Things I Learned from Sir Walter Scott: Opposites Attract!

I’m currently reading the Sir Walter Scott novel The Pirate, published in 1822.

At this point in the narrative, our hero, a young man named Mordaunt Mertoun, is wondering why his young lady friend, the gentle Minna Troil, is so taken with a newcomer to the islands of Shetland, the rough-mannered Captain Cleveland.

The chatty third-person narrator then breaks the fourth wall and swerves off into a self-admitted, tongue-in-cheek, paragraphs-long digression on the phenomenon of “opposites attracting” in love and marriage.

Some truths endure through time and remain ever humorous:

Had his knowledge of the world been a little more extensive, he might have observed, that as unions are often formed betwixt couples differing in complexion and stature, they take place still more frequently betwixt persons totally differing in feelings, in taste, in pursuits, and in understanding; and it would not be saying, perhaps, too much, to aver, that two-thirds of the marriages around us have been contracted betwixt persons, who, judging a priori, we should have thought had scare any charms for each other.

A moral and primary cause might be easily assigned for these anomalies, in the wise dispensations of Providence that the general balance of wit, wisdom, and amiable qualities of all kinds, should be kept up through society at large. For, what a world were it, if the wise were to intermarry only with the wise, the learned with the learned, the amiable with the amiable, nay, even the handsome with the handsome? and, is it not evident, that the degraded castes of the foolish, the ignorant, the brutal, and the deformed, (comprehending, by the way, far the greater portion of mankind,) must, when condemned to exclusive intercourse with each other, become gradually as much brutalized in person and disposition as so many ouranoutangs?

When, therefore, we see the “gentle joined to the rude,” we may lament the fate of the suffering individual, but we must not the less admire the mysterious disposition of that wise Providence which thus balances the moral good and evil of life;—which secures for a family, unhappy in the dispositions of one parent, a share of better and sweeter blood, transmitted from the other, and preserves to the offspring the affectionate care and protection of at least one of those from whom it is naturally due. Without the frequent occurrence of such alliances and unions—missorted as they seem at first sight—the world could not be that for which Eternal Wisdom has designed it—a place of good and evil—a place of trial at once, and of suffering, where even the worst ills are chequered with something that renders them tolerable to humble and patient minds, and where the best blessings carry with them a necessary alloy of embittering depreciation.

When, indeed, we look a little closer on the causes of those unexpected and ill-suited attachments, we have occasion to acknowledge, that the means by which they are produced do not infer that complete departure from, or inconsistency with, the character of the parties, which we might expect when the result alone is contemplated. The wise purposes which Providence appears to have had in view, by permitting such intermixture of dispositions, tempers, and understandings, in the married state, are not accomplished by any mysterious impulse by which, in contradiction to the ordinary laws of nature, men or women are urged to an union with those whom the world see to be unsuitable to them. The freedom of will is permitted to us in the occurrences of ordinary life, as in our moral conduct; and in the former as well as the latter case, is often the means of misguiding those who possess it.

Thus it usually happens, more especially to the enthusiastic and imaginative, that, having formed a picture of admiration in their own mind, they too often deceive themselves by some faint resemblance in some existing being, whom their fancy as speedily as gratuitously invests with all the attributes necessary to complete the beau ideal of mental perfection. No one, perhaps, even in the happiest marriage, with an object really beloved, ever found all the qualities he expected to possess; but in far too many cases, he finds he has practised a much higher degree of mental deception, and has erected his airy castle of felicity upon some rainbow, which owed its very existence only to the peculiar state of the atmosphere.

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