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HISTORY OF AN IDEA
"Love is always the same. As Sappho loved, fifty years ago, so did people love ages before her; so will they love thousands of years hence."
THESE words, placed by Professor Ebers in the mouth of one of the characters in his historic novel, An Egyptian Princess, express the prevalent opinion on this subject, an opinion which I, too, shared fifteen years ago. Though an ardent champion of the theory of evolution, I believed that there was one thing in the world to which modern scientific ideas of gradual development did not apply that love was too much part and parcel of human nature to have ever been different from what it is to-day.
ORIGIN OF A BOOK
It so happened that I began to collect notes for a paper on "How to Cure Love." It was at first intended merely as a personal experiment in emotional psychology. Afterward it occurred to me that such a sketch might be shaped into a readable magazine article. This, again, suggested a complementary article on "How to Win Love"-a sort of modern Ovid in prose; and then suddenly came the thought, "Why not write a book on love? There is none in the English language-strange anomaly-though love is supposed to be the most fascinating and influential thing in the world. It will
surely be received with delight, especially if I associate with it some chapters on personal beauty, the chief inspirer of love. I shall begin by showing that the ancient Greeks and Romans and Hebrews loved precisely as we love." Forthwith I took down from my shelves the classical authors that I had not touched since leaving college, and eagerly searched for all references to women, marriage, and love. To my growing surprise and amazement I found that not only did those ancient authors look upon women as inferior beings while I worshipped them, but in their descriptions of the symptoms of love I looked in vain for mention of those supersensual emotions and selfsacrificing impulses which overcame me when I was in love. "Can it be," I whispered to myself, "that, notwithstanding the universal opinion to the contrary, love is, after all, subject to the laws of development?"
This hypothesis threw me into a fever of excitement, without the stimulus of which I do not believe I should have had the courage and patience to collect, classify, and weave into one fabric the enormous number of facts and opinions contained within the covers of Romantic Love and Personal Beauty. I believed that at last something new under the sun had been found, and I was so much afraid that the discovery might leak out prematurely, that for two years I kept the first half of my title a secret, telling inquisitive friends merely that I was writing a book on Personal Beauty. And no one but an author who is in love with his theme and whose theme is love can quite realize what a supreme delight it was-with occasional moments of anxious suspense-to go through thousands of books in the libraries of America, England, France, and Germany and find that all discoverable facts, properly interpreted, bore out my seemingly paradoxical and reckless theory.
When the book appeared some of the critics accepted my conclusions, but a larger number pooh-poohed them. Here are a few specimen comments:
"His great theses are, first, that romantic love is an entirely modern invention; and, secondly, that romantic love
and conjugal love are two things essentially different. Now both these theses are luckily false."
"He is wrong when he says there was no such thing as prematrimonial love known to the ancients."
"I don't believe in his theory at all, and
is likely to believe in it after candid examination."
"A ridiculous theory."
"It was a misfortune when Mr. Finck ran afoul of this theory."
“Mr. Finck will not need to live many years in order to be ashamed of it."
"His thesis is not worth writing about."
"It is true that he has uttered a profoundly original thought, but, unfortunately, the depth of its originality is surpassed by its fathomless stupidity."
"If in the light of these and a million other facts, we should undertake to explain why nobody had anticipated Mr. Finck's theory that love is a modern sentiment, we should say it might be because nobody who felt inspired to write about it was ever so extensively unacquainted with the literature of the human passions."
"Romantic love has always existed, in every clime and age, since man left simian society; and the records of travellers show that it is to be found even among the lowest savages."
While not a few of the commentators thus rejected or ridiculed my thesis, others hinted that I had been anticipated. Several suggested that Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy had been my model. As a matter of fact, although one of the critics referred to my book as "a marvel of epitomized research,” I must confess, to my shame, that I was not aware that Burton had devoted two hundred pages to what he calls LoveMelancholy, until I had finished the first sketch of my manuscript and commenced to rewrite it. My experience thus furnished a striking verification of the witty epitaph which Burton wrote for himself and his book: "Known to few, unknown to fewer still." However, after reading Burton, I was surprised that any reader of Burton should have found anything in common between his book and mine, for he treated love as an appetite, I as a sentiment; my subject was pure,
supersensual affection, while his subject is frankly indicated in the following sentences:
"I come at last to that heroical love, which is proper to men and women and deserves much rather to be called burning lust than by such an honorable title." "This burning lust begets rapes, incests, murders." "It rages with all sorts and conditions of men, yet is most evident among such as are young and lusty, in the flower of their years, nobly descended, high fed, such as live idly, at ease, and for that cause (which our divines call burning lust) this mad and beastly passion . . . is named by our physicians heroical love, and a more honorable title put upon it, Amor nobilis, as Savonarola styles it, because noble men and women make a common practice of it, and are so ordinarily affected with it." "Carolus à Lorme makes a doubt whether this heroical love be a disease. . Tully. . . . defines it a furious disease of the mind; Plato madness itself." "Gordonius calls this disease the proper passion of nobility." "This heroical passion or rather brutish burning lust of which we treat."
The only honorable love Burton knows is that between husband and wife, while of such a thing as the evolution of love he had, of course, not the remotest conception, as his book appeared in 1621, or two hundred and thirty-eight years before Darwin's Origin of Species.
HEGEL ON GREEK LOVE
In a review of my book which appeared in the now defunct New York Star, the late George Parsons Lathrop wrote that the author says that romantic love is a modern sentiment, less than a thousand years old. This idea, I rather think, he derived from Hegel, although he does not credit that philosopher with it." I read this criticism with mingled emotions. If it was true that Hegel had anticipated me, my claims to priority of discovery would vanish, even though the idea had come to me spontaneously; but, on the other hand, the disappointment at this thought was neutralized by the reflection that I should gain the support of one of the most famous philosophers, and share with him the sneers and the ridicule bestowed upon my theory. I wrote to Mr. Lathrop, begging
him to refer me to the volume and page of Hegel's numerous works where I could find the passage in question. He promptly replied that I should find it in the second volume of the Aesthetik (178-182). No doubt I ought to have known that Hegel had written on this subject; but the fact that of more than two hundred American, English, and German reviewers of my book whose notices I have seen, only one knew what had thus escaped my research, consoled me somewhat. Hegel, indeed, might well have copied Burton's epitaph. His Aesthetik is an abstruse, unindexed, three-volume work of 1,575 pages, which has not been reprinted since 1843, and is practically forgotten. Few know it, though all know of it.
After perusing Hegel's pages on this topic I found, however, that Mr. Lathrop had imputed to him a theory-my theory-which that philosopher would have doubtless repudiated emphatically. What Hegel does is simply to call attention to the fact that in the literature of the ancient Greeks and Romans love is depicted only as a transient gratification of the senses, or a consuming heat of the blood, and not as a romantic, sentimental affection of the soul. He does not generalize, says nothing about other ancient nations,1 and certainly never dreamt of such a thing as asserting that love had been gradually and slowly developed from the coarse and selfish passions of our savage ancestors to the refined and altruistic feelings of modern civilized men and women. He lived long before the days of scientific anthropology and Darwinism, and never thought of such a thing as looking upon the emotions and morals of primitive men as the raw material out of which our own superior minds have been fashioned. Nay, Hegel does not even say that sentimental love did not exist in the life of the Greeks and Romans; he simply asserts that it is not to be found in their literature. The two things are by no means identical.
Professor Rohde, an authority on the erotic writings of the
Albrecht Weber and other German scholars, while practically agreeing with Hegel regarding the Greeks and Romans, claim that the amorous poetry of the ancient Hindoo has the sentimental qualities of modern European verse.