Love, Marriage, and Divorce (1853/1889)

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



LMD-5.1 We do, indeed, believe that most parties are now as happy and contented in their marriage relations as their own natures will allow; because we believe that marriages are now contracted with a very general understanding that they are practically indissoluble; that nothing short of death or the deep demoralization and lasting infamy of one of the parties can ever dissolve them. But let it be understood that marriages may be dissolved whenever the parties are tired of each other, – and we can conceive no essential modification of our resent system which will not amount practically to this, – and we believe more false than true marriages would be contracted; because libertines would resort to marriage as a cloak for their lecherous designs, which the legal penalties of bigamy and adultery now compel tem to pursue by a more circuitous and less shaded path. Apprise sensualities that they may at any time be rid of the obligations of marriage by simply dishonoring them, – and if Mr. James does not intend this, we cannot understand him, – and thousands would incur those obligations with deliberate intent to throw them off whenever they should be found irksome, as, with their appetites, they are morally certain soon to become. We insist, then, that what Mr. James intends or contemplates may be ever so innocent and practically just without at all discharging his proposition of the responsibility of such use as the carnal and unprincipled would inevitably make of it. And this use we determine by the ruin they are now too often enabled to effect through the influence of the sophism that the ceremony of marriage is of no account where the essential marriage of heart and soul has already taken place. We determine it also by the demoralization and degeneracy of the Romans, especially the Patricians, following closely on the heels of the liberty of divorce accorded by their laws in the last days of the republic. We find, also, that the mist flagrant social disorders were diffused and aggravated in France by the liberty of divorce accorded during the frenzy of the first Revolution. In short, we believe this liberty always did create or immensely inflame such disorders wherever it has been legalized, and we think it always must do so; at least until the human race shall have been very differently trained and developed from aught the world has yet seen. If there ever shall come a time when the whole race shall profoundly realize that lewdness, with all transgression of the laws of God, is a ruinous mistake, destructive of the happiness of the transgressor, there will then be no need of human laws or penalties, and they may be dispensed with altogether. But so long as there shall exist a social necessity for interdicting and punishing murder, – which we reckon will be rather longer than either Mr. James’s or our writings will continue to be read, – so long we believe there will be a necessity for punishing seduction and adultery and forbidding divorce.
LMD-5.2 We contend that Mr. James’s liberty of divorce, no matter what his intent may be, or what hedges he might seek to set about it, would practically open to the licentious and fickle a prospect of ridding themselves of the obligations of marriage at pleasure, – would say to them, “Get married, if that will subserve the ends of today; and you may get unmarried again tomorrow, or as soon as you shall think proper.” And we regard Mr. Andrews’ queries and well-understood position as most significant and pertinent, pointing, as they do, to a still larger (or looser) liberty than Mr. James contemplates. Once admit divorce on Mr. James’s basis, and it will be utterly impossible to confine it within his limits.
LMD-5.3 Our own conviction and argument decidedly favor “indissoluble marriage,” any existing law to the contrary notwithstanding. But for the express words of Christ, which seem to admit adultery as a valid ground of divorce [Online editor’s note: presumably a reference to Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 – RTL], we should stand distinctly on the Roman Catholic ground of no divorce except by death. As it is, we do not object to divorce for the one flagrant and gross violation of the marriage covenant, though we should oppose even that, if it did not seem to be upheld by the personal authority of Christ. Beyond it we are inflexible.

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