Every-day Thoughts in Prose and Verse
by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
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XL.
Divorce and the Ministers.
    More attention than is usually paid to the
utterances of clergymen in these unorthodox
days, has been accorded three prominent New York
divines during the last few months, owing to their
extensive views on the subject of divorce.
    They might have delivered eloquent orations,
which would have embellished the English lan-
guage and illustrated their own deep learning in
Bible lore, and their congregations would have
quietly napped in upholstered pews.  But a strong
sentence or two plainly uttered regarding the duty
of the church to refuse a remarriage to a divorced
man or woman, brought an alarmed interest into
languid faces and drove sleep from lazy eyelids.
    A few people are always ready to listen to theories
on the origin of man.  A great many people will
listen to a discussion of man's ultimate end; but
the whole world is ready at all times to listen to
anything concerning man's relation to woman.
    Sex attraction is a subject of universal interest.
    And why not, since the world of created beings
rests upon its existence?
    When marriage is based upon an attraction that
is wholly physical or financial, it cannot be won-
dered at if it proves a failure as an enduring rela-
tion.
    The spiritual, the mental, and the physical must
all unite in a perfect marriage, and there must be
mutual sacrifices, mutual yielding and mutual
thoughtfulness, from the alter to the grave.
    Marriage, to my thinking, must be either heaven
or hell; and while it requires two people to make
this heaven on earth, one can very successfully pro-
duce hell without assistance.
    I do not believe God requires any man or woman
to live a lifetime of misery because of an error
made in early youth.
    The next best thing to a happy marriage is free-
dom from an unhappy one.
    There is no crime greater than the crime against
one's own self; and it is a species of suicide for a
man or woman to live in lifelong bondage with a
loveless and unloved companion.
    Much is said of the shadow which rests upon chil-
dren whose parents are divorced.
    Little is said of the scars which are left forever
upon the hearts of children reared in a discordant
home.
    Until human nature becomes a finer and a higher
thing than it is to-day, separation and divorce will
be as necessary in the world as marriage.
    But when we come to marriage after divorce--
that is another question, and a question that cannot
well be satisfactorily settled for the world's best in-
terests by the opinion of one or a dozen men of the
cloth.
    That it is high time something was done to stop
the present epidemic of divorces and remarriages,
the whole world realizes to-day, as never before.
When fashion sets its seal of approval upon a cus-
tom, it requires the combined efforts of religion and
law to counteract it.
    The marriage and divorce laws in America to-
day need remodeling.  They have been so misused
and abused by a half dozen of our leading families
in the world of wealth and fashion, that general
disaster to the domestic system of the land seems
imminent.
    It is not an infrequent occurrence to-day to hear
inferior men and women in village and country
places defending their positions as objects of scan-
dal, "because the Four Hundred have been talked
about."
    "It is owing to the fact that you are behind the
times and out of the swim," said one man in an in-
terior town, when rebuked for his infidelity.  "Look
at New York society.  I am only doing what the
leaders of finance and fashion do boldly."
    Men with three living wives are to be encountered
almost anywhere to-day, and women whose mar-
riages outnumber their decades.
    It is just here that it seems to me our legislators
might improve our laws.
    Why not pass a law that no divorced man or
woman should marry more than once? and that the
granting of a divorce after ten years of married life
would make any subsequent marriage illegal?
    Where there is absolute and irreparable incom-
patibility between two people, it divulges itself be-
fore the expiration of ten years.  It is impossible for
a man to absolutely know a woman's disposition or
a woman a man's, until after living together as
husband and wife.
    For the surprises and disillusionments which can-
not be remedied in a nine years' effort, let there be
a possible reward in a later marriage.
    Many people marry at twenty, and repent at
twenty-five.  To doom them to a half century of
wretchedness is to defeat life's highest purposes.
    When mature people, after many years of mar-
riage, become estranged, it is usually through the
intervention of a third party, and not through the
disillusionary process which comes to younger
couples.
    Let the mistaken young have another trial at
happiness.
    Let the mature, to whom life should teach the
great lessons of self-control and discretion, learn to
employ these virtues, and avert the disasters they
so often invite.
    There is no fool like an old fool--male or female.
There is no being more utterly selfish than a ma-
ture married man, who makes up his mind that he
wants a younger wife than the one he possesses,
unless it is a married woman who becomes infatu-
ated with another man.
    How to prevent such disasters would be an excel-
lent subject for a series of sermons by our leading
clergymen.
    Let them impress upon their fashionable congre-
gations, the fact that happiness in marriage is a fine
art, and one worth studying, and that it is "good
form" to be in love with one's wife or husband.
At present the contrary idea is the general supposi-
tion.  Young men and women are expected to
make "good marriages," and bad husbands and in-
different wives result.
    The husband and wife who conspicuously pre-
fer each other's society are laughed at.  The
married belle is admired, and the married beau is
sought.
    It would be wise for society to learn that "a good
time" and intense enjoyment in life are quite com-
patible with good morals and old-fashioned virtues.
    The man and woman who begin married life with
the resolve to save all their tete-a-tete drives, din-
ners and "causeries" for each other, will miss some
dangerous pleasures and excitements, no doubt, but
they will gain a deep and lasting happiness which is
impossible to find in any other way; a happiness
full of subtle joys and enduring delights, before
which ephemeral and risque "affairs" seem trivial
and vulgar.
    There is no other conquest so fascinating as the
continued conquest of a wife's or a husband's
heart.
    It is easy enough for a bright and charming
woman to captivate a new lover every month, but
it is indeed a proof of prowess when a wife subju-
gates the same man's heart in a new way every
month.  And when a man can keep a wife eternally
fettered and admiring, he is then a veritable Lotha-
rio, and ought to feel satisfied with his career as a
lover.
    The husband and wife who undertake this agree-
able task will never need to fear a co-respondent,
and for them the word "divorce" will hold no
terrors.
    Constancy and inconstancy are equally fascinat-
ing when pursued as an art, but one leads to the
heights, the other to the depths.  Our fashionable
society has explored the depths pretty thoroughly.
Why not try the heights for a time?  Even as a
novelty it would be worth the attempt.
Every-day thoughts in prose and verse. by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Chicago: W. B. Conkey Company, 1901.
 
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