Victorian London - Sex - Sexuality - 'Seduction'


Sir, - I hope you will not think the following remarks too plain-spoken; but we are not likely to have clear views, or to arrive at just conclusions on any question, if we are not to be allowed to call a spade a space, and must stop the thread of arguments to search for elegant euphemisms and delicate circumlocutions. I write for serious men, on an important subject, and if any one begins reading this letter in any other spirit, I can only beg that he will go no further.
    According to the language which it is now the fashion to use in speaking of cases of incontinence, the man is a seducer and the woman a victim; he is a cold-blooded villain who has beguiled unsuspecting innocence, and she has been prevailed over by infernal arts, the nature of which is not very clearly defined, but which seem to have such a mysterious and irresistible force as to leave their object no more power of resistance than if she had been assailed by drugs or by violence. Now, this is surely a very incorrect way of speaking, and one which it is not at all for the interest of morality to encourage. I confess I am no believer in the existence of seduction in this sense of the word; and if any man, instead of taking his definitions from romances and melodramas, will just look back at the days of his youth, and consider the cases which have fallen under his own personal observation, he will find that the real history of these affairs is of a much less sentimental nature. A man and women whose sense of morality is not so strong as to be able to compete with their passions meet; they please one another; a mutual intelligence is arrived at by that sort of freemasonry which it is easy enough to understand, though it is difficult to define; and the intrigue proceeds to its sinful conclusion. That is all that happens. The man no more seduces the woman than the woman seduces the man; each merely endeavours to appear agreeable in the eyes of the other. If there is any priority, it is the woman who makes the first advances - at least, so far as to give the man to understand, that she will not be greatly offended by boldness on his part; I doubt if it ever occurred to any man to attempt the seduction of a woman whom he really believed to be modest and virtuous.
    But the woman, we are told, is betrayed - deceived. These words sound well, but what do they mean? Is it intended to say that she is actually not aware of what she is about? One would really think, to listen to some sentimentalists, that man alone derived any sensual gratification from these indulgences, and that there were no animal passions in woman to tempt her in the same direction. Women yield not to the solicitations of men, but to the solicitations of their own impure desires; they are, and must be, perfectly well aware of the consequences of a want of chastity, but in the pursuit of pleasure they choose to shut their eyes to them. True, the laws both of nature and of society visit them in this world with a punishment far heavier than that which falls upon their paramours; still, they know it, and if they will deliberately run the risk, I do not see that they have any just cause of complaint against their fellow-sinners. The loss of 50l. may be ruin to a poor man, while it is a mere trifle to a rich one; yet if the former will play with the latter and lose his little fortune, he can hardly complain that he has been unfairly treated.
    But it is said, the woman is deluded under promises of marriage. I do not believe that women are often deluded by anything of the sort. They must known that a man will not be likely to marry a wife in whose virtue he can place no reliance; but they like to cheat their consciences by pretending to themselves that they believe in words which do not really deceive them, and perhaps are not often intended or expected to do so.
    I hope I shall not be misunderstood. God forbid that I should wish to palliate the sin of incontinence in man, or to represent it as at all less criminal in him than it is in woman. I am no Don Juan, nor the advocate of Don Juans; and if it were only a question of holding up that or any other offence to public detestation, I am sure I should not interfere. My object is a very different one - namely, to stop that tone of morbid sentiment which talks of man and woman as seducer and victim, instead of as a couple of sinners, and which seems to lead to the most pernicious consequence of tempting women to give the rein to their passions in the hope of being afterwards allowed to cry out that they were "seduced," and to become the objects of sympathy instead of reprobation.
    An idea appears to have sprung up, and, indeed, has been advocated in your paper, that incontinence should be repressed either by punishing the man criminally, or by giving a civil action against him to the woman. The contemptible fiction which enables a father to recover damages under certain circumstances for the loss of his daughter's services, I, of course, in common with everybody, desire to see abolished; but so far from wishing for an effectual substitute for it, I think it is a matter beyond the province of legislation, and with which it is not desirable that it should interfere. It is an abuse of language to say that the man has injured the woman. Volenti non fit injuria. She has injured herself, that is the simple fact. The case seems analogous to that which I have already put, of losses at play, which the Legislature has lately, wisely as I think, decided to be beyond the legitimate reach of positive law. Discourage the public facilities for such offences, as a matter of police, and put down brothels and gaming-houses by all means; but if you attempt to go further, and tell people that they may transgress the rules of prudence and morality, and then run to the law for protection against the consequences, you will but weaken those safeguards of personal caution and virtue which are the only true preservers of the morals of a nation, and thus foster the very evils you wish to prevent. It is only against violence and fraud that we want the assistance of law. Women must be the guardians of their own chastity, or there will be no real chastity left.
    But, it will be said, it is not incontinence, but seduction that we wish to see punished. But what is seduction? Will anybody attempt to define for legal purposes? How is it to be proved? What evidence is the defendant to bring forward of the encouragement he received? Surely a few minutes' consideration will convince any man that this is a sin which does not at all come within the scope of human laws: you might as well give a right of action to the sufferers from pride, or uncharitableness, or avarice.
    To prevent misconstruction, I will just observe, in conclusion (though it can hardly be necessary) that the preceding remarks apply only to cases where the woman has reached years of discretion, and that they do not touch the question of compelling a father to share the expense of maintaining his illegitimate children, which comes under altogether different considerations.
    I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
Oct. 23.                          JOSEPH.

letter from The Times, November 4, 1847