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Title: Marriage In Free Society
Author: Carpenter, Edward, 1844-1929
Language: English
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By Edward Carpenter




OF the great mystery of human Love, and that most intimate personal
relation of two souls to each other--perhaps the firmest, most basic
and indissoluble fact (after our own existence) that we know; of
that strange sense--often, perhaps generally, instantaneous--of long
precedent familiarity and kinship, that deep reliance on and acceptation
of another in his or her entirety; of the tremendous strength of the
chain which thus at times will bind two hearts in lifelong dedication
and devotion, persuading and indeed not seldom compelling the persons
concerned to the sacrifice of some of the other elements of their lives
and characters; and, withal, of a certain inscrutable veiledness from
each other which so frequently accompanies the relation of the
opposite sexes, and which forms at once the abiding charm, and the
pain--sometimes the tragedy--of their union; of this palpitating winged
living thing, which one may perhaps call the real Marriage--I would say
but little; for indeed it is only fitting or possible to speak of it by
indirect language and suggestion, nor may one venture to rudely drag it
from its sanctuary into the light of the common gaze.

Compared with this, the actual marriage, in its squalid perversity as
we too often have occasion of knowing it, is as the wretched idol of the
savage to the reality which it is supposed to represent; and one seems
to hear the Aristophanic laughter of the gods as they contemplate man's
little clay image of the Heavenly Love--which, cracked in the fire of
daily life, he is fain to bind together with rusty hoops of law, and
parchment bands, lest it should crumble and fall to pieces altogether.

The whole subject, wide as life itself--as Heaven and Hell--eludes
anything like adequate treatment, and we need make no apology for
narrowing down our considerations here to just a few practical
points; and if we cannot navigate upward into the very heart of the
matter--namely, into the causes which make some people love each other
with a true and perfect love, and others unite in obedience to but a
counterfeit passion--yet we may fairly, I imagine, and with profit,
study some of the conditions which give to actual marriage its present
form, or which in the future are likely to provide real affection with a
more satisfactory expression than it has as a rule to-day.

Yet the subject, even so limited, is one on which it is extremely
difficult to get a calm audience. Marriage customs (however much they
may differ from race to race) are at any one time and among any one folk
remarkably tenacious, being sanctioned by almost a violence of public
opinion; and as in the case of theology or politics, their mere
discussion is liable to infuriate people--perhaps from the very fact
that the subject is so complex and so deeply rooted in personal feeling.
Nevertheless--since alterations have to take place in these as in other
customs, and since, as many things indicate, we are moving towards a
distinct period of change in matters matrimonial--it would seem that the
more rationally we can survey these questions beforehand, the better.

It will probably be felt that certain present difficulties in the
marriage-relation are not merely casual or local, but are deeply
intertwined with a long series of historical causes, which have led up
to that exaggerated differentiation, and consequent misunderstanding,
between the sexes, of which we have spoken in a former paper.* Behind
the relation of any individual man and woman to each other stands the
historical age-evolved relation of the two sexes generally, spreading
round and enclosing the former on all sides, and creating the social
environment from which the individuals can hardly escape. Two young
people in the present day may come together, but their relation is
already largely determined by causes over which they have no control.

     * Woman: Labour Press Society, Manchester.

As a rule they know but little of each other; society has kept the two
sexes apart; the boy and the girl have been brought up along different
lines; they hardly understand each other's nature; their mental
interests and occupations are different; and as they grow up their
worldly interests and advantage are seen to be different, often opposed;
public opinion separates their spheres and their rights and their
duties, and their honor and their dishonor* very sharply from each
other. The subject of sex is a sealed book to the girl; to the youth
it is possibly a book whose most dismal page has been opened first; in
either case with its very mention is probably connected a painful and
irrational sense of wickedness.

In this state of confusion of mind, of mutual misunderstanding, and
often of suffering, the Sex-glamor suddenly descends upon the two
individuals and drives them into each other's arms. It envelopes in a
gracious and misty halo all their differences and misapprehensions. They
marry without misgiving; and their hearts overflow with gratitude to
the white-surpliced old gentleman who reads the service over them. It is
only at a later hour, and with calmer thought, that they realise that
it is a life-sentence which he has so suavely passed upon them--not
reducible (as in the case of ordinary convicts) even to a term of 20

     * See Webster's Dictionary, which gives as one of the
     meanings of Honor, "any particular virtue much valued, as
     bravery in men and chastity in females."

The married life, in so strange and casual a way begun, or drifted
into, is hardly, one might think, likely to turn out well. Sometimes, of
course, it does; but in many cases, perhaps the majority, there follows
a painful awakening. A brief burst of satisfaction, accompanied,
probably through sheer ignorance, by gross neglect of the law of
transmutation; satiety on the physical plane, followed by vacuity of
affection on the higher planes, and that succeeded by boredom, and even
nausea; the girl, full perhaps of a tender emotion, and missing the
sympathy and consolation she expected in the man's love, only to find
its more materialistic side--"This, this then is what I am wanted for."
The man, who looked for a companion, finding he can rouse no
mortal interest in his wife's mind save in the most exasperating
trivialities;--whatever the cause may be, a veil has fallen from
before their faces, and there they sit, held together now by the least
honorable interests, the interests which they themselves can least
respect, but to which Law and Religion lend all their weight. The
monetary dependence of the woman, the mere sex-needs of the man, the
fear of public opinion, all form motives, and motives of the meanest
kind, for maintaining the seeming tie; and the relation of the two
hardens down into a dull neutrality, in which lives and characters are
narrowed and blunted, and deceit becomes the common weapon which guards
divided interests.

A sad picture! and of course in this case a portrayal deliberately of
the seamy side of the matter. But who shall make light of the agonies
often gone through in those first few years of married life?

It may be said--and often of course is said--that such cases as these
only prove that marriage was entered into under the influence of a
passing glamor and delusion, and that there was not much real devotion
to begin with. And no doubt there is truth enough in such remarks.
But--we may say in reply--because two young people make a mistake in
youth, to condemn them, for that reason, to lifelong suffering and
mutual degradation, or to see them so condemned, without proposing any
hope or way of deliverance, but with the one word "serves you right" on
the lips, is a course which can commend itself only to the grimmest and
dullest Calvinist. Whatever safe-guards against a too frivolous view
of the relationship may be proposed by the good sense of society in
the future, it is certain that the time has gone past when Marriage
can continue to be regarded as a supernatural institution to whose
maintenance human bodies and souls must be indiscriminately sacrificed;
a humaner, wiser, and less panic-stricken treatment of the subject must
set in; and if there are difficulties in the way they must be met by
patient and calm consideration of human welfare--superior to any law,
however ancient and respectable.

I take it then that, without disguising the fact that the question is
a complex one, and that our conclusions may be only very tentative, we
have to consider as rationally as we conveniently can, first, some of
the drawbacks or defects of the present marriage-customs, and secondly
such improvements in these as may suggest themselves to us, and as may
seem feasible.

And if we turn to the question of how things stand in the present day,
one of the first points to strike us--and one that we have already
touched on in another paper*--is the serious want of any special
teaching to young folk on matters of love and sex, and the
responsibility resting on parents and teachers to supply this want. That
one ought to distinguish a passing sex-spell from a true comradeship and
devotion is no doubt a wise remark, but that it is often difficult, even
for adults, to do so makes it all the more necessary that young people
should have some rational ideas on the subject, and above all that they
should get some understanding of the nature of that true love which
alone can make marriage a success. The search for a fitting mate,
especially among the more sensitive and highly-organised types of
mankind, is a most complex affair. And it is indeed hard that the
young man or woman should have to set out--as they mostly have to do
to-day--on this difficult quest without a word of suggestion or help,
as to the choice of the way or the very real perplexites and doubts that
beset it.

     *Sex-Love, and its place in a Free Society. Labour Press,

Then, besides this more general teaching, it is also highly necessary
that those in question should have some knowledge of the use and
guardianship of their own sex-functions. If the youth and girl whom we
have supposed as about to be married had been brought up in almost any
tribe of savages, they would a few years previously have gone through
regular offices of initiation into manhood and womanhood, during which
time ceremonies (possibly indecent in our eyes) would at any rate have
made many misapprehensions impossible. As it is, the civilised girl is
led to the 'altar;' often in uttermost ignorance and misunderstanding
as to the nature of the sacrificial rites about to be consummated. The
youth too (does it not seem strange?) has never been taught how to use
the female in this most important moment of their joint lives. Perhaps
he is unaware that love in the female is, in a sense, more diffused than
in the male, less specially sexual; that it dwells longer in caresses
and embraces, and determines itself more slowly towards the reproductive
system. Impatient, he injures and horrifies his partner, and
unconsciously perhaps aggravates the very hysterical tendency which
marriage might and should have allayed.*

Among the middle and well-to-do classes especially, the conditions of
high civilisation, by inducing an overfed masculinity in the males and
a nervous and hysterical tendency in the females,** increase the
difficulties mentioned; and it is among the 'classes' too that public
opinion, largely by repressing the utterance and ignoring the existence
of sex-feeling, has created the special evils of sex-starvation and
sex-ignorance on the one hand, and of mere licentiousness on the other.

     * It must be remembered too that to many women (though of
     course by no means a majority) the thought of Sex brings
     little sense of pleasure, and the fulfilment of its duties
     constitutes a real, even though a willing, sacrifice.

     ** Thus Bebel in his book on Woman speaks of "the idle and
     luxuriant life of so many women in the upper classes, the
     nervous stimulant afforded by exquisite perfumes, the over-
     dosing with poetry, music, the stage--which is regarded as
     the chief means of education, and is the chief occupation,
     of a sex already suffering from hypertrophy of nerves and

Among the comparatively uncivilised mass of the people, where a good
deal of familiarity between the sexes exists before marriage, and
where indeed marriage not unfrequently follows on sex-connection, these
special evils are not so prominent. But among the masses the crying need
for some sensible and coherent teaching for the young is only too
clear; and it is perhaps among the masses that the neglect of the law of
transmutation works to more evil results than among the classes; since
among the former--sex-intercourse being comparatively accessible,
and obstacles to marriage (from monetary and other considerations)
comparatively infrequent--the feeling is liable to flow far too much
along the mere physical channels; and the romance and sweet comradeship
of love, especially after marriage, comes too often to be replaced by an
inert and indeed rather brutish sentiment of simple juxtaposition.

So far with regard to difficulties arising from personal ignorance or
inexperience in youth. But stretching beyond and around all these are
those other difficulties which are due to the marked special relation of
the woman to the man in civilised society generally, and of the man to
the woman; and which arise from deep-lying historic and economic causes.
Into the large subject of these causes it is not necessary to enter
here. Suffice it to say that the difference in physical strength
between the sexes, together with woman's disability during the period of
child-birth and rearing, gave man from early times an advantage, which
complicating itself during the historical period has ultimated (though
not of course in the present day only) in what may be called the slavery
of woman, her subordination to man, and dependence on him for the means
of subsistence; the result being that, till a comparatively few years
ago, the woman was condemned to the most special and indeed narrow
sphere of life and action; her education, as for this sphere, was most
limited, and quite different from that of the man; and her interests
were wholly diverse from and often quite opposed to his. Under these
circumstances there was naturally little common ground for Marriage,
_except_ sex. And the same remains largely true even down to to-day. The
sex-needs once satisfied, and the emotional charm weakened or undone,
man and wife not unfrequently wake up with something like dismay to find
how little they have left in common; to find that they have nothing in
which they can take interest together; that they cannot work at the same
things, that they cannot read the same books, that they cannot keep up
half-an-hour's conversation together on any topic, and that secretly
they are cherishing their own thoughts and projects quite apart from
each other.

It must suffice too to remind the reader quite briefly that this
divergence has crept deep down into the moral and intellectual natures
of the two sexes, exaggerating the naturally complementary relation of
the male and female into a painful caricature of strength on the one
hand and dependence on the other. This is well seen in the ordinary
marriage-relation of the common-prayer-book type. The frail and delicate
female is supposed to cling round the sturdy husband's form, or to
depend from his arm in graceful incapacity; and the spectator is called
upon to admire the charming effect of the union--as of the ivy with the
oak--forgetful of the terrible moral, namely, that (in the case of the
trees at any rate) it is really a death-struggle which is going on,
in which either the oak must perish suffocated in the embraces of its
partner, or in order to free the former into anything like healthy
development the ivy must be sacrificed.

Too often of course of such marriages the egoism, lordship and physical
satisfaction of the man are the chief motive causes. The woman is
practically sacrificed to the part of the maintenance of these male
virtues. It is for her to spend her days in little forgotten details
of labor and anxiety for the sake of the man's superior comfort and
importance, to give up her needs to his whims, to 'humour' him in all
ways she can; it is for her to wipe her mind clear of all opinions in
order that she may hold it up as a kind of mirror in which he may behold
reflected his lordly self; and it is for her to sacrifice even her
physical health and natural instincts in deference to what is called her
'duty' to her husband.

How bitterly _alone_ many such a woman feels! She has dreamed of being
folded in the arms of a strong man, and surrendering herself, her life,
her mind, her all, to his service. Of course it is an unhealthy dream,
an illusion, a mere luxury of love; and it is destined to be dashed.
She has to learn that self-surrender may be just as great a crime as
self-assertion. She finds that her very willingness to be sacrificed
only fosters in the man, perhaps for his own self-defence, the egotism
and coldness that so cruelly wound her.

For how often does he with keen prevision see that if he gives way from
his coldness the clinging dependent creature will infallibly overgrow
and smother him!--that she will cut her woman-friends, will throw aside
all her own interests and pursuits in order to 'devote' herself to him,
and, affording no sturdy character of her own in which _he_ can take any
interest, will hang the festoons of her affection on every ramification
of his wretched life--nor leave him a corner free--till he perishes
from all manhood and social or heroic uses into a mere matrimonial
clothespeg, a warning and a wonderment to passers by!

However, as a third alternative, it sometimes happens that the Woman,
too wise to sacrifice her own life indiscriminately to the egoism of
her husband, and not caring for the 'festoon' method, adopts the middle
course of _appearing_ to minister to him while really pursuing her
own purposes. She cultivates the gentle science of indirectness. While
holding up a mirror for the Man to admire himself in, _behind that
mirror_ she goes her own way and carries out her own designs, separate
from him; and while sacrificing her body to his wants, she does so quite
deliberately and for a definite reason, namely, because she has found
out that she can so get a shelter for herself and her children, and can
solve the problem of that maintenance which society has hitherto denied
to her in her own right. For indeed by a cruel fate women have
been placed in exactly that position where the sacrifice of their
self-respect for base motives has easily passed beyond a temptation into
being a necessity. They have had to live, and have too often only been
able to do so by selling themselves into bondage to the man. Willing or
unwilling, overworked or dying, they have had to bear children to the
caprice of their lords; and in this serf-life their very natures have
been blunted; they have lost--what indeed should be the very glory and
crown of woman's being--the perfect freedom and the purity of their

At this whole spectacle of woman's degradation the human male has looked
on with stupid and open-mouthed indifference--as an ox might look on at
a drowning oxherd--not even dimly divining that his own fate was somehow
involved. He has calmly and obliviously watched the woman drift farther
and farther away from him, till at last, with the loss of an intelligent
and mutual understanding between the sexes, Love with unequal wings has
fallen lamed to the ground. Yet it would be idle to deny that even in
such a state of affairs as that depicted, men and women have in the past
and do often even now find some degree of satisfaction--simply indeed
because their types of character are such as belong to, and have been
evolved in accordance with, this relation.

To-day, however, there are thousands of women--and everyday more
thousands--to whom such a lopsided alliance is detestable; who are
determined that they will no longer endure the arrogant lordship and
egoism of men, nor countenance in themselves or other women the craft
and servility which are the necessary complements of the relation; who
see too clearly in the oak-and-ivy marriage its parasitism on the
one hand and strangulation on the other to be sensible of any
picturesqueness; who feel too that they have capacities and powers of
their own which need space and liberty, and some degree of sympathy and
help, for their unfolding; and who believe that they have work to do
in the world, as important in its own way as any that men do in theirs.
Such women have broken into open warfare--not against marriage, but
against a marriage which makes true and equal love an impossibility.
They feel that as long as women are economically dependent they _cannot_
stand up for themselves and insist on those rights which men from
stupidity and selfishness will not voluntarily grant them.

On the other hand there are thousands--and one would hope every day more
thousands--of men who (whatever their forerunners may have thought) do
_not_ desire or think it delightful to have a glass continually held up
for them to admire themselves in; who look for a partner in whose life
and pursuits they can find some interest, rather than for one who has no
interest but in them; who think perhaps that they would rather minister
than be (like a monkey fed with nuts in a cage) the melancholy object of
another person's ministrations; and who at any rate feel that love, in
order to be love at all, must be absolutely open and sincere, and
free from any sentiment of dependence or inequality. They see that the
present cramped condition of women is not only the cause of the false
relation between the sexes, but that it is the fruitful source--through
its debarment of any common interests--of that fatal boredom of which we
have spoken, and which is the bugbear of marriage; and they would gladly
surrender all of that masterhood and authority which is supposed to be
their due, if they could only get in return something like a frank and
level comradeship.

Thus while we see in the present inequality of the sexes an undoubted
source of marriage troubles and unsatisfactory alliances, we see also
forces at work which are tending to reaction, and to bringing the two
nearer again to each other--so that while differentiated they will not
perhaps in the future be quite so _much_ differentiated as now, but
only to a degree which will enhance and adorn, instead of destroy, their
sense of mutual sympathy.

There is another point which ought to be considered as contributing
to the ill-success of many marriages, and which no doubt is closely
connected with that just discussed--but which deserves separate
treatment. I mean the harshness of the line which social opinion (at any
rate in this country) draws round the married pair with respect to their
relations to outsiders. On the one hand, and within the matrimonial
relation, society allows practically the utmost passional excess or
indulgence, and condones it; on the other hand (I am speaking of the
middling bulk of the people, not of the extreme aristocratic and slum
classes) beyond that limit, the slightest familiarity, or any expression
of affection which might by any possibility be interpreted as deriving
from sexual feeling, is sternly anathematised.

Marriage, by a kind of absurd fiction, is represented as an oasis
situated in the midst of an arid desert--in which latter, it is
pretended, neither of the two parties is so fortunate as to find any
objects of real affectional interest. If they do they have carefully to
conceal the same from the other party.

The result of this convention is obvious enough. The married pair,
thus _driven_ as well as drawn into closest continual contact with each
other, are put through an ordeal which might well cause the stoutest
affection to quail. Not only, as already pointed out, have the man and
the wife too few joint interests in the great world, few common plans,
projects, purposes, 'causes,' recreations; but--by this insistance of
public opinion--all outside interests of a _personal_ nature, except of
the most abstract kind, are also debarred; if there happens to be
any natural jealousy in the case it is heightened and made the more
imperative; and unless the contracting parties are fortunate enough to
be, both of them, of such a temperament that they are capable of strong
attachments to persons of their own sex--and this does not always
exclude jealousy--they must be condemned to have no intimate friendships
of any kind except what they can find at their own fireside.

It is necessary here to point out, not only how dull a place this makes
the home, but also how narrowing it acts on the lives of the married
pair. However appropriate the union may be in itself it cannot be good
that it should degenerate--as it tends to degenerate so often, and where
man and wife are most faithful to each other, into a mere _égoisme
à deux_. And right enough no doubt as a great number of such unions
actually are, it must be confessed that the bourgeois marriage as a
rule, and just in its most successful and pious and respectable form,
carries with it an odious sense of Stuffiness and narrowness, moral and
intellectual; and that the type of Family which it provides is too
often like that which is disclosed when on turning over a large stone we
disturb an insect. Home that seldom sees the light.

But in cases where the marriage does not happen to be particularly
successful or unsuccessful, when perhaps a true but not overpoweringly
intense affection is satiated at a needlessly early stage by the
continual and unrelieved impingement of the two personalities on
each other, then the boredom resulting is something frightful to
contemplate--and all the more so because of the genuine affection behind
it, which contemplates with horror its own suicide. The weary couples
that may be seen at seaside places and pleasure resorts--the respectable
working-man with his wife trailing along by his side, or the highly
respectable stock-jobber arm-in-arm with his better and larger
half--their blank faces, utter want of any common topic of conversation
which has not been exhausted a thousand times already, and their obvious
relief when the hour comes which will take them back to their several
and divided occupations--these illustrate sufficiently what I mean. The
curious thing is that jealousy (accentuated as it is by social opinion)
sometimes increases in exact proportion to mutual boredom; and there are
thousands of cases of married couples leading a cat-and-dog life, and
knowing that they weary each other to distraction, who for that very
reason dread all the more to lose sight of each other, and thus never
get a chance of that holiday from their own society, and renewal of
outside interests, which would make a genuine affectional association

Thus the sharpness of the line which society draws around the pair, and
the kind of fatal snap-of-the-lock with which marriage suddenly cuts
them off from the world, not only precluding the two, as might fairly be
thought advisable, from sexual, but also barring any openly affectional
relations with outsiders, and corroborating the selfish sense of
monopoly which each has in the other,--these things lead inevitably to
the narrowing down of lives and the blunting of general human interests,
to intense mutual ennui, and when (as an escape from these evils)
outside relations are covertly indulged in, to prolonged and systematic

From all which the only conclusion seems to be that marriage must be
either alive or dead. As a dead thing it can of course be petrified into
a hard and fast formula, but if it is to be a living bond, that living
bond must be trusted to, to hold the lovers together; nor be too
forcibly stiffened and contracted by private jealousy and public
censorship, lest the thing that it would preserve for us perish so,
and cease altogether to be beautiful. It is the same with this as with
everything else. If we would have a living thing, we must give that
thing some degree of liberty--even though liberty bring with it risk. If
we would debar all liberty and all risk, then we can have only the mummy
and dead husk of the thing.

Thus far I have had the somewhat invidious task, but perhaps necessary
as a preliminary one, of dwelling on the defects and drawbacks of the
present marriage system. I am sensible that, with due discretion, some
things might have been said, which have not been said, in its praise;
its successful, instead of its unsuccessful, instances might have been
cited; and taking for granted the dependence of women, and other points
which have already been sufficiently discussed--it might have been
possible to show that the bourgeois arrangement was on the whole as
satisfactory as could be expected. But such a course would neither have
been sincere, nor have served any practical purpose. In view of the
actually changing relations between the sexes, it is obvious that
changes in the form of the marriage institution are impending, and the
questions which are really pressing on folks' mind are: What are those
changes going to be; and, Of what kind do we wish them to be?

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 a careful 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 are bound to see
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.*

     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."

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 re-inforcement of the weak personal self-control of
those concerned.

The modern Monogamic Marriage 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

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.* 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.

     * See R. F. Burton's Pilgrimage to El-Medinah and Meccah,
     ch. 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!"

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. Such unions as that
depicted a page or two back, built up by patient and loving care over a
long stretch of years, and becoming at last in a sense impregnable,
do, we maintain, by their actual growth and evolution exemplify this

It might not be so very difficult to get quite young people to
understand this--to understand that even though they might have to
contend with some superfluity of passion in early years, yet that the
most permanent and most deeply-rooted desire within them will in all
probability lead them at last to find their complete happiness and
self-fulfilment only in a close union with a life-mate; and that towards
this end they must be prepared to use self-control to prevent 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 such folk the appearance of our child--the real Marriage--now
presented for their consideration (not without some care it must be
admitted, as to the smoothing of its hair and pinafore, and the trimming
of its naughty little nails) will be strangely disquieting. Accustomed
to look on human nature as essentially bad, and on Law and Convention as
the _only_ things that restrain it from wild excess, it will be hard for
them to believe that there is any formative principle of decent life
in the apparition before them. We are however prepared to contend that,
appearances or prejudices notwithstanding there is a heart of goodness
in the young thing; and that, anyhow, whatever we may think or wish, it
is here already and among us, and that practically what we have to do is
to consider how it can best be made to grow up into a useful member of

In fact, and to leave metaphor; when after quietly looking all round the
subject we have satisfied ourselves that the formation of a mere 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 development and growth to its
most perfect use in the social order. And it will probably seem to us
(looking back to the earlier part of this paper) 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 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 laws which are to bind her. And beyond this, since
in the modern industrial-commercial State all Freedom has to be largely
based on industrial and monetary freedom, it is obviously of paramount
necessity that woman should have liberal access to professional spheres
and the means of securing her own independent monetary position through
ordinary industrial channels. Whatever the future may bring about in
the way of a changed social order and a consequently changed basis for
woman's independence, it is clear that as things are now, and for a long
time yet, her real freedom can only be secured through her command, even
in the face of man, of the ordinary resources of the wage-earner.

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. 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 between the sexes in youth--tempered, as
it would be, by previous education and by the subsidence of the
blind passion--necessarily mean an increase of casual or clandestine
sex-relations. But even if casualties of this kind 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 it has not indeed 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 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, in this world, Love is fed
not by what it takes, but by what it gives; and the very excellent dual
love of man and wife must be fed also 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 cosmic double star.

It has been the inability to see or understand this very simple truth
that has largely contributed to the failure of the Monogamie 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 of the situation is probably one that arises greatly out
of the present marriage system, and the modes of thought which it
engenders--and that anyhow the difficulty to which it refers is likely
to be guarded against better by candor and a little common sense than by
hysterics and deception. In order to suppose a rational marriage at all
one must credit the parties concerned with some modicum of 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 remain perfectly true to each other; and in
rare instances, for triune and other such relations to be permanently

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

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 diabolical 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: "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 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

Such contracts might of course, if adopted, be very very various in
respect to conjugal rights, conditions of termination, division of
property, responsibility for and rights over children, etc. In some
cases* they might be looked upon as preliminary to a more permanent
alliance to be made later on; 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!

     * As suggested by Mrs. H. Ellis in her pamphlet A Noviciate
     for Marriage.

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 it be objected that such 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 in 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

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. 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.* 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.

     * 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

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