« ZurückWeiter »
became absolutely her husband's property. He could sell her, he could give her away, he could lay any burdens upon her, impose on her any tasks, could chastise her at will. She was as much his servant as the slave whom he had bought in the market, as absolutely subject to his will as the child that had been born in his family. The marriage thus formed was largely a commercial employment. The wife was taken that she might perform drudgery and toil which the man was reluctant to perform; or she was taken that she might bring to him children, who could be sold in the market if they were daughters, or, if they were sons, used to bring by marriage other women into the household, and so increase the domestic service.
Out of this grew a new experiment. If this commercial and industrial partnership had for its end the raising of children, and these children were an asset of the State, why should not the State undertake the work? why should not the State supervise the marriage? why should not the State determine what man and what woman might marry, what children should be reared, and what children should be preserved? Plato proposed this. He suggested a community of wives and a community of children, with the added suggestion that they should be so brought
up that by no possibility should the child know its own mother. When I read Plato, I am always in doubt whether I am getting Plato or Socrates, and when I read the story of Xantippe I think possibly that the suggestion may have come from Socrates, who might well have wished that no husband should know his own wife. This theoretical suggestion of Plato was put in operation by Sparta. The industrial and economic organization which had been called the family was taken in charge by the State, was put under the supervision and control of the State, and the children were taken from father and mother into the hands of the State. In order to make sure that the State did not enter upon a disadvantageous economic enterprise, the children were brought before triers, and if the child proved to be a feeble child, not likely to do the work of the State, it was promptly put to death. This plan did not, however, work as well for the State as the reformers had hoped it would, for the reformers left out of life then, as reformers have often left out of life since, that which is the most potent force in all humanity-love. Because these Spartans had no homes, no families, no wives, no children, they soon lost their love for their country. Patriotism was throttled, and the State died. It is said of one of the great Spartan
leaders, sent on an expedition against a foreign foe, that he betrayed his country, and sold it, in order that he might marry the daughter of the prince with whom he was battling, and so get a wife that belonged to him and not to the State.
Marriage a condition of servitude, the wife a slave, her property, her person, her interests, her children, all under the absolute control of her master and her lord, became in time intolerable, and a reform was inaugurated. Marriage became a civil contract. The husband and the wife agreed to marry. And this civil contract lasted only so long as the agreement lasted. While husband and wife were satisfied, they remained husband and wife; when they ceased to be satisfied, they dissolved their bond and tried again. In the Roman Empire that plan was tried, though without the checks and limitations which we have put upon it, when to-day it has been put in practice in some of our States in the name, curiously enough, of woman's rights. On the whole, I am inclined to think that it was a reform; that a marriage which is a contract is better than a marriage which is slavery, and a marriage dissoluble by the contracting parties is better than a marriage which puts the wife, her person, her property, everything she has or holds dear, in charge of one despotic authority.
However that may be, at the close of the eighteenth century the European states had, in their laws, adopted this pagan conception of marriage. It is true that this pagan conception had been ameliorated by human sentiment, and that some of the women had, despite it, developed noble characters, and were highly honored by the community and by their households. It is also true that this pagan system was never recognized as true by the Christian Church, and was never accepted as the whole truth by the people, who usually attempted to combine with this pagan conception the Christian ideal of which I shall speak in a succeeding chapter. But the twofold pagan conception of marriage, on the one hand as a civil contract, on the other as a servile subordination of the woman to the man, was woven into the fabric of European laws. In Latin countries marriage before a civil officer was required. It might be followed by an ecclesiastical marriage, but the ecclesiastical marriage was not necessary in law. In England marriage might be performed by the priest, but need not be. It could also as well be performed by a civil officer. By this marriage the wife passed into the possession and power of her husband, though not quite so absolutely as she had done in the old paganism. But by marriage her legal existence was suspended, or at
least incorporated and consolidated with that of her husband. All her property passed into his hands; all her earnings belonged to him. Her children were legally his children and under his control.1 The only ameliorating circumstance that I recall was that, while her property passed into his hands, he was also liable for her debts reasonably contracted by a person in her condition. I am not quite sure whether under English law the man had a legal right to chastise his wife, but that he exercised that right very often in the lower classes English literature abundantly testifies. That supposed right has not been wholly disregarded even in America to-day. An acquaintance of mine recently congratulated a colored man in the South on his golden wedding. "Uncle," he said, "I see you have lived fifty years with Aunt Dinah." "Yes, sah! I have, sah!” replied the husband; " and I have not had to hit her a lick once in all that fifty years!"
The conception that woman was made for man and was to be educated for man was wrought not only into the legal institutions of Europe but into its ideals. Rousseau was one of the radical
1 "By marriage the husband and wife are one person in law; that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of her husband."— Blackstone, Commentaries. Quoted by Dicey, Law and Public Opinion in England.