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



An accurate and instructive experiment on the subject of population appears to be afforded us by the institutions of Sparta. There is nothing more memorable in the history of mankind, than the code of laws digested by Lycurgus for that people; and this code seems to have operated in full vigour for five hundred years. Lycurgus, we are told, divided the entire lands of the republic into 39,000 equal portions; of which thirty thousand were distributed to the rural citizens of the state, and nine thousand to the inhabitants of the capital. One of the leading principles of his code was to regard marriage as a duty, and the having a family of children as honourable. The age of marriage was fixed; and is conjectured by Barthelemi to have been thirty for the males, and twenty for the female citizens.

"Those which would not marrie," says Plutarch, " Lycurgus made infamous by law. For it was not lawfull for such to be present, where those open games and pastimes were shewed naked. Furthermore the officers of the citie compelled such as would not marry, euen in the hardest time of the winter, to enuiron the place of these sportes, and to go vp and downe starke naked, and to sing a certaine song made for the purpose against them, which was: that justly were they punished, because that law they disobeyed. Moreouer, when such were old, they had not the honour and reuerence done thern, which old married men vsually receiued. Therefore there was no man that misliked, or reproued that, which was spoken to Dercillidas: albeit otherwise he was a noble captaine. For, coming into a presence, there was a young man which would not vouchsafe to rise and do him reuerence, nor to giue him place for to sit downe: And worthily, quoth he, because thou hast not gotten a son, who may do so much for me in time to come."

Here then, if any where, we may expect to find a nation, the population of which should increase at an extraordinary rate. There were no poor under the institutions of Lycurgus. All were fed at a common table; all slept in public dormitories. The citizens received every encouragement, nay, as it appears, were absolutely enjoined, to marry; and they certainly felt no anxiety about the subsistence of their future offspring.

All this must be exceedingly puzzling to the followers of Mr. Malthus; were it not that they are relieved from the consequences of the institutions of Lycurgus generally considered, hy the recollection of one of these institutions, which they may regard as of sufficient force to check the evils of an overgrowing population. This was a law which prescribed the exposing of infants. We have already seen to what an extent this exposing must have been carried, if there is any truth in Mr. Malthus's hypothesis. Half the born at least must have constantly been destroyed by the operation of a positive statute. It is truly extraordinary, that Lycurgus should have overlooked so enormous an evil, and should have ordained that such multitudes of infants should be continually born into the world, for the mere purpose of being murdered. It is still more extraordinary that no one should have existed for five hundred years, with humanity enough to remedy so atrocious a mischief.

But let us consider for a moment this law concerning the exposing of infants, as it was practised in the republic of Sparta. We have been told by some travellers from China, that the private individuals of that country are in the habit of having recourse to this expedient, to get rid of the trouble of maintaining their offspring, and that they continue to do this, notwithstanding all the precautions used by the government to prevent it. No practice resembling this ever took place among the Spartans. It is sufficiently evident, that Lycurgus entertained no apprehension of being overstocked with citizens, and that his law had no such object in view. "After the birth of euery boy, the father was no more maister of him; but he himselfe carried him to a certaine place called Lesche, where the eldest men of his kindred being set, did view the child: and if they found him faire, and well proportioned of all his limmes, and strong, they gaue order he should be brought vp. Contrariwise, if they found him deformed, misshapen, or leane, or pale, they sent him to be throwne in a deepe pit of water, which they commonly called Apothetes: holding opinion it was neither good for the child, nor yet for the commonweale, that it should liue, considering from his birth he was not wel made, nor giuen to be strong, healthfull, nor lustie of body all his life long. For this cause therefore the nurse, after their birth, did not wash them with water simply (as they do every where at that time), butwith water mingled with wine: and thereby did they proue, whether the complexion or temperature of their bodies were good or ill. For they suppose that children, which are giuen to haue the falling sicknesse, or otherwise to be full of rewmes and sicknesse, cannot abide washing with wine, but rather dry and pine away : as contrarily the other which are healthfull, become thereby the stronger and the lustier."

Two inferences clearly follow from this statement: first, that the laws of Lycurgus had in their view no purpose to keep do win the numbers of mankind: secondly, that a proceeding of this sort, though it might diminish, and that probably in an inconsiderable degree, the number of citizens in a given generation, was very indifferently adapted to reduce the number of births by which the next generation was to be supplied. In the same spirit Plutarch further relates: "First of all, Lycurgus willed that the maidens should harden their bodies with exercise of running, wrestling, throwing the lance, and casting the dart, to the end that the fruite wherewith they might be afterwards conceiued, taking nourishment of a strong and lusty body, should shoot out and spreade the better; and that they by gathering strength thus by exercises, should more easily away with the paines of child-bearing."

It is surely therefore of great importance to any theory on the subject of population, to watch the effects of the institutions of Sparta. And here fortunately we possess information from the highest authorities among the ancients, no less than those of Thucydides and Aristotle.

It appears plainly from the history of Thucydides, that the republic of Sparta was in the practice of increasing the number of her citizens by foreign accessions; and we may distinguish two modes in which this recruiting was effected. First, by admitting certain of the Helots, or slaves, to the rights of citizenship ; and secondly, by enrolling among her denizens individuals selected for this purpose from among the allies of Sparta. These latter were designed by the appellation of Neodamodes men added to the ranks of the state. In his history of the eleventh year of the Peloponnesian war, Thucydides expressly distinguishes these two species of recruits from each other: and the Neodamodes are again mentioned by him in his account of the nineteenth year of the war."

Aristotle is still more explicit. In the chapter of his Politics in which the republic of "Lacedaemon is examined, he states that, "Though the territory of the Lacedaemonians was sufficient for the maintenance of one thousand five hundred horse, and thirty thousand foot and in this estimate we may be sure he does not include the Helots, or slaves, by whom all the mechanical labour of the community was performed, yet the actual number of the citizens of the capital had fallen to one thousand. Thus," continues he, "the republic of Sparta fell, not by any single and particular calamity, but perished through the diminution of its numbers. In the earlier period of its history it is understood that they gave the rights of citizenship to the natives of other Grecian states, that by reason of their long wars their numbers might not be too much reduced; and I have heard that the people of the capital only, at one time amounted to ten thousand."

Aristotle indeed imputes the reduced numbers of the citizens of Sparta to a defect in the institutions of Lycurgus, who, he says, forbade that any citizen of Sparta should sell his own property, or buy that of another, but allowed them to give or bequeath it to any one they would: in consequence of which in process of time the lands of the republic fell into the hands of a few. But in this representation he stands alone. Plutarch, to whom posterity is principally indebted for the details of the subject, expressly states: "Lycurgus was not deceiued of his hope; for his city was the chiefest of the world in glory and honour of gouernement, by the space of fiue hundred yeares. For so long his citie kept his lawes without any change or alteration untill king Agis, the son of Archidamus, began to reigne. Now in the reigne of king Agis, gold and siluer beganne first to creepe in againe to the citie of Sparta, by meanes of Lysander," in the close of the Peloponnesian war.

And again, in the Life of Agis, the son of Eudamidas, one hundred and fifty years later: "Then began the state of Lacedsemon first to be corrupted, and toleaue her ancient discipline, when the Lacedremonians, hauing subdued the empire of the Athenians that is, under Lysander, stored themselves and countrey both, with plenty of gold and siluer. But yet reseruing still the lands left vnto them by succession from their fathers, according vnto Lycurgus first ordinance and institution for diuision of lands amongst them: which ordinance and equalitie being inuiolably kept amongst them, did yet preserue the common wealth from defamation of diuerse other notorious crimes. Vntill the time of the authoritie of Epitadeus, one of the Ephores, a seditious man, and of proud conditions, who bitterly falling out with his owne sonne, preferred a law, that euery man might lawfully giue his lands and goods whilest he liued, or after his death by testament vnto any man whom he liked or thought well of. Thus this man made a law to satisfie his anger, and others also did confirme it for covetousnesse sake, and so overthrew a noble ordinance."

Plutarch himself speaks, in the time of the latter Agis, of the citizens of Sparta as amounting only to seven hundred persons.

We have here therefore an evidence, such as must be of great weight with every reasonable man, respecting the population, or number of ck tizens of Sparta, during the successive periods of the history of that republic. It is certain that Lycurgus employed every means he could devise, to insure a numerous and healthy population. He encouraged marriage; he fixed a stigma on celibacy; and he provided for the support and education of the children that should be born, from the funds of the public His institutions continued unimpaired for the space of five hundred years. Yet it is apparent that "the state perished through the diminution of its numbers." During the interval in which Sparta makes the most splendid figure in the page of history, it was reduced to employ various expedients for the purpose of increasing the amount of its citizens by extrinsic accessions. In the period of which Aristotle treats the free inhabitants of the capital were reduced from ten thousand to one thousand men; and in the reign of the latter Agis, about one hundred years later than Aristotle, they counted no more than seven hundred citizens. These are phenomena which I conceive to be utterly incompatible with any hypothesis that affirms the rapid multiplication of the human species.

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