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VARIOUS PROSPECTS OF MANKIND, NATURE, AND PROVIDENCE.
Mr. Wallace, the author of the work before us, was of the number of those speculators who have delighted to form schemes of ideal felicity for their species. Men of this class, often despised as dreaming theorists, have been found among the best and wisest of all ages. Those, indeed, who have seen the farthest into their nature, have found the surest grounds of hope even for its earthly progress. Their enthusiasm has been, at the least, innoxious. The belief, that humanity is on the decline—that the energy of man is decaying—that the heart is becoming harder—and that imagination and intellect are dwindling away—lays an icy finger on the soul, confirms the most debasing selfishness, and tends to retard the good which it denies. We propose, therefore, in this article very 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 increase 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 human 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 1
"In such a cruel necessity, must there be a law to restrain marriage 1 Must multitudes of women be shut up in cloisters, like the ancient vestals or modern nuns1 To keep a ballance between the two sexes, must a proportionable number of men be debarred from marriage 1 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 1 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 1 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 completed 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 1
"Alas! how unnatural and inhuman must every such expedient be acccounted! 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 order1 Shall we be laid under the necessity of acting barbarously and inhumanly1 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 survivers, and make room for others to be born.
"Thus the tranquillity 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 increase 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 . 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 strait within which his movements were contracted.
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 whose personal benevolence withstood 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 was shown to be a state of attainable and exalted virtue. In calculating on the tendency of the species to increase, we were no longer re