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As the proposed alteration in the system of the Poor Laws must naturally engage your attention, as well as that of the public; and, as the authority of Mr. Malthus has often been referred to, and has great weight with many people on this subject, it may not be amiss to inquire, how far the reputation which that gentleman has gained, as a 'moral and political philosopher, can be safely reposed on as the foundation of any part of a system which is directed to oba jects of national utility, and requires close, comprehensive, and accurate reasoning. You, Sir, are not ignorant, that a name will do more towards saftening down prejudices, and bolster. ing up a crude and tottering system, than any arguments whatever. It is always easier to quote an authority than to carry on a chain of reasoning. Mr. Malthus's reputation may, I fear, prove fatal to the
fatal to the poor of this country. His name hangs suspended over their heads, in terTorem, like some baleful meteor. It is the shield behind which the archers may take their stand, and gall them at their leisure. He has set them up as a defenceless mark, on which both friends and foes may exercise their malice, or their wantonness, as they think proper. He has fairly hunted them down, he has driven them into his toils, he has thrown his net over them, and they remain as a prey to the first invader, either to be sacrificed without mercy at the shrine of cold unfeeling avarice, or to linger out a miserable existence under the hands of ingenious and scientific tormentors. There is a vulgar saying, “ Give a dog a bad name, and hang him.” The poor seem to me to be pretty much in this situation at present. The poor, Sir, labour under a natural stigma ; they are naturally despised. Their interests are at best but coldly and remotely felt by the other classes of society. Mr. Malthus's book has done all that was wanting to increase this indifference and apathy. But it is neither generous nor just, to come in aid of the narrow prejudices and hardheartedness of mankind, with metaphysical disa tinctions and the cobwebs of philosophy. The balance inclines too much on that side already, without the addition of false weights. I confess I do feel some degree of disgust and indignation rising within me, when I see a man of Mr. Mala thus's character and calling standing forward as the accuser of those who have none to help them,” as the high-priest of "pride and covetousness,” forming selfishness into a regular code, with its codicils, institutes and glosses annexed, trying to muffle up the hand of charity in the fetters of the law, to suppress“ the compunctious visitings of nature,” to make men ashamed of compassion and good-nature as folly and weakness, “ laying the flattering unction” of religion to the conscience of the riotous and lyxurious liver, and “ grinding the faces of the poor” with texts of scripture. Formerly the feelings of compassion, and the dictates of justice were found to operate as correctives on the habitual meanness and selfishness of our nature: at present this order is reversed ; and it is discovered that justice and humanity are not obstacles in the way of, but that they are the most effectual strengtheners and supporters of our prevailing passions. Mr. Malthus has “admirably reconciled the old quarrel between speculation and practice," by shewing (I suppose in humble imitation of Mandeville) that our duty and our vices both lean the same way, and that the ends of public virtue and benevolence are best answered by the meanness, pride, extravagance, and insensibility of individuals. This is certainly a very convenient doctrine; and it is not to be wondered at, that it should have become so fashionable as it has. *
While the prejudice infused into the public mind by this gentleman's writings subsists in its full force, I am almost convinced that any serious attempt at bettering the condition of the poor will be ineffectual. The only object at present is to gain time. The less it is meddled with either with good or bad intentions, the better. Tampering with the disease ( will but skin and film the ulcerous part, while foul corruption, mining all within, infects unseen.” I have not confidence enough either in the integrity, the abilities, or the power of our state-doctors to be willing to trust it entirely in their hands. They risk nothing, if they fail, The patient is in too desperate a state to bring any imputation on their skill ; and after all, it is only trying experiments in corpore vili. The only thing they need be afraid of is in reality doing too much good. This is the only error which would never be forgiven by those whose resentment they have most reason to dread. This however there will be no danger of. The state of public feeling, the dispositions of individuals, the narrow jealousy of parties, and the interests of the most powerful members of the community will, I suspect, suffer little effectually to be done for bettering the condition, exalting the character, enlightening the understandings, or securing the comforts, the independence, the virtue and happiness of the lower classes of the people. But, I am not equally sure that the means employed for this very purpose may not be made a handle for stifling every principle of liberty and honour in the hearts of a free people. It will be no difficult matter, as things are circumstanced, under pretence of propriety and economy, to smuggle in the worst of tyrannies, a principle of unrelenting, incessant, vexaţious, over-ruling influence, extending to each individual, and to all the petty concerns of life,
* The late Sir W. Pulteney, whose character for liberality is well known, was firmly persuaded that the author of the Essay on Population was the greatest man that ever lived, and really wished to have bestowed some personal remuneration on Mr. M. as his political confessor, for having absolved him from all doubts and scruples in the exercise of his favourite virtue.