Story type: Essay
HAPHAZARD REFLECTIONS ON GRAVE TOPICS.
At stated times we mortals have stated visitations.
One day it is the grippe, next day the financial problem.
Just now it is the marriage and divorce question, with much learned expounding by the good and the pure, such as bishops and members of Sorosis. —-
What is marriage? How did it begin? Whence does it come?
Why is it a feature of human life wherever that life is found.
You must begin with such questions. Always study beginnings. Nothing can be learned by taking hold of a thing in the middle and examining its imperfections.
The first priest to join man and woman together was no benign being with lawn sleeves and soul-stirring words.
Marriage was brought about on this earth by the will and wisdom of God Almighty working through primitive babyhood.
In the old days, when the world was cruder, men and women ran wild through forests and swamps. They fought nature, fought each other, as savage as other beasts around them. There was no love; there was no marriage. The instincts of self-preservation and of reproduction worked alone to keep the race here through its hard childhood. —-
But in cold stone caves or in rough nests under fallen tree trunks savage children were born and nursed by their savage mothers with savage affection.
Through those infants of the stone age, or of ages much earlier, marriage and pure affection came into the world.
It is not hard to reproduce in our minds the picture of the first marriage.
A savage woman, half human, half ape, with rough, matted locks hanging round her face, sits holding her new-born baby, protecting it from wind and cold.
It is a queer baby, covered perhaps with reddish hair, its brow no higher than a rat’s. Its jaw protrudes; its tiny, grimy hands clutch with monkey power all things within reach.
Along comes the father, full of plans to kill a mammoth or a cave bear; interested in his stone-tipped club, but caring nothing for the mother, who has been for some time only a whining nuisance.
He stops for a second to look at the small creature which he has added to earth’s animal life.
Its misshapen skull, ferret eyes, miniature shoulders–something about it reminds him of his royal self, as studied in the pool. He stoops to look closer. His bristly hairs are grabbed, and a weird, insane, toothless grin lights up the little monkey face.
Then the savage takes a new view of life; there the marriage institution and the marriage problem are born simultaneously.
Says the mammoth hunter, with whistling words and hoarse throat sounds half articulated:
“I like this baby. He’s like me. Let me hold him. Don’t you go out with him looking for food, and don’t leave him alone while I’m gone. I’ve got a bear located. No one can beat me killing bears. I’ll bring the bear’s heart to you this evening. You can give this baby some of the blood. It will do him good. Don’t have anything to say to that mammoth hunter in the next swamp. I want you to stick to me. I’ll look after you. I have taken a fancy to that baby. He looks very much like me.”
Off goes the father, and that savage mother, in a primitive way, is a wife. Hereafter she is to be cared for. Bears will be killed for her, even while she has children to keep her busy and unattractive. Society takes a new turn and the red-haired baby has done it.
To childhood, helpless and beautiful, we owe marriage and all that growth of morality which is gradually making us really civilized.
The basis of all real growth is altruism; and altruism, the inclination to think more of others than of yourself, came into the world through the cradle.
We owe such civilization as we have acquired to children.
“A softened pressure of an uncouth hand, a human gleam in an almost animal eye, an endearment in an inarticulate voice–feeble things enough. Yet in these faint awakenings lay the hope of the human race.” —-
The influence of childhood has transformed mere animal attraction into unselfish affection. It has substituted family life for savage life. The interests of childhood demand that marriage and its responsibilities be held sacred.
Duty to future generations demands that divorce be made difficult and considered a misfortune.
Marriage, brought into the world through the influence of children, should be dissolved only with due regard for the interests of children. —-
An unhappy marriage is earth’s worst affliction. Quite true. But it is not affliction wasted.
Examples are needed to warn the young against the matrimonial recklessness which underlies most unhappy marriages.
Unhappy wives and husbands are human light-houses–lonely, but useful.
If a gentle little Alderney calf should marry a sleek young zebra and afterward get kicked to death for her pains, we should all sympathize with her. But we should expect other mild-eyed Alderneys after that to beware of zebras.
As a matter of fact, this present divorce talk, which sets the good to fluttering, really interests a very unimportant class.
The man who spends his life spending what he didn’t earn, feeding his physical senses, who goes from rum to the races, from the races to the opera, and from the opera to roulette, wears out his nervous sensations.
He then thinks that he is unhappily married. He has possibly driven his wife to being seven kinds of a fool.
But that is not her fault.
A man who marries a woman undertakes to make her happy and keep her busy. If he keeps his contract, she will keep hers.
If he fails, he has no right to experiment on another unfortunate. The divorce class is a self-indulgent, malformed class, not worth notice. —-
Professor Cope, an earnest man and serious thinker, believed that marriages should be contracted on probation–say for five years, with the right on both sides to refuse a renewal.
Theoretically, this would be beautiful. It would make courtship permanent, abolish curl-papered wives in the morning, and tipsy, bragging husbands at night.
But it wouldn’t work. It would be all right for women. They are only too willing to be faithful and permanent.
But men cannot be trusted. The animal in them, so essential long ago, when the race was struggling for a foothold, has not been obliterated. They have got to be MADE responsible and HELD responsible. —-
As a matter of fact, there really is no marriage or divorce problem which sensible beings need consider.
At present men are not good enough to be trusted with liberal marriage or divorce laws. When they are good enough the laws will not be wanted. For the man fully developed and fully moral will know what he is doing when he goes into a marriage contract.
His stability of character will insure permanency. There will be no need of laws.
At one time the English laws regulated the conditions under which a man might beat his wife. “The stick,” said the law, “must not be thicker than the husband’s thumb.”
Some Englishmen have very thick thumbs, and the law was doubtless hard on some thin, worn-out women.
But that law is no longer needed.
Men have outgrown the need of regulations in wife-beating. In time they will outgrow the need of laws regarding infidelity and lack of self-respect.
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