I am asked to speak to you on the subject of Social Purity. I felt some difficulty in accepting the invitation, when this title to my Address was put before me. Under such a title, it seemed to me my address to you might come to be of a nature somewhat vague and unpractical; and this is just what I wish it should not be. On the other hand, I felt a difficulty in regard to answering the question which may be and is asked by you, “What can we do practically to promote Social Purity, and to combat the evil around us?” The part in this work which belongs to men launched into the world, to fathers of families, to mothers, to women in general, and to the mass of the working classes, is not exactly the part which you can take at present. To all these classes of persons I have been more accustomed to speak than to persons of your age and your position.
Yet, at all ages, and in all positions, there is a moral responsibility in regard to this question, even though the time or the call to action may not have yet come. I have endeavoured to think carefully what is the nature of the responsibility laid upon you — what the nature of the active effort, if any, which is demanded of you; and I venture to give you the result of my thoughts. Observe, so far as I take upon myself to indicate to you your own part. I do it with reserve, and am subject to correction: but when I speak of principles in this matter — when I tell you of what men and women generally ought to be and do in regard to it; when I speak of justice and injustice, of selfishness and cruel wrong, and of the redress of that wrong — I speak with no reserve, with no hesitation, but with immoveable conviction, and from a somewhat deep and wide experience. As a woman, addressing men on the subject most vital to us next to our relations with God, I speak also with authority.
It will be useful to consider first what it is that lies at the root of the evil which we are gathered together here to-day to consider, with a view to opposing it. The root of the evil is the unequal standard in morality; the false idea that there is one code of morality for men and another for women, — which has prevailed since the beginning, which was proclaimed to be false by Him who spoke as the Son of God, and yet which grew up again after his time in Christian communities, endorsed by the silence of the Church itself, and which has within the last century been publicly proclaimed as an axiom by almost all the governments of the civilized and Christian world.
This unequal standard has more or less coloured and shaped the whole of our social life. Even in lands where a high degree of morality and attachment to domestic life prevails, the measure of the moral strictness of the people is too often the bitterness of their treatment of the erring woman, and of her alone. Some will tell me that this is the invariable rule, and that the sternest possible reprobation of the female sinner, as being the most deeply culpable, has marked every age and all teaching in which the moral standard was high. No! — not every age, nor all teaching! There stands on the page of history one marked exception; and, so far as I know, one only — that of Christ.
I will ask you the question to-day, therefore, in this connection, “What think ye of Christ?” Come with me into his presence. Let us go with Him into the temple; let us look at Him on the occasion when men rudely thrust into his presence a woman, who with loud tongued accusation they condemned as an impure and hateful thing. “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” At the close of that interview, He asked, “Woman, where are those thine accusers?” It was a significant question; and we ask it again today. Where, and who, are they? In what state are their consciences? Beginning from the eldest even to the youngest, they went out, scared by the searching presence of Him who admitted not for one moment that God’s law of purity should be relaxed for the stronger, while imposed in its utmost severity on the weaker. Almost as soon as that holy Teacher had ascended into the heavens, Christian society and the Church itself began to be unfaithful to his teaching; and man has too generally continued up to this day to assert, by speech, by customs, by institutions, and by laws, that, in regard to this evil, the woman who errs is irrevocably blighted, while the man is at least excusable. As a floating straw indicates the flow of the tide, so there are certain expressions that have become almost proverbial, and till lately have passed unchallenged in conversation and in literature, plainly revealing the double standard which society has accepted. One of these expressions is, “He is only sowing his wild oats;” another is, that “a reformed profligate makes a good husband.” The latter is a sentiment so gross that I would not repeat it, if it were not necessary to do so — as a proof of the extent of the aberration of human judgment in this matter. Here we are at once brought into contact with the false and misleading idea that the essence of right and wrong is in some way dependent on sex. We never hear it carelessly or complacently asserted of a young woman that “she is only sowing her wild oats.” This is not a pleasant aspect of the question; but let us deal faithfully with it. It is a fact, that numbers even of moral and religious people have permitted themselves to accept and condone in man what is fiercely condemned in woman.
And do you see the logical necessity involved in this? It is that a large section of female society has to be told off — set aside, so to speak, to minister to the irregularities of the excusable man. That section is doomed to death, hurled to despair; while another section of womanhood is kept strictly and almost forcibly guarded in domestic purity. Thus even good and moral men have so judged in regard to the vice of sexual immorality as to concede in social opinion all that the male profligate can desire. This perverse social and public opinion is no small incentive to immorality. It encourages the pernicious belief that men may be profligate when young without serious detriment to their character in after-life. This is not a belief that is borne out by facts. Marriage does not transform a man’s nature, nor uproot habits that have grown with his years: the licentious imagination continues its secret blight, though the outward conduct may be restrained. The man continues to be what he was, selfish and unrestrained, though he may be outwardly moral in deference to the opinion of that “society” which, having previously excused his vices, now expects him to be moral. And what of that other being, his partner — his wife — into whose presence he brings the secret consciousness, it may be the hideous morbid fruits, of his former impurity? Can any man, with any pretension to true manliness, contemplate calmly the shame — the cruelty — of the fact that such marriages are not exceptional, especially in the upper classes?
The consequences of sins of impurity far outlast the sin itself, both in individuals and in communities. Worldly and impure men have thought, and still think, they can separate women, as I have said, into two classes, — the protected and refined ladies who are not only to be good, but who are, if possible, to know nothing except what is good; and those poor outcast daughters of the people whom they purchase with money, and with whom they think they may consort in evil whenever it pleases them to do so, before returning to their own separated and protected homes. They forget that, even if they could by the help of modern impure legislation, leave all the physical consequences of their evil deeds behind them, they cannot so leave the moral consequences. The man’s whole nature is lowered and injured who acts thus. But the evil does not stop with his own debasement; he transmits a degraded nature to his children. The poison is in his soul. His children inherit the mixed tendencies of their parents — good and bad; and what security has this prosperous man of the world that the one who is to inherit foul blood and warped brain may not be his daughter! Have these successful sinners ever thought of Nemesis coming in such a shape as this?
The double standard of morality owes its continued existence very greatly to the want of a common sentiment concerning morality on the part of men and women, especially in the more refined classes of society. Men are driven away at an early age from the society of women, and thrown upon the society of each other only — in schools, colleges, barracks, etc.; and thus they have concocted and cherished a wholly different standard of moral purity from that generally existing among women. Even those men who are personally pure and blameless become persuaded by the force of familiarity with male profligacy around them, that this sin in man is venial and excusable. They interpret the ignorance and silence of women as indulgent acquiescence and support.
Women are guilty also in this matter, for they unfortunately have imitated the tone and sentiments of men, instead of chastening and condemning them; and have shown, too often, very little indeed of the horror which they profess to feel for sins of impurity. Now we have the profound conviction that not only must as many men and women as possible severally understand the truth concerning their relations to each other, but also that they must learn the lesson in each other’s presence, and with each other’s help. A deeply-reaching mutual sympathy and common knowledge must (if we are ever to have any real reform) take the place of the life-long separation and antipathetic sentiments which have prevailed in the past.
Obviously, then, the essence of the great work which we propose to ourselves, is to Christianize public opinion, until, both in theory and practice, it shall recognize the fundamental truth that the essence of right and wrong is in no way dependent upon sex, and shall demand of men precisely the same chastity as it demands of women. It is a tremendous work which we have on hand. Licentiousness is blasting the souls and bodies of thousands of men and women, chiefly through the guilt of the men of the upper and educated classes. The homes of the poor are blighted — the women among the poor are crushed — by this licentiousness, which ever goes hand-in-hand with the most galling tyranny of the strong over the weak. The press and the pulpit, apparently dismayed by the enormity of the evil, the one sometimes in sympathy with it, the other losing faith in the power of God and in spiritual revival, have ceased altogether to administer any adequate rebuke. In our homes and in social circles mistaken delicacy has come to the aid of cowardice, and the truth is betrayed even in the house of its friends. The warnings of God are concealed, and young men and women are left to be taught by sad and irremediable experience the moral truths which should be impressed upon them early in life by faithful instructors.
You ask, What can we do? It appears to me that the direct work of rescuing women is not altogether suitable for you. Such work attempted by young men seems to me often to involve an element not favourable to the end desired. You must not refuse, if you can do it, to save one who crosses your path, any more than to save a drowning man if you saw one in the water; but I do not think direct rescue work is precisely that to which you are at present called. As to active work among yourselves — among other men — you can judge perhaps better than I. But for you this is the great time of preparation. It is now that you must attain to that strength of principle and clearness of conviction which will enable you to act when the time comes, and to act aggressively against this evil.
Having attained to a just judgment in this matter there is one thing you can do; that is, to help to form a just public opinion around you. We know how strong public opinion is in schools and universities; how misleading it often is. Public opinion is to the community what conscience is to the individual — it may be warped or it may be enlightened. You will thus be preparing both the written and the unwritten law of the future, by forming right opinions around you; for laws are to a great extent the outcome of public opinion. It is public opinion which gives sense to the letter, and life to the law.
Learn first, and above all things, to be just. Never even mentally endorse any hasty or unjust assertion which you may hear on this subject of the relations of men and women. Accustom yourselves even rather to doubt every assertion which you may hear made in masculine society concerning women and concerning the subject before us. I ask you most earnestly to do this, because, as I have said, there are many falsehoods current in society on the whole subject of the relations of the sexes, and of the possibility of virtue, — falsehoods which are honestly repeated by honest people, in the belief that there is some foundation of truth in them. These falsehoods and unequal judgments are at the root of so much of grievous practical cruelty and wrong, that, when once seen to be false, we must have no mercy for them, though we must be gentle and patient with those who are misled by them.
Men have asserted for ages past that on this subject of the “social evil” women cannot judge, because they do not know the strength of men’s natures, etc. Now I do not assert that the judgment of women taken alone would be complete or wholly just. But neither is the judgment of men on this subject complete or wholly just. It is impossible that it should be so. The verdict of both halves of humanity must be heard. Men alone have spoken hitherto. Never have they honestly asked the counsels of women on this subject, nor (till now) has the verdict of women been heard. The judgments you commonly hear expressed are still those judgments formed by men alone; therefore it is that I ask you, when you hear them expressed, to hold your own judgment in abeyance, and to wait. I urge it also, because it is so good and so strengthening a habit of mind for you to cultivate. Learn to dread the harbouring even of an unjust or untrue thought on this question. Learn to doubt carelessly expressed current opinions uttered by men about women, and echoed by women. Each time you endorse by repetition in words, or even in your inmost thoughts, an unjust and untrue opinion on this question, you have given a slight warp to your own mind; and you are on the road, if you do not take care, to injustice in act as well as thought.
Let me remind you of Christ’s words: “Why do ye not of yourselves judge that which is right?” You are young, and you think older men must judge more wisely? By all means seek the opinion of older men; but having sought it, then once and again, judge ye for yourselves that which is right.
Nothing can acquit you of the responsibility for the free and independent exercise of those powers of judging with which God has endowed you. “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” “Believe not every spirit; but try the spirits whether they are of God.”
I believe that the sense of justice has grown weak among my countrymen, not only on this question, but generally. With the enfeebling of the sense of justice, the love of freedom, and consequently of public spirit, have greatly decayed. The decay of public spirit is a bad sign. I speak of this to you, for many of you may hereafter be in public positions: you will at least — all of you — be able to influence public opinion more or less.
The Christian and the Christian minister have gone as far from this sense of justice as other men. In the best times of our country, the sense of justice and the love of freedom have been in the greatest vigour. But now we find men, in the full profession of Christianity, and often sincere and devout believers in Christ, yet daily false to great principles. God is certainly just as well as merciful. His mercy continues to be preached; but the great principles of justice, of which He Himself is the source, are practically forgotten; and in many men the sense of justice is enfeebled almost to extinction.
I would entreat you therefore not to be too much guided on this vital question of human life which we are now considering, by the verdict of certain cliques, or sets of men, however high a scientific, philosophical, or ecclesiastical authority they may seem to possess. Sets of men, cliques, and professions, are extremely apt to go wrong, through the preponderance, in their judgments of vital questions, of the interests or special points of view of their particular set or class. They pull each other into wrong views; and here the strong reassertion of the individual conscience, enlightened from above, is often the only thing to save men from continued and dangerous error.
In illustration of how far sets of men may depart from principle, I may mention that the Church in America was at one time the bulwark of slavery; children were torn from the arms of their mothers, and sold as slaves for the support of missions to the heathen; theological colleges were endowed by legacies in slaves, and men quoted Scripture in support of the deed. The Rev. Thomas Wotherspoon said, “I draw my warrant from the Scriptures to hold the slave in bondage; the principle of holding the heathen in bondage is recognized by God.” The Rev. Robert Anderson wrote, in an epistle to the Presbytery of West Hanover — “Now, dear Christian brethren, I humbly express it as my earnest wish that you quit yourselves like men. If there be any stray goat of a minister among you tainted with the dangerous principles of Abolitionism, let him be ferreted out, silenced, excommunicated, and left to the public to dispose of in other respects. Your affectionate brother in the Lord.” The Right Rev. Bishop Hopkins, of Vermont, said, in a public lecture: “From its inherent nature slavery has been a curse and blight wherever it exists; yet it is warranted by the Bible. What effect had the Gospel in doing away with slavery? — none whatever. Therefore as slavery is recognized by the Bible, every Christian has a right to own slaves, provided they are not treated with unnecessary cruelty.”
There are men in our own day who attempt to throw the sacred mantle of the Scriptures over the vile thing against which we are leagued. Mr. Lecky dwells with a poetic sentiment upon the tragic figure which ever appears upon the page of history — the “priestess of humanity charged with the mournful office of bearing the sins of the people,” whose sacrifice to the demon of lust is the necessary preservative of the purity of our homes! More than one modern writer has endeavoured to prove that harlotry is an institution in harmony with the Divine economy of the world, and is glad to quote Augustine and other fathers of the Church who expressed their admiration of the apparently stern but really benevolent design of the Eternal Father in the setting apart, from age to age, of a class of women, predestined to wrath, to be ministers to those passions in man which would otherwise bring “disturbance into society, confusion of off-spring, and other inconveniences.”
I have heard that in heathen times there were temples of Venus, where there were priestesses who were also the victims of shameful lust. But I believed that eighteen centuries ago Eternal Love had appeared upon the earth.
Is it not time that the woman’s voice should be heard in this Matter — that she should have a veto upon that immoral claim which men have passed on to their descendants, generation after generation, to the sacrifice, in the interests of impurity, of vast armies of her sisters, women born with capacities, as others, for honourable relationships and spiritual perfecting? Women have at last spoken, thanks be to God! These blasphemies have at last been called up for judgment before the tribunal of the public conscience, and an open denial has been given to the “old and chartered lie.”
I have asked you not to be too much guided by class opinion or the verdict of particular professions. It is well, however, that the voice of those sections of society who suffer the most directly and sorely from organized impurity should be heard with respect, more especially when uttered after a long compelled silence, or forced out by the pressure of exceptional pain or wrong. Next to the women who most directly suffer, in fact or through sympathy, from this social wrong, the working classes in general are they whose position in respect to it most urgently claims for them a hearing. They are not the class who make themselves heard by writing books and articles.
In your future life, some of you will no doubt come in contact more or less directly with the industrious poor; and it may not be premature to possess yourselves of the point of view from which they almost universally regard this grave question. We have had special opportunities during the last ten years for gauging the opinion of the working classes on this subject, and we have found their verdict almost unanimously in accord with justice. No doubt it is the most truly educated class which has supplied to this cause its most high-minded and powerful workers. But speaking generally, it cannot be said that the highly educated and privileged classes have shown either discernment or zeal in this matter. The following letter was written by an Italian working man to the journal the Emancipazione, in Rome: — Rome, 1876.
“Worthy Editor, — You will surely allow a little space in your paper to a working man to state his opinion upon this beautiful emanation of our national wisdom — Regulated Prostitution! And observe, that what I write would be written by thousands of my companions. Men of education tell us that the social evil is a necessity. No doubt we shall have a revised dictionary composed by these gentlemen some day. Meanwhile, I ask you the favour to be allowed to tell these persons what the working men think. Tell them, then, that if gentlemen who have nothing better to do than to eat and drink and enjoy themselves, believe that evil to be a necessity, we working men do not believe it. If they think that they ought to spend not only the money, but the morality of the nation, to maintain a healthy standing army by the sacrifice of the honour of our daughters, we working men do not think this. These gentlemen who make such a noise about the necessity of this vice too often forget, I think, that in order to satisfy that necessity, the dishonour of the daughters of the people is indispensable; for as yet no society of worshippers of these medical theories has been found ready to sacrifice their own daughters to satisfy this necessity. Tell these gentlemen that we working men know what is lawful and what is unlawful, what is moral and what is immoral, better than they do. We answer them that God and conscience existed before their science, and that if their high education produces such fruits, the sooner they get uneducated the better it will be for their own souls, and for the souls of those whom they endeavour to influence. We poor fellows, who are constrained to labour twelve or fourteen hours a day, know too well that food is indeed a necessity, but we do not forget that it is a duty to satisfy that necessity lawfully. — Yours, for justice’ sake, “A WORKING MAN”
Another working man of Southern Europe says:
“What an outcry there would be among these gentlemen were we to seize their property for our common use, and get Parliament to legalize that robbery. But they have taken our daughters for their common use, and have legalized that robbery and outrage.”
In regard, then, to this question, which may be called a question of life and death for the nations of the world, I would say to you, use your present time of preparation wisely. “Get wisdom, and with all thy getting, get understanding.” I know not what “wisdom” is, if it be not that illumination of the intellect, that holy light in the understanding which, together with every other good and perfect gift, cometh down from the Father of lights. It is a light which does not necessarily come through high education, nor is it won by the unaided exercise of the reasoning powers, though it implies and demands the faithful cultivation and exercise of those powers. It must be asked of God. In this, and other great questions of human life we frequently find men of kind hearts and honest intentions going far astray, for want of that illuminated intellect which is the gift of God. The benevolent heart is not a sufficient guide in matters of justice.
But in order to arrive at the truth in these great subjects, in order to attain a clear insight and immoveable conviction in these matters of principle, there is one thing which I am convinced is indispensable, i.e., a certain amount of solitude. You must learn courageously to isolate your own soul, and to retire from the presence of your fellow men. No deep inspiration was ever won, no truly great character was ever formed without solitude: as Lacordaire has said, “The heart suffers, if it is not lost, by continual contact with men; man forms himself in his own interior, and nowhere else.”
It is not out of place, perhaps, when asked to suggest what you can do, to urge upon you the present thoughts. I do so the more earnestly because in a place like Cambridge, where you are living so near together, there is a great temptation to be always dropping into each other’s rooms. The facilities for hearing what so-and-so thinks are so readily in your reach, that it is natural to seek in intercourse with your friends, rather than in solitude, to clear up your own views and strengthen your convictions. Nothing is more helpful or more useful as a corrective for our own defects, and at its best, nothing is more elevating than communion with men and women who are enlightened and wise; but I believe that not only is this good missed, but a positive evil is encountered when this habit of conferring with man takes the place of communion with God. There is far too much talk in these days.
Do not be surprised if I beg you to avoid the habit of much talk even on grave questions. “In all labour there is profit; but the talk of the lips tendeth only to poverty.” It requires a degree almost of heroism, when pressing business and voices on all sides seem to be claiming us, to close our chamber door and lock out, not only our
fellow men, but their opinions and judgments and every-day sayings, which are so apt to follow us into our retirement. When we can so easily get the advice of good men, it requires some force of character to determine to work out alone the problems which trouble us. And yet IT MUST BE DONE, If you are to rise to the full stature of your individual manhood, and if you are to have any influence for good. Resolve then to bring these subjects into the presence of God, and, asking him to illuminate your intellect, and to free your mind from all weakness and prejudice, ponder them, wrestle with them if need be, having none but God as witness of your effort.
It was suggested to me that I should speak to you on the all important subject of SOCIAL PURITY; and that it might be better to postpone the consideration of the subject of that legislation for regulating vice against which a great international “league” is now contending. I understand the feelings which prompted this suggestion; but when I shall have explained myself, I think those who made the suggestion will also understand my feeling about the matter.
The truth is, I should not deem it to be perfectly honest in me to stand before you to-day to speak of these vital questions, and at the same time to be silent concerning that special work to which God in his providence has called me. I should be guilty of a kind of infidelity to the special charge I received from God, were I to deal only with the subject of SOCIAL PURITY and not speak plainly to you of the attitude the State has assumed towards organized vice. Probably you will some day be in positions of trust, perhaps some of you in Parliament; in any case all of you will be able, more or less directly, to influence the public mind, if you desire to do so. I have undertaken to suggest to you what you may now be preparing yourselves to do practically in the future, rather than what you should do during your University career; and in this view of the matter I should deeply regret any omission on my part which might prevent your joining some years hence the “noble army,” of which I shall now speak to you.
You should know then, that never, till we dared to challenge the public authorities of the world as we have now done, was this question brought fully into the light of day, and the public conscience in any measure awakened, as we now see it to be.
In 1869, our Parliament passed those Acts — under a misleading title—which organize and regulate prostitution in the manner in which it has been organized for nearly a century in many parts of the Continent. The system had been previously introduced by our Government into our colonies, and a certain revenue has continued to be derived by the Government from the licences sold by it to traders in debauchery.
Now I wish you to try to realize that this Act introduced into England not only an immoral principle and demoralizing procedures, but the most violent infringement of all the first principles of just law and of jurisprudence, legalizing that which in all lands, until recent times, has been held to be illegal. The danger for the whole community is imminent when the safeguards of law and constitutional right are swept away for any portion of that community. This is far too large a part of the subject for me to enter on here; it has called forth the efforts of the ablest jurists on the Continent, and learned books have been written in condemnation of this unnatural, this bastard law enacted in England.
But God overruled for good the enactment of this masterpiece of tyranny and immorality. It awakened the slumbering conscience of our people. It is to this that you owe it, my friends, that there is now a “holy war” being waged openly against impurity, in which you are invited to join: how then could I be silent on this point?
Our public appeal, and our open war against the Government establishment of vice, has been fruitful for social rousing and reform, as no movement which we know of in this direction has yet been. It has forced the enemy to come forth from the ambush in which he had lurked, concealed but destructive, for so many centuries. Our open defiance of governments, and of that false public opinion which made it possible for governments to enact such a law, has done what years — even centuries — of more silent and private work had never done, and could never do. It compelled the enemy to show himself, and to declare his nature and principles. It forced men once more to call things by their right names. The upholders of this law were obliged openly to declare as their belief, and as the basis of this legislation, the doctrine of the necessity of vice for man, and of the impossibility of self-restraint; and then was called forth the public denial of that doctrine. For the first time in the world’s history women came to the front in the controversy. The whole cruelty of the law falling on their own sex for the fancied preservation of the health of men, woke up the womanhood of this land, and now of the world, in a way which reminds us of the words of sacred prophecy, “When the enemy cometh in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall raise up a standard against him.” It is the weak hands of women which bear up this standard. Never till the woman’s public defiance of this law, and of the Government which made it, was heard — never till this sacred cry of revolt was uttered aloud, did this war against impurity begin in earnest. How then should I be silent on this topic?
Some may still fail to see how the aim of the abolitionists of the State regulation of vice is at all a direct blow at the root of the evil. There is a great significance in the bitter opposition and the personal hostility we have aroused. No amount of “rescue work” among women, no quiet propagandism of social purity among men, would ever have excited this hostility. The opposition we meet is a cheering token — a proof that we have struck a vital point in the evil thing. The pioneers in this crusade had somewhat to bear: nor must you imagine that you, entering later this field of battle, will have an easy time of it.
You will not find great people coming forward, eager to give their names to this crusade, or to have the honour of crowning the edifice, as they do in the cause of Education and some social reforms, when others have patiently and laboriously laid the foundations. The highly educated (though there are many noble exceptions), the refined and fastidious of the more privileged classes, will continue to oppose us with silent scorn and avoidance. Yet, though some of us may say with St. Gregory Nazianzen, “More stones were thrown at me than other men had flowers,” there is great reward in this work; and not the least part of that reward is the humble and courageous
indifference to the world’s censure and the world’s praise, to which it surely educates us. No work with a less definite aim or of a less militant character will ever thus excite the hostility of the enemy. This is too well proved by the patronizing approval of ordinary “rescue work” given even by the most violent partisans of State regulation of vice.
The saving of the female victims of vice is, after all, not a thorough reform, in the largest view of this sorrowful question.ad
During the present hopeful agitation in Paris against State regulation, many articles have appeared in leading Parisian journals imploring the abolitionists to turn their efforts to the excellent work of “rescue.” Le Temps, in a leading article, ardently entreats all good men and women to rally round a work (the work of rescue), which “not only will wound no one, but will receive protection in high quarters, and the assistance of influential individuals.” It beseeches them “to occupy themselves with repentant women, and to leave the Government freely to act in its own province.” M. Humbert, our Continental secretary, commenting on this, says, with a stern irony: “Thus each set of persons will have a well-defined task assigned them. The one will precipitate victims wholesale into the gulf, while the other will draw a few of the same victims with difficulty, one by one, out of that gulf.” Immoral men know that for every victim you save, they can easily get another to fill her place, so long as public opinion is unchanged, and male profligacy is condoned.
Our work is world-wide. Let me introduce you to it a little. These are days of international action. No action now “liveth to itself or dieth to itself,” any more than the individual. This campaign of ours has taught us English more than any other previous event, to lay aside our insular character and prejudices, and to love our foreign neighbours as if they were our own compatriots. As you have asked practical suggestions from me, I would suggest that you should learn to be quite familiar with some modern languages, more especially French, and that in foreign travel you should seek, not health and enjoyment alone, but an acquaintance with the efforts and conflicts of reformers of other lands. You will thus find an élite of men and women to whom we can introduce you, acquaintance with whom will greatly enrich your experience, and stimulate you to action.
England holds a peculiar position in regard to this question. She was the last to adopt this system of slavery, and she adopted it in that thorough manner which characterizes the actions of the Anglo-Saxon race. In no other country has the social vice been regulated by a law. It has been understood by the Latin races, even when morally enervated, that the law could not, without risk of losing its majesty and force, sanction illegality, and violate justice. In England alone, the regulations are law. Their promoters, by their hardihood in asking Parliament to decree illegality and injustice, have brought on, unconsciously to themselves, the beginning of the end of the whole system throughout the world.
The Englishman is a powerful agent for evil, as for good. In the best times of our history, my countrymen possessed pre-eminently vigorous minds in vigorous bodies.
“But, when faith decays (religious and moral faith together), and when the animal nature has grown as strongly as the moral nature, and along with it the animal appetites, and when appetites burst their traditionary restraints, and man in himself has no other notion of enjoyment save bodily pleasure and the accumulation of wealth, he passes (and, above all, the Englishman passes) by a quick and easy transition into a mere powerful brute.”
There is no creature in the world so ready as the Englishman to destroy, to enslave, to domineer, and to grow fat upon the destruction of the weaker human beings whom he has subjected to his bold and iron will.
But, together with this development towards evil, there has been in our country a counter-development. Moral faith is still strong among us, especially in certain sections of society. It was in England, then — in England which adopted last the hideous slavery — that there arose first a strong and national protest and opposition to that slavery. English people rose up against the wicked law before it had been in operation three months. English men and women determined to promote its abolition, and, by God’s help, to effect a moral revival, not at home only, but abroad; and they promptly carried their crusade to every country on the Continent of Europe.
The progress of our cause has been truly marvellous. Yet, on the other hand it is obvious that the partisans of this evil legislation have recently been smitten with a kind of rage for extending the system everywhere; and that they are on the watch, with an activity and adroitness almost superhuman, to introduce it wherever we are off our guard, or not strongly represented. This fact seems to point to a more decided and bitter struggle on the question than we have yet seen.
We now need to call up among us — to pray for and beseech Heaven to grant us — more of aggressive and militant virtue than we yet see among us. To live purely and blamelessly ourselves is not now enough; we must have the fibre of soldiers; the courage, if need be, of leaders of a forlorn hope, over whose dead bodies our fellow-soldiers will march to victory.
An energetic member of our executive committee, M. Pierson, of Zetten, in Holland, says: “ I look upon legalized prostitution as the system in which the immorality and incredulity of our age are crystallized; and that in attacking it we attack in reality the great enemies which are hiding themselves behind its ramparts. But if we do not soon overthrow these ramparts we must not think our work is fruitless. A great work is already achieved: sin is once more called sin instead of ‘necessary evil,’ and the true standard of morality, as an equal standard for men and women, for rich and poor, is once more lifted up in the face of all the nations.”
These are times, it would appear then, in which we, in all lands, seem summoned to join hands with all who call upon the name of the Lord — with all who love justice — in order that by our combined strength we may be able to oppose the evil which “cometh in like a flood.” What we have to do seems to me now to be this: to form a nation within the nations — a nation which will recognize the supremacy of the moral law, and which will contend for the dignity and autonomy of the individual, against the Socialism (whether represented by imperialism or democracy) which makes no account of the individual, and is ever ready to coerce, oppress, or destroy the human being in the supposed interests of an aggregate of human beings which it calls SOCIETY, or THE STATE. The soul of each human being was created free and responsible before God; and every human law which has in it any of the Divine character of his law, recognizes the inviolability of the individual. The “nation within the nations” will have to labour, by holding fast its faith in God, to hold fast those great principles of justice towards man, which are slipping away from us.
This legalization of vice, which is the endorsement of the “necessity” of impurity for men, and the institution of the slavery of women, is the most open denial which modern times have seen of the principle of the sacredness of the individual human being. It is the embodiment of Socialism in its worst form.
An English high-class journal confessed this, when it dared to demand that women who are unchaste shall henceforth be dealt with “not as human beings, but as foul sewers,” or some such “material nuisance,” without souls, without rights, and without responsibility.
When the leaders of public opinion in a country have arrived at such a point of combined scepticism and despotism as to recommend such a manner of dealing with human beings, there is no crime which that country may not presently legalize, there is “no organization of murder — no conspiracy of abominable things — that it may not, and in due time will not, have been found to embrace in its guilty methods.” It is for the newly-born “nation within the nations” to protest that there is no such thing as a political whole, which is entitled to violate or dispense with the smallest right of the meanest worm that crawls its floor; that there is no such thing as a national unity of so splendid a tradition that the smoke of one personal wrong may not quench it.
Were it possible to secure the absolute physical health of a whole province, or an entire continent by the destruction of one — only one — poor and sinful woman, woe to that nation which should dare by that single act of destruction, to purchase this advantage to the many! It will do it at its peril. God will take account of the deed not in eternity only, but in time; it may be in the next, or even in the present generation.
I have now told you something of our vast league against this great evil; and I earnestly invite you to join it. It appears to me that God has been pleased in a special manner to bless that work, in bestowing upon it a marked vivifying and fructifying power. The attitude of those who entered this conflict was (and needed to be) very aggressive and very courageous; and I think this may teach us that if we fear not, but go forward in the power of God to the direct and open attack of any instituted evil, He will so give us his blessing that we shall see the spiritually and morally dead arising around us, and energies quickened on all sides for true reform. Numberless societies and moralizing agencies have taken their rise from ours. The “Social Purity Alliance” which you are invited to join, and of which some of you are now members, took its rise from the energy awakened by the central attacking phalanx. Economic agencies in connection with the employment of women, “Preventive” and “Rescue” societies, “Leagues” among students and other men, etc., are now formed on the Continent in connection with our work; and almost all are, in some sort, the offspring of the parent movement.
I dare to hope that after this appeal it will be impossible for any one of you individually and personally to wrong or sin against any woman. Even in some future moment of strong temptation and of weakness of will, the memory of this hour will have a restraining influence. You will not so sin against your mother, your sister, against one whom you may in future win as your wife — one whom perhaps you even now love. You will not so sin against me, who, as the exponent of the long-endured sufferings and wrongs of women, stand and plead with you to-day.
But even if there were a man here present in whose mind there dwells some bitter memory of the past, or who feels himself unworthy to pronounce the name of PURITY, I would say to him, not from myself alone, but for all my fellow-workers in this cause, that every such man, honestly regretting the past, becomes doubly my brother, as every repentant woman is doubly my sister. If I could not say this, in vain should I have learned for myself the glad tidings of perfect and everlasting forgiveness and oblivion for sins past; and most unworthy should I be to confess my own and only hope to be in Him who, once from his cross on Calvary, and now from his throne in heaven, says: “Thy sins and thine iniquities shall be remembered no more for ever:” they shall be “cast into the depths of the sea,” they shall be “no more mentioned to thee again for ever.” We invite all without exception, whatever their judgment of themselves, whatever their past may have been, to accept this full redemption, and to join us in this holy war.
“He that to-day shall shed his blood with me,
Shall be my brother: be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition.”
LASTLY, suffer me to say one word more. I believe the secret of true manliness lies, more than in anything else, in humility; and yet the true nature of humility is often imperfectly understood. It is so far from implying a cringing attitude before our fellow-men, that it induces the very opposite — a courageous independence of character, and (what often seems to those who do not understand the secret) a bold self-reliance. It is a virtue not easy of attainment. When the young escape the graver moral perils, they sometimes fall into other errors which they do not suspect, a certain conceit and want of simplicity which are not beautiful in the sight either of God or man. I beg you to bear with me if I entreat you to avoid that characteristic which we sometimes call “priggishness,” which arises from the absence of true simplicity. Why is it that this fault is so odious that one can hardly love the person who is tainted by it, be he ever so pure and blameless in his life? I think it is because we all recognize readily in others the beauty of simplicity, and feel the absence of it to be a fundamental defect in the character. “Simplicity” means truth, and honesty, and modesty, and the absence of any mental or moral swagger, or self-conceit.
I can feel very leniently towards young persons who fall into this or any other error, because of the respect and tenderness I have for youth; but I imagine this pedantic tone of mind is very little likely to commend the good principles of any young man infected by it to persons of his own age. There are persons of all ages in whom it is so ingrained that it seems to require some great and overwhelming sorrow, or some grievous self-knowledge, to bring them to an attitude of perfect and absolute simplicity before God, and to destroy the root whence all affectations of character and manner take their rise.
There is a tendency in these days to undervalue the grace of humility; or rather, its true nature is misunderstood. Humility, so far from destroying moral force, increases it; it destroys, or at least sternly represses that petty egotism which assumes such a variety of subtle forms, and through which the strength of the soul evaporates. “It keeps even a John the Baptist waiting in the desert till his appointed time; and then, when the hour is come, it opens upon the world the whole force of a soul which is strong because it is humble.” True humility is not a want of enterprise nor a subtle resource of idleness; it is not a lack of courage, nor is it the meekness which shrinks from a rude encounter; it is not the abandonment of responsibility; it is not hostile to the claims of civil or public interests, nor is it the parent of political incapacity. “ It implies the greatest of all victories within the human soul; it is the full recognition of the insignificance of self before the power and majesty of God; the force which is apparently forfeited by the casting down of self-reliance in the character, is more than recovered when the soul rests in perfect trust on the strong arm of God.” In fact, that which is commonly called “self reliance” is simply (in the spiritually instructed) this perfect trust in Another; and the lowliest attitude of the soul before God, if sternly and absolutely sincere, is that which brings down the richest blessings to earth.
I invite you to ponder well these things. And when the time comes for you to go forth more actively into the world, I beg you to join yourselves to this great work in some branch or other of it. We need to make common cause against so gigantic an adversary. Many will welcome you with outstretched hands and joyful hearts.
I sometimes think, looking at the gathering multitude of our fellow-workers at home and abroad, that the words descriptive of the abolitionists of negro slavery in America, are not inapplicable to some of these opponents of a still greater and more widely-spread slavery.
“One must experience,” it was said, “something of the soul sickness caused by public opposition and hatred, to enter fully into their trials. Those who are living in peace can form but a faint conception of what it is to have no respite, no prospect of success within any calculable time. The grave, whether it yawns beneath their feet,
or lies on the far horizon, is, as they well know, their only resting place. Nowhere but among such people as these can an array of countenances be beheld so little lower than the angels’.” Ordinary social life is spoiled for them; but another life, which is far better, has grown up among them. They had more life than others to begin with, as the very fact of their enterprise shows: and to them that have, more shall be given. “They are living fast and loftily. The weakest of them who drops into the grave, worn out, has enjoyed a richer harvest of time, a larger gift out of eternity, than the octogenarian self-seeker, however he may have attained his ends.”
We never have been, and may never be, called to suffer as these martyrs of America suffered; but I love to read and think of their labours and their fortitude. It is very strengthening to do so, in connection with a struggle which has so many of the essential features of all the great and noble conflicts of the past; and it is good to hold communion of spirit with the confessors and martyrs of other times, “who stretched out their strong arms to bring down Heaven upon our earth.”
Source: Butler, Josephine E., “Social Purity,” (London: Dyer Brothers; Morgan & Scott), 1879.