Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Consolations of Lucy Snowe

I came across this utterly representative Romantic credo, a mighty riff by Charlotte Bronte, once again from the striking but strange Villette. It brought to mind David Hume's claim that 'tis not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the world to the scratching of his little finger:

I groaned under her bitter sternness. Never--never--oh, hard word! This hag, this Reason, would not let me look up, or smile, or hope: she could not rest unless I were altogether crushed, cowed, broken-in, and broken-down. According to her, I was born only to work for a piece of bread to await the pains of death, and steadily through all life to despond. Reason might be right; yet no wonder we are glad at times to defy her, to rush from under her rod and give a truant hour to Imagination--her soft, bright foe, our sweet Help, our divine Hope. We shall and must break bonds at intervals, despite the terrible revenge that awaits our return. Reason is vindictive as a devil: for me, she was always envenomed as a step-mother. If I have obeyed her it has chiefly been with the obedience of fear, not of love. Long ago I should have died of her ill-usage: her stint, her chill, her barren board, her icy bed, her savage, ceaseless blows; but for that kinder Power who holds my secret and sworn allegiance. Often has Reason turned me out by night, in mid-winter, on cold snow, flinging for sustenance the gnawed bone dogs had forsaken: sternly has she vowed her stores held nothing more for me--harshly denied my right to ask better things...Then, looking up, have I seen in the sky a head amidst circling stars, of which the midmost and the brightest lent a ray sympathetic and attent. A spirit, softer and better than Human Reason, has descended with quiet flight to the waste--bringing all round her a sphere of air borrowed of eternal summer; bringing perfume of flowers which cannot fade--fragrance of trees whose fruit is life, bringing breezes pure from a world whose day needs no sun to lighten it. My hunger has this good angel appeased with food, sweet and strange, gathered amongst gleaning angels, garnering their dew-white harvest in the first fresh hour of a heavenly day; tenderly has she assuaged the insufferable tears which weep away life itself--kindly given rest to deadly weariness--generously lent hope and impulse to paralyzed despair. Divine, compassionate, succourable influence! When I bend the knee to other than God, it shall be at they white and winged feet, beautiful on mountain or on plain. Temples have been reared to the Sun--altars dedicated to the Moon. Oh, greater glory! To thee neither hands build, nor lips consecrate; but hearts, through ages, are faithful to thy worship. A dwelling thou hast, too wide for walls, too high for dome--a temple whose floors are space--rites whose mysteries transpire in presence, to the kindling, the harmony of worlds!

All my old English teachers told me not to write paragraphs this long, and this unruly. But as the wag said, "Less is a bore."


Retriever said...

Cool quote! Not to rain on your parade, but seems to me it evokes iconography of the Virgin Mary, and every previous loving divine mother prayed to by legions of faithful of all faiths who find dogma (as well as reason) unbearably harsh and cold...It is interesting how stubbornly people personify the cold, rational, judging elements of either our psyche or a Divine Being (depending on your beliefs) as male, and the kind, warm, loving, merciful, hopeful and inspirational as feminine (the muse, merciful saints, angels). Also interesting that in the Victorian era arose the sappy lovin image of gentle beautiful kind angels that were the total opposite of angels in the Old Testament: messengers of judgment and destruction, Michael guarding the entrance of Eden with a flaming sword to keep the wicked humans from sheepishly skulking back there to their familiear former home, or the three messengers bringing good news of Abraham and Sarah;s future parenthood then TERRIFYING her by catching her laughing (the fear because angels were viewed as a presence of the power of GOd, powerful and dangerous), and not to mention their message of the doom of the cities on the plain...

Love the quote, tho. Your blog has a far more elevated tone than my latest earthbound meanderings about planting potatoes, shoe fashion, and energy taxes....Whether you write once a day or every three, always something well worth pondering and always these great quotes. Thanks.

Novalis said...

Thanks as always for your kind comments, Retriever. In this case I agree with you, although you bring to mind (paraphrased) Santayana: There is no God, and Mary is his mother.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful made my day...truly.

I find nothing jars more hypocritically than a world that urges reason when all is but reasonable.

What prevents mass revolt are those micro-instances of fleeting reason that rhyme not, nor reason, if held to the perpetual gloom of unreason. In their opportune briefness, in their unentangled isolation from all the clamour of nonsense curdling into life, they dare exemplify reason in spite of.