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Socrates's Allegory of the Origin of Love.
HE paffion of love happened to be the subject of difcourfe between two or three of us at the table of the poets this evening; and among other obfervations, it was remarked, that the fame fentiment on this occafion had run through all languages and nations. Memmius, who has a very good tafte, fell into a little fort of differtation on this occafion. It is (faid he) remarkable, that no paffion has been treated by all who have touched upon it with the fame bent of defign but this. The poets, the moralifts, the painters, in all their defcriptions, allegories, and pictures, have reprefented it as a foft torment, a bitter fweet, a pleafing pain, or an agreeable diftrefs, and have only expreffed the fame thought in a different manner.
The joining of pleasure and pain together in fuch devices, feems to me the only pointed thought I ever read which is natural; and it must have proceeded from its being the univerfal fenfe and experience of mankind, that they have all spoken of it in the fame manner. I have in my own reading remarked an hundred and three epigrams, fifty odes, and ninety-one fentences, tending to this fole purpose.
It is certain, there is no other paffion which does produce fuch contrary effects in fo great a degree: but this may be faid for love, that if you ftrike it out of the foul, life would be infipid, and our being but half animated. Human nature would fink into deadnefs and lethargy, if not quickened with fome active principle; and as for all others, whether ambition, envy, or avarice, which are apt to poffefs the mind in the absence of this paffion, it must be allowed that they have greater pains, without the compenfation of fuch exquifite pleafures as thofe we find in love. The great kill is to heighten the fatisfactions, and deaden the forrows of it, which has been the end of many of my labours, and fhall continue to be fo for the fervice of the world in general, and in particular of the fair fex, who are al
ways the beft or the worst part of it. It is pity that a paffion, which has in it a capacity of making life happy, fhould not be cultivated to the utmoft advantage. Reafon, prudence, and good nature, rightly applied, can thoroughly accomplish this great end, provided they have always a real and conftant love to work upon. But this fubject I fhall treat more at large in the hiftory of my married fifter, and in the mean time fhall conclude my reflection on the pains and pleasures which attend this paffion, with one of the fineft allegories which I think I have ever read. It is invented by the divine Plato, and to fhew the opinion he himself had of it, afcribed by him to his admired Socrates, whom he reprefents as difcourfing with his friends, and giving the hiftory of love in the following manner.
At the birth of Beauty, (fays he) there was a great feaft made, and many guefts invited among the reft, was the god Plenty, who was the fon of the goddess Prudence, and inherited many of his mother's virtues. After a full entertainment, he retired into the garden of Jupiter, which was hung with a great variety of ambrofial fruits, and feems to have been a very proper retreat for fuch a gueft. In the mean time an unhappy female called Poverty, having heard of this great feaft, repaired to it in hopes of finding relief. The first place the lights upon was Jupiter's garden, which generally ftands open to people of all conditions. Poverty enters, and by chance finds the god Plenty afleep in it. was immediately fired with his charms, laid herself down by his fide, and managed matters fo well, that fhe conceived a child by him. The world was very much in fufpence upon the occafion, and could not imagine to themselves what would be the nature of an infant that was to have its original from two fuch parents. At the laft, the child appears; and who should it be but Love. This infant grew up, and proved in all his behaviour, what he really was, a compound of. oppofite beings. As he is the fon of Plenty, (who was the offspring of Prudence) he is fubtle, intriguing, full of ftratagems and devices; as the fon of Poverty, he is i fawning, begging, ferenading, delighting to lie at a: threshold,
threshold, or beneath a window. By the father, he is audacious, full of hopes, confcious of merit, and therefore quick of refentment: by the mother, he is doubtful, timorous, mean-fpirited, fearful of offending, and abject in fubmiffions. In the fame hour you may fee him tranfported with raptures, talking of immortal pleafures, and appearing fatisfied as a god; and immediately after, as the mortal mother prevails in his compofition, you behold him pining, languishing, defpairing, dying.
I have been always wonderfully delighted with fables, allegories, and the like inventions, which the politest and the best inftructors of mankind have always made ufe of: they take off from the feverity of inftruction, and inforce it at the fame time that they conceal it. The fuppofing Love to be conceived immediately after the birth of Beauty, the parentage of Plenty, and the inconfiftency of this paffion with its felf fo naturally derived to it, are great mafter-ftrokes in this fable; and if they fell into good hands, might furnish out ♣ more pleasing canto than any in Spencer.
The Advantages of representing Human Nature in its proper Dignity. [Tatler, N° 108.]
T is not to be imagined, how great an effect well
affemblies, have upon fome tempers. I am fure I feel it in fo extraordinary a manner, that I cannot in a day or two get out of my imagination any very beautiful or difagreeable impreffion which I receive on fuch occafions. For this reafon I frequently look in at the playhouse, in order to enlarge my thoughts, and warm my mind with fome new ideas, that may be ferviceable to me in my lucubrations.
In this difpofition I entered the theatre the other day, and placed myself in a corner of it, very convenient for feeing, without being myself obferved. I found the audience hushed in a very deep attention, and did not
queftion but fome noble tragedy was just then in its crifis, or that an incident was to be unravelled which would determine the fate of an hero. While I was in this fufpence, expecting every moment to fee my old friend Mr. Betterton appear in all the majefty of diftrefs, to my unspeakable amazement, there came up a monfter with a face between his feet; and as I was locking on, he raised himself on one leg in fuch a perpendicular pofture, that the other grew in a direct line above his head. It afterwards twifted itself into the motions and wreathings of feveral different animals, and after great variety of fhapes and transformations went off the flage in the figure of an human creature. The admiration, the applaufe, the fatisfaction of the audience, during this ftrange entertainment, is not to be expreffed. I was very much out of countenance for my dear countrymen, and looked about with fome apprehenfion, for fear any foreigner fhould be present. Is it poffible (thought I) that human nature can rejoice in its difgrace, and take pleafure in feeing its own figure turned to ridicule, and diftorted into forms that raife horror and averfion? There is fomething difin genuous and immoral in the being able to bear such a fight. Men of elegant and noble minds, are shocked at the feeing characters of perfons who deferve esteem for their virtue, knowledge, or fervices to their country, placed in wrong lights, and by mifreprefentations made the fubject of buffoonery. Such a nice abhorrence is not indeed to be found among the vulgar; but methinks it is wonderful, that thofe, who have nothing but the outward figure to distinguish them as men, fhould delight in feeing it abufed, vilified, and disgraced.
I must confefs, there is nothing that more pleafes me, in all that I read in books, or fee among mankind, than fuch paffages as represent human nature in its proper dignity. As man is a creature made up of different extremes, he has fomething in him very great and very mean: a skilful artist may draw an excellent picture of him in either of these views. The finest authors of antiquity have taken him on the more advantageous fide. They cultivate the natural grandeur of the foul, raise
in her a generous ambition, feed her with hopes of immortality and perfection, and do all they can to widen the partition between the virtuous and the vicious, by making the difference betwixt them as great as between gods and brutes. In fhort, it is impoffible to read a page in Plato, Tully, and a thousand other antient moralifts, without being a greater and a better man for it. On the contrary, I could never read any of our modish French authors, or those of our own country, who are the imitators and admirers of that trifling nation, without being for fome time out of humour with myself, and at every thing about me. Their bufinefs is, to depreciate human nature, and confider it under its worst appearances. They give mean interpretations and base motives to the worthiest actions; they refolve virtue and vice into conftitution. In short, they endeavour to make no diftinction between man and man, or between the fpecies of men and that of brutes. As an inftance of this kind of authors, among many others; let any one examine the celebrated Rochefaucault, who is the great philofopher for adminiftering of confolation to the idle, the envious, and worthless part of mankind.
I remember a young gentleman of moderate underftanding but great vivacity, who by dipping into many authors of this nature, had got a little fmattering of knowledge, juft enough to make an atheist or a freethinker, but not a philofopher or a man of fenfe. With thefe accomplishments, he went to vifit his father in the country, who was a plain, rough, honeft man, and wife, though not learned. The fon, who took all opportunities to fhew his learning, began to establish a new religion in the family, and to enlarge the narrownefs of their country notions; in which he fucceeded fo well, that he had feduced the butler by his table-talk, and ftaggered his eldest fifter. The old gentleman began to be alarmed at the fchifms that arofe among his children, but did not yet believe his fon's doctrine to be fo pernicious as it really was, till one day talking of his fetting-dog, the fon faid, he did not question but Trey was as immortal as any one of the family; and in the