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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Pathos
By Coventry Patmore (1823–1896)
 
From ‘Principle in Art’

PITY differs from pathos in this: the latter is simply emotional, and reaches no higher than the sensitive nature; though the sensitive nature, being dependent for its power and delicacy very much upon the cultivation of will and intellect, may be indefinitely developed by these active factors of the soul. Pity is helpful, and is not deadened or repelled by circumstances which disgust the simply sensitive nature; and its ardor so far consumes such obstacles to merely emotional sympathy, that the person who truly pities, finds the field of pathos extended far beyond the ordinary limits of the dainty passion which gives tears to the eyes of the selfish as well as the self-sacrificing. In an ideally perfect nature, indeed, pity, and pathos which is the feeling of pity, would be coextensive; and the latter would demand for its condition the existence of the former, with some ground of actual reality to work beneficially upon. On the other hand, entire selfishness would destroy even the faintest capacity for discerning pathos in art or circumstance. In the great mass of men and women there is sufficient virtue of pity, pity that would act if it had the opportunity, to extend in them the feeling of pity—that is, pathos—to a far larger range of circumstances than their active virtue would be competent to encounter, even if it had the chance.  1
  Suffering is of itself enough to stir pity; for absolute wickedness, with the torment of which all wholesome minds would be quite content, cannot be certainly predicted of any individual sufferer: but pathos, whether in a drawing-room tale of delicate distress, or in a tragedy of Æschylus or Shakespeare, requires that some obvious goodness or beauty or innocence or heroism should be the subject of suffering, and that the circumstance or narration of it should have certain conditions of repose, contrast, and form. The range of pathos is immense, extending from the immolation of an Isaac or an Iphigenia to the death of a kitten that purrs and licks the hand about to drown it. Next to the fact of goodness, beauty, innocence, or heroism in the sufferer, contrast is the chief factor in artistic pathos. The celestial sadness of Desdemona’s death is immensely heightened by the black shadow of Iago; and perhaps the most intense touch of pathos in all history is that of Gordon murdered at Khartoum, while his betrayer occupies himself, between the acts of a comedy at the Criterion, in devising how best he may excuse his presence there by denying that he was aware of the contretemps, or by representing his news of it as non-official. The singer of Fair Rosamund’s sorrows knew the value of contrast when he sang:—
  “Hard was the heart that gave the blow,
    Soft were the lips that bled.”
Every one knows how irresistible are a pretty woman’s tears.
  “Naught is there under heaven’s wide hollowness
    That moves more dear compassion of mind
Than beauty brought to unworthy wretchedness.”
It is partly the contrast of beauty, which is the natural appanage of happiness, that renders her tears so pathetic; but it is still more the way in which she is given to smiling through them. The author of the ‘Rhetoric’ shows his usual incomparable subtilty of observation when he notes that a little good coming upon or in the midst of extremity of evil is a source of the sharpest pathos; and when the shaft of a passionate female sorrow is feathered with beauty and pointed with a smile, there is no heart that can refuse her her will. In absolute and uncontrolled suffering there is no pathos. Nothing in the ‘Inferno’ has this quality except the passage of Paolo and Francesca, still embracing, through the fiery drift. It is the embrace that makes the pathos, “tempering extremities with extreme sweet,” or at least with the memory of it. Our present sorrows generally owe their grace of pathos to their “crown,” which is “remembering happier things.” No one weeps in sympathy with the “base self-pitying tears” of Thersites, or with those of any whose grief is without some contrasting dignity of curb. Even a little child does not move us by its sorrow, when expressed by tears and cries, a tenth part so much as by the quivering lip of attempted self-control. A great and present evil, coupled with a distant and uncertain hope, is also a source of pathos; if indeed it be not the same with that which Aristotle describes as arising from the sequence of exceeding ill and a little good. There is pathos in a departing pleasure, however small. It is the fact of sunset, not its colors,—which are the same as those of sunrise—that constitutes its sadness; and in mere darkness there may be fear and distress, but not pathos. There are few things so pathetic in literature as the story of the supper which Amelia, in Fielding’s novel, had prepared for her husband, and to which he did not come; and that of Colonel Newcome becoming a Charter-house pensioner. In each of these cases the pathos arises wholly from the contrast of noble reticence with a sorrow which has no direct expression. The same necessity for contrast renders reconciliations far more pathetic than quarrels, and the march to battle of an army to the sound of cheerful military music more able to draw tears than the spectacle of the battle itself.
  2
  The soul of pathos, like that of wit, is brevity. Very few writers are sufficiently aware of this. Humor is cumulative and diffusive, as Shakespeare, Rabelais, and Dickens well knew; but how many a good piece of pathos has been spoiled by the historian of Little Nell by an attempt to make too much of it! A drop of citric acid will give poignancy to a feast; but a draught of it—! Hence it is doubtful whether an English eye ever shed a tear over the ‘Vita Nuova,’ whatever an Italian may have done. Next to the patient endurance of heroism, the bewilderment of weakness is the most fruitful source of pathos. Hence the exquisitely touching points in ‘A Pair of Blue Eyes,’ ‘Two on a Tower,’ ‘The Trumpet-Major,’ and other of Hardy’s novels.  3
  Pathos is the luxury of grief; and when it ceases to be other than a keen-edged pleasure it ceases to be pathos. Hence Tennyson’s question in ‘Love and Duty,’ “Shall sharpest pathos blight us?” involves a misunderstanding of the word; although his understanding of the thing is well proved by such lyrics as ‘Tears, idle tears,’ and ‘Oh, well for the fisherman’s boy.’ Pleasure, and beauty which may be said to be pleasure visible, are without their highest perfection if they are without a touch of pathos. This touch, indeed, accrues naturally to profound pleasure and to great beauty, by the mere fact of the incongruity of their earthly surroundings and the sense of isolation, peril, and impermanence caused thereby. It is a doctrine of that inexhaustible and (except by Dante) almost unworked mine of poetry, Catholic theology, that the felicity of the angels and glorified saints and of God himself would not be perfect without the edge of pathos, which it receives from the fall and reconciliation of man. Hence, on Holy Saturday, the Church exclaims, “O felix culpa!” and hence “there is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth than over ninety-and-nine righteous who need no repentance.” Sin, says St. Augustine, is the necessary shadow of heaven; and pardon, says some other, is the highest light of its beatitude.  4
 
 
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