A Treatise on Female Ruin

The Ladies Petition for Two Husbands, January 1, 1784. Engraving. Published by John Sharpe. British Museum

In 1784, John Sharpe published this satirical print making fun of Martin Madan (1726-1790) and his recent book: Thelyphthora: or, A Treatise on Female Ruin, in its Causes, Effects, Consequences, Prevention, and Remedy: Considered on the Basis of the Divine Law under the Following Heads, viz. Marriage, Whoredom, and Fornication, Adultery, Polygamy, Divorce … (London: Printed for J. Dodsley, 1780-1781). RBSC Miriam Y. Holden Collection HQ19 .M26 [https://books.google.com/books?id=frLUfEa4YXsC&printsec=titlepage#v=onepage&q&f=false]

Dr. Madan, sitting on the right, accepts each woman’s petition for a second husband, “For One alone Cannot our want’s supply. Nor Half our Wishes Gratify.” Madan’s advocacy for polygamy caused such protest that he was forced to resign his chaplaincy of the Lock Hospital.

A number of other satirical prints followed, although Sharpe’s was the only instance of a woman with two husbands, rather than a man with multiple wives.

Edward Williams (1755-1797?) after Thomas Rowlandson (born 1756 or 1757, died 1827), Polygamy, July 1, 1802. Stipple engraving. Graphic Arts Collection GA 2014.00818. Gift of Dickson Q. Brown, Class of 1895.

Note, the wife is the well-dressed woman on the right and the mistress (or second wife) is on the left with the child.


George Moutard Woodward (ca. 1760-1809), Five Wives at a Time or an Irishman Taken In! June 7, 1808. Etching. Bound in Caricature Magazine, volume 1. Graphic Arts Collection Rowlandson 1807.51F. Gift of Dickson W. brown, Class of 1895.

“Why Jack you terrible Turk I could not believe it if I had not seen it – Five Wives at once – why you will get yourself into a pretty scrape! What could induce you to commit such a rash action.”

“Why you must know Uncle, out of so many I was in hopes to have met with a Good one – but by St. Patrick, I have been taken in –!!”

Note: wife number five is reading this book: Mrs. Thomson (active 1788), Excessive Sensibility or, the History of Lady St. Laurence. A novel (London: printed for G. G. J. and J. Robinson, 1787).

A Critical Dictionary of English Literature and British and American Authors (1899) lists four novels by Mrs. Thomson: The Labryrinths of Life, Novel, 12mo. 2. Excessive Sensibility; a Novel, 12mo. 3. Fatal Follies; a Novel, 12mo. 4. The Pride of Ancestry, 1804, 4 vols. 12mo.


See also: Théodore De Bèze, Tractatio de Polygamia in Qva et Ochini Apostatæ Pro Polygamia, et Montanistarvm ac Aliorum Aduersus Repetitas Nuptias Argumenta Refutantur: Addito Veterum Canonum & Quarundam Ciuilium Legum ad Normam Verbi Diuini Examine (Genevæ, 1591). 2 vols.

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