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CHAPTER III.: calculation of the productive powers of the soil of england and wales. - 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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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.
[a]Vol. II, p. 269.