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there will be no remedy, the wholesome checks of vice and misery (which have hitherto kept this principle within bounds) will have been done away; the voice of reason will be unheard; the passions only will bear sway; famine, distress, havoc, and dismay will spread around; hatred, violence, war, and bloodshed will be the infallible consequence, and from the pinnacle of happiness, peace, refinement, and social advantage, we shall be hurled once more into a profounder abyss of misery, want, and barbarism than ever, by the sole operation of the principle of population!”—Such is a brief abstract of the argument of the Essay. Can any thing be less conclusive, a more complete fallacy and petitio principii? Mr. Malthus concedes, he assumes a state of perfectibility, such as his opponents imagined, in which the general good is to obtain the entire mastery of individual interests, and reason of gross appetites and passions; and then he argues that such a perfect structure of society will fall by its own weight, or rather be undermined by the principle of population, because in the highest possible state of the subjugation of the passions to reason, they will be absolutely lawless and unchecked, and because as men become enlightened, quick sighted and public-spirited, they will shew themselves utterly blind to the consequences of their actions, utterly indifferent to their own well-being and that of all succeeding generations, whose fate is placed in their hands. This we conceive to be the boldest paralogism that ever was offered to the world, or palmed upon willing credulity. Against whatever other scheme of reform this objection might be valid, the one it was brought expressly to overturn was impregnable against it, invulnerable to its slightest graze. Say that the Utopian reasoners are visionaries, unfounded ; that the state of virtue and knowledge they suppose, in which reason shall have become all-in-all, can never take place, that it is inconsistent with the nature of man and with all experience, well and goodbut to say that society will have attained this high and “palmy state,” that reason will have become the master key to all our motives, and that when arrived at its greatest power it will cease to act at all, but will fall down dead, inert, and senseless before the principle of population, is an opinion which one would think few people would choose to advance or assent to, without strong inducements for maintaining or believing it.
The fact, however, is, that Mr. Malthus found this argument entire (the principle and the application of it) in an obscure and almost forgotten work published about the middle of the last century, entitled Various Prospects of Mankind, Nature, and Providence, by a Scotch gentleman of the name of Wallace. The chąpter in this work on the Principle of Population, considered as a bar to all ultimate views of human improvement, was probably written to amuse an idle hour, or read as a paper to exercise the wits of some literary society in the Northern capital, and no farther responsibility or importance annexed to it. Mr. Malthus, by adopting and setting his name to it, has given it sufficient currency and effect. It sometimes happens that one writer is the first to discover a certain principle or lay down a given observation, and that another makes an application of, or draws a remote or an immediate inference from it, totally unforeseen by the first, and from which, in all probability, he might have widely dissented. But this is not so in the present instance. Mr. Malthus has borrowed (perhaps without consciousness, at any rate without acknowledgment) both the preliminary statement, that the increase in the supply of food “from a limited earth and a limited fertility” must have an end, while the tendency to increase in the principle of population has none, without some external and forcible restraint on it, and the subsequent use
made of this statement as an insuperable bar to all schemes of Utopian or progressive improvement—both these he has borrowed (whole) from Wallace, with all their imperfections on their heads, and has added more and greater ones to them out of his own store. In order to produce something of a startling and dramatic effect, he has 'strained a point or two. In order to quell and frighten away the bugbear of Modern Philosophy, he was obliged to make a sort of monster of the principle of population, which was brought into the field against it, and which was to swallow it up quick. No half-measures, no middle course of reasoning would do. With a view to meet the highest possible power of reason in the new order of things, Mr. Malthus saw the necessity of giving the greatest possible physical weight to the antagonist principle, and he accordingly lays it down that its operation is mechanical and irresistible. He premises these two propositions as the basis of all his reasoning, 1. That food is necessary to man; 2. That the de sire to propagate the species is an equally indispensable law of our existence :—thus making it appear that these two wants or impulses are equal and coordinate principles of action. If this double statement had been true, the whole scope and structure of his reasoning (as hostile
to human hopes and sanguine speculations) would have been irrefragable; but as it is not true, the whole (in that view) falls to the ground. According to Mr. Malthus's octavo edition, the sexual passion is as necessary to be gratified as the appetite of hunger, and a man can no more exist without propagating his species than he can live without eating. Were it so, neither of these passions would admit of any excuses, any delay, any restraint from reason or foresight; and the only checks to the principle of population must be vice and misery. The argument would be triumphant and complete. But there is no analogy, no parity in the two cases, such as our author here assumes. No man can live for any length of time without food; many persons live all their lives without gratifying the other sense. The longer the craving after food is unsatisfied, the more violent, imperious, and uncontroulable the desire becomes; whereas the longer the gratification of the sexual passion is resisted, the greater force does habit and resolution acquire over it; and, generally speaking, it is a well-known fact, attested by all observation and history, that this latter passion is subject more or less to controul from personal feelings and character, from public opinions and the institutions of society, so as