In one sense, yes. Yet here is the greatest Divine Di-chotomy:
General Historic Observations.--Prolificity is a much discussed subject, for besides its medical and general interest it is of importance in social as well as in political economy. Superfluous population was a question that came to consciousness early; Aristotle spoke of legislation to prevent the increase of population and the physical and mental deterioration of the race,--he believed in a population fixed as regards numbers,--and later Lycurgus transformed these precepts into a terrible law. Strabonius reports that the inhabitants of Cathea brought their infants at the age of two months before a magistrate for inspection. The strong and promising were preserved and the weak destroyed. The founders of the Roman Empire followed a similar usage. With great indignation Seneca, Ovid, and Juvenal reproved this barbarity of the Romans. With the domination of Christianity this custom gradually diminished, and Constantine stopped it altogether, ordering succor to the people too poor to rear their own children. The old Celts were so jealous of their vigor that they placed their babes on a shield in the river, and regarded those that the waves respected as legitimate and worthy to become members of their clans. In many of the Oriental countries, where the population is often very excessive and poverty great, the girl babies of the lower classes were destroyed. At one time the crocodiles, held sacred in the Nile, were given the surplus infants. By destroying the females the breeding necessarily diminished, and the number of the weaker and dependent classes became less. In other countries persons having children beyond their ability to support were privileged to sell them to citizens, who contracted to raise them on condition that they became their slaves.
General Law, and the Influence of War.--In the increase of the world's population, although circumstances may for the time alter it, a general average of prolificity has, in the long run, been maintained. In the history of every nation artificial circumstances, such as fashion, war, poverty, etc., at some period have temporarily lowered the average of prolificity; but a further search finds another period, under opposite circumstances, which will more than compensate for it. The effect of a long-continued war or wars on generation and prolificity has never been given proper consideration. In such times marriages become much less frequent; the husbands are separated from their wives for long periods; many women are left widows; the females become in excess of the males; the excitement of the times overtops the desire for sexual intercourse, or, if there is the same desire, the unprolific prostitute furnishes the satisfaction; and such facts as these, coupled with many similar ones, soon produce an astonishing effect upon the comparative birth-rate and death-rate of the country. The resources of a country, so far as concerns population, become less as the period of peace-disturbance is prolonged. Mayo-Smith quotes von Mayr in the following example of the influence of the war of 1870-71 on the birth-rate in Bavaria,--the figures for births are thrown back nine months, so as to show the time of conception: Before the war under normal conception the number of births was about 16,000 per month. During the war it sank to about 2000 per month. Immediately on the cessation of hostilities it arose to its former number, while the actual return of the troops brought an increase of 2000 per month. The maximum was reached in March, 1872, when it was 18,450. The war of 1866 seems to have passed over Germany without any great influence, the birth-rate in 1865 being 39.2; in 1866, 39.4; in 1867, 38.3; in 1868, 38.4. On the other hand, while the birth-rate in 1870 was 40.1, in 1871 it was only 35.9; in 1872 it recovered to 41.1, and remained above 41 down to 1878. Von Mayr believes the war had a depressing influence upon the rate apart from the mere absence of the men, as shown in the fact that immediately upon the cessation of hostilities it recovered in Bavaria, although it was several months before the return of the troops.
Mayo-Smith, in remarking on the influence of war on the marriage-rate, says that in 1866 the Prussian rate fell from 18.2 to 15.6, while the Austrian rate fell from 15.5 to 13.0. In the war of 1870-71 the Prussian rate fell from 17.9 in 1869 to 14.9 in 1870 and 15.9 in 1871; but in the two years after peace was made it rose to 20.6 and 20.2, the highest rates ever recorded. In France the rate fell from 16.5 to 12.1 and 14.4, and then rose to 19.5 and 17.7, the highest rates ever recorded in France.
Influence of Rural and Urban Life.--Rural districts are always very prolific, and when we hear the wails of writers on "Social Economy," bemoaning the small birth-rates of their large cities, we need have no fear for urban extinction, as emigration from the country by many ambitious sons and daughters, to avail themselves of the superior advantages that the city offers, will not only keep up but to a certain point increase the population, until the reaction of overcrowding, following the self-regulating law of compensation, starts a return emigration.
The effect of climate and race on prolificity, though much spoken of, is not so great a factor as supposed. The inhabitants of Great Britain are surpassed by none in the point of prolificity; yet their location is quite northern. The Swedes have always been noted for their fecundity. Olaf Rudbeck says that from 8 to 12 was the usual family number, and some ran as high as 25 or 30. According to Lord Kames, in Iceland before the plague (about 1710) families of from 15 to 20 were quite common. The old settlers in cold North America were always blessed with large families, and Quebec is still noted for its prolificity. There is little difference in this respect among nations, woman being limited about the same everywhere, and the general average of the range of the productive function remaining nearly identical in all nations. Of course, exception must be made as to the extremes of north or south.
Ancient and Modern Prolificity.--Nor is there much difference between ancient and modern times. We read in the writings of Aristotle, Pliny, and Albucasis of the wonderful fertility of the women of Egypt, Arabia, and other warm countries, from 3 to 6 children often being born at once and living to maturity; but from the wonder and surprise shown in the narration of these facts, they were doubtless exceptions, of which parallels may be found in the present day. The ancient Greek and Roman families were no larger than those of to-day, and were smaller in the zenith of Roman affluence, and continued small until the period of decadence.
Legal Encouragement of Prolificity.--In Quebec Province, Canada, according to a Montreal authority, 100 acres of land are allotted to the father who has a dozen children by legitimate marriage. The same journal states that, stimulated by the premium offered, families of 20 or more are not rare, the results of patriotic efforts. In 1895, 1742 "chefs de famille" made their claim according to the conditions of the law, and one, Paul Bellanger, of the River du Loup, claimed 300 acres as his premium, based on the fact that he was the father of 36 children. Another claimant, Monsieur Thioret de Sainte Genevieve, had been presented by his wife, a woman not yet thirty years old, with 17 children. She had triplets twice in the space of five years and twins thrice in the mean time. It is a matter of conjecture what the effect would be of such a premium in countries with a lowering birth-rate, and a French medical journal, quoting the foregoing, regretfully wishes for some countrymen at home like their brothers in Quebec.
Old Explanations of Prolificity.--The old explanation of the causation of the remarkable exceptions to the rules of prolificity was similar to that advanced by Empedocles, who says that the greater the quantity of semen, the greater the number of children at birth. Pare, later, uses a similar reason to explain the causation of monstrosities, grouping them into two classes, those due to deficiency of semen, such as the acephalous type, and those due to excess, such as the double monsters. Hippocrates, in his work on the "Nature of the Infant," tells us that twins are the result of a single coitus, and we are also informed that each infant has a chorion; so that both kinds of plural gestation (monochorionic and dichorionic) were known to the ancients. In this treatise it is further stated that the twins may be male or female, or both males or both females; the male is formed when the semen is thick and strong.
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