Book 1, Chapter 13 : Views of Man and Society which result from the Preceding Facts

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Book 1, Chapter 13

Godwin, William. Of Population. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown, Paternoster Row, 1820.

CHAPTER XIII.

VIEWS OF MAN AND SOCIETY WHICH RESULT FROM THE PRECEDING FACTS

I turn now from the dreary speculations of Mr. Malthus, to the venerable recollection of what has been the creed of all ages and nations upon this interesting subject.

Mr. Malthus's doctrine is directly calculated to bring our human nature into "hatred and contempt;" a crime I should think somewhat greater than that which Mr. Pitt made a law to counteract, "the bringing hatred and contempt upon the government of the united kingdom." One of his distinguishing positions is the necessity of warning men of the evil of marrying, except the few who, in the vicissitude of sublunary things, shall conceive they have a fair "prospect of being able to support a family:" and he recommends that those who slight this warning, shall, with the innocent offspring they bring into the world, be "left to the punishment of Nature, the punishment of want." Almighty author of us all! what a thing is man that thou hast made, the existence of which, in great numbers, and without strict limitations, is to be counteracted by such sharp menaces, menaces that it is recommended should by no means be left as a dead letter!

What is the idea we were taught of old to conceive of this creature, man?

"Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honor. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet; all sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field, the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea."

"Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honor. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet; all sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field, the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea." "I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being imperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there were none of them."

I know not whether I shall be excused in putting the modern language of an uninspired writer, by the side of these venerable authorities.

Shakespear says: "What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason; how infinite in faculties; in form and moving how express and admirable; in action how like an angel; in apprehension how like a God; the beauty of the world; the paragon of animals!"

An author of infinitely inferior talents has delivered a similar idea with exquisite beauty.

I like thy frame: the fingers of the Gods

I see have left their mastery upon thee;

They have been tapering up thy human form;

And the majestic prints at large appear.

It has accordingly been held in all ages, that it was one of the first duties of a citizen, to give birth to his like, and bring offspring to the state. It is the voice of nature, and the law of nature, that every man should rejoice in posterity; however perverted institutions may have often turned this blessing, as it stands in the law of human feelings and human understanding, into a calamity.

As such it is perpetually spoken of in the records of the Christian religion.

"As arrows in the hand of a giant," says David (and be it remembered that he was a statesman, a legislator, and a king),"even so are little children. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: he shall not be ashamed, but he shall speak with the enemies in the gate."

Again : "Blessed is he that feareth the Lord: his wife shall be as a fruitful vine in the sides of his house; his children shall be like olive plants round about his table."

Solomon, the son and successor of David, was plainly of the same opinion. He says," Children's childien are the crown of old men; and they are the glory of their father.

The historian of the Judges of the Jewish naition has recorded his opinion on this subject, by his manner of narrating a fact. Of Abdon, one of the Judges, he has handed down the memory merely in one brief patriarchal painting. "He had forty sons, and thirty grandsons, which rode on threescore and ten asses' and ten colts."

It has already appeared that all the great legislators and enlightened statesmen that ever existed, have seen the subject of population in the light in which it is here exhibited. It is only a few speculators in their closets, a Plato, an Aristotle, and a Malthus, that have regarded it in different points of view.

The language of Augustus is that of all practical politicians. "The city of Rome does not consist of its houses, its porticoes, and its public buildings; it is the men of Rome that constitute the city. The object of my cave is to perpetuate the commonwealth; and in this I call upon each member of the community to contribute his part."

The amiable and enlightened author of Telemachus expresses himself thus. [The admonition is addressed by Mentor, to a king who had been spoiled by false ideas of greatness and renown.] "Know that you are a king, only just so far as you have men over whom you reign. It is not extent of territory that makes the monarch, but the number of human beings by whom that territory is peopled. Let the country in which you rule be moderate in extent; cover it with innumerable inhabitants; let those inhabitants be sober, industrious and active; and your power, your prosperity, and your glory will be greater, than those of all the conquerors that ever existed."

Sir Richard Steele, in the Spectator , has treated the same subject, in that fine vein of deep feeling and pure bonhommie in which he so marvelously excelled. "There is," says he, speaking in the person of an imaginary correspondent, "another accidental advantage in marriage which has fallen to my share; I mean the having a multitude of children. These I cannot but regard as very great blessings. When I see my little troop before me, I rejoice in the additions I have made to my species, to my country, and to my religion, in having produced such a number of reasonable creatures, citizens, and Christians. I am pleased to see myself thus perpetuated; and as there is no production comparable to that of a human creature, I am more proud of having been the occasion of ten such glorious productions, than if I had built a pyramid at my own expence, or published as many volumes of the finest wit and learning."

How refreshing is this! It is a return to nature and human feelings. It is in the nature of a letter of license, permitting man to be man, allowing him to enlarge himself, and to spread into all the ramifications of social existence. Let not the system of the universe be calumniated! There is a sublime harmony between man as an individual, and man collectively considered. Private and public feelings, our love of ourselves and of all that is nearest to us, and our love of our country and our species, all operate to the same end. The interests of the one and of the other, through the whole extent of their great outline, coincide.

For twenty years the heart of man in this island has been hardening through the theories of Mr. Malthus. What permanent effect this may have upon the English character I know not: but I am sure it was high time that it should be stopped. We were learning, at least as many of us as studied the questions of political economy, and these are by no means the most despicable part of the community, to look askance and with a suspicious eye upon a human being, particularly on a little child. A woman walking the streets in a state of pregnancy, was an unavoidable subject of alarm. A man, who was the father of a numerous family, if in the lower orders of society, was the object of our anger. We could not look at a human being with the eye of a painter, as a delicious subject of contemplation, with the eye of a moral philosopher, as a machine capable of adorning the earth with magnificence and beauty, or with the eye of a divine, as a creature with a soul to be saved, and destined to the happiness of an immortal existence. Our first question, and that regarded as a most difficult one, was, how he was to be maintained? It was not enough that he was born with the implements and the limbs, by which exuberant subsistence is to be produced. It was not enough that there was room for many millions of human beings more than now exist on the face of the earth. We were reduced (oh, miserable slavery!) to inquire, whether he was born among the easier orders of society, whether he was the son of a father, who had a fair "prospect of being able to support a family." We were learning fast to calumniate the system of the universe, and to believe that the first duty it required of us was to prevent too many human beings (that last work of God, that sole ornament and true consummation of the orb we dwell in) from being born into the world.

The great tendency and effect of Mr. Malthus's book were to warn us against making mankind happy. Such an event must necessarily lead, according to him, to the most pernicious consequences. A due portion of vise and misery was held out to us as the indispensible preservative of society, at the same time that the author himself did not venture to tell us how much of these murderous ingredients was necessary. His doctrine immediately led to the reversing all that had hitherto been held to be genuine politics, or sound moral philosophy. The theories of Mr. Malthus then being destroyed, the science of politics returns to its just and legitimate purpose, the inquiring how mankind in society, by every means that can be devised, may be made happy. Let us dismiss, now and forever, the heart of flint that has disgraced the beginning of the nineteenth century, and take to ourselves hearts of flesh, and pulses that shall beat responsive to all that can interest or agitate any one of our fellow-creatures.

The law against murder has two sources. First, as all law is, or is intended to be, expressive of the will of the community, murder is forbidden, because the safety of each is the interest of all; that which is perpetrated on one, may next be the lot of him, or me, or any. So far it is a question of selfish calculation, on the narrowest scale. But the law is also founded upon a deep feeling of the worth and estimation of man in the abstract; a feeling confirmed by reason, and recognized, as has already been said, by all enlightened legislators. "Who kills a man, kills a reasonable creature, God's image."

If I quench thee, thou flaming minister,

I can again thy former light restore.

Should I repent. But once put out thy light,

Thou cunningest pattern of excelling nature,

I know not where is that Promethean heat,

That can thy light relume.

The sentiment that teaches us to hold the life of man at a cheap rate, has been the source of all the crimes of statesmen and warriors. We have been told of monopolists, who have bought up all the corn of a country in a period of famine, and seen with indifference thousands perishing around them, while they accumulated an immense fortune. Bonaparte in the year 1812 marched with an army of nearly four hundred thousand men into Russia, and, after a campaign of four months, escaped alone with difficulty back to Paris, while scarcely a remnant of his army survived the disasters into which he had led them: his pursuit was glory. But that of the disciples of Mr. Malthus is almost without a motive: they proceed with all the coldness of calculation, and expect neither wealth nor fame as the reward of their achievement. The check which the Author of the Essay on Population requires to keep down the numbers of mankind,is summed up by him in this expressive phrase; "Every cause, which in any degree contributes to shorten the natural duration of human life:" in other words, whatever thing, that by sickness, by pain, by hunger, by hardship and calamity, wastes away, and slowly, with agony and throes, extinguishes the taper of existence.

Fortunately however the system of the universe is guiltless of these calculations. An inexperienced philanthropist might have wished for the human species an easy mode of multiplication. Looking upon the vast tracts of the earth that have been naked and abandoned for ages, and considering that, at the lowest computation, the globe of earth would subsist twenty human beings for one of that handful that is at present scattered on its surface, he might have wished for a rapid mode of filling its desolate places. Of the hundreds of speculative men who have ascribed to our nature the power of such multiplication, scarcely one, till within these twenty years, has prognosticated any evil to result from it. But that power from which the human species derived its existence, has disposed of the matter otherwise. There are two considerations by which any commodity may be rendered precious. One is its intrinsic beauty and excellence; and the other the difficulty with which it is to be procured. In both ways the price of our human nature seems to be enhanced. We are not only " fearfully and wonderfully made," the adapted dwelling of exquisite beauty and indescribable grace, if only the external form of man is considered, and by our mind capable of all excellent and astonishing things: but, beside this, it to this day remains a problem, whether the numbers of our species can be increased. We are warned therefore to make much of this precious creature, man, to nourish it in want, to support it in distress, to relieve it by every attention and every liberality, on no account to waste a treasure so inexpressibly more estimable than the mines of Peru; and, which is most of all, to raise this only inventive creature on the face of the earth, this creature susceptible of unlimited improvement, to all the perfection, whether of wisdom or happiness, whether in his individual or social capacity, that all our vigils and all our meditations can suggest to our performance.

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Chronology

January 28, 2017 17:32:26 :
Book 1, Chapter 13 -- Added to http://www.RevoltLib.com.

September 23, 2017 09:01:37 :
Book 1, Chapter 13 -- Last Updated on http://www.RevoltLib.com.

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