Chapter 2

The Feelings from the Imagination

by Adam Smith Icon

Romantic love is natural but is not commonly expressed because it might be odious or ridiculous

15 The habitual feelings from the imagination are perfectly natural. But they are little sympathized with because other people might not have the same habits to be able to sympathize with them. Thus, such passions are always somewhat ridiculous.

An example is strong romantic attachment. We are unable to imagine what lovers experience, so we are not as eager as they are.

If our friend is in love, we never feel the same love which he feels. Thus, this love appears to everybody else as entirely disproportioned to the object’s value. Though natural, it is always laughed at, because we cannot enter into it. All serious and strong expressions of it appear ridiculous to a third person. A lover may be good company to his mistress, but not to anyone else.

  • We grow weary of the grave, pedantic, and long-sentenced love of Cowley and Petrarca who always exaggerate their love.
  • But Ovid’s gaiety and Horace’s gallantry are always agreeable.

16 Despite this, we might have felt romantic love before and so we readily enter into=

  • his hopes for the gratification of his romance, and
  • his distress from its disappointment.

His main feeling leads to other feelings which interest us. We are interested in=

  • the hope and fear on the results of a sea voyage and not the voyage itself
  • the distress which hunger creates, not the hunger itself

We properly do not enter into a man’s attachment to his lover. But we readily go along with those expectations of romantic happiness which he derives from it.

When the mind is relaxed with indolence and tired with the violence of desire, we feel that it is natural=

  • to hope to find serenity and quiet in the gratification of such desire,
  • to want a quiet pastoral life described by Tibillus

Tibullus was elegant, tender, and passionate.

  • He described a life like what the poets describe in the Fortunate Islands, a life=
    • of friendship, liberty, and repose,
    • free from labour, care, and all the turbulent passions which attend labour and care.

This desire mixes with romantic love

  • This love disappears when this desire cannot be gratified.
  • This love then becomes offensive and interests us much less than the fear and sadness.
    • We then tremble for whatever can disappoint such natural and agreeable hopes.
    • We thus enter into the lover’s anxiety, concern, and distress.

17 Hence, in some modern tragedies and romances, this love appears so interesting.

The distress of the love between Castalio and Monimia interests us in the tragedy The Orphan. If those two lovers were perfectly secure in their love for each other, it would excite laughter, not sympathy.

18 The laws of society impose a reserve on women which renders love more distressful to them. This makes it more interesting.

We are charmed with the love of Phaedra, despite all its extravagance and guilt. That very extravagance and guilt recommends it to us.

  • Her fear, shame, remorse, horror, despair, become more natural and interesting.
  • Her secondary passions arise from her love and necessarily become more furious and violent.
    • This lets us sympathize with her secondary passions.

19 Of all the passions which are so disproportioned to the value of their objects, romantic love is the only one that is agreeable.

Romantic love in itself is not naturally odious, even if it may be ridiculous.

  • Its consequences are often fatal and dreadful, but its intentions are seldom mischievous.
  • There is little propriety in this love itself, but there is more propriety in its accompanying passions.

Romantic love has a strong mixture of humanity, generosity, kindness, friendship, and esteem.

  • We have the greatest propensity to sympathize with these passions, even if they are excessive.
  • Our sympathy for these passions render them less disagreeable and supports it in our imagination, despite all its vices.
    • The vices of romantic love in men leads to ruin and infamy.
    • The vices in romantic love in women leads to an incapacity for labour, neglect of duty, and contempt of fame and reputation.

Despite all this, romantic love is supposed to be accompanied by sensibility and generosity.

  • These render such love as the object of vanity to many
    • They are fond of appearing capable of feeling such sensibility and generosity.

20 Because of this, a certain reserve is necessary when we talk of our own friends, our own studies, or our own professions. All these do not interest our friends in the same degree that they interest us.

It is because of the lack of this reserve, that half of mankind make bad company to the other. A philosopher is company only to a small club of philosophers.


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