Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

Marriage Existential

by Frank J. Sheed


Chapter 10 of Society and Sanity by Frank Sheed.

Larger Work

Society and Sanity



Publisher & Date

Sheed & Ward, 1953

Marriage as the nature of man needs it, marriage as God ordains it, harmonize admirably with each other, as we have seen, but a deal less admirably with marriage as men and women actually live it. Reading the last two chapters, the average married couple might smile cynically or even savagely: one can hear them in derisive recitation of the Christian statement of what marriage is— a man and woman made one by God, a sexual life meant both to express the oneness and to bring children into being, he the head, she the heart. Derisively recited, even soberly studied, it sounds unrealistic, hothouse stuff, not for our weatherbeaten world. Not many marriages look much like that; many look like a parody of it. But every marriage, whatever it may look like, is in fact that, just as man, whatever he may look like, is God's image. Husband and wife are one, though they may no longer will oneness but turn their every energy to rending, not union; sexual life has those purposes, though the two may pervert it; the husband is the head and the wife the heart, though neither functions. We are about to look at Marriage Existential, as we have already looked at Man Existential. In neither instance are we turning from ideal to real: man and marriage remain, in their essential reality, what we have shown them to be; whatever misuses there may be are misuses of that reality; the misuses are real, certainly, but so is the nature of the thing misused.

There are marriages that start well enough and are wrecked by circumstance, and marriages that seem doomed from the start. The father may be out of work, there may be no houses to be had, so that overcrowding and underfeeding make mock of God's design; husband or wife may die while the marriage is still young. Or the husband may totally lack will-power, the wife totally lack feeling, one or the other may be an alcoholic, or unnaturally cruel or sexually perverted. These are tragic possibilities, but they are not in the nature of the case—they arise, when they do arise, from exceptional circumstances or abnormal characters. They are to be laid more to the count of circumstances and characters than of marriage. When they do occur, it will be cruelly difficult for one or both to rescue what can be rescued. Even then, a grasp of the nature of God and man and marriage and a living, tenacious trust in all three— or even a plain human clinging to the preservation of the family—can bring success where every sign said ruin; and this is not simply optimistic assertion, but a truth verified over and over again in human experience. Yet we may feel that such a degree of understanding and trust and courage is heroic and not to be counted upon; more often the marriage goes under.

But marriages of this exceptional sort fall outside our consideration here. That people make a failure of their marriage in abnormal conditions is no count against the institution of marriage. The real problem is that so many people make so poor a thing of it in conditions roughly normal. Our concern is with the general average.


When Mr. Smith marries Miss Jones, it is a common joke that he doesn't know what he is marrying: which usually means that he doesn't know what a temper she has or what she looks like in the early morning. But of almost every man it is true in a profounder sense: he doesn't know what he is marrying, nor does she, because neither knows what a human being is: we are back, in other words, to the theme of this book. Two people have taken each other for better or worse, linked their lives in what might easily prove an intolerable intimacy, and neither knows what the being is to whom he has tied himself so tight. A man had better study what a human being is, because he's marrying one— assuming that merely being one has not been a sufficient stimulus to that study.

In a sense it is a doubling of the strange anomaly that each has been handling himself without knowing what he is, but it is actually far worse. There is a sort of rule-of-thumb knowledge of oneself gained from long experience of being oneself which, though it does not supply for total ignorance of what one is, at least takes some of the chill off it: one has managed to live more or less satisfactorily with oneself, and such dissatisfaction as one feels with one's own performance does not, in most people, turn to resentment. But neither has had any such experience of being the other. A new situation has arisen that the old tried routines cannot cope with: and, in this matter, as in all matters when the routines fail, there must be understanding to cope with the breakdown.

In the close union of marriage all that we have seen in the first section of this book, as to the necessity of knowing and the danger of not knowing what man is, stands clearer than in individual life at the one end or the wider union of Society at the other. Not knowing it can produce more sorrow, knowing it more joy. The pair who have really meditated upon man as a union of matter and spirit, by his spirit immortal and made in God's image, a being for whom Christ died, have made a preparation for marriage for which there is no substitute. If any be disposed to mock at this as doctrinaire and unrealistic, at least let one who thinks he has made a success of marriage mock first. To have failed does not of itself qualify a man to speak as an expert, upon marriage or anything else.

In marriage the view of the essential magnificence of man is at once most urgently needed and most sharply tested. It is harder for the married to go on holding it and grimmer to go on, not holding it. No man is a hero to his valet, says the proverb: and no valet is bound as tight to his master's unposed self as wife and husband to each other's. Distant hills are greenest: in marriage there is no distance at all to create the illusion of any verdure that is not there, or deepen the greenness of any that is. Every man's private face is different from his public face: but the face that the married see is something more private than private—private is too public a word for it. No one sees the husband as the wife sees him—not the husband, certainly; and he has his own unshared view of her for compensation. For being thus unique, the view each has of the other is not necessarily accurate or profound. Each will note the elements in the other that he or she personally responds to most—the response being either of attraction or repulsion: but whereas one may get used to the qualities that attract and take them for granted and cease to respond to them, the irritating more often continue to irritate.

The average issue of all this is hard to set down; indeed it is hard to say if there is an average, or if the word average has any meaning, where there is so wide an arc— with something that verges on bliss at one end, and something that skirts the upper edge of the intolerable at the other. But those marriages surely rank high where husband and wife love each other, would feel all lost without each other, are amiably tolerant of each other's faults (and aware of their own); and even in this smaller group the phrase "essential magnificence" applied to either might cause the other to smile. In less happy marriages —which would yet count as successful, which neither party regrets having entered upon—the rejection would be more violent.

Only in the rarest cases will a husband and wife discover each other's magnificence by looking at each other: the way to learn is the way Christian civilization learnt it, by listening to God, who says that it is so. Learn it they must, for it is the truth about themselves, and it is the one sure ground of reverence. It is a main theme of this book that reverence is everywhere essential. In marriage reverence is more important even than love: love will not find its own self without it. Reverence does not mean remoteness or exclude lightheartedness: two who reverence each other can play together. But it does mean a steady awareness in each that the other has a kinship with the eternal.

It is essential that husband and wife reverence each other: it is essential that they reverence the marriage relation. And as the one reverence comes from knowledge of what man is, the other comes from knowledge of what marriage is. In one as in the other, as we have seen, the essential magnificence is as real as any existential degradation there may be. In normal Christian marriage, of course, there is no question of degradation. Yet there may be a failure to realize what marriage essentially is which prevents the marriage reaching its full stature. It may be a failure either to see marriage as a union of personalities, based upon self-giving, or to achieve a bodily union worthy of the total personal relation it is meant to express.

The bodily union may lack perfection either from coldness, where one party goes through the motions mechanically or with positive distaste; or from excess, with one or both concentrated wholly and gluttonously upon the pleasure the body can get out of it and so, with whatever protestation of love, each using the other as a means, a convenience, a thing and not a person. So far as these evils arise from physical or psychological defects they may not be easily curable, or curable at all. But more often they are there because no right view of sex and marriage exists to show any reason for bettering them. Save in the rare instances when everything goes right by a sort of healthy instinct with love blunting all egoisms, understanding is essential. With understanding, most of what is wrong in the physical relation may be made right; with understanding there may be a beginning of the self-giving without which no sexual competence will make a marriage happy, and with which marriage may be a thing of excellence even when the sex relation lacks richness. Where the understanding is by both, the marriage will not be wrecked, from within at least. Where one understands and the other does not, it can be tragic—such an infinity of patience and love and wounds endured and no certain success.


Total self-giving, then, is the key to successful marriage. The self resists, clinging to its autonomy. Love is the key to self-giving. Love can provide a kind of understanding deeper and more dynamic than the intellect at its most powerful will ever know. Love can provide a kind of reverence, too, though this perhaps more before the loved one is possessed—in which case it was reverence for the unknown, a valuable thing but not the real thing: to know and still to revere, that is true reverence. Love can do even that. Love can do every sort of impossibility. The trouble is that love at that intensity is not so very common. Every new pair of lovers feel that they have attained it, like C. S. Calverley's pair—

We did not love as others do.
None ever did, that I've heard tell of.[1]

It has never been as easy as all that, and modern life has made it harder; the waters have been so muddied, love has so much to contend with in the way of psychologies that have half-fouled it for the young before they have grown to feel it. Two or three years of cynicism about sex is no happy preparation for love. Adolescent playing about with sex there has always been: it is a great misfortune, since there is no gift a husband and wife can bring to each other so great as their sexual power in its integrity, not spilled and frittered away in small affairs: it is a great misfortune, but not fatal—not half so deadly as the theorizing about sex that the youngest learn now. C. S. Calverley's pair would be harder to find today, when everyone has been taught that love is either chemistry or libido, either way wholly of the body and not unique or especially to be valued. Even through that soggy mass of adverse theory, people do fall in love. And they had better, if they are going to marry. What if they do not?

Love there must be in marriage. But not necessarily sexual love. Husband and wife must have at least that love with which Christ said we must love our neighbour. Without that no human relation is possible for them at all. But this sort of love is easier while our neighbour remains our neighbour: it grows harder when he moves in to live with us: even warm friendship finds too close and continuous a proximity trying. Sexual love is different. It is rooted in the will, but it floods the emotional life too, and finds its satisfaction in one particular person of the opposite sex—a satisfaction not to be had only in possessing the other, but equally in giving oneself to be possessed. It is the one love that need not suffer attrition from proximity—even the proximity of the marriage bed. Where there is no sexual love, the sexual act will not easily keep its rightness. For the act is at its healthiest and richest when it expresses a total self-giving; without that it would be performed at best dutifully, at worst either mechanically or too animally, anyhow without resonances in the depths of the personality. And two who are not in love will find it difficult to give themselves thus totally.

This special love, then, is of the first importance. But, for all its power, it has no certainty of permanence. It depends enormously, in its earlier stages at least, upon the feelings: and these go up and down with one's own physical and spiritual state, and with the other's well-or-ill-doing. That is where reverence comes in, which is based upon reason. Married love exists because he is he and she is she. Reverence exists because he and she are human beings, made in God's image, immortal, redeemed by Christ.

Love is based upon the uniqueness of the person loved, reverence upon the common substance of humanity. Love can know disillusion, he is not as she thought him, she had seemed faultless and is not. In the wind of disillusion, love can flicker or blow out altogether. But reverence can know no disillusion: he and she are in their unchanging essence precisely what they were seen to be. That is the sense in which reverence can be more important than love. It gives permanence to marriage. It can even protect love against its own too great volatility.


A man and a girl may marry, loving each other, and with a clear realization of what man is and what marriage is and what life is and what God is. And their marriage may be a miserably mediocre business all the same. Preparation for marriage is essential. But in another sense you cannot be prepared for it. The newly married have a feeling that what is happening is at once like what they were told and not quite like. A union of personalities is easy enough to theorize about—as swimming is—but the reality can be known only in the experience. Marriage is a sort of sea, with a troubled surface and frightening depths. Swimming lessons on land cannot give you the feel of the sea: after however many lessons, the first plunge shows it strange and vast and un-cooperative. In marriage, the new element, of which no thinking of one's own or advice from others can give the feel, is the closeness of life together. And the difficulty is not so much the continuousness of the closeness, day in and day out, night after night for ever, as the quality of the closeness—two beings not simply linked or bound together, but interpenetrating, a sort of permeation—more like air in lungs. It is difficult to say it without making it sound comic. But it is true and it is not comic. Each is the air the other breathes, and the lungs may not, for a long time or perhaps ever, be comfortable with this new air. The bodily penetration is a symbol of the interpenetration of their personalities, and like all good symbols falls far short. So close a union of personalities has two natural results: by their faults, especially by the thrust of self, the two can bruise each other: by their insufficiency they can leave each other unsatisfied.

The defects first. Not much needs to be said of them: they fill the comedies of the world to bursting: it is a poor playwright who cannot be funny about them: he need not invent, for they are there, and they make good comedy—to watch, of course, not to live with. Defects in husband and wife need not be great to be maddening; faults which even in close friendship would not matter at all, matter horribly in marriage. The way one of them sniffs or clears his throat or laughs, a word always mispronounced or a minor grammatical error, can play the devil with the other's nerves, worse indeed than more serious faults. A want of external courtesy can cause more hurt than a really profound want of consideration. A mere disharmony of mood—that one should be gay when the other is depressed—can become a major grievance. And there is the plain human fact of cussedness, being difficult for no reason at all, and sudden gusts of anger and a real desire to hurt and satisfaction in hurting, with love sharpening the satisfaction.

There is no point in listing these things. Most marriages have them and most survive them. A sense of humour helps, though this can be strained to screaming point (and indeed can strain the partner to screaming point, if his own humour be on a different wave-length, or perhaps no wave-length). Common sense helps—only the very immature can tell themselves that somewhere a faultless partner is waiting for them if only they had not stumbled into marriage with one who was imperfect. Most helpful of all, perhaps, is a lively sense of one's own defects, which as we have noted before are not more attractive for being one's own.

But there are graver faults of character—lying still within the area of the average, and not with those abnormal evils mentioned earlier—that show up starkly and press relentlessly on nerves and feelings. It is by these that marriage is really tested. There can be a foul temper, for instance, or suspiciousness or jealousy; one or other may be lazy or spendthrift or "tricky" about money. That these things may not wreck the marriage, there must be unselfishness, sometimes on a heroic scale—which does not mean putting up with anything and everything, but resolutely thrusting one's own feelings aside and doing what is best for the troublesome partner and for the marriage itself. But unselfishness can get a little frayed when it is all on one side, and the faults on the other get no less; indignation—thoroughly justified, be it noted, but all the more corrosive for that—arrives and settles in; and the martyr-complex makes a hell for erring partner and martyr alike, to say nothing of the children.

But one cannot say nothing of the children. A moment can easily arrive when one partner may ask whether the defects of the other call for some more positive action in the children's interests. There is the possibility of self-deception here—a selfish desire to escape, cloaking itself as anxiety for the children's well-being. But the problem is perfectly real. The husband is the head of the family and the woman is the heart. In the human body both organs are marvellously adapted for their functions, and even at that they often function badly. In the family the husband and wife may be extremely, even marvellously, ill-adapted for their very much more delicate functions. The wife may have no heart of her own, or too much heart to the point of sloppiness; the husband no will of his own, or too much to the point of tyranny. In the actual run of life, these things work out well enough, provided that one parent is functioning normally—all, perhaps, except the last: tyranny in the father is hard to cope with and in the nature of the case is not uncommon. Shakespeare gives the clue:

Man, proud man
Drest in a little brief authority . . .
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven
As make the angels weep.

Authority could hardly be littler or briefer than a father's over his family: yet it can go to his head, if he has a weakness that way. All the power he would have gloried in exercising, had life been kind to him—as captain of a warship, say, or ruler of an empire—comes thundering down upon the heads of his family, and the tricks can be very fantastic indeed. A wife may have to consider when she should intervene, and if so how, and whether anyhow intervention is possible. This is not a book of marriage guidance, and I am not drawing up a set of rules by which husband or wife may decide whether or not to separate. I only say that principles as to the nature of man and of marriage should be in their mind when they are making the decision. But experience does seem to suggest two things—separation is so unsatisfactory that it must be a very bad marriage indeed to be worse; and those who have made the sacrifices necessary to hold an unhappy marriage together do not, in the long run, seem to regret it.

I have glanced thus rapidly at the question of how a husband and wife can hurt each other and weaken their marriage, by their faults of character. Of a totally different quality is what I have called insufficiency in the personality.

There is the fact, already referred to, that no human person can meet all another's needs. There are needs that only God can meet. They lie very deep because the first and profoundest fact about man is that he was made for union with God; is hungry, therefore, for union and tormented in its absence. There is the need to adore, for instance, which when not directed to God finds very strange gods indeed; the sense of guilt, when union with God is broken by sin, and the need for cleansing; the need for reassurance in the loneliness and lostness of the creature out of touch with his Creator; the need for revitalization, when the living contact with the Source of all life is snapped. A man need not know what is troubling him to be profoundly troubled: as a man may die of a microbe he has never heard of. If they do not turn to God, a husband and wife will look to each other for the satisfaction of these needs—more especially they will look to the sexual act; they are asking more than the act can give, more than the whole personality can give. Not receiving it, they feel cheated and resentful. Which is one reason why a Christian should not marry an atheist: it is terribly trying to be only a creature, yet expected to meet the needs that only the Creator can meet.

Yet it is not this insufficiency, inseparable from our finitude, that I have in mind here; but a sort of thinness of personality, a negativeness, an absence of qualities that ought to be there—which in extreme cases may be utter mindlessness, flabbiness in the will, dull passions, dull or maybe shrill emotional responses, lack of richness or generosity or any substance. The union of two such personalities is a union of two nullities, like the embrace of two shadows. There is a special awfulness in the marriage of two so mindless that they cannot converse—or even be fruitfully silent: it may be less trying when both are so busy that they meet only at bed and board, but the busyness only marks the vacuum. There are personalities so thin that, without strong religious motives, their marriage cannot last. They have no will to give themselves and almost no selves to give, nothing to hold each other with: fidelity would be a miracle in such marriages. But even short of that degree of nullness, most of us have little enough to offer our partners in marriage. The problem of marriage for the majority is to make something out of a union, if not of two nullities, at least of two insufficiencies.

Surprisingly often it succeeds. There is a power in marriage that tends both to weld and give substance to the personalities. In some mysterious way—mystical might be a better word—there is a communication of substance from one person to the other, and from one sex to the other: each becomes himself plus something of the other. Even a very thin personality begins to take on body when one has to take account of another person; new elements in one's make-up come alive and either unite with elements already in operation or strive with them and stimulate them by strife: so that one is already more of a person. A selfish man who no longer takes his selfishness as sole and unquestioned law of action but is at least troubled by the feeling of duty undone to another is, by that shade, more human than before.

Marriage seems to work magic. But it is not all magic. Husband and wife must work hard at it. If one is making no effort, the other must work twice as hard. Love helps, though it is precisely love that is in danger of losing its elan with so much to depress it; prayer helps tremendously. But, in the purely psychological order, nothing helps so much as the reverence that flows from a right vision of what man is—that this loutish man, this empty-headed woman, is God's image, an immortal spirit, loved by Christ even to the death of the Cross: whatever the surface looks like, this is in the depth of every human being, this in him is what God joined together with this in her. The realization that there is this welding of two into one in the depths of their being, below the level that the eye of the mind can see, is the most powerful incentive to make that union in depth effective through every layer of personality.

This reverence is a safeguard against one of the great dangers of family life—the tendency of one partner to form, or reform, the other (or for a parent to form the children) in his own image. There is a sort of imperialism to which the self is liable, the desire to impose its own likeness. As we have already seen, one should not lightly try to remake another: but, if remaking there must be, assuredly the only image in which anyone should be remade is the image of God in which he was made. Children are even more likely to suffer this sort of tyranny than adults. One knows the widowed mother who rules her children with the rod of iron of a dead father's will—"Your father would not have wished it." Of that will she is the sole interpreter, and there is no appeal. Any imposing of oneself on another is a sin against reverence. Reverence is due to all men. It was the Roman poet Juvenal who said that the greatest reverence was due to children. It must have sounded like a paradox to his readers, and possibly a little daring to himself. It is the plain truth; but hard for a parent to see for two reasons: the first is the overwhelming tendency to think one has made them oneself, that they are one's own handiwork; the second is their physical weakness, which makes it tempting to enforce one's own will upon them—the weakness, you observe, may be purely physical, a child of three often has more personality than both parents put together. In The Way of All Flesh Samuel Butler has a wonderful phrase about a small boy in nineteenth-century England: "The Catechism was awful. . . . It seemed to him that he had duties towards everybody, lying in wait for him upon every side, but that nobody had any duties toward him." Our Lord provides the element Butler found wanting in the Church Catechism: If anyone scandalize the least of these my little ones, it were better for him if a millstone were hanged about his neck and he were drowned in the depth of the sea." So far we have been looking at the difficulties that arise because marriage is the union of two personalities, which have somehow to be harmonized. These difficulties would be tough enough, if there were no sexual element to complicate them. But there is a sexual element. And it complicates them. Sex's head is not always ugly, but it always rears it.

In the making of marriage sexual desire normally plays a part: thus far it has rendered an essential service. But sexual desire is an uneasy servant, not to be relied on simply to serve. It has its own needs, its own urges, its own dreams. And in the marriage it has helped to produce its dreams may dissolve, its needs be unmet, so that its urges take on a new and sometimes frantic urgency. The physical union may be totally unsatisfying, and, if so, bitterly so. This will not necessarily destroy the marriage. Where the union of personalities is richly satisfying, the bodily union gains so much from it that any imperfection at the bodily level is more than compensated. But the perfect spiritual and psychological union is rare, and, short of it, an unsatisfying sexual life can rend a marriage apart: there may be no actual divorce, but the dream of a perfect sexual union will continue to haunt the imagination, so that the meagre reality becomes a torment, and husband or wife or both will go out in pursuit of the dream. This is something quite distinct from mere lust or licentiousness. The "dream" comes from very deep within the personality, and the inspiration is noble in itself and can make for nobility. When two people fall in love, each sees the dream and the aspiration wholly concentrated in the other. It is a woeful thing when marriage shatters them: a woeful thing if the shattering is the fault of either. I have said that what I have here in mind is not at all the same thing as lust or licentiousness. But there is lust too: and if only the licentious indulge it, no one at all is exempt from its first stirrings, save in the fruition of a great love. Sexual desire is incalculable. As a mere animal appetite for union with a member of the other sex, any member not actively repulsive, it is calculable enough, and most adults have brought it into some sort of control. What is incalculable is the desire, not for any member of the other sex, but for that particular one. It suddenly flames into life on no known law. But, once it is aflame, the laws of its burning are only too well-known. We know that a man, beginning to desire a woman he ought not to have (because he is married, or she is), can tell himself that it is all quite innocent—he is interested in her for her intellectual or artistic life, or her spiritual problems—and so go on fooling himself right up to the moment of the explosion. At least the high-minded thus fool themselves—the earthier sort know better what they are at. At all times man has that conflict between reason and will of which St. Paul speaks so poignantly, whereby he can see one thing and do another: but in this matter he goes beyond that— sexual desire has a curious power of preventing reason and will from acting at all (as tart apricots, for instance, can prevent the teeth from biting). Ira furor brevis est, said Horace. Anger is madness while it lasts. Sexual desire is a sort of somnambulism while it lasts—something in the back of the mind plucking at the sleeve with a reminder of reality as it is, something in the depth of the conscience plucking at the sleeve with a warning to stand and go no further: but mind and will not gripping, the dream in full possession. Sexual desire, one says again, is incalculable and (save about the precise object of desire) uncalculating.

It can fix itself anywhere: can will incompatibles: can will what it does not want—if will be the word for it. Desire for one woman may momentarily eclipse love for another, and the eclipsed love can outlast the desire, so that a moment comes when the love is in full possession again, and the dead desire seems mere emptiness and degradation.

Everyone knows all this, and knowing it does not cure it. But a serious effort to realize it is not waste, for all that. For in the first place it is a reminder that all carry their treasure in earthen vessels, even young lovers newly married, who feel exultantly that they and their love are beyond the reach of mortal accident, even the middle-aged long-married, who feel that these are fires that will never flame again. It can save them all from over-testing their supposed strength: the danger is less for the man who knows it can happen to him. And in the second place it shows where the precautions must be taken and what counter-action is profitable. The temptations of this sort that come to people satisfyingly in love are fewer and more manageable: where a husband and wife meet each other's psychological and physical needs, the odds against the stranger are very high. There is still a magic of the moon, but the daylight magic of the sun is greater. Only when the daylight magic has faded, when the sensed daylight has grown less, when the whole of life together has become a routine, even if a pleasant routine—then is the dangerous moment.

Yet, when all is said, whether the level of conjugal vitality be high or low, the most powerful safeguard against infidelity, in the bodily act or only in the mind, is that clear view of man and of marriage which at every point we have seen as fundamental. The moral law—known not only as a set of prohibitions, but as the expression of the way of life seen as best for us by a loving Creator—can give a strength and steadiness to mind and will, and even limit the field of temptation. There is an extraordinary psychological force in regarding certain things as out of the question. In all ages, men and women have been born, one presumes, with homosexual tendencies: but in healthier ages homosexuality was felt to be altogether unthinkable, and the tendencies therefore came to nothing: in our own society, which regards homosexuality as unusual but an interesting variant of the normal all the same, the temptation to let the tendencies have their way can prove irresistible. So with adultery. A social attitude that regards it as impossible does at least make it improbable. We can no longer rely on a general consensus of opinion that any sort of sexual deviation is out of the question. But individual men and women can provide the same sort of psychological strengthening for themselves, by so studying and meditating upon the nature of man and the law of God that what these require becomes a vital part of the world they are mentally living in.

To many all that we have been saying will seem Utopian. The sex instinct seems so powerful that to expect the generality of men to control it is like urging tranquillity upon a man with St. Vitus's dance. But this is to underrate the generality of men. There is a vast store of moral health which does not normally show very spectacularly in moral action, perhaps, but shows unmistakably in other ways— especially in two ways—negatively in a total inability to find happiness in self-indulgence, positively in an astounding readiness for sacrifice for a cause seen as good. Exceptional men will die as martyrs to science: the most ordinary man will die helping the stricken in an epidemic or in war for their country. Men will sacrifice themselves for any ideal that they value. The integrity of marriage does not seem to them such an ideal. Why should it? Who has ever shown them the enormous human interests involved in it? At any rate we can say of marriage what we have already seen true of social relations in general, that we are not entitled to say men will make no sacrifice for the ideal, until we have done something to show them why it is the ideal.


1. Yes, I know that one word in this passage is not the word that Calverley wrote.

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