Henry Mayhew described human mating market failure

Writing in London about 1856, Henry Mayhew observed:

The majority of the habitual female criminals are connected with some low brute of a man who is either a prize-fighter, or cab-driver, or private soldier, or pickpocket, or coiner, or costermonger, or, indeed, some such character. And for this lazy and ruffian fellow, there is no indignity nor cruelty they will not suffer, no atrocity that they are not ready to commit, and no infamy that they will hesitate to perform, in order that he may continue to live half-luxuriously with them in their shame. A virtuous woman’s love is never of the same intensely passionate and self-denying character as marks the affection of her most abject sister.  …

We once troubled our head with endeavouring to discover what qualities in man partake of the admirable in the eyes of such women as these. Do they love the half brutes with whom they cohabit, and from whose hands they bear blow after blow without a murmur, giving indeed only kisses in return; and for whose gross comforts they are daily ready to pollute both their body and soul?—do they love these fellows, we asked ourselves, for any personal beauty they fancy them to possess; or what strange quality is it that makes them prize them beyond any other being in the world?

We soon, however, discovered that they care little about the looks of their paramours, for not only are the majority of such men coarse and satyr-like in feature, but these women, generally speaking, have even a latent contempt for the class of public performers who are wont to trick their persons out to the best possible advantage. Again, it is not honour, nor dignity of character, nor chivalry of nature, nor energy of disposition, nor generosity of temperament that they think the highest attributes of man; for the fellows with whom they cohabit are mean and base to the last degree, selfish as swine, idle as lazzaroni, and ruffianly even as savages in their treatment of females.

In a word, it is power and courage that make up the admirable with woman in her shame; and hence the great proportion of what are termed “fancy men” {prostitutes’ lovers} are either, as we have said, prize-fighters, or private soldiers, or cab-drivers, or thieves, or coiners, or indeed fellows who are distinguished either for their strength, or “pluck,” or their adventurous form of life.[*]

Mayhew, a son of a wealthy London solicitor, was a writer. He was one of the founders in 1841 of the popular magazine Punch.  Mayhew’s friend Douglas Jerrold was a successful, well-connected London author and a contributor to Punch.  In 1844, Mayhew, then 31 years old, married Douglas Jerrold’s 19-year-old daughter, Jane. They were a match made within the norms of the elite Victorian mating market.

Shortly after Henry Mayhew and Jane Jerrold married, Henry suffered acute financial troubles and had to declare bankruptcy.  Upset with Henry’s apparent financial mismanagement, his father disinherited him. Henry and Jane had their first child, a girl, about this time.  They subsequently had another child, a son named Athol.  Henry Mayhew never regained financial security.  Henry and Jane’s marriage failed and they separated sometime after 1850.

Mayhew’s description of female criminals’ lovers seems to be painted with envy.  Mayhew did pioneering social research.  He wrote important articles on London’s poor and outcasts.  Mayhew’s work displayed intellectual power and personal courage far beyond that of most upper-middle-class English gentlemen of his time.  Yet Mayhew apparently perceived himself to be lacking the mating-market attractiveness of other, much less publicly valued men.

The mating market is fundamental to human evolution and human civilization. The human mating market has worked well enough thus far to generate relatively high human population, material wealth, and personal freedom.  Yet sufficiently bad incentives in the human mating market surely could destroy civilization.

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[*] Mayhew, Henry (1856), The Great World of London (London: David Bogue) pp. 466-7.

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