While it is important to discuss passion in relation to how a person feels about a particular subject or a work of literature, it is also very important that we consider passion in regards to how it applies to other people. This does not just include strong feelings of pleasure or pain towards a person or a people in general, but also how effectively an individual is able to discover their passions while in the presence of others and in an environment entirely different from their own. In his article on passion, Denis Diderot states in the Encyclopédie that “our self-love encourages us to search outside ourselves for proofs of our perfection: this is what allows us to discover a fourth source of pleasures and pains in the happiness or misfortune of others…Whence, in a word, all the inclinations and passions which affect us as a result of our sensitivity to humankind.”
What Diderot is implying is that by taking a look at humanity as a whole, a person will be able to successfully find his or her own pleasures and pains through the pleasures and pains of others. However, this idea raises a few noteworthy questions: if it is true that a general scope of humanity can help an individual find their sensitivities towards other individuals, does surrounding oneself with more people help him or her better decide on what those passions might be? If a person is completely separated from humanity but still has a decent understanding of what shapes and defines mankind, does that mean that this person can find passion in humanity the same way that a person in a normal society would be able to?
While it seems as though the answers to these kinds of questions were intended to be ambiguous so that readers could be free to draw their own conclusions, this did not stop writers and literary scholars in the time of the eighteenth century from trying to find a definite answer. One such writer, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, attempted to do just that in The Turkish Embassy Letters, where she shares her various observations and experiences of the culture she encountered while traveling around the Ottoman Empire. In one of her letters, she translates and discusses her opinions on a selection of Turkish poetic verses addressed to the Sultana, eldest daughter of Sultan Achmet 3rd, “I cannot determine upon the whole how well I have succeeded in the translation. Neither do I think our English proper to express such violence of passion, which is very seldom felt amongst us, and we want those compound words which are very frequent and strong in the Turkish language” (124).
Although Montagu is not directly stating it, what her implication in this passage could mean is that while she has a decent understanding of passion as a term and as a feeling, she also realizes that there are other cultures and groups of people who she believes have a much better understanding of passion than she or the rest of her own culture ever will. Finding herself in a location so different from her native residence, she uses this time to gain a fondness and a respect for Turkish culture. Montagu understands how much this culture contrasts with the English culture, but she chooses to see this as a positive rather than as a negative. Although she states that she may never feel the same passions that the Turkish people feel, she is showing her own passion by admitting this because she is expressing a desire to have a better understanding of another culture. She is getting a better grasp on how to experience passion for humanity by learning about how other people utilize and express passion itself.
What is apparent from Montagu’s writing is that it is very possible for an individual to find their passion towards humanity by visiting other cultures and learning their customs, but what of the possibility that an individual is separated from the rest of the world? If a person was in a location completely cut off from other cultures as well as their own, would that person still be able to find their passion for mankind? These are some of the questions that author Daniel Defoe approaches in his novel Robinson Crusoe. In the story, the titular character finds himself stranded on a deserted island and, for most of the book, is convinced that he has been completely separated from both society and other people in general. It is worth mentioning that for most of the narrative, the concept of passion does not appear very often. The story mainly focuses on Crusoe’s efforts to survive on the island and the adventures he has along the way, so there are not many instances where he feels the need to talk about his passions. However, he eventually starts to show an interest in discussing passion after he meets another person on the island, his companion Friday: “never Man had a more faithful, loving, sincere Servant, than Friday was to me; without Passions, Sullenness or Designs, perfectly oblig’d and engag’d…” (222).
In contrast to the way Montagu strengthened her passion through her respect of the Turkish culture, Defoe is stating in this section of his novel that Crusoe is able to talk about passion again by speaking to only one man. Crusoe learns of Friday’s personality and habits as well as the values and customs of the community he was raised in, a community that has developed on that island and has not once made contact with the rest of the world. Crusoe, being born and raised in London, realizes that he has never met another soul quite like Friday; he was brought up in a place free of cities, large populations of people, and even a form of government. What makes Friday so fascinating to Crusoe has a lot to do with the fact that the two of them have been brought up in completely different worlds but yet they get along so well and eventually become best friends as the story progresses. How this aspect of the story relates back to passion is not only found in Crusoe’s acknowledgement of Friday’s passion, or lack thereof, but also through Crusoe’s fascination with his companion. He develops a strong relationship with a man who is completely different from himself, and by getting to know Friday better, he is learning more about the culture Friday was a part of, one that he was aware of but never truly comprehended. It is in this way that Crusoe is gaining a better understanding of the part of the world he has been living in, and even though he gains this understanding by speaking to just one person, it shows that he is willing to learn more about this new culture by befriending a man who was once a part of it, therefore causing him to recall the feelings of passion that he once had for his fellow man.
Despite the fact that these two artists, Montagu and Defoe, have very different takes on how one discovers their passion for mankind, their views are united by one very important aspect of passion: admiration. “Admiration,” as Diderot explains, “is the first and simplest of our passions: it hardly deserves the name; it is this heartfelt and sudden feeling of pleasure which is aroused in us at the sight of an object whose perfection is striking to us.” While Montagu expresses admiration towards the Turkish culture and Robinson Crusoe expresses admiration towards the personality and character of one man, it is through that sense of admiration that the two different passions are connected to one another. What is interesting about this concept is that it is connecting two different viewpoints of passion from two different authors whose stories take place in two very different parts of the world, which seems to hearken back to Diderot’s claim that passion is indeed a universal feeling.
The way in which all of these observations connect together is through the aforementioned idea of a universal passion for humanity that is experienced through a sort of cultural appreciation. If humans indeed all feel passion in one form or another, maybe it is through the basic feeling of admiration towards an individual, another culture, or mankind in general that people around the world can relate to. Perhaps passion is something that can remind people of their own humanity, and that no matter how far away they are from their homes or what they recognize as familiar, they just need to remember that it is that sensation which is a proving point of their merit as both individuals and members of society.