For love is the sunshine of human existence - partaking of divinity itself in its sublime essence. Love defies age. It keeps the heart young, the mind alert, and spreads a glamour over the darkest hours of life, yet how truly is the lover dependent on another for his happiness.
As the soft green of early summer is dependent upon the gentle showers and the stimulating sunshine - for its further beauty of the flower - so the human heart naturally yearns for love ; it is the stimulating nectar which makes life worth living. The soul instinctively seeks a mate, unconsciously forming ideals that too often must ever be but phantasies of the brain. Love very often arrives before its presence has ever been expected or sought; it is like an uninvited guest, it upsets calculations and utterly puts to rout logic and speculation.
Cupid's glittering wings shoot through the air, one half catches his mocking laugh, as with a delicate but sure hand he draws his bow and the heart is pierced. Love came to fair Elaine, the Lily Maid of Astolat, in such a manner. What wish or desire had she "to fall in love" with Lancelot? The gentle maiden was happy enough with her tambour-frame until that fatal hour when she saw the glittering helmets and shields of King Arthur's knights wending their way to the castle.
Like most true women she desired a mate, and humanity is humanity all through the ages. The heart of a princess is the same heart as that of the lowliest maiden. Elaine' had formed ideals as she dreamed her dreams, and as her emotions were stirred with a natural desire for that one being with whom she could share her joys and sorrows, so like a thief came this love for Lancelot to her, taking possession of her soul. Who can read that piteous self-searching without some grain of pity ?
" I know not if I know what true love is, But if I know, then, if I love not him, I know there is none other I can love ! "
It is the agonised and despairing cry of a breaking heart, and Elaine is but the type of many women who have suddenly found their hearts attacked by the subtle passion which has altered the very foundations of their being.
It is a flame - exquisite and caressing when two people, at such a moment of revelation, can clasp each other's hands and say " I love you." But who can gauge the pain and agony when the flame is there without any answering spark from the being who ignited it.
It seems so much easier for a man to bear such an experience. He at least can speak and know his fate, whilst the woman must remain dumb. If she has the slightest self-respect she feels her position so acutely that by her endeavours to hide her feelings she may be placing herself at a cruel disadvantage - by excessive coldness, which a man may imagine springs from a hard, unresponsive nature - whilst all the time she is but trying to hide her true emotions, as Ella Wheeler Wilcox sings :
"How does love speak ? In the avoidance of that which we seek, The sudden silence and reserve when near."
Up to this point the man may have very much admired the woman - for, as a rule, love is a beautifier. It gives a softness to the eyes, a flush to the cheek, and often an unconscious smile which invites confidence.
But directly a woman finds herself " in love," her position, if that love is not requited, is a cruel one. The sparkle seems to die out of the eyes, the flush from the cheek, and often as not, the more noble the woman, the more anxious is she to hide her feelings. The man notices the change, but unless his conceit makes him a pitiable object, he will not admit to himself the reason of the difference in her manner to him. " I don't think Miss Blank is so good-looking as she was," he remarks laconically ; " there was a time when it was quite a treat to talk to her, but now she is so reserved."
Alas ! he cannot hear the pitiful fluttering of Cupid's wings, and so he too at last avoids her, as she effaces herself out of anxiety that he should read the meaning of " the faint flush on the tell-tale cheek, and the pallor that succeeds it. The quivering lid of an averted eye." At last the woman finds herself alone. Alone and perhaps surrounded by a bevy of people who would call themselves her friends.
Alone - for there is no loneliness so great as loneliness of the soul. It must be admitted that no life can be perfect without this dual kinship - the union of soul with soul. When a woman has found herself on the threshold of love, and has stood waiting - half fearful for its realisation, for that wonderful awakening in the other thing - and when she finds that for her there is only the threshold and never the holy of holies, then she is truly alone.
At such a time she needs a friend, for she has reached a crisis in life which may either make or mar her, and love should never destroy - even unrequited love must become a glory. It is wonderful how Nature may comfort by the law of compensation, for if Nature withholds that which we so much desire, so often she gives us some sweet and unexpected gift in its place which will make the burden easier to bear.
The woman whose heart is tormented with a love which has no answering passion from the adored one may perhaps discover ultimately that she has been blessed by not having the priceless gift she sought. The love she desired may not be the love she dreamt of !
There is something which is even more cruel to bear than unrequited love, and that is disillusionment. The years may soften the aching of her heart, and her old age may be glorified by the remembrance of a dream, and although she may not marry the man she loved, at least her ideals have not been destroyed.
She is luckier than some women, for she has been spared the pain of disillusionment, and disillusionment never grows less difficult to bear. A child may have a sweet singing bird given to him to replace a broken toy, and thus he is compensated by having another possession which he did not desire so much, but which softens the disappointment. So healing will come to the woman whose love has been given to one who could not reciprocate it. At least she may live to know that her love has not been wasted if she will take unto herself love's compensations.
"Talk not of wasted affection, affection never was wasted. If it enrich not the heart of another, its waters returning Back to their springs like the rain, shall find them full of refreshment."
Longfellow expounded this truth in " Evangeline," and it is a living truth. No man or woman who has loved should allow this priceless passion to darken life. After all, it is refreshing rain, often an oasis in a desert which in later years shall prove a blessed spot in the book of memory. A heart that has given of its best will be able to sympathise with the disappointments of others in a way that previously would have been impossible. The man or woman who has suffered from the joys and sorrows of unrequited love has still something to cherish, for its joys must be emphasised. There is no love without joy, and seldom love without pain. Even the castles in the air which the lover fondly builds must not be despised. As Emerson says :
" The gayest castles in the air are better for comfort and for use than the dungeons in the air that are daily dug by discontented people."
The human heart which has been touched by the greatest emotion becomes like the sensitive plate of a camera - responsive to various influences, so let them be pleasant ones. How delightful it is to meet such a brave and kindly being. One instinctively feels a congenial glow ; his or her sympathy and understanding inspire trust and confidence, and very often ultimately the greatest affection. It is wonderful what tremendous powers of healing lie in almost unconscious acts of kindliness of heart and mind from one being to the other. The balm which we offer to another so often heals our own heart too. Love should ever elevate, for the lips that smile when the heart aches often have the greatest power. If the sweet smile gives happiness to others, and the heart becomes more sympathetic and never harsh, life after all will be worth living. For happiness comes to the giver of happiness, just as discontent and hardness will return in the like manner to those who cast them forth upon the world.
The wise words of St. Francis de Sales come instinctively into the mind in this connection. He says, " Bear also in mind that the bee, whilst making its honey, lives upon a bitter food ; and in like manner we can never do acts of gentleness and patience better than while eating the bread of bitterness and enduring hardness."
" Remember thou The noble uses of affliction; Preserve the quick humanity it gives, The pitying social sense of human weakness ; Yet keep thy stubborn fortitude entire, The manly heart that to another's woe Is tender, but superior to its own. Learn to submit, yet learn to conquer fortune."