In the light of modern social development, notably in this country and in France, legal dissolution of the marriage contract has assumed an interest and importance which never previously attached to it; justifying, I am led to believe, a somewhat closer inquiry into the nature of that contract than ts usually accorded it; a clearer definition of the moral obligation therein involved, and a more careful examination of the grounds, if such legally exist, on which it may, either conditionally or absolutely, be abrogated.
I am only sorry that the nature of this work does not permit such an extension of the subject as its importance seems to demand; an importance clearly established by, not only the conflicting conclusions arrived at by different civilized communities, and religious faiths, concerning it, but by the equally significant conflicts of interstate and international laws touching its legal and moral native.
It may be remarked, however, at the very beginning, that this confusion, both secular and sacred, concerning the validity or propriety of divorce can only have arisen from grave diversity of views on the part of the law-making powers, not only of the countries themselves but of the various parts, or sections, of each.
Contrary to the opinion generally entertained, the period for which marriage is entered into varies greatly among the different races of man; but, so far as my reading has enabled me to ascertain, it seems to be a pretty general rule that the contract is not necessarily entered into for life. "There are a few remarkable instances of peoples among whom separation is said to be unknown;"1 but they are vastly in a minority, compared with the thousands upon whom the marriage obligation sits very lightly, and who never permit it to stand in the way of either pleasure or caprice.
The natives of the Andaman Islands are, according to Mr. E. H. Man, married for life; "no incompatibility of temper, nor other cause, being allowed to dissolve the union."' So also with the Papuans of New Guinea; with one or two insignificant tribes of the Indian Archipelago, and with the Veddahs of Ceylon, who have a proverb that "death alone separates husband and wife."
The Romans are said to have honored with a crown of modesty those who were satisfied with only one marriage;* and many beautiful, although isolated, instances, arc recorded of Roman wives who, in the prime of life and beauty, at the death of their husbands, devoted the remainder of their lives to seclusion and chastity in memory of the dead.1
It is best, possibly, to let such teaching pass without comment, as a startling evidence of the spirit of the times.
Tacitus applauded the Germans as models in this respect;* and the epitaph, "univirw," inscribed on many Roman tombs, sufficiently attests the adoption of his teaching by society in his day. The family of Camillus was noted for its single marriages; and one of the Roman poets beautifully remarks concerning this custom—"to love a wife when living is a pleasure; to love her when dead is an act of religion."'
But the very fact that these instances of post-conjugal celibacy were so highly applauded sufficiently proves their infrequency. The vast mass of the Roman people were polygynous at all times, up to the advent and establishment of Christianity; as were also the Greeks, Persians and almost all Oriental nations, with the possible exception, as I have before noticed, of Egypt, where monogamy with court-concubinage was the general custom.