The Heart’s Desire
She gave him comprehension of the meaning of love : a word in many moaths, not often explained. With her, wound in his idea of her, he perceived it to signify a new start in our existence, a finer shoot of the tree stoutly planted in good gross earth; the senses running their live sap, and the minds companioned, and the spirits made one by the whole-natured conjunction. In sooth, a happy prospect for the sons and daughters of Earth, divinely indicating more than happiness : the speeding of us, compact of what we are, between the ascetic rocks and the sensual whirlpools, to the creation of certain nobler races, now very dimly imagined.
— George Meredith’s Diana of the Crossways chap. 37
EVERY heart desires a mate. For some reason beyond our comprehension, nature has so created us that we are incomplete in ourselves; neither man nor woman singly can know the joy of the performance of all the human functions; neither man nor woman singly can create another human being. This fact, which is expressed in our outward divergencies of form, influences and colours the whole of our lives; and there is nothing for which the inner- most spirit of one and all so yearns as for a sense of union with another soul, and the perfecting of oneself which such union brings.
In all young people, unless they have inherited depraved or diseased faculties, the old desire of our race springs up afresh in its pristine beauty.
With the dreams and bodily changes of adoles- cence, come to the youth and maiden the strange and powerful impulses of the racial instinct. The bodily differences of the two, now accentuated, become enchanting in their promise.
Their differences unite and hold together the man and the woman so that their bodily union is the solid nucleus of an immense fabric of interwoven strands reaching to the uttermost ends of the earth; some lighter than the filmiest cobweb, or than the softest wave of music, iridescent with the colours, not only of the visible rainbow, but of all the invisible glories of the wave-lengths of the soul.
However much he may conceal it under assumed cynicism, worldliness, or self-seeking, the heart of every young man yearns with a great longing for the fulfilment of the beautiful dream of a life-long union with a mate. Each heart knows instinctively that it is only a mate who can give full comprehension of all the potential greatness in the soul, and have tender laughter for all the child-like wonder that lingers so enchantingly even in the white-haired.
The search for a mate is a quest for an understand- ing heart clothed in a body beautiful, but unlike our own.
In the modern world, those who set out on high endeavours or who consciously separate themselves from the ordinary course of social life, are compara- tively few, and it is not to them that I am speaking. The great majority of our citizens — both men and women — after a time of waiting, or of exploring, or of oscillating from one attraction to another, ” settle down ” and marry.
Very few are actually so cynical as to marry without the hope of happiness; while most young people, how- ever their words may deny it and however they may conceal their tender hopes by an assumption of cynicism, reveal that they are conscious of entering on a new and glorious state by their radiant looks and the joyous buoyancy of their actions. In the kisses and the hand touch of the betrothed are a zest and exhilaration which stir the blood like wine. The two read poetry, listen entranced to music which echoes the songs of their pulses, and see reflected in each other’s eyes the beauty of the world. In the midst of this celestial intoxication they naturally assume that, as they are on the threshold of their lives, so too they are in but the ante-chamber of their experience of spiritual unity.
The more sensitive, the more romantic, and the more idealistic is the young person of either sex, the more his or her soul craves for some kindred soul with whom the whole being can unite. But all have some measure of this desire, even the most prosaic, and we know from innumerable stories of real life that the sternest man of affairs, he who may have worldly success of every sort, may yet, through the lack of a real mate, live with a sense almost as though the limbs of his soul had been amputated. Edward Carpenter has beautifully voiced this longing:
That there should exist one other person in the world towards Tvhom all openness of interchange should establish itself, from whom there should be no concealment; whose body should be as dear to one, in every part, as one’s own; with whom there should be no sense of Mine or Thine, in property or possession; into whose mind one’s thoughts should naturally flow, as it were to know themselves and to receive a new illumination; and between whom and oneself there should be a spontaneous rebound of sympathy in all the joys and sorrows and experiences of life; such is perhaps one of the dearest wishes of the soul. — ” Love’s Coming of Age.”
It may chance that someone into whose hands this book falls may protest that he or she has never felt the fundamental yearning to form a part of that trinity which alone is the perfect expression of humanity. If that is so,it is possible that all unconsciously he may be sufFering from a real malady— sex anaesthesia. This is the name given to an inherent coldness, which, while it lacks the usual human impulse of tenderness, is generally quite unconscious of its lack. It may even be that the reader’s departure from the ordinary ranks of mankind is still more fundamental, in which case, instead of sitting in judgment on the majority, he will do well to read some such book as “The Sexual Question ” (English translation 1908) by the femous Professor August Forel, in order that his own nature may be made known to him. He may then discover to which type of our widely various humanity he belongs. He need not read my book, for it is written about, and it is written for, ordinary men and women who, feeling themselves incomplete, yearn for a union that will have power not only to make a ftiller and richer thing of their own lives, but which will place them in a position to use their sacred trust as creators of lives to come.
It has happened many times in human history that individuals have not only been able to conquer this natural craving for a mate, but have set up celibacy as a higher ideal. In its most beautiful expression and sublimest manifestations, the celibate ideal has proclaimed a world-wide love, in place of the narrower human love of home and children. Many saints and sages, reformers and dogmatists have modelled their lives on this ideal. But such individuals cannot be taken as the standard of the race, for they are out of its main current : they are branches which may flower, but never fruit in a bodily form.
In this world our spirits not only permeate matter but find their only expression through its medium.
So long as wc are human we must have bodies, and bodies obey chemical and physiological, as well as spiritual laws.
If our race as a whole set out to pursue an ideal which must ultimately eliminate bodies altogether, it is clear that very soon we should find the conditions of our environment so altered that we could no longer speak of the human race.
In the meantime, we are human. We each and all live our lives according to laws, some of which we have begun to understand, many of which arc completely hidden from us. The most complete human being is he or she who consciously^ oi uncon- sciously obeys the profound physical laws of our being in such a way that the spirit receives as much help and as little hindrance from the body as possible. A mind and spirit finds its fullest expression thwarted by the misuse, neglect or gross abuse of the body in which it dwells.
By the ignorant or self-indulgent breaking of fundamental laws endless harmonies are dislocated. The modern, small-minded ascetic endeavours to grow spiritually by destroying his physical instincts instead of by using them. But I would proclaim that we are set in the world so to mould matter that it may express our spirits; that it is presumption to pro- fess to fight the immemorial laws of our physical being, and that he who does so loses unconsciously the finest flux in which wondrous new creations take their rise.
To use a homely simile— one might compare two human beings to two bodies charged with electricity of different potentials. Isolated from each other the electric forces within them are invisible, but if they come into the right juxtaposition the force is trans- muted, and a spark, a glow of burning light arises between them. Such is love.
From the body of the loved one’s simple, sweetly coloured flesh, which our immemorial creature in- stincts urge us to desire, there springs not only the wonder ofa new bodily life, but also the enlargement of the horizon of human sympathy and the glow of spiritual understanding which a solitary soul could never have attained alone.
Many reading this may feel conscious that they have had physical union without such spiritual results, perhaps even without an accession of ordinary hap- piness. If that is so, it can only be because, con- sciously or unconsciously, they have broken some of the profound laws which govern the love of man and woman. Only by learning to hold a bow correctly can one draw music from a violin : only by obedience to the laws of the lower plane can one step up to the plane above.