Robert Dale Owen.

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

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me, in the essentials of character, a brute. The brutes
commonly seek the satisfaction of their propensities with
straight-forward selfishness, and never calculate whether
their companions are gratified or teased by their impor-

* My father, Robert Owen's definition of chastity is also an excellent
one : " PROSTITUTION, Sexual intercourse without affection ; CHATITY ?
Sexual intercourse with affection.


tunities. Man cannot assimilate his nature more closely
to theirs, than by imitating them in this.

Again. There is no instinct in regard to which strict
temperance is more essential. All our animal desires
have hitherto occupied an undue share of human
thoughts ; but none more generally than this. The
imaginations of the young and the passions of the adult
are inflamed by mystery or excited by restraint, and a
full half of all the thoughts and intrigues of the world
has a direct reference to this single instinct. Even
those who, like the Shakers, " crucify the flesh," are not
the less occupied by it in their secret thoughts ; as the
Shaker writings themselves may afford proof. Neither
human institutions nor human prejudices can destroy the
instinct. Strange it is, that men should not be content
rationally to control, and wisely to regulate it.

It is a question of passing importance, " How may it
best be regulated ?" Not by a Shaker vow of monkish
chastity. Assuredly not by the world's favourite regula-
tor, ignorance. No. Do we wish to bring this instinct
under easy government, and to assign it only its due
rank among human sentiments ? Then let us culti-
vate the intellect, let us exercise the body, let us useful-
ly occupy the time, of every human being. What is it
gives to passion its sway, and to desires their empire,
now ? It is vacancy of mind ; it is listlessness of body ;
it is idleness. A cultivated race are never sensual ; a
hardy race are seldom love-sick ; an industrious race
have no time to be sentimental. Develope the moral
sentiments, and they will govern the physical instincts.
Occupy the mind and body usefully, intellectually ; and
the propensities will obtain that care and time only which
they merit. Upon any other principle we may doctor
poor human nature for ever, and shall only prove our-



selves empirics in the end. Mortifications, vestal vows,
mysteries, bolts and bars, prudish prejudices these are
all quack-medicines ; and are only calculated to prostrate
the strength and spirits, or to heighten the fever, of the
patient. If we will dislodge error and passion from the
mind, we must replace them by something better. They
say that a vacuum cannot exist in nature. Least of all
can it exist in the human mind. Empty it of one folly,
cure it of one vice, and another flows in to fill the vacan-
cy, unless it find it already occupied by intellectual ex-
ercise and common sense.

Husbands and fathers ! study Franklin's definition of
chastity. Your fears, your jealousies, have hitherto been
on the stretch to watch and guard : reflect whether it be
not pleasanter and better, to enlighten and trust.

Honest ascetics ! you have striven to mortify the
flesh ; ask yourselves whether it be not wiser to control
it. You have sought to crucify the body; consider
whether it be not more effectual to cultivate the mind.
Have you succeeded in spiritualizing your secret
thoughts ? If not, enquire whether all human propen-
sities, duly governed, be not a benefit and a blessing to
the nature in which they are inherent.

Human beings, of whatever sex or class ! examine
dispassionately and narrowly the influence which the
control here recommended will produce throughout so-
ciety. Reflect whether it will not lighten the burdens
of one sex, while it affords scope for the exercise of the
best feelings of the other. Consider whether its tenden-
cy be not benignant and elevating ; conducive to the
exercise of practical virtue, and to the permanent welfare
of the human race.




Reception of the Work by the Public. Opinion of a talented Author. Opinion of
a Physician and Professor. Letter from a Mechanic. The work never intended
as a political Panacea. Transmission of hereditary disease. Letter on the sub-
ject. Letter from a French gentleman. Physiological argument in favour of
temperance. Experience of two members of the Society of Friends. Objection
of J, W. Objections by a physician of Indiana. Answer to them.

New-York, June 25, 1831.

SEVEN months have not yet elapsed since the first publication
Of " Moral Physiology ;" and already I am called upon to pre-
pare a fifth edition. If I am pleased (as what author is not) to
see that my labours are not unappreciated by the public, I am
also reminded of the additional obligations I lie under, to render
the little treatise as complete and as free from error and inac-
curacy as possible.

I have therefore carefully revised the work, and made such
amendments as have suggested themselves during these seven
months. And as, in the course of that time, I have received a
multitude of communications (some verbal, but chiefly by let-
ter) on the subject in question, I shall here add, in the shape of
Appendix, such extracts from, and comments on, a few of these,
as seem to me interesting and useful.

I expected much opprobrium from the work ; and have be'en
not a little surprised to find my expectations most agreeably
disappointed. Never, in my life, have I written any thing that
so nearly united the suffrages of all whose opinion I care for, or
which has been suffered to spread more quietly by our oppo-
nents. In this, these latter have acted wisely. ' Had they made
any fuss about it, it would probably have been the Appendix to
the twentieth, not to the fifth, edition I should now be writing.

The sentiments of approval which have reached me from va-



rious quarters, have, in the expressive language of the Old
Book, " strengthened my hands and encouraged my heart f
for, though the world's opinion be worth little, there are indi-
viduals in it whose opinion is worth much ; and though a con-
sciousness of rectitude may support a man against all opinions,
yet it is pleasant to find, now and then, in one's progress, con-
current sentiments from those we esteem.

I imagine that it may afford similar encouragement, in a de-
gree, to any of my readers who may chance to approve what
they read, if I quote for them a few of these opinions. And,
first, I select for the purpose two, which come from men both
known to me, as to the American public, only by their writings,
Could I give the names of the writers, these would be sufficient
to secure for their opinions a weight which no anonymous
sentiments can obtain. But, in the present state of public opi-
nion, I do not feel myself, for obvious reasons, at liberty to do
so. My readers must therefore be content to take my word
for it. that both the writers are gentlemen who have displayed
in their works talents of a high order, and whose personal ac-
quaintance I should consider it an honour to make.

I extract from the first letter the following :

" I am greatly obliged to you for sending me your c Moral
Physiology.' I have read it with pleasure and instruction. I
see not why you should anticipate censure, from any quarter,
for its publication. It contains no sentiment or doctrine which
strikes me unfavourably, or which any person could wish
suppressed. Had the same thoughts occurred to me, I should
have entertained them, and possibly published them, without
the least suspicion of offence to delicacy or good morals.

" I fully concur with you, that truth can do the world no
harm. Nor do I doubt that he should be deemed a benefactor,
(even an exceedingly great benefactor,) who can teach man
how to limit his powers of reproduction without abridging his

Again, the same correspondent says :

" The value of the power to limit offspring, is, I think, very
separable from any theory which involves consequences arising
from the extent of population which the earth can sustain.
The limitation is a matter which concerns the present comfort
of individuals, in their private capacity ; while the extent of


the earth's ultimate fecundity concerns only the thoughts of
speculatists and politicians. I say this, because I am not
troubled by the spectre of Malthus."

This appears to me an enlightened, and also a very practical
view of the subject. The political economy of the question
ought ever to be kept separate from its moral bearings. The
consequences involved by the former, are distant, and may be
called theoretical ; while those resulting from the latter, are
immediate, and of daily recurrence in practice. If there were
no tendency whatever in the human race to increase beyond its
present numbers, the question would still be one of vital in-
terest, and the consequences it involves would still be of sur-
passing importance to man in his social and domestic relations.
The more I reflect on the subject, the more thoroughly con-
vinced I am, that man can never attain to any thing like social
cultivation, without a knowledge of the means to limit, at pleasure
and without much sacrifice of enjoyment, his power of reproduc-
tion. And I cannot but think that all who have seen much of
the civilized world, and carefully traced out the various causes
of the vices and miseries that pervade it, will, upon reflection,
concur with me in the opinion.

The second writer of whom I spoke (an eminent physician
and professor) says :

" I have received your c Moral Physiology.' Your bold
ness and independence are entitled to great respect. It is a
very important question, and ought to be brought forward, that
the public opinion concerning it may be based on the only
proper ground, full and free and patient public discussion.
Your method of handling the subject I approve. Place, the
political economist, suggests the remedy more boldly than any

The next communication from which I shall copy is from
a young man of excellent character, living in a neighbouring
state, and now one of the conductors of a popular periodical.
After suggesting to me the propriety of re-publishing some
English works now out of print, he proceeds -as follows :

? February 23, 1831.

" Had I not been addressing you upon another subject, I
should not have ventured to obtrude on you my small meed of


approbation, due to your last work ; but I cannot let slip this?
opportunity of endeavouring to express how much I feel in-
debted to you for its publication.

" To know how I am so indebted, it is necessary you should
also know something of my situation in life : and when it is
described, it is perhaps a description of the situation of two
thirds of the journeymen mechanics of this country.

" I have been married nearly three years, and am the father
of two children. Having nothing to depend upon but my own
industry, you will readily acknowledge that I had reason to
look forward with at least some degree of disquietude to the
prospect of an increasing family and reduced wages; appa-
rently the inevitable lot of the generality of working men.
Under these circumstances, I saw W. Jackson's article in the
Delaware Free Press ; but my feelings as a freeman (nominal-
ly) revolted at it, and I must say that I felt greatly pleased when
I found that his system did not meet your approbation. You
had spoken upon the subject, but, like the Nazarene Reformer,
you spoke in parables. ' Every Woman's Book' I could not
see ; and, had not Dr. Gibbons afforded me an example of how
much you might be misrepresented, I might have been tempted
to believe the slanders circulated regarding you.

(C I had apparently nothing left but to let matters take their
own course, when your ' Moral Physiology' made its appear-

" I read it ; and a new scene of existence seemed to open be-
fore me. I found myself, in this all important matter, a free
agent, and, in a degree, the arbiter of my own destiny. I could
have said to you, as Selim said to Hassan,

1 Thou'st hewed a mountain's weight from off my heart.'

My visions of poverty and future distress vanished ; the pre-
sent seemed gilded with new charms, and the future appeared
no longer to be dreaded. But you can better imagine, than I
describe, the revolution of my feelings.

" I have since endeavoured to circulate the little book as
widely as my limited opportunities permit, and shall continue
to do so, believing it to be the most useful work that has made
its appearance since the publication of Paine's { Common
Sense j' and convinced that 3 by so doing, I shall render you the


most acceptable return in my power to make for the benefit
you have conferred upon me as an individual. G."

And here I may remark, that, though I expected my little
book, in such individual cases as the above, to be (as it seems
it has been) the means of diminishing the suffering which ine-
quality of condition and the pressure of poverty bring upon
men and women, yet I desire it to be distinctly understood,
that I have never put it forward, and do not now put it for-
ward, as a remedy, but only as a palliative, of political evils.*
Were all poor parents (an unlikely case, however) thus to
limit their offspring, it might, perchance, but furnish excuse
and opportunity, in the present state of commercial competi-
tion, for their employers to lower their wages : for wages, as
things are now arranged, too often sink nearly to the point of
subsistence.f Economy in living is, like the parental foresight
of which I have spoken, in itself an excellent thing ; but he
who expects, by the one recommendation or the other, to cure
the ills of poverty, expects an effect from utterly inadequate
causes. The root of the evil lies far deeper than this ; and its
remedy must be of a more radical nature. This is not the
place, however, to enter on such a discussion. The great im-
portance of the work I conceive to lie more in its moral and
social, rather than in its political, bearings. It is addressed to
each individual, rather as the member of a family, than the

citizen of a state. a^^

.*. ^

The next extract, from an inhabitant of Pennsylvania, I have
selected chiefly as it furnishes a beautiful, and, alas ! a rare, ex-
ample, of that parental conscientiousness which scruples to
impart existence where it cannot also impart the conditions
necessary to render that existence happy. In this view, the
control in question is indeed all-important. Were such virtue
as this cultivated in mankind generally, how soon might the
very seeds of disease die out among us, instead of bearing, as
now, their poison-fruit from generation to generation ! and how
far might human beings, in succeeding ages, surpass their
forefathers in strength, in health, and in beauty!

* See page 31 of the work itself.

' t This, however, applies, at the present time, rather to Great Britain than totnifl;



ft This view of the subject is to the physiologist, to the philo-
sopher, to every friend of human improvement, a most interest-
ing one. " So long," to use the words of an eloquent lecturer,
now in this city, " as the tainted stream is unhesitatingly trans-
mitted through the channel of nature, from parent to offspring,
so long will the text be verified which ' visits the sins of the
fathers on the children, even to the third and fourth genera-
tion.' " And so long, I would add, will mankind (wise and
successful whenever there is question of improving the animal
races) be blind in perceiving, and listless in securing, that far
nobler object, the physical, and thereby (in a measure) the
mental and moral improvement of our own.

I may seem an enthusiast but so let me seem then when
I express my conviction, that there is not greater physical dis-
parity between the dullest, shaggiest race of dwarf draught
horses, and the fiery-spirited and silken-haired Arabian, than
between man degenerate as he is, and man perfected as he
might be : and though mental cultivation in this counts for
much, yet organic melioration is an influential is an indispen-
sable accessary.

Here is the extract which led to these remarks :

" , March 23, 1831.

* * * " I use no meat, unless eggs may be considered such ;
I drink neither tea, coffee, nor any thing more exciting than
milk and water ; and, like yourself, I am fully satisfied, having
no craving after the luxuries of the table. With regard to
Moral Physiology,' let the following facts speak :

" I was born of poor parents, and early left an orphan.
When of age, though my circumstances promised poorly for
the support of a family, I desired to marry, knowing that a
good wife would greatly add to my happiness. The check
spoken of in your book (withdrawal) presented itself to my
mind. And for seven years that I have now been married, I
have continued to practise it. I was successful in business,
and acquired the means of maintaining a family ; but still I
have refrained, because my constitution is such an one as I
think a parent ought not to transmit to his offspring. I prefer
refraining from giving birth to sentient beings, unless I can
give them those advantages, physical as well as moral and in*
tellectual, which are essential to human happiness.


" One tiling I have observed, that since I have adopted a
simple diet, and laid by all artificial stimuli, not only is my
health better, and my mind more clear, but I can abstain, at
will, without injury or inconvenience, from sexual connexion
for any length of time ;* and this without having, in the least,
lost any power in that respect. T."

From the letter of an aged French gentleman, who holds a
public office in the western country, I translate the following ;
and I would to heaven that every young man and woman in
these United States could read it :

" I have read your little work with much interest, and desire
that it may have a wide circulation, and that its recommenda-
tions may be adopted in practice. If you publish a third edi-
tion, I could wish that you would add a piece of advice of the
greatest importance, especially to young married persons.
Many women are ignorant, that, in the gratification of the re-
productive instinct, the exhaustion to the man is much greater
than to the woman : a fact most important to be known, the
ignorance of which has caused more than one husband to for-
feit his health, nay, his life. TISSOT tells us, that the loss by
an ounce of semen is equal to that by forty ounces of blood ;f
and that, in the case of the healthiest man, nature does not
demand connexion oftener than once a month.J

* We applaud, as a marvel, the continence of Scipio. Such continence and
amid circumstances far more trying is habitually found (under no other re-
straint than that of public opinion) among the native Indians of our continent. A
friend of mine, whose family was captured by a party of Mohawk Indians some
fifty years ago, informed me, that four young women (two of them of considera-
ble beauty) who were captured on that occasion, were not once, during a resi-
dence of several years, addressed, even with the remotest degree of sexual im-
portunity, by an Indian, old or young, though living with them in the same wig-
wam. These young women were the near relatives of the friend who related
this fact to me ; and it was from their own lips he obtained it. Yet these were
savages !

Such scrupulous regard to the feelings of others, would be a matter of too uni-
versal prevalence among us even to cause remark, or call forth commendation,
were it not for the artificial stimuli, and as artificial restraints, which fashion and
law make common among us. R. D. O.

t This, of course, must be rather a matter of conjecture and approximation,
than of accurate calculation. R. D. O.

J And I doubt whether she permits it, without more or less of injury, to the
average of constitutions, oftener than once a week. Certain I am, that any young


" How many young spouses, loving their husbands tenderly
and disinterestedly, if they were but informed of these facts,
would watch over and preserve their partners' healths, instead
of exciting them to over-indulgence.

" I send you a copy of Italian verses, appropriate, like the
German stanza you have quoted in your work, to the above
remarks :

1 Merta gli allo ri al crine
Chi scende in eampo armato,
Chi a cento squadre a lato,

Impallidir non sa :
Ma piu gloria ha nel fronte
Chi, alia ragion soggetto,
D'un sconsigliato astello

Trionfator si fa.'* L. G."

I extract the following from my journal :

January 4, 1831.

A member of the Society of Friends, from the country,
called at our office ; he informed me that he had been married
twenty years, had six children, and would probably have had
twice as many, had he not practised withdrawal, which he
found, in every instance, efficacious. By this means he made
an interval of two or three years between the births of each of
his children. Having at last a family of six, his wife earnestly
desired to have no more ; and on one occasion, when she
imagined that the necessary precautions had been neglected,
she shed tears at the prospect of again becoming pregnant. He

man who will carefully note and compare his sensations, will become convinced,
that temperance positively forbids such indulgence, at any rate, more than twice
a week ; and that he trifles with his constitution who neglects the prohibition.
How immeasurably important that parents should communicate to their sons, but
especially to their daughters, facts like these ! R. D. O.

* For the English reader, I have attempted the following imitation of the above
lines .

Crown his brows with laurel wreath,
Who can tread the field of death-
Tread with armed thousands near
And know not what it is to fear.
But greater far his meed of praise,
Juster his claim to glory's bays,
Who, true to reason's voice, to virtue's call,
Conquers himself, the noblest deed of all i B, P. O.


said he knew, in his own neighbourhood, several married wo-
men who were rendered miserable on account of their con-
tinued pregnancy, and would have given any thing in the world
to escape, but knew not how.

This gentleman corroborated the opinion I had suggested,
(page 66,) that the habit of withdrawal had an influence simi-
lar to that of temperance in diet. He had found it, he said,
much less exhausting than unrestrained indulgence.

Another gentleman, also belonging to the Society of Friends,
has since confirmed to me (as a fact positively 'proved to him
by personal experience) the above opinion. He likewise ex-
pressed his conviction, that the habit was greatly conducive
to the preservation of those first, fresh feelings, (so beautiful,
and, alas ! so evanescent,) under which the married usually
come together.

In reply to a correspondent, J. W., who cites a case of Pria-
pism mentioned in a Medical Journal some eight or ten years
since, and which pathological derangement he thinks was at-
tributable to the habit of withdrawal, I would reply, that the
concurrent testimony of all who can speak from experience on
the subject, disproves, not of course the fact he cites, but the
propriety of attributing' the effect produced to the cause in ques-
tion. Priapism, it is well known, is frequently caused by
sexual excess ; and was probably so caused in the case alluded
to. Such excess is much less likely to take place, when with-
drawal is practised, than during unrestrained indulgence.

It now remains for me to notice an important communica-
tion which I recently received from a medical gentleman re-
siding in Indiana, for whose talents and character I entertain
much respect. It regards the physiological portion of the
work, which the writer, Dr. S , thinks is altogether inac-

He refers me to Burns', Denman's, and Dewee's Midwifery,
and especially to an essay by Dr. Caldwell, of Transylvania
University, on Generation, in proof, that all are not agreed that
the semen must enter the uterus in order to effect impregnation.
He instances a case published in the New- York Medical Re-
pository, and another in the Western Quarterly Reporter, in


which impregnation was effected, though immediately previ-
ous to the child's birth the vagina was found only large enough
to admit a common knitting needle, and the medical attendant
had, in consequence, to make an artificial passage. And he
argues, on the authority of this and other instances where

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Online LibraryRobert Dale OwenMoral physiology; or, A brief and plain treatise on the population question → online text (page 6 of 7)