I suppose that more has been written on the subject of love than on any other subject under the sun. Proverbs, wise saws, verses, romances--their number is legion; the brains of poets and of wits, dry minds of cynics and philosophers have, in their turn, been exhausted in finding the true definition of that subtle, elusive thing we call 'love' and which only a lover understands.
And in writing about love all those prose writers and versifiers have invariably set themselves the task of inquiring as to what exactly is the price to be paid for that rarefied commodity, and whether the possession of it is built on a secure foundation. And so out of the cudgelling of great brains came the wise saws: 'When poverty comes in at the door Love flies out of the window'; or 'Love makes beggars of kings'; or again, 'The first sigh of love is hte last of wisdom'; and I could quote a hundred more, but all these quotations m'dears, smack more of wit than of truth.
Are all those cynics and philosophers--aye! and all those poets--going to assert that this ethereal, unsubstantial thing which brightens every life into which it enters and cheers every heart it touches, is yet so poor and feeble that it shrivels at the touch of poverty? That it is so akin to madness that it warps reason and weakens judgement? That it can have the effect of stealing away a man's riches or his strength or his wisdom? I think not. And do not be led into believing it, either. I give you my word that this modern world of yours is not yet void of great lovers, of men and women who know in their heart of hearts that the magic touch of true love is more precious even to-day than all the gold of Ophir, or the diamonds of Golconda.
But they will not proclaim their belief openly.
Now you know, my friends, that if you were really to search your hearts you would be ready enough to admit that love is still the greatest incentive that will spur a man to noble deeds and selfless actions, that, far from destroying wisdom and sound sense it is the whetstone of enterprise and judgement. You do not have to pay a price for love. Love is its own price: it drives away fear, it conquers pain, it makes poverty and disappointment endurable, it scorns the enmity of the envious and derides the scoffings of the cynic. It is you, who love and are loved, who are immeasurably rich and they--the jaundiced modern scoffers--who are beggars in this world. It is the great, the selfless loves of millions of men and women that mount like incense to Heaven, and the jeers and gibes of cynics that like evil-smelling smoke defile the purity of the atmosphere.
But, on the other hand, honour and duty do often exact a price which love must pay if it is to remain true to itself. When either of those two great forces call, love must often hide itself behind a veil of sorrow; I can assure you that many a time when I was in full possession of the joys and peace of my beautiful garden at Richmond and knew that Lady Blakeney was watching me with fear and doubt in the loveliest eyes that love of man ever filled with tears, I used to hear the low insistent sigh of suffering women and children in revolutionary Paris calling to me, and not even my loved one's tender arms nor her exquisite voice could then have kept me to her side.
And for you also, m'dears, suffering and sorrow are often the price which your love must pay should honour or duty call you. Most of you experienced the sorrow of parting, did you not, during the sad years of the War? You paid for the joys of love by many a heartache when you thought of her tears and the last kiss of farewell on the platform at Victoria Station.
And in the same way some of you, alas! must pay for the happiness which you enjoyed when things were bright and prosperous at home, by the misery of seeing those you care for suffer for want of the small comforts or luxuries you would give your heart's blood to provide for them. Where there is no love, m'dears, there can be no sorrow. Sorrow is the price you may have to pay for love; but is it not worth it? Would you not rather shed a bucketful of tears than miss the infinite joys that true love, reciprocated love alone, can give? Good old Dante, when he went to visit Hell to see how the shades were getting on there, would have it that over the gates of Hades there was graven the legend: 'For sorrow's crown of sorrow is remembering happier things.' And this saying he got from an anciet philosopher who averred that 'In all adversity the most unhappy sort of misfortune is to have been happy.'
Faith! they may have been great men those two--they certainly were--but all the same I beg to differ from them. I'll pit my knowledge of the human heart against all their theories or their wisdom. There is a sweet fragrance in remembrance which no amount of sorrow can dispel; on the contrary, sorrow will etherealize all the thousand and one little events on which past happiness was built and turn them into a caress that will soothe the troubled mind and wipe away the tears.
And it is in times of stress that true love shines with a clearer and purer light. The sharpness of the trial will in itself purge it from the dross of complacence and selfishness which life, more often than not, is apt to mix it with. So do not rail against love, m'dears, if you have to pay for it at times with anxiety and a few tears. The joys it gives you will more than compensate you for any measure of suffering.
And if in the end love does exact, as it unfortunately will, the greatest price of all the sorrow of life-long parting, do not even then rail against him. The Dark Angel does, alas! wield his awful sword sometimes to part young lovers, still in the rapture of their first kiss, or to sever the bonds that have held trusting comrades together for perhaps half a century.
Even then, m'dears, do not rail against love. 'It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,' so said our national poet, and with him I am in complete agreement. Sceptics and cynics may say what they like, but I will put down my profession of faith even here and now. And it is this: Love is such a mighty power that it can bridge over the black chasm which lies between life and death. Perfect love is perfect trust, and those of you who have known true love, just as I did, cannot possibly believe for a moment that it can end in this material world. Love is not material; it is ethereal and sublime, and as such must endure for ever. You cannot bury it, you cannot cremate it. It is one of the attributes of eternity.
The greatest most selfless love that ever burned for man on this earth reached its sublimity on Calvary. There it triumphed, once and for all, over the terrors of Death. And men to-day--you, m'dears, I, the rest of the world--have learned through the grandeur of that sacrifice that human love is powerful enough to break the gates that part us from the loved one who has gone before, so that when our own time comes to cross the Great Divide we may hear the words: 'I love you. I am waiting for you' come down to our ears from the realm of the stars, and our spirit grasp the spirit hand that beckons and points the way to the kingdom of undying love.