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The Poetry of First Love - The Highest Form of Love - Flirtations - People Who Never
Know the True Sentiment of Love - False Hopes
So many different sentiments pass under the name of love that in writing on the subject one ought to start with a definition demonstrating the kind which one is about to study. Even highest love, that attraction of spirit, soul, and body which not all of us are capable of feeling, has its own varieties. Tennyson put it very beautifully in his well-known lines :
"Love took up the harp of life, and held it in his glowing hands, Touched the chord of self, which, trembling, passed in music out of sight."
Not every kind of love is selfless, though many a man and many a girl have felt themselves translated in thought and feeling to a higher, purer atmosphere than that in which their previous lives had been passed.
Very often the early love, sometimes ignobly called calf-love, is a very beautiful and charming sentiment, especially when felt by a lad in his teens for a woman of mature years. He idealises her, he finds in her all of which he had dreamed, all that he had fancied in his thoughts about womanhood. He asks nothing but permission to adore her in silence. If she be a good woman, she is an education, of ten a protection to him at this time of his life. The glow soon fades, but the influence of a pure and uplifting sentiment remains. How many men and women have married their first love ? But a small proportion, one fancies. There is nothing practical, nothing worldly, nothing mercenary, nothing selfish about this early preface to the dawn of true and lasting love. The young things think parents harsh and cruel if their worldly wisdom prevents their consenting to a rash and foolish marriage. These episodes of youth are but as the rosy clouds that preface the rising of the sun. They seldom last long; rarely do they result in marriage, and when they do, a life of mutual misery is almost invariably the consequence.
The truth is that the ideal of love is defaced in many of us by the handling that the tender passion receives at the hands of the unsympathetic. It is a common subject for jest or teasing joke. The girl who feels her whole heart sweetened, purified, exalted by the feeling she entertains towards her young lover is disgusted and horrified when some common-place friend makes tactless observations upon what she regards as sacred. In the same way a young man receives with hidden indignation many of the remarks made in jest by tactless friends.
Flirtation is the name given to many of these youthful episodes. Flirtation may be absolutely apart from any deeper feeling - in fact, it is usually regarded as a pleasant sort of social intercourse, and sometimes it leads to a true and lasting affection. But novel reading and a study of the poets may have misled many a girl. Otherwise ignorant of the nature of that overpowering passion, which is the highest form of love, when she meets a pleasant man, talks and laughs with him, she wonders if he can be the one whom destiny has intended for her. And with this underlying thought, she may be gradually led to suppose herself in love with him. This is often a fatal mistake, due partly to gratified vanity. She is pleased with his attentions, flattered by the fact that he has singled her out among the girls of her acquaintance, and attracted by the social halo, so to speak, that surrounds a girl who is engaged.
A Girl's Awakening Mind
Later on may come the true feeling, the all-overpowering rush of sentiment of which she has had no idea. Mothers are shy of talking of these subjects to their girls. Women who have loved and married are, as a rule, averse from discussing the feelings that in the retrospect surprise them.. They may even have forgotten the force with which their whole being was attacked and conquered by the tyrannous onslaught
Consequently girls grow up in ignorance of what lies before most of them.
The fact is, that an affection conceived in the early years of life, say, between seventeen and twenty, twenty-two, perhaps, in some cases even later, is due to immaturity of character. During some years after leaving school character forms rapidly. The girl at home begins to find out her own individuality, to discover what she has in common with other girls, to perceive that there are thoughts, feelings, ideas particular to herself.
To make one's own acquaintance is an absorbingly interesting business. It is not done in a day. Some of us have not accomplished it completely even at sixty years. There are depths of personality deep enough to keep surprises for us all our lives. But at twenty-three or twenty-four a girl is probably sufficiently developed to be able to form and retain convictions arrived at by herself. She has passed the season of parental or scholastic moulding. She stands separate, alone, an entity by herself. She begins to realise her personality, and to discover that circumstances are not meant to overcome human beings, but that human beings are intended to weld circumstances to the great use of forming character, really the greatest thing in the world.
It is then, when mental maturity overtakes the physical, that the average girl is capable of forming a true and lasting attachment. In the case of men the age is usually much later, and, in fact, the same is true of some types of women. The love that is founded on true respect, that delights in discovering the qualities and capacities of the object, that finds sympathies on almost every point, and that knows it is returned, becomes a serious and satisfying thing. Without respect, there can be no firm and true affection. When Tom Moore wrote " I know not, I care not, what dwells in that heart; I but know that I love thee, whatever thou art," he gave to the world a very mischievous and unworthy sentiment. The love he depicted is of the baser kind. When a young couple begin married life together without mutual respect, their happiness is as a house built upon the sand. It is a brief and a stormy episode.
Some girls have whole series of flirtations before they settle down to accept one particular man. One such girl introduced her fiance of the moment to her friends with the following formula : " Mr. So-and-so, the young man I am at present engaged to." His smile, though dubious, was one expressing acceptance of the situation. These passing affairs sometimes injure a girl's disposition rather seriously. To have been engaged to four or live different men, to have received their presents, accepted their attentions, and sometimes even their caresses, is a soiling experience.
There may be nothing morally wrong, but the bloom is brushed off, the tender feelings of youth are toughened and hardened by these successive experiences, and few men care to marry a young woman who has been engaged to several men. Even if strongly attracted by her charm, a man may perhaps fear that she may jilt him in turn, and his self-love will prevent him from giving her the oppor-tunity. But even if this should not hinder him from asking her to be his wife, the reflection that she has made so many trial trips in the experimental seas that lead to the ocean of marriage, may prevent his entertaining the respect for her without which he should not make her his partner for life.
Under present social conventions men are permitted considerable licence in the matter of flirtation. When remonstrated with, they usually explain that they are anxious to find out the girl that suits them best, and in order to do so they must pay attention to more than one. It almost, seems as though girls, in their present emancipated condition, were following this example, and testing the various young men of their acquaintance with a view to their satisfactory capacity as husbands. The cruelty of raising false hopes on either side is passed over as unworthy of a thought, and much unhappiness results.
There are many men and many women who are utterly incapable of feeling the true passion of love. Such an enduring and all-pervading sentiment as that, for instance, entertained by Charles Kingsley and his wife for each other, or the Brownings, is simply impossible to them. They have not the qualities on which it is founded. It is an open question whether these individuals are not happier in life than those who are capable of deep and intense and enduring devotion, the expression of which is nowhere more exquisitely and perfectly given than by Mrs. Barrett Browning in her "Sonnets from the Portuguese."