Miss Jessie Murray, m.b., b.s.
IN this little book Dr. Marie Slopes deals with subjects which are generally regarded as too sacred for an entirely frank treatment. Some earnest and delicate minds may feel apprehensive that such frankness in details is ” dan- gerous,” because the effect on prurient minds might be to give them food for their morbid fancies. It is just such a fear which has been largely responsible for the silence and mystery which have for so long been wrapped round the s;icred rites of mating.
The question now is, Has this reticence been carried too far ? Has it been carried so far that it now tends to defeat its purpose of safeguarding public morals ? There are many who unhesitatingly answer such questions in the affirmative. Their intimate knowledge of human lives compels them to recognise that at least as much iiarm is done by silence as by speaking out. Everything depends on how the matter is presented.
Those who are shocked at the publication of such a book as this on the ground that it gives material for impure minds to sport with, need only reflect that such material is already amply provided in certain comic papers, in hosts of inferior novels, too often on the stage and film, and presented thus in coarse and demoralising guise. It can do nothing but good to such minds to meet the facts they are already so familiar with in a totally new light.
On the other hand, there are all the earnest and noble young minds who seek to know what responsibilities they are taking on themselves when they marry, and how they may best meet these responsibilities. How few of them have more than the vaguest ideas on the subject ! How few of them know how or where to obtain the help they desire !
They recoil from the coarse and impure sources of infor- mation which are so accessible, and they hesitate to approach those they have learned to regard as virtuous and modest, lealising that from such they will receive so little actual information, and that so veiled as to be almost useless.
Dr. Stopes has attempted to meet the need of such seekers, and her book will certainly be warmly welcomed by them. It is calculated to prevent many of those mistakes which wreck the happiness of countless lovers as soon as they are actually married. If it did no more than this it would be valuable indeed!
But there is an even more important aspect to be con- sidered—the effect on the child. In all civilised lands there is a growing sense of responsibility towards the young.
The problems of their physical and mental nurture attract more and more attention day by day. Eugenists, educa- tionists, physicians, politicians, philanthropists, and even ordinary parents discuss and ponder, ponder and discuss, matters both great and small which have a bearing on the development of the child. By common consent the first seven years of life are regarded as the most critical. _ It is during these years that the foundations of the personality-to- be are laid—” well and truly ” or otherwise. It is during these years that the deepest and most ineradicable impres- sions are made in the plastic constitution of the child, arrest- ing or developing this or the other instinctive trend and fixing it, often for life.
And it is during these years above all that the parents play the most important rfile in the inner history of the child’s life, not so much by anything they directly teach through verbal exhortations, warnings, or commands, as by those subtler influences which are conveyed in gesture, tone, and facial expression. The younger the child, the more is it influenced through these more primitive modes of expression, and quite as much when they are not directed towards itself but are employed by the parents in their intimate relations , with one another in the presence of their apparently unob- serving child— the infant in its cot, the toddling baby by the hearth, the little child to all appearance absorbed in its picture book or toy.
Is it not of the utmost importance that these earliest impressions should be of the finest nature ? And should wc not therefore welcome all that may help — as this book can — to make the living cradle of the next generation as full of beauty and liarmony as love and mutual understanding can ?
The age-long conflict between the ” lower ” and the ” higher ” impulses, between the primitive animal nature and the specifically human developments of an altruistic and ethical order, are fought afresh in each soul and in every marriage.
We need to realise more clearly that the lower is never — ought never to be — eliminated but rather subsumed by the higher. No true harmony can be hoped for so long as one factor or the other is ignored or repressed.
Dr. Stopes makes some very important biological sugges- tions which should not be lightly dismissed. Further obser- vation is required to establish or disprove her theory of the normal sexual cycle in women, but my own observation certainly tends to confirm it.
J. M. MURRAY.