This essay appeared in the Westminster Review’s “Independent section” with the following explanation:

[Under the above title a limited portion of THE WESTMINSTER REVIEW is occasionally set apart for the reception of able Articles, which, though harmonizing with the general spirit and aims of the Review, may contain opinions at variance with the particular ideas or measures it advocates. The object of the Editors in introducing this department, is to facilitate the expression of opinion by men of high mental power and culture, who, while they are zealous friends of freedom and progress, yet differ widely on points of great practical concern, both from the Editors and from each other.]

In transcribing Caird’s essay from the Internet Archive online version of a copy in the Ohio State University Library (Westminster Review, 130 (1888): 186-201), I have integrated footnotes in the main text. Page breaks in the original are indicated as follows [189/190] — George P. Landow

Decorated initial I

T is not difficult to find people mild and easy-going about religion, and even politics may be regarded with wide-minded tolerance; but broach social subjects, and English men and women at once become alarmed and talk about the foundations of society and the sacredness of the home! Yet the particular form of social life, or of marriage, to which they are so deeply attached, has by no means existed from time immemorial; in fact, modern marriage, with its satellite ideas, only dates as far back as the age of Luther. Of course the institution existed long before, but our particular mode of regarding it can be traced to the era of the Reformation, when commerce, competition, the great bourgeois class, and that remarkable thing called “Respectability,” also began to arise.

Before entering upon the history of marriage, it is necessary to clear the ground for thought upon this subject by a protest against the careless use of the words “human nature,” and especially “woman's nature.” History will show us, if anything will, that human nature has an apparently limitless adaptability, and that therefore no conclusion can be built upon special manifestations which may at any time be developed. Such development must be referred to certain conditions, and not be mistaken for the eternal law of being. With regard to “woman's nature,” concerning which innumerable contradictory dogmas are held, there is so little really known about it, and its power of development, that all social philosophies are more or less falsified by this universal though sublimely unconscious ignorance.| The difficulties of friendly intercourse between men and women are so great, and the false sentiments induced by our present system so many and [186/187] so subtle, that it is the hardest thing in the world for either sex to learn the truth concerning the real thoughts and feelings of the other. If they find out what they mutually think about the weather it is as much as can be expected—consistently, that is, with genuine submission to present ordinances. Thinkers, therefore, per force take no count of the many half-known and less understood ideas and emotions of women, even as these actually exist at the moment, and they make still smaller allowance for potential develop ments which at the present crisis are almost incalculable. Current phrases of the most shallow kind are taken as if they expressed the whole that is knowable on the subject.

There is in fact no social philosophy, however logical and far-seeing on other points, which does not lapse into incoherence as soon as it touches the subject of women. The thinker abandons the thought laws which he has obeyed until that fatal moment; he forgets every principle of science previously present to his mind, and he sud denly goes back centuries in knowledge and in the consciousness of possibilities, making schoolboy statements, and “babbling of green fields" in a manner that takes away the breath of those who have listened to his former reasoning, and admired his previous delicacies of thought-distinction. Has he been overtaken by some afflicting mental disease? Or does he merely allow himself to hold one subject apart from the circulating currents of his brain, judging it on dif ferent principles from those on which he judges every other subject?

Whatever be the fact, the results appear to be identical. A sudden loss of intellectual power would have exactly this effect upon the opinions which the sufferer might hold on any question after wards presented to him. Suddenly fallen from his high mental estate, our philosopher takes the same view of women as certain Indian theologians took of the staple food of their country.” “The Great Spirit,” they said, “made all things, except the wild rice, but the wild rice came by chance” [See Tylor's Primitive Culture]. The Muse of History, guided by that of Science, eloquently protests against treating any part of the universe as “wild rice; ” she protests against the exclusion of the ideas of evolution, of natural selection, of the well-known influence upon organs and aptitudes of continued use or disuse, influence which every one has exemplified in his own life, which every profession proves, and which is freely acknowledged in the discussion of all questions except those in which women form an important element. “As she was in the 199ing, is now, and ever shall be! ———!”

”There is a strange irony in this binding of women to the evil results in their own natures of the restrictions and injustice which they have suffered for generations. We chain up a dog to keep watch over our home; we deny him freedom, and in some cases, alas! even sufficient exercise to keep his limbs supple and his body in health. [187/188] He becomes dull and spiritless, he is miserable and ill-looking, and if by any chance he is let loose, he gets into mischief and runs away. He has not been used to liberty or happiness, and he cannot stand it.

Humane people ask his master: “Why do you keep that dog always chained up?”

“Oh he is accustomed to it; he is suited for the chain;when we let him loose he runs wild.”So the dog is punished by chaining for the misfortune of having been chained, till death releases him. In the same way we have subjected women for centuries to a restricted life, which called forth one or two forms of domestic activity; we have rigorously excluded (even punished) every other development of power; and we have then insisted that the consequent adaptations of structure, and the violent instincts created by this distorting process, are, by a sort of compound interest, to go on adding to the distortions themselves, and at the same time to go on forming a more and more solid ground for upholding the established system of restriction, and the ideas that accompany it. We chain, because we have chained. The dog must not be released, because his nature has adapted itself to the misfortune of captivity.

He has no revenge in his power; he must live and die, and no one knows his wretchedness. But the woman takes her unconscious vengeance, for she enters into the inmost life of society. She can pay back the injury with interest. And so she does, item by item. Through her, in a great measure, marriage becomes what Milton calls “a drooping and disconsolate household captivity,” and through her influence over children she is able to keep going much physical weakness and disease which might, with a little knowledge, be readily stamped out; she is able to oppose new ideas by the early implanting of prejudice; and, in short, she can hold back the wheels of progress, and send into the world human beings likely to wreck every attempt at Social reorganization that may be made, whether it be made by men or by gods.* [*Footnote: With regard to the evil effects of ignorance in the management of young children, probably few people realize how much avoidable pain is endured, and how , much weakness in after-life is traceable to the absurd traditional modes of treating infants and children. The current ideas are incredibly stupid; one ignorant nurse hands them on to another, and the whole race is brought up in a manner that offends, not merely scientific acumen, but the simplest common-sense.]

"Seeing, then, that the nature of women is the result of their circumstances, and that they are not a sort of human “wild rice,” come by chance or special creation, no protest can be too strong against the unthinking use of the term “woman's nature.” An unmanageable host of begged questions, crude assertions, and unsound habits of thought are packed into those two hackneyed words.

Having made this protest, we propose to take a brief glance at the history of marriage, then to consider marriage at the present [188/189] day, and finally to discuss the marriage of the future. We begin with a time when there was no such thing as monogamy, but it is not necessary for our purpose to dwell upon that age. The first era that bears closely upon our subject is the matriarchāl age, to which myths and folk-lore, in almost all countries, definitely point. The mother was the head of the family, priestess, and instructress in the arts of husbandry. She was the first agriculturist, the first herbalist, the initiator (says Karl Pierson) of all civilization. Of this age many discoveries have lately been made in Germany. The cave in which the mother took shelter and brought up her family was the germ of a “home.” The family knew only one parent: the mother; her name was transmitted, and property—when that began to exist—was inherited through her, and her only. A woman's indefeasible right to her own child of course remained unquestioned, and it was not until many centuries later that men resorted to all kinds of curious devices with a view of ‘claiming authority over children, which was finally established by force, entirely irrespective of moral right.

The idea of right always attaches itself in course of time to an established custom which is well backed up by force; and at the present day even persons of high moral feeling see no absurdity in the legal power of a man to dispose of his children contrary to the will of their mother. Not only does the man now claim a right to inter fere, but he actually claims sole authority in cases of dispute. This would be incredible were it not a fact.

During the mother-age, some men of the tribe became wandering hunters, while others remained at home to till the soil. The hunters, being unable to procure wives in the woods and solitudes, used to make raids upon the settlements and carry off some of the women. This was the origin of our modern idea of possession in marriage. The woman became the property of the man, his own by right of conquest. Now the wife is his own by right of law.

It is John Stuart Mill, we believe, who says that woman was the first being who was enslaved. A captured wife probably lost her liberty even before animals were pressed into man's service. In Germany, in early times, women were in the habit of dragging the plough. This and many similar facts, we may remark in passing, show that there is no inherent difference in physical strength between the two sexes, and that the present great difference is probably induced by difference of occupation extending backward over many generations.

The transition period of the mother-age to the father-age was long and painful. It took centuries to deprive the woman of her powerful position as head of the family, and of all the superstitious reverence which her knowledge of primitive arts and of certain properties of herbs, besides her influence as priestess, secured her. [189/190]] Of this long struggle we find many traces in old legends, in folk lore, and in the survival of customs older than history. Much later, in the witch-persecutions of the Middle Ages, we come upon the remnants of belief in the woman's superior power and knowledge, and the determination of man to extinguish it* [* see Sex Relations in Germany . By Karl Pierson]." The awe remained in the form of superstition, but the old reverence was changed to antagonism. We can note in early literature the feeling that women were evil creatures eager to obtain power, and that the man was nothing less than a coward who permitted this low and contemptible influence to make way against him.

During the transition period, capture-marriages, of course, met with strenuous opposition from the mother of the bride, not only as regarded the high-handed act itself, but also in respect to the changes relating to property which the establishment of father-rule brought about. Thus we find a hereditary basis for the (no doubt) divinely instilled and profoundly natural repugnance of a man for his mother-in-law This sentiment can claim the authorities of centuries and almost equal rank as a primitive and sacred impulse of our nature with the maternal instinct itself. Almost might we speak of it tenderly and mellifluously as “beautiful.”

On the spread of Christianity and the ascetic doctrines of its later teachers, feminine influence received another check. “Woman” exclaims Tertullian with startling frankness, “thou art the gate of hell!” This is the key-note of the monastic age. Woman was an ally of Satan, seeking to lead men away from the paths of righteousness. She appears to have succeeded very brilliantly | We have a century of almost universal corruption, ushering in the period of the Minne singers and the troubadours, or what is called the age of chivalry. In spite of a licentious society, this age has given us the precious germ of a new idea with regard to sex-relationship, for art and poetry now began to soften and beautify the cruder passion, and we have the first hint of a distinction which can be quite clearly felt between love as represented by classical authors and what may be called modern, or romantic, love—as a recent writer named it. This nobler sentiment, when developed and still further inwoven with ideas of modern growth, forms the basis of the ideal marriage, which is founded upon a full attraction and expression of the whole nature.

But this development was checked, though the idea was not destroyed, by the Reformation. It is to Luther and his followers that we can immediately trace nearly all the notions that now govern the world with regard to marriage. Luther was essentially coarse and irreverent towards the oppressed sex; he placed marriage on the lowest possible platform, and, as one needs scarcely add, he did not take women into counsel in a matter so deeply concerning them. In the age of chivalry the marriage-tie was not at all strict, and [190/191] our present ideas of “virtue” and “honour” were practically non existent. Society was in what is called a chaotic state;there was extreme licence on all sides, and although the standard of morality was far severer for the woman than for the man, still she had more or less liberty to give herself as passion dictated, and society tacitly accorded her a right of choice in matters of love. But Luther ignored all the claims of passion in a woman; in fact, she had no recognized claims whatever; she was not permitted to object to any part in life that might be assigned her; the notion of resist ance to his decision never occurred to him—her rôle was one of duty and of service; she figured as the legal property of a man, the safeguard against sin, and the victim of that vampire “Respectability” which henceforth was to fasten upon, and suck the life-blood of all womanhood.

The change from the open licence of the age of chivalry to the decorum of the Philistine régime, was merely a change in the mode of licentiousness, not a move from evil to good. Hypocrisy became a household god;true passion was dethroned, and with it poetry and romance; the commercial spirit, staid and open-eyed, entered upon its long career, and began to regulate the relations of the sexes. We find a peculiar medley of sensuality and decorum: the mercenary spirit entering into the idea of marriage, women were bought and sold as if they were cattle, and were educated, at the same time, to strict ideas of “purity’’ and duty, to Griselda-like patience under the severest provocation. Carried off by the highest bidder, they were gravely exhorted to be moral, to be chaste, and faithful and God fearing, serving their lords in life and in death. To drive a hard bargain, and to sermonize one's victims at the same time, is a feat distinctly of the Philistine order. With the growth of the com mercial system, of the rich burgher class, and of all the ideas that thrive under the influence of wealth when divorced from mental cultivation, the status of women gradually established itself upon this degrading basis, and became fixed more and more firmly as the bourgeois increased in power and prosperity.

Bebel [Bebel on Woman] speaks of Luther as the interpreter of the “healthy sensualism" of the Middle Ages.” Any “healthy sensualism,” however, which did not make itself legitimate by appeal to the Church and the law was rigorously punished under his system. Women offenders were subject to hideous and awful form of punish ment. Thus we may say that Luther established, in the interests of sensuality and respectability, a strict marriage system. He also preached the devastating doctrine which makes it a duty to have an unlimited number of children. Of course he did not for a moment consider the woman in this matter; why should a thick skinned, coarse-fibred monk of the sixteenth century consider [191/192] sufferings which are overlooked by tender-hearted divines of the nineteenth century P. The gentle Melanchthon on this subject says as follows: “If a woman becomes weary of bearing children, that matters not;let her only die from bearing, she is there to do it.” This doctrine is not obsolete at the present day. It is the rule of life among the mass of our most highly respectable classes, those who hold the scales of public morality in their hands, and whose prerogative appears to be to judge in order that they be not judged.

As an instance of the way in which an exceptionally good man can regard this subject—his goodness notwithstanding—we may turn to the Introduction, by Charles Kingsley, to Brook's Fool of Quality, which Kingsley edited. A short account is given of the life of Brook, who flourished (in a very literal sense) in the time of the Restoration, and who was saved, as his biographer points out in joy and thankfulness, from the vices of that corrupt age, by an early marriage. Kingsley goes on to describe the home where all that is commendable and domestic reigned and prospered. He dwells lovingly on that pleasant picture of simple joys and happy cares, upon the swarms of beautiful children who cluster round their father's knee and rescue him from the dangers of a licentious age. Kingsley mentions, just in passing, that the young wife watches the happy scene from a sofa, having become a confirmed invalid from the number of children she has borne during the few years of her married life. But what of that? What of the anguish and weariness, what of the thousand painful disabilities which that young woman has suffered before her nature yielded to the strain—disabilities which she will have to bear to her life’s end? Has not the valuable Brook been saved from an immoral life? (Of course Brook could not be expected to save himself l—we are not unreasonable.) Have not Propriety and Respectability been propitiated P And the price of all this P Merely the suffering and life-long injury of one young woman in a thoroughly established and “natural” manner; nothing more. Kingsley feels that it is cheap at the price. Brook is saved! Hallelujah!

It is difficult to think without acrimony of the great reformer, conscious though we may be of the untold benefits which he has bestowed upon mankind. It is because of Luther that women are martyred daily in the interests of virtue and propriety It is to Luther that we owe half the inconsistencies and cruelties of our social laws, to Luther that we owe the extreme importance of our marriage-rite, which is to make the whole difference between terrible sin and absolute duty.

The Catholic Church had before Luther taught that marriage was a sacrament. We should be the last to defend the truth of such a conception, but we must call attention to the fact that it emphasized something beyond the physical in the conjugal relation, it endowed it with a spiritua [192/193] side. The conception of marriage as a spiritual as well as physical relation seems to us the essential condition of all permanent happiness between man and wife. The intellectual union superposed on the physical is pre cisely what raises human above brute intercourse. . . . . We believe that the spiritual side must be kept constantly in view if the sanctity of marriage is to be preserved. Here it is that Luther, rejecting the concep tion of marriage as a sacrament, rushes, with his usual impetuosity, into the opposite and more dangerous extreme" [“Martin Luther: his Influence on the Material and Intellectual Welfare of Germany” — Westminster Review. New Series, No. XXXIX., January, 1884, pp. 38-9]

Luther in destroying the religious sanctity of marriage destroyed also the idea of spiritual union which the religious conception implied; he did his utmost to deprive it of the elements of real affection and sympathy, and to bring it to the very lowest form which it is capable of assuming. It was to be regarded merely as a means of avoiding general social chaos; as a “safeguard against sin; ” and the wife's position—unless human laws have some super natural power of sanctification—was the most completely abject and degraded position which it is possible for a human being to hold.

That Luther did not observe the insult to womanhood of such a creed is not to be wondered at, since the nineteenth century has scarcely yet discovered it. Of course from such ideas spring rigid ideas of wifehood. Woman's chastity becomes the watch-dog of man's posses sion. She has taken the sermon given to her at the time of her purchase deeply to heart, and chastity becomes her chief virtue. If we desire to face the matter honestly, we must not blink the fact that this virtue has originally no connection with the woman's own nature; it does not arise from the feelings which protect individual dignity. The quality, whatever be its intrinsic merits, has attained its present mysterious authority and rank through man's monopolizing jealousy, through the fact that he desired to “ have and to hold '' one woman as his exclusive property, and that he regarded any other man who would dispute his monopoly as the unforgivable enemy. From this starting-point the idea of a man’s “honour” grew up, creating the remarkable paradox of a moral possession or attribute, which could be injured by the action of some other person than the possessor. Thus also arose woman’s “honour,” which was lost if she did not keep herself solely for her lord, present or to come. Again, we see that her honour has reference to some one other than herself, though in course of time the idea was carried further, and has now acquired a relation with the woman's own moral nature, and a still firmer hold upon the conscience. However valuable the quality, it certainly did not take its rise from a sense of self-respect in woman, but from the fact of her subjection to man.

While considering the development of this burgher age, one must not forget to note the concurrence of strict marriage and systematic or legalized prostitution. The social chaos of the age of chivalry [193/194] was exchanged for comparative order, and there now arose a hard and-fast line (far more absolute than had existed before in Germany) between two classes of women: those who submitted to the yoke of marriage on Luther's terms, and those who remained on the other side of the great Social gulf, subject also to stringent laws, and treated also as the property of men (though not of one man). We now see completed our own way of settling the relations of the sexes. The factors of our system are: respectability, prostitu tion, strict marriage, commercialism, unequal moral standard for the two sexes, and the subjection of women.

In this brief sketch we have not dwelt upon the terrible sufferings of the subject sex through all the changes of their estate; to do so in a manner to produce realization would lead us too far afield and would involve too many details. Suffice it to say that the cruelties, indignities, and insults to which women were exposed are (as every student of history knows) hideous beyond description. In Mongolia there are large cages in the market-place wherein condemned prisoners are kept and starved to death. The people collect in front of these cages to taunt and insult the victims as they die slowly day by day before their eyes. In reading the history of the past, and even the literature of our own day, it is difficult to avoid seeing in that Mongolian market-place a symbol of our own society, with its iron cage, wherein women are held in bondage, suffering moral starvation, while the thoughtless gather round to taunt and to insult their lingering misery. Let any one who thinks this exaggerated and unjust, note the manner in which our own novelists, for instance, past and present, treat all subjects connected with women, marriage, and motherhood, and then ask himself if he does not recognize at once its ludicrous inconsistency and its cruel insults to womanhood, open and implied. The very respect, so called, of man for woman, being granted solely on condition of her observ ing certain restrictions of thought and action dictated by him, conceals a subtle sort of insolence. It is really the pleased approval of a lawgiver at the sight of obedient subjects. The pitiful cry of Elsie in The Golden Legend has had many a repetition in the hearts of women age after age—

“Why should I live? Do I not know
The life of woman is full of woe!
      Toiling on, and on, and on,
With breaking heart, and tearful eyes,
      And silent lips, and in the soul
The secret longings that arise
Which this world never satisfies!"

So much for the past and its relation to the present. Now we come to the problem of to-day. This is extremely complex. We have a society ruled by Luther's views on marriage; we have girls [194/195] brought up to regard it as their destiny; and we have, at the same time, such a large majority of women that they cannot all marry, even (as I think Miss Clapperton puts it [in Scientific Meliorism]) if they had the fascinations of Helen of Troy and Cleopatra rolled into one. We find, therefore, a number of women thrown on the world to earn their own living in the face of every sort of discouragement. Competition runs high for all, and even were there no prejudice to encounter, the struggle would be a hard one; as it is, life for poor and single women becomes a mere treadmill. It is folly to inveigh against mercenary marriages, however degrading they may be, for a glance at the position of affairs shows that there is no reasonable alternative. We cannot ask every woman to be a heroine and choose a hard and thorny path when a comparatively smooth one, (as it seems), offers itself, and when the pressure of public opinion urges strongly in that direction. A few higher natures will resist and swell the crowds of worn-out, underpaid workers, but the majority will take the voice of society for the voice of God, or at any rate of wisdom, and our common respectable marriage—upon which the safety of all social existence is supposed to rest—will remain, as it is now, the worst, because the most hypocritical, form of woman-purchase. Thus we have on the one side a more or lese degrading marriage, and on the other side a number of women who cannot command an entry into that profession, but who must give up health and enjoy ment of life in a losing battle with the world. Bebel is very eloquent upon the sufferings of unmarried women, which must be keen indeed for those who have been prepared for marriage and for nothing else, whose emotions have been stimulated and whose ideas have been coloured by the imagination of domestic cares and happiness. Society, having forbidden or discouraged other ambitions for women, flings them scornfully aside as failures when through its own organization they are unable to secure a fireside and a proper “sphere '' in which to practise the womanly virtues. Insult and injury to women is literally the key-note and the founda tion of Society.Mrs. Augusta Weber amusingly points out the inconsistencies of popular notions on this subject. She says:—“People think women who do not want to marry unfeminine; people think women who do want to marry immodest;people combine both opinions by regarding it as unfeminine for women not to look forward longingly to wifehood as the hope and purpose of their lives, and ridiculing and contemning any individual woman of their acquaintance whom they suspect of entertaining such a longing. They must wish and not wish; they must by no means give, and they must certainly not withhold, encouragement —– and so it goes on, each precept cancelling the last, and most of them negative.” There are, doubtless, [195/196] equally absurd social prejudices which hamper a man's freedom, by teaching girls and their friends to look for proposals, instead of regarding signs of interest and liking in a more whole some spirit. We shall never have a world really worth living in until men and women can show interest in one another, without being driven either to marry or to forego altogether the pleasure and profit of frequent meeting. Nor will the world be really a pleasant world while it continues to make friendship between persons of opposite sexes well-nigh impossible by insisting that they are so, and thereby in a thousand direct and indirect ways bringing about the fulfilment of its own prophecy. All this false sentiment and shallow shrewdness, with the restrictions they imply, make the ideal marriage—that is, a union prompted by love, by affinity or attraction of nature and by friendship—almost beyond the reach of this generation. While we are on this part of the subject it may be worth while to quote a typical example of some letters written to Max O'Rell on the publication of The Daughters of John Bull. One lady of direct language exclaims fiercely, “Man is a beast!” and she goes on to explain in gleeful strains that, having been left a small fortune by a relative, she is able to dispense with the society of “ the odious creature.” Of course Max O’Rell warmly congratulates the “odious creature.” “At last,” another lady bursts forth,

we have some one among us with wit to perceive that the life which a woman leads with the ordinary Sherry-drinking, cigar-smoking husband is no better than that of an Eastern slave. Take my own case, which is that of thousands of others in our land. I belong to my lord and master, body and soul; the duties of a housekeeper, upper nurse, and governess are required of me; I am expected to be always at home, at my husband's beck and call. It it true that he feeds me, and that for his own glorification he gives me handsome clothing. It is also true that he does not beat me. For this I ought, of course, to be duly grateful; but I often think of what you say on the wife and servant question, and wonder how many of us would like to have the cook's privilege of being able to give warning to leave.”

If the wife feels thus we may be sure the husband thinks he has his grievances also, and when we place this not exaggerated descrip tion side by side with that of the unhappy plight of bored husbands commiserated by Mrs. Lynn Linton, there is no escaping the impression that there is something very “rotten in the state of Denmark.” Amongst other absurdities, we have well-meaning husbands and wives harassing one another to death for no reason in the world but the desire of conforming to current notions regarding the proper conduct of married people. These victims are expected to go about perpetually together, as if they were a pair of carriage horses; to be forever holding claims over one another, exacting or making useless sacrifices, and generally getting in one another's way. [196/197] The man who marries finds that his liberty has gone, and the woman exchanges one set of restrictions for another. She thinks herself neglected if her husband does not always return to her in the evenings, and the husband and society think her undutiful, frivolous, and so forth if she does not stay at home alone, trying to sigh him back again. The luckless man finds his wife so very dutiful and domesticated, and so very much confined to her “proper sphere,” that she is, perchance, more exemplary than entertaining. Still, she may look injured and resigned, but she must not seek society and occupation on her own account, adding to the common mental store, bringing new interest and knowledge into the joint existence, and becoming thus a contented, cultivated, and agreeable being. No wonder that while all this is forbidden we have so many unhappy wives and bored husbands. The more admirable the wives the more profoundly bored the husbands!

Of course there are bright exceptions to this picture of married life, but we are not dealing with exceptions. In most cases, the chain of marriage chafes the flesh, if it does not make a serious wound; and where there is happiness the happiness is dearly bought and is not on a very high plane. For husband and wife are then apt to forget everything in the absorbing but narrow interests of their home, to depend entirely upon one another, to steep themselves in the same ideas, till they become mere echoes, half creatures, useless to the world, because they have run into a groove and have let individuality die. There are few things more stolidly irritating than a very “united ” couple. The likeness that may often be remarked between married people is a melancholy index of this united degeneration.

We come then to the conclusion that the present form of marriage —exactly in proportion to its conformity with orthodox ideas — is a vexatious failure. If certain people have made it a success by ignoring those orthodox ideas, such instances afford no argument in favour of the institution as it stands. We are also led to conclude that modern “Respectability" draws its life-blood from the degradation of womanhood in marriage and in prostitution. But what is to be done to remedy these manifold evils? how is marriage to be rescued from a mercenary society, torn from the arms of “Respectability,” and established on a footing which will make it no longer an insult to human dignity? First of all we must set up an ideal, undismayed by what will seem its Utopian impossibility. Every good thing that we enjoy to-day was once the dream of a “crazy enthusiast” mad enough to believe in the power of ideas and in the power of man to have things as he wills. The ideal marriage then, despite all dangers and difficulties, should be free. So long as love and trust and friendship remain, no bonds are necessary to bind two [197/198] people together; life apart will be empty and colourless; but when ever these cease the tie becomes false and iniquitous, and no one ought to have power to enforce it. The matter is one in which any interposition, whether of law or of society, is an impertinence. Even the idea of “duty” ought to be excluded from the most perfect marriage, because the intense attraction of one being for another, the intense desire for one another's happiness, would make interchanges of whatever kind the outcome of a feeling far more passionate than that of duty. It need scarcely be said that there must be a full under standing and acknowledgment of the obvious right of the woman to possess herself body and soul, to give or withhold herself body and soul exactly as she wills. The moral right here is so palpable, and its denial implies ideas so low and offensive to human dignity, that no fear of consequences ought to deter us from making this liberty an element of our ideal, in fact its fundamental principle. Without it, no ideal could hold up its head. Moreover, “ consequences” in the long run are never beneficient, where obvious moral rights are disregarded. The idea of a perfectly free marriage would imply the possibility of any form of contract being entered into between the two persons, the State and society standing aside, and recognizing the entirely private character of the transaction.

The economical independence of woman is the first condition of free marriage. She ought not to be tempted to marry, or to remain married, for the sake of bread and butter. But the condition is a very hard one to secure. Our present competitive system, with the daily increasing ferocity of the struggle for existence, is fast reducing itself to an absurdity, woman's labour helping to make the struggle only the fiercer. The problem now offered to the mind and conscience of humanity is to readjust its industrial organization in such a way as to gradually reduce this absurd and useless competition within reasonable limits, and to bring about in its place some form of co operation, in which no man’s interest will depend on the misfortune of his neighbour, but rather on his neighbour's happiness and wel fare. It is idle to say that this cannot be done; the state of society shows quite clearly that it must be done sooner or later; otherwise some violent catastrophe will put an end to a condition of things which is hurrying towards impossibility. Under improved economical conditions the difficult problem of securing the real independence of women, and thence of the readjustment of their position in relation to men and to society would find easy solution.

When girls and boys are educated together, when the unwholesome atmosphere of social life becomes fresher and nobler, when the pressure of existence slackens (as it will and must do), and when the whole nature has thus a chance to expand, such additions to the scope and interest of life will cease to be thought marvellous or “unnatural.” “Human nature" has more variety of powers and [198/199] is more responsive to conditions than we imagine. It is hard to believe in things for which we feel no capacity in ourselves, but fortunately such things exist in spite of our placid unconsciousness. Give room for the development of individuality, and individuality develops, to the amazement of spectators Give freedom in marriage, and each pair will enter upon their union after their own particular fashion, creating a refreshing diversity in modes of life, and con sequently of character. Infinitely preferable will this be to our own gloomy uniformity, the offspring of our passion to be in all things exactly like our neighbours.

The proposed freedom in marriage would of course have to go hand-in-hand with the co-education of the sexes. It is our present absurd interference with the natural civilizing influences of one sex upon the other, that creates half the dangers and difficulties of our social life, and gives colour to the fears of those who would hedge round marriage with a thousand restraints or so-called safeguards, ruinous to happiness, and certainly not productive of a satisfactory social condition. Already the good results of this method of co-education have been proved by experiment in America, but we ought to go farther in this direction than our go-ahead cousins have yet gone. Meeting freely in their working-hours as well as at times of recreation, men and women would have opportunity for forming reasonable judgments of character, for making friendships irrespective of sex, and for giving and receiving that inspiring influence which apparently can only be given by one sex to the other.”* []* Mr. Henry Stanton, in his work on The Woman Question in Europe, speaks of the main idea conveyed in Legouvé's Histoire des Femmes as follows:—“Equality in difference is its key-note. The question is not to make woman a man, but to complete man by woman.”] There would also be a chance of forming genuine attachments founded on friendship; marriage would cease to be the haphazard thing it is now; girls would no longer fancy themselves in love with a man because they had met none other on terms equally intimate, and they would not be tempted to marry for the sake of freedom and a place in life, for existence would be free and full from the beginning.

The general rise in health, physical and moral, following the improvement in birth, surroundings, and training, would rapidly tell upon the whole state of society. Any one who has observed carefully knows how grateful a response the human organism gives to im proved conditions, if only these remain constant. We should have to deal with healthier, better equipped, more reasonable men and women, possessing well-developed minds, and hearts kindly disposed towards their fellow-creatures. Are such people more likely to enter into a union frivolously and ignorantly than are the average men and women of to-day? Surely not. If the number of divorces did not actually decrease there would be the certainty that no couple [199/200] remained united against their will, and that no lives were sacrificed to a mere convention. With the social changes which would go hand in hand with changes in the status of marriage, would come inevitably many fresh forms of human power, and thus all sorts of new and stimu lating influences would be brought to bear upon society. No man has a right to consider himself educated until he has been under the influence of cultivated women, and the same may be said of women as regards men."* [* Mrs. Cady Stanton believes that there is a sex in mind, and that men can only be inspired to their highest achievements by women, while women are stimulated to their utmost only by men.] Development involves an increase of complexity. It is so in all forms of existence, vegetable and animal; it is so in human life. It will be found that men and women as they increase in com plexity can enter into a numberless variety of relationships, aban doning no good gift that they now possess, but adding to their powers indefinitely, and thence to their emotions and experiences. The action of the man's nature upon the woman's and of the woman's upon the man's, is now only known in a few instances; there is a whole world yet to explore in this direction, and it is more than probable that the future holds a discovery in the domain of spirit as great as that of Columbus in the domain of matter.

With regard to the dangers attending these readjustments, there is no doubt much to be said. The evils that hedge around marriage are linked with other evils, so that movement is difficult and perilous indeed. Nevertheless, we have to remember that we now live in the midst of dangers, and that human happiness is cruelly murdered by our systems of legalized injustice. By sitting still circumspectly and treating our Social system as if it were a card-house which would tumble down at a breath, we merely wait to see it fall from its own internal rottenness, and then we shall have dangers to encounter indeed The time has come, not for violent overturning of estab lished institutions before people admit that they are evil, but for a gradual alteration of opinion which will rebuild them from the very foundation. The method of the most enlightened reformer is to crowd out old evil by new good, and to seek to sow the seed of the nobler future where alone it can take root and grow to its full height: in the souls of men and women. Far-seeing we ought to be, but we know in our hearts right well that fear will never lead us to the height of our ever-growing possiblity. Evolutions has ceased to be a power driving us like dead leaves on a gale; thanks to science, we are no longer entirely blind, and we aspire to direct that mighty force for the good of humanity. We see a limitless field of possibility opening out before us; the adventurous spirit in us might leap up at the wonderful romance of life We recognize that no power, however trivial, fails to count in the general sum of things which moves this way or that—towards [200/201] heaven or hell, according to the preponderating motives of individual units. We shall begin, slowly but surely, to see the folly of permitting the forces of one sex to pull against and neutralize the workings of the other, to the confusion of our efforts and the checking of our progress. We shall see, in the relations of men and women to one another, the source of all good or of all evil, precisely as those relations are true and noble and equal, or false and low and unjust. With this belief we shall seek to move opinion in all the directions that may bring us to this “ consummation devoutly to be wished,” and we look forward steadily, hoping and working for the day when men and women shall be comrades and fellow-workers as well as lovers and husbands and wives, when the rich and many-sided happiness which they have the power to bestow on one another shall no longer be enjoyed in tantalizing Snatches, but shall gladden and give new life to all humanity. That will be the day prophesied by Lewis Morris in The New Order

“When man and woman in an equal union
Shall merge, and marriage be a true communion.”

Last modified 23 February 2022