Montesquieu
 

XVI.4 That the law of polygamy is a matter of calculation

According to the cal­cu­la­tions being made in various pla­ces in Europe, more boys are born there than girls1 ; contra­ri­wise, the rela­tions of Asia tell us that many more girls are born there than boys.2 The law of a sin­gle wife in Europe and the one which that allows seve­ral in Asia the­re­fore have a cer­tain rela­tion­ship to the cli­mate.

In the cold cli­ma­tes of Asia, as in Europe, more boys are born than girls ; this, say the lamas,3 is the rea­son for the law which there allows a woman to have more than one hus­band.4

But I have dif­fi­culty belie­ving there are many coun­tries where the dis­pro­por­tion is great enough to require the intro­duc­tion of the law of mul­ti­ple wifes or the law of mul­ti­ple hus­bands. That just means that the plu­ra­lity of women or even the plu­ra­lity of men is more conso­nant with nature in cer­tain coun­tries than in others.

I admit that if it were true, as the rela­tion tell us, that in Bantam there are ten women for every man,5 that would be a most par­ti­cu­lar case of poly­gamy.

In all this I am not jus­ti­fying the cus­toms, but giving the rea­sons for them.

Mr. Arbuthnot finds that in England the number of boys surpasses that of girls ; we were mistaken to conclude that it was the same in all climates.

See Kaempfer, who records a census of Meaco where 182,072 males and 223,573 females were found.

Du Halde, Description of the Empire of China, vol. IV, p. 4.

Albuzeït-el-hassen, one of two Mohammedan Arabs who went to the Indies and to China in the ninth century, takes this custom as prostitution, because nothing so shocked Mohammedan notions.

Recueil des voyages qui ont servi à l’établissement de la Compagnie des Indes, vol. I.