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February 24 , 2008

Marriage in Free Society


OF the great mystery of human Love, and that most intimate personal relation of two souls to each Other—perhaps the firmest, most basic and indissoluble fact (after our own existence) that we know; of that strange sense—often, perhaps generally, instantaneous—of long precedent familiarity and kinship, that deep reliance on and acceptation of another in his or her entirety; of the tremendous strength of the chain which thus at times will bind two hearts in lifelong dedication and devotion, persuading and indeed not seldom compelling the persons concerned to the sacrifice of some of the Other elements of their lives and characters; and, withal, of a certain inscrutable veiledness from each Other which so frequently accompanies the relation of the opposite sexes, and which forms at once the abiding charm, and the pain—sometimes the tragedy—of their union; of this palpitating winged living thing, which one may perhaps call the real Marriage—I would say but little; for indeed it is only fitting or possible to speak of it by indirect language and suggestion, nor may one venture to rudely drag it from its sanctuary into the light of the common gaze. Compared with this, the actual marriage, in its squalid perversity as we too often have occasion of knowing it, is as the wretched idol of the savage to the reality which it is supposed to represent; and one seems to hear the Aristophanic laughter of the gods as they contemplate man's little clay image of the Heavenly Love—which, cracked in the fire of daily life, he is fain to bind together with rusty hoops of law, and parchment bands, lest it should crumble and fall to pieces altogether. The whole subject, wide as life itself—as Heaven and Hell—eludes anything like adequate treatment, and we need make no apology for narrowing down our considerations here to just a few practical points; and if we cannot navigate upward into the very heart of the matter—namely, into the causes which make some people love each Other with a true and perfect love, and Others unite in obedience to but a counterfeit passion—yet we may fairly, I imagine, and with profit, study some of the conditions which give to actual marriage its present form, or which in the future are likely to provide real affection with a more satisfactory expression than it has as a rule to-day. Yet the subject, even so limited, is one on which it is extremely difficult to get a calm audience. Marriage customs (however much they may differ from race to race) are at any one time and among any one folk remarkably tenacious, being sanctioned by almost a violence of public opinion; and as in the case of theology or politics, their mere discussion is liable to infuriate people—perhaps from the very fact that the subject is so complex and so deeply rooted in personal feeling. Nevertheless—since alterations have to take place in these as in Other customs, and since, as many things indicate, we are moving towards a distinct period of change in matters matrimonial—it would seem that the more rationally we can survey these questions beforehand, the better. It will probably be felt that certain present difficulties in the marriage-relation are not merely casual or local, but are deeply intertwined with a long series of historical causes, which have led up to that exaggerated differentiation, and consequent misunderstanding, between the sexes, of which we have spoken in a former paper.* Behind the relation of any individual man and woman to each Other stands the historical age-evolved relation of the two sexes generally, spreading round and enclosing the former on all sides, and creating the social environment from which the individuals can hardly escape. Two young people in the present day may come together, but their relation is already largely determined by causes over which they have no control
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