THE DECLINE OF MARRIAGE -|- Educational Philosophy Theory


No Comment - Post a comment

Men don't marry nowadays. So everybody tells us. And I suppose we may therefore conclude, by a simple act of inference, that women in turn don't marry either. It takes two, of course, to make a quarrel—or a marriage.

Why is this? "Young people nowadays want to begin where their fathers left off." "Men are made so comfortable at present in their clubs." "College-bred girls have no taste for housekeeping." "Rents are so high and manners so luxurious." Good heavens, what silly trash, what puerile nonsense! Are we all little boys and girls, I ask you, that we are to put one another off with such transparent humbug? Here we have to deal with a primitive instinct—the profoundest and deepest-seated instinct of humanity, save only the instincts of food and drink and of self-preservation. Man, like all other animals, has two main functions: to feed his own organism, and to reproduce his species. Ancestral habit leads him, when mature, to choose himself a mate—because he loves her. It drives him, it urges him, it goads him irresistibly. If this profound impulse is really lacking to-day in any large part of our race, there must be some correspondingly profound and adequate reason for it. Don't let us deceive ourselves with shallow platitudes which may do for drawing-rooms. This is philosophy, even though post-prandial. Let us try to take a philosophic view of the question at issue, from the point of vantage of a biological outlook.

Before you begin to investigate the causes of a phenomenon quelconque, 'tis well to decide whether the phenomenon itself is there to investigate.

Taking society throughout—not in the sense of those "forty families" to which the term is restricted by Lady Charles Beresford—I doubt whether marriage is much out of fashion. Statistics show a certain decrease, it is true, but not an alarming one. Among the labouring classes, I imagine men, and also women, still wed pretty frequently. When people say, "Young men won't marry nowadays," they mean young men in a particular stratum of society, roughly bounded by a silk hat on Sundays. Now, when you and I were young (I take it for granted that you and I are approaching the fifties) young men did marry; even within this restricted area, 'twas their wholesome way in life to form an attachment early with some nice girl in their own set, and to start at least with the idea of marrying her. Toward that goal they worked; for that end they endured and sacrificed many things. True, even then, the long engagement was the rule; but the long engagement itself meant some persistent impulse, some strong impetus marriage-wards. The desire of the man to make this woman his own, the longing to make this woman happy—normal and healthy endowments of our race—had still much driving-power. Nowadays, I seriously think I observe in most young men of the middle class around me a distinct and disastrous weakening of the impulse. They don't fall in love as frankly, as honestly, as irretrievably as they used to do. They shilly-shally, they pick and choose, they discuss, they criticise. They say themselves these futile foolish things about the club, and the flat, and the cost of living. They believe in Malthus. Fancy a young man who believes in Malthus! They seem in no hurry at all to get married. But thirty or forty years ago, young men used to rush by blind instinct into the toils of matrimony—because they couldn't help themselves. Such Laodicean luke-warmness betokens in the class which exhibits it a weakening of impulse. That weakening of impulse is really the thing we have to account for.

Young men of a certain type don't marry, because—they are less of young men than formerly.

Wild animals in confinement seldom propagate their kind. Only a few caged birds will continue their species. Whatever upsets the balance of the organism, in an individual or a race tends first of all to affect the rate of reproduction. Civilise the red man, and he begins to decrease at once in numbers. Turn the Sandwich Islands into a trading community, and the native Hawaiian refuses forthwith to give hostages to fortune. Tahiti is dwindling. From the moment the Tasmanians were taken to Norfolk Island, not a single Tasmanian baby was born. The Jesuits made a model community of Paraguay; but they altered the habits of the Paraguayans so fast that the reverend fathers, who were, of course, themselves celibates, were compelled to take strenuous and even grotesque measures to prevent the complete and immediate extinction of their converts. Other cases in abundance I might quote an I would; but I limit myself to these. They suffice to exhibit the general principle involved; any grave upset in the conditions of life affects first and at once the fertility of a species.

"But colonists often increase with rapidity." Ay, marry, do they, where the conditions of life are easy. At the present day most colonists go to fairly civilised regions; they are transported to their new home by steamboat and railway; they find for the most part more abundant provender and more wholesome surroundings than in their native country. There is no real upset. Better food and easier life, as Herbert Spencer has shown, result (other things equal) in increased fertility. His chapters on this subject in the "Principles of Biology" should be read by everybody who pretends to talk on questions of population. But in new and difficult colonies the increase is slight. Whatever compels greater wear and tear of the nervous system proves inimical to the reproductive function. The strain and stress of co-ordination with novel circumstances and novel relations affect most injuriously the organic balance. The African negro has long been accustomed to agricultural toil and to certain simple arts in his own country. Transported to the West Indies and the United States, he found life no harder than of old, if not, indeed, easier. He had abundant food, protection, security, a kind of labour for which he was well adapted. Instead of dying out, therefore, he was fruitful, and multiplied, and replenished the earth amazingly. But the Red Indian, caught blatant in the hunting stage, refused to be tamed, and could not swallow civilisation. He pined and dwined and decreased in his "reservations." The change was too great, too abrupt, too brusque for him. The papoose before long became an extinct animal.

Is not the same thing true of the middle class of England? Civilisation and its works have come too quickly upon us. The strain and stress of correlating and co-ordinating the world we live in are getting too much for us. Railways, telegraphs, the penny post, the special edition, have played havoc at last with our nervous systems. We are always on the stretch, rushing and tearing perpetually. We bolt our breakfasts; we catch the train or 'bus by the skin of our teeth, to rattle us into the City; we run down to Scotland or over to Paris on business; we lunch in London and dine in Glasgow, Belfast, or Calcutta. (Excuse imagination.) The tape clicks perpetually in our ears the last quotation in Eries; the telephone rings us up at inconvenient moments. Something is always happening somewhere to disturb our equanimity; we tear open the Times with feverish haste, to learn that Kimberleys or Jabez Balfour have fallen, that Matabeleland has been painted red, that shares have gone up, or gone down, or evaporated. Life is one turmoil of excitement and bustle. Financially, 'tis a series of dissolving views; personally 'tis a rush; socially, 'tis a mosaic of deftly-fitted engagements. Drop out one piece, and you can never replace it. You are full next week from Monday to Saturday—business all day, what calls itself pleasure (save the mark!) all evening. Poor old Leisure is dead. We hurry and scurry and flurry eternally. One whirl of work from morning till night: then dress and dine: one whirl of excitement from night till morning. A snap of troubled sleep, and again da capo. Not an hour, not a minute, we can call our own. A wire from a patient ill abed in Warwickshire! A wire from a client hard hit in Hansards! Endless editors asking for more copy! more copy! Alter to suit your own particular trade, and 'tis the life of all of us.

The first generation after Stephenson and the Rocket pulled through with it somehow. They inherited the sound constitutions of the men who sat on rustic seats in the gardens of the twenties. The second generation—that's you and me—felt the strain of it more severely: new machines had come in to make life still more complicated: sixpenny telegrams, Bell and Edison, submarine cables, evening papers, perturbations pouring in from all sides incessantly; the suburbs growing, the hubbub increasing, Metropolitan railways, trams, bicycles, innumerable: but natheless we still endured, and presented the world all the same with a third generation. That third generation—ah me! there comes the pity of it! One fancies the impulse to marry and rear a family has wholly died out of it. It seems to have died out most in the class where the strain and stress are greatest. I don't think young men of that class to-day have the same feelings towards women of their sort as formerly. Nobody, I trust, will mistake me for a reactionary: in most ways, the modern young man is a vast improvement on you and me at twenty-five. But I believe there is really among young men in towns less chivalry, less devotion, less romance than there used to be. That, I take it, is the true reason why young men don't marry. With certain classes and in certain places a primitive instinct of our race has weakened. They say this weakening is accompanied in towns by an increase in sundry hateful and degrading vices. I don't know if that is so; but at least one would expect it. Any enfeeblement of the normal and natural instinct of virility would show itself first in morbid aberrations. On that I say nothing. I only say this—that I think the present crisis in the English marriage market is due, not to clubs or the comfort of bachelor quarters, but to the cumulative effect of nervous over-excitement.

This Post has No Comment Add your own!

Yorum Gönder