Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

even forbid the people's marrying each other. By the head of Confucius, I jest not; there are such laws in being here ; and yet their law-givers have neither been instructed among the Hottentots, nor imbibed their principles of equity from the natives of Ana

maboo.

There are laws which ordain, that no man shall marry a woman against her own consent. This though contrary to what we are taught in Asia, and though in some measure a clog upon matrimony, I have no great objection to. There are laws which ordain that no woman shall marry against her father and mother's consent, unless arrived at an age of maturity ; by which is understood those years, when women with us are generally past child-bearing. This must be a clog upon matrimony, as it is more difficult for the lover to please three than one, and much more difficult to please old people than young ones. The laws ordain, that the consenting couple shall take a long time to consider before they marry ; this is a very great clog, because people love to have all rash actions done in a hurry. It is ordained that all marriages shall be proclaimed before celebration ; this is a severe clog, as many are ashamed to have their marriage made public, from motives of vicious modesty, and many afraid from views of temporal interest. It is ordained, that there is nothing sacred in the ceremony, but that it may be dissolved to all intents and purposes by the authority of any civil magistrate. And yet opposite to this it is ordained, that the priest shall be paid a large sum of money for granting his sacred permission.

Thus you see, my friend, that matrimony here is hedged round with so many obstructions, that those who are willing to break through or surmount them must be contented, if at last they find it a bed of thorns. The laws are not to blame, for they have deterred the people from engaging as much as they could. It is indeed become a very serious affair in England, and none but serious people are generally found willing to engage. The young, the gay, and the beautiful, who have motives of passion only to induce them, are seldom found to embark, as those inducements are taken away, and none but the old, the ugly, and the mercenary, are seen to unite, who if they have posterity at all, will probably be an ill-favoured race like themselves.

[graphic]

What gave rise to those laws might have been some such accidents as these. It sometimes happened, that a miser who had spent all his youth in scraping up money to give his daughter such a fortune as might get her a mandarine husband, found his expectations disappointed at last, by her running away with his footman : this must have been a sad shock to the poor disconsolate parent, to see his poor daughter in a onehorse chaise, when he had designed her for a coach and six : what a stroke from Providence ! to see his dear money go to enrich a beggar: all Nature cried out at the profanation !

It sometimes happened also, that a lady who had inherited all the titles, and all the nervous complaints of nobility, thought fit to impair her dignity and mend her constitution, by marrying a farmer ; this must have been a sad shock to her inconsolable relations, to see so fine a flower snatched from a flourishing family, and planted in a dunghill; this was an absolute inversion of the first principles of things.

In order therefore to prevent the Great from being thus contaminated by vulgar alliances, the obstacles to matrimony have been so contrived, that the rich only can marry amongst the rich, and the poor, who would leave celibacy, must be content to increase their poverty with a wife. Thus have their laws fairly inverted the inducements to matrimony. Nature tells us, that beauty is the proper allurement of those who are rich, and money of those who are poor; but things here are so contrived, that the rich are invited to marry by that fortune which they do not want, and the poor have no inducement, but that beauty, which they do not feel.

[graphic]

An equal diffusion of riches through any country ever constitutes its happiness. Great wealth in the possession of one stagnates, and extreme poverty with another keeps him in unambitious indigence ; but the moderately rich are generally active : not too far removed from poverty to fear its calamities, nor too near extreme wealth to slacken the nerve of labour, they remain still between both in a state of continual fluctuation. How impolitic therefore are those laws which promote the accumulation of wealth among the rich, more impolitic still in attempting to increase the depression on poverty.

Bacon, the English philosopher, compares money to manure ; if gathered in heaps, says he, it does no good; on the contrary, it becomes offensive. But being spread, though never so thinly, over the surface of the earth, it enriches the whole country. Thus the wealth a nation possesses must expatiate, or it is of no benefit to the public ; it becomes rather a grievance where matrimonial laws thus confine it to a few.

But this restraint upon matrimonial community, even considered in a physical light, is injurious. As those who rear up animals take all possible pains to cross the strain in order to improve the breed : so in those countries, where marriage is most free, the inhabitants are found every age to improve in stature and in beauty ; on the contrary, where it is confined to a cast, a tribe, or an horde, as among the Gaurs, the Jews, or the Tartars, each division soon assumes a family likeness, and every tribe degenerates into peculiar deformity. Hence it may be easily inferred, that if the mandarines here are resolved only to marry among each other, they will soon produce a posterity with mandarine faces; and we shall see the heir of some honourable family scarcely equal to the abortion of a country farmer.

[graphic]

These are a few of the obstacles to marriage here, and it is certain, they have in some measure answered the end, for celibacy is both frequent and fashionable. Old bachelors appear abroad without a mask, and old maids, my dear Fum Hoam, have been absolutely known to ogle. To confess in friendship ; if I were an Eng. lishman, I fancy I should be an old bachelor myself ; I should never find courage to run through all the adventures prescribed by the law. I could submit to

I court my mistress herself upon reasonable terms; but to court her father, her mother, and a long tribe of cousins, aunts, and relations, and then stand the butt of a whole country church; I would as soon turn tail and make love to her grandmother.

I can conceive no other reason for thus loading matrimony with so many prohibitions, unless it be that the country was thought already too populous, and this was found to be the most effectual means of thinning it. If this was the motive, I cannot but congratulate the wise projectors on the success of their scheme. Hail, () ye dim-sighted politicians, ye weeders of men ! 'Tis yours to clip the wing of industry, and convert Hymen to a broker. "Tis yours to behold small objects with a microscopic eye, but to be blind to those which require an extent of vision. 'Tis yours,

discerners of mankind, to lay the line between society, and weaken that force. by dividing, which

[graphic]

should bind with united vigour. 'Tis yours, to introduce national real distress, in order to avoid the imaginary distresses of a few. Your actions can be justified by an hundred reasons like truth, they can be opposed by but a few reasons, and those reasons are

true.

LETTER LXXII.

From Lien Chi Altangi to Hingpo, by the way of

Moscow.

AGE that lessens the enjoyment of life increases our desire of living. Those dangers, which, in the vigour of youth, we had learned to despise, assume new terlors as we grow old. Our caution increasing as our years increase, fear becomes at last the prevailing passion of the mind; and the small remainder of life is taken up in useless efforts to keep off our end, or provide for a continued existence.

Strange contradiction in our nature, and to which even the wise are liable! If I should judge of that part of life which lies before me by that which I have already seen, the prospect is hideous. Experience tells me, that my past enjoyments have brought no real felicity; and sensation assures me, that those I have felt are stronger than those which are yet to

Yet experience and sensation in vain persuade ; hope, more powerful than either, dresses out the distant prospect in fancied beauty, some happiness in long perspective still beckons me to pursue, and like a losing gamester, every new disappointment inereases my ardour to continue the game. .

Whence, my friend, this increased love of life

[graphic]
« ZurückWeiter »