The Older and Newer Ideals of Marriage


THERE are two errors concerning marriage deeply rooted in the popular mind and feeling: that monogamy is itself something which if consistently practiced will settle all the troubles attaching to the state of matrimony, and that the participation of woman in activities or interests outside the home will lead to the destruction of the family.

The historical church has stood conspicuously for the first of these ideas. Recognizing the importance of permanence in family life, it worked out the view that marriage was not merely a human arrangement, but a divine institution, a sacrament, and a sanctity which when entered upon was indissoluble under all circumstances. This at once opened up to inventive minds a rich field for graft. The infant heiress could be sold to the decayed robe, or even kidnapped by him, and the youth with prospects of a rich patrimony could be drugged or intoxicated and married in Fleet Street by a dissolute priest to a dissolute woman, thus endowing her with all his worldly goods. A long line of abuses of this character, culminating in the eighteenth century, finally led to the better view that marriage is a contract to be undertaken or annulled with reference to the welfare of the state and of the individuals concerned.

The Church and Matrimony

Curiously combined with the view that marriage was a sacrament, the church has held another view which has been of equal disservice to society -- the view that marriage was something vile, a concession, indeed, to the carnal nature of man, but not to be undertaken if man had the character to hold out against it. This classing of marriage at once with the obscenities and the sacraments has much, though not everything, to do with the fact that marriage and sex remain among the questions which it is not safe or polite to handle. The whole question of sex is of profound interest to society, but by its historical contiguity with the disreputable on the one hand and the sacred on the other it has been placed to a large extent outside the region of frank examination and scientific control.

Properly speaking monogamy claims our respect because it is more valuable to society than any other form of sexual relation. But it is not even a distinctively human institution. In some animal societies indeed it is more consistently practiced than by ourselves. In the

( 549) lowest forms of life reproduction takes place by division of the parent form or by budding, without resort to the fact of sex at all. In the first stage of sexual reproduction the mother expends a prodigal amount of physiological energy, on the chance that one in a million or even one in a hundred million eggs will by hook or by crook reach maturity, but otherwise she gives relatively little attention to the matter. And, finally, in the mammalian forms the development of the young takes place within the mother, and after birth the father assists in caring for them. This is the form of reproduction of which the lioness boasted, in the fable of Aesop, it it produced only one at a birth, "but -- a lion."

The Chief Advantage of Monogamy

The admirable point about monogamy, as practiced both by animals and by mankind, is that it assures the offspring unremitting attention from both parents until the period of puberty, when the new generation is prepared to take up life on its own account. And the longer the period of immaturity in the offspring the more important is monogamy. But it is only an admirable form within which, as we have seen, the most serious abuses may exist, and marriage is in its present shaky condition precisely because we have failed to fill the form with more intelligence and with more good will.

Of the other argument that if the woman extends her interests beyond the home she will break up the home, that the home to remain a home at all must be a "warm and intimate nest," safely screened from the world and from which the mother bird makes only very short flights indeed; or, more bluntly expressed, the view that the sphere of woman is comprehended by what the Germans call the four K's -- Kinder, Kirche, Kleider, Kuche (children, church, clothing, cooking) -- of this view it must be said that modern ethical theory regards it as irrational, anti-social and immoral.

As historically constituted the family represents the power and ownership of man. Originally he had the power of life and death over his wife and children, and until the past century woman was not a person in the eyes of the law. But in the meantime the idea of personality has successfully invaded every part of Society except marriage and the home. The home in so far as it represents the superiority of man is the survival of a system which is outworn and abandoned. If the family is to continue, woman must be recognized fully as a personality, and the home must become a part of society, while preserving its integrity. It must work out on society and be worked back upon by society, and the two must permeate each other. The home is the point where society begins and where youth gets its first training in mind and character, and the home can certainly not afford to be less intelligent than society at large. Otherwise society will eventually take charge of the child, and very properly. The preservation of the home in fact depends on woman's possession of an intelligence worthy of her influence and her responsibility, and this she can secure only by being of the outer world as well as of the home.

The Impressionable Age of Childhood

Psychologists are now well aware of the overwhelming importance of early influences on the life-direction of the child, and criminologists recognize that if you wish to get a child away from criminal surroundings before it is too late you must take him, not when he is ten years old, nor even five, but when he is three months, or better still, when he is two weeks old. The social surrounding is soaked up by the child with the mother's milk. Without any particular instruction you find him beginning to use speech at the age of two -- and speech is the most wonderful instrument we handle; and at the age of six or seven he has tucked away in his little head two-thirds of all the words he will ever use. This is a fair indication of the rate at which consciousness and: character in general are being built up at a tender and impressionable period which we have been apt to regard as of no particular importance. The schools supply special information, but that part of the general structure of mind and the ground-patterns of character which is not fixed by heredity is well under way before the child reaches the teacher.

The early years of the child are thus of even more importance than the later, and it is evident that the home contains a momentous responsibility for the mother. And mothers are naturally well endowed for this situation. They are fortunately very talkative, because speech is the medium through which the mind is mainly built up, and they have the patience and warmth of heart and emotional glow to make the copies of life and character presented to the young mind very vivid and very contagious. Mrs. Browning has expressed the temperamental side of woman very touchingly:

Women know the way to rear up children, to be just;
They have a simple, merry, tender knack of tying sashes, fitting baby shoes;


Of stringing pretty words that make no sense, and kissing full sense into empty words
Which things are corals to cut life upon, although such trifles.

The Education of Mothers

But the mind cannot be shaped on baby talk alone, especially in this era of science. To handle the child wisely the mother should be as wise as society can make her. She should be educated both in life and in the schools, and the solicitude and provision for her education should certainly not be less than for that of the scientific specialist. Intelligence is the result of a memory acting on a varied experience, and in the case of what we call a high order of intelligence, the memory acts not only on a varied individual experience but on the experience of the race as preserved in records and presented in selected copies. And this knowledge is more complete if the individual has been supplied with a discriminative technique in the way of logical analysis, constructive thinking, and experimental method. Knowledge is now a highly specialized process, and to educate the child means to put him in possession of the accumulated knowledge of the race. It is therefore a proposition which "leaps to the eyes" that if the racial knowledge and ideals begin to be fixed at an early age in the child the mind of the mother must not be neglected. At the age of perhaps eight the child's brain is practically all in; he is short only in experience and practice. He can understand any abstract principle and any piece of literature, from the theory of evolution to the Hamlet of Shakespeare, but when he spends his time with an uneducated nurse or an unideaed mother he goes to school and even to college with a mind so barren that one of our great colleges has actually introduced a tutorial system by which an intelligent instructor practically lives with the boy and attempts the reparation of a misspent childhood.

It is also true that there never was a time in the history of the family when it stood so much in need of an intelligent mother. Formerly life as a whole was largely comprehended within the family. The industries and arts, education and religion were carried on there. But these interests have now been abstracted from the home to such a degree that the family situation is left rather empty. Business pursuits keep the father away from home most of the time, and even set very narrow limits to his intelligence, and it is therefore peculiarly important that the mother should be fit to represent the interests of life during that prolonged period before the child makes his connections with the outer world.

Morality is with reference to the welfare of society, not the appetites of the individual, and a theory or practice which restricts the interests of the mother and thereby stunts the life of the child is, in the profoundest sense of the word, immoral.

Two Types of Marriage Relationship

I am aware that any view of marriage which would make the home a part of public life and the woman a separate personality is distasteful to many persons. It is especially urged that such a change would destroy the romantic element in marriage and make women unattractive to men. Now the romantic affection which springs up between young people is very sincere and very beautiful, and the proper beginning of a life in common. But it is an infatuation in its nature, dependent on appetite and to some extent on inaccessibility, and consequently tends to be impermanent and discontinuous. The two types of relation which tend to become settled and permanent are the one of friendship and mutual activity and interest, based on like-mindedness, and the one of superiority and subordination, as in the relation of master and slave or man and dog. Docility and submission are very sweet to the disposition of man. He is a dominant and pugnacious creature and loves the feeling of his own power. This accounts for the fact that even in the time of the cave men he had made one of his happiest relations with the dog. The dog may be regarded as a " candidate for humanity," who failed to enter but who still implores the society of man. He possesses a grade of intelligence approaching that of man, but not dangerously near it. He is the most comfortable of friends, never attempting to manage, asking no questions and passing no criticisms, always interested in his master's movements but never meddling, sensitive to neglect but never sulking. Now this is also essentially the type of relation with woman which man has historically preferred, rather than a relation of friendship and like-mindedness. Especially as he has accumulated property and through this the means of controlling woman more completely he has shown a preference for the docile and even the frail type rather than the sturdy, child-bearing and functionally admirable types of womanhood designed by nature to feed a new generation and bear the strain of life. Female beauty is a worthy object, but it is a bad outlook for society when we confuse beauty with the signs of ill health.

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On the sentimental side much can be said for the dominance of man and the docility of woman, just as much can be said for the relation of master and slave and for the old political doctrine that the best form of government is a benevolent despotism. But if we admire this type of marriage we must at the same time recognize that it is even more consistently worked out in the Orient than among ourselves. "The Egyptian wife," says Lane, "who is attached to her husband, is apt to think, if he allows her unusual liberty, that he neglects her, and does not sufficiently love her, and to envy those wives who are kept and watched with greater strictness.... They look on the restraint with a degree of pride, as evincing the husband's care for them, and value themselves as hidden treasures." But even in Egypt a violent " woman's movement " is going on since Lane wrote, and how far the Oriental situation is from satisfying Western theory is indicated by Mill's famous dictum that "the only school of genuine moral sentiment is society between equals."

Romantic Sentiment in Art

What the romantic view has done for women and for society is very well represented in art. Our literature of the imagination, which is so important in forming the images of life in the mind of the young, is very largely a literature of sexual infatuation. Our novels and dramas almost always terminate when the marriage is arranged. The lovers embrace and the curtain falls. Even in our most conventional English stories, the story and the sexual quest end with marriage, while in the French novels, which do not follow Puritanical lines so closely, such a degree of sexual complaisance is demanded from the heroine that a prominent French feministe recently declared it was difficult to tell from French fiction whether men demanded of women that they should stand or fall. Fortunately or unfortunately art is not at present an adequate representation of life - fortunately, because life is on the whole of a better quality than the artistic representations (sic) of it, and unfortunately because art is capable of exerting a profound influence on our sentiments -- but the treatment in art of the relation of the two sexes before marriage as largely a matter of appetite, and after marriage as mainly a subject of jest, is significant of the incomplete and immoral condition of marriage and of its artistic presentation under the dominance of romantic ideals.

As I have pointed out in earlier papers, the persistence in man of the animal instincts and the romantic attitude has had a demoralizing effect on the mind and character of woman. Now no injury to woman can fail to work an injury to society. At present women as a class have not only not an intelligence equal to the proper rearing of children, but they have so completely accepted marriage as a means of luxury or at least as a mode of livelihood that they are apt to end with being contented to have nothing to do with children at all. The substitution of artificial interests has so enfeebled the interest in children that the irresponsible classes -- the insane, the idiotic and mentally defective, the diseased from birth and from excess and the habitual criminal -- are in some sections increasing at a more rapid rate than the normal population. In parts of England the increase in the insane and idiotic is 150 per cent. where the increase in the population as a whole is only 50 per cent., while in France the birth rate has for some years fallen very near the death rate.

Among the rich especially, the woman who marries does so with the expectation of luxury and finery, and the husband expects to provide them. They are a part of the system and the system breaks down without them. And after marriage, the department stores, the milliner's, the massage parlor, the silent sacrament of bridge whist, and the struggle for social preeminence almost drive the family and family life from her mind. Unfortunately these standards not only prevail among the rich but they are penetrating all classes until the young man in moderate circumstances can hardly undertake marriage at all. I recently heard a lady reproaching two well-to-do bachelors and asking them what stood in the way of their marrying. They replied that silk petticoats stood in the way; and when pressed for a more general formulation of the obstacles to marriage, they said they were not able to offer any girl in their set the standard of living to which she was accustomed.

To the extent, indeed, that women make finery and luxury dominant ideals and provide themselves with no charms of mind and character they are putting themselves, and marriage as well, in competition with the prostitute class, in which these are the dominant and sole ideals. Irreproachable conduct is the grand stock in trade of the respectable woman, and marriage is often an arrangement by which she trades her irreproachable conduct in perpetuity for irreproachable gowns. But a woman of irreproachable conduct is too often like the temperance hotel of which the commercial traveler said that it had no other quality to recommend it.


A Science of Conscious Race Culture

Up to the present time man has shown a very lively interest and ingenuity in improving his breeds of stock and dogs but has shown no systematic interest in the improvement of the quality of his own offspring. Indeed the degree of intelligence which he has shown in this connection has been in the way of checking the production of children rather than improving their quality. But there has recently been founded in England a society and a science of eugenics, or conscious race- culture, whose object is "the study of those social . agencies that influence, mentally or physically, the racial qualities of future generations."

The advocates of this science entertain the hope that "to produce a nation healthy alike in mind and body may become a fixed idea -- one of almost religious intensity." Without discounting the importance of hygiene, education and general environment they hold that the only fundamental method of race purification and race improvement is selection of the germ. In this connection Professor Karl Pearson said recently in an address at Oxford: "I have often heard false pride of ancestry condemned, but I have not seen the true pride of ancestry explained and commended. Surely the man who is conscious that he comes of a stock sound in body, able in mind, tested in achievement, and who knows that, mating with like stock and maintaining himself in health, he will hand down that heritage to his children, surely such a man may have legitimate pride in ancestry.... It seems to me that those who have the welfare of the nation and our racial fitness for the world struggle at heart, must recognize that this is the ideal which the racial conscience demands of its saner members."

In tribal society there was, indeed, a very definite interest in having a large number of children, because the preservation of the group depended on numbers. And among the Greeks the idea of eugenics in the modern sense -- the interest in the quality and the breeding of children as distinguished from the number of them -- had a very definite development. But like our other legacies from the Greeks this one was lost during our chaotic feudal welter, and marriage degenerated into something very near a play interest.

A science for the production of human thoroughbreds seems at first a startling proposition, but the idea is so important that its late appearance is to be accounted for only by the action of the church and society in placing a taboo on questions of marriage and sex. And it is fortunate that, in spite of the prejudice and conservatism of the social mind, society is capable of being revolutionized by the operation of ideas. The state is of no effect in this connection, except as an executive. We are distinguished from the Orientals, for instance, by less profound differences than we are in the habit of thinking, and our distinction lies in the possession and operation of such ideas as political and religious liberty, free thought and free speech, scientific research, free schools, civic integrity- and responsibility, and the like. An idea is also capable of becoming so saturated with feeling that it spreads through the population like a contagion. And certainly the idea of children well born and well nurtured, and marriage as a means of adding health and sanity and beauty and meaning and perpetuity to the racial life, is one capable of carrying the maximum amount of sentiment. Following the fashion, wearing ornament, attending and engineering social functions, religious seclusion, missionary effort, the cutting and painting of human figures, " the counterfeit presentments " of the stage, and other like enterprises in which men engage with passion, become pale or trivial when compared with the passion for creating, nourishing and training untainted types of flesh and blood -- if only this idea can once possess and dominate the imagination.

A Chance for Woman

Woman's present share in social activity is confessedly not satisfactory to her, and if she is really looking for a new interest, here she has one -- for eugenics does not have to do with bearing children alone but with their whole nurture, and the nurture of the child is the most precious interest of society. Man has given the idea of eugenics, because the formation of general ideas is at present in his line of work, and he will doubtless be largely concerned with working out the method and direction of its application. It is also evident that a movement of this kind implies the participation of man and that it will bring him more completely into the family, but it is a movement which concerns woman more intimately than man, because it is so dose to her natural disposition. And if women will interest themselves in the reconstitution of the family on the basis of eugenics, and will develop their minds and modify their habits sufficiently to bring this about they will have for: the first time in history the distinction of meditating a great social change.


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