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of fires, his friends would reasonably be alarmed for his sanity, and would urge him to retire for a while to a mad-house.
The absurdity of talking about the necessary pressure of population upon the means of subsistence, as an explanation of the evils with which society is noiv oppressed, was well exposed, many years ago, by Colonel Thompson. "If it should be urged," he says, "that there must always come a time when population will press against food, and therefore there is no use in attempting to escape it; this would be like urging that there is no use in a man's escaping from murder now, because he will not be immortal afterwards. There is all the difference in the world between enduring an evil by the will of Providence, and by the act of man. Human life, in the whole, is but the procrastination of death; but that is no reason why men should die just now, for other men's convenience. There may come a time when there will be no coal to burn, no iron to make tools, and perhaps no salt left in the sea; but this is no reason why men should not make something of the interval which must intervene. The time when population will press irremediably against food must, to a great manufacturing and naval people, be almost as remote as the time when there will be no salt left in the sea. And come when it may, it must always come gradually, which is by itself no small diminution of the mischief."
The average density of population in Europe, in which quarter of the globe alone any excess of numbers is to be feared for centuries to come, does not amount to 70 persons to the square mile. The Europeans, then, on an average, are not quite so crowded as are the inhabitants of Spain, a country the population of which might be increased fourfold before it would be as thickly peopled even as England. Belgium has the densest population of any state on the Continent of considerable magnitude, the average (in 1846) amounting to at least 344 persons to the square mile. Great Britain and Ireland, in respect to which the complaints of over-population have been loudest and most frequent, had but 235 to the square mile in 1851, so that the population might be increased nearly 50 per cent before these countries would be as densely peopled as Belgium. Taking all Europe together, the population might be five times as great as it is now, before the inhabitants would be as crowded as they are already in Belgium. Supposing that the average rate of increase for all Europe were as high as it now is in France, a supposition which is certainly beyond the truth, more than three centuries must elapse before the Continent could be thus peopled, even if no allowance were made for emigration and the gradual lessening of the rates of increase as the population becomes more dense. Making allowance for these checks, the period must be increased to at least five centuries. An evil which is at least five hundred years distant from us, need not excite much alarm in the present generation. Before this period elapses, it has been calculated that the stock of bituminous coal in England may be exhausted, — an article on which British power and wealth unquestionably depend. Yet we have not heard any fear expressed on this score, nor has economy in the consumption of coal been recommended, though such strenuous efforts have been made to deter the laboring poor from forming early and imprudent marriages.
Is there any evidence, then, that Belgium is over-peopled, the country which is already in the condition that all Europe fears it will arrive at some five centuries hence? By no means. The information which shows that it is not, I derive from McCulloch, one of the ablest statisticians of Europe, and who is himself an ardent upholder of the theory of Malthus, so that his testimony can be received without question. "Although the cultivation of the earth in this ldngdom is carried to a great extent, one eleventh of the surface still remains uncultivated; one eighth consists of grass lands, and the arable lands occupy one half. The very large produce obtained by the Flemish farmer is solely attributable to indefatigable industry; for the soil is naturally poor, and the climate is by no means especially favorable, the winters being longer and more severe than in England. The most fertile districts in the country were formerly alluvial morasses, which have been drained and embanked, or have been gained entirely from the bed of the ocean, against which they are now protected by dykes. The provinces of West and East Flanders and Hainault form a far-stretching plain, of which the luxuriant vegetation indicates the indefatigable care and labor bestowed upon its cultivation; for the natural soil consists almost wholly of barren sand, and its great fertility is entirely the result of very skilful management." The account of the natural condition of most of the other portions of the country is but little more favorable. "The central part of the kingdom includes much of the richest portion of the soil; but it does not, on the whole, exceed the average fertility of the inland counties of England, and must decidedly be considered inferior to the rich alluvial soils denominated the carses of Scotland. But taking the whole country together, the soil, artificially enriched, produces more than double the quantity of corn required for the consumption of its inhabitants, and agricultural produce is exported to a great extent." *
Looking, therefore, merely to the capacity of the earth to afford sustenance, it appears that the most densely peopled country in Europe, and one by no means richly favored in respect to the natural properties of its soil, is not yet more than half populated; and still several centuries must elapse before all Europe can be as densely populated as Belgium. Turning to America, we find the basin of one great river, the Mississippi, capable of supporting as many inhabitants as now occupy all Europe, though the actual population of the whole United States does not equal one tenth part of that number. If we add the tropical and southern portions of the great American continent, and then go to the Antipodes to look at Australia, the area of which does not fall far short of that of all Europe, — if we consider what an insignificant fraction of these vast regions is yet tenanted by civilized man, — we are obliged to give up our statistical calculations in despair; the imagination fails to grasp the possible number of human beings whom the earth might support, or the number of years that must elapse (judging from the world's history thus far) before this extent of space can be fully peopled, and there can be a just call for room.
Till this limit is approached, — that is, for several centuries yet to come, — every birth adds something, or might add something, to the possible surplus of food. If there are more mouths to feed, there are more hands to feed them with; if there is more work to be done, there are more laborers to do it. It is demonstrable that, even in Ireland, (until its population shall be thrice as great as it is at present,) since the labor of one person upon the soil must produce more than is necessary for his personal subsistence, the more hands there are employed in agriculture, the greater will be the surplus for those engaged in other occupations. That the surplus will not increase in the same ratio with the number of agricultural laborers, is a fact of no importance; before the growth of the population can be checked by absolute deficiency of food, there must cease to be any surplus, and the earth must not yield enough even for the subsistence of him who cultivates it. We may have as much dread of this contingency as of the sun's expending its whole stock of light and heat, or of there being no salt left in the sea.
* These statements are selected from the article on Belgium in McCulloch's Geographical Dictionary.
Ireland is an instance directly in point to bring the doctrine of the Malthusians to a test. They say that the island is overpeopled, and that their excessive number is the cause of the wretchedness of its inhabitants. But in ordinary years, Ireland not only supplies food for her whole population, but her exports of the cereal grains alone amount to five millions sterling, and of meat, butter, and cheese to at least half as much more. It is absurd, then, to say that the population is here pressing against the means of subsistence; and if the doctrine does not hold true in this case, to what country in the civilized world is it applicable? Another view of the matter leads to the same result. If the land were parcelled out, and the same modes of cultivation pursued, in Ireland as in the Netherlands, the former country being naturally far the more fertile of the two, it is demonstrable that the soil would furnish abundance of food for twenty-six millions of inhabitants, instead of supporting, as it now does, little over six millions, one half of whom, five years ago, were on the brink of starvation.
Barbarous, and even half-civilized nations, it is admitted on all hands, are in no danger of multiplying too rapidly; the law of a geometrical progression is not applicable to them; they do not increase, but decrease. The aborigines of a country, wherever they come in contact with civilization, melt away as ice and snow do at the approach of summer. So it has been with the Indians of our own continent, with the natives of Australia, the Hottentots of South Africa, the Moors of Barbary, and the natives of the Pacific isles; and so it must always be. War, disease, vice, and ignorance, which are necessary accompaniments of the savage state, are destructive of human life; they do not allow the population to increase, they seldom allow it to hold its own. Go a little higher in the social scale, and this result is but little modified. The Turks, the Arabs, the Tartars, the Hindoos, are probably not so numerous as they were a century ago. The countries which now form Turkey in Europe and Turkey in Asia were more populous two or three thousand years ago, than they are at the present day. The wasting away of such tribes may be, in some cases, the consequence of a deficiency of food; but it is certainly not the result of over-population; for the civilized men who come to occupy their places, obtain from the same soil abundance of food for a population larger than theirs by twenty or a hundred fold. The North American Indians, when their hunting-grounds generally exceeded ten square miles for every member of the tribe, and the soil was often of great fertility, were sometimes severely pinched by famine. For this reason, infanticide was not infrequent among them, and life was shortened by privation and hardship. So far, then, as the mere lack of food proves excess of numbers, the Malthusians might as well have preached abstinence from marriage to them as to the Irish. In both cases, the bounty of Providence is not exhausted, but men do not make proper use of the means that are within their reach for satisfying their bodily wants; it matters not whether they leave the soil untilled altogether, or send a large portion of its product out of the country while millions are famishing at home.
Civilized nations, let them multiply as fast as they may, do not devote their attention chiefly, or even in great part, to the supply of food, but to the pursuit of wealth. Exchangeable value in general, not the means of subsistence even in particular, is the object of their endeavors. Wha,t matters it to me, that my neighbor owns and cultivates a large extent of fertile land, while I do not own a square foot, provided that I have plenty o,f money in my purse? "With that money, I know, I can purchase food of my neighbor, that I can even lay the fertility of both Indies and of the farthest corners of the earth