On Woman and Marriage: William Galey Simpson

Woman and Marriage

by William Galey Simpson

Forever should the mother with her child be for us the most moving of pictures, and a symbol that holds before us the perpetuation of humanity, the loving linking together of the successive generations, in the highest glorification. This ideal it is, which my brother viewed with the tenderest veneration and treated with the greatest reverence. He regarded it as a very grave danger if, as now appears to be the case, this ideal of the mother with her child, were no longer looked upon as the highest. He thought that with the present direction which the women’s movement has taken, emphasis is laid so strongly upon the individual personality, with what is often its petty self-seeking and love of comfort, that no one thinks to answer the question: What drawbacks for the human race does the movement entail? He feared that under the influence of the unmarried, who usually stand at the head of the emancipation movement, an ideal might arise that would be damaging to the propagation and higher development of humanity and that thereby precisely the best women, the bravest and most high-souled, would come to look upon marriage with disgust.1

Elizabeth Forster-Nietzsche:

The Lonely Nietzsche

I should like now to invite my readers’ attention to the question of marriage. It will not, however, be marriage considered fully and from all sides, but rather those aspects of it that I think are of special importance for an understanding of woman, or for her best good, or for the most satisfactory fulfillment of her duty to the race. Inevitably, therefore, it will be marriage chiefly from the point of view of the female, but I believe that much I have to say will have meaning for both sexes.

For women the man is a means, the end is the child. And the child is the purpose of marriage. In the Orient, the social function of marriage has always been primary, and in this it has been wiser than the West, at least wiser than the West of the modern era. The primary purpose of marriage, certainly from the point of view of society, is to bring children into the world, and especially superior children—children endowed with higher capacities than those of their parents. And young people themselves should focus less of their expectation on marriage as romance. It never was intended to be only the means by which two people, lost in each other, should find happiness. They should never have been encouraged, or allowed, to think it was this. Marriage may prove a gateway to heaven, or it may not. Certainly it will not be all heaven. Bringing children into the world and rearing them properly is an arduous undertaking, and a heavy responsibility. It calls for intelligence, knowledge, training, and many of the virtues: notably devotion, patience, capacity for faithful and hard labor through long years, and much self-forgetting. As such, people should approach it with consecration, like that of a knight, or one taking holy orders.

Moreover, if the primary and most sacred purpose of marriage, the purpose of marriage for all noble and intelligent men and women except perhaps a rather exceptional few, is to bring into the world superior children, as superior as possible, then it follows inevitably that eugenic considerations must be of the utmost importance. Scientific evidence, very largely that supplied by genetics, now makes it certain that both capacities and defects run in families, and that the lives of children are shaped more—even much more—by their heredity than by environment. Marriage must now be looked upon as essentially a matter of bringing together two family stocks. What has to be thoroughly examined, therefore, is not merely the specimens of humanity who propose to do the marrying, but the entire family background and record of each one, as far back as it can be ascertained. And no amount of love or “spiritual unity” between them should be allowed to sanction any marriage from which children are to be expected if their ancestries betray serious hereditary defects, weaknesses, or abnormalities of body or mind, or even—some would say—capacities and traits in the two records that are widely different. Marriage, to be justified, if it is to lead to children, must at the least have a sound physical and hereditary basis.

But of course such precautions, essential though I do hold them to be, can never of themselves be enough to ensure what I should consider a great and beautiful marriage. For the realization of this, the man and the woman must bring to their marriage, or in their marriage develop, certain emotional and spiritual qualities. These are even more essential than a rich intellectual endowment. There must be deep love between them, and mutual reverence, and—more important than agreement in ideas—their lives must be shaped by the same values and aims. The touch of each on the other must be quickening, vitalizing, exalting. And when it is so, then does their very sexual relationship cease to be an end in itself and become a symbol of the unity that they have found together, at once holy and hallowing. No matter how well the prospective mates may meet all the requirements as regards ancestry and the like, their marriage can hardly be expected to become one of the most beautiful and life-releasing unless they have found spiritual unity, or feel confident that they can grow into it in the course of time.

But here, too, let me confess my doubt whether “marrying for love” can be accepted as a reliable guide in this direction. When two young people are “in love,” are they not commonly so swept away in a flood of emotion that they are unable to make a sound appraisal of realities, or perhaps even to see them? The wart on the end of our loved one’s nose may then be glorified into a thing of beauty. Would not mates commonly be chosen more wisely, certainly from the point of view of eugenics and even from that of personal happiness, if a larger part in their choice were left to the parents, who are older, more experienced, more objective in their point of view, calmer and more realistic in their perception? They would see the wart—and other things. Perhaps couples coming together thus would often be less “in love” when they married than is commonly the case among us now, but might not their love last longer? Indeed, if young people were more often thus soundly mated, might not their love for one another be expected to grow deeper with the passing of the years? And, for myself, I like it best when there is only one marriage, lifelong, and when old age finds a couple nearer together at the end than they were at the beginning. Maybe then it would be more commonly a matter of coming to love each other. But nothing can last if sound foundation for it be lacking. The impression that I get from competent and seemingly unbiased observers is that marriages in the Orient, which are entered into more in this fashion than is customary with us, are not less happy. And certainly they are more stable. And they create a stabler social structure.

Above all, marriages entered upon thus would be more likely to produce desirable children. And, in all marrying, this is the consideration that we should strive to keep uppermost. Personal happiness should be subordinated to it, and when necessary, even be sacrificed to it. In support of the whole idea of giving parents a larger part in determining the selection of mates, Ellsworth Huntington said: “In an earlier stage of society the parents arranged the marriages. . . The eugenic effect of the old system appears to have been excellent. It tended to insure the marriage of all the young people of the better classes at an early age. It likewise promoted the union of families of similar grade, so that good stock was in less danger than at present of being diluted by poor.” 2 I am not urging that parents should do all the arranging, but certainly they should have a larger and accepted part in it. Perhaps the very legality of the marriage should depend upon its having their approval. At times, this would doubtless involve great hardship. But no system can be devised that will not at times press heavily upon someone. The best that we can do is to find a system that will most surely conduce to the increase of quality of life among us, and then pay the price of it loyally.

And, lest it seem to some of my readers that I am making the requirements for marriage too mechanical and rigid, and dismissing too lightly the happiness and contentment of the individual men and women who must decide whether or not to marry or whom to marry, let me point out several facts that may relieve this misgiving.

First of all, it is to be noted that if young people, and more especially the young people of our superior stocks, were brought up with a fairly definite idea of the sort of mate that sound eugenic considerations would in their case prescribe, it would generally determine the kind of man or woman they would look upon with admiration, and, as a rule, prevent their falling in love with any person quite unsuited. As a young friend of mine put it some years ago, he found that he tended to love the kind of girl who fitted the picture he had long had in his mind. In any case, if it did not have so positive an effect as this, a knowledge of the eugenic requirements would at least set limits, negatively, within which alone one would permit a love relationship to go so far as marriage.

But more than this, I recognize, and readily allow, that the difficulties and riskiness of a marital venture tend to increase with advance in the mental and spiritual development of the parties involved. It is one thing, and a comparatively easy thing, for a man and a woman of the peasant or laborer type to find satisfaction in marriage. Their rather lumpish natures can settle down side by side and without difficulty find their simple needs and desires satisfied. But a man or woman of highly developed personality has a sensitivity and bristles with points and angles of taste, conviction and imperious drive that make it exceedingly difficult to mesh his or her life comfortably and happily with the life of another. To some extent, the difficulty can be met by having the woman married early, while she is still plastic, to a man perhaps ten years her senior. She will then tend to learn from him, and to shape her life to fit into his. But even so, marriage will continue to be more of a gamble for those of the highly differentiated development that goes with personality and culture.

But even with all this granted, we must go on to acknowledge that more room for the relations of the sexes is needed, and must be provided. There has been too much effort to force them into one rigid, standardized mold. This situation probably had its origin, as does the difficulty of correcting it, in the widely diffused feeling that sex is at best a necessary evil, to which our concessions should be reduced to a minimum, and in the further fact that our fetish of equality tends to lump all people together without any recognition of the diversity of psychological types and of sexual need that obtains throughout a population. On the one hand, we have saints and sages, like St. Francis and Nietzsche, who, at least in the creative period of their lives, seem to have required no overt sexual expression whatever. On the other hand, I think of the wife of a friend of mine who confided to an elderly lady of my acquaintance, that no one man could ever satisfy her.

And from observation and from the reading of biography, one gets the impression that there must be a considerable proportion of people, both married and unmarried, both men and women, though I suppose chiefly men and chiefly the unmarried, who apparently are unable, or perhaps are simply unwilling to try, to keep their sexual lives in the channels prescribed by convention. To a large extent, they are anything but depraved or vicious. Often they are people of the creative type: poets, painters, musicians, and the like. Men such as Burns, Tolstoy, Goethe, Heine, Shelley, Beethoven, and Walt Whitman must immediately come to the minds of all of us. And often their sexual relations, though frowned upon by society, are in themselves more beautiful than those of most duly married husbands and wives. Why should we not remove the stigma from such relationships and make room for them? We recognize our indebtedness to the creators for the art and thought with which they enrich our lives. Why should we so quickly forget that the freedom from conflicting responsibility that they require, in order to fulfill their creative impulses, often makes marriage impossible; and that the very energy that enables them to create, not uncommonly presses upon them a sexual need that cannot be kept within bounds? It is important to safeguard the essential features of our monogamous family system, yes, as I shall be at some pains to point out later, but I doubt that our whole institution would be in danger of collapse if we allowed that there were some people, often among our most valuable, whose nature or whose circumstances were not such as to enable them to come under its protection and to meet its requirements and responsibilities. We might do well to remember that the ancient Hindus had different kinds of marriage, and recognized different purposes in sexual relationships.3 While holding to the monogamous norm, they allowed exceptions. It was perfectly permissible, for instance, and I understand it still is, for a married woman, unblest with children, to go to a rishi (a Hindu holy sage) with the request that he impregnate her. There was the effort to see that each normal man and woman had the degree of sexual opportunity essential to health or to taking his or her part in the total task of perpetuating the species. In general, they allowed the largest amount of privilege to the more highly developed members of the upper classes. Apparently, a similar condition obtained in ancient China.4

From some quarters we are being reminded that our own early Celtic ancestors, Scottish and Irish, had a form of trial marriage, which could be terminated at the end of a year if it proved childless or for other reasons unsatisfactory. On the strength of such examples, it is being urged that it might actually conduce to the durability of our monogamous marriage today if we also allowed couples in the upper levels of our social strata, or perhaps in all levels, and where it was desired by both parties, to make their initial marriage contract for one year only. There would need to be an agreement about the support and rearing of the child, if there should be any. At the end of the year, if there were no pregnancy, the contract could either be terminated or confirmed for life, and duly hallowed as in our present marriage ceremony.5 This would give one’s choice of a mate a basis in experience that is now commonly lacking, and that might help to make the final marriage more lasting.

But I confess that I am not prepared to advocate such an arrangement, and have brought myself to mention it only with hesitation. I cannot forget Dr. Arabella Keneally’s conviction that every woman’s soul remains indelibly imprinted with the memory of the first man to whom she completely gives herself. If she is right in this—and I think that she is, and if a woman’s first sexual experience is with a man whom she does not really love, must not such a memory tend to come between her and any other man to whom she may afterwards wish to give herself, and thus prove an element of instability in what she would like to make her real marriage? Also, though it might work well enough for some women, especially those who were lacking in sensitiveness and idealism, I am very much afraid that, at least in an age of decadence like ours, cynicism and irresponsibility would often turn it into gross abuse. But the divorce rate among us has become so excessive, and indeed alarming, that almost any expedient must be given consideration that holds out reasonable hope of reducing it. Those who have made any study of broken homes must realize how grave a disturbance is commonly inflicted upon children when one of the parents moves out of the home. But I myself should be inclined to place supreme emphasis and rest my best hopes on taking the time and making the utmost effort to ensure that a man and a woman are right for each other and for their common task in the first place, and then making divorce allowable only in extreme or exceptional circumstances. But in any case and regardless of the various pros and cons of our discussion so far, let us keep to what after all is our main point. We must ever keep alive, and now as perhaps never before deepen, our consciousness that marriage is our breeding institution. And by what we breed we shall live or we shall die—as a nation and as a race. Even the quantity of our children, the average number per marriage, can be decisive. But everything hinges supremely on their quality. Without this there can be no escape from decay, disintegration, and ultimately death.

And with this eugenics comes into its own—as we shall see in due course.

At present, the shabbiest and worst elements in our stock are outbreeding our best. On average, the higher you go among those who have proved their intellectual caliber and their character, the smaller is the number of their children. This was brought to public attention at least fifty or sixty years ago. For the last couple of decades, Dr. Elmer Pendell has been pointing out that those who create social problems and burdens, those who are a problem by their very existence, are multiplying faster than those who alone can solve the problems. Yet our best stocks, instead of buckling down to having children in the needed number, have been led by scares of a world shortage of food into having only one or two, and are leaving it to all kinds of half-breeds and morons to have children by the half-dozen—even though most of them may be illegitimate and all of them become a charge on society. And this situation became confirmed and established among us by the absurd and utterly false notion that we are all equal, and that the having of children is every man and woman’s inborn right.6

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1 With this compare Oswald Spengler—The Decline of the West, Knopf, Vol. II, pp. 104-5, “When the ordinary thought of a highly cultivated people begins to regard ‘having children’ as a question of pro’s and con’s, the great turning-point has come. For Nature knows nothing of pro and con. Everywhere, wherever life is actual, reigns an inward organic logic, an ‘it,’ a drive, that is utterly independent of waking-being, with its causal linkages, and indeed not even observed by it. The abundant proliferation of primitive peoples is a natural phenomenon, which is not even thought about, still less judged as to its utility or the reverse. When reasons have to be put forward at all in a question of life, life itself has become questionable. At this point begins prudent limitations of the number of births. In the Classical world the practice was deplored by Polybius as the ruin of Greece, and yet even at his date it had long been established in the great cities; in subsequent Roman times it became appallingly general. At first explained by the economic misery of the times, very soon it ceased to explain itself at all. And at that point, too, in Buddhist India as in Babylon, in Rome as in our own cities, a man’s choice of a woman who is to be, not mother of his children as amongst peasants and primitives, but his own ‘companion for life,’ becomes a problem of mentalities. The Ibsen marriage appears, the ‘higher spiritual affinity’ in which both parties are free—free, that is, as intelligences, free from the plantlike urge of the blood to continue itself, and it becomes possible for a Shaw to say ‘that unless Woman repudiates her womanliness, her duty to her husband, to her children, to society, to the law, and to everyone but herself, she cannot emancipate herself.’ . . . The primary woman, the peasant woman is mother. The whole vocation towards which she has yearned from childhood is included in that one word. But now emerges the Ibsen woman, the comrade, the heroine of a whole megalopolitan literature from Northern drama to Parisian novel. Instead of child, she has soul-conflicts; marriage is a craft-art for the achievement of ‘mutual understanding.’ . . they all belong to themselves and they are all unfruitful . . .”

2 Ellsworth Huntington and Leon F. Whitney—Builders of America, Morrow, 1927, p. 120.

3 Laws of Manu, Oxford University Press, 1886, p. 79ff. (III, 20ff.). Cp. J. J. Meyer, op. cit., pp. 54-8.

4 Richard Wilhelm—A Short History of China, Harrap, 1929, p. 100ff.

5 Charles W. Armstrong—The Mystery Of Existence, London, 1920, pp. 187-8. Also, Judge Ben Lindsey—The Companionate Marriage.

6 Cp. Ralph Adams Cram—“The Mass Man Takes Over,” American Mercury, Oct., 1938.

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