Robert Dale Owen.

Moral physiology; or, A brief and plain treatise on the population question online

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"The principle of utility is the foundation of the present work."

Bentham on Morals and Legislation.




359 Broome-StreeL


\* The frontispiece which accompanies this treatise, represents a poor mother
abandoning her infant, at the gate of the Hotel des Enfans trouves, (Foundling
Hospital) at Paris. The original painting, from which this is a faithful copy, is
by Vigneron, a French artist of celebrity ; it was purchased at the price of one
thousand dollars for the Galerie Royale, and is now in the possession of the
French king.

The Hotel des Enfans trouves, than which a more humane institution was
never founded, exhibits, in its every arrangement, order, economy, and, above
all, a beautiful tenderness of the feelings of those poor creatures who are thus
compelled to avail themselves, for their offspring, of the asylum it affords. No
obtrusive observation is made, no unfeeling question asked : the infant charge is
received in silence, and either trained and supported until maturity, or, if cir-
cumstances, at any subsequent period, enable the parents to claim their offspring,
it is restored to their care.

There is surely no sect, of creed so frozen, or ritual so rigid, that it can sys-
tematize away the common feelings of humanity, or dry up, in the breasts of
some gentler spirits, the milk of human kindness. The benevolent founder and
indefatigable supporter of this noble institution, was a Jesuit ! Be the good deeds
of St. Vincent de Paul remembered, long after the intrigues and cruelties of
his fellow sectaries are forgotten !

The case selected is one of mild, of modified, I had almost said, of favoured
misfortune : an extreme case were too revolting for representation. But even
under these comparatively happy circumstances, when benevolence extends her
Samaritan care to the destitute and the forsaken, who that regards for a moment
the abandoned helplessness of the deserted child, and the mute distress of the
departing mother, but will join in the exclamation, "Alas! that it should ever
have been born !"


IT may be proper to state, in few words, the immediate circumstances
which induced me, at the present time, to write and publish this treatise.

Some weeks since, a gentleman coming from England brought with
him two pretty specimens of English typography. One represented a
triumphal arch with a statue of the late king, and was made up of 17 ; 000
different pieces of common printing type; the other, an altar piece,
having the Lord's Prayer, Creed, and Commandments, printed within
it, and composed of about 13,000 separate pieces. The gentleman was
requested by a Brighton printer who executed them, to present these, as
specimens of English typography, to some of his brethren craftsmen in
America. He presented them to me ; I admired the ingenuity displayed
in the performance ; but thought they ought to have been presented
rather to some printers' society than to an individual. I therefore ad-
dressed them to our Typographical Society in New- York, accompa-
nied by a note simply requesting the society's acceptance of them, as
specimens of the art in England.

I thought no more of the matter, until I received, the other day, my
specimens back again, with a long and not a little angry letter, signed by
three of the members, accusing Robert Dale Owen of principles subver-
sive of every virtue under heaven, and calculated to lead to the infraction
<^of every commandment in the decalogue : and, more especially, accusing
him of having given his sanction to a work, as they expressed it, "hold-
ing out inducements and facilities for the prostitution of their daughters,
sisters, and wives."

I subsequently learned, from one of the society, circumstances which
somewhat extenuate (albeit nothing can excuse) their childish incivility.
A gentleman who busied himself last year in making out a notable re-
ply to the " Society for the Protection of Industry," got up, at a late Ty-
pographical meeting, and read to the Society several detached extracts
from a pamphlet written by Richard Carlile, entitled "Every Woman's
Book," which extracts he pronounced to be excessively indecent ; and
asked the Society whether they would receive any thing at the hands
of a man who publicly approved a book of a tendency so dreadfully
immoral ; which, he averred, I had done. The society were (or affected


to be) much shocked, and thereupon chose a committee to return to me
the heretical specimens, which committee penned the letter to which I
have alluded.

Probably some members of the society really did believe the work to be
of pernicious tendency. Had some garbled extracts only from it been
read to me, I might possibly have utterly misconceived its tone and ten-
dency, and its author's motives. But he must be blind indeed, who can
read the pamphlet through, and then (whether he approve it or not)
can attribute other than good intentions to the individual who was bold
enough to put it forth.

As to the book itself, I was requested, two years since, when residing
in Indiana, to publish it, and declined doing so. My chief reasons were,
that I doubted its physiological correctness ; that I did not consider its
style and tone in good taste ; but chiefly (as I expressed it in the New
Harmony Gazette) because I feared it would be circulated in this coun-
try only " to fall into the hands of the thoughtless, and to gratify the cu-
riosity of the licentious, instead of falling, as it ought, into the hands of
the philanthropist, of the physiologist, and of every father and mother
of a family." The circumstances I have just detailed may afford psoo^
that my fears regarding the hands into which it might fall, were well

My principles thus officiously and publicly attacked, I have felt it a
duty to the cause of reform to step forward and vindicate them ; and
this the rather, because, unless I give my own sentiments, I shall be un-
derstood as unqualifiedly endorsing Richard Carlile's. Now, no one
more admires than I do the courage and strength of mind which induced
that bold advocate of heresy to broach this important subject ; and to him
be the praise accorded, that he was the first to venture it. But the man-
ner of his book I do not admire. There is in it that which was repul-
sive (I will not say revolting) to my feelings, on the first perusal ; and
though I afterwards began to doubt whether that first impression was not
attributable, in a great measure, to my prejudices, yet I cannot doubt that
a similar, and even a more unfavourable impression, will be made on the
minds of others, and thus the interests of truth be jeopardized. Then
again, I think the physiological portion of his pamphlet somewhat incor-
rect as to the facts, and therefore calculated to mislead, where an error
might be of fatal consequence.

It may seem vanity in me to imagine, that this treatise is free from
similar objections j yet I have taken great pains to render it so.

R. D. O.

P. S. (to the fourth edition.) Communications from intelligent in-
dividuals, on whose physiological knowledge I place reliance, have ena-
bled and induced me somewhat to modify the text 3 and alter the arrange-
ment, of the sixth chapter^


I SIT down to write alittle treatise, which will subject me
to abuse from the self-righteous, to misrepresentation from
the hypocritical, and to reproach even from the honestly
prejudiced. Some may refuse to read it ; and many
more will misconceive its tendency. I would have de-
layed its publication, had the choice been permitted me,
until the popular mind was better prepared to receive it :
but the enemies of reform have already foisted the sub-
ject, under an odious form, on the public ; and I have
no choice left. If, therefore, I prematurely touch the
honest prejudices of any, let them bear in mind, that
the occasion is not of my seeking.

The subject I intend to discuss is strictly a physiologi-
cal subject, although connected, like many other phy-
siological subjects, with political economy, morals, and
social science. In discussing it, I must speak as plainly
as physicians and physiologists do. What I mean, I
must say. Pseudo-civilized man, that anomalous crea-
ture who has been not inaptly defined "an animal asham-
ed of his own body," may take it ill that I speak simply:
I cannot help that.

A foreign princess, travelling towards Madrid to be-
come queen of Spain, passed through a little town of the
peninsula, famous for its manufactory of gloves and
stockings. The magistrates of the place, eager to evince
their loyalty towards their new queen, presented her, on


her arrival, with a sample of those commodities for
which alone their town was remarkable. The major
domo, who conducted the princess, received the gloves
very graciously ; but, when the stockings were presented,
he flung them away with great indignation, and severely
reprimanded the magistrates for this egregious piece of
indecency. " Know," said he, " that a queen of Spain
has no legs."*

I never could sympathize with this major domo deli-
cacy ; and if you can, my reader, you had better throw
this pamphlet aside at once.

If you have travelled and observed much, you will al-
ready have learnt the distinction between real and arti-
ficial propriety. If you have been in Constantinople,
you probably know, that when the grand seignor's wives
are ill, the physician is only allowed to see the wrist,
which is thrust through an opening in the side of the
room, because it is improper even for a physician to look
upon another man's wife ; and it is thought better to
sacrifice health than propriety.!

If you have sojourned among the inhabitants of Tur-
comania, you know that they consider a woman's virtue
sacrificed for ever, if, before marriage, she be seen to stop
on the public road to speak to her lover :{ and if you have
read Buckingham's travels, you may remember a very
romantic story, in which a young Turcoman lady, hav-
ing thus forfeited her reputation, is left for dead on the
road by her brothers, who were determined their sister
should not survive her dishonour.

Perhaps you may have travelled in Asia. If so, you
cannot be ignorant how grossly indecorous to Asiatic ears

* See "Memoires de la Cour d'Espagne," by Madame d'Aunoy.
t See Tournefort's Travels in Turkey.
t See Buckingham's Travels in Asia.


it is, to enquire of a husband after his wife's health ;
and probably you may know, that men have lost their
lives to atone for such an impropriety. You know, too,
of course, that in Eastern nations it is indecent for a
woman to uncover her face ; but perhaps you may
not know, unless your travels have extended to Abyssinia,
that there the indecency consists in uncovering the feet.*

In Central Africa, you may have seen women bathing
in public, without the slightest sense of impropriety ; but
you were doubtless told, that men could not be permitted
a similar liberty ; seeing that modesty requires they
should perform their ablutions in private.

If my reader has seen all or any of these countries
and customs, I doubt not that he or she will read my
little book understandingly, and interpret it in the purity
which springs from enlarged and enlightened views ; or,
indeed, from common sense. If not if you who now
peruse these lines have been educated at home, and have
never passed the boundary line of your own nation
perhaps of your own village if you have not learnt
that there are other proprieties besides those of your
country; and that, after all, genuine modesty has its
legitimate seat in the heart rather than in the outward
form or sanctioned custom then, I fear me, you may
chance to cast these pages from you, as the major domo did
the proffered stockings, unconscious that the indelicacy
lies, not in my simple words, or the Spanish magistrates'
honest offering, but in the pruriently sensitive imagina-
tion that discovers impropriety in either. Yet, even
though unexperienced, if you be still young and pure-
minded, you may read this pamphlet through, and I
shall fear from your lips, or in your hearts, no odious

* See Bruce's Travels in Abyssinia.


Young men and women ! you who, if ignorant, are
uncorrupted also ; you in whose minds honest and simple
words call up none but honest and simple ideas ; you
who think no evil; you who are still believers in human
virtue and human happiness ; you who, like our fabled
first parents in their paradise, are yet unlearned alike in
the hypocritical conventionalities and the odious vices
of pseudo-civilization ; you, with whom love is stronger
than fear, and the law within the breast more powerful
than that in the statute book ; you whose feelings are
still unblunted, and whose sympathies still warm and
generous; you who belong to the better portion of
your species, and who have formed your opinion of man-
kind from guileless spirits like your own young men
and women ! it is to your pure feelings I would fain
speak : it is by your unsophisticated hearts I would fain
have my treatise and my motives judged.

Libertines and debauchees ! this book is not for you.
You have nothing to do with the subject of which it
treats. Bringing to its discussion, as you do, a distrust
or contempt of the human race accustomed as you
are to confound liberty with licence, and pleasure with
debauchery, it is not for your palled feelings and brutal-
ized senses to distinguish moral truth in its purity and
simplicity. I never discuss this subject with such as you.
It has been remarked, that nothing is so suspicious in a
woman, as vehement pretensions to especial chastity : it
is no less true, that the most obtrusive and sensitive
stickler for the etiquette of orthodox morality is the heart-
less rake. The little intercourse I have had with men
of your stamp, warns me to avoid the serious discussion
of any species of moral heresy with you. You approach
the subject in a tone and spirit revolting alike to good
taste and good feeling. You seem to presuppose from


your own experience, perhaps that the hearts of all
men, and more especially of all women, are deceitful
abov r e all things and desperately wicked; that violence
and vice are inherent in human nature, and that
nothing but laws and ceremonies prevent the world
from becoming a vast slaughter-house or a universal
brothel. You judge your own sex and the other by the
specimens you have met with in wretched haunts of
mercenary profligacy ; and, with such a standard in
your minds, I marvel not that you remain incorrigible
unbelievers in any virtue, but that which is forced, on
the prudish hot-bed of ceremonious orthodoxy. I won-
der not, that you will not trust the natural soil, watered
from the free skies and warmed by the life-bringing sun.
How should you? you have never seen it produce but
weeds and poisons. Libertines and debauchees ! cast
my book aside ! You will find in it nothing to gratify a
licentious curiosity ; and, if you read it, you will pro-
bably only give me credit for motives and impulses like
your own.

And you, prudes and hypocrites ! you who strain at a
gnat and swallow a camel ; you whom Jesus likened to
whited sepulchres, which without indeed are beautiful,
but within are full of all uncleanness ; you who affect to
blush if the ancle is incidentally mentioned in conver-
sation, or displayed in crossing a style, but will read in-
decencies enough, without scruple, in your closets; you
who, at dinner, ask to be helped to the bosom of a duck,
lest, by mention of the word breast, you call up improper
associations ; you who have nothing but a head and feet
and fingers ; you who look demure by daylight, and
make appointments only in the dark you, prudes and
hypocrites ! I do not address. Even if honest in your
prudery, your ideas of right and wrong are too artificial


and confused to profit by the present discussion ; if dis
honest, I desire to have no communication with you.

Reader ! if you belong to the class of prudes or of li-
bertines, I pray you, follow my argument no farther.
Stop here, and believe that my heresies will not suit you.
As a prude, you would find them too honest ; as a liber-
tine, too temperate. In the former case, you might call
me a very shocking person ; in the latter, a quiz or a bore.

But if you be honest, upright, pure-minded ; if you be
unconscious of unworthy motive or selfish passion ; if
truth be your ambition, and the welfare of our race your
object then approach with me a subject the most im-
portant to man's well-being ; and approach it, as I do, ia
a spirit of dispassionate, disinterested, free enquiry. Ap-
proach it, resolving to prove all things, and hold fast that
which is good. The discussion is one to which it is
every man's and every woman's duty, (and ought to be
every one's business ,) to attend. The welfare of the
present generation, arid yet far more of the next, re-
quires it. Common sense sanctions it. And the nation-
al motto of my former country, " Honi soit qui mal y
pense,"* may explain the spirit in which it is undertaken 3
and in which it ought to be received.

Reader ! it ought to concern you nothing who or what
I am, who now address you. Truth is truth, if it fall
from Satan's lips ; and error ought to be rejected, though
preached by an angel from heaven. Even as an anony-

* One of the English kings, Edward III., in the year 1344, picked up
from the floor of a ball-room, an embroidered garter belonging to a lady
of rank. In returning it to her, he checked the rising smile of his cour-
tiers with the words, " Honi soit qui mal y pense !" or, paraphrased in
English, " Shame on him who invidiously interprets it !" The senti-
ment was so greatly approved, that it has become the motto of the English
national arms. It is one which might be not inaptly nor unfrequently
applied in rebuking the mawkish, skin-deep, cind intolerant morality of
this hypocritical and profligate age,


moiis work, therefore, this treatise ought to obtain a full
and candid examination from you. But, that you may
not imagine I am ashamed of honestly discussing a sub-
ject so useful and important, I have given you my name
on the title page.

Neither is it any concern of yours what my character
is, or has been. No man of sense or modesty unneces-
sarily obtrudes personalities that regard himself on the
public. And, most assuredly, it is neither to gratify your
curiosity or my vanity, if I now do violence to my feel-
ings, and speak a few words touching myself. I do so,
to disarm, if I can, prejudice of her sting ; and thus to
obtain the ears, even of the prejudiced ; and also to ac-
quaint my readers, that they are conversing on such
a subject as this, with one, whom circumstance and
education have happily preserved from habits of excess
and associations of profligacy.

All those who have intimately known the life and pri-
vate habits of the writer of this little treatise, will bear
him witness, that what he now states is true, to the let-
ter. He was indebted to his parents for habits of the
strictest temperance some would call it abstemiousness
in all things. He never, at any time, habitually
used ardent spirits, wine, or strong drink of any kind :
latterly, he has not even used animal food. He never
chanced to enter a brothel in his life ; nor to associate,
even for an evening, with those poor, unhappy victims,
whom the brutal, yet tolerated vices of man, and some-
times their own unsuspicious or ungoverned feelings, be-
tray to misery and degradation. He never sought the com-
pany but of the intellectual and self-respecting of the other
sex, and has no associations connected with the name of wo-
man, but those of esteem and respectful affection. To this
day, he is even girlishly sensitive to the coarse and ribald


jests in which young men think it witty to indulge at
the expense of a sex they cannot appreciate. The con-
fidence with which women may have honoured him, he
has never selfishly abused ; and, at this moment, he has
not a single wrong with which to reproach himself to-
wards a sex, which he considers the equal of man in all
essentials of character, and his superior in generous dis-
interestedness and moral worth.

I check my pen. I have said enough, perhaps, to
awaken the confidence of those whose confidence I value;
and enough, assuredly, to excite the ridicule, or the sneer,
of him who walks through life wrapped up in the cloak
of conformity, and laughs, among his private boon com-
panions, at the scruples of every novice, who will not. like
himself, regard debauchery and seduction (in secret) as
manly and spirited amusements.

And now, reader ! if I have succeeded in awakening
your attention and enlisting in this enquiry your reason
and your better feelings, approach with me a subject the
most interesting and important to you, to me, to all our
fellow-creatures. Reader ! if you be a woman, forget
that I am a man : if a man, listen to me as you would
to a brother. Let us converse, not as men, nor as wo-
men, but as human beings, with common interests, in-
stincts, wants, weaknesses. Let us converse, if it be pos-
sible, without prejudice and without passion. Reader !
whatever be your sex, sect, rank, or party, to you I would
now, ere I commence, address the poet's exhortation
here, far more strictly applicable, than in the investiga-
tion to which he applied it :

" Retire ! the world shut out : thy thoughts call home.

Imagination's airy wing repress.

Lock up thy senses ; let no passion stir :

Wake all to reason ; let her reign alone."




Among the human instincts which contribute to man's
preservation and well-being, the instinct of reproduction
holds a distinguished rank. It peoples the earth ; it per-
petuates the species. Controlled by reason and chasten-
ed by good feeling, it gives to social intercourse much of
its charm and zest. Directed by selfishness, or govern-
ed by force, it is prolific of misery and degradation.
Whether wisely or unwisely directed, its influence is that
of a master principle, that colours, brightly or darkly,
much of the destiny of man.

It is sometimes spoken of as a low and selfish pro-
pensity ; and the Shakers call it a " carnal and sensual
passion."* I see nothing in the instinct itself that merits
such epithets. Like other instincts, it may assume a
selfish, mercenary, or brutal character. But, in itself, it
appears to me the most social and least selfish of all our
instincts. It fits us to give, even while receiving, plea-
sure ; and, among cultivated beings, the former power is
ever more highly valued than the latter. Not one of
our instincts, perhaps, affords larger scope for the exer-
cise of disinterestedness, or fitter play for the best moral

* See " A brief exposition of the principles of the United Society call-
ed Shakers," published by Calvin Green and Seth Y. Wells, 1830.



feelings of our race. Not one gives birth to relations
more gentle, more humanizing and endearing ; not one
lies more immediately at the root of the kindliest chari-
ties and most generous impulses that honour and bless
human nature. Its very power, indeed, gives fatal force
to its aberrations ; even as the waters of the calmest
river, when dammed up or forced from their bed, flood
and ruin the country : but the gentle flow and fertilizing
influence of the stream are the fit emblems of the in-
stinct, when suffered, undisturbed by force or passion, to
follow its own quiet channel.

That such an instinct should be thought and spoken
of as a low, selfish propensity, and, as such, that the
discussion of its nature and consequences should be al-
most interdicted in what is called decent society, is to me
a proof of the profligacy of the age, and the impurity of
the pseudo-civilized mind. I imagine that if all men
and women were gluttons and drunkards, they would,
in like manner, be ashamed to speak of diet or of tem-

Were I an optimist, and, as such, had I accustomed
myself to judge and to admire the arrangements of na-
ture, I should be inclined to put forward, as one of the
most admirable, the arrangement according to which

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Online LibraryRobert Dale OwenMoral physiology; or, A brief and plain treatise on the population question → online text (page 1 of 7)