According to Lord Clark, the notion of romantic love is a quite recent development, dating from around the time of Magna Carta, which is fitting in a way. Something to set a person free. I was thinking about this the other night, and how ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny--at least in my life. It seems like just yesterday that the year 1215 rang in. And then I pondered the whole notion of different kinds of love.

The Greeks, of course, had a wide variety of words to differentiate among the varied forms of affection. That may seem antithetical to my claim made elsewhere that love should never take an adjective, but let's recall Plato and the gang weren't trying to club lovers over the heads. That came later when Herod let a firstborn wriggle through his fingers.

From there, I wondered whether love is genetic. Or might it simply be an invention of, and overly glamorized by poets? Which then led to this consideration: if such an emotion truly is inherent within humans, why does society feel the need to intrude and establish Byzantine rules for how it is to be prosecuted? Can't it just happen, without affirmation from and direction by the hoi polloi? I petition M'Lud to enter Aleister Crowley's Liber Oz in as evidence.

And what role does consciousness play? There was a time in my life when I wrote daily love letters, and was absolutely convinced language was much more than the cement proffered by Byron, Keats and Shelley, but the oxidizer, the catalyst to unlock entirely new vistas no one else was seeing. I waited a long time for that revelation. And yet, words are born of the Ain Soph Aur and so must return there eventually. Which isn't a bad thing, necessarily.

I'm taken back to my first visit to London in 1975, on my own as a young man in a world I had always dreamed might exist. Walking damp Oxford Street at midnight, I see two Arab boys strolling, holding hands. Me? Only the verb and verb phrase stood out. The subject of the sentence never even occurred as noteworthy.

I'd never make a good Christian, for insularity has never seemed a virtue to me. 
Perhaps Oscar Wilde's Lord Henry hit the nail on the head in his airy riposte to Dorian Gray:
The only difference between a caprice and a life-long passion is that a caprice lasts a little longer.
It's rather interesting that Dorian at one point referred to the theories of Lord Henry as poisonous. When I first encountered his apothegms--damn, 42 years ago this month--they didn't seem so, because the world was just beginning to open up for me and the whole notion of passion was completely abstract. Anything seemed possible. Of course, I hadn't counted on the insidious influence of society. And there was an awful lot of ontogeny to wade through yet...

I'm reminded of Oscar's testimony, needlessly delivered from a dock in the Old Bailey:
"The Love that dare not speak its name" in this century is such a great affection of an elder for a younger man as there was between David and Jonathan, such as Plato made the very basis of his philosophy, and such as you find in the sonnets of Michelangelo and Shakespeare.  It is that deep, spiritual affection that is as pure as it is perfect.  It dictates and pervades great works of art like those of Shakespeare and Michelangelo, and those two letters of mine, such as they are.  It is in this century misunderstood, so much misunderstood that it may be described as the "Love that dare not speak its name," and on account of it I am placed where I am now.  It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection.  There is nothing unnatural about it.  It is intellectual, and it repeatedly exists between an elder and a younger man, when the elder man has intellect, and the younger man has all the joy, hope and glamour of life before him.  That it should be so the world does not understand.  The world mocks at it and sometimes puts one in the pillory for it.
So tonight with all this percolating in the background, I watched Stephen Fry give a reading from his book More Fool Me before an audience at London's Royal Festival Hall. It was released in video in 2014, but I'm not sure how many years earlier it was recorded. I accessed it via Amazon Prime, free of charge, if you care to look it up.

As expected, his presentation was magnificent, especially in his descriptions of encounters with Prince Charles, Princess Diana, the Queen Mum, Penn Jillette (whom Stephen brilliantly mimicked in a wicked American accent) and many literati. And, of course, for once again paying homage to the one who has meant so much to me. I took pencil and paper dictation of his closing which he delivered impromptu (changing one pronoun to agree with the rest):
And Oscar Wilde who is forever the Crown Prince of Bohemia, the prince of students, the marginalized, the exiled, the forgotten, the outsider, for them he will always be a kind of patron saint. And whatever terrible messes I get myself into, I always can turn to his extraordinary wisdom and his extraordinary example, in terms of his kindness, his strength, his dignity as a perfect secular example of what it is to be a holy man.
In Shakespeare's Henry IV, Falstaff proclaims:
Men of all sorts take a pride to gird at me. The brain of this
foolish-compounded clay, man, is not able to invent
anything that tends to laughter more than I invent, or is
invented on me. I am not only witty in myself, but the cause
that wit is in other men.
You see, Oscar makes me feel important.

It's taken me many years, but I now see it clearly. That's what romantic love is. To hold hands on Oxford Street, yes; to lock eyes admiringly, yes; to kiss and to touch, yes; to be silent together on a rainy night, yes. To fear the future, yes. But in the end, more than anything,  
...It dictates and pervades great works of art like those of Shakespeare...
That's the love that dare not speak its name, and it's rare. Or a caprice.

Next installment: Face to Face with Beauty

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