This is one of the most bizarre analogies I have ever come across, and it comes from Stendhal, describing his concept of 'Crystallization', in regards to love. The theory is outlined in his 1822 work, On Love.
Stendhal likens the 'birth of love' to a journey from Bologna to Rome; the former symbolising 'indifference', and the latter, 'perfect love'. He explains:
'When we are in Bologna, we are entirely different; we are not concerned to admire in any particular way the person with whom we shall perhaps one day be madly in love with; even less is our imagination inclined to overrate their worth.'
The theory is that the journey is not one of choice, but the inevitable 'crystallization' begins when one leaves Bologna and travels to Rome; described in four stages:
- Admiration: one marvels at the qualities of the loved one.
- Acknowledgement: one acknowledges the pleasantness of having gained the loved one's interest.
- Hope: one envisions gaining the love of the loved one.
- Delight: one delights in overrating the beauty and merit of the person whose love one hopes to win.
'What I call 'crystallization' is the operation of the mind that draws from all that presents itself the discovery that the loved object has some new perfections.'
Stendhal's theory is that there is a process in which love blossoms from something unattractive into something of beauty. The term 'crystallization' was inspired by his 1818 journey to the Hallein salt mines, near Salzburg, where he witnessed salt crystallization with his friend Madame Gherardi.
'In the salt mines, nearing the end of the winter season, the miners will throw a leafless wintry bough into one of the abandoned workings. Two or three months later, through the effects of the waters saturated with salt which soak the bough and then let it dry as they recede, the miners find it covered with a shining deposit of crystals. The tiniest twigs no bigger than a tom-tit’s claw are encrusted with an infinity of little crystals scintillating and dazzling. The original little bough is no longer recognizable; it has become a child’s plaything very pretty to see. When the sun is shining and the air is perfectly dry the miners of Hallein seize the opportunity of offering these diamond-studded boughs to travellers preparing to go down to the mine.'
However, it was not simply the salt's crystallization alone that inspired Stendhal's thoughts. During one of their visits to the salt mines, both he and Madame Gherardi were introduced to a Bavarian officer who joined their company. What Stendhal witnessed between his friend and this officer was to become the basis for his theory. The officer began to 'fall in love' with Madame Gherardi, visible to Stendhal; but what was surprising to Stendhal was his complimenting of her hand, which had been scarred by a childhood bout of smallpox. The officer saw in Madame Gherardi the perfection that Stendhal was blind to. In this moment of realization, Stendhal noticed Madame Gherardi playing with a salt crystal-covered branch, the sunlight causing them to glitter like diamonds, and from this, his concept of mental 'crystallization' was born. He explained his thoughts later to his friend, Madame Gherardi, and illustrated on the back of a playing card (shown above):
'The effect produced on this young man by the nobility of your Italian features and those eyes of which he has never seen the like is precisely similar to the effect of crystallization upon that little branch of hornbeam you hold in your hand and which you think so pretty. Stripped of its leaves by the winter it was certainly anything but dazzling until the crystallization of the salt covered its black twigs with such a multitude of shining diamonds that only here and there can one still see the twigs as they really are.'
Stendhal's Crystallization theory imagines that when one is attracted to another person, they create an illusion of what they wish to see, no longer perceptive of reality; like 'diamonds' on a hornbeam branch, only seen by someone infatuated.
Stendhal had such strangely creative concepts; this analogy of love to salt crystals and Italian cities is just so hilarious, I love it.