The art of taking a wife
Exceedingly few; hardly any.
And then the young man whowould seek to love in the way of theLord is discouraged and renouncesmarriage, in which he only sees the[Pg 19]door to misery or cowardice. Herenounces it frankly and forever.Are celibates more honest, and howfar does their honesty extend?
With the most honest, virtue extendsto an unwillingness to betraythe purity of the maiden, or the faithfulnessof other men’s wives; extendsor rather descends, to making theservice of love a question of periodicalhygiene regulated by the rubricof the calendar and by that mostimperative one of the lunar month.Poor love, poor translation of themost epic poem of life! It is asthough one were to translate Homerinto some Australian dialect!
These bachelor hygienists arehowever a small minority. Otherspretend to something more and[Pg 20]better, and make love in the housesof others, and live by abject andcowardly seduction, and perhapsusury.
This is the most sordid and canceroussore in our modern marriage;this is the gangrene of our society,which spreads an asphyxiating fetorof domestic treachery, of moral infection,which contaminates andinfests everything. Woe to us ifin every family the newly borncould proclaim aloud the name oftheir father! How many false, livingbills of exchange would be protested,what long faces amongst biologistswho ingeniously study the law ofheredity; what a terrible picture oftreachery and dissembling! humanand civilized society would appear[Pg 21]all at once like a band of falsecoiners, and the woman’s womb nothingbut a mint of false money.
But the newly born can only weep—thefirst salutation to life—and thewombs of women are silent, and continuetheir business of false coinage.
And yet I do not blame thewoman more than the man, in thisgalley of treachery, this wide-spreadand clandestine manufactory of bastards.If man assails the woman,and plots against her virtue, heavails himself of the rights of life.If society does not permit him totake a wife, why should he notshare the bread of him who has toomuch to eat? Do not the workmenof Europe declare daily, that one ofthe first rights is that of work? And[Pg 22]is not the right of loving perhapsmore sacred; the work of works;that for which nature sacrifices theindividual, and to which it consecratesthe best of its energies? Husbandsdefend these rights, we attack them.If they are conquered—tant pispour eux!
And the poor wives, why shouldthey not brighten the ennui of thenuptial bed with some little loveaffair? Were they not bound foreverto a man they had never loved,whom they had perhaps seen onlyonce? Were they not sold by theirparents, guardians, and matrons, likemerchandise? Was not their dowryrated at the weight of a coat ofarms? and have not they also theright to love? And all the others[Pg 23]who have had the good fortune tolove the man who has given them hisname, and have thrown themselvesinto his arms, giving him their wholehearts, happy to be able to transformthemselves in him and for him;who dreamt of making marriage asynonym of love, and who insteadfound the husband in a few monthsin the arms of an old love; havenot all these women the right ofvengeance? This is matrimony asit is daily represented in the manysmall theaters which we call men’shouses.
In these theaters, however (onemust be just and not exaggerate),there are more farces played thancomedies, more comedies thandramas. Tragedies are rare. For[Pg 24]this high form of dramatic artheroes are required, and they arevery scarce in modern society.We have made our houses, statues,pictures, and gardens smaller, andhave been compelled to reduce ourfeelings also.
The pistol and dagger, too, figurein the chronicles of matrimony, butas phenomena. In the home-theater,on the contrary, the punishment ofretaliation, the little basenesses, thestirring of conscience, under all formsand at all sorts of prices, are in commonuse. The ménages à trois (aye,even four) are pretty pictures inkind; and the hypocrisy of husbandswho will not see, because they detestscenes, figure every day in the runningaccount of modern matrimony.
Live and let live—to apply thenoble modern institution of co-operativesocieties to the family; and raisealoft the banner of the association offorces. One for all, and all for one!
Infidelity and treachery are not theonly moths which corrode marriage.We have all the domestic discordswhich spring from the inequality ofthe needs of intelligence, heart, andhabits of thought; we have the partisansof the wife and those of thehusband, who quarrel amongst themselves,complicating the problem, poisoningthe wounds, opening with everytouch the cicatrices which time andlove were so pitifully healing.
If war is an exception in matrimony,[Pg 26]peace is still more rare; andone may safely say that in the greaternumber of cases it is an armed peace,an atmosphere which relaxes thestrength, dries up the purest sourcesof tenderness, and destroys its happiness.In a word, as our society isconstituted in the present day, hellis not common in the family circle,paradise exceedingly rare, but purgatoryis almost universal.
And yet marriage is still the leastevil amongst the unions of the manand woman; it can and ought togrow continually better and increasehuman happiness; which is for methe highest and truest end of progress.
What is the use of being able torun through space at the velocity ofseventy kilometres an hour, or to go[Pg 27]round the world in seventy days;what the use of being able to talkthrough the telephone or see theclouds in the sky of Mars; what theuse of so great a fecundity of books,of such a deluge of journals, if oneis unable to increase the patrimony ofhuman happiness by even a farthing?
At the present day marriage may behappy, just as one may become richby playing in the lottery, but whilstone door opens to the possibility ofgood, two open to that of evil. Hewho utters the fatal yes before theSyndic girded with the three nationalcolors, lets a grain fall in the scalethat holds our happiness and two inthe scale that holds our misfortunes.It is his duty to do the opposite; it isthe duty of society to defend matrimony[Pg 28]from the perils which threatenit, by wise laws not inspired by thearcadian tendency of the heart, norby theocratical mysticism, but bya profound knowledge of man.
About twenty years ago I broke alance in favour of divorce in my “Fisiologiadell’ amore,” and hoped at thattime to have seen it by now includedin the laws of my country.
Twenty years ago I wrote:
“Divorce ought to be includedamong our laws as soon as possible:happy couples solicit it to securetheir dignity, wounded by a tyrannicaltie; the unhappy implore it ontheir bended knees, those who bymisfortune or fault are condemned[Pg 29]to the most supreme of human tortures:that of a slavery without redemption,of a yoke without rest, ofa scourge without balm, of a griefwithout hope.” Even to-day divorceis not made a law among us, but publicopinion demands and will have it.No one in the present day dare defendit with the broken arms of the Church;but many defend it still in the nameof the children and of the sanctityof the family.
“Fisiologia dell’ amore,”Milano, 1873, p. 338.
There are too many innocent victimsof matrimony for their voicesnot to be heard; and when the law-giverknows how to surround divorcewith all the most delicate guarantees,he will increase the sanctity ofthe family and free the children from[Pg 30]the cruelly abject spectacle of theirtwo parents living under the sameroof hating each other, with homicidein their thoughts, bearing the chainsof convicts, without the courage orthe strength to break them.
Legislators must do this, the restof the duty lies with those directorsof the mind who are called writers,masters, and educators. They oughtto teach the woman to know whatlove is, and what matrimony is, sothat she should not give herself,bound hand and foot, to a contractwhich she knows by hearsay only, norenter the dim future guided by paternal,maternal, or religious authorityalone.
The possibilities of misfortune area hundred times greater for thewoman than for the man, for she isalways more ignorant of things genitalthan we are, and goes to thealtar or municipality ignorant of all,dragged like a lamb to the slaughter-house.
At the present day, under the customsto which our society conforms,the only profession of woman is thatof wife and mother; and to this callingshe is instructed from infancy, notto be an exemplary wife or perfectmother, but, if possible, to find ahusband, and that an ideal one, onewho is handsome, young, and aboveall rich. She is secretly and cleverlyinstructed in the art of hunting thatrare game, a good husband; not in[Pg 32]order to make him or herself happy,but to increase her income and to risea step or two in the social scale. Ifin comfortable circumstances, she mustbecome rich; if rich, a millionaire;if civilian, a countess; if countess,marchioness or princess. This is whatshe is to aim at; all her educationhas been directed to this end. Now,marriage should rise from its lowerposition of a business transaction tothe higher one of a union of heartsand thoughts, and neither of the twocompanions ought to be able tolook at each other with anger andthink:
You bought me.
I sold myself.
Nothing can cleanse us from thisoriginal sin, which contaminates matrimony.[Pg 33]In vain do the comforts ofriches, the pride of a high position,the excitements of domestic sensuality,throw flowers over the wound tohide it. At the least quibble, the leastcloud that covers the heaven of thedouble life, one hears the fatalwords:
You bought me,
I sold myself,
arising from the depths of thetroubled conscience like a voiceevoked by some evil spirit.
And when neither riches, sensuality,nor vanity have a ragwherewith to cover the canceroussore, the naked and dreadfulspectre of an unsuccessfulspeculation, of unsuccessful business—thenbitterness is added to[Pg 34]bitterness, and the domestic warfarewhich has become permanent,angry, and poisonous, developes intoa chronic despair, the most heart-rendingform of human pain. Eventhis is not all; as in an attackof neuralgia the deep-seated and continualpains become sharper and moreintolerable at certain moments, takingon a piercing and stab-like character,so it is with the deep-seated anddumb despair of those two unfortunatebeings. Every now andthen the inexorable cry sounds,and thus it goes on until the lastbreath.
Let divorce come then, and quickly,to set all these slaves free; let therebe a wiser and more liberal education,to teach girls what they do not[Pg 35]know or know indifferently; so thatthey, like ourselves, can freely saytheir yes before the altar or themagistrate with perfect knowledgeand understanding.
SEXUAL CHOICE IN MARRIAGE.—THE ARTOF CHOOSING WELL.
There are two principal ways bywhich we may arrive at the fatal yes,that terrible monosyllable which mustdecide our happiness or misfortune;that yes which may make for us aparadise on earth, or a hell of twenty-fourhours for every day in the 365.
Either love first and marriage after,or marriage first and love after.Which of these two ways is the better,and the most certain to lead us to theparadise of two?
Theoretically, the answer cannot be[Pg 37]doubted; one ought to love first andmarry after.
In practice, however, it is not alwaysso. Many marriages inspired by loveend badly, while others, planned byreason more than the heart, turn outwell.
And why? If the theory is true, itought to accord with the practice, andif it contradicts the practice the theorymust be mistaken.
The apparent contradiction can beexplained at once if we reflect thatlove is every day spoken of as the desirefor the possession of the woman,and this alone is certainly not sufficientto make two people happy. Givelove and lust their real names andevery difficulty immediately disappears,and we then see the happy dogma,[Pg 38]Love first and marriage after, shine outin all its splendour. If by legal meansalone a man can possess the woman heloves and if the passion be violent, thegreatest libertine, and even the enemyof matrimony, bow their heads underthe Furcæ Caudinæ of female virtueand the civil code, and marry. It is astony road and full of pitfalls, but onewhich, nevertheless, may sometimeslead to the happiness of the two.Gradually there becomes associatedwith the desire of the senses, thatmore valuable