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Utility And Future Of Love

Title:     Utility And Future Of Love
Author: Henry Theophilus Finck [More Titles by Finck]

The Greek view that love is a disease and a calamity still prevails extensively among persons who, like the Greeks, have never experienced real love and do not know what it is. In a book dated 1868 and entitled _Modern Women_ I find the following passage:

"Already the great philosopher of the age has pronounced that the passion of love plays far too important a part in human existence, and that it is a terrible obstacle to human progress. The general temper of the times echoes the sentence of Mill."

It is significant that this opinion should have emanated from a man whose idea of femininity was as masculine as that of the Greeks--an ideal which, by eliminating or suppressing the secondary and tertiary (mental) sexual qualities, necessarily makes love synonymous with lust.

There is another large class of persons who likewise consider love a disease, but a harmless one, like the measles, or mumps, which it is well to have as early as possible, so as to be done with it, and which seldom does any harm. Others, still, regard it as a sort of juvenile holiday, like a trip to Italy or California, which is delightful while it lasts and leaves pleasant memories thoughout life, but is otherwise of no particular use.

It shows a most extraordinary ignorance of the ways of nature to suppose that it should have developed so powerful an instinct and sentiment for no useful purpose, or even as a detriment to the race. That is not the way nature operates. In reality love is the most useful thing in the world. The two most important objects of the human race are its own preservation and improvement, and in both of these directions love is the mightiest of all agencies. It makes the world go round. Take it away, and in a few years animal life will be as extinct on this planet as it is on the moon. And by preferring youth to age, health to disease, beauty to deformity, it improves the human type, slowly but steadily.

The first thinker who clearly recognized and emphatically asserted the superlative importance of love was Schopenhauer. Whereas Hegel (II., 184) parroted the popular opinion that love is peculiarly and exclusively the affair of the two individuals whom it directly involves, having no concern with the eternal interests of family and race, no universality (Allgemeinheit). Schopenhauer's keen mind on the contrary saw that love, though the most individualized of all passions, concerns the race even more than the individual. "Die Zusammensetzung der naechsten Generation, e qua iterum pendent innumerae generationes"--the very composition and essence of the next generation and of countless generations following it, depends, as he says, on the particular choice of a mate. If an ugly, vicious, diseased mate be chosen, his or her bad qualities are transmitted to the following generations, for "the gods visit the sins of the fathers upon the children," as even the old sages knew, long before science had revealed the laws of heredity. Not only the husband's and the wife's personal qualities are thus transmitted to the children and children's children, but those also of four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, and so on; and when we bear in mind the tremendous differences in the inheritable ancestral traits of families--virtues or infirmities--we see of what incalculable importance to the future of families is that individual preference which is so vital an ingredient of romantic love.

It is true that love is not infallible. It is still, as Browning puts it, "blind, oft-failing, half-enlightened." It may be said that marriage itself is not necessary for the maintenance of the species; but it is useful both for its maintenance and its improvement; hence natural selection has favored it--especially the monogamous form--_in the interest of coming generations._ Love is simply an extension of this process---making it efficacious before marriage and thus quintupling its importance. It makes many mistakes, for it is a young instinct, and it has to do with a very complex problem, so that its development is slow; but it has a great future, especially now that intelligence is beginning to encourage and help it. But while admitting that love is fallible we must be careful not to decry it for mistakes with which it has no concern. It is absurd to suppose that every self-made match is a love-match: yet, whenever such a marriage is a failure, love is held responsible. We must remember, too, that there are two kinds of love and that the lower kind does not choose as wisely as the higher. Where animal passion alone is involved, parents cannot be blamed for trying to curb it. As a rule, love of all kinds can be checked or even cured, and an effort to do this should be made in all cases where it is found to be bestowed on a person likely to taint the offspring with vicious propensities or serious disease. But, with all its liability to error, romantic love is usually the safest guide to marriage, and even sensual love of the more refined, esthetic type is ordinarily preferable to what are called marriages of reason, because love (as distinguished from abnormal, unbridled lust) always is guided by youth and health, thus insuring a healthy, vigorous offspring.

If it be asked, "Are not the parents who arrange the marriages of reason also guided as a rule by considerations of health, moral and physical?" the answer is a most emphatic "No." Parental fondness, sufficing for the preservation and rearing of children, is a very old thing, but parental affection, which is altruistically concerned for the weal of children in after-life, is a comparatively modern invention. The foregoing chapters have taught us that an Australian father's object in giving his daughter in marriage was to get in exchange a new girl-wife for himself; what became of the daughter, or what sort of a man got her, did not concern him in the least. Among Africans and American Indians the object of bringing up daughters and giving them in marriage was to secure cows or ponies in return for them. In India the object of marriage was the rearing of sons or daughters' sons for the purpose of saving the souls of their parents from perdition; so they flung them into the arms of anyone who would take them. The Greeks and the Hebrews married to perpetuate their family name or to supply the state with soldiers. In Japan and China ancestral and family considerations have always been of infinitely more importance than the individual inclinations or happiness of the bridal couple. Wherever we look we find this topsy-turvy state of affairs--marriages made to suit the parents instead of the bride and groom; while the welfare of the grandchildren is of course never dreamt of.

This outrageous parental selfishness and tyranny, so detrimental to the interests of the human race, was gradually mitigated as civilization progressed in Europe. Marriages were no longer made for the benefit of the parents alone, but with a view to the comfort and worldly advantages of the couple to be wedded. But rank, money, dowry, continued--and continue in Europe to this day--to be the chief matchmakers, few parents rising to the consideration of the welfare of the grandchildren. The grandest task of the morality of the future will be to _make parental altruism extend to these grandchildren_; that is, to make parents and everyone else abhor and discountenance all marriages that do not insure the health and happiness of future generations. Love will show the way. Far from being useless or detrimental to the human race, it is an instinct evolved by nature as a defence of the race against parental selfishness and criminal myopia regarding future generations.

Plato observed in his _Statesman_ that

"most persons form marriage connections without due regard to what is best for procreation of children." "They seek after wealth and power, which in matrimony are objects not worthy even of serious censure."

But his remedy for this evil was, as we have seen (775), quite as bad as the evil itself, since it involved promiscuity and the elimination of chastity and family life. Love accomplishes the results that Plato and Lycurgus aimed at, so far as healthy offspring is concerned, without making the same sacrifices and reducing human marriage to the level of the cattle-breeder. It accomplishes, moreover, the same result that natural selection secures, and without its cruelty, by simply excluding from marriage the criminal, vicious, crippled, imbecile, incurably diseased and all who do not come up to its standard of health, vigor, and beauty.

While claiming that love is an instinct developed by nature as a defence against the short-sighted selfishness of parents who would sacrifice the future of the race to their own advantage or that of their children, I do not forget that in the past it has often secured its results in an illegitimate way. That, however, was no fault of its own, being due to the artificial and foolish obstacles placed in its way. Laws of nature cannot be altered by man, and if the safety valve is tied down the boiler is bound to explode. In countries where marriages are habitually arranged by the parents with reference to rank or money alone, in defiance of love, the only "love-children" are necessarily illegitimate. This has given rise to the notion that illegitimate children are apt to be more beautiful, healthy, and vigorous than the issue of regular marriages: and, under the circumstances, it was true. But for this topsy-turvyness, this folly, this immorality, we must not blame love, but those who persistently thwarted love--or tried to thwart it. As soon as love was allowed a voice in the arrangement of marriages illegitimacy decreased rapidly. Had the rights of love been recognized sooner, it would have proved a useful ally of morality instead its craftiest enemy.[335]

[FOOTNOTE 335: See the remarks on _Tristan and Isolde_ in my _Wagner and his Works_, II., 138.]

The utility of love from a moral point of view can be shown in other ways. Many tendencies--such as club life, the greater ease of securing divorces, the growing independence of women and their disinclination to domesticity--are undermining that family life which civilization has so slowly and laboriously built up, and fostering celibacy. Now celibacy is not only unnatural and detrimental to health and longevity, but it is the main root of immorality. Its antidote is love, the most persuasive champion and promoter of marriage. No reader of the present volume can fail to see that man has generally managed to have a good time at the expense of woman and it is she who benefits particularly by the modern phases of love and marriage. Yet in recent years the notion that family life is not good enough for women, and that they should be brought up in a spirit of manly independence, has come over society like a noxious epidemic. It is quite proper that there should be avenues of employment for women who have no one to support them; but it is a grievous error to extend this to women in general, to give them the education, tastes, habits, sports, and politics of the men. It antagonizes that sexual differentiation of the more refined sort on which romantic love depends and tempts men to seek amusement in ephemeral, shallow amours. In plain English, while there are many charming exceptions, the growing masculinity of girls is the main reason why so many of them remain unmarried; thus fulfilling the prediction: "Could we make her as the man, sweet love were slain." Let girls return to their domestic sphere, make themselves as delightfully feminine as possible, not trying to be gnarled oaks but lovely vines clinging around them, and the sturdy oaks will joyously extend their love and protection to them amid all the storms of life. In love lies the remedy for many of the economic problems of the day.

There is not one of the fourteen ingredients of romantic love which cannot be shown to be useful in some way. Of individual preference and its importance in securing a happy blend of qualities for the next generation I have just spoken, and I have devoted nearly a page (131) to the utility of coyness. Jealousy has helped to develop chastity, woman's cardinal virtue and the condition of all refinement in love and society. Monopolism has been the most powerful enemy of those two colossal evils of savagery and barbarism--promiscuity and polygamy; and it will in future prove as fatal an enemy to all attempts to bring back promiscuity under the absurd name of "free love," which would reduce all women to the level of prostitutes and make men desert them after their charms have faded. Two other ingredients of love--purity and the admiration of personal beauty--are of great value to the cause of morality as conquerors of lust, which they antagonize and suppress by favoring the higher (mental) sexual qualities; while the sense of beauty also co-operates with the instinct which makes for the health of future generations; beauty being simply the flower of health, and inheritable.

At first sight it may seem difficult to assign any use to the pride, the hyperbole, and the mixed moods which are component elements of love; but they are of value inasmuch as they exalt the mind, and give to the beloved such prominence and importance that the way is paved for the altruistic ingredients of romantic love, the utility of which is so obvious that it hardly needs to be hinted at. If love were nothing more than a lesson in altruism--with many the first and only lesson in their lives--it would be second in importance to no other factor of civilization. Sympathy lifts the lover out of the deep groove of selfishness, teaching him the miracle of feeling another's pains and pleasures more keenly than his own. Man's adoration of woman as a superior being--which she really is, as the distinctively feminine virtues are more truly Christian and have a higher ethical value than the masculine virtues--creates an ideal which has improved women by making them ambitious to live up to it. No one, again, who has read the preceding pages relating to the treatment of women before romantic love existed, and compares it with their treatment at present, can fail to recognize the wonderful transformation brought about by gallantry and self-sacrifice--altruistic habits which have changed men from ruffians to gentlemen. I do not say that love alone is responsible for this improvement, but it has been one of the most potent factors. Finally, there is affection, which, in conjunction with the other altruistic ingredients of love, has changed it from an appetite like that of a fly for sugar to a self-oblivious devotion like a mother's for her child, thus raising it to the highest ethical rank as an agency of culture.

We are still very far from the final stage in the evolution of love. There is no reason to doubt that it will continue to develop, as in the past, in the direction of the esthetic, supersensual, and altruistic. As a physician's eye becomes trained for the subtle diagnosis of disease, a clergyman's for the diagnosis of moral evil, so will the love-instinct become more and more expert, critical, and refined, rejecting those who are vicious or diseased. Compare the lustrous eyes of a consumptive girl with the sparkling eyes of a healthy maiden in buoyant spirits. Both are beautiful, but to a doctor, or to anyone else who knows the deadliness and horrors of tuberculosis, the beauty of the consumptive girl's eyes will seem uncanny, like the charm of a snake, and it will inspire pity, which in this case is not akin to love, but fatal to it. Thus may superior knowledge influence our sense of beauty and liability to fall in love. I know a man who was in love with a girl and had made up his mind to propose. He went to call on her, and as he approached the door he heard her abusing her mother in the most heartless manner. He did not ring the bell, and never called again. His love was of the highest type, but he suppressed his feelings.

More important than the further improvement of romantic love is the task of increasing the proportion of men and women who will be capable of experiencing it as now known to us. The vast majority are still strangers to anything beyond primitive love. The analysis made in the present volume will enable all persons who fancy themselves in love to see whether their passion is merely self-love in a roundabout way or true romantic affection for another. They can see whether it is mere selfish liking, attachment, or fondness, or else unselfish affection. If adoration, purity, sympathy, and the altruistic impulses of gallantry and self-sacrifice are lacking, they can be cultivated by deliberate exercise:

Assume a virtue, if you have it not.
That monster, custom, who all sense doth eat,
Of habits devil, is angel yet in this.

The affections can be trained as well as the muscles; and thus the lesson taught in this book may help to bring about a new era of unselfish devotion and true love. No man, surely, can read the foregoing disclosures regarding man's primitive coarseness and heartlessness without feeling ashamed for his sex and resolving to be an unselfish lover and husband to the end of his life.

A great mistake was made by the Greeks when they distinguished celestial from earthly love. The distinction itself was all right, but their application of it was all wrong. Had they known romantic love as we know it, they could not have made the grievous blunder of calling the love between men and women worldly, reserving the word celestial for the friendship between men. Equally mistaken were those mediaeval sages who taught that the celestial sexual virtues are celibacy and virginity--a doctrine which, if adopted, would involve the suicide of the human race, and thus stands self-condemned. No, _celestial love is not asceticism; it is altruism_. Romantic love is celestial, for it is altruistic, yet it does not preach contempt of the body, and its goal is marriage, the chief pillar of civilization. The admiration of a beautiful, well-rounded, healthy body is as legitimate and laudable an ingredient of romantic love as the admiration of that mental beauty which distinguishes it from sensual love. It is not only that the lovers themselves are entitled to partners with healthy, attractive bodies; it is a duty they owe to the next generation not to marry anyone who is likely to transmit bodily or mental infirmities to the next generation. It is quite as reprehensible to marry for spiritual reasons alone as to be guided only by physical charms.

Love is nature's radical remedy for disease, whereas marriage, as practised in the past, and too often in the present, is little more than a legalized crime. "One of the last things that occur to a marrying couple is whether they are fit to be represented in posterity," writes Dr. Harry Campbell (_Lancet_, 1898).

"Theft and murder are considered the blackest of crimes, but neither the law nor the church has raised its voice against the marriage of the unfit, for neither has realized that worse than theft and well-nigh as bad as murder is the bringing into the world, through disregard of parental fitness, of individuals full of disease-tendencies."

On this point the public conscience needs a thorough rousing. If a mother deliberately gave her daughter a draught which made her a cripple, or an invalid, or an imbecile, or tuberculous, everybody would cry out with horror, and she would become a social outcast. But if she inflicts these injuries on her granddaughter, by marrying her daughter to a drunkard, in the hope of reforming him, or to a wealthy degenerate, or an imbecile baron, no one says a word, provided the marriage law has been complied with.

It is owing to these persistent crimes against grandchildren that the human race as a whole is still such a miserable rabble, and that recruiting offices and insurances companies tell such startling tales of degeneracy. Love would cure this, if there were more of the right kind. Until there is, much good may be done by accepting it as a guide, and building up a sentiment in favor of its instinctive object and ideal. I have described in one chapter the obstacles which retarded the growth of love, and in another I have shown how sentiments change and grow. Most of those obstacles are being gradually removed, and public opinion is slowly but surely changing in favor of love. Building up a new sentiment is a slow process. At first it may be a mere hut for a hermit thinker, but gradually it becomes larger and larger as thousands add their mite to the building fund, until at last it stands as a sublime cathedral admonishing all to do their duty. When the Cathedral of Love is finished the horror of disease and vice will have become as absolute a bar to marriage as the horror of incest is now; and it will be acknowledged that the only true marriage of reason is a marriage of love.

[The end]
Henry Theophilus Finck's Book: Utility And Future Of Love