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Godwin, William. Of Population. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown, Paternoster Row, 1820.









THE object I proposed to myself in the preceding Book was to bring together such views on the subject of population, as might be inferred from the actual numbers of mankind in Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America, either in ancient or modern times, as far as any clear notions might be obtained on that subject; and hence to conclude what was the amount of probability,


as arising from those facts, for or against Mr. Malthus's theory. And I am willing to believe, that every reader who has thus far gone, along with me, is satisfied, that, as far as probability goes, nothing can be more improbable, or do greater violence to all the facts handed down to us in history, than the principles of the Essay on Population.

I shall now attempt to go more deeply and scientifically into the question, and endeavour to ascertain what is the law of our nature respecting the increase of our species or otherwise, so far-as that law can be inferred from the different documents and statistical tables, which the curiosity of governments, or the industry of men writing on the subjects of political economy, have accumulated and given to the world.

The whole system and doctrine of Mr. Malthus's Essay proceeds upon a very simple position; the tendency of human beings to multiply beyond the means of subsistence: and he plainly thinks that he grants to his opposers more than in argument they are entitled to claim, when he States that "population, where it is unchecked, goes on doubling itself every twenty-five years, or increases in a geometrical ratio;"a while "the means of subsistence, under circumstances the most favourable to human industry, could not possibly be made to increase faster than in an


arithmetical ratio,"b that is, to "be increased every twenty-five years by a quantity equal to what it at present produces."c

To make this idea more intelligible to every reader, Mr. Malthus proceeds to state the effect of his two ratios in figures, and observes, "If we take the whole earth as the subject of our calculation, emigration will of course be excluded. Let us suppose the present population of the earth equal to a thousand millions; the human species, if the principle of population remained unchecked, would increase every twenty-five years, as the numbers 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, and the subsistence as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. In two centuries the population would be to the means of subsistence as to 256 to 9; in three centuries as 4096 to 13; and in two thousand years the difference would be almost incalculable."d

As Mr. Malthus's position is simple, his proof is not less distinguished for brevity.e It is, I think, all summed up in the following sentence: "In the Northern States of America [meaning I believe, the northern parts of the republic, known under the name of The United States of North America], the population has been found to double itself, for above a century and a


half successively, in less than twenty-five years."f To which he adds presently after: "This is a rate of increase in which all concurring testimonies agree, and has repeatedly been ascertained to be from procreation only."g

This, and this only, is the entire basis upon which Mr. Malthus's doctrine relies for its stability. He has added however certain authorities, upon which he founds his expectation of inducing the public to acquiesce in his statement. They are these:

1. Dr. Franklin. The statement of this author as quoted by Mr. Malthus,h is, "There is no bound to the prolific nature of plants or animals, but what is made by their crowding and interfering with each other's means of subsistence. Were the face of the earth vacant of other plants, it might be gradually sowed and overspread with one kind only, as for instance with fennel: and were it empty of other inhabitants, it might in a few ages be replenished from one nation only, as for instance with Englishmen."

The Essay from which this extract is taken, is entitled, "Observations concerning the Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries, &c." It occupies nine pages in the late edition of Franklin's Works, 1806,i and was written in 1731, when the author was twenty-five years of age.

2. Dr. Ezra Styles. This gentleman published


in Boston, New England, in 1761, a Sermon on Christian Union, "some extracts from which Mr. Malthus has had an opportunity to seek." Dr. Styles, it seems, "speaking of Rhode Island, says, that though the period of doubling for the whole colony is twenty-five years, yet that it is different in different parts, and within land is twenty and fifteen years." k

3. Dr. Price.l This however seems not to be an authority distinct from the preceding. Dr. Price, in a letter to Dr. Franklin, which was read to the Royal Society, April 27, 1769, and published in the Philosophical Transactions, Vol. LIX, and again republished by the author in his Observations on Reversionary Payments,m says to his correspondent, "A doubling of population in eighty-four years is, as you, sir, well know [probably referring to Dr. Franklin's Observations concerning the Increase of Mankind above-quoted], a very slow increase, compared with that which takes place among our colonies in America."n At the bottom of the page Dr. Price refers us for further information to Dr. Styles's Sermon.

4. Euler. Who, in a Table inserted in Sussmilch's Grottliche Ordnung, "calculates, on a mortality of one in thirty-six, that if the births


be to the deaths in the proportion of three to one, the period of doubling will be only twelve years and four-fifths."o

5. Sir William Petty. Who "supposes a doubling possible in so short a time as ten years."p

Being dissatisfied with Mr. Malthus's authorities, and finding some of his references inaccurate, I addressed that gentleman in the following letter:


October 24, 1818.

I am at this moment engaged in a careful examination of your Essay on Population, and may probably commit something to the press on the subject. I therefore take the liberty to request your answer to the following question.

In page 7 of the fifth edition. Vol. I, you say, "In the northern states of America, — the population has been found to double itself, for above a century and a half successively, in less than twenty-five years." Will you have the goodness to state to me by letter your authority for this assertion?

I am, Sir, very respectfully,
   your most obedient servant.

To this letter Mr Malthus returned me an immediate answer.

East India College, Hertford,

Oct. 25, 1818.

Dear Sir,

Upon referring to the passage you mention in your letter, I find that the authorities on which I principally rest, are the details mentioned by Dr. Price in his Observations on Reversionary Payments, pp. 282, ∓c.,q and the pamphlet of Dr. Styles to which he particularly refers I afterwards saw some statements and calculations, which make the period of doubling only twenty years from the first settlement of America to the year 1800. But in the fifth edition, I find that the reference is made wrong, and that it should have been, Book ii. Ch. 13, instead of 11.

To this note, which occurs Vol. II, p. 194, of the fifth edition, I would refer you for my principal authorities at the time I published the quarto edition; but since that, the late Statistical View of America, by T. Pitkin, in which are contained the three regular Census's of 1790, 1800, and 1810, together with an estimation in 1749, more than confirms what was there stated. Comparing the two Census's of 1790 and 1810 together, it appears that the population during


that period doubled itself in about twenty-three years; and from the estimate in 1749, in about the same time or less. This would admit ample allowance for foreign immigration.

Truly yours.

a Vol. I, p.9.

b P. 1.

c P. 13.

d P. 15.

e In the Introduction to Book I, I have said, "He neither proves, nor attempts to prove what he asserts." And this is the accural late cf the case.

f P. 7.

g P. 9.

h P. 3.

i Vol. II, p.383.

k Essay on Population, Vol. II, p.194.

l Vol. I, p. 7; Vol. II, p. 194.

m Vol. II, p. 3. seventh edition.

n Price's Observations, Vol. II, p.49.

o Essay on Population, Vol. I, p. 8.

p Ibid. Mr. Malthus refers us for this statement to Sir W. Petty's Political Arithmetic, where it is not to be found. It occurs in his Essay concerning the Growth of the City of London.

q I believe, Vol. II, p.3, ∓c. of the Seventh Edition.

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