« PreviousContinue »
sense in such wise as to give to sense a sort of infinitude. Baudelaire pays his homage to a Parisian grisette in the form of a Latin canticle to the Virgin. The perversion of mediæval love is equally though not quite so obviously present in many other Rousseauists.
I have said that the Middle Ages inclined to the extreme; mediæval writers are, however, fond of insisting on "measure”; and this is almost inevitable in view of the large amount of classical, especially Aristotelian, survival throughout this period. But the two distinctively mediæval types, the saint and the knight, are neither of them mediators. They stand, however, on an entirely different footing as regards the law of measure. Not even Aristotle himself would maintain that the law of measure applies to saintliness, and in general to the religious realm. The saint in so far as he is saintly has undergone conversion, has in the literal sense of the word faced around and is looking in an entirely different direction from that to which the warnings "nothing too much” and “think as a mortal" apply. Very different psychic elements may indeed appear in any particular saint. A book has been published recently on the "Romanticism of St. Francis." The truth seems to be that though St. Francis had his romantic side, he was even more religious than romantic. One may affirm with some confidence of another mediæval figure, Peter the Hermit, that he was, on the other hand, much more romantic than religious. For all the information we have tends to show that he was a very restless person and a man's restlessness is ordinarily in inverse ratio to his religion. If the saint transcends in a way the law of measure,
1 Franciscae meae laudes, in Les Fleurs du mal.
the knight on the other hand should be subject to it. For courage and the love of woman - his main interests in life – belong not to the religious but to the secular realm. But in his conception of love and courage the knight was plainly not a mediator but an extremist: he was haunted by the idea of adventure, of a love and courage that transcend the bounds not merely of the probable but of the possible. His imagination is romantic in the sense I have tried to define - it is straining, that is, beyond the confines of the real. Ruskin's violent diatribe against Cervantes for having killed “idealism” by his ridicule of these knightly exaggerations, is in itself absurd, but interesting as evidence of the quality of Ruskin's own imagination. Like other romanticists I have cited, he seems to have been not unaware of his own kinship to Don Quixote. The very truth about either the mediæval or modern forms of romantic love-love which is on the secular level and at the same time sets itself above the law of measure-was uttered by Dr. Johnson in his comment on the heroic plays of Dryden: “By admitting the romantic omnipotence of love he has recommended as laudable and worthy of imitation that conduct which through all ages the good have censured as vicious and the bad have despised as foolish.”
The man of the Middle Ages, however extravagant in his imaginings, was often no doubt terrestrial enough in his practice. The troubadour who addressed his highflown fancies to some fair châtelaine (usually a married
'Architecture and Painting, Lecture 11. This diatribe may have been suggested by Byron's Don Juan, Canto XIII, IX-XI:
Cervantes smiled Spain's chivalry away:
woman) often had relations in real life not unlike those of Rousseau with Thérèse Levasseur. Some such contrast indeed between the" ideal” and the “real” existed in the life of one of Rousseau's favorite poets, Petrarch. The lover may, however, run together the ideal and the real. He may glorify some comparatively commonplace person, crown as queen of his heart some Dulcinea del Toboso. Hazlitt employs appropriately in describing his own passion for the vulgar daughter of a London boarding-house keeper the very words of Cervantes: “He had courted a statue, hunted the wind, cried aloud to the desert.” Hazlitt like other lovers of this type is in love not with a particular person but with his own dream. He is as one may say in love with love. No subject indeed illustrates like this of love the nostalgia, the infinite indeterminate desire of the romantic imagination. Some thing of this diffusive longing no doubt came into the world with Christianity. There is a wide gap between the sentence of St. Augustine that Shelley has taken as epigraph for his “Alastor"i and the spirit of the great Greek and Roman classics. Yet such is the abiding vitality of Greek mythology that one finds in Greece perhaps the best symbol of the romantic lover. Rousseau could not fail to be attracted by the story of Pygmalion and Galatea. His lyrical “monodrama" in poetical prose, "Pygmalion,” is important not only for its literary but for its musical influence. The Germans in particular (including the youthful Goethe) were fascinated. To the mature Goethe Rousseau's account of the sculptor who became enamored of his own creation and breathed into
1 “Nondum amabam, et amare amabam, quærebam quid amarem, amans amare."
actual life by the sheer intensity of his desire seemed a delirious confusion of the planes of being, an attempt to drag ideal beauty down to the level of sensuous realization. But a passion thus conceived exactly satisfies the romantic requirement. For though the romanticist wishes to abandon himself to the rapture of love, he does not wish to transcend his own ego. The object with which Pygmalion is in love is after all only a projection of his own "genius.” But such an object is not in any proper sense an object at all. There is in fact no object in the romantic universe — only subject. This subjective love amounts in practice to a use of the imagination to enhance emotional intoxication, or if one prefers, to the pursuit of illusion for its own sake.
This lack of definite object appears just as clearly in the German symbol of romantic love — the blue flower. The blue flower resolves itself at last, it will be remembered, into a fair feminine facel - a face that cannot, however, be overtaken. The color typifies the blue distance in which it always loses itself, “the never-ending quest after the ever-fleeting object of desire.” The object is thus elusive because, as I have said, it is not, properly speaking, an object at all but only a dalliance of the imagination with its own dream. Cats, says Rivarol, do not caress us, they caress themselves upon us. But though cats may suffer from what the new realist calls the egocentric predicament, they can scarcely vie in the subtle involutions of their egoism with the romantic lover. 1 Cf. Shelley's Alastor:
Besides creating the symbol of the blue flower, Novalis treats romantic love in his unfinished tale “The Disciples at Sais.” He contemplated two endings to this tale — in the one, when the disciple lifts the veil of the inmost sanctuary of the temple at Saīs, Rosenblütchen (the equivalent of the blue flower) falls into his arms. In the second version what he sees when he lifts the mysterious veil is “wonder of wonders — himself." The two endings are in substance the same.
The story of Novalis's attachment for a fourteen-yearold girl, Sophie von Kühn, and of his plans on her death for a truly romantic suicide - a swooning away into the
a night - and then of the suddenness with which he transferred his dream to another maiden, Julie von Charpentier, is familiar. If Sophie had lived and Novalis had lived and they had wedded, he might conceivably have made her a faithful husband, but she would no longer have been the blue flower, the ideal. For one's love is for something infinitely remote; it is as Shelley says, in what is perhaps the most perfect expression of romantic longing:
The desire of the moth for the star,
Of the night for the morrow,
From the sphere of our sorrow.
The romantic lover often feigns in explanation of his nostalgia that in some previous existence he had been enamored of a nymph - an Egeria
or a woman transcending the ordinary mould — “some Lilith or Helen or