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BOOK V.: of the means which the earth affords for the subsistence of man. - 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 means which the earth affords for the subsistence of man.
of the present state of the globe as it relates to human subsistence.
the pith of all Mr. Malthus's speculations lies in establishing a geometrical ratio for the power of increase in the human species, and an arithmetical ratio for the power of increase in the means of subsistence: and his capital inference is, that, at least in all old settled countries, or rather in all countries, except those where land is to be had freely, or at a very low rate, and agriculture is understood, the population is continually limited and kept down by the limits of the means of subsistence, and there is always a somewhat greater number of inhabitants, than the food of the country will fully and wholsomely nourish.
We have already enquired into the solidity of the doctrine of the Essay on Population, respecting that excessive tendency of the human species to increase, which it represents as “a source of mischief to mankind, in comparison with which all the evils entailed upon us by human institutions, however erroneous or oppressive, are in reality light and superficial,” and scarcely deserve the name of calamity. We have seen, that it is at least problematical, whether there is a tendency in the human species to increase, and that, for any thing that appears from the enumerations and documents hitherto collected, it may be one of the first duties incumbent on the true statesman and friend of human kind, to prevent that diminution in the numbers of his fellow-men, which has been thought, by some of the profoundest enquirers, ultimately to threaten the extinction of our species.
It is proper that we should now proceed to examine the other branch of Mr. Malthus's doctrine, that which relates to the means of subsistence; concerning which he will be seen to have fallen into errors not less ill-founded and pernicious, than those which concern the possible numbers of mankind.
I might indeed content myself to dismiss this part of my subject with all possible brevity. Having, I trust, for ever put to rest Mr. Malthus's geometrical ratio for the increase ot mankind, I might rest satisfied with his arithmetical ratio for the increase of the means of subsistence, as abundantly sufficient to satisfy all the demands which the human species are ever likely to make upon it. But there are many reasons why I do not think proper to stop here.—To proceed then.
The first thing perhaps that would arrest the observation of an enlightened enquirer, who should set himself down to survey the globe we inhabit according to the latest authorities, is the scanty and sparing way in which man, of whose nature we are, and in many respects with good reason, so proud, is scattered over the face of the earth. What immense deserts, what vast tracts of yet unconquered forests, the asylum only of wild beasts, or of the most pernicious and contemptible animals, have we occasion to observe! When I travel even through many parts of England, it seems to me that I pass through a country, which has but just begun to be reclaimed from the tyranny of savage nature. I believe I may venture to affirm that there is one third of the island which does not yet feel the hands of the cultivator; not to mention the very imperfect and inadequate manner in which the other two-thirds are turned to use. Man seems formed to subdue all these, to chase the wild beasts and either to tame or destroy their species, to fell the forests, and to render the most ungrateful soil productive. If indeed we are qualified to “increase, and multiply, and replenish the earth,” it might be hoped that, at a period however distant, the whole surface of all lands might be “cultivated like a garden.” But, for some reason or other, the very reverse of this is glaringly and deplorably the case.
And it is in a world, thus cheerless and melancholy in the point of view in which we are considering it, that Mr. Malthus has thought it opportune to blow the trumpet of desolation. He tells us, that the chief evil we have to fear is from the too great increase of population, and that this evil not only threatens to fall upon us, when the whole earth shall be subdued and turned to use, but that, “at every period during the progress of cultivation, from the present moment to the time when the whole shall become like a garden, the distress for the want of food will be, more or less, constantly pressing on mankinda .”
of the number of human beings which the globe is capable of maintaining on our present systems of husbandry and cultivation.
i am desirous, on the present occasion, of shutting out every thing conjectural, and which therefore by a certain class of reasoners might be called visionary. One practical way of looking at the subject is this. The habitable parts of the globe are computed to occupy a space of thirty-nine millions of square miles, and its human inhabitants to amount to six hundred millions. Of this surface China is said to constitute 1,300,000 square miles. Now, let us admit the present population of China to stand at three hundred millions of souls. How fully China is cultivated I do not know; but I have as little doubt as Mr. Malthus appears to have, that the soil of that empire might be made greatly more effective for the purposes of human subsistence, than it is at presenta . But let us assume, for the sake of argument, the cultivation of China for the standard of possible cultivation, and consequently its population for the standard of possible population. The earth then, if all its habitable parts could be made as fertile as China, is equal to the sustaining a population of nine thousand millions of human beings. In other words, wherever one human being is now found in existence, the earth is capable, not in theory only, and according to conceived improvements no where yet realised, but judging from approved facts, instead of that one, of subsisting fifteen.
The majority of men seem to have laboured under some deception as to the population of China. It is principally in the vast extent of an empire said to be every where so flourishing, that China is worthy of admiration. Taking from Pinkerton the dimensions of China on the one hand, and of England and Wales on the other, I find that, if the latter were as well stocked with citizens as the former, it would contain 13,461,923 inhabitants, that is about three millions beyond the returns to the population-act of 1811. Now it has been admitted by the most phlegmatic enquirers, that England and Wales might easily be made to maintain double their present number of inhabitants. Of course such enquirers proceed on the assumption, that there are tracts incapable of being profitably applied to the purposes of human subsistence. By parity of reason therefore the soil of China itself is very far from being turned to all the profit of which it is susceptible, for the subsistence of the human species.
The latter end of Mr. Malthus's system is of a character extremely discordant with the beginning. The author of the Essay on Population has been understood as proceeding upon the impression, that the surface of the earth was limited, containing only so many square miles, but that the power of population, upon the assumption of his geometrical ratio, was unlimited, and that the greater was at any time the actual number of human beings, the greater would be the power of increase.
I cannot but think that the first contemplation that would have suggested itself to an enlightened philanthropist, proceeding on these premises, would have been something like the following.
Man is an admirable creature, the beauty of the world, which, if he did not exist in it, would be “a habitation of dragons, and a court for owls; the wild beast of the desert would cry to the wild beast of the islands; baboons would dance there; and its pleasant places be filled with all doleful creatures.” How delightful a speculation then is it, that man is endowed by all-bountiful nature with an unlimited power of multiplying his species! I would look out upon the cheerless and melancholy world which has just been described, and imagine it all cultivated, all improved, all variegated with a multitude of human beings, in a state of illumination, of innocence, and of active benevolence, to which the progress of thought, and the enlargement of mind seem naturally to lead, beyond any thing that has yet any where been realised. I would count up the acres and the square miles of the surface of the earth, and consider them all as the estate in fee simple of the human intellect. I would extend my view from China and England, countries already moderately, and but moderately peopled, to the plains of North America, of South America, of Africa, of many tracts of Asia, of the north of Europe, of Spain, and various other divisions of the prolific world. I should contemplate with delight the extensive emigrations that have taken place to North Americab , and plan and chalk out, as far as my capacity and endowments of study would permit me, similar emigrations to other parts of the world, that should finally make the whole earth at least as populous as China is at present.
Whatever may become of the great question of the increasing or diminishing numbers of mankind, I own that the temper of my mind still compels me to cling to the picture here delineated. Mr. Malthus has constrained me to examine with severity the evidences that hitherto exist on the subject: but, however the conclusion to which those evidences have led me, may serve as a seasonable antidote to the loathsome theories of the Essay on Population, it is, I confess, a conclusion painful and adverse to my feelings. If it be just, the friend of man must then be contented, to hope to see the comparatively small handful of mankind scattered on the face of the earth, ultimately become enlightened and benevolent and happy, instead of seeing those blessings participated by fifteen or thirty times (upon a moderate computation) the numbers of the present inhabitants of the earth, and must console himself by the purity of their enjoyments for the fewness of those who possess them.—To this it might be added, that, if war and the other atrocious follies of society were abolished, we should have reason to expect, that if the numbers of mankind were not enlarged, at least they would not then decrease. But Mr. Malthus takes a very different view of the subject, and instead of considering the alleged power of multiplication in man, when combined with the imperfect and scanty population of the earth, as a subject of congratulation, he finds in it cause of “lamentation and much weeping.” Under a wise and honest administration of human affairs, I do not doubt that the power of multiplication in man, however extensive, might for centuries to come be rendered the source of an immeasurable increase of happiness on the face of the earth. Indeed, in this point of view, I hold Mr. Malthus as having penned a satire upon the existing constitutions and laws of society, infinitely bitterer than any thing that has yet been produced, by all the Utopianists and visionaries that ever existed, Those who possess the direction of human affairs, might, if they pleased, by wise concert, by persuasion, by developing grand views of the true interests of civilised man, and by a faithful discharge of the duties of their station, diffuse populousness through every region of the globe, and multiply thirty-fold the number of beings susceptible of human contentment, while by the same operation they would remove our oppressions, and give to every man a degree of competence and independence hitherto unknown. But the kings and the rulers of the earth prefer gratifying their bad passions, their ambition, their love of war, and their love of ostentation, by reigning over a comparative desert.
But Mr. Malthus leaps this interval of long happiness, which upon the principle of multiplication, and with a moderate degree of wise management, seems altogether not to be avoided, and passes at once to the period when the earth shall be replenished in all its parts. He then supposes that society will be heedlessly and brutishly bent upon multiplying as rapidly as possible; and, having first drawn the fair picture of a community where reason presides, and benevolence is first minister to execute her decrees, proceeds to exclaim, “This beautiful fabric of the imagination vanishes at the severe touch of truth. The spirit of benevolence, cherished and invigorated by plenty, is repressed by the chilling breath of want. The hateful passions that had vanished reappear. Violence, oppression, falshood, misery, every hateful vice and every form of distress, which degrade and sadden the present state of society, seem to be here generated by the most imperious circumstances, by laws inherent in the nature of man, and absolutely independent of all human regulationsc .”
Elsewhere however Mr. Malthus seems to be aware, that by this kind of argument he would stand but a small chance of making converts, and that the number of persons would be inconsiderable, who would zealously enlist themselves in the cause of vice, misery, and whatever other checks upon population he has been able to discover in the successive editions of his Essay, from a contemplation of the calamities that might occur, when the globe was too full of inhabitants. “If,” says he, “a beautiful system of equality were in other respects practicable, and if no difficulty would arise from the principle of population, till the whole earth had been cultivated like a garden, and was incapable of any further increase of produce, I cannot think that our ardour in the pursuit of such a scheme ought to be damped by the contemplation of so remote a difficulty. An event at such a distance might fairly be left to Providenced
Mr. Malthus is certainly extremely skilful in what logicians call the argumentum ad hominem. When the business is to demolish a scheme of happiness founded upon a philosophical principle of equality, he conceives this sufficiently done by displaying the folly of the wise, and the selfishness of the benevolent. But turn back a few pages, and you find him candidly acknowledging, that he “cannot think that our ardour in the pursuit of such a scheme ought to be damped by the contemplation of so remote a difficulty, and that an event at such a distance might fairly be left to Providence.”
This is very much of the same nature, as the justification which he elsewhere sets up of the goodness of God, in inflicting upon us all the miseries which he traces to the principle of population. He rests this justification upon the way in which excessive population might be kept down, without vice and misery, by the mere operation of human forbearance and discretion:—and then adds, “I believe few of my readers can be less sanguine in their expectations of any great change in the general conduct of men on this subject than I am; and the chief reason why I allowed myself to suppose the general prevalence of virtue, was, that I might endeavour to remove any imputation on the goodness of the Deitye ,” by shewing, that, if he had made man a creature such as Mr. Malthus thinks man never was or will be, many of the miseries of this sublunary scene would have been removedf .
calculation of the productive powers of the soil of england and wales.
finding therefore that he has done little, by his strange hypothesis of the misery to grow out of universal happiness, and, the irresistible reign of self-love to occur as soon as “benevolence had established her reign in all hearts,” or within thirty years aftera , which hypothesis, in the very next contiguous chapter to that in which he sets it up, he ingenuously acknowledges to be a “difficulty, that ought not to discourage us in our pursuit, and an event that might fairly be left to Providence,”—Mr. Malthus changes his ground, and assures us, that, “at every period during the progress of cultivation, from the present moment to the time when the whole earth has become like a garden, the distress for the want of food, will be, more or less, constantly pressing on mankind.” Indeed this is the sole subject of one very large division of his work, to shew that in all countries, America only excepted, population, as he phrases it, “continually presses hard against the limits of the means of subsistence.”
In what is to come in this and the following chapters, I am obliged to proceed upon the assumption, that there is in the human species a tendency towards increasing population. Few persons would be inclined to dispute, that, supposing population at a stand, and setting aside this imputed tendency to increase, it would not be an unconquerable problem, to find, in this or any other known country, the means of raising the subsistence, so as fully to meet the wants of its present number of inhabitants.
A sober enquirer would be disposed to begin with the examination of the country in which he lives. To assist us in this, and enable the reader to compare the subsistence actually raised in England and Wales, with the present number of the inhabitants, I will subjoin a few extracts from Mr. Middleton's Survey of Middlesex, published by authority of the Board of Agriculture.
In the ninth section of his seventeenth chapter, entitled, “Supply and Consumption of South Britain,” Mr. Middleton states the Cultivated Land of England and
In the same page of his book (642) he rates the consumption of the inhabitants, men, women and children, upon an average, thus:
Proceeding on this calculation, and taking the population of England and Wales at ten millions of souls, their total consumption, per annum, would be
Add to this, that Mr. Middleton computes that we employ 1,200,000 horses in agriculture, which devour the produce of four acres each, making——4,800,000
Now if we take this last item of 6,800,000 acres, and divide it by 2¾, we shall find that it affords food for 2,054,380 human beings, which added to the ten millions before named, gives a total of 12,054,380, that is, a number exceeding by nearly two millions the amount of the inhabitants of England and Wales, according to the returns to the population-act of 1810.—It is to be observed, that in this calculation I have wholly omitted all consideration of the 7,816,000 acres, which Mr. Middleton states as consisting at present in commons and waste lands, but which are certainly in part capable of being diverted to the sustenance of human life.
I have the rather chosen to present these extracts to the reader, as they naturally lead to several interesting reflections on the subject of human subsistence, independently of the question under present consideration.
I was however originally anxious to have given here, instead of the above, a Table of the actual produce of the country, under the heads of the different articles of human nutriment. But I did not find that I could obtain, with sufficient accuracy, the materials of such a Table. Mr. Middleton proceeds on a ground, peculiarly unfavourable to the result of which I was in search. He computes the quantity of land, appropriated to grazing and tillage, and from thence reasons downward to the food of a human being. I do not doubt, that if I could have procured an account of the actual produce, it would have shewn the wealth of the country, and the extent of its power in sustaining a number of human beings, in a much more striking light.
At present, for example, England produces annually a certain number of quarters of corn, and so on of the other means of human subsistence. If Mr. Malthus intends to say that this quantity of corn and this stock of provisions will subsist only a given number of human beings, and that, supposing all importation and exportation to be suspended for one year, the whole of this stock may be bona fide applied to the subsistence of the people of England, he is or may be delivering a truth; but he is merely delivering a truth of the most obvious and trivial nature, while he affects with much solemnity to be laying down a principle.
The proper question is, why, if this quantity of provisions is not sufficient for the subsistence of the people of England in the year under consideration, or as they might be found in the subsequent years, a greater quantity of provisions does not go on to be produced?
And here the first certain and incontrovertible answer, is the negative one, that it is not the limited dimensions of the globe, or of any of its considerable divisions, and that it is not that the earth refuses itself to the producing a more considerable quantity. The lands of England have never yet been tasked to produce all the means of human nourishment of which they are capable: the men of England have never yet been called forth to exert all that agricultural industry, of which the number of hands existing in the country are susceptible. It is neither the want of soil, nor the want of hands to cultivate it, that limits the quantity of provisions which England annually produces. It must therefore be something different from both of these.
causes of the scarcity of the means of human subsistence.
there lurks an ambiguity under the term “means of subsistence;” and, but for that ambiguity, I conceive that Mr. Malthus's doctrine upon this head could never have been listened to for a moment.
The earth is, in a liberal point of view, the “means of subsistence” to man; and, till her prolific bosom has been exhausted, and her soil has been so cultivated, that the store of provisions she is able to afford can be no further enlarged, there can be no danger to free and unshackled, and at the same time civilized man, on the score of the means of subsistence.
In another, and a very restrained sense, the provisions actually collected from the surface of the earth, may be called our “means of subsistence;” and in this sense Mr. Malthus always chuses to understand the term.
If this ambiguity had been attended to, every one would have felt the absurdity of talking of “population pressing hard against the limits of the means of subsistence,” in any intermediate period, till the “whole earth had been cultivated like a garden.”
To place this fact in a more striking point of view, let us set apart from each other the two great modes of the existence of man, the civilised, and the savage state. For the present I will confine myself to the former.
Civilised man, is man not living upon the wild fruits of the earth, or the wild animals of the field, but for the most part upon that which is matured by human industry. Here therefore every man that is born into the world, is a new instrument for producing the means of subsistence, in the sense of provisions; and every member added to the numbers of the community, is a new instrument for increasing those means.
The basis of civil society, at least as it exists in those countries with which we are best acquainted, will be found in the truth of this proposition, that man in society is capable of rearing a greater quantity of provisions than is necessary for his own subsistence. Till this was the case, all mankind were shepherds or husbandmen; and if the case had not been altered, such we must for ever have remained.
It is to this supererogatory power in man, that we are indebted for all our improvements, our refinements, and elevation. The result has been, the dividing the members of civil society into two great classes, the one, who are employed in rearing the fruits of the earth, and the other, who live in idleness, or who are employed in other kinds of industry, not immediately connected with the production of food.
How profound therefore the absurdity of talking of “population pressing hard against the limits of subsistence,” till the earth, and the different parts of the earth, have been “cultivated like a garden!”
Let us look to the continent of North America, whose real or fabulous history has had the shame to give birth to Mr. Malthus's hypothesis. There, we are told, every man considers each additional child that is born to him, as so much added to his wealth, to his means of subsistence, or rather to his means of indulgence and of accumulating a moderate fortune. There, it has over and over again been pretended, the population doubles by procreation only, in fifteen, twenty, or five-and-twenty years. There, we are assured, the number of inhabitants in 1749 was one million, and at the present hour is ten millions. [I grant the increase; but I deny that there is such a progressive and permanent increase from procreation only.]]
Why is all this? For one simple reason. Because on the continent of North America there is a vast quantity of productive land, yet uncultivated, which may be had gratis, or at a low price, so as to be, with a little patience and industry, within the reach of every man to obtain.
It is clear therefore, that, so long as there is in any country cultivable land, yet unapplied to the purposes of human subsistence, or not yet improved to those purposes to such a degree as is easily within the reach of existing science and skill, population may be checked, but it is not checked by any thing that is connected with a paucity of the means of subsistence. In other words, till the whole earth has been cultivated like a garden (for the power of such cultivation is in proportion to the number of human beings naturally capable of agricultural labour), or till some one of its considerable portions has been so cultivated, and the inhabitants will not be persuaded to seek their fortune elsewhere, there can be no cause, inherent in the nature of things, why population should not go on to increase, to any extent to which it has the power of increasing.
Nothing therefore can be more insolent, or move groundless, than to talk to an unportioned man, who has come into the world in obedience to the great laws of nature, and without his own consent, of his having come into a “world, where every thing is appropriated.” Appropriated indeed it is, but not to the wisest and most honest purposes, not to purposes most conducive to the diffusion of human happiness. He has only to lift up his eyes, and survey our heaths and our forests, our parks and our pleasure-grounds, and he must see that the world is not appropriated, as the simple, but never to be confuted, laws of nature direct us to appropriate it. I am not now enquiring whether the appropriation made by the institutions of society has or has not good reasons to defend it: but I say, that as long as that appropriation operates in its present form, population is not kept down by the want of the “means of subsistence.”
We may indeed venture to affirm, without fear of reasonable contradiction, that there is no country, known at present to exist on the face of the earth, where population is imperiously checked, but by one of two causes, ignorance, or the positive institutious of society.
The savage tribes of mankind are thinly scattered over a vast extent of soil, of which they have never discovered the true and most beneficial use. They subsist precariously upon the wild animals of the forest, or the fruits and roots which accident may offer to their acceptance. They make little provision against the time when these precarious means of subsistence may not be presented to them. A run of what is vulgarly called ill-luck, may starve whole families to death. Man is an animal that, whatever Mr. Malthus may say to the matter, requires to be tenderly treated. In the beginning of existence the infant can scarcely be reared without anxiety and care; and in the decline of life we perish soon, unless we are supplied with accommodations and indulgencies. The latter of these circumstances, as I have shewn, does not diminish the source of population; but the inadequate means which savages possess for rearing their offspring, and the distress which must be supposed to occur from their want of magazines, do so diminish it. Even in maturity the being continually subjected to all the variations of the elements must be materially injurious; and, though uncivilised man does not feel these variations so sensibly as we do, they must, in a vast multitude of instances, tend to cut short the thread of human existence. Undoubtedly the life of a savage is, to my conception of the thing, a miserable life.
The only other cause, beside ignorance, that can tend imperiously to check the progress of population, in a world so imperfectly peopled as that we inhabit, arises from the positive institutions of society. So long as there are vast portions of land, in this or any other country, wholly uncultivated, or not so cultivated as to supply to a considerable extent the food of man, it is a solecism to say that population is kept down for want of the means of subsistence. Arguments may undoubtedly be offered why a country should not be cultivated to its utmost extent: it may be alleged in various ways to conduce to the highest virtue and improvement of man, that there should be differences in rank, and inequalities of fortune: and it is perhaps better that human creatures should exist in inferior numbers, but in the noblest and most admirable state of which we are capable, than that the numbers of mankind should be carried to their utmost extent, while in intellect they should be brought down nearer to the brutes. I am not now disputing about the most eligible form of human society. But I claim, in the language of a homely proverb, but full of good sense, that the “saddle should be put on the right horse.”
The chief object of this work is to restore the old principles of political science, to scatter the clouds, and set aside the paralogisms, with which Mr. Malthus has obscured them. I claim therefore peremptorily to infer from what has been said, that population is not kept down, in the different countries of Europe, provided it has a tendency to increase, by a want of the means of subsistence, but by the positive institutions of society. I claim to reverse the celebrated maxim of Mr. Malthus, and to say, that “human institutions, if erroneous and oppressive, are the mighty and tremendous sources of mischief to mankind, while the progress of population is, in the comparison, light and superficial, a mere feather that floats upon the surface” of the Essay on Population, and hardly worthy of serious consideration any where else.
What is the great difference between the continent of North America, and the principal divisions of the European quarter of the world.
That in America I can say to a man, as God said to Abraham, “Go forth into the field, and look to the east, and the west, and the north, and the south,” and chuse where thou wilt for the place of thy inheritance. In Europe, the destitute man, and the man that is inclined to draw forth the resources of his industry, may in like manner look to all the winds of heaven, and see many tracts uncultivated, or not rendered available to the subsistence of man; but he sees this in vain. If he drives in a spade, or sets up a pale, another will presently come, and pointing to the soil, say, “This is mine,” and will bring his writ of ejectment, or chase out the new-comer with the posse of his companions and dependents in a more summary way. He not only cannot obtain an inch of land gratis, but, if he wants a small portion, cannot obtain it, perhaps at any price, or at any price which, in his circumstances, would make it an available speculation. The land indeed, as Mr. Malthus says, is “wholly appropriated;” but it is not appropriated to the genuine uses of natural man.
causes of the scarcity of the means of human subsistence continued.
let us resume for a moment, and endeavour to set in a still clearer light this proposition of Mr. Malthus, The population of the earth is continually kept down in all old countries by a want of the means of subsistence.
The weakness and folly of this idea seem to exceed every thing that could previously have been imagined of the extent of human credulity. A man must be lost beyond redemption in a labyrinth of sophistry, before he can become its victim.
The eunuch of the queen of Ethiopia said to the apostle, Lo, here is water; what hinders that I be baptised? In the same manner we may represent to ourselves an unsophisticated man of plain understanding saying, Lo, here is land; what hinders that I cultivate it? To make the case a fair one, the plot of earth concerning which his question is framed, shall be one of those many portions to be found in our native country, which have never felt the plough, and have scarcely in any degree worth mentioning, been applied to the purposes of human subsistence.
The merest driveller can answer this question, What hinders me, is civil institutions, and the law of the country.
What can be plainer? If I cultivate this land for my own use and the use of those most closely connected with me, I shall hardly rob any one of the means of subsistence, more than I should have done by cultivating a few acres in the wildest parts of North America. And this plot of land that I speak of, is a thousand times more easily to be improved by me, than a similar plot in the back-settlements of America. It will want a certain degree of preparation, before it can be rendered productive. But the correspondent plot in North America is first to be cleared of its native woods, the aborigines of the soil. The implements of husbandry in the one case are to be transported across the Atlantic; in the other they are to be procured at the same price, and without any expence of freight, at the adjacent market-town. The capital which is required for inclosing a farm and rendering the soil available in America, might equally suffice to the cultivator in his native country, but for the prohibition that hangs over him, and the impossibility under which he labours of buying or hiring the portion of land he wants at home. Divers authors have reasoned learnedly respecting the origin of property. The explanation given by Locke has been exceedingly admired; and there is a very striking passage of Rousseau in his Emilius on the same subject. Mr. Malthus has set aside all the speculations of his predecessors on this momentous topic. He says, or rather his argument requires him to say, The law of property originates in the geometrical ratio. The founders of nations had an intuitive feeling of the unlimited and rapid multiplication of mankind, and therefore set up this fence in time, to keep down the population of the earth. It is true, that it must be civil institutions after all, that cause the soil of this island to be so inadequately cultivated, in a degree, according to Mr. Malthus, which is unequal to the wholesome and competent nourishment of all its inhabitants. But then, if we admit the theory of the Essay on Population, civil institutions may justly stand discharged of all blame on the subject, for this reason; because they are guilty of no caprice, they exercise no discretion; they are the blind and necessary instruments of a higher power, of the great, inherent and indefeasible law of the multiplication of mankind. The great axiom of Mr. Malthus will therefore still remain unimpeached: “Human institutions, however erroneous or oppressive, though 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 deeper-seated causes of evil, which result from the laws of nature and the passion between the sexes.”
The more closely we look into the Essay on Population, the greater reason shall we find to be convinced, that it exhibits a theory of the most airy and unsubstantial nature that was ever obtruded on the public. It sets out in a grand style with the arithmetical and geometrical ratios, and undertakes to shew that, let the earth be cultivated and improved to however great a degree of perfection, the produce could never suffice to supply the wants of all the human beings that, by the principle of multiplication in man, would be engendered upon it.
This is the shewy and dazzling part of Mr. Malthus's theory, set forth to amaze his readers; and with this he has contrived to delude and mislead a countless multitude of followers. But this has nothing to do with the practical part of his doctrines, the essence of which lies simply in one proposition, viz. that “in all old countries, where the land is already appropriated, the population is at all times pressing hard against the limits of the means of subsistence.”
Now, if in all old countries the population is at all times pressing hard against the limits of the means of subsistence, it must be so in countries where population is at a stand, for it is at a stand probably in most countries of Europe. Nay, which is more, and which Mr. Malthus has been at great pains to make out, it must be so in countries where population is actually on the decline.
The arithmetical and geometrical ratios therefore of the Essay on Population, are upon a par with the curls of the wig of Sterne's Parisian barber. “Immerge them in the ocean, exclaimed he, and they will stand.”
“What a great scale,” says Sterne, “is every thing upon in this city! The utmost stretch of an English perriwig-maker's ideas could have gone no further than to have ‘dipped it into a pail of water.’ The pail of water standing beside the great deep, makes certainly a pitiful figure in speech; but, it will be said, it has one advantage; it is in the next room, and the truth of the buckle may be tried in it without more ado in a single moment.”
What Mr. Malthus advances on the subject of population in his Essay, is the exact counterpart of this. “If a beautiful scheme of social happiness,” says he, “were in other respects practicable, I cannot think that our ardour in the pursuit of such a scheme ought to be damped by the contemplation of so remote a difficulty, as might arise when the whole earth had been cultivated like a garden, and was incapable of any further increase of produce. An event at such a distance might fairly be left to Providence. But the truth is, that, at every period from the present moment, the distress for want of food will be constantly pressing on all mankind.”
If then the truth is, that in all old countries, there is at all times, when the question is fairly weighed, a dearth of the means of subsistence, and at no time a sufficient supply for the full and wholesome nourishment of all, then the smallest assignable increase in the number of those who claim a share will be a serious calamity. A way then with the pompous procession of Mr. Malthus's ratios, which serve in this matter for parade only, and to perplex the minds of the readers! The true practical difficulty, the only question worthy the consideration of those whose concern is with the affairs of real life, is whether any remedy can be found for this disparity between the amount of the means of subsistence in all old countries, and the claims of those, who, being in existence, naturally desire to subsist. Mr. Malthus says, the remedy is in keeping down the population, the number of claimants. Another man may, with equal plausibility and appearance of right, say, that the remedy lies in increasing the amount of the means of subsistence, in a different administration of those capacities which the earth holds forth for the subsistence of man. It is between these two schemes of reasoning that we are called upon to decide.
The question does not, as Mr. Malthus unjustly endeavours to make us believe, depend in the smallest degree upon the extent to which the power of multiplication in man might possibly be carried. This has nothing to do with the matter. The geometrical ratio is a mere ignis fatuus, serving to no purpose but to lead us astray, through “fens, bogs, dens, and shades of death—a universe of death.” Be the power of multiplication in man whatever it may, its actual operation is arrested, if arrested, by something else than the effects of its own excessive rapidity. The chariot of Nature has not yet been set on fire by the velocity of its motion. Let the principle of increase in man be the smallest that can be imagined, still, according to Mr. Malthus, that minute increase is for ever “pressing hard against the limits of the means of subsistence.” Let us then, undazzled and undismayed by the prodigious prologue which the Essay on Population sets before this dry and simple proposition, enquire into the truth of the proposition itself.
Mr. Malthus's great practical proposition is, The population in all established states always presses hard against the limits of the means of subsistence; or, in other words, the excessive tendency there is in human nature to increase in numbers, renders every attempt to increase the means of human subsistence, that is, provisions, abortive at least, if not rather pernicious.
Now there are three very simple reasons which may be assigned to prove that this is not the case.
First, because, in many such states, there is no increase, but the population is at a stand: in some it actually decreases, without any public benefit arising from that circumstance.
Secondly, because, according to Mr. Malthus's famous doctrine of the parallel ratios, the two first terms in each coincide. The population, he informs us, has a tendency to double itself in twenty-five years; but then he grants that the means of subsistence may in the same time be increased by a quantity equal to itself. Thus far the arithmetical and geometrical ratios coincide. For the period of the first duplication of population in any country, all is safe. The fears of Mr. Malthus, and the fears which can reasonably be entertained by those who espouse his principles, are for the subsequent periods. Well then, let us grant the first period. Upon Mr. Malthus's own shewing, during all the time that We are advancing towards the first doubling things may go on tranquilly and prosperously. The population increases; but then the means of subsistence (unless Mr. Malthus's concessions are hollow and treacherous, promising us all good and desirable things, like the song of the Sirens, the better to destroy) may be expected equally to increase.
The express doctrine of the Essay on Population, when stripped of all false colours, and separated from the false prophecies, the accomplishment of which we have certainly no present reason to expect, is that the country of England, for example, where Mr. Malthus and I have written our treatises, may go on well, till the population it now contains, say, ten millions, becomes doubled, becomes twenty millions. Take the words of the Essay on Population “In the first twenty-five years the population would be twenty millions [he says, twenty-two millions], and the food being also doubled, the means of subsistence would be equal to this increasea .”This is no trivial statement thrown out at random. This is the arithmetical and geometrical ratios themselves. This is the very basis of all Mr. Malthus's speculations, “which except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt”he is a mere interloper and impostor in the school of the Essay on Population.
But let us suppose that the population of England does not become twenty millions in so short a period as twenty-five years. For every thing in Mr. Malthus's ratios, simple as they may appear to a cursory observer, depends upon time. If mankind do not double in every generation, the venom of the doctrine of the Essay on Population is extracted, the poison is neutralised. The improvements in the art of producing the means of subsistence, the very foundation of the arithmetical ratio, are intimately bound up with the consideration of time. Mr. Malthus's express doctrine is, “Be it allowed that the subsistence for man which the earth affords might be increased every twenty-five years by a quantity equal to what it at present producesb .” It is so written down in the bond. If then mankind do not double their numbers in twenty-five years, if they only double in fifty, or seventy-five, or a hundred years [or, if, as we know from experience in the Old World, they do not double at all; for it is with a real and not a possible doubling that we are concerned; possible men do not eat, though real men do], the increase in the means of subsistence by additions of its own quantity every twenty-five years may go on, and the geometrical ratio, advancing by different periods of time, may be a long, an indefinite period, in overtaking the arithmetical.
Nothing therefore can be more clear than that the doctrine of Mr. Malthus, as laid down in the Essay on Population, is the farthest in the world from being a practical doctrine. It is a theory in the clouds, for the amusement of those who delight to dwell in an element remote from the affairs of men. It is on a par with Dr. Price's illustration of the inherent power of'the principle of Compound Interest. “One penny,” says this author, “put out at our Saviour's birth to five per cent, compound interest, would, in the year 1791, have increased to a greater sum than would be contained in three hundred millions of earths, all solid goldc .” Now it would be as reasonable for us to take the alarm at the despotic and uncontrolable power over all mankind, that might be supposed to fall to the rightful heir by primogenitureship of the man who put out one penny to compound interest at our Saviour's birth, as that we should disquiet ourselves about the issue of Mr. Malthus's ratios. I should say to him who felt terrified at the first, Wait, till you have seen in sober earnest the penny become one thousand or ten thousand pounds. And I should say to the man, the tranquillity of whose repose was seriously disturbed by the dream of the geometrical ratio, wait at least, till you have seen the ten-million population of this island become twenty millions; for up to that period we have the authority of the Essay on Population to say, “The food being also doubled, the means of subsistence would be equal to this increase.” Till we see the first step of the geometrical ratio in England realised, we have no reason to be discomposed; and Mr. Malthus's statements have in the mean time as much to do with the realities of life, as the old adage which says, “When the sky falls, we shall catch larks.”
Thirdly, let us consider a little attentively how it is that the increase of population, by procreation only, is to produce the effect of making provisions too scanty. The first start of this increase must be by an addition to the number of infants. But infants do not in their first years consume any great quantity of animal or vegetable food. The increasing demand therefore for the means of subsistence can only come upon us gradually. And the means of subsistence, by the doctrines of the Essay on Population, are susceptible of an increase, regular, progressive and unlimited, though only in an arithmetical ratio. It is not therefore any actual increase in the number of candidates, that renders the means of subsistence in an old country too limited for the fair supply of its inhabitants. But, if it is not any thing actual, then it is something apprehended. To this conclusion we must come at last. If it is the tendency to increase in population beyond the practicable increase in the means of subsistence that keeps down the numbers of mankind, then it must be the apprehension of that increase. But how can that be, since Mr. Malthus in the year 1798 had the honour to discover the geometrical ratio, and since all the statesmen of ancient and modern times up to that memorable era, were persuaded, with Dr. Paley, that “the decay of population is the greatest evil that a state can suffer,” and considered the main desidcratum in politics as being, to increase the number of their fellow-citizens? Thus it has been no reality, but the apprehension of what no man apprehended, that has carried on the most extensive system of infanticide, and strangled the progeny of the human race, to an amount which it is difficult to conceive, but which any man who will be at the trouble of applying the geometrical ratio from the first planting of this island, or peopling of the world, may easily put down, if he can procure a sheet of paper large enough to contain the figures that represent it.
To help the imagination of the reader in this point, I will present him with two authentic calculations on the subject.
The first is to be found in Morse's American Gazetteer. Under the article, “New York City,” he has the following words: “Should the population of this city proceed in the same ratio through this century, as it has the last twenty years, the number of its inhabitants will be 5,257,493:“thus raising by anticipation, in the course of less than a century, a comparatively humble town, with a population, at the moment of the. author's writing his book, as it appears, of 83,500 persons, to somewhat towards the double of the computed population of Pekin.
My next example shall be taken from the pen of Mr. Malthus himself, who, in a book just published, entitled, Principles of Political Economy Considered, has the following passage.
“If any person will take the trouble to make the calculation, he will see that, if the necessaries of life could be obtained without limit, and the number of people could be doubled every twenty-five years, the population, which might have been produced from a single pair since the Christian era, would have been sufficient, not only to fill the earth quite full of people, so that four should stand upon every square yard, but to fill all the planets of our solar system in the same way, and not only them, but all the planets revolving round the stars which are visible to the naked eye, supposing each of them to be a sun, and to have as many planets belonging to it as our sun hasd ,”
And this is the doctrine, which has seriously deluded the gravest statesmen of England and of Europe for the last twenty years, has reared its motley front in courts and parliaments, and been judged worthy to be made the foundation of legislative measures, and of codes of practical administration and jurisprudence to mankind!
The spirit of Mr. Malthus's theory bears a striking resemblance to the policy employed in training coach-horses, upon whose heads their manager is accustomed to fasten a pair of blinkers, that they may attend to nothing on either side, but see only straight before them. It is surely worth while that we should endeavour to trace the effects of the geometrical ratio, as it must have operated in ages past. We live, as I have often had occasion to repeat, in an unpeopled world. How comes this, upon the principles of the Essay on Population? What was it that stopped the increase of population in ancient times before the existence of records?
I have abundantly shewn, if population is kept down by the narrow limits within which the means of subsistence are at present confined, that this restraint arises out of civil institutions, the inequality of mankind, and the accumulation of property, landed property especially, in few hands. But this system of policy had a beginning. It is the offspring of refinement. The soil of the earth was once as free, once probably a great deal freer, than it is now in the territory of the United States of North America. Every man might have land at a very cheap rate. Every man might have land perhaps for nothing. And then, by the principle I have already explained, that each man in civilised society is born with the power of producing a much greater quantity of food than is necessary for his own subsistence, I see nothing that upon the principle of the Essay on Population should have arrested the progress of population, till the earth, the known world, was “cultivated like a garden.” I call on Mr. Malthus to explain this phenomenon. I call on Mr. Malthus to account for what we see, an unpeopled world.
But perhaps the disciples of the geometrical ratio will say that, in this state of things, population was not arrested, as the fundamental principle of the Essay on Population affirms that the operation of this ratio is not stopped in North America. Perhaps the whole world once “swarmed with human beings,” as the eyewitnesses of the first discovery of South America affirm of that quarter of the world, “as an ant-hill swarms with ants.”If this is true, surely the thought of it is enough to make one serious. The earth might easily, upon our present systems of husbandry and cultivation, be made to subsist thirty times the number of human creatures that now inhabit it. Therefore it did contain thirty times the number of its present inhabitants. Therefore twenty-nine thirtieths of the human race have already been struck out of the catalogue of the living. And it is in this wreck of a world, almost as desolate as if a comet from the orbit of Saturn had come too near us, that Mr. Malthus issues his solemn denunciations, warning us on no consideration to increase the numbers of mankind.
The reader is aware that he is not to take the above statements as the enunciation of my own opinions. I give them only as the fair consequences of the theory of the Essay on Population. I give them only as results which Mr, Malthus must either account for or elude. And I therefore give them as considerations to which I might have trusted singly for the overthrow of Mr. Malthus's positions, if the world had not appeared so infatuated on the subject, as to impose on me the necessity of an elaborate refutation of the most groundless paradoxes that ever were started.
OF THE IMPROVEMENTS OF WHICH THE PRODUCTIVENESS OF THE GLOBE FOR THE PURPOSES OF HUMAN SUBSISTENCE IS CAPABLE
IT is with some diffidence that I would enter upon the theoretical part of the question, and enquire how far the earth may be rendered more productive to the purposes of human subsistence than it is at present. This branch of the subject however would be left imperfect, if that consideration were wholly omitted.
To the improvements of man, more particularly in art, and the application of human industry, there is no end. No sooner therefore shall we have got rid of the geometrical ratio, and the still more absurd doctrine (if indeed there be any degrees between these) of “population necessarily and constantly pressing hard against the limits of subsistence, from the present moment to the time when the whole earth shall be cultivated like a garden,” than our prospects will grow very cheering indeed.
Mr. Malthus, in the commencement of his theory, is willing to grant, that in twenty-five years the means of subsistence, i.e. the amount of provisions, through the whole earth, or in any given country, might be doubled, in fifty years tripled, in seventy-five years quadrupled, in one hundred years quintupled, and so on in an infinite series. Perhaps in some steps of this series he supposes too much, and we can scarcely bring our minds to believe in an absolutely infinite progression. It is this apparently candid spirit of concession, as much at least as any other cause, or all other causes put together, that has given to Mr. Malthus's theory so astonishing a success with his contemporaries. They said, the writer must be very sure of his ground, who grants to his antagonists more than any antagonist would venture to ask. But I do not relish any of Mr. Malthus's ratios.
Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes.
Let us come down then to the regions of common sense. And, to attain a greater degree of perspicuity in our views, let us take for the object of our consideration the countries of England and Wales.
In what is to come it must by no means be forgotten, that, as far as the laws of nature are concerned, there is no difficulty arising from the increasing numbers of mankind, if there be any increase, till a very remote period. The idea of “pressing hard against the limits of subsistence,” where the cultivation of the earth is understood, and as long as there shall be any portions of a country cultivable, and not yet cultivated, is, I trust, banished for ever.
In the first place then I would observe, that, after what has been stated, it will hardly be denied, first, that the food produced in England and Wales, if equally distributed, is more than enough for the present number of the inhabitants; or, secondly, that many tracts of land in these countries might be rendered more efficient for the subsistence of man, than they actually are.
The problem now under consideration, is, how shall a given tract of country be made to subsist more men? The problem that seems for more than a century past in England practically to have occupied the attention of those in whose direction the affair was placed, has been, How shall a given tract of country be made effective only for the subsistence of a smaller number of men?
Dr. Price mentions two causes, operating in this country, which are eminently calculated to produce this effect; the engrossing of farms, and the progress of luxury.
“A large tract of land,” he observes, “in the hands of one man, neither yields so great a return, nor does it employ so many people [as it would do if divided to a number of proprietors]d . “And, in illustration of this, he mentions two parishes in the Pays de Vaud; one of which, once a little village, having been bought by some rich men, was sunk into a single demesne; and the other, once a single demesne, having fallen into the hands of some peasants, was become a little village. “How many facts,” he adds, “of the former kind can Great Britain now furnisha !”
With respect to the progress of luxury, he produces the following striking particulars. “In' the year 1697 wheat was at three pounds per quarter, and other grain proportionably dear. But there was no clamour, and the exportation went on. At present , though the quantity of money, or what passes for money, is doubled, yet when wheat is below this price, there is an alarm, the poor are starving, and exportation is prohibited.
“The true reason of this seems to be, that the high price of bread was not,'at the time I have mentioned, of essential consequence to the lower people. They lived more upon other food, which was then cheap; and, being more generally occupiers of land, they were less under the necessity of purchasing bread. Whereas now, being forced, by greater difficulties, and the high price of all other food, to live principally or solely upon bread, if that is not cheap, they are rendered incapable of maintaining themselves.
“In confirmation of this account I will mention, that though, during the whole seventeenth century, corn was generally dearer than it has been at an average for the last forty years, yet flesh-meat was at about half its present price. In an act of parliament, 25 Henry VIII, beef, veal, pork, and mutton are named as the food of the poor, and their price is limited to about one halfpenny per pound. Beef and pork, in particular, were sold in London at two pounds and a half, and three pounds, for a penny; at the very time that wheat was seven and eight shillings per quarter, bearing the same proportion to the price of flesh, that it would bear now, if it were about four pounds per quarterb .”
“Upon the whole, the circumstances of the lower ranks, and of the day-labourer, are altered in almost every respect for the worse, while tea, fine wheaten bread, and other delicacies, are become necessaries, which were formerly unknown among themc .”
To this it may be added, that the labours of agriculture were then generally performed by means of cows and oxen, which were afterwards used as food, whereas the almost universal employment of horses at present, which consume, according to Mr. Middleton, upon an average the produce of four acres of land each, must materially diminish the quantity of food which is left for the use of man.
Mr. Malthus repeatedly calls our attention, and with great propriety, to the period when the whole earth, or any considerable division of it, shall be “cultivated like a garden. “Till that shall be the case, it is perfectly clear that there can be no permanent deficiency in the means of subsistence, except what is produced by the restrictions imposed on us by human institutions.
I feel inclined in this place shortly to mention the agricultural improvements of Mr. Coke of Norfolk. This gentleman may be considered as a sort of rural father of his country; and it is a pleasing task to any one who writes on the means of subsistence and'the welfare of mankind, to commemorate his merits.
Mr. Coke's Norfolk estate, when he came to the succession more than forty years ago, was regarded as some of the worst land in the country. A great part of it was leased out at three shillings an acre. The entire rental amounted to £2200 per annum. By his example and encouragement its produce is now so far raised, that it may serve as a sort of model to the whole island. The rental has increased ten-fold: the cultivators are happy: the population is tripled. They have no longer need for a poor-house, which has accordingly been pulled down. The very land, which was lately an object of so much contempt, now produces five or six quarters of wheat, and ten of barley, per acrea
Mr. Coke is however at this moment a sort of phenomenon in the island. The majority of our cultivators, even in the naturally fertile counties of Shropshire and Cheshire, go on in the method of their fathers, without improvement; and, at the very time that Mr. Coke was gathering the crops abovementioned, the average produce of wheat among them was not more than two quarters per acree Thus we see that by a very simple process, the example of which we have under our eye, the produce of our island might be much more than doubled. The consciousness of this, one would have thought, would have prevented any sober man, in this ill-omened hour for so unhallowed a purpose, from preaching up Mr. Malthus's doctrine of depopulation.
I mention this example for two reasons. First, because it is a pleasing task, to do justice to the merits of a public benefactor. Secondly, because there is a numerous class of persons, well disposed to do justice to an actual experiment, at the same time that they turn a deaf ear to what comes before them in the shape of speculation. For these reasons I have recorded the proceedings of Mr. Coke, though these are doubtless extremely trivial, compared with what I conceive, and with what Mr. Malthus assumes, of the capacity of the earth for affording subsistence to mankind.
It is a sentiment commonly in the mouths of those who wish well to human prosperity, “Success to the plough.” But, if I dared indulge in the hope of a rapid, but not (like Mr. Malthus's geometrical ratio) wholly impossible, multiplication of mankind, I should substitute for this sentiment, “Success to the spade.” The productiveness of garden-cultivation over field-cultivation, for the purposes of human subsistence, is astonishingly great. Mr. Coke leases out his land at forty shillings an acre; but, judging from some examples within my own knowledge, I should conclude forty pounds an acre for some kinds of garden-ground, a very moderate estimate. Let us add to this the various expences of labour, manure, and several other sorts, necessary to render this acre of garden available, and we shall then form some conjecture, how many men's subsistence an acre of ground may represent.
I see only one objection to this cultivation of the spade: [that is, upon the supposition, hitherto wild and without rational support, that the earth, or any portion of it, shall become stocked with human beings, so as in that sense to realise what the benevolent mind is impelled to fancy of Utopia.]
The objection I allude to is built on the consideration that, in any very improved state of human society, I should desire to see the quantity of manual labour diminished, instead of increased. But I am afraid we must pass through a probation of extensive labour, before we can come at any thing better. The human species is not yet so far improved, as for the larger portion of mankind to know how to make an innocent and intelligent use of that which is, abstractedly considered, the most valuable of human treasures, leisure. When we are arrived at this improvement, there is no danger but that we shall be able to possess ourselves of the means by which to exercise it. It is one of the most certain features of human progress, the invention of machinery; and there is no reason to suppose that there is any species of industry, which may not ultimately be abridged by the application of this faculty.
To the speculations already mentioned upon the means of human subsistence, is to be added the sea. The sea occupies two-thirds of the surface of the globe: it is every where full of animal life, and nearly all that life may be rendered subservient to human subsistence. This is a species of crop that we are not called upon to sow; it needs no manure; and the farmer who takes care of it, will seldom have occasion to observe the face of the heavens, and send to the parish-minister to solicit a prayer for fine weather, or a prayer for rain. There is no long watching the progress of growth, but one fine day will be sufficient for him to bring in his stores. It has been ascertained, particularly as to the salmon-fishery, that no drafts upon this stock, however immense, occasions the smallest sensible diminution of the crop for the next season. It is upon the confidence of this fact, that some of the most serious transactions are founded, in the countries to which the question relates. Thus, in some parts of Scotland, where the drain has for years been the most considerable, the rents for a right of fishing for a certain distance, have lately been raised tenfold above what they had been. Add to which, that salmon and other fish, when cured, may be kept for almost any time, and be carried any distance up the country.
Before we quit this branch of the subject, it will be worth while to look back to Mr. Middleton's estimate of the present mode of human subsistence. He states each man to consume upon an average, per annum, “in bread the produce of half an acre, in roots, greens and fruit the produce of one eighth of an acre, in liquids one eighth of an acre, and in animal food two acres.” Here we are presented in a striking view with the knowledge, of how much would be economised as to human subsistence, by the general substitution of the vegetable for the animal productions of the earth.
Thus we are led to observe two grand steps of practical improvement as to the subsistence of man: the first, by substituting the plough in the room of pasture: the next, as we have said, by causing the spade to supersede the plough.
When it has been demonstrated, that there is an actual increase in the numbers of mankind, it will then perhaps be time enough to calculate what may be gained by these two improvements.
Meanwhile enough has been said, to deliver any rational followers of Mr. Malthus, from the fear of any speedy deficiency in the means of subsistence. Nature has presented to us the earth, the alma magna parens, whose bosom, to all but the wild and incongruous ratios of Mr. Malthus, may be said to be inexhaustible. Human science and ingenuity have presented to us the means of turning this resource to the utmost account. “Rest, rest, perturbed spirits!“
Your anxieties are vain, and infinitely more senseless than those of the proprietor of a province, who should fear that, by some unexpected turn of fortune's wheel, he should be compelled to die in a workhouse.
A very natural objection to what has been stated in the few preceding pages, is that such a statement was wholly unnecessary, as Mr. Malthus grants an arithmetical ratio to the multiplication of the means of subsistence, which is as much as can be desired. He grants that the present produce of the earth may be doubled in twenty-five years, tripled in fifty, quadrupled in seventy-five, and quintupled in a century.
But these concessions are hollow and treacherous; and the author might have known them to be so. He instantly buries his arithmetical, under the ponderous weight of his geometrical ratio. He might safely make these concessions; for they have had no weight with any body. He merely gives us a “commodity of good words.” The only effect they have had, is to gain him a specious character of candour, the better to destroy us. The author is admired for his generosity; while his fortune exceeds that which our ancestors ascribed to charity; for in fact the more he gives away, literally the more he gains.
Mr. Malthus's concessions are indeed valueless. They are composed of air, and can be blown away, whenever the author or his adherents find it convenient to get rid of them. The great defect of every part of his system, is that, though it professes to be every where conversant with human affairs, it conveys no image to the mind. I have therefore found it necessary to go over the above particulars, that my readers may have something to think of, something to go back to whenever they have occasion, in a word, something that the author of the Essay on Population has not the power to give, nor the power to take away.
There is however one other circumstance that requires to be mentioned, before the subject can properly be considered as exhausted. Of all the sciences, natural or mechanical, which within the last half century have proceeded with such gigantic strides, chemistry is that which has advanced the most rapidly. All the substances that nature presents, all that proceeds from earth or air, is analysed by us into its original elements. Thus we have discovered, or may discover, precisely what it is that nourishes the human body. And it is surely no great stretch of the faculty of anticipation, to say, that whatever man can decompose, man will be able to compound. The food that nourishes us, is composed of certain elements; and wherever these elements can be found, human art will hereafter discover the power of reducing them into a state capable of affording corporeal sustenance. No good reason can be assigned, why that which produces animal nourishment, must have previously passed through a process of animal or vegetable life. And, if a certain infusion of attractive exterior qualities is held necessary to allure us to our food, there is no reason to suppose that the most agreeable colours and scents and flavours may not be imparted to it, at a very small expence of vegetable substance. Thus it appears that, wherever earth, and water, and the other original chemical substances may be found, there human art may hereafter produce nourishment: and thus we are presented with a real infinite series of increase of the means of subsistence, to match Mr. Malthus's geometrical ratio for the multiplication of mankind.—This may be thought too speculative; but surely it is not more so, than Mr. Malthus's period, when the globe of earth, or, as he has since told us, the solar system, and all the “other planets circling other suns,” shall be overcrowded with the multitude of their human inhabitants.
of the principles of a sound policy on the subject of population.
Before we dismiss the question of subsistence, it is however proper to consider it in another point of view, in a point of view, not originating in the visionary theories and wild chimeras of Mr. Malthus, but in facts.
The only substantial evidence which has thus far been collected on this branch of political economy, teaches us, that the numbers of mankind have no permanent tendency to increasea . The population of Europe, of Asia, of Africa, is at best at a stand. In some countries it is certainly diminished; and we have, I believe, no sound reason to think that in any it has increased. The solitary example of North America is produced against this mighty mass of experience, North America, a country, which for a century past has been the receptacle of almost all the emigrations that have been made from all parts of the world. Even in North America the inhabitants of the British dominions have not increased; and the negroes have not increased. A man must be the free citizen of a republic, before he is entitled to the benefit—for benefit there it is considered to be—of the geometrical ratio.
But what is most material,—for enumerations, after all, are an obscure and uncertain kind of evidence,—is, that it is the result of all the collections that have yet been made in all the countries of the world, that the wedlock of two human beings does not produce upon an average more than four children. In America we have seen that the ratio in this respect is the same as in the old world. This indeed is the true kernel of the question: and, if there is any real increase in the. numbers of mankind, it is thus only that we can be rationally convinced of it. This is the way in which alone, as Mr. Malthus phrases it, “it can be ascertained to be from procreation only.” Wherever it shall be found that there are only four children to a marriage, it appears to be clearly demonstrated, there can be no actual increase, and we have more reason to fear a decrease, of the numbers of mankind; least of all can there be an increase in the United States, where we are assured that half the population is under sixteen years of age.
I by no means undertake to assert, that there is absolutely no tendency in the human species to increase, though I certainly think, that the idea of guarding ourselves against the geometrical ratio, is just as sagacious and profound, as that of Don Quixote's fighting with the windmills. All I affirm is, that the evidence we yet possess is against the increase: and I think it is the business of the true statesman and practical philanthropist in the mean time to act on such evidence as we have. It will be time enough to hunt our species out of the world, and “stop the propagation of mankind,” when we see such danger, as no man up to the present time can have any solid reason to apprehend.
The business therefore of the true statesman and practical philanthropist under this head is extremely simple. Let us take it for granted that England and Wales at this moment contain ten millions of inhabitants. Let us assume with Mr. Malthus, that there are not at present provisions within the country to subsist this number. Certain it is, that, practically speaking, and looking to the distribution only, all are not adequately subsisted. The proper enquiry is, how this is to be remedied: and scarcely any man, considering the state of our soil, its cultivated and uncultivated parts, will venture to deny that a remedy may be accomplished, whether it shall be by certain wise changes in the mechanism of society, or by breaking up more ground, and rendering that which is already inclosed more available to its genuine purposes.
This speculation brings us back to the feelings of unsophisticated humanity, which it is the clear tendency of Mr. Malthus's theory to expel out of the world. He says, No, we must not increase the happiness of our contemporaries, lest by so doing we should immeasurably increase the candidates for happiness and subsistence. He would starve the present generation, that he may kill the next.
In the mean while, the idle dream of his ratios being dispelled, human nature is itself again. We return to the morality of our ancestors. We return to the morality of the Christian religion, and of all the religious leaders and legislators from the beginning of the records of mankind. Wherever I meet a man, I meet a brother. I recognise in him the image of the all-perfect. I see a creature, “fearfully and wonderfully made,” and admire the exquisiteness of the workmanship. I do not think of effacing God's image, or of neglecting and superciliously setting light by that on which he has affixed his seal. I do not seek to suppress the most natural impulses of a human being, and turn the world into a great monastery. No: if it is ever unwise for man to marry (and unfortunately this is too true in a variety of instances), it is not owing, as Mr. Mai thus impiously l would have us to believe, to any thing in the original and indestructible laws of nature, but to the partiality and oppressiveness of human institutions.
It is the duty of legislators, and was always so understood, till Mr. Mai thus came with his wild theory, built upon the erroneous construction of what was seen in one corner of the earth, and in flagrant opposition to all other evidence, and upon his perversion of the idea of subsistence,—I say, it is the duty of legislators, to deal tenderly with the life of man, not brutally and rashly to extinguish that, which all their art can never revive again, to cherish it as the apple of the eye, to believe that when they cut off a man, they impair so far the nerves by which a nation is sustained, and to tremble and hesitate before they take on themselves so awful a responsibility. Mr. Malthus's theory on the contrary would persuade us to hail war, famine and pestilence, as the true friends of the general weal, to look with a certain complacent approbation upon the gallows and massacre, and almost to long for the decimation of our species, that the survivors might be more conveniently accommodated.