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E S S AY XVIII.
Of POLYGAMY and DIVORCE S.
S marriage is an engagement entered into by mutual
consent, and has for its end the propagation of the species, it is evident, that it must be susceptible of all the variety of 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 superftition to imagine, that marriage can 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 TONQUIN, it is usual for the failors, when the ships come into harbour, to marry for the season; and,
notwithstanding this precarious engagement, they are assured, it is said, of the strictest fidelity to their bed, as well as in the whole management of their affairs, from those temporary spouses.
I cannot, at present, recoilect my authorities ; but I have somewhere read, that the republic of ATHENS, having lost many of its citizens by war and pestilence, allowed every man to marry two wives, in order the fooner to repair the waste which had been made by these calamities. The poet EURIPIDES happened to be coupled to two noisy Vixens, who so plagued him with their jealousies and quarrels, that he became ever after a professed woman-hater ; and is the only theatrical writer, perhaps the only poet, that ever entertained an aversion to the sex.
In that agreeable ronance, called the History of the SEVARAMBIANS, where a great 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 handsome female to himself alone; assigns one to every couple of inferior officers; and to five of the lowest rank he gives one wife in com
The ancient Britons had a singular kind of marriage, to be met with among no other people. Any number of them, as ten or a dozen, joined in a society together, which was perhaps requisite for mutual defence in those barbarous times. In order to link chis society the closer, they took an equal number of wives in common; and whatever children were born, were reputed to belong to all of them, and were accordingly provided for by the whole community.
Among the inferior creatures, nature herself, being the the supreme legislator, prescribes all the laws which regulate their marriages, and varies those laws according to the different circumstances of the creature. Where The 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, till the common progeny can provide for itself; and then the union immediately diffolves, 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 fupply to the wildom 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, 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. It may not be disagree able to consider the advantages and disadvantages, which result from each of these institutions.
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 on 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, like a weak sovereign, being unable to support himself against the wiles and intrigues of his subjects, must play one faction against another, and become absolute by the mutual jealousy of the females. To divide and to govern is an universal maxim ; and by neglecting it, the EUROPEANS undergo a more grievous and a more ignominious flavery 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, it may be urged with better reafon, that this sovereignty of the male is a real usurpation, and destroys that nearness of rank, not to say equality, which nature has established between the sexes. by nature, their lovers, their friends, their patrons : Would we willingly change 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 fold, 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. There is no rose without its thorn; but he muft be a foolish wretch indeed, that throws away the rose and preseryes only the thorn,