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The degree of possible rapidity is different in different orders of beings; but in all it is sufficient, for the earth to be very speedily filled up. There are many species of vegetables of which a single plant will produce in one year the germs of a thousand; if only two come to maturity, in fourteen years the two will have multiplied to sixteen thousand and more. It is but a moderate case of fecundity in animals to be capable of quadrupling their numbers in a single year; if they only do as much in half a century, ten thousand will have swelled within two centuries to upwards of two millions and a half. The capacity of increase is necessarily in a geometrical progression: the numerical ratio alone is different. To this property of organized beings, the human species forms no exception. Its power of increase is indefinite, and the actual multiplication would be extraordinarily rapid, if the power were exercised to the utmost. It never is exercised to the utmost, and yet, in the most favourable circumstances known to exist, which are those of a fertile region colonized from an industrious and civilized community, population has continued, for several generations, independently of fresh immigration, to double itself in not much more than twenty years. That the capacity of multiplication in the human species exceeds even this, is evident if we consider how great is the ordinary number of children to a family, where the climate is good and early marriages usual; and how small a proportion of them die before the age of maturity, in the present state of hygienic knowledge, where the locality is healthy, and the family adequately provided with the means of living. It is a very low estimate of the capacity of increase, if we only assume, that in a good sanitary condition of the people, each generation may be double the number of the generation which preceded it. Twenty or thirty years ago, these propositions might still have required considerable enforcement and illustration; but the evidence of them is so ample and incontestable, that they have made their way against all kinds of opposition, and may WOL. I. , O
now be regarded as axiomatic : though the extreme reluctance felt to admitting them, every now and then gives birth to some ephemeral theory, speedily forgotten, of a different law of increase in different circumstances, through a providential adaptation of the fecundity of the human species to the exigencies of society.* The obstacle to a just understanding of the subject does not arise from these theories, but from too confused a notion of the causes which, at most times and places, keep the actual increase of mankind so far behind the capacity.
§ 3. Those causes, nevertheless, are in no way mysterious. What prevents the population of hares and rabbits from overstocking the earth Not want of fecundity, but causes very different: many enemies, and insufficient subsistence; not enough to eat, and liability to being eaten. In the human race, which is not generally subject to the latter inconvenience, the equivalents for it are war and disease. If the multiplication of mankind proceeded only, like that of the other animals, from a blind instinct, it would be limited in the same manner with theirs; the births would be as numerous as the physical constitution of the species admitted of, and the population would be kept down by deaths. But the conduct of human creatures is more or less influenced by foresight of consequences, and by some impulses superior to mere animal instincts: and they do not, therefore, propagate like swine, but are capable, though in very unequal degrees, of being withheld by prudence, or by the social affections, from giving existence to beings born only to misery and premature death. In proportion as mankind rise above the condition of the beasts, population is restrained by the fear of want, rather than by want itself. Even where there is no question of starvation, many are similarly acted upon by the apprehension of losing what have come to be regarded as the decencies of their situation in life. Hitherto no other motives than these two have been found strong enough, in the generality of mankind, to counteract the tendency to increase. It has been the practice of a great majority of the middle and the poorer classes, whenever free from external control, to marry as early, and in most countries to have as many children, as was consistent with maintaining themselves in the condition of life which they were born to, or were accustomed to consider as theirs. Among the middle classes, in many individual instances, there is an additional restraint exercised from the desire of doing more than maintaining their circumstances—of improving them ; but such a desire is rarely found, or rarely has that effect, in the labouring classes. If they can bring up a family as they were themselves brought up, even the prudent among them are usually satisfied. Too often they do not think even of that, but rely on fortune, or on the resources to be found in legal or voluntary charity. In a very backward state of society, like that of Europe in the middle ages, and many parts of Asia at present, population is kept down by actual starvation. The starvation does not take place in ordinary years, but in seasons of scarcity,
* One of these theories, that of Mr. Doubleday, may be thought to require a passing notice, because it has of late obtained some followers, and because it derives a semblance of support from the general analogies of organic life. This theory maintains that the fecundity of the human animal, and of all other living beings, is in inverse proportion to the quantity of nutriment: that an underfed population multiplies rapidly, but that all classes in comfortable circumstances are, by a physiological law, so unprolific, as seldom to keep up their numbers without being recruited from a poorer class. There is no doubt that a positive excess of nutrinent, in animals as well as in fruit trees, is unfavourable to reproduction; and it is quite possible, though by no means proved, that the physiological conditions of fecundity may exist in the greatest degree when the supply of food is somewhat stinted. But any one who might be inclined to draw from this, even if admitted, conclusions at variance with the principle of Mr. Malthus, needs only be invited to look through a volume of the Peerage, and observe the enormous families, almost universal in that class; or call to mind the large families of the English clergy, and generally of the middle classes of England. Whatever the limit to the increase of population among the richer classes in Great Britain may be, it certainly is not the small number of births to a marriage.
which in those states of society are much more frequent and more extreme than Europe is now accustomed to. In these seasons actual want, or the maladies consequent on it, carry off numbers of the population, which in a succession of favourable years again expands, to be again cruelly decimated. In a more improved state, few, even among the poorest of the people, are limited to actual necessaries, and to a bare sufficiency of those : and the increase is kept within bounds, not by excess of deaths, but by limitation of births. The limitation is brought about in various ways. In some countries, it is the result of prudent or conscientious self-restraint. There is a condition to which the labouring people are habituated; they perceive that by having too numerous families, they must sink below that condition, or fail to transmit it to their children; and this they do not choose to submit to. The countries in which, so far as is known, a great degree of voluntary prudence has been longest practised on this subject, are Norway and parts of Switzerland. Concerning both, there happens to be unusually authentic information ; many facts were carefully brought together by Mr. Malthus, and much additional evidence has been obtained since his time. In both these countries the increase of population is very slow; and what checks it, is not multitude of deaths, but fewness of births. Both the births and the deaths are remarkably few in proportion to the population; the average duration of life is the longest in Europe; the population contains fewer children, and a greater proportional number of persons in the vigour of life, than is known to be the case in any other part of the world. The paucity of births tends directly to prolong life, by keeping the people in comfortable circumstances; and the same prudence is doubtless exercised in avoiding causes of disease, as in keeping clear of the principal causes of poverty. It is worthy of remark that the two countries thus honourably distinguished, are countries of small landed proprietors.
There are other cases in which the prudence and forethought, which perhaps might not be exercised by the people themselves, are exercised by the state for their benefit; marriage not being permitted until the contracting parties can show that they have the prospect of a comfortable support. Under these laws, of which I shall speak more fully hereafter, the condition of the people is reported to be good, and the illegitimate births not so numerous as might be expected. There are places, again, in which the restraining cause seems to be not so much individual prudence, as some general and perhaps even accidental habit of the country. In the rural districts of England, during the last century, the growth of population was very effectually repressed by the difficulty of obtaining a cottage to live in. It was the custom for unmarried labourers to lodge and board with their employers; it was the custom for married labourers to have a cottage: and the rule of the English poor laws by which a parish was charged with the support of its unemployed poor, rendered landowners averse to promote marriage. About the end of the century, the great demand for men in war and manufactures, made it be thought a patriotic thing to encourage population: and about the same time the growing inclination of farmers to live like rich people, favoured as it was by a long period of high prices, made them desirous of keeping inferiors at a greater distance, and, pecuniary motives arising from abuses of the poor laws being superadded, they gradually drove their labourers into cottages, which the landlords now no longer refused permission to build. In some countries an old standing custom that a girl should not marry until she had spun and woven for herself an ample trousseau, is said to have acted as a substantial check to population. In England, at present, the influence of prudence in keeping down multiplication is seen by the diminished number of marriages in the manufacturing districts in years when trade is bad.
But whatever be the causes by which population is anywhere limited to a comparatively slow rate of increase, an