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quired to speculate on a mere instinct, but on a thousand moral and intellectual causes-on the movements of reason, sensibility, imagination, and hope. 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 era 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 fulness; 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 unfavourable 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 sup
plying 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 development 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 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 luxu
ries—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 show, 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 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 our early studies. 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 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 priviledged 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! The 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 breast of Athenian citizens. The morals of the Spartans were even 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 :
6 Raptores orbis, postquam cuncta vastantibus defuere terræ, et mare scrutantur; si locuples hostis est, avari; si pauper, ambitiosi : quos non oriens non occidens satiaverit; soli omnium opes atque inopiam pari affectu concupiscunt. Auferre, trucidare, rapere, falsis nominibus imperium, atque ubi solitudinem pacem appellent." (Tacitus Vit. Agricolæ, 30.)
The proscriptions of Marius and Sylla alone proved what this savage spirit could perpetrate at home, when it had exhausted all opportunities of satiating, among foreign states, its thirst for slaughter.
If we pass over the improvements in morals—the amelioration of war—the progress of political science—and the redemption of the female sex from degradation and from bondage—we shall find, in one great change alone, ample reason to rejoice in the advances of the species. The simple term, humanity, expresses the chief difference between our times and the brightest of classical ages. In those there was no feeling for man, as man—no recognition of a common brother-hood-no sense of those qualities which all men have in common, and of those claims which those who are “ made of one blood” have on each other for justice and for mercy. Manhood was nothing, citizenship was all in all. Nearly all the virtues were aristocratical and exclusive. The number of slaves—their dreadful condition—and the sanction which the law gave to all the cruelties practised on them-showed that the masters of the world had no sense of the dignity of their nature, whatever they might feel for the renown of their country, or the privileges of their order. The Spartan youths massacred their Helots, to nurture their