This section of the book is from "The Complete Herbalist" by Dr. O. Phelps Brown. Also available from Amazon: The Complete Herbalist: The People Their Own Physicians By The Use Of Nature's Remedies.
The greatness, importance, and responsibility of the marital relation are but improperly appreciated and understood by the majority of males and females who enter into that relation. There is a momentous duty to be performed, far more important than those generally supposed to be incumbent upon husband and wife. We have in other places considered the more general duties devolving upon husband and wife to be discharged; we will in this place dwell upon a subject which of all others pertaining to the conjugal association of the sexes is the most important, and which as a duty is more universally neglected and improperly performed because the principles and laws governing generations are but imperfectly understood or not at all. The precise question relative to generation which we purpose to discuss is the transmission to children of the best possible mental, physical and moral attainments.
We have in another part of this work stated that the legitimate object of marriage is to legalize the sexual covenant, and to confine it within a healthful and moral atmosphere. This is not only the legitimate, but technically it is the only aspect of which the law takes cognizance. Such a congress is, therefore, legal between a male and female who have been bound together in wedlock. This is all right and proper; but not by mere legalized association can the welfare of the race be best advanced or secured. The distinguishment of animal creation into two sexes was only designed by Nature for one purpose--the multiplication of species; but it never was the purpose of Nature that the sexes should indiscrimately associate, or that the intent and design of multiplication would be fitly subserved in all cases by merely allowing any male to covenant with any female, irrespective of selection. In the lower animals this is avoided by instinct, but in man the restraint is given by the higher impulses of reason. Yet, notwithstanding this high quality in man, the purpose of Nature is often defeated or controverted by wilful disregard of the promptings of an innate intelligence or disobedience to what is known as physiological law.
The first requisite is circumspect marriage. Without the marital union of eligible parties human progress would be slow, or unpromising. A circumspect marriage tends, however, to bring into conjugal union the more highly endowed male with the more highly endowed female; or, in other words, the best man would marry only the best woman. The man having highly developed physical, mental, and moral, faculties would only be content in marrying a woman with similarly developed faculties, and in such a union we have the basis for highly endowed offspring. In another essay are given the precautions candidates should observe prior to consummating marriage, and if the instructions therein given should be heeded, ufit marriages would be of rarer occurrence.
But in marriage, proper or improper, a duty has to be performed, neglect of which is sinning against the welfare of the whole race. The aim of all married people should be the bringing into the world of healthy children, not physically only, but mentally and morally also. The greatest achievement and proudest monument of parentage is in giving to the world such offspring as will act well their part in the great drama of life. How is it done? Can parents so regulate the gestatory process as to give their children at birth the heritage of physical excellence, large mental capacity, and superior moral disposition? Assuredly they can; it requires but willingness and effort in the right direction. The mother who imparts to the being hid away in her loins her personal features, her disposition, etc., can impart much more by proper effort. The father, from whoim the male formative material is received, can do much for the welfare of that being evolved from that material. For all that it is, the child is indebted to either one of the parents; from them is received the human qualities it possesses or exhibits. Subsequent care, training, and education may do much, but the original bias is received within the confines of the womb.
Not much need be said as to the transmission of mental superiority to children. If the parents are intelligent and educated, the children will also have large mental capacity. Subsequent mental training will serve to give offspring that mental culture which in the present progressive period of the human race each individual being should possess. Intelligence, not ignorance, now holds sway; and no one can harmoniously glide along with the current of human progress without a cultivated mind. If mothers, therefore, have tastes for the intellectual pursuits, let them not abandon them while another life is developing.
The transmission of moral qualities is more readily accomplished. To what extent they can be transmitted is not readily definable, but it is a well-settled fact in psychology that the moral habit readily descends from parent to child. This fact is exemplified in the history of nearly every family, for in nearly every case the moral tone of the children represents that of the parents, at least as far as disposition is concerned. Vicious association may destroy the moral tone, even if the disposition is unfavorable; but when the disposition is favorable to moral excellence the inclination to vice is strongly curbed, and moral degeneration is not so easily effected, even if the child is surrounded by all the allurement of vice. On the mother, then, a high duty rests -- she is chargeable with the moral tone of society, not by neglecting the supervision of the moral faculties of her born children so much as by indifference when a human soul is undergoing intro-uterine development. Motherhood comes to many most unwelcomely; the trials and cares incident to it are not favorably regarded; but there are few women in whom the maternal instinct is so deficient that they would, with sheer malice, endeavor to give birth to a babe so weighted with the destiny of a bad organization, as to make them through life utterly insensible to all the moral relations of life. Yet such a legacy is completely within the power of a mother to give. If she is not elevated by purity of thought and of action, if not ennobled by intensity of maternal feeling, and if not actuated by constant solicitude for the welfare of her unborn babe, the organization of the child will be unquestionably vicious. She should remember that the child in uterine life has no blood but that of the mother; all that courses through its veins and arteries also courses through the blood-vessels of the mother. How important it is then for mothers to guard against everything calculated to disturb the harmony and regularity of the vascular current!