How the Laws of Domestic Slavery Bear a Relation to
the Nature of the Climate
1. Of domestic Servitude. Slaves are
established for the family; but they are not a part of it. Thus I
distinguish their servitude from that which the women in some countries
suffer, and which I shall properly call domestic servitude.
2. That in the Countries of the South there is a
natural Inequality between the two Sexes. Women, in hot climates, are
marriageable at eight, nine, or ten years of age;1
thus, in those countries, infancy and marriage generally go together. They
are old at twenty: their reason therefore never accompanies their beauty.
When beauty demands the empire, the want of reason forbids the claim; when
reason is obtained, beauty is no more. These women ought then to be in a
state of dependence; for reason cannot procure in old age that empire
which even youth and beauty could not give. It is therefore extremely
natural that in these places a man, when no law opposes it, should leave
one wife to take another, and that polygamy should be introduced.
In temperate climates, where the charms of women are best preserved,
where they arrive later at maturity, and have children at a more advanced
season of life, the old age of their husbands in some degree follows
theirs; and as they have more reason and knowledge at the time of
marriage, if it be only on account of their having continued longer in
life, it must naturally introduce a kind of equality between the two
sexes; and, in consequence of this, the law of having only one wife.
In cold countries the almost necessary custom of drinking strong liquors
establishes intemperance amongst men. Women, who in this respect have a
natural restraint, because they are always on the defensive, have
therefore the advantage of reason over them.
Nature, which has distinguished men by their reason and bodily strength,
has set no other bounds to their power than those of this strength and
reason. It has given charms to women, and ordained that their ascendancy
over man shall end with these charms: but in hot countries, these are
found only at the beginning, and never in the progress of life.
Thus the law which permits only one wife is physically conformable to
the climate of Europe, and not to that of Asia. This is the reason why
Mahometanism was so easily established in Asia, and with such difficulty
extended in Europe; why Christianity is maintained in Europe, and has been
destroyed in Asia; and, in fine, why the Mahometans have made such
progress in China, and the Christians so little. Human reasons, however,
are subordinate to that Supreme Cause who does whatever He pleases, and
renders everything subservient to His will.
Some particular reasons induced Valentinian2
to permit polygamy in the empire. That law, so improper for our climates,
was abrogated by Theodosius, Arcadius, and Honorius.3
3. That a Plurality of Wives greatly depends on
the Means of supporting them. Though in countries where polygamy is
once established the number of wives is principally determined by the
opulence of the husband, yet it cannot be said that opulence established
polygamy in those states, since poverty may produce the same effect, as I
shall prove when I come to speak of the savages.
Polygamy, in powerful nations, is less a luxury in itself than the
occasion of great luxury. In hot climates they have few wants, and it
costs little to maintain a wife and children;4
they may therefore have a great number of wives.
4. That the Law of Polygamy is an affair that
depends on Calculation. According to the calculations made in several
parts of Europe, there are here born more boys than girls;5
on the contrary, by the accounts we have of Asia, there are there born
more girls than boys.6 The law
which in Europe allows only one wife, and that in Asia which permits many,
have therefore a certain relation to the climate.
In the cold climates of Asia there are born, as in Europe, more males
than females; and hence, say the Lamas,7
is derived the reason of that law which amongst them permits a woman to
have many husbands.8
But it is difficult for me to believe that there are many countries
where the disproportion can be great enough for any exigency to justify
the introducing either the law in favour of many wives or that of many
husbands. This would only imply that a majority of women, or even a
majority of men, is more conformable to nature in certain countries than
I confess that if what history tells us be true, that at Bantam there
are ten women to one man,9 this
must be a case particularly favourable to polygamy.
In all this I only give their reasons, but do not justify their customs.
5. The Reason of a Law of Malabar. In the
tribe of the Naires, on the coast of Malabar, the men can have only one
wife, while a woman, on the contrary, may have many husbands.10
The origin of this custom is not I believe difficult to discover. The
Naires are the tribe of nobles, who are the soldiers of all those nations.
In Europe soldiers are forbidden to marry; in Malabar, where the climate
requires greater indulgence, they are satisfied with rendering marriage as
little burdensome to them as possible: they give one wife amongst many
men, which consequently diminishes the attachment to a family, and the
cares of housekeeping, and leaves them in the free possession of a
6. Of Polygamy considered in itself. With
regard to polygamy in general, independently of the circumstances which
may render it tolerable, it is not of the least service to mankind, nor to
either of the two sexes, whether it be that which abuses or that which is
abused. Neither is it of service to the children; for one of its greatest
inconveniences is, that the father and mother cannot have the same
affection for their offspring; a father cannot love twenty children with
the same tenderness as a mother can love two. It is much worse when a wife
has many husbands; for then paternal love only is held by this opinion,
that a father may believe, if he will, or that others may believe, that
certain children belong to him.
They say that the Emperor of Morocco has women of all colours, white,
black, and tawny, in his seraglio. But the wretch has scarcely need of a
Besides, the possession of so many wives does not always prevent their
entertaining desires for those of others;11
it is with lust as with avarice, whose thirst increases by the acquisition
In the reign of Justinian, many philosophers, displeased with the
constraint of Christianity, retired into Persia. What struck them the
most, says Agathias,12 was that
polygamy was permitted amongst men who did not even abstain from adultery.
May I not say that a plurality of wives leads to that passion which
nature disallows? for one depravation always draws on another. I remember
that in the revolution which happened at Constantinople, when Sultan
Achmet was deposed, history says that the people, having plundered the
Kiaya's house, found not a single woman; they tell us that at Algiers,13
in the greatest part of their seraglios, they have none at all.
7. Of an Equality of Treatment in case of many
Wives. From the law which permitted a plurality of wives followed that
of an equal behaviour to each. Mahomet, who allowed of four, would have
everything, as provisions, dress, and conjugal duty, equally divided
between them. This law is also in force in the Maldivian isles,14
where they are at liberty to marry three wives.
The law of Moses15 even declares
that if any one has married his son to a slave, and this son should
afterwards espouse a free woman, her food, her raiment, and her duty of
marriage shall he not diminish. They might give more to the new wife, but
the first was not to have less than she had before.
8. Of the Separation of Women from Men. The
prodigious number of wives possessed by those who live in rich and
voluptuous countries is a consequence of the law of polygamy. Their
separation from men, and their close confinement, naturally follow from
the greatness of this number. Domestic order renders this necessary; thus
an insolvent debtor seeks to conceal himself from the pursuit of his
creditors. There are climates where the impulses of nature have such force
that morality has almost none. If a man be left with a woman, the
temptation and the fall will be the same thing; the attack certain, the
resistance none. In these countries, instead of precepts, they have
recourse to bolts and bars.
One of the Chinese classic authors considers the man as a prodigy of
virtue who, finding a woman alone in a distant apartment, can forbear
making use of force.16
9. Of the Connection between domestic and
political Government. In a republic the condition of citizens is
moderate, equal, mild, and agreeable; everything partakes of the benefit
of public liberty. An empire over the women cannot, among them, be so well
exerted; and where the climate demands this empire, it is most agreeable
to a monarchical government. This is one of the reasons why it has ever
been difficult to establish a popular government in the East.
On the contrary, the slavery of women is perfectly conformable to the
genius of a despotic government, which delights in treating all with
severity. Thus at all times have we seen in Asia domestic slavery and
despotic government walk hand in hand with an equal pace.
In a government which requires, above all things, that a particular
regard be paid to its tranquillity, and where the extreme subordination
calls for peace, it is absolutely necessary to shut up the women; for
their intrigues would prove fatal to their husbands. A government which
has not time to examine into the conduct of its subjects views them with a
suspicious eye, only because they appear and suffer themselves to be
Let us only suppose that the levity of mind, the indiscretions, the
tastes and caprices of our women, attended by their passions of a higher
and a lower kind, with all their active fire, and in that full liberty
with which they appear amongst us, were conveyed into an eastern
government, where would be the father of a family who could enjoy a
moment's repose? The men would be everywhere suspected, everywhere
enemies; the state would be overturned, and the kingdom overflowed with
rivers of blood.
10. The Principle on which the Morals of the East
are founded. In the case of a multiplicity of wives, the more a family
ceases to be united, the more ought the laws to reunite its detached parts
in a common centre; and the greater the diversity of interests, the more
necessary is it for the laws to bring them back to a common interest.
This is more particularly done by confinement. The women should not only
be separated from the men by the walls of the house, but they ought also
to be separated in the same enclosure, in such a manner that each may have
a distinct household in the same family. Hence each derives all that
relates to the practice of morality, modesty, chastity, reserve, silence,
peace, dependence, respect, and love; and, in short, a general direction
of her thoughts to that which, in its own nature, is a thing of the
greatest importance, a single and entire attachment to her family.
Women have naturally so many duties to fulfil — duties which are
peculiarly theirs — that they cannot be sufficiently excluded from
everything capable of inspiring other ideas; from everything that goes by
the name of amusements; and from everything which we call business.
We find the manners more pure in the several parts of the East, in
proportion as the confinement of women is more strictly observed. In great
kingdoms there are necessarily great lords. The greater their wealth, the
more enlarged is their ability of keeping their wives in an exact
confinement, and of preventing them from entering again into society.
Hence it proceeds that in the empires of Turkey, Persia, of the Mogul,
China, and Japan, the manners of their wives are admirable.
But the case is not the same in India, where a multitude of islands and
the situation of the land have divided the country into an infinite number
of petty states, which from causes that we have not here room to mention
are rendered despotic.
There are none there but wretches, some pillaging and others pillaged.
Their grandees have very moderate fortunes, and those whom they call rich
have only a bare subsistence. The confinement of their women cannot
therefore be very strict; nor can they make use of any great precautions
to keep them within due bounds; hence it proceeds that the corruption of
their manners is scarcely to be conceived.
We may there see to what an extreme the vices of a climate indulged in
full liberty will carry licentiousness. It is there that nature has a
force and modesty a weakness, which exceeds all comprehension. At Patan17
the wanton desires of the women are so outrageous, that the men are
obliged to make use of a certain apparel to shelter them from their
designs.18 According to Mr. Smith,19
things are not better conducted in the petty kingdoms of Guinea. In these
countries the two sexes lose even those laws which properly belong to
11. Of domestic Slavery independently of
Polygamy. It is not only a plurality of wives which in certain places
of the East requires their confinement, but also the climate itself. Those
who consider the horrible crimes, the treachery, the dark villainies, the
poisonings, the assassinations, which the liberty of women has occasioned
at Goa and in the Portuguese settlements in the Indies, where religion
permits only one wife; and who compare them with the innocence and purity
of manners of the women of Turkey, Persia, Hindostan, China, and Japan,
will clearly see that it is frequently as necessary to separate them from
the men, when they have but one, as when they have many.
These are things which ought to be decided by the climate. What purpose
would it answer to shut up women in our northern countries, where their
manners are naturally good; where all their passions are calm; and where
love rules over the heart with so regular and gentle an empire that the
least degree of prudence is sufficient to conduct it?
It is a happiness to live in those climates which permit such freedom of
converse, where that sex which has most charms seems to embellish society,
and where wives, reserving themselves for the pleasures of one, contribute
to the amusement of all.
12. Of natural Modesty. All nations are
equally agreed in fixing contempt and ignominy on the incontinence of
women. Nature has dictated this to all. She has established the attack,
and she has established too the resistance; and having implanted desires
in both, she has given to the one boldness, and to the other shame. To
individuals she has granted a long succession of years to attend to their
preservation: but to continue the species, she has granted only a moment.
It is then far from being true that to be incontinent is to follow the
laws of nature; on the contrary, it is a violation of these laws, which
can be observed only by behaving with modesty and discretion.
Besides, it is natural for intelligent beings to feel their
imperfections. Nature has, therefore, fixed shame in our minds — a
shame of our imperfections.
When, therefore, the physical power of certain climates violates the
natural law of the two sexes, and that of intelligent beings, it belongs
to the legislature to make civil laws, with a view to opposing the nature
of the climate and re-establishing the primitive laws.
13. Of Jealousy. With respect to nations, we
ought to distinguish between the passion of jealousy and a jealousy
arising from customs, manners, and laws. The one is a hot raging fever;
the other, cold, but sometimes terrible, may be joined with indifference
The one, an abuse of love, derives its source from love itself. The
other depends only on manners, on the customs of a nation, on the laws of
the country, and sometimes even on religion.20
It is generally the effect of the physical power of the climate; and, at
the same time, the remedy of this physical power.
14. Of the Eastern Manner of domestic Government.
Wives are changed so often in the East that they cannot have the power of
domestic government. This care is, therefore, committed to the eunuchs,
whom they entrust with their keys and the management of their families. "In
Persia," says Sir John Chardin, "married women are furnished
with clothes as they want them, after the manner of children." Thus
that care which seems so well to become them, that care which everywhere
else is the first of their concern, does not at all regard them.
15. Of Divorce and Repudiation. There is this
difference between a divorce and a repudiation, that the former is made by
mutual consent, arising from a mutual antipathy; while the latter is
formed by the will, and for the advantage of one of the two parties,
independently of the will and advantage of the other.
The necessity there is sometimes for women to repudiate, and the
difficulty there always is in doing it, render that law very tyrannical
which gives this right to men without granting it to women. A husband is
the master of the house; he has a thousand ways of confining his wife to
her duty, or of bringing her back to it; so that in his hands it seems as
if repudiation could be only a fresh abuse of power. But a wife who
repudiates only makes use of a dreadful kind of remedy. It is always a
great misfortune for her to go in search of a second husband, when she has
lost the most part of her attractions with another. One of the advantages
attending the charms of youth in the female sex is that in an advanced age
the husband is led to complacency and love by the remembrance of past
It is then a general rule that in all countries where the laws have
given to men the power of repudiating, they ought also to grant it to
women. Nay, in climates where women live in domestic slavery, one would
think that the law ought to favour women with the right of repudiation,
and husbands only with that of divorce.
When wives are confined in a seraglio, the husband ought not to
repudiate on account of an opposition of manners; it is the husband's
fault if their manners are incompatible.
Repudiation on account of the barrenness of the woman ought never to
take place except where there is only one wife:21
when there are many, this is of no importance to the husband.
A law of the Maldivians permitted them to take again a wife whom they
had repudiated.22 A law of Mexico23
forbade their being reunited under pain of death. The law of Mexico was
more rational than that of the Maldivians: at the time even of the
dissolution, it attended to the perpetuity of marriage; instead of this,
the law of the Maldivians seemed equally to sport with marriage and
The law of Mexico admitted only of divorce. This was a particular reason
for their not permitting those who were voluntarily separated to be ever
reunited. Repudiation seems chiefly to proceed from a hastiness of temper,
and from the dictates of passion; while divorce appears to be an affair of
Divorces are frequently of great political use: but as to the civil
utility, they are established only for the advantage of the husband and
wife, and are not always favourable to their children.
16. Of Repudiation and Divorce amongst the
Romans. Romulus permitted a husband to repudiate his wife, if she had
committed adultery, prepared poison, or procured false keys. He did not
grant to women the right of repudiating their husbands. Plutarch24
calls this a law extremely severe.
As the Athenian law25 gave the
power of repudiation to the wife as well as to the husband, and as this
right was obtained by the women among the primitive Romans,
notwithstanding the law of Romulus, it is evident that this institution
was one of those which the deputies of Rome brought from Athens, and which
were inserted in the laws of the Twelve Tables.
Cicero says that the reasons of repudiation sprang from the law of the
Twelve Tables.26 We cannot then
doubt but that this law increased the number of the reasons for
repudiation established by Romulus.
The power of divorce was also an appointment, or at least a consequence,
of the law of the Twelve Tables. For from the moment that the wife or the
husband had separately the right of repudiation, there was a much stronger
reason for their having the power of quitting each other by mutual
The law did not require that they should lay open the causes of divorce27
In the nature of the thing, the reasons for repudiation should be given,
while those for a divorce are unnecessary; because, whatever causes the
law may admit as sufficient to break a marriage, a mutual antipathy must
be stronger than them all.
The following fact, mentioned by Dionysius Halicarnassus,28
Valerius Maximus,29 and Aulus
Gellius,30 does not appear to me to
have the least degree of probability: though they had at Rome, say they,
the power of repudiating a wife, yet they had so much respect for the
auspices that nobody for the space of five hundred and twenty years ever
made31 use of this right, till
Carvilius Ruga repudiated his, because of her sterility. We need only be
sensible of the nature of the human mind to perceive how very
extraordinary it must be for a law to grant such right to a whole nation,
and yet for nobody to make use of it. Coriolanus, setting out on his
exile, advised his32 wife to marry
a man more happy than himself. We have just been seeing that the law of
the Twelve Tables and the manners of the Romans greatly extended the law
of Romulus. But to what purpose were these extensions if they never made
use of a power to repudiate? Besides, if the citizens had such a respect
for the auspices that they would never repudiate, how came the legislators
of Rome to have less than they? And how came the laws incessantly to
corrupt their manners?
All that is surprising in the fact in question will soon disappear, only
by comparing two passages in Plutarch. The regal law33
permitted a husband to repudiate in the three cases already mentioned, and
"it enjoined," says Plutarch,34
"that he who repudiated in any other case should be obliged to give
the half of his substance to his wife, and that the other half should be
consecrated to Ceres." They might then repudiate in all cases, if
they were but willing to submit to the penalty. Nobody had done this
before Carvilius Ruga,35 who, as
Plutarch says in another place,36 "put
away his wife for her sterility two hundred and thirty years after
Romulus." That is, she was repudiated seventy-one years before the
law of the Twelve Tables, which extended both the power and causes of
The authors I have cited say that Carvilius Ruga loved his wife, but
that the censors made him take an oath to put her away, because of her
barrenness, to the end that he might give children to the republic; and
that this rendered him odious to the people. We must know the genius and
temper of the Romans before we can discover the true cause of the hatred
they had conceived against Carvilius. He did not fall into disgrace with
the people for repudiating his wife; this was an affair that did not at
all concern them. But Carvilius had taken an oath to the censors, that by
reason of the sterility of his wife he would repudiate her to give
children to the republic. This was a yoke which the people saw the censors
were going to put upon them. I shall discover, in the prosecution of this
work,37 the repugnance which they
always felt to regulations of the like kind. But whence can such a
contradiction between those authors arise? It is because Plutarch examined
into a fact, and the others have recounted a prodigy.
1. "Mahomet married Cadhisja at
five, and took her to his bed at eight years old. In the hot countries of
Arabia and the Indies, girls are marriageable at eight years of age, and
are brought to bed the year after." — Prideaux, Life of
Mahomet. We see women in the kingdom of Algiers pregnant at nine, ten,
and eleven years of age. — Laugier de Tassis, History of the
Kingdom of Algiers, p. 61.
2. See Jornandes, De Regno et
tempor. success., and the ecclesiastic historians.
3. See Leg. 7. Cod., De
Judæis et Cælicolis, and Nov. 18, cap. v.
4. In Ceylon a man may live on ten
sols a month; they eat nothing there but rice and fish. Collection of
Voyages that Contributed to the Establishment of the East India Company,
ii, part 1.
5. Dr. Arbuthnot finds that in
England the number of boys exceeds that of girls; but people have been to
blame to conclude that the case is the same in all climates.
6. See Kempfer, who relates that upon
numbering the people of Meaco there were found 182,072 males, and 223,573
7. Father Du Halde, History of
China, iv, p. 4.
8. Albuzeir-el-hassen, one of the
Mahometan Arabs who, in the ninth century, went into India and China,
thought this custom a prostitution. And indeed nothing could be more
contrary to the ideas of a Mahometan.
9. Collection of Voyages that
Contributed to the Establishment of the East India Company, i.
10. See Francis Pirard, 27. Edifying
Letters, coll. iii, x, on the Malleami on the coast of Malabar. This
is considered as an abuse of the military profession, as a woman, says
Pirard, of the tribe of the Bramins never would marry many husbands.
11. This is the reason why women in
the East are so carefully concealed.
12. Life and Actions of Justinian,
13. Laugier de Tassis, History of
the Kingdom of Algiers.
14. See Pirard, Voyages, 12.
15. Exod., 21. 10, 11.
16. "It is an admirable
touch-stone, to find by oneself a treasure, and to know the right owner;
or to see a beautiful woman in a lonely apartment; or to hear the cries of
an enemy, who must perish without our assistance." — Translation
of a Chinese piece of morality, which may be seen in Du Halde, iii, p.
17. Collection of Voyages that
Contributed to the Establishment of the East India Company, ii, part
II, p. 196.
18. In the Maldivian isles the
fathers marry their daughters at ten and eleven years of age, because it
is a great sin, say they, to suffer them to endure the want of a husband.
See Pirard, 12. At Bantam, as soon as a girl is twelve or thirteen years
old, she must be married, if they would not have her lead a debauched
life. Collection of Voyages that Contributed to the Establishment of
the East India Company, p. 348.
19. Voyage to Guinea, part
II, p. 192. "When the women happen to meet with a man, they lay hold
of him, and threaten to make a complaint to their husbands if he slight
their addresses. They steal into a man's bed, and wake him; and if he
refuses to comply with their desires, they threaten to suffer themselves
to be caught in flagranti."
20. Mahomet desired his followers to
watch their wives; a certain Iman, when he was dying, said the same thing;
and Confucius preached the same doctrine.
21. It does not follow hence that
repudiation on account of sterility should be permitted amongst
22. They took them again preferably
to any other, because in this case there was less expense. — Pirard,
23. Solis, History of the
Conquest of Mexico, p. 499.
25. This was a law of Solon.
26. Mimam res suas sibi habere
jussit, ex duodecim tabulis causam addidit. — Philipp, ii. 69.
27. Justinian altered this, Nov. 117,
31. According to Dionysius
Halicarnassus and Valerius Maximus; and five hundred and twenty-three,
according to Aulus Gellius. Neither did they agree in placing this under
the same consuls.
32. See the Speech of Veturia in
Dionysius Halicarnassus, viii.
33. Plutarch, Romulus.
35. Indeed sterility is not a cause
mentioned by the law of Romulus: but to all appearance he was not subject
to a confiscation of his effects, since he followed the orders of the
36. In his comparison between Theseus
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