Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

The Victorians were well aware of the importance of the authoritarian family as a device for training children to accept a hierarchical society, and the emergence of the term “pater-familias” (without any corresponding use of materfamilias) betrays the patriarchal character of their habit of thought. But the Victorians extended the term of family influence much further than ever before, and while this can be explained partly in economic terms, since the age of marriage rose much higher than in previous centuries, it also seems to betray a desire to keep children in subjection and perhaps a resentment of the competition of the younger generation.(8) In earlier times, for instances boys had gone to the university at thirteen or fourteen (Milton, as a matter of fact, was only twelve): the age now became nineteen or twenty. The university authorities did not adapt themselves to this change but continued to treat the young men as pre-pubertal boys. At Cambridge, for instance, there is a university rule against the bowling of hoops on King’s Parade and another which restricts the right of playing marbles on the steps of the Senate House to scholars of King’s. It was for this reason that proctors were appointed to prowl the streets at night to see that undergraduates did not associate with women. To exercise such supervision over a man of twenty would, in medieval times, have been regarded as fantastic. And it is noticeable that, while the universities rigidly repress any manifestations of adult sexuality, they display great tolerance of any signs of prolonged infantilism, such as is shown in the so-called “rags“. This tenderness is also shown by the police.

This raising of the age of matriculation left school authorities with a serious problem, since they had to attempt to maintain biologically adult males in a state of sexual continence. The method which occurred to them was to introduce compulsory sport in order to exhaust them. Until the early decades of the nineteenth century, the school authorities constantly criticized the playing of games by students. In 1810 Sydney Smith, for instance, complained about the importance attached to games, and a few years later, at Shrewsbury, Dr. Butler tried to suppress all games.(183) But by 1860 hostility had given place to encouragement; playing fields were being bought and games-masters installed. The role of sport in relation to sexual attitudes is one of the many issues which will have to be explored more fully when the comprehensive history of sexual patterns comes to be written.

Though they often spoke of family in sentimental terms, the fact that their motives for prolonging family influence were unconnected with it is shown by their willingness to hold the family together long after any spontaneous desire for such an association had vanished. Samuel Butler wrote in his notebooks:

“I believe that more unhappiness comes from this course than any other — I mean from the attempt to prolong family connection unduly and to make people hang together artificially who would never naturally do so.”