Title


CHAPTER XXXI.

DIVORCE.

As the land I am writing of is Transylvania, there can be nothing inappropriate in a chapter on "Divorce" following directly after " a Wedding Festival." Indeed, it is the natural order of things, and I therefore adopt it in my book.

What, it will be asked, leads to a custom which, according to all our Christian notions of love and mutual forbearance, and our views of befitting social relations as observed among civilized people, is not to be lightly adopted? There are two causes; first, the way in which the contracts are formed, and, secondly, the facility with which a separation may be obtained. This latter is, I think, a greater evil than the former.

Few marriages among the Saxon peasantry are marriages of affection. Except in a general way, the parties often know little of each other, and are therefore quite unable to judge of their prospect of agreeing together. The approximation of the paternal acre is sufficient inducement for the parents to arrange a match between their children. A Count would (so I was told by one who knew the peasantry well) be more likely to marry a peasant-girl, than a peasant's daughter, possessed of property, to take a youth without an acre.

Divorce is so easy, and belongs so intimately to married life, that even before the wedding it is talked of, and, under certain probable eventualities, looked forward to as consequent on the approaching union. "Try to like him," says the father to the girl, who resists the "good match" arranged for her; "and if later you find you can't do so, well, I'll have you separated."*31_1 If the one party finds that he or she really cannot like the other, the result is a visit to the pastor, with a demand for separation on the ground of "insuperable dislike," which, according to the 'Ehe Patent' of 1786 (ecclesiastical laws regarding marriage), is plea sufficient.-j-31_2 The clergyman, or, later, the Ecclesiastical Court, when the case is brought forward, tells the parties they must agree and live together, when one of the twaira says, "I do not want to separate; I wish my husband or wife still to live with me." An order is then

31_1* As I do not wish English readers, or Saxon readers either, should I have any, to think my assertions are made at random or without mature consideration, I beg to say that these arc the words of a Saxon village pastor; and none know the peasantry better than their own clergy.

31_2± Paragraph 57 of the " Ehe Patent :"-" Thirdly : we do permit a disjoining of the conjugal tie also in that case when between the wedded parties a great inimicality (Haupfeindsehaft) does exist, or if an insuperable dislike (unüberwindliche Abneigung) should have arisen, and both parties demand to be separated." But a supplementary paragraph went further and said, that when one or the other party, "out of pure malice," should oppose a separation from bed and board, the Court shall still be authorized, if it find the request for separation reasonable (billig), to grant it. We see how much room is here left for an interpretation that may serve the purpose of a party bent upon divorce. The laws on this subject were, when I was in Transylvania, being carefully reconsidered, in order to amend them. Many clergymen were of my opinion, that the mere assertion of "insuperable dislike" ought not to be sufficient to constitute a claim for separation. According to the Prussian " Landrecht," odium " is also a sufficient muss for divorce. In Baden also.

given for non-separation. If the husband, suppose, is obstinate and will not return, he is put under arrest, and, foolishly enough, an amicable relationship is attempted to be brought about by force. All this irritates rather than soothes, and at last the one who at first was not inimically inclined to his or her better-half grows hurt at such determined resistance, and anger and hate spring up. This party proclaims now that he (or she) too wishes for a separation, and is no longer desirous that it may be averted. The requisite "insuperable dislike" has really arisen, and so at last, after a year's discussion, wrangling and unheeded advice, the two parties are finally proclaimed free and at liberty to remarry. If there be a family, the mother has one child and the father another.

When once a separation is determined on, mere counsel, however good, is of little avail ; for though the suit before the Court of Divorce, which consists of a conclave of clergymen, forming a Chapter, costs some hundred florins, the peasant, with that doggedness which is natural to him, still persists in his resolution, and carries it out to the end. A further plea for separation is most usually found in the departure of the wife, who goes back to her parents; there she remains two or three years, till the pending suit is concluded. As the peasants are generally well off, the parents shelter and keep their daughter. When divorce is decreed, both parties marry again, and these second marriages are most frequently happy ones.

If it be found that the husband is of depraved character, and after remarrying seeks again for a divorce merely in order to take another wife, the Ecclesiastical Court steps in, and forbids any new marriage within a certain time-three, four, or five years. In some flagrant cases, indeed, the man is prohibited from remarrying altogether. This was the case with an individual I know of, who, after having three wives, wanted to take a fourth. The village pastor refused his application, and referred him to the dean. In a village where I was staying, five suits for separation were pending; indeed, such cases are always going on. The clergyman invariably does what he can to calm their complaints,-now of ill-treatment, now of a nonfulfilment of duties, and sometimes of unaccountable dislike. None can see better than these pastors do the defect in the law, for to them are brought all the ridiculous causes of imaginary complaint, which are often so foolish as to be scarcely credible. But just this shows that the facility given to separation occasions them to look to it as a cure for every trifling discomfort,-encourages them indeed to seek divorce. If it were made less easy than it is, the abuse would soon cease, as the following instance clearly demonstrates. There are two villages, Upper and Lower Eidisch, in neither of which a suit for divorce has been preferred. The inhabitants are justly proud of the distinction, and have resolved that, as their community has hitherto remained free from the social stain, it shall keep so ; and this resolve has proved enough to prevent a question of separation ever arising. Once only, a woman whose husband had broken the Seventh Commandment, insisted on separation : she would listen to no remonstrance, but still demanded the letter of the law. The " Nachbar Vater," friends and neighbours, came and urged,-" You must forgive him," saying that, for the honour of the village, they absolutely would not permit a divorce ; nor did they. At last the parties were reconciled, and no couple was happier.

Thus the resolve has acted as a prohibition. By it the law, which made divorce possible, was virtually rescinded, -for them, at least,-and there being no possibility of taking a new spouse on the whim of the moment, or on account of some "tiff" or household quarrel, they all live harmoniously together, and never think of " insuperable dislikes." Even should bickering arise or cause of complaint, they find it quite " superable" as soon as they know that even if "insuperable" it must still be borne.

I have talked over this crying evil-for such it doubtless is- with the Saxon clergy as often as I had an opportunity of doing so, and from these I learned how futile the causes of matrimonial quarrels generally are. Elsewhere it probably is the same ; but elsewhere the consequences are different. One, in particular, assured me that even in his small village the applications to him were frequent; it sometimes happened, he said, that when he refused to give way, the parties accommodated their difference and lived happily together afterwards. One husband did not believe what his wife had said, and she immediately wanted to be separated, as "she could not live with a man who would not trust her."

Another did not eat his dinner with appetite. " Ob," said his wife, "it seems my cooking does not please you. If I cannot satisfy you," etc.,-in the true Mrs. Caudle style. This led to more words, and off the woman goes to ask for a divorce. The chief cause of complaint of another husband, whose pretty young wife I frequently saw at her father's house,-he was the first man in the village, -was, that she had washed some linen again after his mother had already washed it, and that was a " Beleidigung," an insult, to his mother. This will show the futi- lity of the charges brought forward, in a matter which ought to be approached with greater seriousness.

It sometimes happens that during the first year the young couple live with their parents, and this is an endless source of dissension. The mothers-in-law are the great promoters of over-sensitiveness and discontent. It was often found necessary to forbid all intercourse with them, and from that moment everything went well.

Indeed if the clergyman, like my present informant, be firm in opposing, a healthful influence may be exercised. Mere advice is useless; the opposition must be invincible.

" Compulsion " to marry, if it can be proved, is a sufficient ground for granting a divorce;*31_3 also, " offensive breath " in either party. I have before me a list of separations that took place in twenty villages of one district in 1860, 1861, and 1862, and the cause assigned in each case. The number in the three years, was 30, 35 and 35 respectively. "Abneigung" (antipathy) is the reason most frequently given. "Compulsion to marry" comes next, then "drunkenness," "insuperable disgust," "illtreatment," "staying out at night," "ill-smelling breath," and " groundless complaining," fill up the list of matrimonial grievances. One reason is a very droll one,-it is "Augenverdrehen," which means that the party, he or she, rolled about his eyes. Another is, " the wife's stubborn ways ;" one, the " drunkenness of the father-in-law," which was certainly rather hard on the young couple ; and, a single one, what may be called niggling (unerhebliche Klagen). Strangely enough, as at first sight it may appear, these domestic squabbles have their seasons. A clergyman told me he had observed that the mutual complaints were most frequent " after the vintage, when there was wine in the cellar." At such period both parties were more excited, and neither would give way.

31_3* Six months' imprisonment is the penalty for forcing a daughter to marry against her will ; but it is not enforced.

Faithlessness on the-wife's part is seldom or never the cause of separation among the peasantry; at least, I have not heard of any case in which such reason had been assigned. The chief positive cause is, as we have seen, drunkenness and ill- treatment,-the latter being a natural consequence of the intemperance of the husband. But in towns, I am told, it is faithlessness on one side or the other, or on both, which generally leads to divorce.

Later, I found, that among the Hungarian population, divorce is also very frequent. It seems to be considered a natural state of things, quite as much as among the Saxons; and, what to us would seem strange, every one advocates the facility of divorce. The opinion that as soon as any dislike exists between a married couple, it is best to separate and choose again, is held by all. Every one considers that divorce cannot be made too easily attainable. it is not the thoughtless merely who are of this opinion ; I have heard it pronounced by a lady, whose high position, whose exemplary life, and whose dignified bearing might well make her an authority on any question of right and wrong. I have heard it advocated-warmly advocated -by a clergyman, as zealous in his pastoral duties as any man can be.*31_4 It has become so part and parcel of social life, that it is looked upon--as indeed it has grown to be -an integral portion of it.*31_5

No disturbance in the intercourse is necessarily caused by such separation. The wife marries again, and the former husband visits in the house, and is received like any other guest. Sometimes the old affection, or some thing akin to it, re- awakens ; and the divorced pair marry each other for the second time.t-j-31_6

Indeed, as I have repeatedly said, when talking on this subject, I do not see the utility of going through any formality at all before living together as husband and wife ; for the ceremony of marriage has sense in it only when it is considered as something that is, to a degree, binding. A mere registry of the pair that have resolved to live together for the future-time indefinite-would be quite sufficient. A directory like any other address-book would thus be formed, and if published every year, or still better, every six months, the pairs that were living together in nominal wedlock could always be ascertained. I speak quite seriously, for I am utterly at a loss to discover what advantage of any kind is attained by such " marriage;" or what real difference there is between it and a connection formed by a mutual understanding, to leave each other when one or both of the parties shall please. For, as it is, they marry, unmarry, and remarry at will, changing about as in the chassis croisés of a country-dance.

32_4* There is, undoubtedly, nothing to be said against divorce, when sufficient grounds are present for severing the bond of union. It is the futility of the reasons assigned which makes the practice reprehensible. While these sheets were in the press, the following observations on the subject appeared in a weekly journal, and are so much to the purpose, that I transcribe them. " No one can think that there is any gain to virtue or society in having two persons remain in the closest relation, who have no real attraction but the iron rivets of the law. But the hostility of society to divorce is a part of that general economy of nature, which insists that the paramount care shall go for the protection and development of the fruit. Severe divorce laws are the thorny burrs that are meant to protect the child, and preserve a home and training for it. If it were not for children, divorce laws and social customs would be sufficiently facile for all cases. But no philosopher has yet presented a new marriage theory that included a sufficient protection to the child. Until this be done, marriage will remain, as it is now, the most fortified of human institutions.,,-Reader, April 15, 1865.

31_5* In a Hungarian town of somewhat more than 4000 inhabitants, there were pending, in 1862, no less than 171 divorce suits. All these were among the Calvinist population.

31_6t-j- I knew one case among the Saxons of a man of education, who, for some fancied cause of complaint, obtained a divorce and re-married,-his wife remaining single, and continuing to live in the same town. After a while, lie regrets his haste in seeking a divorce, the old affection for the former wife revives, and lie visits her repeatedly. How it will end I do not know, but I should think the second wife would at last feel hurt and neglected, and probably, b,fore long, sue also for a separation.

The cause of the frequent unhappy marriages among the Saxon peasantry, was at last made clear to me by what I saw and heard. But among the Hungarians, especially of the higher classes, the same causes were not present. I therefore asked the opinion of a Hungarian lady, and her explanation was, that the men were far less well educated than the women, and in their tastes, amusements, and pursuits, not well fitted to satisfy a woman of education. I beg it to be understood that this is no opinion of mine; it is an explanation of the frequency of divorce among the Hungarians, given by one of themselves, but whether correct or not I do not undertake to say. The lady, whose view I have given, is a woman of understanding and a cultivated intellect,-sedate, too, and therefore not likely to be wholly wrong. On such a matter a woman's judgment has a certain worth.

Another view also of a Hungarian is, in my opinion, more likely to be the correct one. "To say the truth," observed my informant, "divorce has become a habit." The case with which a legal separation is obtained, is one reason why marriages are contracted when the incompatibility of tastes and characters allow but little hope of lasting happiness. Each party knows that if the two do not suit each other, they may choose again,-a knowledge which not only encourages a reckless thoughtlessness in making a choice, but acts after marriage most perniciously. Knowing with what facility the present contract may be broken and another new one entered into, any sudden passion or admiration, any momentary impulse, instead of being combated, is at once given way to, there being in reality no obstruction to a new connection ; it is like the bar of a turnpike, which is made to swing aside at pleasure, to let you pass through unhindered, on paying a small toll.

Divorce being so common an occurrence, even that restraint is powerless, which every one of fine feelings acknowledges,- the unwillingness to stand publicly in an exceptional position. There, any embarrassment of this sort cannot exist, as there is nothing exceptional in being divorced, and, in having taken in a second marriage the party whom you knew after the first had been celebrated. There can be no doubt, however, that the moral feeling is blunted by such a state of things.




Text Archive Home | Book Details | Table of Contents