Typos p. 134: Plimsol [= Plimsoll]
The Large Family
It must have struck most people that the Birth Control movement is really an attack upon the large family, and, if this is so, it is important for our purpose to discover what this attack signifies in regard to the welfare of the individual and the race. For, from what we know about birth-controllers' methods, we may feel perfectly sure that they would not scruple to say, or to imply, that a large family is a bad thing in itself, quite apart from the pressure of population and the exigencies of economy, if it suited the purposes of their propaganda to do so. In fact, there are many indications to show that they have already gone a long way towards establishing in the popular mind a certain prejudice against the large family, which is by no means based on merely political or economic considerations.
Without daring to come out into the open with an obviously biased and easily refuted attack on the large family as such, they have attacked it indirectly by emphasising the terrible evils of excessive child-birth, of too frequent pregnancies, and of masculine brutality all of which have about as much of a necessary relationship to a large family, as cruelty to children, parental syphilis, or gambling habits in one of the parents.
On the basis of a reproductive life of from twenty-one to twenty-five years for the married woman, and allowing for the optimum interval of two and a half to three years between each birth, eight to ten children would be the limit beyond which the idea conveyed by our use of the word "large" would not extend. "Large family" in the present context, therefore, may, for the sake of the argument, be taken to mean any number of children between five and ten inclusive.
As to how the figure has been arrived at as a working basis, it may be as well to point out the following facts:
The reproductive life of woman in our part of modern Europe is generally admitted to last from about 13 or 14 years of age to about 46 or 50, 1 at
1 See Bland Sutton and Giles (Diseases of Women, p. 40), where the length of woman's reproductive life is said to be from 13 to 48. See also G. T. Wrench, M.D., London, Past Assistant Master of the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin (Healthy Wedded Life, 1923, p. 308), where it is said to be from 14 to 45 or 50. Kisch (The Sexual Life of Woman, p. 594) says that the average age for the menopause in England is 46.1 years. And Dr. P. W. Siegel (Gewolte und Ungewolte Schwan-
kungen der Weiblichen Fruchtbarkeit, etc., p. 7) says that, according to his records, a modern woman's reproductive life lasts from the age of 14 to 47 inclusive. See also Twentieth-Century Practice, edited by J. L. Stedman (Vol. VII, p. 565). the date of which is twenty years earlier than that of the other authorities, which gives 12 to 15 as the age for the onset of the catamenia, and 46 to 50 as the age for the menopause. The Encyclopædia Britannica, XIth Edition (Article "Gynæcology"), gives 14 to 16 as the average age in England for the onset of the catamenia, and 46 to 50 as the age for the menopause.
1 Dr G. T. Wrench (op. cit., p. 26) gives the average age of marriage for women as 26; but although this may be true of all brides (26.21 years is the average of all brides since 1896) it is not true of spinster brides, which, of course, form the great majority of brides. According to the Registrar-General's Statistical Review of England and Wales for the year 1924 (p. 126), which was the latest edition available at the British Museum in November, 1927, the mean age of marriage of all spinsters fluctuated between 25.14 and 26.92 years during the period 1896 to 1924, and during the period 1920 to 1924 it never once rose above 25.59. So that 25.5 may fairly be taken as the average marriage age for women in our present
Of course, this applies only to the woman who leads a normal sexual life and who marries at 25. In the case of those women who marry before their twenty-fifth year say at 18 or 20 the resulting normal family would be larger in proportion to the number of extra years. Thus, a girl marrying at 18 might have from ten to thirteen children, and a girl marrying at 21 from nine to twelve. And this probably accounts to a very large extent for the large families sometimes met with among the poor, as poor women, on the whole, marry earlier than middle-class women.
For our present purposes, however, and arguing on the basis of the average age at which women marry in this country, the normal "large family" will be taken to mean from eight to ten children.
We are now in a position to return to our original
calculations. Nor does the average of men's differ very much. Although it does not concern us much here, it may be interesting to note that between 1896 and 1924 the age for all bachelors fluctuated between 26.63 and 28.14 years, and between 1920 to 1924 was never higher than 27.54.
1 See footnote, p. 96, ante; also G. T. Wrench (op. cit., p. 49), who gives three years. See Appendix I.
Taking the first group first, we may say that, if the thesis of birth-controllers concerning our present state of over-population be accepted and we have accepted it under reserve it is legitimate to attack the large family on the following grounds:
(a) Because if all married couples in the nation had a large family, the pressure of numbers would soon become so acute as to lead to very great distress, if not disorder (food-shortage, poverty, insurrection or rebellion, and possibly international wars).
(b) Because if all married couples in the nation had a large family, it would mean that in thousands of cases the family purse would not be able to survive the strain. (Vast extension of pauperism.) The above two grounds of attack against the large family would not only be legitimate, but would also be honest and to some extent consistent with fact, and, moreover, sufficiently cogent to command our earnest attention. There are one or two replies to them, which we shall consider in another chapter'; but if we accept their basis, which is the belief that we are even now over-populated, there is but one argument to be advanced in reply, and if this cannot be maintained, then the above reasons for attacking large families must be considered justified. Now turning to what may not be legitimately said against the large family, we would suggest that, among other things, it is not justifiable to condemn it
(c) Because it is a cause of unhappiness, ill-health, or any other kind of disaster to the normal healthy
(d) Because it is unnatural, morbid, pathologically cruel or brutal.
(e) Because it is unfair to the children themselves (apart from possible effects of a and b).
(f) Because it is dysgenic, or a wrong to the race or the nation (apart from possible effects of a and b).
(g) Because the small family is preferable (apart from the effects of a and b).
Let us now consider more narrowly these illegitimate" reasons for condemning the large family, taking them in their order.
(c) Before we approach the subject of the large family it is most important to rid our mind entirely of the nightmare of excessive child-bearing and too frequent pregnancies, which has been smuggled so ingeniously into the whole question of fertility by both reputable and disreputable birth-controllers to suit their own ends. Nothing could be more vicious than to confound this vital issue by agitating before excitable people the red flag of female disease and debility brought on by too frequently repeated and too many pregnancies, when it is a matter of soberly discussing the pros and cons of what we have called a "large family." For, as we have already pointed out, pregnancy and parturition are not manifestations of disease, but are a perfectly normal expression of the female's sexual instincts and physical equipment. 1
1 To show how necessary it is in these hopelessly corrupt and ignorant days to remind people that pregnancy and parturition are not symptoms of a disease, but necessary stages in a normal and natural function, we find two learned medical
Nature did not give woman a reproductive life of something over thirty years for her to use only five or six years of that period in its normal expression. Consequently, in spite of the muddle which ignorance and medical prejudice and stupidity have introduced into the natural function of child-bearing, and the enormous capital which has been made by birth-controllers out of the ridiculous amount of unnecessary suffering which now accompanies a large proportion of human births, 1 it cannot be too often repeated that, whereas man's complete and normal expression of his sex begins and ends with copulation, woman's only begins there; and that where, in woman, it is made to end there also, the whole of an important bodily
men Drs. Andrew Balfour and H. H. Scott, in Health Problems of the Empire (London, 1914), p. 327 obliged to make the following remark: "Pregnancy is physiological, not pathological, it is a natural condition, not a disease, though circumstances of modern life tend to make it so or lead to its being regarded as such among Western peoples." See also Dr. Katherine Gamgee, op. cit., p. 12.
1 For the whole problem of how far pain in child-birth is avoidable, and can be eliminated without narcotics, in order to restore that pleasure to it which, as a natural function, it ought to provide, see the author's Lysistrata. It is not maintained that in that brief sketch the whole of the complicated subject is adequately stated, but it is believed that in the direction pointed out in Lysistrata there is at least the hope of better things, and that further research in the same direction by experts may lead to surprisingly good results.
It amounts to a sheer Puritanical denial of the body to attempt to assimilate the sexual needs of woman to those of man, and those birth-controllers who, as I have shown, are guilty of wishing to establish this false analogy are, despite all their protestations to the contrary, really followers of a negative tradition, and a tradition hostile to human welfare, and particularly to woman.
This would be quite obvious even to the meanest intelligence if parturition were what it should be, a pleasant function, if not actually an orgasm. For it should be remembered by those who are inclined to scoff too hastily at this idea, not only that there is much to be said for it, 1 but also that in health all functions of the body which can be followed by consciousness are not only quite painless, but actually pleasant. And it is surely matter for suspicion that, for a large proportion of modern women, parturition, which is a function quite as vital as copulation, should be the only exception to this rule. 2
If, however, we take the normal and average healthy woman's reproductive life as lasting something over twenty years it is, as we have seen, longer, but in civilised communities with comparatively late marriages, twenty-one to twenty-five is more or less accurate and allow the optimum interval between births, which in healthy conditions need not be more
1 See the author's Lysistrata.
2 For interesting observations on the pleasure that should be experienced in parturition, see Dr. Groddeck's immensely stimulating book, Das Buch vom Es (Leipzig, 1923). Unfortunately no translation exists.
And this is where the birth-controllers are as a rule so little candid and logical; because, whereas they deny that it is possible for the healthy normal man to remain without a full expression of his sexuality for any long period of his adult life, and make it one of the chief claims in favour of their teaching that he cannot, they cheerfully and unscientifically argue that it is possible for woman to do so.
Now, there is no exception to the rule that when normal functioning is secured, happiness, both mental and physical, is more likely to be present than when
1 Cobbett, who was the most human of men, and a loving husband and father into the bargain, suggested a hundred years ago not only that for a farmer marrying at 25 ten children would be a suitable family, but also that, with that family, a married man on a farm would be able to save more in his lifetime than a bachelor with only one maid-servant could. See Advice to Young Men (New Edition. 1869, para. 212).
If we admit this, and we cannot very well deny it without contesting the principles on which it is based, we are committed to the next step in the argument, which is, that we must regard as invalid any reason against the large family, as defined above, which is coloured or influenced by deliberate and irrelevant references to the debilitation and exhaustion of excessive child-bearing and too frequent pregnancies. For the evils of excessive child-bearing and too frequent pregnancies do not apply to a woman who has had a large family in the way above described.
It is essential definitely to set up this standard and to claim that it cannot be assailed by birth-controllers bent on attacking it from the standpoint of the woman's welfare, because the two issues, the normality of a large family and excessive child-bearing with too frequent pregnancies, have been so hopelessly and intentionally entangled by birth-controllers with a view only to their own militant ends.
(d) We have seen that it is neither unnatural, morbid, nor pathological, for a healthy woman to have a large family as defined above. It cannot therefore be either cruel or brutal to be party to giving
(e) The argument is often advanced by birth-controllers that a large family is unfair to the children themselves. This objection, apart from the reasons given under a and b, which will be considered in a moment, is not worth considering, because all the evidence points the other way. In a large family the proper environment for the children is secured first by the presence of the other children, with whom they learn not only the elementary principles of social life, psychological insight, and an understanding of their fellows which equips them for their ultimate role in the community; but, secondly, by the parents themselves, who are normal people expressing one of the deepest of human passions normally. 1 Thus their parental environment will not be calculated to inculcate upon them, either by precept or example, any of the habits of mind or body which are associated with the neurotic and repressed adult, while their emotional life will be rich without being strained. The children will, moreover, be less likely to be the object of
1 See Conception Control, by Lady Barrett, M.D., M.S., B.Sc., etc. (p. 47): "A public opinion in favour of small spaced families does not serve the best interests of the children or of their mother."
"It would be a misfortune if the large family entirely ceased to exist; this is not seldom the source whence genius springs, and if not genius, then thrift, patience, discipline, the habit of work, and a spirit of brotherhood, virtues which make valuable contributions to society. Families of one or two and a meticulous care to limit a family results very often in one or two instead of the proverbial quiverful too frequently breed the spoilt child, the neurote, and the man or woman who, though richly endowed both in means and in education, is ofttimes a parasite upon the community." 1
1 Medical Views on Birth Control, p. xvii. See also the evidence of Dr. J. H. Hertz before the Commission of Enquiry into the Declining Birth Rate (p. 429), where the Chief Rabbi says: "Some of the best and greatest men have come from poor and prolific Jewish homes." See also Paul Bureau in L'Indiscipline des Moeurs (Paris, 1920, p. 417), where the author, speaking of the advantages of a large family, says: "La diversité des caractères et la multiplicité des rencontres accroissent à I'infini les occasions de discorde et de heurt, et Is besoin de discipline, d'ordre, de dévouement, de charité tolerante, est si evident que chacun se sent énergiquement poussé à acquérir ces qualités. Sans exagération, on peut dire que la vie domestique est, pour les parents et les enfants de ces families, un incomparable champ d'entraînement où ils trouvent à chaque instant du jour et parfois de la nuit, au moins pour les parents! l'occasion de lutter contre leur égoisme, leurs fantaisies capricieuses, leurs intempérances de caractère." See the same author on the disadvantages of a small family to the children (op. cit., pp. 41819), particularly the footnote on p. 418, in which M. Dumont is quoted.
Neither can it be harmful to the race or nation (except for reasons given under a and b), because there is a mass of evidence to show that it is impossible to expect the best combinations either of parental or stock qualities always to appear in the early children of a marriage.
Although, generally speaking, heredity guarantees that there will be no violent aberration from parental and stock qualities in the children of a given couple, it does not by any means guarantee that the permutations and combinations of those qualities will necessarily lead to the best results in every child, or in the early children of the marriage. It may so lead to the best results in the early children, or it may not. And that is why it is of the utmost importance from the standpoint of the welfare of any race or nation that heredity should be given as many chances as are reasonably possible to achieve the best and happiest combination. In a small family the chances are few, and the likelihood of the best possible child of which the parental and stock qualities are capable being produced is therefore necessarily more remote than it is in a large family. And the consequence is that small families, by staking everything on the earliest three or four children not to mention those of only one or two children must be the cause every year of a very heavy loss in the best possible product
The fact that the first, or at least the early, children of a marriage are frequently very successful combinations of the parental and stock qualities can, of course, be shown by scores of examples. But in those instances in which such successful combinations have been first and only children, it is naturally impossible to say what further and later offspring might have been produced if the family had been larger.
Among first children who may be assumed to have been most successful combinations of their parents' and their stock qualities, we may mention:
Thomas à Becket, Velasquez, Hobbes, Bolingbroke, Hawke, Matthew Arnold, Julius Cæsar, Alexander, Milton, Dr. Johnson, and his biographer Boswell, Bismarck, Heine, Colbert, Corneille, Molière, Racine, Edgar Allan Poe, Shelley, Crabbe, Keats, Swinburne, Browning, Bunyan, Carlyle, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Buffon, Burns, Addison, Columbus, Dryden, Gibbon, Goethe, Adam Smith, Thackeray, Macaulay, Cardinal Newman, Ruskin, George Gissing, George Meredith, Herbert Spencer, Abélard, Clive, Harvey, Lafontaine, Hegel, Leonardo da Vinci, Robespierre, St. Beuve, Linnaeus, Malesherbes, Chopin, Spohr, Locke, Marat, Napier (inventor of logarithms), Newton, Grote, Hogarth, Paley (of Paley's Evidences), Sir Robert Walpole, Du Maurier, Lord Acton, Watts (the artist) and Rossini.
But, on the other hand, the following people, who
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The above lists, which are by no means exhaustive, and were merely compiled at random from such publications as the Encyclopædia Britannica and the Dictionary of National Biography, are significant enough. But,
The following people would never have been born if their parents had limited their families, as thousands are doing to-day by means of Birth Control methods, to three children:
1 See pp. 93, 94, ante.
The following people would never have been born if their parents had limited their families, as thousands are doing to-day, to two children:
And if their parents had been content with two sons, the following people would never have existed:
Now, in estimating the relative value of the large and the small family, both with regard to the race and to individual nations, it is surely impossible to overlook facts of the kind given above without incurring the risk of discrediting oneself for ever in the eyes of both scientific and rationally-minded people. For not only in the lists above given, particularly in those relating to large families, do we find late combinations of the best stock and parental qualities which surpass in desirability the earlier combinations (in most cases the earlier children of the families given are not even heard of), but if we are to follow the careful argumentation of Reibmayr, the combination of the best stock or parental qualities in one individual, from the standpoint of will, energy and intellect, denotes a condition of higher organisation which makes him also a better animal. 1 And certainly the lives of the majority of great men reveal them as creatures of extraordinary vigour and endurance. Even if we note the age to which they lived, we find that a considerable majority had wonderful lasting power.
And yet birth-controllers consistently and repeatedly overlook the kind of facts I have just adduced. Their
1 See Die Entwicklungsgeschichte des Talents und Genies.
We claim, therefore, from the standpoint of eugenics, that the artificial limitation of the family, by preventing in thousands of families the best possible combination of stock and parental qualities, is both wrong and wasteful, and that it is impossible to compute the loss to Western Europe which is being caused by this sacrifice of innumerable hordes of the potential best in every generation, by the birth-controller's deliberate selection before birth, which we have already likened to a process of hoeing in the dark.
In view of this contention, and of the other reasons previously adduced for regarding Birth Control as decidedly dysgenic, it seems strange that a person like Dean Inge can venture to say
"that the reduction in the birth rate is imperatively necessary, and that it gives us no ground for anxiety or regret,
1 They may retort that I have failed to call attention to the fact that while the best combination of stock and parental qualities may, and, as I have shown, frequently do, come late in a family, so may also the worst combination. This is true. But the direction of human life is in the hands of its highest examples. And even if it could be proved, which of course it cannot, that for every Darwin or Bach we get twelve criminals from large families, it would not affect the issue, For society can always deal with her criminals; she cannot, however, always conjure great men into existence when she most needs them.
It seems strange that he should be able to say this without being hopelessly discredited for all time as a thinker and leader of thought. For if in the opinion of this glib parson the only dysgenic influence of Birth Control is caused by the differential birth-rates in different classes (and we have shown that there is no real evidence that this is dysgenic), then it means that he has failed absolutely, not only to perceive the dysgenic consequences of Birth Control previously demonstrated in the opening chapters, but also the dysgenic consequences demonstrated by the above class of facts. And yet he remains a popular journalist, his shallow judgments appear to rouse no critical protests, and, in spite of his totally inadequate understanding of eugenics, he is, so we are informed, on the Council of the Eugenic Society. 2
Verily it seems an apt opportunity for recalling Huxley's famous and terrible rebuke of Bishop Wilberforce at Oxford on June 30th, 1860, when the latter joined swords with the scientist over man's alleged simian origin.
"I asserted, and I repeat," said Huxley, "that a man has no reason to be ashamed of having an ape for his grandfather. If there were an ancestor whom I should feel ashamed in
1 Evening Standard, February 9th, 1927.
2 For many years now we have been steadily recording and calling public attention to the wild and irresponsible utterances of this ecclesiastical journalist, and yet, such is the power of a mere name in England that he is still regarded by thousands of educated people as a suitable guide to their muddled cogitations.
We must, however, remember that the kind of clap-trap which prominent birth-controllers, like Dean Inge, Harold Cox and others, offer to the public as words of wisdom is presented to an uncritical, ill-informed audience, insufficiently equipped to check or to refute their self-appointed teachers. Hence the enormous amount of rubbish which mars the bulk of the literature on Birth Control.
(g) We have now to consider the problem of the large family from the standpoint of those who argue that the small family is preferable. This is maintained on various grounds, the chief of which is that more attention can be given to the children in a small family, and more spent on the care and education of each. 2
Whatever truth there may be in these statements, and whether in practice it is actually such a good thing for more attention to be paid to children, we may find it difficult to determine; for more attention at the wrong time, as Herbert Spencer pointed out years ago, 3 is more injurious than no attention at all; while it is also very doubtful whether anything can make up, both to parents and children, for the lack of the proper environment and the natural conditions
1 Ed. Clodd, Pioneers of Evolution, Part IV, 3.
2 Vide most of the books and pamphlets written by birth-controllers.
3 See his Education.
As Dr. Letitia Fairfield points out, in a very wise paper, with reference to Birth Control literature: "there is never a hint that the 'small family' system has been anything but an unmixed boon to the wealthier classes." 1 This is perfectly true. And when one sees the parents particularly the mothers of the small families in the middle and wealthier classes, with their constant aches and pains, their neurasthenia, their fanatical worship of one or two children, the tragic consequences of this worship to the children, and the sort of limited society of narrow views, narrow interests, narrow notions even of what is best from the standpoint of pure egoism, which the two adults and their one, two or three children tend to compose, one feels that, despite all the hardships of clothes handed down from one child to another, of scrambled meals, of parents unable to attend exhaustively to the minor wants of each individual child, and to the lack of room, the large family appears infinitely better off.
1 Medical Views on Birth Control, p. 111.