The art of taking a wife - Paolo Mantegazza - ebook

The art of taking a wife written by Paolo Mantegazza who was an Italian neurologist, physiologist, and anthropologist. Now republish in ebook format. We believe this work is culturally important in its original archival form. While we strive to adequately clean and digitally enhance the original work, there are occasionally instances where imperfections such as missing pages, poor pictures or errant marks may have been introduced due to either the quality of the original work. Despite these occasional imperfections, we have brought it back into print as part of our ongoing global book preservation commitment, providing customers with access to the best possible historical reprints. We appreciate your understanding of these occasional imperfections, and sincerely hope you enjoy reading this book.

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Liczba stron: 188

The art of taking a wife


Paolo Mantegazza

Table of Contents















For the majority of men, and for at least thirty years of their lives, love is the strongest necessity, and governs them like a tyrant with no other curb than the wretched brake of written codes, which they do not read, and of social conventionalities, which they can easily silence by employing hypocrisy’s mask; an hypocrisy, let it be well understood, well dressed, well curled, and well educated.

How can one satisfy this greatest of all human needs?

By buying love, at so much an hour, so much a month, or so much a year.

By gaining it by seduction or violence.

By taking a wife.

It would seem as if these three ways of loving were totally distinct, one from the other; in fact, that any one would exclude the others, and that they would stand in direct opposition to each other. But when hypocrisy is at the helm of the vessel which bears us over the great sea of life, it contrives so ably and so cleverly, as to enable us to enjoy all three methods at one moment, and, while we are sailing between rocks free of danger or shipwreck, it affords us, as it were, all the delights of a voyage in a beautiful archipelago, where islands and islets seem to meet and touch each other; and where land, mountains, and scenery all form a bright, picturesque, and beautiful picture.

We row upon the tranquil waters of matrimony, and yet glide so near to the shores of venal love that we can grasp the flowers and gather the shells and precious pearls which lie there. We sail with the wind over the more tempestuous sea of seduction, but all the while we coast the island of poetic, faithful, and constant love; thus, vice, adultery, and domestic peace, debauchery and eternal vows, angels and beasts, find themselves guests at the same table, without false modesty, and without remorse.

Civilisation has opened three ways of loving to men of the present day, and one would have thought that since they are free to choose one, they would have been satisfied with that. Not at all. Civilised man is by nature insatiable, for the hammer of the excelsior beats ever at his heart, the thirst for something better wears him away, and the hunger for something more consumes him; hence he has set himself to destroy the boundaries and walls which separate the three roads, so that he can easily take short cuts from one to the other without risk; and so matrimony, prostitution, and adultery walk hand in hand; and if in public they appear very cool to each other, that is only a blind, for in the secrecy of their houses they wink at each other, sup and sleep together. If all this is indeed so, a Turk would say it is so because it must be. If all this can indeed be, an epicurean optimist would say, let us, too, try and sail in this sea, now so calm, and now so tempestuous, and let us set that sanctified hypocrisy at the helm.

However, I am neither Turk nor cynic, and I still believe in moral progress, and in the efficacy of books and the spoken word; and even though I be left alone in the belief that there is no happiness save in the good, nor cheerfulness save in sincerity, and in being the same inwardly as outwardly, I would still die in this conviction.

I like a mixture of things at table, but I have no heart for it in the field of morality. I wish to see the family on one side, and the brothel on the other; and when two natures living together have become an intolerable torment to each other, I should wish the law to apply the instrument of divorce to their chains and to set them free.

The three ways of loving should be separate one from the other, and should never be united. So far from breaking down the walls that divide them, I wish to have them so high as to become impregnable fortresses.

Only one of these three ways, however, is that which the honest and happy ought to take. That of seduction and violence, only thieves, assassins, and villains can enter. The third, unfortunately, the way of venal love, nearly all enter, though still desiring and invoking some distant ideal, where this way shall be closed, and no path left free save that of matrimony, though its dignity must be always guaranteed by the law of divorce.

But is marriage always possible and always easy?

No; it is often impossible, and always difficult.

And the honest man stops and meditates upon it as upon the gravest, the most intricate, and most obscure problem of life. The misfortune is this, that just these timid and thoughtful men are the best, and the fear is sometimes so great, and the meditation lasts so long, that old age comes upon them before they have resolved the problem or made themselves a family nest. Instead of this, the improvident, the thoughtless, and villains precipitate themselves headforemost along the road of matrimony; and if for a few moments they struggle in the tortures of doubt, they quickly silence apprehension and remorse by saying to themselves:

“If it should turn out badly, if I find nettles and thorns on this road, I will clear another cross-road with one good stroke of my spade, and will buy love like so many others, and will, like them, seek it either in the house of my friend or neighbor. Immorality on this point is so lax, the indulgence of the public is so merciful, that I may enjoy this violation of home without falling under the penalty of the law. Mahomet also, generally so severe on all transgressions of the written law, when he speaks of the sins of love, even of the greatest, always adds: ‘But God is good and merciful.’ And all think with Mahomet, though they have not written the Koran, that to the sins of love ‘God is good and merciful.’”

I, however, the warmest advocate of marriage for myself and others, desire with all my soul that the honest and wise man should marry, to increase the capital of honesty and wisdom in future generations. And so I preach and shall preach to my last breath:

Marry! Marriage is still and always will be the most honest, healthy, and ideal mode of loving.

But I add immediately:

Marry well; combine all the powers of your thought and feeling to solve this most important problem of your life; add to them all that is best in yourself; all that you find of the best among your counsellors who are your friends.

And then follow the advice given us by that embodiment of good sense, Benjamin Franklin: Take a sheet of paper, and after having folded it in two, so as to have two distinct columns, write on one side all the advantages the proposed marriage would bring you, and on the other all the evils and dangers into which it might lead you. When you have finished this piece of analysis work, try to measure the opposing elements, cancelling alternately those that seem to balance each other, as in algebra + 3 and - 3 is equal to zero, and you will see what is left upon the page—that is, whether the good predominates, or whether the evil has the upper hand.

I know well all the mistakes you may make. I know, too, that if you love you will write in rose-coloured ink in the column of good, and in that of evil you will use the blackest. But in any case this work of analysis, this labour of detailed examination will, without your being aware of it, oblige you to consider many elements which otherwise you would have passed over, just as if you had had recourse to a microscope of great power instead of to your eyes.

Matrimony must be studied with the eyes first; with the microscope after; yes, even with the telescope. The eyes will enable us to see the principal part of the problem; the microscope will show all the ins and outs of our love; it will reveal all its cells and all its fibres; and lastly, the telescope will give us the power of seeing, prophetically, as it were, what will befall our passion and desire in the evolution of time.

Then, if, after using eyes, microscope, and telescope, you also read my book, you will find there the sincere and dispassionate words of a man who became a physician that he might study mankind better; who began by studying himself, as being the subject ever at hand; who to this daily incessant study has devoted forty-six large volumes not yet printed.

Listen to the voice of a man who has made woman his principal study, judging her to be the better part of humanity, and has loved her more than all the creatures upon earth, believing her to be the first and greatest source of happiness. I know perfectly that, even after having applied Franklin’s method to the study of the problem of matrimony, even after having used eyes, microscope, and telescope, and read my book, you may yet make a mistake; but your conscience will always be free from any remorse, in knowing that, as far as you were able, you did all that was possible to secure happiness.

Vessels are sometimes wrecked under the command of able and brave captains, and under the guidance of a sure compass. But for one of these you find a hundred wrecks, to which there was no compass, or an ignorant or drunken captain.

And all those who marry without reflecting deeply and long on the abstruse problem are drunk and ignorant captains, who launch, without a compass, upon the most tempestuous sea.


Of all paradoxes man is the cleverest and most untiring. He says he is a worm of the earth, but believes himself to be a son of God; his own person he clothes modestly, but revels in discovering the nakedness of the greatest possible number of his sisters in Christ. The more he humiliates himself, the prouder he is; the more he vaunts his generosity, so much the more is he egotistical; an adorer of liberty in theory, but in practice a daily contriver of tyrannies.

For the present I will confine myself to this last form of his madness. If one only listens to him, he places liberty above all the good things of the world. If Adam has lost the earthly paradise, it is because he did not know how to tolerate the yoke of a divine prohibition; if man has spattered his planet with blood, it is because he preferred the hard bread of the free citizen to the golden chains of despotism; if he has raised monuments to Spartacus, Bahilla, Garibaldi, and Washington, it is because his first glory is to be free; but the monuments forgotten, the tyrants killed, he raises new ones on his own account; perhaps for the pleasure of destroying them hereafter. If he does not seek some innocent and pleasant occupation, what can he do after having slept and loved and eaten?

Numbers must take the first place among the early tyrants of our own making.

When God made the world, he entirely forgot to make numbers, and we have corrected this fault of creation by making them ourselves. God had not numbered the stars in heaven, or the drops of water in the sea, the leaves on the trees or the ants on the ground. Infinity above, infinity below, the ineffable and immeasurable everywhere.

Instead, we have repaired this great forgetfulness of the Creator, by placing numbers above everything else, and making them our masters in the world of living things and dead; we allow them to tyrannize over us in every act of our humble daily life, as well as in the pages of history and in dogmas of philosophy. If there have been sanguinary revolutions in order to obtain the liberty of the press, why as yet has no one rebelled against the tyranny of numbers?

Quien sabe?

Whoever would think of buying eleven or thirteen eggs?

No one, for 10 and 12 are our small tyrants.

Who would make a present of nine or ninety-nine francs to his own son?

No one, for 10 is a great tyrant, and 100 greater than 10.

Who has never felt the yoke of numbers one thousand and one hundred thousand? Who is never in subjection to the tyranny of the million, both in language and mode of life?

And centuries, too, which are only so many figures, what a number of theories they have evoked from the depths of history; how many false names have they not written in the anagraphs of time; how many revolutions have they not postponed; how many others have they aroused, merely on account of the tyranny of a number?

For some years we have had before our eyes one of the most deplorably humiliating examples of our view of this arithmetical incubus, the decline of the nineteenth century to make room for the twentieth.

Six years are still wanting till this numerical cataclysm. Who knows how many books will be written on the century dying out, how many prophecies on the century following it; what torrents of philosophy and ink to discuss the passing of the number 19 to that of 20?

Yet centuries only exist on paper, and after having made them ourselves, we adore and freely elect them to be our tyrants; only to deride the poor savages who, like us, make their own gods of wood and stone, fall on their knees before them and fear them.

And we fear numbers—only another idol of thought, made for our use and necessity, and in the similitude of our wretchedness and intellectual weakness.

For my part I only see around me an infinite continuity of things and of time, nor do I allow myself to be overawed by the cabal of numbers, with which we ought to amuse ourselves as with a pack of cards, esteeming them for what they are worth; a poor example of a thing yet poorer!

The dying century, fin de siècle, and all such sensational phrases, which are intended to express a great deal, because they mean nothing—these exclamations, the eloquence of the non-eloquent, move me little, if at all. I look back and see a yesterday; I look around and see a to-day; forward and I see a to-morrow; the three tenses of the to become, which have no numbers, nor will ever have. For they succeed each other unceasingly, following the mighty strides of our journey, not with the figures of a century, but with a regret that becomes a hope, and will be a faith; to be succeeded again and forever by regret, hope, and faith—unceasingly.

I wished to write this in the first pages of my book to let you know that if I attempt to delineate marriage in modern society I renounce the dying century, the fin de siècle, and all such effective phrases, which would give me, based on numbers, so many resources of rhetoric and sentimentality. I have hated and always shall hate all forms of tyranny, including that of numbers. I look around and say, this is the way men marry to-day. They do so because they are sons of a yesterday, which is the father of to-day; then I look forward and hope that to-morrow will be better than yesterday or to-day, and I endeavour to promote the good as quickly as possible and with a minimum of pain, by my pen, my experience, and my studies, cito tute et jucunde, as Celsus has it.

In our civilized society, marriage is the least evil of all the different modes of union between man and woman for the preservation of the race. It is the result of many historic evolutions, many sensual, moral, religious, and legislative elements, which have come into conflict with each other in the course of time.

Remote atavism of the ravishment of the female, holy words of inspired prophets, imperiousness of feudatories, avarice of usurers, transports of love and heroism of hearts, have all left something of their own upon the altar of matrimony. But before the sacrament was finished and the priest sent up the fumes of his incense, animal man came leering and saying:

“This is my affair. I am the sole and true priest of this rite. I am the only minister of this religion.” And mixing the divine and human vows on the altar with his hairy hands—perhaps, too, with his tail—he formed a chaos of things most opposite, from the highest to the lowest, from the most sublime to the most ignoble. And this, then, is marriage.

To curse this love sanctified by vows is useless, to suppress it is impossible, to substitute something better is absurd (at least for the present), and nothing remains but to accept it as the least evil of sexual unions, and to ameliorate it gradually, prudently, and wisely.

By free choice on both sides, enlightened by reason.

By the guarantee of divorce.

Neither the prince nor the proletariate needs this book of mine. The first marries worse than any citizen in his kingdom, for dynastic reasons, without love or sympathy. With him it is first the throne, then the family; first the alliance of his colours, and then if there is room, the kisses of love. It is true he may console himself with the vulgar and easily won embraces of a pandering Venus; he may also take advantage of one of the most ridiculous remnants of the Middle Ages, the morganatic marriage. In all cases the ministers, deputies, nay, even journalists provide him with a wife. The art of taking a wife is for him, therefore, nonsense.

The proletariate, more fortunate than the prince, may choose the woman it loves, and in its choice may take advantage of the counsels of those who have loved and sinned much. But it does not read books, for they cost too much; and when by law its individuality is cancelled from the statistics of the illiterate, it has no time to read, for the tyranny of bread oppresses it.

Therefore I write for neither prince nor proletariate, but for all that human multitude who live and move between the extreme poles of modern society and who constitute the true nerve of the nation.

In what way do all these millions of males and females combine?

In different ways, but amongst them marriage is the only legal foundation of the family permitted by morality and approved by religion. All others are contraband, moving on cross-roads either alone or in company, but all, in one way or the other, defrauding nature, with an eternal envy for those who have honestly paid custom dues on entering the city.

Without fear of going far wrong, one may say that in whatever society there are the greatest number of married people, there one will find more morality and decorum, and consequently the number of those who love and nourish their love by seduction, whether it be with the armed hand on the public road, or clandestinely under the form of domestic robbery, will be less.

Besides this, our modern society is suffering from gold fever; a disease which is as old as man himself and has taken the form and course of a real epidemic; this contributes more than any other element to corrupt the roots of marriage.

Diffused instruction and the many social exigencies have increased our needs beyond measure; more especially those which are more costly, that is, those of the intellect and the higher æsthetic emotions, without in any way enlarging the sources of production.

From birth to death, the balance of home life oppresses us, torments us; its arithmetic pierces through the skin with the acute points of its figures, reaches our very viscera and, alas, our hearts also; poisoning every pleasure, spoiling all the holy and happy poetry of life. Invited as all are to the genial table of modern civilization which offers us so many new delights, we are like the poor government official, who, for appearance’s sake, allows himself to be carried off to a ball, and between the bars of music and the full glasses, feels his pocket anxiously, wondering how and when he will be able to pay the score.

With what difficulty some of the money is drawn from the poor purse of a middle-class man! How many pangs has it not caused before it sees the light of day, accompanied by the last caress of the convulsive fingers! How unequal the comparison between those who live on an income of one thousand and three thousand francs! And, from the ever increasing fever of desires, the gnawing of all vanities, and the vanity of the classes, how these figures increase daily until they reach to ten, twenty, or thirty thousand francs!

And this is the reason that whilst love alone should prompt to marriage, it is nearly always the last party in the contract, in which money judges and directs according to the need of it, with all the imperiousness of one who knows himself to be unconquerable.

Money, money, always money! It is the first and supreme arbiter of the greater number of marriages.

To take a wife means to become poor, if the wife does not help to build the new family nest; it means to walk with open eyes into a bottomless and dark abyss; it signifies condemning one’s self to the daily torture of poverty, and to dedicate the children yet unborn to the same struggle.

Our dignity would demand that the wife’s dowry should not enter into our choice at all. The true ideal would be the ability to offer to our companion riches, or, at least, a competency with our heart and hand, so that we could say: