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Art. III.— 1. De la Prostitution dam la Ville de Paris. Par A.J. B. Pareut Duchatelet. 2 Tomes, 8vo. 1836.
2. Hygiene Publique. Par Ie meme. 2 Tomes, 8vo. 1836. Pans.
When the fathers and founders of medical science first began to investigate the nature of disease in the structure and organization of the human frame,—when they sought the causes of the ills "that flesh is heir to" in a minute examination of its morbid forms,—a general outcry was raised against them ;—anatomy was denounced as an unhallowed and useless violation of decency ;— the anatomists were stigmatized as despoilers of the dead, and shunned as denizens of the charnel-house. Those who investigate the evils and diseases of the social system, the moral and physical causes that deteriorate humanity in the mass, must be prepared to suffer similar reproach; the nature of their studies in itself sufficiently repulsive, while it brings them into contact with all that is shameful and loathsome in society, must expose them to the calumny of seeking such associations from choice; they will be accused of revelling in vice and delighting in infamy, depravity of taste will be the least serious charge against them, a thousand tongues will be ready to proclaim their obliquity of intellect and perversion of feeling. It is true, that no one charges the physician studying in our hospitals with an abstract love of fevers, admiration of cholera and the plague, or a decided affection for leprosy; but the moral physiologist, who tries to find out a sanitary regimen for thievery and prostitution, and, in consequence, seeks the haunts where these pestilences are developed, cannot escape from the imputation of finding pleasure in the contemplation, if not in the actual practice of vice. Serious injury to society has arisen from this unworthy prejudice; if, while anatomy was unknown, physicians prescribed at hazard for organic disease,—if the nature of the malady has been ever found a necessary preliminary to the discovery of the remedy,—no less true is it that legislators are mere empirics, when they have not anatomized society, and that laws aggravate the evil they profess to cure when they are based on loose and imperfect analysis. It is with feelings of repugnance that the enlightened philanthropist enters on the preliminary inquiries essential to his noble purpose, but he is sustained by a high sense of public duty, for he knows that a time will come, when his motives will be appreciated; when it will be confessed that he searched the sources of national woe to work out the problem of national weal.
There were doubtless many wise and well-meaning persons who shook their heads and shrugged their shoulders when first they saw the benevolent Howard searching the public prisons, descending into the dungeons where disease and death held divided empire with profligacy and crime;—there were those who pointed at him as the companion of thieves, and shunned him as the associate of felons, while even the more enlightened wondered that he should dream of directing attention to a class of beings whose crimes were deemed to have excluded them, not only from the pale of society, but almost from that of humanity. He lived down the prejudice; ere his course closed, he saw his harvest of reward ripening, he heard it acknowledged that the proper object of penal legislation was the suppression of crime, not the venting of vengeance on the criminal; and he beheld plans for the reformation of offenders taken into serious consideration by the legislature and the government. If these plans have not produced all the good that was expected, the partial failure must be attributed to the want of perseverance in the investigations which the great philanthropist commenced.
The name of Parent Duchatelet has long been familiar to scientific readers; Les Annales d'Hygiene Publique bear honourable testimony to his exertions in investigating those questions connected with the public health, which must ever form an essential portion of the civic economy of large cities; but he has not limited his attention to physical evils; in one of the works at the head of this article, he has examined a moral disease interwoven in the frame-work of society, and pointed out the means by which its baneful influences may be diminished.
Before entering on this delicate and difficult subject it is necessary to point out a great error to which philanthropists are peculiarly liable, and which has produced many calamitous results. It is simply, that many aim at extirpating an evil which can never be wholly removed, and that from their failure in finding a specific cure they infer it to be idle to attempt alleviation. Poverty may be taken as an illustration; it is unnecessary to prove that the rights of property cannot be maintained without necessitating the condition that one man shall have much and another little or nothing. In this, as in most of the problems engendered by the existence of society, there is a balance of evils; if industry accumulates the profits of its labours, those who cannot or will not work must suffer destitution; there will, therefore, always be causes in operation producing a mass of misery and all that the utmost efforts of benevolence can effect is to prevent its accumulation. We claim for the other evils that afflict humanity the same enlightened tolerance that is bestowed on poverty; let us alleviate where we cannot heal; let us prevent the increase where we cannot extirpate the root; let us not in despair of perfect cure hazard the destruction of the patient. Prostitution is a vice inherent in the social system; it always has existed, it always will exist, until society takes some new form revealed to us neither by history nor by experience. Shall we allow it to grow until, like amoral gangrene, it saps the vitals? or shall we tear away the veil that shrouds its progress, apply sanitary influences where cure is possible, and the actual cautery where sound parts are threatened with contamination? The common sense of mankind supplies an immediate answer to the question thus stated; it is not only matter of prudence but matter of duty, to study this portion of moral anatomy, and not to be repelled either by the unpleasantness or the unpopularity of the subject.
Statistics supply the moralist with materials similar to those that anatomical facts afford the physician; conjectural information leads both into dangerous errors, and we shall have occasion to observe that the faults of civic economy, both moral and physical, which Duchatelet laboured to amend, arose from the neglect of the peculiar science that should have guided each specific inquiry. We shall begin with the moral evils, because they are the most urgent in their nature, and because they have been hitherto the most neglected; and, to avoid the dryness of mere statistical detail, we shall generally suppress calculations, and give the results, indicating the means by which they may be verified.
The extent of prostitution is the first subject that engages our attention, and there is scarcely any example more striking of the exaggerations that result from the neglect of statistical accuracy. There have been frequent guesses at the number of the unfortunate beings engaged in it, both in Paris and London; in the former capital it has been publicly stated that the number exceeded sixty thousand, and they were accounted very moderate indeed who reduced the number to one half that amount; but the registers of police, which have been very accurately kept during the last twenty years, prove that there were never so many as four thousand at one time engaged in this profligate course. Colquhoun's Police of the Metropolis, a work possessing more authority than it has any title to claim, estimates the number of prostitutes in London at fifty thousand, but the investigations instituted by Mr. Mayne led to the conclusion that there are not more than from eight to ten thousand, and that the smaller amount is more probable than the larger. This is a point of great importance, because it shows that the mischief is within the limits of management, and that we need not be daunted by the common error of its overwhelming magnitude.
The mistake of the amount of prostitutes is so common, and so injurious, that we think it would be useful to indicate the sources of the error. The first of these is, the fluctuating nature of this portion of the population; the superintendents of our metropolitan police have frequently noticed the rapidity and the suddenness with which many of those on whom they have kept a watchful eye disappear from the stage, leaving no trace by which their further progress could be followed. The registers of Paris contain ample proofs of the same fact; and if anything could afford gratification in the view of this melancholy topic, it would be, that repentance appears to be more frequently the cause of their removal than disease or death. A second cause of error is, that persons estimate the amount for the entire city from the numbers found in certain localities, and this was the source of Colquhoun's enormous estimate. Finally, we have been informed by some intelligent police officers, that the same persons haunt different parts of the metropolis at different hours, and are consequently counted many times over.* It must, however, be confessed that there are no means for estimating the amount of depraved women in London with anything like accuracy; the nearest approach we can make to it is, that their number is not much more than double that of the same class in Paris.
The next point that we have to determine is, the causes that have induced these wretches to enter on a course of depravity and degradation, and this will save us from the necessity of investigating the divisions of society by which they have been furnished. It must, however, be stated that Duchatelet's researches, and the inquiries made by some English statisticians, lead to the result, that sedentary occupations, liable to interruption from change of season, caprice of fashion, or irregular demand, are those which produce the most pernicious effects on female morals. Out of five thousand one hundred and eighty-three prostitutes, the causes of whose fall it was possible to discover,— 1441 were reduced to this state by sheer destitution; 1255 were either orphans, or had been abandoned by their parents; 37 took to this course in order to support aged and destitute relatives; 29 sought support for younger relatives; 23 were widows endeavouring to bring up families; 280 came to Paris to conceal themselves; 404 were brought to Paris by soldiers, students, &c.; 289 were servants seduced by their masters and turned out; 1425 were mistresses, deprived of their protectors or abandoned by them.f
* In one instance which we had an opportunity of tracing, the same person was counted seven times in less than as .many hours.
) It is commonly remarked by all those who have paid attention to the subject in VOL. XIX. NO. XXXVIII. A A
Let us examine this precious register more closely; the first remark that suggests itself is the great influence of misery in driving unfortunate women to guilt; the sempstress or milliner out of work, the servant unable to procure a situation, girls without parents or friends, for the most part imperfectly educated, and subjected to the influence of bad example, cannot resist the pressure of hunger. Duchatelet declares that
"One of these unfortunate beings, who still retained feelings of honour, struggled to the last extremity before she adopted such a disgraceful resource, and when she came to have her name inscribed on the police register, proof was obtained that she had not eaten a morsel for three days!"
We have here a conclusive answer to a certain school of moralists, who insist on the complete depravity of prostitutes, and ridicule every effort made to reclaim them; but we shall have a more favourable opportunity of dwelling on this part of the subject; at present we must continue our examination of the register.
More than one-half became guilty from the pressure of want; idleness and vanity seem responsible for the greater part of the remainder. Those who- came to Paris with protectors, those who lived as concubines, those servants who were seduced by their masters, seem to have been in most cases the victims of a hatred of work and a passion for dress. Duchatelet declares that libertinism is so rarely a cause of degradation, that he could not find one authentic instance of it.
The influence of seduction, as a cause of prostitution, cannot be traced, because few, if any, women become thoroughly depraved by the first lapse from virtue, and cause must be given for public scandal before there is a necessity for entering the name on the books of the police. But though the latter circumstance presents some difficulty in investigating the cause, it produces little error in determining the amount of prostitution, for the system in Paris is so perfect, that there is rarely occasion to have recourse to compulsory registration. Out of 12,544 enrolled during a space of sixteen years,
7,388 presented themselves at the office of their own accord;
From this it appears that restrictive legislation would not present the difficulty of identifying its objects, which many English writers on police have anticipated.
Paris, that a mistress is rarely abandoned until she betrays her protector, and that the more unfortunate beings of her class are constantly anxious to reduce kept ladies to their own degraded level.