( Originally Published 1908 )
God setteth the solitary in families. Hebrew Poetry.
Whatever is excellent in the state must always begin at the fireside.—Plato.
If that which the men of science teach is true, these two sentences must have been written a very long time after the human race appeared on earth. They both belong to a far remote period in the history of literature; but, in the history of human experience, they are comparatively recent. Each one of them contains an allusion to the institution of the family, or home, and an unmistakable recognition of its permanent value to mankind. One pictures the home as a remedy for loneliness and a rallying center for all those who otherwise would be alien and solitary wanderers. The other represents it as being the source from which flow all the benefits and blessings enjoyed by the state.
In order to possess this two-fold value it must have already come into possession of many indispensable virtues. That it might bestow a companionship, which is better than an unrelated solitude, it must have freed itself from much of the primitive hostility which is supposed to have been one of the strongest characteristics of the first forms of humanity that were present upon earth. To be able to form any kind of associated existence, always demands some concessions and a surrender of certain private and individual rights. Meeting always implies some yielding. Hence the family must have seemed to possess something of greater value to the individual than his solitude and personal freedom before he would be willing to surrender them. Furthermore, before it could receive the high praise which Plato gives it, as the origin and nourisher of the state, it must have itself passed through a long process of refinement. It could not bestow an excellence which it did not have. In moral, as in material things, the spring must be higher than the stream. The greater cannot come from the less.
In absence of definite information to the contrary, it may be assumed that the family, in its coming, followed the usual world-method of gradual approaches. It is illustrated by a growth from seed to stalk; from stalk to bud; from bud to blossom; and from blossom to fruit. Marriage lies at its beginning; but marriage varies as humanity varies. It takes a high form for the high, a base form for the base. Founded in the mating instinct shared by all animate nature, from the May flowers found on the sunny side of the woods and the fire-flies which illuminate the meadows on June nights, up to mankind, it is capable of many gradations and refinements. The state legalizes it; society conventionalizes it; but two noble beings may idealize, may spiritualize it. In its highest form it is worthy of being called a sacrament; a visible symbol of an invisible grace; a mystical union of two souls which, having pledged mutual loyalty to truth and virtue, assist each other to ascend and ascend toward the Perfect.
"In the long years liker must they grow ;
The formation of the family is perhaps also to be traced to the introduction and repetition of principles that had been in operation long prior to the coming of man. In the starry world are two forces known as centripetal and centrifugal. One of them signifies to seek, the other to fly from a common center. Because of them, equilibrium is preserved and the highest order and beauty are maintained. There are independence and association ; variety and unity. The Greek name for the universe is Cosmos, meaning that form of beauty which comes from orderly arrangement. Among the chemical atoms, these two antagonistic forces appear under the names of attraction and repulsion. In the organic realm they are called integration and disintegration ; or growth and decay. In the body each separate organ has its appropriate duty to perform, but all are for a common purpose. Eyes see, but their sight is for the benefit of the whole body. In the same way ears. hear, lungs breathe, heart beats, hands grasp, feet walk, and brain thinks for something more important than themselves, namely, for the pleasure and usefulness of the whole harmonious being. Every drop of water is composed of smaller drops. Branches of trees are arranged around a central trunk, from which they receive, and to which they return aid. So are the petals of a rose thus arranged. Each one is beautiful in itself, but all are required to complete the beauty of the flower. Nature is a circle; and, everywhere, things return upon them-selves.
In human life the same forces reappear. Multitudes are drawn toward a center, but they are kept from losing their identity and independence by a counter force equally strong. Here these forces are not named centripetence and centrifugence, as among the planets; nor attraction and repulsion, as among the atoms ; nor integration and disintegration, as among plants and animals; but association and individualism, or altruism and egoism. But, everywhere, and at all times, these principles are present. The one is corrective of the other; thus, balance is maintained and the aim of existence is gradually approached.
When some Spencer or Lubbock or Tylor rolls up the curtain, giving us glimpses of a prehistoric past, man and his marriage are far from being an engaging spectacle. Such expressions as "promiscuity," "tribal marriage," "polygamy," and "polyandry," employed to describe the relation of man and woman, make us glad when the curtain falls as preparation for a new scene on the great stage upon which the endless human drama is enacted. When, untouched by any tenderness, but impelled only by brute instincts, primitive man is beheld celebrating the marriage ceremony, anything resembling altruism or self-sacrifice is sought in vain. Perhaps the accumulation of some rude property and the desire to make its possession more permanent may have helped found and maintain the family. Perhaps ancestor worship may have played some part in giving it a half-sacred character. Many other things may have lent their assistance. But, in accounting for it, much emphasis must be placed upon the instinct of association and companionship; and, in order to attain this, there must be some self-surrender, some sacrifice of private rights.
With what interest do we read of those creatures, far down in the scale of organic life, which break themselves into minute forms, thus losing their own life that each part may become the be-ginning of another existence. The parent literally destroys itself for its children. Of course it may be urged that this is only a blind obedience to an overmastering instinct of reproduction. Perhaps it is; but it is none the less an illustration of the principle of self-sacrifice, which, in conscious or unconscious form is almost universal. From the bird that plucks feathers from its own breast to make a soft and warm bed for its children, up to the human mother, whose heart beats never so tenderly as when, amid watching and solicitude and sometimes painful forebodings, she gives her life for the welfare of her children—all along. the way the principle of self-surrender for the sake of association manifests itself. Everywhere, God sets the solitary in families.
The low beginnings of the family in no way cast reproach upon it. The grandeur of England's Abbey or the Cologne Cathedral is none the less impressive because we know that the first attempts at architecture were of the rudest kind. Those half-savage men who, long ago, built unsightly cairns in the name of worship or wove branches of trees together in the name of shelter, little dreamed of what would come, when, in after ages more fully realizing the power that impels to worship and more pervaded by a sentiment of the beautiful their remote descendants should go forth to erect minsters and palaces. So, although the first marriages may have been founded in a common mating instinct; although owning and trans-mission of property and the idea of ancestor worship may have helped mould and maintain the family; although the sentiment of self-sacrifice may have appeared only in fitful gleams in the life of primitive humanity, nevertheless the ideal was potentially present, and dimly foreshadowed. There was suggestion of the holiest union, the marriage of true minds, when, by some law of spiritual at-traction which they are alike powerless to interpret and powerless to resist, two human personalities are drawn together to find completeness. There was some foregleam of the tender, the ineffable grace which, like the fragrance of flowers, pervades a home in which love is motive and virtue is guide.
Those who study the origin of things, in accounting for the home and social morality, place much emphasis upon the helplessness of human infancy. Neglected, the child would perish. But a kind and careful providence prevents this calamity. Passing by the scientific, let the rhetorical statement of this fact be quoted :
"Welcome to the parents the puny struggler, strong in his weakness, his little arms more irresistible than the soldier's, his lips touched with persuasion which Chatham and Pericles in manhood had not. His unaffected lamentations when he lifts up his voice on high, or, more beautiful, the sobbing child,—the face all liquid grief, as he tries to swallow his vexation,—softens all hearts to pity and to mirthful and clamorous compassion. His ignorance is more charming than all knowledge, and his little sins more bewitching than any virtue. On the strongest shoulders he rides, and pulls the hair of laurelled heads."
Thus, long ago, childhood became a power to refine parenthood. A continued home became first a necessity; then a habit; then a delight; then a sacredness. The marriage tie became like a Gordian knot—the only way to loosen it was by a sword stroke that destroyed it. That which began in a mere wish to perpetuate the species, has be-come something much finer. By the home, that wild and riotous instinct has been captured and curbed and trained to subserve moral ends. Marriage may strike its roots into sense, as a tree sends its roots deep into earth; but, also, like a tree, its top breathes the upper air; basks in unobstructed sunshine; and grows forever skyward. Its vows may become sacramental; its celebration an act of worship; its home more sacred than any temple; its happiness such that stories of all past paradises are easily forgotten and promises of future heavens unnecessary.
Whether the philosophers have, or have not, found all the forces which produced and developed the family, there can be no doubt as to what it is in its actual, and that which it prophesies in its ideal form. Even in its incompleteness it has done and is doing much that is of high value. It has at least modified selfishness and enlarged the borders of benevolence. It provides for the beautiful helplessness of infancy and the pathetic helplessness of old age. In its highest meaning it represents fidelity to all that is purest and truest in life. It is the richest flower that blooms in the great garden of civilization.
Most inwrought with the human heart in its earliest experiences and in its plastic period, the home far surpasses all other institutions in its power to shape and color society. The school touches life for only a few hours of the day, and only at a few points. The church only touches life a few hours of the week, and its touch is very light. Not so with the home. It surrounds the child like an atmosphere and presses almost constantly upon every part of its nature. There it has its first and best revelation of providence and patience. There it receives its first lesson in regard for authority; in submission; in self-control; in respect for rights of others ; in the whole art of living an associated life. Some poet said: "Let who will write the laws if I may write the songs of my country." He may have meant something else; but this is also implied,—that the same sentiment of honor and patriotism, which are in the songs, will be embodied in the laws. Thus, if there be in the homes of the land a certain cornmanding sentiment, it does not much matter about formal enactments. If love and duty, if reverence and reason are in the home they cannot be long kept out of the church.
In an interesting story the Indian boy, named Hasse, escaped from a French prison. Asked how he freed himself, he veiled his answer by saying that Hasse, which means the sunbeam, could not be hindered by guards nor bound by cords. So the ruling sentiment of the home escapes all barriers and reveals itself. Powerful and pervasive as sunshine, it invades all things. Wise and experienced teachers think they can judge of the home by the bearing and conduct of the pupil.
The saying of Plato: "Whatever is most excellent in the state must always begin at the fire-side," is no exaggeration. Some of us can remember when a great national, which was also a great moral issue was the prevailing topic of conversation in the homes of our land. The children knew that a crisis was impending. Finally the crisis came. When the son went forth to battle and the mother, with a smile on her face, but a sob in her heart, saw him go, both were putting in action a sentiment that had been living under the same roof with them day and night for years. The great river of liberty that flowed through the land was fed by springs flowing down from heights which held a hundred thousand freedom loving homes. Thus all moral rivers must be fed.
That the institution of the family is beyond criticism it would be folly to affirm. Being a human production, it partakes of human imperfection. Many witty, many sarcastic things are written and spoken concerning marriage. Some of them are deserved. But if all were deserved it would still remain true that no other relation of man and woman could contain half as much honor and virtue and happiness. If the present contract, intended to be permanent, does not produce perfect results, to substitute for it a temporary contract, to be dissolved at the whim of either party to it, would produce much more defective consequences. If the one partly fails in supporting the social or-der, the other might much more fail. If one is an imperfection, the other might be a ruin. We do not destroy the vine; we prune it. So we cannot improve marriage by abolishing it, but by correcting its wrongs. In its true form it is not merely a temporary relation between a man and woman formed in obedience to a sudden impulse. It is their permanent relation to each other, and to a home and to society. The world already contains too many merely temporary partnerships. Every year thousands of children come into the world without any homes. However large may be the part played by affection in marriage, the part taken by the home is much greater. It makes an impulse into a constant principle, and carries the affection of an hour through many beautiful years.
Of course not all unions can be inviolable and perpetual. There must needs be some sad awakenings, some bitter disappointments. There are some cruel and drunken and dissolute men who are called husbands; some petty and fretful and spiteful women who are called wives. There are conditions which become unendurable. Permanent separation is sometimes unavoidable. A divorce court is as necessary and may be as beneficient as a surgical hospital.
But because human beings are imperfect and social relations are disregarded and the home is profaned and happiness is unattained, it does not follow that the institution of a permanent marriage should be annulled. Every year many suffer from sunstroke, but that is no reason for finding fault with the sun. Marriage is often a failure only because one or both of those who repeat its vows may be a failure. Not much can be expected of a relation which two persons establish through the medium of a matrimonial advertisement; or immediately following a chance meeting at a street corner, or on an excursion boat, or at a dance hall. It is often said that divorce is too easy. This may be true ; but it is no less true that marriage is too easy. No thought is given to its meaning and obligations. A true marriage is a sacred partnership in which the shares are equal and the profits are equal. The man gives what-ever he has of manly, the woman whatever she has of womanly character. The product should be happiness. But if neither has any of the needed capital to invest, it is foolish to be disappointed when there are no profits resulting from the partnership. A union that comes from a sudden impulse, or a freak, or a dare may be called a marriage, but it much more resembles a farce. Its components are not so much those of a sacrament as those of a joke or a fraud. Instead of being a visible symbol of an invisible grace, it is rather the outward sign of some inner silliness or wickedness.
We can easily picture a truer form of marriage. From it comes a home that is dominated by noble aims. There are found truth, courage, kindness, forbearance, forgiveness, patience, and constancy. Parents are respected and loved by the children, because their authority is based on justice and the rules of the little community are expressions of wisdom and benevolence. The children are cared for, hedged about by the best possible circumstances, the most propitious plans formed for their future, nourished and loved unsparingly, because they are not here of their own choice and have therefore right to demand hostages of fortune. In the true home, not economy alone nor extravagance alone is the aim, but hoarding and spending are means for the furtherance of something better than they. The home is not merely a place in which to eat and sleep; but a place to think and revere; to be sincere; to be temperate; to be courteous, and fine mannered, and cheerful, and hospitable ; to wear the best clothes and make the common meal a banquet of thought and affection. A household may be pictured with purposes of its own; with intent to live from within; which knows its own needs and never confuses them with what it might wish; which can cheerfully forego luxury and live simply in order to train the mind and heart of all its members to find and love noble ideals of life. Out from such homes would go a race of beings erect and strong; freed from all immoral taint; freed from mental chains; freed from superstition of all kinds, political, social and religious; and the result would be the creation of a clearer and purer moral atmosphere.
The romance of youth ! The romance of youth ! Who, having experienced, can ever forget it? What hearts throbbing with fervent emotions ! What pleasing fears and trembling hopes! When dull November days suddenly became all radiant; and, in mid-winter, flowers bloomed and birds sang! When the impossible vanished; and the real was exalted into the ideal! When there were only two places in the world—one where the beloved object was ; the other where it was not ! When a star was chosen as symbol of constancy and, gazing upon it, mutual vows of fealty were recorded!
Of course this fine delirium cannot be always present. Duties arise. Work must be done. Each must learn to resign the other to some chosen or alloted task. But there are times when the heart should throb anew with ardent and sweet memories. In the relation of husband and wife there should always be a certain chivalry and romance.
There, when love first invades the heart. There, when, grown bolder, it dares mount to the eyes and signals to another pair of eyes, quick to interpret. There, at the wedding hour, when music and flowers and poetry and felicitations of friends are asked to grace the occasion and make it a festival. There, when the new home is entered and the new life is begun and all trial and sorrow seem far away. There, when the children come, while they are growing to manhood and womanhood, and when they go out from the home. There, above all, when the wedded hearts, once young, are old and, sitting by the fireside, grow pensive and wonder if in His universe God has some beautiful else-where within whose confines He will again set the solitary in families.
Could the sun look down upon millions of such marriages and such homes in our land, many changes would be seen. Many problems would be solved; many wrongs righted; much unhappiness avoided. From such homes wave would follow wave of influence, gradually transforming school-house, church, state, drama, politics, laws, customs, and ushering in the better day so long foretold.
"Then comes the statelier Eden back to men:
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