Even by this class of beings, the most impervious to the tender passion, love must be acknowledged to be a fine study, because it draws forth the capabilities of the human mind, and brings forward its leading features into a strong light.
The first effect which love produces upon the imagination is that of exalting or ennobling its object, and upon the principle of adaptation, it consequently extends a similar influence over the mind where it exists. Under favourable circumstances, and before it reaches the crisis of its fate, it has a natural tendency to smooth down the asperities of the temper, to soften the manners, and to diffuse a general feeling of cheerfulness and good will even beyond the sphere of its immediate object. But under circumstances of an opposite description, love is remarkable for exhibiting in its train all the evil and frailty which belong io our nature. We are seldom betrayed by any other passion to throw aside entirely that veil, beyond which pride conceals her hidden store of private faults and follies.
But love is stronger than pride ; and it is besides so absorbing in its nature, that we are apt to forget while devoting ourselves to one object, the figure we are exhibiting to the eyes of the world, the secrets we are disclosing, and the open revelation we are making of our 6 heart of hearts.”
“Love," says a popular and powerful writer, " is a very noble and exalting sentiment in its first germ and principle. We never loved without arraying the object in all the glories of moral as well as physical perfection, and deriving a kind of dignity to ourselves from our capacity of admiring a creature so excellent and dignified ; but this lavish and magnificent prodigality of the imagination often leaves the heart a bankrupt. Love in its iron age of disappointment becomes very degraded-it submits to be satisfied with merely external indulgences—a look—a touch of the hand, though occurring by accident-a kind word, though ultered almost unconsciously, suffices for its humble existence. In its first state, it is like man before the fall, inhaling the odours of paradise, and enjoying the communion of the Deity ; in the latter, it is like the same being toiling amid the briar and the thistle, barely to maintain a squalid existence, without enjoyment, utility, or loveliness."
Shakespeare has done little towards giving dignity to this passion, though he seems to have been intimately acquainted with its influence upon the human mind. The reason is obvious. Love is a familiar feeling, associating itself with mankind in their daily walk, and entering into the ordinary and domestic scenes of life; it therefore speaks in a language simple and familiar, scarcely admitting of poetical ornament, except in memory or imagination, and as the drama compels all persons to speak for themselves, almost exclusively from the impulse of the moment, they can only speak of love in the colloquial language of the day, which language changing with the tastes and