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BOOK III.: of the causes by which the amount of the numbers of mankind is reduced or restrained. - William Godwin, Of Population. An Enquiry concerning the Power of Increase in the Numbers of Mankind 
Of Population. An Enquiry concerning the Power of Increase in the Numbers of Mankind, being an Answer to Mr. Malthus’s Essay on that Subject (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1820).
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of the causes by which the amount of the numbers of mankind is reduced or restrained.
FUTILITY OF MR. MALTHUS's DOCTRINE RESPECTING THE CHECKS ON POPULATION.
In the preceding Book I have taken for the subject of my enquiry the possible progress of mankind under peculiarly favourable circumstances, as to the increase of their numbers. I have produced the example of Sweden, as the most advantageous specimen of the kind that is contained in the records of history. I have not contented myself with this, but have proceeded in the endeavour to establish certain principles on the subject. From the example of Sweden, corroborated by views drawn from all other countries of Europe, in which any progress has been made in collecting Tables that have reference to population, I have sought to fix certain maxims which may be of use to guide us in our speculations on the subject. To this I have added some general reasonings, built upon the nature of marriage, and the numbers and fruit-fulness of human females, calculated to confirm these facts, and to shew from the nature of things why they should be found such as they are.
But there is another question behind, which will be of scarcely less importance in enabling us to settle our opinions on the subject of this work. This is (to borrow the language of Mr. Malthus), “What is it that checks population?”
Or, I should rather chuse to express the enquiry upon which 1 am about to enter thus:
Population has been found, under peculiarly favourable circumstances, for example in Sweden, to have a tendency to double itself in a little more than one hundred years. But the history of the world is not in accord with the example of Sweden. We have no reason to suppose that the globe of the earth, at least so far as it was then known, was at all less populous three thousand years ago, than it is now.
The inference therefore, in the point of view in which we are here considering the subject, is, first, from the example of Sweden, that population, or the numbers of mankind, has a natural tendency to increase under particularly favourable circumstances, at the rate of a doubling in a little more than one hundred years; and, secondly, from the history of the world, that this increase is perpetually counteracted, so that we have no reason to believe that the earth is now more populous than at any past period of authentic history, or, from any thing that is at present going on on the face of the globe, that it has any likelihood to become-so.
Population is kept down. This truth we learn from the history of mankind: and in this proposition I agree with Mr. Malthus.
But, in announcing this proposition, two questions occur to me. First, how is it kept down? Secondly, is it necessary for the common good, that any special attention should be given by governments and national councils, in the way of taking care that it should be kept down, or that the increase of the numbers of mankind should not be encouraged?
On the first question, [How does it happen that the population of the earth does not go on in a course of perpetual increase?] Mr. Malthus advances two propositions interchangeably, substituting the one for the other at his pleasure, as if they were only two ways of expressing the same thing: first, that population is kept down by the intervention of vice and misery: secondly, that it is kept down, because the numbers of mankind are, every where and incessantly, tending to increase beyond the limits of the means of subsistence.
Now these propositions are so far from being synonimous, and if I may apply the word somewhat out of its usual meaning, tautological, that one of them may be true, and the other totally and entirely false.
That vice and misery have a share in keeping down the numbers of mankind, I will not deny. There may also be other causes, as yet little adverted to, which may be concerned in producing the same effect.
The most obvious causes which all history forces upon our attention, are war, pestilence and famine. And here I would distinguish between the two agents which in Mr. Malthus's book are perpetually coupled, vice, and misery; or, as I would rather denominate them, vice, and the visitation of calamity. Pestilence is not vice; famine can scarcely deserve to be called by that name. War therefore, of these three, is the agent for thinning the ranks of mankind, which is best entitled to be denominated vice.
But how far are any of these concerned with a scarcity of the means of subsistence? Famine indeed is a sweeping name, which expresses that scarcity in its most aggravated degree. But pestilence—is that only a lack of the means of subsistence under another form? Is the plague produced by hunger? Is the yellow fever produced by hunger? When our devoted country in former centuries was so often visited with the plague, were Englishmen in greater comparative want of the means of subsistence than at present?
War is, of almost any example that could be devised, well adapted to shew that Mr. Malthus's two propositions are of very different import. Do men go to war because they want the means of subsistence? Far otherwise. War in civilized countries is the offspring of pride, of wantonness, and an artificial method of thinking and living. War cannot be carried on in such countries without a previous accumulation of the means of subsistence. Money, it has often been said, is the sinew of war. It would be more accurate to say, that provisions [munition de bouche] are the sinews of war. The first care of a power going to war is to establish magazines. I may add, that money itself is nothing, except so far as it can purchase the conveniences, and, a fortiori, the necessaries of life.
So far therefore as war is concerned, I allow that the numbers of mankind are thinned by vice: So far as famine and pestilence enter into the question, I admit that the same effect may be attributed to calamity.
But I totally reject Mr. Malthus's vice and misery in their obscure details. I affirm, that we in the favoured countries of Europe have no more of them, than have occurred in the annals of the United States of Americaa . This will be sufficiently evinced in the subsequent divisions of this volume. The proper and ultimate appeal on this question is to the Bills of Mortality; and it must for ever redound to the disgrace of the followers of Mr. Malthus, that they have blindly adopted his propositions, without once having had recourse to so obvious a means of ascertaining the fact.
But the grand question, which embraces at once all the lucubrations of Mr. Malthus, is this, Does population require to be kept down?
All the legislators of antiquity, with one voice, and in the most authentic way, by their uniform practice, affirm the contrary.
To which I may add, first, that the proposition is absurd on the face of it; since the first element of civilization lies in this truth, that every human creature (except in cases of extraordinary corporeal imbecility) is endowed by nature with the power of producing a much greater quantity of that which nourishes human life, than' is necessary for his individual subsistence.
After the experience, and the recorded history of several thousand years, we know that the population ot countries is for the most part in a state of flux and reflux. As to the increase, in nations where it cannot be ascribed to the Junction and mingling of the people of one country with the people of another,, I will grant with Mr. Malthus that it is to be imputed to the power of procreation. But what is the cause of the decrease? Of this we know little; and Mr. Malthus has taught us nothing. War, famine, and pestilence are real causes. It is natural enough to think, that the race of mankind will have a tendency in some measure to increase where they are happy, and to decrease where they are unhappy. But, as to Mr. Malthus's convenient aud gratuitous causes, never to be defined, and never to be methodically traced by the lucubrations or the pen of the calculator or the political economist, but which he has always at hand to bring forward wherever he may happen to want them, these are wholly unworthy of a moment's serious consideration. Why have so many cations and races of men wholly perished from the face of the earth? Why have the natives of Mexico and Peru continually decreased, notwithstanding all the efforts and anxieties of government to keep up their numbers? Why are the tribes of North American Indians to all appearance verging towards extinction? These are questions which the Essay on Population affords us no assistance to answer.
What is the past history of mankind relatively to the question of population? I grant, that those countries of antiquity where most attention was given by governments to encourage the increase of population, were from time to time exposed to the calamity (the vice, if Mr. Malthus pleases) of war. They were all very probably visited by pestilence and contagious diseases, carrying off their thousands and tens of thousands. If the author of the Essay on Population had confined his enquiry to the consideration of what would become of the numbers of mankind, when all vice and calamity shall have been abolished, and when every country of the earth shall be amply stocked with inhabitants, his argument would have taken a very different turn, and, if I had felt impelled to examine it, my reasonings would have been arranged in a different manner.
But Mr. Malthus knew, that if he had raised no other difficulty than this, his book would quietly have reposed on the shelves of the curious, and there would have been few, even of the most ardent speculators on the future improvement of mankind, who would not have contented themselves, as he expresses it, with leaving “an event at such a distance to the care of Providenceb .” It was therefore necessary for his purpose to affirm, that in old countries the population is every where and at all times pressing hard against the limits of the means of subsistence.”
The fact however seems to be the reverse of this. All the legislators and governments of past ages, in proportion as they were supposed to be enlightened, and animated with a genuine zeal for the welfare of their subjects, were anxious to encourage population. Could they all be blind to the truth in this respect? Could they all be so obstinate and headstrong, that experience itself could never enlighten them?
Let Mr. Malthus produce a single instance among these celebrated legislators, and in these famous countries, where that terrible reaction occurred which his hypothesis requires. According to him, the present administrators of Egypt and Syria ought to be considered as the genuine benefactors of mankind, while the efforts of those ardent patriots who directed their views to the increasing the numbers of their countrymen, would be seen to draw a long train of calamity and misery after them. I am unable to discern this. I cannot see the blessings and prosperity which attend upon and attest the wisdom of the existing governments of Egypt and Syria. And I must patiently wait for Mr. Malthus's information, as to whether the policy of Lycurgus, or Numa, or Zoroaster, or Confucius, affords the most apposite example of the misery that arises from encouraging population. In some instances he says “not thirty years would elapsec ,” before the most fatal and heartsickening consequences would be produced. And the whole tendency of his book is to prove, that the expected disasters would be as rapid, as they were irresistible in their manifestation and their progress.
The inference certainly from all history is, that population does not challenge the vigilance of governments to keep it down. The inference from all history is, that those countries, other things equal, have been happiest, where the increase of mankind has been most encouraged, and those the most miserable, in which the power of depopulation has most fully displayed itself. If an author, in the beginning of the nineteenth century of the Christian era, comes forward, to teach us a new creed, and to persuade us to abandon that which the concurrent wisdom of ages had taught us, he should surely not attempt to do this by the sole aid of a few dogmatical maxims, but should have gone through the annals of antiquity, and have shewn us where in all famous nations and states the evil crept in. The fact is completely against him. The fact is, according to the evidence of all history, that population does not require the vigilance of governments to keep it down.
When once we have discarded this cardinal error, the rest of the subject becomes a topic of laudable speculation. What tendency is there in the human species to increase their numbers? It cannot be disputed, that in some countries (Sweden for example) there appears to be a power in mankind to increase their numbers by procreation only. Under what circumstances, and for how long a time, may this power be supposed to exert itself? Under the most favourable circumstances, what would be the degree of the increase? What are the causes that check the increase, and that produce a progress in the opposite direction? for the instances appear to be much more numerous and striking of a rapid depopulation. At all events this is certain, that no governments, previously to the publication of Mr. Malthus's book, ever set themselves up for patrons of depopulation, and to “stop the propagation of mankind:” and it is scarcely less certain, that the population of the earth is not greater now than it was three thousand years ago.
If Mr. Malthus's doctrine were sound, and his novelties constituted a real discovery, the history of the population of the earth would be very different from the thing that it is. But his theory sustains the common fate of every mere hypothesis ingeniously contrived to account for the phenomena around us. It may look in some degree plausible in itself; but it will never truly tally with the facts it is brought to explain. It pays us with words; but it does not clear up a single difficulty.
The population of every old country, according to Mr. Malthus, is kept down by “pressing hard against the limits of the means of subsistence.” If this were true, what would be the real state of the case in the history of all the nations of the earth? A periodical fluctuation.— That there is a change I admit, and that nations from time to time increase and decrease in the numbers of their people. But the cause of these changes has never yet been fully explained; and least of all do they square with Mr. Malthus's hypothesis—To proceed in the statement and refutation of the views exhibited in the Essay on Population. Every country, as well as North America, in the proportion of its area and its soil is capable of subsisting a given number of inhabitants. When this capacity has been used, and the country has been replenished with men, that district or portion of the globe will refuse to receive a greater number. But it is perhaps the nature of every check or reaction, to operate somewhat beyond the extent of the impulse that gave it birth. Hence, we will say, comes the depopulation, which forms so memorable a portion of the records of universal history. That we may not fall into the error, so incident to the limited faculties of man, of confounding ourselves amidst the complication of very large numbers, let us take a district or an island fully competent to the subsistence of one thousand human inhabitants. The power of procreation, we will assume, continually tends to increase the numbers of mankind. The population of this district therefore, having arrived at one thousand, has an abstract tendency to extend itself further. But here it is stopped by the most powerful of all causes. Calamity invades this devoted race of men, poverty, examples of terrible distress, and the want of the means of subsistence. Hereupon follows, we will suppose, depopulation. No man need look far for the most impressive examples of depopulation. We will imagine the number of inhabitants reduced to five hundred. What will be the consequence of this? The area and the soil were fully competent to subsist twice that number. Strips and acres of land now seem to call loudly for the hand of the cultivator. The whole country pines and is sick for the ploughshare and the spade. Nothing therefore is more evident, upon Mr. Malthus's scheme, than that this region will speedily recover its lost population. Want of the means of subsistence put it down: that want being removed, the principle of increase inherent in the human species will raise it up again.
But is this really the case in the history of the earth? Let us look through all the depopulated countries enumerated by Montesquieu. They have been amply blessed in the remedy prescribed by Mr. Malthus, the reduction of the numbers of those who cried out for the means of subsistence. Why are they at present unconscious of their happiness, and why do they not diligently apply themselves to increase their numbers? I think I may venture to say that in no one instance has the thing happened as Mr. Malthus's theory requires. Wherever depopulation has once set up its standard, the evil goes on. In these countries we do not find, as according to the dicta of the Essay on Population we ought to find, a periodical flux and reflux of the number of their inhabitantsd , an elasticity by means of which, as soon as the pressure had operated to a certain point, the principle resumes its sway, and the energies mount again. On the contrary, wherever depopulation has operated to a great extent, and for a considerable length of time, I believe we shall never find that country resuming its preceding prosperity and populousness, unless by an actual planting and settling of a new race of inhabitants within its limits.
Hence it appears, that it is something else, and not merely or principally a rise and fall in the means that nature affords us for obtaining provisions and subsistence, that limits the population of a country, and causes that country in many instances to produce so much smaller a proportion of human beings, than it could boast in some preceding generation, or in some remote age of the world.
I would observe by the way, that a want of the means of subsistence, and a want of the means which nature affords to man for obtaining provisions and subsistence, are by no means synonimous. Much of Mr. Malthus's strength lies in his ambiguities. When the whole earth has been “cultivated like a gardene ” we will suppose for a moment that this state of things puts a bar on the multiplication of mankind. But it is a very different question, and is well worthy of the enquiry of the political economist, Why Turkey in Europe, Turkey in Asia, Persia, Egypt, and a multitude of other countries, are so thinly inhabited now, to what they were in the renowned periods of their ancient history. Certainly it is not because their soil is exhausted. Certainly it is not because another blade of corn refuses to grow on their surface. We may venture, even in the infancy of the enquiry, to assert, that the cause is to be found in the government and political administration of these countries. If a beneficent sovereign, the father of his people, were to arise among them, if a great genius, who loved his fellow-men, and in whom the ardour of his love generated enlightened attention, and fertilised the field of intellectual resources, were to mount the throne, if such a one were to apply all his energies to make his country what it formerly was, when it seemed to be the granary of the world, we may reasonably believe that his labours would not be in vain. The great mass of the people in that country would no longer be oppressed. Their sovereign, and inspired by him a long train of men in power inferior to the throne, would make it their ambition, that each father of a family who desired it, should have a portion of land subject to his own providence and discretion, and should possess the means of rendering the land he owned available to the purposes of human prosperity. The energies of the inhabitants of the country would be called forth, and men from other regions would be invited to settle on this advantageous soil. Hence it appears, that it is ill government, and not a want of the means of subsistence, that renders these countries a permanent scene of desolation.
But Mr. Malthus, that dark and terrible genius that is ever at hand to blast all the hopes of all mankind, will tell us, that Egypt, or whatever other territory we take for our example, will one day be “cultivated like a garden,” and will refuse itself to any further increase of inhabitants. Be it so: we will not dispute that for the present. But is that any reason why, out of a generous care for a distant posterity, we should refuse the vast accession of happiness that shall be offered to us? “Take the good the Gods provide thee.” I am disposed, like Mr. Malthus, to say, “An event at such a distance,”as that of a whole country, or the whole earth, having more inhabitants than its soil will maintain, “may fairly be left to Providencef .” We have disarmed the Essay on Population of all its sting, when we have proved that, “at every period during the progress of cultivation, the distress for want of food will [not] be constantly pressing on all mankind,” or, in other words, that the population of Europe, and the other parts of the Old World, is not necessarily “always pressing hard against the limits of the means of subsistence.”
of deaths and the Rate of human mortality.
It is the glory of modern philosophy to have banished the doctrine of occult causes. Superstition and a blind deference to great names taught men that there were questions upon which we must not allow ourselves to enter with a free spirit of research. In science, as well as religion, we were told there was a sanctuary into which it would be profaneness for ordinary and unprivileged men to intrude. The αντος εφη of the master, was the authority upon which we were directed to repose ourselves: and occult causes were assigned, a sort of sacred names that could not be defined, the operation of which was every where to be recognised, and upon no occasion to be subjected to investigation.
Lord Bacon was the mighty genius to whom we are principally indebted for the destruction of this fortress. He has taught us fearlessly to bring all nature to the tribunal of science, and to submit all her operations and phenomena to the test of experiment. The path he pointed out has since been indefatigably pursued by the intellect of two successive centuries, and memorable is the progress that has been made.
The Essay on Population is an attempt to revive, in a particular case, that system of theorising which Lord Bacon had so successfully exploded. Vice and misery are Mr. Malthus's cabalistical terms; and he has treated us here, exactly as he has done in the question of the geometrical ratio. The whole of what he says on the matter is in reality comprehended in one dogmatical proposition, consisting of a subject, a predicate, and a copula—no more—which whoever will may believe, and whoever will may disbelieve; but which no man can reasonably either believe or disbelieve, without a body of evidence, such as Mr. Malthus has not attempted to produce.
If the population of the United States of North America has doubled itself every twenty-five years, and that by procreation only, Mr. Malthus should have shewn us how that procreation proceeded. He should have divided the number of children which his proposition required, to each wedded pair, their parents, should have first laid down how many children to a marriage were necessary to his hypothesis, and then have proved that that proportion of children was the actual produce of the United States. Mr. Malthus is said to be an expert mathematician: it would then have been an easy task for him, first, to have gone through, and next to have exhibited, this process.
In the same summary and oracular manner in which he delivers his doctrine of the geometrical ratio, he next introduces to our notice vice and misery, imaginary causes by which he wishes us to account for his imaginary effects. [I do not mean that vice and misery have no existence; but I affirm that they are gratuitously assumed as causes of a given degree of energy, exactly commensurate to the producing a given effect, to wit, the suspension of the original law of the multiplication of mankind.] In other words, the human species, according to him, ought to double itself four times in a century: but, in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America, this is found not to be the case: therefore vice and misery must be the bars that are continually suppressing this progress. Vice and misery are good set terms: but one would think that a man must be desperately in love with them, who would give them credit for such stupendous effects, without allowing himself time for a little severe examination.
Here, as in the former case, the application of Mr. Malthus's attainments in mathematics is a main desideratum. He should have shewn us in what manner, and at what age, vice and misery destroyed the children that were born: for it must be as children that they are destroyed, since if they arrived at puberty, they might be the causes of an increased population in a following age, and if they continued to exist only ten or fifteen years, they would consume that quantity of food, which Mr. Malthus says is impossible to be supplied. He should have chosen some country or some district of the earth for the subject of his experiment, and have brought forward in Arabic numerals the victims of vice and misery, as they fell in from year to year.
It happens however, most unfortunately for Mr. Malthus's hypothesis, that the subject of human mortality is not a new subject. The avidity of mankind, the assiduous spirit of pecuniary calculation, and the desire inherent in the minds of the masters of families to make some provision for those who shall survive them, have gone a great way towards reducing this to a science, without the smallest idea on the part of those who cultivated it, that their proceeding was calculated to throw any light upon the moral government of the world.
Even before Dr. Price, and the other writers on annuities and reversionary payments, published their lucubrations, enough had been done to place in the clearest light that question, which Mr. Malthus has sought to involve in more than Egyptian darkness. The author of the Essay on Population should have taken down Dr. Birch's Collection of the Yearly Bills of Mortality, and have extracted from thence a series of Tables of the victims of vice and misery. If, in addition to this, he had procured and published Bills of Mortality for any of the most favoured districts of the United States, we should have seen with a glance of the eye to what extent vice and misery prevail more in Europe than in North America (for such is the whole question) to destroy the infant offspring of the human species.
This was a proper topic to be submitted to the decision of figures. Here, as in the question of the geometrical ratio, all should have been subordinate to the exhibition of actual facts. In the enquiry respecting procreation, the author should not have confined himself to bare enumerations, but should have shewn how his immense augmentations of the species were procreated. In like manner, in the destruction of the young of mankind afterwards, it would by no means have been attended with insuperable difficulty, to have put down in columns the numbers destroyed from year to year; and I cannot understand how any man can reasonably acquiesce in Mr Malthus's enormous and atrocious assertions, without having first looked upon the subject from this point of view. The author has chosen for the field of his wild and disorderly dicta a topic, which beyond almost any that can be named is capable of mechanical exactness. The whole question as to his vice and misery, their terrible effects in old countries, and the suspension and neutralising of those effects in new, reduces itself to this, in what numbers do human beings die, and when do they die?
Mr. Malthus says, “The proportion of births to marriages forms no criterion by which to judge of the increase of mankinda “But this is the grossest mistake that was ever made, by any person aspiring to proceed, as the author of the Essay on Population pretends to do, upon the principles of pure reason. There can assuredly be no other substantial and permanent increase of the human race, than the fruitfulness of marriages, or, to speak more accurately, of women capable of child-bearing.
In countries, where the forms of civilised life prevail, where men enjoy a moderate degree of security for person and property, and are unvisited by any overwhelming calamity, all the children, or nearly all the children, are born, that the structure and frame of human nature can fairly lead us to expeet:
In this we have Mr. Malthus completely with us. He says, “The passion between the sexes is necessary, and will always remain nearly in its present stateb .” He adds, “The principle of moral restraint has undoubtedly in past ages operated with very inconsiderable force, nor can we reasonably expect any future improvement, in which we are not borne out by the experience of the pastc .”
But we do not want the aid of Mr. Malthus, and his gross and degrading ideas of human nature, to establish our position. We have just seen that in many countries at least, Sweden and England for example, almost all the women many, and that the marriages are sufficiently early to give us every reasonable chance of a numerous offspring.
When once therefore we have ascertained the fair proportion of births to marriages in any community, we have a just criterion by which to judge of the increase or otherwise of mankind in that community. Children in Europe are not smuggled out of the world, as Mr. Malthus's theory would require us to suppose. Give'me the number of births annually or otherwise in any country; and I have the means of ascertaining, among civilised nations, how, in what proportions, and at what periods, they die. There is nothing mystical in this. It is in vain that the author of the Essay on Population offers me his vice and misery, killing their millions, of whom no account is taken, and who perish we know not how. I say, an account is taken of all. I say no more perish in Europe than in the United States; and that the value and probable duration of human lives, and the chances of surviving the mischiefs that beset us in infancy and youth, are no greater there than here.
Mr. Malthus indeed reduces himself to an express contradiction in terms, when he says on the one hand, that the increase of population in the United States is “by procreation only,” and on the other, that the number of births that a marriage shall be found to produce, is “no criterion whatever of the rate-of increase.” What is procreation, but the production of a certain number, increasing or otherwise, of births to a marriage, or of births to the number of women capable of child-bearing in any community?
And, be it observed, all the calculations of Dr. Price, and all other writers upon annuities, proceed upon the negation in limine of the entire system of Mr. Malthus's book. These writers have recourse to the bills of mortality, and the reported numbers of those who die at every age, and calculate from thence the value, or probable duration of human life. If then in the United States the population doubles itself every twenty-five years by the natural force of the procreative power, while in Europe it is at a stand, and if in Europe all the children-; or nearly all the children, are born, that the structure and frame of human nature can fairly lead us to expect, then it follows with the force of a demonstration, that human life is in the technical sense worth twice as much in the United States as in Europe; and that, if there are any societies for granting annuities in the United States, they must be ruined in the shortest practicable period, if, upon, any given capital, they pay more than half the amount per annum, that may safely and equitably be paid in this part of the world. I know no way of evading this conclusion, but by supposing that all this hideous excess of mortality, which distinguishes the Old World from the New, falls upon very young children, whose lives are seldom insured, and that, after having reached a certain age, human creatures die at much the same rate on one side of the globe as the other.
In the United States there must be, upon Mr. Malthus's hypothesis, only four deaths, for every eight that occur in a country in which the population is stationaryd . This is as clear as any thing can be imagined to be. At what period of life do these deaths occur? To keep down the population effectually, it ought all to be of children. The death of a child, to speak in the spirit of Mr. Malthus's system, is worth five times, nay, I know not how many times, a death occurring at a later period. And indeed it is obvious all through, that Mr, Malthus trusts to the destruction of infants and young children, as the sheet-anchor of our hope to preserve the population of Europe from perishing with hunger. Surely, of all creeds that were ever greedily and unscrupulously received, this requires the greatest portion of faith, that twice as many, or, to speak more accurately, three or four times as many, young children perish through the direct operation of vice and misery in the most virtuous and happy countries of Europe, as perish through the operation of all causes taken together, in the United States of North America!
The theory of the Essay on Population poorly and precariously subsists upon two points, 1. That more human creatures are born from a given population in the United States than any where else. 2. That fewer human creatures die there, in a given population, or within a limited period. Mr. Malthus knows nothing of either. He has not dreamed of exerting any industry or enquiry about either. He has looked with a supercilious and hasty glance at the bare numbers placed on the territory of the United States, and has not thought of ruminating any further. He has talked about death, because death is the forked arrow with which vice and misery, according to him, consummate their purposes. And he talks about births, because the reading part of the public has not yet arrived at the perfection of believing in all cases, without requiring the exhibition of something that shall pass with them for a reason. But he has not even attempted to fix any thing specific, as to either the births or deaths of America. And with this unconnected system, this abortive birth, this bear's whelp never licked into form, this hypothesis, which like the incomprehensible author of nature, dwells in clouds, and makes thick darkness its habitation, he has the modesty to require of us to reject every scheme that proposes to increase the sum of human happiness, to condemn all the wisest institutions that form the glory of the legislators of antiquity, and to send all philosophy to school again.
I am sensible that I leave the subject of this chapter unfinished. I am far indeed from placing an implicit reliance upon that species of records, known by the name of Registerse . I do not therefore think that much can be made of that species of argument, the favourite argument of Mr. Malthus, which consists in comparing the number of those that are stated to be born, with the number of those who appear from similar evidence to die, and thence inferring the increase or otherwise of mankind. We have seen the extraordinary conclusions that have been deduced by the editor of the Population Reports of England from the fact that no more are known to have died in 1800 than in 1780, in which period, according to him, the population had been increased by an addition of 1,215,000f .
Here, as in every question relating to the subject, where an accurate collection of facts is required, 1 know of no resource to which we have access, but the Tables of Population for Sweden. In these there is presented to us a digested abstract of the numbers that die, their periods of life, and the proportions of those who die at one age to those who die at another. To these we might add from the Bills of Mortality some hints respecting the diseases, by which human beings are cut off in the different stages of existence. I might therefore have constructed a Table founded on the Swedish reports, calculated to shew that there is no such mystery and inexplicableness in the affair as Mr. Malthus would have us suppose, but on the contrary that all goes on with a sort of regular march, in old countries, not labouring under the visitation of any singular calamity.
This Table I have not constructed. I wish to be considered as having merely sketched the subject, and left the outline to be filled up by those who come after me. All I have delivered on this head is new. No one has attempted before me by actual and patient investigation to ascertain any thing in the way of principle respecting the increase or decrease of the numbers of mankind. I claim nothing more than to have endeavoured to disenchant my fellow-men (I hope successfully endeavoured) from the unreal and fairy edifice in which Mr. Malthus had sought to inclose them, and to have brought together some of the materials for erecting a fabric, which hurricanes cannot demolish, nor floods destroy.
attempt towards a rational theory of the checks on population.
Scarcely any thing can be imagined more likely to supply us with just views respecting the past history of population, and of consequence to suggest to us sound anticipations as to its future progress, than the comparing some tract of country and period of time in which its increase appears to have gone on with highest vigour and health on the one hand, with all that is known, as to its general aspect over the face of the earth, on the other.
Mr Malthus has had recourse to certain wild conjectures and gratuitous assertions respecting the United States of North America, concerning whose population, and the effect of the power of procreation among them, I may safely affirm nothing is known, and has here taken his stand, for the purpose of issuing his dogmatical speculations. Upon this ground he erects his monstrous proposition, that “the population of the earth, wherever it is unchecked, will go on doubling itself every twenty-five years, or will increase in a geometrical ratio.” Hence he sets out on the hopeful task, the main business of all bis pages, of shewing why this proposition of his has never been realised, or, I may rather say, why no approach has ever been made to it, in any settled country throughout the annals of the world.
I have chosen a different standard from that of Mr. Malthus. I have found that a very exemplary and elaborate account has been taken of the population of Sweden, in, all those points most calculated to afford knowledge on the subject, for more than half a century. Here I grasp something real, and by which I can hardly fear to be misled. Here I find that the population of this division of Europe has gone on for fifty-four years, at a rate which, if in reality this subject would admit of any precise or mathematical measurement, would seem to promise a doubling in something more than one hundred years. The question therefore that is left me, is to consider why, in no country of the earth, the progress of population has advanced at this rate, perhaps for, a single century; or, to take the question upon a larger scale, and where our evidence is more satisfactory, why the population of the earth, collectively taken, has experienced no increase, from the earliest records of authentic profane history to the present hour.
It is by looking at the subject in a comprehensive view, that I think we shall stand the best chance of attaining some sound principles concerning it.
For this purpose it may perhaps be worth while to direct our reflections to two points.
First, there are certain countries, which were once in an eminent degree populous and flourishing, that are now sunk into a state of comparative solitude and desolation. Such are Syria, Egypt, Greece, Italy, Sicily, that part of Asia which in ancient times was subject to the Great King, and the whole coast of Africa bordering on the Mediterranean. To these we may add the extensive empires of Mexico and Peru in the New World, together with the islands of the American Archipelago. What has reduced them to their present state of desolation?
Secondly, we may turn our attention to those countries, which for centuries past have not been subject to such violent convulsions, the countries which form what may be called the commonwealth of Europe, particularly England, Germany and France. Our thoughts will not then be of desolation, of vast and fruitful provinces rendered naked of inhabitants, but they will be turned to an enquiry not less interesting and useful, why; in none of these countries, population has advanced with that steady “and uniform progress, of which, when regarded in the abstract, it seems to be capable?
Population, if we consider it historically, appears to be a fitful principle, operating intermittedly and by starts. This is the great mystery of the subject; and patiently to investigate the causes of its irregular progress seems to be a business highly worthy of the philosopher.
One of the first ideas that will occur to a reflecting mind is, that the cause of these irregularities cannot be itself of regular and uniform operation. It cannot be “the numbers of mankind at all times pressing hard against the limits of the means of subsistence.”
Let us first look at those causes which may obviously account for a great and sudden diminution of the numbers of mankind. Those which are in every one's recollection, “familiar in our mouths as houshold words,” are war, pestilence and famine. But there are other causes, more powerful and tremendous in their operation than war, pestilence and famine, at least than those calamities in their more ordinary and softened visitations. These are conquest, such as we find it recorded in certain periods of the history of mankind, and bad government, when carried to a certain degree of corruption and oppression. I say bad government, in the teeth of one of Mr. Malthus's most extravagant paradoxes, where he lays it down that “Human institutions, however they may appear to be the causes of much mischief to society, are in reality light and superficial, mere feathers that float on the surface, in comparison with those deeperseated causes of evil, which result from the laws of nature and the passions of mana .”
The truths I have here delivered, have in reality no novelty in them, but have been dwelt upon by every former political writer who has had much at heart the welfare and happiness of mankind. But there are truths, however obvious, that need to be from time to time revived in the minds of men. Human memory is a repository of so uncertain a tenacity, that the most important principles, the great land-marks of political and moral science, if not occasionally brought to our recollection, are in danger of being let go and forgotten.
I will produce therefore one specimen of the nature of conquest from the writings of Mr. Burke. I might have found as striking examples in fifty other authors, ancient and modern; but there is something in his language that enshrines truth, and imparts to it the immortality of the genius by which it is recorded.
“He drew,” says he, speaking of the invasion of Hyder Ali in the Carnatic, “from every quarter, whatever a savage ferocity could add to his new rudiments in the arts of destruction; and compounding all the materials of fury, havock and desolation, into one black cloud, he hung for a while on the declivities of the mountains. While the authors of all these evils were idly and stupidly gazing on this menacing meteor which blackened all their horizon, it suddenly burst, and poured down the whole of its contents upon the plains of the Carnatic. Then ensued a scene of woe, the like of which no eye had seen, no heart conceived, and which no tongue can adequately tell. A storm of universal fire blasted every field, consumed every house, destroyed every temple. The miserable inhabitants flying from their flaming villages, in part were slaughtered; others, without regard to sex, to age, to the respect of rank, or sacredness of function; fathers torn from children, husbands from wives, enveloped in a whirlwind of cavalry, and amidst the goading spears of drivers, and the trampling of pursuing horses, were swept into captivity in an unknown and hostile land. Those who were able to evade this tempest, fled to the walled cities. But escaping from fire, sword and exile, they fell into the jaws of famineb .”
But, lest the exaggeration of the orator in this passage should be suspected, I will subjoin an extract from the authentic pen of the phlegmatic Gibbon.
“In all their invasions of the civilized empires of the South, the Scythian shepherds have been uniformly actuated by a savage and destructive spirit. The laws of war, that restrain the exercise of national rapine and murder, are founded on two principles of substantial interest; the knowledge of the permanent benefits which may be obtained by a moderate use of conquest; and a just apprehension, lest the desolation which we inflict on the enemy's country, may be retaliated on our own. But these considerations of hope and fear are almost unknown in the pastoral state of nations. After the Moguls had subdued the northern provinces of China, it was seriously proposed, not in the hour of victory and passion, but in calm and deliberate council, to exterminate all the inhabitants of that populous country, that the vacant land might be converted to the pasture of cattle. The firmness of a Chinese mandarin, who insinuated some principles of rational policy into the mind of Zingis, diverted him from the execution of this horrid design. But in the cities of Asia, which yielded to the Moguls, the inhuman abuse of the rights of war was exercised with a regular form of discipline. Such was the behaviour of the conquerors, when they were not conscious of any extraordinary rigour. But the most casual provocation, the slightest motive of caprice or convenience, often provoked them to involve a whole people in indiscriminate massacre: and the ruin of some flourishing cities was executed with such unrelenting perseverance, that, according to their own expression, horses might run, without stumbling, over the ground where they had once stood. The three great capitals of Khorasan, Maru, Nisabour and Herat, were destroyed by the armies of Zingis; and the exact account which was taken of the slain, amounted to four millions three hundred and forty-seven thousand persons. Timur, or Tamerlane, was educated in a less barbarous age, and in the profession of the Mahometan religion; yet, if Attila equalled the hostile ravages of Tamerlane, either the Hun or the Tartar might deserve the epithet of the Scourge of God. Cherefeddin Ali, the servile panegyrist of the latter, would afford us many horrid examples. In his camp before Delhi, Timur massacred 100,000 Indian prisoners, who had smiled when the army of their countrymen appeared in sight. The people of Ispahan supplied 70,000 human sculls for the structure of several lofty towers; and a similar tax was levied on the revolt of Bagdadc .”
These are a few of the most memorable examples of the achievements of savage conquerors. But we must not suppose that the desolation produced by conquests was confined to such as these. Caesar, the elegant and accomplished Caesar, whose humanity has furnished a topic to so many panegyrists, is computed to have conquered three hundred nations, taken eight hundred cities, and to have defeated three millions of men, one million of which was left dead on the field of battle. “Observe,” exclaims Gibbond , “with how much indifference Cæsar relates in his Commentaries of the Gallic war, that he put to death the senate of the Veneti who had yielded to his mercy (iii, 16); that he laboured to extirpate the whole nation of the Eburones (vi, 31); and that forty thousand persons were massacred at Bourges, by the just revenge of his soldiers who spared neither age nor sex (vii, 27).”
The expressive style of Tacitus sums up the whole of this subject in a very few words. “Proximus dies faciem victoriæ latius aperuit. Vastum ubique silentium, secreti colles, fumantia procul tecta, nemo exploratoribus obviuse .”
How often has this scene been acted over on the face of the earth? It was thus that “Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees' excellency, became as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation: neither shall the Arabian pitch his tent there, neither shall the shepherds make their fold there: but wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures, and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there: and the wild beasts of the islands shall cry in their desolate bouses, and dragons in their pleasant placesf .”
Surely all this is not “light and superficial, mere feathers that float on the surface of human affairs, in comparison with the evils which result from the laws of nature,” and what Mr. Malthus deprecates by the name of “the passion between the sexes.”
The next source of depopulation which I have mentioned is bad government. It is not consistent with the object of this enquiry, to exhibit any of the subjects of which it treats, under false colours. I have therefore said bad government; I have not said despotism. Despotism is worthy of our fixed reprobation; but there have been despotisms so conducted, at least for a time, as not to produce the effects of depopulation. On the contrary, the nations among which they prevailed, have appeared prosperous and flourishing.
I will confine myself under this head to a single example, which shall betaken from the work of Mr. Malthus.
“The fundamental cause of the low state of population in Turkey, compared with its extent of territory, is undoubtedly the nature of the government. Its tyranny, it? feebleness, its bad laws and worse administration of them, together with the consequent insecurity of property, throw such obstacles in the way of agriculture, that the means of subsistence are necessarily decreasing yearly, and with them, of course, the number of people. The miri, or general land-tax paid to the sultan, is in itself moderate: but by abuses inherent in the Turkish government, the pachas and their agents have found out the means of rendering it ruinous. Though they cannot absolutely alter the impost which has been established by the sultan, they have introduced a multitude of changes, which without the name produce all the effects of an augmentation. In Syria, according to Volney, having the greatest part of the land at their disposal, they clog their concessions [lettings, or admissions to tenantry] with burdensome conditions, and exact the half, and sometimes even two-thirds, of the crop. When the harvest is over, they cavil about losses, and as they have the power in their hands, they carry off what they think proper. If the season fail, they still exact the same sum, and expose every thing that the poor peasant possesses to sale. To these constant oppressions are added a thousand accidental extortions. Sometimes a whole village is laid under contribution for some real or imaginary offence. Arbitrary presents are exacted on the accession of each governor; grass, barley and straw are demanded for his horses; and commissions are multiplied, that the soldiers who carry the orders may live upon the starving peasants whom they treat with the most brutal insolence and injustice.
“The consequence of these depredations is that the poorer classes of inhabitants, ruined, and unable any longer to pay the miri, become a burden to the village, or fly into the cities; but the miri is unalterable, and the sum to be levied must be found somewhere. The portion of those who are thus driven from their homes falls on the remaining inhabitants, whose burden, though at first light, now becomes insupportable. If they should be visited by two years of drought and famine the whole village is ruined and abandoned; and the tax which it should have paid, is levied on the neighbouring lands.
“The same mode of proceeding takes place with regard to the tax on the Christians which has been raised by these means from three, five, and eleven piastres, at which it was first fixed, to thirty-five and forty, which absolutely impoverishes those on whom it is levied, and obliges them to leave the country. It has been remarked that these exactions have made a rapid progress during the last forty years; from which time are dated the decline of agriculture, the depopulation of the country and the diminution in the quantity of specie carried into Constantinople.
“The food of the peasants is almost every where reduced to a little flat cake of barley or doura, onions, lentils and water. Not to lose any part of their corn, they leave in it all sorts of wild grain, which often produce bad consequences. In the mountains of Lebanon and Nablous, in time of dearth, they gather the acorns from the oaks, which they eat after boiling or roasting them on the ashes.
“By a natural consequence of this misery, the art of cultivation is in the most deplorable state. The husbandman is almost without instruments, and those he has are very bad. His plough is frequently no more than the branch of a tree cut below a fork, and used without wheels. The ground is tilled by asses and cows, rarely by oxen, which would bespeak too much riches. In the districts exposed to the Arabs, as in Palestine, the countryman must sow with his musket in his hand; and scarcely does the corn turn yellow, before it is reaped, and concealed in subterraneous caverns. As little as possible is employed for seed-corn, because the peasants sow no more than is barely necessary for their subsistence. Their whole industry is limited to a supply of their immediate wants; and to procure a little bread, a few onions, a blue shirt, and a bit of woollen, much labour is not necessary. The peasant lives therefore in distress; but at least he does not enrich his tyrants, and the avarice of despotism is its own punishment.
“This picture, which is drawn by Volney, in describing the state of the peasants in Syria, seems to be confirmed by all other travellers in these countries; and, according to Eton, it represents very nearly the condition of the peasants in the greatest part of the Turkish dominions. Universally, the offices of every denomination are set up to public sale; and in the intrigues of the seraglio, by which the disposal of all places is regulated, every thing is done by means of bribes. The pachas, in consequence, who are sent into the provinces, exert to the utmost their power of extortion; but are always outdone by the officers immediately below them, who, in their turn, leave room for their subordinate agents.
“The pacha must raise money to pay the tribute, and also to indemnify himself for the purchase of his office, support his dignity, and make a provision in case of accidents; and as all power, both military and civil, centres in his person from his representing the sultan, the means are at his discretion, and the quickest are invariably considered as the best. Uncertain of to-morrow, he treats his province as a mere transient possession, and endeavours to reap, if possible, in one day the fruit of many years, without the smallest regard to his successor, or the injury that he may do to the permanent revenue.
“The cultivator is necessarily more exposed to these extortions than the inhabitant of the towns. From the nature of his employment, he is fixed to one spot, and the productions of agriculture do not admit of being easily concealed. The tenure of the land and the rights of succession are besides uncertain. When a father dies, the inheritance reverts to the sultan, and the children can only redeem the succession by a considerable sum of money. These considerations naturally occasion an indifference to landed estates. The country is deserted; and each person is desirous of flying to the towns, where he will not only in general meet, with better treatment, but may hope to acquire a species of wealth which he can more easily conceal from the eyes of his rapacious masters.
“To complete the ruin of agriculture, a maximum is in many cases established, and the peasants are obliged to furnish the towns with corn at a fixed price. It is a maxim of Turkish policy, originating in the feebleness of the government and the fear of popular tumults, to keep the price of corn low in all the considerable towns. In the case of a failure in the harvest, every person who possesses any corn is obliged to sell it at the price fixed under pain of death; and if there be none in the neighbourhood, other districts are ransacked for it. When Constantinople is in want of provisions, ten provinces are perhaps famished for a supply. At Damascus, during the scarcity in 1784, the people paid only one penny farthing a pound for their bread, while the peasants in the villages were absolutely dying with hunger.
“The effect of such a system of government on agriculture need not be insisted upon. The causes of the decreasing means of subsistence are but too obvious; and the checks, which keep the population down to the level of these decreasing resources, may be traced with nearly equal certainty, and will appear to include almost every species of vice and misery that is knowng .”
I shall wind up these extracts with repeating Mr, Malthus's remark, that “Human institutions, however they may appear to be the causes of much mischief to society, are in reality light and superficial, mere feathers that float the surface, in comparison with those deeper-seated causes of evil, which result from the laws of nature, and the passion between the sexes.”
The theories of the Essay on Population have owed a very great portion of their success in the world, to the ambiguity of the terms employed in it. The multiplication of the human species has been checked and counteracted “by vice and misery.” Who denies it? Yes, conquest is vice. Yes, bad government is vice. And, if these had been exiled from the face of the earth, we may reasonably believe that the human species and the globe on which we dwell would have worn a very different appearance from that which they actually present.
Having thus gained admission for his favourite terms, the author of the Essay on Population immediately proceeds to put the change upon us.
First he affirms, that the increase of mankind, at least in old settled countries, is subject to an uniform and ever-active check. This we have no reason to believe; unless by a check we are to understand the uncertain tenure of human life, and the inevitable law under which we are placed, All men must die. In any other sense it is expressly contrary to the fact.
Secondly he finds, that, in the most memorable instances in which the multiplication of mankind is counteracted, there is generally great vice, and always much misery.
Having set up these two propositions, he bends them towards each other, that upon them he may repose a theory. The increase of mankind is subject to an uniform and ever active check [so says Mr. Malthus]: the known and most notorious checks upon population are vice and misery: therefore vice and misery are incessantly at work to prevent the multiplication of mankind: therefore vice and misery are indispensible ingredients in the permanent composition of the body politic. The ground of his theory is a gratuitous assumption; and, finding that there must be a check where there is none, he precariously compounds it of the best materials that offer themselves to his hand. He shews a very shadowy and inadequate foundation for his first proposition, the geometrical ratio. He shews none at all for his second, by which the stupendous multiplication of mankind by a doubling every twenty-five years is reduced at once, through the instrumentality of vice and misery, to a stand; but, requires us to believe it, simply because (as he says) it must be so.
attempt towards a rational theory of the checks on population continued.
Thus far I have been considering those checks on population, which operate with an outstretched power, and have in various instances turned great cities and flourishing countries into a desert. I proceed now to consider those regions, such as England, Germany and France, which for centuries past have not been subject to such violent convulsions.
What we appear to have most reason to believe under this latter head, is, that these countries, like Sweden, have from time to time gone on for a certain period increasing their population in a steady and moderate degree, and that then certain events have occurred, which have arrested this progress, and even reduced the population considerably below the standard to which it had lately attained. For instance, I will set it down, that we have no very certain reason to believe that England contains a greater number of inhabitants now, than it did in 1339, when Edward the Third commenced his expedition for the conquest of France.
That the hypothesis just delivered, viz. that civilized countries, in possession of a reasonable degree of prosperity, have from time to time gone on for a certain period increasing their population in a steady and moderate degree, and that then certain events have occurred, which have arrested this progress, and even reduced the population considerably below the standard to which it had lately attained,—that this hypothesis, I say, is true, may be very strongly presumed from the example of Sweden.
To illustrate this, I will repeat here a Table which has already been laid before the reader in an earlier page of this volume.
The population of Sweden in 1805, as appears from the actual enumeration, amounted to 3,320,647.
By the same rule the population will be
So that by this way of calculation Sweden contained, at the time of the destruction of the Western Empire in 476, little more than three hundred souls, and, when this part of the globe began to send forth its hordes, which destroyed the power of the Romans, and changed the face of the world, it could scarcely boast a human inhabitant. There needs no argument, I presume, to prove that this is not the fact.
The progress of population indeed may be illustrated both ways, in its increase and in its decline, from the example of Sweden. In the year 1751, the precise period from which my accounts of the numbers of the Swedish nation commence, Adolphus Frederic of Holstein Gottorp, bishop of Lubeck, succeeded to the throne. He reigned during a period of twenty years, and was succeeded by his son, Gustavus III, who was assassinated by Ankarstroem in 1792. This event however occasioned little disturbance in the affairs of the nation: Gustavus III. was replaced in the government by his son, Gustavus IV, who reigned till 1809. Europe, during this period, was plagued with the war of 1756, the American war, and the wars which arose out of the French Revolution; but Sweden sustained less disturbance from these causes, than almost any other European state. The whole period was to her for the most part a period of tranquillity; and accordingly we see a perpetual increase in the number of her inhabitants.
The close of the reign of Gustavus IV. was on the other hand eminently disastrous; and we accordingly find it attended with corresponding effects. Not only Finland became lost to the Swedish crown, the population of which, by the returns of 1805, amounted to 895,773 souls-but, beside this reduction, the enumeration for the rest of the kingdom in 1810, instead of increasing, fell short by 47,000 and upwards, of the enumeration in 1805a . From that period however the government was committed to the hands of Bernadotte, now Charles XIV, by whom the affairs of Sweden appear to have been conducted with some degree of prudence and moderation; and accordingly we find, by the return for 1815, that the population is again upon the rise. Norway by a late treaty has been added to the Swedish dominions; but the inhabitants of that country, amounting to about a million, are not included in the enumeration.
But I return to the question of population as it relates to my native country.
Now I say that the causes, which have kept down the population of the British Isles, and may, for aught we know, have prevented this country from arriving at a higher state of population at the present hour than it exhibited five centuries ago, may be principally reduced to these three, war, pestilence and famine, with the further addition of those calamities which bear a near affinity to them, viz. periods of general or local disturbance, contagious distempers of every description, unhealthy seasons, and occasions of eminent scarcity or public distress.
The question into which I am enquiring, is why England, having gone on for some time, at various periods, I shall suppose as Sweden has done, augmenting the number of its inhabitants, has also experienced such interruptions of this augmentation, as have very probably brought back the population to what it was before, thus oresenting us with the image of a journey, such as often occurs in the incoherence of dreams, in which great advances have been made, but nothing has ultimately been gained. The ground on which we tread slides from under us, and at the end of the race we find ourselves precisely on the spot at which we set out.—As, by the hypothesis, the interruptions have been occasional, the causes of those interruptions must also have been of an intermittent, not a regular operation.
All this does certainly well accord with what we know of the system of the universe. If there were not a power of increase in the numbers of the human species, sometimes operating, and at other times existing as a power only without present agency, the human species in all probability must have been long since extinct. If whenever famine, cruel war, or wide-wasting pestilence, had reduced the inhabitants of a country or a populous city to a mere remnant, as we frequently find to have been the case, of the population it boasted a few years or a few months before, there were no power in the constitution of man, of replacing by direct procreation with siwifter or slower steps the numbers that had been swept away, it would be easy to see that every portion of the globe in its turn would have been changed into a desert.—To return.
In 1339 Edward the Third led forth an army for the conquest of France. He repeated the same proceeding in 1342, and again in 1346, while at the same time queen Philippa marched against the Scots, who were defeated in a great battle, in which twenty thousand North Britons were slain, and the Scottish king and many of his nobles were taken prisoners. The expulsion of the English from France in the latter end of the reign of Edward the Third, was probably more destructive than his conquests. To these events we must add the plague of 1348, of the victims of which fifty thousand are said to have been interred in one year, in a burial-ground now the site of the Charter Houseb , beside those who died in other parts of London; this infection appears to have diffused itself impartially through every part of England.
The turbulent times of Richard the Second, the insurrection of the common people under Wat Tyler, and afterwards the contests between the king and his barons, could not have been favourable to population. The reign of Henry the Fourth was scarcely less disturbed than that of his predecessor.
Henry the Fifth acted over again the achievements of Edward the Third for the conquest of France; and these were followed by still more disastrous reverses in the reign of his son.
The series of events next brings us to the wars of York and Lancaster, upon which Hume observesc : “This fatal quarrel was not finished in less than a course of thirty years: it was signalised by twelve pitched battles: it opened a scene of extraordinary fierceness and cruelty, and is computed to have cost the lives of eighty princes of the blood, and to have almost annihilated the ancient nobility of England.” What effect this had on the general population may easily be imagined. It is no less true of these wars, than of the war of Troy,
Quicquid delirant reges, plecluntur Achivi.
The reign of the Tudors may be conceived to have been on the whole favourable to population.
Not so the reign of the Stuarts. Charles the First never spared the blood of his people; and his conduct at length involved the nation in a civil war. The interregnum, with all its fluctuations and uncertainty of government, did not tend to increase the numbers of our countrymen; and the profligate and intolerant policy of Charles the Second could not have been beneficial to the nation.
At the Revolution commenced the system, of England making herself a principal in the wars of the continent. The long reign of George the Third has certainly had its full proportion of years of war.
Till the fire of London in 1666, Hume saysd , “The plague used to break out with great fury in this metropolis twice or thrice in every century.”
From the reign of Elizabeth began the system of colonisation, the effects of which I shall have occasion more fully to unfold, when I come to treat expressly of the United States of North America. In the reign of George the Third we have not been contented to send out our planters to that side of the globe; we have settled an empire in the East Indies; and distributed our colonists profusely to other parts of the world.
Mr. Malthus may say what he pleases of the limited size of the earth, enabling it to subsist only a limited number of inhabitants, and of its population “at all times pressing hard against the limits of the means of subsistence,”—nothing in the mean while can be more palpable than the inadequate population of this island, its imperfect agriculture, and the vast tracts of its soil, which have as yet been made to contribute scarcely any thing to the subsistence of man. In short it is universally admitted that the soil of this island would maintain its present population ten times told.
Meantime I have thought it proper to enter into this slight sketch of our history as connected with the numbers of our citizens, that it might serve in some degree as a corrective to the visions of Mr. Malthus. All this well accords with what we know of the history of population in Sweden. We know there, that it advances, and it retrogrades. It advances by slow and measured steps: and, in a country, not liable to the inroad of savage conquerors, nor to the perhaps still more destructive influences of a government framed for the misery of its subjects, absolute desolation is not to be expected. Here then we distinctly see the checks upon a growing population; they are matters of record; they form a distinct part of the great volume of our history. We are not left, in this (if in reality we knew nothing more of it than the Essay on Population supposes),misnamed science, to fill up its gaps with imaginary deaths, and still more imaginary births.
It will be seen that my question and Mr. Malthus's respecting the checks on population are altogether different. My question is, why the world, in its various climates, and its successive ages, does not produce human beings, at the rate Sweden is proved to have done for fifty-four years? His question, on the contrary, is why Sweden did not for those fifty-four years produce human beings, at the rate in which he exhibits them as produced, in his dream of the United States of North America?
The entire result of the arguments and facts collected in this and the preceding Chapter, is, that the causes that keep down the population of mankind, which otherwise might advance with a slow, but regular progress, are not silent, mysterious and concealed, but obvious and glaring, and that they operate by fits and at intervals. Though I am far from pretending in this place to have reduced the theory of the checks on population into a science, I have done something towards it. I have taken it out of the state in which Mr. Malthus left it, referring every thing, as he does, to occult causes, and holding the world in awe by the repetition, at due intervals, of two cabalistical terms, vice and misery, and have shewn that the real checks are palpable, recorded in the history of mankind, and even capable of being reduced into somewhat of a tabulated form by the persons who shall hereafter patiently study this important branch of political economy.
mr. malthus's eleven heads of the causes which keep down population considered.
Ihave complained, and with great reason, of the vague and unsatisfactory style of generalisation in which Mr. Malthus treats his subject. In one place however he makes an attempt at being particular, and enumerates the checks to population under eleven heads. I should therefore be doing injustice to his lucubrations, if I did not bestow some attention on this passage.
The argument of the Essay on Population is this. The population of some parts of the United States doubles itself every twenty-five years in regular series: the population of Europe is at a stand, or nearly so: it is from the increase in these parts of America, that we must infer the inherent power and principle of population: the different state of the numbers of mankind in Europe must be owing to certain checks on population, which operate here, and not in the parts and countries alluded to. These checks Mr. Malthus is for the most part contented to speak of under the denominations of vice and misery.
The passage which I am now going to offer to the attention of the reader is as follows. I transcribe it with no other variation, than the inserting in the proper places the Arabic numerals, for the sake of perspicuity.
“The positive checks to population are extremely various, and include every cause, whether arising from vice or misery, which in any degree contributes to shorten the natural duration of human life. Under this head therefore may be enumerated, 1. all unwholesome occupations, 2. severe labour, 3. exposure to the seasons, 4. extreme poverty, 5. bad nursing of children, 6. great towns, 7. excesses of all kinds, 8. the whole train of common diseases and epidemics, 9. wars, 10. plague, 11. faminea .”
There is one thing that has been little, or not at all, adverted to by the disciples and favourers of Mr. Malthus. It is in no respect to the purpose, to produce a long catalogue of the vices that disfigure human society, or the miseries to which it is incident. This has nothing to do with our enquiry. Our only concern is with that vice and misery, or that degree of the one or the other, which exists here, and is not to be found in the northern parts of the United States of America.
I have already treated in a former chapter, of the three last of Mr. Malthus's checks, war, pestilence and famine. They occur only incident-ally in Europe or elsewhere. Their history fortunately may be traced. They are not in the class of the obscure causes, among which Mr. Malthus delights to dwell, and which, according to him, are for ever active and awake to keep down the population of mankind.
By this deduction then I reduce his eleven causes to eight: and I appeal to every impartial man to decide how pitiful a figure they make, when assigned as the sources of such stupendous effects as Mr. Malthus's theory requires from them. But even here, just reasoning requires that we should again subtract from this catalogue all those causes, and all those modifications and degrees of these causes, which are found to exist in the United States.
There is still another and a portentous deduction which we are called on to make. It is but too true, that extreme poverty has been found to exist in some countries, and some periods in certain countries of Europe. It is but too true that England has exhibited a considerable portion of this evil for some years last past. Wherever extreme poverty lasts for any considerable length of time, and spreads itself over a large portion of mankind, it must be expected to keep down population. But this is still nothing to the purpose.
There are certain parts of Europe, where extreme poverty and beggary are scarcely known, and in which there exists no such accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few individuals, as is to be found in more luxurious countries. Commerce has fortunately made little progress among them. Such a country is Switzerland; such a country is Sweden. Now what I require of Mr. Malthus is that he should shew such a difference in the operations of vice and misery, as should account for the republic of the United States doubling its population every twenty-five years in regular series by procreation only, while the population of Sweden perhaps exhibits no increase from century to century, and in its most favourable periods so small and drowsy an increase as that which is presented to us in the Swedish Tables.
This I say he has not done, and this I add neither he nor his followers will ever be able to do. We shall see in the next Book, how the case stands with the United States as to all those causes which are calculated to counteract the multiplication of mankind. Meanwhile, it will appear that I had great reason in the outset to call his theory a house of cards. Without any investigation into the subject he has affirmed that the population of a part of the United. States increases successively in a geometrical ratio, and that by procreation only. This has never been proved, and shall be disproved. In the same manner he pretends to enumerate certain causes which keep down population to an immense extent in Europe, and which have no such operation (for here lies the pith of the question) in America. These causes, when narrowly looked into, crumble into nothing. Mankind do not increase, in the way in which he affirms, and he never had any substantial reason for the affirmation, in the New World. The increase of the numbers of mankind is not counteracted, in the way in which he affirms it is counteracted, in the Old World. The two pillars of his system are wholly a delusion. And, this delusion being blown away, we return to the same principles of good sense and philanthropy, by which all the celebrated legislators of all antiquity were guided as one man.
In addition to what is here alleged, be it further remembered that, as has already abundantly appeared, it is the perishing of young children only, that can answer the purpose of Mr. Malthus's theory for keeping down the population of the Old World. This consideration entitles us to strike out again from Mr. Malthus's Table of checks, “severe labour,” “exposure to the seasons,” and “excesses of all kinds,” as having little or nothing to do with the mortality of young children.
observations on the countries in the neighbourhood of the river missouri.
There are doubtless other causes, which arrest, or which decrease population, more than have yet been adverted to. In this question, in the ark of which Mr. Malthus has set up an image, that he requires all people, nations and languages to bow down to and worship, but which is in reality one of the newest and most unconsidered in the whole circumnavigation of human curiosity, it may be of some use to us to look into unexplored paths, and to endeavour to obtain instruction from quarters which have hardly been resorted to.
A book has lately been published of the Travels of Captains Clarke and Lewis to the Source of the River Missouri, and across the American Continent to the Pacific Ocean. These men wandered through countries, which had hardly as yet been visited by any European. The citizens of the United States spreading themselves, as they seem impelled to do, over every quarter of the immense continent which has fallen to them as by inheritance, it became interesting to explore even this remote territory, and accordingly these officers were commissioned by the General Congress, to visit its tracts, and make report of what they saw. The book therefore which they have published, appears to be of singular authenticity.
These men, with their companions, wandered far and wide in the country they were appointed to survey. It appears to have exhibited a soil or-extraordinary fertility, copiously and even magnificently watered by the hands of nature, but almost naked of inhabitants. Again and again captain Clarke, the survivor of the two appointed discoverers, by whom their observations have been published, speaks of various nations of the North American natives, the Ottoes, the Pawnees, and many more, who were once powerful races of men, but are now reduced to a feeble remnant of two or three hundred soulsa . All these tribes, he observes, raise corna. And, which may appear more extraordinary, he found among them in different places the ruins of fortifications, constructed with regularity and art, the plan of one of which he has inserted in his book.
The outline of this story is by no means extraordinary; but it comes before us in a new shape. The cities and empires which have successively disappeared from the face of the earth form the counterpart of this. We visit the ruins of Balbec and Palmyra; we endeavour to trace the site of Babylon and Nineveh; and we do not feel that we are at a loss to account for the change that has taken place. We ascribe it to ruinous conquests, or to oppressive government. We may not always be right in this solution. We find marks of similar devastation on the banks of the Missouri; and we cannot impute it to desolating conquests, such as have frequently marked the history of Asia, or to bad government, of a nature like to that of which I have transcribed a specimen in the present state of Syria. It may be useful therefore to direct our attention specially to the banks of the Missouri.
It may tend somewhat to clear our ideas on the subject of population, if we divide the possible states of a country in this respect into three, increasing, decreasing, and stationary. There is every reason to believe that the aboriginal population of North America has long been decreasing, and is fast wearing out. It cannot have been always decreasing: that is an absurdity in terms. It once was stationary: before that, it is conformable to usual modes of reasoning on the subject, to suppose that it was on the increase.
Let us then assume a hypothetical period, when the numbers of the North American tribes began to diminish. This constitutes on many accounts a memorable era. Then first, according to Mr. Malthus, vice and misery may bo conceived to appear among them. Who brought them? What caravan, crossing the vast deserts of snow which surround the North Pole, had the merit of importing the precious cargo? This idea of fixing a limit and a beginning to a thing, is of vast service to enable us to comprehend the probability or improbability of any hypothesis respecting it.
One of Mr. Malthus's theories respecting population (and he would fain have us believe that all his theories are in unison and harmony) is, that in old countries the numbers of mankind are kept down by a want of the means of subsistence. It is not so in new countries. This last is the reason, as he tells us, why the population of the northern part of the United States has gone on, “doubling itself every twenty-five years for a century and a half successively.” The aboriginal inhabitants of the continent of North America were, I suppose, once a new people. They afterwards, it appears, changed their character, and became, according to Mr. Malthus's way of classing the inhabitants of the earth, an old people. When did this revolution take place?
The ideas we have usually been led to form of a race like the original tribes of North America, are that they are a wandering people, a nation of hunters. Hunting is certainly somewhat a precarious mode of providing the sustenance of human life; and we will suppose that, however plentiful the beasts used for food might be at first, a perseverance in the exercises of the chace may diminish their numbers. If this is the case, we might very naturally account for the decreasing population of a nation of hunters. But the nations on the banks of the Missouri all raise corn; their soil is peculiarly adapted for that purpose; and yet this tract of country is at this hour more thinly peopled than we almost any where read of.
But I shall perhaps be told by some, “War is the cause of this thinness of population; the nations in the vicinity of the Missouri are savages; and they occupy their time in cutting one another's throats.” The speculators who are contented to assign this as the cause of the phenomenon, undoubtedly are persons who see a very little way. When did this spirit of warfare and murder begin? The inhabitants of this part of the world at one time probably went on increasing their numbers. At another time it may be they remained stationary in this respect. I suppose no one will be infatuated enough to believe, that from the very beginning of their existence they have gone on incessantly decreasing. We must therefore suppose that they were once a civilized and humane people, and then degenerated into cut-throats and cannibals.
This hypothesis therefore, that the thinness of the population is to be accounted for by their wars, is entirely a gratuitous assumption. We have not the shadow of evidence of any change of character in the Aborigines of North America. We meet with a difficulty which we know not how to solve; and we invent this idea at random to account for it. Such a mode of proceeding bears no resemblance to reasoning, and is wholly unworthy of an answer.
It has already been observed, that, if a paucity of the means of subsistence is the cause that thins the ranks of mankind, it follows, as a corollary from this principle, that, when the agency of this cause has exerted itself to a given degree, the pressure should cease, and the former state of things return. It is somewhat of the same nature as the law of elasticity; want, severe necessity, according to Mr. Malthus, keeps down the propagation of mankind: but, when that want is removed, and every facility is afforded for procuring the means of subsistence, the principle of population ought to renew its strength like the eagle, and rejoice like a strong man to run his race. It is true, that in Europe every part and portion of the soil is allotted; the rich proprietor disposes of his land as he pleases. This is probably a reason why England and Europe have a very small number of inhabitants compared with that which the soil would maintain. But on the banks of the Missouri it is otherwise. There is no great landholder there, to say in every instance to his unfortunate neighbour, “This field is mine; and, whether I make an inadequate, or a perverse, or no use of it, you must not attempt to derive the smallest sustenance from it.” The survey of the banks of the Missouri, is of itself a sufficient answer to this part of the Essay on Population.
Thus far I think I have proceeded with a reasonable degree of certainty. The facts observed by captains Clarke and Lewis on the banks of the Missouri will hardly be disputed. Their total discordance with the theories of Mr. Malthus is sufficiently evident. It happens in this, as in many other subjects, that while we confine ourselves to negatives, we tread on tolerably firm ground. When we endeavour positively to assign causes to account for the phenomena, we then begin to be bewildered. I will not therefore trifle far with my readers under this head. I will nakedly set down a cause which occurs to my mind.
May it not be, that races of men have a perpetual tendency to wear out? It is generally believed, both of men and animals, that a breed is materially improved by crossing, and by consequence that, where a breed is not crossed, it has a constant tendency to decline. May not the qualities of the present race of Europeans, such as we find them, be materially owing to the invasions of the Celts and the Cimbri, the Goths and Vandals, the Danes, the Saxons, and the Normans? Perhaps, when Daniel Defoe wrote his True-Born Englishman, and thought he was composing a satire, he was very unintentionally unfolding the causes which render the natives of this island in my opinion superior, in stamina of character, in constancy of action, in intellect, in humanity, and in morals, to the people of any other country now existing on earth.
If this be a true view of the case (and I state it only as a thing by no means impossible), it would be enough to lead a deep and searching mind, to consider the existence of the human species collectively, as in some degree precarious. If particular races of men wear out, why, in the vast revolution of ages, supposing the earth to last so long, may not the whole wear out? We have strong reason to believe that several kinds of animals, heretofore inhabitants of this globe, have become extinct. What is it that should for ever render man superior to the empire of mutability? Looking at the subject from this point of view, one might be almost tempted to say of the species, as of one individual, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor wisdom, nor knowledge, in the grave, whither thou goest.”
But, whether the cause here mentioned for the disappearance of nations and races of men be a real cause or otherwise, I think I have a right to conclude from the contents of this Chapter, that is, from what is related respecting the Aborigines of North America, compared with a variety of similar facts recorded in the pages of ancient history, that there are other causes, which arrest, or which decrease from time to time the population of countries, more than have yet been adverted to.