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[SECT. I.—: OF POPULATION AS AFFECTED BY THE POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS WHICH REGULATE THE SEXUAL CONNEXION.] - Dugald Stewart, Lectures on Political Economy, vol. 1 
Lectures on Political Economy. Now first published. Vol. I. To which is Prefixed, Part Third of the Outlines of Moral Philosophy, edited by Sir William Hamilton (Edinburgh, Thomas Constable, 1855).
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OF POPULATION AS AFFECTED BY THE POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS WHICH REGULATE THE SEXUAL CONNEXION.]
Under the first of these heads an extensive and interesting field of speculation presents itself; first, with respect to the comparative effects of marriage, and of a promiscuous concubinage; and, secondly, with respect to the comparative effects of monogamy and of polygamy.
MARRIAGE COMPARED WITH CONCUBINAGE.]
In the very general observations concerning the Institution of Marriage to which I propose to confine myself in this lecture, I shall avoid those views of the subject which have an immediate reference to the more appropriate objects of Political Economy, in some of which respects (particularly in its connexion with Population) it will necessarily fall again under our review. On the other hand, it would be obviously a trifling with your time, to offer any illustration of those views of expediency which have induced legislators, in every instance, to impose certain limitations on the vague commerce of the sexes; (as with the single exception of Mr. Godwin,) I do not know that any advocates for a promiscuous concubinage are to be found even among the most paradoxical writers of the present age.
In the Republic of Plato, indeed, Socrates is introduced as maintaining, that “in a well ordered state, all things ought to be common,—wives, children, and possessions.” His arguments for this opinion, which are fanciful and puerile, are examined with much more attention than they deserve, and refuted in a very satisfactory manner, in the second book of Aristotle’s Politics; to which I beg leave to refer.1
I quote the following passages from Mr. Godwin, not with the view of replying to them, (the necessity of which is completely superseded by their unexampled extravagance,) but as a specimen of that order of things which appears to the writer to be imperiously recommended by the principle of Political Justice.
“The abolition of marriage would be attended with no evils. In this, as in other cases, the positive laws which are made to restrain our vices, irritate and multiply them. Not to say that the same sentiments of justice and happiness which, in a state of equal property, would destroy the relish for luxury, would decrease our inordinate appetites of every kind, and lead us universally to prefer the pleasures of intellect to the pleasures of sense.” [Again:]
“It is true, that in such a state of society, it could not be definitively affirmed who is the father of each individual child. But it may be affirmed, that such knowledge would be of no importance. It is aristocracy, self-love, and family pride, that teach us to set a value upon it at present. I ought to prefer no human being to another, because that being is my father, my wife, or my son, but because for reasons which equally appeal to all understandings, that being is entitled to preference.”*
Of the tendency of such a state of society with respect to population, Mr. Godwin has taken no notice, nor indeed was it necessary for his purpose that he should; for it is part of the same system, that if its principles were realized, the species would cease to multiply by propagation, and individuals would become immortal.
Neglecting therefore these paradoxes, (which are much less likely to do mischief than some other passages of the same work, the scope of which is not equally apparent,) I shall assume as a self-evident principle, the political utility of such a contract between the sexes, as is necessary for connecting the offspring with both parents, by excluding (as far as law can operate) a promiscuous concubinage.
What I propose chiefly in introducing the subject here, is to consider (which I shall do very briefly) the institution of marriage as a part of the moral and physical order of nature; and to offer a few miscellaneous remarks on the tendency of some modern speculations to weaken the influence of those principles which have so universally consecrated this connexion, among all civilized nations.
The question, whether marriage be an appointment of nature or of municipal law, has been often and warmly disputed, even among those who acknowledge its utility as a political institution. It is a question which (when thus stated at least) savours so much of scholastic refinement, that I should have avoided any reference to it in these lectures, if some late doctrines had not bestowed on it a temporary interest.
The diversity of opinion to which this discussion has given rise, may probably be ascribed, in some degree, to the vague manner in which the question has been proposed. Few phrases are more ambiguous than that of natural law; and of consequence, the circumstances which are appealed to as tests of it, in one sense, do not at all apply to it when understood in another.
By some writers, the laws of nature with respect to man are collected from the customs of savage nations, among whom artificial systems of policy have made little or no progress. By others, every institution is considered as enjoined by nature, or (in other words) as a part of her law, which may be inferred by reason to be agreeable to her intentions: either from an examination of the principles of our constitution, combined with our physical condition; from the analogy of the other animals whom she has taken immediately under her own guidance; or from the beneficial effects it has a tendency to produce. I need scarcely observe, that what are understood to be laws of nature, according to the former definition, will not always be found entitled to that appellation, according to the latter.
That a promiscuous concubinage is the natural result of savage ideas and savage manners, seems to have the universal creed of antiquity. “Nam fuit quoddam tempus,” says Cicero, “cum in agris homines passim bestiarum modo vagabantur, et sibi victu fero vitam propagabant; nec ratione animi quidquam, sed pleraque viribus corporis administrabant. Nondum divinæ religiones, non humani officii ratio colebatur: nemo legitimas viderat nuptias; non certos quisquam adspexerat liberos.”1 Of this state of society, Lucretius, in the following verses, has presented a lively picture.
Agreeably to the same notions, the establishment of marriage is always numbered among the first improvements introduced by those legislators who reclaimed their fellow-citizens from the fierceness and misrule of savage life.
We are told of Cecrops, in particular, the founder of the Athenian constitution, that before his time marriage was not known in Greece, and that the burden of children lay upon the mother. To this fact innumerable allusions may be found in the Greek writers; by whom we are also informed, that on account of this circumstance, Cecrops obtained the appellation of Διϕυὴς or Biformis. “Cecrops dictus est Biformis, quod legem tulisset, ut fœminæ, quæ virgines adhuc essent, uni viro elocarentur; quas Nymphas vocavit. Ante enim, illius regionis mulieres, more pecudum, promiscue cum viris coibant; nec suo cuique viro uxor erat, sed unaquæque mulier cuivis corporis sui copiam faciebat. Unde etiam nemini constabat, cujusnam filius vel filia esset infans in lucem editus.”2
I do not intend to enter into a particular discussion of the evidence by which these opinions and traditions are supported, as it is not at all material to the argument I have in view, whether we adopt or reject them. When we reflect, however, on the condition of the human infant, and the impossibility of a mother rearing a numerous offspring solely by her own industry, (at least in the earlier stages of society, and in such a climate as Greece,) it is difficult to avoid a considerable degree of scepticism with respect to facts of so high antiquity in point of date, and of which we have no authentic memorials; more especially as a very strong presumption against them arises from the whole system of the ancient mythology, (a system of which the origin is confessedly lost in the obscurity of the fabulous ages,) and which invariably assigns to each of the deities, not excepting Jupiter himself, but a single wife united with him by a legitimate marriage.3 The account which Cæsar gives of the manners of the ancient Britons, is indeed entitled to much respect from the known fidelity and accuracy of the writer; but it differs essentially from the state of society in which the Greeks are supposed to have lived before the time of Cecrops, and is by no means liable to the same objections. “It was common,” he says, “for a number of brothers, or other near relations, to use their wives promiscuously. The offspring, however, were not common; for each man maintained the children that were produced by his own wife.”1 The information is curious, and of some importance in this disquistion; for while it affords a melancholy proof of the dissolute morals that once prevailed in this island, it illustrates strongly the necessity of a co-operation of both sexes in rearing an infant offspring, and thereby turns our thoughts to one of the most striking circumstances in the condition of man, which suggest the institution of marriage.
Suppose, however, for a moment, that we should adopt the ideas of the ancients on this subject in their full extent. To what other conclusion would they lead, than that the intellectual and moral powers of our species are liable to extreme degradation amidst the ignorance and brutishness of savage manners? To judge of the intentions of nature, requires in many cases (as I already hinted) a comprehensive view of the constitution of man, of the circumstances of his external condition, and of the mutual relations which these two parts of his destiny bear to each other;—and therefore it is not to History that we ought to appeal as an infallible standard in such discussions, but to what our own reason pronounces concerning moral fitness and expediency, after availing itself of all the lights it can collect concerning the ends and purposes of our being. Or, if any appeal is made to the actual experience of mankind, it ought certainly to be to the practices of those nations among whom the highest attainments of the race have been exhibited.
Among the many prejudices which have misled the speculations of philosophers concerning the history and destination of man, there is perhaps none more absurd and groundless than the idea that the rudest state of our species is that which approaches most nearly to the state of nature. The contrary opinion would be in every essential respect more agreeable to the truth; inasmuch as one of the most melancholy and fatal consequences of human ignorance, is a presumptuous confidence in the remote conclusions of reason, in opposition to what is obviously suggested by the state and condition of man. We may remark this not only in the moral depravity of rude tribes, but in the universal disposition which they discover to torture and distort the human body;—in one case compressing the eyes at the corners; in a second lengthening the ears; in a third, checking the growth of the feet; in a fourth, by mechanical pressures applied to the head, attacking the seat of thought and intelligence. To allow the human body to attain in perfection its fair proportions, is one of the latest improvements of civilized society; and the case is perfectly analogous in those sciences which have for their object to assist nature in the cure of diseases, in the correction of bad morals, or in the regulation of the social order.
In the present instance, without any appeal to history, the intentions of nature may be easily collected from facts which fall under our daily observation. Of these facts, one of the most striking is the long period during which the human infant remains in a state of the most complete helplessness and dependence. The cares of the mother are evidently not sufficient for the task of rearing her offspring till they are able to provide for themselves; and the difficulties of this task, so far from being diminished, must be wonderfully increased by the nature of those occupations on which man depends for his precarious subsistence, in the earlier periods of society. In such a state of things, while the mother is employed in suckling her child, the care of both is obviously devolved by nature on the father; and indeed without his constant and assiduous protection, both the one and the other must inevitably perish.
During the long helplessness of the first infant, (a helplessness which, in our species, Nature seems to protract, in order to bind that union which love had originally formed,) the family multiplies apace. Every new member adds another tie to those which existed before; habit adds her irresistible influence; and thus, without the formalities of a contract or of nuptial rites, those arrangements insensibly arise, which it is the pride of human policy to confirm and to sanctify.
In the rudest period, too, of society, something must be allowed to a sentimental predilection, and to the effect of reciprocal kindnesses and sacrifices. The affection of friendship has never been denied to the savage; and why should we doubt that it may sometimes unite, in its tenderest form, with those passions which prompt to the continuation of the species.
Among the ancient writers, it was often disputed whether the affection of Friendship could possibly exist in its perfection between more than two persons, and I believe that the common decision was that it cannot.1 For my own part, I confess I can see no good reason in the case of friendship for such a limitation; and I am inclined to think that it has been suggested rather by the fables of mythology or the dreams of romance, than by good sense or a practical acquaintance with mankind. What the ancients, however, alleged with respect to friendship, is certainly true of love between the sexes. This last affection cannot, at one time, be directed to a variety of objects. It is of an exclusive and suspicious nature; and the jealousy of the one party is roused the moment an apprehension arises that the attachment of the other is in any degree divided. In this circumstance, which is strikingly characteristical of the passion between the sexes, we see not only a provision made for the conjugal union, but (as will appear afterwards more fully) a manifestation of the law of nature on the subject of polygamy.
The delicacy and modesty which seem to be natural to the other sex, in a much greater degree than to ours, conspire with the causes already mentioned, in grafting a moral union on the instinctive passion. By many writers these are considered as entirely factitious principles; but the contrary might be easily proved, if it were worth while at present to enter into the argument. I shall content myself with remarking the conspicuous figure they have been found, in various instances, to make in ruder ages, more particularly among the American tribes and the ancient Germans. The latter are extolled on this very account by Tacitus, who plainly means to insinuate, in the panegyric he bestows on them, an indirect satire on the corrupted manners of his own countrymen. “Publicatæ pudicitiæ nulla venia: non forma, non ætate, non opibus maritum invenerit. Nemo enim illic vitia ridet; nec corrumpere et corrumpi seculum vocatur.”1
From the shyness and reserve natural to women, and the respect paid to it by the earliest legislators, some writers have very ingeniously traced the ceremonies which have been found occasionally connected with the institution of marriage. Thus among the early Romans, the bride appears to have been carried forcibly from the lap of her mother; and among the Spartans a marriage assumed the semblance of a rape. “The virgin and her relations,” says Dr. [Gilbert] Stuart, “no doubt, understood previously the transaction, and expected this violence. But it was a compliment to her, thus to give an air of constraint to her consent, to relieve her embarrassment and distress, her emotion of fear and hope, anxiety and tenderness.”*
The same remark is made, and not ill expressed, by Dr. Taylor.2 “The seeming violence,” he observes, “with which the bride is taken from her mother’s lap, the lifting her over the threshold, and many other incidents in the ceremony, would be as proper in the rites of any other nation that did not owe its foundation to an accident of this kind, as they are in the Roman system. There is a propriety, that a sex whose modesty is their charter, who, by a great consent of nations, are to be solicited into this union, and—for a while to refuse it, should in these delicate circumstances be complimented with the appearance of constraint, and with that softer kind of violence which suits so well with their condition, their character, and education. Thus with us, and with the Athenians, as we have seen above, the bride is given in marriage, and hardly appears upon the face of the stipulation to be consenting. . . . And though we know what these things mean, (“Scio, voluntate tua coactus es,”) yet the moral is sound and warrantable. This compulsion testifies the retirement and abstraction that attended their education, is a pledge of that honour and chastity which they should bring with them to this solemnity, and guarantees the modesty and decorum that is to sweeten and recommend the remainder of this alliance.”
These observations are not undeserving of attention, as the show of violence which accompanied the marriage ceremony among the Romans (that in particular of tearing the bride ex gremio matris) is commonly considered by the ancient writers as carrying an allusion to a celebrated event in the history of the early ages,—the Rape of the Sabines. In this instance we meet with a striking example of that unphilosophical bias, so common both among the Roman and Greek authors, to account for every remarkable phenomenon in the history of man, by referring it to a fabulous origin, instead of endeavouring to resolve it into the general principles of human nature.
After all, the principal support of marriage among rude nations, is undoubtedly the circumstance which was first mentioned,—I mean the long helplessness of the human infant; and, accordingly, in those parts of the world where the means of subsistence are furnished by nature, with little or no exertion on the part of man, the conjugal tie appears to be a much slighter bond of union, than where the parties are drawn more closely together by their common necessities.
In proof of the foregoing conclusions concerning the intentions of nature with respect to the human race, Lord Kames has drawn an additional argument from the economy of the lower animals. “The instinct of pairing,” he observes, “is bestowed on every species of animals to which it is necessary for rearing their young, and on no other species. . . . Brute animals which do not pair, have grass and other food in plenty, enabling the female to feed her young, without needing any assistance from the male. But where the young require the nursing care of both parents, pairing is a law of nature.”* A variety of other very judicious and pleasing remarks on the economy of nature, relating to the propagation of animals, may be found in the Appendix annexed to his Sketch on the Progress of the Female Sex.
Mr. Hume, too, in his Essay On Polygamy and Divorce, has referred to the economy of the brutes; but the inference he draws from his premises, is different from that of Kames, and (in my opinion) less philosophical. “Among the inferior creatures,” he observes, “nature herself being the supreme legislator, prescribes all the laws which regulate their marriages, and varies those laws according to the different circumstances of the creature. Where she furnishes, with ease, food and defence to the new-born animal, the present embrace terminates the marriage, and the care of the offspring is committed entirely to the female. Where the food is of more difficult purchase, the marriage continues for one season, till the common progeny can provide for itself, and then the union immediately dissolves, and leaves each of the parties free to enter into a new engagement at the ensuing season. But nature having endowed man with reason, has not so exactly regulated every article of his marriage contract, but has left him to adjust them by his own prudence, according to his particular circumstances and situation. Municipal laws are a supply to the wisdom of each individual; and, at the same time, by restraining the natural liberty of men, make private interest submit to the interest of the public. All regulations, therefore, on this head are equally lawful, and equally conformable to the principles of nature, though they are not all equally convenient, or equally useful to society.”* According to the meaning I annex to the phrases, “principles of nature,” and “laws of nature,” (and which I have already† endeavoured to shew is the proper meaning of the expression,) this last conclusion of Mr. Hume’s involves a contradiction in terms.
I have hitherto touched only upon those advantages of marriage which are obvious to the most careless inquirer, and which could not fail to force themselves on the notice of men in the most rude and ignorant ages. If I were to enter more deeply into the subject, and to consider it in connexion with the happiness of human life, with the preservation of morals, and with the progressive improvement of the species, volumes might be written without exhausting the subject. Much might also be said on the connexion of this institution with the subject of population, not only as an arrangement absolutely necessary for preserving undiminished the prolific powers of the other sex, but as no less indispensable (even in the present state of society) for rearing children with success, amidst the diseases and dangers of infancy. Of this a judgment may be formed from the barrenness of those connexions where the circumstances of the parents do not allow them to bestow that care on their offspring to which affection and duty prompt in more favourable situations. “The tender plant,” to borrow the words of Mr. Smith, “is produced, but in so cold a soil and so severe a climate, soon withers and dies.”‡
What then would the consequences be, in the present state of things—I shall not say of the abolition of marriage—but of any considerable relaxation in the ideas of men concerning the sacredness of this connexion, and the duties which it imposes?
These different considerations, which I must content myself with barely hinting at, illustrate sufficiently the wisdom of that advice which Plato (notwithstanding his own paradoxes on the subject) gives to his Legislator, when he directs him to take his stand from the institution of marriage, and for the better ordering of his commonwealth, to begin where that also begins, the arrangement of the conjugal union.* Agreeably to the same idea, this union is beautifully called by Cicero, “the Seminary of the republic.” “Cum sit hoc natura commune animantium, ut habeant lubidinem procreandi: prima societas in ipso conjugio est; proxima in liberis; deinde una domus, communia omnia. Id autem est principium urbis, et quasi Seminarium reipublicæ.”†
The stress which these two eminent philosophers and the other political writers of antiquity have so justly laid on the institution of marriage, has been appealed to in support of an absurd opinion already mentioned, that it is altogether an invention of human policy. But marriage (as I hope sufficiently appears from the foregoing observations) is the result (in the first instance) of that order of things which nature herself has established; and the proper business of the legislator is here, as in other cases, limited to the task of seconding and enforcing her recommendations, by checking the deviations from her plan which are occasioned by the vices and follies of individuals. The fact is precisely similar with respect to Property. The idea of property is not created by municipal laws. On the contrary, one of the principal circumstances which suggested the necessity of laws and magistrates, was to guard against those violations to which the property of the weak was found to be exposed amidst the turbulence of barbarous times. It is with great propriety, therefore, that Horace classes these two objects of law together, the preservation of property and the protection of the marriage bed;—objects, however, which so far from being the creatures of municipal institutions, may be justly considered as the chief sources from which municipal institutions have taken rise.
They are indeed the two great pillars of the political fabric, and whatever tends to weaken them, threatens, we may be assured, the existence of every establishment essential to human happiness. If in some of the preceding remarks, therefore, I may be thought to have expressed myself with an unnecessary diffuseness, the importance of the subject, contrasted with the tendency of some late speculations concerning it, will, I trust, be a sufficient apology for the space which I have allotted to an article which has been so often exhausted by the ingenuity both of ancient and of modern writers.
One particular question connected with the institution of marriage affords, (it must be owned,) when we abstract altogether from the precepts of revelation with respect to it, a fair field for argument,—Whether marriage ought to be considered by the legislator, merely as a civil contract, liable, like other civil contracts, to be dissolved by the mutual consent of the parties? My own opinion on this point may be anticipated from what I have already said, but it would encroach too much on our time, to explain particularly the principles on which it is founded. I must content myself, therefore, with referring to a short Essay On Polygamy and Divorce, by Mr. Hume, in which the argument is stated with equal conciseness and force. The manner, too, in which the subject is treated by this eminent writer, is peculiarly adapted to those politicians who have argued for a liberty of divorce, as he disclaims all regard to what he is pleased to call the common superstitious notions concerning the nature of marriage, and founds his reasonings entirely on considerations of political expediency.
On a superficial view of the question, Mr. Hume confesses, that a liberty of divorce may appear favourable to population, by removing, what is with many a powerful obstacle to marriage, the indissoluble nature of the connexion. It is, however, extremely remarkable, that “at the time when divorces were most frequent among the Romans, marriages were the most rare; and Augustus was obliged, by penal laws, to force men of fashion into the married state; a circumstance which is scarcely to be found in any other age or nation. The more ancient laws of Rome, which prohibited divorces, are extremely praised by Dionysius of Halycarnassus. ‘Wonderful was the harmony,’ says the historian, ‘which this inseparable union of interests produced between married persons, while each of them considered the inevitable necessity by which they were linked together, and abandoned all prospect of any other choice or establishment.’ ”* It conveys, indeed, a most delightful idea of the domestic manners of the Romans, when we consider a fact about which all their writers are agreed, that Carvilius Ruga, who lived a. u. c. 520, was the first person who divorced his wife. The ground of his separation was her barrenness; a pretext which, when considered merely in a political view, is much less ridiculous than many which at a later period were considered by this people as perfectly valid; and yet we are informed [among others] by Valerius Maximus, that although the divorce stood unimpeached in law, the morality of his conduct was then regarded as very questionable. “Repudium inter uxorem et virum, a condita urbe usque ad vicesimum et quingentesimum annum, nullum intercessit. Primus autem Sp. Carvilius uxorem, sterilitatis causa, dimisit. Qui quanquam tolerabili ratione motus videbatur, reprehensione tamen non caruit: quia nec cupiditatem quidem liberorum, conjugali fidei proponi debuisse arbitrabantur.”1
At a later period of the Roman history, when a new jurisprudence taught that marriage, like other partnerships, might be dissolved by the abdication of one of the associates, the consequences were fatal to the virtues and to the comforts of domestic life. “Passion, interest, or caprice,” to borrow the words of Mr. Gibbon,”† “suggested daily motives for the dissolution of marriage; a word, a sign, a message, a letter, the mandate of a freedman declared the separation; the most tender of human connexions was degraded to a transient society of profit or pleasure. According to the various conditions of life, both sexes alternately felt the disgrace and the injury; an inconstant spouse transferred her wealth to a new family, abandoning a numerous, and a perhaps spurious progeny to the authority and care of her late husband; a beautiful virgin might be dismissed to the world, old, indigent, and friendless.” “A specious theory,” the same author adds, “is confuted by this free and perfect experiment, which demonstrates that the liberty of divorce does not contribute to happiness and virtue. The facility of separation would destroy all mutual confidence, and inflame every trifling dispute: the minute difference between a husband and a stranger, which might so easily be removed, might still more easily be forgotten; and the matron, who, in five years, can submit to the embraces of eight husbands, must cease to reverence the chastity of her own person.”
Of the profligacy of manners produced at Rome by the facility of divorce, a very striking picture is given by Seneca—“Vices,” he observes, “cease to be disgraceful so soon as they become general. What woman now blushes to be divorced, since those of the first rank number their years, not by the names of the consuls, but by those of their husbands? Divorce,” he adds, “is the object of marriage, and marriage that of divoice.”1
MONOGAMY COMPARED WITH POLYGAMY.]
The remarks which have been already made, appear to be sufficient for illustrating the conformity of the institution of marriage to the law of nature, in so far as this can be inferred either from an examination of the principles of our constitution, from the analogy of the lower animals, or from the beneficial effects with which it is attended.
These arguments, indeed, conclude, in general, much more strongly against vague love on the part of the female than of the male; although, if attentively examined, they will be found to suggest powerful motives, both of a moral and political nature, for a reciprocal obligation. The question, however, whether a plurality of wives might not be allowed to the same individual, is so different, in many respects, from that which has been hitherto treated, that although some of the foregoing considerations may be of use, yet the aid of some additional reasonings is necessary, in order to establish the general conclusion.
Polygamy may be conceived to be of two kinds, according as it consists in a plurality of wives, or in a plurality of husbands. Of the latter, (Πολυανδρία,) modern travellers have furnished us with some very curious instances; but the circumstances in which it can possibly take place are so extremely rare, that it does not merit a particular discussion. It is accordingly mentioned as a subject upon which there can be no diversity of sentiment, even by those writers who consider the other species of Polygamy as a matter which the law of nature leaves to the legislator to regulate at discretion. The partiality of our sex to their own prerogative has been complained of loudly, and perhaps not entirely without justice in the present age. But it is not altogether a modern evil. It is amusing to observe its influence, even on the speculations of Grotius and of St. Augustine—“Suscipiendæ prolis causa erat,” says St. Augustine, in defending the polygamy of the patriarchs, “uxorum plurium simul uni viro habendarum inculpabilis consuetudo; et ideo, unam feminam maritos habere plurimos honestum non erat. Non enim mulier eo est fœcundior; sed meretricia potius turpitudo est vel quæstum vel liberos vulgo quærere.”*
To the same purpose the author of the treatise De Jure Belli et Pacis, who, although in general by no means a loose moralist, seems disposed to vindicate the sensual indulgences of his own sex, in countries which did not enjoy the light of revelation; and even goes so far as to exclude from his definition of the marriage connexion, any obligation to fidelity on the part of the husband. “Conjugium naturaliter esse existimamus talem cohabitationem maris cum fœmina quæ fœminam constituat quasi sub oculis et custodia maris; nam tale consortium, et in mutis animantibus quibusdam videre est. In Homine vero, qua animans est utens ratione, ad hoc accessit fides, qua se fœmina mari obstringit.”
“Nec aliud ut conjugium subsistat natura videtur requirere. Sed nec divina lex amplius videtur exegisse, ante evangelii propagationem. Nam et viri sancti ante legem plures una uxores habuerunt; et in lege præcepta quædam dantur his, qui plures una habuerunt; et regi præscribitur, ut nec uxorum nec equorum nimiam sibi adsciscat copiam, ubi Hebræi interpretes notant, octodecim sive uxores sive concubinas regi fuisse concessas, et Davidi Deus imputat quod uxores ei complures, et quidem illustres, dedisset.”1
Passing over, therefore, that sort of Polygamy which consists in a plurality of husbands, as an almost singular anomaly in the history of human affairs, I shall confine myself in what follows to the case of a plurality of wives; and it is in this restricted sense that I should wish the word Polygamy to be always understood, when I may have occasion to employ it afterwards in the prosecution of this disquisition.
That the practice of Polygamy has been very general among mankind in some of the earlier stages of society, more particularly in climates which exalt the imagination and inflame the passions, is a fact about which there can be no dispute. It does not, however, seem to have been universal among rude nations. It was unknown among the ancient Germans, excepting in the case of a few individuals, who affected a distinction of this sort as an appendage of their superior rank. “Severa illic matrimonia, nec ullam morum partem magis laudaveris. Nam prope soli barbarorum singulis uxoribus contenti sunt, exceptis admodum paucis, qui non libidine, sed ob nobilitatem, plurimis nuptiis ambiuntur.”*
“This,” says Montesquieu, “explains the reason why the kings of the first race had so great a number of wives. These marriages were less a proof of incontinence than a consequence of dignity; and it would have wounded them in a tender point, to have deprived them of such a prerogative. This explains likewise,” the same author adds, “the reason why the example of our kings was not followed by their subjects.”2
It is to be remarked, however, that in the foregoing passage, Tacitus mentions the manners of the Germans as, in this particular, an exception, and almost a singular one, to the customs of rude nations. “Nam prope soli barbarorum singulis uxoribus contenti sunt.” Dr. [Gilbert] Stuart, whose peculiar ideas concerning the importance of women in the earlier times, were strongly contradicted by the supposed prevalence of Polygamy, has accordingly, in quoting this passage, suppressed entirely the clause which was unfavourable to his conclusion.*
Having mentioned this author, I cannot help adding, in farther illustration of the same subject, that in controverting the common opinions concerning the condition of the female sex among barbarous nations, he has stated one assertion much more strongly than facts authorize him. “It is a proof,” says he, “of the antiquity of Monogamy, that when a plurality of wives is uniformly indulged, which happens not till the ages of property, there is always one of them who seems more peculiarly the wife, the rest appearing only as so many concubines.”†
It cannot be denied that this observation is countenanced by some facts mentioned by travellers; and, wherever such a preference of one female is found to be invariably and exclusively attached to her condition, and not to result from a temporary caprice of passion, we may reasonably conclude Polygamy to be a deviation from the purer manners of former ages. From the following passage of Captain Cook, with respect to the inhabitants of the Friendly Islands, which may seem, on a superficial view, to favour Dr. Stuart’s remark, I should rather be disposed to conclude, that Polygamy is contrary to the established maxims, and is affected only by the chiefs (as Tacitus tell us it was among the ancient Germans) as a mark of superior rank and consequence. “Whether their marriages,” he [Cook] observes, “be made lasting by any kind of solemn contract, we could not determine with precision; but it is certain that the bulk of the people satisfied themselves with one wife. The chiefs, however, have commonly several women, though some of us were of opinion that there was only one that was looked upon as mistress of the family.”1 Cantova says expressly of his Caroline Islanders, (whose manners, in many striking particulars, resemble those of the tribes visited by Cook,) that a plurality of wives was among them an appendage of greatness.2
The observations made by a late very intelligent and authentic traveller,* into the interior parts of Africa, directly contradict the assertion in question. After stating that “the negroes, whether Mahometan or Pagan, allow a plurality of wives,” he adds, “the Mahometans alone are by their religion confined to four; and as the husband commonly pays a great price for each, he requires from all of them the utmost deference and submission, and treats them more like hired servants than companions. They have, however, the management of household affairs, and each in rotation is mistress of the household, and has the care of dressing the victuals, and of overlooking the female slaves.”3
I have laid the less stress on the manners of savages and barbarians in the article of marriage, because it appears to me, as I already hinted, altogether absurd to appeal to them as the standard by which we are to judge of the laws of nature; meaning by these the moral laws which she recommends to man by her own established order. In the present instance, her intentions cannot possibly be mistaken, by those who attend to that wonderful circumstance in her providential economy, the balance which she everywhere maintains in the comparative numbers of the two sexes.4
This balance, indeed, does not seem to be anywhere mathematically exact, but it universally varies within so narrow limits, as to shew manifestly, that the inequalities which exist, whatever their final cause may be, have no relation whatever to the question of Polygamy.
The proportions are probably not precisely the same in different countries, and, even in the same country, they are variously stated by different writers. But there is a general coincidence in the statements which relate to this part of the world, more than sufficient for all the purposes of the present argument.
Major Graunt, (who assisted Sir William Petty in his inquiries relative to Political Arithmetic,) from an examination both of the London and Country Bills, states fourteen males to thirteen females; from whence he infers that “the Christian religion prohibiting polygamy, is more agreeable to the Law of Nature, than Mahometanism and others that allow it.”
“This proportion of fourteen to thirteen,” says Dr. Derham, “I imagine is nearly just. In the hundred years of my own parish register, although the burials of males and females were nearly equal, being 636 males and 623 females in all that time; yet there were baptized 709 males, and but 675 females, which numbers are in the proportion of 13.7 to 13.” “This surplus-age of males,” Dr. Derham adds, “is very useful for the supplies of war, the seas, and other such expenses of the men above the women.”1
According to the author of Métrologie, [M. Paucton,] whose conclusions are chiefly founded on observations made in Germany, 104 boys are born for 100 girls.2 He adds, however, that a greater number of the former die in infancy, so that towards the age of puberty, the two sexes are nearly equal.
The same author states “the number of men who die in a country to be to that of women as 27 to 25. In general,” he says, “it has been remarked that when women have passed a certain age, their longevity may be more presumed on than that of men, more especially in the case of women who are married.”1
Moheau, who is commonly considered as very accurate in his details, declines any particular statement of the proportions of the two sexes born in France; and contents himself with observing, that the actual population of women exceeds that of men in the proportion of seventeen to sixteen.2
Of late years this subject has been examined with far greater accuracy than had been attempted before: by Mr. Suessmilch in Germany; by Mr. Wargentin in Sweden; and by Dr. Price in England. From their combined observations, it seems to be established beyond a doubt, First, that the number of males and females born, invariably approach to equality. Secondly, that the excess is in favour of the males. Thirdly, that this excess is partly counterbalanced by their greater mortality. It is extremely remarkable too, that this greater mortality does not appear to be owing merely to the accidents to which men are liable in consequence of their own excesses, and the professional hazards to which they are exposed, but to some peculiar delicacy or fragility in the male constitution. It is observed sensibly even in infancy and childhood: nay, the number of still-born males exceeds proportionally that of still-born females.
The numbers born at Berlin during the four years beginning with 1752, were, males, 9219; females, 8743; or 21 to 20.
The numbers that died under two years of age, were, males, 3118; females, 2623; or 7 to 6.
The numbers that died upwards of eighty years of age, were, males, 135; females, 215; or 5 to 8.
The numbers that died between ninety-one and one hundred and five, were, males, 21, females, 55.3
From the account given by Mr. Muret of his observations made at Vevey in the Pays de Vaud, it appears, that for twenty years ending in 1764, there died in that town, during the first month after birth, of males 135, to 89 females; and in the first year, 225 to 162.
In Berlin, according to Suessmilch, 203 males die in the first month, and but 168 females; and in the first year, 489 to 395. The tables of these two writers shew, that, both at Vevey and Berlin, the still-born males are to the still-born females as 30 to 21.
From a variety of different accounts, both in England and on the Continent, mentioned by Dr. Price,1 it appears, that in a long list of towns, although the proportion of males and females born is no higher than 19 to 18, yet the proportion of boys and girls (under ten years of age) that die is 8 to 7; and, in particular, the still-born males are to the still-born females as 3 to 2; a proportion which agrees remarkably with that of 30 to 21, as deduced from the observations at Berlin and Vevey.
I shall only add farther on this very interesting article, that Dr. Price has suggested a doubt whether this difference in point of mortality between the two sexes be natural. The following facts prove that his suspicious are not altogether unsupported by evidence.
“It appears, from several registers in Suessmilch’s works, that this difference is much less in the country parishes and villages of Brandenburg, than in the towns. And agreeably to this, it appears likewise, from the accounts of the same writer, that the number of males in the country comes much nearer to the number of females.
“In 1056 small villages in Brandenburg, the males and females in 1748 were 106,234, and 107,540; that is, were to one another as 100 to 101⅕. In 20 small towns, they were 9544, and 10,333; or as 100 to 108¼. In Berlin, they were (exclusive of the garrison) 39,116 and 45,938; or as 100 to 117½.
“In the years 1738 and 1745, the number of inhabitants in New Jersey was taken by order of the Government, and they were distinguished particularly into males and females under and above sixteen.
“In 1738 the number of—
“In 1745, the numbers were,—
“The inference from these facts,” says Price, “is very obvious. They seem to shew sufficiently, that human life in males is more brittle than in females, only in consequence of adventitious causes, or of some particular debility that takes place in polished and luxurious societies, and especially in great towns.”* We may add, that in so far as their accuracy is to be relied on, they shew, that in proportion as simple and natural manners prevail, the balance between the births of the two sexes is the more accurately preserved.
The facts which have been already stated relate almost entirely to this quarter of the globe, and lead to a conclusion in favour of Monogamy which is undisputed among political writers. I may be thought perhaps to have entered more into details than was absolutely necessary; but (independently of their connexion with our present argument) I could not avoid the opportunity which the subject afforded me of turning your attention to one of the most striking provisions which the economy of nature has made, for those moral and political arrangements which are subservient to the happiness of the individual, and the multiplication of the race.
With respect to other parts of the globe, our information is much less correct; and here accordingly speculative men have found themselves more at liberty to indulge their ingenuity and fancy. “In Japan,” says Montesquieu, upon the authority of Kaempfer, “there are born rather more girls than boys; and at Bantam, the former exceed the latter in the proportion of ten to one.”† Hence, he seems disposed to infer, that the law which permits polygamy is physically conformable to the inhabitants of such countries; a conclusion which some other authors have apprehended to be farther confirmed by the prematurity and rapid decay of female beauty in some regions of the East. But there is good reason to suspect the accuracy of the documents on which Montesquieu proceeds. The Japan account, which makes the proportion of females to males to be as 22 to 18, is inconclusive, as the numbering the inhabitants of a great city can furnish no inference applicable to the present question. And the account of the births at Bantam is not only so contrary to the analogy of all the other facts with which we are acquainted, as to surpass belief, but (as we are assured by Mr. Marsden) is positively false. “I can take upon me to assert,” says he, “that the proportion of the sexes throughout Sumatra, does not differ sensibly from that ascertained in Europe; nor could I ever learn, from the inhabitants of the many eastern islands whom I have conversed with, that they were conscious of any disproportion in this respect.”*
From the remarks which have been now made, it may be safely concluded, that it is the duty of the legislator to prohibit polygamy, and to employ all the authority he possesses in enforcing a law so strongly recommended, both by the physical and moral condition of our species. It might besides be easily shewn, that while he thus employs the most essential of all expedients for the multiplication of the race, he takes the most effectual measures for securing the happiness and morals of a people; but this last consideration is foreign to our present subject; and it has been so well illustrated by Mr. Hume, that nothing of importance remains to be added to his observations. I have alluded to it chiefly, in order to recommend his Essay [On Polygamy and Divorce] to your attention, at a period when those moral principles which the most sceptical writers of former times treated with respect, have been rejected with contempt by some theorists, whose paradoxes, from the particular circumstances of the times, have had, in various parts of Europe but too extensive an influence on the opinions of the multitude. Among the numberless wild ideas which have been started within these few years by political projectors, there are few more alarming than one which appears from the Moniteur of the 16th April 1798, to have been proposed in the Senate of the Cisalpine Republic by Campagnoni.1
[1 ] This part of Aristotle’s works, which is certainly one of the most valuable remains of antiquity, may be perused by the English reader, in a translation which has been executed, with a considerable degree of spirit and of elegance, by Dr. Gillies. [In Gillies’s translation of Aristotle’s Practical Philosophy, the Politics occupy the second volume; and of that volume, see particularly chapters iii. and iv. of Book II.]—Taylor, [Elements of the Civil Law,] p. 342.
[* ] [Inquiry concerning Political Justice, Book VIII. chap. vi. pp. 850, 852, original edition, 1793.]
[1 ]De Inventione, Lib. I. [cap. ii.]
[* ] [De Rerum Natura, V. 960.]
[1 ] Horace, Ad Pisones, 398.
[2 ] Suidas, v. Πϱομηθεὺς.
[3 ] Goguet, Book I. chap. i. Art. 1.
[1 ] “Uxores habent deni duodenique inter se communes; et maxime fratres cum fratribus, parentesque cum liberis; sed si qui sunt ex his nati, eorum habentur liberi a quibus primum virgines quæque ductæ sunt.”—[De Bello Gallico, Lib. V. cap. xiv.]
[1 ] Πολλοῖς εἶναι φίλον, ϰατὰ τὴν τελείσν φιλίαν, οὐϰ ἐνδέχεται, ὥσπεϱ οὐδὲ ἐϱᾷν πλειόνων αμα. . . . Ἔστι γὺϱ φίλος ἄλλος αὐτός. “It is impossible to be a friend (according to the idea of perfect friendship) to more than one, as it is impossible to love more than one at the same time. . . . For a friend is a second self.”—Aristotle’s Nicomachian Ethics, [IX. x. and iv. Wilkinson.]—See Wollaston, [Religion of Nature, Sect. VIII. § iv.]
[1 ] “Nor is any indulgence shewn to a prostitute. Neither beauty, youth, nor riches, can obtain her a husband; for no one there looks on vice with a smile, or calls mutual seduction the way of the world.”—[Germania, cap. xix.]
[* ] [View of Society in Europe, Note (6), sect. 3, chap. i. Book I.]
[2 ]Elements of the Civil Law, p. 305.
[* ] [Sketches of the History of Man, Book I. Sk. vi.; Vol. I. pp. 172, 173, original edition, 1774.]
[* ] [Essays, Vol. I.]
[† ] [See above, Vol. I. p. 186, seq.; Vol. II. p. 5, seq.; Vol. III. p. 158, seq.]
[‡ ] [Wealth of Nations, Book I. chap. viii. Vol. I. p. 120, 10th edit.]
[* ] [See De Legibus, Libb. IV. and VI.] Taylor, [Elements, &c.] p. 264.
[† ] [Officia, I. xvii.]
[‡ ] [Sermones, I. iii. 105.]
[* ] [Essays, Vol. I. On Polygamy, &c.]
[1 ]Dicta Factaque, &c. II. i. 4.
[† ] [Decline and Fall, &c., chap xliv.]
[1 ]De Beneficiis, Lib. III. cap. xvi.—[See Martial, VI. vii.]
[* ] [De Doctrina Christiana, Lib. III. c. vii. See also, ibidem, c. xviii., and c. xxii.; also De Civitate Dei, Lib. XVI, c. xxxviii.]
[1 ]De Jure Belli, &c., Lib. II. cap. v. [§§ 8, 9.]
The argument in favour of Polygamy is still more avowedly and explicitly stated by Euripides, in a fragment which remains of his Tragedy of Ino, and which I shall quote in the Latin version.
[* ] [Taciti Germania, cap. xviii.]
[2 ]Esprit des Loix, Livre XVIII. chap. xxv. See also Stuart, [View, &c., Note (14,) sect. 3, chap. i., Book I.]
[* ] [But see his View of Society, &c., pp. 23, and 201, 202, where the passage in question is adduced, translated, and fully canvassed. I quote from the original edition.]
[† ] [View, &c., Note (14) 3, c. i. B. I.]
[1 ] Cook’s Voyages, Vol. I., p. 400. Irish edition.
[2 ] “La pluralité des femmes est une marque d’honneur et de distinction.”—Letters Edifiantes et Curieuses. Tome XV. p. 310.
[* ] [This refers to Mungo Park, who was well known to Mr. Stewart after returning from his first travels in Africa, of which expedition the account was published in 1799.]
[3 ] [Travels, &c.] p. 268.
[4 ] For Dr. Arbuthnot’s speculations on this subject, (founded on the doctrine of Chances,) see Philosophical Transactions, No. 338.—[For a disquisition and some more recent authorities on the Proportion of the Sexes, see above, Works, Vol. VII. p. 112, seq., and Note C. p. 380, seq.]
[1 ]Physico-Theology, pp. 175, 176.
[2 ]Métrologie, p. 485.
[1 ] Ibid. p. 485.
[2 ]Recherches, &c., p. 71.
[3 ] Price [On Annuities, &c.] Vol. II. p. 263.
[1 ] [Ibid.] Vol. I. p. 360, et seq.
[* ] [Ibid.]
[† ] [Esprit, &c., XVI. iv.]
[* ] [History of Samatra.]
[1 ] The speech to which I refer, and which was plainly calculated to insinuate an apology for Polygamy in particular cases, is quoted by D’Ivernois in his Tableau Historique et Politique, p. 25.