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An Essay on the Principle of Population by Thomas Malthus

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so great as I have represented it to be, it may appear strange
that this increase does not come when it is thus repeatedly
called for. The true reason is that the demand for a greater
population is made without preparing the funds necessary to
support it. Increase the demand for agricultural labour by
promoting cultivation, and with it consequently increase the
produce of the country, and ameliorate the condition of the
labourer, and no apprehensions whatever need be entertained of
the proportional increase of population. An attempt to effect
this purpose in any other way is vicious, cruel, and tyrannical,
and in any state of tolerable freedom cannot therefore succeed.
It may appear to be the interest of the rulers, and the rich of a
state, to force population, and thereby lower the price of
labour, and consequently the expense of fleets and armies, and
the cost of manufactures for foreign sale; but every attempt of
the kind should be carefully watched and strenuously resisted by
the friends of the poor, particularly when it comes under the
deceitful garb of benevolence, and is likely, on that account, to
be cheerfully and cordially received by the common people.

I entirely acquit Mr Pitt of any sinister intention in that
clause of his Poor Bill which allows a shilling a week to every
labourer for each child he has above three. I confess, that
before the bill was brought into Parliament, and for some time
after, I thought that such a regulation would be highly
beneficial, but further reflection on the subject has convinced
me that if its object be to better the condition of the poor, it
is calculated to defeat the very purpose which it has in view. It
has no tendency that I can discover to increase the produce of
the country, and if. It tend to increase the population, without
increasing the produce, the necessary and inevitable consequence
appears to be that the same produce must be divided among a
greater number, and consequently that a day's labour will
purchase a smaller quantity of provisions, and the poor therefore
in general must be more distressed.

I have mentioned some cases where population may permanently
increase without a proportional increase in the means of
subsistence. But it is evident that the variation in different
states, between the food and the numbers supported by it, is
restricted to a limit beyond which it cannot pass. In every
country, the population of which is not absolutely decreasing,
the food must be necessarily sufficient to support, and to
continue, the race of labourers.

Other circumstances being the same, it may be affirmed that
countries are populous according to the quantity of human food
which they produce, and happy according to the liberality with
which that food is divided, or the quantity which a day's labour
will purchase. Corn countries are more populous than pasture
countries, and rice countries more populous than corn countries.
The lands in England are not suited to rice, but they would all
bear potatoes; and Dr Adam Smith observes that if potatoes were
to become the favourite vegetable food of the common people, and
if the same quantity of land was employed in their culture as is
now employed in the culture of corn, the country would be able to
support a much greater population, and would consequently in a
very short time have it.

The happiness of a country does not depend, absolutely, upon
its poverty or its riches, upon its youth or its age, upon its
being thinly or fully inhabited, but upon the rapidity with which
it is increasing, upon the degree in which the yearly increase of
food approaches to the yearly increase of an unrestricted
population. This approximation is always the nearest in new
colonies, where the knowledge and industry of an old state
operate on the fertile unappropriated land of a new one. In other
cases, the youth or the age of a state is not in this respect of
very great importance. It is probable that the food of Great
Britain is divided in as great plenty to the inhabitants, at the
present period, as it was two thousand, three thousand, or four
thousand years ago. And there is reason to believe that the poor
and thinly inhabited tracts of the Scotch Highlands are as much
distressed by an overcharged population as the rich and populous
province of Flanders.

Were a country never to be overrun by a people more advanced
in arts, but left to its own natural progress in civilization;
from the time that its produce might be considered as an unit, to
the time that it might be considered as a million, during the
lapse of many hundred years, there would not be a single period
when the mass of the people could be said to be free from
distress, either directly or indirectly, for want of food. In
every state in Europe, since we have first had accounts of it,
millions and millions of human existences have been repressed
from this simple cause; though perhaps in some of these states an
absolute famine has never been known.

Famine seems to be the last, the most dreadful resource of
nature. The power of population is so superior to the power in
the earth to produce subsistence for man, that 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 this war of
extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague,
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.

Must it not then be acknowledged by an attentive examiner of
the histories of mankind, that in every age and in every state in
which man has existed, or does now exist.

That the increase of population is necessarily limited by the
means of subsistence.

That population does invariably increase when the means of
subsistence increase. And that the superior power of
population it repressed, and the actual population kept equal to
the means of subsistence, by misery and vice?


Mr Wallace--Error of supposing that the difficulty arising from
population is at a great distance--Mr Condorcet's sketch of the
progress of the human mind--Period when the oscillation,
mentioned by Mr Condorcet, ought to be applied to the human race.

To a person who draws the preceding obvious inferences, from a
view of the past and present state of mankind, it cannot but be a
matter of astonishment that all the writers on the perfectibility
of man and of society who have noticed the argument of an
overcharged population, treat it always very slightly and
invariably represent the difficulties arising from it as at a
great and almost immeasurable distance. Even Mr Wallace, who
thought the argument itself of so much weight as to destroy his
whole system of equality, did not seem to be aware that any
difficulty would occur from this cause till the whole earth had
been cultivated like a garden and was incapable of any further
increase of produce. Were this really the case, and were a
beautiful system of equality in other respects practicable, I
cannot think that our ardour in the pursuit of such a scheme
ought to be damped by the contemplation of so remote a
difficulty. An event at such a distance might fairly be left to
providence, but the truth is that if the view of the argument
given in this Essay be just the difficulty, so far from being
remote, would be imminent and immediate. At every period during
the progress of cultivation, from the present moment to the time
when the whole earth was become like a garden, the distress for
want of food would be constantly pressing on all mankind, if they
were equal. Though the produce of the earth might be increasing
every year, population would be increasing much faster, and the
redundancy must necessarily be repressed by the periodical or
constant action of misery or vice.

Mr Condorcet's Esquisse d'un Tableau Historique des Progres
de l'Esprit Humain, was written, it is said, under the pressure
of that cruel proscription which terminated in his death. If he
had no hopes of its being seen during his life and of its
interesting France in his favour, it is a singular instance of
the attachment of a man to principles, which every day's
experience was so fatally for himself contradicting. To see the
human mind in one of the most enlightened nations of the world,
and after a lapse of some thousand years, debased by such a
fermentation of disgusting passions, of fear, cruelty, malice,
revenge, ambition, madness, and folly as would have disgraced the
most savage nation in the most barbarous age must have been such
a tremendous shock to his ideas of the necessary and inevitable
progress of the human mind that nothing but the firmest
conviction of the truth of his principles, in spite of all
appearances, could have withstood.

This posthumous publication is only a sketch of a much larger
work, which he proposed should be executed. It necessarily,
therefore, wants that detail and application which can alone
prove the truth of any theory. A few observations will be
sufficient to shew how completely the theory is contradicted when
it is applied to the real, and not to an imaginary, state of

In the last division of the work, which treats of the future
progress of man towards perfection, he says, that comparing, in
the different civilized nations of Europe, the actual population
with the extent of territory, and observing their cultivation,
their industry, their divisions of labour, and their means of
subsistence, we shall see that it would be impossible to preserve
the same means of subsistence, and, consequently, the same
population, without a number of individuals who have no other
means of supplying their wants than their industry. Having
allowed the necessity of such a class of men, and adverting
afterwards to the precarious revenue of those families that would
depend so entirely on the life and health of their chief, he
says, very justly: 'There exists then, a necessary cause of
inequality, of dependence, and even of misery, which menaces,
without ceasing, the most numerous and active class of our
societies.' (To save time and long quotations, I shall here give
the substance of some of Mr Condorcet's sentiments, and hope I
shall not misrepresent them. But I refer the reader to the work
itself, which will amuse, if it does not convince him.) The
difficulty is just and well stated, and I am afraid that the mode
by which he proposes it should be removed will be found
inefficacious. By the application of calculations to the
probabilities of life and the interest of money, he proposes that
a fund should be established which should assure to the old an
assistance, produced, in part, by their own former savings, and,
in part, by the savings of individuals who in making the same
sacrifice die before they reap the benefit of it. The same, or a
similar fund, should give assistance to women and children who
lose their husbands, or fathers, and afford a capital to those
who were of an age to found a new family, sufficient for the
proper development of their industry. These establishments, he
observes, might be made in the name and under the protection of
the society. Going still further, he says that, by the just
application of calculations, means might be found of more
completely preserving a state of equality, by preventing credit
from being the exclusive privilege of great fortunes, and yet
giving it a basis equally solid, and by rendering the progress of
industry, and the activity of commerce, less dependent on great

Such establishments and calculations may appear very
promising upon paper, but when applied to real life they will be
found to be absolutely nugatory. Mr Condorcet allows that a class
of people which maintains itself entirely by industry is
necessary to every state. Why does he allow this? No other reason
can well be assigned than that he conceives that the labour
necessary to procure subsistence for an extended population will
not be performed without the goad of necessity. If by
establishments of this kind of spur to industry be removed, if
the idle and the negligent are placed upon the same footing with
regard to their credit, and the future support of their wives and
families, as the active and industrious, can we expect to see men
exert that animated activity in bettering their condition which
now forms the master spring of public prosperity? If an
inquisition were to be established to examine the claims of each
individual and to determine whether he had or had not exerted
himself to the utmost, and to grant or refuse assistance
accordingly, this would be little else than a repetition upon a
larger scale of the English poor laws and would be completely
destructive of the true principles of liberty and equality.

But independent of this great objection to these
establishments, and supposing for a moment that they would give
no check to productive industry, by far the greatest difficulty
remains yet behind.

Were every man sure of a comfortable provision for his
family, almost every man would have one, and were the rising
generation free from the 'killing frost' of misery, population
must rapidly increase. Of this Mr Condorcet seems to be fully
aware himself, and after having described further improvements,
he says:

But in this process of industry and happiness, each generation
will be called to more extended enjoyments, and in consequence,
by the physical constitution of the human frame, to an increase
in the number of individuals. Must not there arrive a period
then, when these laws, equally necessary, shall counteract each
other? When the increase of the number of men surpassing their
means of subsistence, the necessary result must be either a
continual diminution of happiness and population, a movement
truly retrograde, or, at least, a kind of oscillation between
good and evil? In societies arrived at this term, will not this
oscillation be a constantly subsisting cause of periodical
misery? Will it not mark the limit when all further amelioration
will become impossible, and point out that term to the
perfectibility of the human race which it may reach in the course
of ages, but can never pass?

He then adds,

There is no person who does not see how very distant such a
period is from us, but shall we ever arrive at it? It is equally
impossible to pronounce for or against the future realization of
an event which cannot take place but at an era when the human
race will have attained improvements, of which we can at present
scarcely form a conception.

Mr Condorcet's picture of what may be expected to happen when
the number of men shall surpass the means of their subsistence is
justly drawn. The oscillation which he describes will certainly
take place and will without doubt be a constantly subsisting
cause of periodical misery. The only point in which I differ from
Mr Condorcet with regard to this picture is the period when it
may be applied to the human race. Mr Condorcet thinks that it
cannot possibly be applicable but at an era extremely distant. If
the proportion between the natural increase of population and
food which I have given be in any degree near the truth, it will
appear, on the contrary, that the period when the number of men
surpass their means of subsistence has long since arrived, and
that this necessity oscillation, this constantly subsisting cause
of periodical misery, has existed ever since we have had any
histories of mankind, does exist at present, and will for ever
continue to exist, unless some decided change take place in the
physical constitution of our nature.

Mr Condorcet, however, goes on to say that should the period,
which he conceives to be so distant, ever arrive, the human race,
and the advocates for the perfectibility of man, need not be
alarmed at it. He then proceeds to remove the difficulty in a
manner which I profess not to understand. Having observed, that
the ridiculous prejudices of superstition would by that time have
ceased to throw over morals a corrupt and degrading austerity, he
alludes, either to a promiscuous concubinage, which would prevent
breeding, or to something else as unnatural. To remove the
difficulty in this way will, surely, in the opinion of most men,
be to destroy that virtue and purity of manners, which the
advocates of equality, and of the perfectibility of man, profess
to be the end and object of their views.


Mr Condorcet's conjecture concerning the organic perfectibility
of man, and the indefinite prolongation of human life--Fallacy
of the argument, which infers an unlimited progress from a
partial improvement, the limit of which cannot be ascertained,
illustrated in the breeding of animals, and the cultivation of

The last question which Mr Condorcet proposes for examination is
the organic perfectibility of man. He observes that if the proofs
which have been already given and which, in their development
will receive greater force in the work itself, are sufficient to
establish the indefinite perfectibility of man upon the
supposition of the same natural faculties and the same
organization which he has at present, what will be the certainty,
what the extent of our hope, if this organization, these natural
faculties themselves, are susceptible of amelioration?

From the improvement of medicine, from the use of more
wholesome food and habitations, from a manner of living which
will improve the strength of the body by exercise without
impairing it by excess, from the destruction of the two great
causes of the degradation of man, misery, and too great riches,
from the gradual removal of transmissible and contagious
disorders by the improvement of physical knowledge, rendered more
efficacious by the progress of reason and of social order, he
infers that though man will not absolutely become immortal, yet
that the duration between his birth and natural death will
increase without ceasing, will have no assignable term, and may
properly be expressed by the word 'indefinite'. He then defines
this word to mean either a constant approach to an unlimited
extent, without ever reaching it, or an increase. In the
immensity of ages to an extent greater than any assignable

But surely the application of this term in either of these
senses to the duration of human life is in the highest degree
unphilosophical and totally unwarranted by any appearances in the
laws of nature. Variations from different causes are essentially
distinct from a regular and unretrograde increase. The average
duration of human life will to a certain degree vary from healthy
or unhealthy climates, from wholesome or unwholesome food, from
virtuous or vicious manners, and other causes, but it may be
fairly doubted whether there is really the smallest perceptible
advance in the natural duration of human life since first we have
had any authentic history of man. The prejudices of all ages have
indeed been directly contrary to this supposition, and though I
would not lay much stress upon these prejudices, they will in
some measure tend to prove that there has been no marked advance
in an opposite direction.

It may perhaps be said that the world is yet so young, so
completely in its infancy, that it ought not to be expected that
any difference should appear so soon.

If this be the case, there is at once an end of all human
science. The whole train of reasonings from effects to causes
will be destroyed. We may shut our eyes to the book of nature, as
it will no longer be of any use to read it. The wildest and most
improbable conjectures may be advanced with as much certainty as
the most just and sublime theories, founded on careful and
reiterated experiments. We may return again to the old mode of
philosophising and make facts bend to systems, instead of
establishing systems upon facts. The grand and consistent theory
of Newton will be placed upon the same footing as the wild and
eccentric hypotheses of Descartes. In short, if the laws of
nature are thus fickle and inconstant, if it can be affirmed and
be believed that they will change, when for ages and ages they
have appeared immutable, the human mind will no longer have any
incitements to inquiry, but must remain fixed in inactive torpor,
or amuse itself only in bewildering dreams and extravagant

The constancy of the laws of nature and of effects and causes
is the foundation of all human knowledge, though far be it from
me to say that the same power which framed and executes the laws
of nature may not change them all 'in a moment, in the twinkling
of an eye.' Such a change may undoubtedly happen. All that I
mean to say is that it is impossible to infer it from reasoning.
If without any previous observable symptoms or indications of a
change, we can infer that a change will take place, we may as
well make any assertion whatever and think it as unreasonable to
be contradicted in affirming that the moon will come in contact
with the earth tomorrow, as in saying that the sun will rise at
its usual time.

With regard to the duration of human life, there does not
appear to have existed from the earliest ages of the world to the
present moment the smallest permanent symptom or indication of
increasing prolongation. The observable effects of climate,
habit, diet, and other causes, on length of life have furnished
the pretext for asserting its indefinite extension; and the sandy
foundation on which the argument rests is that because the limit
of human life is undefined; because you cannot mark its precise
term, and say so far exactly shall it go and no further; that
therefore its extent may increase for ever, and be properly
termed indefinite or unlimited. But the fallacy and absurdity of
this argument will sufficiently appear from a slight examination
of what Mr Condorcet calls the organic perfectibility, or
degeneration, of the race of plants and animals, which he says
may be regarded as one of the general laws of nature.

I am told that it is a maxim among the improvers of cattle
that you may breed to any degree of nicety you please, and they
found this maxim upon another, which is that some of the
offspring will possess the desirable qualities of the parents in
a greater degree. In the famous Leicestershire breed of sheep,
the object is to procure them with small heads and small legs.
Proceeding upon these breeding maxims, it is evident that we
might go on till the heads and legs were evanescent quantities,
but this is so palpable an absurdity that we may be quite sure
that the premises are not just and that there really is a limit,
though we cannot see it or say exactly where it is. In this case,
the point of the greatest degree of improvement, or the smallest
size of the head and legs, may be said to be undefined, but this
is very different from unlimited, or from indefinite, in Mr
Condorcet's acceptation of the term. Though I may not be able in
the present instance to mark the limit at which further
improvement will stop, I can very easily mention a point at which
it will not arrive. I should not scruple to assert that were the
breeding to continue for ever, the head and legs of these sheep
would never be so small as the head and legs of a rat.

It cannot be true, therefore, that among animals, some of the
offspring will possess the desirable qualities of the parents in
a greater degree, or that animals are indefinitely perfectible.

The progress of a wild plant to a beautiful garden flower is
perhaps more marked and striking than anything that takes place
among animals, yet even here it would be the height of absurdity
to assert that the progress was unlimited or indefinite.

One of the most obvious features of the improvement is the
increase of size. The flower has grown gradually larger by
cultivation. If the progress were really unlimited it might be
increased ad infinitum, but this is so gross an absurdity that we
may be quite sure that among plants as well as among animals
there is a limit to improvement, though we do not exactly know
where it is. It is probable that the gardeners who contend for
flower prizes have often applied stronger dressing without
success. At the same time it would be highly presumptuous in any
man to say that he had seen the finest carnation or anemone that
could ever be made to grow. He might however assert without the
smallest chance of being contradicted by a future fact, that no
carnation or anemone could ever by cultivation be increased to
the size of a large cabbage; and yet there are assignable
quantities much greater than a cabbage. No man can say that he
has seen the largest ear of wheat, or the largest oak that could
ever grow; but he might easily, and with perfect certainty, name
a point of magnitude at which they would not arrive. In all these
cases therefore, a careful distinction should be made, between an
unlimited progress, and a progress where the limit is merely

It will be said, perhaps, that the reason why plants and
animals cannot increase indefinitely in size is, that they would
fall by their own weight. I answer, how do we know this but from
experience?--from experience of the degree of strength with
which these bodies are formed. I know that a carnation, long
before it reached the size of a cabbage, would not be supported
by its stalk, but I only know this from my experience of the
weakness and want of tenacity in the materials of a carnation
stalk. There are many substances in nature of the same size that
would support as large a head as a cabbage.

The reasons of the mortality of plants are at present
perfectly unknown to us. No man can say why such a plant is
annual, another biennial, and another endures for ages. The whole
affair in all these cases, in plants, animals, and in the human
race, is an affair of experience, and I only conclude that man is
mortal because the invariable experience of all ages has proved
the mortality of those materials of which his visible body is

What can we reason, but from what we know?

Sound philosophy will not authorize me to alter this opinion
of the mortality of man on earth, till it can be clearly proved
that the human race has made, and is making, a decided progress
towards an illimitable extent of life. And the chief reason why I
adduced the two particular instances from animals and plants was
to expose and illustrate, if I could, the fallacy of that
argument which infers an unlimited progress, merely because some
partial improvement has taken place, and that the limit of this
improvement cannot be precisely ascertained.

The capacity of improvement in plants and animals, to a
certain degree, no person can possibly doubt. A clear and decided
progress has already been made, and yet, I think, it appears that
it would be highly absurd to say that this progress has no
limits. In human life, though there are great variations from
different causes, it may be doubted whether, since the world
began, any organic improvement whatever in the human frame can be
clearly ascertained. The foundations, therefore, on which the
arguments for the organic perfectibility of man rest, are
unusually weak, and can only be considered as mere conjectures.
It does not, however, by any means seem impossible that by an
attention to breed, a certain degree of improvement, similar to
that among animals, might take place among men. Whether intellect
could be communicated may be a matter of doubt: but size,
strength, beauty, complexion, and perhaps even longevity are in a
degree transmissible. The error does not seem to lie in supposing
a small degree of improvement possible, but in not discriminating
between a small improvement, the limit of which is undefined, and
an improvement really unlimited. As the human race, however,
could not be improved in this way, without condemning all the bad
specimens to celibacy, it is not probable that an attention to
breed should ever become general; indeed, I know of no
well-directed attempts of this kind, except in the ancient family
of the Bickerstaffs, who are said to have been very successful in
whitening the skins and increasing the height of their race by
prudent marriages, particularly by that very judicious cross with
Maud, the milk-maid, by which some capital defects in the
constitutions of the family were corrected.

It will not be necessary, I think, in order more completely
to shew the improbability of any approach in man towards
immortality on earth, to urge the very great additional weight
that an increase in the duration of life would give to the
argument of population.

Many, I doubt not, will think that the attempting gravely to
controvert so absurd a paradox as the immortality of man on
earth, or indeed, even the perfectibility of man and society, is
a waste of time and words, and that such unfounded conjectures
are best answered by neglect. I profess, however, to be of a
different opinion. When paradoxes of this kind are advanced by
ingenious and able men, neglect has no tendency to convince them
of their mistakes. Priding themselves on what they conceive to be
a mark of the reach and size of their own understandings, of the
extent and comprehensiveness of their views, they will look upon
this neglect merely as an indication of poverty, and narrowness,
in the mental exertions of their contemporaries, and only think
that the world is not yet prepared to receive their sublime

On the contrary, a candid investigation of these subjects,
accompanied with a perfect readiness to adopt any theory
warranted by sound philosophy, may have a tendency to convince
them that in forming improbable and unfounded hypotheses, so far
from enlarging the bounds of human science, they are contracting
it, so far from promoting the improvement of the human mind, they
are obstructing it; they are throwing us back again almost into
the infancy of knowledge and weakening the foundations of that
mode of philosophising, under the auspices of which science has
of late made such rapid advances. The present rage for wide and
unrestrained speculation seems to be a kind of mental
intoxication, arising, perhaps, from the great and unexpected
discoveries which have been made of late years, in various
branches of science. To men elate and giddy with such successes,
every thing appeared to be within the grasp of human powers; and,
under this illusion, they confounded subjects where no real
progress could be proved with those where the progress had been
marked, certain, and acknowledged. Could they be persuaded to
sober themselves with a little severe and chastised thinking,
they would see, that the cause of truth, and of sound philosophy,
cannot but suffer by substituting wild flights and unsupported
assertions for patient investigation, and well authenticated

Mr Condorcet's book may be considered not only as a sketch of
the opinions of a celebrated individual, but of many of the
literary men in France at the beginning of the Revolution. As
such, though merely a sketch, it seems worthy of attention.


Mr Godwin's system of equality--Error of attributing all the
vices of mankind to human institutions--Mr Godwin's first answer
to the difficulty arising from population totally insufficient--
Mr Godwin's beautiful system of equality supposed to be realized
--Its utter destruction simply from the principle of population in
so short a time as thirty years.

In reading Mr Godwin's ingenious and able work on political
justice, it is impossible not to be struck with the spirit and
energy of his style, the force and precision of some of his
reasonings, the ardent tone of his thoughts, and particularly
with that impressive earnestness of manner which gives an air of
truth to the whole. At the same time, it must be confessed that
he has not proceeded in his inquiries with the caution that sound
philosophy seems to require. His conclusions are often
unwarranted by his premises. He fails sometimes in removing the
objections which he himself brings forward. He relies too much on
general and abstract propositions which will not admit of
application. And his conjectures certainly far outstrip the
modesty of nature.

The system of equality which Mr Godwin proposes is, without
doubt, by far the most beautiful and engaging of any that has yet
appeared. An amelioration of society to be produced merely by
reason and conviction wears much more the promise of permanence
than any change effected and maintained by force. The unlimited
exercise of private judgement is a doctrine inexpressibly grand
and captivating and has a vast superiority over those systems
where every individual is in a manner the slave of the public.
The substitution of benevolence as the master-spring and moving
principle of society, instead of self-love, is a consummation
devoutly to be wished. In short, it is impossible to contemplate
the whole of this fair structure without emotions of delight and
admiration, accompanied with ardent longing for the period of its
accomplishment. But, alas! that moment can never arrive. The
whole is little better than a dream, a beautiful phantom of the
imagination. These 'gorgeous palaces' of happiness and
immortality, these 'solemn temples' of truth and virtue will
dissolve, 'like the baseless fabric of a vision', when we awaken
to real life and contemplate the true and genuine situation of
man on earth. Mr Godwin, at the conclusion of the third chapter
of his eighth book, speaking of population, says:

There is a principle in human society, by which population is
perpetually kept down to the level of the means of subsistence.
Thus among the wandering tribes of America and Asia, we never
find through the lapse of ages that population has so increased
as to render necessary the cultivation of the earth.

This principle, which Mr Godwin thus mentions as some
mysterious and occult cause and which he does not attempt to
investigate, will be found to be the grinding law of necessity,
misery, and the fear of misery.

The great error under which Mr Godwin labours throughout his
whole work is the attributing almost all the vices and misery
that are seen in civil society to human institutions. Political
regulations and the established administration of property are
with him the fruitful sources of all evil, the hotbeds of all the
crimes that degrade mankind. Were this really a true state of the
case, it would not seem a hopeless task to remove evil completely
from the world, and reason seems to be the proper and adequate
instrument for effecting so great a purpose. But the truth is,
that though human institutions appear to be the obvious and
obtrusive causes of much mischief to mankind, yet in reality they
are light and superficial, they are mere feathers that float on
the surface, in comparison with those deeper seated causes of
impurity that corrupt the springs and render turbid the whole
stream of human life.

Mr Godwin, in his chapter on the benefits attendant on a
system of equality, says:

The spirit of oppression, the spirit of servility, and the
spirit of fraud, these are the immediate growth of the
established administration of property. They are alike hostile to
intellectual improvement. The other vices of envy, malice, and
revenge are their inseparable companions. In a state of society
where men lived in the midst of plenty and where all shared alike
the bounties of nature, these sentiments would inevitably expire.
The narrow principle of selfishness would vanish. No man being
obliged to guard his little store or provide with anxiety and
pain for his restless wants, each would lose his individual
existence in the thought of the general good. No man would be an
enemy to his neighbour, for they would have no subject of
contention, and, of consequence, philanthropy would resume the
empire which reason assigns her. Mind would be delivered from her
perpetual anxiety about corporal support, and free to expatiate
in the field of thought, which is congenial to her. Each would
assist the inquiries of all.

This would, indeed, be a happy state. But that it is merely
an imaginary picture, with scarcely a feature near the truth, the
reader, I am afraid, is already too well convinced.

Man cannot live in the midst of plenty. All cannot share
alike the bounties of nature. Were there no established
administration of property, every man would be obliged to guard
with force his little store. Selfishness would be triumphant. The
subjects of contention would be perpetual. Every individual mind
would be under a constant anxiety about corporal support, and not
a single intellect would be left free to expatiate in the field
of thought.

How little Mr Godwin has turned the attention of his
penetrating mind to the real state of man on earth will
sufficiently appear from the manner in which he endeavours to
remove the difficulty of an overcharged population. He says:

The obvious answer to this objection, is, that to reason thus
is to foresee difficulties at a great distance. Three fourths of
the habitable globe is now uncultivated. The parts already
cultivated are capable of immeasurable improvement. Myriads of
centuries of still increasing population may pass away, and the
earth be still found sufficient for the subsistence of its

I have already pointed out the error of supposing that no
distress and difficulty would arise from an overcharged
population before the earth absolutely refused to produce any
more. But let us imagine for a moment Mr Godwin's beautiful
system of equality realized in its utmost purity, and see how
soon this difficulty might be expected to press under so perfect
a form of society. A theory that will not admit of application
cannot possibly be just.

Let us suppose all the causes of misery and vice in this
island removed. War and contention cease. Unwholesome trades and
manufactories do not exist. Crowds no longer collect together in
great and pestilent cities for purposes of court intrigue, of
commerce, and vicious gratifications. Simple, healthy, and
rational amusements take place of drinking, gaming, and
debauchery. There are no towns sufficiently large to have any
prejudicial effects on the human constitution. The greater part
of the happy inhabitants of this terrestrial paradise live in
hamlets and farmhouses scattered over the face of the country.
Every house is clean, airy, sufficiently roomy, and in a healthy
situation. All men are equal. The labours of luxury are at end.
And the necessary labours of agriculture are shared amicably
among all. The number of persons, and the produce of the island,
we suppose to be the same as at present. The spirit of
benevolence, guided by impartial justice, will divide this
produce among all the members of the society according to their
wants. Though it would be impossible that they should all have
animal food every day, yet vegetable food, with meat
occasionally, would satisfy the desires of a frugal people and
would be sufficient to preserve them in health, strength, and

Mr Godwin considers marriage as a fraud and a monopoly. Let
us suppose the commerce of the sexes established upon principles
of the most perfect freedom. Mr Godwin does not think himself
that this freedom would lead to a promiscuous intercourse, and in
this I perfectly agree with him. The love of variety is a
vicious, corrupt, and unnatural taste and could not prevail in
any great degree in a simple and virtuous state of society. Each
man would probably select himself a partner, to whom he would
adhere as long as that adherence continued to be the choice of
both parties. It would be of little consequence, according to Mr
Godwin, how many children a woman had or to whom they belonged.
Provisions and assistance would spontaneously flow from the
quarter in which they abounded, to the quarter that was
deficient. (See Bk VIII, ch. 8; in the third edition, Vol II, p.
512) And every man would be ready to furnish instruction to the
rising generation according to his capacity.

I cannot conceive a form of society so favourable upon the
whole to population. The irremediableness of marriage, as it is
at present constituted, undoubtedly deters many from entering
into that state. An unshackled intercourse on the contrary would
be a most powerful incitement to early attachments, and as we are
supposing no anxiety about the future support of children to
exist, I do not conceive that there would be one woman in a
hundred, of twenty-three, without a family.

With these extraordinary encouragements to population, and
every cause of depopulation, as we have supposed, removed, the
numbers would necessarily increase faster than in any society
that has ever yet been known. I have mentioned, on the authority
of a pamphlet published by a Dr Styles and referred to by Dr
Price, that the inhabitants of the back settlements of America
doubled their numbers in fifteen years. England is certainly a
more healthy country than the back settlements of America, and as
we have supposed every house in the island to be airy and
wholesome, and the encouragements to have a family greater even
than with the back settlers, no probable reason can be assigned
why the population should not double itself in less, if possible,
than fifteen years. But to be quite sure that we do not go beyond
the truth, we will only suppose the period of doubling to be
twenty-five years, a ratio of increase which is well known to
have taken place throughout all the Northern States of America.

There can be little doubt that the equalization of property
which we have supposed, added to the circumstance of the labour
of the whole community being directed chiefly to agriculture,
would tend greatly to augment the produce of the country. But to
answer the demands of a population increasing so rapidly, Mr
Godwin's calculation of half an hour a day for each man would
certainly not be sufficient. It is probable that the half of
every man's time must be employed for this purpose. Yet with
such, or much greater exertions, a person who is acquainted with
the nature of the soil in this country, and who reflects on the
fertility of the lands already in cultivation, and the barrenness
of those that are not cultivated, will be very much disposed to
doubt whether the whole average produce could possibly be doubled
in twenty-five years from the present period. The only chance of
success would be the ploughing up all the grazing countries and
putting an end almost entirely to the use of animal food. Yet a
part of this scheme might defeat itself. The soil of England will
not produce much without dressing, and cattle seem to be
necessary to make that species of manure which best suits the
land. In China it is said that the soil in some of the provinces
is so fertile as to produce two crops of rice in the year without
dressing. None of the lands in England will answer to this

Difficult, however, as it might be to double the average
produce of the island in twenty-five years, let us suppose it
effected. At the expiration of the first period therefore, the
food, though almost entirely vegetable, would be sufficient to
support in health the doubled population of fourteen millions.

During the next period of doubling, where will the food be
found to satisfy the importunate demands of the increasing
numbers? Where is the fresh land to turn up? Where is the
dressing necessary to improve that which is already in
cultivation? There is no person with the smallest knowledge of
land but would say that it was impossible that the average
produce of the country could be increased during the second
twenty-five years by a quantity equal to what it at present
yields. Yet we will suppose this increase, however improbable, to
take place. The exuberant strength of the argument allows of
almost any concession. Even with this concession, however, there
would be seven millions at the expiration of the second term
unprovided for. A quantity of food equal to the frugal support of
twenty-one millions, would be to be divided among twenty-eight

Alas! what becomes of the picture where men lived in the
midst of plenty, where no man was obliged to provide with anxiety
and pain for his restless wants, where the narrow principle of
selfishness did not exist, where Mind was delivered from her
perpetual anxiety about corporal support and free to expatiate in
the field of thought which is congenial to her. This beautiful
fabric of imagination vanishes at the severe touch of truth. The
spirit of benevolence, cherished and invigorated by plenty, is
repressed by the chilling breath of want. The hateful passions
that had vanished reappear. The mighty law of self-preservation
expels all the softer and more exalted emotions of the soul. The
temptations to evil are too strong for human nature to resist.
The corn is plucked before it is ripe, or secreted in unfair
proportions, and the whole black train of vices that belong to
falsehood are immediately generated. Provisions no longer flow in
for the support of the mother with a large family. The children
are sickly from insufficient food. The rosy flush of health gives
place to the pallid cheek and hollow eye of misery. Benevolence,
yet lingering in a few bosoms, makes some faint expiring
struggles, till at length self-love resumes his wonted empire and
lords it triumphant over the world.

No human institutions here existed, to the perverseness of
which Mr Godwin ascribes the original sin of the worst men. (Bk
VIII, ch. 3; in the third edition, Vol. II, p. 462) No opposition
had been produced by them between public and private good. No
monopoly had been created of those advantages which reason
directs to be left in common. No man had been goaded to the
breach of order by unjust laws. Benevolence had established her
reign in all hearts: and yet in so short a period as within fifty
years, violence, oppression, falsehood, misery, every hateful
vice, and every form of distress, which degrade and sadden the
present state of society, seem to have been generated by the most
imperious circumstances, by laws inherent in the nature of man,
and absolutely independent of it human regulations.

If we are not yet too well convinced of the reality of this
melancholy picture, let us but look for a moment into the next
period of twenty-five years; and we shall see twenty-eight
millions of human beings without the means of support; and before
the conclusion of the first century, the population would be one
hundred and twelve millions, and the food only sufficient for
thirty-five millions, leaving seventy-seven millions unprovided
for. In these ages want would be indeed triumphant, and rapine
and murder must reign at large: and yet all this time we are
supposing the produce of the earth absolutely unlimited, and the
yearly increase greater than the boldest speculator can imagine.

This is undoubtedly a very different view of the difficulty
arising from population from that which Mr Godwin gives, when he
says, 'Myriads of centuries of still increasing population may
pass away, and the earth be still found sufficient for the
subsistence of its inhabitants.'

I am sufficiently aware that the redundant twenty-eight
millions, or seventy-seven millions, that I have mentioned, could
never have existed. It is a perfectly just observation of Mr
Godwin, that, 'There is a principle in human society, by which
population is perpetually kept down to the level of the means of
subsistence.' The sole question is, what is this principle? is it
some obscure and occult cause? Is it some mysterious interference
of heaven which, at a certain period, strikes the men with
impotence, and the women with barrenness? Or is it a cause, open
to our researches, within our view, a cause, which has constantly
been observed to operate, though with varied force, in every
state in which man has been placed? Is it not a degree of misery,
the necessary and inevitable result of the laws of nature, which
human institutions, so far from aggravating, have tended
considerably to mitigate, though they never can remove?

It may be curious to observe, in the case that we have been
supposing, how some of the laws which at present govern civilized
society, would be successively dictated by the most imperious
necessity. As man, according to Mr Godwin, is the creature of the
impressions to which he is subject, the goadings of want could
not continue long, before some violations of public or private
stock would necessarily take place. As these violations increased
in number and extent, the more active and comprehensive
intellects of the society would soon perceive, that while
population was fast increasing, the yearly produce of the country
would shortly begin to diminish. The urgency of the case would
suggest the necessity of some mediate measures to be taken for
the general safety. Some kind of convention would then be called,
and the dangerous situation of the country stated in the
strongest terms. It would be observed, that while they lived in
the midst of plenty, it was of little consequence who laboured
the least, or who possessed the least, as every man was perfectly
willing and ready to supply the wants of his neighbour. But that
the question was no longer whether one man should give to another
that which he did not use himself, but whether he should give to
his neighbour the food which was absolutely necessary to his own
existence. It would be represented, that the number of those that
were in want very greatly exceeded the number and means of those
who should supply them; that these pressing wants, which from the
state of the produce of the country could not all be gratified,
had occasioned some flagrant violations of justice; that these
violations had already checked the increase of food, and would,
if they were not by some means or other prevented, throw the
whole community in confusion; that imperious necessity seemed to
dictate that a yearly increase of produce should, if possible, be
obtained at all events; that in order to effect this first,
great, and indispensable purpose, it would be advisable to make a
more complete division of land, and to secure every man's stock
against violation by the most powerful sanctions, even by death

It might be urged perhaps by some objectors that, as the
fertility of the land increased, and various accidents occurred,
the share of some men might be much more than sufficient for
their support, and that when the reign of self-love was once
established, they would not distribute their surplus produce
without some compensation in return. It would be observed, in
answer, that this was an inconvenience greatly to be lamented;
but that it was an evil which bore no comparison to the black
train of distresses that would inevitably be occasioned by the
insecurity of property; that the quantity of food which one man
could consume was necessarily limited by the narrow capacity of
the human stomach; that it was not certainly probable that he
should throw away the rest; but that even if he exchanged his
surplus food for the labour of others, and made them in some
degree dependent on him, this would still be better than that
these others should absolutely starve.

It seems highly probable, therefore, that an administration
of property, not very different from that which prevails in
civilized states at present, would be established, as the best,
though inadequate, remedy for the evils which were pressing on
the society.

The next subject that would come under discussion, intimately
connected with the preceding, is the commerce between the sexes.
It would be urged by those who had turned their attention to the
true cause of the difficulties under which the community
laboured, that while every man felt secure that all his children
would be well provided for by general benevolence, the powers of
the earth would be absolutely inadequate to produce food for the
population which would inevitably ensue; that even if the whole
attention and labour of the society were directed to this sole
point, and if, by the most perfect security of property, and
every other encouragement that could be thought of, the greatest
possible increase of produce were yearly obtained; yet still,
that the increase of food would by no means keep pace with the
much more rapid increase of population; that some check to
population therefore was imperiously called for; that the most
natural and obvious check seemed to be to make every man provide
for his own children; that this would operate in some respect as
a measure and guide in the increase of population, as it might be
expected that no man would bring beings into the world, for whom
he could not find the means of support; that where this
notwithstanding was the case, it seemed necessary, for the
example of others, that the disgrace and inconvenience attending
such a conduct should fall upon the individual, who had thus
inconsiderately plunged himself and innocent children in misery
and want.

The institution of marriage, or at least, of some express or
implied obligation on every man to support his own children,
seems to be the natural result of these reasonings in a community
under the difficulties that we have supposed.

The view of these difficulties presents us with a very
natural origin of the superior disgrace which attends a breach of
chastity in the woman than in the man. It could not be expected
that women should have resources sufficient to support their own
children. When therefore a woman was connected with a man, who
had entered into no compact to maintain her children, and, aware
of the inconveniences that he might bring upon himself, had
deserted her, these children must necessarily fall for support
upon the society, or starve. And to prevent the frequent
recurrence of such an inconvenience, as it would be highly unjust
to punish so natural a fault by personal restraint or infliction,
the men might agree to punish it with disgrace. The offence is
besides more obvious and conspicuous in the woman, and less
liable to any mistake. The father of a child may not always be
known, but the same uncertainty cannot easily exist with regard
to the mother. Where the evidence of the offence was most
complete, and the inconvenience to the society at the same time
the greatest, there it was agreed that the large share of blame
should fall. The obligation on every man to maintain his
children, the society would enforce, if there were occasion; and
the greater degree of inconvenience or labour, to which a family
would necessarily subject him, added to some portion of disgrace
which every human being must incur who leads another into
unhappiness, might be considered as a sufficient punishment for
the man.

That a woman should at present be almost driven from society
for an offence which men commit nearly with impunity, seems to be
undoubtedly a breach of natural justice. But the origin of the
custom, as the most obvious and effectual method of preventing
the frequent recurrence of a serious inconvenience to a
community, appears to be natural, though not perhaps perfectly
justifiable. This origin, however, is now lost in the new train
of ideas which the custom has since generated. What at first
might be dictated by state necessity is now supported by female
delicacy, and operates with the greatest force on that part of
society where, if the original intention of the custom were
preserved, there is the least real occasion for it.

When these two fundamental laws of society, the security of
property, and the institution of marriage, were once established,
inequality of conditions must necessarily follow. Those who were
born after the division of property would come into a world
already possessed. If their parents, from having too large a
family, could not give them sufficient for their support, what
are they to do in a world where everything is appropriated? We
have seen the fatal effects that would result to a society, if
every man had a valid claim to an equal share of the produce of
the earth. The members of a family which was grown too large for
the original division of land appropriated to it could not then
demand a part of the surplus produce of others, as a debt of
justice. It has appeared, that from the inevitable laws of our
nature some human beings must suffer from want. These are the
unhappy persons who, in the great lottery of life, have drawn a
blank. The number of these claimants would soon exceed the
ability of the surplus produce to supply. Moral merit is a very
difficult distinguishing criterion, except in extreme cases. The
owners of surplus produce would in general seek some more obvious
mark of distinction. And it seems both natural and just that,
except upon particular occasions, their choice should fall upon
those who were able, and professed themselves willing, to exert
their strength in procuring a further surplus produce; and thus
at once benefiting the community, and enabling these proprietors
to afford assistance to greater numbers. All who were in want of
food would be urged by imperious necessity to offer their labour
in exchange for this article so absolutely essential to
existence. The fund appropriated to the maintenance of labour
would be the aggregate quantity of food possessed by the owners
of land beyond their own consumption. When the demands upon this
fund were great and numerous, it would naturally be divided in
very small shares. Labour would be ill paid. Men would offer to
work for a bare subsistence, and the rearing of families would be
checked by sickness and misery. On the contrary, when this fund
was increasing fast, when it was great in proportion to the
number of claimants, it would be divided in much larger shares.
No man would exchange his labour without receiving an ample
quantity of food in return. Labourers would live in ease and
comfort, and would consequently be able to rear a numerous and
vigorous offspring.

On the state of this fund, the happiness, or the degree of
misery, prevailing among the lower classes of people in every
known state at present chiefly depends. And on this happiness, or
degree of misery, depends the increase, stationariness, or
decrease of population.

And thus it appears, that a society constituted according to
the most beautiful form that imagination can conceive, with
benevolence for its moving principle, instead of self-love, and
with every evil disposition in all its members corrected by
reason and not force, would, from the inevitable laws of nature,
and not from any original depravity of man, in a very short
period degenerate into a society constructed upon a plan not
essentially different from that which prevails in every known
state at present; I mean, a society divided into a class of
proprietors, and a class of labourers, and with self-love the
main-spring of the great machine.

In the supposition I have made, I have undoubtedly taken the
increase of population smaller, and the increase of produce
greater, than they really would be. No reason can be assigned
why, under the circumstances I have supposed, population should
not increase faster than in any known instance. If then we were
to take the period of doubling at fifteen years, instead of
twenty-five years, and reflect upon the labour necessary to
double the produce in so short a time, even if we allow it
possible, we may venture to pronounce with certainty that if Mr
Godwin's system of society was established in its utmost
perfection, instead of myriads of centuries, not thirty years
could elapse before its utter destruction from the simple
principle of population.

I have taken no notice of emigration for obvious reasons. If
such societies were instituted in other parts of Europe, these
countries would be under the same difficulties with regard to
population, and could admit no fresh members into their bosoms.
If this beautiful society were confined to this island, it must
have degenerated strangely from its original purity, and
administer but a very small portion of the happiness it proposed;
in short, its essential principle must be completely destroyed,
before any of its members would voluntarily consent to leave it,
and live under such governments as at present exist in Europe, or
submit to the extreme hardships of first settlers in new regions.
We well know, from repeated experience, how much misery and
hardship men will undergo in their own country, before they can
determine to desert it; and how often the most tempting proposals
of embarking for new settlements have been rejected by people who
appeared to be almost starving.


Mr Godwin's conjecture concerning the future extinction of the
passion between the sexes--Little apparent grounds for such a
conjecture--Passion of love not inconsistent either with reason
or virtue.

We have supported Mr Godwin's system of society once completely
established. But it is supposing an impossibility. The same
causes in nature which would destroy it so rapidly, were it once
established, would prevent the possibility of its establishment.
And upon what grounds we can presume a change in these natural
causes, I am utterly at a loss to conjecture. No move towards the
extinction of the passion between the sexes has taken place in
the five or six thousand years that the world has existed. Men in
the decline of life have in all ages declaimed against a passion
which they have ceased to feel, but with as little reason as
success. Those who from coldness of constitutional temperament
have never felt what love is, will surely be allowed to be very
incompetent judges with regard to the power of this passion to
contribute to the sum of pleasurable sensations in life. Those
who have spent their youth in criminal excesses and have prepared
for themselves, as the comforts of their age, corporeal debility
and mental remorse may well inveigh against such pleasures as
vain and futile, and unproductive of lasting satisfaction. But
the pleasures of pure love will bear the contemplation of the
most improved reason, and the most exalted virtue. Perhaps there
is scarcely a man who has once experienced the genuine delight of
virtuous love, however great his intellectual pleasure may have
been, that does not look back to the period as the sunny spot in
his whole life, where his imagination loves to bask, which he
recollects and contemplates with the fondest regrets, and which
he would most wish to live over again. The superiority of
intellectual to sensual pleasures consists rather in their
filling up more time, in their having a larger range, and in
their being less liable to satiety, than in their being more real
and essential.

Intemperance in every enjoyment defeats its own purpose. A
walk in the finest day through the most beautiful country, if
pursued too far, ends in pain and fatigue. The most wholesome and
invigorating food, eaten with an unrestrained appetite, produces
weakness instead of strength. Even intellectual pleasures, though
certainly less liable than others to satiety, pursued with too
little intermission, debilitate the body, and impair the vigour
of the mind. To argue against the reality of these pleasures from
their abuse seems to be hardly just. Morality, according to Mr
Godwin, is a calculation of consequences, or, as Archdeacon Paley
very justly expresses it, the will of God, as collected from
general expediency. According to either of these definitions, a
sensual pleasure not attended with the probability of unhappy
consequences does not offend against the laws of morality, and if
it be pursued with such a degree of temperance as to leave the
most ample room for intellectual attainments, it must undoubtedly
add to the sum of pleasurable sensations in life. Virtuous love,
exalted by friendship, seems to be that sort of mixture of
sensual and intellectual enjoyment particularly suited to the
nature of man, and most powerfully calculated to awaken the
sympathies of the soul, and produce the most exquisite

Mr Godwin says, in order to shew the evident inferiority of
the pleasures of sense, 'Strip the commerce of the sexes of all
its attendant circumstances, and it would be generally despised'
(Bk. I, ch. 5; in the third edition, Vol. I, pp. 71-72). He might
as well say to a man who admired trees: strip them of their
spreading branches and lovely foliage, and what beauty can you
see in a bare pole? But it was the tree with the branches and
foliage, and not without them, that excited admiration. One
feature of an object may be as distinct, and excite as different
emotions, from the aggregate as any two things the most remote,
as a beautiful woman, and a map of Madagascar. It is 'the
symmetry of person, the vivacity, the voluptuous softness of
temper, the affectionate kindness of feelings, the imagination
and the wit' of a woman that excite the passion of love, and not
the mere distinction of her being female. Urged by the passion of
love, men have been driven into acts highly prejudicial to the
general interests of society, but probably they would have found
no difficulty in resisting the temptation, had it appeared in the
form of a woman with no other attractions whatever but her sex.
To strip sensual pleasures of all their adjuncts, in order to
prove their inferiority, is to deprive a magnet of some of its
most essential causes of attraction, and then to say that it is
weak and inefficient.

In the pursuit of every enjoyment, whether sensual or
intellectual, reason, that faculty which enables us to calculate
consequences, is the proper corrective and guide. It is probable
therefore that improved reason will always tend to prevent the
abuse of sensual pleasures, though it by no means follows that it
will extinguish them.

I have endeavoured to expose the fallacy of that argument
which infers an unlimited progress from a partial improvement,
the limits of which cannot be exactly ascertained. It has
appeared, I think, that there are many instances in which a
decided progress has been observed, where yet it would be a gross
absurdity to suppose that progress indefinite. But towards the
extinction of the passion between the sexes, no observable
progress whatever has hitherto been made. To suppose such an
extinction, therefore, is merely to offer an unfounded
conjecture, unsupported by any philosophical probabilities.

It is a truth, which history I am afraid makes too clear,
that some men of the highest mental powers have been addicted not
only to a moderate, but even to an immoderate indulgence in the
pleasures of sensual love. But allowing, as I should be inclined
to do, notwithstanding numerous instances to the contrary, that
great intellectual exertions tend to diminish the empire of this
passion over man, it is evident that the mass of mankind must be
improved more highly than the brightest ornaments of the species
at present before any difference can take place sufficient
sensibly to affect population. I would by no means suppose that
the mass of mankind has reached its term of improvement, but the
principal argument of this essay tends to place in a strong point
of view the improbability that the lower classes of people in any
country should ever be sufficiently free from want and labour to
obtain any high degree of intellectual improvement.


Mr Godwin's conjecture concerning the indefinite prolongation of
human life--Improper inference drawn from the effects of mental
stimulants on the human frame, illustrated in various instances--
Conjectures not founded on any indications in the past not to be
considered as philosophical conjectures--Mr Godwin's and Mr
Condorcet's conjecture respecting the approach of man towards
immortality on earth, a curious instance of the inconsistency of

Mr Godwin's conjecture respecting the future approach of man
towards immortality on earth seems to be rather oddly placed in a
chapter which professes to remove the objection to his system of
equality from the principle of population. Unless he supposes the
passion between the sexes to decrease faster than the duration of
life increases, the earth would be more encumbered than ever. But
leaving this difficulty to Mr Godwin, let us examine a few of the
appearances from which the probable immortality of man is

To prove the power of the mind over the body, Mr Godwin
observes, "How often do we find a piece of good news dissipating a
distemper? How common is the remark that those accidents which
are to the indolent a source of disease are forgotten and
extirpated in the busy and active? I walk twenty miles in an
indolent and half determined temper and am extremely fatigued. I
walk twenty miles full of ardour, and with a motive that
engrosses my soul, and I come in as fresh and as alert as when I
began my journey. Emotion excited by some unexpected word, by a
letter that is delivered to us, occasions the most extraordinary
revolutions in our frame, accelerates the circulation, causes the
heart to palpitate, the tongue to refuse its office, and has been
known to occasion death by extreme anguish or extreme joy. There
is nothing indeed of which the physician is more aware than of
the power of the mind in assisting or reading convalescence."

The instances here mentioned are chiefly instances of the
effects of mental stimulants on the bodily frame. No person has
ever for a moment doubted the near, though mysterious, connection
of mind and body. But it is arguing totally without knowledge of
the nature of stimulants to suppose, either that they can be
applied continually with equal strength, or if they could be so
applied, for a time, that they would not exhaust and wear out the
subject. In some of the cases here noticed, the strength of the
stimulus depends upon its novelty and unexpectedness. Such a
stimulus cannot, from its nature, be repeated often with the same
effect, as it would by repetition lose that property which gives
it its strength.

In the other cases, the argument is from a small and partial
effect, to a great and general effect, which will in numberless
instances be found to be a very fallacious mode of reasoning. The
busy and active man may in some degree counteract, or what is
perhaps nearer the truth, may disregard those slight disorders of
frame which fix the attention of a man who has nothing else to
think of; but this does not tend to prove that activity of mind
will enable a man to disregard a high fever, the smallpox, or the

The man who walks twenty miles with a motive that engrosses
his soul does not attend to his slight fatigue of body when he
comes in; but double his motive, and set him to walk another
twenty miles, quadruple it, and let him start a third time, and
so on; and the length of his walk will ultimately depend upon
muscle and not mind. Powell, for a motive of ten guineas, would
have walked further probably than Mr Godwin, for a motive of half
a million. A motive of uncommon power acting upon a frame of
moderate strength would, perhaps, make the man kill himself by
his exertions, but it would not make him walk a hundred miles in
twenty-four hours. This statement of the case shews the fallacy
of supposing that the person was really not at all tired in his
first walk of twenty miles, because he did not appear to be so,
or, perhaps, scarcely felt any fatigue himself. The mind cannot
fix its attention strongly on more than one object at once. The
twenty thousand pounds so engrossed his thoughts that he did not
attend to any slight soreness of foot, or stiffness of limb. But
had he been really as fresh and as alert, as when he first set
off, he would be able to go the second twenty miles with as much
ease as the first, and so on, the third, &c. Which leads to a
palpable absurdity. When a horse of spirit is nearly half tired,
by the stimulus of the spur, added to the proper management of
the bit, he may be put so much upon his mettle, that he would
appear to a standerby, as fresh and as high spirited as if he had
not gone a mile. Nay, probably, the horse himself, while in the
heat and passion occasioned by this stimulus, would not feel any
fatigue; but it would be strangely contrary to all reason and
experience, to argue from such an appearance that, if the
stimulus were continued, the horse would never be tired. The cry
of a pack of hounds will make some horses, after a journey of
forty miles on the road, appear as fresh, and as lively, as when
they first set out. Were they then to be hunted, no perceptible
abatement would at first be felt by their riders in their
strength and spirits, but towards the end of a hard day, the
previous fatigue would have its full weight and effect, and make
them tire sooner. When I have taken a long walk with my gun, and
met with no success, I have frequently returned home feeling a
considerable degree of uncomfortableness from fatigue. Another
day, perhaps, going over nearly the same extent of ground with a
good deal of sport, I have come home fresh, and alert. The
difference in the sensation of fatigue upon coming in, on the
different days, may have been very striking, but on the following
mornings I have found no such difference. I have not perceived
that I was less stiff in my limbs, or less footsore, on the
morning after the day of the sport, than on the other morning.

In all these cases, stimulants upon the mind seem to act
rather by taking off the attention from the bodily fatigue, than
by really and truly counteracting it. If the energy of my mind
had really counteracted the fatigue of my body, why should I feel
tired the next morning? if the stimulus of the hounds had as
completely overcome the fatigue of the journey in reality, as it
did in appearance, why should the horse be tired sooner than if
he had not gone the forty miles? I happen to have a very bad fit
of the toothache at the time I am writing this. In the eagerness
of composition, I every now and then, for a moment or two, forget
it. Yet I cannot help thinking that the process, which causes the
pain, is still going forwards, and that the nerves which carry
the information of it to the brain are even during these moments
demanding attention and room for their appropriate vibrations.
The multiplicity of vibrations of another kind may perhaps
prevent their admission, or overcome them for a time when
admitted, till a shoot of extraordinary energy puts all other
vibration to the rout, destroys the vividness of my argumentative
conceptions, and rides triumphant in the brain. In this case, as
in the others, the mind seems to have little or no power in
counteracting or curing the disorder, but merely possesses a
power, if strongly excited, of fixing its attention on other

I do not, however, mean to say that a sound and vigorous mind
has no tendency whatever to keep the body in a similar state. So
close and intimate is the union of mind and body that it would be
highly extraordinary if they did not mutually assist each other's
functions. But, perhaps, upon a comparison, the body has more
effect upon the mind than the mind upon the body. The first
object of the mind is to act as purveyor to the wants of the
body. When these wants are completely satisfied, an active mind
is indeed apt to wander further, to range over the fields of
science, or sport in the regions of. Imagination, to fancy that
it has 'shuffled off this mortal coil', and is seeking its
kindred element. But all these efforts are like the vain
exertions of the hare in the fable. The slowly moving tortoise,
the body, never fails to overtake the mind, however widely and
extensively it may have ranged, and the brightest and most
energetic intellects, unwillingly as they may attend to the first
or second summons, must ultimately yield the empire of the brain
to the calls of hunger, or sink with the exhausted body in sleep.

It seems as if one might say with certainty that if a
medicine could be found to immortalize the body there would be no
fear of its [not] being accompanied by the immortality of the
mind. But the immortality of the mind by no means seems to infer
the immortality of the body. On the contrary, the greatest
conceivable energy of mind would probably exhaust and destroy the
strength of the body. A temperate vigour of mind appears to be
favourable to health, but very great intellectual exertions tend
rather, as has been often observed, to wear out the scabbard.
Most of the instances which Mr Godwin has brought to prove the
power of the mind over the body, and the consequent probability
of the immortality of man, are of this latter description, and
could such stimulants be continually applied, instead of tending
to immortalize, they would tend very rapidly to destroy the human

The probable increase of the voluntary power of man over his
animal frame comes next under Mr Godwin's consideration, and he
concludes by saying, that the voluntary power of some men, in
this respect, is found to extend to various articles in which
other men are impotent. But this is reasoning against an almost
universal rule from a few exceptions; and these exceptions seem
to be rather tricks, than powers that may be exerted to any good
purpose. I have never heard of any man who could regulate his
pulse in a fever, and doubt much, if any of the persons here
alluded to have made the smallest perceptible progress in the
regular correction of the disorders of their frames and the
consequent prolongation of their lives.

Mr Godwin says, 'Nothing can be more unphilosophical than to
conclude, that, because a certain species of power is beyond the
train of our present observation, that it is beyond the limits of
the human mind.' I own my ideas of philosophy are in this respect
widely different from Mr Godwin's. The only distinction that I
see, between a philosophical conjecture, and the assertions of
the Prophet Mr Brothers, is, that one is founded upon indications
arising from the train of our present observations, and the other
has no foundation at all. I expect that great discoveries are yet
to take place in all the branches of human science, particularly
in physics; but the moment we leave past experience as the
foundation of our conjectures concerning the future, and, still
more, if our conjectures absolutely contradict past experience,
we are thrown upon a wide field of uncertainty, and any one
supposition is then just as good as another. If a person were to
tell me that men would ultimately have eyes and hands behind them
as well as before them, I should admit the usefulness of the
addition, but should give as a reason for my disbelief of it,
that I saw no indications whatever in the past from which I could
infer the smallest probability of such a change. If this be not
allowed a valid objection, all conjectures are alike, and all
equally philosophical. I own it appears to me that in the train
of our present observations, there are no more genuine
indications that man will become immortal upon earth than that he
will have four eyes and four hands, or that trees will grow
horizontally instead of perpendicularly.

It will be said, perhaps, that many discoveries have already
taken place in the world that were totally unforeseen and
unexpected. This I grant to be true; but if a person had
predicted these discoveries without being guided by any analogies
or indications from past facts, he would deserve the name of seer
or prophet, but not of philosopher. The wonder that some of our
modern discoveries would excite in the savage inhabitants of
Europe in the times of Theseus and Achilles, proves but little.
Persons almost entirely unacquainted with the powers of a machine
cannot be expected to guess at its effects. I am far from saying,
that we are at present by any means fully acquainted with the
powers of the human mind; but we certainly know more of this
instrument than was known four thousand years ago; and therefore,
though not to be called competent judges, we are certainly much
better able than savages to say what is, or is not, within its
grasp. A watch would strike a savage with as much surprise as a
perpetual motion; yet one is to us a most familiar piece of
mechanism, and the other has constantly eluded the efforts of the
most acute intellects. In many instances we are now able to
perceive the causes, which prevent an unlimited improvement in
those inventions, which seemed to promise fairly for it at first.
The original improvers of telescopes would probably think, that
as long as the size of the specula and the length of the tubes
could be increased, the powers and advantages of the instrument
would increase; but experience has since taught us, that the
smallness of the field, the deficiency of light, and the
circumstance of the atmosphere being magnified, prevent the
beneficial results that were to be expected from telescopes of
extraordinary size and power. In many parts of knowledge, man has
been almost constantly making some progress; in other parts, his
efforts have been invariably baffled. The savage would not
probably be able to guess at the causes of this mighty
difference. Our further experience has given us some little
insight into these causes, and has therefore enabled us better to
judge, if not of what we are to expect in future, at least of
what we are not to expect, which, though negative, is a very
useful piece of information.

As the necessity of sleep seems rather to depend upon the
body than the mind, it does not appear how the improvement of the
mind can tend very greatly to supersede this 'conspicuous
infirmity'.30 A man who by great excitements on his mind is able
to pass two or three nights without sleep, proportionably
exhausts the vigour of his body, and this diminution of health
and strength will soon disturb the operations of his
understanding, so that by these great efforts he appears to have
made no real progress whatever in superseding the necessity of
this species of rest.

There is certainly a sufficiently marked difference in the
various characters of which we have some knowledge, relative to
the energies of their minds, their benevolent pursuits, etc., to
enable us to judge whether the operations of intellect have any
decided effect in prolonging the duration of human life. It is
certain that no decided effect of this kind has yet been
observed. Though no attention of any kind has ever produced such
an effect as could be construed into the smallest semblance of an
approach towards immortality, yet of the two, a certain attention
to the body seems to have more effect in this respect than an
attention to the mind. The man who takes his temperate meals and
his bodily exercise, with scrupulous regularity, will generally
be found more healthy than the man who, very deeply engaged in
intellectual pursuits, often forgets for a time these bodily
cravings. The citizen who has retired, and whose ideas, perhaps,
scarcely soar above or extend beyond his little garden, puddling
all the morning about his borders of box, will, perhaps, live as
long as the philosopher whose range of intellect is the most
extensive, and whose views are the clearest of any of his
contemporaries. It has been positively observed by those who have
attended to the bills of mortality that women live longer upon an
average than men, and, though I would not by any means say that
their intellectual faculties are inferior, yet, I think, it must
be allowed that, from their different education, there are not so
many women as men, who are excited to vigorous mental exertion.

As in these and similar instances, or to take a larger range,
as in the great diversity of characters that have existed during
some thousand years, no decided difference has been observed in
the duration of human life from the operation of intellect, the
mortality of man on earth seems to be as completely established,
and exactly upon the same grounds, as any one, the most constant,
of the laws of nature. An immediate act of power in the Creator
of the Universe might, indeed, change one or all of these laws,
either suddenly or gradually, but without some indications of
such a change, and such indications do not exist, it. Is just as
unphilosophical to suppose that the life of man may be prolonged
beyond any assignable limits, as to suppose that the attraction
of the earth will gradually be changed into repulsion and that
stones will ultimately rise instead of fall or that the earth
will fly off at a certain period to some more genial and warmer

The conclusion of this chapter presents us, undoubtedly, with
a very beautiful and desirable picture, but like some of the
landscapes drawn from fancy and not imagined with truth, it fails
of that interest in the heart which nature and probability can
alone give.

I cannot quit this subject without taking notice of these
conjectures of Mr Godwin and Mr Condorcet concerning the
indefinite prolongation of human life, as a very curious instance
of the longing of the soul after immortality. Both these
gentlemen have rejected the light of revelation which absolutely
promises eternal life in another state. They have also rejected
the light of natural religion, which to the ablest intellects in
all ages has indicated the future existence of the soul. Yet so
congenial is the idea of immortality to the mind of man that they
cannot consent entirely to throw it out of their systems. After
all their fastidious scepticisms concerning the only probable
mode of immortality, they introduce a species of immortality of
their own, not only completely contradictory to every law of
philosophical probability, but in itself in the highest degree
narrow, partial, and unjust. They suppose that all the great,
virtuous, and exalted minds that have ever existed or that may
exist for some thousands, perhaps millions of years, will be sunk
in annihilation, and that only a few beings, not greater in
number than can exist at once upon the earth, will be ultimately
crowned with immortality. Had such a tenet been advanced as a
tenet of revelation I am very sure that all the enemies of
religion, and probably Mr Godwin and Mr Condorcet among the rest,
would have exhausted the whole force of their ridicule upon it,
as the most puerile, the most absurd, the poorest, the most
pitiful, the most iniquitously unjust, and, consequently, the
most unworthy of the Deity that the superstitious folly of man
could invent.

What a strange and curious proof do these conjectures exhibit
of the inconsistency of scepticism! For it should be observed,
that there is a very striking and essential difference between
believing an assertion which absolutely contradicts the most
uniform experience, and an assertion which contradicts nothing,
but is merely beyond the power of our present observation and
knowledge. So diversified are the natural objects around us, so
many instances of mighty power daily offer themselves to our
view, that we may fairly presume, that there are many forms and
operations of nature which we have not yet observed, or which,
perhaps, we are not capable of observing with our present
confined inlets of knowledge. The resurrection of a spiritual
body from a natural body does not appear in itself a more
wonderful instance of power than the germination of a blade of
wheat from the grain, or of an oak from an acorn. Could we
conceive an intelligent being, so placed as to be conversant only
with inanimate or full grown objects, and never to have witnessed
the process of vegetation and growth; and were another being to
shew him two little pieces of matter, a grain of wheat, and an
acorn, to desire him to examine them, to analyse them if he
pleased, and endeavour to find out their properties and essences;
and then to tell him, that however trifling these little bits of
matter might appear to him, that they possessed such curious
powers of selection, combination, arrangement, and almost of
creation, that upon being put into the ground, they would choose,
amongst all the dirt and moisture that surrounded them, those
parts which best suited their purpose, that they would collect
and arrange these parts with wonderful taste, judgement, and
execution, and would rise up into beautiful forms, scarcely in
any respect analogous to the little bits of matter which were
first placed in the earth. I feel very little doubt that the
imaginary being which I have supposed would hesitate more, would
require better authority, and stronger proofs, before he believed
these strange assertions, than if he had been told, that a being
of mighty power, who had been the cause of all that he saw around
him, and of that existence of which he himself was conscious,
would, by a great act of power upon the death and corruption of
human creatures, raise up the essence of thought in an
incorporeal, or at least invisible form, to give it a happier
existence in another state.

The only difference, with regard to our own apprehensions,
that is not in favour of the latter assertion is that the first
miracle we have repeatedly seen, and the last miracle we have not
seen. I admit the full weight of this prodigious difference, but
surely no man can hesitate a moment in saying that, putting
Revelation out of the question, the resurrection of a spiritual
body from a natural body, which may be merely one among the many
operations of nature which we cannot see, is an event
indefinitely more probable than the immortality of man on earth,
which is not only an event of which no symptoms or indications
have yet appeared, but is a positive contradiction to one of the
most constant of the laws of nature that has ever come within the
observation of man.

When we extend our view beyond this life, it is evident that
we can have no other guides than authority, or conjecture, and
perhaps, indeed, an obscure and undefined feeling. What I say
here, therefore, does not appear to me in any respect to
contradict what I said before, when I observed that it was
unphilosophical to expect any specifick event that was not
indicated by some kind of analogy in the past. In ranging beyond
the bourne from which no traveller returns, we must necessarily
quit this rule; but with regard to events that may be expected to
happen on earth, we can seldom quit it consistently with true
philosophy. Analogy has, however, as I conceive, great latitude.
For instance, man has discovered many of the laws of nature:
analogy seems to indicate that he will discover many more; but no
analogy seems to indicate that he will discover a sixth sense, or
a new species of power in the human mind, entirely beyond the
train of our present observations.

The powers of selection, combination, and transmutation,
which every seed shews, are truly miraculous. Who can imagine
that these wonderful faculties are contained in these little bits
of matter? To me it appears much more philosophical to suppose
that the mighty God of nature is present in full energy in all
these operations. To this all powerful Being, it would be equally
easy to raise an oak without an acorn as with one. The
preparatory process of putting seeds into the ground is merely
ordained for the use of man, as one among the various other
excitements necessary to awaken matter into mind. It is an idea
that will be found consistent, equally with the natural phenomena
around us, with the various events of human life, and with the
successive revelations of God to man, to suppose that the world
is a mighty process for the creation and formation of mind. Many
vessels will necessarily come out of this great furnace in wrong
shapes. These will be broken and thrown aside as useless; while
those vessels whose forms are full of truth, grace, and
loveliness, will be wafted into happier situations, nearer the
presence of the mighty maker.

I ought perhaps again to make an apology to my readers for
dwelling so long upon a conjecture which many, I know, will think
too absurd and improbable to require the least discussion. But if
it be as improbable and as contrary to the genuine spirit of
philosophy as I own I think it is, why should it not be shewn to
be so in a candid examination? A conjecture, however improbable
on the first view of it, advanced by able and ingenious men,
seems at least to deserve investigation. For my own part I feel
no disinclination whatever to give that degree of credit to the
opinion of the probable immortality of man on earth, which the
appearances that can be brought in support of it deserve. Before
we decide upon the utter improbability of such an event, it is
but fair impartially to examine these appearances; and from such
an examination I think we may conclude, that we have rather less
reason for supposing that the life of man may be indefinitely
prolonged, than that trees may be made to grow indefinitely high,
or potatoes indefinitely large. Though Mr Godwin advances the
idea of the indefinite prolongation of human life merely as a
conjecture, yet as he has produced some appearances, which in his
conception favour the supposition, he must certainly intend that
these appearances should be examined and this is all that I have
meant to do.


Error of Mr Godwin is considering man too much in the light of a
being merely rational--In the compound being, man, the passions
will always act as disturbing forces in the decisions of the
understanding--Reasonings of Mr Godwin on the subject of
coercion--Some truths of a nature not to be communicated from
one man to another.

In the chapter which I have been examining, Mr Godwin professes
to consider the objection to his system of equality from the
principle of population. It has appeared, I think clearly, that
he is greatly erroneous in his statement of the distance of this
difficulty, and that instead of myriads of centuries, it is
really not thirty years, or even thirty days, distant from us.
The supposition of the approach of man to immortality on earth is
certainly not of a kind to soften the difficulty. The only
argument, therefore, in the chapter which has any tendency to
remove the objection is the conjecture concerning the extinction
of the passion between the sexes, but as this is a mere
conjecture, unsupported by the smallest shadow of proof, the
force of the objection may be fairly said to remain unimpaired,
and it is undoubtedly of sufficient weight of itself completely
to overturn Mr Godwin's whole system of equality. I will,
however, make one or two observations on a few of the prominent
parts of Mr Godwin's reasonings which will contribute to place in
a still clearer point of view the little hope that we can
reasonably entertain of those vast improvements in the nature of
man and of society which he holds up to our admiring gaze in his
Political Justice.

Mr Godwin considers man too much in the light of a being
merely intellectual. This error, at least such I conceive it to
be, pervades his whole work and mixes itself with all his
reasonings. The voluntary actions of men may originate in their
opinions, but these opinions will be very differently modified in
creatures compounded of a rational faculty and corporal
propensities from what they would be in beings wholly
intellectual. Mr Godwin, in proving that sound reasoning and
truth are capable of being adequately communicated, examines the
proposition first practically, and then adds, 'Such is the
appearance which this proposition assumes, when examined in a
loose and practical view. In strict consideration it will not
admit of debate. Man is a rational being, etc.' (Bk. I, ch. 5; in
the third edition Vol. I, p. 88). So far from calling this a
strict consideration of the subject, I own I should call it the
loosest, and most erroneous, way possible, of considering it. It
is the calculating the velocity of a falling body in vacuo, and
persisting in it, that it would be the same through whatever
resisting mediums it might fall. This was not Newton's mode of
philosophizing. Very few general propositions are just in
application to a particular subject. The moon is not kept in her
orbit round the earth, nor the earth in her orbit round the sun,
by a force that varies merely in the inverse ratio of the squares
of the distances. To make the general theory just in application
to the revolutions of these bodies, it was necessary to calculate
accurately the disturbing force of the sun upon the moon, and of
the moon upon the earth; and till these disturbing forces were
properly estimated, actual observations on the motions of these
bodies would have proved that the theory was not accurately true.

I am willing to allow that every voluntary act is preceded by
a decision of the mind, but it is strangely opposite to what I
should conceive to be the just theory upon the subject, and a
palpable contradiction to all experience, to say that the
corporal propensities of man do not act very powerfully, as
disturbing forces, in these decisions. The question, therefore,
does not merely depend upon whether a man may be made to
understand a distinct proposition or be convinced by an
unanswerable argument. A truth may be brought home to his
conviction as a rational being, though he may determine to act
contrary to it, as a compound being. The cravings of hunger, the
love of liquor, the desire of possessing a beautiful woman, will
urge men to actions, of the fatal consequences of which, to the
general interests of society, they are perfectly well convinced,
even at the very time they commit them. Remove their bodily
cravings, and they would not hesitate a moment in determining
against such actions. Ask them their opinion of the same conduct
in another person, and they would immediately reprobate it. But
in their own case, and under all the circumstances of their
situation with these bodily cravings, the decision of the
compound being is different from the conviction of the rational

If this be the just view of the subject, and both theory and
experience unite to prove that it is, almost all Mr Godwin's
reasonings on the subject of coercion in his seventh chapter,
will appear to be founded on error. He spends some time in
placing in a ridiculous point of view the attempt to convince a
man's understanding and to clear up a doubtful proposition in his
mind, by blows. Undoubtedly it is both ridiculous and barbarous,
and so is cock-fighting, but one has little more to do with the
real object of human punishments than the other. One frequent
(indeed much too frequent) mode of punishment is death. Mr Godwin
will hardly think this intended for conviction, at least it does
not appear how the individual or the society could reap much
future benefit from an understanding enlightened in this manner.

The principal objects which human punishments have in view
are undoubtedly restraint and example; restraint, or removal, of
an individual member whose vicious habits are likely to be
prejudicial to the society'; and example, which by expressing the
sense of the community with regard to a particular crime, and by
associating more nearly and visibly crime and punishment, holds
out a moral motive to dissuade others from the commission of it.

Restraint, Mr Godwin thinks, may be permitted as a temporary
expedient, though he reprobates solitary imprisonment, which has
certainly been the most successful, and, indeed, almost the only
attempt towards the moral amelioration of offenders. He talks of
the selfish passions that are fostered by solitude and of the
virtues generated in society. But surely these virtues are not
generated in the society of a prison. Were the offender confined
to the society of able and virtuous men he would probably be more
improved than in solitude. But is this practicable? Mr Godwin's
ingenuity is more frequently employed in finding out evils than
in suggesting practical remedies.

Punishment, for example, is totally reprobated. By
endeavouring to make examples too impressive and terrible,
nations have, indeed, been led into the most barbarous cruelties,
but the abuse of any practice is not a good argument against its
use. The indefatigable pains taken in this country to find out a
murder, and the certainty of its punishment, has powerfully
contributed to generate that sentiment which is frequent in the
mouths of the common people, that a murder will sooner or later
come to light; and the habitual horror in which murder is in
consequence held will make a man, in the agony of passion, throw
down his knife for fear he should be tempted to use it in the
gratification of his revenge. In Italy, where murderers, by
flying to a sanctuary, are allowed more frequently to escape, the
crime has never been held in the same detestation and has
consequently been more frequent. No man, who is at all aware of
the operation of moral motives, can doubt for a moment, that if
every murder in Italy had been invariably punished, the use of
the stiletto in transports of passion would have been
comparatively but little known.

That human laws either do, or can, proportion the punishment
accurately to the offence, no person will have the folly to
assert. From the inscrutability of motives the thing is
absolutely impossible, but this imperfection, though it may be
called a species of injustice, is no valid argument against human
laws. It is the lot of man, that he will frequently have to
choose between two evils; and it is a sufficient reason for the
adoption of any institution, that it is the best mode that
suggests itself of preventing greater evils. A continual
endeavour should undoubtedly prevail to make these institutions
as perfect as the nature of them will admit. But nothing is so
easy as to find fault with human institutions; nothing so
difficult as to suggest adequate practical improvements. It is to
be lamented, that more men of talents employ their time in the
former occupation than in the tatter.

The frequency of crime among men, who, as the common saying
is, know better, sufficiently proves, that some truths may be
brought home to the conviction of the mind without always
producing the proper effect upon the conduct. There are other
truths of a nature that perhaps never can be adequately
communicated from one man to another. The superiority of the
pleasures of intellect to those of sense, Mr Godwin considers as
a fundamental truth. Taking all circumstances into consideration,
I should be disposed to agree with him; but how am I to
communicate this truth to a person who has scarcely ever felt
intellectual pleasure? I may as well attempt to explain the
nature and beauty of colours to a blind man. If I am ever so
laborious, patient, and clear, and have the most repeated
opportunities of expostulation, any real progress toward the
accomplishment of my purpose seems absolutely hopeless. There is
no common measure between us. I cannot proceed step by step.. It
is a truth of a nature absolutely incapable of demonstration. All
that I can say is, that the wisest and best men in all ages had
agreed in giving the preference, very greatly, to the pleasures
of intellect; and that my own experience completely confirmed the
truth of their decisions; that I had found sensual pleasures
vain, transient, and continually attended with tedium and
disgust; but that intellectual pleasures appeared to me ever
fresh and young, filled up all my hours satisfactorily, gave a
new zest to life, and diffused a lasting serenity over my mind.
If he believe me, it can only be from respect and veneration for
my authority. It is credulity, and not conviction. I have not
said any thing, nor can any thing be said, of a nature to produce
real conviction. The affair is not an affair of reasoning, but of
experience. He would probably observe in reply, what you say may
be very true with regard to yourself and many other good men, but
for my own part I feel very differently upon the subject. I have
very frequently taken up a book and almost as frequently gone to
sleep over it; but when I pass an evening with a gay party, or a
pretty woman, I feel alive, and in spirits, and truly enjoy my

Under such circumstances, reasoning and arguments are not
instruments from which success can be expected. At some future
time perhaps, real satiety of sensual pleasures, or some
accidental impressions that awakened the energies of his mind,
might effect that, in a month, which the most patient and able
expostulations might be incapable of effecting in forty years.


Mr Godwin's five propositions respecting political truth, on
which his whole work hinges, not established--Reasons we have
for supposing, from the distress occasioned by the principle of
population, that the vices and moral weakness of man can never be
wholly eradicated--Perfectibility, in the sense in which Mr
Godwin uses the term, not applicable to man--Nature of the real
perfectibility of man illustrated.

If the reasonings of the preceding chapter are just, the
corollaries respecting political truth, which Mr Godwin draws
from the proposition, that the voluntary actions of men originate
in their opinions, will not appear to be clearly established.
These corollaries are, "Sound reasoning and truth, when
adequately communicated, must always be victorious over error:
Sound reasoning and truth are capable of being so communicated:
Truth is omnipotent: The vices and moral weakness of man are not
invincible: Man is perfectible, or in other words, susceptible of
perpetual improvement."

The first three propositions may be considered a complete
syllogism. If by adequately communicated, be meant such a
conviction as to produce an adequate effect upon the conduct, the
major may be allowed and the minor denied. The consequent, or the
omnipotence of truth, of course falls to the ground. If by
'adequately communicated' be meant merely the conviction of the
rational faculty, the major must be denied, the minor will be
only true in cases capable of demonstration, and the consequent
equally falls. The fourth proposition Mr Godwin calls the
preceding proposition, with a slight variation in the statement.
If so, it must accompany the preceding proposition in its fall.
But it may be worth while to inquire, with reference to the
principal argument of this essay, into the particular reasons
which we have for supposing that the vices and moral weakness of
man can never be wholly overcome in this world.

Man, according to Mr Godwin, is a creature formed what he is
by the successive impressions which he has received, from the
first moment that the germ from which he sprung was animated.
Could he be placed in a situation, where he was subject to no
evil impressions whatever, though it might be doubted whether in
such a situation virtue could exist, vice would certainly be
banished. The great bent of Mr Godwin's work on Political
Justice, if I understand it rightly, is to shew that the greater
part of the vices and weaknesses of men proceed from the
injustice of their political and social institutions, and that if
these were removed and the understandings of men more
enlightened, there would be little or no temptation in the world
to evil. As it has been clearly proved, however, (at least as I
think) that this is entirely a false conception, and that,
independent of any political or social institutions whatever, the
greater part of mankind, from the fixed and unalterable laws of
nature, must ever be subject to the evil temptations arising from
want, besides other passions, it follows from Mr Godwin's
definition of man that such impressions, and combinations of
impressions, cannot be afloat in the world without generating a
variety of bad men. According to Mr Godwin's own conception of
the formation of character, it is surely as improbable that under
such circumstances all men will be virtuous as that sixes will
come up a hundred times following upon the dice. The great
variety of combinations upon the dice in a repeated succession of
throws appears to me not inaptly to represent the great variety
of character that must necessarily exist in the world, supposing
every individual to be formed what he is by that combination of
impressions which he has received since his first existence. And
this comparison will, in some measure, shew the absurdity of
supposing, that exceptions will ever become general rules; that
extraordinary and unusual combinations will be frequent; or that
the individual instances of great virtue which had appeared in
all ages of the world will ever prevail universally.

I am aware that Mr Godwin might say that the comparison is in
one respect inaccurate, that in the case of the dice, the
preceding causes, or rather the chances respecting the preceding
causes, were always the same, and that, therefore, I could have
no good reason for supposing that a greater number of sixes would
come up in the next hundred times of throwing than in the
preceding same number of throws. But, that man had in some sort a
power of influencing those causes that formed character, and that
every good and virtuous man that was produced, by the influence
which he must necessarily have, rather increased the probability
that another such virtuous character would be generated, whereas
the coming up of sixes upon the dice once, would certainly not
increase the probability of their coming up a second time. I
admit this objection to the accuracy of the comparison, but it is
only partially valid. Repeated experience has assured us, that
the influence of the most virtuous character will rarely prevail
against very strong temptations to evil. It will undoubtedly
affect some, but it will fail with a much greater number. Had Mr
Godwin succeeded in his attempt to prove that these temptations
to evil could by the exertions of man be removed, I would give up
the comparison; or at least allow, that a man might be so far
enlightened with regard to the mode of shaking his elbow, that he
would be able to throw sixes every time. But as long as a great
number of those impressions which form character, like the nice
motions of the arm, remain absolutely independent of the will of
man, though it would be the height of folly and presumption to
attempt to calculate the relative proportions of virtue and vice
at the future periods of the world, it may be safely asserted
that the vices and moral weakness of mankind, taken in the mass,
are invincible.

The fifth proposition is the general deduction from the four
former and will consequently fall, as the foundations which
support it have given way. In the sense in which Mr Godwin
understands the term 'perfectible', the perfectibility of man
cannot be asserted, unless the preceding propositions could have
been clearly established. There is, however, one sense, which the
term will bear, in which it is, perhaps, just. It may be said
with truth that man is always susceptible of improvement, or that
there never has been, or will be, a period of his history, in
which he can be said to have reached his possible acme of
perfection. Yet it does not by any means follow from this, that
our efforts to improve man will always succeed, or even that he
will ever make, in the greatest number of ages, any extraordinary
strides towards perfection. The only inference that can be drawn
is that the precise limit of his improvement cannot possibly be
known. And I cannot help again reminding the reader of a

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