Quoted from the author's "Preface."
"THE following pages present, as the title indicates, a study of one particular field of that vast domain which a general history of marriage and divorce would cover. To the student of human evolution, or of sociology in its widest sense, it is deeply interesting to wander among the lower races of men, to watch our less advanced fellow mortals still climbing the laborious paths which lead to civilization, to examine in actual life the primitive and experimental forms which have preceded our institutions. Every conceivable shape of the conjugal or amorous relation of man to woman has at some time occurred to the imagination or appealed to the impulses of our predecessors, and it is not without profit to study the social consequences
which a long experience of each may have disclosed. But the very magnitude of the field is apt to distract us from the practical aspect of this supremely practical question. Most of these cruder attempts to control the relations of the sexes have been definitely discarded, and the influences which shaped them are excluded from modern life. We need a closer study of the forms which prevail in our time, and of the agencies which have gradually
"Little more than a century ago there were few in Europe who were conscious that a practical and difficult problem of marriage existed. There were, it is true, differences of opinion and practice between the followers of the antagonistic Churches; but these were plainly related to the question of interpreting certain ambiguous phrases of the New Testament, and the limits of possible divorce were assigned for reasons which were entirely unconnected with social
welfare. But while divines learnedly belaboured each other in regard to the intention of Christ, the voice of man himself began to break threateningly on their ears. The spirit of inquiry which has prevailed in modern Europe refused to disarm in face of this oldest and deepest of human institutions."
"It is a plausible maxim of the new spirit that, the older and the more important an institution is, the more cogent and imperious is the need to reconsider it. The older the institution, in other words, the less enlightened were the men who set it up. When, therefore, it was discovered that, as many of our sociologists and anthropologists now admit, monogamy was the most ancient of social forms, that the family was not gradually developed out of a promiscuous group but the clan formed by the coherence of monogamous families, it became at once a particularly interesting subject of research. And when this speculative interest was reinforced by the more penetrating cry of human distress, when it was appreciated that dead traditions still lay in and clogged our social life, the reconsideration
of our forms of marriage was recognized as a wise and salutary aim."
"The lines and limits of this essay are therefore plainly indicated. It will not wander among our
backward races in search of the picturesque habits of early man, and it is very little concerned with the experience of the first great civilizations. It is occupied with the European institution of marriage, which arose out of a reaction of early Christian beliefs on the ideas and practices of the Roman people. Our first task is, therefore, to determine as precisely as possible the features of Roman marriage and divorce. Since a large part of the appeal of the reactionary consists in an earnest warning against a return to Pagan morals, we must be sure that we are correctly acquainted with them. The religious writer has not been conspicuously accurate or conscientious in his descriptions of "Pagan life." But there is a deeper interest in this section of our inquiry. It is a commonplace of history that the Romans were the most practical, and the most sagacious in social and political administration, of the ancient nations. Their experience ought to be of very material interest; and this interest increases when we hear the conservative declare that these practical and statesman-like Romans departed further and further from the ideal of monogamy as time went on. Evidently
this remarkable instance of increasing experience and increasing folly requires very close attention."
"The next task is to trace the roots of the stricter ideal of marriage which Christianity imposed on Europe, and to inquire how far the complete regulate social life on social grounds. In the majority of cases, and most particularly in England, they are the restricted issue of a struggle and a compromise between the old tradition and the new spirit, between the divine and (in the best sense of the word) the sociologist. As such they are an essential part of the inquiry of which I now proceed to state the results."