The Break-Up Of The Family by W L George

Story type: Essay

As with the home, so with the family. It would be strange indeed if a stained shell were to hold a sound nut. All the events of the last century–the development of the factory system, the Married Women’s Property Act, the birth of Mr. Bernard Shaw, the entry of woman into professions, the discovery of co-education and of education itself, eugenics, Christian Science, new music halls and halfpenny papers, the Russian ballet, cheap travel, woman suffrage, apartment houses–all this change and stress has lowered the status of one whom Pliny admired–the father of a family. The family itself tends to disappear, and it is many years since letters appeared in The Times over the signature, “Mother of Six.” The family is smaller, and, strangely enough, it is sweeter tempered: would it be fair to conclude, as might an Irishman, that it would agree perfectly if it disappeared?

I do not think that the family will completely disappear any more than scarlet fever or the tax collector. But certainly it will change in character, and its evolution already points toward its new form. The old-fashioned family sickened because it was a compulsory grouping. The wife cleaved unto her husband because he paid the bills; the children cleaved unto their parents because they must cleave unto something. There was no chance of getting out, for there was nothing to get out to. For the girl, especially, some fifty years ago, to escape from the family into the world was much the same thing as burgling a penitentiary; so she stayed, compulsorily grouped. Personally, I think all kinds of compulsory groupings bad. If one is compelled to do a thing, one hates it; possibly the dead warriors in the Elysian Fields have by this time taken a violent dislike to compulsory chariot races, and absolutely detest their endless rest on moss-grown banks and their diet of honey. I do not want to stress the idea too far, but I doubt whether the denizens of the Elysian Fields, after so many centuries, can tolerate one another any more, for they are compelled to live all together in this Paradise, and nothing conceivable will ever get them out.

Some groupings are worse than others, and I incline to think that difference of age has most to do with the chafe of family life. For man is a sociable animal; he loves his fellows, and so one wonders why he should so generally detest his relations. There are minor reasons. Relationship amounts to a license to be rude, to the right to exact respect from the young and service from the old; there is the fact that, however high you may rise in the world, your aunt will never see it. There is also the fact that if your aunt does see it, she brags of it behind your back and insults you about it to your face. There is all that, but still I believe that one could to a certain extent agree with one’s relations if one met only those who are of one’s own age, for compulsory groupings of people of the same age are not always unpleasant; boys are happiest at school, and there is fine fellowship and much merriment in armies. On the other hand, there often reigns a peculiar dislike in offices. I do not want to conclude too rashly, but I cannot help being struck by the fact that in a school or in an army the differences of age are very small, while in an office or a family they are considerable. Add on to the difference of age compulsory intercourse, and you have the seeds of hatred.

This applies particularly where the units of a family are adult. The child loves the grown-ups because he admires them; a little later he finds them out; still a little later, he lets them see that he has found them out, and then family life begins. In many cases it is a quite terrible life, and the more united the family is the more it resembles the union between the shirt of Nessus and Hercules’s back. But it must be endured because we have no alternative. I think of cases: of such a one as that of a father and mother, respectively sixty-five and sixty, who have two sons, one of whom ran away to Australia with a barmaid, while the other lived on his sisters’ patrimony and regrettably stayed at home; they have four daughters, two of whom have revolted to the extent of earning their living, but spend the whole of their holidays with the old people; the other two are unmarried because the father, imbued with the view that his daughters were too good for any man, refused to have any man in the house. There is another couple in my mind, who have five children, four of whom live at home. I think I will describe this family by quoting one of the father’s pronouncements: “There’s only one opinion in this house, and that’s mine!” I think of other cases, of three sisters who have each an income of two hundred dollars a year on which they would, of course, find it very difficult to live separately. The total income of six hundred dollars a year enables them to live–but together. The eldest loves cats; the next hates cats, but loves dogs; this zooelogical quarrel is the chief occupation of the household; the third sister’s duty is to keep the cats and dogs apart. Here we have the compulsory grouping; I believe that this lies at the root of disunion in that united family.

The age problem is twofold. It must not be thought that I hold a brief against old age, though, being myself young, I tend to dislike old age as I shall probably dislike youth by and by. On the whole, the attitude of old age is tyrannical. I have heard dicta as interesting as the one which I quote a few lines above. I have heard say a mother to a young man, “You ought to feel affection for me”; another, “It should be enough for you that this is my wish.” That is natural enough. It is the tradition of the elders, the Biblical, Greek, Roman, savage hierarchies which, in their time, were sound because, lacking education of any kind, communities could resort only to the experience of the aged. But a thing that is natural is not always convenient, and, after all, the chief mission of the civilizer is to bottle up Nature until she is wanted. This tyranny breeds in youth a quite horrible hatred, while it hardens the old, makes them incapable of seeing the point of view of youth because it is too long since they held it. They insist upon the society of the young; they take them out to call on old people; they drive them round and round the park in broughams, and then round again; they deprive them of entertainments because they themselves cannot bear noise and late hours, or because they have come to fear expense, or because they feel weak and are ill. It is tragic to think that so few of us can hope to die gracefully.

The trouble does not lie entirely with the old; indeed, I think it lies more with the young, who, crossed and irritated, are given to badgering the old people because they are slow, because they do not understand the problems of Lord Kitchener and are still thinking of the problems of Mr. Gladstone. They are harsh because the old are forgetful, because their faded memories are sweet, because they will always prefer the late Sir Henry Irving to Mr. Charles Hawtrey. The young are cruel when the old people refuse to send a letter without sealing it, or when they insist upon buying their hats from the milliner who made them in 1890 and makes them still in the same fashion. They are even harsh to them when they are deaf or short-sighted and fumbling; they come to think that a wise child should learn from his sire’s errors.

It is a pity, but thus it is; so what is the use of thinking that the modern family must endure? It is no use to say that the old are right or that the young are right; they disagree. It is nobody’s fault, and it is everybody’s misfortune. They disagree largely because there is too much propinquity. It is propinquity that brings one to think there is something rather repulsive in blood relations. It is propinquity that brings one to love and then later to dislike. Mr. George Moore has put the case ideally in his Memoirs of My Dead Life, where Doris, the girl who has escaped from her family with the hero says: “This is the first time I have ever lived alone, that I have ever been free from questions. It was a pleasure to remember suddenly, as I was dressing, that no one would ask me where I was going; that I was just like a bird myself, free to spring off the branch and to fly. At home there are always people round one; somebody is in the dining room, somebody is in the drawing-room; and if one goes down the passage with one’s hat on, there is always somebody to ask where one is going, and if you say you don’t know, they say: ‘Are you going to the right or to the left? Because, if you are going to the left, I should like you to stop at the apothecary’s and to ask….’”

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Yes, that is what happens. That is the tragedy of the family; it lives on top of itself. The daughters go too much with their mothers to shop; there are too many joint holidays, too many compulsory rejoicings at Christmas or on birthdays. There are not enough private places in the house. I have heard one young suffragist, sentenced to fourteen days for breaking windows, say that, quite apart from having struck a blow for the Cause, it was the first peaceful fortnight she had ever known. This should not be confounded with the misunderstood offer of a wellknown leader of the suffrage cause who offered a pound to the funds of the movement for every day that his wife was kept in jail.

In a family, friendships are difficult, for Maude does not always like Arabella’s dearest friend; or, which is worse, Maude will stand Arabella’s dearest friend, whom she detests, so that next day she may have the privilege of forcing upon Arabella her own, whom Arabella cannot bear. That sort of thing is called tolerance and self-sacrifice; in reality it is mutual tyranny, and amounts to the passing on of pinches, as it were, from boy to boy on the benches of schools. In a developing generation this cannot endure; youthful egotism will not forever tolerate youthful arrogance. As for the old, they cannot indefinitely remain with the young, for, after all, there are only two things to talk of with any intensity–the future and the past; they are the topics of different generations.

Still, for various reasons, this condition is endured. It is cheaper to live together; it is more convenient socially; it is customary, which, especially in England, is most important. But it demands an impossible and unwilling tolerance, sometimes fraudulent exhibitions of love, sometimes sham charity. It is not pleasant to hear Arabella, returning from a walk with her father, say to Maude: “Thank Heaven, that’s over! Your turn to-morrow.” Perhaps it would not be so if the father did not by threat or by prayer practically compel his daughters to “take duty.” There are alleviations–games, small social pleasures, dances–but there is no freedom. A little for the sons, perhaps, but even they are limited in their comings and goings if they live in their father’s house. As for the girls, they are driven to find the illusion of freedom in wage labor, unless they marry and develop, as they grow older, the same problem.

Fortunately, and this may save something of the family spirit, times are changing. It must not be imagined from the foregoing that I am a resolute enemy of any grouping between men and women, that I view with hatred the family in a box at the theater or round the Sunday joint. I am not attracted by the idea of family; a large family collected together makes me think a little of a rabbit hutch. But I recognize that couples will to the end want to live together, that they will be fond of their children, and that their children will be fond of them; also that it is not socially convenient for husband and wife to live in separate blocks of flats and to hand over their children to the county council. There are a great many children to-day who would be happier in the workhouse than in their homes, but there exists in the human mind a prejudice against the workhouse, and social psychology must take it into account. All I ask is that members of a family should not scourge one another with whips and occasionally with scorpions, and I conceive that nothing could be more delightful than a group of people, not too far removed from one another by age, banded together for mutual recreation and support. So anything that tends to liberalize the family, to exorcise the ghost of the old patriarch, is agreeable.

Patriarch! What a word–the father as master! He will not be master very long, and I do not think that he will want to remain master, for his attitude is changing, not as swiftly as that of his children, but still changing. He is not so sure of himself now when he doubts the advisability of pulling down the shed at the back of the garden, and his youngest daughter quotes from Nietzsche that to build a sanctuary you must first destroy a sanctuary. And, though he is rather uncomfortable, he does not say much when in the evening his wife appears dressed in a Russian ballet frock or even a little less. He is growing used to education, and he fears it less than he did. In fact, he is beginning to appreciate it.

His wife is more suspicious, for she belongs to a generation of women that was ignorant and reveled in its ignorance and called it charm, a generation when all women were fools except the spitfires and the wits. She tends to think that she was “finished” as a lady; her daughters consider that she was done for. The grandmother is a little jealous, but the mother of to-day, the formed woman of about thirty-five, has made a great leap and resembles her children much more than she does her mother. Her offspring do not say: “What is home without a mother? Peace, perfect peace.” She is a little too conscientious, perhaps; she has turned her back rather rudely upon her mother’s pursuits, such as tea and scandal, and has taken too virulently to lectures or evolution and proteid. She is too vivid, like a newly painted railing, but, like the railing, she will tone down. She pretends to be very socialistic or very fast; on the whole she affects rather the fast style. We must not complain. Is not brown paint in the dining room worse than pink paint on the face?

Whatever may be said about revolting daughters, I suspect that the change in the parent has been greater than that in the child, because the child in 1830 did not differ so much from the child of to-day as might appear. Youth then was restless and insurgent, just as it is to-day; only it was more effectively kept down. If to-day it is less kept down, this is partly for reasons I will indicate, but largely because the adult has changed. The patriarch is nearly dead; he is no longer the polygamous brute who ruled his wives with rods, murdered his infant sons, and sold his infant daughters; his successor, the knight of the Middle Ages, who locked up his wife in a tower for seven years while he crusaded in the Holy Land–he, too, has gone. And the merchant in broadcloth of Victorian days, who slept vigorously in the dining room on Sunday afternoon, has been replaced by a man who says he is sorry if told he snores. He is more liberal; he believes in reason now rather than in force, and generally would not contradict Milton’s lines–

“Who overcomes by force
Hath overcome but half his foe.”

He has come to desire love rather than power, and, little by little–thanks mainly to the “yellow” press–has acquired a chastened liking for new ideas. The spread of pleasure all round him, the vaudeville, the theaters, moving-picture shows, excursions to the seaside–all these have taught him that gaiety may not clash with respectability. Especially, he is more ready to argue, for a peaceful century has taught him that a word is better than a blow. There may be a change in his psychology after this war, for he is being educated by the million in the point of view that a loaded rifle is worth half a dozen scraps of paper; it is quite possible that he will carry this view into his social life. There may, therefore, be a reaction for thirty years or so, but thirty years is a trifle in questions such as these.

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Naturally, women have in this direction developed further than men, for they had more leeway to make up. Man has so long been the educated animal that he did not need so much liberalizing. I do not refer to the Middle Ages, when learning was entirely preempted by the male (with the exception of poetry and music), for in those days there was no education save among the priests. I mean rather that the great development of elementary learning, which took place in the middle of the nineteenth century, affected men for about a generation before it affected women. In England, at least, university education for women is very recent, for Girton was opened only in 1873, Newnham, at Cambridge, in 1875; Miss Beale made Cheltenham College a power only a little later, and indeed it may be said that formal education developed only about 1890. Both in England and in the United States women have not had much more than a generation to make up the leeway of sixty centuries. It has benefited them as mothers because they did not start with the prejudices left in the male mind by the slow evolution from one form of learning to another; women did not have to live down Plato, Descartes, or Adam Smith; they began on Haeckel and H. G. Wells. The mothers of to-day have been flung neck and crop into Paradise; they came in for the new times, which are always better than the old times and inferior only to to-morrow. They were made to understand a possible democracy in the nursery because all round them, even in Russia, even in Turkey, democracy was growing, some say as a rose, some say as a weed, but anyhow irrepressibly. Who could be a queen by the cradle when more august thrones were tottering? So woman quite suddenly became more than a pretty foil to the educated man, she became something like his superior and his elder; little by little she has begun to teach him who once was her master and still in fond delusion believes he is.

It cannot be said that the mother has until very recently liked education. She has suffered from the prejudice that afflicted her own mother, who thought that because she had worked samplers all girls must work samplers; the “old” woman’s daughter, because she went to Cheltenham, tends to think that her little girl ought to go to Cheltenham. It is human rather than feminine, for generations follow one another at Eton and at Harvard. But more than feminine, I think it is masculine because, until very recently, woman has disliked education, while man has treated it with respect; he has not loved it for its own sake, but because he thought that nam et ipsa scientia potestas est. Not a very high motive, but still the future will preoccupy itself very little with the reasons for which we did things; it will be glad enough if we do them. Perhaps we may yet turn the edges of swords on the blasts of rhetoric.

An immediate consequence of the growth of education has been a change in the status of the child. It is no longer property, for how can one prevent a child from pulling down the window sash at night when it knows something of ventilation? Or give it an iron tonic when it realizes that full-blooded people cannot take iron? The child has changed; it is no longer the creature that, pointing to an animal in the field, said, “What’s that?” and the reply being, “A cow”, asked “Why?” The child is perilously close to asking whether the animal is carnivorous or herbivorous. That makes coercion very difficult. But I do not think that the modern parent desires to coerce as much as did his forbear. Rather he desires to develop the child’s personality, and in its early years this leads to horrid results, to children being “taught to see the beautiful” or “being made to realize the duties of a citizen.” We are in for a generation made up half of bulbous-headed, bespectacled precocities, and half of barbarians who are “realizing their personality” by the continual use of “shall” and “shan’t.” This will pass as all things pass, the old child and the rude child, just like the weak parent after the brute parent, and it is enough that the new generation points to another generation, for there seldom was a time that was not better than its father and the herald of a finer son.

Generally the parent will help, for his new attitude can be expressed in a phrase. He does not say, “I am master”, but, “I am responsible.” He has begun to realize that the child is not a regrettable accident or a little present from Providence; he is beginning to look upon the care of the child as a duty. He has extended the ideal of citizenship, born in the middle of the nineteenth century, which was “to leave the world a little better than he found it”; he has passed on to wanting his son to be a little richer than he was, and a little more learned; he is coming to want his son to be a finer and bolder man; he will come in time to want his daughter to be a finer and bolder woman, which just now he bears pretty well. His wife is helping him a great deal because she is escaping from her home ties to the open trades and professions, to the entertainments of psychic, political, and artistic lectures which make of her head a waste paper basket of intellect, but still create in that head a disturbance far better than the ancient and cow-like placidity. The modern mother is often too much inclined to weigh the baby four times a day, to feed it on ozoneid, or something equally funny, to expose as much of its person as possible, to make it gaze at Botticelli prints when in its bath. She will no doubt want it to mate eugenically, in which she will probably be disappointed, for love laughs at Galtons; but still, in her struggle against disease and wooden thinking, she will have helped the child by giving it something to discard better than the old respects and fears. The modern mother has begun to consider herself as a human being as well as a mother; she no longer thinks that

“A mother is a mother still,
The holiest thing alive.”

She is coming to look upon herself as a sort of aesthetic school inspector. She lives round her children rather than in them; she is less animal. Above all, she is more critical. Having more opportunity of mixing with people, she ceases to see her child as marvelous because it is her child. She is losing something of her conceit and has learned to say, ” the baby” instead of ” my baby.” It is a revolutionary atmosphere, and the developing child has something to push against when it wants to earn its parents’ approval, for modern parents are fair judges of excellence; they are educated. The old-time father was nonplussed by his son, and could not help him in his delectus, but the modern father is not so puzzled when his son wishes to converse of railway finance. The parent, more capable of comradeship, has come to want to be a comrade. He is no longer addressed as “sir”; he is often addressed as “old chap.” That is fine, but it is in dead opposition to the close, hard family idea.

Likewise, man and wife have come to look upon each other rather differently; not differently enough, but then humanity never does anything enough; when it comes near to anything drastic it grows afraid. Man still thinks that “whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing”, but he is no longer finding the one he sought not so long ago. She is no longer his property, and it would not occur to the roughest among us to offer a wife for sale for five shillings in Smithfield market, as was done now and then as late as the early nineteenth century. Woman is no longer property; she has been freed; in England she has even been allowed, by the Married Women’s Property Act, to hold that which was her own. The Married Women’s Property Act has modified the attitude of the mother to her child and to her husband. She is less linked when she has property, for she can go. If every woman had means, or a trade of her own, we should have achieved something like free alliance; woman would be in the position of the woman in “Pygmalion”, whom her man could not beat because, she not being married to him, if he beat her she might leave him–in its way a very strong argument against marriage.

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But most women have no property, and yet, somehow, by the slow loosening of family links, they have gained some independence. I am not talking of America, where men have deposited their liberty and their fortunes into the prettiest, the greediest, the most ruthless hands in the world; but rather of England, where for a long time a man set up in life with a dog as a friend, a wife to exercise it, and a cat to catch the mice. Until recently the householder kept a tight hand upon domestic expenditure; he paid all the bills, inspected the weekly accounts with a fierce air and an internal hope that he understood them; rent, taxes, heat, light, furniture, repairs, servants’ wages, school fees–he saw to it that every penny was accounted for and then, when pleased, gave his wife a tip to go and buy herself a ribbon with. (There are still a great many men who cannot think of anything a woman may want except a ribbon; in 1860 it was a shawl.) When a woman had property, even for some time after the Act, she was not considered fit to administer it. She was not fit, but she should have been allowed to administer it so as to learn from experience how not to be swindled. Anyhow, the money was taken from her, and I know of three cases in a single large family where the wife meekly indorses her dividend warrant so that the husband may pay it into his banking account. That spirit survives, but every day it decays; man, finding his wife competent, tends to make her an allowance, to let her have her own banking account, and never to ask for the pass book. He has thrown upon her the responsibility for all the household and its finance; by realizing that she was capable he has made her capable. Though she be educated, he loves her not less; perhaps he loves her more. It is no longer true to say with Lord Lyttleton that “the lover in the husband may be lost.” Formerly the lover was generally lost, for after she had had six children before she was thirty the mother used to put on a cap and retire. Now she does not retire; indeed, she hides his bedroom slippers and puts out his pumps, for life is more vivid and exterior now; this is the cinema age.

Finding her responsible, amusing, capable of looking after herself, man is developing a still stranger liberalism; he has recognized that he may not be enough to fill a woman’s life, that she may care for pleasures other than his society, and indeed for that of other men. He has not abandoned his physical jealousy and will not so long as he is a man, but he is slowly beginning to view without dismay his wife’s companionship with other men. She may be seen with them; she may lunch with them; she may not, as a rule, dine with them, but that is an evolution to come. This springs from the deep realization that there are between men and women relations other than the passionate. It is still true that between every man and every woman there is a flicker of love, just a shadow, perhaps; but not so long ago between men and women there was only “yes” or “no,” and to-day there are also common tastes and common interests. This is fine, this is necessary, but it is not good for the old British household where husband and wife must cleave unto each other alone; where, as in the story books, they lived happy ever after. As with the home, so with the family; neither can survive when it suffers comparison, for it derives all its strength from its exclusivism. As soon as a woman begins to realize that there is charm in the society of men other than her uncles, her brothers, and her cousins, the solid, four-square attitude of the family is menaced. Welcome the stranger, and legal hymen is abashed.

All this springs from woman’s new estate–that of human being. She must be considered almost as much as a man. Where there is wealth her tastes must be consulted, and more than one man has been sentenced by a tyrannous wife to wear blue coats and blue ties all his life. She is coming to consider that the husband who dresses in his wife’s bedroom should be flogged, while the one who shaves there should be electrocuted. And she defends her view with entirely one-sided logic and an extended vocabulary. Here again is a good, a necessary thing; but where is the old family where a husband could in safety, when slightly overcome, retire to bed with his boots on? He is no longer king of the castle, but a menaced viceroy in an insurgent land.

All through society this loosening of the marriage bond is operative. By being freer within matrimony men and women view more tolerantly breaches of the matrimonial code. There was a time when a male co-respondent was not received: that is over. In those days a divorcee was not received either, even when the divorce was pronounced in her favor. Nowadays, in most social circles, the decree absolute is coming to be looked upon as an absolution. I do not refer to the United States, where (I judge only from your novels) divorce outlaws nobody, but to steady old England, who still pretends that she frowns on the rebels and finally takes them back with a sigh and wonders what she is coming to. What England is coming to is to a lesser regard for the marriage bond, to a recognition that people have the right to rebel against their yoke. There totters the family–for marriage is its base, and the more English society receives in its ranks those who have flouted it, the more it will be shaken by the new spirit which bids human creatures live together, but also with the rest of the world. Woman was kept within the family by threats, by banishment, by ostracism, but now she easily earns forgiveness. At least English society is deciding to forget if it cannot forgive the guilt–a truly British expedient. At the root is a decaying respect for the marriage bond, a growing respect for rebellion. That tendency is everywhere, and it is becoming more and more common for husband and wife to take separate holidays; there are even some who leave behind them merely a slip: “Gone away, address unknown.” They are cutting the wire entanglements behind which lie dangers and freedoms. All this again comes from mutual respect with mutual realization, from education, and especially from late marriages. Late marriages are one of the most potent causes of the break-up of the family, for now women are no longer caught and crushed young; they are no longer burdened matrons at thirty. The whole point of view has changed. I remember reading in an early-Victorian novel this phrase: “She was past the first bloom of her youth; she was twenty-three.” The phrase is not without its meaning; it meant that the male was seeking not a wife, but a courtesan who, her courtesanship done, could become a perfect housekeeper. Now men prefer women of twenty-seven or twenty-eight, forsake the backfisch for her mother, because the mother has personality, experience, can stimulate, amuse, and accompany. Only the older and more formed woman is no longer willing to enter the family as a jail; she will enter it only as a hotel.

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* * * * *

Meanwhile, from child to parent erosion also operates. I do not think that the modern child honors its father and its mother unless it thinks them worthy of honor. There is a slump in respect, as outside the family there is a slump in reverence. As in the outer world a man began by being a worthy, then a member of Parliament, then a minister, finally was granted a pension and later a statue; and as now a man is first a journalist, then a member of Parliament, a minister, and in due course a scoundrel, so inside the family does a father become an equal instead of a tyrant, and a good sort instead of an old fogy. For respect, I believe, was mainly fear and greed. The respect of the child for its father was very like the respect that Riquet, the little dog, felt for Monsieur Bergeret. Anatole France has expressed it ideally:

“Oh, my master, Bergeret, God of Slaughter, I worship thee! Hail, oh God of wrath! Hail, oh bountiful God! I lie at thy feet, I lick thy hand. Thou art great and beautiful when at the laden board thou devourest abundant meats. Thou art great and beautiful when, from a thin strip of wood causing flame to spring, thou dost of night make day….”

That was a little the child’s cosmogony. Then the child became educated, capable of argument. In contact with more reasonable parents it grew more reasonable. The parent, confronted with the question, “Why must I do what you order?” ceased to say, “Because I say so.” That reply did not seem good enough to the parent, and it ceased to be good enough for the child. If the child rebelled, the only thing to do was to strike it, and striking is no longer done; the parent prefers argument because the child is capable of understanding argument. The child is more lawful, more sensitive; it is unready to obey blindly, and it is no longer required to obey blindly, because, while the parent has begun to doubt his own infallibility, the child has been doing so, too. The child is more ready and more able to criticize its parents; indeed, the whole generation is critical, has acquired the habit of introspection. The child is a little like the supersoul of Mr. Stephen Leacock, and is developing thoughts like, “Why am I? Why am I what I am? How? and why how?” Obviously, such questions, when directed at one’s father and mother, are a little shattering. It is true that once upon a time the child readily obeyed; now and then it criticized, but still it obeyed, for it had been told that its duty was to execute, as was its parents’ to command. But duty is in a bad way, and I, for one, think that we should be well rid of duty, for it appears to me to be merely an excuse for acting without considering whether the deed is worthy. The man who dies for his country because he loves it is an idealist and a hero; the man who does that because he thinks it his duty is a fool. The conception of duty has suffered; from the child’s point of view, it is almost extinct; it has been turned upside down, and there is a growth of opinion that the parent should have the duties and the child the privileges. It is the theory of La Course du Flambeau, where Hervieu shows us each generation using and bleeding the elder generation. Or perhaps it is a more subtle conception. It may be that the eugenic idea is vaguely forming in the young generation, and that, in an unperceived return to nature, they are deciding to eat their grandfathers, a primitive taste which I have never been able to understand. Youth, feeling that the world is its orange to suck, is inclined to consider that the elder generation, being responsible for its presence, should look after it and serve it. That is not at all illogical; it is borne out by Chinese law, where, if you save a man from suicide, you must feed him for the rest of his life.

Or perhaps it is a broader view, a more socialized one. Very young, the child is acquiring a vague sense of its responsibility to the race, is very early becoming a citizen. It is directed that way; it hears that liberty consists in doing what you like, providing you injure no other man. Its personality being encouraged to develop, the child acquires a higher opinion of itself, considers that it owes something to itself, that it has rights. Sacrifice is still inculcated in the child, but not so much because it is a moral duty as because it is mental discipline. The little boy is not told to give the chocolates to his little sister because she is a dear little thing, and he must not be cruel to her and make her cry; he is told that he must give her the chocolates because it is good for him to learn to give up something. That impulse is the impulse of Polycrates, who threw his ring into the sea. But, then, Polycrates had no luck. The child, more fortunate, is tending to realize itself as a person, and so, as it becomes more responsible, acquires tolerance; it makes allowances for its parents, it is kind, it realizes that its parents have not had its advantages. All that is very swollen-headed and unpleasant, but still I prefer it to the old attitude, to the time when voices were hushed and footsteps slowed when father’s latchkey was heard in the lock. To the child the parent is becoming a person instead of the God of Wrath; a person with rights, but not a person to whom everything must be given up. Sacrifice is out of date, and in the child as well as in the elders there is a denial of the dream of Ellen Sturges Cooper, for few wake up and find that life is duty. My life, my personality–all that has sprung from Stirner, from Nietzsche, from the great modern reaction against socialism and uniformity; it is the assertion of the individual. It is often harsh; the daughter who used to take her father for a walk now sends the dog. But still it is necessary; old hens make good soup. I do not think that this has killed love, for love can coexist with mutual forbearance, however much Doctor Johnson may have doubted it. Doctor Johnson was the bad old man of the English family, and I do not suppose that anybody will agree that

“If the man who turnips cries
Cry not when his father dies,
‘Tis a proof that he had rather
Have a turnip than his father.”

A possible sentiment in an older generation, but sentiments, like generations, grow out of date; they are swept out by new ideas and new rejections–rejection of religion, rejection of morals. We tend toward an agnostic world, with a high philosophical morality; we have attained as yet neither agnosticism nor high morality, but the child is shaking off the ready-made precepts of the faiths and the Smilesian theories. It is unwillingly bound by the ordinances of a forgotten alien race; as a puling child, carried in a basket by an eagle, like the tiny builders of Ecbatana, it calls for bricks and mortar with which to build the airy castle of the future.

As a house divided against itself, the family falls. It protests, it hugs that from which it suffered; it protests in speech, in the newspapers, that still it is united. The clan is dead, and blood is not as thick as marmalade. There are countries where the link is strong, as in France, for instance. I quote from a recent and realistic novel the words of a mother speaking of her young married daughter:

“Every Tuesday we dine at my mother’s, and every Thursday at my mother-in-law’s. Of course, now, at least once a week we go to Madame de Castelac; later on I shall expect Pauline and her husband every Wednesday.”

“That is a pity,” said Sorel. “That leaves three days.”

“Oh, there are other calls. Every week my mother comes to us the same evening as does my father-in-law, but that is quite informal.”

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Family dinners are rare in England. They flourish only at weddings and at funerals, especially at funerals, for mankind collected enjoys woe. But other occasions–birthdays, Christmas–are shunned; Christmas especially, in spite of Dickens and Mr. Chesterton, is not what it was, for its quondam victims, having fewer children, and being less bound to their aunts’ apron strings, go away to the seaside, or stay at home and hide. That is a general change, and many modern factors, such as travel, intercourse with strangers, emigration, have shown the family that there are other places than home, until some of them have begun to think that “East or West, home’s worst.” There is a frigidity among the relations in the home, a disinclination to call one’s mother-in-law “Mother.” Indeed, relations-in-law are no longer relatives; the two families do not immediately after the wedding call one another Kitty or Tom. The acquired family is merely a sub-family, and often the grouping resembles that of the Montagues and the Capulets, if Romeo and Juliet had married. Mrs. Herbert said, charmingly, in Garden Oats, “Our in-laws are our strained relations.”

With the closeness of the family goes the regard for the name, once so strong. I feel sure that in all seriousness, round about 1850, a father may have said to his son that he was disgracing the name of Smith. Now he may almost disgrace the name of FitzArundel for all anybody cares. There was a time when it was thought criminal that a man should become a bankrupt, but few families will now mortgage their estate to prevent a distant member’s appearance before the official receiver. The name of the family is now merely generic, and the bold young girl of to-morrow will say, “My father began life as a forger and was ultimately hanged, but that shouldn’t bother you, should it?” Much of that deliquescence is due to the factory system, for it opened opportunities to all, which many took, raised men high in the scale of wealth; one brother might be a millionaire in Manchester, while another tended a bar in Liverpool. Sometimes the rich member of the family came back, such as the uncle who returned from America with a fortune, in a state of sentimental generosity, but most of the time it has meant that the family split into those who keep their carriage and those who take the tram. Perhaps Cervantes did not exaggerate when saying that there are only two families: Have-Much and Have-Little.

What the future reserves I disincline to prophesy. It is enough to point to tendencies, and to say, “Along this road we go, we know not whither.” But of one thing I feel certain: the family will not become closer, for the individualistic tendency of man leads to instinctive rebellion; his latent anarchism to isolate him from his fellows. There is a growing rebellion among women against the thrall of motherhood, which, however delightful it may be, is a thrall–the velvet-coated yoke is a yoke still. I do not suppose that the mothers of the future will unanimously deposit their babies in the municipal creche. But I do believe that with the growth of cooeperative households, and especially of that quite new class, the skilled Princess Christian or Norland nurses, there will be a delegation of responsibility from the mother to the expert. It will go down to the poor as well as to the rich. Already we have district nurses for the poor, and I do not see why, as we realize more and more the value of young life, there should not be district kindergartens. They would remove the child still more from its home; they would throw it in contact with creatures of its own age in its very earliest years, prepare it for school, place it in an atmosphere where it must stand by itself among others who will praise or blame without special consideration, for they are strangers to it and do not bear its name.

I suspect, too, that marriage will be freer; it will not be made more easy or more difficult, but greater facilities will be given for divorce so that human beings may no longer be bound together in dislike, because they once committed the crime of loving unwisely. This, too, must loosen the family link, to-day still strong because people know that it is so hard to break it. It will be a conditional link when it can easily be done away with, a link that will be maintained only on terms of good behavior on both sides. The marriage service will need a new clause; we shall have to swear to be agreeable. The relation between husband and wife must change more. Conjugal tyranny still exists in a country such as England where the wife is not co-guardian of the child, for during his wife’s lifetime a husband may remove her child into another country, refuse her access save at the price of a costly and uncertain legal action. The child itself must have rights. At present, all the rights it has are to such food as its parents will give it; it needs very gross cruelty before a man can be convicted of starving or neglecting his child. And when that child is what they call grown up–that is to say, sixteen–in practice it loses all its rights, must come out and fend for itself. I suspect that that will not last indefinitely, and that the new race will have upon the old race the claim that owing to the old race it was born. A socialized life is coming where there will be less freedom for those who are unfit to be free, those who do not feel categorical impulses, the impulse to treat wife and child gently and procure their happiness. Men will not indefinitely draw their pay on a Friday and drink half of it by Sunday night. Their wages will be subject to liens corresponding to the number of their children. These liens may not be light, and may extend long beyond the nominal majority of the child. I suspect that after sixteen, or some other early age, children will, if they choose, be entitled to leave home for some municipal hostel where for a while their parents will be compelled to pay for their support. It will be asked, “Why should a parent pay for the support of a child who will not live in his house?” It seems to me that the chief reply is, “Why did you have that child?” There is another, too: “By what right should this creature for whom you are responsible be tied to a house into which it has been called unconsulted? Why should it submit to your moral and religious views? to your friends? to your wall-paper?” It is a strong case, and I believe that, as time goes on and the law is strengthened, the young will more and more tend to leave their homes. In good, liberal homes they will stay, but the others they will abandon, and I believe that no social philosopher will regret that children should leave homes where they stay only because they are fed and not because they love.

So, flying apart by a sort of centrifugal force, the family will become looser and looser, until it exists only for those who care for one another enough to maintain the association. It cannot remain as it is, with its right of insult, its claim to society; we can have no more slave daughters and slave wives, nor shall we chain together people who spy out one another’s loves and crush one another’s youth. The family is immortal, but the immortals have many incarnations–from Pan and Bacchus sprang Lucifer, Son of the Morning. There is a time to come–better than this because it is to come–when the family, humanized, will be human.

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