Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Hey, Rare Book Guy! What’s “Mock Love”?

(Not our correspondent).

Hey, Rare Book Guy!
I've come across a book that's got me a stumped: Love and Mock Love; or How to Marry to the end of Conjugal Satisfaction by George Stearns. Boston: Bela Marsh, 14 Bromfield St. 1860. It was in a box of old books I bought.

I recognized the name George Stearns - famous Garrisonian Abolitionist.  I'm also curious about the misspelling of the publisher on the title page: i.e. Bela Marsh - instead of Bella Marsh.

So, I'm hoping to 'tap' this resource to learn a little bit more about his book. Thank you in advance for your time!

Ames, Iowa


Dear C.W.:

“Shmock! Shmock!”

(Forgive me, I read the words “mock love,” was thrown into Mr. Peabody’s WABAC Machine and caromed back to the early-1960s, comedian Steve Allen, and his trademark nonsense exclamation).

You have unearthed a scarce little gem, a book that played a role in the early Feminist movement in the United States. George Stearns was, indeed, an abolitionist but also a prominent feminist free-thinker and social reformer. Love and Mock Love is his contribution to early feminist literature.

In True Love and Perfect Union: The Feminist Reform of Sex and Society (1981), author William Leach discusses the book. And what, pray tell, is true love? According to Stearns, “True love inspires no jealousies, perpetuates no murders, suggests no suicides, induces no miscarriages, creates no family wars, and warrants no selfish lusts.” It is an idealized vision of intimate relationships somewhat divorced from reality and devoid of human drama.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, married people (and, I’m told, singles) have sex. And there’s the rub.

To the 19th century feminist, romantic love was a “counterfeit passion,” and dangerous. Ideal love and the perfect marriage was, according to Leach, a social regime that stressed symmetry in all things, from the physical to the social contract. Sexual freedom, for the 19th century feminist, meant exactly that: Freedom from sex. It messed things up and turned women away from their intellectual, career, and moral potential. But if you have to have it, let it be symmetrical, and not inspire jealousy, murder, and suicide. Unselfish lust, apparently, was the goal. And, one supposes, without the emotional entanglements that lead to jealousy, murder, and suicide. In other words, placid, dispassionate sex.

I’ve noticed that a few other scholars have picked up upon Love and Mock Love; it is recognized as one of the more interesting period  books on love and marriage.

In an 1863 advertisement found in the Christmas Annual, William White & Co. of Boston offers Love and Mock Love for 25 cents. In 1865, William White advertised the book thus: “Plain 30 cents, gilt 50 cents. Postage 4 cents.”

Stearns was a very interesting individual.

“George Luther Stearns (8 Jan. 1809-9 Apr. 1867), manufacturer and abolitionist, was born in Medford, outside of Boston, Massachusetts...Stearns'...[industrial] pipe business produced a sizable fortune, and he would draw from it liberally to support his reform interests...In the political struggle against slavery, Stearns...supported antislavery third-party candidates... 

George Luther Stearns
Founding member of ZZ Top.

“...Stearns raised money (much of it his own) to purchase Sharpe's rifles and other supplies to support the free state settlers... Deeply impressed with John Brown's call for retributive justice, Stearns became an important financial backer of the guerrilla chieftain in Kansas...supporting and financing Brown's plans to extend his antislavery guerrilla war into Virginia. After Brown's raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Stearns and a fellow conspirator, Samuel Gridley Howe, fled briefly to Montreal. But Stearns returned to defend his actions before a Senate committee investigating the role of 'subversive organizations.' He admitted that he supported Brown's efforts to 'go into Virginia or some other state and relieve slaves,' but he denied any knowledge of plans to commit treason against the United States...

“At the close of the [Civil] war Stearns joined with J. Miller McKim and Charles Eliot Norton to establish The Nation. It was to be 'a weekly newspaper,' announced Stearns, 'to advocate advanced opinions.' Stearns [was] the single largest financial contributor to the new publication...He did not live to see his goal of universal suffrage constitutionally secured” (Louis S. Gerteis. "Stearns, George Luther"; American National Biography Online Feb. 2000).  

Incredibly, OCLC and KVK locate only one copy in institutional holdings, at the British Library (shelfmark 8415.aa.19.).

As for Bela Marsh - that’s the way the Boston publisher, active c. 1840-1865, spelled his name; it is of Hungarian origin, i.e. Bela Lugosi and Bela Bartok. In 1841, his (then) firm, Marsh, Capen, and Lyon, was sued by another publisher for piracy. He seems to have sold his stock to William White; hence White's ads for this book originally published by Marsh.

Thanks, C.W., for the question. You made my day.

STEARNS, George. Love and Mock Love or How to Marry to the end of Conjugal Satisfaction by George Stearns, author of "The Mistake of Christendom," etc. Boston: Bela Marsh, 14 Bromfield St. 1860. 32mo (thirtytwomo, i.e. tricesimo-secundo; 12 cm). vxvi, 17-128 p.

Have a question about an old or rare book? The Rare Book Guy is here for you. But first you need to get the full details.

Images of Love and Mock Love courtesy of the questioner. Image of George Stearns courtesy of the West Virginia State Archives. Header image is licensed from Corbis Images and is protected by copyright.

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