National Life and Character/Chapter 5
THE DECLINE OF THE FAMILY
The religion of the family will gradually die out as the religion of the State becomes more and more absorbing.—The power of the head of the family was anciently autocratic over the lives, property, and self-respect of the members.—The right of private war or of the blood-feud has been abolished.—The rights of fathers and husbands over the lives of children and wives have been abolished, or nearly so.—The ancient rule of secular legislation, which the Churches have copied, was that marriage was indissoluble.—The State has done its best to maintain this principle down to quite recent times.—Christianity, however, has made this important change, that it does not tolerate the libertinage which was the old compensation for the restrictions of marriage. The old marriage of suitability was not more mercenary in its 'essence than the marriage of inclination. The essential difference between the two is, that the one makes family considerations the matter of vital importance, and the other only desires to satisfy individual caprice.—Nevertheless, changes in modern society have made the indissoluble marriage bear so heavily upon women that it is impossible to maintain it.—That the tie between husband and wife should come to be easily variable, instead of permanent, is bound to make the tie between parents and children weaker.—Moreover, the right of parents to use their children's labour has been found to work so badly, that the State is interposing everywhere to limit work and make education compulsory.—As parents are losing their rights over children, children are losing the sense of duty and obligation to their parents.—These changes in the conjugal and parental relations are working in the direction of individualism, and may be for good as well as for evil.—The family, however, is the natural provision for the conservation of character, and the consequences may be undesirable if we destroy pride in the past, responsibility for the present, and care for the future.—The changed relations of master and servant are also taking away a small and occasional but efficient safeguard of family feeling.—The tradition of a fixed family home has been destroyed.
It has been argued that the religion of the country is likely to become a deeper and more serious feeling as the sphere of State action increases, as the State shows itself more beneficent in its aims than a good king, more effectively moral than the Churches, and more comprehensive and human than King or Church, aristocratic caste or guild of associated workmen. On the other hand, it seems possible that not only loyalty and faith and class or clan feeling will be merged in the new power, but that what we may call the religion of the family will gradually die out. In a certain sense, of course, the family must always remain the unit of the State. The union of men and women, even if we leave children out of the question, is so important in its effects upon character, that on its influence for good or evil must the condition of society very largely depend. When, however, we bear in mind that for many centuries the head of the family has exercised more or less autocratic powers under his own roof, and that infinitely various forms of virtue and vice, strength and foible, have been developed in consequence, the importance of any great changes that tend to exalt the State and emancipate the individual at the expense of the family will become apparent. What is perhaps most curious is, that the State has always been tender of family rights; and that in all its encroachments upon parental or conjugal authority, or upon family feeling, it has simply obeyed an irresistible necessity.
The powers of the family or its members have, of course, varied enormously in different ages. The right of the parents to deal as they would with the newly-born babe has been recognised more or less in all but Christian and Mahommedan communities. Children were as freely exposed in the old Greek and Roman world and among the Norsemen as they are in modern China. There was no limitation to this right, which belonged absolutely to the head of the family. In the case of the wife, or of children who had been acknowledged, the father had the rights of the magistrate; that is, he could not legitimately put to death, except for a grave and appropriate cause; but there was no recognised tribunal to which an appeal from his sentence would lie. These excessive powers over life imply an absolute authority over the person and property. The husband could lend his wife to a friend, or choose a husband for his daughter and a wife for his son. He could make his children labour as he chose, and might neglect their education as he would. Neither wife nor children could possess property. He could adopt a stranger to share his children's inheritance. This, of course, is the extreme type of the family as it existed in the laws of Athens and Rome. Extreme as it is, it has coloured all but the most modern legislation, except in the parts relating to life and death. So completely are we at variance with ancient morality on that score, that Rousseau is considered infamous for having allowed the State to care for his children; and Philip II. and Peter the Great are generally reprobated for having, as is supposed, ordered the death of sons whom they not unreasonably regarded as a menace to the highest good of the country. On the other hand, as late as the thirteenth century the Church Courts in England ruled that a husband could transfer his wife to another man for a period determinable at the recipient's pleasure. The right of selling a ward's marriage was among the most profitable incidents of feudal tenure; and the ward was so far better off than the natural child, that a guardian was bound to choose the husband in her own rank. In England it is probably correct to say that the consent of the parties has always been the first thing considered, and the consent of the parents nothing more than a necessary formality, without which the marriage of minors could not be valid. As, however, a girl of seven might be betrothed in mediaeval England, and as down to a later time the marriages of mere children were still common, the parental authority was practically absolute; and to marry without the consent of the parents was regarded as an outrage upon decency. In France, the consent of the parents was anciently regarded as the most necessary point, and the consent of the parties rather as a desirable accessory. It is still impossible for a Frenchman to marry without the permission of his father, or, if his father be dead, of his mother, unless he resorts to the extremity of the legal process known as "a respectful summons." The French father may apply to have his child imprisoned for a term not exceeding six months; but this power, which is subject to revision of the Court, is practically no more than the right of the English father to ask that his child may be sent to a reformatory. In either case, the right of imprisonment which the father could formerly exercise has been transformed into a right to move the civil power without the intervention of the public prosecutor. As for the right of the parent to transfer his child to strangers who will adopt it, to leave it uneducated, or to put it to sordid or excessive toil during the years of growth, the first of these still exists everywhere, and the second and third have only been encroached upon in quite recent times. In France, however, a child parted with by its parents to a stranger appears to retain a claim upon the parental inheritance which cannot be set aside by a will. In France, therefore, and in countries with French law, the power of the head of the family to distribute the property he has inherited or acquired has been set aside for political considerations.
The effect of this primitive legislation, though it aimed only at giving the family a religious chief and the State a person responsible for the acts of children or kinsmen, was naturally to invest relationship with very solemn obligations. The family that was a little church and a little jurisdiction within itself, that had at one time a worship of its ancestors, and that was always more closely bound to its members than to the city or the State, came naturally in many cases to be a law to itself. The blood-feud is a striking instance of the obligations which the family feeling might involve. In days when a man owed his existence in the first instance to himself, and only in a very secondary manner to the State, it was very important not only that his sons should be able to speak with the enemy in the gate, but that they should be resolute to leave no wrong done unavenged. The result, however, was of questionable value. The old Greek adage that "a man is a fool if he kills the father and leaves the children alive," expresses what was bound actually to happen. Families were not kept from quarrels by the knowledge that a feud would be one of extermination; but whichever was the weaker or was surprised was wiped out. Accordingly the first great step in constructing political society has always been to substitute the arbitration of the State for the blood-feud. Cursory observers are often struck by the apparent barbarism of a tariff' which assesses the exact value of injuries to the person; but such legislation really shows that the family is being merged in the nation. It was proof of considerable civilisation that Horatius was tried for killing his sister. Anciently, the offence would only have been against his father; and as it was, Horatius was acquitted when his father accepted the responsibility of the act. It is perhaps true that the blood-feud to some extent softened the spirit of revenge by systematising it. Modern sentiment, in spite of the influences of Christianity, recoils a little from Jimena marrying the Cid, whose hands are red with her father's blood. Corneille justifies the action by duty to the King and a secret passion for Rodrigo. The old story, however, is entirely consistent with the spirit of primitive times. Rodrigo shows that Jimena has no cause for complaint, as he killed her father in fair fight and to satisfy the blood-feud, and because he is willing to make the injury done good. "I killed a man, and I give you a man." As, however, such compositions were not often possible, the State found it desirable to interpose habitually, and has gradually adopted the rule that vengeance belongs only to the State; that the individual must never use force except in strict self-defence; and that he may not even omit his revenge that is, accept atonement or composition in any but trifling cases, as every offence is committed primarily against the body politic.
The right of the father over the lives of his children, and the right of the husband over the life of his wife, are now practically obsolete. The first is so repugnant to modern feeling that even a novelist scarcely dares to conceive a situation in which it occurs. In Serge Panin a mother-in-law kills the son-in-law who has made her daughter miserable, brought dishonour upon his name, and is too cowardly to die by his own hand; but it may be doubted if modern sentiment would have tolerated this lawless justice upon a nearer relative. The case of the wife is a little different. There is a survival of old custom, atrophied or nearly so by disuse, in the doctrine of our law-books, which justifies the slaying of an adulteress taken en flagrant délit, so far as to hold the avenging husband free of the highest guilt, and only liable for manslaughter. This relic of custom has been so far modified by judicial interpretations that a man is only allowed the benefit of it when he acts literally in the moment of wrath, and it is becoming less safe for him, year by year, to punish faithlessness by death. The modern explanation of this toleration of violence is that the provocation has been intolerable, but it seems more reasonable to regard it as a survival of that old feeling which Calderon has expressed in one of the most powerful of his plays, where "the physician of his own honour," a man who has murdered his wife, knowing her to be innocent, for no reason but that she is the object of a dishonourable love, is publicly praised by the King, and rewarded with marriage to another noble lady, who takes his hand, knowing it, as she herself admits, to be "bathed in blood." Calderon exhibits the feeling that the wife's chastity was due to her husband rather than herself in its most extravagant form; while modern English practice has very nearly reached the point when adultery is only punishable as the breach of a very solemn contract, by which the man has suffered loss as husband and father. It will be noted that the husband's rights were given to him to safeguard the family; and as the worship of ancestors, the family name, and the succession to property have never been regarded as liable to suffer by the husband's adultery, he has never been punishable; though his wife has been allowed the relief of a judicial separation or of divorce, the redress permitted to her varying in different countries. So again, the life of the male head of the family has been regarded as peculiarly sacred. It is scarcely more than a hundred years since the penalty in England for a wife who murdered her husband was to be drawn and burned; but the husband who murdered his wife was only hanged. The ancient jurisprudence of France was equally severe for crimes against the head of the family, though it was usual to exchange the extreme penalty of burning alive for beheading in the case of well-born women.
Both those who attack and those who defend the indissolubility of the marriage-tie are apt to think that the engagement which man and woman take to remain united "till death us do part" expresses an obligation created by Christianity. This view is the very reverse of fact. The highest civilisations of the old Pagan world had derived or instinctively adopted the theory that marriage was for all time. This was especially true of Rome, where an extravagant tradition said that there was no divorce for five centuries; and of Germany, where Tacitus tells us that a woman had one husband as she had one body and one life. The very exceptions to the rule show that the law aimed at maintaining a general principle with the smallest possible concession to human weakness. Christian Churches evade the recognition of divorce by declaring that there has been no marriage if the man is incapable of founding a family. Athenian law permitted the woman in this case to have a lover in the family she had married into, but shrunk from declaring the marriage ceremony to be void. On the other hand, if the woman was sterile, Roman law allowed her to be repudiated, that the family might not be extinguished, and worship to the family gods cease. It has been a difficulty of all times that men may sometimes be unavoidably kept away from their families by being captives in a strange land, though of late this inconvenience is scarcely felt. In Roman law marriage was dissolved by captivity, because the assumption was that the loss of freedom would be permanent, and the captive accordingly ceased to belong to his proper State. If, however, the wife did not take advantage of her liberty to marry again, the husband who was ransomed or escaped might resume her when he resumed his citizenship. It is remarkable that English customary law has recognised this exception to the indissolubility of marriage, so that a wife whose husband has been absent for seven years and cannot be heard of is not punished if she contracts a second marriage, though she is still liable to be resumed by the first husband, which the Roman matron was not;—a liability which seems degrading to self-respect. Human nature has always shown itself impatient of conjugal restraints, and whatever laws the State may enact are always certain to be evaded by a large class. Roman legislation, however, was on the whole less easily foiled than that of the Latin Church. The substitute for divorce in the later and laxer times of Rome was not a dissolution of the religious marriage, but a form of concubinage under contract regulated by law and approved by fashion. The substitute in the Middle Ages was to discover that the marriage was invalid, as having been contracted within the prohibited degrees of affinity, and without a proper dispensation. The Roman custom which forbade the union of all direct ascendants or descendants, whether by blood, adoption, or marriage, did not allow of these demoralising evasions, and must be regarded as the outcome of higher sanitary science and stricter ethical practice.
On the whole, it is probably correct to say that every healthy society has endeavoured, in its best times at least, to treat marriage as indissoluble, and that when breaches of this practice have occurred, it has been through the irregular passions of powerful and wealthy men seeking to mould the law to their own wishes, or through the growth of a Bohemian and vagabond class. Christianity came into the world at a time when the old religious marriage was beginning to be found burdensome, and adopted the view which the most religiously-minded men of the time would instinctively take. The scandals of the Ecclesiastical Courts are only proof that the Church put itself into a thoroughly false position when it claimed the perilous office of determining under what circumstances the marriage-tie might be dissolved. It is noticeable that in England the change to secular society effected at the Reformation was attended with an infinitely greater rigour in matters affecting marriage. The early Reformers would no doubt have legalised divorce under conditions of absolute equality for both sexes; but under Elizabeth a theory came in that divorce was never to be permitted, and the only relaxation was when divorce by Act of Parliament was allowed. This, however, was only granted for a single cause, and was so costly as to be practically very rare. It is noticeable that in France also, after the liberty of divorce had been introduced at the Revolution, regulated by Napoleon, and practised for five and twenty years, it was abrogated without much difficulty by a reactionary but still secular government, and has only lately been restored. Summing up, it seems probable that from the earliest times of civilisation the indissolubility of marriage has appeared to be desirable, and has been promoted by the State for civil reasons, quite as strongly as it has been enjoined by traditional religions for reasons of faith that are in some instances outgrown, so as to be now scarcely intelligible except to scholars.
While, however, the difference between ancient and comparatively modern times as to the institution of marriage may seem small, there has been one enormous difference introduced by Christianity—the idea of purity. Of course, no powerful society has ever existed without a moral code of some kind. In Eome it was unchaste for a woman to commit adultery, because if a bastard were born into the family he could not continue the family worship; it was unchaste for a man to marry a barbarian, or to intrigue with a matron, and it was unchaste to commit acts that are now heavily punished in every Christian country. On the other hand, there is no reason to suppose that a man who intrigued with public women or with slaves was considered unchaste unless he did it in a scandalous way, or was held to have given his wife some special cause of complaint. That the Germanic standard was higher than the Roman is probable; but unless we assume that the Germans and Norsemen were very soon corrupted we know that their practice was not very different. To put it briefly, the ancient marriage was based on suitability of family connections and fortunes rather than on inclination, and as love had not been in the contract the husband was easily pardoned if he allowed himself some license outside the house, provided he rendered his wife all proper respect under the common roof. This mariage de convenance has lasted down to our own days on parts of the Continent, and the liberty enjoyed by the Roman husband has been more or less freely claimed by husbands everywhere; but the tolerance of old custom is becoming a thing of the past. It no doubt lingers in our laws. As a rule, the husband can divorce the wife for a single act of misconduct, while the husband must either be guilty of systematic misconduct, as in Victoria, or of some additional offence, such as protracted desertion, as in Scotland, or of cruelty, as in England, if the wife is to be absolutely released. The husband in England can claim damages from the man who has ruined his family life, but the woman can claim none from the rival who has supplanted her. The law, therefore, having the threads of obsolete theory woven into its woof, has been various and uncertain in the changes that it has admitted. Still, it can hardly be doubted that as the conception of their eternal tutelage has been dispersed, and women have come to be regarded as more or less the equals of men—at least as deserving equality before the law—men are held more strictly to account in matters of conjugal morality. In other words, the primitive marriage of suitability, the marriage which aimed first at constituting the conditions for a new family, and which only regarded inclination in the second place, is being superseded everywhere by marriages that are supposed to be based upon love, and only not disallowed by the judgment. It stands to reason that conjugal fidelity enters into the contract far more than it anciently did on the man's side.
It cannot be supposed that a system which has endured and been approved through so many centuries as the mariage de convenance has witnessed is immoral in its essence, and the gravity of the change which is now overthrowing it cannot easily be over-estimated. Englishmen are apt to think of it as a system under which girls of fifteen, just fresh from the convent, are married to worn-out debauchees of sixty, and it is of course a system under which this abuse is possible, just as under the English system of liberty a girl in her teens may run away with her father's groom, and a young man of one and twenty tie himself for life to a courtezan. We must look at typical instances of the French system to understand what it has really been, and how many of the noblest and best women in a country distinguished for its women have entered upon congenial lives in this manner. In its practical rendering by the best people the mariage de convenance has always meant the marriage in which the conditions of family happiness were based upon high character, suitability of circumstances, and, if possible, old family friendships. St. Simon tells us that when he first thought of marrying he fixed upon the daughter of an old friend, though he had never so much as seen the lady, because his veneration for the father's character led him to believe that he could not go wrong in choosing from such a stock. Mdme. de Sévigné's daughter, Mdme. de Grignan, tells us of a betrothal which was arranged after this fashion: " The fathers at the fireside were talking over the perfections of their children (a son and daughter respectively), when M. de St. Aignan said, 'We ought to bring together two persons so worthy of one another.' 'I am willing,' said Sanguin; 'shake hands on it.'" These no doubt are instances from the old regime and from the aristocratic class; but if we take the bourgeoisie at the time just preceding the R evolution, we shall find very much the same course of procedure, though the parental authority is perhaps a little less marked. Mdme. Roland tells us that most of her suitors proposed for her to her parents, before they had even been admitted to the house. In her case, as her father had forfeited the right to control her actions, the decision was practically left in her own hands, and she decided to marry a man twice her age, whose character she could sincerely respect. She considered marriage, as she tells us, "an austere union, a partnership in which the wife, as a rule, takes upon herself to provide for the happiness of both." Knowing that her attachment for M. Koland was based upon esteem rather than love, she guarded herself against possible heartaches by sharing her husband's labours and pleasures, so as to leave herself no time for irregular fancies. Mr. Hamerton tells us that even now there are many persons in France who deliberately prefer the marriage based upon suitability of position and character to the marriage of mere inclination. "I remember," he says, "being much amused by the indignation of a very beautiful young French lady about a rumour that she had been wedded for love. She reiterated her assurance that it was a baseless fabrication, that her husband had only seen her once before her betrothal, and then quite formally in the presence of other people, and that their marriage had been entirely one of convenance. In short, she repelled the idea of love as if it had been a disgraceful and unmerited imputation." Mr. Hamerton, however, goes on to explain that dowerless girls constantly receive good offers in France. Everywhere, of course, rational people will not entangle themselves in the obligation to support a family till they can see a fair prospect of being able to do it. Therefore, even where the assumption is that all marriages are of inclination, some are sure to have been partly determined by money considerations, while some will be purely mercenary. Where the marriage, supposed to be of inclination, has really been made for the sake of settlements, the fact that a young man or a young girl has acted from mere calculation in such a matter is perhaps rather more repulsive to sentiment than if the marriage had been treated of by the heads of the families from first to last as essentially a matter of business; and, on the other hand, where a marriage of suitability becomes almost instantly a marriage of affection, as is said to be very often the case, there seems no reason why such an alliance should be rated as in any way lower than the love marriage.
However, it is idle to argue with the master of many legions, or to say anything against a change that has been the almost inevitable result of circumstances, and that expresses the settled impulse of the Germanic race. The marriage of inclination is now the only avowed one in the greater part of the civilised world, and is rapidly supplanting the marriage of suitability in France. Writers like George Sand and Ibsen are only apologists for a revolution already made. In proportion as women are emancipated, do they claim a freedom which is desired rather as a relief to ennui than as an offset to masculine libertinage. Some changes have made the marriage yoke more difficult to bear than it was. One is, that desertion is increasingly common since emigration has become a habit with the working -classes. Another is, that the felon, who was formerly hanged without mercy, is now released periodically, and can resume full marital rights over his wife's person and property, where the law has not been altered to meet his case. A third probably is, that the duty to children is less felt since the State has charged itself with the care of seeing that they are not positively starved or allowed to run wild. A fourth is, that partly from experience, and partly through the influence of modern notions of heredity, a wife knows that her husband's license is a wrong inflicted upon her own children. They only receive divided tenderness, and succeed to a diminished estate; they inherit depravity, if they do not inherit disease. A fifth is, that the legislator has found it convenient everywhere to relieve the married woman from tutelage in certain important particulars; to make her responsible for her acts, capable of bearing witness against her husband, and able to own property in her own right. A sixth is, that the religious sanctions of marriage are less regarded since society has become increasingly secular. A seventh is, that as the whole conditions of industry have changed, a wife's work is less important to her husband, and the unprotected woman is more easily able to earn a living for herself. To stay at home and spin wool, or sew, would often be very unthrifty conduct in a modern wife, who can make more out of doors as a laundress, a charwoman, a factory operative, or an employee in a shop. To all these causes of change we may add, that the law for very shame is relaxing the old harshness which was part of a logical theory. The woman who separates from her husband can now keep her children, so far as is consistent with their own good; and cannot be tortured, as was once possible, by having to renounce the privileges she bought with maternity if she will not live with a depraved and uncongenial husband. Last of all, the barbarous suit for restitution of conjugal rights, that practical reduction of marriage to what George Sand has cynically called it, "the right at Common Law to outrage a woman," has been nullified even in conservative England.
So overwhelmingly strong are these reasons, that many even of those who regard divorce with horror and alarm are constrained to support it as a requirement of justice. They feel, too, that it is idle to talk about the sanctity of home -life being impaired where the home has had no sanctity; and that to keep men and women, who are in a false position, miserable and in a condition that inclines to immorality, is a heavy price to pay for the peace of mind of those who, having no discomfort themselves, take a pleasure in thinking that the marriage-bond is indissoluble. On the other hand, even those who regard divorce as desirable and right in itself without regard to cases of extreme hardship, must admit that the transformation of an union for life, determined by many reasons besides inclination into a partnership during good conduct,—very widely interpreted,—or it may be even during pleasure, is a change that cannot fail to be fraught with eventful consequences. Those who have advocated the marriage of inclination have found a strong argument for it in the fact that, even if the dream of compatibility has proved delusive and short, the mere fact that husband and wife came together of their own accord deprives them of the right to murmur, and interests their pride in the maintenance of the marriage-bond. Perhaps this argument tells more forcibly in countries where the two systems are in operation. The experience of those American States in which divorce is extremely easy appears to show that wherever unions are dissoluble a certain percentage of people will dissolve them. On the other hand, it seems certain that as the thought of family duties disappears more and more from marriage, as it comes more and more to be legalised concubinage, in which legal formalities are employed only to guarantee the wife's self-respect and assure her social position, the whole condition of home-life will be- changed. It is not improbable that in many cases husband and wife, who are not very sure of themselves, will refrain from complicating their relations by having children. They will thus be always ready to quit one another, and the mere fact that they so hold themselves in readiness, will in many cases bring about a separation. Even where they have a family, the feeling is apt to be less tender to the children, who were not the first thought in marriage, but only an inevitable incident, so to speak, than is the case in countries where the perpetuation of a family, the constitution of a home, have been the first thought. Foreign observers of England have constantly commented on the disposition of those who can afford to send their children away from home to school; and on the settled principle that married couples are not to live with either father-in-law. The good effects of these customs are seen in the readiness with which the Englishman becomes a citizen of the world, making his home wherever he goes. Yet something may be said for that French intimacy of parental tenderness, which makes a mother the confidante of her mature son in all his follies and his plans, which so consecrates filial piety that it is the one virtue which it is not permitted to smile at, and which so glorifies the family surroundings that the emigrant, however prosperous, always wanders back at last to the village in which his race is settled. It will be very marvellous if the present cordial relations of parents and children in France survive marriages of inclination, and their correlative, the law making marriage dissoluble.
Till very lately the law was careful not to interfere between parents and children. It was held that the parents, so long as they cared for the lives of their offspring, had an absolute right to decide how they should be brought up. The single exception in England to this rule has been in the case of heirs to property whose future social condition might be impaired if they were left in the hands of an immoral or atheistic parent. It was under the operation of this principle that Shelley was deprived of his children, and there seems no reason for supposing that the law was not administered with perfect fairness in that particular case. Indeed, there has been a more complete instance of its application in later times, when daughters were taken from a mother's guardianship and transferred to their father's care, because the odium attaching to their mother's opinions might affect their prospects in marriage. The anomaly which the English law embodied was too monstrous to endure. On the one hand, any child not entitled to property was left absolutely in the hands of a parent who might be brutal and immoral, who was often careless and lax. A girl—to take the strongest and most probable case of wrong—might be brought up ignorant of the most rudimentary knowledge, a Pagan in faith, without sufficient food or clothing, without the common decencies of life in her home, and might be forced to drudge in the fields, or at a loom from her tenderest years. As she grew older, the law did not safeguard her in any efficient way from being forced to earn money by prostitution, though it never of course actually sanctioned this. That the great nations of the world are as good as they are, shows that parents have for the most part treasured the honour of the family in a rude but sufficient fashion. On the other hand, that every country has been scourged with a criminal class that defied punishment and Church restraints is conclusive proof that in many families the parents have been untrustworthy guardians of their children's characters. It has, however, been the healths and the minds of children that have suffered most under the enormous powers delegated to the family. Most of the labour to which the young can be put is either brutalising or unhealthy. Work in isolation, such as tending sheep or scaring birds, is apt to make the brain torpid; the work in gangs, while it endured, was actually demoralising; and for children, who need fresh air and exercise, work over a loom or in a stifling room can only be carried on at the cost of vitality. Nevertheless, the necessity for the parent to make money by his children's earnings has habitually been so great that he has used his authority simply to compel labour. The State has interposed in the last resort, and not without many misgivings, because the interests of its future men and women—their health and mental equipment—were bound to be more important to it than the maintenance of parental authority. The State is limiting the hours of work for children in every country, and it is compelling their attendance at school.
There have been many lamentations from those who think that the father is best left alone, and that a State system cannot be adapted to various capacities, as wise parents would adapt their training; and from those who think that schools cannot teach morality in that religious form which they believe to be the best. Without examining these arguments at length, it may be observed that the State has never attempted the costly and litigious work of national education in wantonness or from a light heart, but invariably because it conceived that it had no alternative. Neither has it wrested education out of the hands of individuals, for private and endowed schools have never been the majority; but out of the hands of the Churches, which have generally been strong enough to exclude competition, and not rich or enlightened enough to use their monopoly well. However, the purpose of this argument is not to defend the change to State education, but to point out that, wherever it is introduced, it necessarily transforms the position of the children. For certain hours of the day they are working under the civil law, and very possibly against the wish of their parents. They grow up better educated than father or mother, and know that they are not indebted to them for their schooling. As they become adults, they understand more and more that the State has only exacted from them a labour profitable to themselves, while their parents are taking advantage of their tender years to confiscate the proceeds of their industry. The child in an old society knew that his father had not cast him into the streets as a foundling, had not sold him as a slave or given him away, and had provided him with food, clothing, and education out of parental tenderness. The child in a modern society knows that the parent has done little more for him than the law and public opinion exact, and draws the conclusion, very often not unreasonably, that he has no great cause to be grateful. Our modern practice is so far from being an anomalous growth of new theories that it has been exceeded in some respects by old statutory provisions. The law at one time directed the parish overseers of the poor to apprentice children, whose parents could not support them, to such among the richer parishioners as seemed capable of the burden, and these had to bear it till the apprentices were of age. Neither could the parishioner so burdened refuse to receive the child assigned to him, though he might appeal to a higher court if he was taxed beyond his means or out of his turn. It will be seen that the old law was pretty exactly one of parochial socialism. The peculiar feature about it is not that it provided for the children of needy parents for some such provision is unavoidable—but that it took the child from the control of its natural parents and practically transferred it to an artificial family. To this day the State holds—and holds, we may say, unavoidably—that pauperism suspends family ties. Husband and wife are separated from their children and from one another in the workhouse. In the boarding-out system, which is now generally adopted, and with the best results, it is a rule not to assign the child to its natural parent. Unless we are prepared to maintain that the State is bound to care for the physical well-being of the young, but may let their minds lie fallow, we must surely admit that the case for compulsory education is as strong as for poor-relief to orphans and the children of destitute or vicious parents. In one respect it is, of course, incomparably stronger, for the percentage of parents who will allow a child to starve is undoubtedly much smaller than that of parents who will allow it to grow up wild or absorbed in mechanical drudgery.
It may be noticed in passing that where the State limits conjugal rights or parental authority, it gives as much to individualism as it takes from the head of the family. In fact, most changes in the law affecting the family system have come from the need felt by statesmen to modify a power that interfered with State necessities, and from the readiness of citizens to abandon a burdensome obligation. The English husband can no longer compel his wife to return to him, or squander her estate, or deprive her of her children, or inflict on her the moderate correction Dr. Marmaduke Coghill approved of, or the restraint of her liberty which Blackstone expressly allows. On the other hand, he can more or less easily divest himself of all responsibility for her debts or misconduct, and in great part of the civilised world finds it reasonably easy to obtain a divorce. The result, good or bad, is to give man and woman immensely increased freedom of action, the power to draw back from a contract that was once irrevocable, and that was one of the most noticeable conservative forces, and the right to make a fresh start in life. Only a man of exceptional energy can change his profession or trade once fairly entered upon in an old society, but in a new society a man goes on experimenting till he finds the career in which he works best, and this facility of change has a great effect in promoting individualism. Something like this will be the condition of the married couple who feel that they are not absolutely committed by one unfortunate mistake. Whether the losses may not more than overbalance the gains—whether the frequent changes of object that make the intellect subtle and versatile may not make the affections callous and insincere, whether the Germans were not partly right in saying that there should be only one marriage for one life—may be matter for serious consideration; but the one point seems evident—that individualism is bound to gain as family obligations are weakened. So again with the duty to children. It is conceivable, and perhaps probable, that in many countries the parents will retain and deserve by increased tenderness a great deal of that authority over their children which was anciently given them by law. The instinct of parental love is so intimately associated with our nature that we cannot imagine it will ever die out; and Plato's conception of a commonwealth, in which the children are to be taken at birth from the mother and brought up by the State, is inconceivable, for the twofold reason that the State has never assumed duties which were not forced upon it, and that parents generally would be opposed to any such surrender. Still it is conceivable that, as parents lose their proprietary and administrative rights over children, an increasing number will be inclined to shift all responsibility upon the State. We may imagine the State crèche, and the State doctor, and the State school, supplemented, it may be, by State meals, and the child, already drilled by the State, passing out from school into the State workshop. To whatever extent all this takes place, it will increase the parent's freedom, will relieve the mother from the incessant watchfulness which a household now entails, and will set the father free to work less or to choose more congenial work. Here again it is easy to see that there may be good and evil in the change. Mrs. Grote has hinted at a common opinion, most often left unexpressed, that a man of genius is wise to take a mistress rather than a wife, in order that he may live for his art and not for his family ; and Mr. Hamerton in a more temperate argument has pointed out that "the married man never goes, or hardly ever goes, on the same intellectual lines which he would have followed if he had remained a bachelor." Now, some of the cases Mr. Hamerton puts—where a man having married a rich wife, sacrifices his career to her wishes, or where, having married an extravagant wife, he toils for her luxury—are cases that only concern a few persons. But the need of providing for children is a constant source of excessive toil and impoverishment. If fathers generally come to feel this obligation less and less, it will certainly leave them freer to consider their own pleasures, or, it may be, their own capacity for good work. They will lose what is sometimes a wholesome discipline; they will be relieved from what is often a burden heavy to bear.
Now, when we have discarded all that was temporary in the old system of family relations the need of defence against enemies, the obligation of a common family worship, and the pledges for good behaviour exacted by the State—there remains something indescribably holy and serious in the conception of the household. It might be better for society in one way that a father should never feel bound to pay his adult son's debts, or the son his father's, but the moral gain of such examples, which are still fortunately very frequent, is incalculable. It is certain that pride of family has often been unreasonable, even where the ancestors were men who had served their country with distinction; and where the boast is to descend from a king's harlot, or through a long line of close-fisted fox-hunters, it can only be regarded as a very sad example of human weakness. On the other hand, if there be any truth in scientific doctrines of heredity, the descendants of ancestors who have an honourable record of integrity, of labour, it may be even of splendid public service, are surely entitled to pride themselves on their pedigree. The possibilities of atavism may determine a man to follow the line in which an ancestor distinguished himself. Neither is it easily possible to overrate the influence exercised by family traditions—however vague and unintelligent—upon a sympathetic character. Other things being equal, the member of one of those families, in which all the men have been brave and the women pure, starts with a better chance of blameless life than the child whose best hope is that its family record may not be remembered against it. No one will assume that the impairment of the old family system, the growth of the democratic feeling against titles, or the increasing disposition to treat wealth as the only title to consideration, will ever altogether extinguish the pride of descent. The instance of America shows how deeply rooted the feeling is, even in a new and democratic society. The real value of family feeling is not, however, so much based upon recognition of the past as upon forethought for the future. Whatever else science teaches us, it teaches that the family with its inherited taints of greed or lust, its quick impulses or cautious movements, its sublimated or impaired brain power, its noble or sordid proclivities, is the one indestructible factor in human society. We may destroy its vantage-ground of privilege and consideration, but, however debilitated, it will remain. No change affecting it can be other than far-reaching. The man who has not shrunk from dishonouring his ancestors has often recoiled from the prospect of bringing infamy upon his children. In proportion as the family bonds are weakened, as the tie uniting husband and wife is more and more capricious, as the relations of the children to the parent become more and more temporary, will the religion of household life gradually disappear. Certain imperishable instincts will maintain the semblance of the old relations, and it need not be apprehended that any large portion of society will either decline upon concubinage, or abandon children generally to the care of the State. What we have rather to look forward to is a state of things in which marriages will be contracted without reflection, and broken up without scruple, in which children will be cared for when they are young with, it may be, even more tenderness than of old, but with incomparably less anxiety to fit them for the moral obligations of life, and in which the claim. of parents to be obeyed will cease with the children's need of support. Family life will be a gracious and decorative incident in the system of such a society; but the family, as a constituent part of the State, as the matrix in which character is moulded, will lose its importance as the clan and the city have done.
The relations of master and servant, of master and apprentice, of employer and employed, have in past time presented what we may call bastard forms of family life, and which have been recognised as such by custom and law. One of them, the relation of master and apprentice, has long ago been shorn of its old significance. The others are being unavoidably changed. As large establishments are superseding small in every department of industry, the personal relation between employer and man tends to become weaker; and the "hand," as a rule, looks more to his Trades-Union for support and help than to his nominal paymaster. In domestic service it has become a principle with servants' unions in large cities that no one is to remain in the same place for more than a limited time. It may be safely said of these changes that they have not been without cause, and have mostly been either good or unavoidable. With all allowance for the habits of a ruder time, it is difficult for a student of our old literature to believe that servants were ever really better treated than they have been in the present century; except where they corresponded to the class of what are now called "lady-helps," like the Mercer whom Samuel Pepys played music with and took to parties, and whom his wife did not scruple to thrash when she thought punishment deserved. Swift's notices of servants represent the Irish servants as distinctly worse than they are now, and the English servants as decidedly less to be trusted. It would be easy to quote evidence from novelists like Fielding to the same effect. Nevertheless it may be freely admitted that there was a reasonable percentage of cases till very lately in which servants remained in the same family all their lives, identified themselves with its fortunes, and shared its affections and hopes. Thousands of persons still living can remember how the family servant—often, it may be, exercising a self-assertion that was almost tyrannical—was yet an important part of the surroundings that made home lovable. Such servants are now bound to disappear, and are said to be disappearing even in France; and the compensation for their extinction has in a broad sense been more than adequate. The whole class is, as a rule, better housed and better fed, and gets better wages. All that need be here noted is that the class which goes out to service is apt to lose its own family ties, without, as was formerly the case to some extent at least, acquiring new ones; and that the family which employs servants is now contracting only for so much labour, and not only does not expect the attachment which it may conceivably deserve, but knows that it cannot retain its employees except at the cost to them of professional ostracism. The change is one that will be very differently felt in different households. There have always been many in which the servant was never naturalised. For those, however, in which the relations of high and low were gracious and cordial, the transition to a state in which the house is little more than an inn, owned and worked by the occupants, cannot fail to be an impairment of the completeness of family life.
Neither can it be doubted that, as the habit of emigration to colonies has weakened national feeling for a time, England being regarded as only one out of many countries belonging to the Englishman, so the abandonment of their country homes by many families that were identified with them for centuries has weakened one of the mainsprings of family feeling. Squireens and yeomanry have been bought out, or have left, because they found themselves overshadowed by rich neighbours with whom it was impossible to compete, and whom it was not pleasant to defer to. Associations have been destroyed that can never be renewed. Even, however, if all the representatives of the old families could be replaced, England and half a dozen modern countries are getting so crowded that their populations are forced to live for the most part in towns. Some of the disadvantages of this change have already been considered. It need only be noticed here that it is bound to destroy the religion of the homestead; and though that may only be a gross form of human weakness which induces men to linger where the cradle of the race was laid, where generation after generation has been committed to consecrated dust, where the very meadows and woods are instinct with memories of ancestral life, we are so constituted that our very weakness will sometimes lend intensity to our loves. May it be that as husband and wife, parent and children, master and servant, family and home lose more and more of their ancient and intense significance, the old imperfect feelings will be transmuted into love for fatherland.
- Muir's Life of Mahomet, vol. i. p. cclxi. note, and iv. 228, 221; The Koran, Sura xvii. 31; vi. 137, 141. Compare 81, 8.
- Coulanges, Cité Antique, p. 101. Compare Grimm, "Das erste und aelteste Recht des Vaters aeussert sicli gleich bei der Geburt des Kindes; er kann es aufnehmen oder aussetzen."—Deutsche Rechts - Alterthümer, S. 455.
- See the remarkable story in Plutarch, that Quintus Hortensius applied to Cato the Younger for the loan of his daughter, who was already married to Bibulus, and was finally gratified with the loan of Cato's wife, Martia, her father having been consulted. The loan, however, took the form of a gift for life, Martia being formally married to Hortensius, though, being left a widow, she married Cato again. Hortensius, it is said, had no object but to be connected with Cato's family.
- See generally on this subject the chapter on "L'Autorite" dans la famille," in the Cité Antique, by Coulanges, and Hearn's Aryan Household, chap. iv. 3.
- Motley seems to incline to the belief that Philip contrived his son's death (Rise of Dutch Republic, p. 403). Ranke and Sir W. Stirling-Maxwell describe the death as natural, but mention the charges against Philip (Spanish Empire, p. 34, and Life of Don John, i. pp. 74, 75). The essential point is, that Philip has generally been believed guilty. As regards Peter the Great, Coxe decides against Peter (Northern Tour, vol. ii. pp. 308-315). Kelly takes it as proved (History of Russia, chap, xxvii.) Oustrialoff, of course, accepts the official story, that the Tsarevitch died of apoplexy (Hist. of Russia, ii. p. 84); and Schuyler apparently thinks that he died of the consequences of torture, while it was still doubtful if Peter would carry the sentence of death into execution (Peter the Great, vol. ii. pp. 431-433).
- See John Comoy's grant of his wife: "Noveritis me tradidisse et dimisisse spontaneft voluntate meâ domino Gul. Paynell iniliti Margaretam uxorem meam … et concedo quod praedicta Margareta sit et maneat cum praedicto Gulielmo pro voluntate ipsius Gulielmi."—Rot. Parl. vol. i. p. 146.
- "All persons who had completed their seventh year were held competent to contract espousals."— History of English Law, vol. iv. p. 53.
- This applies even to a child who has been adopted into another family: "L'adopté restera dans sa famille naturelle, et conservera tous ses droits."—Code Civile, livre i. tit. viii. s. 348.
- Thus Flosi, who reluctantly took up the blood-feud against Njal's family, was careful not to leave a survivor, old enough to bear arms, out of thirty people.—Dasent's Story of Burnt Njal, pp. 124, 171.
- Livy, i. 27.
- "Maté á tu padre, Jimena … Para vengar cierto agravio. Maté hombre, y hombre doy."—Romancero del Cid, xi. p. 7.
- Blackstone, book iv. chap. 14.
- Gutierre da la mano á Lenora. "Mas mira que va bañada En sangre, Leonor."—Lenora. "Cura con ella Mi vida, en estando mala."—El Medico de su Honra. Jornada III.
- It was changed to drawing and hanging in 1790. 30 George III. cap. 48.
- Ramsay's Roman Antiquities, p. 252.
- Taciti Germania, cap. 19. Grimm, however, modifies this by showing that divorce was allowed for sterility, adultery, pronounced incompatibility, and persistent desertion.—Rechts-Alterthümer, SS. 453, 454.
- Plutarch's Solon.
- This is said to have been the reason of the first divorce in Rome, that of Carvilius Ruga.- Val. Max. lib. ii. cap. i.
- This right is recognised and confirmed by 1 Jac. I. cap. ii.
- This immoral practice was swept away at the Reformation by 32 Hen. VIII. cap. 38.
- This was done by the Lex Julia et Papia Poppaea, A.D. 9.—Ramsay's Roman Antiquities, p. 249.
- The "Reformatio Legum Ecclesiasticarum," drawn up by Cranmer, Haddon, and Cheke, proposed to give divorce if the marriage had been brought about by force or fear, if either partner was unfaithful, and if there was irreconcilable enmity between them.—Reeve's History of English Law, vol. iv. pp. 546-548.
- "Sequiturque nefas, Ægyptia conjux" (Aeneid viii. 688). So, too, Horace speaks of the soldier of Crassus as dishonoured by a barbarian wife (Odes, III. v.) Forbiger remarks that the expression in Virgil, "crime against heaven," is not at all too strong for the marriage with a foreigner, "which Roman law forbade," or perhaps rather stigmatised as improper (injustum).
- To take two familiar instances, Plutarch appears to blame Cato the Censor for making a slave his mistress in the house where his daughter-in-law was living; but Pompey's attachment to the courtezan Flora is spoken of as rather creditable to him than otherwise. Valerius Maximus pretty well indicates the boundary line of Roman continence when he praises "frugalitas" as "ab immoderate Veneris usu aversa."—Lib. ii. c. 5.
- M. Henri Martin says, for instance, of the Frank Princes (c. 500-550): "Jetés par la conquête au milieu d'une civilisation corrompue, ils ue faisaient guère avec elle qu'un échange de vices, prenant ses raffinements sensuels, et lui communiquant leur brutalité."—Hist. de France, tome ii. p. 12.
- St. Simon adds, that when he found the eldest daughter otherwise arranged for, he proposed to wait till a younger sister should be of age to marry.—Mémoires de St. Simon, tome i. c. viii. Lord Burleigh in the Precepts addressed to his son goes on the same lines as St. Simon. In choosing a wife, he directs Robert Cecil to "enquire diligently of her disposition, and how her parents have been inclined in their youth."
- Lettres de Mdme. de Sévigné, December 22, 1677.
- Mémoires de Mdme. Roland, pp. 129, 192-194.
- Hamerton's French and English, p. 357.
- M. de Pressensé put this argument very powerfully in the debates that led to giving the liberty of divorce in France.
- "The want of natural affection in the English displays itself specially in their conduct towards their children, for having kept them at home till they arrive at the age of seven or nine years at the utmost, every one, however rich he may be, puts away his children into the houses of others."—Italian Relation of England, c. 1500. Compare M. Taine in the nineteenth century: "Il n'y a pas en Angleterre de séparation profonde entre la vie de l'enfant, et celle de l'homme fait," and "un père, une mère, est bien moins que chez nous an courant des sentiments de sa fille, des affaires ou des plaisirs de son fils."—Notes sur l'Angleterre, pp. 122, 123, 141.
- In the case of Wellesley v. The Duke of Beaufort it was stated, however, that in reality the jurisdiction of the Court was over all the children in the realm, and was only not exercised in all cases because it was not all children who possessed an estate which required the protection of the Court.
- The case of Besant v. Besant.
- Stat. 5. Eliz. c iv.; 8 and 9 Will. & Mary c. 90.
- Dr. Marmaduke Coghill, Judge of the Prerogative Court in Ireland, ruled, c. 1700, that a husband might give his wife moderate correction with a little cane or switch. Swift alludes to his being jilted in consequence.—Letters to Stella, July 1, 1711.
- "The Courts of Law will still permit a husband to restrain a wife of her liberty, in case of any gross misbehaviour."—Blackstone's Commentaries, book i. chap. xv.
- Grote's Life of Ary Scheffer, p. 49. Cf. p. 91.
- Hamerton, The Intellectual Life. Part vii. letter v.
- Pepys's Diary, vol. ii. p. 450; vol. iii. p. 26.
- See Swift's Sermon on the Causes of the Wretched Condition of Ireland, and his Rules that Concern all Servants.