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Essays in War-Time by Havelock Ellis

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inspiration simulated insanity. Yet "a touch of madness," a slight
morbid strain, usually neurotic or gouty, in a preponderantly robust
and energetic stock, seems to be often of some significance in the
evolution of genius; it appears to act, one is inclined to think, as a
kind of ferment, leading to a process out of all relation to its own
magnitude. In the sphere of literary genius, Milton, Flaubert, and
William Morris may help to illustrate this precious fermentative
influence of a minor morbid element in vitally powerful stocks. Without
some such ferment as this the energy of the stock, one may well
suppose, might have been confined within normal limits; the rare and
exquisite flower of genius, we know, required an abnormal stimulation;
only in this sense is there any truth at all in Lombroso's statement
that the pearl of genius develops around a germ of disease. But this is
the utmost length to which the facts allow us to go in assuming the
presence of a morbid element as a frequent constituent of genius. Even
then we only have one of the factors of genius, to which, moreover,
undue importance cannot be attached when we remember how often this
ferment is present without any resultant process of genius. And we are
in any case far removed from any of those gross nervous lesions which
all careful guardianship of the race must tend to eliminate.

Thus we are brought back to the point from which we started. Would
eugenics stamp out genius? There is no need to minimise the fact that a
certain small proportion of men of genius have displayed highly morbid
characters, nor to deny that in a large proportion of cases a slightly
morbid strain may with care be detected in the ancestry of genius. But
the influence of eugenic considerations can properly be brought to bear
only in the case of grossly degenerate stocks. Here, so far as our
knowledge extends, the parentage of genius nearly always escapes. The
destruction of genius and its creation alike elude the eugenist. If
there is a tendency in modern civilisation towards a diminution in the
manifestations of genius--which may admit of question---it can scarcely
be due to any threatened elimination of corrupt stocks. It may perhaps
more reasonably be sought in the haste and superficiality which our
present phase of urbanisation fosters, and only the most robust genius
can adequately withstand.

[1] A Danish alienist, Lange, has, however, made an attempt on a
statistical basis to show a connection between mental ability and mental
degeneracy. (F. Lange, _Degeneration in Families_, translated from the
Danish, 1907). He deals with 44 families which have provided 428 insane
or neuropathic persons within a few generations, and during the same
period a large number also of highly distinguished members, Cabinet
ministers, bishops, artists, poets, etc. But Lange admits that the forms
of insanity found in these families are of a slight and not severe
character, while it is clear that the forms of ability are also in most
cases equally slight; they are mostly "old" families, such as naturally
produce highly-trained and highly placed individuals. Moreover, Lange's
methods and style of writing are not scientifically exact, and he fails
to define precisely what he means by a "family." His investigation
indicates that there is a frequent tendency for men of ability to belong
to families which are not entirely sound, and that is a conclusion which
is not seriously disputed.

[2] Havelock Ellis, _A Study of British Genius_, 1904.

[3] Dr. Cabančs (_Indiscrétions de l'Histoire_, 3rd series) similarly
concludes that, while in temperament Napoleon may be said to belong to
the epileptic class, he was by no means an epileptic in the ordinary
sense. Kanngiesser (_Prager Medizinische Wochenschrift_, 1912, No. 27)
suggests that from his slow pulse (40 to 60) Napoleon's attacks may have
originated in the heart and vessels.

[4] Genuine epilepsy usually comes on before the age of twenty-five; it
very rarely begins after twenty-five, and never after thirty. (L.W.
Weber, _Münchener Medizinische Wochenschrift_, July 30th and Aug. 6th,
1912.) In genuine epilepsy, also, loss of consciousness accompanies the
fits; the exceptions to this rule are rare, though Audenino, a pupil of
Lombroso, who sought to extend the sphere of epilepsy, believes that
the exceptions are not so rare as is commonly supposed (_Archivio di
Psichiatria_, fasc. VI., 1906). Moreover, true epilepsy is accompanied
by a progressive mental deterioration which terminates in dementia; in
the Craig Colony for Epileptics of New York, among 3,000 epileptics
this progressive deterioration is very rarely absent (_Lancet_, March
1st, 1913); but it is not found in the distinguished men of genius who
are alleged to be epileptic. Epileptic deterioration has been
elaborately studied by MacCurdy, _Psychiatric Bulletin_, New York,
April, 1916.

[5] See, _e.g._, Elizabeth du Quesne van Gogh, _Personal Recollections
of Vincent van Gogh_, p. 46. These epileptic attacks are, however, but
vaguely mentioned, and it would seem that they only appeared during the
last years of the artist's life.



The growing interest in eugenics, and the world-wide decline in the
birth-rate, have drawn attention to the study of the factors which
determine the production of genius in particular and high ability in
general. The interest in this question, thus freshly revived and made
more acute by the results of the Great War, is not indeed new. It is
nearly half a century since Galton wrote his famous book on the heredity
of genius, or, as he might better have described the object of his
investigation, the heredity of ability. At a later date my own _Study of
British Genius_ collectively summarised all the biological data available
concerning the parentage and birth of the most notable persons born in
England, while numerous other studies might also be named.

Such investigations are to-day acquiring a fresh importance, because,
while it is becoming realised that we are gaining a new control over the
conditions of birth, the production of children has itself gained in
importance. The world is no longer bombarded by an exuberant stream of
babies, good, bad, and indifferent in quality, with Mankind to look on
calmly at the struggle for existence among them. Whether we like it or
not, the quantity is relatively diminishing, and the question of quality
is beginning to assume a supreme significance. What are the conditions
which assure the finest quality in our children?

A German scientist, Dr. Vaerting, of Berlin, published on the eve of
the War a little book on the most favourable age in parents for the
production of children of ability (_Das günstigste elterliche
Zeugungsalter_).[1] He approaches the question entirely in this new
spirit, not as a merely academic topic of discussion, but as a practical
matter of vital importance to the welfare of society. He starts with the
assertion that "our century has been called the century of the child,"[2]
and for the child all manner of rights are now being claimed. But the
prime right of all, the right of the child to the best ability that his
parents are able to transmit to him, is never even so much as considered.
Yet this right is the root of all children's rights. And when the
mysteries of procreation have been so far revealed as to enable this
right to be won, we shall, at the same time, Dr. Vaerting adds, renew
the spiritual aspect of the nations.

The most easily ascertainable and measurable factor in the production of
ability, and certainly a factor which cannot be without significance, is
the age of the parents at the child's birth. It is this factor with which
Vaerting is mainly concerned, as illustrated by over one hundred German
men of genius concerning whom he has been able to obtain the required
data. Later on, he proposes to extend the inquiry to other nations.

Vaerting finds--and this is probably the most original, though, as we
shall see, not the most unquestionable of his findings--that the
fathers who are themselves of no notable intellectual distinction have
a decidedly more prolonged power of procreating distinguished children
than is possessed by distinguished fathers. The former, that is to say,
may become the fathers of eminent children from the period of sexual
maturity up to the age of forty-three or beyond. When, however, the
father is himself of high intellectual distinction, Vaerting finds that
he was nearly always under thirty, and usually under twenty-five years
of age at his distinguished son's birth, although the proportion of
youthful fathers in the general population is relatively small. The
eleven youngest fathers on Vaerting's list, from twenty-one to
twenty-five years of age, were (with one exception) themselves more or
less distinguished, while the fifteen oldest, from thirty-nine to sixty
years of age, were all without exception undistinguished. Among these
sons are to be found much greater names (Goethe, Bach, Kant, Bismarck,
Wagner, etc.) than are to be found among the sons of young and more
distinguished fathers, for here there is only one name (Frederick the
Great) of the same calibre. The elderly fathers belonged to large
cities and were mostly married to wives very much younger than
themselves. Vaerting notes that the most eminent geniuses have most
frequently been the sons of fathers who were not engaged in
intellectual avocations at all, but earned their livings as simple
craftsmen. He draws the conclusion from these data that strenuous
intellectual energy is much more unfavourable than hard physical labour
to the production of ability in the offspring. Intellectual workers,
therefore, he argues, must have their children when young, and we must
so modify our social ideals and economic conditions as to render this
possible. That the mother should be equally young is not, he holds,
necessary; he finds some superiority, indeed, provided the father is
young, in somewhat elderly mothers, and there were no mothers under
twenty-three. The rarity of genius among the offspring of distinguished
parents is attributed to the unfortunate tendency to marry too late,
and Vaerting finds that the distinguished men who marry late rarely
have any children at all. Speaking generally, and apart from the
production of genius, he holds that women have children too early,
before their psychic development is completed, while men have children
too late, when they have already "in the years of their highest psychic
generative fitness planted their most precious seed in the mud of the

The eldest child was found to have by far the best chance of turning
out distinguished, and in this fact Vaerting finds further proof of
his argument. The third son has the next best chance, and then the
second, the comparatively bad position of the second being attributed
to the too brief interval which often follows the birth of the first
child. He also notes that of all the professions the clergy come
beyond comparison first as the parents of distinguished sons (who are,
however, rarely of the highest degree of eminence), lawyers following,
while officers in the army and physicians scarcely figure at all.
Vaerting is inclined to see in this order, especially in the
predominance of the clergy, the favourable influence of an unexhausted
reserve of energy and a habit of chastity on intellectual
procreativeness. This is one of his main conclusions.

It so happens that in my own _Study of British Genius_, with which Dr.
Vaerting was unacquainted when he made his first investigation, I dealt
on a larger scale, and perhaps with somewhat more precise method, with
many of these same questions as they are illustrated by English genius.
Vaerting's results have induced me to re-examine and to some extent to
manipulate afresh the English data. My results, like Dr. Vaerting's,
showed a special tendency for genius to appear in the eldest child,
though there was no indication of notably early marriage in the
parents.[3] I also found a similar predominance of the clergy among the
fathers and a similar deficiency of army officers and physicians. The
most frequent age of the father was thirty-two years, but the average
age of the father at the distinguished child's birth was 36.6 years,
and when the fathers were themselves distinguished their age was not,
as Vaerting found in Germany, notably low at the birth of their
distinguished sons, but higher than the general average, being 37.5
years. There have been fifteen distinguished English sons of
distinguished fathers, but instead of being nearly always under thirty
and usually under twenty-five, as Vaerting found in Germany, the
English distinguished father has only five times been under thirty and
among these five only twice under twenty-five. Moreover, precisely the
most distinguished of the sons (Francis Bacon and William Pitt) had the
oldest fathers and the least distinguished sons the youngest fathers.

I made some attempt to ascertain whether different kinds of genius
tend to be produced by fathers who were at different periods of life.
I refrained from publishing the results as I doubted whether the
numbers dealt with were sufficiently large to carry any weight. It
may, however, be worth while to record them, as possibly they are
significant. I made four classes of men of genius: (1) Men of
Religion, (2) Poets, (3) Practical Men, and (4) Scientific Men and
Sceptics. (It must not, of course, be supposed that in this last group
all the scientific men were sceptics, or all the sceptics scientific.)
The average age of the fathers at the distinguished son's birth was,
in the first group, 35 years, in the second and third groups 37 years,
and in the last group 40 years. (It may be noted, however, that the
youngest father of all in the history of British genius, aged sixteen,
produced Napier, who introduced logarithms.) It is difficult not to
believe that as regards, at all events, the two most discrepant
groups, the first and last, we here come on a significant indication.
It is not unreasonable to suppose that in the production of men of
religion, in whose activity emotion is so potent a factor, the
youthful age of the father should prove favourable, while for the
production of genius of a more coldly intellectual and analytic type
more elderly fathers are demanded. If that should prove to be so, it
would become a source of happiness to religious parents to have their
children early, while irreligious persons should be advised to delay
parentage. It is scarcely necessary to remark that the age of the
mothers is probably quite as influential as that of the fathers.
Concerning the mothers, however, we always have less precise
information. My records, so far as they go, agree with Vaerting's for
German genius, in indicating that an elderly mother is more likely to
produce a child of genius than a very youthful mother. There were only
fifteen mothers recorded under twenty-five years of age, while
thirteen were over thirty-nine years; the most frequent age of the
mothers was twenty-seven. On all these points we certainly need
controlling evidence from other countries. Thus, before we insist with
Vaerting that an elderly mother is a factor in the production of
genius, we may recall that even in Germany the mothers of Goethe and
Nietzsche were both eighteen at their distinguished sons' birth. A
rule which permits of such tremendous exceptions scarcely seems to
bear the strain of emphasis.

It must always be remembered that while the study of genius is highly
interesting, and even, it is probable, not without significance for the
general laws of heredity, we must not too hastily draw conclusions from
it to bear on practical questions of eugenics. Genius is rare and
abnormal; laws meant to apply to the general population must be based
on a study of the general population. Vaerting, who is alive to the
practical character which such problems are to-day assuming, realises
how inadequate it is to confine our study to genius. Marro, in his
valuable book on puberty, some years ago brought forward interesting
data showing the result of the age of the parents on the moral and
intellectual characters of school-children in North Italy. He found
that children with fathers below twenty-six at their birth showed the
maximum of bad conduct and the minimum of good; they also yielded the
greatest proportion of children of irregular, troublesome, or lazy
character, but not of really perverse children who were equally
distributed among fathers of all ages. The largest number of cheerful
children belonged to young fathers, while the children tended to become
more melancholy with ascending age of the fathers. Young fathers
produced the largest proportion of intelligent, as well as of
troublesome children, but when the very exceptionally intelligent
children were considered separately they were found to be more usually
the offspring of elderly fathers. As regards the mothers, Marro found
that the children of young mothers (under twenty-one) are superior,
both as regards conduct and intelligence, though the more exceptionally
intelligent children tended to belong to more mature mothers. When the
parents were both in the same age-group the immature and the elderly
groups tended to produce more children who were unsatisfactory, both as
regards conduct and intelligence, than the intermediate group.[4]

But we need to have such inquiries made on a more wholesale and
systematic scale. They are no longer of a merely speculative character.
We no longer regard children as the "gifts of God," flung into our
helpless hands; we are beginning to realise that the responsibility is
ours to see that they come into the world under the best conditions,
and at the moments when their parents are best fitted to produce them.
Vaerting proposes that it should be the business of all school
authorities to register the ages of the pupils' parents. This is
scarcely a provision to which even the most susceptible parent could
reasonably object, though there is no cause to make the declaration
compulsory where a "conscientious" objection existed, and in any case
the declaration would not be public. It would be an advantage--though
this might be more difficult to obtain--to have the date of the
parents' marriage, and of the birth of previous children, as well as
some record of the father's standing in his occupation. But even the
ages of the parents alone would teach us much when correlated with the
school position of the pupil in intelligence and in conduct. It is
quite true that there are unavoidable fallacies. We are not, as in the
case of genius, dealing with people whose life-work is complete and
open to the whole world's examination. The good and clever child is not
necessarily the forerunner of the first-class man or woman; and many
capable and successful men have been careless in attendance at lectures
and rebellious to discipline. Moreover, the prejudice and limitations
of the teachers have also to be recognised. Yet when we are dealing
with millions most of these fallacies would be smoothed out. We should
be, once for all, in a position to determine authoritatively the exact
bearing of one of the simplest and most vital factors of the betterment
of the race. We should be in possession of a new clue to guide us in
the creation of the man of the coming world. Why not begin to-day?

[1] He has further discussed the subject in _Die Neue Generation_,
Aug.-Nov., 1914, and in a more recent (1916) pamphlet which I have not

[2] The reference is to _The Century of the Child_, by Ellen Key, who
writes (English translation, p. 2): "My conviction is that the
transformation of human nature will take place, not when the whole of
humanity becomes Christian, but when the whole of humanity awakens to
the consciousness of the 'holiness of generation.' This consciousness
will make the central work of Society the new race, its origin, its
management, and its education; about these all morals, all laws, all
social arrangements will be grouped."

[3] It is not only ability, but idiocy, criminality and many other
abnormalities which specially tend to appear in the first-born. The
eldest-born represents the point of greatest variation in the family,
and the variation thus yielded may be in either direction, useful or
useless, good or bad. See, _e.g._, Havelock Ellis, _A Study of British
Genius_, pp. 117-120. Sören Hansen, "The Inferior Quality of the
First-born Children," _Eugenics Review_, Oct., 1913.

[4] Marro, _La Pubertŕ_ (French translation _La Puberté_), Ch. XI.



We contemplate our marriage system with satisfaction. We remember the
many unquestionable evidences in favour of it, and we marvel that it so
often proves a failure. For while we remember the evidence in favour of
it, we forget the evidence against it, and we overlook the important
fact that our favourable evidence is largely based on the vision of an
abstract or idealised monogamy which fails to correspond to the
detailed and ever varying system which in practice we cherish. We point
to the fact that monogamic marriage has probably flourished throughout
the history of the world, that it exists among savages, even among
animals, but we fail to observe how far that monogamy differs from
ours, even assuming that our monogamy is a real monogamy and not a
disguised polygamy, especially in the fact that it is a free union and
only subject to the inherent penalties that follow its infraction, not
to external penalties. Ours is not free; our faith in its natural
virtues is not quite so firm as we assert; we are always meddling with
it and worrying over its health and anxiously trying to bolster it up.
We are not by any means willing to let it rest on the sanction of its
own natural or divine laws. Our feeling is, as James Hinton used
ironically to express it: "Poor God with no one to help Him!"

The fact is that when we compare our civilised marriage system with
marriage as it exists in Nature, we fail to realise a fundamental
distinction. Our marriage system is made up of two absolutely different
elements which cannot blend. On the one hand, it is the manifestation
of our deepest and most volcanic impulses. On the other hand, it is an
elaborate web of regulations--legal, ecclesiastical, economic--which is
to-day quite out of relation to our impulses. On the one hand, it is a
force which springs from within; on the other hand, it is a force which
presses on us from without.[1] One says broadly that these two elements
of marriage, as we understand it, are out of relation to each other.
But there is an important saving qualification to be made. The inner
impulse is not without law, and the external pressure is not without an
ultimate basis of nature. That is to say, that under free and natural
conditions the inner impulse tends to develop itself, not licentiously
but with its own order and restraints, while, on the other hand, our
inherited regulations are largely the tradition of ancient attempts to
fix and register that natural order and restraint. The disharmony comes
in with the fact that our regulations are traditional and ancient, not
our own attempts to fix and register the natural order but inextricably
mixed up with elements that are entirely alien to our civilised habits
of life. Whatever our attitude towards mediaeval Canon Law may
be--whether reverence or indifference or disgust--it yet holds us and
is ingrained into our marriage system to-day. Canon Law was a good and
vital thing under the conditions which produced it. The survival of
Canon Law to-day, with the antiquated and ascetic conception of the
subordination of women associated with it, is the chief reason why we
in the twentieth century have not yet progressed so far towards a
reasonable system of marriage as the Romans had reached on the basis of
their law, nearly two thousand years ago.[2] Marriage is conditioned
both by inner impulse and outward pressure. But a healthy impulse
bears within it an order and restraint of its own, while a truly moral
outward pressure is based, not on the demands of mediaeval days, but on
the demands of our own day.

How far this is from being the case yet we find well illustrated by our
divorce methods. All our modern culture favour a sense of the
sacredness of the sexual relations; we cherish a delicate reserve
concerning all the intimacies of personal relationship. But when the
magic word "Divorce" is uttered we fling all our civilisation to the
winds, and in the desecrated name of Law we proceed to an inquisition
which scarcely differs at all from those public tests of mediaeval
law-courts which now we dare not venture even to put into words.

It is true that we are not bound to be consistent when it is an
advantage to be inconsistent. And if there were a method in our madness
it would be justified. But there is no method. From first to last the
history of divorce (read it, for instance, in Howard's _Matrimonial
Institutions_) is an ever shifting record of cruel blunders and
ridiculous absurdities. Divorce began in modern times in flagrant
injustice to one of the two partners, the wife, and it has ended--if we
may hope that the end is approaching--in imbecilities that to future
ages will be incredible. For no legal jargon has ever been invented
that will express the sympathies and the antipathies of human
relationship; they even escape the subtlest expression. Law-makers have
tortured their brains to devise formulas which will cover the
legitimate grounds for divorce. How vain their efforts are is
sufficiently shown by the fact that by no chance can they ever agree on
their formulas, and that they are changing them constantly with
feverish haste, dimly realising that they are but the antiquated
representatives of mediaevalism, and that soon their occupation will be
gone for ever.

The reasons for the making or the breaking of human relationships can
never be formulated. The only result of such legal formulas is that
they bring law into contempt because they have to be ingeniously and
methodically cheated in order to adapt them in any degree to civilised
human needs. Thus such laws not only degrade the name of Law, but they
degrade the whole community which tolerates them. There is only one
ultimate reason for either marriage or divorce, and that is that the
two persons concerned consent to the marriage or consent to the
divorce. Why they consent is no concern of any third party, and, maybe,
they cannot even put it into words.

At the same time, let us not forget, marriage and divorce are a very
real concern of the State, and law cannot ignore either. It is the
business of the State to see to it that no interests are injured. The
contract of marriage and the contract of divorce are private matters,
but it is necessary to guard that no injury is thereby done to either
of the contracting persons, or to third parties, or to the community as
a whole. The State may have a right to say what persons are unfit for
marriage, or at all events for procreation; the State must take care
that the weaker party is not injured; the State is especially bound to
watch over the interests of children, and this involves, in the best
issue, that each child shall have two effective parents, whether or not
those parents are living together. A large scope--we are beginning to
recognise--must be left alike to freedom of marriage and freedom of
divorce, but the State must mark out the limits within which that
freedom is exercised.

The loosening hold of the State on marriage is by no means connected
with any growing sense of the value of divorce. At the best, it is
probable that divorce is merely a necessary evil. One of the chief
reasons why we should seek to promote education in relation to sexual
relationships and to inculcate the responsibilities of such
relationships, so making the approach to marriage more circumspect, is
in order to obviate the need for divorce. For divorce is always a
confession of failure. Very often, indeed, it involves not only a
confession of failure in one particular marriage but of failure for
marriage generally. One notes how often the people who fail in a first
marriage fail even more hopelessly in the second. They have chosen the
wrong partners; but one suspects that for them all partners will prove
the wrong partners. One sometimes hears nowadays that a succession of
marriage relationships is desirable in order to develop character. But
that depends on many things. It very much depends on what character
there is to develop. A man may have relationships with a hundred women
and develop much less character out of his experience, and even acquire
a much less intimate knowledge of women, than the man who has spent his
life in an endless series of adventures with one woman. It depends a
good deal on the man and not a little on the woman.

Thus the work of marriage in the world must depend entirely on the
nature of that world. A fine marriage system can only be produced by a
fine civilisation of which it is the exquisite flower. Laws cannot
better marriage; even education, by itself, is powerless, necessary as
it is in conjunction with other influences. The love-relationships of
men and women must develop freely, and with due allowance for the
variations which the complexities of civilisation demand. But these
relationships touch the whole of life at so infinite a number of points
that they cannot even develop at all save in a society that is itself
developing graciously and harmoniously. Do not expect to pluck figs
from thistles. As a society is, so will its marriages be.

[1] It is this artificial and external pressure which often produces a
revolt against marriage. The author of a remarkable paper entitled,
"Our Incestuous Marriage," in the _Forum_ (Dec., 1915), advocates a
reform of social marriage customs "in conformance with the
freedom-loving modern nature," and the introduction of "a fresh
atmosphere for married life in which personality can be made to appear
so sacred and free that marriage will be undertaken and borne as
lightly and gracefully as a secret sin."

[2] See Sir James Donaldson, _Woman: Her Position and Influence in
Ancient Greece and Rome, 1907_; also S.B. Kitchin's excellent _History
of Divorce_, 1912; this author believes that the tendency in modern
civilisation is to return to the simple principles of Roman law
involving divorce by consent. See also Havelock Ellis, _Sex in Relation
to Society_, Ch. X.



The history of educated opinion concerning the birth-rate and its
interpretation during the past seventy years is full of interest. The
actual operative factors--natural, pathological, economic, social, and
educational--in raising or lowering the birth-rate, are numerous and
complicated, and it is difficult to determine exactly how large a part
each factor plays. But without determining that at all, it is still
very instructive to observe the evolution of popular intelligent
opinion concerning the significance of a high and a low birth-rate.

Popular opinion on this matter may be said to have passed through three
stages. I am referring to Western Europe and more particularly to
England and Germany, for it must be remembered that, in this matter,
England and Germany are running a parallel course. England happens to
be, on the whole, a little ahead, having reached its period of full
expansion at a somewhat earlier period than Germany, but each people is
pursuing the same course.

In the first stage--let us say about the middle of the last century and
the succeeding thirty years--the popular attitude was one of jubilant
satisfaction in a high and rising birth-rate. There had been an immense
expansion of industry. The whole world seemed nothing but a great field
for the energetic and industrial nations to exploit. Workers were
needed to keep up with the expansion and to keep down wages to a rate
which would make industrial expansion easy; soldiers and armaments were
needed to protect the movements of expansion. It seemed to the more
exuberant spirits that a vast British Empire, or a mighty Pan-Germany,
might be expected to cover the whole world. France, with its low and
falling birth-rate, was looked down at with contempt as a decadent
country inhabited by a degenerate population. No attempts to analyse
the birth-rate, to ascertain what are really the biological, social,
and economic accompaniments of a high birth-rate, made any impression
on the popular mind. They were drowned in the general shout of

That era of optimism was followed by a swift reaction. Towards 1880 the
upward movement of the birth-rate began to be arrested; it soon began
steadily to fall, as it is continuing to do to-day. In France it is
falling slowly, in Italy more rapidly, in England and Prussia still
more rapidly. As, however, the fall began earliest in France, the
birth-rate is lower there than in the other countries named; for the
same reason it is lower in England than in Prussia, although England
stands in this respect at almost exactly the same distance from Prussia
to-day as thirty years ago, the fall having occurred at the same rate
in both countries. It is quite possible that in the future it may
become more rapid in Prussia than in England, for the birth-rate of
Berlin is lower than the birth-rate of London, and urbanisation is
proceeding at a more rapid rate in Germany than in England.

The realisation of such facts as these produced a period of pessimism
which marks the second stage in this evolution. The great movement of
expansion, which seemed to promise so much to ambitious nations anxious
for world-power, was being arrested. Moreover, it began to be realised
that the rapid growth of a community was accompanied by phenomena which
had not been foreseen by the enthusiasts of the first period of
optimism. They had argued--not indeed verbally but in effect--that the
higher the birth-rate the cheaper labour and lives would become, and
the cheaper labour and lives were, the easier it would be for a nation
with its industrial armies and its military armies to get ahead of
other rival nations. But they had not realised that, with the growth of
popular education in modern democratic states, cheap labour is no
longer willing to play without protest this humble and suffering part
in national progress. The workers of the nations began to declare,
clearly or obscurely, as they were able, that they no longer intended
to sell their labour and their lives so cheaply. The rising birth-rate
of the middle of the nineteenth century coincided with, and to a large
extent doubtless produced, the organisation of labour, trades unions,
the political activity of the working classes, Socialism, as well as
the extreme forms of Anarchism and Syndicalism. It was when these
movements began to attain a high degree of organisation and power that
the birth-rate began to decline. Thus the pessimists of the second
period were faced by horrors on both sides. On the one hand, they saw
that the ever-increasing rate of human production which seemed to them
the essential condition of national, social, even moral progress, had
not only stopped but was steadily diminishing. On the other hand, they
saw that, even in so far as it was maintained, it involved, under
modern conditions, nothing but social commotion and economic

There are still many pessimists of this second period alive among us,
and actively proclaiming their gospel of despair, alike in England and
in Germany. But a new generation is growing up, and this question is
now entering a third period. The new generation rejects alike the
passive optimism of the first period and the passive pessimism of the
second period. Its attitude is hopeful but it realises that mere hope
is vain unless there is clear intellectual vision and unless there is
individual and social action in accordance with that vision.

It is to-day beginning to be seen that the old notion of progress by
means of reckless multiplication is vain. It can only be effected at a
ruinous cost of death, disease, poverty, and misery. We see this in the
past history of Western Europe, as we still see it in the history of
Russia. Any progress effected along that line--if "progress" it can be
called--is now barred, for it is absolutely opposed to those democratic
conceptions which are ever gaining greater influence among us.

Moreover, we are now better able to analyse demographic phenomena and
we are no longer satisfied with any crude statements regarding the
birth-rate. We realise that they need interpretation. They have to be
considered in relation to the sex-constitution and the age-constitution
of the population, and, above all, they must be viewed in relation to
the infant mortality-rate. The bad aspect of the French birth-rate is
not so much its lowness as that it is accompanied by a high infantile
mortality. The fact that the German birth-rate is higher than the
English ceases to be a matter of satisfaction when it is realised that
German infantile mortality is vastly greater than English. A high
birth-rate is no sign of a high civilisation. But we are beginning to
feel that a high infantile death-rate is a sign of a very inferior
civilisation. A low birth-rate with a low infant death-rate not only
produces the same increase in the population as a high birth-rate with
the high death-rate, which always accompanies it (for there are no
examples of, a high birth-rate with a low death-rate), but it produces
it in a way which is far more worthy of our admiration in this matter
than the way of Russia and China where opposite conditions prevail.[1]

It used to be thought that small families were immoral. We now begin to
see that it was the large families of old which were immoral. The
excessive birth-rate of the early industrial period was directly
stimulated by selfishness. There were no laws against child-labour;
children were produced that they might be sent out, when little more
than babies, to the factories and the mines to increase their parents'
incomes. The diminished birth-rate has accompanied higher moral
transformation. It has introduced a finer economy into life, diminished
death, disease, and misery. It is indirectly, and even directly,
improving the quality of the race. The very fact that children are born
at longer intervals is not only beneficial to the mother's health, and
therefore to the children's general welfare, but it has been proved to
have a marked and prolonged influence on the physical development of

Social progress, and a higher civilisation, we thus see, involve a
reduced birth-rate and a reduced death-rate; the fewer the children
born, the fewer the risks of death, disease, and misery to the children
that are born. The fact that civilisation involves small families is
clearly shown by the tendency of the educated and upper social classes
to have small families. As the proletariat class becomes educated and
elevated, disciplined to refinement and to foresight--as it were
aristocratised--it also has small families. Civilisational progress is
here in a line with biological progress. The lower organisms spawn
their progeny in thousands, the higher mammals produce but one or two
at a time. The higher the race the fewer the offspring.

Thus diminution in quantity is throughout associated with augmentation
in quality. Quality rather than quantity is the racial ideal now set
before us, and it is an ideal which, as we are beginning to learn, it
is possible to cultivate, both individually and socially. The day is
coming, as Engel remarks in his useful book on _The Elements of Child
Protection_, when fatherhood and motherhood will only be permitted to
the strong. That is why the new science of eugenics or racial hygiene
is acquiring so immense an importance. In the past racial selection has
been carried out crudely by the destructive, wasteful, and expensive
method of elimination, through death. In the future it will be carried
out far more effectively by conscious and deliberate selection,
exercised not merely before birth, but before conception and even
before mating. It is idle to suppose that such a change can be exerted
by mere legislation, for which, besides, our scientific knowledge is
still inadequate. We cannot, indeed, desire any compulsory elimination
of the unfit or any regulated breeding of the fit. Such notions are
idle. Man can only be bred from within, through the medium of his
intelligence and will, working together under the control of a high
sense of responsibility. Galton, who recognised the futility of mere
legislation to elevate the race, believed that the hope of the future
lay in eugenics becoming a part of religion. The good of the race lies,
not in the production of a super-man, but of a super-humanity. This can
only be attained through personal individual development, the increase
of knowledge, the sense of responsibility towards the race, enabling
men to act in accordance with responsibility. The leadership in
civilisation belongs not to the nation with the highest birth-rate but
to the nation which has thus learnt to produce the finest men and

[1] For a more detailed discussion of these points see the author's
_Task of Social Hygiene_.



It was inevitable that the Great War of to-day should lead to an
outcry, in all the countries engaged, for more children and larger
families. In Germany and in Austria, in France and in England,
panic-stricken fanatics are found who preach to the people that the
birth-rate is falling and the nation is decaying. No scheme is too wild
for the supposed benefit of the country in a fierce coming fight for
commercial supremacy, as well as with due regard to the requirements in
cannon fodder of another Great War twenty years hence.

It may be well, however, to pause before we listen to these Quixotic
plans.[1] We may then find reason to think, not only that any attempt
to arrest the falling birth-rate is scarcely likely to be effective in
view of the fact that it affects not one country only but all the
countries that count, but that even if it could be successful it would
be mischievous. Whatever the results of the War may be, one result
is fairly certain and that is that, under the most favourable
circumstances, every country will emerge laden with misery and debt;
whatever prosperity may follow, living will be expensive for a long
time to come and the incomes of all classes heavily burdened. A Bounty
on Babies would hardly make up for these difficulties. The happy
family, under the conditions that seem to be immediately ahead of us,
is likely to be the small family. The large family--as indeed has been
the case in the past--is likely to be visited by disease and death.

But there is more to be said than this. We must dismiss altogether the
statement so often made that a falling birth-rate means "an old and
dying community." The Germans have for years been making this remark
contemptuously regarding the French. But to-day they have to recognise
a vitality in the French which they had not expected, while in recent
years, also, their own birth-rate has been falling more rapidly than
that of France. Nor is it true that a falling birth-rate means a
falling population; the French birth-rate has long been steadily
falling, yet the French population has been steadily increasing all the
time, though less rapidly than it would had not the death-rate been
abnormally high. It is not the number of babies born that counts, but
the net result in surviving children. An enormous number of babies are
born in China; but an enormous number die while still babies. So that
it is better to have a few babies of good quality than a large number
of indifferent quality, for the falling birth-rate is more than
compensated by the falling death-rate. That is what we are attaining in
England, and, as we know, our steadily falling birth-rate results in a
steadily growing population.

There is still more to be said. Small families and a falling birth-rate
are not merely no evil, they are a positive good. They are a gain for
humanity. They represent an evolutionary rise in Nature and a higher
stage in civilisation. We are here in the presence of great fundamental
principles of progress which have been working through life from the

At the beginning of life on the earth reproduction ran riot. Of one
minute organism it is estimated that, if its reproduction were not
checked by death or destruction, in thirty days it would form a mass a
million times larger than the sun. The conger-eel lays fifteen million
eggs, and if they all grew up, and reproduced themselves on the same
scale, in two years the whole sea would become a wriggling mass of
fish. As we approach the higher forms of life reproduction gradually
dies down. The animals nearest to man produce few offspring, but they
surround them with parental care, until they are able to lead
independent lives with a fair chance of surviving. The whole process
may be regarded as a mechanism for slowly subordinating quantity to
quality, and so promoting the evolution of life to ever higher stages.

This process, which is plain to see on the largest scale throughout
living nature, may be more minutely studied, as it acts within a
narrower range, in the human species. Here we statistically formulate
it in the terms of birth-rate and death-rate; by the mutual relationship
of the two courses of the birth-rate and the death-rate we are able to
estimate the evolutionary rank of a nation, and the degree in which it
has succeeded in subordinating the primitive standard of quantity to
the higher and later standard of quality.

It is especially in Europe that we can investigate this relationship by
the help of statistics which in some cases extend for nearly a century
back. We can trace the various phases through which each nation passes,
the effects of prosperity, the influence of education and sanitary
improvement, the general complex development of civilisation, in each
case moving forward, though not regularly and steadily, to higher
stages by means of a falling birth-rate, which is to some extent
compensated by a falling death-rate, the two rates nearly always
running parallel, so that a temporary rise in the birth-rate is usually
accompanied by a rise in the death-rate, by a return, that is to say,
towards the conditions which we find at the beginning of animal life,
and a steady fall in the birth-rate is always accompanied by a fall in
the death-rate.

The modern phase of this movement, soon after which our precise
knowledge begins, may be said to date from the industrial expansion,
due to the introduction of machinery, which Professor Marshall places
in England about the year 1760. That represents the beginning of an era
in which all civilised and semi-civilised countries are still living.
For the earlier centuries we lack precise data, but we are able to form
certain probable conclusions. The population of a country in those ages
seems to have grown very slowly and sometimes even to have retrograded.
At the end of the sixteenth century the population of England and Wales
is estimated at five millions and at the end of the seventeenth at six
millions--only 20 per cent. increase during the century--although
during the nineteenth century the population nearly quadrupled. This
very gradual increase of the population seems to have been by no means
due to a very low birth-rate, but to a very high death-rate. Throughout
the Middle Ages a succession of virulent plagues and pestilences
devastated Europe. Small-pox, which may be considered the latest of
these, used to sweep off large masses of the youthful population in the
eighteenth century. The result was a certain stability and a certain
well-being in the population as a whole, these conditions being,
however, maintained in a manner that was terribly wasteful and

The industrial revolution introduced a new era which began to show its
features clearly in the early nineteenth century. On the one hand, a
new motive had arisen to favour a more rapid increase of population.
Small children could tend machinery and thereby earn wages to increase
the family takings. This led to an immediate result in increased
population and increased prosperity. But, on the other hand, the rapid
increase of population always tended to outrun the rapid increase of
prosperity, and the more so since the rise of sanitary science began to
drive back the invasions of the grosser and more destructive infectious
diseases which had hitherto kept the population down. The result was
that new forms of disease, distress, and destitution arose; the old
stability was lost, and the new prosperity produced unrest in place of
well-being. The social consciousness was still too immature to deal
collectively with the difficulties and frictions which the industrial
era introduced, and the individualism which under former conditions had
operated wholesomely now acted perniciously to crush the souls and
bodies of the workers, whether men, women, or children.

As we know, the increase of knowledge and the growth of the social
consciousness have slowly acted wholesomely during the past century to
remedy the first evil results of the industrial revolution. The
artificial and abnormal increase of the population has been checked
because it is no longer permissible in most countries to stunt the
minds and bodies of small children by placing them in factories. An
elaborate system of factory legislation was devised, and is still ever
drawing fresh groups of workers within its protective meshes. Sanitary
science began to develop and to exert an enormous influence on the
health of nations. At the same time the supreme importance of popular
education was realised. The total result was that the nature of
"prosperity" began to be transformed; instead of being, as it had been
at the beginning of the industrial era, a direct appeal to the
gratification of gross appetites and reckless lusts, it became an
indirect stimulus to higher gratifications and more remote aspirations.
Foresight became a dominating motive even in the general population,
and a man's anxiety for the welfare of his family was no longer
forgotten in the pleasure of the moment. The social state again became
more stable, and mere "prosperity" was transformed into civilisation.
This is the state of things now in progress in all industrial
countries, though it has reached varying levels of development among
different peoples.

It is thus clear that the birth-rate combined with the death-rate
constitutes a delicate instrument for the measurement of civilisation,
and that the record of their combined curves registers the upward or
downward course of every nation. The curves, as we know, tend to be
parallel, and when they are not parallel we are in the presence of a
rare and abnormal state of things which is usually temporary or

It is instructive from this point of view to study the various nations
of Europe, for here we find a large number of small nations, each with
its own statistical system, confined within a small space and living
under fairly uniform conditions. Let us take the latest official
figures (which are usually for 1913) and attempt to measure the
civilisation of European countries on this basis. Beginning with the
lowest birth-rate, and therefore in gradually descending rank of
superiority, we find that the European countries stand in the following
order: France, Belgium, Ireland, Sweden, the United Kingdom,
Switzerland, Norway, Scotland, Denmark, Holland, the German Empire,
Prussia, Finland, Spain, Austria, Italy, Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria,
Roumania, Russia. If we take the death-rate similarly, beginning with
the lowest rate and gradually proceeding to the highest, we find the
following order: Holland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the
United Kingdom, Belgium, Scotland, Prussia, the German Empire, Finland,
Ireland, France, Italy, Austria, Serbia, Spain, Bulgaria, Hungary,
Roumania, Russia.

Now we cannot accept the birth-rates and death-rates of the various
countries exactly at their face value. Temporary conditions, as well as
the special composition of a population, not to mention peculiarities
of registration, exert a disturbing effect. Roughly and on the whole,
however, the figures are acceptable. It is instructive to find how
closely the two rates agree. The agreement is, indeed, greater at the
bottom than at the top; the eight countries which constitute the lowest
group as regards birth-rate are the identical eight countries which
furnish the heaviest death-rates. That was to be expected; a very high
birth-rate seems fatally to involve a very high death-rate. But a very
low birth-rate (as we see in the cases of France and Ireland) is not
invariably associated with a very low death-rate, though it is never
associated with a high death-rate. This seems to indicate that those
qualities in a highly civilised nation which restrain the production of
offspring do not always or at once produce the eugenic racial qualities
possessed by hardier peoples living under simpler conditions. But with
these reservations it is not difficult to combine the two lists in a
fairly concordant order of descending rank. Most readers will agree,
that taking the European populations in bulk, without regard to the
production of genius (for men of genius are always a very minute
fraction of a nation), the European populations which they are
accustomed to regard as standing at the head in the general diffusion
of character, intelligence, education, and well-being, are all included
in the first twelve or thirteen nations, which are the same in both
lists though they do not follow the same order. These peoples, as
peoples--that is, without regard to their size, their political
importance, or their production of genius--represent the highest level
of democratic civilisation in Europe.

It is scarcely necessary to add that various countries outside Europe
equal or excel them; the death-rate of the United States, so far as
statistics show, is the same as that of Sweden; that of Ontario, still
better, is the same as Denmark; while the death-rate of the Australian
Commonwealth, with a medium birth-rate, is lower than that of any
European country, and New Zealand holds the world's championship in
this field with the lowest death-rate of all. On the other hand, some
extra-European countries compare less favourably with Europe; Japan,
with a rather high birth-rate, has the same high death-rate as Spain,
and Chile, with a still higher birth-rate, has a higher death-rate than
Russia. So it is that among human peoples we find the same laws
prevailing as among animals, and the higher nations of the world differ
from those which are less highly evolved precisely as the elephant
differs from the herring, though within a narrower range, that is to
say, by producing fewer offspring and taking better care of them.

The whole of this evolutionary process, we have to remember, is a
natural process. It has been going on from the beginning of the living
world. But at a certain stage in the higher development of man, without
ceasing to be natural, it becomes conscious and deliberate. It is then
that we have what may properly be termed _Birth Control_. That is to
say, that a process which had before been working slowly through the
ages, attaining every new forward step with waste and pain, is
henceforth carried out voluntarily, in the light of the high human
qualities of reason and foresight and self-restraint. The rise of birth
control may be said to correspond with the rise of social and sanitary
science in the first half of the nineteenth century, and to be indeed
an essential part of that movement. It is firmly established in all the
most progressive and enlightened countries of Europe, notably in France
and in England; in Germany, where formerly the birth-rate was very
high, birth control has developed with extraordinary rapidity during
the present century. In Holland its principle and practice are freely
taught by physicians and nurses to the mothers of the people, with the
result that there is in Holland no longer any necessity for unwanted
babies, and this small country possesses the proud privilege of the
lowest death-rate in Europe. In the free and enlightened democratic
communities on the other side of the globe, in Australia and New
Zealand, the same principles and practice are generally accepted, with
the same beneficent results. On the other hand, in the more backward
and ignorant countries of Europe, birth control is still little known,
and death and disease flourish. This is the case in those eight
countries which come at the bottom of both our lists.

Even in the more progressive countries, however, birth control has not
been established without a struggle, which has frequently ended in a
hypocritical compromise, its principles being publicly ignored or
denied and its practice privately accepted. For, at the great and
vitally important point in human progress which birth control
represents, we really see the conflict of two moralities. The morality
of the ancient world is here confronted by the morality of the new
world. The old morality, knowing nothing of science and the process of
Nature as worked out in the evolution of life, based itself on the
early chapters of Genesis, in which the children of Noah are
represented as entering an empty earth which it is their business to
populate diligently. So it came about that for this morality, still
innocent of eugenics, recklessness was almost a virtue. Children were
given by God; if they died or were afflicted by congenital disease, it
was the dispensation of God, and, whatever imprudence the parents might
commit, the pathetic faith still ruled that "God will provide." But in
the new morality it is realised that in these matters Divine action can
only be made manifest in human action, that is to say through the
operation of our own enlightened reason and resolved will. Prudence,
foresight, self-restraint--virtues which the old morality looked down
on with benevolent contempt--assume a position of the first importance.
In the eyes of the new morality the ideal woman is no longer the meek
drudge condemned to endless and often ineffectual child-bearing, but
the free and instructed woman, able to look before and after, trained
in a sense of responsibility alike to herself and to the race, and
determined to have no children but the best. Such were the two
moralities which came into conflict during the nineteenth century. They
were irreconcilable and each firmly rooted, one in ancient religion and
tradition, the other in progressive science and reason. Nothing was
possible in such a clash of opposing ideas but a feeble and confused
compromise such as we still find prevailing in various countries of Old
Europe. It was not a satisfactory solution, however inevitable, and
especially unsatisfactory by the consequent obscurantism which placed
difficulties in the way of spreading a knowledge of the methods of
birth control among the masses of the population. For the result has
been that while the more enlightened and educated have exercised a
control over the size of their families, the poorer and more
ignorant--who should have been offered every facility and encouragement
to follow in the same path--have been left, through a conspiracy of
secrecy, to carry on helplessly the bad customs of their forefathers.
This social neglect has had the result that the superior family stocks
have been hampered by the recklessness of the inferior stocks.

We may see these two moralities in conflict to-day in America. Up till
recently America had meekly accepted at Old Europe's hands the
traditional prescription of our Mediterranean book of Genesis, with its
fascinating old-world fragrance of Mount Ararat. On the surface, the
ancient morality had been complacently, almost unquestionably, accepted
in America, even to the extent of permitting a vast extension of
abortion--a criminal practice which ever flourishes where birth-control
is neglected. But to-day we suddenly see a new movement in the United
States. In a flash, America has awakened to the true significance of
the issue. With that direct vision of hers, that swift practicality of
action, and, above all, that sense of the democratic nature of all
social progress, we see her resolutely beginning to face this great
problem. In her own vigorous native tongue we hear her demanding: "What
in the thunder is all the secrecy about, anyhow?" And we cannot doubt
that America's own answer to that demand will be of immense
significance to the whole world.

Thus it is that as we get to the root of the matter the whole question
becomes clear. We see that there is really no standing ground in any
country for the panic-monger who bemoans the fall of the birth-rate and
storms against small families. The falling birth-rate is a world-wide
phenomenon in all countries that are striving toward a higher
civilisation along lines which Nature laid down from the beginning. We
cannot stop it if we would, and if we could we should merely be
impeding civilisation. It is a movement that rights itself and tends to
reach a just balance. It has not yet reached that balance with us in
this country. That may be seen by anyone who has read the letters from
mothers lately published under the title of _Maternity_ by the Women's
Co-operative Guild; there is still far more misery caused by having too
many babies than by having too few; a bonus on babies would be a
misfortune, alike for the parents and the State--whether bestowed at
birth as proposed in New Zealand, or at the age of twelve months as
proposed in France, or fourteen years as proposed in England--unless it
were confined to children who were not merely alive at the appointed
age, but able to pass examination as having reached a definitely high
standard. The falling birth-rate, which, it must be remembered, is
affecting all civilised countries, should be a matter for joy rather
than for grief.

But we need not therefore fold our hands and do nothing. There is still
much to be effected for the protection of Motherhood and the better
care of children. We cannot, and should not, attempt to increase the
number of children. But we may well attempt to work for their better
quality. There we shall be on very safe ground. More knowledge is
necessary so that all would-be parents may know how they may best
become parents and how they may, if necessary, best avoid it.
Procreation by the unfit should be, if not prohibited by law, at all
events so discouraged by public opinion that to attempt it would be
counted disgraceful. Much greater public provision is necessary for the
care of mothers during the months before, as well as during the period
after, the child's birth. The system of Schools for Mothers needs to be
universalised and systematically carried out. Along such lines as these
we may hope to increase the happiness of the people and the strength of
the State. We need not worry over the falling birth-rate.

[1] Those who wish to study the latest restatements of opinions in
England may be recommended to read the Report of the Commission of
Inquiry into Great Britain's falling birth-rate, appointed in 1913 by
the National Council of Public Morals, under the title of _The
Declining Birth-rate: Its Causes and Effects_, 1916.





The study of the questions relating to sex, so actively carried on
during recent years, has become more and more concentrated on to the
practical problems of marriage and the family. That was inevitable. It
is only reasonable that, with our growing scientific knowledge of the
mysteries of sex, we should seek to apply that knowledge to those
questions of life which we must ever regard as central. How can we add
to the stability or to the flexibility of marriage? How can we most
judiciously regulate the size of our families?

At the outset, however, we cannot too deeply impress upon our minds the
fact that these questions are not new in the world. If we try to find
an answer to them by confining our attention to the phenomena presented
by our own species, at our own particular moment of civilisation, it is
very likely indeed that we may fall into crude, superficial, even
mischievous conclusions.

The fact is that these questions, which are agitating us to-day, have
agitated the world ever since it has been a world of life at all. The
difference is that whereas we seek to deal with them consciously,
voluntarily, and deliberately, throughout by far the greater part of
the world's life they have been dealt with unconsciously, by methods of
trial and error, of perpetual experiment, which has often proved
costly, but has all the more clearly brought out the real course of
natural progress. We cannot solve problems so ancient and deeply rooted
as those of sex by merely rational methods which are only of yesterday.
To be of value our rational methods must be the revelation in
deliberate consciousness of unconscious methods which go far back into
the remote past. Our conscious, deliberate, and purposive methods,
carried out on the plane of reason, will not be sound unless they are a
continuation of those methods which have already, in the slow evolution
of life, been found sound and progressive on the plane of instinct.
This must be borne in mind by those people--always to be found among
us, though not always on the side of social advance--who desire their
own line of conduct in matters of sex to be so closely in accord with
natural and Divine law that to question it would be impious.

A medical friend of my own, when once in the dentist's chair under the
influence of nitrous oxide anaesthesia (a condition, as William James
showed, which frequently leads us to believe we are solving the
problems of the universe), imagined himself facing the Almighty and
insistently demanding the real object of the existence of the world.
And the Almighty's answer came in one word: "Reproduction." My friend
is a man of philosophic mind, and the solution of the mystery of the
world's purpose thus presented to him in vision may perhaps serve as a
simple and ultimate statement of the object of life. From the very
outset the great object of Nature to our human eyes seems to be
primarily reproduction, in the long run, indeed, an effort after
economy of method in the attainment of an ever greater perfection, but
primarily reproduction. This tendency to reproduction is indeed so
fundamental, it is impressed on vital organisation with so great a
violence of emphasis, that we may regard the course of evolution as
much more an effort to slow down reproduction than to furnish it with
any new facilities.

We must remember that reproduction appears in the history of life before
sex appears. The lower forms of animal and plant life often reproduce
themselves without the aid of sex, and it has even been argued that
reproduction and sex are directly antagonistic, that active propagation
is always checked when sexual differentiation is established. "The
impression one gains of sexuality," remarks Professor Coulter, foremost
of American botanists, "is that it represents reproduction under
peculiar difficulties."[1] Bacteria among primitive plants and protozoa
among primitive animals are patterns of rapid and prolific reproduction,
though sex begins to appear in a rudimentary form in very lowly forms of
life, even among the protozoa, and is at first compatible with a high
degree of reproduction. A single infusorian becomes in a week the
ancestor of millions, that is to say, of far more individuals than could
proceed under the most favourable conditions from a pair of elephants in
five centuries, while Huxley calculated that the progeny of a single
parthenogenetic aphis, under favouring circumstances, would in a few
months outweigh the whole population of China.[2] That proviso--"under
favouring conditions"--is of great importance, for it reveals the weak
point in this early method of Nature's for conducting evolution by
enormously rapid multiplication. Creatures so easily produced could be,
and were, easily destroyed; no time had been spent on imparting to them
the qualities that would enable them to lead, what we should call in our
own case, long and useful lives.

Yet the method of rapid multiplication was not readily or speedily
abandoned by Nature. Still speaking in our human way, we may say that
she tried to give it every chance. Among insects that have advanced so
far as the white ants, we find that the queen lays eggs at an enormous
rate during the whole of her active life, according to some estimates
at the rate of 80,000 a day. Even in the more primitive members of the
great vertebrate group, to which we ourselves belong, reproduction is
sometimes still on almost as vast a scale as among lower organisms.
Thus, among herrings, nearly 70,000 eggs have been found in a single
female; but the herring, nevertheless, does not tend to increase in the
seas, for it is everywhere preyed upon by whales and seals and sharks
and birds, and, not least, by man. Thus early we see the connection
between a high death-rate and a high birth-rate.

The evidence against reckless reproduction at last, however, proved
overwhelming. With whatever hesitation, Nature finally decided, once
and for all, that it was better, from every point of view, to produce a
few superior beings than a vast number of inferior beings. For while
the primary end of Nature may be said to be reproduction, there is a
secondary end of scarcely less equal urgency, and that is evolution. In
other words, while Nature seems to our human eyes to be seeking after
quantity, she is also seeking, and with ever greater eagerness, after
quality. Now the method of rapid and easy reproduction, it had become
clear, not only failed of its own end, for the inferior creatures thus
produced were unable to maintain their position in life, but it was
distinctly unfavourable to any advance in quality. The method of sexual
reproduction, which had existed in a germinal form more or less from
the beginning, asserted itself ever more emphatically, and a method
like that of parthenogenesis, or reproduction by the female unaided by
the male (illustrated by the aphis), which had lingered on even beside
sexual reproduction, absolutely died out in higher evolution. Now the
fertilisation involved by the existence of two sexes is, as Weismann
insisted, simply an arrangement which renders possible the
intermingling of two different hereditary tendencies. The object of
sex, that is to say, is by no means to aid reproduction, but rather to
subordinate and check reproduction in order to evolve higher and more
complex beings. Here we come to the great principle, which Herbert
Spencer developed at length in his _Principles of Biology_, that, as he
put it, Individuation and Genesis vary inversely, whence it followed
that advancing evolution must be accompanied by declining fertility.
Individuation, which means complexity of structure, has advanced, as
Genesis, the unrestricted tendency to mere multiplication, has receded.
This involves a diminished number of offspring, but an increased amount
of time and care in the creation and breeding of each; it involves also
that the reproductive life of the organism is shortened and more or
less confined to special periods; it begins much later, it usually ends
earlier, and even in its period of activity it tends to fall into
cycles. Nature, we see, who, at the outset, had endowed her children so
lavishly with the aptitude for multiplication, grown wiser now, expends
her fertile imagination in devising preventive checks on reproduction
for her children's use.

The result is that, though reproduction is greatly slackened, evolution
is greatly accelerated. The significance of sex, as Coulter puts it,
"lies in the fact that it makes organic evolution more rapid and far
more varied." It is scarcely necessary to emphasise that a highly
important, and, indeed, essential aspect of this greater individuation
is a higher survival value. The more complex and better equipped
creature can meet and subdue difficulties and dangers to which the more
lowly organised creature that came before--produced wholesale in a way
which Nature seems now to look back on as cheap and nasty--succumbed
helplessly without an effort. The idea of economy begins to assert
itself in the world. It became clear in the course of evolution that it
is better to produce really good and highly efficient organisms, at
whatever cost, than to be content with cheap production on a wholesale
scale. They allowed greater developmental progress to be made, and they
lasted better. Even before man began it was proved in the animal world
that the death-rate falls as the birth-rate falls.

If we wish to realise the vast progress in method which has been made,
even within the limits of the vertebrates to which we ourselves belong,
we have but to compare with the lowly herring, already cited, the
highly evolved elephant. The herring multiplies with enormous rapidity
and on a vast scale, and it possesses a very small brain, and is almost
totally unequipped to grapple with the special difficulties of its
life, to which it succumbs on a wholesale scale. A single elephant is
carried for about two years in his mother's womb, and is carefully
guarded by her for many years after birth; he possesses a large brain;
his muscular system is as remarkable for its delicacy as for its power
and is guided by the most sensitive perceptions. He is fully equipped
for all the dangers of his life, save for those which have been
introduced by the subtle devilry of modern man, and though a single
pair of elephants produces so few offspring, yet their high cost is
justified, for each of them has a reasonable chance of surviving to old
age. The contrast from the point of view of reproduction of the herring
and the elephant, the low vertebrate and the high vertebrate, well
illustrates the tendency of evolution. It clearly brings before us the
difference between Nature's earlier and later methods, the ever growing
preference for quality of offspring over quantity.

It has been necessary to touch on the wider aspects of reproduction in
Nature, even when our main concern is with particular aspects of
reproduction in man, for unless we understand the progressive tendency
of reproduction in Nature, we shall probably fail to understand it in
man. With these preliminary observations, we may now take up the
question as it affects man.

It is not easy to ascertain the exact tendencies of reproduction in our
own historical past or among the lower races of to-day. On the whole,
it seems fairly clear that, under ordinary savage and barbarous
conditions, rather more children are produced and rather more children
die than among ourselves; there is, in other words, a higher birth-rate
and a higher infantile death-rate.[3] A high birth-rate with a low
death-rate seems to have been even more exceptional than among
ourselves, for under inelastic social conditions the community cannot
adjust itself to the rapid expansion that would thus be rendered
necessary. The community contracts, as it were, on this expanding
portion and largely crushes it out of life by the forces of neglect,
poverty, and disease.[4] The only part of Europe in which we can to-day
see how this works out on a large scale is Russia, for here we find in
an exaggerated form conditions, which once tended to rule all over
Europe, side by side with the beginnings of better things, with
scientific progress and statistical observation. Yet in Russia, up till
recently, if not even still, there has only been about one doctor to
every twelve thousand inhabitants, and the witch-doctor has flourished.
Small-pox, scarlet fever, diphtheria, typhoid, and syphilis also
flourish, and not only flourish, but show an enormously higher
mortality than in other European countries. More significant still,
famine and typhus, the special disease of filth and overcrowding and
misery--both of them banished, save in the most abnormal times, from
the rest of Europe--have in modern times ravaged Russia on a vast
scale. Ignorance, superstition, insanitation, filth, bad food, impure
water, lead to a vast mortality among children which has sometimes
destroyed more than half of them before they reach the age of five; so
that, enormously high as the Russian birth-rate is, the death-rate has
sometimes exceeded it.[5] Nor is it found, as some would-be sagacious
persons confidently assert, that the high birth-rate is justified by
the better quality of the survivors. On the contrary, there is a very
large proportion of chronic and incurable diseases among the survivors;
blindness and other defects abound; and though there are many very
large and fine people in Russia, the average stature of the Russians is
lower than that of most European peoples.[6]

Russia is in the era of expanding industrialism--a fateful period for
any people, as we shall see directly--and the results resemble those
which followed, and to some extent exist still, further west. The
workers, whose hours often extended to twelve or fourteen, frequently
had no homes but slept in the factory itself, in the midst of the
machinery, or in a sort of dormitory above it, with a minimum of space
and fresh air, men and women promiscuously, on wooden shelves, one
above the other, under the eye of Government inspectors whose protests
were powerless to effect any change. This is, always and everywhere,
even among so humane a people as the Russians, the natural and
inevitable result of a high birth-rate in an era of expanding
industrialism. Here is the goal of unrestricted reproduction, the same
among men as among herrings. This is the ideal of those persons,
whether they know it or not, who in their criminal rashness would dare
to arrest that fall in the birth-rate which is now beginning to spread
its beneficent influence in every civilised land.

We have no means of ascertaining precisely the birth-rate in Western
Europe before the nineteenth century, but the estimates of the
population which have been made by the help of various data indicate
that the increase during a century was very moderate. In England, for
instance, families scarcely seem to have been very large, and, even
apart from wars, many plagues and pestilences, during the eighteenth
century more especially small-pox, constantly devastated the
population, so that, with these checks on the results of reproduction,
the population was able to adjust itself to its very gradual expansion.
The mortality fell heavily on young children, as we observe in old
family records, where we frequently find two or even three children of
the same Christian name, the first child having died and its name been
given to a successor.

During the last quarter of the eighteenth century, a new phase of
social life, profoundly affecting the reproductive habits of the
community, made its appearance in Western Europe, at first in England.
This was the new industrial era, due to the introduction of machinery.
All the social methods of gradual though awkward adaptation to a slow
expansion were dislocated. Easy expansion of population became a
possibility, for factories were constantly springing up, and "hands"
were always in demand. Moreover, these "hands" could be children for it
was possible to tend machinery at a very early age. The richest family
was the family with most children. The population began to expand

It was an era of prosperity. But when it began to be realised what this
meant it was seen that such "prosperity" was far from an enviable
condition. A community cannot suddenly adjust itself to a sudden
expansion, still less can it adjust itself to a continuous rapid
expansion. Disease, misery, and poverty flourished in this prosperous
new industrial era. Filth and insanitation, immorality and crime, were
fostered by overcrowding in ill-built urban areas. Ignorance and
stupidity abounded, for the child, placed in the monotonous routine of
the factory when little more than an infant, was deprived alike of the
education of the school and of the world. Higher wages brought no
higher refinement and were squandered on food and drink, on the lowest
vulgar tastes. Such "prosperity" was merely a brutalising influence; it
meant nothing for the growth of civilisation and humanity.

Then a wholesome movement of reaction set in. The betterment of the
environment--that was the great task that social pioneers and reformers
saw before them. They courageously set about the herculean task of
cleansing this Augean stable of "Prosperity." The era of sanitation
began. The endless and highly beneficent course of factory legislature
was inaugurated.[7]

That is the era which, in every progressive country of the world, we
are living in still. The final tendency of it, however, was not
foreseen by its great pioneers, or even its humble day-labourers of the
present time. For they were not attacking reproduction; they were
fighting against bad conditions, and may even have thought that they
were enabling reproduction to expand more freely. They had not realised
that to improve the environment is to check reproduction, being indeed
the one and only way in which undue reproduction can be checked. That
may be said to be an aspect of the opposition between Genesis and
Individuation, on which Herbert Spencer insisted, for by improving the
environment we necessarily improve the individual who is rooted in that
environment. It is not, we must remember, a matter of conscious and
voluntary action. That is clearly manifest by the fact that it occurs
even among the most primitive micro-organisms; when placed under
unfavourable conditions as to food and environment they tend to pass
into a reproductive phase and by sporulation or otherwise begin to
produce new individuals rapidly. It is the same in Man. Improve the
environment and reproduction is checked.[8] That is, as Professor
Benjamin Moore has said, "the simple biological reply to good economic
conditions." It is only among the poor, the ignorant, and the wretched
that reproduction flourishes. "The tendency of civilisation," as
Leroy-Beaulieu concludes, "is to reduce the birth-rate." Those who
desire a high birth-rate are desiring, whether they know it or not, the
increase of poverty, ignorance, and wretchedness.

So far we have been dealing with fundamental laws and tendencies, which
were established long before Man appeared on the earth, although Man
has often illustrated, and still illustrates, their inevitable
character. We have not been brought in contact with the influence of
conscious design and deliberate intention. At this point we reach a
totally new aspect of reproduction.



In tracing the course of reproduction we have so far been concerned
with what are commonly considered the blind operations of Nature in the
absence of conscious and deliberate volition. We have seen that while
at the outset Nature seems to have impressed an immense reproductive
impetus on her creatures, all her energy since has been directed to the
imposition of preventive checks on that reproductive impetus. The end
attained by these checks has been an extreme diminution in the number
of offspring, a prolongation of the time devoted to the breeding and
care of each new member of the family, in harmony with its greatly
prolonged life, a spacing out of the intervals between the offspring,
and, as a result, a vastly greater development of each individual and
an ever better equipment for the task of living. All this was slowly
attained automatically, without any conscious volition on the part of
the individuals, even when they were human beings, who were the agents.
Now occurred a change which we may regard as, in some respects, the
most momentous sudden advance in the whole history of reproduction: the
process of reproductive progress became conscious and deliberately

We often fancy that when natural progress becomes manifested in the
mind and will of man it is somehow unnatural. It is one of the wisest
of Shakespeare's utterances in one of the most mature of his plays that

"Nature is made better by no mean
But Nature makes that mean ...
This is an art
Which does mend Nature, change it rather, but
The art itself is Nature."

Birth control, when it ceases to be automatic and becomes conscious, is
an art. But it is an art directed precisely to the attainment of ends
which Nature has been struggling after for millions of years, and,
being consciously and deliberately an art, it is enabled to avoid many
of the pitfalls which the unconscious method falls into. It is an art,

"The art itself is Nature."

It is always possible for the narrow-eyed fanatic to object to the
employment of birth control, precisely as he might object to the use of
clothes, as "unnatural." But, if we look more deeply into the matter,
we see that even clothes are not truly unnatural. A vast number of
creatures may be said to be born in clothes, clothes so naturally such
that, when stripped from the animals they belong to, we are proud to
wear them ourselves. Even our own ancestors were born in clothes, which
they lost by the combined or separate action of natural selection,
sexual selection, and the environment, which action, however, has not
sufficed to abolish the desirability of clothes.[9] So that the impulse
by which we make for ourselves clothes is merely a conscious and
volitional form of an impulse which, in the absence of consciousness
and will, had acted automatically. It is just the same with the control
and limitation of reproductive activity. It is an attempt by open-eyed
intelligence and foresight to attain those ends which Nature through
untold generations has been painfully yet tirelessly struggling for.
The deliberate co-operation of Man in the natural task of birth-control
represents an identification of the human will with what we may, if we
choose, regard as the divinely appointed law of the world. We can well
believe that the great pioneers who, a century ago, acted in the spirit
of this faith may have echoed the thought of Kepler when, on discovering
his great planetary law, he exclaimed in rapture: "O God! I think Thy
thoughts after Thee."

As a matter of fact, however, it was in no such spirit of ecstasy that
the pioneers of the movement for birth control acted. The Divine
command is less likely to be heard in the whirlwind than in the still
small voice. These great pioneers were thoughtful, cautious,
hard-headed men, who spoke scarcely above a whisper, and were far too
modest to realise that a great forward movement in natural evolution
had in them begun to be manifested. Early man could not have taken this
step because it is even doubtful whether he knew that the conjunction
of the sexes had anything to do with the production of offspring, which
he was inclined to attribute to magical causes. Later, although
intelligence grew, the uncontrolled rule of the sexual impulse obtained
so firm a grip on men that they laughed at the idea that it was
possible to exercise forethought and prudence in this sphere; at the
same time religion and superstition came into action to preserve the
established tradition and to persuade people that it would be wicked
to do anything different from what they had always done. But a saner
feeling was awakening here and there, in various parts of the world. At
last, under the stress of the devastation and misery caused by the
reproductive relapse of the industrial era, this feeling, voiced by a
few distinguished men, began to take shape in action.

The pioneers were English. Among them Malthus occupies the first place.
That distinguished man, in his great and influential work, _The
Principle of Population_, in 1798, emphasised the immense importance of
foresight and self-control in procreation, and the profound
significance of birth limitation for human welfare. Malthus relied,
however, on ascetic self-restraint, a method which could only appeal to
the few; he had nothing to say for the prevention of conception in
intercourse. That was suggested, twenty years later, very cautiously by
James Mill, the father of John Stuart Mill, in the _Encyclopedia
Britannica_. Four years afterwards, Mill's friend, the Radical
reformer, Francis Place, advocated this method more clearly. Finally,
in 1831, Robert Dale Owen, the son of the great Robert Owen, published
his _Moral Physiology_, in which he set forth the ways of preventing
conception; while a little later the Drysdale brothers, ardent and
unwearying philanthropists, devoted their energies to a propaganda
which has been spreading ever since and has now conquered the whole
civilised world.

It was not, however, in England but in France, so often at the head of
an advance in civilisation, that birth control first became firmly
established, and that the extravagantly high birth-rate of earlier
times began to fall; this happened in the first half of the nineteenth
century, whether or not it was mainly due to voluntary control.[10] In
England the movement came later, and the steady decline in the English
birth-rate, which is still proceeding, began in 1877. In the previous
year there had been a famous prosecution of Bradlaugh and Mrs. Besant
for disseminating pamphlets describing the methods of preventing
conception; the charge was described by the Lord Chief Justice, who
tried the case, as one of the most ill-advised and injudicious ever
made in a court of justice. But it served an undesigned end by giving
enormous publicity to the subject and advertising the methods it sought
to suppress. There can be no doubt, however, that even apart from this
trial the movement would have proceeded on the same lines. The times
were ripe, the great industrial expansion had passed its first feverish
phase, social conditions were improving, education was spreading. The
inevitable character of the movement is indicated by the fact that at
the very same time it began to be manifested all over Europe, indeed in
every civilised country of the world. At the present time the
birth-rate (as well as usually the death-rate) is falling in every
country of the world sufficiently civilised to possess statistics of
its own vital movement. The fall varies in rapidity. It has been
considerable in the more progressive countries; it has lingered in the
more backward countries. If we examine the latest statistics for Europe
(usually those for 1913) we find that every country, without exception,
with a progressive and educated population, and a fairly high state of
social well-being, presents a birth-rate below 30 per 1,000. We also
find that every country in Europe in which the mass of the people are
primitive, ignorant, or in a socially unsatisfactory condition (even
although the governing classes may be progressive or ambitious) shows a
birth-rate above 30 per 1,000. France, Great Britain, Belgium, Holland,
the Scandinavian countries and Switzerland are in the first group.
Russia, Austro-Hungary, Italy, Spain and the Balkan countries are in
the second group. The German Empire was formerly in this second group
but now comes within the first group, and has carried on the movement
so energetically that the birth-rate of Berlin is already below that of
London, and that at the present rate of decline the birth-rate of the
German Empire will before long sink to that of France. Outside Europe,
in the United States just as much as in Australia and New Zealand, the
same great progressive movement is proceeding with equal activity.

The wide survey of the question of birth limitation here taken may seem
to some readers unnecessary. Why not get at once to matters of
practical detail? But, if we think of it, our wide survey has been of
the greatest practical help to us. It has, for instance, settled the
question of the desirability of the adoption of methods of preventing
conception and finally silenced those who would waste our time with
their fears lest it is not right to control conception. We know now on
whose side are the laws of God and Nature. We realise that in
exercising control over the entrance gate of life we are not only
performing, consciously and deliberately, a great human duty, but
carrying on rationally a beneficial process which has, more blindly and
wastefully, been carried on since the beginning of the world. There are
still a few persons ignorant enough or foolish enough to fight against
the advance of civilisation in this matter; we can well afford to leave
them severely alone, knowing that in a few years all of them will have
passed away. It is not our business to defend the control of birth, but
simply to discuss how we may most wisely exercise that control.

Many ways of preventing conception have been devised since the method
which is still the commonest was first introduced, so far as our
certainly imperfect knowledge extends, by a clever Jew, Onan
(_Genesis_, Chap. XXXVIII), whose name has since been wrongly attached
to another practice with which the Mosaic record in no way associates
him. There are now many contraceptive methods, some dependent on
precautions adopted by the man, others dependent on the woman, others
again which take the form of an operation permanently preventing
conception, and, therefore, not to be adopted save by couples who
already have as many children as they desire, or else who ought never
to have children at all and thus wisely adopt a method of
sterilisation. It is unnecessary here, even if it were otherwise
desirable, to discuss these various methods in detail. It is even
useless to do so, for we must bear in mind that no method can be
absolutely approved or absolutely condemned. Each may be suitable under
certain conditions and for certain couples, and it is not easy to
recommend any method indiscriminately. We need to know the intimate
circumstances of individual cases. For the most part, experience is the
final test. Forel compared the use of contraceptive devices to the use
of eyeglasses, and it is obvious that, without expert advice, the
results in either case may sometimes be mischievous or at all events
ineffective. Personal advice and instruction are always desirable. In
Holland nurses are medically trained in a practical knowledge of
contraceptive methods, and are thus enabled to enlighten the women of
the community. This is an admirable plan. Considering that the use of
contraceptive measures is now almost universal, it is astonishing that
there are yet so many so-called "civilised" countries in which this
method of enlightenment is not everywhere adopted. Until it is adopted,
and a necessary knowledge of the most fundamental facts of the sexual
life brought into every home, the physician must be regarded as the
proper adviser. It is true that until recently he was generally in
these matters a blind leader of the blind. Nowadays it is beginning to
be recognised that the physician has no more serious and responsible
duty than that of giving help in the difficult path of the sexual life.
Very frequently, indeed, even yet, he has not risen to a sense of his
responsibilities in this matter. It is as well to remember, however,
that a physician who is unable or unwilling to give frank and sound
advice in this most important department of life, is unlikely to be
reliable in any other department. If he is not up to date here he is
probably not up to date anywhere.

Whatever the method adopted, there are certain conditions which it must
fulfil, even apart from its effectiveness as a contraceptive, in order
to be satisfactory. Most of these conditions may be summed up in one:
the most satisfactory method is that which least interferes with the
normal process of the act of intercourse. Every sexual act is, or
should be, a miniature courtship, however long marriage may have
lasted.[11] No outside mental tension or nervous apprehension must be
allowed to intrude. Any contraceptive proceeding which hastily enters
the atmosphere of love immediately before or immediately after the
moment of union is unsatisfactory and may be injurious. It even risks
the total loss of the contraceptive result, for at such moments the
intended method may be ineffectively carried out, or neglected
altogether. No method can be regarded as desirable which interferes
with the sense of satisfaction and relief which should follow the
supreme act of loving union. No method which produces a nervous jar in
one of the parties, even though it may be satisfactory to the other,
should be tolerated. Such considerations must for some couples rule out
certain methods. We cannot, however, lay down absolute rules, because
methods which some couples may find satisfactory prove unsatisfactory
in other cases. Experience, aided by expert advice, is the only final

When a contraceptive method is adopted under satisfactory conditions,
with a due regard to the requirements of the individual couple, there
is little room to fear that any injurious results will be occasioned.
It is quite true that many physicians speak emphatically concerning the
injurious results to husband or to wife of contraceptive devices.
Although there has been exaggeration, and prejudice has often been
imported into this question, and although most of the injurious results
could have been avoided had trained medical help been at hand to advise
better methods, there can be no doubt that much that has been said
under this head is true. Considering how widespread is the use of these
methods, and how ignorantly they have often been carried out, it would
be surprising indeed if it were not true. But even supposing that the
nervously injurious effects which have been traced to contraceptive
practices were a thousandfold greater than they have been reported to
be--instead of, as we are justified in believing, considerably less
than they are reported--shall we therefore condemn contraceptive
methods? To do so would be to ignore all the vastly greater evils which
have followed in the past from unchecked reproduction. It would be a
condemnation which, if we exercised it consistently, would destroy the
whole of civilisation and place us back in savagery. For what device of
man, since man had any history at all, has not proved sometimes

Every one of even the most useful and beneficent of human inventions
has either exercised subtle injuries or produced appalling
catastrophes. This is not only true of man's devices, it is true of
Nature's in general. Let us take, for instance, the elevation of man's
ancestors from the quadrupedal to the bipedal position. The experiment
of making a series of four-footed animals walk on their hind-legs was
very revolutionary and risky; it was far, far more beset by dangers
than is the introduction of contraceptives; we are still suffering all
sorts of serious evils in consequence of Nature's action in placing our
remote ancestors in the erect position. Yet we feel that it was worth
while; even those physicians who most emphasise the evil results of the
erect position do not advise that we should go on all-fours. It is just
the same with a great human device, the introduction of clothes. They
have led to all sorts of new susceptibilities to disease and even
tendencies to direct injury of many kinds. Yet no one advocates the
complete disuse of all clothing on the ground that corsets have
sometimes proved harmful. It would be just as absurd to advocate the
complete abandonment of contraceptives on the ground that some of them
have sometimes been misused. If it were not, indeed, that we are
familiar with the lengths to which ignorance and prejudice may go we
should question the sanity of anyone who put forward so foolish a
proposition. Every great step which Nature and man have taken in the
path of progress has been beset by dangers which are gladly risked
because of the advantages involved. We have still to enumerate some of
the immense advantages which Man has gained in acquiring a conscious
and deliberate control of reproduction.



Anyone who has followed this discussion so far will not easily believe
that a tendency so deeply rooted in Nature as Birth Control can ever be
in opposition to Morality. It can only seem to be so when we confuse
the eternal principles of Morality, whatever they may be, with their
temporary applications, which are always becoming modified in
adaptation to changing circumstances.

We are often in danger of doing injustice to the morality of the past,
and it is important, even in order to understand the morality of the
present, that we should be able to put ourselves in the place of those
for whom birth control was immoral. To speak of birth control as having
been immoral in the past is, indeed, to underestimate the case; it was
not only immoral, it was unnatural, it was even irreligious, it was
almost criminal. We must remember that throughout the Christian world
the Divine Command, "Increase and Multiply," has seemed to echo down
the ages from the beginning of the world. It was the authoritative
command of a tribal God who was, according to the scriptural narrative,
addressing a world inhabited by eight people. From such a point of view
a world's population of several thousand persons would have seemed
inconceivably vast, though to-day by even the most austere advocate of
birth limitation it would be allowed with a smile. But the old
religious command has become a tradition which has survived amid
conditions totally unlike those under which it arose. In comparatively
modern times it has been reinforced from unexpected quarters, on the
one hand by all the forces that are opposed to democracy and on the
other by all the forces of would-be patriotic militarism, both alike
clamouring for plentiful and cheap men.

Even science, under primitive conditions, was opposed to Birth Control.
Creation was regarded as a direct process in which man's will had no
part, and knowledge of nature was still too imperfect for the
recognition of the fact that the whole course of the world's natural
history has been an erection of barriers against wholesale and
indiscriminate reproduction. Thus it came about that under the old
dispensation, which is now for ever passing away, to have as many
children as possible and to have them as often as possible--provided
certain ritual prescriptions were fulfilled--seemed to be a religious,
moral, natural, scientific, and patriotic duty.

To-day the conditions have altogether altered, and even our own
feelings have altered. We no longer feel with the ancient Hebrew who
has bequeathed his ideals though not his practices to Christendom, that
to have as many wives and concubines and as large a family as possible
is both natural and virtuous, as well as profitable. We realise,
moreover, that the Divine Commands, so far as we recognise any such
commands, are not external to us, but are manifested in our own
deliberate reason and will. We know that to primitive men, who lacked
foresight and lived mainly in the present, only that Divine Command
could be recognisable which sanctified the impulse of the moment, while
to us, who live largely in the future, and have learnt foresight, the
Divine Command involves restraint on the impulse of the moment. We no
longer believe that we are divinely ordered to be reckless or that God
commands us to have children who, as we ourselves know, are fatally
condemned to disease or premature death. Providence, which was once
regarded as the attribute of God, we regard as the attribute of men;
providence, prudence, self-restraint--these are to us the
characteristics of moral men, and those persons who lack these
characteristics are condemned by our social order to be reckoned among
the dregs of mankind. It is a social order which in the sphere of
procreation could not be reached or maintained except by the systematic
control of offspring.

We may realise the difference between the morality of to-day and the
morality of the past when we come to details. We may consider, for
instance, the question of the chastity of women. According to the ideas
of the old morality, which placed the whole question of procreation
under the authority (after God) of men, women were in subjection to
men, and had no right to freedom, no right to responsibility, no right
to knowledge, for, it was believed, if entrusted with any of these they
would abuse them at once. That view prevails even to-day in some
civilised countries, and middle-class Italian parents, for instance,
will not allow their daughter to be conducted by a man even to Mass,
for they believe that as soon as she is out of their sight she will be
unchaste. That is their morality. Our morality to-day, however, is
inspired by different ideas, and aims at a different practice. We are
by no means disposed to rate highly the morality of a girl who is only
chaste so long as she is under her parents' eyes; for us, indeed, that
is much more like immorality than morality. We are to-day vigorously
pursuing a totally different line of action. We wish women to be
reasonably free, we wish them to be trained in the sense of
responsibility for their own actions, we wish them to possess
knowledge, more especially in that sphere of sex, once theoretically
closed to them, which we now recognise as peculiarly their own domain.
Nowadays, moreover, we are sufficiently well acquainted with human
nature to know, not only that at best the "chastity" merely due to
compulsion or to ignorance is a poor thing, but that at worst it is
really the most degraded and injurious form of unchastity. For there
are many ways of avoiding pregnancy besides the use of contraceptives,
and such ways can often only be called vicious, destructive to purity,
and harmful to health. Our ideal woman to-day is not she who is
deprived of freedom and knowledge in the cloister, even though only the
cloister of her home, but the woman who, being instructed from early
life in the facts of sexual physiology and sexual hygiene, is also
trained in the exercise of freedom and self-responsibility, and able to
be trusted to choose and to follow the path which seems to her right.
That is the only kind of morality which seems to us real and worth
while. And, in any case, we have now grown wise enough to know that no
degree of compulsion and no depth of ignorance will suffice to make a
girl good if she doesn't want to be good. So that, even as a matter of
policy, it is better to put her in a position to know what is good and
to act in accordance with that knowledge.

The relation of birth control to morality is, however, by no means a
question which concerns women alone. It equally concerns men. Here we
have to recognise, not only that the exercise of control over
procreation enables a man to form a union of faithful devotion with the
woman of his choice at an earlier age than would otherwise be possible,
but it further enables him, throughout the whole of married life, to
continue such relationship under circumstances which might otherwise
render them injurious or else undesirable to his wife. That the
influence thus exerted by preventive methods would suffice to abolish
prostitution it would be foolish to maintain, for prostitution has
other grounds of support. But even within the sphere of merely
prostitutional relationships the use of contraceptives, and the
precautions and cleanliness they involve, have an influence of their
own in diminishing the risks of venereal disease, and while the
interests of those who engage in prostitution are by some persons
regarded as negligible, we must always remember that venereal disease
spreads far beyond the patrons of prostitution and is a perpetual
menace to others who may become altogether innocent victims. So that
any influence which tends to diminish venereal disease increases the
well-being of the whole community.

Apart from the relationship to morality, although the two are
intimately combined, we are thus led to the relationship of birth
control to eugenics, or to the sound breeding of the race. Here we
touch the highest ground, and are concerned with our best hopes for the
future of the world. For there can be no doubt that birth control is
not only a precious but an indispensable instrument in moulding the
coming man to the measure of our developing ideals. Without it we are
powerless in the face of the awful evils which flow from random and
reckless reproduction. With it we possess a power so great that some
persons have professed to see in it a menace to the propagation of the
race, amusing themselves with the idea that if people possess the means
to prevent the conception of children they will never have children at
all. It is not necessary to discuss such a grotesque notion seriously.
The desire for children is far too deeply implanted in mankind and
womankind alike ever to be rooted out. If there are to-day many parents
whose lives are rendered wretched by large families and the miseries of
excessive child-bearing, there are an equal number whose lives are
wretched because they have no children at all, and who snatch eagerly
at any straw which offers the smallest promise of relief to this
craving. Certainly there are people who desire marriage, but--some for
very sound and estimable reasons and others for reasons which may less
well bear examination--do not desire any children at all. So far as
these are concerned, contraceptive methods, far from being a social
evil, are a social blessing. For nothing is so certain as that it is an
unmixed evil for a community to possess unwilling, undesirable, or
incompetent parents. Birth control would be an unmixed blessing if it
merely enabled us to exclude such persons from the ranks of parenthood.
We desire no parents who are not both competent and willing parents.
Only such parents are fit to father and to mother a future race worthy
to rule the world.

It is sometimes said that the control of conception, since it is
frequently carried out immediately on marriage, will tend to delay
parenthood until an unduly late age. Birth control has, however, no
necessary result of this kind, and might even act in the reverse
direction. A chief cause of delay in marriage is the prospect of the
burden and expense of an unrestricted flow of children into the family,
and in Great Britain, since 1911, with the extension of the use of
contraceptives, there has been a slight but regular increase not only
in the general marriage rate but in the proportion of early marriages,
although the _general_ mean age at marriage has increased. The ability
to control the number of children not only enables marriage to take
place at an early age but also makes it possible for the couple to have
at least one child soon after marriage. The total number of children
are thus spaced out, instead of following in rapid succession.

It is only of recent years that the eugenic importance of a
considerable interval between births has been fully recognised, as
regards not only the mother--this has long been realised--but also the
children. The very high mortality of large families has long been
known, and their association with degenerate conditions and with
criminality. The children of small families in Toronto, Canada, are
taller than those of larger families, as is also the case in Oakland,
California, where the average size of the family is smaller than in
Toronto.[12] Of recent years, moreover, evidence has been obtained that
families in which the children are separated from each other by
intervals of more than two years are both mentally and physically
superior to those in which the interval is shorter. Thus Ewart found in
a northern English manufacturing town that children born at an interval
of less than two years after the birth of the previous child remain
notably defective, even at the age of six, both as regards intelligence
and physical development. When compared with children born at a longer
interval and with first-born children, they are, on the average, three
inches shorter and three pounds lighter than first-born children.[13]
Such observations need to be repeated in various countries, but if
confirmed it is obvious that they represent a fact of the most vital

Thus when we calmly survey, in however summary a manner, the great
field of life affected by the establishment of voluntary human control
over the production of the race, we can see no cause for anything but
hope. It is satisfactory that it should be so, for there can be no
doubt that we are here facing a great and permanent fact in civilised
life. With every rise in civilisation, indeed with all evolutionary
progress whatever, there is what seems to be an automatic fall in the
birth-rate. That fall is always normally accompanied by a fall in the
death-rate, so that a low birth-rate frequently means a high rate of
natural increase, since most of the children born survive.[14] Thus in
the civilised world of to-day, notwithstanding the low birth-rate which
prevails as compared with earlier times, the rate of increase in the
population is still, as Leroy-Beaulieu points out, appalling, nearly
half a million a year in Great Britain, over half a million in
Austro-Hungary, and three-quarters of a million in Germany. When we
examine this excess of births in detail we find among them a large
proportion of undesired and undesirable children. There are two opposed
alternative methods working to diminish this proportion: the method of
preventing conception, with which we have here been concerned, and the
method of preventing live birth by producing abortion. There can be no
doubt about the enormous extension of this latter practice in all
civilised countries, even although some of the estimates of its
frequency in the United States, where it seems especially to flourish,
may be extravagant. The burden of excessive children on the overworked
underfed mothers of the working classes becomes at last so intolerable
that anything seems better than another child. "I'd rather swallow the
druggist's shop and the man in it than have another kid," as, Miss
Elderton reports, a woman in Yorkshire said.[15]

Now there has of late years arisen a movement, especially among German
women, for bringing abortion into honour and repute, so that it may be
carried out openly and with the aid of the best physicians. This
movement has been supported by lawyers and social reformers of high
position. It may be admitted that women have an abstract right to
abortion and that in exceptional cases that right should be exerted.
Yet there can be very little doubt to most people that abortion is a
wasteful, injurious, and almost degrading method of dealing with the
birth-rate, a feeble apology for recklessness and improvidence. A
society in which abortion flourishes cannot be regarded as a healthy
society. Therefore, a community which takes upon itself to encourage
abortion is incurring a heavy responsibility. I am referring more
especially to the United States, where this condition of things is most
marked. For, there cannot be any doubt about it, just as all those who
work for birth control are diminishing the frequency of abortion, so
_every attempt to discourage birth control promotes abortion_. We have
to approach this problem calmly, in the light of Nature and reason. We
have each of us to decide on which side we shall range ourselves. For
it is a vital social problem concerning which we cannot afford to be

There is here no desire to exaggerate the importance of birth control.
It is not a royal road to the millennium, and, as I have already
pointed out, like all other measures which the course of progress
forces us to adopt, it has its disadvantages. Yet at the present moment
its real and vital significance is acutely brought home to us.

Flinders Petrie, discussing those great migrations due to the
unrestricted expansion of barbarous races which have devastated Europe
from the dawn of history, remarks: "We deal lightly and coldly with the
abstract facts, but they represent the most terrible tragedies of all
humanity--the wreck of the whole system of civilisation, protracted
starvation, wholesale massacre. Can it be avoided? That is the
question, before all others, to the statesman who looks beyond the
present time."[16] Since Petrie wrote, only ten years ago, we have had
occasion to realise that the vast expansions which he described are not
confined to the remote past, but are at work and producing the same
awful results, even at the very present hour. The great and only
legitimate apology which has been put forward for the aggressive
attitude of Germany in the present war has been that it was the
inevitable expansive outcome of the abnormally high birth-rate of
Germany in recent times; as Dr. Dernburg, not long ago, put it: "The
expansion of the German nation has been so extraordinary during the
last twenty-five years that the conditions existing before the war had
become insupportable." In other words, there was no outlet but a
devastating war. So we are called upon to repeat, with fresh emphasis,
Petrie's question: _Can it be avoided_? All humanity, all civilisation,
call upon us to take up our stand on this vital question of birth
control. In so doing we shall each of us be contributing, however
humbly, to

"one far-off divine event,
To which the whole creation moves."

[1] J.M. Coulter, _The Evolution of Sex in Plants_, 1915; Geoffrey
Smith, "The Biology of Sex," _Eugenics Review_, April, 1914.

[2] See, _e.g._, Geddes and Thomson, _The Evolution of Sex_, Ch. XX.;
and T.H. Morgan, _Heredity and Sex_, Ch. I.

[3] To quote one of the most careful investigators of this point,
Northcote Thomas, among the Edo-speaking people of Nigeria, found
that the average number of living children per husband was 2.7;
including all children, alive and dead, the average number was per
husband 4.5, and per wife 2.7. "Infant mortality is heavy" (Northcote
Thomas, _Anthropological Report of Edo-speaking People of Nigeria_,
1910, Part I., pp. 15, 63).

[4] The same end has been rather more mercifully achieved in earlier
periods by infanticide (see Westermarck, _Origin and Development of the
Moral Ideas_, Vol. I., Ch. 17). It must not be supposed that infanticide
was opposed to tenderness to children. Thus the Australian Dieyerie,
who practised infanticide, were kind to children, and a mother found
beating her child was herself beaten by her husband.

[5] See Havelock Ellis, _The Nationalisation of Health_.

[6] Similar results appear to follow in China where also the birth-rate
is very high and the mortality very great. It is stated that physical
development is much inferior and pathological defects more numerous
among Chinese as compared with American students. (_New York Medical
Journal_, Nov. 14th, 1914, p. 978.) The bad conditions which produce
death in the weakest produce deterioration in the survivors.

[7] The law is thus laid down by P. Leroy-Beaulieu (_La Question de la
Population_, 1913, p. 233): "The first degree of prosperity in a rude
population with few needs develops prolificness; a later degree of
prosperity, accompanied by all the feelings and ideas stimulated by
the development of education and a democratic environment, leads to
a gradual reduction of prolificness."

[8] This is too often forgotten. Birth control is a natural process,
and though in civilised men, endowed with high intelligence, it
necessarily works in some measure voluntarily and deliberately, it is
probable that it still also works, as in the evolution of the lower
animals, to some extent automatically. Sir Shirley Murphy (_Lancet_,
Aug. 10th, 1912), while admitting that intentional restriction has
been operative, remarks: "It does not appear to me that there is any
more reason for ignoring the likelihood that Nature has been largely
concerned in the reduction of births than for ignoring the effects of
Nature in reducing the death-rate. The decline in both has points of
resemblance. Both have been widely manifest over Europe, both have in
the main declined in the period of 1871-1880, and indeed both appear
to be behaving in like manner."

[9] I do not overlook the fact that the artificial clothing of primitive
man is in its origin mainly ornament, having myself insisted on that
fact in discussing this point in "The Evolution of Modesty" (_Studies
in the Psychology of Sex_, Vol. I.). It is to be remembered that, in
animals--and very conspicuously, for instance, in birds--natural
clothing is also largely ornament of secondary sexual significance.

[10] At the end of the eighteenth century there were in France four
children on the average to a family; a movement of rapid increase
in the population reached its climax in 1846; by 1860 the average
number of children to a family had slowly fallen to but little over
three. Broca, writing in 1867 ("Sur la Prétendue Dégénérescence de la
Population Francaise"), mentioned that the slow fall in the birth-rate
was only slightly due to prudent calculation and mainly to more general
causes such as delay in marriage.

[11] Havelock Ellis, _Studies in the Psychology of Sex_, Vol. VI., "Sex
in Relation to Society," Ch. XI., The Art of Love.

[12] The exact results are presented by F. Boas (abstract of Report on
_Changes in Bodily Form of Descendants of Immigrants_, Washington, 1911,
p. 57), who concludes that "the physical development of children, as
measured by stature, is the better the smaller the family."

[13] R.J. Ewart, "The Influence of Parental Age on Offspring," _Eugenics

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