Part 3 (1/2)

20. The Unattainable Ideal

But here I rather depart from the point, which is this: that the average woman is not strategically capable of bringing down the most tempting game within her purview, and must thus content herself with a second, third, or nth choice. The only women who get their first choices are those who run in almost miraculous luck and those too stupid to formulate an ideal--two very small, it must be obvious. A few women, true enough, are so pertinacious that they prefer defeat to compromise. That is to say, they prefer to put off marriage indefinitely rather than to marry beneath the highest leap of their fancy. But such women may be quickly dismissed as abnormal, and perhaps as downright diseased in mind; the average woman is well-aware that marriage is far better for her than celibacy, even when it falls a good deal short of her primary hopes, and she is also well aware that the differences between man and man, once mere money is put aside, are so slight as to be practically almost negligible. Thus the average woman is under none of the common masculine illusions about elective affinities, soul mates, love at first sight, and such phantasms. She is quite ready to fall in love, as the phrase is, with any man who is plainly eligible, and she usually knows a good many more such men than one. Her primary demand in marriage is not for the agonies of romance, but for comfort and security; she is thus easier satisfied than a man, and oftener happy.

One frequently hears of remarried widowers who continue to moon about their dead first wives, but for a remarried widow to show any such sentimentality would be a nine days' wonder. Once replaced, a dead husband is expunged from the minutes. And so is a dead love.

One of the results of all this is a subtle reinforcement of the contempt with which women normally regard their husbands--a contempt grounded, as I have shown, upon a sense of intellectual superiority. To this primary sense of superiority is now added the disparagement of a concrete comparison, and over all is an ineradicable resentment of the fact that such a comparison has been necessary. In other words, the typical husband is a second-rater, and no one is better aware of it than his wife. He is, taking averages, one who has been loved, as the saying goes, by but one woman, and then only as a second, third or nth choice.

If any other woman had ever loved him, as the idiom has it, she would have married him, and so made him ineligible for his present happiness.

But the average bachelor is a man who has been loved, so to speak, by many women, and is the lost first choice of at least some of them. Here presents the unattainable, and hence the admirable; the husband is the attained and disdained.

Here we have a sufficient explanation of the general superiority of bachelors, so often noted by students of mankind--a superiority so marked that it is difficult, in all history, to find six first-rate philosophers who were married men. The bachelor's very capacity to avoid marriage is no more than a proof of his relative freedom from the ordinary sentimentalism of his s.e.x--in other words, of his greater approximation to the clear headedness of the enemy s.e.x. He is able to defeat the enterprise of women because he brings to the business an equipment almost comparable to their own. Herbert Spencer, until he was fifty, was ferociously hara.s.sed by women of all sorts. Among others, George Eliot tried very desperately to marry him. But after he had made it plain, over a long series of years, that he was prepared to resist marriage to the full extent of his military and naval power, the girls dropped off one by one, and so his last decades were full of peace and he got a great deal of very important work done.

21. The Effect on the Race

It is, of course, not well for the world that the highest sort of men are thus selected out, as the biologists say, and that their superiority dies with them, whereas the ign.o.ble tricks and sentimentalities of lesser men are infinitely propagated. Despite a popular delusion that the sons of great men are always dolts, the fact is that intellectual superiority is inheritable, quite as easily as bodily strength; and that fact has been established beyond cavil by the laborious inquiries of Galton, Pearson and the other anthropometricians of the English school.

If such men as Spinoza, Kant, Schopenhauer, Spencer, and Nietzsche had married and begotten sons, those sons, it is probable, would have contributed as much to philosophy as the sons and grandsons of Veit Bach contributed to music, or those of Erasmus Darwin to biology, or those of Henry Adams to politics, or those of Hamilcar Barcato the art of war.

I have said that Herbert Spencer's escape from marriage facilitated his life-work, and so served the immediate good of English philosophy, but in the long run it will work a detriment, for he left no sons to carry on his labours, and the remaining Englishmen of his time were unable to supply the lack. His celibacy, indeed, made English philosophy co-extensive with his life; since his death the whole body of metaphysical speculation produced in England has been of little more, practical value to the world than a drove of bogs. In precisely the same way the celibacy of Schopenhauer, Kant and Nietzsche has reduced German philosophy to feebleness.

Even setting aside this direct influence of heredity, there is the equally potent influence of example and tuition. It is a gigantic advantage to live on intimate terms with a first-rate man, and have his care. Hamilcar not only gave the Carthagenians a great general in his actual son; he also gave them a great general in his son-in-law, trained in his camp. But the tendency of the first-rate man to remain a bachelor is very strong, and Sidney Lee once showed that, of all the great writers of England since the Renaissance, more than half were either celibates or lived apart from their wives. Even the married ones revealed the tendency plainly. For example, consider Shakespeare. He was forced into marriage while still a minor by the brothers of Ann Hathaway, who was several years his senior, and had debauched him and gave out that she was enceinte by him. He escaped from her abhorrent embraces as quickly as possible, and thereafter kept as far away from her as he could. His very distaste for marriage, indeed, was the cause of his residence in London, and hence, in all probability, of the labours which made him immortal.

In different parts of the world various expedients have been resorted to to overcome this reluctance to marriage among the better sort of men.

Christianity, in general, combats it on the ground that it is offensive to G.o.d--though at the same time leaning toward an enforced celibacy among its own agents. The discrepancy is fatal to the position. On the one hand, it is impossible to believe that the same G.o.d who permitted His own son to die a bachelor regards celibacy as an actual sin, and on the other hand, it is obvious that the average cleric would be damaged but little, and probably improved appreciably, by having a wife to think for him, and to force him to virtue and industry, and to aid him otherwise in his sordid profession. Where religious superst.i.tions have died out the inst.i.tution of the dot prevails--an idea borrowed by Christians from the Jews. The dot is simply a bribe designed to overcome the disinclination of the male. It involves a frank recognition of the fact that he loses by marriage, and it seeks to make up for that loss by a money payment. Its obvious effect is to give young women a wider and better choice of husbands. A relatively superior man, otherwise quite out of reach, may be brought into camp by the a.s.surance of economic ease, and what is more, he may be kept in order after he has been taken by the consciousness of his gain. Among hardheaded and highly practical peoples, such as the Jews and the French, the dot flourishes, and its effect is to promote intellectual suppleness in the race, for the average child is thus not inevitably the offspring of a woman and a noodle, as with us, but may be the offspring of a woman and a man of reasonable intelligence. But even in France, the very highest cla.s.s of men tend to evade marriage; they resist money almost as unanimously as their Anglo-Saxon brethren resist sentimentality.

In America the dot is almost unknown, partly because money-getting is easier to men than in Europe and is regarded as less degrading, and partly because American men are more naive than Frenchmen and are thus readily intrigued without actual bribery. But the best of them nevertheless lean to celibacy, and plans for overcoming their habit are frequently proposed and discussed. One such plan involves a heavy tax on bachelors. The defect in it lies in the fact that the average bachelor, for obvious reasons, is relatively well to do, and would pay the tax rather than marry. Moreover, the payment of it would help to salve his conscience, which is now often made restive, I believe, by a maudlin feeling that he is s.h.i.+rking his duty to the race, and so he would be confirmed and supported in his determination to avoid the altar. Still further, he would escape the social odium which now attaches to his celibacy, for whatever a man pays for is regarded as his right. As things stand, that odium is of definite potency, and undoubtedly has its influence upon a certain number of men in the lower ranks of bachelors.

They stand, so to speak, in the twilight zone of bachelorhood, with one leg furtively over the altar rail; it needs only an extra pull to bring them to the sacrifice. But if they could compound for their immunity by a cash indemnity it is highly probable that they would take on new resolution, and in the end they would convert what remained of their present disrepute into a source of egoistic satisfaction, as is done, indeed, by a great many bachelors even today. These last immoralists are privy to the elements which enter into that disrepute: the ire of women whose devices they have resisted and the envy of men who have succ.u.mbed.

22. Compulsory Marriage

I myself once proposed an alternative scheme, to wit, the prohibition of sentimental marriages by law, and the subst.i.tution of match-making by the common hangman. This plan, as revolutionary as it may seem, would have several plain advantages. For one thing, it would purge the serious business of marriage of the romantic fol-de-rol that now corrupts it, and so make for the peace and happiness of the race. For another thing, it would work against the process which now selects out, as I have said, those men who are most fit, and so throws the chief burden of paternity upon the inferior, to the damage of posterity. The hangman, if he made his selections arbitrarily, would try to give his office permanence and dignity by choosing men whose marriage would meet with public approbation, i.e., men obviously of sound stock and talents, i.e., the sort of men who now habitually escape. And if he made his selection by the hazard of the die, or by drawing numbers out of a hat, or by any other such method of pure chance, that pure chance would fall indiscriminately upon all orders of men, and the upper orders would thus lose their present comparative immunity. True enough, a good many men would endeavour to influence him privately to their own advantage, and it is probable that he would occasionally succ.u.mb, but it must be plain that the men most likely to prevail in that enterprise would not be philosophers, but politicians, and so there would be some benefit to the race even here. Posterity surely suffers no very heavy loss when a Congressman, a member of the House of Lords or even an amba.s.sador or Prime Minister dies childless, but when a Herbert Spencer goes to the grave without leaving sons behind him there is a detriment to all the generations of the future.

I did not offer the plan, of course, as a contribution to practical politics, but merely as a sort of hypothesis, to help clarify the problem. Many other theoretical advantages appear in it, but its execution is made impossible, not only by inherent defects, but also by a general disinclination to abandon the present system, which at least offers certain attractions to concrete men and women, despite its unfavourable effects upon the unborn. Women would oppose the subst.i.tution of chance or arbitrary fiat for the existing struggle for the plain reason that every woman is convinced, and no doubt rightly, that her own judgment is superior to that of either the common hangman or the G.o.ds, and that her own enterprise is more favourable to her opportunities. And men would oppose it because it would restrict their liberty. This liberty, of course, is largely imaginary. In its common manifestation, it is no more, at bottom, than the privilege of being bamboozled and made a mock of by the first woman who ventures to essay the business. But none the less it is quite as precious to menas any other of the ghosts that their vanity conjures up for their enchantment.

They cherish the notion that unconditioned volition enters into the matter, and that under volition there is not only a high degree of sagacity but also a touch of the daring and the devilish. A man is often almost as much pleased and flattered by his own marriage as he would be by the achievement of what is currently called a seduction. In the one case, as in the other, his emotion is one of triumph. The subst.i.tution of pure chance would take away that soothing unction.

The present system, to be sure, also involves chance. Every man realizes it, and even the most bombastic bachelor has moments in which he humbly whispers: ”There, but for the grace of G.o.d, go I.” But that chance has a sugarcoating; it is swathed in egoistic illusion; it shows less stark and intolerable chanciness, so to speak, than the bald hazard of the die. Thus men prefer it, and shrink from the other. In the same way, I have no doubt, the majority of foxes would object to choosing lots to determine the victim of a projected fox-hunt. They prefer to take their chances with the dogs.

23. Extra-Legal Devices

It is, of course, a rhetorical exaggeration to say that all first-cla.s.s men escape marriage, and even more of an exaggeration to say that their high qualities go wholly untransmitted to posterity. On the one hand it must be obvious that an appreciable number of them, perhaps by reason of their very detachment and preoccupation, are intrigued into the holy estate, and that not a few of them enter it deliberately, convinced that it is the safest form of liaison possible under Christianity. And on the other hand one must not forget the biological fact that it is quite feasible to achieve offspring without the imprimatur of Church and State. The thing, indeed, is so commonplace that I need not risk a scandal by uncovering it in detail. What I allude to, I need not add, is not that form of irregularity which curses innocent children with the stigma of illegitimacy, but that more refined and thoughtful form which safeguards their social dignity while protecting them against inheritance from their legal fathers. English philosophy, as I have shown, suffers by the fact that Herbert Spencer was too busy to permit himself any such romantic altruism--just as American literature gains enormously by the fact that Walt Whitman adventured, leaving seven sons behind him, three of whom are now well-known American poets and in the forefront of the New Poetry movement.