In modern times the woman is valued more as a wife than as a mother. Among primitive peoples the reverse was the case; and nowhere, I think, was greater stress laid upon motherhood than in ancient Lacedœmon, where a husband, who thought unfruitfulness due to himself, surrendered his marital rights to a younger and better man.1
We do not practise the self-sacrificing custom in this country, at least voluntarily, probably from the difficulty of finding a "better man." This would illustrate the principle on which Mr. Lincoln told a very self-conceited individual that the latter must be an atheist from the utter impossibility that he could recognize any superior being.
Livingstone was much amused by the natives of Angola singing as they danced—"so-and-so has no children, and will never get any;" and among ourselves there is an unmistakable tendency to "kid" the man who has no family, while barrenness is considered an especial reproach among married women. An anecdote will illustrate.
" My, my, Bridget," remarked a rich lady to her washerwoman, " how is it that you, so poor, have so many children, and I, who could give them every comfort, haven't any?" "Faith I don't know ma'am," responded Bridget thoughtfully, "barrin' it is the food we ate. We use a power o' peraties, ma'am, Patrick an' me ! " " Do you think it's the potatoes, Bridget* Then send me up two bushels of the kind you use, just as soon as you gc hornet" "Faith I will ma'am widout delay," she responded, with a roguish twinkle in her eye—"hadn't I betther send Patrick up wjd thim?'
Mr. Reade tells us that in certain parts of Africa women are so frequently sterile that no one cares to marry a girl until she has borne a child;* among the Votyaks, according to Dr. Buch, a girl gets married all the sooner if sht be a mother;* and the Creek Indians contract marriage for a year, stipulâting for a separation at the end of that time if the wife prove unfruitful.1 This trial-system, which is not destitute of earnest supporters even in modern society,* occasioned considerable hustling on the part of the wife, with much loss of sleep and general mental perturbation; and is hardly likely to obtain favor or footing in a society where, as in ours, the ladies order things to suit themselves.
In Egypt, as we learn, partially from the Ebers Papyrus, and partly from other sources (notably Chabas' "TEgyptogic," and the "Mélanges Egyptologiques," Chalons-sur-Saône, 1867), the question of sterility was determined before marriage by, I fancy, a much more remarkable than reliable method. The man who desired to ascertain whether a certain woman was congenital!)' sterile, was told to place two small bags, one containing wheat and the other barley, both previously steeped in the urine of the candidate far maternity, in the woman's private passage. If the wheat sprouted, it would be a boy; if the barley, a girl; if no germination took place the woman would remain sterile. I have pleasure in commending this interesting teat—through the profession, of courses—to those anxious ladies who desire their fortunes told in this resoect.
But to that somewhat numerous portion of our female population who have been bereaved by death, or divorce, of a loving husband, it may be cheering to remark that in Turkey young widows, either " grass " or the other variety, fetch double the price of spinsters, and that there is a growing tendency, even in this country, where second-hand articles are not as a rule greatly prized, to estimate them at their true sterling value.