Ever since the time, nineteen years ago, when Mrs Mona Caird attacked the institution of matrimony in the Westminster Review and led the way for the great discussion on ‘Is Marriage a Failure?’ in the Daily Telegraph—marriage has been the hardy perennial of newspaper correspondence, and an unfailing resource to worried sub-editors. When seasons are slack and silly, the humblest member of the staff has but to turn out a column on this subject, and whether it be a serious dissertation on ‘The Perfections of Polygamy’ or a banal discussion on ‘Should husbands have tea at home?’ it will inevitably 4achieve the desired result, and fill the spare columns of the papers with letters for weeks to come. People are always interested in matrimony, whether from the objective or subjective point of view, and that is my excuse for perpetrating yet another book on this well-worn, but ever fertile topic.
Marriage indeed seems to be in the air more than ever in this year of grace; everywhere it is discussed, and very few people seem to have a good word to say for it. The most superficial observer must have noticed that there is being gradually built up in the community a growing dread of the conjugal bond, especially among men; and a condition of discontent and unrest among married people, particularly women. What is the matter with this generation that wedlock has come to assume so distasteful an aspect in their eyes? On every side one hears it vilified and its very necessity called in question. From the pulpit, the clergy endeavour to uphold the sanctity of the institution, and unceasingly exhort their congregations to respect it and abide by its laws. But the Divorce Court returns make 5ominous reading; every family solicitor will tell you his personal experience goes to prove that happy unions are considerably on the decrease, and some of the greatest thinkers of our day join in a chorus of condemnation against latter-day marriage.
Tolstoy says: ‘The relations between the sexes are searching for a new form, the old one is falling to pieces.’ Among the manuscript ‘remains’ of Ibsen, that profound student of human nature, the following noteworthy passage occurs: ‘“Free-born men” is a phrase of rhetoric. They do not exist, for marriage, the relation between man and wife, has corrupted the race and impressed the mark of slavery upon all.’ Not long ago, too, our greatest living novelist, George Meredith, created an immense sensation by his suggestion that marriage should become a temporary arrangement, with a minimum lease of, say, ten years.