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


General View of the Arguments against the Increase of Mankind

Mr. Malthus's theory is certainly of a peculiar structure, and it is somewhat difficult to account for the success it has met with.

The subject is population.

It has been agreed among the best philosophers in Europe, especially from the time of Lord Bacon to the present day, that the proper basis of all our knowledge respecting man and nature, respecting what has been in times that are past, and what may be expected in time to come, is experiment. This standard is peculiarly applicable to the subject of population.

Mr. Malthus seems in one respect fully to concur in this way of viewing the subject. There are two methods of approaching the question, the first, by deriving our ideas respecting it from the volumes of sacred writ, and the second, by having recourse to such enumerations, statistical tables, and calculations, as the industry of mere uninspired men has collected; and Mr. Malthus has made his election for the latter. Dr. Robert Wallace, an able writer on these subjects, whose works have lately engaged in a considerable degree the attention of curious enquirers, has taken' the opposite road. He begins his Dissertation on the Numbers of Mankind in Ancient and Modern Times, printed in 1758, with the position that the whole human race is descended "from a single pair," and, taking that for the basis of his theory, proceeds to calculate the periods of the multiplication of mankind.

Mr. Malthus, on the contrary reposes throughout his Essay on the pure basis of human experience and unenlightened human reason; and I have undertaken to write a refutation of his theories. He has chosen his ground; and I follow him to the contest. He had made no allusion-to Adam and Eve, and has written just as any speculator in political economy might have done, to whom the records of the Bible were unknown. If there is any thing irreverend in this, to Mr. Malthus, and not to me, the blame is to be imputed. He has constructed his arguments upon certain data, and I have attempted nothing more than the demolishing of those arguments. If any one shall be of opinion that the whole question is in the jurisdiction of another court, the Treatise 1 am writing has nothing to do with this. 1 design nothing more than an investigation of mere human authorities, and an examination of the theories of the Essay on Population ; and I leave the question in all other respects as I found it.a To return.

It will appear, I think, in the course of our discussion, that population is a subject with which mankind as yet are very little acquainted. But let us first recollect what it is that we are supposed to know. And I will first state those things which are admitted by Mr. Malthus, and which appear to make very little for the support of his system.

The globe we inhabit may be divided into the Old World and the New. Our knowledge of the history of Europe and Asia extends backward some thousand years. We know a little of the history of Africa. America was discovered about three hundred years ago, but has not in many of its parts been by any means so long a place of reception for European colonies. Mr. Malthus does not venture to carry his appeal on the subject of population there, farther back than one hundred and fifty years.b

Well then, how stands the question of population in the Old World? Mr. Malthus freely and without hesitation admits, that on this side of the globe population is, and has long been, at a stand; he might safely have added that it has not increased as far back as any authentic records of profane history will carry us. He brings forward some memorable examples of a striking depopulation:c he might have added many more: he would certainly have found it difficult to produce an example equally unequivocal, of an increase of population, in any quarter of the Old World.

As to South America, and the indigenous inhabitants of North America, it is hardly to be disputed, and Mr. Malthus is very ready to admit, that they have sustained a melancholy diminution since the voyage of Columbus.d

Such then is, so far, the foundation of our knowledge, as afforded us by experience, on the subject of population. Mr. Malthus has brought forward an exception to all this, which I shall hereafter take occasion fully to examine, in a certain tract of the globe, now known by the name of the United States of America, and he affirms his exception to spread itself over a period of one hundred and fifty years. The entire foundation of his work lies in one simple sentence: "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."e

The pith of Mr. Malthus's book therefore, and a bolder design has seldom entered into the mind of man, is to turn the exception into the rule, and the whole stream of examples in every other case, into exceptions, that are to be accounted for without detracting from the authority of the rule.

The Essay on Population is the most oddly constructed, of any book, pretending to the character of science, that was perhaps ever given to the world.

It consists, in the copy now lying before me, of three volumes.

The first chapter, containing sixteen pages, comprises the whole doctrine upon which the work is founded. He that should read the first chapter, and no more, would be in possession of every thing in the book, that is solid and compressed, and bears so much as the air of science.

The next 698 pages,f the most considerable portion of the work, are wholly employed in assigning causes why every region of the globe, in every period of its history, part of the United States of America for the last one hundred and fifty years excepted, appears to contradict the positions of Mr. Malthus's theory. This is done by exhibiting certain checks on population, the whole of which, as will more fully appear hereafter, falls under the two heads of vice and misery. The remainder of the work treats of the different systems or expedients which have been proposed or have prevailed, as they affect the evils which arise out of the author's principle of population,g and of our future prospects respecting the removal or mitigation of these evils.h

Now upon this shewing, I affirm that Mr. Malthus is the most fortunate man that ever lived, Sterne's king of Bohemia himself not being excepted.i Notwithstanding this glaring rottenness and fallacy in the first concoction of his work, the author has carried the whole world before him; no other system of thinking on the subject is admitted into the company of the great; hundreds of men who were heretofore earnest champions of the happiness of mankind have become his converts; and though, I believe, from thirty to forty answers have been written to the Essay on Population, not one of them, so far as I know, has undertaken to controvert the main principle and corner-stone of his system.

The strength of Mr. Malthus's writing wholly depends upon his intrenching himself in general statements. If we hope for any victory over him, it must be by drawing him out of his strong hold, and meeting him upon the fair ground of realities.

The hypothesis of the Essay on Population is this. The human species doubles itself in the United States of America every twenty-five years: therefore it must have an inherent tendency so to double itself: therefore it would so double itself in the Old World, were not the increase intercepted by causes which have not yet sufficiently engaged the attention of political enquirers.

To clear up this point let us consider how many children may be allowed to a marriage, upon the supposition that the object is barely to keep the numbers of the human species up to their present standard. In the first place it is clear, that every married pair may be allowed two upon an average, without any increase to the population, nay, with the certainty of diminution if they fall short of this. In the next place it is unquestionable, that every child that is born, does not live to years of maturity, so as to be able to propagate the kind; for this condition is necessary, the children who die in their nonage plainly contributing nothing to the keeping up the numbers of our species. I should have thought therefore, that we might safely allow of three children to every marriage, without danger of overstocking the community. It will hereafter appear that all political economists allow four, it being the result of various censuses and tables of population, that one-half of the born die under years of maturity.k To this number of children to be allowed to every marriage upon an average, the purpose being barely to keep up the numbers of our species to the present standard, something must be added, in consideration of the known fact, that every man and woman do not marry, and thus put themselves in the road for continuing their species.

When Mr. Malthus therefore requires us to believe in the geometrical ratio, or that the human species has a natural tendency to double itself every twenty-five years, he does nothing less in other words, than require us to believe that every marriage among human creatures produces upon an average, including the prolific marriages, those in which the husband or wife die in the vigour of their age or in the early years of their union, those in which the prolific power seems particularly limited, and the marriages that are totally barren, eight children.l

All this Mr. Malthus requires us to believe, because he wills it. Let it never again be made one of the reproaches of the present day, that we are fallen upon an age of incredulity. I am sure no false prophet, in the darkest ages of ignorance, could ever boast of a greater number of hoodwinked and implicit disciples, than Mr. Malthus in this enlightened period.

How comes it, that neither this author, nor any one for him, has looked into this view of the question? There are such things as registers of marriages and births. To these it was natural for Mr. Malthus to have recourse for a correlative argument to support his hypothesis. The writer of the Essay on Population has resorted to certain statements of the population of the United States, and from them has inferred that the number of its citizens have doubled every twenty-five years, and as he adds, " by procreation only:" that is, in other words, as we have shown, that every marriage in America, and by parity of reasoning, in all other parts of the world, produces upon an average eight children. For the difference between the United States and the Old World does not, I presume, lie in the superior fecundity of their women, but that a greater number of children are cut off in the Old World in years of nonage, by vice and misery. We double very successfully (if they double) in the first period; but we do not, like them, rear our children, to double over again in the second. Naturally therefore he would have produced a strong confirmation of his hypothesis, by shewing from the registers of different parts of the world, or of different countries of Europe, that every marriage does upon an average produce eight children: and if he had done this, I think he would have saved me the trouble of writing this volume. Something however has been done in the way of collating the registers of marriages and births ; and of this I shall make full use in my Second Book.

It may however be objected, that there are two ways in which an increase of population may be intercepted; either by the number of children who shall perish in their nonage, through the powerful agency, as Mr. Malthus informs us, of vice and misery; or by certain circumstances which shall cause a smaller number to be born: it may not therefore be merely by the ravages of an extensive mortality, that population in the Old World is kept down to its level.

Mr. Malthus himself has furnished me with a complete answer to this objection. In the first edition of his bookm he sets out with what he called "fairly making two postulata: first, that food is necessary to the existence of man: secondly, that the passion between the sexes is necessary, and will always remain nearly in its present state."

This indeed is one of the "passages, which the author has expunged in the later editions of his book, that he might not inflict an unnecessary violence upon the feelings of his readers"n or, as he himself expresses it, is one of the places, in which he "has endeavoured to soften some of the harshest conclusions of his first Essay—in doing which he hopes he has not violated the principles of just reasoning."o But, as Mr. Malthus has retained to the last all the conclusions drawn from those postulata, and as his argument respecting the impracticability of a permanent state of equality among human beings, founded upon the parity of these two propositions, stands in the Fifth Edition verbatim as it stood in the first,p I cannot myself consent to his withdrawing his premises, at the same time that he retains the inferences built upon them.

Again: in compliance with "the feelings of certain readers," Mr. Malthus has added in his subsequent editions, to the two checks upon population, viz. vice and misery, as they stood in the first, a third which he calls moral restraint. But then he expressly qualifies this by saying, "the principle of moral restraint has undoubtedly in past ages operated with very inconsiderable force;"q subjoining at the same time his protest against "any opinion respecting the probable improvement of society, in which we are not borne out by the experience of the past."r

It is clearly therefore Mr. Malthus's doctrine, that population is kept down in the Old World, not by a smaller number of children being born among us, but by the excessive number of children that perish in their non-age through the instrumentality of vice and misery.

Let us then proceed to illustrate this proposition, in its application to our own beloved country of England. We will take its present population at ten millions. Of this population we will suppose five millions to be adults. There must then, according to the statement of Dr. Franklin and other calculators, be ten millions of children, born and to be born from these five millions of adults, to give us a chance of keeping up the race of Englishmen. Of these ten millions five millions must be expected to die in their nonage, according to the constitution and course of nature. Surely this, together with the incessant uninterrupted mortality of the middle-aged, and of the more ancient members of society,  may be regarded as sufficiently rendering the globe we inhabit "a universe of death."

But Mr. Malthus demands from us, by virtue of his geometrical ratio, ten millions of children more than our unsuspecting ancestors ever dreamed of, that is, eight children for every pair of adults. I say eight, because, if in countries where they have room and every facility for rearing their children, two perish in their nonage out of the first four, there can be no reason that I can apprehend, why as many should not perish out of the second four. Thus it appears that, for every five millions that grow up to the estate of man and woman, twenty millions of children are born, of which fifteen millions, every where in the Old World, perish in their infancy. The first five millions of those who die in this manner, constitute a mortality that we must be contented to witness, since such, it seems,  is the condition of our existence. But the next ten millions I should call a sort of superfetation of alternate births and deaths, purely for the benefit of the geometrical ratio.

But where is the record of all this? In most civilized countries some sort of register is kept of births, marriages, and deaths. I believe no trace of these additional births which Mr. Malthus has introduced to our acquaintance, is any where to be found. Were all these children sent out of the world, without so much as the ceremonies of baptism? Were they exposed among the wilds of Mount Taygetus, or cast into the Barathrum, or hurled from the Tarpeian rock, or carelessly thrown forth, as Mr. Malthus says the Chinese infants are in the streets of Pekin? For my own part, I am disposed to require some further evidence on the subject, than merely to be told they must have been born and have died, in defiance of all received evidence on the subject, because such is the inference that follows from the principles of the Essay on Population.

In reality, if I had not taken up the pen with the express purpose of confuting all the errors of Mr. Malthus's book, and of endeavouring to introduce other principles, more cheering, more favourable to the best interests of mankind, and better prepared to resist the inroads of vice and misery, I might close my argument here, and lay down the pen with this brief remark, that, when this author shall have produced from any country, the United States of North America not excepted, a register of marriages and births, from which it shall appear that there are on an average eight births to a marriage, then, and not till then, can I have any just reason to admit his doctrine of the geometrical ratio.


a on this subject, Book II. Chapter II. Note a.

b Vol. I. p.7.

c Vol. I. p. 255. et seqq.

d Vol. II. p. 289.

e Vol. I. p. 7.

f Book I. and II.

g Book III.

h Book IV.

i "The corporal forthwith began to run back in his mind, the principal events in the king of Bohemia's story, from every one of which it appeared that he was the most fortunate man that ever existed in the world." Tristram Shandy, vol. VI.

k Franklin,Works. 1806 vol. II. p. 385.

l "If in Europe they hare but four births to a marriage, we in America must reckon eight."—Franklin,  ubi supra.

m P. 11.

n Quarterly Review, No. XXXIV, p. 374.

o Preface, Second Edition, p. vii; Fifth Edition, p. ix.

p First Edition, p. 184 to 809; Fifth Edition, vol. II. p. 251 to 270.

q Second Edition, p. 384. Sec this question more fully discussed in Book VI. of the present work.

r Preface, p. ix.

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