Margaret Sanger, "Review of Havelock Ellis' LITTLE ESSAYS OF LOVE AND VIRTUE," Apr 1923.

Source: " Birth Control Review, Apr. 1923, p. 95 Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Collected Documents Series, C16:0200."


A Review by Margaret Sanger

LITTLE ESSAYS OF LOVE AND VIRTUE by Havelock Ellis, George H. Doran & Co., New York, ($1.50.)

It is with characteristic modesty that Havelock Ellis gives to the present volume the title of "Little Essays." They deserve to be named "Great Essays"; and every husband and wife, every father and mother, should be compelled to read them. They reveal their author in all the deepened ripeness of his wisdom. To the readers of the BIRTH CONTROL REVIEW some of them may be familiar, as we have published them in pamphlet form. But they are worthy of more than one reading. They should be studied and read over and over again; for each new reading will throw fresh light on life's fundamental and unchanging problems. For, as Havelock Ellis points out in his preface, "the art of making love and the art of being virtuous remain indeed, when we cease to misunderstand them, essentially the same in all ages and among all peoples." If we are really alive, he also says, we flexibly adjust ourselves to the world in which we find ourselves; and, in so doing, simultaneously adjust to ourselves that ever-changing world, ever-changing, though its changes are within such narrow limits that it yet remains substantially the same.

The first essay is entitled "Children and Parents," and in it, as always, Havelock Ellis brings new and suggestive light to an eternal problem. Invigorating is his fine absence of sentimentality and pretty platitude, in dealing with a problem that has been almost lost in the maze of the irrelevant. His conclusion may give a hint of the rest: "Childhood is simply a preparation for the free activities of later life. Parents exist in order to equip children for life, not to shelter and protect them from the world into which they must sooner or later be cast." Whatever else it should or should not be, he warns us, education must be an inoculation against the poisons of life, and an adequate equipment in knowledge and skill for meeting the chances of life. Beyond that, and no doubt in the largest part, it is a natural growth and takes place of itself. How refreshing these words in a day when unbiased theories and illusions are almost universally prevalent!

How courageous--the quiet calm courage of one who is speaking eternal truth--are these lines from the essay on "The Meaning of Purity: "When Love is suppressed, Hate takes its place. The least regulated orgies of Love grow innocent beside the orgies of Hate. When nations that might well worship one another cut one another's throats, when Cruelty and Self-Righteousness and Lying and all the Powers of Destruction rule the human heart, the world is devastated, the fiber of the whole organization of society grows flaccid, and all the ideals of civilization are debased . . ." And the cure for the present undying orgy of Hatred? Here is the answer:--"It is more passion and ever more that we need if we are to undo the work of Hate, if we are to add to the gaiety and splendor of life, to the sum of human achievement, to the aspiration of human ecstasy. The things that fill men and women with beauty and exhilaration, and spur them to actions beyond themselves, are the things that are now needed . . . It is only in the passion of facing the naked beauty of the world and its naked truth that we can win intrinsic beauty . . . It is only the metals that can be welded in the fire of passion to finer services that the world needs. It would be well that the rest should be lost in these flames. That indeed would be a world fit to perish wherein the moralist had set up the ignoble maxim: 'Safety first.'"

One is tempted to go on quoting and quoting, so many illuminating truths strike the eyes as one turns the pages of this book which is small only in material size. Birth Control is ably defended in a number of the essays, and, in what is perhaps the most challenging, arresting and valuable contribution--the essay entitled "The Play Function of Sex,"--upon the highest ethical and aesthetic basis. There is never anything materialistic nor prosaic in Havelock Ellis's conception of sex. Yet as he points out, we nowhere enter the realm of the spiritual save through the material. And so "eye-glasses and contraceptives alike are a portal to the spiritual world for many who, without them, would find that world largely a closed book." And not that least gain from the practice of Birth Control, as we cannot too often reiterate and emphasize, is that it effects finally the complete liberation of the spiritual object of marriage. Lovers--he speaks here with a wisdom that is deeply and divinely inspired--pass to each other "the sacramental chalice of that wine which imparts the deepest joy that men and women can know. They are subtly weaving the invisible cords that bind husband and wife together more truly and more firmly than the priest of any church. And if in the end,--as may be or may not be--they attain the climax of free and complete union, then their human play has become one with that divine play of creation in which the old poets fabled that, out of the dust of the ground and in his own image, some God of Chaos once created man."

And so finally and fittingly Havelock Ellis permits us to share with him his vision of the Future, quoting that noble forerunner who envisaged the world as the quarry stretching out before some masterbuilder. Everything that lies outside of us is only the material on which we may and must exercise our creative and constructive powers. And everything inside of us is also the material out of which we must create the Future of our world. "Deep within lies the creative force which is able to form what it will and gives us no rest until, without us or within us, in one or the other way, we have given it representation."

The vistas that are opened up, comments Havelock Ellis, when we realize the direction in which the human race is traveling, may seem to be endless. Man has found that he is himself a God who . . . himself created the world as he sees it, and now has even acquired the power of creating himself, or, rather, of recreating himself.

No book published in recent years can do more towards educating the general American public in the philosophic and spiritual background of Birth Control than these "Little Essays of Love and Virtue." Every cultivated person, especially every active friend of the movement must arm himself or herself with this illuminating, courageous and inspiring book. Widely read, it will increase the army of our adherents manyfold.


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Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project


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