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Home -> Jerome K. Jerome -> Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow -> On Being in Love

Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow - On Being in Love

1. Preface

2. On Being Idle

3. On Being in Love

4. On Being in the Blues

5. On Being Hard Up

6. On Vanity and Vanities

7. On Getting on in the World

8. On the Weather

9. On Cats and Dogs

10. On Being Shy

11. On Babies

12. On Eating and Drinking

13. On Furnished Apartments

14. On Dress and Deportment

15. On Memory


You've been in love, of course! If not you've got it to come. Love
is like the measles; we all have to go through it. Also like the
measles, we take it only once. One never need be afraid of catching
it a second time. The man who has had it can go into the most
dangerous places and play the most foolhardy tricks with perfect
safety. He can picnic in shady woods, ramble through leafy aisles,
and linger on mossy seats to watch the sunset. He fears a quiet
country-house no more than he would his own club. He can join a
family party to go down the Rhine. He can, to see the last of a
friend, venture into the very jaws of the marriage ceremony itself.
He can keep his head through the whirl of a ravishing waltz, and rest
afterward in a dark conservatory, catching nothing more lasting than a
cold. He can brave a moonlight walk adown sweet-scented lanes or a
twilight pull among the somber rushes. He can get over a stile
without danger, scramble through a tangled hedge without being caught,
come down a slippery path without falling. He can look into sunny
eyes and not be dazzled. He listens to the siren voices, yet sails on
with unveered helm. He clasps white hands in his, but no electric
"Lulu"-like force holds him bound in their dainty pressure.

No, we never sicken with love twice. Cupid spends no second arrow on
the same heart. Love's handmaids are our life-long friends. Respect,
and admiration, and affection, our doors may always be left open for,
but their great celestial master, in his royal progress, pays but one
visit and departs. We like, we cherish, we are very, very fond
of--but we never love again. A man's heart is a firework that once in
its time flashes heavenward. Meteor-like, it blazes for a moment and
lights with its glory the whole world beneath. Then the night of our
sordid commonplace life closes in around it, and the burned-out case,
falling back to earth, lies useless and uncared for, slowly smoldering
into ashes. Once, breaking loose from our prison bonds, we dare, as
mighty old Prometheus dared, to scale the Olympian mount and snatch
from Phoebus' chariot the fire of the gods. Happy those who,
hastening down again ere it dies out, can kindle their earthly altars
at its flame. Love is too pure a light to burn long among the noisome
gases that we breathe, but before it is choked out we may use it as a
torch to ignite the cozy fire of affection.

And, after all, that warming glow is more suited to our cold little
back parlor of a world than is the burning spirit love. Love should
be the vestal fire of some mighty temple--some vast dim fane whose
organ music is the rolling of the spheres. Affection will burn
cheerily when the white flame of love is flickered out. Affection is
a fire that can be fed from day to day and be piled up ever higher as
the wintry years draw nigh. Old men and women can sit by it with
their thin hands clasped, the little children can nestle down in
front, the friend and neighbor has his welcome corner by its side, and
even shaggy Fido and sleek Titty can toast their noses at the bars.

Let us heap the coals of kindness upon that fire. Throw on your
pleasant words, your gentle pressures of the hand, your thoughtful and
unselfish deeds. Fan it with good-humor, patience, and forbearance.
You can let the wind blow and the rain fall unheeded then, for your
hearth will be warm and bright, and the faces round it will make
sunshine in spite of the clouds without.

I am afraid, dear Edwin and Angelina, you expect too much from love.
You think there is enough of your little hearts to feed this fierce,
devouring passion for all your long lives. Ah, young folk! don't rely
too much upon that unsteady flicker. It will dwindle and dwindle as
the months roll on, and there is no replenishing the fuel. You will
watch it die out in anger and disappointment. To each it will seem
that it is the other who is growing colder. Edwin sees with
bitterness that Angelina no longer runs to the gate to meet him, all
smiles and blushes; and when he has a cough now she doesn't begin to
cry and, putting her arms round his neck, say that she cannot live
without him. The most she will probably do is to suggest a lozenge,
and even that in a tone implying that it is the noise more than
anything else she is anxious to get rid of.

Poor little Angelina, too, sheds silent tears, for Edwin has given up
carrying her old handkerchief in the inside pocket of his waistcoat.

Both are astonished at the falling off in the other one, but neither
sees their own change. If they did they would not suffer as they do.
They would look for the cause in the right quarter--in the littleness
of poor human nature--join hands over their common failing, and start
building their house anew on a more earthly and enduring foundation.
But we are so blind to our own shortcomings, so wide awake to those of
others. Everything that happens to us is always the other person's
fault. Angelina would have gone on loving Edwin forever and ever and
ever if only Edwin had not grown so strange and different. Edwin
would have adored Angelina through eternity if Angelina had only
remained the same as when he first adored her.

It is a cheerless hour for you both when the lamp of love has gone out
and the fire of affection is not yet lit, and you have to grope about
in the cold, raw dawn of life to kindle it. God grant it catches
light before the day is too far spent. Many sit shivering by the dead
coals till night come.

But, there, of what use is it to preach? Who that feels the rush of
young love through his veins can think it will ever flow feeble and
slow! To the boy of twenty it seems impossible that he will not love
as wildly at sixty as he does then. He cannot call to mind any
middle-aged or elderly gentleman of his acquaintance who is known to
exhibit symptoms of frantic attachment, but that does not interfere in
his belief in himself. His love will never fall, whoever else's may.
Nobody ever loved as he loves, and so, of course, the rest of the
world's experience can be no guide in his case. Alas! alas! ere
thirty he has joined the ranks of the sneerers. It is not his fault.
Our passions, both the good and bad, cease with our blushes. We do
not hate, nor grieve, nor joy, nor despair in our thirties like we did
in our teens. Disappointment does not suggest suicide, and we quaff
success without intoxication.

We take all things in a minor key as we grow older. There are few
majestic passages in the later acts of life's opera. Ambition takes a
less ambitious aim. Honor becomes more reasonable and conveniently
adapts itself to circumstances. And love--love dies. "Irreverence
for the dreams of youth" soon creeps like a killing frost upon our
hearts. The tender shoots and the expanding flowers are nipped and
withered, and of a vine that yearned to stretch its tendrils round the
world there is left but a sapless stump.

My fair friends will deem all this rank heresy, I know. So far from a
man's not loving after he has passed boyhood, it is not till there is
a good deal of gray in his hair that they think his protestations at
all worthy of attention. Young ladies take their notions of our sex
from the novels written by their own, and compared with the
monstrosities that masquerade for men in the pages of that nightmare
literature, Pythagoras' plucked bird and Frankenstein's demon were
fair average specimens of humanity.

In these so-called books, the chief lover, or Greek god, as he is
admiringly referred to--by the way, they do not say which "Greek god"
it is that the gentleman bears such a striking likeness to; it might
be hump-backed Vulcan, or double-faced Janus, or even driveling
Silenus, the god of abstruse mysteries. He resembles the whole family
of them, however, in being a blackguard, and perhaps this is what is
meant. To even the little manliness his classical prototypes
possessed, though, he can lay no claim whatever, being a listless
effeminate noodle, on the shady side of forty. But oh! the depth and
strength of this elderly party's emotion for some bread-and-butter
school-girl! Hide your heads, ye young Romeos and Leanders! this
_blase_ old beau loves with an hysterical fervor that requires four
adjectives to every noun to properly describe.

It is well, dear ladies, for us old sinners that you study only books.
Did you read mankind, you would know that the lad's shy stammering
tells a truer tale than our bold eloquence. A boy's love comes from a
full heart; a man's is more often the result of a full stomach.
Indeed, a man's sluggish current may not be called love, compared with
the rushing fountain that wells up when a boy's heart is struck with
the heavenly rod. If you would taste love, drink of the pure stream
that youth pours out at your feet. Do not wait till it has become a
muddy river before you stoop to catch its waves.

Or is it that you like its bitter flavor--that the clear, limpid water
is insipid to your palate and that the pollution of its after-course
gives it a relish to your lips? Must we believe those who tell us
that a hand foul with the filth of a shameful life is the only one a
young girl cares to be caressed by?

That is the teaching that is bawled out day by day from between those
yellow covers. Do they ever pause to think, I wonder, those devil's
ladyhelps, what mischief they are doing crawling about God's garden,
and telling childish Eves and silly Adams that sin is sweet and that
decency is ridiculous and vulgar? How many an innocent girl do they
not degrade into an evil-minded woman? To how many a weak lad do they
not point out the dirty by-path as the shortest cut to a maiden's
heart? It is not as if they wrote of life as it really is. Speak
truth, and right will take care of itself. But their pictures are
coarse daubs painted from the sickly fancies of their own diseased

We want to think of women not--as their own sex would show them--as
Lorleis luring us to destruction, but as good angels beckoning us
upward. They have more power for good or evil than they dream of. It
is just at the very age when a man's character is forming that he
tumbles into love, and then the lass he loves has the making or
marring of him. Unconsciously he molds himself to what she would have
him, good or bad. I am sorry to have to be ungallant enough to say
that I do not think they always use their influence for the best. Too
often the female world is bounded hard and fast within the limits of
the commonplace. Their ideal hero is a prince of littleness, and to
become that many a powerful mind, enchanted by love, is "lost to life
and use and name and fame."

And yet, women, you could make us so much better if you only would.
It rests with you, more than with all the preachers, to roll this
world a little nearer heaven. Chivalry is not dead: it only sleeps
for want of work to do. It is you who must wake it to noble deeds.
You must be worthy of knightly worship.

You must be higher than ourselves. It was for Una that the Red Cross
Knight did war. For no painted, mincing court dame could the dragon
have been slain. Oh, ladies fair, be fair in mind and soul as well as
face, so that brave knights may win glory in your service! Oh, woman,
throw off your disguising cloaks of selfishness, effrontery, and
affectation! Stand forth once more a queen in your royal robe of
simple purity. A thousand swords, now rusting in ignoble sloth, shall
leap from their scabbards to do battle for your honor against wrong.
A thousand Sir Rolands shall lay lance in rest, and Fear, Avarice,
Pleasure, and Ambition shall go down in the dust before your colors.

What noble deeds were we not ripe for in the days when we loved? What
noble lives could we not have lived for her sake? Our love was a
religion we could have died for. It was no mere human creature like
ourselves that we adored. It was a queen that we paid homage to, a
goddess that we worshiped.

And how madly we did worship! And how sweet it was to worship! Ah,
lad, cherish love's young dream while it lasts! You will know too
soon how truly little Tom Moore sang when he said that there was
nothing half so sweet in life. Even when it brings misery it is a
wild, romantic misery, all unlike the dull, worldly pain of
after-sorrows. When you have lost her--when the light is gone out
from your life and the world stretches before you a long, dark horror,
even then a half-enchantment mingles with your despair.

And who would not risk its terrors to gain its raptures? Ah, what
raptures they were! The mere recollection thrills you. How delicious
it was to tell her that you loved her, that you lived for her, that
you would die for her! How you did rave, to be sure, what floods of
extravagant nonsense you poured forth, and oh, how cruel it was of her
to pretend not to believe you! In what awe you stood of her! How
miserable you were when you had offended her! And yet, how pleasant
to be bullied by her and to sue for pardon without having the
slightest notion of what your fault was! How dark the world was when
she snubbed you, as she often did, the little rogue, just to see you
look wretched; how sunny when she smiled! How jealous you were of
every one about her! How you hated every man she shook hands with,
every woman she kissed--the maid that did her hair, the boy that
cleaned her shoes, the dog she nursed--though you had to be respectful
to the last-named! How you looked forward to seeing her, how stupid
you were when you did see her, staring at her without saying a word!
How impossible it was for you to go out at any time of the day or
night without finding yourself eventually opposite her windows! You
hadn't pluck enough to go in, but you hung about the corner and gazed
at the outside. Oh, if the house had only caught fire--it was
insured, so it wouldn't have mattered--and you could have rushed in
and saved her at the risk of your life, and have been terribly burned
and injured! Anything to serve her. Even in little things that was
so sweet. How you would watch her, spaniel-like, to anticipate her
slightest wish! How proud you were to do her bidding! How delightful
it was to be ordered about by her! To devote your whole life to her
and to never think of yourself seemed such a simple thing. You would
go without a holiday to lay a humble offering at her shrine, and felt
more than repaid if she only deigned to accept it. How precious to
you was everything that she had hallowed by her touch--her little
glove, the ribbon she had worn, the rose that had nestled in her hair
and whose withered leaves still mark the poems you never care to look
at now.

And oh, how beautiful she was, how wondrous beautiful! It was as some
angel entering the room, and all else became plain and earthly. She
was too sacred to be touched. It seemed almost presumption to gaze at
her. You would as soon have thought of kissing her as of singing
comic songs in a cathedral. It was desecration enough to kneel and
timidly raise the gracious little hand to your lips.

Ah, those foolish days, those foolish days when we were unselfish and
pure-minded; those foolish days when our simple hearts were full of
truth, and faith, and reverence! Ah, those foolish days of noble
longings and of noble strivings! And oh, these wise, clever days when
we know that money is the only prize worth striving for, when we
believe in nothing else but meanness and lies, when we care for no
living creature but ourselves!

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