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The Seventh Commandment
by [?]

A correspondent wants to know what I think of “the Single Standard of Morals, which assumes that tampering with the Seventh Commandment is as demoralizing to men as to women.”

The single standard of morals, like the single standard of money, would be a magnificent thing were there at least double the present amount of raw material for it to measure. I hope to see the day when the libertine will be relegated to the social level of the prostitute where he logically belongs; but we are not dealing now with theories, but with actual conditions. I trust that I may speak plainly on this delicate subject without offending the unco’ guid or giving the priorient pulpiteers a pain. I believe the sexes should be equally pure–when I make a world all my women shall be paragons of virtue, and all my men he-virgins. I’ll construct no Messalinas nor Cleopatras, no Lovelaces or Sir Launcelots. I’ll people the world with St. Anthonys and Penelopes, Josephs and Rebecca Merlindy Johnsings. I’ll apply the soft pedal to the fierce scream of passion and pull all the barbs from the arrows that whiz from the Love God’s bow. Life will not then be quite so exhilarating, but it will be much better worth the living. Meantime a little spraining of the Seventh Commandment is by no means so demoralizing to man as to woman, despite the frantic protests of those who would drag the millennium in by the ears by forcing upon society, willy nilly, the single standard of morals. Man is the grosser animal, has not so far to fall; the shock to his sensibilities is not so serious–he is not so amenable to shame. A coat of black paint ruins a marble Diana, but has little appreciable effect on an iron Hercules. Illicit intercourse is not so demoralizing to man as to woman, for the further reason that it is not considered so great a crime. An act is demoralizing or degrading in proportion as the perpetrator thereof considers it criminal, as it lowers his self-respect; and men regard their crinolinic peccancy as a venial fault, while women consider such lapses on the part of their sex as grievous sin; hence the lightning of lust scarce blackens the pillar while it shatters the vase. The moral effect of an act is determined by the prevailing standard of ethics. Were polyandry the general practice, a woman could have a multiplicity of husbands and be considered pure; where polygamy is the rule, a man may have a multitude of wives and be regarded as moral. Ethical codes ever adapt themselves to conditions. Solomon was one of the most honorable men of his age, but were he alive to-day he would be branded as a shameless lecher, a contumacious criminal. There have been religions, existing through long ages and extending over vast empires, in which the organs of generation were considered as sacred symbols and prostitution in the purlieus of the temple regarded as pleasing to the gods. It is easy enough for bigoted ignorance to brand those people as barbarians; but in many provinces of art and science they have ever remained our masters. “The tents of the maidens” were simply places where fair religious enthusiasts sold themselves to the first stranger who offered them a piece of silver, and laid their gains upon the altar of the gods. The robber barons of old-time Germany, the diplomatic liars of medieval Italy, the thieves of ancient Lacedaemon and the polygamists of biblical Palestine considered themselves as respectable people, and as they were so regarded by their compatriots, they were not morally degraded by their deeds. But the robber and the liar, the thief and the polygamist of this age are cattle of quite another color–there has been a radical change in the moral code, the peccadillos of the past have become the crimes of the present. The cross, once an obscene pagan symbol, has been transformed from an emblem of reproduction into one of destruction; the “tents of the maidens” are struck; Corinth no longer implores the gods to increase the number and enhance the beauty of its courtesans; Venus Pandemos has given place to Our Lady of Pain, and the obscene Dionysius fled before a crucified Christ. No more does the fair religious postulant play the bacchante in flower-strewn palaces while naked Cupids crown the brimming cup and sandaled feet beat time on polished cedar floors to music that is the cry of brute passion in the blood–kneeling in the cold gray dawn upon the stones she clasps a marble cross. The wanton worship of the flesh has passed with the world’s youth; but though much of man’s crassness has been purged away in Time’s great crucible, he is still of the earth earthy and clings tenaciously to his ancient prerogative of polygamy. When he marries, society does not really expect him to respect his oath to “forsake all others”–regards it as a formal bow to the convenances, a promise with a mental reservation annex; but it considers a woman’s vow as sacred and the breaking thereof as rankest blasphemy. He is allowed but one wife, but he may have a score of mistresses and society will placidly wink the other eye–until some tearful maiden requires him to share the shame she can no longer conceal or an “injured husband” goes a-gunning. This should not be so, but so it is. There be fools, both male and female, who will rise up to exclaim that this is false; but that it is Gospel truth is proven every day in the year in every community on the American continent. Men with reputations for licentiousness that would shame old Silenus are cordially received in the most exclusive society. They are found at every high-falutin’ “function,” bending over the white hands of the most accomplished ladies in the land; on every ballroom floor, encircling the waists of debutantes; in the parlors of our best people, paying court to their young daughters. The noblest women in this world become their wives–fondly undertake their “reformation” while indignantly drawing their skirts aside lest they come in contact with the tawdry finery of females whom these lawless satyrs have debauched. Of course when a woman learns that her reformatory work has proven a failure, drear and dismal, she complains bitterly, may even demand a divorce; yet she could count upon the fingers of one hand the hubbies whom she would trust behind a sheet of paper with a wayward daughter. She doesn’t believe a little bit in the virtue of the genus male, yet insists that her own husband be a saint–assumes that her own charms should cause him to regard all other women with indifference, and when she learns of his polygamous practices suffers all the pangs of wounded pride.