Love, Marriage, and Divorce (1853/1889)

by Henry James, Sr. (1811-1882), Horace Greeley (1811-1872)
and Stephen Pearl Andrews (1812-1886)



LMD-13.1 The above missile a tergo [Online editor’s note: “from the rear” – RTL] from my valorous antagonist – after his retreat into the safety of a unilateral contest – is suggestive of many things, and might constitute the text for a whole bookful of commentary. It is the usual whine of blear-eyed and inveterate Tyranny, gloating over the fact that some one of his victims has got himself, or herself, into a worse fix by disregarding his behests, and attempting an escape from his infernal grip, than he or she was in before. The slave-hunter, amid the baying of his blood-hounds upon the warm scent of the track of an unhappy fugitive, growls out in the same manner his curses upon the inhumanity of the man who has preached Freedom to the Captive, charging upon him all the horrors of the sickening scene that is about to ensue. Should the friend who has whispered longings after emancipation into the greedy ear of the victim of slavery, afterward, through cowardice, or selfishness, or from any cause overmastering his devotion, shrink from going all lengths in uniting his fortunes with those of the slave – either by remaining with him in bondage, or taking his full share in the risks of the flight; and, if this desertion should rankle in the breast of the fugitive as the worst torment of his forlorn state, even when sore pressed by the devouring dogs, the case would be parallel in all ways to the one cited by Mr. Greeley.
LMD-13.2 Our transcendent Philosopher and Moralist of the Tribune can imply the most withering hatred of the “seducer” and “heartless villain,” whom “public opinion” is invoked to “hunt down” for his crime, and whisper no word of rebuke for – nay, aggravate and hound on – that same Public Opinion in its still more reckless vengeance upon the unfortunate girl herself, by efforts to intensify “all the disgrace that attaches to her condition,” which, terrible as it is now, she said, poor creature! she had the fortitude “to bear,” but for the other element in her misery. That other element, the betrayal of her lover, in addition to the insane odium of the Public, Mr. Greeley charges upon the “seducer.” I charge both the one and the other cause of the poor girl’s torture and insanity, just as boldly, upon Mr. Greeley himself, and the like of him. If the mental phenomena which led to her betrayal by her lover could be investigated, they would be indubitably traced back to the senseless rigors of that same Public Opinion; so that both causes of the wreck and insanity if the one party, and of the endless remorse and torment of the other, as we must presume, flow from the same common fountain – a vitiated Public Sentiment, adverse to, and intolerant of, Freedom, or the Sovereignty of the Individual!
LMD-13.3 How exceedingly probable that, at the very moment this hapless girl’s lover cast the repulsive glance that pierced her already wounded heart and overthrew her reason, his own heart was half bursting with the tenderest compassion. Placed in the dire alternative of renouncing affection, or else of abjuring his own Freedom perpetually, the instinct of self-preservation may have overborne, in his case, as it must and will overbear in many cases, the natural sentiments of Manhood and Gallantry, and Paternal Tenderness, all of which, unobstructed by a blundering Legislation and an ignorant Public Prejudice, would have prompted him to remain by her side, acknowledge her publicly, and succor and sustain her through all the consequences of their mutual love. Remove from a man the arbitrary demand that he shall make more sacrifice than he feels to be just, and you neutralize, or evidently diminish, the temptation, on his part, to make less. Demand pledges of him, on the contrary, under the penalty of the Penitentiary, against that over which he knows, by all his past experience, that he has no more control than he has over his Opinions or his Tastes, namely, that his affections shall remain unchanged for life, that he will never love another woman, or that, if he does, he will crush that love as he would a viper, no matter though his own heart and others bleed to death in the effort – add to this that he shall change his whole methods of life, assume the care and direction of a Family Establishment, for which he may have no taste, but only repugnance, and take upon himself the liability of being required to support many lives, instead of the burdens already incumbent on him, beyond, it may be, already, his consciousness of power to bear up against the difficulties of surrounding competition and antagonism; and you put before him what may be, acting upon some natures, not the worst, as they are deemed, but the best as God made them – an insuperable obstacle to the performance of those acts of Justice which would be otherwise their natural and irrepressible impulse.
LMD-13.4 With some men and some women, the instinct for Freedom is a domination too potent to be resisted. An association with angels under constraint would be to them a Hell. The language of their souls is “Give me Liberty, or give me death.” Such natures have noble and generous propensities in other directions. Say to a man of this sort, abjure Freedom or abjure Love, and, along with it, the dear object whom you have already compromised in the world’s estimation, and who can foresee the issue of that terrible conflict of the passions which must ensue? In the vast majority of such cases, notwithstanding all, Generosity and Love conquer, and the man knowingly sacrifice himself and all future thought of happiness, in the privation of Freedom, the consciousness of which no Affection, no amount of the World’s Good Opinion, no consideration of any kind, can compensate him for, nor reconcile him to. It would be strange, on the other hand, if the balance of motive never fell upon the other side; and then comes the terrible desertion, the crushing weight of public scorn upon the unprotected head of the wretched woman, and the lasting destruction of the happiness of all concerned, in another of the stereotyped forms of evil.
LMD-13.5 I do not deny that, among those men, nor, indeed, that the great majority of those men who seduce and betray women, are bad men; that is, that they are undeveloped, hardened, and perverted beings, hardly capable of compassion or remorse. What I do affirm is, that there are, also, among them, men of the most refined, and delicate, and gentle natures, fitted to endure the most intense suffering themselves while they inflict it – none but their own hearts can tell how unwillingly – on those they most dearly prize in the world; and that Society is in fault to place such men in such a cruel conflict with themselves, in which some proportion of the whole number so tried is sure to fall. I also affirm that, of the former class – the undeveloped, hardened, and perverted – their undevelopment, hardening, and perversion are again chargeable upon our false Social Arrangements, and, more than all else, perhaps, upon that very exclusion from a genial and familiar association with the female sex, now deemed essential, in order to maintain the Marriage institution in “its Purity.” And, finally, I affirm, that, while such men exist, the best protection that Woman can have against their machinations is more Development on her own part, such as can alone come from more Freedom, more Knowledge of the world, more Familiarity with men, more ability to judge of character and to read the intentions of those by whom she is approached, more Womanhood, in fine; instead of a namby-pamby, lackadaisical, half-silly interestingness, cultured and procured by a nun-like seclusion from business, from Freedom of locomotion, from unrestrained intercommunication of thought and sentiment with the male sex,, and, in a word, from almost the whole circle of the rational means of development.
LMD-13.6 He must be an unobservant man, indeed, who does not perceive the pregnant signs all around him that approximations toward the opinions now uttered by me are everywhere existent, and becoming every day nearer and more frequent.
LMD-13.7 “When People understand,” says Lord Stowell, in the case of Evans vs. Evans, 1st Consistory Reports, p. 36, “that they must live together, they learn, by mutual accommodation, to bear that yoke which they know they can not shake off; they become good husbands and wives (!) from the necessity of remaining husbands and wives, for necessity is a powerful master in teaching the duties which it imposes.” How antiquated does such a defense of any Institution begin to sound to our ears! It is equally good when applied to Despotism, to Slavery, to the Inquisition, or to any other of the forms in which Force and Necessity are brought to bear upon human beings to the destruction of their Freedom, and the ruin of their highest happiness. Indeed, it is the argument which, time out of mind, has been relied upon to sustain all those ancient abuses which are melting away before the Spirit of this Age. We are rapidly discarding Force, and recognizing the Truth, and Purity, and Potency of Love and Attraction, in Government, in Education, in Social Life, and everywhere.
LMD-13.8 The restraints of Marriage are becoming daily less. Its oppressions are felt more and more. There are to-day in our midst ten times as many fugitives from Matrimony as there are fugitives from Slavery; and it may well be doubted if the aggregate, or the average, of their sufferings has been less. There is hardly a country village that has not from one to a dozen such persons. When these unfortunates, flying from the blessings of one of our peculiar and divine institutions, hitherto almost wholly unquestioned, happen to be Women – the weaker sex – they are contemptuously designated “Grass-Widows;” as “runaway” or “free nigger” is, in like manner, applied to the outlaws of another “domestic” arrangement – Freedom in either case becoming, by a horrible social inversion, a badge of reproach. These severed halves of the matrimonial unit are, nevertheless, achieving respectability by virtue of numbers, and in America, at least, have nearly ceased to suffer any loss of caste by the peculiarity of their social condition. Divorce is more and more freely applied for, and easily obtained. Bastard children are now hardly persecuted at all by that sanctimonious Phariseeism which, a few generations ago, hunted them to the death, for no fault of theirs. The Rights of Woman are every day more and more loudly discussed. Marriage has virtually ceased to claim the sanction of Religion, fallen into the hands of the civil magistrate, and come to be regarded as merely a civil contract. While thus recognized as solely a legal Convention, the repugnance for merely Conventional marriages (Mariages de Convenance) is yet deepening in the public mind into horror, and taking the place of that heretofore felt against a genuine passion not sanctified by the blessing of the Church. I quote from one of the most Conservative writers of the age when I say, that “it is not the mere ring and the orange blossom which constitute the difference between virtue and vice.”
LMD-13.9 Indeed, it may be stated as the growing Public Sentiment of Christendom already, that the Man and Woman who do not LOVE have no right, before God, to live together as MAN and WIFE, no matter how solemn the marriage service which may have been mumbled over them. This is the NEGATIVE statement of a grand TRUTH, already arrived at and becoming daily louder and more peremptory in its utterance. How long, think you, it will be before the Converse, or POSITIVE, side of the same TRUTH will be affirmed, namely, that the Man and Woman who do LOVE, can live together in PURITY without any mummery at all – that it is LOVE that sanctifies – not the Blessing of the Church?
LMD-13.10 Such is my doctrine. Such is the horrid heresy of which I am guilty. And such, say what you will, is the eternal, inexpugnable TRUTH of God and Nature. Batter at it till your bones ache, and you can never successfully assail it. Sooner or later you must come to it, and whether it shall be sooner or later is hardly left to your option. The progres of Opinion, the great growth of the world, in this age, is sweeping all men, with the strength of an ocean current, to the acceptance of these views of Love and Marriage, to the acceptance of Universal Freedom – Freedom to Feel and Act, as well as Freedom to Think ף to the acceptance, in fine, of THE SOVEREIGNTY OF EVERY INDIVIDUAL, TO BE EXERCISED AT HIS OWN COST. If our remaining Institutions are found to be adverse to this Freedom, so that bad results follow from its acceptance, then our remaining Institutions are wrong, and the remedy is to be sought in still farther and more radical changes.
LMD-13.11 Had there existed a Public Opinion already formed, based on Freedom, the poor girl in New Hampshire, whose sad history we have read in a paragraph, would probably not have been deserted, or if she were, she would not have felt that “every eye was turned upon her in scorn, knowing her disgrace,” visiting upon her a worse torture than any ever invented by savages, because, forsooth, she had already been cruelly wronged! A Christian people, indeed! “Her heart” would not have “sunk within her day by day and week by week.” “Paleness” would not have “come upon her cheeks,” and “her frame” have “wasted away until she was almost a living skeleton.” She would not have become a raving maniac. “Her brothers and friends” would not have been “borne down with sorrow at her condition.” Public opinion would not have bene invoked “to hunt down” her betrayer, after first hunting down her; and, finally, her misfortune would not have been paraded and gloated over by a shameless public press, Mr. Greeley in the van, holding up the poor agonized, heart-riven, persecuted victim of the Infernalism of our Social Institutions, in warning to others against yielding to the purest, and holiest, and most powerful of the sentiments which God has implanted in the Human Heart – the joint force of the yearning after Freedom and after Love.
LMD-13.12 Mr. Greeley, the wrong that infests our social arrangements is deeper and more central than you have believed. It is not to be cured by superficial appliances and conservative nostrums. The Science of Social Relations must be known and applied. You do not know it. You refuse to study it. You do not believe that there is any such Science either known or possible. You persist in scratching over the surface, instead of putting the plow down into the subsoil of Social Reform. Very well, then, the world can’t wait! You must drop behind, and the Army of Progress must even consent to proceed without your Leadership. I have been already a dozen times congratulated that I am helping to render you entirely “proper” and “orthodox.” If you were quite sincere and more logical than you are, I could drive you clean back to the Papacy upon all subjects, where you have already confessedly gone upon the subject of Divorce – except that you relax a little in your rigor out of personal deference to Christ.
LMD-13.13 The truth will ere long be apparent that there is no middle ground upon which a man of sense can permanently stand, between Absolutism, Blind Faith, and Implicit Obedience to authority, on the one hand, and on the other, “The Sovereignty of the Individual.”


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