The Play of Man

Chapter 5: Love Play

Karl Groos

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Is there such a thing as playful application of the sexual impulse? Views of this subject differ widely, and the remarks on it of animal observers show that many hesitate to use the term "play" in this connection.

(253) Wundt says: "The distinction has been made between fighting play and love play, and such actions and expressions as, for instance, the cooing of doves, the calls of singing birds, etc., have been interpreted as wooings. But these wooings are quite seriously intended by the bird, and I do not think that we can regard them as in any sense playful."[1] On the other hand, others can be cited who assure us that most observers agree in ascribing to singing birds, besides their regular courtship arts of song and flight, actions which have all the marks by which Wundt himself characterizes play—namely, enjoyment, repetition, and pretence. However, we shall find that it is in man that play with the function in question is most clearly exhibited, and, as its connection with art has already been referred to, it will be sufficient to dwell on one aspect of it here—namely, its relation to poetry. However derogatory it may be considered to condition poetic art on such stimuli, the fact is incontestable that, deprived of their influence, the tree of poetry would be stripped of its verdant living dress.

On the other hand, we must avoid the older and more common error of speaking about the " sweet sportiveness of love " without distinguishing between what is really playful and what is quite seriously meant. It is true that such popular usages of speech have not become general without some foundation in fact, and it may prove interesting to inquire how this one arose. We find the element of truth in the popular feeling by comparing the subject under discussion with eating and drinking, which are also sensuous pleasures. Why do we not hear so much of play in their exercise? Evidently there is a difference. While in eating and drinking, so far as directed by hunger, the real end, the preservation of life, is always in view, while the real end of lovers' dalliance, namely, the preservation of the species, is far in the background. It is true that we sometimes eat and drink for the enjoyment it gives, as well as to satisfy hunger and renew our strength, yet the practical bearing of the act is so closely

(254) and inseparably connected with it that only under very special circumstances can we speak of it as playful. It is quite otherwise with the caresses and the traffic of love. Here the practical results are so far removed and the things in themselves are so enjoyable that such language is quite justified.

Still, while there is analogy there is not perfect identity with play, and we must carefully inspect various aspects of the subject to select those which are unmistakably of this character. The subjoined examples are therefore selected advisedly and with care, in view of possibly unexpected readers of this chapter. A glance over the field discloses the following suitable divisions: 1, Natural courtship play; 2, sex and art; 3, sex and the comic.

1. Natural Courtship Play

Birds have many familiar courtship arts which are hereditary (the isolated adult bird displays almost as much capacity in this direction as does one reared with his kind), but mammals exhibit much less of it. In relation to man there is a theory that sex grounds all art (of this we shall speak later), but a scientific system of comparative courtship of the various human races does not exist; nor, indeed, have we systematic observations of any one people. It is therefore impossible to affirm whether there are such things as instinctive gestures, expressions, caresses, etc., which all human beings recognise as sexual stimuli. From the little that is known it seems probable that the number of such tokens is not great — even the kiss is by no means general! We can only be sure of a universal tendency to approach and to touch one another, and of a disposition to self-exhibition and coquetry as probably instinctive and of the special forms which these tendencies take under the influence of imitation and tradition as secondary causes. Caressing contact may then be regarded as a play when it is an end in itself, which is possible under two conditions: First, when the pursuance of the instinctive movements to their legitimate end is prevented by incapacity or ignorance; and, second, when it is prevented by an act of will on

(255) the part of the participants. Children exhibit the first case, adults often enough the second.

It is generally known that children are frequently very early susceptible to sexual excitement, and show a desire for contact with others as well as enjoyment of it, without having the least suspicion of its meaning. Keller gives a beautiful and touching example of this in his Romeo and Julia auf dem Dorfe : " On a tiny plot of ground all covered with green herbs the little lass lay down upon her back, for she was tired, and began to croon some words in a monotonous way, while the boy sat near her and joined in the song, almost wishing to follow her example, so weary and languid he felt. The sun shone into the open mouth of the singing girl, gleaming on her teeth so dazzlingly white and shining through the full red lips. The boy noticed this, and taking her head in his hands he examined the little teeth curiously and cried, 'Guess how many teeth you have?' She reflected for a moment, as though making a careful calculation, and then said with conviction, 'A hundred.' ` No ; thirty-two,' he answered; `but wait till I count again' Then he counted aloud, but as he did not make thirty-two he had to begin over several times. The little girl kept still for some time, but as the zealous enumerator seemed never to get any nearer the end of his task she shook him off at last and cried, 'I will count yours.' So the boy stretched himself on the grass with the girl above him, throwing his head back while she counted 1, 2, 7, 5, 2; but the task was too hard for the little beauty, and the boy had to teach and correct her, so she too had to begin over and over again. This play seemed to please them better than any they had had that day. But at last the little girl slid down by the side of her small instructor, and the children slept together in the bright sunshine." From such tender, unconscious premonitions we pass to more strongly marked love plays, for which the services of a special instructor are usually necessary, as in the somewhat peculiar relation of the boy Rousseau to the little Goton who played the part of teacher in their private interviews: " Elle se permettait avec moi les plus grandes privautés, sans jamais m'en permettre aucune

(256) avec elle; elle me traitait exactement en enfant: ce qui me fait croire, ou qu'elle avait déjà cessé de l'être ou qu'au contraire elle l'était encore assez elle-même pour ne voir qu'un jeu dans le peril auquel elle s'exposait. "

Often, too, children show the same sort of preference, all unconscious of its import, toward particular favourites among their grown-up friends, enjoying the pleasure of contact for its own sake. " The pretty girl," says Mantegazza, " whom Nature has endowed with the power to awaken longings and sighs at her every step, often does not realize that in the swarm of her admirers there are boys scarcely yet past their childhood, who secretly kiss any flower on which she may chance to look, who are happy if they may steal like a thief into the room where the beauty has slept and may kiss the carpet that her foot has pressed; . . . and how seldom does she suspect, as her fingers play with the locks of the little fellow whose head rests on her knee, that his heart is beating audibly under her caressing touch ! "[2] Perez cites Valle's account of a ten-year-old boy who was in love with his older cousin. "Elle vient quelquefois m'agacer le cou, me ménacer les côtes de ses doigts longs. Elle rit, me caresse, m'embrasse; je la serre en me défendant et je l'ai mordue une fois. Elle m'a crié : Petit méchant ! en me donnant une tape sur la joue un pea fort, etc." [3]

This feeling may be involved in some of the positions and movements of tussling boys. Schaeffer has remarked in a short paper that in the belligerent plays of boys, especially ring fighting,[4] " the fundamental impulse of sexual life for the utmost extensive and intensive contact, with a more or less clearly defined idea of conquest underlying it," plays a most conspicuous part. I do not believe that this is the rule, yet I am convinced that Schaeffer's view is more often correct than would appear at a first glance, and especially so when the contestants arc on the ground and laughingly struggle together.

Lastly, we must notice the absorbing friendships be-

(257) -tween children of the same sex. Here, too, the instinct, robbed of its proper aim, may assume a sportive, playful air. Even among students, friendships are not rare in which the unsatisfied impulse plays its part all unknown to the subjects. I content myself in this connection with the citation of a little-known passage of the highest poetic beauty, and evidently inspired by personal reminiscence. In it a light touch of sexuality is imparted with a delicacy equal to that of Keller. Wilhelm Meister writes to Natalie of his suddenly formed and tragically ended friendship with a village lad. The two boys, who had just become acquainted, were fishing together on the river bank. " As we sat there leaning together he seemed to grow tired, and called my attention to a flat rock which projected into the water from one side of the stream. It made the loveliest place to bathe. Pretty soon he sprang up, declaring that he could no longer withstand it, and before I knew it he was down there undressed and in the water. As he was a good swimmer he soon left the shallows, yielding his form to the water and coming toward me. I too began to be interested. Grasshoppers danced around me, ants swarmed about, bright-coloured insects hung from the boughs overhead, and gold gleaming sunbeams floated and glanced fantastically at my feet, and just then a huge crab pushed up between the roots to his old stand whence he had been driven by the necessity of hiding from the fishers. It was so warm and damp that one longed to get out of the sun into the shade, and then from the cool shade to the cooler water. So it was easy for my companion to lure me in with him. I found a mild invitation irresistible and, notwithstanding some fear of parental displeasure, and a vague terror of the unknown element, I was soon making active preparations. Quickly undressing on the rock I cautiously stepped into the water, but did not go far from the gently sloping bank. Here my friend let me linger, going off by himself in the buoyant waves. When he came back he stood upright to dry his body in the warm sunshine. I thought the glory of the sun was eclipsed by the noble manly figure which I had never seen nude before. He too seemed to regard me with equal

(258) attention. Though quickly dressed again, we now stood forever revealed to one another, and with the warmest kisses we swore eternal friendship."

I suppose the general playfulness of the foregoing instances might be called in question on the ground that there is no consciousness that it is all a play, no sham activity. Yet we refer complacently enough to other things which display quite as little of such subconsciousness as play. Indeed, the rule is that it is absent from mental play, and, moreover, this is a case that more closely concerns the emotions. The plays which involve subjective sham activity overlap to a great extent the sphere of the objective ones where the man or animal takes pleasure in action which has no necessary actual aim, yet without being conscious of having turned aside from the life of cause and effect. If we admit that the boy careering aimlessly about is playing because he enjoys the movement for its own sake, or that gourmands who eat without hunger, and merely to tickle their palates, are playing, then we must also call it play when the child takes pleasure in the sexual sensations arising from touch stimuli without knowing that his activity, on account of the exclusion of their proper end, is all a sham. From a purely biological standpoint the conception of play goes much deeper, as we shall see later on. I have purposely selected such examples as (with the exception of the last citation) exhibit the sexual impulse in conjunction with other activity that is unmistakably playful, believing that this conjunction would strengthen the probability of its being playful in those cases which if given alone might appear doubtful.

With adults the subjective side of play is more prominent, especially when the proper end of the instinctive impulse for contact is held in abeyance by the will of the participants. Here belongs the dalliance of engaged couples. Ît is no play, of course, when the lovers, on the first revelation of their common feeling or after a long separation, indulge in a passionate embrace. But when in their daily intercourse that manifold trifling begins which is too familiar to need description, I see no reason why it should not be called play with touch stimuli. The more

(259) naïve the period or social class the more common this is. In the free intercourse of the sexes in mediaeval baths the jesting caresses must often have been quite rough. While many of the pictorial representations of such bathing scenes are doubtless exaggerated, still they could not have been pure inventions. The description by the Florentine Poggio (1417) of Swiss bathing customs bears them out. He expressly says: " It is remarkable to see how innocent they are; how unsuspiciously men will look on while their wives are handled by strangers, . . . while they gambol and romp with each other and sometimes without other company; yet the husbands are not disturbed nor surprised at anything because they know that it is all done in an innocent, harmless way." In feudal times it was the custom for noble gentlemen to be served in the bath by young women, to be washed by them, and afterward rubbed. At the spinning fêtes the young couples " played," as a Christmas piece has it, with all sorts of hand clasping and stroking. But the most remarkable proceeding of this kind was the " lovers' night of continence," observed in various countries, including France, Italy, and Germany, by knightly devotees whose lady permitted them to pass one night at her side, trusting to their oath and honour not to take advantage of her kindness. This strange custom, so shocking to our ideas of propriety, was doubtless derived from similar practices of very ancient origin among the peasantry, the chastity of whose girls was rarely violated in spite of the utmost intimacies. It is interesting to find an ethnological analogue to this among the Zulus. According to Fritsch, the custom of Uku-hlobonga obtains there, "in which the young bachelors join the maidens of the neighbourhood, and these latter choose their mates, each according to her pleasure. The rejected swains have to bear the scorn of the whole company, while the chosen ones recline with their sweethearts, and an imitation of the sexual function is gone through with. Yet, as a rule, the girl by force and threats prevents anything more serious![5]


Self-exhibition will occupy us only so far as it does not relate to art. Every lover desires to present himself in the most favourable light to the object of his affections, and to this end he plays a part, to a certain extent; he "does as though" he were braver, stronger, more skilful, handsomer, of finer feeling, and more intelligence than he actually and habitually is. Fliegende Blatter said once, " A lover always tries to be as lovable as he can, and is therefore always ridiculous." Such self-display is not necessarily playful, but it becomes so as soon as the lover's vanity is involved, and he aims not only at the desired effect on his mistress, but also enjoys for its own sake the exploitation of his charms. Here, as in so many psychic phenomena, the complexity of the field is important. We are able to see ourselves over our own shoulders, and behind the wooing I stands a higher consciousness which looks on with satisfaction at the display of its own attractions. Hence arise the frequent cases where a sort of tacit understanding between a man and woman prohibits all serious intercourse, so that they can have only such relations as depend on the sexual stimulus (flirting).

As the first form of courtship by self-exhibition I mention those fighting plays in which the combatants engage in the ladies' presence. I have noticed incidentally that human combat, as well as that between animals, is often connected with the sexual life, but now we will consider the subject from its proper standpoint. That a martial bearing is a means not only of terrifying enemies, but also of delighting females, all experience goes to show, and war paint and feathers become adornments as well. Here as with animals, says Colin A. Scott, the terrible approaches the beautiful, and as modesty in women has a peculiar charm to the other sex, so does a warlike spirit appeal to the feminine nature. " In some tribes a man dare not marry, and indeed no woman would have him, until he has slain a certain number of foes."[6] The conquest of rivals then becomes a means of self-exhibition before the loved one. Westermarck, in his history of

(261) human marriage, gives numerous instances of such courtship contests, from which I shall borrow. Heame states that " it is a universal custom among the North American Indians for the men who are wooing a woman to fight for her, and naturally the strongest among them gets the prize. This practice prevails among all their tribes, and is the occasion of passionate rivalry among their youths, who from childhood, and on every possible occasion, make a point of displaying their strength and skill in fighting."

Lumholtz writes from North Queensland: "If a woman is beautiful all the men want her, and the strongest and most influential is usually the lucky man. Consequently, the younger men must wait a long time to get a wife, especially if they are not brave enough to risk a fight with one stronger than themselves. Among the West Victorian tribe's described by Dawson a young chief who can not find a wife for himself and is inclined to another man's, may, if the latter has more than two wives, challenge the husband to combat, and if victorious make the lady of his choice his lawful spouse. In New Zealand when a girl has two suitors of equal merit a contest is arranged in which the damsel is dragged by the arms in different directions by the wooers, and the stronger carries off the bride." Arthur Young tells of a strange custom which was at one time general in the Arran Islands. "A number of the poorer village folk confer together respecting some young girl who according to their opinion ought to be married, and select an eligible peasant. This settled, they send a message to the fair one that next Sunday she will be 'beritten gemacht'—that is, carried on the men's shoulders. She then prepares burned wine and cider for the feast, and after mass all pay her a visit to watch the sling contest. After she is 'beritten gemacht' the rivalry begins, and general attention is skilfully directed toward the chosen swain. If he is victor he surely marries the maiden; but if another overcomes him he loses her, for she is the prize of the champion."[7] There is surely something playful about such contests, at least in the preparation and in the awards,

(262) if not in the struggle itself. But it is not always by combat with other suitors that the lover displays his courage, strength, and dexterity. By boldly taking risks and engaging in tests of strength and trials of skill which have so strong an attraction for the young, he claims the attention and admiration which women bestow on such acts. I do not assert that such exhibitions would never take place without feminine spectators, but as a rule they would be pursued with much less enthusiasm if the only onlookers were to be men. Most herdsmen would be indifferent to the Edelweiss growing on the almost inaccessible rocks did not a sprig of it in their hats advertise them to the village beauties as men fearless of danger. We have seen that the adventurous knight's readiness for the fray and hearty welcome to danger in any form were usually prompted by his wish to lay the trophies of his victories at his lady's feet. Nowhere is this sort of courtship more naïvely expressed than in Walter Scott's Ivanhoe, where Richard Coeur de Lion sings beneath his lady's window

" Joy to the fair! My name unknown,
Each deed and all its praise thine own;
Then, oh, unbar this churlish gate!
The night dew falls, the hour is late.

Inured to Syria's glowing breath,'
I feel the north breeze chill as death;
Let grateful love quell maiden shame,
And grant him bliss who brings thee fame."

We should further note the display of physical charms so far as it can be separated from art, which, indeed, is no easy task, as the boundary line is sometimes almost indistinguishable. Yet it does exist, and we may be able to detect it most readily in the conduct of our budding youths. As a rule, when the other sex begins to interest them they are impelled to make the most of every gutward advantage. The boy begins to be neat, to care for his teeth and nails, arrange his hair more carefully, to consider the fit of his clothes, and to indulge in boots and gloves which are too small for him; he puts on high collars and makes a great display of his cuffs, and impatiently awaits the premonitions of a mustache. It is

(263) altogether unlikely that he is clear as to the meaning of all this, and in that case he is playing with his personal charms. Such special attention is given to the hair by youths of all classes as to suggest a particular significance for that form of adornment, and the care of the beard naturally goes with it.

There are, however, less innocent modes of self-exhibition and some which more unmistakably point to the end which they are intended to serve. The girdle decorations of savages, for instance, are now considered to have a significance quite different from that formerly attributed to them. Their original intention was in all probability to attract attention, not to conceal. Of their ornamental use we are not now speaking, but I confess that I have my doubts of the universal applicability of the explanation just indicated, in spite of the opinion of many competent investigators. Forster speaks of the leaves of a certain species of ginger plant which the male inhabitants of some of the New Hebrides bind to their breech cloths, as outraging in their appearance every law of decency, and Barrow makes the same remark about the Hottentots.[8] Many scholars, too, are disposed to attribute the origin of circumcision to some such beginnings, as there is much against its explanation on religious or sanitary grounds. It is rather surprising that no one has adduced, in support of the modern view of the purposes of courtship served by the articles suspended from the girdle, the strange fashion of projecting front flaps introduced in the fifteenth century. Rabelais's famous chapter on this subject is merely an exaggeration, not an invention. The reality was certainly bad enough,[9] and as little calculated as are the savage decorations to serve the purposes of modesty. Yet in neither case am I prepared to assert that they belong exclusively to the category of sexual stimuli.

The higher the culture of a people the more prominent becomes the display of mental qualities in conjunction with physical advantages. We have seen that the op-

(264) -portunity to speak in public is often the leading stimulus in the mental fighting play of argument, and in the intercourse of the sexes the decorous display of one's intellectual advantages appears as a further play, be it whether the man simply wishes to show his powers to their best advantage in the presence of beautiful women, or whether he intends his gallantry as a direct attack on the feminine heart. Every one knows how common this is as a mere play, apart from any serious intention, and, indeed, that it is the habit of man to play the gallant even when he is not especially " laying himself out " to be attractive. The much-decried unseemly haste of men in society to seek refuge in the smoking room after dinner is due certainly in part to their fatigue after keeping up the play so long and trying to appear superior to their ordinary selves.

But earnest courtship, too, easily assumes a playful character, because the pleasure in self-exhibition and the satisfaction of vanity easily become ends in themselves. The stilted and flowery epistolary style common a few generations ago doubtless grew up in this way, and the old letters published as models for lovers are good instances of this sort of extravagance.

Coquetry in the other sex is allied to self-exhibition in the male, but it is of so complicated a character that a special section is devoted to its treatment. Usually the word conveys the idea of a heartless use and enjoyment of a woman's power over men, but it really has a much wider meaning which is of great biological importance.

Not only among human beings, but in the animal world as well, peculiar behaviour is noticeable on the part of females, which is based on the antagonism of two instincts—namely, the sexual impulse and inborn coyness. Hence arises that alternate seeking and fleeing for which I know no better name than coquetry, which is thus seen to be often quite different from mere heartless play. A simple illustration is that of the doe followed by an ardent buck; she flees, but it is always in a circle.

If we find the cause of such coquetry in inborn modesty which is directly opposed to the sexual impulse the

(265) question is at once asked, Of what use is this modesty? The answer which is attempted in The Play of Animals involves an essential modification of the theory of natural selection. Darwin has referred animal arts of courtship to aesthetic taste on the part of the female, who is said always to choose the handsomest and best equipped of her wooers. But it is by no means certain that such choice from a number is always the case; indeed, some observers directly contradict the theory of courtship arts at all. The Müller brothers have definitely established the fact that birds pair long before the breeding season, so that such arts can only be for the purpose of "overcoming feminine reluctance to sexual union." And H. E. Ziegler remarks, in a notice of my book, that courtship plays are indulged in repeatedly by monogamous birds long after their permanent choice has been made. With these facts then as premises, I have reached the following conclusion: Since the sex impulse must necessarily have extraordinary strength, the interests of the preservation of species are best served by a long preliminary condition of excitement and by some checks to its discharge. The instinctive coyness of the female serves this purpose. The question is not, in my opinion, which of many males she will choose, but rather which male possesses the qualities necessary for overcoming the reluctance of the female whom he selects and besieges, and for maintaining at the same time the proper state of excitation. " The female is not then the awarder of a prize, but is rather a hunted creature: and just as the beast of prey must possess special instincts for securing his victim, so must the ardent male be equipped —with special instincts for subduing the coyness of his mate." Thus the phenomena of courtship are directly referable to a biological end, and the great importance of coyness is explained.*


But this peculiarly feminine instinct has a salient psychological significance as well, as I have hinted in the preface to my former work: "Just as in the beast of prey instincts of ravenous pursuit are refined into the various arts of the chase, so from such crude efforts at wooing that courtship has finally developed in which sexual passion is psychologically sublimated into love." We must suppose that the evident refinement and depth of the marriage relation among birds is largely to be ascribed to the fact that the male does not simply excite and control his mate, but seeks to win her in a less abrupt manner by the display of his charms and capabilities; and the same is true with ourselves. Without the modesty of women, which as a rule only yields to the power of love, the sexual relation would hardly be a poet's theme, while now love is regarded as the highest flight of the human soul. " La pudeur," says Guyau, " a civilisé l'amour."

This coyness, of course, can only constitute a love play when it is manifested in the struggle with sexual instinct—that is, when it becomes coquetry or flirting. As in the female spider, this impulse is converted into rage which endangers the life of the wooing male, so there are among women Brunhild natures for whom the process of courtship can never be playful. But the effect is different when repulsion is so balanced by attraction that there is alternate motion to and from, approach and then flight; though this alone does not constitute it a play, as the conflict of opposed instincts may be very serious. When, however, women enjoy the varying moods for their own sake, playful exercise of instinct easily ensues, and is somewhat akin to the fighting and hunting play, yet clearly differentiated from them. "In Paraguay," says Mantegazza, "where intercourse between the sexes is very free, an impatient youth who. has good grounds to believe that lie is regarded favourably repeats in all possible variations of tone, now tender, now passionate, now beseeching, now wrathful, the one word,

(267) `To-day!' and the lovely creole who has never heard of Darwin answers laughingly: ` No, indeed; not to-day! You have only known me ten days ! Perhaps in two months.'" [11] Here the natural shyness has so little of fear or anger that the young girl actually enjoys controlling her lover and putting him off, and yet such coquetry as this is far from being the heartless behaviour so commonly designated by that word. Even this latter I regard as a love play, however, for we must suppose the genuine coquette to be heart whole. She finds her chief pleasure in her relations with the other sex, even the satisfaction of her vanity being of another quality from that which has no such connection. If we inquire what are some of the special forms of this playful coquetry we find them parallel with self-exhibition in men, except that the display is constantly held in check and veiled by modesty. While man makes much of his courage and strength in the presence of women, women are apt to take occasion to parade their weakness and helplessness. Genuine love involves, as I have occasion to remark, a combination of the sexual and fostering instincts; therefore woman's need of his help is a strong attraction to a man, which is quickly recognised and turned to account by the female. A young girl is usually very much alive to the fact when one of her rivals makes a display of her timidity or delicacy to make herself interesting. On the other hand, women too like to show where their capabilities lie, and they exploit their housewifely qualities. This is amusingly shown among the company collected in one of the mountain clubhouses where all must go to strengthen and refresh the inner man. Great zeal is displayed by the women, aforetime so weary, in getting out the dishes, laying the table, cooking and serving the meal, and then in clearing away and tidying up. It is all done with laughter and jest, for the very novelty makes it a delights but would their interest be so great if there were no masculine spectators in the hut?

Of all the modes of self-exhibition, there is none so important to a woman as the display of her physical

(268) charms, and the difference between the sexes is plainly shown here as elsewhere. Man in his wooing makes straight for the goal; woman's efforts are veiled, but not hidden, under a show of modesty. The man says, " Look, I am thus and so "; the woman, " I, too, am thus and so, but don't look." The alluring glance which turns away if it is noticed, but not unless it is, is a purely feminine love play, and so is the smile which is not visibly directed toward the man for whom it is intended; with them, too, attention to the hair is conspicuous. It is amazing to see what importance even a three-year-old girl will attach to it, and with what jealous interest the hair of other children is observed. A doll with real hair is their chief desire. But an enumeration of woman's peculiarities in this respect is summed up in their toilet for full dress; the décolleté gown tells the whole story. Klopstock has the idea when he speaks in his ode (Die Brant) " of the quickening breast which so softly swells, not wishing to be seen, but sure of being seen." It would be impossible for men to carry off such an exhibition as women do. They would either not do it at all, or else openly recognise the object of it. Women, on the contrary, would, if asked, indignantly protest against such an implication. As a rule, however, they show little disposition to exhibit their charms for one another's benefit.

This principle extends, too, to the display of their mental graces. When the talk between a man and a woman becomes a love play, she usually tries to conceal her discovery of their congeniality with defensive trifling. She leads him on with mocking words, makes a direct attack, then pretends to discourage him, or intrenches herself in incredulity.

2. Love Play in Art

Before going on to consider this branch of the subject a few remarks are in order in regard to the Darwinian theory, which has been so often referred to. According to it the arts are considered as directly derived from the relations of the sexes in much the same manner as the well-known phenomena in the bird world are known as courtship arts. Far be it from me to deny the sexual in

(269) -stinct its part in the beginnings of art, yet I certainly consider this view entirely too one-sided. The attempt has been made, too, to refer the conception of beauty to this instinct. Grant Allen, in particular, is a latter-day exponent of this view; proceeding from sexual selection he reasons that for man mankind is the first of aesthetic objects. All misshapen, abnormal, feeble, unnatural, and incapable creatures are repugnant to us, while those are beautiful which can boast of health, vigour, perfect development, and parental soundness. Consequently our first ideas of beauty are purely " anthropinistic," having their origin and centre in man and what immediately concerns him, his weapons, garments, and dwellings.[12] The value placed on bright-coloured shells, stones, feathers, etc., comes from their use as personal adornments. While this view certainly has much in its favour, yet its first premise is doubtful. Can we assert with assurance that the perfect human form was the first object of aesthetic admiration? If there ever were primitive men who knew no sort of personal adornment, was the well-built, vigorous, and youthful body beautiful to them? Did they first derive their intense delight in coloured stones, feathers, shells, etc., from the fact that these things could be used as bodily adornments? Such an affirmation is by no means self-evident. We find pleasure in gay or shining objects a much earlier feeling in children than is admiration of the human form, and, moreover, it must be borne in mind that the attraction instinctively felt for the normal and vigorous youthful form is not ordinarily due to aesthetic appreciation. May it not be possible that the shining stones and gay feathers were the earliest objects of aesthetic observation, and that from them the eye first received its education and learned to admire the human figure. Or if this is tooradical, is it not more prudent to assume that sensuous pleasure as such has its place in conjunction with sexual stimuli in the development of aesthetic appreciation? The personal adornments of primitive peoples seem to me to indicate clearly that men at first had very little regard

(270) for perfect physical beauty; therefore, proceeding cautiously, we are led to the conclusion that the original use of cosmetics is on the whole a detraction from racial beauty, though some painted or tattooed designs do emphasize even for our eyes the symmetry and eurythmy of the nude figure, and whitened teeth do bring out the colour effects of a dark skin. Yet there are so many forms of would-be decoration which have a contrary effect by reason of their lack of harmony with the racial norm, so to speak, that we are forced to doubt whether the natural man has much feeling for simple physical beauty in itself. Take this brief description of Scott's: "Teeth were extracted or filed to points, the head shaved, beard and eyebrows pulled out, skull compressed, feet bandaged and lengthened or deformed by turning the four smaller toes under, nose and lips weighted with rings and sticks, ear lobes dragged down until they touch the shoulders, the breasts cut off or made unnaturally prominent, the skin scarred, seamed, or bruised as well as painted, stained, and tattooed."[13] Is it not natural to infer from this that to the savage the body is beautiful only when what we think its most beautiful and characteristic features are marred or destroyed?

It proves to be very questionable, then, how far the idea of beauty is connected with the sexual instinct, though none can doubt that the use of ornaments plays an important rôle in self-exhibition before the opposite sex. It would be hazardous to state, however, that courtship is their only end, since there are terrifying decorations which would not be useful in that capacity unless, indeed, as a means of frightening away rivals, which is hardly probable. There is the social aim to be considered, and the simple pleasure in possessing beautiful, unusual, or valuable things (we put such things in our pockets, but the savage has to attach them externally).[14] Hardly any primitive method of decoration can be adduced as directly strengthening Darwin's theory; the imi-

(271) -tative principle controls the beginnings of plastic art, courtship is not the exclusive aim in savage dancing, and as for the music and poetry which go with the dancing, they rarely deal with such subjects.

It may be demurred that such arts have gradually been divorced from their original intention, but the facts do not point to it. Though some scholars regard other ornamentation as of later origin than the use of cosmetics, there is nothing to prove that this is a fact.[15] Moreover, in the development of the special arts a noteworthy fact becomes prominent—namely, that the sexual element appears stronger in the later stages, while at first other elements are quite as important or even far more so. Thus love is a conspicuous theme in the lyrics of civilized peoples, but of primitive races Grosse declares: " It can not be ascertained that the Australian tribes . . . have produced a single love song; and Rink, their most faithful student, says that the Eskimos hardly show any appreciation of the sentiment of love."[16] In our dancing the two sexes unite in a movement-play, and Orientals have beautiful girls to dance before them. Among savages, on the contrary, imitative dances are much more common, which have no connection with sex relations. Indeed, we often find rules which confine dancing to certain places of resort where women are excluded. We can say of personal adornment too that civilized peoples apply them much more to the uses of courtship than do savages. These things being true, it is well to use caution in applying the Darwinian theory to the origin of art; while uses of courtship very often accompany the appearance and development of art, we must still cling to our conception of play as its principal source. Delight in sensuous pleasure and in regularity, the charm of rhythm, enjoyment of imitation and of illusion, the demand for intense stimuli, the attraction of attempting what is difficult—all are elements in the principle which we have repeatedly found and shall find more and more, connecting the spheres of play and art without necessarily touch-

(272) -ing at all on the question of sea. Even self-exhibition itself may depend as much on the social as on the sexual instinct. I am convinced, then, that Schiller was in the main right in deriving art from play, while Darwin's theory must be relegated to the position of a secondary or partial explanation.

Having made this critical review of the subject, I may give my undivided attention to the effort to prove that art, in its last analysis, does include the sexual element along with all else that appeals to the feelings, and so is often converted into a love play. But we must distinguish such play as it is manifested in artistic production and that which appears in aesthetic enjoyment. We often find courtship carried on by means of the former, while the latter is concerned only with the playful enjoyment of sexual excitement, unconnected with any serious aim. Courtship by means of artistic production is a subject which has been pretty thoroughly canvassed and will have but brief mention here. It exhibits a playful character, such as the above-mentioned forms of self-display when the wooer enjoys the mere act of unfolding his charms. Among savages it is usually confined to the use of pigments and dancing. Westermarck and Grosse have recently enumerated the principal uses of the former. But, as I have said, such decoration is not exclusively for courtship purposes; the desire to outshine other tribes is often a powerful motive. The psychological aspect of this sort of thing is interesting. The later development of fashion teaches us that mere delight in finery and ornament is a very small part of it; there is a complication of relations. When we see an elegant old gentleman at a watering place with a flower in his buttonhole, we attribute his state of mind to a belated feeling of youthfulness; and so the adornments of savages and the coquette's toilet owe their effect less to a direct appeal to the senses than to their symbolic meaning. They betray the demand for ornament, and this demand again discloses the adaptability of ornamentation to sexual purposes. Our peasant youths at the fairs put labels in their hats announcing to the interested public that they are in the matrimonial market, and all decoration for

(273) courtship purposes says the same thing in effect. Their suggestiveness is not so much in the external appearance as in their symbolism,[17] and this may explain the fact that what is merely striking is as effective in primitive and sometimes in modern decoration as what is really beautiful.

Savage dances sometimes serve the purposes of courtship, and, of course, the wild intoxication of movement which they lead to is itself calculated to produce sexual excitement. Notes on obscene dances may be found in the works of Waitz-Gerland (Australian), Turner (Samoan), Ehrenreich (Brazilian), Powers (Californian), Fritsch (Zulu), and others. When such dances serve the purposes of courtship they are not uninteresting. When they consist of a wild mélée in which participators and spectators are thrown into a condition of ecstasy, the idea of discriminating choice on the part of the women is difficult to apply. There is, however, no such difficulty in the way of my theory that violent excitement is a necessary preliminary. I give two examples from the bird world: "The black-headed ibis of Patagonia, which is almost as large as a turkey, carries on a strange wild game in the evening. A whole flock seems to be suddenly crazed; sometimes they fly up in the air with startling suddenness, move about in a most erratic way, and as they near the ground start up again and so repeat the game, while the air for kilometres around vibrates with their harsh, metallic cries. Most ducks confine their play to mock battles on the water, but the beautiful whistling duck of the La Plata conducts them on the wing as well. From ten to twenty of them rise in the air until they appear like a tiny speck, or entirely disappear. At this great height they often remain for hours in one place, slowly separating and coming together again while the high, clear whistle of the mule blends admirably with the female's deeper, measured note, and when they approach they strike one another so powerfully with their wings that the sound, which is like hand-clapping, remains

(274) audible when the birds are out of sight."[18] In cases where this sort of orgy, indulged in by flocks of birds, serves sexual purposes, as it probably often does, my theory proves to be more explanatory than Darwin's, and the same may be said of our general dance with its direct appeal to such stimuli. It is much less likely that some of the dancers will single out special partners than that participant and spectators alike will be thrown into an ecstatic state in which all restraints are cast off.

In considering such dances the question must be met whether they, like the courtship arts of birds, are referable to instinctive tendencies. It may be inferred from the introductory part of this section that I am somewhat sceptical as to that. I do, indeed, doubt whether human dancing should be attributed exclusively to courtship, and I think we can hardly emphasize too much the fact that while man possesses the full complement of instincts, they are subordinated in his case in favour of intellectual adaptations. Of birds we know with comparative certainty that they must learn and practise their courtship arts practically without teachers; but no one will affirm that individual man without tradition or example would turn to ornament and dancing on the awakening of sexual impulse. Only a general disposition toward self-display is instinctive, the how and when being left to invention and tradition. Perhaps some particularly significant movements are specializations of this disposition, as, for instance, the hip movement, which is accentuated in the waltz and which has influenced plastic art since the time of Praxiteles. There must be much more thorough investigation of the subject before we can affirm even the possibilities respecting it.

Of the other arts, that of lyric poetry is about the only one which we need to consider in relation to courtship, and this more especially in its connection with music. Among primitive races dancing invariably accompanies the recital of such poetry. The troubadour is the product of a higher social condition. The lyric, too, played an important part as an instrument of courtship in Mo-

(275) -hammedan civilization during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, as is apparent from the Thousand and One Nights Tales. " The ear often loves before the eye," to quote from one of them which deals with the winning power of beautiful verse. In the story of Hajat Alnufus and Ardschir the amorous prince, who is disguised as a merchant, seeks to awaken the love of the proud princess by means of passionate verse, and the description is fine of how a tender interest is aroused in the coy and highspirited beauty toward the persistent wooer, though it develops, it is true, into genuine love only under his gaze. " O Hajat Alnufus," runs one of these love poems, " make happy with thy presence a lover whom absence is undoing. My life was surrounded with joy and bliss, but now the nights find me raving and mad with love. Must I always sigh and moan, always be cast down and hopeless? All night long sleep shuns me, and I gaze wearily at the stars. Oh, have pity on a dismayed and suffering lover whose heart is sad and his eyes weary with watching! " In the story of Hasan of Bassrah we have a feminine counterpart of this which deserves to be numbered among the finest pearls of Oriental lyrical poetry. Hasan's lady is so rejoiced to see him after a long separation that she breaks forth in the following rhapsody: " I breathe in the air which wafts from your land and refreshes you in the morning. I ask the wind about you whenever it blows from that way; I think of no one but you."

More common are the instances which, while not directed toward a special wooing, yet have the character of play with the sexual emotions which is pleasurable in itself, and involve the question of the connection of such stimuli with aesthetic enjoyment. I maintain that this element is much more conspicuous in the use of cosmetics and in dancing than is actual courtship, and even in the ornamentation which seems fear from the sphere of sex, and in architecture itself love play is not entirely lacking at any stage of its development. Von den Steinen has told us what pleasure the Brazilian tribes take in decorating their tools with conventionalized uluri, which are triangular pieces of bark such as the women are fond of wearing. It is very conspicuous in all the adornments

(276) of these people, who make no secret of their fondness for it. This feeling, too, is at the foundation of the employment of nude female figures for decorative purposes in renaissance art. Obscene exaggerations of the masculine figure are not uncommon in plastic representation, and are no doubt due as much to sexuality as to any religious significance (such as the exaltation of the idea of productiveness, etc.). Nor is love play lacking in the art of cultured peoples, though here we are not confronted with the crude sensuality, which is of comparatively little psychological interest, but with that more subtile effect of the instinct, that tender, moving, melting sensation which must be felt to be understood, for it can not be described. In my Einleitung in die Aesthetik.[19] I have set forth the grounds on which the philosopher Stöckl objects to representations of the nude. "As a result of original sin," he says " mankind is susceptible to evil passions which are aroused at the sight of nakedness, and the will is incited to connivance in the sinful lust. Of original sin and its consequences, it is true, most advocates of the nude in art are quite ignorant theoretically, and yet it is a truth testified to by the experience of every man, even though he be a student of aesthetics, that there is in us a law which is at variance with spiritual law, and that we ought to avoid everything that tends to bring us under its power, to which things nakedness in art belongs."[20] Whatever protest can be made against this in the name of art, and however it may be insisted that there is such a thing as chaste nudity, still I am convinced that in the extraordinary attractiveness of the work of Praxiteles and Canova, for example, subtile emotions connected with the sexual life are involved. I have noticed that for the uneducated person Canova's Vnpid and Psyche is regarded as embodying the acme of sculptured beauty without the observer having the remotest suspicion of the source of much of his intensity of admiration. The higher the aesthetic culture, however, the less as a rule (not always) is this force operative, and

(277) therefore directly in the interests of chastity the answer may be made to Stöckl's challenge, that an artist may experience a purely aesthetic enjoyment of form in the nude figure which is hardly possible to the uncultivated person.

It is hardly necessary to dilate on the influence of the instinct in question in the sphere of painting. Here, too, it is more evident to the average man, with his naïve enjoyment of materiality, than to the connoisseur. Andrée tells us that many tribes of men cherish indecent pictures and statues which have no religious symbolism, and we all know how common is the habit of drawing such things on fences and walls. But more significant than such grossness is the popular preference for sentimentally suggestive pictures. The passionate admiration of some neuropathic persons for the flat illustrations of a fashion paper is but a pathological exaggeration and distortion of the amazing popularity of some insipid, wide-eyed, simpering feminine figure, and the almost worse blond hero of many so-called artists. It is not necessary to call names, but a student of psychological aesthetics should not shrink from stating sine ira the true (though often unconscious) grounds for the admiration bestowed on such things, nor ignore its significance.

While music comes in the province of our inquiry only when the accompanying words, situation, and explanations, or the subjective temper of the hearer lends to the tone movements a sexual meaning,[21] poetry, on the contrary as has been said, plays a very large part in the business of love, and even more so 'among civilized than among primitive people. Besides love lyrics, which have been sufficiently illustrated, there are narrative descriptions of love scenes and processes—not only the numerous poetic lucubrations which deserve to be designated as erotic, which means in plain English indecent, but the whole immeasurable sea of novels and romances whose leading interest depends on this theme. Many can read such tales only in their youth (boys are especially liable to this passion for romance immediately after the subsi-

(278) -dence to their attack of Indian tales), but the majority retain their capacity for inward sympathy with the trials of lovers; and here, too, the taste of the general public. is as opposed to that of connoisseurs as in the case of pictures. The ability to cater to this taste is possessed pre-eminently by women, because the false idealism which abounds in such works accompanies a certain ignorance of the facts of life which women retain oftener and longer than men. The study of some of the better class of these romances—notably those of E. Marlit — is not without psychological interest. One of our comic papers not long since quoted this passage, ostensibly from a novel: "In an adjoining room sounded a bearded masculine voice"; and the sentence might serve as a motto for the titlepage of a treatise on the yellow-covered romance of the type which is so highly prized by hundreds of thousands of readers of both sexes. A favourite theme is to follow the fortunes of a young married couple who are estranged at first, as in Marlitt's Zweiter Frau, Werner's Glück auf, and Ohnett's Hüttenbesitzer. It is, of course, psychologically and aesthetically interesting to follow the conversion from real or pretended aversion to attachment, a process from which, Spinoza tells us, deeper love results " quam si odium non praecessisset." But the extraordinary attractive power of this novel specific for bringing about the desired result arises from a special stimulus not difficult to identify from our point of view, and inherent in the situation.

3. The Comic of Sex.

This subject offers a difficult problem. The fact that all mankind, adult and child, the refined, cultured person as well as the primitive savage, the latest representative of centuries of civilization and his remotest ancestor, alike show a propensity to take pleasure in things relating to this subject, is one which we may deplore and yet can not characterize as entirely inexplicable. But we may ask why it is considered comical.

It frequently happens that the comic impression is heterogeneous, as in the ribaldry which perverts wit from its proper sphere and makes the offence against good man-

(279) -ners take the form of a social blunder, while unintentioned indecency may raise a laugh at the expense of the perpetrator. Yet it can not be denied that the mere introduction of the sexual element is an independent source of amusement and one which requires some special explanation.

The common solution as set forth by Vischer and Zeising is to the effect that this stimulus is identical with that of any other impropriety, the laugh being at the outrage to conventionality.[22] But while this explains some cases there are others which it does not touch. Civilized man who is prohibited by strict rules of propriety any reference to such subjects may experience a feeling of triumph when he boldly bursts the bonds of custom, but with children and savages the case is quite different, and they exhibit a peculiar enjoyment of such things which is not identical with their relish of forbidden fruit. Von den Steinen tells us that the Bakaïri consider it a shameful thing to be seen eating, but do not regard the broadest reference to things sexual as the least breach of good manners.[23] Yet they too find them comic. "It is true," says the famous and learned traveller, " that things which would seem indecent to us afforded the Bakaïri, both men and women, evident enjoyment, and if any delving pedant who considers modesty in our sense an inborn inheritance of mankind could follow the rising tide of gaiety which would have offended a member of our degenerate race, he would be obliged to admit that their hearty laugh is not shameless in our sense, nor is it an effort to conceal embarrassment. Yet it is undeniably erotic in a mild way, and resembles as much as the difference in circumstances and conditions will allow the laughter over games with us in which the two sexes are thrown together." [24]

What, then, is the true source of this? Possibly the following considerations may serve to throw some light on it: First, it may be premised that allusion to sexual subjects has some association with the idea of physical

(280) ticklishness. "The sexual parts have a ticklishness as unique as their function, and as keen as their importance. The faintest suggestion of them has great power over the risibilities of children."[25] More important still are two other points which make the sexual comic a special case of offensive and defensive fighting play, such as we considered in the previous chapter. The former may be inferred from the fact that this passion throws men and animals into a state of ecstasy which robs them of self-control, and, like intoxication, temporarily " disables them in the struggle for life."[26] As a result of this the man who by word or deed actually places himself in any relation to this side of life calls forth in us a feeling of superiority which pleases us and excites our laughter. This applies especially to the amusement which all displays of amorousness induce, whether they are modest or bold—the one so long as it does not move, and the other so long as it does not disgust us. In other cases the fighting play becomes defensive, and this side of the question seems to me to exhibit more delicate psychological distinctions, since it concerns the thrill of sexual emotion which is excited in the hearer or spectator, and which, while it is agreeable, yet, coming as it does from without and therefore not under his own control, he laughingly repels it. Kant notices that amusement is generally caused by what is momentarily deceptive. If we accept the purely intellectual conception of deception—namely, that it is a shock or a slight confusion—then we may regard its conquest as a genuine triumph. Such a triumph we experience when we repel the incipient stimulation, and the contrast of ideas thus called up gives the finishing touch to the comic effect.


  1. Vorles. üb. d. Menschen-u. Thierseele, third edition, 1897, p. 405.
  2. The Psychology of Love, p. 53.
  3. L'enfant de trois à sept ans p. 273.
  4. Zeitschr. f. Psychol. u. Physiol. d. Sinnesorgane, vol. ii (1891), p.128.
  5. Fritsch, Die Eingeborenen Süd-Afrikas, p. 144.
  6. Colin A. Scott, Sea and Arty Am. Jour. of Psychol., vol. vii, p. 182.
  7. Westermarck, op. cit., p. 156.
  8. Westermarck, op. cit., p. 192
  9. Rudeck, Geschichte der öffentlichen Sittlichkeit in Deutschland, Jena, 1897, p. 45.
  10. Altum, one of the highest authorities on birds, confirms this view (Der Vogel and sein Leben, fifth edition, Munster, 1875, p. 737) 1 have to thank Baldwin, too, for the reference to Guyau, who considers that the innate modesty may be "necessaire à la femme pour arriver, sans se donner, jusqu'au complet développement de son organisme." [See also Havelock Ellis, Geschlechtstrieb and Schamgefühl, p. 10. This view was worked out in some detail—it seems, together with a view of sexual selection similar to Professor Groos's by him, in a chapter on Animal Display in a Swedish work in 1896: it is now reproduced in that author's Orizins of Art (1900), chap. xiv; cf. also the preface to the same work.—J. M. B.]
  11. Op. cit., p. 87.
  12. Mind, October, 1880.
  13. Colin A. Scott, op. cit., p. 181.
  14. We may compare, too, our watch charms. They, like the trophies and tribal symbols of savages show much more the desire for ownership than the principle of self-exhibition.
  15. The examples of decoration by animals applies to their dwellings —rather than to their persons.
  16. Grosse, p. 233.
  17. In an article on Sex and Art, Scott has developed similar ideas, and has rightly connected the vagaries of fetichism with the abnormal sexual excitement produced by special materials, such as fur, velvet, etc.
  18. The Play of Animals, p. 211.
  19. Page 76.
  20. A. Stöckl, Lehrbuch der Aesthetik, second edition, Mainz, 1889, p. 229.
  21. Wagner and Liszt are especially strong in such effects.
  22. Vischer, Aesthetic, sec. 189. Hall and Allin, op. cit., p. 31
  23. R. J. Dodge, Modern Indians of the Far West, pp. 146, 164.
  24. Op. cit., p. 68.
  25. Op. cit., p. 14. Hall and Allin.
  26. According to R. J. Dodge, who is a thorough student of Indian life, among those of the far West it is a polite fiction not to observe the wooing lover, "because they consider love a weakness."

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