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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. Cabanès (_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 street.”

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 seen.

[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 Pubertà_ (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 exultation.

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 disturbance.

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 children.

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 women.

[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 beginning.

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 distressing.

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 transitional.

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 rapidly.

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 volitional.

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, but

“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 criterion.

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 injurious?

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 significance.

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 indifferent.

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