Dora B. Montefiore, New Age May 1904

Women’s Interests

The Falling Birth-Rate

Source: New Age, p. 299, 7 May 1904;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

It is really a thousand pities that the Bishops will not keep to the discussion of problems in theology where no one of intelligence would interfere with them, and leave sociological problems alone. The record of their voting in the House of Lords on political, social, and economic questions has not been an edifying one. For generation after generation they have done all that in them lay to block the path to progress by offering session after session an obstinate and, in the end, useless resistance to the passing of measures which the public conscience had long been demanding. Their flagrant sycophancy towards the licentious George. IV, shown by their persecution of his unfortunate consort, and their attempt to prove her guilty in spite of overwhelming evidence in her favour of a breach of the marriage tie, is a matter of common knowledge. The present day alliance of the Church, over which the Bishops hold spiritual jurisdiction, with the interests of that parasite of Society, the Brewer, is a public scandal; whilst the way they threw their influence into the scales at the recent London County Council elections, with the intention of influencing voters belonging to the Established Church to return Moderate candidates, who would hamper progress in education and increase controversial difficulties, showed their calculated opposition to the best educational interests of the proletariat. Yet these “spiritual pastors and masters,” who have over and over again proved themselves incapable as a body of dealing broadmindedly and. humanely with any question of the day, are prepared to rush in with an opinion on a complex sociological problem such as the fall in the birth rate in civilised countries, and to hurl anathemas (fortunately harmless) at parents, and especially at wives, who choose to do their own thinking, and to take reason rather than instinct as their guide.

The Bishop of Ripon Deeply Moved!

The recently published report of the Royal Commission in New South Wales, added to some statistics relating to the birth rate in various European countries, and the jingo anxieties of the Daily Mail and its readers on the subject of the lack of recruits for the Army, destined to help us “to hold our own against our competitors,” have “so deeply moved” the Lord Bishop of Ripon that he has addressed a meeting at Leeds on the subject of childless marriages, when, according to the Daily Mail, he remarked that “much more terrible than those irregular alliances which the Church had not sanctioned were those terrible fashionable marriages where the duties of life were shirked, and where marriage was made a mockery.” The remark, like most theological utterances, needs commentating and explaining, for the question naturally arises, does the worthy Bishop include under the head of “those irregular alliances which the Church has not sanctioned” all marriages before the Registrar or in Nonconformist chapels? Also, one is tempted to ask why he reserves the vials of ecclesiastical wrath for the unfruitful “fashionable marriage” when, if we are to believe the report of Royal Commissions, of statistical columns, and of President Roosevelt, the people also (yea, even the unfashionables) are begining to think for themselves, and refusing to breed in their slums in order that their masters, spiritual and otherwise, may have a superabundance of “hands” for factory and mill, and a never failing supply of “chair a cannon” ready to be hurled against “competitors.”

An Appeal to Worn-Out Ideals.

The Daily Mail ends up both its account of the Bishop of Ripon’s speech and its special article on the same subject with an inflated appeal to “great and glorious ideals – national and religious.” I would humbly suggest that the Daily Mail might as well make an eloquent appeal in favour of the delights and benefits of travelling by mail coach when motor-cars and electric trains are the order of the day. The only ideal which can in the future have any force of appeal is that every individual citizen born into the State has an equal right to food, clothing, and education at the hands of the State, not in the form of grudging charity, not accompanied with any stigma of pauperism or of inferiority, but because the parents of each individual citizen have (in the words of Lady Florence Dixie) “regarded the act of reproduction as a sacred trust not to be betrayed or ignored, and one on which their self-respect and duty to Society enjoins them to keep zealous eye.” In the renewed state of Society towards which we are evolving, every citizen will have an equal share of fostering care during the immature years of life, will repay his debt to Society for this care. during the working years of life, and in old age will be pensioned by the Society for which he has worked, and of which he forms as integral a part as does a son or daughter in a family.


P.S. – I shall hope in my article next week to work out my thoughts on this subject in relation to the falling birth rate in New South Wales, as special conditions and influences prevail there which render this side of the question of special interest. D.B.M.