Chapter IV The Rulings Of Conscience In The House Of The Body: Chastity

Chastity of Soul.––In this field, also, the instructed Conscience takes a wide survey. The law forbids all sins of impurity, whether in imagination, word, or deed: of this we are aware, but do we recognise that the proportion of Love must be preserved as duly as the proportion of Faith? The instructed Conscience learns to regard all excessive affection, undue fondness, as sullying the chastity of the self-controlled soul. Any friendship, even if it be friendship between mother and child, which is over-fond and exclusive, making the one continually necessary to the other, and shutting out other claims of duty and affection, is suspect of the clear Conscience. To be 'all in all to each other' is not a quite pure desire, apart from the question of sex; for the chaste soul is, after the manner of Giotto's picture, walled within a tower. Noli me tangere is the law it chooses to obey, to the exclusion of all too close intimacies.

The Tragedy of 'Edward II.'1 ––Perhaps nowhere is this law of the pure life more plainly indicated––by breach––than in the most sorrowful tragedy of Edward II., as set forth by Christopher Marlowe. Let us see how the tale goes, for one such lesson of life is worth many counsels and innumerable resolutions. Excess in affection is a weakness that besets generous natures, and King Edward is generous:

     "My father is deceased! Come, Gaveston,
     And share the kingdom with thy dearest friend."

Here indeed is friendship! eager to share all fortune to the utmost with a friend. And Gaveston is ready with love for love––

     "Sweet prince, I come; these, these thy amorous lines
     Might have enforced me to have swum from France."

The fond friendship is resented by the nobles, who have their own claims upon the King. They call a council and remonstrate, adding prayers and threats of rebellion. The King concludes the meeting with––

     "I'll either die or live with Gaveston."
     Gaveston. "I can no longer keep me from my lord."

     Edward. "What, Gaveston! welcome!––kiss not my hand––
     Embrace me, Gaveston, as I do thee.
     Why should'st thou kneel? know'st thou not who I am?
     Thy friend, thyself, another Gaveston!'

Edward pours titles, lands, and honours upon his friend with a free hand; nay, gives him his very seal––

     "Save or condemn, and in our name command
     Whatso thy mind affects, or fancy likes."

Again the nobles and great churchmen hold council as to how to dispose of 'that peevish Frenchman,'––a happy phrase, for the favourite or fondly beloved friend is ever peevish, ready to take offence, quick to resent. "Thus arm in arm the King and he doth march," says Lancaster; and Warwick adds, "Thus leaning on the shoulder of the King he nods and scorns and smiles at those that pass."

The Queen herself complains,––

     For now, my lord, the King regards me not,
     But doats upon the love of Gaveston.
     He claps his cheek, and hands about his neck,
     Smiles in his face, and whispers in his ears;
     And when I come he frowns, as who should say,
     'Go whither thou wilt, seeing I have Gaveston."'

The barons compass the exile of the favourite, and the King cries,––

     "And long thou shalt not stay, or if thou dost,
     I'll come to thee; my love shall ne'er decline."

They exchange pictures, and Edward says––

     Here take my picture and let me wear thine;
     O, might I keep thee here as I do this,
     Happy were I! but now most miserable!

     Kind words and mutual talk makes our grief greater:
     Therefore, with dumb embracement, let us part––
     Stay, Gaveston, I cannot leave thee thus."

Edward's threats and blandishments move Isabella; she, through the younger Mortimer, works upon the nobles, and Gaveston is recalled from his short exile in Ireland. The Queen brings the news to her lord, and is rewarded with momentary affection; Edward, in his elation, distributes rewards and praises amongst his nobles.

But the favourite, on his return, is as intolerable as ever, and the barons as intolerant. The King lives only in his 'minion,' and himself prepares for civil war, to 'abate these barons' pride.' One more attempt the barons make to convince the King of the ruin to the State brought about by his absorption in his favourite. The gifts and triumphs, masques and shows, 'bestowed on Gaveston have drained the treasury; rebellion threatens, deposition must follow; the King's garrisons are beaten out of France; the wild 'Oneyl' is making himself master of Ireland; the Scots make unresisted inroads in the north, the Dane commands the narrow seas;

     "What foreign prince sends thee ambassadors?"
     "Thy gentle queen, sole sister to Valois,
     Complains that thou hast left her all forlorn."

The peers no longer attend the royal court. The people make ballads and rhymes of scorn.

Is the King moved? Not he. The remonstrances of the barons make them traitors in his eyes, and all the result is,

     "Poor Gaveston, that he has no friend but me!
     Do what they can, we'll live in Tynemouth here,
     And, so I walk with him about the walls,
     What care I though the Earls begirt us round?"

Things go from bad to worse, till, in the end, the exasperated barons behead Gaveston. But is the kingdom to have release from the intolerable yoke it has borne? No; for the news of the former favourite's death had not yet staled, when,

     "And in this place of honour and of trust,
     Spencer, sweet Spencer, I adopt thee here."

Spencer, too, had loved Gaveston; but the King only follows the rule. Our fond and absorbing friendships are succeeded by others as fond and absorbing, not precisely out of fickleness, but because the enervated, emasculated nature can no longer exist without the sweet philanderings to which it has accustomed itself.

The tragical tale continues through rebellion, insurrection, and civil war; the one gleam of brightness be in the young Prince Edward, who believes in his father through good report and ill,

     "I warrant you, I'll win his highness quickly;
     'A loves me better than a thousand Spencers."

And the King, when he learns how his wife dishonours him, his people desert him, he, too, has a thought for his child,––

     "Ah, nothing grieves me, but my little boy
     Is thus misled to countenance their ills."

All goes on as before. Spencer, by Isabella's order, is arrested in the presence of the King:

     "Spencer, ah! sweet Spencer, thus then must we part."
     Spencer. "Oh! is he gone? Is noble Edward gone?
     Parted from hence? never to see us more?'––

for there seems to be no doubt that his friends gave love for love to the over-fond monarch.

The successive imprisonments follow; then, the final message:

     "Commend me to my son, and bid him rule
     Better than I. Yet how have I transgressed,
     Unless it be with too much clemency?"

Each of us, King in his own Realm.––We need not follow the tragedy to the end; but this note––"Yet how have I transgressed?"––is full of profound instruction. His own ruined life, his devastated kingdom, dishonoured wife, loyal subjects converted into traitors and assassins––all these lay at the door of the King; and he asks at the end, "Yet how have I transgressed?" His uninstructed Conscience threw no light upon the fatal error of his life. He chose those duties which he would fulfil; and his code would appear to contain but one commandment,––'Be faithful to thy friend.' Never once did it dawn upon him that we may not choose amongst our duties, or that a self-elected duty may become a vice. You say, 'Ah, yes, if you are a king; but happily lesser people are free to please themselves.' Indeed we are not. Each of us stands king amongst a thousand relations, duties, interests, proper to us. If we choose to yield ourselves to the domination of another, so that our will is paralysed and we are unable to think or act except upon that other's initiative, are incapable of being happy and at ease except in his presence, then we too have sown disorder in a realm, less wide and great than that of the unhappy Edward, but our own realm, for which we are responsible.

We are not Free to give Ourselves without Reserve.––Men seem, on the whole, to have learnt restraint in their friendships since the Tudor days when Marlowe thought it well to offer this lesson to the world, perhaps because in his day men admired men with such fond and passionate intensity. But this is not strictly a question of sex; schoolboy and schoolboy, girl and girl, man and woman, and woman and woman, there are, for whom life means no more than this manner of doting fondness for the beloved object. This is the sort of thing:––

"'Our pension was full of mystery and romance,' said Coquette, brightening up, 'because of two German young ladies who were there. They introduced––what shall I call it?––exaltation. Do you know what it is? When one girl makes another exaltée, because of her goodness or her beauty, and worships her, and kisses her dress when she passes her, and serves her in all things, yet does not speak to her. And the girl who is exaltée––she must be proud and cold, and show scorn for her attendant––even although she has been her friend. It was these German young ladies from the Bohemian Wald who introduced it––and they were tall and dark, and very beautiful, and many would have wished to make them exaltées, but they were always the first to seek out someone whom they admired very much, and no one was so humble and obedient as they were. All the pension was filled with it––it was a religion, an enthusiasm––and you would see girls crying and kneeling on the floor, to show their love and admiration for their friend."'2

Plutarch3, of course, knows all about this matter. He (Agesilaus) had a private and more sensible cause of uneasiness in his attachment to the son of Spithridates; though, while he was with him, he had made a point to combat that attachment. One day Megabates approached to salute him, and Agesilaus declined that mark of his affection. The youth after this was more distant in his addresses. Then Agesilaus was sorry for the repulse he had given him, and pretended to wonder why Megabates kept at such a distance. His friends told him he must blame himself for rejecting his former application. 'He would still,' said they, 'be glad to pay his most obliging respects to you; but take care you do not reject them again.' Agesilaus was silent for some time; and when he had considered the thing, he said, 'Do not mention it to him, for this second victory over myself gives me more pleasure than I should have in turning all I look upon to gold."'

So great an affection, doubtless, argues a generous Heart; but that is not enough; a magnanimous Mind and an instructed Conscience must go to the preservation of the soul's chastity. We are not our own to give ourselves away without reserve. 


2A Daughter of Heth, by William Black.