E. Belfort Bax March 1911
Source: New Age, 9 March 1911, p. 451;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
Sir, – Senhor V. de Braganza Cunha thinks to damage the present Republican regime in Portugal by endeavouring to show that there are Republicans and Republican papers who criticise details in the working of that régime, just as if there had ever been any administration (lor could be such as things are), however good on the whole, that is perfect, and therefore not open to criticism – fair or unfair. The fact that such criticism obtains shows that Portuguese Republicanism is a live thing, and not a cut-and-dried scheme resting on tradition and bureaucratic precedent. The Portuguese population may not be able to support a Republican régime, but of this we have no evidence at present. If this were so, it need only mean the desirability of continuing the present dictatorship till a rational system of education had begun to do its work.
Senhor de Braganza Cunha doesn’t like rational principles applied to the sacred institutions of “marriage and the family.” Hence in the absence of argument to help himself he has resort to abuse, and thinks to dismiss all allusion to them by calling such “ a string of empty platitudes.” If by “platitudes” he means “truisms,” I should be glad to think they could be regarded as such. For the Senhor, however, they seem to be anything but truisms. Though I could wish nothing better than that reasonable views on this subject had become trite and commonplace like the Copernican theory or the law of gravitation, I fear unfortunately such is not quite the case. And even if it were so with mankind in general, much as I dislike talking commonplaces, I could still plead that when gentlemen like Senhor de Cunha are found to impugn these commonplaces it may be sometimes necessary to re-affirm them – commonplaces though they may be.
Senhor de Cunha kindly informs me that free views on the subject of divorce were prevalent in later classical antiquity. I can “ go him” one better than this, and recall to his mind the fact that primitive human society did not recognise monogamy at all, and even the later stages of barbaric society did so very imperfectly. But in this I see no reason why to-day we should wickedly and heartlessly bind men and women together with legal handcuffs. [So far as Socialists are concerned I might point out that Modern Socialism looks forward to a future social state in which more than one feature of earlier society shall reassert itself as modified by the higher complexity involved in such a social state.] Says my respected critic:- “It may therefore interest Mr. Belfort Bax to know that Gibbon, after reviewing the course of Roman marriages,” wrote in favour of the eternal legal handcuff! This, with the previous passage, shows Senhor de Braganza Cunha in the light of a humorist (conscious or unconscious) given to the practice known as “teaching one’s grandmother to suck eggs.” No, my worthy Senhor, it does not in the least “interest” me to know (what, for the rest, I knew probably as long as my kind informant has known it), to wit, that Edward Gibbon held reactionary views on divorce as on other matters. What on earth the opinions of an old 18th century Tory gentleman, who, in his later years at least was prepared to back up any long-established institution, from Divine Right to the Inquisition, have to do with us to-day I altogether fail to see! Certainly they do not impress me, neither do the somewhat limited facts on which he based them even seem to lend them colour.
Needless to say that I should not defend any continuance of the marriage contract after divorce such as implied by the section IV. (an undoubted flaw in the edict) now quoted by Senhor de Cunha. As for Professor Braga, even though the conventional utterances attributed to him are of more recent date than I was led to suppose, I can only say that a late repentance is better than none at all. So much, the more to his credit, indeed, if Braga has the courage of his convictions to openly throw over views so lately expressed which he at present sees to be untenable. But I will now leave Senhor de Cunha to meditate on the political wisdom he derives from Guizot and his like (not “commonplace” this, I suppose ! Oh, dear, no!).
In reply to Mr. Collingwood, I may remind him that if THE NEW AGE has nothing in common with “Protestant Controversialists,” it is supposed to have just as little in common with Catholic controversialists, and that the liberty of calling a spade a spade has not as yet been editorially decreed as the exclusive prerogative of the writer’s reactionary article.
E. BELFORT BAX