Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

Perhaps it was the misfortune of coinciding with a patrist trend which restricted the English movement to a primarily literary and artistic expression, and to a sentimental interest in the past, expressed in such forms as a revival of the Gothic. In France and Germany, in contrast, it emerged as a definite advocacy of the introduction of new social forms. In particular, the Romantics put forward a systematic demand for the introduction of a new conception of marriage: marriage was to be based upon mutual love of both parties, and on the proposition that men and women had equal rights. Not only did the Romantics reject the Christian assumption of feminine inferiority which (except among Jurist minorities, such as the troubadours) had ruled for more than a millennium, but they went further and put forward the claim that romantic love should be the “raison d’être” of the marriage relationship.

It was a further consequence of this proposition that the Romantic rejected the classic distinction between Eros and Agape, between physical desire and chaste affection. He maintained that both should be simultaneously present, and that the lover should enjoy with his beloved both sensual passion and platonic companionship. Indeed, one might say that he went further: for the Greeks had distinguished three functions for women — to supply sexual satisfaction, companionship and children, and had developed three classes of women to fulfil these functions — slaves, hetaerae and wives. The Romantic demand was that a single woman should carry out all three roles. (144) In Germany, Schlegel and Schleiermacher — the latter a clergyman — were the most prominent exponents of this view. Furthermore, they held that sexual experiment was necessary if one was to find the ideal mate — which is to say that they abandoned the Christian doctrine of strict pre-nuptial chastity. Moreover, they revived Plato’s theory that every individual is but one half of a complete entity, so that somewhere there is to be found the twin soul, the missing half, the only person in the world who provides the full complement for one’s own personality. Here was born the sentimental notion, to be enshrined in popular song when matrist ideas finally triumphed in the twentieth century, of “the only girl in the world” — an idea in complete contrast with the view previously obtaining that any two people, not obviously antipathetic, could probably make an effective marriage.

Since anthropologists tell us that the children of polygamous peoples (who can always run to a second mother if the first is preoccupied) hold with equal enthusiasm to the belief that there is always another girl round the corner, we can understand easily enough that the twin-soul theory is the product of matrist ideas operating within a monogamous society: and we scarcely need Freud’s observation that loved persons are mother surrogates to realize that the “only girl in the world” — the ideal love-object — is the idealized mother, and hence that the ideal is unattainable.

When the ideal partner has been found (the new doctrine held), no mere mundane obstacle such as one of the parties being married already — must be allowed to stand in the way of fulfilment. Both Schlegel and Schleiermacher attempted to apply these principles in their own lives with, naturally, discouraging results. Significantly enough, each contrived to fall in love with a married woman. Schlegel was the less fortunate, for his inamorata obtained a divorce and he was obliged to marry her: the marriage soon became commonplace. Schleiermacher, after maintaining for some time a sentimental friendship for Henriette Herz, when it looked as if he might have to marry her, fell in love with Elizabeth von Gunderode, the wife of another clergyman; she never brought herself to the point of getting a divorce. When Schleiermacher finally did marry, it was a young girl whose relationship with him was primarily filial. (144) (252)