The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1960)
Of all the Lewis books I've read so far, this is the one I've had the hardest time relating to—even more so than to An Experiment in Criticism. It's still an excellent book, but the world in which Lewis lived is very different from my own, and that shows up strongly in his analysis of what he designates as the Four Loves: Affection, Friendship, Eros, and Charity.
I should have known we were on different wavelengths when I encountered, very early in the book, this statement:
[A drink of water] is a pleasure if you are thirsty and a great one if you are very thirsty. But probably no one in the world, except in obedience to thirst or to a doctor’s orders, ever poured himself out a glass of water and drank it just for the fun of the thing. (p. 11)
I most certainly have done just that, and do so frequently. While other drinks (e.g. milk, unpasteurized orange juice or apple cider, and of course tea) also bring me delight, water is by far my favorite drink. I wonder what the water in Lewis's life tasted like—I know for certain it couldn't have been like the incomparable Adirondack Mountain water from my childhood. But even most tap water is better to me than most other drinks. By the second page of the first chapter, I was already feeling alienated.
But of course that is trivial. More difficult was realizing that my experience of his categories of love has been so different from his. Especially when he speaks of differences between men and women. ("Lewis and Women" is a blog topic in its own right.) I don't deny his experiences—but they're not mine.
Nonetheless, there was enough to relate to in this book, and I had no trouble finding quotes to pull.
Nature does not teach. A true philosophy may sometimes validate an experience of nature; an experience of nature cannot validate a philosophy. Nature will not verify any theological or metaphysical proposition; ... she will help to show what it means. (p. 20)
As love of family is the first step beyond self-love, love of home comes next. Lewis sees proper patriotism in this light, and I think he is spot-on.
First, there is love of home, of the place we grew up in or the places, perhaps many, which have been our homes; and of all places fairly near these and fairly like them; love of old acquaintances, of familiar sights, sounds, and smells. ... With this love for the place there goes a love for the way of life; for beer and tea and open fires, trains with compartments in them and an unarmed police force and all the rest of it; for the local dialect and (a shade less) for our native language. As Chesterton says, a man’s reasons for not wanting his country to be ruled by foreigners are very like his reasons for not wanting his house to be burned down; because he "could not even begin" to enumerate all the things he would miss. It would be hard to find any legitimate point of view from which this feeling could be condemned. ... Those who do not love the fellow-villagers or fellow-townsmen whom they have seen are not likely to have got very far towards loving "Man" whom they have not.
Of course patriotism of this kind is not in the least aggressive. It asks only to be let alone. It becomes militant only to protect what it loves. In any mind which has a pennyworth of imagination it produces a good attitude towards foreigners. How can I love my home without coming to realise that other men, no less rightly, love theirs? Once you have realised that the Frenchmen like café complet just as we like bacon and eggs—why, good luck to them and let them have it. The last thing we want is to make everywhere else just like our own home. It would not be home unless it were different. (pp. 23-24, emphasis mine)
Another aspect of patriotism is not quite so harmless, but still beneficial.
The second ingredient is a particular attitude to our country’s past. I mean to that past as it lives in popular imagination.... This past is felt both to impose an obligation and to hold out an assurance; we must not fall below the standard our fathers set us, and because we are their sons there is good hope we shall not.
This feeling has not quite such good credentials as the sheer love of home. The actual history of every country is full of shabby and even shameful doings. The heroic stories, if taken to be typical, give a false impression of it and are often themselves open to serious historical criticism. .... But who can condemn what clearly makes many people, at many important moments, behave so much better than they could have done without its help?
I think it is possible to be strengthened by the image of the past without being either deceived or puffed up. The image becomes dangerous in the precise degree to which it is mistaken, or substituted, for serious and systematic historical study. The stories are best when they are handed on and accepted as stories. I do not mean by this that they should be handed on as mere fictions (some of them are after all true). But the emphasis should be on the tale as such, on the picture which fires the imagination, the example that strengthens the will. ... What does seem to me poisonous, what breeds a type of patriotism that is pernicious if it lasts ... is the perfectly serious indoctrination of the young in knowably false or biased history—the heroic legend drably disguised as text-book fact. With this creeps in the tacit assumption that other nations have not equally their heroes. (pp. 24-26, emphasis mine)
Lewis goes on to cover the dangerous forms of patriotism, but I've quoted enough. What I appreciate, in this day when any patriotism at all is thought to be dangerous, is the recognition that the special love of one's own home (town, state, country) is actually a necessary condition for fully appreciating other peoples and cultures.
[Affection] is indeed the least discriminating of loves. There are women for whom we can predict few wooers and men who are likely to have few friends. They have nothing to offer. But almost anyone can become an object of Affection; the ugly, the stupid, even the exasperating. There need be no apparent fitness between those whom it unites. I have seen it felt for an imbecile not only by his parents but by his brothers. It ignores the barriers of age, sex, class, and education. (p. 32)
This is an example of where I feel such a disconnect with Lewis's world. The implied assumption that women want wooers while men want (male) friends makes me wince. Ditto his apparent surprise that a handicapped child has nothing important in common with his siblings and has "nothing to offer."
Affection at its best can say whatever Affection at its best wishes to say, regardless of the rules that govern public courtesy.... You may address the wife of your bosom as "Pig!" when she has inadvertently drunk your cocktail as well as her own. You may roar down the story which your father is telling once too often. You may tease and hoax and banter. You can say, "Shut up. I want to read." You can do anything in the right tone and at the right moment—the tone and moment which are not intended to, and will not, hurt. (p. 44)
Uh, no. Memo to family and friends: Do not call me a pig, do not shout me down, do not tell me to shut up. No matter what your intentions are, it will hurt.
Mrs Fidget, as she so often said, would "work her fingers to the bone" for her family. They couldn’t stop her. Nor could they—being decent people—quite sit still and watch her do it. They had to help. Indeed they were always having to help. That is, they did things for her to help her to do things for them which they didn’t want done. As for the dear dog, it was to her, she said, "just like one of the children." It was in fact as like one of them as she could make it. But since it had no scruples it got on rather better than they, and though vetted, dieted, and guarded within an inch of its life, contrived sometimes to reach the dustbin or the dog next door. The Vicar says Mrs Fidget is now at rest. Let us hope she is. What’s quite certain is that her family are. (p. 50)
The story of which this is the final paragraph gives, I think, a little insight into some of Lewis's more distressing domestic experiences.
The proper aim of giving is to put the recipient in a state where he no longer needs our gift. We feed children in order that they may soon be able to feed themselves; we teach them in order that they may soon not need our teaching. Thus a heavy task is laid upon this Gift-love. It must work towards its own abdication. We must aim at making ourselves superfluous. (p. 50)
To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it. (p. 57)
I feel the lack intensely. Eros has become the lord of our world, and other loves reduced to very minor roles. We desperately need not only Charity, the supernatural love, but both Affection and Friendship that have no sexual element—loves the modern world considers essentially impossible. I agree heartily with Lewis on that. The following, however, shows that if we have lost much, we have gained as well. I quote at length because snippets would not show enough, I think. (And, to be honest, because I can copy it from my Kindle book, rather than typing it out by hand.)
From what has been said it will be clear that in most societies at most periods Friendships will be between men and men or between women and women. The sexes will have met one another in Affection and in Eros but not in this love. For they will seldom have had with each other the companionship in common activities which is the matrix of Friendship. Where men are educated and women not, where one sex works and the other is idle, or where they do totally different work, they will usually have nothing to be Friends about. But we can easily see that it is this lack, rather than anything in their natures, which excludes Friendship; for where they can be companions they can also become Friends. Hence in a profession (like my own) where men and women work side by side, or in the mission field, or among authors and artists, such Friendship is common.
In one respect our own society is unfortunate. A world where men and women never have common work or a common education can probably get along comfortably enough. In it men turn to each other, and only to each other, for Friendship, and they enjoy it very much. I hope the women enjoy their feminine Friends equally. Again, a world where all men and women had sufficient common ground for this relationship could also be comfortable. At present, however, we fall between two stools. The necessary common ground, the matrix, exists between the sexes in some groups but not in others. It is notably lacking in many residential suburbs. In a plutocratic neighbourhood where the men have spent their whole lives in acquiring money some at least of the women have used their leisure to develop an intellectual life—have become musical or literary. In such places the men appear among the women as barbarians among civilised people. In another neighbourhood you will find the situation reversed. Both sexes have, indeed, "been to school." But since then the men have had a much more serious education; they have become doctors, lawyers, clergymen, architects, engineers, or men of letters. The women are to them as children to adults. In neither neighbourhood is real Friendship between the sexes at all probable. But this, though an impoverishment, would be tolerable if it were admitted and accepted. The peculiar trouble of our own age is that men and women in this situation, haunted by rumours and glimpses of happier groups where no such chasm between the sexes exists, and bedevilled by the egalitarian idea that what is possible for some ought to be (and therefore is) possible to all, refuse to acquiesce in it. Hence, on the one hand, we get the wife as school-marm, the "cultivated" woman who is always trying to bring her husband "up to her level." She drags him to concerts and would like him to learn morris-dancing and invites "cultivated" people to the house. It often does surprisingly little harm. The middle-aged male has great powers of passive resistance and (if she but knew) of indulgence; "women will have their fads." Something much more painful happens when it is the men who are civilised and the women not, and when all the women, and many of the men too, simply refuse to recognise the fact. When this happens we get a kind, polite, laborious, and pitiful pretence. The women are "deemed" (as lawyers say) to be full members of the male circle. The fact—in itself not important—that they now smoke and drink like the men seems to simple-minded people a proof that they really are. No stag-parties are allowed. Wherever the men meet, the women must come too. The men have learned to live among ideas. They know what discussion, proof, and illustration mean. A woman who has had merely school lessons and has abandoned soon after marriage whatever tinge of "culture" they gave her—whose reading is the Women’s Magazines and whose general conversation is almost wholly narrative—cannot really enter such a circle. She can be locally and physically present with it in the same room. What of that? If the men are ruthless, she sits bored and silent through a conversation which means nothing to her. If they are better bred, of course, they try to bring her in. Things are explained to her: people try to sublimate her irrelevant and blundering observations into some kind of sense. But the efforts soon fail and, for manners’ sake, what might have been a real discussion is deliberately diluted and peters out in gossip, anecdotes, and jokes. Her presence has thus destroyed the very thing she was brought to share. She can never really enter the circle because the circle ceases to be itself when she enters it—as the horizon ceases to be the horizon when you get there. By learning to drink and smoke and perhaps to tell risqué stories, she has not, for this purpose, drawn an inch nearer to the men than her grandmother. But her grandmother was far happier and more realistic. She was at home talking real women’s talk to other women and perhaps doing so with great charm, sense, and even wit. She herself might be able to do the same. She may be quite as clever as the men whose evening she has spoiled, or cleverer. But she is not really interested in the same things, nor mistress of the same methods. (We all appear as dunces when feigning an interest in things we care nothing about.) The presence of such women, thousands strong, helps to account for the modern disparagement of Friendship. They are often completely victorious. They banish male companionship, and therefore male Friendship, from whole neighbourhoods. In the only world they know, an endless prattling "Jolly" replaces the intercourse of minds. All the men they meet talk like women while women are present....
All these, of course, are silly women. The sensible women who, if they wanted, would certainly be able to qualify themselves for the world of discussion and ideas, are precisely those who, if they are not qualified, never try to enter it or to destroy it. They have other fish to fry. At a mixed party they gravitate to one end of the room and talk women’s talk to one another. They don’t want us, for this sort of purpose, any more than we want them. It is only the riff-raff of each sex that wants to be incessantly hanging on the other. Live and let live. They laugh at us a good deal. That is just as it should be. Where the sexes, having no real shared activities, can meet only in Affection and Eros—cannot be Friends—it is healthy that each should have a lively sense of the other’s absurdity. (pp. 72-77)
<Shudder> I am left speechless.
Authority frowns on Friendship. Every real Friendship is a sort of secession, even a rebellion. It may be a rebellion of serious thinkers against accepted clap-trap or of faddists against accepted good sense; of real artists against popular ugliness or of charlatans against civilised taste; of good men against the badness of society or of bad men against its goodness. Whichever it is, it will be unwelcome to Top People. In each knot of Friends there is a sectional "public opinion" which fortifies its members against the public opinion of the community in general. Each therefore is a pocket of potential resistance. Men who have real Friends are less easy to manage or "get at"; harder for good Authorities to correct or for bad Authorities to corrupt. Hence if our masters, by force or by propaganda about "Togetherness" or by unobtrusively making privacy and unplanned leisure impossible, ever succeed in producing a world where all are Companions and none are Friends, they will have removed certain dangers, and will also have taken from us what is almost our strongest safeguard against complete servitude.
But the dangers are perfectly real. Friendship (as the ancients saw) can be a school of virtue; but also (as they did not see) a school of vice. It is ambivalent. It makes good men better and bad men worse. (p. 80)
A Christian—a somewhat too vocally Christian—circle or family ... can make a show, in their overt behaviour and especially in their words ... an elaborate, fussy, embarrassing, and intolerable show. Such people make every trifle a matter of explicitly spiritual importance—out loud and to one another (to God, on their knees, behind a closed door, it would be another matter). They are always unnecessarily asking, or insufferably offering, forgiveness. Who would not rather live with those ordinary people who get over their tantrums (and ours) unemphatically, letting a meal, a night's sleep, or a joke mend all?
Kindle tells me I've quoted too much. They're probably right. Bottom line? The Four Loves was worth reading, even though the cultural differences made it difficult at times.