- Book I.: Of the Population of Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America, In Ancient and Modern Times.
- Chapter I.: Introduction.
- Chapter II.: Survey of the Creation From Natural History.
- Chapter III.: General Views As to the Alleged Increase of Mankind.
- Chapter IV.: General View of the Arguments Against the Increase of Mankind.
- Chapter V.: Numbers of Mankind In Ancient and Modern Times.
- Chapter VI.: Illustrations From the History of China
- Chapter VII.: India.
- Chapter VIII.: South America.
- Chapter IX.: Paraguay.
- Chapter X.: Sparta.
- Chapter XI.: Rome.
- Chapter XII: Miscellaneous Observations.
- Chapter XIII.: Views of Man and Society Which Result From the Preceding Facts.
- Book II.: Of the Power of Increase In the Numbers of the Human Species, and the Limitations of That Power.
- Chapter I.: Proofs and Authorities For the Doctrine of the Essay of Population.
- Chapter II.: Animadversions On Mr. Malthus'ss, Authorities.
- Chapter III.: Principles Respecting the Increase Or Decrease of the Numbers of Mankind.
- Chapter IV.: Accounts Which Are Given of the Population of Sweden.
- Chapter V.: Inferences Suggestd By the Accounts of Sweden.
- Chapter VI.: Observations On the Swedish Tables Continued.
- Chapter VII.: Recapitulation of the Evidence of the Swedish Tables.
- Appendix to Chapters Iv, V, & VI.
- Chapter VIII.: Population of Other, Countries In Europe Considered
- Chapter IX.: Principles Respecting the Increase Or Decrease of the Numbers of Mankind Resumed.
- Chapter X.: Of the Population of England and Wales.
- Chapter XI.: Proofs of the Geometrical Ratio From the Phenomenon of a Pestilence.
- Dissertation On the Ratios of Increase In Population , and In the Means of Subsistence. By Mr. David Booth.
- Book III.: Of the Causes By Which the Amount of the Numbers of Mankind Is Reduced Or Restrained.
- Chapter I.: Futility of Mr. Malthus's Doctrine Respecting the Checks On Population.
- Chapter II.: Of Deaths and the Rate of Human Mortality.
- Chapter III.: Attempt Towards a Rational Theory of the Checks On Population.
- Chapter IV.: Attempt Towards a Rational Theory of the Checks On Population Continued.
- Chapter V.: Mr. Malthus's Eleven Heads of the Causes Which Keep Down Population Considered.
- Chapter VI.: Observations On the Countries In the Neighbourhood of the River Missouri.
- Book IV.: Of the Population of the United States of North America.
- Chapter I.: Introduction.
- Chapter II.: Of the Topography and Political Condition of the United States.
- Chapter III.: History of Emigration From Europe to North America In the Seventeenth Century.
- Chapter IV.: History of Emigration to North America From the Year 1700 to the Present Time .
- Chapter V.: Retrospect of the History of Population In the United States.
- Chapter VI.: Of the Amount of Births In the United States.
- Chapter VII.: Of the Period At Which Marriages Are Formed..
- Chapter VIII.: Diseases In the Territory of the United States.
- Chapter IX.: Reports of the Population of the United States Analysed and Examined.
- Book V.: Of the Means Which the Earth Affords For the Subsistence of Man.
- Chapter I.: Of the Present State of the Globe As It Relates to Human Subsistence.
- Chapter II.: Of the Number of Human Beings Which the Globe Is Capable of Maintaining On Our Present Systems of Husbandry and Cultivation.
- Chapter III.: Calculation of the Productive Powers of the Soil of England and Wales.
- Chapter IV.: Causes of the Scarcity of the Means of Human Subsistence.
- Chapter V.: Causes of the Scarcity of the Means of Human Subsistence Continued.
- Chapter VI.: Of the Improvements of Which the Productiveness of the Globe For the Purposes of Human Subsistence Is Capable
- Chapter VII.: Of the Principles of a Sound Policy On the Subject of Population.
- Book VI.: Of the Moral and Political Maxims Inculcated In the Essay On Population.
- Chapter I.: Character and Spirit of the Essay On Population Delineated.
- Chapter II.: Of the Positions Respecting the Nature of Man Upon Which the Essay On Population Is Constructed.
- Chapter III.: Of the Doctrines of the Essay On Population As They Affect the Principles of Morality.
- Chapter IV.: Of the Doctrines of the Essay On Population As They Affect the Condition of the Poor.
- Chapter V.: Of the Doctrines of the Essay On Population As They Affect the Condition of the Rich.
- Chapter VI.: Of Marriage, and the Persons Who May Justifiably Enter Into That State.
- Chapter VII.: A Few Contradictions In the Essay On Population Stated.
- Chapter VIII.: Of Wages.
- Chapter IX.: Conclusion.
of the moral and political maxims inculcated in the essay on population.
CHARACTER AND SPIRIT OF THE ESSAY ON POPULATION DELINEATED.
I have now entered somewhat copiously into the three grand topics of Mr. Malthus's work, the progressive increase of the numbers of mankind, the causes [checks, in the language of the Essay on Population] by which the amount of the numbers of the human species is reduced or restrained, and the means which the earth affords for the subsistence of man.
Under these several heads I have endeavoured to shew, 1. that we have no authentic documents to prove any increase in the numbers of mankind, and that, if there is any tendency to increase, exclusively of the counteracting causes that are to be traced in the annals of history, which is, by no means certain, that tendency is of the most moderate description: 2. that the counteracting causes are neither constant nor regular in their operation, and have nothing in them of an occult and mysterious nature: and, 3. that the means which the earth affords for the subsistence of man, are subject to no assignable limits, and that the nourishment of human beings in civilised society, can never, unless in the case of seasons peculiarly unfavourable, sustain any other difficulty, till the whole globe has been raised to a very high degree of cultivation, except such as arises from political institutions.
Having done thus much, 1 might well close my volume, and put an end to this, perhaps the last labour of no idle and unstrenuous life. But Mr. Malthus's book forms an era in political speculation. I should not chuse, like its author, to talk of placing certain principles “on record,”
with a provident care lest, “if the world were to last for any number of thousand years ,” they might then be wanted. But I do think, that some monument should be erected, to shew, for as long a time as such monuments might be expected to last, what extravagant and monstrous propositions the human mind is capable to engender, when once men shall be prompted, upon a fable, a gratuitous and wholly unproved assumption, to build a system of legislation, and determine the destiny of all their fellow-creatures.
Mr. Malthus has delivered a political system. His work is placed on our shelves, by the side of those of Plato, and Aristotle, and Sidney, and Locke, and Montesquieu, and Adam Smith. It may not therefore be uninstructive, setting apart for a moment the question of the truth or falshood of its principles, to enquire into its merits and complexion as a theory merely.
One of the most natural divisions of any work which takes human affairs upon a general scale for the subject of its research, is, 1. to lay down certain evils and imperfections to which human society is liable, and, 2. to treat of the remedy for these evils. Let us see what the Essay on Population has done under each of these heads.
The evil which it was the professed business of Mr. Malthus's work to lay open to the world, was, the tendency of the principle of multiplication in mankind to produce an increase, beyond the possible increase of the means of human subsistence. “The first of the propositions,” into which this view of the condition of man on the globe may be divided, namely, the rapid increase of which the human species, abstractedly taken, is susceptible, so as to enable it (as appears from the author's latest statement), in less than two thousand years, to people the whole visible universe at the rate of four men to every yard square, Mr. Malthus “considered as proved the moment the American increase was related :” and “the second proposition,” namely, the comparatively slow possible increase of the means of subsistence, as proved, “as soon as it was enunciated b.”
Here then is a very plain statement of the evil which hangs over human societies, and which, according to the Essay on Population, is every moment producing the most important effects. It has the advantage of being placed before us in a small compass, and easily intelligible to the meanest capacities.
Mr. Malthus therefore, as he informs us, has not written a work of very ample dimensions, to prove these points. They are dispatched in “the first six pages ; “and “the chief object of his workc “is to display, the consequences of these two propositions, to enquire into the duties of those to whose care the public welfare is intrusted, and to shew how this immense disparity between the number of possible candidates for food, and the possible means of subsistence, has been, and must be obviated.
Now the remedies, according to the Essay on Population, by which the disparity between the power of increase in man, and the power of increase in the means of human subsistence, is to be cured, are chiefly vice and misery.
I am persuaded, that Mr. Malthus wrote his first little octavo, which was published in 1798, merely as an exercise of wit, a piece of pleasantry which, whatever should be its fate in other respects, might deservedly obtain for its author the praise of ingenuity. To his great surprise the world received his communications as a very serious affair.
When his speculations were first published, the author was at no pains to disguise the odiousness of their features. In proportion however as he proceeded to consider them in a more serious way, and to imagine that he was laying down a code for the regulation of nations, and deciding upon the fate of a distant posterity, he “so far differed,” as he tells us, in his enlarged work from the original sketch, “as to suppose the action of another check to population, which does not come under the head either of vice or misery, and to endeavour in other respects to soften some of the harshest conclusions of the first Essay .”
Mr. Malthus's three checks upon increasing population by his latest statement, are therefore vice, misery, and moral restraint.
The original infirmity however of his first Essay adheres to all the subsequent editions. In making the alterations above described, Mr. Malthus expresses an anxious “hope, that he has not violated the principles of just reasoning, nor expressed any opinion respecting the probable improvement of society, in which he is not borne out by the experience of the past .” Indeed it plainly appears, that the variations introduced are mere sacrifices at the shrine of decorum, without any alteration of opinion on the part of the author. The whole work is built in that contempt for human nature, from which so many men, both through the press, and in private circles, have sought for the reputation of superior wisdom, an opinion that, however refined may be our reflections, we shall in practice always blindly obey our appetites, and that consequently, whatever improvements may be effected in matters purely of science, no future generation of men will ever conduct themselves with more virtue and discretion than the past.
What Mr. Malthus's real opinion is of the efficacy of moral restraint to prevent an excess of population, plainly appears from various passages of his work. Take the following examples.
“But Mr. Godwin says, that if he looks into the past history of the world, he does not see that increasing population has been controled and confined by vice and misery alone. In this observation I cannot agree with him. I will thank Mr. Godwin to name to me any check, which in past ages has contributed to keep down the population to the level of the means of subsistence, that does not fairly come under some form of vice or misery,——except indeed the check of moral restraint, which I have mentioned in the course of this work, and whichto say the truth, whatever hopes we may entertain of its prevalence in future, has undoubtedly in past ages operated with very inconsiderable force .”
This passage is omitted in the last edition of Mr. Malthus's work. Not certainly from any alteration of opinion in the author: but “it was suggested to him some years since by persons for whose judgment he has a high respect, that it might be advisable, in a new edition, to throw out the matter relative to systems of equality, to Wallace, Condorcet and Godwin, as having to a considerable degree Lost its interests. ” He has accordingly met these advisers half-way, and omitted one of the chapters on this point, from which chapter the above passage is taken. But he could not consent to relinquish his antagonists altogether, and “really thought that there should be somewhere on record an answer to systems of equality, founded on the principle of population. It cannot,” he adds, “be matter of wonder, that proposals for systems of equality should be continually reviving. After periods when the subject has undergone a thorough discussion, or when some great experiment in improvement has failed, it is likely that the question should lie dormant for a time, and that the opinions of the advocates of equality should be ranked among those errors, which had passed away, to be heard of no more. But it is probable, that if the world were to last for any number of thousand years, systems of equality would be among those errors, which, like the tunes of a barrel-organ, will never cease to return at certain intervals .”
Again. “I do not see,” says Mr. Malthus, “how it is possible to escape the conclusion, that moral restraint is the strict line of duty. At the same time I believe that few of my readers can be less sanguine than I am, in their expectations of any sudden and great change in the general conduct of men on this subject: and the chief reason why in the last chapter I allowed myself to suppose the universal prevalence of this virtue, was that I might endeavour to remove any imputation on the goodness of the Deity —by supposing something that would never take place.
One more extract to the same purpose. “In my review of the different stages of society, I have been accused of not allowing sufficient weight in the prevention of population to moral restraint. But, when the sense of the term, which I have here explained, is adverted to, I am fearful that I shall not be found to have erred much in this respect. I should be very glad to believe myself mistaken .”
If any man says, that “increasing population can be restrained by any thing but vice and misery alone,” Mr. Malthus “cannot agree with him.” “Few of his readers,” and among them no doubt are the licentious and the profligate, such men, as I have heard talk, and have heard others applaud, and loudly too, who vehemently affirm that there is no woman chaste,— “Few of his readers,” I say, “can be less sanguine than he is, in their expectations of the efficacy of moral restraint.” He finds that this principle “has in past ages operated with very inconsiderable force; “and he is not visionary enough to entertain “any opinion respecting the future improvement of society, in which he is not borne out by the experience of the past.”
This is then the precise outline of Mr. Malthus's system. The evils against which he would guard are hunger and famine; the remedies for these evils are vice and misery.
Now certainly, when the doctrine of the Essay on Population is thus stated in all its nakedness, I shall probably make no hazardous assertion when I say, that it is the most extraordinary work ever presented to the world, The author may without the smallest breach of modesty affirm, that Plato and Aristotle and Sidney and Locke have done nothing that can enter into comparison with his achievements, and that his view of human affairs differs fundamentally from the views of any philosopher that ever existed
The converts to Mr. Malthus's speculations, as far as I am acquainted with them, are of two sorts.
The first are those who admit the doctrines of the Essay on Population unwillingly. These men are in their hearts lovers of virtue, votaries of the dignity of man, persons who would anxiously desire to see great improvements introduced in society, and who were not previously disposed to set limits to the progress of human understanding, or to the melioration of human institutions. These men are convinced against their will. They look with a certain unconquerable aversion upon the doctrines of the Essay on Population; but they find themselves unable to resist the luminousness of its statements
The second class of the adherents of Mr. Malthus, and these are considerably numerous, consists of persons, who hail his discoveries as an invaluable and a grateful acquisition. They are ready to erect statues to him as a public benefactor. They conceive it of the highest importance to put down once and for ever all impracticable speculations for the improvement of the political condition of man, and are anxious, not only that no overt attempts should be made towards such improvement, but that we should be deprived, if possible, of the dangerous indulgence of dreaming of it in the privacy of meditation and solitude. They regard the author as having performed an inestimable service by putting an end at once to all hopes of mankind ever bettering themselves. He has taught us an admirable lesson, by inducing us to rest satisfied as we are, and not to spend our strength in efforts, at once fruitless in the purposes at which they aim, and mischievous in the result. He has shewn us the path of sobriety and reason. These persons even consider the Essay on Population as a vindication of the goodness of God, and a demonstration of the doctrine of a Divine Providence
To return. Hunger and famine are the evils: vice and misery are the remedies.
It is a trite observation, that the remedies which the members of the medical profession administer to our bodies, are for the most part nauseous and offensive to the human palate. In this point then Mr. Malthus has sufficiently vindicated his claim to the appellation of a physician.
Surely that system ought to be attended with an irresistible and overpowering evidence, of which the choicest gifts that are tendered to us are vice and misery.
But why these gifts? And what is to induce us to accept them? A remedy can have no claim upon our reception, but inasmuch as it is better than the disease. Now vice and misery are the names for all we fear, and all we hate. What is that worse tiling, which by taking these to our bosom we shall be enabled to defend ourselves against? Over-population itself why should we fear, but because it is said to bring vice and misery in its train?
But I am unwilling that the subject should thus rest in general terms. The human mind is an essence of a peculiar sort; and the effect of whatever is presented to it depends very much on the principle of novelty. The most powerful stimulus may be administered to it so often, as to lose its efficacy: the most appalling and terrific considerations may by this means be made to “pass by us, like the idle wind which we respect not.”
I will take my illustrations of the true bearings and. import of these portentous terms, vice and misery, from the Essay on Population itself.
“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 .” I call upon every conscientious speculator upon the state of man on earth, seriously to pause on this enunciation.
Mr. Malthus truly observes, “Every loss of a child from the consequences of poverty, must evidently be preceded and accompanied by great misery to individuals .” Most surely it must. Independently of the child, who languishes, and at length perishes, for want of sufficient nourishment, what must be the sensations of the parents, who are compelled thus to be the murderers of their own offspring, who occasionally give it something from the food which is necessary for their own sustenance, who see it craving and pining for more, who witness its gradual and premature destruction, and who are speedily destined to follow, partly for the want of that, which unavailingly they bestowed on the infant victim, and which eventually served for nothing but to prolong its miseries!
Yet this destruction of children, and that to an immense extent, is necessary, according to the principles of the Essay on Population, for the preservation of the human species. Alas, why on these principles are we preserved at all!
The same observations with little variety will apply to the whole of Mr. Malthus's eleven heads ,under which he distributes his positive checks. The author of the Essay on Population sits remote, like a malignant Providence [Providence it seems we are bound to call if], dispensing from his magazine, all those causes, often arising from vice, always inextricably bound up with acute and exquisite misery, which, some a little sooner, and some a little later, “in various degrees contribute to shorten the natural duration of human life “[this is the desideratum]: or rather, himself free from the disturbance of our passions and frailties, he points out to us the various particulars of our lot, and closes the account with taking to himself this satisfaction, that he leaves us to perish “by the hands of God, and not by the hands of man.”
Undoubtedly it would be better upon this “hypothesis, that we could cut off, in a summary way, a proper number of children in the first stage of their existence, as the cultivator of the earth sets himself to hoe his turnips, clearing the ground round each favoured plant, that it may have room enough for growth and subsistence. But this is not consistent with Mr. Malthus's ideas of Christian morality.
Vice and misery are necessary for the preservation of order, and the well being of the body politic. Vice and misery are remedies sufficiently repulsive to the innocent and pureminded: surely Mr. Malthus ought not to have been contented with a general recommendation; but like other physicians, who are obliged to prescribe distasteful and dangerous ingredients, he should have told us the precise quantity of each that was necessary in the medicine. Perhaps we need not have recourse to the whole eleven: perhaps, if we took rather a larger portion of some of them, we might be altogether excused as to others.
Vice and misery are absolutely necessary for the well being of society: and Mr. Malthus has travelled into various regions of the globe, to shew us how they operate in different countries to keep down the excess of population. Surely, as from chapter to chapter he led us to observe the modes and institutions of different states, he had a most desirable opportunity to play the censor, and while he recommended to us the milder vices and oppressions, to enter his protest against the excessive. But no such thing. Provided only there is vice and misery, Mr. Malthus's purpose is sufficiently answered. Or does he mean, that, by the beneficent care of a superintending Providence, each country has exactly the sort and the quantity of vice and misery that are best suited to its wants?
If Mr. Malthus, instead of contenting himself with a vague and general recommendation, had entered into'particulars, he might have supplied us with an instructive lesson. There would still have been room for great political improvements. Perhaps there is no state, at present existing on the face of the globe, England for example, that has not vice and misery enough to answer all wholesome purposes. If any one should be perverse enough to suppose that Greece and Rome, in the days of their greatest virtue and renown, were more happily circumstanced than England is at present, perhaps even the people of Greece and Rome had vice and misery enough, to serve them as a healthful condiment, and save them from putrefaction. Were it not that Mr. Malthus is a sworn enemy to all cheerful and cheering prospects, here was abundant matter to enable him to vary the dreary and repulsive monotony of his volumes. He might have gone over the different governments of the East, Turkey, Persia, and Egypt; he might even have ventured upon some of those of Europe; he might almost have made the circumnavigation of the globe; and, hailing, and pouring his benediction upon every despotic shore, he might have said, “All these countries may be raised to the political level of England, or even of ancient Greece or Rome, without having too much to fear from the principle ofpopulation.” But, no: this does not accord with his tone in writing. It sounds more musical in his ears to pronounce, “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 deeper-seated causes of evil [viz. the propagation of mankind] which result from the laws of nature and the passions of man.”
I own I am pleased with the condition in which the author of the Essay on Population has dismissed his subject. He who has written three volumes expressly to point out to us the advantage we obtain from the presence of vice and misery, would naturally leave the question in all the confusion in which Mr. Malthus has left it. This is as it should be. It is scarcely conceivable that the man who recommends to us such bosom-friends and companions, should have much discrimination and choice as to the different species and degrees of each.
The subject which I quit in this place, will be further pursued in the Third Chapter of this Book.
OF THE POSITIONS RESPECTING THE NATURE OF MAN UPON WHICH THE ESSAY ON POPULATION IS CONSTRUCTED.
The theory of the Essay on Population may be considered under two heads: first, as it respects human communities, such as we now find them: secondly, as it relates to any improvement in society which may be supposed to be effected hereafter.
I might omit the consideration of the latter altogether; for the majority of Mr. Malthus's readers, and all Mr. Malthus's disciples, never think but of what they see, and of man as he is.
But it is proper to take some notice of that branch of the speculations of this work, which relates to future and remote “improvements in human society: first, because all the reasonings of the author began with this; his first thought was to shew the impracticability of all cardinal and substantive improvements: secondly, because the object of this last division of my enquiry is to display the character and spirit of the Essay on Population, and to shew to those who have followed this leader so far, under what sort of banner they have marshalled themselves.
The fundamental error of Mr. Malthus's system, as far as the constitution and structure of man, independently of the geometrical ratio, is concerned, seems to me to lie in two propositions, which were explicitly stated in the first edition of his book , but which he has since withdrawn. These are,“First, that food is necessary to the existence of man; and, secondly, that the passion between the sexes is necessary, and will always remain nearly in its present state.” Thus our author sets out with putting these two necessities, that of food, and of “the passion between sexes“upon a level with each other.
I would be the last man in the world to deny an author the benefit of his after-thoughts. If Mr. Malthus has since discovered, that food and the passion between the sexes are necessities not exactly alike and of equal force, that were well. But I cannot consent to his withdrawing his premises, while he maintains the conclusions built upon them. This seems to be one of the instances of “a passage expunged, that the author might not inflict an unnecessary violence on the feelings of his readers.”
For instance: the Essay on Population retains its argument respecting the impracticability of a permanent state of equality among human beings, founded upon the parity of these two propositions, in its latest edition, verbatim as it stood in the first.
“Thus it appears that a society, constituted according to the most beautiful form that imagination can conceive, with benevolence for its moving principle instead of self-love, and with every evil disposition in all its members corrected by reason, not force, would from the inevitable laws of nature, and not from any fault in human institutions, degenerate, in so short a period as fifty years, into a society, where self-love would lord it triumphant, and every hateful vice and every form of distress, which degrade and sadden the present state of man, would reappear in their most malignant aspect.”
Again: “As we are supposing no anxiety about the future support of children to exist, the encouragements to have a family would be greater than even in America .”
In fine: Mr. Malthus repents of his concession in the preceding passage, and concludes,“If such a system of society were established in its utmost perfection, not thirty years could elapse, before its utter destruction from the simple principle of population .”
This is no other than saying, that man is unalterably such a brute and insensible animal, that no arguments addressed to his understanding, no beauty and virtue existing in the forms of society around him, no clear and incontestible conviction of the pernicious consequences of indiscriminate indulgence, could prevent him from sacrificing the happiest and most enlightened condition of our being, to what the ancient philosophers called the “gross impulses of the lower part of our nature.” Merely because the care of his children did not fall exclusively upon himself, he would feel the “encouragement to have a family greater,” than all the considerations of interest and worldly advantage are supposed to have produced in America.
It is likewise exactly the same sentiment, that has led Mr. Malthus to affirm of moral restraint generally, that it has “operated in past ages with very inconsiderable force,” and that we have no right to entertain “any opinion respecting the future improvement of society, in which we are not borne out by the experience of the past.”
But this sentiment is expressed in the highest possible energy in the memorable maxim of the Essay on Population: “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 upon the surface, in comparison with those deeper-seated causes of evil, which result from the laws of nature and the passion between the sexes.”
It is necessary then that we should pause for a moment upon these two fundamental positions of Mr. Malthus, respecting “food,” and “the passion between the sexes,” They are like two counteracting weights in a machine: if they do not pull with equal force, and have not the same degree of activity, the whole scheme of Mr. Malthus's Essay, at least as it relates to a pure and equal form of society, and I believe in every other view, will be found to be rotten at the core.
Now, that “food is necessary to the existence of man,” I feel no inducement to dispute. We know of no instance of a man living without food. The human frame is sustained by repletion and evacuation; and we have no reason, so far as experience goes, to consider this as any thing else than an indefeasible law of nature. Man is like a clock, that must be wound up at stated periods; otherwise all motion ceases, and the main spring becomes inert and ineffective.
But what parity is there between this necessity, and what Mr. Malthus calls “the passion between the sexes?” As has been observed in the Enquiry concerning Political Justice, “Nothing is so easy as to extinguish this propensity, amidst the progressive voluptuousness of the most sensual scene. So conscious are we of the precariousness of the fascination of the senses, that upon such occasions we provide against the slightest interruption. If our little finger ached, we might probably immediately bid adieu to the empire of this supposed almighty power .”
Mr. Malthus says, “the passion between the sexes is necessary, and will always remain nearly in its present state.”
In controverting the second member of this proposition, I would ask, What is its present state? The want of a precise explanation under this head, is a deficiency that goes to the heart of the system. Mr. Malthus assumes something, that is perpetually shifting, that at no two periods, and in no two places, is alike, and treats it as if it were absolutely determinate, and that, the moment it is named, every one would have exactly the same idea of its strength and its weakness.
This member of Mr. Malthus's proposition, if explicitly unfolded, must mean, that “the passion between the sexes” always exists and acts, in all persons, in all countries, and in all ages of the world, under all institutions, prejudices, superstitions, and systems of thinking, in the same manner.
But, when the whole meaning that lies hid in this ambiguous proposition, has been thus unfolded, I suppose it will not find a single defender.
Will it be affirmed, that the most decent single women, in those countries of Europe, where morality most steadily maintains its empire, are as prone to violations of chastity, as the most licentious men, or as the women of Cafraria or Otaheite? Are the Fakirs, who voluntarily exercise on their bodies the most tremendous severities, at the same time immersed in the most shameless voluptuousness? Have the most reverend bishops, in times when celibacy was ranked among the first of virtues and the most indispensable, led exactly the same lives, as a Mohammedan sultan in his seraglio, as Tiberius or Sardanapalus? Many satirical and cutting things have been invented against monks and nuns and hermits: but are we really to believe that all such societies, without exception, have been sinks of debauchery, and all such persons the most audacious and consummate hypocrites that ever existed?
Let us confine our attention for a moment, to the fair, and, as it has sometimes been denominated, the frailer sex. The female of the human species, it is admitted, arrives at maturity sooner than the male. Yet a considerable portion of the women of England do not enter into the marriage state, till two-and-twenty, perhaps till five-and-twenty years of age. Even when they do marry, I believe it will be found, that the majority of young women, at least of decent condition, and of a certain education, do not marry merely for the indulgence of their appetites. It is, I think, notorious, that the sober part of the sex, which may perhaps be found to constitute the majority, take it for the main subject of their meditations, how by marriage they may “better their condition?” This is the lesson that their mothers industriously teach them; and a great part of the daughters are not found untractable scholars in the question.
Does Mr. Malthus mean to say, that these prudent young ladies are accustomed to appease the “heyday of the blood,” by indulging another set of lovers, not in the way of marriage? If this is his judgment, I shall leave him to settle that question with the numerous portion of the inhabitants of this island, who are believers in virtue, and in decency of heart, and who think with me, that “moral restraint has operated in past ages with considerable force, and that for that reason hopes may be entertained of its prevalence in future.”
Such then, I believe, is clearly the state of the case as to the female sex. And yet, when we come to examine the constitutional character of the two divisions of our species, it will hardly be disputed, that woman is the weaker vessel, and more a slave to passion. “For well I understand,” says Milton,
- in the prime end
- Of nature, her the inferior, in the mind
- And inward faculties, which most excel.
The weakness indeed of woman in this respect is in some points of view her fairest ornament. She is the creature of impulse, and is for that reason the more bewitching; and, when her impulses are innocent and pure, it is not in the mind of man to imagine any thing more lovely. But resolution is “the pillar of true dignity in man:” he is “formed for contemplation;” and
- His fair large front, and eye sublime, bespeak
- Firmness of soul.
It cannot therefore be supposed that there is any thing in woman, that should make her by nature more capable of abstinence and rigorous self-government than our own sex.
Nor on the other hand will any impartial enquirer affirm, that the passions of the male sex are stronger than those of the female, so as by that means, though we have more power to control our appetites, yet having a more forceful antagonist to contend with, we should for that reason be oftener subdued.
Let us grant then, that the laws of chastity in civilised countries are more rigidly observed by the women than the men: what is the reason of this? Not that they have more energy of understanding, or weaker passions, than ourselves: but simply on this account, because they are more under the influence of “moral restraint.” In this affair of “the passion between the sexes,” which Mr. Malthus puts on a level with the appetite of hunger, and seems to suppose that we have as little reason to believe, that any considerable variety can be produced in the operation of the one as of the other, the women have more cogent reasons of self-interest and self-preservation than we have, to submit to the regulations of a strict morality. Still it is reason, and reason only, that restrains them, that power of which Mr. Malthus speaks with so much contempt, and respecting which he says, that “the error which pervades Mr. Godwin's whole work ,” is the considering man too much in the light of a being purely rational.
Nothing then, I think, can be more clear, than the immense power possessed by this principle of “moral restraint;” and nothing more irresistible, than the inference that, if as powerful motives to forbearance can be presented to the minds of the male sex as of the female, the operation of those motives will not be less conspicuous and certain.
Mr. Malthus may say, if he pleases, that man is a being exclusively selfish. He may say, as he has said, that no respects of “the fairest form of society that imagination can conceive,” no certainty that this society will be ruined by the uncontrolableness of his indulgences, no foresight that the children he begets will perish for want of sufficient food in the midst of the common wreck, will prevent him from considering the “encouragements to have a family as greater,” in such a society, than all the motives which interest and worldly advantages are supposed to have generated in America. He may accuse, as he is never sparing to do, the governor of the world,—that, while he has furnished motives ample and all powerful to the female sex to observe the laws of morality, he has left it impossible that such motives can ever be found and brought to bear on the mind of the male.
But neither Mr. Malthus nor his adherents can hereafter have a right to charge this defect, upon “the laws of nature [as they are usually understood], and the constitutional passions of mankind.”
So much as to the female sex: but how is it in reality as to the male? Away with the licentious and unprincipled doctrines, that we are not in many cases as pure and beyond suspicion in these respects as the females! I visit the ruins of our ancient monasteries in a very differâent spirit, from that in which I can suppose Mr. Malthus to visit them. These were the great scenes of “moral restraint.” However mistaken might be the principle of the virtue practised by their inhabitants, I have learned to love virtue under every form it can assume. When I consider these noble edifices as the great preservers of all that is admirable in the literature of ancient Greece and Rome, when I recollect that wonderful class of men, known by the name of the Schoolmen, their patient labours, their voluntary self-mortification, their generous love of truth, and of a fame, pure, however limited in its circumference among their contemporaries, their disdain of the inticements and splendours of the world, their exquisite subtlety of thought and accuracy of deduction in questions almost beyond the bounds of human enquiry, I feel myself under no temptation to arraign the sincerity of their moral professions, or to believe that, amidst their more than human labours, they were victims to the lowest sensuality and debauchery. I am thankful indeed, that I am impelled to “consider man too much in the light of a being purely rational,” not to expose myself to Mr. Malthus's censure and opprobrium. I know that these glorious institutions fell into degeneracy. I know that their professions of morality were too high, not to make it impossible but that some individuals should become faint in the way. I know that these establishments have had their use and their day; and I am contented that they should be abolished.
At the same time nothing, I believe, is more certain, than that numerous professions, and large bodies of man, have passed their lives in as great chastity and reserve, as the most exemplary women. Women, Mr. Malthus would say, are restrained by the fear of giving birth to a bastard child. But the mind of our sex is capable of motives as cogent and effectual, as this consideration may be supposed to prove to a female. The mind of man is a noble structure, and we are prone to love many other things, beside the gratification of our appetites. In fine, I never will believe that, if “a form of society the most beautiful that imagination can conceive” were brought into existence, it would degenerate into “violence, oppression, falshood, misery, every hateful vice and every form of distress, that have ever saddened the past,” and be “destroyed in less than thirty years,” from the uncontrolableness with which every man would hasten to gratify “the gross impulses of the lower part of our nature.”
It is however no part of my present intention, to pursue this subject into its full development. I have merely introduced it here, because it is the object of this final division of my work, to present to my readers a complete survey of the character and spirit of the Essay on Population.
of the doctrines of the essay on population
as they affect the principles of
The proper tendency of Mr. Malthus's system, is to persuade us to sit still, or rather to deliver ourselves bound hand and foot, into the hands of the awful and mysterious power, that presides over “those deeper-seated causes of evil,” in comparison with which human institutions are “mere feathers that float on the surface.” For, as I have already observed, and this I apprehend none of Mr. Malthus's disciples will be disposed to contend with me, if human institutions can do comparatively no harm, it must, in fairness, and consistency of reasoning, be admitted that they can do as little good.
To this doctrine of quietism there can properly, upon our author's principles, be but one limitation; and that is from the consideration of the mischiefs to be apprehended from all attempts at improvement. As the elder Cato concluded all his speeches upon whatever subject in the Roman senate, with, Remember Carthage! so Mr. Malthus is bound upon every occasion to lift his warning voice, and exclaim, Remember Utopia! Reject every measure, however specious in its appearances, that looks that way! The proper question upon every new legislative proceeding that is suggested, is, Does it not interfere with “those causes, which contribute in whatever degree to shorten the natural duration of human life?”
When he had done all this however, and properly completed the mighty web of his theory, there was a latent sentiment remaining in the author's mind that all was not right. This doctrine of quietism, and of negatively presenting a front of resistance against all improvements, hardly amounted to his idea of a Treatise upon Political Economy. He was accordingly seized with the ordinary passion, that in ancient times modified the obsolete systems of Plato and Aristotle, and became desirous to be doing. Strangely therefore, and with an inconsistency hardly to be accounted for, but from the original infirmity of our nature,
- —— veleres avias tibi de pulmone revello,
towards the conclusion of his book he proposes to enquire respecting “our rational expectations with regard to the future improvement of society .” The checks for which he has pleaded through three ample volumes, strike him as somewhat too horrible, and he proposes certain restrictions to counteract these checks.
The general head under which Mr. Malthus classes his restrictions, is not the least extraordinary part of his work. It stands thus: “In every point of view, a decrease of mortality at all ages is what we ought to aim at .” This, for an author who sets out with telling us that the human species, in all past ages, and in all ages to come, would have gone, and will go, on to double their numbers every twenty-five years, were it not for those checks, “whether arising from vice or misery, which in various degrees contribute to shorten the natural duration of human life,” must be acknowledged to be pretty well. It is the increase of mortality, or of deaths, by which we are to be saved. It is the “decrease of mortality” that the Essay on Population now turns round to recommend. Mr. Malthus knows that moral restraint is a very feeble resource, that men will go on to marry and have children, notwithstanding all he can do to prevent them, and that death, the grand agent and first minister to the geometrical ratio, is all we have to rely on to keep down the numbers of mankind. On this occasion however he is desirous “to soften down some of the harsher conclusions of his first Essay.”
Well then: in what manner is it that our author enters upon his new project of diminishing the mortality of mankind?
He has several very different ways, which he proposes for this end. They may all however be reduced to two: 1, the securing that no child, and no human creature, in the lower walks of society, should be subsisted, but by his own labour, or that of his parents; and 2. the providing that the reward of labour, and consequently the power of every man to subsist either himself or his children, should to the operating hand be reduced within the narrowest bounds.
These are the restrictions that Mr. Malthus proposes, to check the excessive inroads of vice and misery upon mankind: and it may therefore reasonably be remarked, that the author of the Essay on Population has the talent, to render his benefits no less odious than his injuries.—Of each of these restrictions in its turn.
The first thing that Mr. Malthus attacks under this branch of his subject, is the poor-laws of England, upon which he pronounces the sweeping censure, that they are “an evil, in comparison of which the national debt, with all its magnitude of terror, is of little moment .” The national debt is in its capital amount eight hundred and fifty millions, and the interest forty-seven millions per annum: the poor-rates are put down by Mr. Malthus at three millions .
Since however this tremendous evil of a legal provision for the necessitous poor of England is in existence, Mr. Malthus is by all means for its “very gradual abolition .”
“As a previous step to any considerable alteration in the present system,” it appears to our author, that “we are bound in justice and honour formally to disclaim the right of the poor to support .”
And why have they no right?
There was an old maxim, the repetition of which has been attended with some compunction in the minds of the tender-hearted and humane, “He that will not work, neither shall he eat.”
But Mr. Malthus's proscription is of a very different sort, and includes, 1. man in his infancy and childhood, whose little hands are yet incapable of the labour that should procure him the necessaries of life: 2. the aged, whom length of years, and the hardships they have endured, have finally rendered as feeble as helpless infancy: 3. the sick, the cripple, the maimed, and those who labour under one or other of those diseases, which make the most fearful part of the picture of human life: 4. those who, being both able and willing to work, are yet, by the ill constitution of the society of which they are members, or by some of those revolutions to which perhaps all societies are liable, unable to procure employment. These are the persons, whom “in justice and honour” we are bound to inform, that they have no claim of right to the assistance of their prosperous neighbours.
There is no need of informing them, that they have no right, founded in political law, to assistance, except in those countries, and to that extent, where and to which a provision is made for that purpose, as by the poor-laws of England.
But Mr. Malthus's appeal is to a very different jurisdiction. He denies that they have any right in morality to the assistance of their neighbours.
There are two heads and springs of moral duty, as far as this country of England is concerned; the first of which is to be found in the records of the Christian religion, and the other in the instructions we derive from the light of nature. I should not think myself justifiable on the present occasion in over-looking the first.
The lessons of Christianity on this subject are plain and incontrovertible. We are there taught to “love our neighbours as ourselves,” and to “do unto others as we would they should do unto us.” When an ingenuous young man came to Jesus Christ, desirous to be instructed in his duties, he was referred to the commandments; and, having answered, “All these have I kept from my youth up; what lack I yet?” Christ bade him, “Go, sell all that he had, and give to the poor:” upon which “the young man went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.”
There is a kind of Oriental boldness in this, at least considered as a general exposition of the moral law: for it would be reasonable to answer, If it is my duty to render the greatest benefit to my fellow-creatures, and if my mind is well prepared to discharge this duty, it will probably be better done, by my devoting my income to this purpose, than by at once divesting myself ot the principal.
But nothing can be more clear than the general tenour of revelation in this question. By it we are instructed that we are stewards, not proprietors, of the good things of this life, we are forbidden to pamper our appetites or our vanity, we are commanded to be fellow-workers with and impartial ministers of the bountiful principle of nature, and we are told that, when we have done all, we have done nothing of which we have any right to boast.
Such are the dictates of the Christian revelation in this particular: and in all this there is nothing new, nothing that the light of nature did not as clearly and imperiously prescribe, to every one who was willing conscientiously to enquire into the law of morality.
We are here then furnished with a complete answer to what Mr. Malthus says in another place, that “every man has a right to do what he will with his own .”
Indeed I was beyond measure astonished to find such a sentence as this, in a book professing itself to be a book of science, and in a part of that book treating of the rights of human creatures.
Mr. Malthus could scarcely intend by this any thing so futile, as to inform his readers, that the laws of all civilised countries protect a man, and justly, in the exercise of his own discretion as to the disposal of his property.
Did the author purpose then to be understood as speaking either as a moralist or a divine, when he said; “Every man has a right to do what he will with his own?”
The “right divine of doing wrong,” was formerly confined to kings, the anointed representatives of the author of the universe: but Mr. Malthus extends it to every one who has the power.
In every moral question, or in other words, in every question where the pleasure or pain, the happiness or unhappiness of others is concerned, there is one thing that it is a man's duty to do, and he has no right to do otherwise.
The rich man therefore has no right to with-hold his assistance from his brother-man in distress, except in the sense that he cannot reasonably be brought under the jurisdiction of a court of justice, for his breach of the moral law in this respect.
The rights of any man as to his treatment of his fellow-man, are rights of discretion merely: in other words, that no man must attempt to compel him to do, that which it is his duty to do. The appeal is exclusively to the judgment of him who is to act; but he is bound to inform his judgment to the utmost of his power, and rigorously to adhere to the unbiased decisions of that judgment. So far is it from being true, that “every man has a right to do what he will with his own.”
These are the fundamental principles of moral law; and, though they are so plain, that the most uninstructed man may comprehend them as soon as they are announced, they cannot be repeated too often.
Thus stood the principles of morality, before Mr. Malthus wrote his Essay on Population.
The rich man believed in these principles; and, though he perpetually offended against them by the sums he wantonly expended upon his appetites and his vanity, his conscience always reproached him. This was still something.
The poor man believed in these principles; and, though he saw how little they prevailed in the world at large, yet he had the consolation to know what ought to be, and to compare it with what was. No man had yet approached him, perishing with cold and hunger under a shed, and taunted him with, This is exactly as it should be. The poor man is not a perfectly sound judge in his own case: he could not affirm, This is the very man, possessed of opulence, by whom I ought to be relieved; for he could not tell what claims that man had upon his power of affording assistance to others. But he could tell, when “lewdly-pampered luxury” consumed its heaps in “vast excess,” that this was not well; and that “every man had not a right to do what he would with his own.” He knew that he could not, in law or morality, compel the rich to part with their superfluity; but he did not less know that the poor, that is, the infant, the helpless old, the sick, and the man who cannot procure employment, has “a right to support.”
In this belief he was borne out by the light of nature, and by the gospel. Neither the evangelists, nor apostles, nor the Holy Spirit that inspired them, were aware that all these maxims were subverted by the “principle of population.”
Mr. Malthus indeed, as far as he has succeeded in his Essay, has changed the situation of the rich and the poor.
To the poor he has taught, that if they receive any relief, they owe it, not to any claim they had to relief, but to what he sometimes calls the spontaneous charity and pure benevolence of the rich; though, since, as he tells us, “private charity almost invariably leads to pernicious consequences g,” he [should have said they owe it, to the want of fortitude and firmness in the rich, and to their vices.
To the rich also he has read an important lesson. A great portion of this class of society are sufficiently indisposed to acts of charity, and eminently prone to the indulgence of their appetites and their vanity. But hitherto they had secretly reproached themselves with this, as an offence against God and man. Mr. Malthus has been the first man to perform the grateful task of reconciling their conduct and their consciences, and to shew them that, when they thought they were allowing themselves in vice, they were in reality conferring a most eminent and praiseworthy benefit upon the community.
Of the doctrines of the essay on population as they affect the condition of the poor.
THUS, far Mr. Malthus cannot justly be accused of having advanced any thing that should tend to the “decrease of mortality,” and that by so doing should counteract the main purpose and fundamental doctrine of the Essay on Population. When he has established the two memorable propositions which have been canvassed in the preceding Chapter, that the poor “have no right to support,” and that the rich” have a right to do what they will with their own,” these maxims will by no means in their practical application tend to the “decrease of mortality,” except so far as famine and despair may arrest the propagation of mankind. And it is an obvious and irresistible truth, that he who is not born will never die.
Indeed it will be found all through, that when our author speciously proposed a scheme for the “decrease of mortality,” he meant a scheme for “thinning the ranks of mankind.”
Mr. Malthus however has great hopes of accomplishing his point, so far as this country is concerned by the abolition of the poor-laws.
Having therefore prepared the way, by “formally disclaiming,” on the part of the community, “the right of the poor to support,” he is contented with what he calls a” very gradual abolition” of the enactments by which that right is recognised.
His plan is that of a law, “declaring, that no child born from any marriage, taking place after the expiration of a year from the date of the law, and no illegitimate child born two years from the same date, shall ever be entitled to parish assistance .” “This,” he says, “would amount to a fair, distinct and precise notice, which no man could well mistake .” “No individual would be either deceived or injured, and consequently no person could have a just right to complain .”
For my own part, I profess myself at a loss to conceive of what earth the man was made, by whom this sentence was penned.
In the question of a child to be born into the world, and of the fortune that shall attend it, there are two parties concerned, the child and its parents. I own I was ignorant enough to imagine that the child was the most deeply concerned of the two.
Tristram Shandy has trifled in a very whimsical way with the idea of a scheme for baptising children before they are born. Mr. Malthus is the first man that has proposed the proclaiming children, and putting them out of the protection of the law, before they are born, for the purpose of preventing them from complaining afterwards. What has his “fair, distinct and precise notice” to do with them?
In the system of the globe we inhabit, and among the varieties of human fortune, it is an exclamation that has often been heard, and when urged in the depth of reflection, and amidst the agitations of agonised feelings, does not fail to be greatly pathetic: “Why am I thus? How have I deserved the series of misfortunes that incessantly pursue me? How came I into the world? I never desired it. My consent was never demanded. I was compelled to come; and perhaps have never enjoyed one day of real felicity. All to me has been darkness, pains of body, grief of mind, hunger, nakedness, depression and contempt.”
I know that the order of the universe is too mighty for any human being to contend with: but I do not entertain exactly the same deference and awe for the systems of human law. Earthly legislatures may without sin be approached in the language of expostulation and remonstrance.
Here then is a child that perishes with want perhaps as soon as he is born. Or he may drag on the load of existence for a varied length of way, from one to fourscore years. However long he may exist, he shall bear about him for ever the miseries, which arise from his being half-famished in the first stage of existence. And Mr. Malthus comes and tells him he “has no right to complain,” for a “fair, distinct and precise notice” was given two years before he was born.
If Mr. Malthus and his disciples were to tell him, that general considerations of human weal, and the “principle of population” required that he should be thus deserted, that would be somewhat different. But to say, that a “fair, distinct and precise notice” was given two years before he was born, and” therefore no person has a just right to complain,” what a mockery is it!
The author of the Essay on Population goes on in a climax, in this instructive discourse on the rights of human creatures. He first” formally disclaims the right of the poor,” the infant, the helpless old, the sick, and the man who cannot procure employment, “to support” He next assures us, that, a “fair, distinct and prescise notice” having previously been given, “no person,” and consequently not the child thereafter to be born, “can have a just right to complain” of any calamities that may afterwards overtake him.
Mr. Malthus however undertakes to reconcile the poor man to his lot by an allegory. “These are the unhappy persons, who in the great lottery of life have drawn a blank .” “A man who is born into a world already possessed, if he cannot get subsistence from his parents on whom he has a just demand, and if the society do not want his labour, has no claim of right to the smallest portion of food, and in fact has no business to be where he is. At nature's mighty feast there is no vacant cover for him. She tells him to be gone, and will quickly execute her own orders, if he do not work upon the com: passion of some of the guests. If these guests get up and make room for him, other intruders immediately appear demanding the same favour. The report of a provision for all that come, fills the hall with numerous claimants. The order and harmony of the feast is disturbed; the plenty that before reigned is changed into scarcity; and the happiness of the guests is destroyed by the spectacle of misery and dependence in every part of the hall, and by the clamorous importunity of those, who are justly enraged at not finding the provision which they had been taught to expect. The guests learn too late their error, in counteracting those strict orders against all intruders issued by the great mistress of the feast, who, wishing that her guests should have plenty, and knowing that she could, not provide for unlimited numbers, humanely refused to admit fresh comers when her table was already full .”
I pass over the humanity of the man who makes to himself an agreeable amusement, from the consideration of the unhappy wretches that are starving at his door. The best of it is, that it is totally false. Men are born into the world, in every country where the cultivation of the earth is practised, with the natural faculty in each man of producing more food than he can consume, a faculty which cannot be controled but by the injurious exclusions of human institution.
It is true that this passage is omitted by Mr. Malthus in his last edition; but it deserved to be preserved as a specimen of the strange extravagances to which the “principle of population” is liable to urge its disciples. It is indeed the most dreadful passage that ever poor printer for his sins was condemned to compose.
But let us follow a little more closely Mr, Malthus's scheme for the gradual abolition of the poor-laws.
“To give a more general knowledge of this law, and to inforce it more strongly on the minds of the lower classes of people, I should propose that the clergyman of each parish should, after the publication of the bans of marriage, read a short address, stating the strong obligation on every man to support his own children; the impropriety, and even immorality, of marrying without a prospect of being able to do this; the evils which had resulted to the poor themselves, from the attempt which had been made to assist by public institutions in a duty which ought to be exclusively appropriated to parents; and the absolute necessity which had at length appeared of abandoning all such institutions, on account of their producing effects totally opposite to those which had been intended.
“This would operate as a fair, distinct and precise notice, which no man could well, mistake .
It must be admitted that this is a strong measure. It strips human life of all those pleasing hues, and all that fascinating appearance, which, if not genuine, has at least served to reconcile thousands to their fate. Marriage is the grand holiday of our human nature; and, if the rest of the path-way of life is too often involved in horrors or in shades, this is the white spot, the little gleam of pure sunshine, which compensates for a thousand other hardships and calamities. It is indeed a bitter homily to the poor man, that Mr. Malthus proposes. However fair may be his hopes, 110 one who lives by the sweat of his brow, can be sure that he shall always be able, without assistance, to support a family. He has revolved, it may be, with considerable anxiety and deep meditation, before he took this decisive step; and he does not love to be reminded of it, thus publicly, in the face of the church, at a time when the good customs of our forefathers taught him to look out for congratulations. Even if, when I propose to be married, my circumstances are moderately easy, I do not like to be thus lectured, and put into uncomfortable speculations on the occasion; and I will take care, after the passing Mr. Malthus's law, always to be married with a licence, that I may not individually be the occasion for my fellow-parishioners to hear, three times repeated, this displeasing warning. I cannot forgive the author of the law, for thus reminding me, whenever I am disposed to enter into wedlock, that marriage in the abstract is crimen lœsi boni communis, and that in certain cases of exception only it becomes innocent.
It is further right to remark in this place, that Mr. Malthus's plan for the frequent recital of his homily against marriage, is for ostentation only. He expressly says, that the principle of moral restraint “has undoubtedly in past ages operated with very inconsiderable force;” and he protests against “any opinion respecting the probable improvement of society, in which we are not borne out by the experience of the past” If the making a picture of this kind would answer he purpose, and prevent our being visited with the reality, then (upon Mr. Malthus's principle of the necessity for perpetual and powerful checks against increasing population) it were well. But our author well knows,
- It is the eye of childhood only,
- That fears a painted devil.
The writer of the Essay on Population, in hie commonwealth, can by no means dispense with the actual presence of misery. It is on this ground that he pleads against “a society, constituted according to the most beautiful form that imagination can conceive.” He is like some of our old divines, who are of opinion that the happiness of heaven would be incomplete, unless its inhabitants had a far-off prospect of the gulph of hell, and heard its tenants from their place of torment exclaim, that so they might be fully sensible of the fate from which they had escaped.
The author of the work I am examining plainly shuts himself up in the little circle of what is passing in the world around him, without ever having recourse to the evidence of past ages. Had he opened the volume of history, he would there have learned many instructive lessons.
In the first place, he would have learned the origin of our poor-laws. They grew out of the Reformation. They were no new concession made to the lower order of the people of England, but a substitute for something that the Reformation had taken away. We have been taught by our ancestors, the authors of that great revolution in human affairs, to look only on the dark side of all that preceded, as if it had been all pure and unmingled evil. But it was not so: nor is such the character of the ancient institutions of any civilised country.
Christianity, as it was understood for centuries before the Reformation, was a religion of charity and beneficence. The prelates of those times had large revenues; but it was universally conceived that they held these revenues, not to be expended in personal luxuries, but merely as stewards for the flock of Christ. It was expected of them by the faithful, that they should themselves live in primitive simplicity, and even voluntarily subject themselves to many privations and hardships. The use they were to make of a considerable part of their revenues, was to relieve the sick, to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry. The monasteries of those times had large revenues; but their inhabitants were held by the charter of their institutions, to rise to midnight prayers, to feed sparingly, and to live upon the earth as strangers, whose only home was beyond the grave. The aid therefore derived by the distressed and unfortunate from the revenues of the monasteries, was of the greatest importance. Even the nobility and gentry of those times, won over by such examples, employed a considerable part of their incomes in acts of charity.
All this was reversed by the Reformation. The great multitude of monasteries and religious houses was swept away at once; and the maxims of that age, when this high stimulus and example was removed, were speedily changed. The consequence was the establishment of a great number of hospitals and public institutions, and the enacting of our poor-laws. These did not originate in the prodigal beneficence of the men of those days; but were a penurious and scanty substitute for the vast sources of relief that were taken away, and they were absolutely required by the nature and state of society.
How comes it then that England was not greatly overpeopled in the ages that preceded the Reformation, as it certainly would have been, if the human species were altogether so like rabbits, as Mr. Malthus represents them? The scheme for starving us out for our good, is altogether new; and I am apprehensive that mankind did quite as well in times that are past, as they are ever likely to do under the parental care of the author of the Essay on Population.
If Mr. Malthus had looked into the page of history, he might have derived instruction not only from the early history of England, but from the records of Ancient Greece. Her two most flourishing states were Sparta and Athens. These were the countries in which to have tried the geometrical ratio; and it was tried . The constitution of Sparta endured five hundred years; that of Athens not so long. But, in defiance of the calculations of Mr. Malthus, “this fair form of society” was not destroyed, and all its institutions turned into “every hateful vice, and every form of distress, that can degrade and sadden” the worst pages of the history of mankind, by the “mere effect of the principle of population.”
To conclude. The reader will do me the justice to observe, that the above pages do not constitute a criticism upon, or a defence of, the poor-laws of England. Mr. Malthus has brought these laws into discussion, while illustrating his principle, that “the poor man has no right to support” This principle I deny; but upon the poor-laws I have no design of pronouncing judgment. In England, those who are supposed unable to maintain themselves are aided from a general assessment: in France and some other countries, they are provided for in a different way. In both however they are under the protection of the law: I should prefer being the citizen of a country, where the deserted and the helpless should be sufficiently taken care of without the intervention of the state. But in England at least we are not yet ripe for this.
Of the doctrines of the essay on population as they affect the condition of the rich.
The principle of population is no less pregnant with conclusions in favour of the riot and wastefulness of the rich, than for the oppression of the poor. Mr. Malthus is no mean follower of the celebrated precept of Horace,
- Omne tulit punclum, qui miscuil utile dulci:
which, being translated into the language of the Essay on Population, is, He may claim to have produced a perfect system, who judiciously blends the squandering of the rich with the starving of the poor.—But let us take the idea in Mr. Malthus's own words.
The first point then to be noticed under this head is our author's denunciations against private charity, or the pecuniary donations of the rich in aid of the poor.
“A man who is born into a world already possessed, if he cannot get subsistence from his parents on whom he has a just demand, and if the society do not want his labour, has no claim of right to the smallest portion of food, and in fact has no business to be where he is. At nasture's mighty feast there is no vacant cover for him. She tells him to be gone, and will quickly execute her own orders, if he do not work on the compassion of some of the guests. If these guests get up, and make room for him, the order and harmony of the feast is disturbed ,” and the worst consequences will follow.
“When Nature will govern and punish for us, it is a very miserable ambition to wish to snatch the rod from her hands. To the punishment of Nature therefore he should be left, the punishment of want. He should be taught to know, that the laws of Nature, which are the laws of God, have doomed him and his family to suffer, that he has no claim of right to the smallest portion of food, and that, if he and his family are saved from starving, he will owe it solely to the pity of some kind benefactor ,” acting in disobedience to the laws of Nature.
In reality, when Mr. Malthus said, “The poor have no right to support,” his design was to deliver a moral principle , however much it may be in opposition to the principles of those systems, which heretofore have gained the most gracious acceptance in the world. He bottomed himself upon the great law of utility. That the poor should be supported otherwise than by the labour of themselves or their near kindred, was, in his view of the case, a great evil, inasmuch as it tended to encourage population. The poor-laws of England were therefore “an evil, in comparison of which the national debt, with all its magnitude of terror, is of little moment.” And, by parity of reason, the kind-hearted individual, who is prompted by the softness of his disposition to give to the starving and the distressed, is an offender. To support the poor generally, is the highest enormity Mr. Malthus is able to conceive: if we support them a little, we shall do a little evil. It is all a part of the same great law of the Essay on Population; and each member and shred of its violation partakes of the attributes of the whole.
Mr. Malthus however informs us, that the impulse of benevolence is not to be classed in mischievous effects with the passion between the sexes: that is, it is not that “deep-seated evil, in comparison with which human institutions, however they may appear to be the causes of much mischief “to society, are, light and superficial, mere feathers that float on the surface.”
“The passion between the sexes and the impulse of benevolence are both,” according to the Essay on Population, “natural passions, excited by their appropriate objects, and to the gratification of which we are prompted by the pleasurable sensations which accompany them .” But “there is less danger to be apprehended from the indulgence of the latter than of the former ,” of benevolence than of the sexual appetite, because the one is comparatively strong, and the other weak. And yet there is this other difference between them: that I believe Mr. Malthus would not in all cases disapprove the indulgence of the appetite of procreation; whereas, “if we act at all,” in the affairs of relieving the poor, “we must necessarily encourage marriage and population ,” and by that means be the authors of mischief to mankind.
Well then, since the rich, if they act at all in the relief of the poor, must necessarily produce a certain degree of mischief, the question obviously occurs, What shall they do with the remainder of their income, when their own simpler wants as partakers of an animal nature, and their more refined wants as partakers of the higher endowments of intellect, have been fully supplied? And upon this point Mr. Malthus does not leave them without instruction.
“Among other prejudices,” says he, “that have prevailed on the subject of population, there have existed some against the waste among the rick, and the horses kept by them merely for their pleasure. But these things have in reality a little of the same effect as the consumption of grain in distilleries, which was noticed before. On the supposition that the food consumed in this manner, may be withdrawn on the occasion of a scarcity, and be applied to the relief of the poor, they operate certainly, as far as they go, like granaries, which are only opened at the time that they are most wanted, and must therefore tend rather to benefit than to injure the lower classes of society .”
Again. “If the diffusion of luxury, by producing the check sooner, tends to diminish the distress, it is surely desirable .”
Never certainly was there so comfortable a preacher as Mr. Malthus. No wonder that his book is always to be found in the country-seats of the court of aldermen, and in the palaces of the great. Very appropriately has a retreat been provided for him by the commercial sovereigns of the regions of the East. What a revolution does his theory produce in the interior sentiments of the human breast! There were vices on the earth before Malthus. Men abounding in the good things of this world, indulged themselves unsparingly in all those caprices, which they well knew the mass of their species condemned, and which they more than suspected were worthy of condemnation. But they had a monitor, not only on their shelves, but in their bosoms, which said: “Rejoice, O thou rich man, in thy wealth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the multitude of thy possessions; wall; thou in the ways of thy heart, and in the sight of thy eyes: but know, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.”
Mr. Malthus has reversed all this. He has undertaken to shew, that while they thought they were giving way to their vices, and were drawing down the “curses, not loud, but deep.” of the bystanders, they were in reality public benefactors, and that the more they wasted, the more they saved. He has encouraged them to persist in their generous plan of conduct, undismayed by the lamentable misconstructions of their starving fellow-creatures. Nature [not Mr. Malthus's Nature] had planted within us a secret monitor, which, when we wandered from the path of decency and duty, admonished us with a soft and gentle, but articulate voice, and bade us recollect ourselves. But Mr. Malthus stimulates us to drive away this better genius. He reconciles us to the worst and most prodigal appetites of our sensual faculty, and bids us call them by the names of patriotism and philanthropy. It is sufficiently remarkable that, when he enumerates the eleven ways in which vice and misery act to keep down the excess of population , he does not betray his cause, or put the extravagance of the rich and great into his catalogue. It is true, for this it seems is not vice.
Yes: there were vices before Malthus. But woe to the age and the country, “that shall call evil good, and good evil, that shall put darkness for light, and light for darkness.” As long as the sentiments of our moral nature are uncorrupted, there is hope even in our vices. We are not entirely turned, by the enchantments, of pleasure, into beasts. There is still a corner in our souls reserved for better thoughts. There are times when the whirl of temptations hurries us into guilt; but there are also times when recollection resumes her seat. Our actions, it may be, are wrong; but our written monitors, our books, the great fathers of intellect, tell us truth. But, when we shall once be persuaded, that all we waste is only “like a granary, and tends rather to benefit than to injure our inferiors,” our hearts will become seared indeed.
Mr. Malthus however is unwilling altogether to proscribe private charity, though the principles of the Essay on Population are clearly hostile to it in every form it can assume. As a clergyman of the established church, this might have seemed not altogether consistent with decorum: and, as a friend to the present constitution of things, he would have been thus cutting off the higher orders of the community from one of those modes of action, by which they can best secure their ascendancy over their inferiors. After therefore having solemnly pronounced of the poor man, “To the punishment of Nature he should be left, the punishment of want,” he adds a feeble and irresolute postscript, “If however he and his family are saved from perishing, he must owe it solely to the pity of some kind benefactor, to whom therefore he ought to be bound by the strongest ties of gratitude.”
What ignorant babble is this! When this “kind benefactor” saved this man and his family from absolute want and the actually perishing with hunger, he either did a right or a wrong, he did his duty or the contrary: for every thing, in our treatment of our fellow-creatures, that is not duty, is of the nature of evil. If what he did was wrong, what sort of gratitude do I owe him, for this splendid wrong to the general interests of society, by which indeed I was the gainer? This is a gratitude which tramples upon all moral distinctions. This gratitude, with its “strongest ties,” while the poor famished wretch is stammering out his thanks, teaches him a memorable lesson indeed! It teaches him the entire futility of all questions of right and wrong: it teaches him to admire an action, not because it is useful or just, not because it accords with the uncorrupted sentiments of the human heart, but because, whatever are its intrinsic merits or demerits, he at least has got something by it.
Mr. Malthus has here made a great stride, as I suppose many of them would be apt to think, in behalf of the more favoured part of the community. A certain bishop, standing in his place in the Upper House of the English Legislature , delivered the extraordinary aphorism, that” the people of this country have nothing to do with the laws, but to obey them.” But Mr. Malthus, if he could carry the point now in hand, would gain a still more considerable step, and one that has long been anxiously desired. His doctrine is, that [the people of this country, or at least that portion of its inhabitants who have any chance of ever standing in need of the assistance of others, are to think only of their own duties, and never pry into those of their betters.] These would be happy times indeed! They would be halcyon clays, in which our inferiors, whatever were the decisions of the rich, should submit without repining if they were unfavourable, and be conscious to those peculiar emotions of gratitude, which might arise when they got something upon which they, had not the smallest right in law, morality or religion, if they gained. The opinion of the world is one of the greatest sanctions of the moral law, and it is to be feared, as society is at present constituted, that affairs would go but ill, were it not for its mighty control. But why should not the rich, like our members of the house of lords, be judged only by their peers, without being subject to the censure of a vulgar jury? Let the common people of England learn, that they “have no eyes to see, nor tongue to speak,” but as their superiors command them!
No just exception can be taken to this construction of Mr. Malthus's doctrine, unless it shall be answered that, when he said, the rich “have a right to do what they will with their own,” he virtually denied that they had any duties whatever.
Fortunately however for all that is most valuable in human society, Mr. Malthus will never be able to carry this point. It is true, as has already been stated, that the rich man cannot be brought under the jurisdiction of a court of justice, for any breach of the moral law he may commit in the disposal of his property. But there is another court, the authority of which no man is stout enough to contemn, and whose decisions are regarded with more deference and awe by the honourable and well-disposed mind, than the technical decisions of a court of justice. The presiding authority in this court, is placed in the sober judgment of his neighbours. When a country-gentleman with an estate of a few thousands a year, dwells in the midst of a neighbourhood of an inferior class, it is of no small importance to him, that he should be popular among them, and that his conduct should meet their approbation. To encounter their view in that case is a delight to him; while, if in their honest judgments they condemn him, he would travel by a thousand circuitous routes rather than meet the expression of their hatred. There is no man that cannot read the smiles of his fellow-creatures; and there is a tongue in their silent aversion, that speaks with a voice louder than that of a trumpet. He must be a man of no common fortitude, who can anticipate with indifference, that the hearse which conveys him to the grave will be covered with mud, and the mourners pelted with stones, by the sincere indignation of the vicinity. I know that the judgment of the lower orders of the community is often exercised in too indiscriminate and peremptory a style, that it is frequently not well informed, and that it is apt to be under the empire of caprice. I know too that it is liable to be corrupted, and that a few shewy actions will often in this court buy out the censure that is due to a series of misdemeanours. But, with all these imperfections, the empire of opinion is still of high value. The truly virtuous man stands in no need of this check. But there are thousands, who, in the intoxication of their unearned and unmerited elevation over the heads of their fellow-creatures, would be guilty of atrocities now unheard of, were it not for this salutary restraint which feelingly convinces them, that the rich man has no “right to do what he will with his own.”
Of marriage, and the persons who may justifiably enter into that state.
The world must be peopled.
Our examination of the practical doctrines of Mr. Malthus's work will be by no means complete, if we do not stop a little, seriously to examine, what it is that constitutes a fair “prospect of being able to support a family ;” for the misery of all our author's reasonings upon human affairs is, that they are pictureless, and dwell entirely in abstractions and generalities. Yet this is a question of vital importance; for to the crime of marrying without this prospect, the author of the Essay on Population unpityingly awards a punishment, at the very description of which the heart of humanity sinks within our breast.
“Though to marry in this case,” says Mr. Malthus, “is in my opinion clearly an immoral act, yet it is not one which society can justly take upon itself to prevent or punish [how merciful!]; because the punishment provided for it by the laws of nature [no; by the laws of monopoly] falls directly and most severely upon the individual who commits the act. When Nature will govern and punish for us, it is a. very miserable ambition to wish to snatch the rod from her hands, and draw upon ourselves the odium of executioner. To the punishment of Nature therefore he should be left, the punishment of want. He has erred in the face of a most clear and precise warning [here society kindly came in to the aid of Nature], and can have no just reason to complain of any person but himself, when he feels the consequences of his error. All parish assistance should be denied him. He should be taught to know, that the laws of Nature, which are the laws of God, have doomed him and his family to suffer for disobeying their repeated admonitions; that he has no claim of right on society for the smallest portion of food, beyond that which his labour will fairly purchase [and employment for that purpose is often denied him]; and that, if he and his family are saved from feeling the natural consequences of his imprudence, he will owe it solely to the pity of some kind benefactor, to whom therefore he ought to be bound by the strongest ties of gratitude .”
To return to the question then,—What it is which gives a man a fair “prospect of being able to support a family,” and may so render his contracting marriage not wnat Mr. Malthus calls “an immoral act:” for be it observed it is as easy, upon the principles of the Essay on Population, for a poor man to do an immoral act, as it is difficult, not to say impossible, for a rich one. Indeed I believe, according to this doctrine, there can be no immoral act on the part of a rich man, except such against which he shall find a prohibition in Blackstone's Commentaries of the Laws of England .
A fair “prospect of being able to support a family,” are words that run glibly off the tongue, and will pass without hesitation with many a rich man, when he comes to pronounce judgment on a poor one. But it is my cue to put in a plea for the poor, and “him that hath none to help him.”
For this purpose I have enquired respecting the wages given to the labouring hand in this country; and I am informed that the usual pay to a man employed in tillage is eighteen pence per day, and that the ordinary salary of an artisan is about twice as much.
Now, to begin with the peasant. Shall this man marry, or shall he not? I will suppose, that he is in perfect health, with a robust constitution; and that, as agriculture is not likely soon to go out of fashion, he may hope for tolerably regular employment. To give every advantage to my case, we will take for granted that the female on whom he has fixed his choice is as healthy as he, is sober, and shall be able, from her needle, or otherwise, to bring in something to increase the common stock. Yet nine shillings per week, with whatever addition may thus accrue, is but a scanty income, upon which to build a fair “prospect of being able to support a family.”
Mr. Malthus, if I understand him, would advise this man to wait, and save up something from his earnings, before he enters into the solemn engagement of matrimony. His yearly income is twenty-three pounds eight shillings. How much he can save out of this I do not exactly know. But I will suppose that, by patience and perseverance, he has saved a whole year's income, twenty-three pounds eight shillings: what is this in aid of a fair “prospect of being able to support a family?”
Perhaps Mr. Malthus means, that no peasant can many without being guilty of “an immoral act,” unless his father can give him an hundred or two hundred pounds to begin the world with. If this was his intention, I wish he had said so; as then we could have made some calculation of the number of persons who, upon the “principle of population,” are permitted to marry, as well of those who are condemned to lead a life of constrained celibacy, upon pain of being guilty of a heinous breach of the laws of morality.
To understand this question more perfectly, let us consider a little what marriage is, according to the most exact deductions that have yet been made of the laws of political economy. Every marriage, I will say, upon an average produces four children, some fewer, some none, some a much more considerable number. Shall he then be considered as having a fair “prospect of being able to support a family,” who takes for the basis of his calculation, himself, a wife, and four children? Oh, no: for in this lottery no fortune-teller has yet been found, who could infallibly foretel to each man his lot: it may be this man's lot to have twelve children or more. —Add to this uncertainty, the chances of sickness, and the thousand other casualties that await us in the darkness of the future.
Well: this man has drawn an unfortunate and overwhelming ticket; and I bring him to Mr. Malthus's tribunal for remedy. There he shall learn a most instructive lesson. He is told, “To the punishment of Nature we leave you, the punishment of want. You have erred in the face of a most clear and precise warning, and can have no just reason to complain of any person but yourself, now that you feel the consequences of your error. All parish assistance is to be denied you. You must be taught to know, that the laws of Nature, which are the laws of God, have doomed you and your family to suffer for disobeying their repeated admonitions.”
Perhaps the hand of private charity may afford some scanty aid to this unfortunate man and his family. If it does, all I can say is, that Mr. Malthus is no wise accountable for this heinous offence against the “principle of population .” His system, as I have fully shewn, teaches us, that private charity necessarily leads to the most pernicious consequences. Here then we have a man, who, because he did not listen to the warning three times repeated, is left, and “should be left,” with his family to the punishment of want. Why indeed should he listen? The words he hears have no meaning, and fall a brutum fulmen on his ear. No labouring peasant has a fair “prospect of being able to support a family.” Nay, I would add that, in Mr. Malthus's sense, no rich man, no nobleman, and no king has.
For, be it observed, the question is not here of a calculation of probabilities, or the doctrine of chances. The law of the Essay on Population is peremptory and absolute. It is like the laws of Draco, which were written in blood, and allowed of no mitigation. “All parish assistance is to be denied him. He has no claim of right on society for the smallest portion of food. To the punishment of Nature he should be left.” “They should not have families, without being able to support them .” If he takes a ticket in a lottery in which there are nine hundred and ninety-nine prizes, and but one blank, yet his ticket may be that blank. And the law has no ears: he is to be left to his own resources; and Mr. Malthus calls out to every one to stand aloof, and see what God will do unto him.
But, without taking this extreme case, the poor man may presume that he shall be able to support four persons in a family, and he may have six, or twice six. He may presume that he shall have health, and sickness may be his lot. He may presume that he shall not break a leg or an arm. He may presume that he shall have constant employment. He may presume that he shall not be the father of a cripple or an idiot. What poor man does not know that marriage is preeminently and in every sense a lottery? It is all one. “All parish assistance is to be denied him. He has no claim of right on society for the smallest portion of food. To the punishment of Nature he and his family should be left. When Nature will govern and punish for us, it is a very miserable ambition to wish o snatch the rod from her hands. The laws of Nature, which are the laws of God, have doomed him and his family to suffer.”
Did he not hear the warning voice three times repeated? Has he not sinned against a “fair, distinct and precise notice?” Will then he or his children pretend after this, that, whatever happens, they have “a right to complain?” Mr. Malthus peremptorily denies it. Still further. He may presume that he shall live, and by his exertions form the principal support of his family. But he may die. The Essay on Population makes no provision for this. “They should not have families, without being able to support them.” And, as to his children, “a fair, distinct and precise notice” was given, two years or upwards before they were born, and therefore, though perishing with hunger, they “have no right to complain.” Suppose him a drunkard or a profligate, spending on his own vices that which should support his family. Society has nothing to do with that His wife may consider it as the proper return for her mistake in accepting his addresses; and his children for the crime of being born. It is “the punishment of Nature,” and they “have no right to complain.”
Certainly never was a theory given to the world, that breathed so total a disdain of the condition of man upon the face of the earth.
We will suppose however that a poor peasant marries. We will allow nine shillings a week for the produce of his labour, with some addition from the industry of his wife. That we may go as far as we can in vindication of his prudence, we will suppose that, out of his savings, he is enabled to commence house-keeping with a fortune of twenty-three pounds eight shillings in bank. This might have served him to buy a couple of cows; but he may not happen to live near a common, upon which he might feed them. That however will presently appear to be out of the question. Twenty-three pounds eight shillings is little enough in all conscience to furnish the inside of his habitation, and to supply a few of the plainest necessaries, without allowing him the hope of adding a peculium sub Jove pluvio.
Our old-fashioned ancestors were accustomed to admire the light heart of this man, who, trusting in the Providence of God, and the benevolence, if need were, of his richer neighbours, embarked himself cheerfully in the stormy sea of the world. Youth and a good constitution made the future appear gay and sunshiny before him. He knew that he lived in a country, which, though not so bountiful as Athens , had yet taken care to make a legal provision for such of her sons as were overtaken by unforeseen distress. Twenty-three pounds eight shillings, under these circumstances, appeared a mine of wealth in the eyes of his good-natured patrons and friends.
Alas! our old-fashioned ancestors knew nothing of Mr. Malthus's doctrines, and had not dreamed of the Essay on Population. Lulled in the kindly sleep of a benevolent heart, they did not anticipate the twenty-third homily, to be read hereafter as the constant accompaniment of the bans of marriage.
Human life is an awful thing; and wisely did Solon pronounce, that we must never declare any man happy, till he is dead. They that have learned to sympathise in the vicissitudes of this sublunary scene, will know well how to compassionate a fellow-creature in distress. The great earl Mansfield is said to have had a constant foreboding in his mind, that he should die in a workhouse; and, if he had gone no farther than to believe this possible, no sober man would have blamed it as a weakness. In the chequered scene of our frail existence, “no man knoweth” what calamities await him. “The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”
Mr. Malthus's homily therefore is not framed to the state of man on earth. It is too much to say to the poor man, with his family starving about him: “To the punishment of Nature we leave you, the punishment of want. You must be taught to know [taught! how appropriate a won! to the wretch, whose eyes are glazed with famine, and his lips parched with lack of moisture] that her laws, which are the laws of God, have doomed you and your family to suffer for the immorality of your disobedience.” Indeed Mr. Malthus, whatever you may allege, I can never be brought to think, that it is a just admonition to this man to say: “You have no claim of right upon society for the smallest portion of food; and, if you and your family are saved from perishing, you will owe it solely to the pity of some kind benefactor,” which pity is a weakness, and, as the Essay on Population asserts, “almost invariably leads” to pernicious consequences.
In reality, if Mr. Malthus had fully considered the effect of his principles, and had then thought proper to speak out plainly, he would have told us in so many words, that no man had a right to marry, without being first in possession of a moderate independence. Two or three hundred pounds per annum legally secured to the parties and their heirs for ever, I should think might do. The adherents of the “principle of population” would not require that every married man in the community with his family should live entirely at his ease. I know that two or three hundreds per annum, nor indeed as many thousands, in the ups and downs of European life, would not fully secure their possessor against the chances of standing in need of the benevolence of his neighbours, nor even from coming with his family to the parish, but that that word is blotted out of the vocabulary of the disciples of the Essay on Population. But then, even at the worst, he has an advantage. I have often observed, in the advertisements addressed “to the charitable and humane,” what a nameless, charm there is, if the petitioner has seen better days, has fallen from a state that had been attended with every comfort, or is distantly allied to softie Sprig of nobility. In addition to this, the number of such petitioners are comparatively few, while the starving and inglorious peasants are so numerous, that the hand of “private benevolence” is tired out in the attempt to relieve them. Mr. Malthus himself too would, I conceive, pronounce this sort of liberality exempt from the least shadow of blame, as it would not “tend to the indiscriminate encouragement of marriage.”
It also deserves to be remarked, that if marriage were considered as a privilege reserved for the higher orders of the community, we should still upon the “principle of population” have enough of it. In following the speculations of Mr. Malthus, we should never lose sight of the geometrical ratio. If the present peasantry and labourers of England were wholly rooted out, we could on that basis easily calculate how soon the country at large would become fully as populous as at present. This would be a mode of thinning the numbers of mankind, very analogous to what was before mentioned of hoeing turnips, without the disadvantage of our having been obliged to have recourse to “every cause, which might in any degree contribute to shorten the natural duration of human life.” We should stop the rising generation, which was crowding into the “hall of existence” at so alarming a rate, before they reached the threshold. And then the new population, not to mention the genteel blood which would universally flow in their veins, would have read so instructive a lesson in the perishing of the old, that we might hope they would get on, not indeed with out vice and misery, but with somewhat a smaller portion of each than was required for their rude predecessors.
There is one view of the subject of this chapter too interesting to be entirely overlooked. If the ideas of Major Graunt, quoted in page 174, are true, nineteen in twenty of the males of mankind, if such had been the pleasure of the author of the universe, might have been deprived of the power of procreation, and even of the sexual appetite, without injury to the source of human population. Something like this is said to be the condition of the bee.—Sed Dis aliter visum. We live in a system, if not more favourable to the multiplication of mankind, at least more propitious to the cultivation of the affections of human nature. Upon the opposite system, the male would have been deprived of the larger portion of the pleasures of society, and the female would have been subjected to the degrading effects of polygamy. It plainly appears therefore that the order of the world tends, not barely to the natural effect that the human species should exist in certain numbers on the face of the earth, but to the moral end that, by the union of one man with one woman, the happiness of our race should be increased, and the moral character refined and exalted. This agrees with the doctrine of Christ and his apostles, that “Marriage is honourable in all.” Hence it is that are derived to us “the charities of father, son, and brother:” and hence it appears, as was said in another place , that neither man nor woman has fulfilled the ends of their being, nor had a real experience of the privileges of human existence, without having entered into the ties, and participated in the delights of domestic life.
Let us then return at once, and return in earnest, to the long established and wholsome principles of policy and society on this subject, that it is one of the clearest duties of a citizen, to give birth to his like, and bring offspring to the state. Without this he is hardly a citizen: his children and his wife are pledges he gives to the public for his good behaviour; they are his securities, that he will truly enter into the feeling of a common interest, and be desirous of perpetuating and increasing the immunities and prosperity of his country from generation to generation. Sanguinis autem conjunctio et benevolentia devincit homines caritate: sed omnes omnium caritates patria una complexa est.
But if this duty is more peculiarly incumbent upon one order of society than upon another, it undoubtedly falls with greatest force upon that order which is most numerous, and which constitutes the basis of the community, upon that order which is necessary, while the others are merely ornamental, upon that body of men, who put their hands to the plough, or in other ways participate in the aggregate of labour and sweat by which the whole is sustained. Woe to the country, in which a man of this class cannot marry, without the prospect of forfeiting his erect and independent condition! Woe to the country, in which, when unforeseen adversity falls upon this man, he shall be told he has no claim of right to be supported and led in safety through his difficulties! We may be sure there is something diseased and perilous in the state of that community, where such a man shall not have a reasonable and just prospect of supporting a family, by the labour of his hands, and the exertion of his industry, though he begins the world with nothing. If he is disappointed in this, who is more worthy of the assistance of the friend of man?
I know but of two principal exceptions to the law which affirms generally that it is the duty of a citizen to seek to become a husband and a father.
First, the profligate should not marry. It is true, he should cease to be profligate. I would encourage him to all possible good purposes, and exhort him to enter steadily into the limits of sobriety and virtue. But I cannot think that he should make a wife and a family the subject for the trial of his crude resolutions. This is indeed the only pater familias in a well constituted and well organised society, not in the convulsion of any extraordinary change, who can have reason (exclusive of the case of a bad wife or evil-disposed children) to repent that he has chosen this honourable condition. Profligacy, particularly in the lower walks of life, is the great bane of the married state. When the husband or the wife forget the duties which they have vowed to discharge, or spend in drunkenness and dissipation the means that are required for the weal of the establishment, theirs is indeed an unhappy and ill-fated family.
The second sort of persons upon whom it may not be incumbent to marry, are those who by high qualities and endowments seem destined to be distinguished benefactors to their country or their species. No man can be completely a judge of his own talents previously to the experiment: but every man can tell whether he feels within him an impulse to devote himself to public exertions. If he does, he is justly entitled to attend to that impulse. A superior duty controls that which is common. He who has an arduous career to run, should come unincumbered into the field. How many instances may be found of such as would have achieved great things, and have resigned themselves to obscure and unremunerated pursuit, if they had had only themselves to provide for, and had not been burthened with the cares of a family! This remark applies particularly to the earlier division of human life. I do not blame the man vehemently, who breaks through this rule; he only does that to which, in the abstract, man is destined. But I cordially applaud him, who having received a higher destination, cheerfully abjures every indulgence that would obstruct his progress.
There are other exceptions, beside these two, of men to whom it ceases to be a duty to seek to become a husband and a father. But let this suffice. I am not writing a Ductor Dubitantium, or seeking to compile a body of Cases of Conscience.
A few contradictions in the essay on population stated.
It has not been the purpose of this work, to expose Mr. Malthus's contradictions. Never book afforded greater advantage in this way to an adversary, than the Essay on Population. Almost every page would be found upon a strict analysis to contain an answer to the page that went, before. But I have had higher objects in view. It has been my purpose to assail his theory at the foundation. I have taken the main propositions of his volumes; and, without troubling myself with the question how often he has betrayed his cause, and thrown down the fabric he has raised, I have gone straight to the consideration of the truth or error of his principles.
There are however one or two points, immediately connected with the question now under consideration, where this spirit of contradiction is so glaring, that I am tempted by them to deviate for a moment from my general rule.
In vol. II, p. 309, Mr. Malthus expressly remarks, “No possible sacrifices of the rich could for any time prevent the recurrence of distress among the lower members of society.” What becomes then of the patriotism and philanthropy, to be displayed in living sumptuously and keeping horses for pleasure, which we have just been considering? Indeed it is observable, that when he was expressly contending for this point, his voice somewhat faltered. The words in which he announces his position are, “The waste among the rich, and the horses kept for pleasure, have a little the effect of the consumption of grain in distilleries.”
Mr. Malthus is an experienced pleader. He knows how to sustain his temporary character to a proper extent, and when it is becoming to lay it aside. Just now he appeared before us as an advocate for the poor. His theme was to shew how much they were [ultimately gainers by the luxuries of the rich. But, having made a specious appearance with that argument, he presently shews us what was his real object. The business was to establish an apology for luxury, and to furnish another corollary to his memorable theorem, that “Every man,” by which he plainly means, every man that has something that is worth calling his own, “has a right to do what he will with it.”—His plea for the poor in this case, is exactly of the same complexion, as the plea he elsewhere sets up for God Almighty, of which he says, “The chief reason why I allowed myself to suppose the universal prevalence of this virtue, was that I might endeavour to remove any imputation on the goodness of the Deity,” by supposing something, respecting which “no man could be less sanguine than he is,” that it would ever take place.
The same contradiction that I have just shewn in what Mr. Malthus says respecting the luxuries of the rich, occurs in a still more striking manner in his observations respecting the poorlaws.
He sets out with the thundering position, that the poor-laws are “an evil, in comparison of which the national debt, with all its magnitude of terror, is of little moment .” If I at all understand the Essay on Population, the reason they are concluded to be such an evil, is because of their tendency to encourage marriage, and thus introducing some approximation towards the tremendous geometrical ratio.
Elsewhere however Mr. Malthus takes a very different view of the subject. “There are many ways,” he says, “in which our poor-laws operate in counteracting their first obvious tendency to increase population .” Again: “The obvious tendency of the poor-laws is certainly to encourage marriage; but a closer attention to all their indirect as well as direct effects, may make it a matter of doubt to what extent they really do this .” And further on: “It will readily occur to the reader, that owing to these causes, it must be extremely difficult to ascertain, with any degree of precisian, what has been their effect on population .”
The author at length winds up what he has to say on the subject with a most extraordinary note.
“The most favourable light, in which the poor-laws can possibly be placed, is to say that under all the circumstances with which they have been accompanied, they do not much encourage marriage; and undoubtedly the returns of the Population Act seem to warrant the assertion. Should this be true, many of the objections which have been urged in the Essay against the poor-laws will be removed; but I wish to press on the attention of the reader, that they will in that case be removed, in strict conformity to the general principles of the work, and in a manner to confirm, not to invalidate, the main positions which it has attempted to establish ”
If this were told, would it be believed? If Mr. Malthus had delivered the substance of what he has said on the poor-laws at a county meeting, and I had thus attempted to arrest and record his “winged words,” it cannot be but I should have been universally set down for a calumniator. Well and wisely did the patriarch Job conceive that memorable wish of his, “Oh, that mine enemy had written a book!”
Mr. Malthus sets out with pronouncing the poor-laws “an evil, incomparably greater than that of the national debt.” He then proceeds with perfect consistency, in the strongest manner to urge their abolition. The subject however, he says, must be tenderly handled: the abolition must be “a very gradual abolition.” We must begin with proclaiming that we are “bound in justice and honour formally to disclaim the right of the poor to support.” And that for this reason, because, if they conceived they had any such right as is expressly recognised by our poor-laws, it would shortly become physically impossible, from the rapid multiplication of the species, to make this right the rule of our practice. The proposition, we are informed, is not less absurd, than if we were to say, “Every man has a right to live a hundred years .”
Having thus given to the poor “a fair, distinct and precise notice” of what they are to expect, we are next to proceed to put our gradual abolition into execution. “Every child that is born from any marriage, taking place after the expiration of a year from the date of this notice, and every illegitimate child born two years from the same date, “is to be for ever and in all cases cut off from the right to support.” Mr. Malthus has discovered, that” no person could have a just right to complain” of this. “In the great lottery of life this child has drawn a blank.” “The laws of Nature, which are the laws of God, have doomed him to surfer.” “At Nature's mighty feast there is no vacant “cover for him. She tells him to be gone; and if he does not make haste, she will quickly execute her own orders.”
These are strong measures; but who can help it? The poor-laws, which are “an evil incomparably greater than that of the national debt,” require to be abolished; and Mr. Malthus is persuaded that, “the principle, if not the plan,” of the scheme he has delineated, is what we shall be “compelled by a sense of justice to adopt .”
This plan must necessarily make a great ravage of our species. The revolution is so considerable, that Mr. Malthus, “albeit unused to the melting mood,” recommends that it be “very gradually” made. The sorrows, the agonies, the nakedness, the famine, that must come upon “the shorn lamb” of human society, before he has learned to bear the nipping blasts that shall blow upon him, are such, as I should not like to trust my pen to describe.
At length Mr. Malthus turns round to contemplate the devastation he has made; and he ultimately comes to more than suspect there was no need of this. All the passages I have here quoted lie in the small compass of two hundred pages: and the whole of this pro and con on the poor-laws was published to the world on the same day. When, though late, the author had discovered that, upon a supposition, which he is inclined to believe to be “true, many of the objections he had urged.against the poor-laws would be removed,” and none of the sad consequences he had predicted would follow, this does not induce him to cancel or revise his preceding sheets: and he consoles himself for all the inflictions he had recommended in his chapter of “gradual abolition” by the curious remark, that if the poor-laws do little or no harm, and if these inflictions were unnecessary, still this happens” in strict conformity to the general principles of his work, and in a manner to confirm, not to invalidate, the main positions which he has attempted to establish.” There was a maxim imputed to the celebrated and excellent Mr. Windham, “Perish commerce! Live the constitution!” and I confess I do not much differ from him in preferring the liberties of mankind to the wealth of nations. In the same grand and magnificent style, but with some difference of impulse and character, I hear Mr. Malthus ex-claiming, “Perish the human species! Live the Essay on Population!”
It remains to correct the errors of Mr. Malthus on the subject of wages.
All Mr. Malthus's errors are of the same complexion. He begins with considering man as a noxious species of vermin, whose race is to be kept down; since, if it were not kept down, it would overrun the earth, to the destruction not only of other kinds of animals, but finally to its own destruction also. This is a new light that has broken in upon the world. It was not thus that moralists and divines were accustomed to consider the human species, “the paragon of creation.” This view of our kind and its worth had scarcely been heard of, till the appearance of the first edition of the Essay on Population in 1798.
The rest follows of course. Man has an appetite never to be controled, so says Mr. Malthus, for the multiplication of his species. All the preachers of humility and self-abasement, previously to the Essay on Population, must “hide their diminished heads.” We vainly dreamed that ours was an intellectual nature. Even the great Pagan historian began his immortal work with telling us, that it was the proper business of man, “to take care that he did. pass through life in inglorious obscurity like the beasts, whom nature had formed with their faces towards the earth, and in subjection to their appetites; that our composition was twofold, consisting of mind and body, the office of the one being to rule, and of the other to serve.” But the Christian divine who wrote the Essay on Population, teaches a different doctrine. He talks much at the rate of Shakespear's mad king Lear:
- To it, luxury, pell mell!
- The wren goes to it, and the small gilded fly
- Does lecher in my presence.
- Let copulation thrive!
Mr. Malthus indeed says, that these things ought not to be. But he is aware that “moral restraint has in past ages operated with very inconsiderable force;” and no one can be less “sanguine than he, in the expectation that future times will contradict the experience of the past.”
In strict conformity therefore to these views of human nature, Mr. Malthus can find out no better remedy for the imaginary tendency to excess in population, than substantial vice and misery. All motives that address the higher part of our nature, act “with very inconsiderable force.” All appeals to the human understanding are nugatory. However clearly and forcibly we have set before us what is virtuous, what is honourable, good for others, and good for ourselves, we shall live in the midst of these inducements, as if they had no existence. Brutes we are, and brutes for ever we shall remain.
Upon the principles here explained, and with the most perfect consistency, Mr. Malthus is upon all occasions an advocate for low wages. He says indeed, “There is no one that more ardently desires to see a real advance in the price of labour than himself .” Just so a minister of state, when he comes forward with a measure peculiarly oppressive and tyrannical, is sure to boast of the sincerity of his attachment to public freedom. And so Swift in his own poignant style observes, that, “when the court of Lilliput had decreed any cruel execution, the emperor always made a speech to his whole council, expressing his great lenity and tenderness, as qualities known and confessed by all the world: nor did any thing terrify the people so much, as these encomiums on his majesty's mercy.”
The first passage I will select as a proper subject for a few observations, is as follows:
“Suppose that, by a subscription of the rich, the eighteen pence or two shillings a day which men earn now, were made up five shillings; it might be imagined perhaps, that they would then be able to live comfortably, and have a piece of meat every day for their dinner. But this would be a very false conclusion. The transfer of three additional shillings a day to each labourer, could not increase the quantity of meat in the country. There is not at present enough for all to have a moderate share. What would then be the consequence? The competition among the buyers in the market of. meat, would rapidly raise the price from eightpence or ninepence to two or three shillings per pound, and the commodity would not be divided among many more persons, than it is at present. .”
This is certainly the most extraordinary passage in the whole English library of books upon political economy; and Mr. Malthus must have felt himself very sure in his hold upon the disciples of the Essay on Population, before he could have ventured upon such a statement.
If this were true, then the equalization of property, of which poets have dreamed, and which many of the sanguine votaries of human improvement have imagined might one day be realized on earth, would be of no advantage to any one creature that should exist. The golden age would be an age of iron. The hopes of the. human race would indeed be reduced to nothing.
But, without grasping at so mighty an object as the equalization of all property, it has been the universal cue of moral writers and divines, ancient and modern, to wish that property was not heaped with such vast monopoly in the hands of a few, and that the undowered labourer, perhaps with a large family, was not reduced to so scanty a pittance. Mr. Malthus comes to tell us, that this is but a pious delusion, of the sort to which all enthusiasts are exposed.
But this is not so. The author of the Essay on Population has here undertaken no less a task, than to argue us out of our senses, or rather out of that common sense, which, Pope says, “is, though no science, fairly worth the seven.”
Observe: if five shillings a day would not give the labourer more than he has now, then neither would ten shillings, or twenty shillings. By parity of reason we may also argue downwards, and say that the labourer would do as well with a shilling or sixpence, as he does now with eighteen pence. It is all fairy-money, and serves to amuse us; but when we come to apply it to use, we find, that when we thought we had it, we were not well awake. “Are we not in precious fooling?”
The quantity of money, and of commodities that money will purchase, in any country at a given time, is a given quantity. The more money any one has, the better chance he has of obtaining the commodity he desires. Does Mr. Malthus mean to say, that if all the commodities in England were divided, to each inhabitant an equal share, the poorest man in the community would not have more than he has now?
It is undoubtedly true, that if every common labourer in England had five shillings a day, the price of commodities would rise. But he would go into the market, which contains a given quantity of beef and mutton, with two advantages: not only that he would possess more of that by which these commodities are commanded than he has now, but that the overgrown neighbour by whom he was elbowed almost into the desert, would have less. The rich man would be pampered with fewer luxuries; and the labourer, to express myself moderately, would approach nearer to competence.
But there is another radical mistake that Mr. Malthus makes in this argument, the same that lies at the foundation of his whole theory, viz. the seeing nothing in man but the two grossest accidents of his nature, hunger, and the sexual appetite. If every poor labourer at present in the kingdom had five shillings a day, which is more than three times his present income, he would not immediately go with it to the market, with a determination to carry home as much beef as it would purchase. The poor labourer is by nature as fond as his betters of the accommodations of life; and, if at present he confines his view to bare necessaries, it is the rigour of his condition that compels him to do so. Triple his income, and he would immediately think how he himself with his wife and children might be better clad, with more comfort, with more neatness, perhaps with a little ornament and show. He would think how he should give his children a better education. He would think, that with five shillings in his hand he might go to market more economically, and not experience the truth of that bold orientalism of holy writ, “From him that hath not, shall be taken away, even that which he hath.” He would think perhaps, for the poor man is not necessarily without the charitable affection of the human heart, however he may now be forbidden from calling them into act, how he might help the widow and the fatherless in their distress. The price of meat would certainly rise, upon this revolution in the circumstances of the labouring hand; but it would not, as Mr. Malthus has stated, “rapidly rise to two or three shillings per pound.”
There is another particular, which Mr. Malthus entirely overlooks in his view of the subject. When a sudden, and we will suppose, a beneficial change takes place in the circumstances of a country, it does not immediately produce all the good that may be expected from it. It takes some time for things to find their level in this new position, and for matters to adjust themselves to this altered state of affairs. Mr. Malthus says, “The transfer of three additional shillings a day to each labourer, would not increase the quantity of meat in the country.” Be it so. There would be no immediate increase. But there is no more accurate feeling, than that which exists in persons bringing commodities to the market, as to the nature and extent of the demand. More meat, as well as more of every thing else which the fortunate labourer would feel inclined to purchase, would speedily be produced. Nothing could disturb this happy progress, but the geometrical ratio, an evil strong enough to disturb every thing, but which is nowhere to be found', and which exists only in' the imagination of the libellers of the human: species.
I am apprehensive that many of my readers Will blame me for having laboured so plain a matter, and will be out of patience that I should have spent three sentences to refute so absurd a position, as that money is money only in the pockets of the rich, and that, the moment it is “transferred into that of the labourer,” it turns out to be nothing.
I proceed to another passage of Mr. Malthus: a passage which is immediately preceded by his declaration, that “There is no one that more ardently desires to see a real advance in the price of labour than himself.” The sentiment I refer to, is thus expressed: “The price of labour, when left to find its natural level, is a most important political barometer, expressing the relation between the supply of provisions, and the demand for them .”
Here we are again presented with the same error, that man has no business in the world, but to eat, and to beget children. If the income of the labourer is spent upon any thing else but provisions, it cannot of itself constitute a measure of the price of provisions.
Mr. Malthus says, that, “if the income of the labourer were made five shillings a day, the price of meat would be rapidly raised to two or three shillings per pound.” The price of labour in the United States is very nearly that which Mr. Malthus has here stated. The question therefore is reduced to a question of fact. Does butcher's meat in the American markets fetch two or three shillings per pound?
The wages of the labourer depend on two things; the demand for labour, and the price of the necessaries and conveniences of life . The wages of the labourer must be sufficient to enable him to maintain himself and two children, or in other words, to attempt to rear four children; otherwise the race of such labourers could not last beyond the first generation. They must therefore, at the lowest computation, be doubly what is sufficient to maintain himself e. This is the minimum of any settled or natural price of labour; and if it goes below this, and is continued, the community in which this lower price is given, must verge rapidly to destruction.
It thus distinctly appears how low the price of labour can go; but there are many ages and countries in which this lowest price is not the price given. The fluctuations therefore above this lowest (wholesome, and permanently practicable) price, will depend upon another circumstance. That circumstance is the contract which can be effected between him by whom the labour is to be performed and his employer; and happy, in this particular at least, is the country, where the labourer is enabled to raise the price of his industry above this minimum, and to include in it a certain portion of those accommodations, which give comfort and complacence to the receiver, and raise him to a certain respectability in his own eyes and the eyes of others.
There are three parties to be paid out of all the labour that is performed in any civilized country, the landlord, in the form of rent, the capitalist, who possesses money enough to set the lower orders of the community to work and to supply them with materials, and the labourer . The two former possess a great practical advantage over the latter; they can subsist for a given time without his aid. But the labourer in general has nothing in reserve; and without employment he must perish. The actual price of labour will therefore be regulated by the question, at how cheap a rate the capitalist can get his work done; this rate being checked, as was said before, by the price of the necessaries and conveniences of life. The landlord, and still more the capitalist, according to the present modes of thinking in human society, are disposed to make the most they can of what they possess. The price of labour in that case will depend upon the plenty or scarcity of hands in the market and the employer will give no more than he cannot help giving.
But, if Mr. Malthus, and a few other persons of his liberal way of thinking, could persuade masters to be less griping, and more generous in their contracts with those they employ, it is certain that nothing but what was beneficial would result from it. The number of mouths in the community, and of consumers in all kinds, would remain the same. The only alteration therefore would be, that the labourer would have more of those things which form the consolation of life, while the rich man would have fewer superfluities.
It ought not to pass without remark, that, while Mr. Malthus compares the price of labour to the mercury in a barometer, his single anxiety is lest, “when the common weather-glass stood at stormy, we should by some mechanical pressure raise it to settled fair .” He ought to have known, that the mercury was as liable by some irregularity to be depressed below, as to be raised above, the sound and proper point. But this is no part of the concern of the author of the Essay on Population. It is the depression of the mercury in the barometer of political economy, that leads in its most obvious concomitants to vice, or, what is still more effectual, to misery.
Mr. Malthus observes: “After the publication and general circulation of such a-work as Adam Smith's, it seems strange, that men, who would yet aspire to be thought political economists ,” should fall into such gross errors. This remark, in my opinion, well deserves to be retorted upon the author of the Essay on Population: and that this may be evident to every reader, I will subjoin a few passages from the Enquiry into the Wealth of Nations .
“In Great Britain the wages of labour seem to be evidently more than what is precisely necessary to enable the labourer to bring up -a family. There are many plain symptoms that the wages of labour are no where in this country regulated by this lowest rate which is consistent with common humanity.” The author then goes on to enumerate these symptoms, and subjoins, “The common complaint, that luxury extends itself even to the lowest ranks of the people, and that the labouring poor will not now be contented with the same food, clothing and lodging which satisfied them in former times, may convince us that it is not the money-price of labour only, but its real recompence, which has augmented.
“Is this improvement in the circumstances of the lower ranks of the people, to be regarded as an advantage or as an inconveniency to the society? The answer seems abundantly plain. Servants, labourers, and workmen of different kinds, make up the far greater part of every great political society. But what improves the circumstances of the greater part, can never be regarded as an. inconveniency to the whole. No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable. It is but equity besides, that those who feed, clothe and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour, as to be themselves tolerably well fed, clothed and lodged.”
“The liberal reward of labour increases the industry of the common people. The wages of labour are the encouragement of industry, which, like every other human quality, improves in proportion to the encouragement it receives. A plentiful subsistence increases the bodily strength of the labourer; and the comfortable hope of bettering his condition, and of ending his days perhaps in ease and plenty, animates him to exert that strength to the utmost. Where wages are high, accordingly we shall find the workmen more active, diligent and expeditious, than where they are low; in England, for example, than in Scotland; in the neighbourhood of great towns, than in remote country-places. Some workmen indeed, when they can earn in four days what will maintain them through the week, will be idle the other three. This however is by no means the case with the greater part. Workmen on the contrary, when they are liberally paid by the piece, are very apt to overwork themselves, and to ruin their health and constitution in a few years. A carpenter, in London, and in some other places, is not supposed to last in his utmost vigour above eight years. Something of the same kind happens in many other trades, in which the workmen are paid by the piece; as they generally are in manufactures, and even in country-labour, wherever wages are higher than ordinary. We do not reckon our soldiers the most industrious set of people among us. Yet when soldiers have been employed in some particular sorts of work, and liberally paid by the piece, their officers have frequently been obliged to stipulate with the undertaker, that they should not be allowed to earn above a certain sum every day, according to the rate at which they were paid. Till this stipulation was made, mutual emulation, and the desire of greater gain, frequently prompted them to overwork themselves, and to hurt their health by excessive labour. Excessive application during four days of the week, is frequently the real cause of the idleness of the other three, so much and so loudly complained of. Great labour, either of mind or body, continued for several days together, is in most men naturally followed by a great desire of relaxation, which, if not restrained by force, or by some strong necessity, is almost irresistible. It is the call of nature, which requires to be relieved by some indulgence, sometimes of ease only, but sometimes too of dissipation and diversion. If it is not complied with, the consequences are often dangerous, and sometimes fatal. If masters would always listen to the dictates of reason and humanity, they have frequently occasion, rather to moderate, than to animate the application of many of their workmen.
“In cheap years, it is pretended, workmen are generally more idle, and in dear ones more industrious, than ordinary. A plentiful subsistence, therefore it has been concluded relaxes, and a scanty one quickens their industry. That a little more plenty than ordinary may render some workmen idle, cannot well be doubted; but that it should have this effect upon the greater part, or that men in general should work better, when they are ill fed, than when they are well fed, when they are disheartened, than when they are in good spirits, when they are frequently sick, than when they are generally in good health, seems not very probable. Masters of all sorts frequently make better bargains with their servants in dear than in cheap years; and find them more humble and dependent in the former than in the latter. They naturally therefore commend the former as more favourable to industry. Landlords and farmers besides, two of the largest classes of masters, have another reason for being pleased with dear years. The rents of the one, and the profits of the other, depend very much upon the price of provisions.” The inducement therefore, that leads them to this misapprehension and partial representation, is obvious.
The Enquiry into the Wealth of Nations is not a book much to my taste. It is very proper that such subjects should be discussed; but I own that there is something in the discussion that makes me feel, while engaged in it, a painful contraction of the heart. But it is refreshing to come to such sentiments as are here put down, after the perusal of such a book as that of Mr. Malthus.
There can be no conclusion more natural or more profitable to such an enquiry as has formed the scope of the present volume, than an attempt to fix a just estimate of the state of man upon earth.
Man is perhaps the only animal in the world endowed with the faculty we call taste. Man is the only animal capable of persevering and premeditated industry, with the fruits of which the land and even the water of our globe are interspersed and adorned. Man is the only creature susceptible of science and invention, and possessing the power of handing down his thoughts in those permanent records, called books. Man has in him the seeds of sentiment and virtue, and the principle of comprehensive affections, patriotism and philanthropy. The human species is capable of improvement from age to age, by means of which capacity we have arrived at those refinements of mechanical production and science, which have been gradually called into existence; while all other animals remain what they were at first, and the young of no species becomes better or more powerful by the experience of those that went before him.
It cannot be but that a being so gloriously endowed should be capable of much enjoyment and happiness. Our tastes and our judgment are fitted to add indefinitely to our pleasures: we admire the works of God and the works of man. Our affections are to us a source of enjoyments, variegated and exquisite. Self-approbation and self-complacency are main pillars of human happiness. The consciousness of freedom and the pride of independence are inexhaustible sources of joy. There is a peculiar and an inexpressible delight which belongs to perseverance and a resolved constancy in the operations of science, in the cultivation of mind, and in a course of virtuous action. We are delighted with these things in solitude and intent application; and society in such pursuits increases our delight. Indeed, when we do but name the word society, we touch a magical chord which introduces us at once to a whole volume of peculiar felicities.
Yet the state of man on earth is not a state of unmingled happiness. We have many pains and infirmities. Every stage of our existence from the cradle to the grave, has its peculiar compartment in this magazine of ills. Our cares and anxieties are innumerable. All those things which, presented to us in one aspect, are sources of pleasure, may, if reversed, become equally sources of affliction. The generous ambition of the human heart, if disappointed, preys upon our vitals. Our affections, those conduits of exquisite enjoyment, are often turned into the means of agony. Man is an erring creature, and may become the victim of remorse; or, if his heart is hardened in this respect, he may be made the object of the resentment and vengeance of his fellow-creatures.
Beside all this, it is now time to add, that human institutions may be the source of much mischief to those they were framed to control. There have been such things as despotism and as tyranny. Society is the source of innumerable pleasures; without society we can scarcely he said to live; yet in how many ways does society infringe upon the independence and peace of its members. Man delights to control and to inforce submission upon his fellow-man; human creatures desire to exercise lordship and to display authority. One class and division of the community, is taught, to think its interests adverse to the interests of another class and division of the community. The institution of property has been the source of much improvement and much admirable activity to mankind; yet how many evils to multitudes of our species have sprung from the institution of property. The same may be said of the inequality of conditions.
All that is here stated is very much of the nature of common-place. Every man has heard it; and every man knows it. Yet it is sometimes of great use that common-places should be recollected; and the author would deserve the name of absurdly fastidious, who should resolve upon all occasions to avoid them. Those which have been here introduced are particularly proper on the present occasion.
Between the advantages and disadvantages attendant on the state of man on earth there is one thing that seems decisively to turn the balance in favour of the former. Man is to a considerable degree the artificer of his own fortune. We can apply our reflections and our ingenuity to the remedy of whatever we regret. Speaking in a general way, and within certain liberal and expansive limitations, it should appear that there is no evil under which the human species can labour, that man is not competent to cure. This is a source of unspeakable consolation to us in two ways: first, we can bear with some cheerfulness the ill which for ourselves or our posterity we have the power to remedy: and, secondly, this power inherent in our nature is the basis of that elasticity and exultation which are most congenial to the mind of man. “We are perplexed, but not in despair; we are persecuted, but not forsaken; we are cast down, but not destroyed.” Man, in the most dejected condition in which a human being can be placed, has still something within him which whispers him, “I belong to a world that is worth living in.”
Such was, and was admitted to be the state of the human species, previously to the appearance of the Essay on Population. Now let us see how, under the ascendancy of Mr. Malthus's theory, all this is completely reversed.
The great error of those who sought to encourage and console their fellow-beings in this vale of tears, was, we are told, in supposing that any thing that we could do, could be of substantial benefit in remedying the defects of our social existence. “Human institutions are light and superficial, mere feathers that float upon the surface.” The enemy that hems us in, and reduces our condition to despair, is no other than “the laws of Nature, which are the laws of God .”
Nor is this by any means the worst of the case. The express object of Mr. Malthus's writing was to prove how pernicious was their error, who aimed at any considerable and essential improvement in human society. The only effectual checks upon that excess of population, which, if unchecked, would be sufficient in no long time to people all the stars, are vice and misery. The main and direct moral and lesson of the Essay on Population, is passiveness. Human creatures may feel that they are unfortunate and unhappy; but it is their wisdom to lie still, and rather “bear the ills they have, than fly to others that they know not of.”
The two main propositions that are revealed to us by the Essay on Population are, 1. the kind of mortality and massacre that is continually taking place in the midst of us, without our having been aware of it: and, 2. the conduct which it is our wisdom to adopt under the unhappy condition of man upon earth.
It has been already sufficiently proved in the proper place, that, according to Mr. Mathus's principles, all the children in each generation on this side of the globe are born, that can be born . The difference between the population of Europe on the one hand, and of the United States on the other, is not that a smaller number of children are born in the former case, but that a greater number are cut off in their infancy. If the present population of England and Wales is ten millions, it would twenty-five years hence be twenty millions, and so on for ever, were it not for the hitherto unobserved destruction of the young of the human species on this side of the globe. That man is mortal we sufficiently knew; we had studied and rehearsed, time out of mind, the various accidents that waylay us in every stage of our existence; and the thought of this was sufficient to make us sober, if not to make us sad: but Mr. Malthus has discovered to us the hourly destruction of millions upon millions more, of which we had no previous knowledge. And how are they destroyed? “By all those causes,, whether arising from vice or misery, which in various degrees and diversified manners contribute to shorten the natural duration of human life.” “Every loss of a child from the consequences of poverty [and, were it not for these losses, the population of England and Wales would double every twenty-five years] must evidently be preceded and accompanied by great misery to various individuals.”
The second of the two main propositions that are revealed to us by the Essay on Population is the conduct which it is our wisdom to adopt under the unhappy condition of man upon earth. Vice and misery are the main securities upon which we are to depend: it is they that make the condition of man upon earth so tolerable as we find it. The most pernicious error into which we can fall, and which is beyond all others to be deprecated, would be the inconsiderate attempt materially to improve the state of society, to relieve the hardships under which the greater part of our species at present labour, and to introduce equality, or any approach towards equality, in the conditions of men. Since vice and misery are discovered to be the mala bene posita, the indispensible evils, without which the pillars of creation would tumble into ruins, we must be careful to touch them with the utmost tenderness, or rather we must be careful not to touch them on any account. They are the mysterious treasures, laid up in the sanctuary of the covenant between God and his creatures.
Look now upon this picture and on this, the faithful representment of two worlds! One is the world I was born in, and in which I lived for forty years: the other is the world of Mr. Malthus.
In the Old World (if I may be allowed so to denominate it) there was something exhilarating and cheerful. We felt that there was room for a generous ambition to unfold itself. If we were under the cloud or the grief of calamity, we had still something to console us. We might animate our courage with reflections on the nature of man, and support our constancy by recollecting the unlimited power we possess to remedy our evils, and better our condition. We felt, as I said before, that we “belonged to a world worth living in.”
Mr. Malthus blots out all this with one stroke of his pen. By a statement of six pages, or rather of six lines, he undertakes to shew us what a fool the man is who should be idle enough to rejoice in such a world as this. He tells us that our ills are remediless, and that human institutions, and the resources of human ingenuity, are feathers, capable of doing little harm, and no more competent to produce us benefit. We are fallen into the hands of a remorseless stepmother, Nature: it is in vain that we struggle against her laws; the murderous principle of multiplication will be for ever at work; the viper-brood of passion, the passion between the sexes, the fruitful source of eternal mischiefs, we may condemn, but must never hope to control. He forbids us to augur well of the general weal, for all is despair; he forbids us to attempt to raise or improve our condition, for every such attempt is destructive.
I can liken Mr. Malthus's world to nothing but a city under the severe visitation of a pestilence. All philanthropy and benevolence are at an end. To serve our fellow-citizens is a hopeless undertaking. With hope, the very wish to serve them expires. We no longer love, where to benefit is impossible. “It were all one,” as Shakespear says, “that I should love a bright particular star, and think to wed it.” Our only refuge then is in pure self-indulgence, and an entire contempt for, and oblivion of our fellow-creatures. Boccaccio's description of some of his contemporaries in the great plague of Florence is excellently to this purpose. “The reflections of these men,” says he, “led them to a determination sufficiently cruel: and this was, to shun and fly from their unfortunate and suffering countrymen. They shut themselves up in houses free from the infection, and sought to forget the very existence of their fellow-citizens. They nourished themselves with the most delicate meats and the finest wines they could procure. Nay, they sung, they danced, they laughed, they jested, and considered this, as far as they were concerned, to be a sovereign remedy for every evil.” It is wonderful how exactly this coincides with what is recommended in the Essay on Population, concerning the neglect to be shewn to the poor, and the wastefulness of the rich.
Till Mr. Malthus wrote, political writers and sages had courage. They said, “The evils we suffer are from ourselves; let us apply ourselves with assiduity and fortitude to the cure of them.” This courage was rapidly descending, by the progress of illumination and intellect, to a very numerous portion of mankind; and the sober and considerate began deliberately to say, “Let us endeavour to remedy the evils of political society, and mankind may then be free and contented and happy.” Mr. Malthus has placed himself in the gap. He has proclaimed, with a voice that has carried astonishment and terror into the hearts of thousands, the accents of despair. He has said, The evils of which you complain, do not lie within your reach to remove: they come from the laws of nature, and the unalterable impulse of human kind.
But Mr. Malthus does not stop here. He presents us with a code of morality conformable to his creed.
This code consists principally of negatives.
We must not preach up private charity. For charity, “if exerted at all, will necessarily lead” to pernicious consequences.
We must not preach up frugality. For the “waste among the rich, and the horses kept by them merely for their pleasure, operate like granaries, and tend rather to benefit than to injure the lower classes of society.”
We must deny that the poor, whatever may be the causes or degree of their distress, “have a right to support.”
We must maintain that every man “has a right to do what he will with his own.”
We must preach down marriage. We must affirm that no man has a right to marry, without a fair “prospect of being able to support a family.” “They should not have families, if they cannot support them.” And this rule is strictly to govern our treatment of the married man in distress. “To the punishment of Nature he should be left, the punishment of want. He should be taught to know that the laws of Nature, which are the laws of God, have doomed him and his family to suffer for disobeying their repeated admonitions.”
What havock do these few maxims make with the old received notions of morality!
It has not been enough attended to, how complete a revolution the Essay on Population proposes to effect in human affairs. Mr. Malthus is the most daring and gigantic of all innovators.
To omit all other particulars, if we embrace his creed, we must have a new religion, and a new God.
Mr. Malthus's is not the religion of the Bible. On the contrary it is in diametrical opposition to it.
- Increase and multiply, is Heaven's command.
- Who bids abstain, but our destroyer, foe
- To God and man?
Christianity is, and has always been called, a religion of charity and love. It is rigorous in prescribing the duties of the rich, as well as of the poor. It does not admit that we “have a right to do what we will with our own.” On the contrary, it teaches that we have nothing that we can strictly call our own, that the rich are but stewards and administrators of the benefits of Providence, and that we shall be austerely called to give an account of every talent that is intrusted to us. We are taught to consider our fellow-creatures in distress as our brothers, and to treat them accordingly. “Inasmuch as ye have done it to one of the least of these, ye have done it to me.”
But, if we embrace the creed of Mr. Malthus, we must not only have a new religion, but a new God.
The God of the Essay on Population, the God, as we are there informed, of Nature, and the author of her laws, has given us laws, “the deep-seated causes of evil,” in comparison with which all that human ingenuity can effect of harm or of good, is but as a feather. These deep-seated causes of evil we can never counteract, nor can any thing extract their venom, unless we were capable of that moral restraint, which Mr. Malthus has in one instance “allowed himself to suppose,” but which he has no expectation or belief that man ever will or can reduce into practice. Such are the laws, according to him, in conformity to which God has built the world, and such is the imbecil and impotent creature which he has planted here to inhabit it. The irresistible strength of these laws, and the weakness of man, are equally his work. It is his breath that has pronounced the fiat, “Vice and misery shall be the concomitants of the human species as long as they exist; I have made for them a law of multiplication so enormous, that the action of these causes shall be regularly required to cut off the excessive increase as fast as it appears.” Lo now, and see, whether this is the God, which any system of religion on earth has taught men to recognise. Lo now, and see, whether this is the God, which serious men in enlightened Europe are prepared to praise and adore.
It is but just that those who adopt the creed of Mr. Malthus, should understand it in all its bearings, and be made aware of the full extent of the conclusions into which it leads; while, on the other hand, those by whom these conclusions are regarded with aversion, will perhaps feel themselves indebted to a book, by which the premises on which they are built, are, I trust, fully refuted.
The general inferences from the statements and reasonings of the preceding sheets are plainly these. There is in man, absolutely speaking, a power of increasing the number of his species. Yet the numbers of mankind appear not to have increased on the whole within the limits of authentic profane history. To speak from the best authorities to which we have access, the increase has never amounted to the rate of a doubling in one hundred years, nor has ever proceeded at that rate for a hundred years together. And, till human affairs shall be better and more auspiciously conducted than they have hitherto been under the best governments, there will be no absolute increase in the numbers of mankind. This is enough for Mr. Malthus, arid the other adversaries of the dignity and honour of human nature. For myself and those who hope better things, a doubling of the numbers of mankind once in an hundred years, has nothing in it, which can afford rational ground of alarm. We have but too cogent reasons to believe, that a regular and uninterrupted progress of increase is a thing that cannot for a long time be looked for. And, at all events, we may be as well assured, as it is possible to be upon a subject of this sort, that the progressive power of increase in the numbers of mankind, will never outrun the progressive power of improvement which human intellect is enabled to develop in the means of subsistence.
I am sensible that what I have written may be regarded in some respects as a book about nothing. The proposition of which it treats appears to have been established by universal consent from the days of Homer. I may perhaps however be allowed the merit of having brought new arguments in aid of old truth. In these times of innovation (innovation, one of the noblest characteristics of man) a pernicious novelty has been started, and has obtained for the time a general success. It seemed necessary that some one should stoop to the task of refuting it. Too happy, if I may flatter myself with the fate hereafter that Swift predicates of Marvel, whose “Answer to Parker is still read with pleasure, though the positions it exposes have long ceased to have any supporters.” I have accordingly endeavoured that my volume should contain some reflections and trains of thinking not unprofitable for other purposes than those for which they were originally produced. Add to which, if I have contributed to place a leading point of political economy on a permanent basis, my labour may not in that respect be found altogether fugitive and nugatory.