Margaret Sanger, "Book Review of IMPRESSIONS AND COMMENTS," Feb 1925.
Source: " Birth Control Review, Feb. 1925, pp. 48-49 Margaret Sanger Microfilm C16:239."
IMPRESSIONS AND COMMENTS: Third (and Final) Series, 1920-1923. By Havelock Ellis. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1924. ($3.00.)
I have an irresistible temptation to quote from this latest book of Havelock Ellis. But to quote all that I would like to call to your attention would be to republish the whole book. It is all quotable, all arresting, all stimulating. One closes it regretting only one thing that is printed in the book. The thing that never should been printed are two words on the title page. I mean those two words "And Final!" Let us hope, let us pray, that Havelock Ellis may be persuaded to change his mind on this point--that there may be more impressions and comments. How we need them in this muddled world--one clear serene voice expressing eternal values and verities, one voice above the shouting and the tumult of little men and little women!
But that temptation to quote persists. And so, since you readers of these pages must be asking what he says about the problem close to our hearts, about Birth Control and over-population, let me call your attention to these comments:
". . . There are people among us, and not a few, who view with complacency the vast increase of the world's population everywhere taking place, people who would even urge the human procreative impulse to still wilder excesses. Until every square yard of the earth is intensively cultivated by Man, until the virulent air is soaked with the noxious fumes of human machinery, until the sea is poisonous with human effluvia, until all earth's shore are piled high with the sordid refuse of human maleficence, it seems to these people that the world will never feel happy." This, Havelock Ellis asserts, is an immediate problem, confronting every so-called "civilized" country, here and now. There is he claims, but one solution, one way of escape. "If, even yet, Man should gain conscious and deliberate control of his own fatal power of reproduction, if he could learn to bring his own kind back again into better adjusted perspective with Nature, by decreasing his reproductive exuberance to increase the possibilities of free and exalted living, he would be making what seems to many foolish people the Great Renunciation of life which would yet be in reality the Great Triumph of Life." His ideal, in brief, is of a finer human race that shall become the "reasonable artists" of its own size and shape. Today, he concludes this note, a choice is still offered--"brief yet endless."
There is another brief yet superlatively eloquent note in which he answers a remark casually made to the effect that "Mr. Havelock Ellis invests Birth Control with the guardianship of Civilization." Here is the reply: "The Houses of Parliament on the banks of the Thames are, I believe, built of magnesian limestone, a stone on which the poisonous London atmosphere exerts its ever-corrosive action, so that a continual effort of repair is required. If at the time when the Houses of Parliament were built, some intelligent critic had insisted in pointing out to the builders the desirability, the absolute necessity, if a strong and resistant building were to be set up, of choosing a better material, he would not have been usurping the place of the architect, he would merely have been asserting a reasonable condition of good architecture.
"Anyone who insists on the desirability, the absolute necessity, if a sound future race is to arise, in care and choice in the control and breeding of men is not investing anything with 'the guardianship of civilization,' or assuming the function of architect of society. He is merely asserting an elementary condition which must without fail be fulfilled if any worthy civilization, any sound society, is ultimately to arise."
This, practically, is all that is specifically said on Birth Control. Yet more truth, more courage, more conviction, it seems to me, are concentrated in these brief passages than are to be found in whole volumes by less daring thinkers. There are other passages I would quote, passages concerning humanity in general and on the war in particular. With the passage of years Havelock Ellis seems to have shed his last illusion about Mankind. The savage stupidity of the human breed embitters him, with a bitterness that reminds you at times of Dean Swift; yet this bitterness is without malice, and is illuminated by profound spirituality.
How he hits those who once furiously patriotic and bellicose, are now talking and writing against the war--the "now it can be sold" school of erstwhile war workers which is busy producing novels and plays showing up "warfare" in its true light! Where were these people in 1914? asks Havelock Ellis. Where were they during the war? "One cannot avoid the conclusion that they were themselves fighting, or kicking other people into the fighting line, or wildly rushing to the rear in search of 'war work,' and shouting patriotic songs and wagging national flags and writing to the papers--for I speak of writers, be it noted--to stimulate all the force of hate, to extol--no doubt often in innocent simple-minded credulity--the men on their own side, whichever that may have been, as heroes, and the men on the other as dealers in 'atrocities.'" And further, of these same men who are now so eloquent against war--yes, there are a few in this country also: "Why need the generation of 1914 proclaim to the world that their minds are moulded of such soft pap? It would be better to continue the march to hell like men. It is enough to have been traitors to all that is great and noble in Man. There is no occasion to be renegades also from their own miserable selves."
I stop quoting not because I wish to, nor because I think these passages are more significant than others in this great life-giving book, so full of suggestions for reading and thought. Havelock Ellis truly possesses the secret of eternal youth--not the solemn, conservative, dull, thoughtless and selfish youth as we too often find it in those young in years. His is the eternal youth and fiery freshness of the spirit, of Nature and of the ocean--how beautifully he paints the restless sea in these pages!--of eternity itself. There is a divine light in these comments and notes, the divine autumn light in which the sky becomes blue and clear and measurable. It is the silent evening light, and we find ourselves listening to no mere human voce, but to that of a god on some ancient hillside. We forget the pettiness, the meannesses of men.
The voice of Havelock Ellis almost by itself confutes his disillusion with Man. To us he incarnates Man. That more men and more women are every year pausing to listen to this serene voice is a most encouraging sign. They cannot turn back unchanged to their daily tasks. After the high privilege of associating with this man and his quiet courageous assertion of eternal and basic truths, life must be changed for all of us. And to bring this inadequate review to a close, I shall permit myself one more quotation, one thought that all of us should read and re-read and ponder over each day of our lives. This is it: "The really essential things in life, if one looks strictly at it, are simple and few. So simple and so few that we are inclined to hide them from sight, to forget them; we may even attempt to neglect them altogether."
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project