Not long ago I read with pious misgivings a book on Anarchism, by Emma Goldman. It contained—as I expected—much that was objectionable, wild, and shocking. But it also contained some very stimulating observations and reflections. I was deeply impressed by a powerful chapter on marriage, in which the author protested against the ugly fact that, under modern social and economic conditions in the United States, particularly in New England, very many women are denied the natural right of motherhood. A painful picture was drawn of the many thousands of over-strained, atrophied women doomed to live out their lives unmated and deprived of their rightful inheritance.
Statistics show that one out of every twelve women remains unmarried between the years of forty-five and sixty-four; one out of ten between thirty-five and forty-four; and one out of five between twenty-five and thirty-four. Among the men, one out of ten remains unmarried between the ages of forty-five and sixty-four; one out of six between thirty-five and forty-four; and one out of every three between twenty-five and thirty-four. Something must be decidedly wrong with our civilization, to permit such a state of affairs.
It is evident that this extraordinary problem concerns the unmarried man quite as much as the unmarried woman. The man who has never known the dignity, the responsibilities, and the deep satisfaction of fatherhood is also an atrophied, abnormal member of society. As an unreconciled bachelor, I have wrestled hard with the problem and have reached certain conclusions, which, I fear, are regarded by some of my friends as most heretical.
I recognize, of course, that economic conditions are partly responsible for this abnormal situation; but I believe that this difficulty could be surmounted without much trouble if it were not for other much more serious influences. The necessity of earning a living, in order to care for dependents; the struggle to acquire an education in law and medicine, as well as in other professions—all this often compels a lamentable delay, or an indefinite postponement of marriage. This delay is itself frequently tragic in the strain of inhibitions and the consequent ills it imposes on both sexes, at the time when Nature is calling imperatively for her unquestioned rights.
But I am thinking primarily of those who never marry, who bravely put up a cheerful front, but whose hearts are never free from a sense of irremediable loss. I am thinking of those who cannot stand this strain, and who collapse, either mentally or morally. Economic reasons may in some cases absolutely preclude marriage; but I believe that other causes are of much greater weight.
First of all, I accuse the spirit of Puritanism for having fostered a false attitude toward the sex-instinct. Many a boy and girl brought up in a Puritan environment have come to regard the first attractions of sex as something utterly unholy. They have resisted these inclinations and brooded morbidly over them, until they have felt damned beyond redemption. They have turned to ascetic discipline and severe torments of the soul, until their outlook has become badly distorted, even at times to the extreme of insanity.
These unhappy victims of Puritanism have been prevented from realizing that Nature is only asking her own: that she rejoices in the instinctive revelations of sex; that adolescence is as natural as breathing, and must not be too long ignored.
Among simple primitive folk, who have mercifully been spared the dark shadow of Puritanism on their sex-relations, the process of mating and of reproduction is rightly regarded as Nature's richest gift. They do not affront Nature by pleading for a delay, or feel guilty when obeying the imperious demands of mature adolescence. As for that matter, even our Puritan ancestors were in this respect more normal and more moral than is the case to-day, in favoring early marriages and in welcoming the rather abundant harvests of such unions.
Puritanism, in its peculiar definition of moral purity and its gloomy approach to marriage, has created a stuffy atmosphere in which it is excessively difficult for men and women to meet naturally. There is a restraint and a prudery that render courtship difficult or illicit love easy. Desperate measures are necessary under such conditions. Severe admonitions or cruel jests either kill budding affections or provoke to acts not infrequently unfortunate in their consequences.
And this preposterous attitude lasts after marriage, when many a young mother finds herself condemned to a painful reticence and evasion at a time when she should be boldly exultant in her supreme realization of Nature's greatest miracle. Puritanism has seemed to associate with this great joy something abhorrent and shameful! I remember how I once shocked a cousin by remarking that one of our relations was expecting a baby; and how, later on, she admitted her inability to under stand why she should have felt shocked.
The answer, of course, was this strange thing called Puritanism, which has cast a dreadful pall on the most joyous and natural instinct of mankind.
Next to Puritanism I accuse the spirit of Romanticism—an odd partner in crime—for rendering marriage so difficult to achieve. Poetry and fiction have done their worst to foster fantastic notions concerning love and matrimony. Preachers, moralists, psychologists, and writers of various kinds have all united to represent the sex-instinct as exotic and unreal. The native hue of passion has been sicklied o'er by a very pale cast of thought. Youths and maidens have attended theoretical courses in correspondence schools on the subject of matrimony. They have been encouraged to subject their emotions to a compound microscope, to try to discover by analysis whether these feelings are as described in the books. They have been led to be hypercritical to such an extent that they become morbidly introspective. And all the time two sound hearts may have been calling loudly to each other in vain! In their search for a great romance, for the proper stage-setting for courtship, they become utterly confused and hysterical at times. They play on each other's nerves until something is bound to happen; but what happens is too often a tragedy. Nature is scornful of playacting in matters of the heart, and visits fearful penalties on the actors. Nature cannot but have a grudge against this Romanticism, which blinds people to realities and impels them to pursue an ignis factus in an utterly unreal world of intellectual creation.