IN answer to the last question it is not improbable that the casual reader might suppose the writer of these pages to be in favor of a general and indiscriminate loosening of all ties--for indeed it is always easy to draw a large inference even from the simplest expression.
But such a conclusion would be rash. There is little doubt, I think, that the compulsion of the marriage-tie (whether moral, social, or merely legal) acts beneficially in a considerable number of cases--though it is obvious that the more the compelling force takes a moral or social form and the less purely legal it is, the better; and that any changes which led to a cheap and continual transfer of affections from one object to another would be disastrous both to the character and happiness of a population. While we cannot help seeing that the marriage-relation--in order to become the indwelling-place of Love--must be made far more free than it is at present, we may also recognise that a certain amount
of external pressure is not (as things are at least) without its uses: that, for instance, it tends on the whole to concentrate affectional experience and romance on one object, and that though this may mean a loss at times in breadth it means a gain in depth and intensity; that, in many cases, if it were not for some kind of bond, the two parties, after their first passion for each other was past, and when the unavoidable period of friction had set in, might in a moment of irritation easily fly apart, whereas being forced for a while to tolerate each other's defects they learn thereby one of the best lessons of life-a tender forbearance and gentleness, which as time goes on does not unfrequently deepen again into a more pure and perfect love even than at first--a love founded indeed on the first physical intimacy, but concentrated and intensified by years of linked experience, of twined associations, of shared labors, and of mutual forgiveness; and in the third place that the existence of a distinct tie or pledge discredits the easily-current idea that mere pleasure-seeking is to be the object of the association of the sexes--a phantasmal and delusive notion, which if it once got its head, and the bit between its teeth, might soon dash the car of human advance in ruin to the ground.
But having said thus much, it is obvious that
external public opinion and pressure are looked upon only as having an educational value; and the question arises whether there is beneath this any reality of marriage which will ultimately emerge and make itself felt, enabling men and women to order their relations to each other, and to walk freely, unhampered by props or pressures from without.
And it would hardly be worth while writing on this subject, if one did not believe in some such reality. Practically I do not doubt that the more people think about these matters, and the more experience they have, the more they must ever come to feel that there is such a thing as a permanent and life-long union--perhaps a many--life-long-union--founded on some deep elements of attachment and congruity in character; and the more they must come to prize the constancy and loyalty which rivets such unions, in comparison with the fickle passion which tends to dissipate them.
In all men who have reached a certain grade of evolution, and certainly in almost all women, the deep rousing of the sexual nature carries with it a romance and tender emotional yearning towards the object of affection, which lasts on and is not forgotten, even when the sexual attraction has ceased to be strongly felt. This, in favorable cases, forms
the basis of what may almost be called an amalgamated personality. That there should exist one other person in the world towards whom all openness of interchange should establish itself, from whom there should be no concealment; whose body should be as dear to one, in every part, as one's own; with whom there should be no sense of Mine or Thine, in property or possession; into whose mind one's thoughts should naturally flow, as it were to know themselves and to receive a new illumination; and between whom and oneself there should be a spontaneous rebound of sympathy in all the joys and sorrows and experiences of life; such is perhaps one of the dearest wishes of the soul. It is obvious however that this state of affairs cannot be reached at a single leap, but must be the gradual result of years of intertwined memory and affection. For such a union Love must lay the foundation, but patience and gentle consideration and self-control must work unremittingly to perfect the structure. At length each lover comes to know the complexion of the other's mind, the wants, bodily and mental, the needs, the regrets, the satisfactions of the other, almost as his or her own--and without prejudice in favor of self rather than in favor of the other; above all, both parties come to know in course of time, and after perhaps
some doubts and trials, that the great want, the great need, which holds them together, is not going to fade away into thin air; but is going to become stronger and more indefeasible as the years go on. There falls a sweet, an irresistible, trust over their relation to each other, which consecrates as it were the double life, making both feel that nothing can now divide; and robbing each of all desire to remain, when death has indeed (or at least in outer semblance) removed the other. 1
So perfect and gracious a union--even if not always realised--is still, I say, the bonâ fide desire of most of those who have ever thought about such matters. It obviously yields far more and more enduring joy and satisfaction in life than any number of frivolous relationships. It commends itself to the common sense, so to speak, of the modern mind--and does not require, for its proof, the artificial authority of Church and State. At the same time it is equally evident--and a child could understand this--that it requires some rational forbearance and self-control for its realisation, and it is quite intelligible too, as already said, that there may be cases in which a little outside pressure, of social opinion, or even actual
law, may be helpful for the supplementing or reinforcement of the weak personal self-control of those concerned.
The modern Monogamic Marriage 96 however, certified and sanctioned by Church and State, though apparently directed to this ideal, has for the most part fallen short of it. For in constituting--as in a vast number of cases--a union resting on nothing but the outside pressure of Church and State, it constituted a thing obviously and by its nature bad and degrading; While in its more successful instances by a too great exclusiveness it has condemned itself to a fatal narrowness and stuffiness.
Looking back to the historical and physiological aspects of the question it might of course be contended--and probably with some truth--that the human male is, by his nature and needs, polygamous. Nor is it necessary to suppose that polygamy in certain countries and races is by any means so degrading or unsuccessful an institution as some folk would have it to be. 1 But, as Letourneau in his "Evolution of Marriage" points out,
the progress of society in the past has on the whole been from confusion to distinction; and we may fairly suppose that with the progress of our own race (for each race no doubt has its special genius in such matters), and as the spiritual and emotional sides of man develop in relation to the physical, there is probably a tendency for our deeper alliances to become more unitary. Though it might be said that the growing complexity of man's nature would be likely to lead him into more rather than fewer relationships, yet on the other hand it is obvious that as the depth and subtlety of any attachment that will really hold him increases, so does such attachment become more permanent and durable, and less likely to be realised in a number of persons. Woman, on the other hand, cannot be said to be by her physical nature polyandrous as man is polygynous. Though of course there are plenty of examples of women living in a state of polyandry both among savage and civilised peoples, yet her more limited sexual needs, and her long periods of gestation, render one mate physically sufficient for her; while her more clinging affectional nature perhaps accentuates her capacity of absorption in the one.
In both man and woman then we may say that we find a distinct tendency towards the formation of
this double unit of wedded life (I hardly like to use the word Monogamy on account of its sad associations)--and while we do not want to stamp such natural unions with any false irrevocability or dogmatic exclusiveness, what we do want is a recognition to-day of the tendency to their formation as a natural fact, independent of any artificial laws, just as one might believe in the natural bias of two atoms of certain different chemical substances to form a permanent compound atom or molecule.
It might not be so very difficult to get quite young people to understand this--to understand that even though they may have to contend with some superfluity of passion in early years, yet that the most deeply-rooted desire within them will probably in the end point to a permanent union with one mate; and that towards this end they must be prepared to use self-control against the aimless straying of their passions, and patience and tenderness towards the realisation of the union when its time comes. Probably most youths and girls, at the age of romance, would easily appreciate this position; and it would bring to them a much more effective and natural idea of the sacredness of Marriage than they ever get from the artificial thunder of the Church and the State on the subject.
No doubt the suggestion of the mere possibility of
any added freedom of choice and experience in the relations of the sexes will be very alarming to some people--but it is so, I think, not because they are at all ignorant that men already take to themselves considerable latitude, and that a distinct part of the undoubted evils that accompany that latitude springs from the fact that it is not recognised; not because they are ignorant that a vast number of respectable women and girls suffer frightful calamities and anguish by reason of the utter inexperience of sex in which they are brought up and have to live; but because such good people assume that any the least loosening of the formal barriers between the sexes must mean (and must be meant to mean) an utter dissolution of all ties, and the reign of mere licentiousness. They are convinced that nothing but the most unyielding and indeed exasperating straight-jacket can save society from madness and ruin.
To those, however, who can look facts in the face, and who see that as a matter of fact the reality of Marriage is coming more and more to be considered in the public mind in comparison with its formalities, the first thought will probably be one of congratulation that after such ages of treatment as a mere formality there should be any sense of the reality of the tie left; and the second
will be the question how to give this reality its natural form and expression. Having satisfied ourselves that the formation of a more or less permanent double unit is--for our race and time--on the whole the natural and ascendant law of sex-union, slowly and with whatever exceptions establishing and enforcing itself independently of any artificial enactments that exist, then we shall not feel called upon to tear our hair or rend our garments at the prospect of added freedom for the operation of this force, but shall rather be anxious to consider how it may best be freed and given room for its reasonable development and growth.
I shall therefore devote the rest of the chapter to this question. And it will probably seem (looking back to what has already been said) that the points which most need consideration, as means to this end, are (1) the furtherance of the freedom and self-dependence of women; (2) the provision of some rational teaching, of heart and of head, for both sexes during the period of youth; (3) the recognition in marriage itself of a freer, more companionable, and less pettily exclusive relationship; and (4) the abrogation or modification of the present odious law which binds people together for life, without scruple, and in the most artificial and ill-assorted unions.
It must be admitted that the first point (1) is of basic importance. As true Freedom cannot be without Love so true Love cannot be without Freedom. You cannot truly give yourself to another, unless you are master or mistress of yourself to begin with. Not only has the general custom of the self-dependence and self-ownership of women, in moral, social, and economic respects, to be gradually introduced, but the Law has to be altered in a variety of cases where it lags behind the public conscience in these matters--as in actual marriage, where it still leaves woman uncertain as to her rights over her own body, or in politics, where it still denies to her a voice in the framing of the statutes which are to bind her.
With regard to (2) hardly any one at this time of day would seriously doubt the desirability of giving adequate teaching to boys and girls. That is a point on which we have sufficiently touched, and which need not be farther discussed here. But beyond this it is important, and especially perhaps, as things stand now, for girls-that each youth or girl should personally see enough of the other sex at an early period to be able to form some kind of judgment of his or her relation to that sex and to sex-matters generally. It is monstrous that the first case of sex-glamor--the true nature of which would be exposed
by a little experience--should, perhaps for two people, decide the destinies of a life-time 102. Yet the more the sexes are kept apart, the more overwhelming does this glamor become, and the more ignorance is there, on either side, as to its nature. No doubt it is one of the great advantages of co-education of the sexes, that it tends to diminish these evils. Co-education, games and sports to some extent in common, and the doing away with the absurd superstition that because Corydon and Phyllis happen to kiss each other sitting on a gate, therefore they must live together all their lives, would soon mend matters considerably. Nor would a reasonable familiarity of this kind between the sexes in youth necessarily mean an increase of casual or clandestine sex-relations. But even if casualties did occur they would not be the fatal and unpardonable sins that they now--at least for girls--are considered to be. Though the recognition of anything like common pre-matrimonial sex-intercourse would probably be foreign to the temper of a northern nation; yet it is open to question whether Society here, in its mortal and fetichistic dread of the thing, has not, by keeping the young of both sexes in ignorance and darkness and seclusion from each other, created worse ills and suffering than it has prevented, and whether, by giving sexual acts so feverish an importance, it has
not intensified the particular evil that it dreaded, rather than abated it.
In the next place (3) we come to the establishment in marriage itself of a freer and broader and more healthy relationship than generally exists at the present time. Attractive in some ways as the ideal of the exclusive attachment is, it runs the fatal risk, as we have already pointed out, of lapsing into a mere stagnant double selfishness. But, after all, Love is fed not by what it takes, but by what it gives; and the love of man and wife too must he fed by the love they give to others. If they cannot come out of their secluded haven to reach a hand to others, or even to give some boon of affection to those who need it more than themselves, or if they mistrust each other in doing so, then assuredly they are not very well fitted to live together.
A marriage, so free, so spontaneous, that it would allow of wide excursions of the pair from each other, in common or even in separate objects of work and interest, and yet would hold them all the time in the bond of absolute sympathy, would by its very freedom be all the more poignantly attractive, and by its very scope and breadth all the richer and more vital--would be in a sense indestructible; like the relation of two suns which, revolving in fluent and rebounding curves, only recede from each other in
order to return again with renewed swiftness into close proximity--and which together blend their rays into the glory of one double star.
It has been the inability to see or understand this very simple truth that has largely contributed to the failure of the Monogamic union. The narrow physical passion of jealousy, the petty sense of private property in another person, social opinion, and legal enactments, have all converged to choke and suffocate wedded love in egoism, lust, and meanness. But surely it is not very difficult (for those who believe in the real thing) to imagine so sincere and natural a trust between man and wife that neither would be greatly alarmed at the other's friendship with a third person, nor conclude at once that it meant mere infidelity--or difficult even to imagine that such a friendship might be hailed as a gain by both parties. And if it is quite impossible (to some people) to see in such intimacies anything but a confusion of all sex-relations and a chaos of mere animal desire, we can only reply that this view exposes with fatal precision the kind of thoughts which our present marriage-system engenders. In order to suppose a rational marriage at all one must credit the parties concerned with some modicum of real affection, candor, common sense and self-control.
Withal seeing the remarkable and immense variety
of love in human nature, when the feeling is really touched--how the love-offering of one person's soul and body is entirely different from that of another person's, so much so as almost to require another name--how one passion is predominantly physical, and another predominantly emotional, and another contemplative, or spiritual, or practical, or sentimental; how in one case it is jealous and exclusive, and in another hospitable and free, and so forth-it seems rash to lay down any very hard and fast general laws for the marriage-relation, or to insist that a real and honorable affection can only exist under this or that special form. It is probably through this fact of the variety of love that it does remain possible, in some cases, for married people to have intimacies with outsiders, and yet to continue perfectly true to each other; and in rare instances, for triune and other such relations to be permanently maintained.
We now come to the last consideration, namely (4) the modification of the present law of marriage. It is pretty clear that people will not much longer consent to pledge themselves irrevocably for life as at present. And indeed there are already plentiful indications of a growing change of practice. The more people come to recognise the sacredness and
naturalness of the real union, the less will they be willing to bar themselves from this by a life-long and artificial contract made in their salad days. Hitherto the great bulwark of the existing institution has been the dependence of Women, which has given each woman a direct and most material interest in keeping up the supposed sanctity of the bond--and which has prevented a man of any generosity from proposing an alteration which would have the appearance of freeing himself at the cost of the woman; but as this fact of the dependence of women gradually dissolves out, and as the great fact of the spiritual nature of the true Marriage crystalises into more clearness--so will the formal bonds which bar the formation of the latter gradually break away and become of small import.
Love when felt at all deeply has an element of transcendentalism in it, which makes it the most natural thing in the world for the two lovers--even though drawn together by a passing sex-attraction--to swear eternal troth to each other; but there is something quite diabolic and mephistophelean in the practice of the Law, which creeping up behind, as it were, at this critical moment, and overhearing the two thus pledging themselves, claps its book together with a triumphant bang, and exclaims:
[paragraph continues] "There now you are married and done for, for the rest of your natural lives."
What actual changes in Law and Custom the collective sense of society will bring about is a matter which in its detail we cannot of course foresee or determine. But that the drift will be, and must be, towards greater freedom, is pretty clear. Ideally speaking it is plain that anything like a perfect union must have perfect freedom for its condition; and while it is quite supposable that a lover might out of the fulness of his heart make promises and give pledges, it is really almost inconceivable that anyone having that delicate and proud sense which marks deep feeling, could possibly demand a promise from his loved one. As there is undoubtedly a certain natural reticence in sex, so perhaps the most decent thing in true Marriage would be to say nothing, make no promises--either for a year or a lifetime. Promises are bad at any time, and when the heart is full silence befits it best. Practically, however, since a love of this kind is slow to be realised, since social custom is slow to change, and since the partial dependence and slavery of Woman must yet for a while continue, it is likely for such period that formal contracts of some kind 107 will still be made; only these (it may be hoped) will lose
their irrevocable and rigid character, and become in some degree adapted to the needs of the contracting parties.
Such contracts might of course, if adopted, be very various in respect to conjugal rights, conditions of termination, division of property, responsibility for and rights over children, etc. In some cases 1 108 possibly they might be looked upon as preliminary to a later and more permanent alliance; in others they would provide, for disastrous marriages, a remedy free from the inordinate scandals of the present Divorce Courts. It may however be said that rather than adopt any new system of contracts, public opinion in this country would tend to a simple facilitation of Divorce, and that if the latter were made (with due provision for the children) to depend on mutual consent, it would become little more than an affair of registration, and the scandals of the proceeding would be avoided. In any case we think that marriage-contracts, if existing at all, must tend more and more to become matters of private arrangement as far as the relations of husband and wife are concerned, and that this is likely to happen in proportion as woman becomes more free, and therefore more competent to act in her own right, It would be felt intolerable, in any decently
constituted society, that the old blunderbuss of the Law should interfere in the delicate relations of wedded life. As it is to-day the situation is most absurd. On the one hand, having been constituted from times back in favor of the male, the Law still gives to the husband barbarous rights over the person of his spouse; on the other hand, to compensate for this, it rushes in with the farcicalities of Breach of Promise; and in any case, having once pronounced its benediction over a pair--however hateful the alliance may turn out to be to both parties, and however obvious its failure to the whole world--the stupid old thing blinks owlishly on at its own work, and professes itself totally unable to undo the knot which once it tied!
The only point where there is a permanent ground for State-interference--and where indeed there is no doubt that the public authority should in some way make itself felt--is in the matter of the children resulting from any alliance. Here the relation of the pair ceases to be private and becomes social; and the interests of the child itself, and of the nation whose future citizen the child is, have to be safe-guarded. Any contracts, or any proposals of divorce, before they could be sanctioned by the public authority, would have to contain satisfactory provisions for the care and
maintenance of the children in such casualties as might ensue; nor ought there to be maintained any legal distinction between 'natural' and 'legitimate' children, since it is clear that whatever individuals or society at large may, in the former case, think of the conduct of the parents, no disability should on that account accrue to the child, nor should the parents (if identifiable) be able to escape their full responsibility for bringing it into the world. If those good people who make such a terrific outcry against folk entering into married life without going through all the abracadabra of the Law, on account of the children, would try and get the law altered so as to give illegitimate children the same status and claim on their parents as legitimate children, it would show more genuinely for their anxiety about the children, and would really be doing something in the interests of positive morality.
If it be objected that private contracts, or such facilitations of Divorce as here spoken of, would simply lead to frivolous experimental relationships entered into and broken-off ad infinitum, it must be remembered that the responsibility for due rearing and maintenance of children must give serious pause to such a career; and that to suppose that any great mass of the people would find their good iii a kind of matrimonial game of General Post is to
suppose that the mass of the people have really never acquired or been taught the rudiments of common sense in such matters--is to suppose a case for which there would hardly be a parallel in the customs of any nation or tribe that we know of.
In conclusion, it is evident that no very great change for the better in marriage-relations can take place except as the accompaniment of deep-lying changes in Society at large; and that alterations in the Law alone will effect but a limited improvement. Indeed it is not very likely, as long as the present commercial order of society lasts, that the existing Marriage-laws--founded as they are on the idea of property--will be very radically altered, though they may be to some extent. More likely is it that, underneath the law, the common practice will slide forward into newer customs. With the rise of the new society, which is already outlining itself within the structure of the old, many of the difficulties and bugbears, that at present seem to stand in the way of a more healthy relation between the sexes, will of themselves disappear.
It must be acknowledged, however, that though a gradual broadening out and humanising of Law and Custom are quite necessary, it cannot fairly be charged against these ancient tyrants that they are responsible for all the troubles connected with sex.
[paragraph continues] There are millions of people to-day who never could marry happily--however favorable the conditions might be--simply because their natures do not contain in sufficient strength the elements of loving surrender to another; and, as long as the human heart is what it is, there will be natural tragedies arising from the willingness or unwillingness of one person to release another when the former finds that his or her love is not returned. 1 While it is quite necessary that these natural tragedies should not be complicated and multiplied by needless legal interference--complicated into the numberless artificial tragedies which are so exasperating when represented on the stage or in romance, and so saddening when witnessed in real life--still we may acknowledge that, short of the millennium, they will always be with us, and that no institution of
marriage alone, or absence of institution, will rid us of them. That entire and unswerving refusal to 'cage' another person, or to accept an affection not perfectly free and spontaneous, which will, we are fain to think, be always more and more the mark of human love, must inevitably bring its own price of mortal suffering with it; yet the Love so gained, whether in the individual or in society, will be found in the end to be worth the pang--and as far beyond the other love, as is the wild bird of Paradise that comes to feed out of our hands unbidden more lovely than the prisoner we shut with draggled wings behind the bars. Love is doubtless the last and most difficult lesson that humanity has to learn; in a sense it underlies all the others. Perhaps the time has come for the modern nations when, ceasing to be children, they may even try to learn it.
95:1 It is curious that the early Church Service had "Till death us depart," but in 1661 this was altered to "Till death us do part."
96:1 See R. F. Burton's Pilgrimage to El-Medinah and Meccah, chap. xxiv. He says however, " As far as my limited observations go polyandry is the only state of society in which jealousy and quarrels about the sex are the exception and not the rule of life!"
108:1 See Appendix. 108
112:1 Perhaps one of the most sombre and inscrutable of these natural tragedies lies, for Woman, in the fact that the man to whom she first surrenders her body often acquires for her (whatever his character may be) so profound and inalienable a claim upon her heart. While, either for man or woman, it is almost impossible to thoroughly understand their own nature, or that of others, till they have had sex-experience, it happens so that in the case of woman the experience which should thus give the power of choice is frequently the very one which seals her destiny. It reveals to her, as at a glance, the tragedy of a life-time which lies before her, and yet which she cannot do other than accept.