Joseph Lowe.

The present state of England in regard to agriculture, trade and finance; with a comparison of the prospects of England and France online

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Mr. S. Gray ; a work of which the leading prin-
ciples were, some time after, developed in a more

Population J S;c. 211

condensed and popular form.* Far from coin-
ciding with the uncomfortable doctrine, that in-
crease of numbers leads to increase of poverty,
Mr. G. maintains, that augmented population forms
the basis of individual as well as of national wealth.
He has been, on the whole, fortunate in the events
that have followed the publication of his opinion,
the present abundance of subsistence being parti-
cularly calculated to relieve the alarm of those
who considered our numbers likely to outrun our
means of support. Still the public mind is far
from being completely satisfied in regard to the
benefit arising from augmented population : the
reasoning in its favour is not yet clear and con-
vincing; while the occasional want of work among
our lower orders is attributed by many to a popu-
lation increasing too rapidly for employment, if
not for subsistence. In this view of the subject,
we are far from joining, and proceed to investigate
it at some length, in the hope of finding not only
a confirmation of the consdlotary and cheering
doctrine of Mr. Gray, but of being enabled to
found on it a practical measure ; to discover in
the increase of our numbers, the means of lessen-
ing our financial pressure.

Our principal topics of enquiry shall be —

The condition of society in an early age ;

The change effected by increase of ])0})ulation ;

How far subsistence is limited by physical causes;

The state of Europe in regard to increase of
numbers and wealth.

• In two lesser works, entitled, respectively, " All Classes
productive of National Wealth," 8vo. 1S17 ; "Gray v. Malthas,
the Principles of Population ami Protluction Investigated,"
8vo. 1818.

■> o


Increase of Population.

Penury of an early Age. — The predilection with
which the popular writers of almost every country
have contemplated a primitive age, and the colour-
ing cast over it by romantic imaginations, have
had the effect of misleading the majority of readers,
and rendering them strangers to the privations ex-
perienced by their ancestors. These, however,
were multiform and grievous ; such, in short, as
to form a most striking contrast to the comfort of
an advanced state of society ; and if in England
we are happily unable to find an existing likeness
to a rude age, the sister island will amply supply it.
The Irish peasant, occupying a hovel without
furniture, and carrying on his cultivation with
wretched implements, may convey to us an idea of
the state of England five or six centuries ago, as
well as of the present state of a great part of the
east of Europe, of Poland, Russia, Hungary, and
tlie inland provinces of Turkey. The improve-
ment of these countries at present, appears to an
English traveller extremely slow ; but, aided as it
is by the introduction of settlers from Germany
and other parts, it is, of course, far less tardy than
the advancement of Euro})e in the Gothic ages,
when all were equally backward. In those days,
a few cottages formed a hamlet, and many cen-
turies elapsed ere the hamlet became a village. In


Increase of Population. SJ13

point of property, extremes predominated : on the
one side was tlie lord, on the other his vassals ;
while the middle class were few in number, and
uncomfortable in circumstances.

Fjffect of increasing Populadon. — What a different
aspect of society is exhibited after a progress m
the useful arts, accompanied as it is by the rise of
towns and general mcrease of population ! If we
compare sucli countries as Russia, Pohuid, Hungary,
or the Highlands of Scotland, witli the more tiiickly-
peopled districts of the Continent, such as the
provinces of Holland, Zealand, Flanders, Nor-
mandy, or, on our own side of the Channel, with
such counties as Lancashire, Warwickshire, the
West Riding of York (to say nothing of Middle-
sex), we find a surprising difference in the number
and comfort of the middle class. A return of an-
nual income, from the first-mentioned countries,
would exhibit a few princely fortunes, with a long
succession of names below the limit of taxation :
in the otiier, it would show a mmiber of gradations
]ising above each other in a manner almost imper-
ceptible. How different is the England of the
present age, from the Enghuul of feudal times,
when we could not (see the Appendix, j). [7''5].) boast
twenty towns of 3,000 inhabitants each, and when
the Commons or middle class were too unim])()rt-
ant to hold a share in the representation, until
brought forward by the crown as a counterpoise
to the aristocracy. ,

Gradual Transition J'rom Penurij to C\nnJort. — In
what manner does the transition from penury to
comfort, in general take place? If not ahogether
caused by density of jjopulation, it must be al-


^21^ Population: —

lowctl to have very close connexion with it; the con-
junction of individuals in villages and towns being
productive of a degree of accommodation, comfort,
and finally, of refinement, which would be alto-
gether beyond their reach in an insulated position.
In these assemblages the acqidsition of one comfort
creates a desire for another, until society eventually
attains the high state of polish Avhich we at present
witness in several countries of Europe. All this,
says Mr. Gray, leads the consumer to make fresh
demands on the producer ; demands reciprocated
by the latter on the former, in a different line of
business. Hence, the dependence of one class on
another ; hence, the prosperity caused to agricul-
ture by the success of trade, and to trade by the
success of agriculture. It is of no great conse-
quence to our argument, whether these wants are
of first or of second necessity, that which is deemed
a superfluity in one country, being often accounted
no more than a comfort, a requisite in another.

What, it may be asked, is the criterion of the
difference in wealth and general improvement be-
tween different countries ? The relative density,
not of population generally, but oi town population.
This is apparent in almost every link in the chain
of European civilization, Holland having in the
seventeenth century taken the lead of England,
exactly as England at present takes the lead of
France ; France of most parts of Germany, and
Germany of Spain and Poland. The distinc-
tion of town population from population gene-
rally, is important, for were the same advantage
to belong to districts strictly rural, Ireland would
claim an equal rank with England, and Flanders
take precedence of Holland. It is in towns only
that we reap the advantage of collective over

Its Subsistence limited by Physical Causes. 0,15

scattered population ; — an advantage consisting
in extensive markets ; a minute subdivision of
employment ; the greater dispatch and finish of
workmanship, and a supply of occupation to indi-
duals of every age and every degree of capacity.

Nexo Settlers. — It is but too common among
unthinking persons to consider new-comers as un-
profitable intruders, — as dealers, not customers, —
as sellers, not buyers. This, however, is but a
superfcial view, a first impression, for there is
very little reason to doubt that in one way or an-
other these persons will disburse in proportion to
their earnings. When it happens that they or any
other part of the community do not make such
disburse, the only source of detriment to the
public is the practice (now very rare) of hoard-
ing ; for money saved and lent at interest becomes
of service to the community, increasing the capital
of the country, and lowering, or contributing to
lower, the premium paid for its use. We may
safely take for granted, that much public advan-
tage arises from the arrival of new settlers, whether
manufacturers, such as England and Prussia ac-
quired from France on the repeal oi' the edict of
Nantes, or agriculturists, such as Canada and the
United States are now receiving fi:om us.

Population, however, is generally augmented
less by settlers from a distance, than by a local
increase ; by an excess of births over deaths : a
mode, which, very different from the easy acqui-
sition of foreigners of mature age, implies a long
and often a heavy charge, until the ^outli ol' cither
sex acquire the strength or knowledge requisite
to their support; requisite, in tlie language of the

p 1.

'216 Population : —

economist, to constitute tliem " producers as well
as consumers.*' Though in such a case the acqui-
sition of new meml)crs is mucli more dearly pur-
chased, the effect in a statistical sense is the same
as in the case of arrivals from abroad.

Is the amount of Subsistence limited hij Physical
Causes? — We now approach the much-disputed
point of the physical limits to increase of popu-
lation ; to the question, whether it is imperiously
limited by subsistence, or possesses the pow^r of
augmenting subsistence in proportion to its own
increase. The well-known argument of Mr. Mal-
thus is, that population, if unchecked, would
proceed in a geometrical ratio (1, ^, 4, 8, If), 32,
&c.), while the supply of food cannot, he thinks,
be brought, by the greatest efforts of human skill
and industry, to increase otherwise than in the
arithmetical ratio of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, &c. This
position he illustrates by a reference to the
United States of America ; a coinitry where the
abundance of food is so great as to admit of the
inhabitants doubling their number each succeeding
generation, the 3,000,000 of 1775 having become
6,000,000 in 1800, with a probability of increasing
to 12,000,000 in 1825, and so on progressively.

That, as far as regards physical considerations,
there is both an ability and a tendency in mankind
to double their numbers in every generation, we
readily admit ; also, that wherever sucli redupli-
cation does not take place, the causes are to be
sought in checks, such as the poverty that deters
from marriage, the occurrence of pestilential dis-
ease, or some other preventive of the increase of
numbers. So far we agree with Mr. Malthus ; but
in regard to his second proposition, the causes that

75 Subsistence limited by Vhysical Causes ? -^ly

limit the increase of food, we must observe that
the subject has as yet been by no means satisfac-
torily ilhistrated, tlie attention of the different
writers on the subject, whether liimself^ Mr. Ri-
cardo, or others, iiaving been fixed too nnich on
the necessity of having additional land to afford the
produce required, and too little on the increase
derived from bestowing additional labour on the
same soil. What wxm'c the circumstances of the
period when Mr. Malthus' book was composed? It
was a period of war, of deficient croj)s, of continued
enhancement of agricultural produce ; and the
author, like the public at large, was necessarily
unacquainted with our power of augmenting the
supply, a powder so remarkably displayed since
our seasons have become more favourable, and
peace has restored to agriculture a sufficiency of

Average Increase of Population. — In attempting
a com})utation of the average increase of our mun-
bers, we begin by making an exce})tion of the
United States, peculiar as are the advantages pos-
sessed by that country. They consist in a territory
of vast extent ; a river navigation of great im-
portance ; a people enjoying unrestricted inter-
course with the civilized world, and closely con-
nected in language and habits with the most
commercial and colonizing country of Euro])e.
Such an example is necessarily rare, and ought to
be considered an extreme case : a more satisfactory
result as to the average increase of })oj)ulation
would be obtained from a combination of cases,
among which, assuming the United States as the
example of the most rapid augmentation, we may
take, as the second, England, in which, under
circumstances more favourable than on the C'on-

« 1 8 Population : —

tincnt of Europe, but less so than on tlie other side
of'tlie Atlantic, population has doubled within the
last century, and bids fair to double again in sixty
or seventy years. As a farther exanij)le, we may
take France, where, though the records are far
from accurate, the doubling of the population has
as yet required a term of from 100 to 120 years.
Other countries exhibit a greater or less degree of
slowness in the ratio of increase, and as these
returns apply to them when exempt from the
visitation of war, pestilence, or any violent check
to increase of numbers, Mr. Gray's inference is,
that the average furnished by the whole may be
assumed as indicative of the natural progress of

After thus endeavouring to establish the natural
ratio of increase, Mr. Gray proceeds to argue that
such increase is no farther limited by the difficulty
of obtaining food, than by the difficulty of obtain-
ing clothing or lodging, because the supply of food,
though apparently restricted by a physical cause,
is, on a closer examination, found to depend on
the amount of capital and labour applied to raising
it. In arguing this very interesting question, Mr.
Gray and the other opponents of Mr. Malthus,
woidd do well to guard against the charge of over-
confidence, and to begin by making a distinct ad-
mission of the difficulty of raising a family, a task
which to the middle classes is one of laboiu" and
anxiety ; to the lower, of toil, privation, and often
of distress. Of this heavy burden, what portion is
to be ascribed to the charge of food ? In the mid-
dle classes, food forms (see Appendix, p. [11].) be-
tween SO and 40 per cent, of the whole expence of
a family ; but in the lower above 50 per cent., con-
stituting thus, the grand article of charge in that

Is Subsistence limited by Physical Caitses ? '210

class in which the pressure of a family is most
severely felt.

After this precautionary statement, we may
safely allow Mr. Gray and his followers to give a
latitude to their inferences, comprehensive as they
are, viz. : —

That the quantity of subsistence in the world
may be augmented in the same manner, and by the
same means, as the quantity of our clothing, or the
size of our dwellings ; and,

That an addition to our numbers implies no
diminution of individual income or property.

Such assertions would have appeared not a little
extraordinary during the greatest part of the war,
when a continued insufficiency in our agricultural
produce favoured so strongly the negative doctrine
of Mr. Malthus : they would have been received
also with no small surprise during I8I7 and 1818,
when a scarcity of provisions, a general irregu-
larity in the state of our productive industry,
concurred to produce apprehension in regard to
our increasing numbers. But a different lesson
has since been taught us: we have now evidence that
numbers, increased greatly beyond anticipation,
may draw their subsistence from the same terri-
torial surface ; that the amount of produce may be
greatly augmented without bringing new soil into
cultivation. A similar result from a similar cause
is at present exhibited on the Continent of Europe.

Comparison of the present ivith former Periods.^
How far does the preceding opinion appear to be
confirmed by a general retrospect to the past?
During the twenty years that elapsed between
169*2 and 1712, the average price of wheat (about
\'U. per quarter,) had been such as to aflbrd, in

^20 Population : —

these days of low rent and cheap labour, an ample
inducement to the extension of tillage. It was
consequently considered as having reached its
tenni?ius, and no idea was entertained of the prac-
ticability of any considerable addition to our pro-
duce. The result, however, ])roved very different,
for though during the half century that followed
the treaty of Utrecht, our population received (see
Preliminary Observations on the Po])ulation Return
of 18'^!, p. 29.) an augmentation, including Ireland,
of fully 3,000,000, the increase of our agricultural
produce was such as more than counterbalanced
that new demand. This was apparent from the aver-
age price of wheat, which during that long period did
not exceed 35s. the quarter. — Were it true that
the acquisition of subsistence becomes more dif-
ficult as our numbers increase, we should naturally
expect to find the greatest abundance in a remote
ao-e ; in times when the number of consumers was
small, relatively to the extent of territory. But
if we look back to the earliest periods of authentic
history, to the ages \vhen Greece and Italy were
most thinly peopled, we find neighbouring tribes
maintaining sanguinary struggles with each other,
the motive of which, as far as regarded the lower
orders, was the hope of acquiring additional ter-
ritory, and increased means of subsistence. It is
thus that we are to explain the obstinate warfare
for small but fertile districts, such as the plain
of Thyria, the plain of Tanagra, the Colles Tuscu-
lani ;. — to say nothing of contests, in a record of
higher authority, for the valleys of Palestine, or
the banks of the Jordan. Had siibsistence been
abundant in these days, the inhabitants of the
towns of Greece would have shown less eagerness
in emigrating to new colonies ; while at Rome,

Is Siibs'istencc I'lmitcd hi/ P/n/sica/ Causes ? oo\

the demand of an Agrarian law would have been
a less powerful le\er in the hand of deniagonues.
But to confine our examination to our own country,
and to times comparatively recent, how diflerent
is the present situation of our lower orders from
that of their forefathers luider Henry A'^III., or
under our admired Elizabeth, when, without any
disposition to sexerity on the part of the sovereign
or her ministers, the number of capital punishments
(Speech of Mr. Fowel Buxton on our criminal
code, May, 18'21), averaged no less than five hun-
dred annually ! Various causes, in particular the
■want of education, must have contributed to this
unfortunate prevalence of oflfences ; but can any
be supposed to have operated so largely on the
part of the commonalty, as the difficulty of ob-
taining subsistence, although in that age our popu-
lation did not exceed a third of its present number?
But what, it may be asked, was the cause of
this difficulty, — of the sup])ly of subsistence being
so scanty, when the number of consumers was so
small? Of this problem the solution is to be
sought in the unproductiveness of even the fairest
tracts so long as they remain in a state of nature.
Whatever be the serenity of the climate or the
richness of the soil, they continue unavailing to
any useful purpose, until the a])plication of labour.
By labour only can over-luxuriance be corrected,
the forest cleared, a superabundance of watei-
removed from one spot, a deficiency of it supplied
in another. It is to the performance of tasks Hke
these, the most acceptable of any in an early age,
that we trace the honours so liberally bestowed '\\\
ancient mythology, — tlie apotheosis of the warrior
who drained the Lcrn;ean marsh, and combati-d

222 Popvlalioji : —

the savage occupants ol" the woods. But we arc
under no necessity of dwelhng on an age of tra^
dition, on a scene embelhslied hy fiction : if we
turn to plain reahty, — to the times in which we hve,
and to a people noted for their adherence to the
pursuit of substantial profit ; ifi in short, we fix
our attention on the western states of America,
or on Upper Canada, we shall find an example
abundantly convincing of the unproductiveness of"
the finest tracts until improved by labour and

It would be easy to multiply illustrations from
history, but as our limits hardly admit of detail,
we extract from one of the works already men-
tioned (Gray versus Malthus), a summary of the
leading ideas in the opposite systems of population.

Mr, Malthus' s leading Ideas. Mr. Grays leading Ideas.

The increase of population has The increase of population

a tendency to overstock, and tends to increase the average

to lessen the average amount amount of employment to

of employment to indivi- individuals,

The increase of population has The increase of population has

a natural tendency to pro- a tendency to increase

mote poverty. wealth, not collectively only,

but individually.

From the conclusions of Mr. Malthus we dissent
almost entirely ; to those of Mr. Gray, we would
suggest the following modification :

Increase of population, when acco77ipa?iied hy
improvement in agriculture^ manufacture, and the
useful arts generally^ has a tendency to augment
both the

Average amount of employment ; and

Our wealth, not collectively only, but individually.

Is Subsistence limited by Physical Causes ? 223

Mr. Mai thus. Mr. Gray.

The amount of subsistence The amount of population re-
regulates the amount of gulates the amount of sub-
population, sistencc, in the same way as

it regulates the supply of
clothing and housing, be-
cause with the exception of
occasional famines, the quan-
tity of subsistence raised
depends on the amount of
labour bestowed on it.
Population has a natural tend- Population has a tendency to
ency to increase faster than increase, but this increase
subsistence. carries in itself the power of

supplying its wants.

Here, also, we are desirous to introduce a re-
ference to the progress of improvement, since,
although the application of labour on the part of
an increasing and iuiim})roving society, like the
peasantry of Ireland and Brittany, augment the
quantity of the mere necessaries of life, the hazard
of famine can be prevented only by improvement
in agriculture, or in those arts of which the pro-
ducts enable a people to purchase subsistence
from their nciglibours. The early marriages of
the Irish without the certainty of wages, or a
stock of implements and furniture, are productive
of incalculable suffering.

That the supply of food may be extended, by
labour and capital, in the same manner as the su])-
ply of manufactures and buildings, we readily ad-
mit ; but, as in the case of four-htths of mankind,
food forms by fiir the greatest article of cliarge,
and is, consequently, the most difficult of acqui-
sition, we are fully prepared to excuse tliose who,
in their writings, have over- rated the lal)our ol'
procuring it. From the unquahfied, imd some-
times confident tone of Mr. Crray, an inhabitant o)

0^21, PopuldUuii : —

Canada or tlie United States mi^lit fiill into the
i^rievous miscalculation, that to procure food for a
faniily in Europe, was a task of no greater diffi-
culty than in his own country, where a grant of*
land may be had on such easy terms.

Progressive Increase of Population in Europe.

Tiie arguments in the preceding table are of ge-
neral application, referring to the state of mankind
in every age and country. To give the question
a more specific form, we shall now introduce a few
statistical results, and explain in what manner are
effected tliose improvements in agriculture and the
useful arts, which we consider as conferring the
ability to support an augmented population.

Effects of Soil and Climate. — Fertility of soil is
too directly conducive to increase of numbers, to
require illustration ; but in point of climate, we
cannot avoid remarking that the superiority of one
part of Europe over another, is, as far at least as
regards the productive pow er of the soil, much less
than is commonly imagined. The great art of the
husbandman consists in adapting the object of cul-
ture to the peculiarity of the temperature. In
various parts of Scotland, accounted half a century
ago unfit tor wheat culture, the progress of im-
provement has led to raising that grain not only in
abundance, but of a quality fit for the London
market ; while in the boasted climate of the south
of France, the season is often too dry for wheat,
and the frequent failure of that crop seems to point
out maize as a more appropriate object of tillage.
In regard to potatoes, the culture of. which is so
directly connected with density of population, the

Causes of il^ Increase in Europe. ^25

warmest and finest climate of tlie Continent has no
superiority over our own. It is tlius only, when in
extremes, as in the bleak tracts of Russia, Sweden,
and Norway, that climate has operated materially
to restrict })roduce and population : the physical
superiority of the south of Euro})e, whate\er may
be its eventual eftect, has not, as yet, been such as
to outweigh the political advantages of the north.

Online LibraryJoseph LoweThe present state of England in regard to agriculture, trade and finance; with a comparison of the prospects of England and France → online text (page 17 of 40)