Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
"The children came rapidly, one after another, and there happened
what happens in our society with children and doctors. Yes, children,
maternal love, it is a painful thing. Children, to a woman of our
society, are not a joy, a pride, nor a fulfilment of her vocation, but
a cause of fear, anxiety, and interminable suffering, torture. Women say
it, they think it, and they feel it too. Children to them are really a
torture, not because they do not wish to give birth to them, nurse them,
and care for them (women with a strong maternal instinct--and such was
my wife--are ready to do that), but because the children may fall sick
and die. They do not wish to give birth to them, and then not love them;
and when they love, they do not wish to feel fear for the child's health
and life. That is why they do not wish to nurse them. 'If I nurse it,'
they say, 'I shall become too fond of it.' One would think that they
preferred india-rubber children, which could neither be sick nor die,
and could always be repaired. What an entanglement in the brains of
these poor women! Why such abominations to avoid pregnancy, and to avoid
the love of the little ones?
"Love, the most joyous condition of the soul, is represented as a
danger. And why? Because, when a man does not live as a man, he is
worse than a beast. A woman cannot look upon a child otherwise than as
a pleasure. It is true that it is painful to give birth to it, but what
little hands! . . . Oh, the little hands! Oh, the little feet! Oh, its
smile! Oh, its little body! Oh, its prattle! Oh, its hiccough! In a
word, it is a feeling of animal, sensual maternity. But as for any idea
as to the mysterious significance of the appearance of a new human being
to replace us, there is scarcely a sign of it.
"Nothing of it appears in all that is said and done. No one has any
faith now in a baptism of the child, and yet that was nothing but a
reminder of the human significance of the newborn babe.
"They have rejected all that, but they have not replaced it, and there
remain only the dresses, the laces, the little hands, the little
feet, and whatever exists in the animal. But the animal has neither
imagination, nor foresight, nor reason, nor a doctor.
"No! not even a doctor! The chicken droops its head, overwhelmed, or the
calf dies; the hen clucks and the cow lows for a time, and then these
beasts continue to live, forgetting what has happened.
"With us, if the child falls sick, what is to be done, how to care for
it, what doctor to call, where to go? If it dies, there will be no more
little hands or little feet, and then what is the use of the sufferings
endured? The cow does not ask all that, and this is why children are a
source of misery. The cow has no imagination, and for that reason cannot
think how it might have saved the child if it had done this or that, and
its grief, founded in its physical being, lasts but a very short time.
It is only a condition, and not that sorrow which becomes exaggerated
to the point of despair, thanks to idleness and satiety. The cow has not
that reasoning faculty which would enable it to ask the why. Why endure
all these tortures? What was the use of so much love, if the little
ones were to die? The cow has no logic which tells it to have no more
children, and, if any come accidentally, to neither love nor nurse them,
that it may not suffer. But our wives reason, and reason in this way,
and that is why I said that, when a man does not live as a man, he is
beneath the animal."
"But then, how is it necessary to act, in your opinion, in order to
treat children humanly?" I asked.
"How? Why, love them humanly."
"Well, do not mothers love their children?"
"They do not love them humanly, or very seldom do, and that is why they
do not love them even as dogs. Mark this, a hen, a goose, a wolf, will
always remain to woman inaccessible ideals of animal love. It is a rare
thing for a woman to throw herself, at the peril of her life, upon an
elephant to snatch her child away, whereas a hen or a sparrow will not
fail to fly at a dog and sacrifice itself utterly for its children.
Observe this, also. Woman has the power to limit her physical love for
her children, which an animal cannot do. Does that mean that, because of
this, woman is inferior to the animal? No. She is superior (and even to
say superior is unjust, she is not superior, she is different), but she
has other duties, human duties. She can restrain herself in the matter
of animal love, and transfer her love to the soul of the child. That is
what woman's role should be, and that is precisely what we do not see in
our society. We read of the heroic acts of mothers who sacrifice their
children in the name of a superior idea, and these things seem to us
like tales of the ancient world, which do not concern us. And yet I
believe that, if the mother has not some ideal, in the name of which she
can sacrifice the animal feeling, and if this force finds no employment,
she will transfer it to chimerical attempts to physically preserve her
child, aided in this task by the doctor, and she will suffer as she does
"So it was with my wife. Whether there was one child or five, the
feeling remained the same. In fact, it was a little better when there
had been five. Life was always poisoned with fear for the children, not
only from their real or imaginary diseases, but even by their simple
presence. For my part, at least, throughout my conjugal life, all my
interests and all my happiness depended upon the health of my children,
their condition, their studies. Children, it is needless to say, are a
serious consideration; but all ought to live, and in our days parents
can no longer live. Regular life does not exist for them. The whole life
of the family hangs by a hair. What a terrible thing it is to suddenly
receive the news that little Basile is vomiting, or that Lise has a
cramp in the stomach! Immediately you abandon everything, you forget
everything, everything becomes nothing. The essential thing is the
doctor, the enema, the temperature. You cannot begin a conversation but
little Pierre comes running in with an anxious air to ask if he may eat
an apple, or what jacket he shall put on, or else it is the servant who
enters with a screaming baby.
"Regular, steady family life does not exist. Where you live, and
consequently what you do, depends upon the health of the little ones,
the health of the little ones depends upon nobody, and, thanks to the
doctors, who pretend to aid health, your entire life is disturbed. It is
a perpetual peril. Scarcely do we believe ourselves out of it when a new
danger comes: more attempts to save. Always the situation of sailors
on a foundering vessel. Sometimes it seemed to me that this was done on
purpose, that my wife feigned anxiety in order to conquer me, since that
solved the question so simply for her benefit. It seemed to me that all
that she did at those times was done for its effect upon me, but now I
see that she herself, my wife, suffered and was tortured on account of
the little ones, their health, and their diseases.
"A torture to both of us, but to her the children were also a means of
forgetting herself, like an intoxication. I often noticed, when she was
very sad, that she was relieved, when a child fell sick, at being able
to take refuge in this intoxication. It was involuntary intoxication,
because as yet there was nothing else. On every side we heard that Mrs.
So-and-so had lost children, that Dr. So-and-so had saved the child
of Mrs. So-and-so, and that in a certain family all had moved from the
house in which they were living, and thereby saved the little ones. And
the doctors, with a serious air, confirmed this, sustaining my wife in
her opinions. She was not prone to fear, but the doctor dropped some
word, like corruption of the blood, scarlatina, or else--heaven help
us--diphtheria, and off she went.
"It was impossible for it to be otherwise. Women in the old days had the
belief that 'God has given, God has taken away,' that the soul of the
little angel is going to heaven, and that it is better to die innocent
than to die in sin. If the women of to-day had something like this
faith, they could endure more peacefully the sickness of their children.
But of all that there does not remain even a trace. And yet it is
necessary to believe in something; consequently they stupidly believe in
medicine, and not even in medicine, but in the doctor. One believes in
X, another in Z, and, like all believers, they do not see the idiocy of
their beliefs. They believe quia absurdum, because, in reality, if they
did not believe in a stupid way, they would see the vanity of all that
these brigands prescribe for them. Scarlatina is a contagious disease;
so, when one lives in a large city, half the family has to move away
from its residence (we did it twice), and yet every man in the city is a
centre through which pass innumerable diameters, carrying threads of all
sorts of contagions. There is no obstacle: the baker, the tailor, the
coachman, the laundresses.
"And I would undertake, for every man who moves on account of contagion,
to find in his new dwelling-place another contagion similar, if not the
"But that is not all. Every one knows rich people who, after a case of
diphtheria, destroy everything in their residences, and then fall sick
in houses newly built and furnished. Every one knows, likewise, numbers
of men who come in contact with sick people and do not get infected. Our
anxieties are due to the people who circulate tall stories. One woman
says that she has an excellent doctor. 'Pardon me,' answers the other,
'he killed such a one,' or such a one. And vice versa. Bring her
another, who knows no more, who learned from the same books, who treats
according to the same formulas, but who goes about in a carriage, and
asks a hundred roubles a visit, and she will have faith in him.
"It all lies in the fact that our women are savages. They have no belief
in God, but some of them believe in the evil eye, and the others in
doctors who charge high fees. If they had faith they would know that
scarlatina, diphtheria, etc., are not so terrible, since they cannot
disturb that which man can and should love,--the soul. There can result
from them only that which none of us can avoid,--disease and death.
Without faith in God, they love only physically, and all their energy is
concentrated upon the preservation of life, which cannot be preserved,
and which the doctors promise the fools of both sexes to save. And from
that time there is nothing to be done; the doctors must be summoned.
"Thus the presence of the children not only did not improve our
relations as husband and wife, but, on the contrary, disunited us. The
children became an additional cause of dispute, and the larger they
grew, the more they became an instrument of struggle.
"One would have said that we used them as weapons with which to combat
each other. Each of us had his favorite. I made use of little Basile
(the eldest), she of Lise. Further, when the children reached an age
where their characters began to be defined, they became allies, which we
drew each in his or her own direction. They suffered horribly from this,
the poor things, but we, in our perpetual hubbub, were not clear-headed
enough to think of them. The little girl was devoted to me, but the
eldest boy, who resembled my wife, his favorite, often inspired me with
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.