Love in its completeness is made up of two great elements—first, the element that is wholly spiritual, that is capable of sympathy, and tenderness, and deep emotion. The other element is the physical, the source of passion, of creative energy, and of the truly virile qualities, whether it be in man or woman. Now, let either of these elements be lacking, and love itself cannot fully and utterly exist. The spiritual nature in one may find its mate in the spiritual nature of another; and the physical nature of one may find its mate in the physical nature of another. But into unions such as these, love does not enter in its completeness. If there is any element lacking in either of those who think that they can mate, their mating will be a sad and pitiful failure.
It is evident enough that Mme. Hanska was almost wholly spiritual, and her long years of waiting had made her understand the difference between Balzac and herself. Therefore, she shrank from his proximity, and from his physical contact, and it was perhaps better for them both that their union was so quickly broken off by death; for the great novelist died of heart disease only five months after the marriage.
If we wish to understand the mystery of Balzac’s life—or, more truly, the mystery of the life of the woman whom he married—take up and read once more the pages of Seraphita, one of his poorest novels and yet a singularly illuminating story, shedding light upon a secret of the soul.
The instances of distinguished men, or of notable women, who have broken through convention in order to find a fitting mate, are very numerous. A few of these instances may, perhaps, represent what is usually called a Platonic union. But the evidence is always doubtful. The world is not possessed of abundant charity, nor does human experience lead one to believe that intimate relations between a man and a woman are compatible with Platonic friendship.
Perhaps no case is more puzzling than that which is found in the life-history of Charles Reade and Laura Seymour.
Charles Reade belongs to that brilliant group of English writers and artists which included Dickens, Bulwer-Lytton, Wilkie Collins, Tom Taylor, George Eliot, Swinburne, Sir Walter Besant, Maclise, and Goldwin Smith. In my opinion, he ranks next to Dickens in originality and power. His books are little read to-day; yet he gave to the English stage the comedy “Masks and Faces,” which is now as much a classic as Goldsmith’s “She Stoops to Conquer” or Sheridan’s “School for Scandal.” His power as a novelist was marvelous. Who can forget the madhouse episodes in Hard Cash, or the great trial scene in Griffith Gaunt, or that wonderful picture, in The Cloister and the Hearth, of Germany and Rome at the end of the Middle Ages? Here genius has touched the dead past and made it glow again with an intense reality.