Page images

Truth, that's brighter than gem,

Trust, that's purer than pearl, Brightest truth, purest trust in the universe — all were for me

In the kiss of one girl.

Browning entitles the poem from which I am quoting Summum Bonum. The supreme good it would appear is identical with the supreme thrill.

I have already said enough to make clear that the title of this chapter and the last is in a way a misnomer. There is no such thing as romantic morality. The innovations in ethics that are due to romanticism reduce themselves on close scrutiny to a vast system of naturalistic camouflage. To understand how this camouflage has been so successful one needs to connect Rousseauism with the Baconian movement. Scientific progress had inspired man with a new confidence in himself at the same time that the positive and critical method by which it had been achieved detached him from the past and its traditional standards of good and evil. To break with tradition on sound lines one needs to apply the utmost keenness of analysis not merely to the natural but to the human law. But man's analytical powers were very much taken up with the new task of mastering the natural law, so much so that he seemed incapable of further analytical effort, but longed rather for relaxation from his sustained concentration of intellect and imagination on the physical order. At the same time he was so elated by the progress he was making in this order that he was inclined to assume a similar advance on the moral plane and to believe that this advance could also be achieved collectively. A collective salvation of this kind without any need of a concentration of the intellect and imagination is precisely what was opened

[ocr errors]

inculcatid by mirron

up to him by the Rousseauistic “ideal” of brotherhood. This "ideal,” as I have tried to show, was only a projection of the Arcadian imagination on the void. But in the abdication of analysis and critical judgment, which would have reduced it to a purely recreative rôle, this Arcadian dreaming was enabled to set up as a serious philosophy, and to expand into innumerable Utopias. Many who might have taken alarm at the humanitarian revolution in ethics were reassured by the very fervor

with which its promoters continued to utter the old words assumingo Rousseau himself on conscience, while in the very act of

, of course,

from an inner check into an to mot a expansive emotion. moral and We have seen that as a result of this transformation of

conscience, temperament is emancipated from both inner and outer control and that this emancipation tends in the real world to the rise of two main types — the Bohemian and the superman, both unprimitive, inasmuch as primitive man is governed not by temperament but by convention; and that what actually tends to prevail in such a temperamental world in view of the superior “hardness" of the superman, is the law of cunning and the law of force. So far as the Rousseauists set up the mere emancipation of temperament as a serious philosophy, they are to be held responsible for the results of this emancipation whether displayed in the lust of power or the lust of sensation. But the lust of power and the lust of sensation, such as they appear, for example, in the so-called realism of the later nineteenth century, are not in themselves identical with romanticism. Many of the realists, like Flaubert, as I have already pointed out, are simply bittes



and disillusioned Rousseauists who are expressing their nausea at the society that has actually arisen from the emancipation of temperament in themselves and others. The essence of Rousseauistic as of other romance, I may repeat, is to be found not in any mere fact, not even in the fact of sensation, but in a certain quality of the imagination. Rousseauism is, it is true, an emancipation of impulse, especially of the impulse of sex. Practically all the examples I have chosen of the tense and beautiful moment are erotic. But what one has even here, as the imagination grows increasingly romantic, is less the reality than the dream of the beautiful moment, an intensity that is achieved only in the tower of ivory. This point can be made clear only by a fuller study of the romantic conception of love.



[ocr errors]

What first strikes one in Rousseau's attitude towards love is the separation, even wider here perhaps than else where, between the ideal and the real. He dilates in the

Confessions" on the difference of the attachment that he felt when scarcely more than a boy for two young women of Geneva, Mademoiselle Vulson and Mademoiselle Goton. His attachment for the latter was real in & sense that Zola would have understood. His attachment for Mademoiselle Vulson reminds one rather of that of a mediæval knight for his lady. The same contrast runs through Rousseau's life. “Seamstresses, chambermaids, shop-girls," he


"attracted me very little. I had to have fine ladies.” 1 So much for the ideal; the real was Thérèse Levasseur.

We are not to suppose that Rousseau's love even when most ideal is really exalted above the fleshly level. Byron indeed says of Rousseau that “his was not the love of living dame but of ideal beauty,” and if this were strictly true Rousseau might be accounted a Platonist. But any particular beautiful object is for Plato only a symbol or adumbration of a supersensuous beauty; so that an earthly love can be at best only a stepping-stone to the Uranian Aphrodite. The terrestrial and the heavenly loves are not in short run together, whereas the essence of Rousseauistic love is this very blending. “Rousseau,”

Confessions, Livre iv.

says Joubert, “had a voluptuous mind. In his writings the soul is always mingled with the body and never distinct from it. No one has ever rendered more vividly the impression of the flesh touching the spirit and the delights of their marriage.” I need not, however, repeat here what I have said elsewhere 1 about this confusion of the planes of being, perhaps the most important aspect of romantic love.

Though Rousseau is not a true Platonist in his treatment of love, he does, as I have said, recall at times the cult of the mediæval knight for his lady. One may even find in mediæval love something that is remotely related to Rousseau's contrast between the ideal and the actual; for in its attitude towards woman as in other respects the Middle Ages tended to be extreme. Woman is either depressed below the human level as the favorite instrument of the devil in man's temptation (mulier hominis confusio), or else exalted above this level as the mother of God. The figure of Mary blends sense and spirit in a way that is foreign to Plato and the ancients. As Heine says very profanely, the Virgin was a sort of heavenly dame du comptoir whose celestial smile drew the northern barbarians into the Church. Sense was thus pressed into the service of spirit at the risk of a perilous confusion. The chivalric cult of the lady has obvious points of contact with the worship of the Madonna. The knight who is raised from one height of perfection to another by the light of his lady's eyes is also pressing sense into the service of spirit with the same risk that the process may be reversed. The reversal actually takes place in Rousseau and his followers: spirit is pressed into the service of

1 The New Laokoon, ch. v.

« PreviousContinue »