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5IMPKIN, MARSHALL, & Co., Stationeus'-iiall-couet.




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Of the following work, the author may jusstly
athriii, that perhaps no treatise, embodying a
theory of a novel, and, at first sight, somewhat
singular nature, was ever begun with fewer pre-
judices or preconceived notions relative to it, on
the part of the writer. It was indeed purely by
accident that the author was brought upon the
train of thought, which being pursued in all its
ramifications, resLdted in the present work. lie
by no means intends, of course, to assert that
he had not at one time or other examined the
various theories that have been put forth on the
puzzUng subject of Population, nor to deny that



he may have been bewildered by some, and
staggered by others. Still, for many years, this
subject and the various views of it by various
writers, had been put aside as it were by him, as
matters with regard to which he was neither
prepared to record an assent or dissent : nor was
his scepticism lessened by the following admo-
nition. Happening, many years ago, in th'^
presence of a late relative, long since deceased,
remarkable both for tlie sagacity and extended
benevolence of his general views on philosophical
subjects, to draw some of those starthng, though
not illogical, conclusions which seemed to flow
from theoiies then recently broached as to this
subject, and much in vogue at the time, the
reply w^as this: — "Depend upon it, my dear
nephew, that you and I may safely decline to
yield an implicit assent, though we may not on
the instant be able to refute them, to views, from
which consccpiences such as you have drawn,
legitimatelydow. Though I may not live to see it,
nor you, a time will vet come when this mvsterv


will be unveiled; and when, a perhaps now myste-
rious, but, beyond doubt, a beneficent law will
be discovered, regulatinii' this matter, in accord-
ance with all the rest that we see of God's moral
government of the world:" This judgment, de-
livered with a solemnity and earnestness rather
unusual with the speaker, made a deep im-
pression, and from that time forward, and for
many years after, the author regarded the question
of population as one of those insoluble problems
which are put in his way to humble the intellec-
tual pride of man, but at the same time to
stimulate his inquiry into the laws of his own
nature and of the creation around him, with a
humble reliance that, as heretofore, everything
which shall be unfolded will only show forth,
more and more, the wisdom and benevolence of
the great Architect of all things.

Chance, the author of these sheets has already
said, led him to stumble upon the chain of
reasoning, which, with its results, he now ven-


tares to lay before the Public. It may on that
account probably be nioixj easy to be believed
by his readers, that, entering upon his researches
without any preconcerted opinions or views as
to the shape which they were to take, or the
goal at which they were to arrive, he followed
the clue of evidence with the sole wish of
arriving, if possible, at the truth, unembarrassed
by any accompanying considerations as to the
bearings of that truth when discovered ; being
well convinced, where they are the bearings of
truth, they must be good. In the course of
this inquiry, however, be it begun under what
circumstances it might, it has certainly been
impossible for an inquirer not to perceive, from
time to time, that the positions necessarily
arrived at, sometimes as necessarily involved
considerations connected with the general policy
bf nations, and the acts of Governments. This
could not be avoided, because this is involved in
the nature of the subject itself. When, however,
the author has deemed it proper to draw collateral


conclusions, as requisite to the i'uli and complete
elucidation of his subject, he has adhered to
the rule of only deducing sucli general con-
clusions as were plainly requisite for that
purpose. Even of such conclusions he has
drawn as few as possible, partly from the
conviction that to load a general argument with
minute collateral inference is ill-judged, in the
reasoner who does so ; and partly from a wish to
keep his essay clear of those party conclusions,
or poUtical feelings, which, often as they have
assisted to mar philosophical discussion, have
never yet advanced it one single step.

Although, however, he disclaims any regard
foreign to that for the truth, which ought to ac-
tuate all writers, as mingling itself with his
pursuit of the truth as to this question, the
author yet is not disposed to deny that he felt
both strengthened and encouraged in this course
by the discovery that, as he proceeded step by
step, the facts, as they unfolded themselves,


accorded with his general convictions of the
benevolence of the Deity, and the wonderful
providence by which, under the agency of an
unseen law, unrecognised and unthought of, the
happiness of mankind is often regulated and
achieved upon a scale of moral government,
of which the human eye can only see portions,
and which the human intellect can only compre-
hend in part. It has, indeed, ever been his creed
that the philosophy, which is in admitted accord-
ance with that benevolence which is the first
attribute of that great Being, whose ways, how-
ever, are of necessity often inscrutable by His
creatures, has at all events the weight of apriori
recommendation in its favour — for although
that which may, to imperfect observers, seem
to militate against God's providence may be
true, that which accords with it must, as
far as such accordance is concerned ; and it
must ever be the case with paradoxes which
seem exceptions to the laws of Providence, that
thev involve in themselves a contradiction


which, on the first showing-, destroys tlieir own
existence; because, upon the postulate ot the good-
ness of God, all reasoning, moral or physical,
is ultimately and proximately iounded, nor can
such exist in connection with its denial.

The concluding Chapter of this volume will
be found to treat of a class of subjects, as
to which the writer is avowedly unlearned.
The considerations there detailed were rather
forced upon than sought by him ; and being
so, he did not deem there was either impro-
priety or arrogance in describing views which
may very possibly turn out to be erroneous and
fanciful, provided they were uncontradicted by
the writings of those versed in such know-
ledge, and quaUtied to speak with authority on
questions of physiology. As far as the author
can ascertain, he has not, in entertaining the
peculiar notions there detailed, run counter to
any fact laid down and admitted by j)hysi()lo-
gists or nosologists ; and, therefore, neither


coming, nor desirous to come in collision with
any one, he may be readily pardoned for having,
perhaps rashly, taken up views which, if they
are unfounded, are at all events innocuous,
inasmuch as, if not scientific in themselves,
they do not seem to interfere with the science
of others. If they do not help the author's
argument, he trusts they may not hurt it, being
in themselves perfectly extrinsic ; and if true,
only calculated to account for facts which have
been already demonstrated.

Having commenced this work in a sph'it of
calm and candid inquiry, the author has judged
it proper, if not necessary, to keep his style
somewhat in accordance with his subject matter,
and to write plainly, upon a dry, though im-
portant question. He is an inquirer, and not
a partisan ; and therefore, haj^pily, as he deems
it, excused from attempting either to recom-
mend his theme by elo(|uence or the artifices
of rhetoric, or to adorn it by the extraneous


ornaments of figurative or florid composition. He
trusts the judicious reader will not permit this to
operate to his disadvantage, but the contrary ;
and whilst treating a subject like this now
under discussion, he cannot but think that he
who would judge of his hook from the ornaments
of style it might or may not contain, is
adopting a criterion little less strange, on such
an occasion, than that of Heliogabalus, who is
said to have formed his opinion of the City of
Rome from the great quantity of cobwebs that
were found in it.

In fine, this book is not addressed to any
persons professing any particular set of opinions,
philosophical, religious, or political ; but to the
thinking, the candid, and the good of all sects,
persuasions, and parties, whosoever and where-
soever they may be. In their hands the writer
respectfully leaves it, assured that whatever the
judgment of the Public may be as to its matter
and argiunent, his motives will be respected and


his attempt nnblamed, even by those by whom
its failure, if a faihue it be. may not be lamented.

It may be proper, in conclusion, to add,
that the present volume has in part owed its
existence to the attention which an outline of
the theory now attempted to be established,
given in Blackwood's Magazine for March 1837,
under the title of "A Letter to the Right
Honourable Lord Brougham," excited at the
time of its publication. The author can only
hope that the call which was at that time made
for bis more mature opinions upon the subject,
in an enlarged form, may not remain unechoed
now that the call is responded to by him ;
and that the attention which was awarded
to the sketch of 1837, may not be refused
to the volume of 1 84 1 .

Newc((9tle-vpon-Tijnp, March 9 fit, 1641.



A few introductory Statements and Reflections . .1

The Law of Increase and Decrease in the Vegetable and

Animal Kingdom? . . , g

The Law of Increase and Decrease of the race of Mankind 1 9

The Law of Increase and Decrease, as amongst limited

bodies of Men, exemplified . . _ 3j


The Law of Increase and Decrease as exemplified amon-'^t

^-^^'''''' \ G9


Minor proofs, not included in the foregoing Chapters . i 33




Argument from the Solution of some Historical Diffi-
culties 144

Argument from the Revenue 181


Argument from the recent Decrease of the quantity of

Animal Food consumed in England , . .187


Argument from the cuiTent opinions of Mankind in past

time 201


Consideration of the Internal Evidence for this Theory . 241


Some additional collateral Considerations, and Addenda . 268





The Law of Population is undoubtedly one of
the most important questions that can be sub-
mitted to human reason. On a cursory or
superficial view, it may seem to be the contrary
of this. Whilst so much of the earth remains
uncultivated and untouched by the hand of man,
and whilst that which is so touched is so imj)er-
fectly dealt with, it may appear rather a curious
than a natural anxiety to sum uj) the actual or
probable numbers of mankind, and still more so


to anticipate evils from a superfliix of population.
To the near and patient inquirer, however, ap-
pearances are diiferent.

If it he true that the inhabitants of any country
or of all countries tend perpetually by their in-
crease to outstrip their means of subsistence, the
evil consequences of such a state of things must,
at all times and continually, be felt with more
or .less« .of" severity ; it is of no avail to say that
the earth can or will, if properly cultivated, afford
ample subsistence for all that have ever yet lived
upon its surface. It has not been so cultivated;
the increase of food, so far from having been
pushed up to those limits which some writers have,
and perhaps not improperly, assigned as the
highest possible, has in most countries been little
better than stationary. The question is, there-
fore, has the tendency of living beings rapidly
to increase been existing through all this fore-
gone period, unchecked by anything but the mere
want of corresponding subsistence for those who
should be born ? If it has, then, as it appears to
the author, a constant state of suffering, more or
less mitigated by various national circumstances,
must have existed in all times past, or nearly so.
If it has not (as the author of this volume affums
it has not), the onus is to show what other


PRINCIPLE has operated to check population from
time to time, to prove the existence of such a
principle, and to point out the times, the places,
and the mode of its operation. To estahlish and
explain this principle is the ohject of the follow-
ing sheets. The immense importance of the
subject may, it is hoped, excuse and help to
overcome the dryness of some of the details ;
nor will the candid reader on a topic at once
so mysterious, and hitherto unexplained, suffer
himself to 1x3 startled or turned aside by the
apparent strangeness of the first enunciations of
views on this subject, (as the author conceives)
nearly altogether new, and of facts certainly
brought together and laid before the public in
their present form for the first time.

It can hardly be expected of any one writing
of matters so abstruse, that he should extract
from them other entertainment than such sub-
jects are in themselves calculated to produce.
He can only, as a matter of prudent adventure,
attempt to place the different points in as clear
a light as possible, and with as little waste as
may be, of the time and patience of his readers :
elucidating where he can, all that is naturally
involved or dark, and curtailing where he can,
all that is naturally diffuse or voluminous.


It is not necessaiy, nor would it indeed expe-
dite the purposes of clear arrangement or lucid
reasoning, to state in this part of the present
work the accidental causes which led the author
to the following inquiry ; suffice it at present to
say, these causes were the result of another
inquiry, so far collaterally bearing upon the sub-
ject now under discussion, as to throw a sudden
light upon its fundamental principles, including
as it did, a portion of the proofs of the reality of
those principles ; nor was the author dissatisfied,
but quite the contrary, with tlie manner in which
he was thus accidentally led to the road which he
has followed. In matters of reasoning, it is
upon the whole better to discover a track acci-
dentally than after search for it ; because in the
former case the imagination is in abeyance, and
unconcerned in the result.

When men eagerly seek for a theory, they are
too prone to hope they have found the true one,
and it is needless to say that we are too ready to
believe that which we earnestly wish. A dis-
covery by accident, on the other hand, comes
recommended only by itself; as no credit is
sought for sagacity, and no reward for ingenuity
expected, fancy, at all events, is not moved to
interfere. The pleasure which alone is due to


the discovery of triitli, is not so liable to be c;iven
to that self-love which deceives us into the idea
that such discovery is ours as matter of merit,
because it has come unsought, and ol" course
unanticipated ; such was the case with the con-
templation of natural facts which led the author
to attempt this exhibition of them, and being so,
he trusts the remark is neither irrelevant nor

In order to come in the clearest and fairest
manner to the subject of this essay, the author
deems the following to be the most advisable
course. To state, first, in the tersest and at
the same time, most lucid manner he can, the
law by wdiich he supposes population to be
governed awd regulated ; next, to prove the
existence and operation of this law from such
facts as he has collected, which in his opinion
tend to demonstrate either or both of these
points. The great general law then, which,
as it seems, really regulates the increase or
decrease both of vegetable and of animal life,
is this, that whenever a species or genus is endan-
gered, a corresponding efibrt is invariably made
by nature for its preservation and continuance,
by an increase of fecundity or fertihty ; and that
this especially takes place whenever such danger


arises from a diminution of proper nourishment
or food, so that consequently the state of deple-
tion, or the deplethoric state, is favourable to
fertility, and that on the other hand, the plethoric
state, or state of repletion, is unfavourable to
fertility, in the ratio of the intensity of each
state, and this probably throughout nature uni-
versally, in the vegetable as well as the animal
world ; further, that as applied to mankind this
law produces the following consequences, and
acts thus : —

There is in all societies a constant increase
going on amongst that portion of it which is the
worst supplied with food ; in short, amongst the

Amongst those in the state of affluence, and
well supplied with food and luxuries, a constant
decrease goes on. Amongst |those who form the
mean or medium between these two opposite
states ; that is to say, amongst those who are
tolerably well supphed with good food, and not
overworked, nor yet idle, population is sta-
tionary. Hence it follows that it is upon the
numerical proportion, which these three states
bear to each other in any society that increase or
decrease upon the whole depends.

In a nation where the affluence is sufficient to


balance, by tbe decrease which it causes ainonjist
the rich, the increase arisini;- from the poor,
population will be stationary. In a nation
highly and generally affluent and luxurious,
population w'ill decrease and decay. In poor
and ill-fed communities, population will increase
in the ratio of the poverty, and the consequent
deterioration and diminution of the food of a
large portion of the members of such com-
munities. This is the real and great law^ of
human population, and to show that it unques-
tionably is so, must be the aim of the fol-
lowing pages.

In bringing forward the great variety of i'acts
bearing upon this inqjortant inquiry, the author
will begin with those exhibited by the vegetable
kingdom ; he wall next proceed to the animal
creation, wdierein the same principle is more
distinctly developed, ending with the human
world, the numbers composing which he will
prove to ebb and liow as one or other of tlie
different states he has described more or less
prevails ; offering, in conclusion, such general
reflections as are necessary conqiletely to eluci-
date his scheme, and to show not only its
wonderful agreement with tlie state of the workl,
as it is known to exist and to have existed, but


its admirable unison with the wisdom and good-
ness of that divine Providence which " saw all
that it had made," and saw that all was "very
good," until marred by the wickedness, the folly,
the error, or the ignorance of man.





Turning now to the vegetable kingdom, the
author would point to the acknowledged existence
of this principle in the theory and i)ractice of all
Horticulturists, Gardeners, and others engaged
in the raising trees, shrubs, flowers, and vege-
tables. It is a fact, admitted by all gardeners as
well as botanists, that if a tree, plant, or flower,
be placed in mould, either naturally or artificially
made too rich for it, a plethoric state is produced,
and fruitfulness ceases. In trees, the effect of
strong manures and over-rich soils is that they
run to surperfiuous wood, blossom irregularly,
and chiefly at the extremities of the outer
branches, and almost or entirely cease to bear


With Howering shrubs and llowers the efliect is,
first, that the flower becomes doable, and loses its
power of producing seed ; next, it ceases almost
even to flower. If the application of the
stimulus of manure is carried still further, flowers
and plants become diseased in the extreme, and
speedily die ; thus, by this wise provision of Pro-
vidence, the transmission of disease (the certain
consequence of the highly plethoric state,
whether in plants, animals, or in mankind,) is
guarded against, and the species shielded from
danger on the side of plenty. In order to
remedy this state w^hen accidentally produced,
Gardeners and Florists are accustomed, by various
devices, to produce the opposite or deplethoric
state ; this they familiarly denominate " giving a
check." In other words, they put the species
in danger in order to produce a correspondingly
determined effort of nature to ensure its perpetua-
tion, and the end is invariably attained. Thus, in
order to make fruit trees bear plentifully, Gar-
deners delay or impede the rising of the sap by
cutting rings in the bark round the tree. This to
the tree is the production of a state of depletion,
and the abundance of fruit is the effort of nature
to counteract the danger. The fig, when grown in
this climate, is particularly liable to drop its fruit


when lialf" matured. This, Cardcneis now tind,
can he prevented hy prunhig the tree so severely
as to give it a check ; or, if £::rown in a pot, hy
cutting a few inches from its roots all round so
as to produce the same effect. The result is, that
the tree retains, and carefully matures its fruit.

In like manner, when a gardener wishes to
save seed from a gourd or cucumber, he does
not give the plant an extra quantity of manure
or warmth. He does just the contrary : he sub-
jects it to some hardship and takes the fruit that
is least fine looking, foreknowing that it will he
filled with seed, whilst the finest fruit are nearly
destitute. Upon the same principle, it is a known
fact, that after severe and long winters the har-
vests are correspondingly rapid and abundant.
Vines bear most luxuriantly after being severely
tried by frost ; and grass springs in the same
extraordinary manner. After the long and try-
ing winter of 183G-7, when the snow lay upon
the ground in the northern counties until June,
the spring of grass was so wonderful as to cause
several minute expcnments by various j)crsons.
The result was, that in a single night of twelve
hours the blade of grass was ascertained fre-
quently to have advanced full three-{piarters of


an inch ; and wheat and other grain progressed
in a similar manner.

Aware of this beautiful law of preservation, the
Florist, when he wishes to ensure the luxuriant
flowering of a greenhouse or hothouse shrub or
plant, exposes it for a time to the cold. The
danger caused by the temperature, too low for
the nature of the species of plant, is followed
invariably by an effort of nature for its safety,
and it flowers luxuriantly ; and if a seed-bearing
plant, bears seed accordingly.

There is another curious moditication of this
law exhibited by the vegetable creation, and this
is, that immediately before the death, or the sudden
cessation of fruitfulness of a tree or shrub, it is
observed generally to bear abundantly. This is
remarkably the case with the pear and apple
when the roots touch the harsh cold blue clay,
or any other soil inimical to the health of the
tree. It is a last effort to preserve and per-
petuate the species, and is the effect of that
state of depletion through which the tree passes
to sterility and death.

The singularly close analogy which these facts
bear to that which can be proved, and indeed
is well known to take place with the human


female, when fed on insufficient food, or when
married too near to the usual ])eriod of cessation
of fertility, will he more fully adverted to in the
proper place. In the meantime, what can he

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Online LibraryThomas DoubledayThe true law of population shewn to be connected with the food of the people → online text (page 1 of 15)