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A New Atmosphere by Gail Hamilton

Lead them to barter themselves


_I_ depreciate marriage? I magnify it! It is you that depreciate, by debasing it. You lower it to the level of the market. You degrade it to a question of political and domestic economy. You look upon it as an arrangement. I believe it to be a sacrament. You subordinate it to ways and means. I see in it the type of mortal and immortal union. You make it but the cradle of mankind. I make it also the crown. All that is tender, grand, and ennobling finds there its home, its source and sustenance, its inspiration, and its exceeding great reward.

But by as much as marriage is sacred, by so much is he a blasphemer who travesties it; and he thrice and four times blasphemous who leads others to do so. No sin is so dwelt on in the Bible with a stern, reiterated fixedness of divine abhorrence as the sin of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin. They who barter their children for a string of beads, or a talent of gold, are no more pagan than they who, by accumulated indirections, lead them to barter themselves. I do not undertake the defence of all "woman's rights," but with whatever strength God has given me I will do battle for woman's right to be pure. "Caesar's wife should be above suspicion," said haughty Caesar, and the world applauds; but every woman is czarina by divine right. No wretched outcast, wandering through the darkness of the great city,

"With hell in her heart And death in her hand, Daring the doom of the unknown land,"

but has lost a crown. For her who, through weakness or despair, has forfeited her birthright, the world has no pardon. I do not say that ye should pray for it to be otherwise. But a deeper sin, a tenfold more gross and revolting violation of God's law written on the human heart,--giving force to the law written erewhile on the tables of stone,--does she commit who, in the holy name of love, under the holy forms of marriage, burns incense to false gods. Where love may walk white-robed and stainless, brushing the morning dews from the grass, only to descend again in fresher and fragrant showers, pride or prudence or ambition can but bring the deepest profanation: roses spring in his pathway; behind them is the desert.

Marriage contracted to subserve material ends, however innocent those ends may be in themselves, is legalized prostitution; as much more vilifying, as mischief framed by a law is more destructive than mischief wrought in spite of law. To such vice the world is lenient, scarcely recognizing it as vice; but the soul bears its marks of wounds forever and forever.

Marriage is a result, not a cause. In God's great economy it may have its separate and important work; but from a human point of view, it is conclusion and not premise. It cannot be made the premise without bringing fatal and disastrous conclusions. Whatever ends nature may design her institution to compass, be sure nature will work out.

III.

I do not design to sketch any Utopia for woman; but there are certain things which can be done in this world, in this country, in this generation, at this moment,--simple, practical, practicable measures, which can be accomplished without any change in laws, without any palpable revolution or disruption of society, but by which women shall be relieved of the indignity that is constantly put upon them, even by the society which considers itself, and which perhaps is, the most civilized and chivalric in the world.


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