I’m late with a post on love. Sorry. Didn’t have anything to share back on Valentine’s Day. But today I do.
It’s a passage from Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, which is one of those treasure-chest classics you keep by the bed for dipping into at random. It’s about who sees what when they see the one they love.
I have often wondered about these things.
As the songwriters Carolyn Leigh & Phillip Springer once wrote and Sinatra sang, “How little we understand what touches off that tingle / That sudden explosion when two tingles intermingle.”
Parenthetically, this has me wondering once again just why, back in the 80s, the ethereally beautiful Paulina Porizkova fell for that geek Ric Ocasek. Were geeks her type? If so, why did we never meet?
Considering that all of us choose someone—or a series of someones—whom some others might surely have passed without a second glance, the mystery of sexual selection is a tantalizing one. I can’t pretend to know what’s going on except that it does go on, does it not? As another songwriter, Herman Hupfeld (known to his friends, by the way, as Dodo), once wrote and Dooley Wilson sang, “You must remember this / A kiss is still a kiss / A sigh is still a sigh / The world will always welcome lovers . . . ”
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Anyway, back to Burton. This passage from his extraordinary book, which first appeared in 1621, certainly doesn’t need my commentary. But right now you, my friend, are perched like a skier at the top of the slalom. Kick off, punch down on your sticks, and in a second you’ll be doing 90 miles an hour. Here goes:
Love is blind, as the saying is, Cupid’s blind, and so are all his followers. Every lover admires his mistress, though she be very deformed of herself, ill-favoured, wrinkled, pimpled, pale, red, yellow, tanned, tallow-faced, have a swollen juggler’s platter face, or a thin lean chitty face, have clouds in her eyes, be crooked, dry bald, goggle-eyed, blear-eyed, or with staring eyes, she looks like a squised cat, hold her head still awry, heavy, dull, hollow-eyed, black or yellow about the eyes, or squint-eyed, parrow-mouthed, Persian hook-nosed, have a sharp fox-nose, a red nose, China flat, great nose, snub and flat nose, a nose like a promontory, gubber-tushed, rotten teeth, black, uneven, brown teeth, beetle-browed, a witch’s beard, her breath stink all over the room, her nose drop winter and summer, with a Bavarian poke under her chin, sharp chin, lave-eared, with a long crane’s neck which stands awry too, her dugs like two double jugs, or else no dugs, bloody-fallen fingers, she have long filthy unpared nails, scabbed hands or wrists, a tanned skin, a rotten carcass, crooked back, she stoops, is lame, splay-footed, as slender in the middle as a cow in the waist, gouty legs, her ankles hang over her shoes, her feet stink, she breed lice, a mere changeling, a very monster, an oaf imperfect, her whole complexion savours, an harsh voice, incondite gesture, vile gait, a vast virago, or an ugly tit, a slug, a fat fustilugs, a truss, a long lean rawbone, a skeleton, and to thy judgment looks like a mard in a lanthorn, whom thou couldst not fancy for a world, but hatest, loathest, and wouldst have spit in her face, or blow thy nose in her bosom, remedium amoris to another man, a dowdy, a slut, a scold, a nasty rank rammy filthy beastly quean, dishonest peradventure, obscene, base, beggarly, rude, foolish, untaught, peevish—if he love her once, he admires her for all this, he takes no notice of any such errors or imperfections of body or mind, he had rather have her than any woman in the world.
There. Wasn’t that something?