Part III - Evaluation
The testing Committee, thus qualified, has now been in session twenty-five years. Two hundred and fifty sober persons have lived together a quarter of a century under the rule of Male Continence in constant observation of its tendencies and effects. Their experiment has gone on through all the vicissitudes that reach from one generation to a second. Many applications of their sexual discovery which were in the far-off future when it was first published, are now matters of experience. They have tested Male Continence even in its application to Scientific Propagation. In a word, the rosy but infantile theory of 1848 has reached the manhood of robust embodiment in 1872. Has that rosy theory fulfilled its promises? It is time the Committee should report. If the experiment is still unfinished, it is far enough advanced to warrant some conclusions. We shall doubtless be able to make a more full expose after another quarter of a century's experience; but we will briefly report progress up to this time.
In the first place, in regard to the injurious effects of Male Continence, which have been anticipated and often predicted, the Community has to report, in general, that they have not been realized. For example:
It is seriously believed by many that nature requires a periodical and somewhat frequent discharge of the seed, and that the retention of it is liable to be injurious. Even if this were true, it would be no argument against Male Continence, but rather an argument in favor of masturbation; for it is obvious that before marriage men have no lawful method of discharge but masturbation; and after marriage it is as foolish and cruel to expend one's seed on a wife merely for the sake of getting rid of it, as it would be to fire a gun at one's best friend merely for the sake of unloading it. If a blunderbuss must be emptied, and the charge cannot be drawn, it is better to fire into the air than to kill somebody with it. But it is not true that the seed is an excrement like the urine, that requires periodical and frequent discharge. Nature has provided other ways of disposing of it. In fact it has an immanent value, and is in its best function while retained. It is the presence of the seed, and not the discharge of it, that makes the bull superior to the ox. The Community has had no trouble from retention of seed; but, on the other hand, has nearly exterminated masturbation by the reflex influence of Male Continence. Masturbation is a disreputable branch of the same seed-wasting business that is carried on more decently in ordinary matrimonial intercourse, and is evidently destined to pass away with it.
Closely connected with this popular fallacy respecting the seed, is the suggestion of certain medical men that the practice of Male Continence would lead to seminal degeneracy and impotence. The experience of the Community has signally refuted this suggestion in the only effectual way, viz., by a great number of intentional impregnations, which have occurred, within a few years, between persons who have been longest in the practice of Male Continence.
Another apprehension suggested by medical men has been, that the avoidance of the crisis in sexual intercourse would so increase and prolong the excitement as to induce excesses, which would lead to various nervous diseases. This suggestion, it must be confessed, has some antecedent probability; but the general experience of the Community has not confirmed it. The New York Medical Gazette of October, 1870, in a review of our article on Scientific Propagation, published in the Modern Thinker of that year, took occasion to criticise our practice of Male Continence, as likely to prove injurious in the way above suggested; and expressed a wish to see the statistics of nervous diseases in the Community. Whereupon a professional examination was instituted and a report made by Theodore R. Noyes, M. D., in which it was shown, by careful comparison of our statistics with those of the U. S. census and other public documents, that the rate of nervous diseases in the Community is considerably below the average in ordinary society. This report was published by the Medical Gazette, and was pronounced by the editor "a model of careful observation, bearing intrinsic evidence of entire honesty and impartiality."1
It was, however, admitted in that Report that there had been one or two cases of nervous disorder in the Community, which could be traced with probability to a misuse of Male Continence in the way suggested by the Gazette; and I will here take occasion to add that I have no doubt the greatest danger attending the practice of Male Continence is, and ever will be, the temptation to make a separate hobby of it and neglect the religious conditions out of which it originally issued and to which it belongs. Male Continence in its essence is self-control, and that is a virtue of universal importance. To cultivate self-control in respect to the seminal crisis, but neglect it in other sexual indulgences, is evidently Male Continence in a spurious and dangerous form. It is certain that this spurious self-control may be cultivated even for the purpose of gaining freedom for sensual and riotous pleasure. We may be thankful that such a counterfeit cannot escape the checks prepared for universal vice. Nothing less than heart-abandonment to the grace of God, which teaches and gives temperance in all things, can ever release us from the old tutelage of suffering. Our theory in its oldest form defined the sexual organs as conveyancers, not only of the seed, but of the "social magnetism." Now it is certain that the social magnetism is a vital element, as real as the seed, and as really limited in its supply; and that the loss of it in excessive quantities entails diseases as atrocious as those which follow seminal waste. And to this liability women are as much exposed as men. So much of warning the experience of the Community enables it to contribute; though it has had no actual shipwrecks on this coast of danger.
But after all it is not to be forgotten that the effects of nervous exaltation may be good as well as evil. Herein the spiritual view is perhaps a little different from the medical. A degree of excitement which would injure a sick man may be harmless and even invigorating to the healthy. And this principle must be carried upward, as our definition of health rises. We must not seek examples of nervous phenomena exclusively among the weaklings of debauchery, as writers on sexual pathology generally do. Human nature certainly does not reach its normal condition till it is the temple of the Holy Spirit, filled with all the fullness of God. A nervous system in that condition can bear a weight, not only of suffering but of glory, which would destroy ordinary health. Paul's philosophy teaches that even the Lord's Supper, received unworthily, may work damnation, thus causing physical weakness and death. (See I Cor. xi: 29, 30). The ultimate way to escape nervous injury will be found, not in the direction of abstinence from excitement, but in the toning of the nervous system to the divine standard of health by fellowship with resurrection-life.
As evidence of the good effects of Male Continence, we mention, in the first place, the universal feeling and testimony of the community in its favor. Allowance of course must be made for party feeling in such testimony, and it must pass only for what it is worth. But it seems incredible that so large a body of sober persons as the Oneida Community should be entirely mistaken in thinking, as they certainly do, that Male Continence, in as experience of twenty-five years, has more than fulfilled its early promises. A young member who is just closing his career at college, expresses the general feeling of men and women, not only of the first generation but of the second, in the following enthusiastic terms:
Dear Mr. Noyes:
I want to tell you how much it stirs my spirit to hear our people magnify Male Continence. It seems to me that we are just beginning to say the good things that will be said of it; and it makes me happy to think of the honor that is sooner or later certain to be poured upon it. I love the principle of Male Continence with my whole soul, for I know that it has been and is a help to my fellowship with Christ.
This Yankee nation claims to be a nation of inventors, but the discovery of Male Continence puts you, in my mind, at the head of all inventors. There has certainly been no higher conservation of force than that realized by Male Continence, and I am confident that the blessings which will flow from it cannot be measured by those which have followed the steam-engine and the electric telegraph,
The general condition of the community may properly be put in as evidence of the good effects of Male Continence. It is the principle to which the community in some sense owes its existence, and which has been the very soul of its working constitution. Such a principle, in a trial of twenty-five years, must inevitably manifest its real character for weal or woe, in the morals and physical conditions of its adherents. In the place of any testimony from ourselves, the following picture of the Community, drawn by a gentleman well known for his intelligence and power of observation, will give the reader the best means of judging what have been the general results of Male Continence.
Having lately a day's interval between two lecturing engagements in central New York, I spent that time at the Oneida Community. After a tolerably extensive acquaintance with the various types of religious enthusiasm, I can truly say that I never met with a body of men and women in whom that enthusiasm seemed a more genuine thing, or less alloyed by base motive. The very fact that some of their main principles seem to me false, and others actually repulsive, should give additional weight to this testimony.
As you approach the stately brick edifice of the Community on a winter day you hear the voices of children, while a little army of sleds outside the main entrance, shows that outdoor happiness is at hand for them. Entering, you find yourself in a sort of palace of plain comfort: admirably warmed and ventilated, with spacious corridors, halls, parlors, library and natural history museum. You are received with as much courtesy as in any private house. The men you meet are well dressed, well mannered, well educated. The women, though disfigured by the plainest of all possible bloomer dresses, look healthy and cheerful. At table and in the dining-hall, where the sexes meet, you see cordial and inoffensive manners. Your food is well cooked and served, with home-made wine, if you wish, and the delicious bread-and-butter and snowy table-cloths of the Shakers. After dinner, perhaps, they give you an improvised concert. The family assembles in the great hall. The side door of the wide stage opens, and half a dozen little children from two to three years old are let in as the advance-guard of the juvenile department. They toddle about the stage at their will - its edge being protected by a light partition for their benefit - and shout and crow to their parents, who sit below. The little ones are all rosy and healthy, all about the same size, and all neatly dressed in little frocks and fresh, white aprons. It is a pretty prelude for an afternoon's performance. Then twenty of the elder children follow, and sing songs. They also look happy and well cared for; and are neatly, though ungracefully dressed. Then you listen to a really excellent orchestra of six or seven instruments, led by a thoroughly trained leader - a young man brought up in the Community and musically educated at their expense, while a boy of eleven plays the second violin. They play good German music, while the little ones find their way down upon the floor, and are petted by their special parents, and watched with apparent admiration and affection by men and women generally. This, at least, was what I saw that day. Later I saw the machine-shops and the silk-factory; but these can be seen anywhere. But a family of two hundred living in apparent harmony and among the comforts which associated life secures, - this is not to be seen every day, and this is what one at least convinces himself that he sees at Oneida.
Meanwhile the essential theories upon which all this rests appear to the observer - to me at least - all wrong. At Oneida they practice community of property. I disbelieve in it, and only believe in association and cooperation. At Oneida they subordinate all the relation of the sexes to the old Greek theory - held by them as Christian - that the community has a right to control parentage, and to select and combine the parents of the next generation of the human race as in rearing domestic animals. Such a theory I abhor; I believe it must cause much suffering in its application, and that it will defeat its own end, by omitting from these unions all deep personal emotion. Therefore I utterly dissent from the essential theories of the Oneida Community. All the more reason for trying to do them justice. In the wonderful variety and complexity of human nature, it often happens that the theories which would be injurious and even degrading in your hands or mine, are somehow purged of the expected ill effects in the hands which hold them. There is a divine compensation that limits the demoralizing effects of bad principles, when these are honestly adopted. I found a good deal of such compensation at Oneida.
It must be remembered that the whole organization is absolutely based upon a special theology, that none who do not adopt this would in any case be admitted to membership. As a matter of fact, they have for several years admitted no new members whatever, having no room. This cuts off all floating and transient membership, and excludes all the driftwood of reform. Members must be either very sincere proselytes to a religious theory, or else very consummate hypocrites. The Community rejects the whole theory of "attractive industry" of Fourier, and accepts a theory of self-sacrifice. In the same way it rejects the whole theory of "affinities" in love and marriage. It accepts, instead, a theory of self-control, and even what seems unlawful and repulsive indulgence must be viewed against this stern background of predominant self-sacrifice.
The two things they most sternly resist in practice are, first - lawlessness, or doing what is right in one's own eyes; and secondly - exclusive ownership, whether of property, or wife and child. All must be subordinated to the supposed good of the whole. They admit that this theory would be utterly disastrous to the world in its present stage, if adopted without preparation. Nothing but religious enthusiasm would make it practicable, even in a Community of two hundred, without its resulting either in agony or degradation.
But now, as a matter of fact, how is it? I am bound to say as an honest reporter, that I looked in vain for the visible signs of either the suffering or the sin. The Community makes an impression utterly unlike that left by the pallid joylessness of the Shakers, or the stupid sensualism which impressed me in the few Mormon households I have seen. I saw some uninteresting faces, and some with that look of burnt-out fire of which every radical assembly shows specimens, but I did not see a face that I should call coarse, and there were very few that I should call joyless. The fact that the children of the Community hardly ever wish to leave it; that the young men whom they send to Yale College, and the young women whom they send for musical instruction to New York, always return eagerly and devote their lives to the Community; this proves a good deal. There is no coercion to keep them, as in Mormonism, and there are no monastic vows, as in the Roman Catholic church. This invariable return, therefore, shows that there is happiness to be found in the Community, and that it is of a kind which wins the respect of the young and generous. A body must have great confidence in itself when it thus voluntarily sends its sheep into the midst of the world's wolves, and fearlessly expects their return.
I came away from the Community with increased respect for the religious sentiment which, in however distorted a form, can keep men and women from the degradation which one could expect to result from a life which seems to me so wrong. I brought away, also, increased respect for the principle of association, which will yet secure to the human race, in the good time coming, better things than competition has to give. I saw men and women there whom I felt ready to respect and love. I admire the fidelity with which they maintain the equality of the sexes. Nevertheless, I should count it a calamity for a boy or girl to be brought up at Oneida.
T. W. H.
In conclusion, I will mention one specific and very significant symptom of moral health which has manifestly resulted from Male Continence. The natural desire for children, which has almost died out in general society, has returned to us, with all the vigor that it had in the young and healthy ages. Instead of voluntary abortions and continual dread of child-bearing, the demand for offspring in the Community and especially among the women, though liberally provided for and enjoying ordinary success, is far ahead of the supply.
- 1. This Report, in connection with the article from the Modern Thinker, has been reprinted in pamphlet form under the title Scientific Propagation. (See advertisement on the cover.) The reader is referred to that pamphlet for many interesting facts bearing on the above questions as to the physiological effects of Male Continence.