Book 2, Chapter 03 : Principles respecting the Increase or Decrease of the Numbers of Mankind
Book 2, Chapter 03
HAVING thus entered into an impartial review of Mr. Malthus's theory and the authorities upon which it is founded, I proceed to that which is most properly the object of my volume. The Essay on Population has left for me a clear stage in this respect: it has touched upon none of those topics from which a real knowledge of the subject is to be acquired. Its author from a very slight and unsatisfactory evidence has drawn the most absurd and extravagant consequences; and having done this, he closes the account, fully convinced that he has shewn in "the laws of nature and the passions of mankind" an evil, for which all remedies are feeble, and before which all courage must sink into despair.
My business is therefore with those topics which Mr. Malthus has named, and only named: "the laws of nature, and the passions of mankind." I will beg leave to consider something
of these, and particularly of the former, before I proceed to the millions to be found in a table of censorate; and, when I come to those tables, I will not look at them solely en masse, but will endeavor to analyze their contents.
The inquisitive and scientific part of the human species are not wholly ignorant of the natural history of man. We know, in the first place, from experience, how long this fabric of the human frame is in the majority of cases capable to endure. "The days of our years are threescore years and ten." We know, in the next place, from the same source of experience, how many years in ordinary cases precede the period of our maturity, for how long a time we retain our full vigor and manhood, and how many years belong to the period of decrepitude and decline.
There is another particular relative to our species, which does not deserve the name of science, but which is of the most vital importance to the subject under consideration; and that is, the distinction of mankind into two sexes, male and female.
In the disquisition in which we are engaged, relative to the procreation and multiplication of our species, it is essential that we should recollect, that the female only is concerned in the business of bringing children into the world. This is the law of our nature; the germ of the human species can be matured by the female, and by her only. Women, if I may be allowed
so to illustrate my principle, are the soil from which human creatures are produced. The rest of the society, men, young and old, and children of the male sex, [exclusive of such a number of males, as might be found necessary to give activity to the prolific power in the females] are absolutely of no account in relation to the point we are here considering.
Another distinction it is also incumbent upon us to recollect. We just now divided the life of man into three periods, immaturity, perfect manhood, and decline. This distinction is still more conspicuously applicable to the female sex. The line which divides the three periods in the life of the male, so far as the propagation of the species is concerned, is very uncertain. Not so in the female. It is, I conceive, well settled as a general rule, that the age of childbearing is over by the time the female has completed the forty-fifth year of her age. A line is also capable of being ascertained, if not for all females universally, at least variously for the different climates and races of mankind, fixing the age at which the power of child-bearing is found to commence. I believe I may add, that the distance between these two periods may be ascertained to be nearly the same in all cases, the female who in certain climates arrives at an earlier maturity, being seen to grow old, and to cease from the power of child-bearing, sooner than in the milder and more temperate climates which we inhabit.
It happens in many subjects, the understanding of which is of the greatest importance to the welfare of mankind, that the elements of our knowledge respecting them are so simple, as to be overlooked by the thoughtless, and contemned by the superficial. Just so it is in the question we are here considering.
The principle which has now been delivered will probably be found to be of the highest importance in leading us safely through the mazes of the question of population. If, in the inquiry respecting the increase of the numbers of mankind from one generation to another, like females of an age capable of child-bearing me alone to be considered, it follows, that a census or enumeration of human beings in any given country, or over the whole globe, can never constitute any term in the progression. Such an enumeration will consist of men, women and children, of every different age, from the infant in the cradle, to the male or female who from old age is tottering on the brink of the grave, and therefore can afford no solid ground from which to conclude as to the number of human beings that shall be found in that country, or on this globe, after the lapse of twenty-five, fifty, or one hundred years. At all events it must be a very long series of observations, and these of a sort in which the difference of numbers can be in no wise imputed to the inaccuracy of early enumerations, and the superior exactness of those which follow, that can supply
materials for any safe inference in this way. They must also relate to a country, not distinguished at least for any remarkable influx of emigrants from other parts of the world.
The males in the community we are considering (with the single limitation which has been above named), the old women, and the female children who are doomed never to arrive at the age of maturity, are the mere drones of the hive, so far as the inquiry respecting the progressive increase of the numbers of mankind is concerned. They may be useful; they may be ornamental; they may be entitled to all our respect and all our tenderness; they may be the boast of the whole earth for intellect or for virtue. But, for just so long a time as we would reason upon the abstract power and possibility of population, we must, though under a very different impression, and for the purpose of arriving at a very different conclusion, be as rigorous in excluding from our thoughts all that is most lovely and most honorable in human nature, as Mr. Malthus is when he supposes, that men in a perfectly virtuous and happy state of society, would ruin that state in the shortest practicable period, by an unreflecting conformity to the impulses of a brutal appetite.
The principle which is here laid down will be made in some respects more intelligible, if we illustrate it by a supposition, which has the further advantage of being peculiarly applicable to
Mr. Malthus's conception as to the United States of America.
Let us suppose a colony of one thousand persons to be transported into a country hitherto void of inhabitants. Let us suppose this colony to consist of five hundred men and five hundred women, and that further every one of them shall be between the ages of twenty-five and thirty years. Here we get rid at once of all those useless or doubtful members of the community, so far as procreation is concerned, that fill up the extreme ranks of society in all settled countries, the ranks of childhood and of advanced life. Here are five hundred females, who, except so far as an allowance is to be made for cases of barrenness, are all of them qualified to add to the numbers of the next generation.
Let us now take the period assigned by Sir William Petty, who states that "it is possible to double the number of the members of a community in the short period of ten years." In the colony I have described I can easily suppose this, and will even grant him, if required, a still larger amount. Well then: here will we fix our foot, and take this as the basis of a geometrical ratio. In ten years this colony, which at first consisted of one thousand souls, has become two thousand. Therefore upon the principle here assigned, w\ twenty years it will become four thousand.
But what is the actual state of the case? The colony at first consisted of one thousand persons:
it now amounts to two thousand. But every individual of the last thousand, and much more (for many more than a thousand children must have been born. and have lived to a certain age, to compensate for the inevitable mortality of the seniors), is under ten years of age. The number of persons capable of bringing children into the world, has not experienced the smallest increase. Perhaps none of the original stock, from which an increase of the numbers of the community was to be expected, have yet arrived at that stage, when the spring of the constitution is so far exhausted that they can no longer be relied; on, as belonging to the class of those who shall give-children to the colony. If however we had taken the period a little longer, such would infallibly have been the case. And at all events we may be perfectly sure, that the number of persons capable of becoming mothers, must in the coarse of ten years have been greatly diminished by death.
I will not at present pursue this illustration further: we shall have abundant occasion to resume the subject as we proceed. Enough has here been alleged, to afford a strong confirmation of the maxim of Voltaire, which I took as the motto of an early Chapter: "Les hommes ne multiplient pas aussi aisement qu'on le pense." "The multiplication of the numbers of mankind is not quite so easy an affair as some have imagined."
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