TAKING, finally, a somewhat wider outlook over the whole subject of the most intimate human relations than was feasible in the foregoing chapters, we may make a few general remarks.
One of the great difficulties in the way of arriving at any general understanding on questions of sex--and one which we have already had occasion to note--is the extraordinary diversity of feeling and temperament which exists in these matters. Needless to say, this is increased by the reserve, natural or artificial, which so seldom allows people to express their sentiments quite freely. In the great ocean there are so many currents, cold and warm, fresh, and salt, and brackish; and each one thinks that the current in which he lives is the whole ocean. The man of the world hardly understands, certainly does not sympathise with, the recluse or ascetic--and the want of appreciation is generally returned; the maternal, the sexual, and the philanthropic woman, are all somewhat unintelligible to each other; the average male and
the average female approach the great passion from totally different sides, and are continually at odds over it; and again both of these great sections of humanity fail entirely to understand that other and well-marked class of persons whose love-attraction is (inborn) towards their own sex, and indeed hardly recognise the existence of such a class, although as a matter of fact it is a large and important one in every community. In fad, all these differences have hitherto been so little the subject of impartial study that we are still amazingly in the dark about them.
When we look back to History, and the various customs of the world in different races and tribes and at different periods of time, we seem to see these natural divergencies of human temperament reflected in the extraordinary diversity of practices that have obtained and been recognised. We see that, in some cases, the worship of sex took its place beside the worship of the gods; and--what appears equally strange--that the orgiastic rites and saturnalia of the early world were intimately connected with religious feeling; we find that, in other cases, asceticism and chastity and every denial of the flesh were glorified and looked upon as providing the only way to the heavenly kingdom; we discover that marriage has been instituted and defined and
sanctioned in endless forms, each looked upon as the only moral and possible form in its own time and country; and that the position of women under these different conditions has varied in the most remarkable way--that in some of the primitive societies where group-marriages 1 of one kind or another prevailed their dignity and influence were of the highest, that under some forms of Monogamy, as among the Nagas of Bengal, 2 women have been abjectly degraded, while under other forms, as in Ancient Egypt and the later Roman Empire, they have been treated with respect; and so forth. We cannot fail, I say, to recognise the enormous diversity of practice which has existed over the world in this matter of the relations of the sexes; nor, I may add, can we venture--if we possess any sense of humanity--to put our finger down finally on any one custom or institution, and say, Here alone is the right way.
On the contrary, it seems to me probable that, broadly speaking, a really free Society will accept and make use of all that has gone before. If, as
we have suggested, historical forms and customs are the indication of tendencies and instincts which still exist among us, then the question is, not the extinction of these tendencies, but the finding of the right place and really rational expression for them. That the various customs of past social life do subsist on beneath the surface of modern society, we know well enough; and it seems likely that society in the future will have to recognise and to a certain extent transform these. In fact, in recognising it will inevitably transform, for it will bring them out from darkness into light, and from the old conditions and surroundings of the past societies into the new conditions of the modern. Polygamy, for instance, or some related form of union, supposing it really did spontaneously and naturally arise in a society which gave perfect freedom and independence to women in their relation to men, would be completely different in character from the old-world polygamy, and would cease to act as a degrading influence on women, since it would be the spontaneous expression of their attachment to each other and to a common husband; Monogamy, under similar circumstances, would lose its narrowness and stuffiness; and the life of the Hetaira, that is of the woman who chooses to be the companion of more than one man
might not be without dignity, honor, and sincere attachment.
Again it is easy to see, if the sense of cleanness in sex ever does come in, if the physical body ever becomes clean (which it certainly is not now-a-days), clean and beautiful and accepted, within and without--and this of course it can only be through a totally changed method of life, through pure and clean food, nakedness to a large extent, and a kind of saturation with the free air and light of heaven; and if the mental and moral relation ever becomes clean, which can only be with the freedom of woman and the sincerity of man, and so forth; it is easy to see how entirely all this would alter our criticism of the various sex-relations, and our estimate of their place and fitness.
In the wild and even bacchanalian festivals of all the earlier nations, there was an element of Nature--sex-mysticism which has become lost in modern times, or quite unclean and depraved; yet we cannot but see that this element is a vital and deep-lying one in humanity, and in some form or other will probably reassert itself. On the other hand, in the Monkish and other ascetic movements of Christian or pre-Christian times, with their efforts towards a proud ascendancy over the body, there was (commonly sneered at though it may be in the
modern West) an equally vital and important truth 1, which will have to be rehabilitated. The practices of former races and times, however anomalous they may sometimes appear to us, were after all in the main the expression of needs and desires which had their place in human nature, and which still for the most part have their place there, even though overlaid and suppressed beneath existing convention; and who knows, in all the stifled longings of thousands and thousands of hearts, how the great broad soul of Humanity--which reaches to and accepts all times and races--is still ever asserting herself and swelling against the petty bonds of this or that age? The nearer Society comes to its freedom and majority the more lovingly will it embrace this great soul within it, and recognising in all the customs of the past the partial efforts of that soul to its own fulfilment will refuse to deny them, but rather seek, by acceptance and reunion, to transform and illumine them all.
Possibly, to some, these remarks will only suggest a return to genera[ confusion and promiscuity; and of course to such people they will seem inconsistent with what has been said before on the subject of the real Marriage and the tendency of human beings, as society evolves, to seek more and more sincerely a
life-long union with their chosen mate; but no one who thinks twice about the matter could well make this mistake. For the latter tendency, that namely "from confusion to distinction," is in reality the tendency of all evolution, and cannot be set aside. It is in the very nature of Love that as it realises its own aim it should rivet always more and more towards a durable and distinct relationship, nor rest till the permanent mate and equal is found. As human beings progress their relations to each other must become much more definite and distinct instead of less so--and there is no likelihood of society in its onward march lapsing backward, so to speak, to formlessness again.
But it is just the advantage of this onward movement towards definiteness that it allows-as in the evolution of all organic life--of more and more differentiation as the life rises higher in the scale of existence. If society should at any future time recognise--as we think likely it will do--the variety of needs of the human heart and of human beings, it will not therefore confuse them, but will see that these different needs indicate different functions, all of which may have their place and purpose. If it has the good sense to tolerate a Nature-festival now and then, and a certain amount of animalism 141 let loose, it will not be so foolish as to be unable to
distinguish this from the deep delight and happiness of a permanent spiritual mating; or if it recognises in some case, a woman's temporary alliance with a man for the sake of obtaining a much-needed child, it will not therefore be so silly as to mark her down for life as a common harlot. It will allow in fact that there are different forms and functions of the love-sentiment, and while really believing that a life-long comradeship (possibly with little of the sexual in it) is the most satisfying form, will see that a cast-iron Marriage-custom which, as to-day, expects two people either to live eternally in the same house and sit on opposite sides of the same table, or else to be strangers to each other--and which only recognises two sorts of intimacy, orthodox and criminal, wedded and adulterous--is itself the source of perpetual confusion and misapprehension.
No doubt the Freedom of Society in this sense, and the possibility of a human life which shall be the fluid and ever-responsive embodiment of true Love in all its variety of manifestation, goes with the Freedom of Society in the economic sense. When mankind has solved the industrial problem so far that the products of our huge mechanical forces have become a common heritage, and no man or woman is the property-slave of another, then some of the causes which compel prostitution,
property-marriage, and other perversions of affection, will have disappeared; and in such economically free society human unions may at last take place according to their own inner and true laws.
Hitherto we have hardly thought whether there were any inner laws or not; our thoughts have been fixed on the outer; and the Science of Love, if it may so be called, has been strangely neglected. Yet if, putting aside for a moment all convention and custom, one will look quietly within himself, he will perceive that there are most distinct and inviolable inner forces, binding him by different ties to different people, and with different and inevitable results according to the quality and the nature of the affection bestowed--that there is in fact in that world of the heart a kind of cosmical harmony and variety, and an order almost astronomical.
This is noticeably true of what may be called the planetary law of distances in the relation of people to one another. For of some of the circle of one's acquaintance it may be said that one loves them cordially at a hundred miles' distance; of others that they are dear friends at a mile; while others again are indispensable far nearer than that. If by any chance the friend whose planetary distance is a mile is forced into closer quarters, the only result is a
violent development of repulsion and centrifugal force, by which probably he is carried even beyond his normal distance, till such time as he settles down into his right place; while on the other hand if we are separated for a season from one who by right is very near and who we know belongs to us, we can bids our time, knowing that the forces of return will increase with the separation. How marked and definite these personal distances are may be gathered from considering how largely the art of life consists in finding and keeping them, and how much trouble arises from their confusion, and from the way in which we often only find them out after much blundering and suffering and mutual recrimination.
So marked indeed are these and other such laws that they sometimes suggest that there really is a cosmic world of souls, to which we all belong--a world of souls whose relations are eternal and clearly-defined; and that our terrestrial relations are merely the working-out and expression of far antecedent and unmodifiable facts--an idea which for many people is corroborated by the curious way in which, often at the very first sight, they become aware of their exact relation to a new-comer. In some cases this brings with it a strange sense of previous intimacy, hard to explain; and in other cases, not
so intimate, it still will seem to fix almost instantaneously the exact propinquity of the relation--so that though in succeeding years, or even decades of years, the mutual acquaintanceship may work itself out with all sorts of interesting and even unexpected developments and episodes, yet this mean distance does not vary during the whole time, so to speak, by a single hair's breadth.
Is it possible, we may ask (in the light of such experiences), that there really is a Free Society in another and deeper sense than that hitherto suggested--a society to which we all in our inmost selves consciously or unconsciously belong--the Rose of souls that Dante beheld in Paradise, whose every petal is an individual, and an individual only through its union with all the rest--the early Church's dream, of an eternal Fellowship in heaven and on earth--the Prototype of all the brotherhoods and communities that exist on this or any planet; and that the innumerable selves of men, united in the one Self, members of it and of one another (like the members of the body) stand in eternal and glorious relationship bound indissolubly together? We know of course that the reality of things cannot be adequately expressed by such phrases as these, or by any phrases, yet possibly some such conception comes as near the truth as any one
conception can; and, making use of it, we may think that our earthly relations are a continual attempt--through much blindness and ineffectualness and failure--to feel after and to find these true and permanent relations to others.
Surely in some subtle way if one person sincerely love another, heart and soul, that other becomes a part of the lover, indissolubly wrought into his being 1 Mentally the two grow and become compact together. No thought that the lover thinks, no scene that he looks on, but the impress of his loved one in some way is on it--so that as long as he exists (here or anywhere) with his most intimate self that other is threaded and twined inseparable. So clinging is the relation. Perhaps in the outer world we do not always see such relations quite clear, and we think when death or other cause removes the visible form from us that the hour of parting has come. But in the inner world it is clear enough, and we divine that we and our mate are only two little petals that grow near each other on the great Flower of Eternity; and that it is because we are near each other in that
unchanging world, that in the world of change our mortal selves are drawn together, and will be drawn always, wherever and whenever they may meet.
But since the petals of the immortal Flower are by myriads and myriads, so have we endless lessons of soul-relationship to learn--some most intimate, others doubtless less so, but all fair and perfect--so soon as we have discovered what these relationships really are, and are in no confusion of mind about them. For even those that are most distant are desirable, and have the germ of love in them, so soon as they are touched by the spirit of Truth (which means the fearless statement of the life which is in us, in poise against the similar statement of life in others); since, indeed, the spirit of Truth is the life of the whole, and only the other side of that Love which binds the whole together.
Looking at things in this light it would seem to us that the ideal of terrestrial society for which we naturally strive is that which would embody best these enduring and deep-seated relations of human souls; and that every society, as far as it is human and capable of holding together, is in its degree a reflection of the celestial City. Never is the essential, real, Society quite embodied in any mundane Utopia, but ever through human history is it
working unconsciously in the midst of mortal affairs and impelling towards an expression of itself.
At any rate, and however all this may be, the conclusion is that the inner laws in these matters--the inner laws of the sex-passion, of love, and of all human relationship--must gradually appear and take the lead, since they alone are the powers which can create and uphold a rational society; and that the outer laws--since they are dead and lifeless things--must inevitably disappear. Real love is only possible in the freedom of society; and freedom is only possible when love is a reality. The subjection of sex-relations to legal conventions is an intolerable bondage, but of course it is a bondage inescapable as long as people are slaves to a merely physical desire. The two slaveries in fact form a sort of natural counterpoise, the one to the other. When love becomes sufficient of a reality to hold the sex-passion as its powerful yet willing servant, the absurdity of Law will be at an end.
Surely it is not too much to suppose that a reasonable society will be capable of seeing these and other such things; that it will neither on the one hand submit to a cast-iron system depriving it of all grace and freedom of movement, nor on the other hand be in danger of falling into swamps of promiscuity; but that it will have the sense to
recognise and establish the innumerable and delicate distinctions of relation which build up the fabric of a complex social organism. It will understand perhaps that sincere Love is, as we have said, a real fact and its own justification, and that however various or anomalous or unusual may be the circumstances and combinations under which it appears, it demands and has to be treated by society with the utmost respect and reverence--as a law unto itself, probably the deepest and most intimate law of human life, which only in the most exceptional cases, if at all, may public institutions venture to interfere with.
In all these matters it is surprising to-day what children we are--how we take the innumerable flowers and try to snip and shape all their petals and leaves to one sorry pattern, or how with a kind of grossness we snatch at and destroy in a few moments the bloom and beauty which are rightfully undying. Perhaps it will only be for a society more fully grown than ours to understand the wealth and variety of affectional possibilities which it has within itself, and the full enchantment of the many relations in which the romance of love by a tender discrimination and æsthetic continence is preserved for years and decades of years in, as it were, a state of evergrowing perfection.
137:1 See Note on the Primitive Group-marriage, infra.
137:2 Letourneau ("Evolution of Marriage," p. 173) mentions also among the inferior races who have adopted Monogamy the Veddahs of Ceylon, the Bochimans of S. Africa, and the Kurnais of Australia.
140:1 See Remarks on the Early Star and Sex Worship, infra.
146:1 Perhaps this accounts for the feeling, which so many have experienced, that a great love, even though not apparently returned, justifies itself, and has its fruition in its own time and its own way.