Of Population : Book 2, Chapter 10 : Of the Population of England and Wales
(1756 - 1836) ~ Respected Anarchist Philosopher and Sociologist of the Enlightenment Era : His most famous work, An Inquiry concerning Political Justice, appeared in 1793, inspired to some extent by the political turbulence and fundamental restructuring of governmental institutions underway in France. Godwin's belief is that governments are fundamentally inimical to the integrity of the human beings living under their strictures... (From : University of Pennsylvania Bio.)
• "Fickleness and instability, your lordship will please to observe, are of the very essence of a real statesman." (From : "Instructions to a Statesman," by William Godwin.)
• "Courts are so encumbered and hedged in with ceremony, that the members of them are always prone to imagine that the form is more essential and indispensable, than the substance." (From : "Instructions to a Statesman," by William Godwin.)
• "Anarchy and darkness will be the original appearance. But light shall spring out of the noon of night; harmony and order shall succeed the chaos." (From : "Instructions to a Statesman," by William Godwin.)
Book 2, Chapter 10
BUT, in opposition to the conclusions and computations of the preceding chapters, the adherents of Mr. Malthus may allege the accounts which have been delivered by various writers, and lately published under the sanction of high authority, respecting the growing population of England and Wales.
There is no actual enumeration of the inhabitants of this country, except the two which were made by the direction of the two acts of parliament in 1801 and 1811. These stand as follows.
Enumeration for 1801 ---- 9,168,000
Enumeration for 1811 ---- 10,468000
For the amount of the population at other periods, different modes of computation have been resorted to.
First, the writer of the Observations prefixed to the Abstract of Population for 1811, as published by the authority, has proceeded upon the amount of the registered baptisms for different periods, and calculated by the rule of proportion, thus: "If 263, 409 baptisms, the average
medium of the baptisms for the five years preceding the enumeration of 1801, were produced from a population of 9,168,000, from what population were 157,307, the baptisms of 1700, produced?" And upon this basis he has constructed the following
|ENGLAND AND WALES.|
|In the year||POPULATION.|
A mode frequently resorted to by writers on political economy, in estimating the population of a country, has been by a calculation built on the number of houses. The following is a Table collecting the different accounts on this subject under one point of view.
|In 1600||------------||1,230,000 a|
|1761, or 17c65||---||980,692 b|
A third method, perhaps as satisfactory as either of the preceding, would be, to proceed upon the amount of the registered burials for different periods, and to calculate by the rule of proportion, thus, if 192,000 burials, the average amount for five years, from 1795 to 1800, were produced from a population of 9,168,000, from what population were so many burials, the registered amount of a remoter year, produced?
I am afraid however that the conclusion form all these computations will be, that no certainty, no consistent and plausible result, can be deduced by any of the modes hitherto devised.
We have the inference drawn from the registered amount of baptisms, as calculated by the editor of the Reports.
The calculation from the number of houses in England and Wales ought in all reason to confirm the Table founded upon the baptisms: or it
must be allowed in a certain degree to weaken the evidence which the Table affords.
The amount of houses, as exhibited in the preceding page, is obtained as follows. The first three items are taken from the hearth-books, there being at that time a tax of two shillings for every hearth. The next three are in like manner extracted from the returns to the tax-office, given by the surveyors of the house and window duties for the different departments.e And the last two are taken from the returns to the two population-acts for those years respectively.
Now, if I calculate the question of inhabitants to a house by the rule of proportion, and suppose as many persons to a house in 1690 as in 1811, to which I see no reasonable objection, the population of England and Wales at the former of those periods will appear to be upwards of seven millions. But Mr.Rickman, by his computation upon the register of baptisms, makes the population of England and Wales for 1700 and 1710 (for he has not extended his calculation beyond the commencement of the eighteenth century) to be only 5,475,000 and 5,240,000 respectively.
Another conclusion that would follow from our calculating on the number of houses, would be that the country was rapidly depopulating
from the Revolution at least up to the year 1777, a conclusion, which no reasoning founded upon any other consideration will incline us to believe. It is obvious indeed, that, where there is a tax to be collected, a variety of circumstances will vitiate the returns, so as to make them very far from being entitled to implicit credit. I should refer myself therefore only to the actual enumerations. There the inquiry was directed to the clergyman or overseer in each parish, who could hardly be conceived to have any temptation to conceal the number of houses in his district: to which I may add that a house is a sort of commodity not easily hid.
Let us next look to the number of burials, a species of register, I should think, as little liable to error as that of baptisms. Every human creature that is born is not carried to the priest of the parish to be baptized; but every human creature that dies, unless at sea, is consigned to the earth, and his obsequies are rarely unaccompanied with the ceremonies of religion.
The question above-stated was, If 192,000 burials, the average amount for five years, from 1795 to 1800, were produced from a population of 9,168,000, from what population were so many burials, the registered amount of a remoter year, produced?
But here we are stopped on the threshold by the information of the editor of the Reports,
who assures us,f that "the average number of registered burials (though considerably fluctuating from year to year) has remained stationary during twenty-one years, from 1780 to 1800; the first five years of which period, as well as the last five years, and all the twenty-one years together, equally averaging at about 192,000 burials per annum."
excusably looked shy upon the questioner, and recollected a maxim current in ordinary life, that truth is not always to be spoken. The second time, having experiences no ill consequences from the first experiment, they became more frank. It is therefore very conceivable, that there was not one human creature more in the country, when the population was returned as 10,488,000 in 1811, than when it was returned as 9,168,000 in 1801.
I have already said, that the enumerations of Great Britain in 1801 and 1811, were merely so much labor thrown away. Being taken with such inconceivable absurdity, all ages and sexes being confounded together, they can, in my conception, be made the basis of no reasoning. We are therefore reduced to conjecture merely, as to the cause of the inequality of amount tin the two enumerations. If the population had been divided into classes according to every five or ten years' difference of ages, as in Sweden and in the United States, the truth would have flashed upon us at once. The added numbers by direct procreation in the enumeration of 1811 would have been all under ten years of age, and of consequence the number of such children in 1811 would have exceeded the number in 1801 by the precise amount of 1,320,000. This would have been as evidence that could hardly have been called in question.
Is England more or less populous now, than
it was a hundred years ago, or than it was forty years back? Each man answers this question according to his preconceived opinions.
Man is a migrating animal. He removes from one place to another, from the town to the country, and from the country to the town, as he shall happen to be impressed with the notion that in this or in that he shall be most likely to find his well-being.
London I am persuaded is more populous now, that it was at any remote period: but is England more populous?
The life of man is too short for any accurate ideas on such a question; and in this respect it is not true, that "one generation telleth to another." Our fathers thought, it may be, that their country was well peopled and prosperous. But did these words convey the same image to their minds as to ours? The observation of man is too narrow to scan a country, 580 miles in length, and 370 in breadth. We see that one spot becomes more crowded, and another thinner of people; but we do not see how far the one does or does not balance the other. The observation of the same individual varies from youth to age. Our ides become modified from day to day, and we do not observe the variation; and the notion that the same set of words excites in us at twenty, and at fifty, is essentially different. Things alter, and appear to us the same, and continue the same, and appear
to us materially changed. I remember a friend of minem, who after a lapse of ten years visited the house where he had resided when he was a boy: he was persuaded that the garden was enclosed with a wall that effectually cut off the view of the circumjacent country, and felt much surprised at his return to find this wall scarcely higher than his breast: if he had continued all the time on the spot, it is probable he never would have perceived the alteration. Out minds change much as our bodies do, in which it had been computed that not a particle remains the same after a lapse of twenty years.
We are like children at a juggler's exhibition, who, while their attention is craftily called to a particular point, look only there, and see nothing of the general scene, and of what is passing elsewhere, that it was more material to observe. We see the high days, and the holiday-making, and how men crowd together to shows, and courts, and prosperous cities, but what passed in the obscure nooks and corners of the state we do not see. If I travel from London to York, I can count up the cottages, and observe how many carts and carriages and foot-passengers go along the road within a given number of miles, and what appearance there is of populousness and activity, or the contrary; but I do not
Know what Addison, and Swift, and Congreve, and the most competent observers saw, when according to the Table of Houses there was an appearance of the greatest numbers of mankind, though their local arrangement was different from that of the present day. Nay, if I had myself performed the journey twenty years ago, the memory of a man is of so irretentive a texture, and his judgment so easily seduced, that I shall not now distinctly call to mind what I saw then, and shall be bribed insensibly to accommodate the comparison to that system of political economy, whatever it is, that I have happened to embrace. The collation we attempt, is either at too near intervals, when it is not reasonable to expect any considerable alteration, or at too remote ones, when the image which was once distinct in the mind, has become so obscure and faded, and has suffered so much from the injury of the seasons, and the variety of scenes and impressions which have intervened, that a wise man would hardly have the courage to rely upon it.
It is difficult tot conceive how the notion of the increasing population of our country has become so generally prevalent. Is the population of the world increased? Have the numbers of the human species been increasing from the earliest accounts of time? There is nothing, to speak moderately, in the history of the earth, to authorize this opinion.
a Price, Vol. II. p. 140.
b Ibid, p. 163.
c Ibid, p. 141.
d Population Abstract.
e Price ubi supra.
f P. xxii.
mThe reverend Joseph Fawcet, the friend of my youth, my first companion of imaginative soul and luxuriant ideas, whose name it is gratifying tome to record though on so trivial an occasion.
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