The Superstition of Divorce/Chapter 9
This is a pamphlet and not a book; and the writer of a pamphlet not only deals with passing things, but generally with things which he hopes will pass. In that sense it is the object of a pamphlet to be out of date as soon as possible. It can only survive when it does not succeed. The successful pamphlets are necessarily dull; and though I have no great hopes of this being successful, I dare say it is dull enough for all that. It is designed merely to note certain fugitive proposals of the moment, and compare them with certain recurrent necessities of the race; but especially the necessity for some spontaneous social formation freer than that of the state. If it were more in the nature of a work of literature, with anything like an ambition of endurance, I might go deeper into the matter, and give some suggestions about the philosophy or religion of marriage, and the philosophy or religion of all these rather random departures from it. Some day perhaps I may try to write something about the spiritual or psychological quarrel between faith and fads. Here I will only say, in conclusion, that I believe the universal fallacy here is a fallacy of being universal. There is a sense in which it is really a human if heroic possibility to love everybody; and the young student will not find it a bad preliminary exercise to love somebody. But the fallacy I mean is that of a man who is not even content to love everybody, but really wishes to be everybody. He wishes to walk down a hundred roads at once; to sleep in a hundred houses at once; to live a hundred lives at once. To do something like this in the imagination is one of the occasional visions of art and poetry, to attempt it in the art of life is not only anarchy but inaction. Even in the arts it can only be the first hint and not the final fulfillment; a man cannot work at once in bronze and marble, or play the organ and the violin at the same time. The universal vision of being such a Briareus is a nightmare of nonsense even in the merely imaginative world; and ends in mere nihilism in the social world. If a man had a hundred houses, there would still be more houses than he had days in which to dream of them; if a man had a hundred wives, there would still be more women than he could ever know. He would be an insane sultan jealous of the whole human race, and even of the dead and the unborn. I believe that behind the art and philosophy of our time there is a considerable element of this bottomless ambition and this unnatural hunger; and since in these last words I am touching only lightly on things that would need much larger treatment, I will admit that the rending of the ancient roof of man is probably only a part of such an endless and empty expansion. I asked in the last chapter what those most wildly engaged in the mere dance of divorce, as fantastic as the dance of death, really expected for themselves or for their children. And in the deepest sense I think this is the answer; that they expect the impossible, that is the universal. They are not crying for the moon, which is a definite and therefore a defensible desire. They are crying for the world; and when they had it, they would want another one. In the last resort they would like to try every situation, not in fancy but in fact, but they cannot refuse any and therefore cannot resolve on any. In so far as this is the modern mood, it is a thing so deadly as to be already dead. What is vitally needed everywhere, in art as much as in ethics, in poetry as much as in politics, is choice; a creative power in the will as well as in the mind. Without that self-limitation of somebody, nothing living will ever see the light.