Billeder på siden
[ocr errors]

mansion of wisdom and happiness, become the scene of vice and confusion. Force and fraud must prevail, and mankind be reduced to the same calamitous condition as at present.

“Such a melancholy situation, in consequence merely of the want of provisions, is in truth more unnatural than all their present calamities. Supposing men to have abused their liberty, by which abuse, vice has once been introduced into the world, and that


notions, a bad taste, and vicious habits, have been strengthened by the defects of education and government, our present distresses may be easily explained. They may even be called natural, being the natural consequences of our depravity. They may be supposed to be the means by which Providence punishes vice; and, by setting bounds to the encrease of mankind, prevents the earth’s being overstocked, and men being laid under the cruel necessity of killing one another. But to suppose, that in the course of a favourable Providence a perfect government had been established, under which the disorders of human passions had been powerfully corrected and restrained; poverty, idleness, and war, banished; the earth made a paradise; universal friendship and concord established, and human society rendered flourishing in all respects; and that such a lovely constitution should be overturned, not by the vices of men, or their abuse of liberty, but by the order of nature itself, seems wholly unnatural, and altogether disagreeable to the methods of Providence.”

To this passage, the gloomy theories of Mr. Malthus owe their origin. He took the evil, which Wallace regarded as awaiting the species in its highest state of earthly perfection, as instant and pressing in almost every state of society, and as causing mankind perpetually to oscillate. He represented nature herself as imposing an adamantine barrier to improvement, against which the fertilizing waters must beat in vain, and which would strike them back again, to a distance proportioned to the force by which they were rolled towards it. He depicted the tendency of the species to increase in numbers, as arising from passion, mad and ungovernable as well as universal, and as resisted, in its fatal consequences, only by war, famine, or disease. He maintained, that man was placed by nature between two tremendous evils, and could never recede from the gloomy strait within which his movements were contracted. He treated the love between the sexes as a brute instinct, without adverting to the infinite varieties of its developement, to its modifications by imagination and sentiment, to the refined delicacies of its intellectual enjoyments, to its thoughts which“ do often lie too deep for tears," or its hopes, reaching far beyond death and the grave. Man was thus debased into a wretched animal, whose passions were irresistible, yet could not be satisfied without bringing on his race incalculable miseries.

The system thus promulgated in the first edition of the work on Population, could not be well applied to any practical


It tended to destroy the fair visions of human improvement, and to place a gigantic demon in their room. But it could not form a part of any rational scheme of legislation, because it represented the evils which it depicted as hopeless. Its only moral was despair. But its author-a man of genuine personal benevolence in spite of his doctrines-became anxious to discover some moral purposes to which he might apply his scheme. Accordingly, in his second edition, which was so altered and re-written as to be almost a new work, he introduced a new preventive check on the tendency of population to increase, which he designated "moral restraint;" and proposed to inculcate, by the negative course of leaving all those who did not practise it to the consequences of their error. This new feature appears to us subversive of the whole system, in so far, at least, as it is designed to exhibit insuperable obstacles to the progressive happiness of man. Instead of the evil being regarded as inevitable, a means was expressly enforced by which it might be completely avoided. Celibacy, instead of a dreadful misfortune, was shewn to be a state of attainable and exalted virtue. In calculating on the tendency of the species to increase, we were no longer required to speculate on a mere instinct, but on a thousand moral and intellectual causes-on the movements of reason, sensibility, imagination, and hope-on the purest as well as the intensest emotions of the human soul. The rainbow could be as easily grasped, or a sun-beam measured by a line, as the operations of the blended passion and sentiment of love estimated by geometrical series! We will, however, examine a little more closely the popular objection to theories of human improvement, which the principle of population is supposed to offer.

The real question, in this case, is not whether, when the world is fully cultivated, the tendency of the species to increase will be greater than the means of subsistence; but whether this tendency really presses on us at every step of our progress. For, if there is no insuperable barrier to the complete cultivation of the earth, the cessation of all the countless evils of war, and the union of all the brethren of mankind in one great family, we may safely trust to heaven for the rest. When this universal harmony shall begin, men will surely have attained the virtue and the wisdom to exercise a self-denial, which Mr. Malthus himself represents as fully within their power. In the æra of knowledge and of peace, that degree of self-sacrifice can scarcely be impossible, which, even now, our philosopher would inculcate at the peril of starvation. At least, there can be no danger in promoting the happiness of the species, until it shall arise to this fullness; for we are told, that every effort towards it produces a similar peril with that which will embitter its final reign. And if it should exist at last, we may safely believe, that He who pronounced the blessing, “increase and multiply," will not abandon the work of his hands; but that this world then will have answered all the purposes of its creation, and that immortal state will begin, “in which we shall neither marry nor be given in marriage, but be as the angels of God.”

Let us inquire, then, whether the evidence of history, or the present aspect of the world, warrant the belief, that the tendency of the species to increase beyond the means of subsistence is a necessary obstacle to the improvement of its condition. If the wretchedness of man really flowed from this source, it is strange that the discovery should not have been made during six thousand years of his misery. He is not usually thus obtuse, respecting the cause of his sorrows. It will be admitted, that his distresses have most frequently arisen from luxury and from war, as their immediate causes. The first will scarcely be attributed to the want of food ; nor can the second be traced to so fantastical an origin. Shakspeare, indeed, represents Coriolanus, in his insolent contempt for humanity, as rejoicing in the approach of war, as the means of “venting the musty superfluity” of the people; but kings have not often engaged in the fearful game on so refined and philosophic principles. On the contrary, the strength of a state was always regarded, in old time, as consisting in the number of its citizens. And, indeed, it is impossible that any of the gigantic evils of mankind should have arisen from the pressure of population against the means of subsistence; because it is impossible to point out any one state in which the means of subsistence have been fully developed and exhausted. If the want of subsistence, then, has ever afficted a people, it has not arisen, except in case of temporary famine, from a deficiency in the means of subsistence, but in the mode and spirit of using them. The fault has been not in nature, but in man. Population may, in a few instances, have increased beyond the energy of the people to provide for it, but not beyond the resources which God has placed within their power.

The assertion, that there is, in the constant tendency of population to press hardly against the means of subsistence, an insuperable check to any great improvement of the species, is in direct contradiction to history. The species has increased in numbers, and has risen in intelligence, under far more unfavorable circumstances than the present, in spite of this fancied obstacle. There is no stage of civilization, in which the objection to any farther advance might not have been urged with as much plausibility as at the present. While any region, capable of fruitfulness, remains uninhabited and barren, the argument applies with no more force against its cultivation, than it would

have applied against the desire of him who founded the first city to extend its boundaries. While the world was before him, he might as reasonably have been warned to decline any plan for bringing wastes into tillage, on the ground that the tendency of man to multiply would thus be incited beyond the means of supplying food, as we, in our time, while the greater part of the earth yet remains to be possessed. And, indeed, the objection has far less force now than at any preceding period ;-because not only is space left, but the aids of human power are far greater than in old time. Machinery now enables one man to do as much towards the supply of human wants, as could formerly have been done by hundreds. And shall we select this as the period of society in which the species must stand still, because the means of subsistence can be carried but a little farther?

It seems impossible to cast a cursory glance over the earth, and retain the belief, that there is some insuperable obstacle in the constitution of nature, to the developement of its vast and untried resources. Surely, immense regions of unbounded fertility-long successions of spicy groves-trackless pastures: watered by ocean-rivers formed to let in wealth to the midst of a great continent and sweet islands which lie calmly on the breast of crystal seas were not created for eternal solitude and silence. Until these are peopled, and the earth is indeed “replenished and subdued,” the command and the blessing, “increase and multiply,” must continue unrecalled by its great Author. Shall not Egypt revive its old fruitfulness, and Palestine again flow with milk and honey?

The hypothesis, that population left to itself will increase in a geometrical progression, while the means of subsistence can only be enlarged in an arithmetical progression, is a mere fantasy. Vegetables, cattle, and fish, have far greater powers of productiveness than the human species; and the only obstacle to those powers being developed in an equal degree, is the want of room for them to increase, or the want of energy or wisdom in man to apply the bounty of nature to its fittest uses. The first want cannot exist while the larger part of the earth is barren, and the riches of the ocean remain unexhausted. The second, with all the disadvantages of ignorance, war, tyranny, and vice, has not prevented the boundaries of civilization from widely extending. What is there then in this particular stage of society, which should induce the belief, that the sinews of humanity are shrivelled up, and its energy falling to decay? The same quantity of food or of clothing—the same comforts and the same luxuries--which once required the labour of a hundred hands, are now produced almost without personal exertion. And is the spirit in man so broken down and debased, that, with all the aids of machinery, he cannot effect as much as the labour of his own right arm would achieve in the elder time? If, indeed, he is thus degenerate, the fault, at least, is not in nature, but in external and transitory causes. But we are prepared clearly, though briefly, to shew, that man has been and is, on the whole, advancing in true virtue, and in moral and intellectual energy

It cannot be denied, that there are many apparent oscillations in the course of the species. If we look at only a small portion of history, it may seem retrograde, as a view of one of the windings of a noble river may lead us to imagine that it is flowing from the ocean. The vast intricacies of human affairs, the perpetual opposition of interests, prejudices, and passions, do not permit mankind to proceed in a right line; but, if we overlook any large series of ages, we shall clearly perceive, that the course of man is towards perfection. In contemplating the past, our attention is naturally attracted to the illustrious nations, whose story is consecrated by a thousand associations of early joy. But even if we take these, and forget the savage barbarism of the rest of the world, we shall find little to excite our envy. Far be it from us to deny, that there were among these, some men of pure and disinterested virtue, whose names are like great sea-marks in the dreariness of the backward

perspective, and whom future generations can only desire to imitate. Our nature has always had some to vindicate its high capabilities of good. But even among the privileged classes of Greece and Rome—the selected minority, to whom all the rights of nature were confined more strictly than in the strictest modern despotism-how rare are the instances of real and genuine goodness! That long succession of bloody tragedies that frightful alternation of cruelties and of meannesses--the Peloponnesian war, was perpetrated in the midst of the people, who had just carried the arts to their highest perfection. Gratitude, honesty, and good faith, had no place in the breasts of Athenian citizens. The morals of the Spartans were more despicable than those of their rivals. Their mixture of barbarity and of craft towards their foes, and the states which were tributary to their power-their unnatural sacrifice of the most sacred of the affections of nature to mere national glory—and their dreadful conduct towards the wretched Helots,

who were their property, -have scarcely a parallel in human history. The long conspiracy of Rome against the liberties of mankind, carried on from the time of its foundation until it began to decline, served to string every sinew into a horrid rigidity, and to steel the heart to the feelings of compassion. This is the description of its progress by one of its own historians :


« ForrigeFortsæt »