The sum of the matter, then, in my estimation, is, that marriage is not only holy, but holy in a far deeper sense than men commonly imagine. By most persons the sanctity of marriage is thought to be a merely instituted thing, depending upon some arbitrary divine decree. Others, more rational, deem it to inhere in the uses which marriage subserves to the family tie. And this is true, but it is only a part of the truth. For the family tie itself is not a finality. It is only the rude acorn out of which that great tree is predestined to spring, which we call society, and which will one day melt all the warring families of the earth into the impartial unity of its embrace. Thus the true sanctity of marriage inheres at bottom in its social uses. It is the sole nursery of the social sentiment in the human bosom. This indissoluble marriage of man and woman, which constitutes the family bond, steadfastly symbolizes to the imagination of the race, long before the intellect is quickened to discern or even to guess at the spiritual truth itself, the essential unity of mankind, or that complete fusion of the public and private interest, of the cosmical and domestic element, in consciousness, which is eventually to constitute human society, and cover the earth with the dew and fragrance of heaven. I beg to be distinctly understood. I say that marriage, though it seems to be fast disowning the merely ritual or symbolic sanctity which has always attached to it as the guaranty of the family bond, is yet putting on a much deeper and more real because spiritual sanctity, that, namely, which belongs to it as the sole actual source and focus of the social sentiment. Let us pause here one moment.
What is the social unit? What the simplest expression to which society is reducible? What, in short, is the original germ-cell which lies at the base of all that we call society? Is it the individual man, or is it the family? Clearly the latter alone. The individual man is only the inorganic protoplasm, so to speak, which goes to subsequent cell-formation in the family, the tribe, the city, the nation. The family itself is the primary organized cell out of which society flourishes. For society, it must be remembered, is exclusively a generic or race phenomenon in humanity. It organizes all mankind in indissoluble unity, or gives the race the personality of a man. Hence it exacts as a foundation, not the individual man or woman, who of course are unprolific, but man and woman married, that is, united in the family bond, or with a view to prolification. And what chance of unity would exist in the family, if its offspring had not been legitimated by the previous marriage of the parents; that is, if the father and mother were not equally entitled by law to the love and reverence of the children? Not unity, but the most frightful of all discords, namely, domestic discord, would then be the rule of our tenderest human intimacy; in fact, brother would so dominate sister, that the weaker sex would sink into the squalid and helpless servant of the stronger, until at last every vestige and tradition of that divine charm of privacy which now sanctifies woman to man’s imagination, and quickens all his spiritual culture, had hopelessly disappeared. This is what woman always represents to the imagination of man, a diviner self than his own; a more private, a more sacred and intimate self than that wherewith nature endows him. And this is the source of that passionate self-surrender he makes in marrying; of that passionate divorce he organizes between himself and his baser nature, when he would call the woman he loves by the sacred name of wife, or make her invincibly his own. Thus if marriage constitute the normal type of the sexual relations in humanity, we may say that the sentiment of sex in man is a strictly social and not a merely sensual or selfish sentiment, and marriage consequently becomes the very cradle of society. The distinctively generic or race element in humanity, unlike that of animality, is moral, not physical; is freedom, not servitude; is rationality, not caprice. And society consequently, regarded as exhibiting the human conscience in universal form, or expressing the race interest in humanity, has to do with man only as a moral or rational being, that is to say, as he is under law to his father and mother, brother and sister; friend and neighbor. Now the family alone, in the absence of society, provides man with this related, or moral and rational, existence; so that marriage, as alone guaranteeing the family integrity, may be said to guarantee implicitly the integrity of the human race as well.
I am by no means satisfied that I have done any too ample justice to my subject; but I think I have at least made it clear to the reader that the sanctity of marriage inheres eminently in its social, and by no means in its selfish, uses; in other words, that its purpose is to educate us out of our animal beginnings into a definitely humane consciousness at last. And if this be so, I am sure we have small cause for exultation, when we look around us and contemplate the awful horrors which beset the institution in its present almost exclusively selfish administration. Taking the newspapers for our guide, we should say that marriage as a legal bond had sunk so low in men’s esteem as to have become the appanage of the baser classes exclusively; that no one any longer really identifies himself with the outer covenant but some sordid ruffian, steeped in debauchery, whose lust of blood finds an easy victim in his unprotected wife, or some fancied paramour of his wife. The only original inequality known to the human race is that of the sexes, and marriage in annulling this forever sanctifies weakness to the regard of the strong, or makes true manhood to consist no longer in force, but in gentleness. But who, according to our newspapers, are the men that are now most forward to vindicate in their precious persons the honor of marriage? Are they not for the most part men, notoriously, of profligate antecedents, who are much more disposed to live UPON society, as things go, than to live for it? And what a stunning farce it is that heaven and earth should be convulsed, every other day, to render to such caitiffs as these what they are pleased to consider justice! What good man, what man who ever felt a breath of true reverence for marriage in his soul, does not abhor to think of its hallowed name being prostituted to such vile issues as these?