« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
Art. IV. Propositions for umeliorating the Condition of the
Poor, and for improving the moral Habits, and increasing the Comforts of the labouring People, by Regulations calculated to reduce the parochial Rates of the Kingdom, and generally to promote the Happiness and Security of the Community at large, by the Diminution of immoral and penal Offences, and the future Prevention of Crimes, &c. &c. By P. Colquhoun,
LL. D. 8vo. Hatchard.
was distinguished in this country by two measures of prime importance ; the
population of Great Britain was then for the first time ascertained, and this was followed by an official inquiry into the state of the poor. The population was found to be 10,942,646. The number of persons receiving parish relief, amounted to 754,817; those who received occasional relief from the poor rates, were 305,899; and the vagrants who obtained assistance, appeared to be 194,052:* a frightful proportion of paupers. The first result taught us our strength, the second discovered our weakness. When we knew that there were in Great Britain alone, more than 2,700,000 men capable of defending their country, it became apparent that we might defy the world in arms; but the fact, that nearly one person in nine of the whole population was dependant upon parochial aid, made it but too evident, that there was something rotten in our internal policy.
Formidable, however, as this official and authentic statement must necessarily appear to every reflecting mind, it by no means represents the whole evil. The proportion of persous who are unable to maintain themselves, and therefore rely upon the contributions of the community for support, may, perhaps, be as great in some other countries, and yet in those countries there would not be the same degree of danger to the state. For in England, the great mass of the manufacturing populace, whatever be their wages, live, as the phrase is, from hand to mouth, and make no provision for the morrow,--being utterly improvident, because their moral and religious education has been utterly neglected. The number of paupers, therefore, which elsewhere is stationary, or increases only in proportion to the increase of the other classes of society, is here at all times liable to a sudden and perilous augmentation, from the effects of an unfavourable season, in a climate where the seasons are peculiarly precarious ; from the fluctuations of politics affecting a people, to whom foreign commerce has become of too much importance; and even from the caprice of fashion, in a
Here is an unavoidable ambiguity in the statement, which may best be explained in a note. Relief had thus often been given, but it by no means follows that it had been given to so many different persons. If one of these vagabonds cheats 19 parisbes per annum, 10,000 of them would appear 190,000 in the enumeration. VOL. VIII, NO, XVI.
country where thousands of families are dependent for daily bread upon the taste for silks or stuffs, ribbands and buttons, and buckles. Formerly, indeed, these things seldom produced any farther evil than that of a few riots upon market days in times of scarcity. But the same accident, which to a healthy subject would occasion only a slight and temporary inconvenience, scarcely felt at the moment, and drawing no ill consequences after it, will produce gangrene or cancer in a system that is morbidly predisposed; and certain it is, that in these our days, a morbid change has been wrought in the great body of the populace.
How this state of things has been produced; what is the real condition of the poor, what means have been taken for ameliorating it, and what remains to be done, to counteract the danger with which social order otherwise is threatened, are the topics suggested to our most serious consideration by the publications which form the subject of this article.
Every one has his reason ready for the increase of the poor, from the youngest tyro in the art of talking, to the most celebrated proficients in political quackery. Mr. Whitbread, and the pamphleteers and essayists of Mr. Roscoe's shallow school, ascribe it to the war. Mr. Brougham imputes it more specifically to the Orders in Council, but joins in the sweeping cause, and agrees in prescribing peace. Sir Francis Burdett charges it upon the borougli-mongers, and would purify the constitution from its corruptions, with his pilula salutaria of reform. Some of his partizans believe it : desperate case of king's evil, and long to have the knife and the actual cautery called in. But all those politicians who make any pretensions to philosophy, however they may insist upon these alleged causes for party or electioneering purposes, agree ir their adnuration of, what they are pleased to call, a discovery in political science; Nir. Malthus having made it appear to their satisfaction, that the primary source of the evil, the causa cousuns, lies in the systein of nature, and that a great error has been committed in the plıy:ical constitution of the universe, inasmuch as men multiply too fast, and therefore the land is overstocked.
The cause of the increase of the poor, which this “eminent pliilosopher,' as Mr. Whitbread denominates him, has assigned, and the remedy by which he proposes to counteract it, are both suimary enough in ihemselves, though in their details they have been expanded into what, to borrow a trans-atlantic term, may truly be called a lengthy work. Mediocrity in literature has a better chance in later times, than it seems to have had in the age of Horace; whatever the gods may think of it, gentlemen and ladies now give it a willing welcome, and it meets with due encouragenient from booksellers. There is even a sort of ivsipidity which sellis suited to a weak intellect. But Mr. Malthus had other
recommendations; his philosophy was upon a level with the feelings and morality of his admirers, as well as with their understandings; and by a happy combination of qualities, it equally suited the timid, who dreaded the effects of speculative reform; the bold spirits, who fancied that the world might have been much better constituted if their opinions had been asked concerning it; and the lady metaphysicians, who discuss the fitness of things at their conversazioni; the shallow, the selfish, and the sensual.
Worthless as Mr. Malthus's system is, it stands in the way of an inquiry into the state of the poor, and must be removed. The complaint that the land is overstocked, is indeed as old in this country as the Refor mation. “Some,' says Harrison,' do grudge at the great increase of people in these days, thinking a necessary brood of cattle, far better than a superfluous augmentation of mankind. But I can liken such men best of all unto the Pope and the devil, who practise the hindrance of the furniture of the number of the elect to their utternjost.
But if it should come to pass, that any foreign invasion should be made, which the Lord God forbid for his mercies sake! then should these men find, that a wall of men is far better than stacks of corn and bags of money, and complain of the want when it is too late to seek remedy. An opinion of this kind is too foolish, as well as too wicked, ever to become permanently prevalent; the temporary reputation which Mr. Malihus obtained by renewing it is disgraceful to the age, and cannot be escused, though it may be accounted for by the circumstances of the times, and the occasion upon which his system was brought forward.
It has been the hope and consolation of good men, when they coutemplated the miseries which man brings upon man, to think, that many of the evils, moral as well as physical, which afflict society, are remediable, and will gradually disappear as the human race advances in improvement. But the French revolution, acting upon political enthusiasm, produced a set of speculators as wild as the old fifth-monarchy-men. They amounced the advent of a political millennium,which was to be not the kingdom of the saints,-saints and kingdoms being with them alike out of fashion, --but the commonwealth of philosophers. Ploughs were to work of themselves, butter to grow upon trees, and man to live for ever in this world,-a very necessary improvement this upon the former state of things; for according to their belief, if he were unphilosophical enough to die, he could not expect to live in any other. These notions were connected with the deplorable doctrines of brute materialism, blind necessity and blank atheism, and with a system of ethics, which, attempting an impossible union between stoicism and sensuality, succeeded just so far, as to deprave the morals and harden the heart. x 2
Against the Goliath of these philosophists Mr. Malthus stept forth, at a time, when the mirage in which the champion had made his appearance was pretty well dispersed, and had left him in his natural dimensions, an ordinary Philistine of about five feet six. Mr. Malthus attacked him with an argument which had been long before clearly and distinctly stated by Wallace and Townshend, and which in fact no person who ever speculated upon an improved state of society, could by possibility have overlooked. The sum of this argument is, that, supposing a country to be fully peopled, men must multiply faster than food can be multiplied for them. Mr. Malthus puts this proposition in a technical form, showing that population increases in a geometrical series, but food only in an arithmetical one; this is held up as a discovery in political economy, and this is in reality the first of his fallacies, the fundamental sophism of his book. That which would be true if the whole earth were fully peopled and fully cultivated, he assumes to be uviversally true at the present time. Admitting then the possibility of Mr. Godwin's scheme, he supposes a pure state of philosophical equality to be established, all causes of vice and misery having been removed ;-but in one generation, he contands, the principle of population would disturb this state of happiness, and in a second, destroy it. The absurdity of supposing that a community, which, according to the hypothesis, had attained the highest state of attainable perfection, should vet be without the virtue of continence, is overlooked by Mr. Malthus ; he reasons as if lust and hunger were alike passions of physical necessity, and the one equally with the other, independent of the reason and the will: and this is the pervading principle of a book written in the vulgar tongue, and sent into the world for the edification of all dabblers in metaphysics, male and female! Upon this his whole argument against Mr. Godwin rests! And, as if to show how happily these rival writers are matched against each other, the latter admitted it in reply, and proposed abortion and exposure as the remedies which, in his Utopia, must be adopted to counteract the power of population !
The direct object of Mr. Malthus's essay in its original form, was to confute the opinions of Mr. Godwin in particular, and of all those persons in general, who believed that any material improvement in human society might be effected; and this object was thus accomplished by means of a technical sophisin, and a physical assumption, as false in philosophy as pernicious in morals. The essay, however, in this state, was consistent with itself. But the author, being a man of decorous life and habits, began to suspect that, to deny the existence of such a virtue as chastity, was neither compatible with the well-being of the community in which he lived, nor with public decelicy;--nor, setting these considerations
aside, with facts which necessarily fall within the sphere of every man's knowledge. In his second edition, therefore, he recognizes the existence of this virtue, admitting, in express terms, that moral restraint,' or in other words, sexual continence, is 'a virtue clearly dictated by the light of nature, and expressly enjoined by revealed religion :' and with an inconsistency which it would be difficult to parallel, retaining all his arguments against Mr. Godwin in the beginning of the book, he proposes a scheme at the end for abolishing the poor rates by means of this very virtue, upon the denial of which, the whole of his preceding argument is founded!
It is this scheme, with its accompanying doctrine, which rendered it necessary to recur to Mr. Malthus on this occasion; for if the doctrines were true, it would be hopeless to seek for any alleviation of existing misery :--the certain and speedy consequence of his remedy will soon be pointed out. We are overstocked with people, he says, and not only are so at present; but always have been, and always must be so. " In every age, and in every state in which man has existed, or does now exist, the increase of population is necessarily limited by the means of subsistence. T'he power of population is so superior to the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man, that unless arrested by preventive checks, premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction, and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in their war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence and plagues, advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and ten thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world.' The checks which keep the population down to the level of the means of subsistence are moral restraint, vice and misery, and * the truth is, that though human institutions appear to be the obvious and obtrusive causes of much mischief to mankind, they are, in reality, light and superficial in comparison with those deeper-rooted causes of evil which result from the laws of nature.' According, therefore, to Mr. Whitbread’s ‘eminent philosopher,'all the existing plagues of theworld, war, pestilence, misery, and vice, in all its forms, are necessary, as preventive checks to counteract the principle of population! A new mode of proving the necessity and utility of evil, with the comfortable corollary that it is in its nature irremediable. There are, indeed, some persons who
may he disposed to demur at Mr. Malthus's theory, remembering that it is written in the Book of Genesis, ' So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them: