Marriage, hallowed by the influence of religion, becomes pure, sacred. Even the noblest principles and sublimest ethics of philosophy have failed to control the impulses of sex; but Christ taught, even while forgiving the adulteress, that adultery is a shame, a sin against manhood and womanhood, and against God. Under the influence of that teaching, through a long course of severe but salutary social surveillance, chastity has become the rule of female life, and the very touchstone of man's honor. As the human mind becomes cultured and refined, through the grand morality of the Gospels, there rises within it thoughts, sentiments, impulses, never experienced before. It begins to conceive a contempt for pleasures which it shares in common with the brute; and, insulted by the reflection, strives, and strives nobly and usually successfully, to be pure. The moral force must be strong which subdues an instinct pregnant and vitalized by the accumulated power of innumerable centuries; but religion does it.
One other triumph yet remains to it. To make society treat both male and female offenders with equal severity. Of course we must recognize the fact that the instinct of purity, the sense of moral duty, the fear of exposure, all conspire to create a law which women ought to, and do, enforce; constituting themselves the rightful guardians of their own honor, and treating as a traitress to her sex the woman who betrays her trust.
But if she fail, if she violate once those laws of honor and virtue on which society is founded, must we have no compassion? no mercy? Shall that social decree, as immutable as the laws of the Medes and Persians— go on sinning, or starve—continue forever? Is it forbidden to receive her, to associate with her, to allude to her existence, to pronounce her very name? Is she to be condemned without inquiry by the drumhead court-martial of public opinion, as the soldier is who has shown cowardice before the foe? Are we to forget that the whole life of womankind is a battlefield; that she is constantly surrounded by foes, who assail the citadel of her honor without, as her own passions do within; and that, even if she succeed in defending that citadel against assaults to which men are immune, on one side at least, she does it with no weapon but virtue, and no reward save her own peace of mind and approval of conscience? It would be well, in my judgment, if men were ruled by as severe a social code.
"The passions are always our foes," but it is terrible when they become our masters. It is vce victis with a vengeance—the fierce war cry of the conquering Gauls—when the wild beast of human passion, which men feed, and pet, and make a playmate of, turns upon them at last and rends them! How many splendid intellects are paralyzed, how many homes despoiled, hopes blighted, hearts broken, and promising young lives swept to death, or broken on the rack of disease, by that unchained demon which destroyed Babylon and Nineveh, and has made wildernesses of the fairest Edens of earth!
Some writers on eschatology have put forth the doctrine that the future hell of the wicked will be the perpetuation, to all i eternity, of the evil passions which brought about their condemnation. Should such prove the case, I know of no greater punishment than would befall the voluptuary. Even on earth he dreads to be alone, so foul a monster does he appear in his own eyes. His memories are fierce battlefields of un-gratified temptation, of insane frenzy, of accusing conscience, of miserable remorse. As the beautiful mind of Mendelssohn caught a divine idea of harmony from the whispers of nature—the lullaby of the brook, the rustling of the leaf, the voice of the bird and the sigh of the wind—so, to the soul steeped in sensuality, every sight, every sound, calls up an impure association. He may struggle, pray, resist; but the links of habit, tempered in the forge of passion, are stronger than steel; and his miserable life is spent between fierce desire, unsatisfying indulgence and unspeakable remorse.
To stimulate his jaded senses, he enters those paths where stands the angel with his flaming sword, and following these across the borderland □f crime, eats the forbidden fruit, and is cast out forever from the fair Eden of his hopes.