« ПредишнаНапред »
cursorily to inquire how far the hopes of those who believe that man is, on the whole, advancing, are sanctioned by experience and by reason.
But we must not forget, that, in the very work before us, an obstacle to the happiness of the species is brought forward, which has subsequently been explained as of a dreadful nature, and has been represented as casting an impenetrable gloom over the brightest anticipations of human progress. We shall first set it forth in the words of Wallace-then trace its expansion and various application by Malthus—and inquire how far it compels us to despair for man.
“Under a perfect government, the inconveniencies of having a family would be so entirely removed, children would be so well taken care of, and every thing become so favourable to populousness, that though some sickly seasons or dreadful plagues in particular climates might cut off multitudes, yet, in general, mankind would encrease so prodigiously, that the earth would at last be overstocked, and become unable to support its numerous inhabitants.
“ How long the earth, with the best culture of which it is capable from human genius and industry, might be able to nourish its perpetually increasing inhabitants, is as impossible as it is unnecessary to be determined. It is not probable that it could have supported them during so long a period as since the creation of Adam. But whatever may be supposed of the length of this period, of necessity it must be granted, that the earth could not nourish them for ever, unless either its fertility could be continually augmented, or, by some secret in nature, like what certain enthusiasts have expected from the philosopher's stone, some wise adept in the occult sciences should invent a method of supporting mankind quite different from any thing known at present. Nay, though some extraordinary method of supporting them might possibly be found out, yet, if there was no bound to the increase of mankind, which would be the case under a perfect government, there would not even be sufficient room for containing their bodies upon the surface of the earth, or upon any limited surface whatsoever. It would be necessary, therefore, in order to find room for such multitudes of men, that the earth should be continually enlarging in bulk, as an animal or vegetable body.
" Now, since philosophers may as soon attempt to make mankind immortal, as to support the animal frame without food, it is equally certain, that limits are set to the fertility of the earth; and that its bulk, so far as is hitherto known, hath continued always the same, and probably could not be much altered without making considerable changes in the solar system. It would be impossible, therefore, to support the great numbers of men who would be raised up under a perfect government; the earth would be overstocked at last, and the greatest admirers of such fanciful schemes must foresee the fatal period when they would come to an end, as they are altogether inconsistent with the limits of that earth in which they must exist.
“What a miserable catastrophe of the most generous of all hu
man systems of government! How dreadfully would the magistrates of such commonwealths find themselves disconcerted at that fatal period, when there was no longer any room for new colonies, and when the earth could produce no farther supplies ! During all the preceding ages, while there was room for increase, mankind must have been happy; the earth must have been a paradise in the literal sense, as the greatest part of it must have been turned into delightful and fruitful gardens. But when the dreadful time should at last come, when our globe, by the most diligent culture, could not produce what was sufficient to nourish its numerous inhabitants, what happy expedient could then be found out to remedy so great an evil?
“ In such a cruel necessity, must there be a law to restrain marriage? Must multitudes of women be shut up in cloisters, like the ancient vestals or modern nuns? To keep a ballance between the two sexes, must a proportionable number of men be debarred from marriage? Shall the Utopians, following the wicked policy of superstition, forbid their priests to marry; or shall they rather sacrifice men of some other profession for the good of the state? Or, shall they appoint the sons of certain families to be maimed at their birth, and give a sanction to the unnatural institution of eunuchs? If none of these expedients can be thought proper, shall they appoint a certain number of infants to be exposed to death as soon as they are born, determining the proportion according to the exigencies of the state ; and pointing out the particular victims by lot, or according to some established rule? Or, must they shorten the period of human life by a law, and condemn all to die after they had compleated a certain age, which might be shorter or longer, as provisions were either more scanty or plentiful? Or what other method should they devise (for an expedient would be absolutely necessary) to restrain the number of citizens within reasonable bounds?
“ Alas! how unnatural and inhuman must every such expedient be accounted! The natural passions and appetites of mankind are planted in our frame, to answer the best ends for the happiness both of the individuals and of the species. Shall we be obliged to contradict such a wise order? Shall we be laid under the necessity of acting barbarously and inhumanly? Sad and fatal necessity! And which, after all, could never answer the end, but would give rise to violence and war. For mankind would never agree about such regulations. Force and arms must, at last, decide their quarrels, and the deaths of such as fall in battle leave sufficient provisions for the survivors, and make room for others to be born.
“ Thus the tranquility and numerous blessings of the Utopian governments would come to an end; war, or cruel and unnatural customs, be introduced, and a stop put to the increase of mankind, to the advancement of knowledge, and to the culture of the earth, in spite of the most excellent laws and wisest precautions. The more excellent the laws had been, and the more strictly they had been observed, mankind must have sooner become miserable. The remembrance of former times, the greatness of their wisdom and virtue, would conspire to heighten their distress; and the world, instead of remaining the
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 wrong 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 uses. 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 afflicted 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