Page:The early history of the property of married women.djvu/15

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.


property not having, by the assumption, been conveyed to the husband as dos, it remained under her exclusive control, and at her exclusive disposal. It is only quite recently, under the Married Women's Property Act, that we have arrived at a similar institution, since money settled to a wife's separate use, though practically the same thing, required a settlement to create it.

I have now abridged a very long, and, in some portions, a very intricate history. The Roman law began by giving all the wife's property to the husband, because she was assumed to be, in law, his daughter. It ended in having for its general rule that all the wife's property was under her own control, save when a part of it had been converted by settlement into a fund for contributing to the expenses of the conjugal household. But, no doubt, the exception to the general rule was the ordinary practice. In all respectable households, as now on the Continent, there was a settlement by way of dos. Not that we are to suppose there was among the Romans any such form of contract as we are accustomed to under the name of marriage settlement. The mechanism was infinitely simpler. A few words on paper would suffice to bring any part of the wife's property under the well-ascertained rules supplied by the written law for dotal settlements, and nothing more than these words would be needed, unless the persons marrying wished to vary the provisions of the law by express agreement. This simple, but most admirable, contrivance of having, so to speak, model settlements set forth ready made in the law, which may be adopted or not at pleasure, characterises the French Code Napoleon, and it was inherited by the French from the Romans.

Warning you that the account which I have given you of the transitions through which the Roman law of settled property passed, is, from the necessity of the case, fragmentary, and to some extent superficial, I pass to the evidence of early ideas on our subject which is contained in the Hindoo law. The settled property of a married woman, incapable of alienation by her husband, is well-known to the Hindoos under the name of Stridhan. It is certainly a remarkable fact that the institution seems to have been developed among the Hindoos at a period relatively much earlier than among the Romans. But instead of being matured and improved, as it was in the Western society, there is reason to think that in the East, under various influences which may partly be traced, it has gradually been reduced to dimensions and importance far inferior to those which originally belonged to it.