The following excerpts comprise the chapter on love and marriage in the anthology The Gospel in George MacDonald: Selections from His Novels, Fairy Tales, and Spiritual Writings.
From the novel The Marquis of Lossie. A man and woman are in love.
God only knows how grandly, how passionately yet how calmly, how divinely the man and the woman he has made, might, may, shall love each other.
From the novel What’s Mine’s Mine. Christina, having lived most of her life in London, is spending a year in a secluded Scottish village. She is falling in love with a young man she has met.
Happy is the rare fate of the true — to wake and come forth and meet in the majesty of the truth, in the image of God, in their very being, in the power of that love which alone is being. They love, not this and that about each other, but each the very other — a love as essential to reality, to truth, to religion, as the love of the very God. Where such love is, let the differences of taste, the unfitnesses of temperament be what they may, the two must by and by be thoroughly one....
One morning [Christina] woke from a sound and dreamless sleep, and getting out of bed, drew aside the curtains, looked out, and then opened her window. It was a lovely spring-morning. The birds were singing loud in the fast greening shrubbery. A soft wind was blowing. It came to her, and whispered something of which she understood only that it was both lovely and sad. The sun, but a little way up, was shining over hills and cone-shaped peaks, whose shadows, stretching eagerly westward, were yet ever shortening eastward. His light was gentle, warm, and humid, as if a little sorrowful, she thought, over his many dead children, that he must call forth so many more to the new life of the reviving year.
To save man or woman, the next thing to the love of God is the love of man or woman; only let no man or woman mistake the love of love for love!
Suddenly as she gazed, the little clump of trees against the hillside stood as she had never seen it stand before — as if the sap in them were no longer colourless, but red with human life; nature was alive with a presence she had never seen before; it was instinct with a meaning, an intent, a soul; the mountains stood against the sky as if reaching upward, knowing something, waiting for something; over all was a glory. The change was far more wondrous than from winter to summer; it was not as if a dead body, but a dead soul had come alive.
What could it mean? Had the new aspect come forth to answer this glow in her heart, or was the glow in her heart the reflection of this new aspect of the world? She was ready to cry aloud, not with joy, not from her feeling of the beauty, but with a sensation almost, hitherto unknown, therefore nameless. It was a new and marvellous interest in the world, a new sense of life in herself, of life in everything, a recognition of brother-existence, a life-contact with the universe, a conscious flash of the divine in her soul, a throb of the pure joy of being.
She was nearer God than she had ever been before. But she did not know this — might never in this world know it; she understood nothing of what was going on in her, only felt it go on; it was not love of God that was moving in her. Yet she stood in her white dress like one risen from the grave, looking in sweet bliss on a new heaven and a new earth, made new by the new opening of her eyes. To save man or woman, the next thing to the love of God is the love of man or woman; only let no man or woman mistake the love of love for love!
She started, grew white, stood straight up, grew red as a sunset: — was it — could it be? — “Is this love?” she said to herself, and for minutes she hardly moved.
It was love. Whether love was in her or not, she was in love — and it might get inside her. She hid her face in her hands, and wept.
With what opportunities I have had of studying, I do not say understanding, the human heart, I should not have expected such feeling from Christina — and she wondered at it herself. Till a child is awake, how tell his mood? — until a woman is awaked, how tell her nature? Who knows himself? — and how then shall he know his neighbour?
For who can know anything except on the supposition of its remaining the same? and the greatest change of all, next to being born again, is beginning to love. The very faculty of loving had been hitherto repressed in the soul of Christina — by poor education, by low family and social influences, by familiarity with the worship of riches, by vanity, and consequent hunger after the attentions of men; but now at length she was in love....
For who in heaven or on earth has fathomed the marvel betwixt the man and the woman? Least of all the man or the woman who has not learned to regard it with reverence. There is more in this love to uplift us, more to condemn the lie in us, than in any other inborn drift of our being, except the heavenly tide Godward. From it flow all the other redeeming relations of life. It is the hold God has of us with his right hand, while death is the hold he has of us with his left. Love and death are the two marvels, yea the two terrors — but the one goal of our history.
The love between man and woman arising from a difference deep in the heart of God, and essential to the very being of each, is one of his most powerful forces for blasting the wall of separation, and the first step towards the universal harmony...
From the novel Mary Marston. Reflecting on marriage.
Love and marriage are of the Father’s most powerful means for the making of his foolish little ones into sons and daughters. But so unlike (in many cases) are the immediate consequences to those desired and expected, that it is hard for not a few to believe that he is anywhere looking after their fate — caring about them at all. And the doubt would be a reasonable one, if the end of things was marriage. But the end is life — that we become the children of God; after which, all things can and will go their grand, natural course; the heart of the Father will be content for his children, and the hearts of the children will be content in their Father.
From the novel Malcolm. Malcolm has grown up among fishermen in a Scottish village. He has just fallen in love for the first time.
Looking at Malcolm’s life from the point of his own consciousness, and not from that of the so called world, it was surely pleasant enough. Innocence, devotion to another, health, pleasant labour with an occasional shadow of danger to arouse the energies, leisure, love of reading, a lofty minded friend, and, above all, a supreme presence, visible to his heart in the meeting of vaulted sky and outspread sea, and felt at moments in any waking wind that cooled his glowing cheek and breathed into him anew of the breath of life, lapped in such conditions, bathed in such influences, the youth’s heart was swelling like a rosebud ready to burst into blossom.
But he had never yet felt the immediate presence of woman in any of her closer relations. He had never known mother or sister; and, although his voice always assumed a different tone and his manner grew more gentle in the presence of a woman, old or young, he had found little individually attractive amongst the fisher girls....
But he had now arrived at that season when, in the order of things, a man is compelled to have at least a glimmer of the life which consists in sharing life with another. When once, through the thousand unknown paths of creation, the human being is so far divided from God that his individuality is secured, it has become yet more needful that the crust gathered around him in the process should be broken; and the love between man and woman arising from a difference deep in the heart of God, and essential to the very being of each — for by no words can I express my scorn of the evil fancy that the distinction between them is solely or even primarily physical — is one of his most powerful forces for blasting the wall of separation, and first step towards the universal harmony of twain making one.... There is no plainer sign of the need of a God, than the possible fate of love. The celestial Cupid may soar aloft on seraph wings that assert his origin, or fall down on the belly of a snake and creep to hell.
But Malcolm was not of the stuff of which coxcombs are made, and had not begun to think even of the abyss that separated the lady and himself — an abyss like that between star and star, across which stretches no mediating air — a blank and blind space. He felt her presence only as that of a being to be worshipped, to be heard with rapture, and yet addressed without fear.
From the novel Donal Grant. Donal Grant has been the tutor at the home of Lady Arctura for some time, and they have each come to love the other.
“I have something to tell you,” he said; “and then you must speak again.”
“Tell me,” said Arctura.
“When I came here,” said Donal, “I thought my heart so broken that it would never love — that way, I mean — anymore. But I loved God better than ever: and as one I would fain help, I loved you from the very first. But I should have scorned myself had I once fancied you loved me more than just to do anything for me I needed done. When I saw you troubled, I longed to take you up in my arms, and carry you like a lovely bird that had fallen from one of God’s nests; but never once, my lady, did I think of your caring for my love: it was yours as a matter of course. I once asked a lady to kiss me — just once, for a good-bye: she would not — and she was quite right; but after that I never spoke to a lady but she seemed to stand far away on the top of a hill against a sky.”
He stopped. Her hands on his fluttered a little, as if they would fly.
“Is she still — is she — alive?” she asked.
“Oh yes, my lady.”
“Then she may — change — ” said Arctura, and stopped, for there was a stone in her heart.
Donal laughed. It was an odd laugh, but it did Arctura good.
“No danger of that, my lady! She has the best husband in the world — a much better than I should have made, much as I loved her.”
“That can’t be!”
“Why, my lady, her husband’s Sir Gibbie! She’s Lady Galbraith! I would never have wished her mine if I had known she loved Gibbie. I love her next to him.”
“Then — then — ”
The man who loves most will love best. The man who thoroughly loves God and his neighbour is the only man who will love a woman ideally — who can love her with the love God thought of between them when he made male and female.
“What, my lady?”
“Then — then — Oh, do say something!”
“What should I say? What God wills is fast as the roots of the universe, and lovely as its blossom.”
Arctura burst into tears.
“Then you do not — care for me!”
Donal began to understand. In some things he went on so fast that he could not hear the cry behind him. She had spoken, and had been listening in vain for response! She thought herself unloved: he had shown her no sign that he loved her!
His heart was so full of love and the joy of love, that they had made him very still: now the delight of love awoke. He took her in his arms like a child, rose, and went walking about the room with her, petting and soothing her. He held her close to his heart; her head was on his shoulder, and his face was turned to hers.
“I love you,” he said, “and love you to all eternity! I have love enough now to live upon, if you should die to-night, and I should tarry till he come. O God, thou art too good to me! It is more than my heart can bear! To make men and women, and give them to each other, and not be one moment jealous of the love wherewith they love one another, is to be a God indeed!”
So said Donal — and spoke the high truth.
From the novel The Marquis of Lossie. A young man and woman have been talking about how it is possible to have faith despite the suffering in the world.
If something of that sacred mystery, holy in the heart of the Father, which draws together the souls of man and woman, was at work between them, let those scoff at the mingling of love and religion who know nothing of either; but man or woman who, loving woman or man, has never in that love lifted the heart to the Father, and everyone whose divine love has not yet cast at least an arm round the human love, must take heed what they think of themselves, for they are yet but paddlers in the tide of the eternal ocean. Love is a lifting no less than a swelling of the heart. What changes, what metamorphoses, transformations, purifications, glorifications, this or that love must undergo ere it take its eternal place in the kingdom of heaven, through all its changes yet remaining, in its one essential root, the same, let the coming redemption reveal. The hope of all honest lovers will lead them to the vision. Only let them remember that love must dwell in the will as well as in the heart.
From a letter to his wife, written during the final illness of their oldest daughter, Lilia.
This is your birthday, dearest. I hope you are full of hope in it. Though the outer decay, the inner, the thing that trusts in the perfect creative life, grows stronger — does it not? God will be better to us than we think, however expectant we be....
Dearest, my love to you on this your birthday — a good day for me. I thank God for you.
From the novel Sir Gibbie. The woman whom Gibbie loves has just promised to marry him.
Pearl-street and the Auld Hoose are in a town; Glashgar is the mountain which is his spiritual home.
Gibbie went home as if Pearl-street had been the stairs of Glashgar, and the Auld Hoose a mansion in the heavens. He seemed to float along the way as one floats in a happy dream, where motion is born at once of the will, without the intermediating mechanics of nerve, muscle, and fulcrum. Love had been gathering and ever storing itself in his heart so many years for this brown dove! now at last the rock was smitten, and its treasure rushed forth to her service. In nothing was it changed as it issued, save as the dark, silent, motionless water of the cavern changes into the sparkling, singing, dancing rivulet.
The man who loves God with his very life, and his neighbour as Christ loves him, is the man who alone is capable of grand, perfect, glorious love to any woman.
Gibbie’s was love simple, unselfish, undemanding — not merely asking for no return, but asking for no recognition, requiring not even that its existence should be known. He was a rare one, who did not make the common miserable blunder of taking the shadow cast by love — the desire, namely, to be loved — for love itself; his love was a vertical sun, and his own shadow was under his feet. Silly youths and maidens count themselves martyrs of love, when they are but the pining witnesses to a delicious and entrancing selfishness. But do not mistake me through confounding, on the other hand, the desire to be loved — which is neither wrong nor noble, any more than hunger is either wrong or noble — and the delight in being loved, to be devoid of which a man must be lost in an immeasurably deeper, in an evil, ruinous, yea, a fiendish selfishness. Not to care for love is the still worse reaction from the self-foiled and outworn greed of love. Gibbie’s love was a diamond among gem-loves. There are men whose love to a friend is less selfish than their love to the dearest woman; but Gibbie’s was not a love to be less divine towards a woman than towards a man.
One man’s love is as different from another’s as the one is himself different from the other. The love that dwells in one man is an angel, the love in another is a bird, that in another a hog. Some would count worthless the love of a man who loved everybody. There would be no distinction in being loved by such a man! — and distinction, as a guarantee of their own great worth, is what such seek. There are women who desire to be the sole object of a man’s affection, and are all their lives devoured by unlawful jealousies. A love that had never gone forth upon human being but themselves, would be to them the treasure to sell all that they might buy. And the man who brought such a love might in truth be all-absorbed therein himself: the poorest of creatures may well be absorbed in the poorest of loves. A heart has to be taught to love, and its first lesson, however well learnt, no more makes it perfect in love, than the A B C makes a savant.
The man who loves most will love best. The man who thoroughly loves God and his neighbour is the only man who will love a woman ideally — who can love her with the love God thought of between them when he made man male and female. The man, I repeat, who loves God with his very life, and his neighbour as Christ loves him, is the man who alone is capable of grand, perfect, glorious love to any woman.