Essay 19a (Part 1)

Polygamy and Marriage

January 14, 2020

Marriage is an engagement entered into by mutual consent for the propagation of the species. It is susceptible of all the conditions, which consent establishes, provided they be not contrary to this end.

A man, in conjoining himself to a woman, is bound to her according to the terms of his engagement.

In begetting children, he is bound, by all the ties of nature and humanity, to provide for their subsistence and education. When he has performed these two parts of duty, no one can reproach him with injustice or injury.

And as the terms of his engagement, as well as the methods of subsisting his offspring, may be various, it is mere superstition to imagine, that marriage can [182] be entirely uniform, and will admit only of one mode or form.

Did not human laws restrain the natural liberty of men, every particular marriage would be as different as contracts or bargains of any other kind or species.

As circumstances vary, and the laws propose different advantages, we find, that, in different times and places, they impose different conditions on this important contract. In Hanoi, it is usual for the sailors, when the ships come into harbour, to marry for the season.

Despite this precarious engagement, they are assured of the strictest fidelity to their bed, as well as in the whole management of their affairs, from those temporary spouses.

The republic of Athens lost many of its citizens by war and pestilence, so they allowed every man to marry two wives, in order to repopulate sooner. The poet Euripides married two noisy Vixens who so plagued him with their jealousies and quarrels. This made him a professed woman-hater. He is the only theatrical writer and poet that ever had an aversion to women.

In that agreeable romance, called the History of the Sevarambians, where many men and a few women are supposed to be shipwrecked on a desert coast; the captain of the troop, in order to obviate those endless quarrels which arose, regulates their marriages after the following manner: He takes a beautiful female to himself alone He assigns one to every couple of inferior officers; and to five of the lowest rank he gives one wife in common.

The ancient Britons had a kind of marriage that did not exist anywhere else. A dozen men formed a society for mutual defence in those barbarous times. They took a dozen wives in common. The children of those women belonged to all of them and were provided for by the whole community.

Among the inferior creatures, 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 newborn 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, until 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 supply wisdom to each person and restrain the natural liberty of men at the same time. These make private interest submit to the public interest.

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.

The laws may allow of polygamy, as among the Eastern nations; or of voluntary divorces, as among the Greeks and Romans; or they may confine one man to one woman, during the whole course of their lives, as among the modern Europeans.

The advantages and disadvantages of each

The advocates for polygamy may recommend it as the only effectual remedy for the disorders of love, and the only expedient for freeing men from that slavery to the females, which the natural violence of our passions has imposed upon us.

By this means alone can we regain our right of sovereignty; and, sating our appetite, re-establish the authority of reason in our minds, and, of consequence, our own authority in our families.

Man is like a weak sovereign. He is unable to support himself against the wiles and intrigues of his subjects. He must play one faction against another, and become absolute by the mutual jealousy of the females.

To divide and govern is a universal maxim. By neglecting it, the Europeans undergo a more grievous and a more ignominious slavery than the Turks or Persians, who are subjected indeed to a sovereign, that lies at a distance from them, but in their domestic affairs rule with an uncontroulable sway.

On the other hand, this sovereignty of the male might be seen as a real usurpation. It destroys that nearness of rank, not to say equality, which nature has established between the sexes.

We are, by nature, their lovers, their friends, their patrons: Would we willingly exchange such endearing appellations, for the barbarous title of master and tyrant?

In what capacity shall we gain by this inhuman proceeding? As lovers, or as husbands?

The lover, is totally annihilated; and courtship, the most agreeable scene in life, can no longer have place, where women have not the free disposal of themselves, but are bought and sold, like the meanest animal.

The husband is as little a gainer, having found the admirable secret of extinguishing every part of love, except its jealousy. No rose without its thorn; but he must be a foolish wretch indeed, that throws away the rose and preserves only the thorn.

The disadvantages of polygamy

  1. Asiatic polygamy is destructive of friendship and love.

Jealousy excludes people from all intimacies with each other. No one dares bring his friend to his house who might become a lover to his numerous wives.

Hence, in the East, each family is separated from another as if they were distinct kingdoms. Solomon lived like an eastern prince with his 700 wives and 300 concubines. He had no friend, yet could write so pathetically on the vanity of the world. Had he tried the secret of one wife or mistress, a few friends, and many companions, he might have found life more agreeable.

If you destroy love and friendship what remains in the world worth accepting?

  1. The bad education of children leading to barbarism

Children who live among slaves either become slaves or tyrants. They tend to forget the natural equality of mankind. If a parent has 50 sons, how will he or she instill morality or science into each of them when his or her love for them is so much divided?

Barbarism, therefore, is inseparable from polygamy.

  1. Abuse of women

In Asian countries with polygamy, men are not allowed to interact with the females, not even the physicians.

Tournefort was brought to Constantinople into the grand signior’s seraglio as a physician. He saw many naked arms sticking out from the sides of the room. He was told that those arms, belonged to women who he must cure. He could only know about them through their arms. He was not allowed to ask questions to the patient or even her attendants, as it might reveal something about the seraglio.

Hence, physicians in the east pretend to know all diseases from the pulse just as our quacks in Europe cure a person merely from seeing his urine. If Tournefort had been a quack, the jealous Turks would not have been given the materials he needed for his art.

In another country with polygamy, the wives are made crippled in order to confine them to their own houses.

Even in Europe, jealousy can go so high that it is indecent to suppose that a woman of rank can have feet or legs. On her way to Madrid, the mother of the late king of Spain stopped by a town famous for its manufacture of gloves and stockings. The magistrates of the place thought to present her with a sample. When the stockings were presented, the queen’s attendant flung them away with great indignation and severely reprimanded the magistrates for the indecency. Know, says he, that a queen of Spain has no legs.

The young queen had often been frightened with stories of Spanish jealousy. She misunderstood that he meant that her legs were going to be cut. She fell crying, and begged them bring her back to Germany because she never could endure the operation. Philip IV is said never in his life to have laughed heartily at this story.