Front Page Titles (by Subject) OF POLYGAMY. - Complete Works, vol. 4 Familiar Letters; Miscellaneous Pieces; The Temple of Gnidus; A Defence of the Spirit of Laws
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OF POLYGAMY. - Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, Complete Works, vol. 4 Familiar Letters; Miscellaneous Pieces; The Temple of Gnidus; A Defence of the Spirit of Laws 
The Complete Works of M. de Montesquieu (London: T. Evans, 1777), 4 vols. Vol. 4.
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Other articles have likewise furnished commodious subjects of declamation. Polygamy afforded an excellent one. The Author has wrote a chapter expresly upon it; in which he has censured it. It is as follows:
“Of Polygamy considered in itself.
“With regard to polygamy in general, independently of the circumstances that may render it tolerated, it is not of the least service to mankind, nor to either of the two sexes, whether it be that which abuses, or that which is abused. Neither is it of service to the children; for one of its greatest inconveniences is, that the father and mother cannot have the same affection for their offspring; a father cannot love twenty children with the same tenderness that a mother can love two. It is much worse when a wife has many husbands; for then paternal love is only held by this opinion, that a father may believe if he will, or that others may believe, that certain children belong to him.
“May I not say that a plurality of wives leads to that passion which nature disallows? for one depravation always draws on another, &c.
“Besides, the possession of many wives does not always prevent their entertaining desires for those of others. It is with lust as with avarice, where the thirst is increased by the acquisition of treasures.
“In the reign of Justinian, many philosophers, displeased with the restraints of Christianity, retired into Persia, What there struck them most, says Agathias, was that polygamy was permitted amongst men who did not even abstain from adultery.”
The Author has then maintained, that polygamy is in its own nature, and considered in itself, pernicious. It was necessary to overlook this chapter; and therefore no notice is taken of it. The Author has, besides, made a philosophical examination, in what country, in what climate, and in what circumstances, its effects are least pernicious; he compares climate with climate, and country with country; and has found those where its effects are less prejudicial than in others: because, according to the accounts that have been published, the number of men and women not being equal in all countries, it is evident that, if there are places where the women are much more numerous than the men, polygamy, though bad in itself, is less so there than in other countries. The Author has discussed this point in the fourth chapter of the same book. But the title of this chapter consisting of these words, That the Law of Polygamy is an affair that depends on calculations, the Critic has seized hold of this title. However, as the title of a chapter relates to the chapter itself, and can say neither more nor less than the chapter, let us see it.
“According to the calculations made in several parts of Europe, there are here born more boys than girls: on the contrary, the accounts we have of Asia inform us, there are born in that part of the world more girls than boys. The Law which in Europe allows only one wife, and that in Asia which permits many, have then a certain relation to the climate.
“In the cold climates in Asia there are born, as in Europe, more males than females; and from hence, say the Lamas, is derived the reason of that Law which, amongst them, permits a woman to have many husbands.
“But it is difficult for me to believe, that there are many countries where the disproportion can be great enough for any exigency to justify the introducing either the Law in favour of many wives, or that of many husbands. This would only imply that a majority of women, or even a majority of men, is more conformable to nature in certain countries, than in others.
“I confess that, if what history tells us be true, that at Bantam there are ten women to one man, this must be a case particularly favourable to polygamy.
“In all this I only give their reasons, but do not justify their customs.”
Let us now return to the title: Polygamy is an affair of calculation. Yes, it is, when we would know if it be more or less pernicious in certain climates, in certain countries, and in certain circumstances, than in others. It is not an affair of calculation, when we are to determine whether it be good or bad in itself.
It is not an affair of calculation, when we reason on its nature; it may be an affair of calculation, when we combine its effects. In short, it is never an affair of calculation, when we examine the end of marriage; and it is much less so, when we consider marriage as established, or confirmed, by Jesus Christ.
I shall here add, that what has happened by mere accident, is of great service to the Author. He doubtless did not foresee, that the Critic would overlook a whole chapter expressed in the plainest terms, in order to give an equivocal sense to another; and yet he had the happiness to conclude this other with these words: “In all this, I only give their reasons; but do not justify their customs.”
The Author had just said, that he did not believe that there could be climates where the number of the women could so greatly exceed that of the men, or the number of the men that of the women, as to justify polygamy in any country; and has added, “This would only imply that a majority of women, or even of men, is more conformable to nature, in certain countries, than in others* .” The Critic has seized the word, is more conformable to nature, in order to charge the Author with approving polygamy. But if I say, that I had rather have a fever than the scurvy, Will that be a declaration that I am fond of a fever; or only that the scurvy is less disagreeable to me than a fever?
Here follows, word for word, a very extraordinary objection.
The polygamy of one woman who has many husbands, is a monstrous disorder, which was never permitted in any case, and which the Author does not at all distinguish from the polygamy of a man who has several wives† . This language, from a sectary of natural religion, needs no comment.
I beg that attention may be paid to the connexion of the Critic’s ideas. According to him it follows that, as the Author is a sectary of the religion of nature, he did not mention what he had no business to mention; or that the Author has not mentioned what he had no business to mention, because he is a follower of natural religion. These two methods of reasoning are of the same kind, and the consequences drawn from them are equally found in the premisses. The usual manner is to criticise upon what a person writes; but here the criticism is bestowed upon what he does not write.
I say this, supposing with the Critic that the Author has not distinguished the polygamy of a woman who has several husbands from that of a husband who has several wives: but if the Author has distinguished them, what will he say? And what will he say, if the Author has shewn, that the abuse in the first case is much the greatest? I desire the reader to peruse the sixth chapter of book xvi. repeated above. The Critic has treated him with invectives for keeping silence with respect to this article; nothing remains but to make them for not keeping silence.
But here is what I cannot comprehend. The Critic says, in the second of his pieces, page 166. The Author has told us, that religion ought to permit polygamy in hot countries, and not in those that are cold. But the Author has no where said this. This is a question that does not turn upon the false reasoning of the Critic against the Author, but on a matter of fact: and as the Author has never said, that religion ought to permit polygamy in hot, and not in cold countries, the imputation is in its own nature both false and cruel; and therefore I desire the Critic to pass judgment on himself.
This is not the only passage of which the Author has had reason to complain: for, in page 163. of the first piece, the Critic says: The fourth chapter has for its title, That the Law of polygamy is an affair of calculation: that is, in places where there are born more boys than girls, as in Europe, we ought to have but one wife; and in those where there are born more girls than boys, polygamy ought to be introduced. Thus when the Author explains customs, or gives the reasons of their being founded, those reasons are turned into maxims, and, what is more barbarous still, into maxims of religion: and as he has mentioned an infinite number of customs and practices, throughout all the countries upon earth, he may, by a parity of reason, be charged with all the errors, and even all the abominations of the universe. The Critic says, at the end of his first piece, that God has given him some zeal; to which I reply, that God has not given him this.
[* ]Book xvi. chap. 4.
[† ]The piece of October 9, 1749, page 164.