Sheridan might have been getting at something in the Irish psyche of his time. But the phenomenon he details is not unique to Ireland. Americans are no longer a “buoyant people,” in this view. They, too, have adopted the capstone vision of marriage, looking for assurances of material prosperity ahead of the match and reducing the risk of testing the “for poorer” portion of their vows.

The worry, of course, is that almost no society climbs out of the population tailspin. Those withering family trees make recovery more difficult. Fewer siblings and aunts and uncles means less support for raising children. Delayed childbirth, that spike in fertility over 40, results in grandparents who can contribute less to the raising of their grandchildren, or who themselves require attention that might otherwise go to the forthcoming generation.

Conservatism is an attempt to make this world more like a home, where we have a place and role, where nothing and nobody is merely useful or merely familiar. Our respect for our social and religious inheritance is in some way determined by the prospect of passing it on. But if the chain is destined to break, all the bonds within it seem less valuable. To lose the future is to lose our past with it.