Love, Marriage, and Divorce (1853/1889)

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



LMD-8.1 Let me begin by setting you right respecting my position, on a point where you expressly invite, if not challenge, correction. I never indicated “Freedom from State systems of Religion” as one of the impulses of our time against which I take my stand. I think you never understood me to do so. Nor do I regard the strong tendency of our time to wild, ultra Individualism, as an element of any Progress, but that made by Eve at the serpent’s suggestion, Sodom just previous to Lot’s escape from it, Rome just before its liberties were destroyed by Caesar, and others in like circumstances. Admit the legitimacy of egotism, or the selfish pursuit of happiness by each Individual, and a government of despotism seems to me a logical and practical necessity. Had the Pilgrim Fathers of American Liberty cherished your ideas of the Sovereignty of the individual, I have no shadow of doubt that their children would, long ere this, have passed under the yoke of a despotism as rigorous as that of Nicholas or Louis Napoleon. They founded Liberty, because they taught and practiced Self-Denial – the subordination of the Individual will and pleasure to the Will of God (or, if you please, the Common Weal) – and thus only, in my judgment, can Liberty ever be founded and perpetuated.
LMD-8.2 You totally mistake in attributing to me the assertion of the principle of Non-Intervention between nations, as the principle of Peace and Harmony. On the contrary, I deplore the absence of competent tribunals to adjudicate questions of International difference, and believe all peaceful, just Nations should promptly combine to establish such tribunals. Had such existed in 1846, we must have been spared the waste and the butchery, the guilt and the shame, of our bloody foray on Mexico. How readily all the intrigues and agitations of our day respecting Cuba would be settled by a just International Supreme Court! So far from rejoicing or acquiescing in its absence, I deplore that circumstance as the great scandal and calamity of Christendom.
LMD-8.3 The State is to me something other and more than a mob, because I believe that, since Justice is all men’s true and permanent interest, the heat of passion or the lust of gain, which too often blind men to the iniquity of their own personal acts, are far less potent in their influence on those same men’s judgment of the acts of others. I believe, for instance, there are two men in the State of New York who are personally licentious for every one who would gladly see Libertinism shielded and favored by law. Men who roll vice as a sweet morsel under their tongue, are yet desirous that virtue shall be generally prevalent, and that their own children shall be trained to love and practice it. I do, therefore, appeal to “the State,” or the deliberate judgment of the community, to arbitrate between us, believing that the state properly exists as a “terror to evil-doers and a praise to them that do well,” [Online editor’s note: 1 Peter 2:14. – RTL] and that it not only does, but should, judge and deal with offenders against Sexual Purity and the Public Well-being. I think it ought to “suppress,” not the expression of your opinions, but such action as they tend to clothe with impunity; and so far from deprecating their contingent suppression of me, should ever your principles gain the ascendancy, I prefer to be suppressed, for I would not choose longer to live.
LMD-8.4 As to the harmonizing of Freedom with Order, I, too, desire and anticipate it; but not through the removal of all restraints on vicious Appetite. On the contrary, I expect and labor for its realization through the diffusion of Light and Truth with regard to our own natures, organizations, purposes, and that Divine Law which overrules and irradiates them all. In other words, I look for the harmonizing of Desire with Duty, not through the blotting out of the latter, but through the chastening, renovating, and purifying of the former.
LMD-8.5 As to the right of Self-Government, there is no such radical difference between us as you assert. You, as well as I, find a large class of men who are NOT capable of Self-Government; for you acquiesce in the imposition of restraint upon the lunatic, thief, burglar, counterfeiter, forger, maimer, and murderer. Where is their “inalienable right to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness?” Ah! you say, “These men are depredators on the equal rights of others.” “Very well,” I reply, “so are the Seducer, Adulterer, Gambler, and dispenser of Alcoholic Beverages.” Who would not rather have his property wrested from him by robbers, than his children enticed into dens of infamy, and there debauched and corrupted? Where is the man who does not feel and know that the seducer of his innocent daughter – perhaps a mere child of fifteen – is a blacker villain, and more deserving of punishment (no matter for what end you apply it) than any street rowdy or thief? When you invoke “the Sovereignty of the Individual” to shield that villain from the Law’s terrors, you do what no uncorrupted conscience can calmly justify.
LMD-8.6 As you seem unable to discern the principles which underlie my position on this subject, let me briefly state them: 1. Man has no moral right to do wrong. 2. The State ought to forbid and repress all acts which tend, in their natural consequences, or through the principles they involve, to corrupt the morals of the community, and so increase the sum of human degradation and wretchedness. 3. It is wiser, humaner. every way preferable, that crimes should beprevented than that they should be punished. 4. The great mass of criminals and public pests among us began their downward courses by Gambling, Tippling, or Lewdness; and these are almost uniformly the initial steps to a career of outlawry, depravity, and flagrant crime. 5. Sexual Love was implanted in man by his Creator expressly that the Race should be perpetuated – not merely brought into existence, but properly nurtured, guided, and educated. All Sexual Relations that do not contemplate and conform to these ends are sinful, and at war with the highest good of Humanity. 6. The commandment from Sinai, “Thou shalt not commit Adultery,” is a part of the natural or moral law, contemplating and forbidding every form of Sexual Relation except the union for life of one man with one woman, in obedience to the Divine end above indicated. 7. Hence (not because of the law given by Moses, but in accordance with the same perception of moral fitness or necessity) the State honors and blesses marriage (which is such union, and none other), and frowns upon all other sexual relations.
LMD-8.7 It is nonsense, Mr. Andrews, to talk of your notion of Individual Sovereignty as a new discovery, and of our antagonist views as moss-grown. From the remotest heathen antiquity, nearly every savage or barbarous people has acted far nearer to your principles than to ours. Polygamy, Divorce at pleasure, and still wider Licentiousness, are all nearly as old as sin, and have very generally gone unwhipt of human justice. It is our doctrine that crime should be dealt with in the egg, and not suffer the vulture to attain his full growth – that it is better to Prevent than Punish – that is relatively novel, with its Maine laws, anti-Gambling laws, penalties for Seduction, etc. The tendency, so obvious in our day, to revolt against all legal impediments to the amplest sensual indulgence is a reaction against this, which is destined to give us trouble for a time, but I have no fear that it will ultimately prevail.
LMD-8.8 You deem me hopeless of the eradication of murder, and argue that, as we in New York have now no such offenses as lèse majesté, heresy, spoken treason, negro-stealing, etc., so we may (thus runs your logic) get rid of jurder in like manner by no longer visiting it with a penalty or regarding it as a crime. I am not sure of the efficacy of this remedy. I have read with some care De Quincey’s “Papers on Murder considered as one of the fine Arts,” [Online editor’s note: English essayist Thomas de Quincey (1785-1859); On Murder Considered As One of the Fine Arts (1827). – RTL] and while I have certainly been enlightened by them as to the more poetical aspects of human butchery, I do not feel that my personal objections to being knocked down with a slung-shot or paving-stone, dragged up some blind alley and there finished, have been materially softened by his magnificent rhetoric. I still think murderers unsafe persons to go at large – and so of seducers and adulterers. I think they would do the commonwealth more good and less harm engaged at Sing-Sing, than abroad in New York.
LMD-8.9 You tell me, indeed, that “there will be no Seduction, no Bigamy, and no Adultery when there is no legal and forceful institution of marriage to defend.” I think I understand you. You mean that, if the legal inhibitions and penalties now leveled at the act thus designated be abolished, they will no longer be found in the catalogue of offeses; but you do not mean, as your whole essay clearly shows, that no such acts as are now known by those names will be committed. On the contrary, you glory in the belief that they will be far more abundant than they now are. In other words, you believe that the acts known to our law as Seduction, Bigamy, and Adultery ought to be committed and ought not to be repressed – that they outrage no law of nature or morality, but only certain arbitrary and ignorant human interdicts.
LMD-8.10 I hold exactly the contrary – that these are acts which God and all good men must reprobate, though the law of the land had never named them. I hold the systematic seducer to be the vilest wolf ever let loose to prey on innocence and purity, and one who offends far more flagrantly against the natural or divine Law than any thief or burglar. So of the Bigamist, whose crime is generally perpetrated though the most atrocious deceit and perfidy. So of the Adulterer – I take up a paper now before me, and read in a Philadelphia letter as follows:

“Celestin William, a Polish Catholic Priest, eloped from this city some days since with a married woman. It is believed they have gone West.

“Henry Shriver eloped from this city last week with the wife of a neighbor, leaving behind a wife and several children.”
LMD-8.11 Here are four persons, all of whom have deliberately broken the most solemn vows Heaven was ever invoked to witness – three of whom have deceived and betrayed those to whom they had sworn fidelity in the most important and intimate relation of life – one, at least, of whom has deserted the children he was bound by every tie of Nature and Duty to support and educate in the ways of wisdom and virtue – yet all throwing themselves on their individual Sovereignty, and trampling on every dictate of Duty, in subserviency to their own selfish lusts; and what would your doctrine do with them? Nothing, but save them the expense of running away. They might have taken respectively the next house to that they deserted, and there flaunted their infidelity and lechery in the eyes of the partners they had perfidiously deserted – the children the had abandoned. I can not think this an improvement. On the contrary, so long as men and women will be thus unprincipled and lecherous, I am glad that the law imposes on them, at least, the tribute to public decency of running away.
LMD-8.12 And this reminds me of the kindred case of two persons in Nantucket who have advertised in the newspapers that they have formed a matrimonial connection for life, or as long as they can agree; adding, that they consider this partnership exclusively their own affair, in which nobody else has any concern. I am glad they have the grace not to make the State a party to any such arrangement as this. But true Marriage – the union of one man with one woman for life, in holy obedience to the law and purpose of God, and for the rearing up of pure, virtuous, and modest sons and daughters to the State – is a union so radically different from this, that I trust the Nantucket couple will not claim, or that, at all events, their neighbors will not concede, to their selfish, shameful alliance the honorable appellation of Marriage. Let us, at least, “hold fast the form of sound words.” [Online editor’s note: 2 Tim. 1:13. – RTL]
LMD-8.13 I do not care to follow you over a wide area which has no necessary connection with our theme. Suffice it to say that I regard Free Trade as neither right nor wrong, good nor bad, in itself, but only in view of its practical issues. It is always bad when it tends to throw workers out of employment, or diminish the scanty reward of Labor. When the Social and Industrial conditions of the various Peoples shall have been so equalized that there will be no temptation to undersell and supplant the industry of one Nation with the cheaper products of another, then absolute Free Trade may work well; but the mere equalization of wages is but one among several conditions precedent to healthful freedom from imposts. The Cotton Manufactures of India were ruined, and the Manufacturers starved, by the far better paid labor of England, aided by a vastly superior machinery. A wise, paternal Indian Government would have prohibited the British Cottons until the British Machinery could have been somehow secured and set sufficiently to work. Thus efficient Protection would have opened the speediest way to beneficent Free Trade; and so in other cases. But understand me to believe and hold that what you commend as “the free play and full development and varied experience of the affections!!” is not and never can be a good thing, but will remain to the end of the world a most revolting and diabolic perversion of powers divinely given us, for beneficent and lofty ends, to the base sues of selfish and sensual appetite – to uses whereof the consistent development and logical expression are exhibited in the Harlot and the B’hoy. [Online editor’s note: from “boy”; slang for “ruffian.” – RTL]
LMD-8.14 It is very clear, then, Mr. Andrews, that your path and mine will never meet. Your Socialism seems to be synonymous with Egotism; mine, on the contrary, contemplates and requires the subjection of individual desire and gratification to the highest good of the community – of the personal to the universal – the temporary to the everlasting. I utterly abhor what you term “the right of woman to choose the father of her own child” – meaning her right to choose a dozen fathers for so many different children – seeing that it conflicts directly and fatally with the paramount right of each child, through minority, to protection, guardianship, and intimate daily counsel and training from both parents.* Your Sovereignty of the Individual is in palpable collision with the purity of Society and the Sovereignty of God.** It renders the Family a smoke-wreath which the next puff of air may dissipate – a series of “dissolving views,” wherein “Honor thy father” would be a command impossible to obey – nor indeed can I perceive how the father, under your system, would deserve honor at the hands of his child. In such a bestial Pandemonium as that system would inevitably create, I could not choose to live. So long as those who think as I do are the majority in this country, the practitioners on your principles will be dealt with by law like other malefactors; and if ever your disciples shall gain the ascendancy, we will go hence to some land where mothers are not necessarily wantons, love is not lust, and the selfish pursuit of sensual gratification is not dignified with the honors due to wisdom and virtue.

LMD-8.n1.1 * [Stephen Pearl Andrews’ note:] In re-reading my reply, which follows, I perceive that I have made no specific answer to this position. I have only space now to say, that if, upon Principle, “the State” can rightly interfere with parents to prevent them from making their own arrangements for rearing their offspring – namely, to carry on their education jointly, assign it to one of the partners, or to a third person – in order “to secure to each child, through minority, the protection, guardianship, and intimate daily counsel and training of both parents” – that if the State can rightly interfere, and ought to interfere, to prevent the separation of parents on such grounds at all, then it can also and ought to pass laws to prevent Fathers, during the minority of a child, from going to sea, or to a foreign country, as his business interests may dictate, and generally from being absent more than twenty-four hours, or being caught more than thirty miles from home. the Principle, as a Principle, is just as good in one case as the other.
LMD-8.n1.2 The fact is, that in nine cases out of ten, children had much better be reared by somebody else than by either one or both of the parents – in many cases, by almost anybody else. I have yet to learn on principle or by observation that the mere capacity to beget children is any sufficient certificate of competency to rear them properly.

LMD-8.n2 ** [Stephen Pearl Andrews’ note:] This point also requires an answer, which is, simply, that I claim the right for each Individual for himself to judge of the Purity of Society and the Sovereignty of God, instead of taking Mr. Greeley’s decision on the subject as final. Such is the Sovereignty of the Individual.

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