…The Mormons at this time were considered a great curiosity in England. Since the murder of Joseph Smith in Illinois in 1844, and the subsequent dramatic exodus to the desert isolation of the great inland sea, the sect had flourished beyond the wildest predictions. Brigham Young had become virtual sovereign over an immense empire. Mormon missionaries had had an astonishing successin Great Britain and Scandinavia, almost thirty thousand converts having emigrated to America between 1840 and 1860. The fact that the Mormons now openly admitted that they were practicing polygamy did not seem to deter many.
Charles Dickens, visiting an emigrant ship chartered specifically for Mormons, took a hard look at the “single women of from thirty to forty… obviously going out in quest of husbands, as finer ladies go to India. That they had any distinct notions of a plurality of husbands or wives, I do not believe,” he said.
The Mormon capital had become a must on the itinerary of transcontinental sightseers. The French botanist Jules Remy and the British naturalist Julius Branchley had visited it in 1855. William Chandless had written a friendly account in the same year. Horace Greeley had filled many columns in his New York Tribune describing his Mormon interviews in 1859. Richard Burton came in 1860; Mark Twain would follow in 1861, Fritz Hugh Ludlow in 1864, and Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1871, all save Emerson turning out books or articles as a result of their exposure to the Mormon phenomenon. Of all these noe wrote so sagacious and thorough a study as Richard Burton.
During his three weeks in Salt Lake City seems to have sampled everything permitted; he talked incessantly to Mormons and gentiles; he attended Mormon services and dances; he looked at prices in the stores, wandered through the cemeteries, read a prodigious amount of Mormon and anti-Mormon literature, and interviewed Brigham Young.
Polygamy, of course, excited him most; it was the reason for his seeking out the Mormons in the first place. But he brought to his research the urbanity of a scholar already intimately acquainted with polygamous marriages of every conceivable variety in Africa and the Near East. He had seen African chiefs with as many as three hundred wives, and societies where polygamy was unlimited; he had visited one tribe where only the chief was allowed many wives and his subjects were punished fro infractions of a puritanical sexual code by having their eyes gouged out.
Among the Moslems, he had studied harem life as had no other European of his time. “The Moslem admits,” he said, “that envy, hatred, and malice often flourish in polygamy, but asks in turn, ‘Is monogamy open to no objections?’ … As far as my limited observations go,” he went on sagely, “polyandry is the only state of society in which jealousy and quarrels about the sex are the exception and not the rule of life. In quality of doctor I have seen a little and heard much of the harem. It very much resembles a European home composed of a man, his wife, and his mother.”