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THE MORAL EVOLUTION OF SEX

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The Database of Ornament

NATURAL science for women is not what they
think at College—the dissecting of the frog for
the anatomists. It is with the child, with the
poet, and the naturalist, from Virgil to Darwin;
it begins in gardening, in watching the living
bees. And this vital science makes use of no
hard names; its language indeed is simpler than the common.
The ‘Queen’ is no queen but an imprisoned Mother; the
‘Neuters’ are no neuters, but the busy Sisters of the hive.
For the first is the life-long imprisonment, the narrow home of
motherhood; for the others the life of energy and of labour, for
them the freedom, the sunlight, and the flowers.

Here is your contrast of house-mother and new woman—sure
enough as old as the world. Yet let us not overpity the queen-
mother; what mother but will smile and say, ‘Pity her? Rather
envy her—was I not happiest with my babes?’ Nor let us
over-envy these free and happy workers—rich though they
return to their hive. For one thing their vocation, like that
of our emancipated women again, has been a temporal one,
not a spiritual. Unlike the developed males, the drones, each
carries her poisoned sting. But this sting is no new and
strange weapon; it is part of the very organ of maternity, the

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ovipositor, the egg-placer with which the queen places each
egg in its appointed cell.

The parallelism of all this to human life is so obvious that this
is perhaps the reason why the biologist never teaches it.

The passive Hausfrau of contemporary Germany, the New
Woman of contemporary America or England, are each as
old as civilisation. For oh, good lady friends, for whom
human society stops exactly at your own particular level of
Society, did you never see that every one of your domestics
is a new woman, a worker-bee, who has gone out to labour
in the world; that doctor and nurse, teacher and typist,
dressmaker, mill girl, shop girl, and all the rest, are New
Women proper, that is. Workers?—those who call them-
selves New and Advanced and what not, without working,
being only mimics of the buzzing drones. The domestic is
nearest the home, and so feels the instinctive feminine interest
of this more than do her sister workers in the outer world.
Her domestic functions too are also more normally feminine
ones. She feeds the household, cares for the children and all
the rest, like the good worker-bee, and so oftenest turns to
marriage—oftenest too, to motherhood without marriage.

But the vast body of working women other than domestic, how
shall we classify them? Obviously some have distinctly
temporal functions, others distinctly spiritual ones. The dress-
maker is the tire-woman of the domestic and the mother, the
mill girl is the weaver-slave of all three, and so on. These
women-workers merely replace men and machines in the
factories, which are, as it were, the enlarged work-sheds lying
behind the kitchen of the typical home.

But what of the spiritual functions? Leaving the domestic
Martha and her handmaidens, what of Mary? Hers it is to
be type of the spiritual calling, hers the deliberate choice of the
better part which shall not be taken away from her—hers the
prototype and ideal of all sisterhoods since her day.

Yet to one’s own sister one says, ‘Don’t refuse love if it be
offered you.’ Why? Mary, type of sisterhoods, is not the

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highest Mary, but surely it is she in whom purity and
motherhood unite.

Again and again the painter has given us to understand the
Madonna and Child not only as a religious symbol; but also,
without halos, as a frankly human presentment, a frankly
human ideal. But why dare we so seldom renew more of
sacred legend with the same completeness, more of human life
with the same sacredness, and so paint the Annunciation
Lilies as brought by Youth to Maid! Such art is old, is dawn-
ing; and with the living science of which it is the forerunner
it will frankly face the mysteries of sex, free from the false
modesty of our passing age of mechanical art and analytic
science.

What is the ideal of life? What but the blossoming of noble
(that is, pure) individuality, human and organic, into fulness—
that is, of love, of sex. What better symbol (that is, sign) of
these than the lily? And what clearer word of literal revela-
tion, what simpler, yet deeper word of initiation to both art and
science was ever spoken than in the ancient counsel and com-
mand, ‘Consider the lilies, how they grow’?

The theologian, who has seldom wearied of materialising the
symbolic, may shudder at the ‘Materialism’ which considers
the noble symbol he is wont profanely to ignore. But the
lilies which are to be considered are none the less Real Lilies,
and art and science are but ways of considering them aright:
here at any rate ‘Wer Wissenschaft und Kunst besitzt hat
auch Religion.’ Some day again with the renewal of Nature-
Religion will return its corresponding Nature-Ritual, and, in
no mere metaphor, plant its lilies amid our dying thorns.

Never was there such free discussion of sex questions as in
these days; and much there is to alarm the timid, much indeed
to repel the pure. But here as everywhere the road lies for-
ward, not back. We must grapple with each question, whoever
be shocked; not shirk it, gloss it, retreat from it, in our feeble
virtue. Consider then the lily: face its elemental biologic-

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moral fact. ‘Pure as a lily’ is not really a phrase of hackneyed
sham-morals; for it does not mean weak, bloodless, sexless,
like your moral philosopher’s books, your curate’s sermons. Its
Purity lies in that it has something to be pure; its Glory is in
being the most frank and open Manifestation of Sex in all the
organic world. Its magnificent array is to show forth, not con-
ceal: these wear their lucent argent for the passion-fragrant
night, and these roll back their swart-stained robes of scarlet-
orange to the sun-rich day; naked and not ashamed, glowing,
breathing, warm, each flower showers forth its opulence of
golden dust, stretches forth to welcome it in return. This,
when we consider, is How they Grow.

       .             .             .             .             .             .            .

What then is the elemental fact of sex and love? What but
nature-mating—love-mating? This it is which covers even the
bar-sinister with its gold.

For here primarily lies the secret of the strength and courage
of William the Conqueror, here of the vivid heroism of Don
John of Austria, and many a hero more; and in the converse ill-
assorted ‘mariage de convenance’ lies half that of the sinister
devilry of Philip II., of Pedro the Cruel, of mad czars and
imbecile kinglets without end. Here, in the virtuous, prudent,
timid, sordid cloistering of French maid and man, lies the old
decadence of the nobles of France, the contemporary decadence
of her wealthy and governing classes. And here in Scot-
land in the exceptional freedom in marriage choice, in love
choice, illegitimacy and all, lies a root explanation of the
organic vigour, of the ‘ingenium perfervidum’ of our strenu-
ous race. There may, of course, be base-born children
without wedlock, but there are also too many base-born
with it.

Are we therefore attacking marriage—’sapping the founda-
tions of morality,’ as foolish people always say when they are
asked to face facts? Not so, but defending marriage; making
clear its fundamental and indispensable nature—the mutual
selection of congruent types, at the culmination of organic an

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psychic life. We are sinking, therefore, the foundations of
morality.

And hence it is that romance and poetry are truly religious.
For religion lies in idealising and consecrating life; and love is
life, and life is love; so Robert Burns, human sinner, is also
sacred bard. The Nature-Religions, like all others, are not
dead, but are returning; and in ever purer forms. He was the
fullest incarnation of Dionysos.

But since ‘every clear idea is true,’ i.e. has its truth, why then
the social infamy of the bastard? First, because too often the
psychical element is wanting, and then there is no marriage at
all, but mere pairing of the lower animal sort; though perhaps
even this is better than the pairing of the lower plant sort
which is the ideal of the ‘mariage de convenance.’ Second,
that mating, physical and psychic, can only be full and true
when it is permanent, that is, when it goes on evolving through-
out the lives it intertwines.

Hence, even apart from the claims and bonds of offspring and of
society, the biological and psychic ideal is of permanent mono-
gamy; the ‘primitive promiscuity’ of which we used to hear so
much being but an ugly dream, a disease-utopia of city de-
generation under domestication, never a history of the past.

       .             .             .             .             .             .            .

Yet even lovers recognise in colder moments, and dramatist
and moralist are constantly reminding them, that the com-
plete ideal has many elements, and that, alas, complete marriage
is therefore mathematically unattainable for humanity—no such
ideally complete physical, psychical, social, and ethical cul-
mination of life being even definitely imaginable. For, even
granting the possibility of occasional perfection in either sex,
we have a second improbability in the simultaneous occurrence
of the ideally harmonious, yet contrasted type of the opposite
sex, and a further improbability of their ever meeting. Hence
appears one of the ways in which the ideal of celibacy is con-
stantly re-affirming itself, and we understand better the monk
and nun, the misogynist and new woman.

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This idea of celibacy needs fuller analysis. How comes it that
we humans develop it at all? It is ‘not natural’ we say,
when we remember the mighty urge of Nature. Yet it is in
Nature; witness the very bees who were our text, for we were
just now tracing the parallelism of bee-worker and woman-
worker. In the maidenly reluctance which meets the masculine
counsel, ‘Do not refuse love if it be offered’ with ‘I’ll never
marry if I can help it’—there are many elements, but notably
two. The reluctance to the loss of child-freedom, youth-free-
dom, the shrinking from the older and more passive maternal
life—is one main element. But there is also an anticipation
of the fuller maturity which lies beyond sex-love altogether,
a recognition of a possibility (be this spiritual or social as
education, religion, or temperament may determine) of a para-
dise ‘in which there is neither marrying nor giving in mar-
riage, but in which we are as the angels of God in Heaven’—or
in more modern and everyday (yet happily also not unspiritual)
phrase—a ‘Society of Friends.’

Is it not a little significant that it is the religious society of that
name who, taking them all over, seem most nearly to have
realised their heaven upon earth? For to them the secular
life of good deeds and social intercourse is most normally ac-
companied by the spiritual life. Is not this not merely in, but
also largely through, that measure of sex-equality and sex-
fellowship beyond that of other faiths and churches, so that
within any of the sisters or brethren in meeting assembled,
there may arise the Spirit and awake the beatific Vision—
                                                      ‘Rare hours
           In which the master of angelic powers
           Lightens the dusk within.’

       .             .             .             .             .             .            .

But life is mostly in the present and the actual, not in the ideal,
and the question of questions, in which religion alone has so
constantly failed, and which it is the task of science to help it to
answer, is—What of the actual and practical present?

Return to this, and to the women-workers of respectively pre-

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dominant temporal or spiritual calling. Or if the former be
sufficiently discussed, what of the latter? What can we see or
say of spiritualising the present?

Here appear, in catholic phrase, the secular orders—nursing the
sick, helping the poor, teaching the children, and the like. And
these good works satisfy many; witness not only the professed
sisterhoods, or the incipient ones like Nurses, School-mis-
tresses, or Parish Councillors; and thus assuredly may be lived
most serviceable and happy lives.

Here, moreover, we are getting back to the fundamental domes-
tic again, albeit now with spiritual bias. But here, as lover
suggests lover of the opposite sex, so fellow suggests fellow;
sister suggests sister of the opposite sex, that is, brother. Here
was the limitation of the ancient religious orders; although, be
it noted, vigorous attempts were made in the early monas-
tic times to establish mixed convents. These, despite all
difficulties, expressed the true ideal, which is of co-operation,
not separation, of the sexes; and despite of failures and
shortcomings it has been realised in many ways. Here
of course is the great and pure, the ideal side of the Greek
Hetairae, of the ideal Abbey of Thelema; here too lies the
reasonable and legitimate side of the contentions of the freest
novelists.

The element of true union of the sexes, like the element of
danger and confusion, is surely too obvious to need discussion:
and the problem of morals, as of practical life, is not to retreat
from its difficulties, but to surmount them, to bring them into a
higher equilibrium, so making in short the difficulty an oppor-
tunity of higher things.

What, then, is the normal, the vital condition of the true fellow-
ship, of the ideal sister and brotherhood? How shall we reach
this fuller perfection of the human hive? Where has it been
expressed in the world? Rarely, dimly, fantastically, if you will,
yet surely in some measure in Chivalry, which was no mere
temporal ordering of things, but in large measure also was the
provisional Religion of Western Feudalism, and which grappled

                                          80
more boldly than did the too passive orientalisms to which we
have been wont to restrict the name, with the fundamental
problems of our daily life.

In its noblest examples, the combination of activity with purity
was practically reached; not evaded by help of separate cloister
walls, as in the (so far profoundly less moral, however superfici-
ally more moral) discipline of monasticism. For here lies the
vital element of chivalry, that each sex not only expresses its
own quality, its own superiority over the other, but uses this
to develop the other. The natural courage of the youth was not
only developed by the danger of the quest, but refined by its
discipline and patience. For the woman also this meant more
than affection and constancy: for she might be not his lover,
but his lady only, the serene expression of his ideals or their
arousing voice, and thus suggest, not only his general line of
action, but keep up his moral attitude in it.

We are reaching the fullest ideal of the woman-worker—she
who works not merely or mainly For men as the help and
instrument of their purpose, but who works With men as the
instrument yet material of her purpose.

Here again of course we have new possibilities of good and
evil; here are the clearest alternatives of witchcraft black and
white, of Circe or Joan of Arc.

Do not let us be idolatrous, and take these again for solitary
historic or legendary types. Look around you; are not all men
swine and heroes? Not swine nor heroes, mark you, but swine
and heroes—a good deal of both—the lower animal indeed in
these days generally, but never wholly, predominant. Witch
Joan gained her battles with the heroes she had created, and
lost them again with swine; Witch Circe, for her part, made
heroes swine, and yet they were delivered.

The rest of this essay is obviously for a woman to write. But if
she say herself and her sisters are not witches of either type, it is
obvious they must be a muddle of both types. And if so, what is
the problem of general, of popular education? To go on blink-
ing all sex-facts, all life-facts? to teach three R’s or Latin and

                                          81
Calculus? to pass Standards or Tripos Examinations? or to
lead out young souls, to purify and strengthen their latent
ethical and ideal life?

But how then shall we lead out these types? How deal with
the moral mud of modern conditions—how crystallise, as
Ruskin put it, the sand and soot and slush of our factory town
into its elements—of opal, diamond, and snow?

Is chivalry over and done? Certainly not devilry at any rate.
Was Circe ever more in evidence? Were ever we poor
mariners and pilgrims more comfortable swine? We trow not.
We do not intend it, but neither did the herd of Circe; her
ideal was never definitely expressed to her men, though Joan’s
was. The utilitarian world thinks just now it is impartial, it
has got beyond expressing any ideals; that is, it is fully, if
tacitly, accepting the negative ones.

Is it possible or not possible then to restore moral ideals?—that
is again to produce men and women of the highest type? And
this for practical purposes in our everyday modem world?
Higher Education, the thing itself, instead of the word? Obvi-
ously, yes. Your cynic who denies this is but an ignoramus,
comprehensively ignorant of the nature of chivalry, of its civil
history, its natural history alike, blind to the vital essence
which lies under its quaint and outworn forms.

Every age of chivalry follows a period of decadence, of moral
decline, and is the protest of the new order—is the expression
of the new young life, breaking into the very citadel of evil,
slaying its mightiest giants, its most infernal dragons.

The giant-killer, the dragon-slayer, is the son of a god very
often—very often too the son of nobody in particular; which, as
already noted, may amount to the same thing. He is Jack,
Tom Thumb, Dummling, Gareth the scullion-knave, and so
on. And the heroine, who is she? Very possibly the giant’s
own daughter, the heiress of the rascally or the sleeping king
of the story; the Cinderella of the household, the beggar-maid
of Cophetua; rarely has she the good pure pedigree of the
peasant maid of Domrémy.

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This, of course, should lead into an examination of the biologi-
cal realities of pedigree, which like everything else has to be
looked at along the lines of organic reality, and shows us pure
blood and cur blood in palace and hovel alike. Yet after
all, this matters little. Where there is human life, however
fallen, there is hope. Are men curs and swine as some tell us?
Shall we believe these decadent novelists, bemired half way
between old ideals and new? It matters not; no brute wholly
lacks courage, still less natural affection; and the possibilities
of redemption, as the theologian at his best has always told us,
are thus inextinguishable with life. The stuff of moral evolu-
tion is ever with us; this generation need not go to Hades; our
children at least may make for Heaven.

Take another elemental illustration from the world of simpler
life; consider what feeble propriety calls ‘the pig,’ so only seeing
‘it’ as ‘dirty,’ as ‘shocking,’ as a contrast to its anti-macassar
lilies. But in the stronger language of hunt or farm, of heraldry
or science, this is either boar or sow—elemental male, elemental
female, beyond all other familiar creatures. For one, the swift
and sharp-tusked, recks not how many foes he fight, turns upon
death amid a sheaf of spears; the other, many-breasted as
Nature, many-childed as Charity, patiently yields the little ones
her life.

Yet these creatures are not human, as our beast and bird friends
are. Their courage is but brute courage, however better than
none; their affection but brute affection. Why? Because the
one is but blind Berserk rage, fighting for fighting’s sake; the
other mere instinct. It is as the male considers mate and
by and by little ones, as he builds and feeds and watches the
home that his brute courage refines. The wild boar is but of
barbarian battle; finer fighters have been the Eagle of Rome,
the Cock of Gaul.

This might be followed far; alike in natural and in civil history.
But pass rather to psychology proper. The old school has
talked its fill of Pleasure and Pain, but a new evolutionary
school has left these vague generalisings, and begins anew

                                          83
with the elemental emotion; that is, it tells us, Fear. But we
again are wont to work at another problem—that of the
organic Evolution of Sex. Supreme over the individual life to
which the pre-evolutionary school and the earlier evolutionary
ones alike too much confine themselves, is the sexual life; but
this has its correspondingly supreme sexual emotion—which is
other-regarding; that is, the stuff of Affection. Coming now to
the self-regarding emotion of Fear, the rebound is Courage.
So we would substitute for the outworn psychology of pleasure
and pain something which is more akin to current phases of
science; which, therefore, does not shrink from the crimino-
logist’s observant psychology of fear, from the modern novelist’s
or alienist’s observant analyses of moral corruption; yet which
does not stop there; but goes on to enunciate higher problems
and better ideals, that is, more scientific and more practical
ones. We seek then not only Science but Art, not only an
‘experimental psychology’ but an Evolutionist Education, in
which the elemental lust of the flesh is disciplined into Love,
and in which the perfect Love casteth out Fear.

Set then before man-child and maid-child, before lad and lass,
man and woman, the elemental ideals of the sexes, of Courage
and Affection; that is, let them, get them, set them to set these
respective ideals before each other. And so animal masculine
courage combines with affection to rise into Chivalry, mag-
nanimous to others; the instinctive feminine affection rises
through gain of courage into Purity, reverential of self.

How work this out in detail? It is incipient wherever children
meet at play. Here and there a woman is sometimes facing it in
her kindergarten; a schoolmaster in his athletic field, in his Boys’
Brigade: but the elaboration, the development, the organisation
of all this is the highest task of Educators, that is, of Women
strengthened and trained by Men whom they have trained
and strengthened. And here we are reaching the secret of the
remoralisation of the sexes, of their highest individual possi-
bilities, and this for and by lovers and celibates alike. Enough
however if for the present we keep to the children. The boy’s

                                          84
sword, the girl’s doll; here Nature gives the starting-points of
the Educator. Encourage, boldly develop, the game of war,
let gun and trumpet have their little day, better now in nursery
than later on Kaiser’s throne. Drill and march, shamfight and
snowfight; for it means discipline and valour; it means geo-
graphy too; in which is all the stuff of science; it means history,
in which is the stuff of literature. It means making not Latin
grammarians only, mimics of the Latin pedants and versifiers
of the Decline, but Roman boys; who sit down to read their
Cæsar together with some meaning, in the ancient hill-fort they
have themselves held as Britons, or stormed as conquerors;
and whose next game may be to build a Roman wall or fill a
moat. So onward through History, dramatised wherever pos-
sible; thus even come fortification and engineering; with
practical energy and skill of peaceful handicraft—a preparation
more vivid than that of our present Sloyd and polytechnics for
the industrial world. Give them too with all this, story and
song and ballad, give them individual banner and national flag,
for here is the simplest concrete symbol of an ideal. These
things done young enough, from war-game to peace-game the
transition will be easy.

But the girls meanwhile? Where are they? Enjoying the fun,
of course, first of all; it is no new physiology that laughter is
trophic. How their presence intensifies the fighting, here
rewards the victor, consoles the vanquished, is surely an old
story; surely, too, how they teach fairplay and in turn learn it,
as they learn courage also. Just as civilisation grows richer
and softer, there is increasing need of a hardy upbringing for
girl as well as boy. These elemental matters seen to, we are
in a position safely to develop the domestic education and the
culture education in which, on the whole, girls have such tradi-
tional advantages over boys, and to develop the kindergarten,
which already is mainly feminine in type.

Of higher stages of this mutual education there is no space to
speak; but shall we set down the elements of all this, for those
that love order and rules, that educate by Code? Starting then

                                          85
(1) with the moral ideals of Courage and Kindness, we would
(2) discipline this in a corresponding practical life-drama; we
would supply the corresponding intellectual instruction as need
and opportunity arise: (3) all this, as far as reasonably possible
(and that is far), being carried on for and by both sexes. In
short, carefully reverse your present Codes; defy them that
separate the children, that set but intellectual tasks, irrelevant
to their real life and interests, which are of Play: that either
starve practical activities or teach too tame and mechanical
skills; that leave the untrained moral life, the inevitable sexual
interest to their fate amid evil chances.

All the land in these days is full of talk of a new Machinery of
Education; but few care for the realities of it, few indeed know
that there are any. Yet here is a field of inquiry yet imagina-
tion, of romance yet history, a field not indeed primarily of
legislation, but of everyday practical experiment in which
each of us may help; and that in hope. ‘For when a faithful
  thinker, resolute to see every object in the light of thought,
   shall kindle science with the fire of the holiest affections,
           then will God go forth anew into Creation.’

                                                 The Authors of
                                     ‘THE EVOLUTION OF SEX.’

MLA citation:

Geddes, Patrick, and J. Arthur Thomson. “The Moral Evolution of Sex.” The Evergreen: A Northern Seasonal, vol. 3, Summer 1896, 73-85. Evergreen Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2016-2018. Yellow Nineties 2.0, General Editor Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca/egv3_authorsof_moral/