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This opinion has been entertained by many excellent men ; but if we examine it from a medical point of view, it is very doubtful, to say no more, whether it is desirable for any youth, who has his way to make in the world, to attach himself to a girl early in life, however purely and faithfully. If an adult is in a position to marry, by all means let him do so. If his sexual desires are strong, the power of the will deficient, and if his intellectual faculties are not great, early marriage will keep him out of much mischief and temptation. All medical experience, however, proves that for any one, especially a young and susceptible man, to enter into a long engagement without any immediate hope of fulfilling it, is physically an almost unmitigated evil. It is bad for any one to be tormented with sexual ideas and ungratified desires year after year. The frequent corres. pondence and interviews cause a morbid dwelling upon thoughts which it would be well to banish altogether from the mind; and I have reason to know that this condition of almost constant excitement has often caused not only dangerously frequent and long-continued nocturnal emissions, but most painful affections of the testes. These results sometimes follow the progress of an ordinary two or three months' courtship to an alarming extent. The danger and distress may be much more serious when the marriage is postponed for years.
I am aware that to the more romantic of my readers these warnings may be very distasteful. Their idea of love is that it is a feeling too pure and spiritual to be defiled with any earthly alloy. I confess that I doubt whether any but the inexperienced really entertain this notion. During the first passionate delight of an attachment, no doubt, the lower and more mundane feelings are ignored. But they are present nevertheless“; and according to my professional experience, are tolerably certain to be aroused in every case sooner or later. Of course, where the affection felt is true and loyal, they may be corrected and kept within the strictest bounds of the most respectful tenderness; to do this, however, in the case of a protracted engagement is a far harder task than the ardent and poetical lover allows himself at first to think.
The suffering caused by the repression of continually excited feelings that cannot be gratified, is often very great.
I am very far from wishing to degrade love to mean animal passion; on the contrary, it should be a true and deep union of the whole nature, every part taking in this, as in all other matters, its own place. To ignore the bodily and secular aspect of it, however, would be as false and unwise, though not so degrading, as to forget the mental and spiritual.
It is, indeed, more than false and unwise, it is dangerous. Experience too often proves that what has commenced as a pure and most refined attachment may end very differently, if not most carefully guided. And this guidance, as I have said, may involve much troublesome and almost dangerous distress.
Continence from all sexual excitement in thought and deed is my advice to all young men; and even the adult, who is not in a position to marry, had better divert his thoughts from sexual matters as much as possible. It is wiser for him to devote himself altogether to his profession, and not have to divide his attention between a fiancée and his success in life. When the latter is attained, it will be time to think of the former. He will then be in a better position to select his partner for life.
Socially speaking, too, these long or early engagements often turn out badly. Hope deferred not only makes the heart sick, but the temper sour.
Differences that the closer bond of marriage would have healed at once, or never allowed to arise, become permanent sources of disagreement, and very often the parties have to regret a youth that has been rendered less useful and less happy by an engagement which has at last to be broken off, after much suffering, to the mutual relief of both.
George Herbert says, in his “ Church Porch :"
"Wholly abstain, or wed—thy bounteous Lord
But gladly welcome what he doth afford,
Continence has its charms—weigh both, and so
In the case of young men, however, the rules above laid down Lycurgus
apply with nearly equal force to early marriages. forbade any man to marry under the age of thirty-a state of celibacy probably well adapted to the times. As to early marriages I can only say that marriage, even for a boy, is better than fornication. But the true remedy, it cannot be too often repeated, for sexual distress in youth is a training to continence, not indulgence, even lawful. Those are in error who think that early marriages are advisable on the theory that there is no alternative.
After a pretty wide experience I should lay it down as a rule that marriage for the very young is not only not in any sense necessary, but is an evil, both from a medical and a social point of view.
No medical man, I hold, should ever recommend the hardly worked metropolitan population to marry early. Marriage is not the panacea of all earthly woes, or the sole correction of all earthly vices. It often interferes with work and success in life, and its only result is, that the poor man (poor in a pecuniary point of view) never reaches the bodily health or social happiness he might otherwise have reasonably expected. Under the age of twenty-five, I have no scruple in enjoining perfect conti
The sighing lackadaisical boy should be bidden to work, righteously and purely, and win his wife before he can hope to taste any of the happiness or benefits of married life.
DISORDERS IN YOUTH.
In the previous chapter I spoke of the advantages of continence in youth. My remarks would not be complete were I to omit to say a few words on the evils of incontinence. I feel this to be all the more needful, as I am well aware that young men often wish to persuade themselves that incontinence is medi cally beneficial or even necessary.
Nothing could ever induce me to take upon myself the responsibility of recommending illicit sexual intercourse. Setting aside moral considerations, I feel fully convinced that no physiological or other reasons can justify a medical man in suggesting or palliating the promiscuous or systematic breach of the seventh commandment.
The occasional indulgence of the sexual feelings is not, in the first place, medically desirable, as it stimulates, without satisfying, the appetite, and each casual intercourse, again, is attended with this dauger :that it may but initiate a more permanent liaison, often fraught with painful consequences. If it once assume regularity, a man may form ties most difficult to break. The class of persons who will accept his attentions on these terms without marriage is beneath him in station and education. He finds himself presently in a false position. If the female is true to him alone, there is often great inducement to make her what in common parlance is called “an honest woman.” Should a marriage ensue, the ill-fated youth, consigned to social ostracism, finds that he has learnt too late a bitter lesson for the rest of his life.
When, on the contrary, the sensual young man is fortunate or shrewd enough to avoid the “permanent liaison,” and wise, no doubt, in his own conceit, indulges his passions by promiscuous illicit intercourse, the day is not far off when he will contract disease-particularly in England, where the complaints of prostitutes are too little cared for.1
The late Father Mathew knew his countrymen well when he enjoined, not moderate indulgence, but total abstinence from spirituous liquors. So it is with the sexual passion. It is easier to abstain altogether than to be occasionally incontinent and then continent for a period; and the youth is a dreamer, who will open the floodgates of an ocean, and then attempt to prescribe at will a limit to the inundation.
1 Those who wish to pursue this subject further should refer to the second edition of the author's work “On Prostitution," page 249, et seq., in which the dangers attending promiscuous intercourse are fully treated of.
The medical, or so-called scientific adviser, who should recommend the commencement of a habit so dangerous, incurs the gravest responsibility. It should be rather the medical man's object to impress upon his patient's inexperienced mind the simple truth, that instead of being a mere sexual indulgence, the consorting with prostitutes is one of the very worst sins, both in nature and result, which man can commit. His tone should rather be that adopted in the following extract from a celebrated article in the “Quarterly Review:”
“Our morality will be considered by the divines as strangely lax and inconsistent, and by the men of the world, the ordinary thinker, and the mass who follow current ideas without thinking at all—as savage and absurd; nevertheless we conceive it to harmonize with the ethics of nature and the dictates of unsophisticated sense. We look upon fornication, then (by which we always mean promiscuous intercourse with women who prostitute themselves for pay), as the worst and lowest form of sexual irregularity, the most revolting to the unpolluted feelings, the most indicative of a low nature, the most degrading and sapping to the loftier life,
* The sin, of all, most sure to blight-
Is soonest lost, extinguish'd in.'
Sexual indulgence, however guilty in its circumstances, however tragic in its results, is, when accompanied by love, a sin according to nature; its peculiarity and heniousness consist in its divorcing from all feelings of love that which was meant by nature as the last and intensest expression of passionate love; in its putting asunder that which God has joined ; in its reducing the deepest gratification of unreserved affection to a mere momentary and brutal indulgence; in its making that only one of our appetites which is redeemed from mere animality by the hallowing influence of the better and tenderer feelings with which nature has connected it, as animal as the rest. It is a voluntary exchange of the passionate love of a spiritual and intellectual being for the hunger and thirst of the beast. It is a profanation of that which the higher organization of man enables him to elevate and refine. It is the introduction of filth into the pure sanctuary of the affections. We have said that fornication reduces the most fervent expression of deep and devoted human love to a mere animal gratification. But it does more than this: it not only brings man down to a level with the brutes, but it has one feature which places him, far, far below them. Sexual connection with them is the simple indulgence of a natural desire mutually felt; in the case of human prostitution, it is in many, probably in most, instances a brutal desire on the one side only, and a reluctant and loathing submission, purchased by money, on the other. Among cattle the sexes meet by common instinct, and a common will; it is reserved for the human animal to treat the female as a mere victim to his lust."-"Quarterly Rev.," July, 1850.