Copyright
Robert Dale Owen.

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

. (page 4 of 7)
Online LibraryRobert Dale OwenMoral physiology; or, A brief and plain treatise on the population question → online text (page 4 of 7)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


and encourages intemperance and prostitution, the know-
ledge which enables man to limit his offspring, would, in
the present state of things, save much unhappiness and
prevent many crimes. Young persons sincerely attach-
ed to each other, and who might wish to marry, would
marry early ; merely resolving not to become parents
until prudence permitted it. The young man, instead
of solitary toil or vulgar dissipation, would enjoy the
society and the assistance of her he had chosen as his
companion ; and the best years of life, whose pleasures
never return, would not be squandered in riot, or lost
through mortification.

My readers will remark, that all the arguments I
have hitherto employed, apply strictly to the present
order of things, and the present laws and system of
marriage. No one, therefore, need be a moral heretic
on this subject to admit and approve them. The mar-
riage laws might all remain for ever as they are ; and
yet a moral check to population would be beneficent and
important.

But there are other cases, it will be said, where the
knowledge of such a check would be mischievous. If
young women, it will be argued, were absolved from the
fear of consequences, they would rarely preserve their
chastity. Unlegalized connexions would be common
and seldom detected. Seduction would be facilitated.
Let us dispassionately examine this argument.

I fully agree with that most amiable of moral heretics,
Shelley, that " Seduction, which term could have no



44 MORAL PHYSIOLOGY,

meaning in a rational society, has now a most tremen-
dous one."* It matters not how artificial the penalty
which society has chosen to affix to a breach of her capri-
cious decrees. Society has the power in her own hands ;
and that moral Shylock, Public Opinion, enforces the
penalty, even though it cost the life of the victim. The
consequences, then, to the poor sufferer, whose offence
is, at most, but an error of judgment or a weakness of
the heart, are the same as if her imprudence were in-
deed a crime of the blackest dye. And his conduct who,
for a momentary, selfish gratification, will deliberately
entail a life of wretchedness on one whose chief fault,
perhaps, was her misplaced confidence in a villain, is
not one whit excused by the folly and injustice of the
sentence.t Some poet says,

" The man who lays his hand upon a woman
Save in the way of kindness, is a wretch
Whom 'twere gross flattery to call a coward."

What epithet, then, belongs to him who makes it a
trade to win a woman's gentle affections, betray her
generous confidence, and then, when the consequences
become apparent, abandon her to dependence, and the
scorn of a cold, a self-righteous, and a wicked world ; a

* See letter of Percy Byssche Shelley, published in the "Lion,"
of December 5, 1828.

t Every reflecting mind will distinguish between the unrea-
soning sometimes even generous, imprudence of youthful pas-
sion, and the calculating selfishness of the matured and heartless
libertine. It is a melancholy truth, that pseudo-civilization pro-
duces thousands of seducers by profession, who, while daily call-
ing the heavens to witness their eternal affections, have no affec-
tion for any thing on earth but their own precious and profligate
selves. It is to characters so utterly worthless as these that my
observations apply.



MORAL PHYSIOLOGY. 45

world which will forgive any thing but rebellion against
its tyranny, and in whose eyes it seems the greatest of
crimes to be unsuspecting and w 7 arni-hearted ! I will
give my hand freely to a galley-slave, and speak to the
highway-robber as to an honest man ; but there is one
character with whom I desire to exchange neither word nor
greeting the cold-hearted, deliberate, practised, and
calculating seducer !

And, let me ask, what is it gives to the arts of seduc-
tion their sting, and stamps to the world its victim ?
Why is it, that the man goes free and enters society
again, almost courted and applauded for his treachery ;
w r hile the woman is a mark for the finger of reproach,
and a butt for the tongue of scandal ? Because she bears
about her the mark of what is called her disgrace. She
becomes a mother ; and society has something tangible
against which to direct its anathemas. Nine tenths, at
least, of the misery and ruin which are caused by seduc-
tion, even in the present state of public opinion on the
subject, result from cases of pregnancy. Perhaps the
unfeeling selfishness of him who fears to become a
father, administers some noxious drug to procure abor-
tion ; perhaps for even such scenes our courts of jus-
tice disclose ! perhaps the frenzy of the wretched mother
takes the life of her infant, or seeks in suicide the con-
summation of her wrongs and her woes ! Or, if the
little being lives, the dove in the falcon's claws is not
more certain of death, than we may be, that society will
visit, with its bitterest scoffs and reproaches, the bruised
spirit of the mother and the unconscious innocence of
the child.

If, then, we cannot do all, shall we neglect a part ?
If we cannot prevent every misery which man's selfish-
ness and the world's cruelty entail on a sex which it



46 MORAL PHYSIOLOGY.

ought to be our pride and honour to cherish and defend;
let u$ prevent as many as we can. If we cannot per-
suade society to revoke its unmanly and unchristian*
persecution of those who are often the best and gentlest
of its members let us, at the least, give to woman what
defence we may, against its violence.

I appeal to any father, trembling for the reputation of
his child, whether, if she were induced to form an un-
legalized connexion, her pregnancy would not be a
frightful aggravation ? I appeal to him, whether any
innocent preventive which shall save her from a situation
that must soon disclose all to the world, would not be
an act of mercy, of charity, of philanthropy whether it
might not save him from despair, and her from ruin ?
The fastidious conformist may frown upon the question,
but to the father it comes home ; and, whatever his
lips may say, his heart will acknowledge the soundness
and the force of the argument it conveys.t

* Jesus said unto her, " Neither do I condemn thee." John
viii. 11.

f What is the actual state of society in Great Britain, and even
in this republic, that pseudo-civilization, in her superlative deli-
cacy, should so fastidiously scruple to speak of or to sanction a
simple, moral, effectual check to population ? Are her sons all
chaste and temperate, and her daughters all passionless and
pure ? I might disclose, if I would, in this very city of New-
York and in our neighbour city of Philadelphia scenes and
practices that have come to light from time to time, and that
would furnish no very favourable answer to the question. I
might ask, whether all the houses of assignation in these two
cities are frequented by the known profligate alone ? or, whether
some of the most outwardly respectable fathers ay, mothers of
families have not been found in resorts supported and frequented
only by " good society" like themselves ?

As regards Great Britain, I might quote the evidence deliver-
ed before a " Committee of the House of Commons, on Labourers'



MORAL PHYSIOLOGY. 47

It may be, that some sticklers for orthodox morality
will still demur to the positions I defend. They will
perhaps tell me, as the Committee of a certain Society
in this city lately did, that the power of preventing con-
ceptions "holds out inducements and facilities for the pros-
titution of their daughters, their sisters, and their wives."*

Wages," by Henry Drummond, a banker, magistrate, and large
land-owner in the county of Surry, in which the following ques-
tion and answer occur : Q,. " What is the practice you allude
to of forcing marriages ?" A. " I believe nothing is more erro-
neous than the assertion, that the poor laws tend to imprudent
marriages ; I never knew an instance of a girl being married
until she was with child, nor ever knew of a marriage taking
place through a calculation for future support." Mr. Dram-
mond's assertions were confirmed by other equally respectable
witnesses ; and from what I have myself learnt in conversation
with some of the chief manufacturers of England, I am con-
vinced, that the statement, as regards the working population in
the chief manufacturing districts, is scarcely exaggerated.

I might go on to state, that the spot on which the Foundling
Hospital in Dublin now stands, formerly went by the name of
" Murderer's Lane," from the number of child murders that were
perpetrated in the vicinity.

I might adduce the testimony of respectable witnesses in proof^
that, even among the married, the blighting effects of ergot are
not unfrequently incurred ; by those very persons, probably, who,
in public, would think fit to be terribly shocked at this little book.

But why multiply proofs ? The records of every court of jus-
tice, nay, the tittle tattle of every fashionable drawing-room, suf-
ficiently marks the real character of this prudish and pharisaical
world of ours.

* See letter of the Committee of the Typographical Society to
Robert Dale Owen, published in the Commercial Advertiser of
the 29th of September, and copied into the Free Enquirer of the
9th of October, 1830.

For a statement of the circumstances connected with that let-
ter, and which induced me, at this time, to write and publish the
present treatise, see Preface.



48 MORAL PHYSIOLOGY*

Truly, but they pay their wives, their sisters, and
their daughters, a poor compliment ! Is, then, this
vaunted chastity a mere thing of circumstance and oc-
casion ? Is there but the difference of opportunity be-
tween it and prostitution? Would their wives, and
their sisters, and their daughters, if once absolved from
the fear of offspring, all become prostitutes all sell their
embraces for gold, and descend to a level with the most
degraded ? In truth, but they slander their own kin-
dred ; they libel their own wives, sisters, and daughters.
If they spoke truth if fear were indeed the only safe-
guard of their relatives' chastity, little value should I
place on a virtue like that ! and small would I esteem
his offence, who should attempt or seduce it.*

*. I should like to hear these gentlemen explain, according to
what principle they imagine the chastity of their wives to grow
out of a fear of offspring ; so that, if released from such fear,
prostitution would follow. I can readily comprehend that the
unmarried may be supposed careful to avoid that situation to
which no legal cause can be assigned ; but a wife must be espe-
cially dull, if she cannot assign, in all cases, a legal cause ; and
a husband must be especially sagacious, if he can tell whether the
true cause be assigned or not. This safeguard to married chasti-
ty, therefore, to which the gentlemen of the Typographical Com-
mittee seem to look with so implicit a confidence, is a mere broken
reed ; and has been so, ever since the days of Bathsheba.

Yet conjugal chastity is that which is especially valued. The
inconstancy of a wife commonly cuts much deeper than the dis-
honour of a sister. In that case, then, which the world usually
considers of the highest importanoe, the fear of offspring imposes
no check whatever. It cannot make one iota of difference whether
a married woman be knowing in physiology or not ; except per-
haps, indeed, to the husband's advantage ; in cases where the
wife's conscience induces her at least to guard against the possi-
bility of burthening her legal lord with the care and support of
children that are not his. Constancy, where it actually exists,
is the offspring of something more efficacious than ignorance.



MORAL PHYSIOLOGY. 49

That chastity which is worth preserving is not the
chastity that owes its birth to fear and to ignorance. If
to enlighten a woman regarding a simple physiological
feet will make her a prostitute, she mast be especially
predisposed to profligacy. But it is a libel on the sex.
Few, indeed, there are, who would continue so miserable
and degrading a calling, could they but escape from it.
For one prostitute that is made by inclination, ten are
made by necessity. Reform the laws equalize the
comforts of society, and you need withhold no knowledge
from your wives and daughters. It is want, not know-
ledge, that leads to prostitution.

For myself, I would withhold from no sister, or daugh-
ter, or wife of mine, any ascertained fact whatever. It
should be to me a duty and a pleasure to communicate
to them all I knew myself: and I should hold it an in-
sult to their understandings and their hearts to imagine,
that their virtue would diminish as their knowledge in-
creased. Vice is never the offspring of just knowledge ;
and they who say it is, slander their own nature.
Would we but trust human nature, instead of con-
tinually suspecting it, and guarding it by bolts and bars,
and thinking to make it very chaste by keeping it very
ignorant, what a different world we should have of it !

And if in the wife's case, men must and do trust to something
else, why not in all other cases, where restraint may be consider-
ed desirable V Shall men trust in the greater, and fear to trust
in the less ? Whatever any one may choose to assert regarding
his relatives' secret inclinations to profligacy, these arguments
may convince him, that if he has any safeguard at present, a pe-
rusal of Moral Physiology will not destroy it.

'Tis strange that men, by way of suborning an argument,
should be willing thus to vilify their relatives' character and mo-
tives, without first carefully examining whether any thing was
gained to their cause, after all, by the vilification.



50 MORAL PHYSIOLOGY.

The virtue of ignorance is a sickly plant, ever exposed
to the caterpillar of corruption, liable to be scorched and
blasted even by the free light of heaven ; of precarious
growth ; and, even if at last artificially matured, of little
or no real value.

I know that parents often think it right and proper to
withhold from their children especially from their daugh-
ters facts the most influential on their future lives, and
the knowledge of which is essential to every man and
woman's well-being.* Such a course has ever appeared
to me ill-judged and productive of very injurious effects.
A girl is surely no whit the better for believing, until her
marriage night, that children are found among the cab-
bage leaves in the garden. The imagination is excited,
the curiosity kept continually on the stretch ; and that
which, if simply explained, would have been recollected
only as any other physiological phenomenon, assumes
all the rank and importance and engrossing interest of
a mystery. Nay, I am well convinced, that mere curiosi-
ty has often led ignorant young people into situations,
from which a little more confidence and openness on the
part of their parents or guardians, would have effectually
secured them.

In the monkish days of mental darkness, when it was
taught and believed, that all the imaginations and all the

* Instances innumerable might be adduced. Not one young
person, for example, in twenty, is ever told, that sexual intercourse
during the period of a woman's courses is not unfrequently pro-
ductive, to the woman of a species of fluor albus, and sometimes
(as a consequent) to the man of symptoms very similar to those
of syphilis, but more easily removed. Yet what fact more im-
portant to be communicated? And how ridiculous the mis-
chievously prudish refinement that conceals from human beings
what it most deeply concerns them to know ?



MORAL PHYSIOLOGY* 51

thoughts of man are only evil continually when it was
deemed right and proper to secure the submission of the
mass by withholding from them the knowledge even how
to read and write in those days, it was all very well to
shut up the physiological page, and tell us, that on the
day we read therein we should surely die. But those
times are past. In this nineteenth century, men and
women read, think, discuss, enquire, judge for them-
selves. If, in these latter days, there is to be virtue at
all, she must be the offspring of knowledge and of free
enquiry, not of ignorance and mystery. We cannot
prevent the spread of any real knowledge, even if we
would ; we ought not, even if we could.

This book will make its way through the whole Uni-
ted States. Curiosity and the notoriety which has al-
ready been given to the subject, will suffice at first to
obtain for it circulation. The practical importance of
the subject it treats will do the rest. It needed but some
one to start the stone ; its own momentum will suffice to
carry it forward.

But, if we could prevent the circulation of truth, why
should we ? We are not afraid of it ourselves. No
man thinks his morality will suffer by it. Each feels
certain that his virtue can stand any degree of know-
ledge. And is it not the height of egregious presump-
tion in each to imagine that his neighbour is so much
weaker than himself, and requires a bandage which he
can do without? Most of all, is it presumptuous to sup-
pose, that that knowledge which the man of the world
can bear with impunity, will corrupt the young and the
pure-hearted. It is the sullied conscience only that
suggests such fears. Trust youth and innocence.
Speak to them openly. Show them that you respect
them, by treating them with confidence ; and they will



52 MORAL PHYSIOLOGY.

quickly learn to respect and to govern themselves. You
enlist even their pride in your behalf; and you will
soon see them make it their boast and their highest
pleasure to merit your confidence. But watch them,
and show your suspicion of them but once and you are
the jailor, who will keep his prisoners just as long as
bars and bolts shall prevent their escape. The world
was never made for a prison-house ; it is too large and
ill-guarded : nor were parents ever intended for goal-
keepers ; their very affections unfit them for the task.

There is no more beautiful sight upon earth, than a
family among whom there are 110 secrets and no re-
serves ; where the young people confide every thing to
their elder friends for such to them are their parents
and where the parents trust every thing to their chil-
dren ; where each thought is communicated as freely
as it arises ; and all knowledge given, as simply as it is
received. If the world contain a prototype of that Para-
dise, where nature is said to have known no sin or im-
propriety, it is such a family. And if there be a serpent
that can poison the innocence of its inmates, that 'ser-
pent is SUSPICION.

I ask no greater pleasure than thus to be the guar-
dian and companion of young beings whose innocence
shall speak to me as unreservedly as it thinks to itself;
of young beings who shall never imagine that there is
guilt in their thoughts, or sin in their confidence ; and to
whom, in return, I may impart every important and
useful fact that is known to myself. Their virtue shall
be of that hardy growth, which all facts tend to nourish
and strengthen.

I put it to my readers, whether such a view of human
nature, and such a mode of treating it, be not in accord-
ance with the noblest feelings of their hearts. I put it



MORAL PHYSIOLOGY. 53

to them, whether they have not felt themselves encoura-
ged, improved, strengthened in every virtuous resolu-
tion, when they were generously trusted ; and whether
they have not felt abased and degraded, when they
were suspiciously watched, and spied after, and kept in
ignorance. If they find such feelings in their own
hearts, let them not self-righteously imagine, that they
only can be \von by generosity, or that the nature of
their fellow-creatures is different from their own.

There are other considerations connected with this
subject, which farther attest the social advantages of
the control I advocate. Human affections are mutable,
and the sincerest of mortal resolutions may change.*
Every day furnishes instances of alienations, and of
separations ; sometimes almost before the honey-moon
is well expired. In such cases of unsuitability, it can-
not be considered desirable that there should be offspring ;
and the power of refraining from becoming parents until
intimacy had, in a measure, established the likelihood
of permanent harmony of views and feelings, must be
confessed to be advantageous.

The limits which my numerous avocations prescribe
to this little treatise, permit me not to meet every argu-
ment in detail, which ingenuity or prejudice might put
forward. If the world were not actually afraid to think
freely or to listen to the suggestions of common sense,
three fourths of what has already been said would be
superfluous ; for most of the arguments employed would

* Le premier serment que se firent deux tres de chair, ce fut
au pied d'un rocher, qui tombait en poussiere ; ils attesterent de
leur Constance un ciel qui n'est pas un instant le mme : tout pas-
salt en eux, et autour d'eux ; et ils croyaient leurs cceurs affran-
chis de vicissitudes. O enfans ! toujours enfans !

DIDEROT ; Jacques et son mattre.

5*



54 MORAL PHYSIOLOGY.

occur spontaneously to any rational, reasoning being,
But the mass of mankind have still, in a measure, every
thing to learn on this subject. The world seems to me
much to resemble a company of gourmands, who sit
down to a plentiful repast, first very punctiliously saying
grace over it ; and then, under sanction of the priest's
blessing, think to gorge themselves with impunity ; as
conceiving, that gluttony after grace is no sin. So it is
with popular customs and popular morality. Every
thing is permitted, if external forms be but respected.
Legal roguery is no crime, and ceremony-sanctioned ex-
cess no profligacy. The substance is sacrificed to the
form, the virtue to the outward observance. The world
troubles its head little about whether a man be honest
or dishonest, so he knows how to avoid the penitentiary
and escape the hangman. In like manner, the world
seldom thinks it worth while to enquire whether a man
be temperate or intemperate, prudent or thoughtless. It
takes especial care to inform itself whether in all things
he conforms to orthodox requirements ; and, if he does,
all is right. Thus men too often learn to consider an
oath an absolution from all subsequent decencies and
duties, and a full release from all after responsibilities.
If a husband maltreat his wife, the offence is venal ;
for he premised it by making her, at the altar, an "honest
woman." If a married father neglect his children, it is
a trifle ; for grace was regularly said, before they were
born.

So true is this, that if some heterodox moralist were to
throw out the idea, that many of the rudenesses and
jarrings, and much of the indifference and carelessness
of each others' feelings that is exhibited in married life,
might be traced to the almost universal custom (in this
country, though not in France) of man and wife con-



MORAL PHYSIOLOGY.



55



tinually occupying the same bed if he put it to us
whether such a forced and too frequent familiarity were
not calculated to lessen the charms and pleasures, and
diminish the respectful regard and deference, which
ought ever to characterize the intercourse of human
beings if, I say. some heretical preferrer of things to
forms were to light upon and express some such unlucky
idea as this, ten to one the married portion of the com-
munity would fall upon him without mercy, as an im-
pertinent intermeddler in their most legitimate rights and
prerogatives.

With such a world as this, it is a difficult matter to
reason. After listening to all I have said, it may per-
haps cut me short by reminding me, that nature herself
declares it to be right and proper, that we should repro-
duce our species without calculation or restraint. I
will ask, in reply, whether nature also declares it to
be right and proper, that, when the thermometer is at
96, we should drink greedily of cold water, and drop
down dead in the streets ? Let the world be told, that
if nature gave us our passions and propensities, she
gave us also the power wisely to control them ; and
that, when we hesitate to exercise that power, we de-
scend to a level with the brute creation, and become
the sport of fortune the mere slaves of circumstance.*

* Some German poet, whose name has escaped me, says,
" Tapfer 1st der Lowensieger,
Tapfer is der Weltbezwinger,
Tapferer, wer sich selhst bezwang !"

" Brave is the lion-victor,
Brave the conqueror of a world,


1 2 4 6 7

Online LibraryRobert Dale OwenMoral physiology; or, A brief and plain treatise on the population question → online text (page 4 of 7)