Page images
PDF
EPUB

And with respect to the rite not being appointed in Scripture ;—the Scriptures forbid fornication, that is, cohabitation without marriage, leaving it to the law of each country to pronounce what is, or what makes, a marriage; in like manner as they forbid thefts, that is, the taking away of another's property, leaving it to the municipal law to fix what makes the thing property, or whose it is ; which also, as well as marriage, depend upon arbitrary and mutable forms.

Laying aside the injunctions of Scripture, the plain account of the question seems to be this: It is immoral, because it is pernicious, that men and women should cohabit, without undertaking certain irrevocable obligations, and mutually conferring certain civil rights ; if, therefore, the law has annexed these rights and obligations to certain forms, so that they cannot be secured or undertaken by any other means, which is the case here, (for, whatever the parties may promise to each other, nothing but the marriage-ceremony can make their promise irrevocable,) it becomes in the same degree immoral, that men and women should cohabit without the interposition of these forms.

If fornication be criminal, all those incentives which lead to it are accessories to the crime, as lascivious conversation, whether expressed in obscene, or disguised under modest phrases; also wanton songs, pictures, books; the writing, publishing, and circulating of which, whether out of frolic, or for some pitiful profit, is productive of so extensive a mischief from so mean a temptation, that few crimes, within the reach of private wicked. ness, have more to answer for, or less to plead in their excuse.

Indecent conversation, and by parity of reason all the rest, are forbidden by St. Paul, Eph. iv. 29: 'Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth ;' and again, Col. iii. 8: Put off filthy communication out of your mouth.'

The invitation, or voluntary admission of impure thoughts, or the suffering them to get possession of the imagination, falls within the same description, and is condemned by Christ, Matt. v. 28 : Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. Christ, by thus enjoining a regulation of the thoughts, strikes at the root of the evil.

CHAPTER III.

SEDUCTION.

THE seducer practises the same stratagems to draw a woman's

1 person into his power, that a swindler does to get possession of your goods, or money ; yet the law of honour, which abhors deceit, applauds the address of a successful intrigue; so much is this capricious rule guided by names, and with such facility does it accommodate itself to the pleasures and conveniency of higher life !

Seduction is seldom accomplished without fraud; and the fraud is by so much more criminal than other frauds, as the injury effected by it is greater, continues longer, and less admits reparation.

This injury is threefold : to the woman, to her family, and to the public.

I. The injury to the woman is made up of the pain she suffers from shame, or the loss she sustains in her reputation and prospects of marriage, and of the depravation of her moral principle.

1. This pain must be extreme, if we may judge of it from those barbarous endeavours to conceal their disgrace, to which women, under such circumstances, sometimes have recourse; comparing also this barbarity with their passionate fondness for their offspring in other cases. Nothing but an agony of mind the most insupportable can induce a woman to forget her nature, and the pity which even a stranger would show to a helpless and imploring infant. It is true, that all are not urged to this extremity; but if any are, it affords an indication of how much all suffer from the same cause. What shall we say to the authors of such mischief?

2. The loss which a woman sustains by the ruin of her reputation almost exceeds computation. Every person's happiness depends in part upon the respect and reception which they meet with in the world; and it is no inconsiderable mortification, even to the firmest tempers, to be rejected from the society of their equals, or received there with neglect and disdain. But this is not all, nor the worst. By a rule of life, which it is not easy to blame, and which it is impossible to alter, a woman loses with her chastity the chance of marrying at all, or in any manner equal to the hopes she had been accustomed to entertain. Now marriage, whatever it be to a man, is that from which every

woman expects her chief happiness. And this is still more true in low life, of which condition the women are who are most exposed to solicitations of this sort. Add to this, that where a woman's maintenance depends upon her character, (as it does, in a great measure, with those who are to support themselves by service,) little sometimes is left to the forsaken sufferer, but to starve for want of employment, or to have recourse to prostitution for food and raiment.

3. As a woman collects her virtue into this point, the loss of her chastity is generally the destruction of her moral principle ; and this consequence is to be apprehended, whether the criminal intercourse be discovered or not.

II. The injury to the family may be understood, by the application of that infallible rule, of doing to others, what we would that others should do unto us.'— Let a father or a brother say, for what consideration they would suffer this injury to a daughter or a sister; and whether any, or even a total, loss of fortune, could create equal affliction and distress. And when they reflect upon this, let them distinguish, if they can, between a robbery, committed upon their property by fraud or forgery, and the ruin of their happiness by the treachery of a seducer.

III. The public at large lose the benefit of the woman's service in her proper place and destination, as a wife and parent. This, to the whole community, may be little ; but it is often more than all the good which the seducer does to the community can recompense. Moreover, prostitution is supplied by seduction; and in proportion to the danger there is of the woman's betaking herself, after her first sacrifice, to a life of public lewdness, the seducer is answerable for the multiplied .evils to which his crime gives birth.

Upon the whole, if we pursue the effects of seduction through the complicated misery which it occasions, and if it be right to estimate crimes by the mischief they knowingly produce, it will appear something more than mere invective to assert, that not one half of the crimes for which men suffer death by the laws of England are so flagitious as this.'

1 Yet the law has provided no punishment for this offence beyond a pecuniary satisfaction to the injured family; and this can only be come at, by one of the quaintest fictions in the world; by the father's bringing his action against the seducer, for the loss of liis daughter's service, during her pregnancy and nurturing.

CHAPTER IV.

ADULTERY.

NEW sufferer is introduced, the injured husband, who 1 receives a wound in his sensibility and affections, the most painful and incurable that human nature knows. In all other respects, adultery on the part of the man who solicits the chastity of a married woman, includes the crime of seduction, and is attended with the same mischief.

The infidelity of the woman is aggravated by cruelty to her children, who are generally involved in their parent's shame, and always made unhappy by their quarrel.

If it be said that these consequences are chargeable, not so much upon the crime, as the discovery, we answer, first, that the crime could not be discovered unless it were committed, and that the commission is never secure from discovery; and, secondly, that if we excuse adulterous connexions, whenever they can hope to escape detection, which is the conclusion to which this argument conducts us, we leave the husband no other security for his wife's chastity, than in her want of opportunity or temptation ; which would probably either deter men from marry. ing, or render marriage a state of such jealousy and alarm to the husband, as must end in the slavery and confinement of the wife.

The vow, by which married persons mutually engage their fidelity, 'is witnessed before God,' and accompanied with circumstances of solemnity and religion, which approach to the nature of an oath. The married offender therefore incurs a crime little short of perjury, and the seduction of a married woman is little less than subornation of perjury ;--and this guilt is independent of the discovery.

All behaviour which is designed, or which knowingly tends, to captivate the affection of a married woman, is a barbarous intrusion upon the peace and virtue of a family, though it fall short of adultery.

The usual and only apology for adultery is, the prior transgression of the other party. There are degrees, no doubt, in this, as in other crimes : and so far as the bad effects of adultery are anticipated by the conduct of the husband or wife who offends first, the guilt of the second offender is less. But this falls very far short of a justification; unless it could be shown that the obligation of the marriage-vow depends upon the condition of reciprocal fidelity; for which construction there appears no foundation, either in expediency, or in the terms of the promise, or in the design of the legislature which prescribed the marriage-rite. Moreover, the rule contended for by this plea has a manifest tendency to multiply the offence, but none to reclaim the offender.

The way of considering the offence of one party as a provocation to the other, and the other as only retaliating the injury by repeating the crime, is a childish trifling with words.

Thou shalt not commit adultery,' was an interdict delivered by God himself. By the Jewish law, adultery was capital to both parties in the crime : ‘Even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and adulteress: shall surely be put to death.'—Levit. xx. 10. Which passages prove, that the Divine Legislator placed a great difference between adultery and fornication. And with this agree the christian Scriptures : for, in almost all the catalogues they have left us of crimes and criminals, they enumerate ‘fornication, adultery, whoremongers, adulterers,' (Matt. xv. 19; 1 Cor. vi. 9; Gal. v. 9; Heb. viii. 4,) by which mention of both, they show that they did not consider them as the same: but that the crime of adultery was, in their apprehension, distinct from, and accu. mulated upon, that of fornication. · The history of the woman taken in adultery, recorded in the eighth chapter of St. John's Gospel, has been thought by some to give countenance to that crime. As Christ told the woman, 'Neither do I condemn thee,' we must believe, it is said, that he deemed her conduct either not criminal, or not a crime, however, of the heinous nature which we represent it to be. A more attentive examination of the case will, I think, convince us, that from it nothing can be concluded as to Christ's opinion concerning adultery, either one way or the other. The transaction is thus related : 'Early in the morning Jesus came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him : and he sat down and taught them. And the Scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery: and when they had set her in the midst, they say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act: now Moses, in the law, commanded that such should be stoned ; but what sayest thou ? This they

« PreviousContinue »