Clement M. Hammond, “Then and Now” (1884)

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XVIII.

MARRIAGE AND DIVORCE.

Boston, July 4, 2085.

My Dear Louise:

For some strange reason until a few days ago I did not think that, because all laws are abolished, those regulating marriage and divorce must also have passed away. I had noticed that men and women lived together as man and wife and reared their children in families; that home life was much the same to all outward appearance as in my good old Boston; and there was every evidence of affection and devotion on the part of husband, wife, and children. I could not believe that this could be without law, either of the State or Church. I, of course, at once went to my never-failing source of information, Mr. De Demain.

“I had intended,” said he, “to explain this matter to you some time ago, but I thought it would be better for you to live among us for a while and see for yourself that our social life is pure and happy. You have now been with us for several months, and have, I believe, had even opportunity to see what of evil there may be in our social system. You have been into many homes of the people, and have seen little but harmony and happiness. Am I not right?”

I assured him that he was, but I desired to know now man and woman can live happily as man and wife without the sanction and aid of the law.

“Affection, I believe,” said Mr. De Demain, “was the chief reason for marriage in your time, as it is today. People did not marry because there were marriage laws, and people did not love because there were marriage laws. Love was the binding force, and not law. Law could not cause love, and law could not make an unhappy marriage a happy one. Love caused a desire in men and women to live together as man and wife, to beget and rear children and have a happy home life. Marriage laws never helped to make the lives of husbands, wives, and children more happy. We realize this, and so have no such laws.”

“I suppose, then, that I may take it for granted that your social system allows a. man to have as many wives as he likes, and a woman to have as many husbands, either at different times or at one time,—in fact, that the relations between man and woman are on a free love basis.” I think my voice, as I said this, must have given evidence of my disgust.

“As every individual is a law unto himself, so long as he does not interfere with the natural rights of other individuals, you can easily see that men and women have the privilege to follow their individual inclinations in this matter. I must once more beg of you not to consider me personal if I allude to your time and its customs in a somewhat uncomplimentary manner. Your marriage laws came down to you from the time when mankind was in a condition of barbarism. Women were looked upon as property,—valuable property, in fact. It was observed that there were not, at any one time, many more than enough to go round; so each man was granted, upon his request, the privilege to own one woman who was not at the time owned by some other man. We fancy that we have advanced far enough to see that men and women are equally human, and that they have equal rights in nature’s bounties or such portion as they can gather through labor. We recognize absolute freedom of love and all that it means. You need not be shocked in the least. I can assure you that society is much purer today, even from your standpoint, than it was two hundred years ago. If a man loves a woman who loves him, they live together happily so long as that love continues, and you know enough of human nature to know that, where there is love of this kind, the man and woman will be satisfied with, each other and be true to each other. Where there is no love, there will be no happiness. It was so, was it not, in your time? Men and women mutually agree to live with each other as man and wife so long as they find happiness in such partnership. If love is outlived, if a man and woman living together as man and wife find that they can live together happily no longer, they part. There is no appeal to law. If there be children, some mutual agreement is entered into in regard to them. If no agreement can be reached, some third party is appealed to. But such separations are rare, much rarer than they were two hundred years ago, and when they do occur, there is no disgusting exposure of petty family quarrels, such as there were in your divorce courts. Little unpleasant incidents were dragged up out of the past and magnified into grievous offences. It was worth—if I am correctly informed—the reputation of any man or any woman to appear, sometimes even as a witness, before a divorce court.”

“Do I understand that there is but one custom in regard to marriage? Is it true that one man and one woman always are satisfied to love and be loved by but one at a time? Is there no plurality of husbands or of wives?”

“As I said, human nature follows its own inclinations, and there is no cast-iron custom that places any restraint upon any individual. There are many customs in regard to marriage in vogue, and none are frowned upon, provided the rights of others are not interfered with.

“To sum the whole matter up in a few words, we have marriage without marriage laws, and divorces—not many—without divorce laws. We allow human instincts to act without restraint or compulsion, and the result is, I can assure you, much more satisfactory to humanity than was the system under which you lived.”

I take his word for it that this is so, for I have every reason to believe that he is a correctly-informed and honest man. It nevertheless seems strange to me that men and women can live pure and happy lives without laws to govern marriage and divorce.

Josephine.

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About Shawn P. Wilbur 2132 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.