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Art. I.-1. Census of Great Britain, 1851. Population Tables. 2. Results of the Census of Great Britain in 1851. By EDWARD
CHESHIRE. London: J. W. Parker.
The opening of the present century was characterised by a panic fear amongst the political economists. A series of bad seasons, raising corn to six guineas a quarter, with now and then a further advance—till, in 1801, wheat reached 180s., and the quartern loaf was for a month as high as 18. 102d.—were, it must be owned, no unreasonable causes for depression, and
very naturally turned the current of public thought into gloomy channels. In the time of adversity there is no remembrance of prosperity; want and famine grew to be considered necessary conditions of our being; not so much evils to be delivered from, as to adapt ourselves to. Men began to have hungry eyes, to grudge new sharers in such short commons; and the cry arose that the world was becoming too populous. New terms were invented, suited to the magnitude of the evil: and the superfecundity' of our race, our English race especially-was enlarged upon with morbid anxiety, and a dismal pleasure in proving the imminence of the danger. It was pronounced that, at our present rate of increase, there would soon not be standing room. England's geographical area was measured out, and the arithmetician discovered that its twelve millions of millions of square inches would, in five hundred years, at an unlimited rate of increase, have twelve millions of millions of families to provide for. And while the human race thus increased in a 'geometric ratio,' it was discovered from reasons best known to these calculatorsthat the produce of the earth could only increase in an arithmetical ratio. We need not say that the produce, marshalled forth as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, made a poor figure in the race against the rapid advance of the consumers, represented by 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512. With such ocular demonstrations, it needed but a limited acquaintance with numbers to fore
see hideous famine, and every horror humanity can be subject to, as the necessary concomitants of such a disproportion between supply and demand. Indeed, these calamities could hardly be otherwise than welcome to imaginations haunted by an intolerable apprehension of want of breathing space. War, pestilence, and famine, were positive reliefs in the inevitable predicament; they were accepted as a natural law—the drains by which the wealthy, thinking, and otherwise respectable classes, were to maintain their ground. As for the labouring classes, the vast bulk of mankind, there was no rational hope of their deliverance from a perpetual pressure against the limits of subsistence,-famine always near, want a condition of their being, with only such temporary remission from this horrible struggle as a raging epidemic, or a desolating war, or an absolute famine could bring, but temporary resources, all of them, to check the hordes the prolific future would pour in to fill the vacancy. The destroying angel must always stand on this awful 'limit,' his sword drawn in his hand, sweeping away the helpless crowds which the blind impulses of human nature would for ever thrust up against it. Such were the apprehensions a few years' scarcity, and the flagrant evils of our then Poor-Law system, could raise in the minds of intelligent, if we cannot call them sensible men. That we have not misrepresented these fears, a few extracts will show. Our first is from Senior's · Lectures on Population.'
We have seen that, as a general rule, additional labour, employed in the cultivation of land within a given district, produces a less proportionate return. And we have seen that such is the power of reproduction and duration of life in mankind, that the population of a given district is capable of doubling itself, at least every twenty-five years. It is clear, therefore, that the rate at which the production of food is capable of being increased, and that at which population, if unchecked, would increase, are totally different. Every addition made to the quantity of food produced, makes in general a further addition more difficult. Every addition to the existing population diffuses wider the means of still further addition. If neither evil, nor the fear of evil, checked the population of England, it would amount in a century to above two hundred millions.
It is clear, however, that long before the first century had elapsed, no excellence in our institutions, or salubrity of climate, or unremitting industry, could have saved us from being arrested in our progress by a constantly increasing want of subsistence. If all other moral and physical checks could be got rid of, --if we had neither wars nor libertinism, --if our habitations, and employments, and habits were all wholesome, and no fears of indigence or loss of station prevented or retarded our marriages, famine would soon exercise her prerogative of controlling, in the last resort, the multiplication of mankind. 'Senior's Lectures, pp. 12, 13.
Malthus, vigorous and plain-spoken, and led on by his theory into a total disregard of the feelings, or, as he would hold them, weaknesses, of all whose ideas of humanity he outraged, thus complacently dwells on his favourable aspect of exterminating diseases :
• The widening of these drains (palsy, apoplexy, gont, &c. &c.) was necessary to carry off the population, which still remained redundant, notwithstanding the increased operation of the preventive check and the part which was annually disposed of, and enabled to subsist by the increase of agriculture.
Dr. Haygarth, in the sketch of his benevolent plan for the extermination of the casual small-pox, draws a frightful picture of the mortality which has been occasioned by this distemper, attributes to this the slow progress of population, and makes some curious calculations on the favourable effects which would be produced in this respect by its extermination. His conclusions, however, I fear, would not follow his premises. I am far from doubting, that millions and millions of human beings have been destroyed by small-pox. But were its devastations, as Dr. Haygarth supposes, many thousand degrees greater than the plague, I should still doubt whether the average population of the earth had been diminished by them. The smallpox is certainly one of the channels—and a very broad
- which nature has opened for the last thousand years, to keep down the population to the level of the means of subsistence; but had this been closed, others would have become wider, or new ones would have been formed. In ancient times, the mortality from war and the plague was incomparably greater than in modern. On the gradual diminution of the stream of mortality, the generation and almost universal prevalence of the small-pox is a great and striking instance of one of those changes in the channels of mortality which ought to awaken our attention, and animate us to patient and persevering investigation. For my own part, I feel not the slightest doubt, that if the introduction of the cow.pox should extirpate the small-pox, and yet the number of marriages continue the same, we shall find a very perceptible difference in the increased mortality of some other diseases. Nothing could prevent this but a sudden start in our agriculture; and should this take place, which I fear we have not much reason to expect, it will not be owing to the number of children saved from death by the cow-pox inoculation, but to the alarms occasioned among the people of property by the late scarcities, and to the increased gains of farmers, which have been so absurdly reprobated. I am strongly, however, inclined to believe, that the number of marriages will not in this case remain the same; but that the gradual light which may be expected to be thrown on this interesting topic of human inquiry will teach us how to make the extinction of a mortal disorder a real blessing to us, a real improvement in the general health and happiness of society.'— Malthus's Principles of Population, vol. ii. p. 290, 4th edition.
In this passage the philosopher allows himself to hope that men will grow wiser, and not marry at the rate they have done; but that this was no permanent state of feeling with him, but rather the contrary persuasion, that this fatal tendency of human beings must produce inevitably the evils we have already touched upon, is shown in a passage in his correspondence with our first-quoted economist, Mr. Senior.
* As a voluntary retardation of their own increase, in the mass of the people, cannot be effected without restraint and self-denial, to which there is certainly a much less tendency than to marriage, the practical result is such as might be expected; namely, that although this restraint and selfdenial may prevent more misery and vice at one period than at another; though they are often more efficient in civilized and populous countries, than in ignorant and thinly peopled countries ; and though we may hope that they will become still more efficient as knowledge advances; yet, as
far as we can judge from history, there never has been a period of any considerable length, when premature mortality and vice, specifically arising from the pressure of population against food, has not prevailed to a considerable extent; nor, admitting the possibility, or even the probability, of those evils being diminished, is there any rational prospect of a near approach to their entire removal.'—Correspondence with Mr. Senior, p. 86.
The pressure of certain acknowledged evils, rising at one period to a crisis, may probably, we have said, have induced this train of thought in cold and speculative intellects; but when once entertained, it is very certain that the subject and the view altogether grew to be a very favourite one with these theorists, who, inured to the occupation of making the whole train of human calamity fit neatly into a system, and adopting an abstract and technical phraseology, as if purposely to exclude human feeling in the discussion of the highest human interests, lost all sense, in their studies, of the reality of the evils, the vice and misery, they so glibly discussed, and betrayed, one and all, a very decided unwillingness to admit the possibility of a brighter side to the question. With some minds, the discovery of a cause for certain evils is much the same final act, and produces the same sense of satisfaction, as the finding a remedy does to more practical heads and hearts. Malthus and his followers were not, indeed, without a remedy, but it was one, they were well aware, not suited to human nature, nor ever likely to be acted upon. Such as it was, however, they were as jealous of its exclusive power, as though they believed it the true panacea for every evil of life. We must on no account do anything which tends directly to encourage marriage,' said they. • The
poor must be taught that the greatest part of their sufferings ‘ proceeds from imprudence in this respect;' that their only mode • of bettering their condition is by withholding the supplies of · labour, which they, being possessors of this commodity, have * alone the power to do;' that this is the principal and most
permanent cause of poverty ;' going on to prove that even industry itself would not avail anything if all men were industrious; that no man has a right to marry, with only the means of maintaining two children, when the average shows he may have three or four; that such a man falling into want, however steady and otherwise praiseworthy his conduct may have been, is no fit object for national help, but a criminal in his country's eyes. As no abstract can do justice to the firmness of Malthus's views on this point, we will give his own words. After proposing the total abolition of the Poor-Laws, and suggesting that the clergyman of each parish should always, after publishing the banns, read a short address on the duty of every man to support his own children, he goes on :
• After the public notice (the above clerical exhortation) which I have proposed, had been given, and the system of Poor-Laws had ceased with
regard to the rising generation, if any man chose to marry, without a prospect of being able to support a family, he should have the most perfect liberty to do so. Though to marry in this case is, in my opinion, clearly an immoral act; yet it is not one which society can justly take upon itself to prevent or punish ; because the punishment provided for it by the laws of nature falls directly and most severely upon the individual who com the act, and through him, only remotely and feebly, on the society. 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, therefore, of nature he should be left, the punishment of want. He has erred in the face of a most clear and precise warning, 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; and if the hand of private charity be stretched forth for his relief, the interests of humanity imperiously require that it should be administered sparingly. He should be taught to know, that the laws of nature, which are the laws of God, had doomed him and his family to suffer for disobeying their repeated admonitions: that he had no claim or right on society for the smallest portion of food beyond that which his labour would fairly purchase, and that if he and bis family were saved from suffering the extremities of hunger, he would owe it to the pity of some kind benefactor, to whom, therefore, he ought to be bound by the strongest ties of gratitude.
It may appear to be hard that a mother and her children, who had been guilty of no particular crime themselves, should suffer for the ill conduct of the father; but this is one of the invariable laws of nature; knowing this, we should think twice upon the subject, and be very sure of the ground on which we go, before we presume systematically to counteract it.'--Malthus, vol. ii. p. 321.
In spite of the plausible terms of this argument, we need not enter, at this day, into its real immorality and injustice, throwing as it does the burden of the preventive check' upon the poor, to whom celibacy is an immeasurably greater hardship than to the rich, and for whom we may even say that, as a class, it is a manifestly unfit state of life, and compelling the labourer's conscience to be guided, not by his strength to labour, nor his willingness to labour, nor even his actual labour, but solely by the value of that labour in the labour-market. Such as it was, the argument required that it should be the only "check' against the threatened evils; and all other remedies, however evident, were dismissed with little ceremony. Our rapidly increasing commerce was regarded with a jealous eye, suggesting as it did the idea of exchanging our manufactures for the food of other countries. *If our commerce continue increasing for a few ‘years,' he says, and our commercial population with it, we
shall be laid so bare to the shafts of fortune, that nothing but “a miracle can save us from being sunk. The increasing powers of agriculture were but temporary, inefficient reliefs. The imporation of corn adequate at all times to the demand is
scarcely possible,' and the question of emigration itself gains scarcely more attention. The economist even turns sentimental when this drain' is offered to his attention, and having condemned his labourer to celibacy and a cheerless hearth, he