Essay 5

Love And Marriage

by David Hume Icon

Why do women complain so much about everything that goes wrong in a marriage?

Do they mean, that they are the parties principally concerned, and that if a backwardness to enter into that state should prevail in the world, they would be the greatest sufferers?

Or, are they sensible, that the misfortunes and miscarriages of the married state are owing more to their sex than to ours?

I hope they do not intend to confess either of these two particulars, or to give such an advantage to their adversaries, the men, as even to allow them to suspect it.

I have often had thoughts of complying with this humour of the fair sex, and of writing a praise on marriage.

But, in looking around for materials, they seemed to be of so mixed a nature, that at the conclusion of my reflections, I found that I was as much disposed to write a satyr, which might be placed on the opposite pages of the praise. I am afraid, that as satyr is, on most occasions, thought to contain more truth than praise, I should have done their cause more harm than good by this expedient.

To misrepresent facts is what, I know, they will not require of me. I must be more a friend to truth, than even to them, where their interests are opposite. I shall tell the women what it is our sex complains of most in the married state.

and if they be disposed to satisfy us in this particular, all the other differences will easily be accommodated. If I be not mistaken, ’tis their love of dominion, which is the ground of the quarrel; tho’ ’tis very likely, that they will think it an unreasonable love of it in us, which makes us insist so much upon that point. However this may be, no passion seems to have more influence on female minds, than this for power. There is a remarkable instance in history of its prevailing above another passion, which is the only one that can be supposed a proper counterpoise for it. Scythian women once conspired against the men.

They kept the secret so well, that they executed their design before they were suspected. They surprised the men in drink, or asleep; bound them all fast in chains; and having called a solemn council of the whole sex, it was debated what expedient should be used to improve the present advantage, and prevent their falling again into slavery. To kill all the men did not seem to the relish of any part of the assembly, despite the injuries formerly received.

They were afterwards pleased to make a great merit of this lenity of theirs.

They agreed to put out the eyes of the whole male sex, and thereby resign in all future time the vanity which they could draw from their beauty, in order to secure their authority.

We must no longer pretend to dress and show, say they; but then we shall be free from slavery.

We shall hear no more tender sighs; but in return we shall hear no more imperious commands.

Love must for ever leave us; but he will carry subjection along with him.

Tis regarded by some as an unlucky circumstance, since the women were resolved to maim the men, and deprive them of some of their senses, in order to render them humble and dependent, that the sense of hearing could not serve their purpose, since ’tis probable the females would rather have attacked that than the sight:

The learned agree that, in a married state, ’tis not near so great an inconvenience to lose the former sense as the latter.

However this may be, we are told by modern anecdotes, that some of the Scythian women did secretly spare their husband’s eyes; presuming, I suppose, that they could govern them as well by means of that sense as without it.

But so incorrigible and untractable were these men, that their wives were all obliged, in a few years, as their youth and beauty decayed, to imitate the example of their sisters; which it was no difficult matter to do in a state where the female sex had once got the superiority. I know not if our Scottish ladies derive any thing of this humour from their Scythian ancestors.

But I have often been surprized to see a woman very well pleased to take a fool for her mate, that she might govern with the less control. and could not but think her sentiments, in this respect, still more barbarous than those of the Scythian women above-mentioned; as much as the eyes of the understanding are more valuable than those of the body.

But to be just, and to lay the blame more equally, I am afraid it is the fault of our sex, if the women be so fond of rule, and that if we did not abuse our authority, they would never think it worth while to dispute it.

Tyrants produce rebels. When rebels prevail, they tend to become tyrants in their turn. For this reason, I could wish there were no pretensions to authority on either side; but that every thing was carried on with perfect equality, as between two equal members of the same body.

To induce both parties to embrace those amiable feelings, I point to Plato’s account of the origin of love and marriage.

Plato was a fanciful philosopher who said that people were not originally divided into male and female as at present. Instead, each person was a compound of both sexes. He was in himself both husband and wife, melted down into one living creature.

This union was very entire. So great was the harmony and happiness flowing from it, that the Androgynes or men-women, became insolent upon their prosperity, and rebelled against the Gods. To punish them, Jupiter divorced the male-part from the female. Hence the origin of men and women, as distinct creatures.

But notwithstanding this division, so lively is our remembrance of the happiness which we enjoyed in our primæval state, that we are never at rest in this situation.

But each of these halves is continually searching thro’ the whole species to find the other half, which was broken from it:

When they meet, they join again with the greatest fondness and sympathy.

But it often happens, that they are mistaken in this particular; that they take for their half what no way corresponds to them; and that the parts do not meet nor join in with each other, as is usual in fractures.

In this case the union was soon dissolved, and each part is set loose again to hunt for its lost half, joining itself to every one whom it meets, by way of trial, and enjoying no rest till its perfect sympathy with its partner shews, that it has at last been successful in its endeavours. Plato wrote about the mutual love between man and woman so agreeably.

I would do the same by the following allegory.

Jupiter had separated the male from the female. He quelled their pride and ambition so severely that he repented for this cruelty. He felt compassion on poor mortals, who were now become incapable of any rest or tranquillity. Cravings, anxieties, and necessities arose that them curse their existence and think existence itself as a punishment. In vain, they had recourse to every other occupation and amusement and sought every pleasure of sense, and every refinement of reason.

But nothing could fill that void in their hearts nor supply the loss of their partner, who was so fatally separated from them. To remedy this, Jupiter sent down Love and Hymen to collect the broken halves of human kind, and piece them together.

These two deities found such a prompt disposition in mankind to unite again in their primæval state, that they proceeded on their work with wonderful success for some time. Until at last, from many unlucky accidents, dissension arose between them. The chief counsellor and favourite of Hymen was Care. Care was continually filling Hymen’s head with prospects of futurity; a settlement, family, children, servants; so that little else was regarded in all the matches they made.

On the other hand, Love had chosen Pleasure for his favourite. Pleasure was as pernicious a counsellor as the other. It would never allow Love to look beyond the present momentary gratification, or the satisfying of the prevailing inclination. These two favourites soon became irreconcileable enemies.

Their chief business was to undermine each other. As soon as Love fixes and cements male and female into a close union, Care insinuates himself. He brings Hymen along with him, dissolves the union produced by love, and joins each half to some other half, which he had provided for it. To be revenged of this, Pleasure creeps in on male and female already joined by Hymen. He calls Love to his assistance.

They under hand contrive to join each half by secret links, to halves, which Hymen was wholly unacquainted with. This quarrel had so pernicious consequences that led to complaints before the throne of Jupiter.

He was obliged to summon the offending parties. After hearing the pleadings on both sides, he ordered an immediate reconciliation between Love and Hymen, as the only expedient for giving happiness to mankind. To make this reconciliation durable, he laid his strict injunctions on them never to join any halves without consulting their favourites Care and Pleasure, and obtaining the consent of both to the conjunction.

Where this order is strictly observed, the Androgyne is perfectly restored, and the human race enjoy the same happiness as in their primæval state. The seam is scarce perceived that joins male and female. But both of them combine to form one perfect and happy creature.


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