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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 36

Chapter III. — Its Bearing upon Human Conduct and Morals

Chapter III.

Its Bearing upon Human Conduct and Morals.

To the question that closes the last chapter there is an answer; all thinkers have seen that since population increases more rapidly than the means of subsistence, the human brain should be called in to devise a restriction of the population, and so relieve man from the pressure of the struggle for existence. The lower animals are helpless and must needs suffer, and strive, and die, but man, whose brain raises him above the rest of animated existence, man rational, thoughtful, civilized, he is not condemned to share in the page 27 brute struggle, and to permit lower nature to destroy his happiness and his ever-growing rapidity of progress. In dealing with the law of population, as with every other natural law which presses on him unpleasantly, civilised man seeks so to .alter the conditions which surround him as to produce a happier result. Thinkers have, therefore, studied the law and its consequences, and have suggested various views of its bearing on human conduct and morals. It was acknowledged that the only way of escape from pauperism and from the misery occasioned by positive checks, was in the limitation of the population within the available means of subsistence, and the problem to be solved was—How shall this be done? Malthus proposed that preventive, or birth-restricting, should be substituted for positive, or life-destroying, checks, and that "moral restraint" should supersede "misery and vice." He lays it down as a principle of duty, that no one "is to bring beings into the world for whom he cannot find the means of support." This obligation, he says, is a "duty intelligible to the humblest capacity." But the duty being admitted on all sides, the crucial point is—How is this duty to be fulfilled? Malthus answers:—By delay of marriage. We are bound "not to marry till we have a fair prospect of being able to support our children;" in a right state of society "no man, whose earnings were only sufficient to maintain two children, would put himself in a situation in which he might have to maintain four or five;" a man should "defer marrying, till, by industry and economy, he is in a capacity to support the children that he may reasonably expect from his marriage." Thus marriage—if ever possible to the poor—would be delayed until the middle of life, and the birth-rate would be decreased by a general abstention from marriage until a comparatively late age.

This preventive check would doubtless be an effectual one, but it is open to grave and fatal objections, and would only replace one set of evils by another. If late marriage were generally practised the most melancholy results would follow. The more marriage is delayed, the more prostitution spreads. It is necessary to gravely remind all advocates of late marriage that men do not and will not live single, and all women, and all men who honour women, should protest against a teaching which would inevitably make permanent that terrible social evil which is the curse of civilization, and which condemns numbers of unhappy creatures to a page 28 disgraceful and revolting calling. Prostitution is an evil which we should strive to eradicate, not to perpetuate, and late marriage, generally adopted, would most certainly perpetuate it. The state of the streets of our large towns at nightfall is the result of deferred marriage, and marriage is deferred owing to the ever-increasing difficulty of maintaining a large family in anything like comfort.

Mr. Montagu Cookson, writing in the Fortnightly Review, says: "If, indeed, we could all become perfect beings, the rule of life deduced by Malthus from the unalterable law of population would be both practicable and safe; as it is, it has a direct tendency to promote the cardinal vice of cities—that of unchastity. The number of women in England who ply the loathsome trade of prostitution is already large enough to people a county, and, as our great thoroughfares show at nightfall, is certainly not diminishing. Their chief supporters justify themselves by the very plea which Malthus uses to enforce the duty of continence, namely, that they are not well enough off to maintain a wife and family. If they could be sure that they could limit the number of their children, so as to make it commensurate with their income, not only would the plea be generally groundless, but I believe it would not be urged, and the so-called social evil would be stormed in its strongest fortress."

The evils resulting from late marriage to those who remain really celibate, must not be overlooked in weighing this recommendation of it as a cure for the evils of overpopulation. Celibacy is not natural to men or to women; all bodily needs require their legitimate satisfaction, and celibacy is a disregard of natural law. The asceticism which despises the body is a contempt of nature, and a revolt against her; the morality which upholds virginity as the type of womanly perfection is unnatural; to be in harmony with nature, men and women should be husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, and until nature evolves a neuter sex celibacy will ever be a mark of imperfection. Very clearly has nature marked celibacy with disapproval; the average life of the unmarried is shorter than the average life of the married; the unmarried have a Jess vigorous physique, are more withered, more rapidly aged, more peevish, more fanciful; "the disordered emotions of persons of both sexes who pass lives of voluntary or enforced celibacy," says Dr. Drysdale in his essay on Prostitution, "is a fact of everyday observation. Their bad temper, fretfulness, and excita- page 29 bility are proverbial." We quote from the same tractate the following opinions: "M. Villamay, in his 'Dictionnaire des Sciences Médicales,' says, 'It is assuredly true that absolute and involuntary abstinence, is the most common cause of hysteria.' Again, at a meeting of the Medico-Chirurgical Society, reported in the Lancet of February 14, 1859, Mr, Holmes Coote is reported to have said, 'No doubt incontinence was a great sin; but the evils connected with continence were productive of far greater misery to society. Any person could bear witness to this, who had had experience in the wards of lunatic asylums.' Again, Sir Benjamin Brodie, at the Birmingham Social Science Meeting, is reported to have said, in a discussion on prostitution, that 'the evils of celibacy were so great, that he would not mention them; but that they quite equalled those of prostitution!'" M. Block informs us that in France out of 100 male lunatics, 65.72 are celibate, 5.61 are widowers, and only 28.67 are married; of 100 female lunatics, 58.16 are celibate, 12.48 are widows, and 29.36 are married. M. Bertillon, dealing with France, Holland, and Belgium, states that men who live celibate lives after twenty have, on an average, six years less of life than those who marry. The same fact holds good as regards married and unmarried women. A long train of formidable diseases results from celibacy—such as spermatorrhoea in the male, chlorosis and hysteria in the female—and no one who desires society to be happy and healthy should recommend late marriage as a cure for the social evils around us. Early marriage is best, both physically and morally; it guards purity, softens the affections, trains the heart, and preserves physical health; it teaches thought for others, gentleness and self-control; it makes men gentler and women braver from the contact of their differing natures. The children that spring from such marriages—where not following each other too rapidly—are more vigorous and healthy than those born of middle-aged parents, and in the ordinary course of nature the parents of such children live long enough to see them make their start in life, to aid, strengthen, and counsel them at the beginning of their career.

Fortunately, late marriage will never be generally practised in any community; the majority of men and women will never consent to remain single during the brightness of youth, when passion is strongest and feelings page 30 most powerful, and to marry only when life is half over and its bloom and its beauty have faded into middle-age. But it is important that late marriage should not even be regarded as desirable, for if it became an accepted doctrine among the thoughtful that late marriage was the only escape from over-population, a serious difficulty would arise; the best of the people, the most careful, the most provident, the most intelligent, would remain celibate and' barren, while the careless, thoughtless, thriftless ones would marry and produce large families; this evil is found to prevail to some extent even now; the more thoughtful, seeing the misery resulting from large families on low wage, often abstain from marriage, and have to pay heavy poor-rates for the support of the thoughtless and their families. The preventive check proposed by Malthus must therefore be rejected, and a wiser solution of the problem must be sought.

Later thinkers, recognising at once the evils of overpopulation and the evils of late marriage, have striven to find a path which shall avoid both Scylla and Charybdis, and have advocated early marriages and small families. John Stuart Mill has been one of the most earnest of these true friends of the people; in his "Political Economy" he writes: "In a very backward state of society, like that of Europe in the Middle Ages, and many parts of Asia at present, population is kept down by actual starvation. . . In a more improved state, few, even among the poorest of the people, are limited to actual necessaries, and to a bare sufficiency of those; and the increase is kept within bounds, not by excess of deaths, but by limitation of births. The limitation is brought about in various ways. In some countries, it is the result of prudent or conscientious self-restraint. There is a condition to which the labouring people are habituated; they perceive that by having too numerous families, they must sink below that condition, or fail to transmit it to their children; and this they do not choose to submit to. The countries in which, so far as is known, a great degree of voluntary prudence has been longest practised on this subject, are Norway and parts of Switzerland. . . In both these countries the increase of population is very slow; and what checks it, is not multitude of deaths, but fewness of births. Both the births and the deaths are remarkably few in proportion to the population; the average duration of life is the longest in Europe; the page 31 population contains fewer children, and a greater proportional number of persons in the vigour of life than is known to be the case in any other part of the world. The paucity of births tends directly to prolong life, by keeping the people in comfortable circumstances." Clearly and pointedly Mill teaches "conjugal prudence;" he quotes with approval the words of Sismondi, who was "among the most benevolent of his time and the happiness of whose married life has been celebrated:" "When dangerous prejudices have not become accredited, when a morality contrary to our true duties towards others, and especially towards those to whom we have given life, is not inculcated in the name of the most sacred authority, no prudent man contracts matrimony before he is in a condition which gives him an assured means of living, and no married man has a greater number of children than he can properly bring up." Many other eminent men and women have spoken in the same sense; Professor Leone Levi advocates "prudence as regards the increase of our families." Mrs. Fawcett writes: "Those who deal with this question of pauperism should remember that it is not to be remedied by cheap food, by reductions of taxation, or by economical administration in the departments, or by new forms of government. Nothing will permanently affect pauperism while the present reckless increase of population continues. And nothing will be so likely to check this increase as the imposition by the State on parents of the whole responsibility of maintaining their offspring." Mr. Montagu Cookson says that some may think "prudential restraint after marriage wilder than anything Malthus ever dreamt," but urges that "the numbers of children born after marriage should be limited," and that "such limitation is as much the duty of married persons as the observance of chastity is the duty of those that are unmarried."

It remains, then, to ask how is this duty to be performed? It is clearly useless to preach the limitation of the family, and to conceal the means whereby such limitation may be effected. If the limitation be a duty, it cannot be wrong to afford such information as shall enable people to discharge it.

There are various prudential checks which have been suggested, but further investigation of this intricate subject is sorely needed, and it is much to be wished that more medical men would devote themselves to the study of this important branch of physiology.

page 32

The check we will take first in order is that to which Mr. Montagu Cookson alludes in his essay: he says that the family may be limited by "obedience to natural laws which all may discover and verify if they will." The "natural laws" to which Mr. Cookson refers would be, we imagine, the results of observation on the comparative fertility with women of some periods over others. It is well known that the menstrual discharge, or the Catamenia, recurs in normal cases at monthly intervals, during the whole of the fertile period of female life; a woman does not bear children before menstruation has commenced, nor after it has ceased. There are cases on record where women have borne children, but have never menstruated, but these are rare exceptions to the general rule; menstruation is the sign of capability of conception, as its cessation is the sign of future disability to conceive: Recent investigators have collected many cases in which "the menstrual period was evidently connected with the maturation and discharge of ova" (Carpenter). "The essential part of the female generative system," says Dr. Carpenter, "is that in which the ova [eggs] are prepared. . . . In the higher animals, as in the human female, the substance of the ovarium is firm and compact, and consists of a nucleated, tough, fibrous, connective tissue, with much interspersed fusiform muscular tissue, forming what is known as the stroma. . . . As development proceeds the cells. . . . multiply, and single cells or group of cells, round, ovoid, or tubular, come to be enclosed in the tissue of the ovary by delicate vascular processes which shoot forth from the stroma. These cells constitute the primordial ova." These ova gradually mature, and are then discharged from the ovary and pass into the uterus, and on the fertilisation of one of them conception depends. Dr. Kirke writes: "It has long been known that in the so-called oviparous animals, the separation of ova from the ovary may take place independently of impregnation by the male, or even of sexual union. And it is now established that a like maturation and discharge of ova, independently of coition, occurs in mammalia, the periods at which the matured ova are separated from the ovaries and received into the Fallopian tubes being indicated in the lower mammalia by the phenomena of heat or rut; in the human female by the phenomena of menstruation. . . . It may, therefore, be concluded that the two states, heat and menstruation, are analogous, and that the essential accompaniment of both is the maturation and page 33 extrusion of ova." Seeing, then, that the ova are discharged at the menstrual periods, and that conception depends on the fertilisation of the ova by the male, it is obvious that conception will most readily take place immediately before or after menstruation. "It is quite certain that there is a greater aptitude for conception immediately before and after that epoch than there is at any intermediate period" (Carpenter). A woman "is more apt to conceive soon after menstruation than at any other time" (Chavasse). So much is this fact recognised by the medical profession, that in cases of sterility a husband is often recommended only to visit his wife immediately after the cessation of the Catamenia. Since women conceive more easily at this period, the avoidance of sexual intercourse during the few days before and after menstruation has been recommended as a preventive check. Dr. Tyler Smith writes: "In the middle of the interval between the periods, there is little chance of impregnation taking place. The same kind of knowledge is of use, by way of caution, to women who menstruate during lactation, in whom there is a great aptitude to conceive; pregnancy, under such circumstances, would be injurious to the health of the fœtus, the child at the breast, and the mother herself, and therefore should be avoided, if possible." The most serious objection to reliance on this check is that it is not certain. M. Raciborski says that only 6 or 7 per cent, of conceptions take place during this interval, but the 6 or 7 exceptions to the general rule prevent recommendation of the check as thoroughly reliable; we can scarcely say more than that women are far less likely to conceive midway between the menstrual periods than either immediately before or after them.

The preventive check which is so generally practised in France that Dr. Drysdale—with a rarely wide French experience—stated that among the peasantry it was "used universally," and was "practised by almost every male in Paris, and all over the country," is one which depends entirely on the self-control of the man. It consists simply in the withdrawal of the husband previous to the emission of the semen, and is, of course, absolutely certain as a preventive. A few among the French doctors contend that the practice is injurious, more especially to the wife; but they have failed, so far as we can judge, in making out their case, for they advance no proofs in support of their theory, while the page 34 universal practice of the French speaks strongly on the other side.

The preventive check advocated by Dr. Knowlton is, on the other hand, entirely in the hands of the wife. It consists in the use of the ordinary syringe immediately after intercourse, a solution of sulphate of zinc or of alum being used instead of water. There is but little doubt that this check is an effective one, a most melancholy proof of its effectiveness being given by Dr. J. C. Barr, who, giving evidence before the Commission on the working of the Contagious Diseases Act, stated:—"Every woman who leaves the hospital is instructed in the best mode of preventing disease. These are cleanliness injections of alum and sulphate of zinc."

Professor Sheldon Amos, dealing with the same painful subject, refers to this evidence, and quotes Dr. Barr as saying again, "my custom is to instruct them to keep themselves clean, to use injections and lotions." These women are not meant to bear children, they are to be kept "fit for use" by Her Majesty's soldiers.

Apart altogether from this sad, but governmentally authorised, use of this check, there are many obvious disadvantages connected with it as a matter of taste and feeling. The same remark applies to the employment of the baudruclu, a covering used by men of loose character as a guard against syphilitic diseases, and occasionally recommended as a preventive check.

The check which appears to us to be preferable, as at once certain, and in no sense grating on any feeling of affection or of delicacy, is that recommended by Carlile many years ago in his "Every Woman's Book." In order that impregnation should take place, "the absolute contact of the spermatozoa with the ovum is requisite" (Carpenter). The ovum passes from the ovary down the Fallopian tube into the uterus; the spermatazoa, floating in the spermatic fluid, pass upwards through the uterus, and fecundate the ovum either in the uterus, in the tube, or in the ovary itself. To prevent impregnation it is then only necessary to prevent this contact. The neck of the uterus, where it enters the vagina, ends with the Os uteri, an orifice varying in shape in different individuals. Through this orifice the male semen must pass in order to fertilise the ovum. To prevent impregnation, pass to the end of the vagina a piece of fine sponge, which should be dipped in page 35 water before being used, and which need not be removed until the morning. Dr. Marion Sims, who in cases of retroversion of the uterus constantly used mechanical support to maintain the uterus in its normal position, and so make pregnancy possible, gives much useful information on the various kinds of pessaries. He sometimes used a "small wad of cotton, not more than an inch in diameter," which was "secured with a string for its removal;" this was worn during the day and removed at night. He says that the woman using a pessary should be able "to remove and replace it with the same facility that she would put on and pull off an old slipper." There is, in fact, no kind of difficulty in the use of this check, and it has the great advantage of unobtrusiveness.

There is a preventive check attempted by many poor women which is most detrimental to health, and should therefore never be employed, namely, the too-long persistence in nursing one baby, in the hope of thereby preventing the conception of another. Nursing does not prevent conception. A child should not be nursed, according to Dr. Chavasse, for longer than nine months; and he quotes .Dr. Farr, as follows:—"It is generally recognised that the healthiest children are those weaned at nine months complete. Prolonged nursing hurts both child and mother: in the child, causing a tendency to brain disease, probably through disordered digestion and nutrition; in the mother, causing a strong tendency to deafness and blindness." Dr. Chavasse adds: "If he be suckled after he be twelve months old, he is generally pale, flabby, unhealthy, and rickety; and the mother is usually nervous, emaciated, and hysterical . . . A child nursed beyond twelve months is very apt, if he should live, to be knock-kneed, and bow-legged, and weak-ankled, to be narrow-chested, and chicken-breasted." If pregnancy occur, and the mother be nursing, the consequences affect alike the mother, the babe, and the unborn child. To nurse under these circumstances, says Dr. Chavasse, "is highly improper, as it not only injures her own health, and may bring on a miscarriage, but it is also prejudicial to her babe, and may produce a delicacy of constitution from which he might never recover."

Another class of checks is distinctly criminal, i.e., the procuring of abortion. Various drugs are taken by women with this intent, and too often their use results in death, or page 36 in dangerous sickness. Dr. Fleetwood Churchill gives various methods of inducing labour prematurely, and argues, justly, that where the delivery of a living child at the full time is impossible, it is better to bring on labour than be compelled to perform later either craniotomy or the Cæsarian section. But he goes further: "There are cases where the distortion [of the pelvis] is so great as to render the passage of a seven months' child impossible, and others still worse, where no reduction of a viable child's bulk will enable it to pass. I do not see why abortion should not be induced at an early period in such cases." And Dr. Churchill quotes Mr. Ingleby as saying: "Premature labour may with great propriety be proposed on pregnancy recurring, assuming the delivery of a living child at term to have already proved impracticable." If there is a chance for the child's life, this is sound advice, but if the delivery of a living child has been proved to be impossible, surely the prevention of conception is far better than the procuring of abortion. The destruction of the fœtus is destruction of life, and it is immoral, where a woman cannot bear a living child, that she should conceive at all.

If this system of preventive checks were generally adopted, how happy would be the result both to the home and to the State! The root of poverty would be dug up, and pauperism would decline and at last vanish. Where now overcrowded hovels stand would then be comfortable houses; where now the large family starves in rags, the small family would then live on sufficient food, clad in decent raiment; education would replace ignorance, and self-reliance would supersede charity. Where the workhouse now frowns, the busy school would then smile, and care and forethought for the then valuable lives would diminish the dangers of factory and of work-room. Prostitution would cease to flaunt in our streets, and the sacred home would be early built and joyously dwelt in; wedded love would enter the lists against vice, and, no longer the herald of want, would chase her counterfeit from our land. No longer would transmitted diseases poison our youth, nor premature death destroy our citizens. A full possibility of life would open before each infant born into our nation, and there would be room, and love, and cherishing, enough for each new-comer. It remains for England to have all this if she will but the first upward step towards that page 37 happier life will only be taken when parents resolutely determine to limit their family to their means, and stamp with moral disapprobation every married couple who selfishly overcrowd their home, to the injury of the community of which they are a part.