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Fisherman's Luck Henry van Dyke

Lovers and Landscape

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But, after all, the great plays, those that take the deepest hold upon the heart, like HAMLET and KING LEAR, MACBETH and OTHELLO, are not love-plays. And the most charming comedies, like THE WINTER'S TALE, and THE RIVALS, and RIP VAN WINKLE, are chiefly memorable for other things than love-scenes.

Even in novels, love shows at its best when it does not absorb the whole plot. LORNA DOONE is a lovers' story, but there is a blessed minimum of spooning in it, and always enough of working and fighting to keep the air clear and fresh. THE HEART OF MIDLOTHIAN, and HYPATIA, and ROMOLA, and THE CLOISTER AND THE HEARTH, and JOHN INGLESANT, and THE THREE MUSKETEERS, and NOTRE DAME, and PEACE AND WAR, and QUO VADIS,--these are great novels because they are much more than tales of romantic love. As for HENRY ESMOND, (which seems to me the best of all,) certainly "love at first sight" does not play the finest role in that book.

There are good stories of our own day--pathetic, humourous, entertaining, powerful--in which the element of romantic love is altogether subordinate, or even imperceptible. THE RISE OF SILAS LAPHAM does not owe its deep interest to the engagement of the very charming young people who enliven it. MADAME DELPHINE and OLE 'STRACTED are perfect stories of their kind. I would not barter THE JUNGLE BOOKS for a hundred of THE BRUSHWOOD BOY.

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The truth is that love, considered merely as the preference of one person for another of the opposite sex, is not "the greatest thing in the world." It becomes great only when it leads on, as it often does, to heroism and self-sacrifice and fidelity. Its chief value for art (the interpreter) lies not in itself, but in its quickening relation to the other elements of life. It must be seen and shown in its due proportion, and in harmony with the broader landscape.

Do you believe that in all the world there is only one woman specially created for each man, and that the order of the universe will be hopelessly askew unless these two needles find each other in the haystack? You believe it for yourself, perhaps; but do you believe it for Tom Johnson? You remember what a terrific disturbance he made in the summer of 189-, at Bar Harbor, about Ellinor Brown, and how he ran away with her in September. You have also seen them together (occasionally) at Lenox and Newport, since their marriage. Are you honestly of the opinion that if Tom had not married Ellinor, these two young lives would have been a total wreck?

Adam Smith, in his book on THE MORAL SENTIMENTS, goes so far as to say that "love is not interesting to the observer because it is AN AFFECTION OF THE IMAGINATION, into which it is difficult for a third party to enter." Something of the same kind occurred to me in regard to Tom and Ellinor. Yet I would not have presumed to suggest this thought to either of them. Nor would I have quoted in their hearing the melancholy and frigid prediction of Ralph Waldo Emerson, to the effect that they would some day discover "that all which at first drew them together--those once sacred features, that magical play of charm--was deciduous."

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Fisherman's Luck
Henry van Dyke

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