Book 3, Chapter 02 : Of Deaths and the Rate of Human Mortality
Book 3, Chapter 02
It is the glory of modern philosophy to have banished the doctrine of occult causes. Superstition and a blind deference to great names taught men that there were questions upon which we must not allow ourselves to enter with a free spirit of research. In science, as well as religion, we were told there was a sanctuary into which it would be profaneness for ordinary and unpriveleged men to intrude. The avroc eøn of the master, was the authority upon which we were directed to repose ourselves: and occult causes were assigned, a sort of sacred names that could not be defined, the operation of which was every where to be recognized, and upon no occasion to be subjected to investigation.
Lord Bacon was the mighty genius to whom we are principally indebted for the destruction of this fortress. He has taught us fearlessly to bring all nature to the tribunal of science, and to submit all her operations and phenomena to the test of experiment. The path he pointed out has since been indefatigably pursued by the
intellect of two successive centuries, and memorable is the progress that has been made.
The Essay on Population is an attempt to revive, in a particular case, that system of theorizing which Lord Bacon had so successfully exploded. Vise and misery are Mr. Malthus's cabalistical terms; and he has treated us here, exactly as he has done in the question of the geometrical ratio. The whole of what he says on the matter is in reality comprehended in one dogmatical proposition, consisting of a subject, a predicate, and a copula — no more — which whoever will may believe, and whoever will may disbelieve; but which no man can reasonably either believe or disbelieve, without a body of evidence, such as Mr. Malthus has not attempted to produce.
If the population of the United States of North America has doubled itself every twenty-five years, and that by procreation only, Mr. Malthus should have shewn us how that procreation proceeded. He should have divided the number of children which his proposition required, to each wedded pair, their parents, should have first laid down how many children to a marriage were necessary to his hypothesis, and then have proved that that proportion of children was the actual produce of the United States. Mr. Malthus is said to be an expert mathematician: it would then have been an easy task for him, first, to have gone through, and next to have exhibited, this process.
In the same summary and oracular manner in which he delivers his doctrine of the geometrical ratio, he next introduces to our notice vise and misery, imaginary causes by which he wishes us to account for his imaginary effects. [I do not mean that vise and misery have no existence; but I affirm that they are gratuitously assumed as causes of a given degree of energy, exactly commensurate to the producing a given effect, to wit, the suspension of the original law of the multiplication of mankind.] In other words, the human species, according to him, ought to double itself four times in a century: but, in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America, this is found not to be the case: therefore vise and misery must be the bars that are continually suppressing this progress. Vise and misery are good set terms: but one would think that a man must be desperately in love with them, who would give them credit for such stupendous effects, without allowing himself time for a little severe examination.
Here, as in the former case, the application of Mr. Malthus's attainments in mathematics is a main desideratum. He should have shewn us in what manner, and at what age, vise and misery destroyed the children that were born: for it must be as children that they are destroyed, since if they arrived at puberty, they might be the causes of an increased population in a following age, and if they continued to exist only ten
or fifteen years, they would consume that quantity of food, which Mr. Malthus says is impossible to be supplied. He should have chosen some country or some district of the earth for the subject of his experiment, and have brought forward in Arabic numerals the victims of vise and misery, as they fell in from year to year.
It happens however, most unfortunately for Mr. Malthus's hypothesis, that the subject of human mortality is not a new subject. The avidity of mankind, the assiduous spirit of pecuniary calculation, and the desire inherent in the minds of the masters of families to make some provision for those who shall survive them, have gone a great way towards reducing this to a science, without the smallest idea on the part of those who cultivated it, that their proceeding was calculated to throw any light upon the moral government of the world.
Even before Dr. Price, and the other writers on annuities and reversionary payments, published their lucubrations, enough had been done to place in the clearest light that question, which Mr. Malthus has sought to involve in more than Egyptian darkness. The author of the Essay on Population should have taken down Dr. Birch's Collection of the Yearly Bills of Mortality, and have extracted from thence a series of Tables of the victims of vise and misery. If, in addition to this, he had procured and published Bills of Mortality for any of the most favored
districts of the United States, we should have seen with a glance of the eye to what extent vise and misery prevail more in Europe than in North America (for such is the whole question) to destroy the infant offspring of the human species.
This was a proper topic to be submitted to the decision of figures. Here, as in the question of the geometrical ratio, all should have been subordinate to the exhibition of actual facts. In the inquiry respecting procreation, the author should not have confined himself to bare enumerations, but should have shewn how his immense augmentations of the species were procreated. In like manner, in the destruction of the young of mankind afterwards, it would by no means have been attended with insuperable difficulty, to have put down in columns the numbers destroyed from year to year; and I cannot understand how any man can reasonably acquiesce in Mr. Malthus's enormous and atrocious assertions, without having first looked upon the subject from this point of view. The author has chosen for the field of his wild and disorderly dicta a topic, which beyond almost any that can be named is capable of mechanical exactness. The whole question as to his vise and misery, their terrible effects in old countries, and the suspension and neutralizing of those effects in new,reduces itself to this, in what numbers do human beings die, and when do they die?
Mr. Malthus says, "The proportion of births to marriages forms no criterion by which to judge of the increase of mankind."a But this is the grossest mistake that was ever made, by any person aspiring to proceed, as the author of the Essay on Population pretends to do, upon the principles of pure reason. There can assuredly be no other substantial and permanent increase of the human race, than the fruitfulness of marriages, or, to speak more accurately, of women capable of child-bearing.
In countries, where the forms of civilized life prevail, where men enjoy a moderate degree of security for person and property, and are unvisited by any overwhelming calamity, all the children or nearly all the children, are born, that the structure and frame of human nature can fairly lead us to expect:
In this we have Mr. Malthus completely with us. He says, "The passion between the sexes is necessary, and will always remain nearly in its present state."b He adds, "The principle of moral restraint has undoubtedly in past ages operated with very inconsiderable force, nor can we reasonably expect any future improvement, in which we are not borne out by the experience of the past."c
But we do not want the aid of Mr. Malthus, and his gross and degrading ideas of human
nature, to establish our position. We have just seen that in many countries at least, Sweden and England for example, almost all the women marry, and that the marriages are sufficiently early to give us every reasonable chance of a numerous offspring.
When once therefore we have ascertained the fair proportion of births to marriages in any community, we have a just criterion by which to judge of the increase or otherwise of mankind in that community. Children in Europe are not smuggled out of the world, as Mr. Malthus's theory would require us to suppose. Give me the number of births annually or otherwise in any country; and I have the means of ascertaining, among civilized nations, how in what proportions, and at what periods, they die. There is nothing mystical in this. It is in vain that the author of the Essay on Population offers me his vise and misery, killing their millions, of whom no account is taken, and who perish we know not how. I say, an account is taken of all. I say no more perish in Europe than in the United States; and that the value and probable duration of human lives, and the chances of surviving the mischiefs that beset us in infancy and youth, are no greater there than here.
Mr. Malthus indeed reduces himself to an express contradiction in terms, when he says on the one hand, that the increase of population in the United States is "by procreation only," and
on the other, that the number of births that a marriage shall be found to produce, is "no criterion whatever of the rate-of increase." What is procreation, but the production of a certain number, increasing or otherwise, of births to a marriage, or of births to the number of women capable of child-bearing in any community?
And, be it observed, all the calculations of Dr. Price, and all other writers upon annuities, proceed upon the negation in limine of the entire system of Mr. Malthus's book. These writers have recourse to the bills of mortality, and the reported numbers of those who die at every age, and calculate from thence the value, or probable duration of human life. If then in the United States the population doubles itself every twentyfive years by the natural force of the procreative power, while in Europe it is at a stand, and if in Europe all the children, or nearly all the children, are born, that the structure and frame of human nature can fairly lead us to expect, then it follows with the force of a demonstration, that human life is in the technical sense worth twice as much in the United States as in Europe; and that, if there are any societies for granting annuities in the United States, they must be ruined in the shortest practicable period, if, upon any given capital, they pay more than half the amount per annum, that may safely and equitably be paid in this part of the world. I know no way of evading this conclusion, but by supposing
that all this hideous excess of mortality, which distinguishes the Old World from the New, falls upon very young children, whose lives are seldom insured, and that, after having reached a certain age, human creatures die at much the same rate on one side of the globe as the other.
In the United States there must be, upon Mr. Malthus's hypothesis, only four deaths, for every eight that occur in a country in which the population is stationary.d This is as clear as any thing can be imagined to be. At what period of life do these deaths occur? To keep down the population effectually, it ought all to be of children. The death of a child, to speak in the spirit of Mr. Malthus's system, is worth five times, nay, I know not how many times, a death occurring at a later period. And indeed it is obvious all through, that Mr. Malthus trusts to the destruction of infants and young children, as the sheet-anchor of our hope to preserve the population of Europe from perishing with hunger. Surely, of all creeds that were ever greedily and unscrupulously received, this requires
the greatest portion of faith, that twice as many, or, to speak more accurately, three or four times as many, young children perish through the direct operation of vise and misery in the most virtuous and happy countries of Europe, as perish through the operation of all causes taken together, in the United States of North America!
The theory of the Essay on Population poorly and precariously subsists upon two points, 1. That more human creatures are born from a given population in the United States than any where else. 2. That fewer human creatures die there, in a given population, or within a limited period. Mr. Malthus knows nothing of either. He has not dreamed of exerting any industry or inquiry about either. He has looked with a supercilious and hasty glance at the bare numbers placed on the territory of the United States, and has not thought of ruminating any further. He has talked about death, because death is the forked arrow with which vise and misery, according to him, consummate their purposes. And he talks about births, because the reading part of the public has not yet arrived at the perfection of believing in all cases, without requiring the exhibition of something that shall pass with them for a reason. But he has not even attempted to fix any thing specific, as to either the births or deaths of America. And with this unconcocted system, this abortive
birth, this bear's whelp never licked into form, this hypothesis, which like the incomprehensible author of nature, dwells in clouds, and makes thick darkness its habitation, he has the modesty to require of us to reject every scheme that proposes to increase the sum of human happiness, to condemn all the wisest institutions that form the glory of the legislators of antiquity, and to send all philosophy to school again.
I am sensible that I leave the subject of this chapter unfinished. I am far indeed from placing an implicit reliance upon that species of records, known by the name of Registers.e I do not therefore think that much can be made of that species of argument, the favorite argument of Mr. Malthus, which consists in comparing the number of those that are stated to be born, with the number of those who appear from similar evidence to die, and thence inferring the increase or otherwise of mankind. We have seen the extraordinary conclusions that have been deduced by the editor of the Population Reports of England from the fact that no more are known to have died in 1800 than in 1780, in which period, according to him, the population had been increased by an addition of 1,215,000.f
Here, as in every question relating to the subject, where an accurate collection of facts is required, I know of no resource to which we have access, but the Tables of Population for Sweden. In these there is presented to us a digested abstract of the numbers that die, their periods of life, and the proportions of those who die at one age to those who die at another. To these we might add from the Bills of Mortality some hints respecting the diseases, by which human beings are cut off in the different stages of existence. I might therefore have constructed a Table founded on the Swedish reports, calculated to shew that there is no such mystery and jnexplicableness in the affair as Mr. Malthus would have us suppose, but on the contrary that all goes on with a sort of regular march, in old countries, not laboring under the visitation of any singular calamity.
This Table I have not constructed. I wish to be considered as having merely sketched the subject, and left the outline to be filled up by those who come after me. All I have delivered on this head is new. No one has attempted before me by actual and patient investigation to ascertain any thing in the way of principle respecting the increase or decrease of the numbers of mankind. I claim nothing more than to have endeavored to disenchant my fellow-men (I hope successfully endeavored) from the unreal and fairy edifice in which Mr. Malthus had
sought to enclose them, and to have brought together some of the materials for erecting a fabric, which hurricanes cannot demolish, nor floods destroy.
aVol. II, p. 159
bSee above, p.31.
d In the United States a given number of children die, and yet the population is doubled every generation. If at many children in proportion are born in China or any other country where the population is at a stand, as in the United States, it is clear that not only that number of children must die, but another number in addition, equal to the number of children that die in the United States, added to the number of mature persons that might be found necessary barely to keep up the race. See above, p. 50.
e "Perhaps we ought to except from this censure the Registers of Sweden, where so much enlightened attention seems to have been bestowed on all the questions connected with population.
f See above, p. 226.
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