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An Essay on the Principle of Population by Thomas Malthus

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distinction which, it appears to me, ought particularly to be
attended to in the present question: I mean, the essential
difference there is between an unlimited improvement and an
improvement the limit of which cannot be ascertained. The former
is an improvement not applicable to man under the present laws of
his nature. The latter, undoubtedly, is applicable.

The real perfectibility of man may be illustrated, as I have
mentioned before, by the perfectibility of a plant. The object of
the enterprising florist is, as I conceive, to unite size,
symmetry, and beauty of colour. It would surely be presumptuous
in the most successful improver to affirm, that he possessed a
carnation in which these qualities existed in the greatest
possible state of perfection. However beautiful his flower may
be, other care, other soil, or other suns, might produce one
still more beautiful.

Yet, although he may be aware of the absurdity of supposing
that he has reached perfection, and though he may know by what
means he attained that degree of beauty in the flower which he at
present possesses, yet he cannot be sure that by pursuing similar
means, rather increased in strength, he will obtain a more
beautiful blossom. By endeavouring to improve one quality, he may
impair the beauty of another. The richer mould which he would
employ to increase the size of his plant would probably burst the
calyx, and destroy at once its symmetry. In a similar manner, the
forcing manure used to bring about the French Revolution, and to
give a greater freedom and energy to the human mind, has burst
the calyx of humanity, the restraining bond of all society; and,
however large the separate petals have grown, however strongly,
or even beautifully, a few of them have been marked, the whole is
at present a loose, deformed, disjointed mass, without union,
symmetry, or harmony of colouring.

Were it of consequence to improve pinks and carnations,
though we could have no hope of raising them as large as
cabbages, we might undoubtedly expect, by successive efforts, to
obtain more beautiful specimens than we at present possess. No
person can deny the importance of improving the happiness of the
human species. Every the least advance in this respect is highly
valuable. But an experiment with the human race is not like an
experiment upon inanimate objects. The bursting of a flower may
be a trifle. Another will soon succeed it. But the bursting of
the bonds of society is such a separation of parts as cannot take
place without giving the most acute pain to thousands: and a long
time may elapse, and much misery may be endured, before the wound
grows up again.

As the five propositions which I have been examining may be
considered as the corner stones of Mr Godwin's fanciful
structure, and, indeed, as expressing the aim and bent of his
whole work, however excellent much of his detached reasoning may
be, he must be considered as having failed in the great object of
his undertaking. Besides the difficulties arising from the
compound nature of man, which he has by no means sufficiently
smoothed, the principal argument against the perfectibility of
man and society remains whole and unimpaired from any thing that
he has advanced. And as far as I can trust my own judgement, this
argument appears to be conclusive, not only against the
perfectibility of man, in the enlarged sense in which Mr Godwin
understands the term, but against any very marked and striking
change for the better, in the form and structure of general
society; by which I mean any great and decided amelioration of
the condition of the lower classes of mankind, the most numerous,
and, consequently, in a general view of the subject, the most
important part of the human race. Were I to live a thousand
years, and the laws of nature to remain the same, I should little
fear, or rather little hope, a contradiction from experience in
asserting that no possible sacrifices or exertions of the rich,
in a country which had been long inhabited, could for any time
place the lower classes of the community in a situation equal,
with regard to circumstances, to the situation of the common
people about thirty years ago in the northern States of America.

The lower classes of people in Europe may at some future
period be much better instructed than they are at present; they
may be taught to employ the little spare time they have in many
better ways than at the ale-house; they may live under better and
more equal laws than they have ever hitherto done, perhaps, in
any country; and I even conceive it possible, though not probable
that they may have more leisure; but it is not in the nature of
things that they can be awarded such a quantity of money or
subsistence as will allow them all to marry early, in the full
confidence that they shall be able to provide with ease for a
numerous family.


Models too perfect may sometimes rather impede than promote
improvement--Mr Godwin's essay on 'Avarice and Profusion'--
Impossibility of dividing the necessary labour of a society
amicably among all--Invectives against labour may produce present
evil, with little or no chance of producing future good--An
accession to the mass of agricultural labour must always be an
advantage to the labourer.

Mr Godwin in the preface to his Enquirer, drops a few expressions
which seem to hint at some change in his opinions since he wrote
the Political Justice; and as this is a work now of some years
standing, I should certainly think that I had been arguing
against opinions which the author had himself seen reason to
alter, but that in some of the essays of the Enquirer, Mr
Godwin's peculiar mode of thinking appears in as striking a light
as ever.

It has been frequently observed that though we cannot hope to
reach perfection in any thing, yet that it must always be
advantageous to us to place before our eyes the most perfect
models. This observation has a plausible appearance, but is very
far from being generally true. I even doubt its truth in one of
the most obvious exemplifications that would occur. I doubt
whether a very young painter would receive so much benefit, from
an attempt to copy a highly finished and perfect picture, as from
copying one where the outlines were more strongly marked and the
manner of laying on the colours was more easily discoverable. But
in cases where the perfection of the model is a perfection of a
different and superior nature from that towards which we should
naturally advance, we shall not always fail in making any
progress towards it, but we shall in all probability impede the
progress which we might have expected to make had we not fixed
our eyes upon so perfect a model. A highly intellectual
being, exempt from the infirm calls of hunger or sleep, is
undoubtedly a much more perfect existence than man, but were man
to attempt to copy such a model, he would not only fail in making
any advances towards it; but by unwisely straining to imitate
what was inimitable, he would probably destroy the little
intellect which he was endeavouring to improve.

The form and structure of society which Mr Godwin describes
is as essentially distinct from any forms of society which have
hitherto prevailed in the world as a being that can live without
food or sleep is from a man. By improving society in its present
form, we are making no more advances towards such a state of
things as he pictures than we should make approaches towards a
line, with regard to which we were walking parallel. The
question, therefore, is whether, by looking to such a form of
society as our polar star, we are likely to advance or retard the
improvement of the human species? Mr Godwin appears to me to have
decided this question against himself in his essay on 'Avarice
and Profusion' in the Enquirer.

Dr Adam Smith has very justly observed that nations as well
as individuals grow rich by parsimony and poor by profusion, and
that, therefore, every frugal man was a friend and every
spendthrift an enemy to his country. The reason he gives is that
what is saved from revenue is always added to stock, and is
therefore taken from the maintenance of labour that is generally
unproductive and employed in the maintenance of labour that
realizes itself in valuable commodities. No observation can be
more evidently just. The subject of Mr Godwin's essay is a little
similar in its first appearance, but in essence is as distinct as
possible. He considers the mischief of profusion as an
acknowledged truth, and therefore makes his comparison between
the avaricious man, and the man who spends his income. But the
avaricious man of Mr Godwin is totally a distinct character, at
least with regard to his effect upon the prosperity of the state,
from the frugal man of Dr Adam Smith. The frugal man in order to
make more money saves from his income and adds to his capital,
and this capital he either employs himself in the maintenance of
productive labour, or he lends it to some other person who will
probably employ it in this way. He benefits the state because he
adds to its general capital, and because wealth employed as
capital not only sets in motion more labour than when spent as
income, but the labour is besides of a more valuable kind. But
the avaricious man of Mr Godwin locks up his wealth in a chest
and sets in motion no labour of any kind, either productive or
unproductive. This is so essential a difference that Mr Godwin's
decision in his essay appears at once as evidently false as Dr
Adam Smith's position is evidently true. It could not, indeed,
but occur to Mr Godwin that some present inconvenience might
arise to the poor from thus locking up the funds destined for the
maintenance of labour. The only way, therefore, he had of
weakening this objection was to compare the two characters
chiefly with regard to their tendency to accelerate the approach
of that happy state of cultivated equality, on which he says we
ought always to fix our eyes as our polar star.

I think it has been proved in the former parts of this essay
that such a state of society is absolutely impracticable. What
consequences then are we to expect from looking to such a point
as our guide and polar star in the great sea of political
discovery? Reason would teach us to expect no other than winds
perpetually adverse, constant but fruitless toil, frequent
shipwreck, and certain misery. We shall not only fail in making
the smallest real approach towards such a perfect form of
society; but by wasting our strength of mind and body, in a
direction in which it is impossible to proceed, and by the
frequent distress which we must necessarily occasion by our
repeated failures, we shall evidently impede that degree of
improvement in society, which is really attainable.

It has appeared that a society constituted according to Mr
Godwin's system must, from the inevitable laws of our nature,
degenerate into a class of proprietors and a class of labourers,
and that the substitution of benevolence for self-love as the
moving principle of society, instead of producing the happy
effects that might be expected from so fair a name, would cause
the same pressure of want to be felt by the whole of society,
which is now felt only by a part. It is to the established
administration of property and to the apparently narrow principle
of self-love that we are indebted for all the noblest exertions
of human genius, all the finer and more delicate emotions of the
soul, for everything, indeed, that distinguishes the civilized
from the savage state; and no sufficient change has as yet taken
place in the nature of civilized man to enable us to say that he
either is, or ever will be, in a state when he may safely throw
down the ladder by which he has risen to this eminence.

If in every society that has advanced beyond the savage
state, a class of proprietors and a class of labourers must
necessarily exist, it is evident that, as labour is the only
property of the class of labourers, every thing that tends to
diminish the value of this property must tend to diminish the
possession of this part of society. The only way that a poor man
has of supporting himself in independence is by the exertion of
his bodily strength. This is the only commodity he has to give in
exchange for the necessaries of life. It would hardly appear then
that you benefit him by narrowing the market for this commodity,
by decreasing the demand for labour, and lessening the value of
the only property that he possesses.

It should be observed that the principal argument of this
Essay only goes to prove the necessity of a class of proprietors,
and a class of labourers, but by no means infers that the present
great inequality of property is either necessary or useful to
society. On the contrary, it must certainly be considered as an
evil, and every institution that promotes it is essentially bad
and impolitic. But whether a government could with advantage to
society actively interfere to repress inequality of fortunes may
be a matter of doubt. Perhaps the generous system of perfect
liberty adopted by Dr Adam Smith and the French economists would
be ill exchanged for any system of restraint.

Mr Godwin would perhaps say that the whole system of barter
and exchange is a vile and iniquitous traffic. If you would
essentially relieve the poor man, you should take a part of his
labour upon yourself, or give him your money, without exacting so
severe a return for it. In answer to the first method proposed,
it may be observed, that even if the rich could be persuaded to
assist the poor in this way, the value of the assistance would be
comparatively trifling. The rich, though they think themselves of
great importance, bear but a small proportion in point of numbers
to the poor, and would, therefore, relieve them but of a small
part of their burdens by taking a share. Were all those that are
employed in the labours of luxuries added to the number of those
employed in producing necessaries, and could these necessary
labours be amicably divided among all, each man's share might
indeed be comparatively light; but desirable as such an amicable
division would undoubtedly be, I cannot conceive any practical
principle according to which it could take place. It has been
shewn, that the spirit of benevolence, guided by the strict
impartial justice that Mr Godwin describes, would, if vigorously
acted upon, depress in want and misery the whole human race. Let
us examine what would be the consequence, if the proprietor were
to retain a decent share for himself, but to give the rest away
to the poor, without exacting a task from them in return. Not to
mention the idleness and the vice that such a proceeding, if
general, would probably create in the present state of society,
and the great risk there would be, of diminishing the produce of
land, as well as the labours of luxury, another objection yet

Mr Godwin seems to have but little respect for practical
principles; but I own it appears to me, that he is a much greater
benefactor to mankind, who points out how an inferior good may be
attained, than he who merely expatiates on the deformity of the
present state of society, and the beauty of a different state,
without pointing out a practical method, that might be
immediately applied, of accelerating our advances from the one,
to the other.

It has appeared that from the principle of population more
will always be in want than can be adequately supplied. The
surplus of the rich man might be sufficient for three, but four
will be desirous to obtain it. He cannot make this selection of
three out of the four without conferring a great favour on those
that are the objects of his choice. These persons must consider
themselves as under a great obligation to him and as dependent
upon him for their support. The rich man would feel his power and
the poor man his dependence, and the evil effects of these two
impressions on the human heart are well known. Though I perfectly
agree with Mr Godwin therefore in the evil of hard labour, yet I
still think it a less evil, and less calculated to debase the
human mind, than dependence, and every history of man that we
have ever read places in a strong point of view the danger to
which that mind is exposed which is entrusted with constant

In the present state of things, and particularly when labour
is in request, the man who does a day's work for me confers full
as great an obligation upon me as I do upon him. I possess what
he wants, he possesses what I want. We make an amicable exchange.
The poor man walks erect in conscious independence; and the mind
of his employer is not vitiated by a sense of power.

Three or four hundred years ago there was undoubtedly much
less labour in England, in proportion to the population, than at
present, but there was much more dependence, and we probably
should not now enjoy our present degree of civil liberty if the
poor, by the introduction of manufactures, had not been enabled
to give something in exchange for the provisions of the great
Lords, instead of being dependent upon their bounty. Even the
greatest enemies of trade and manufactures, and I do not reckon
myself a very determined friend to them, must allow that when
they were introduced into England, liberty came in their train.

Nothing that has been said tends in the most remote degree to
undervalue the principle of benevolence. It is one of the noblest
and most godlike qualities of the human heart, generated,
perhaps, slowly and gradually from self-love, and afterwards
intended to act as a general law, whose kind office it should be,
to soften the partial deformities, to correct the asperities, and
to smooth the wrinkles of its parent: and this seems to be the
analog of all nature. Perhaps there is no one general law of
nature that will not appear, to us at least, to produce partial
evil; and we frequently observe at the same time, some bountiful
provision which, acting as another general law, corrects the
inequalities of the first.

The proper office of benevolence is to soften the partial
evils arising from self-love, but it can never be substituted in
its place. If no man were to allow himself to act till he had
completely determined that the action he was about to perform was
more conducive than any other to the general good, the most
enlightened minds would hesitate in perplexity and amazement; and
the unenlightened would be continually committing the grossest

As Mr Godwin, therefore, has not laid down any practical
principle according to which the necessary labours of agriculture
might be amicably shared among the whole class of labourers, by
general invectives against employing the poor he appears to
pursue an unattainable good through much present evil. For if
every man who employs the poor ought to be considered as their
enemy, and as adding to the weight of their oppressions, and if
the miser is for this reason to be preferred to the man who
spends his income, it follows that any number of men who now
spend their incomes might, to the advantage of society, be
converted into misers. Suppose then that a hundred thousand
persons who now employ ten men each were to lock up their wealth
from general use, it is evident, that a million of working men of
different kinds would be completely thrown out of all employment.
The extensive misery that such an event would produce in the
present state of society Mr Godwin himself could hardly refuse to
acknowledge, and I question whether he might not find some
difficulty in proving that a conduct of this kind tended more
than the conduct of those who spend their incomes to 'place human
beings in the condition in which they ought to be placed.' But Mr
Godwin says that the miser really locks up nothing, that the
point has not been rightly understood, and that the true
development and definition of the nature of wealth have not been
applied to illustrate it. Having defined therefore wealth, very
justly, to be the commodities raised and fostered by human
labour, he observes that the miser locks up neither corn, nor
oxen, nor clothes, nor houses. Undoubtedly he does not really
lock up these articles, but he locks up the power of producing
them, which is virtually the same. These things are certainly
used and consumed by his contemporaries, as truly, and to as
great an extent, as if he were a beggar; but not to as great an
extent as if he had employed his wealth in turning up more land,
in breeding more oxen, in employing more tailors, and in building
more houses. But supposing, for a moment, that the conduct of the
miser did not tend to check any really useful produce, how are
all those who are thrown out of employment to obtain patents
which they may shew in order to be awarded a proper share of the
food and raiment produced by the society? This is the
unconquerable difficulty.

I am perfectly willing to concede to Mr Godwin that there is
much more labour in the world than is really necessary, and that,
if the lower classes of society could agree among themselves
never to work more than six or seven hours in the day, the
commodities essential to human happiness might still be produced
in as great abundance as at present. But it is almost impossible
to conceive that such an agreement could be adhered to. From the
principle of population, some would necessarily be more in want
than others. Those that had large families would naturally be
desirous of exchanging two hours more of their labour for an
ampler quantity of subsistence. How are they to be prevented from
making this exchange? it would be a violation of the first and
most sacred property that a man possesses to attempt, by positive
institutions, to interfere with his command over his own labour.

Till Mr Godwin, therefore, can point out some practical plan
according to which the necessary labour in a society might be
equitably divided, his invectives against labour, if they were
attended to, would certainly produce much present evil without
approximating us to that state of cultivated equality to which he
looks forward as his polar star, and which, he seems to think,
should at present be our guide in determining the nature and
tendency of human actions. A mariner guided by such a polar star
is in danger of shipwreck.

Perhaps there is no possible way in which wealth could in
general be employed so beneficially to a state, and particularly
to the lower orders of it, as by improving and rendering
productive that land which to a farmer would not answer the
expense of cultivation. Had Mr Godwin exerted his energetic
eloquence in painting the superior worth and usefulness of the
character who employed the poor in this way, to him who employed
them in narrow luxuries, every enlightened man must have
applauded his efforts. The increasing demand for agricultural
labour must always tend to better the condition of the poor; and
if the accession of work be of this kind, so far is it from being
true that the poor would be obliged to work ten hours for the
same price that they before worked eight, that the very reverse
would be the fact; and a labourer might then support his wife and
family as well by the labour of six hours as he could before by
the labour of eight.

The labour created by luxuries, though useful in distributing
the produce of the country, without vitiating the proprietor by
power, or debasing the labourer by dependence, has not, indeed,
the same beneficial effects on the state of the poor. A great
accession of work from manufacturers, though it may raise the
price of labour even more than an increasing demand for
agricultural labour, yet, as in this case the quantity of food in
the country may not be proportionably increasing, the advantage
to the poor will be but temporary, as the price of provisions
must necessarily rise in proportion to the price of labour.
Relative to this subject, I cannot avoid venturing a few remarks
on a part of Dr Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, speaking at the
same time with that diffidence which I ought certainly to feel in
differing from a person so justly celebrated in the political


Probable error of Dr Adam Smith in representing every increase of
the revenue or stock of a society as an increase in the funds for
the maintenance of labour--Instances where an increase of wealth
can have no tendency to better the condition of the labouring
poor--England has increased in riches without a proportional
increase in the funds for the maintenance of labour--The state
of the poor in China would not be improved by an increase of
wealth from manufactures.

The professed object of Dr Adam Smith's inquiry is the nature and
causes of the wealth of nations. There is another inquiry,
however, perhaps still more interesting, which he occasionally
mixes with it; I mean an inquiry into the causes which affect the
happiness of nations or the happiness and comfort of the lower
orders of society, which is the most numerous class in every
nation. I am sufficiency aware of the near connection of these
two subjects, and that the causes which tend to increase the
wealth of a state tend also, generally speaking, to increase the
happiness of the lower classes of the people. But perhaps Dr Adam
Smith has considered these two inquiries as still more nearly
connected than they really are; at least, he has not stopped to
take notice of those instances where the wealth of a society may
increase (according to his definition of 'wealth') without having
any tendency to increase the comforts of the labouring part of
it. I do not mean to enter into a philosophical discussion of
what constitutes the proper happiness of man, but shall merely
consider two universally acknowledged ingredients, health, and
the command of the necessaries and conveniences of life.

Little or no doubt can exist that the comforts of the
labouring poor depend upon the increase of the funds destined for
the maintenance of labour, and will be very exactly in proportion
to the rapidity of this increase. The demand for labour which
such increase would occasion, by creating a competition in the
market, must necessarily raise the value of labour, and, till the
additional number of hands required were reared, the increased
funds would be distributed to the same number of persons as
before the increase, and therefore every labourer would live
comparatively at his ease. But perhaps Dr Adam Smith errs in
representing every increase of the revenue or stock of a society
as an increase of these funds. Such surplus stock or revenue
will, indeed, always be considered by the individual possessing
it as an additional fund from which he may maintain more labour:
but it will not be a real and effectual fund for the maintenance
of an additional number of labourers, unless the whole, or at
least a great part of this increase of the stock or revenue of
the society, be convertible into a proportional quantity of
provisions; and it will not be so convertible where the increase
has arisen merely from the produce of labour, and not from the
produce of land. A distinction will in this case occur, between
the number of hands which the stock of the society could employ,
and the number which its territory can maintain.

To explain myself by an instance. Dr Adam Smith defines the
wealth of a nation to consist. In the annual produce of its land
and labour. This definition evidently includes manufactured
produce, as well as the produce of the land. Now supposing a
nation for a course of years was to add what it saved from its
yearly revenue to its manufacturing capital solely, and not to
its capital employed upon land, it is evident that it might grow
richer according to the above definition, without a power of
supporting a greater number of labourers, and, therefore, without
an increase in the real funds for the maintenance of labour.
There would, notwithstanding, be a demand for labour from the
power which each manufacturer would possess, or at least think he
possessed, of extending his old stock in trade or of setting up
fresh works. This demand would of course raise the price of
labour, but if the yearly stock of provisions in the country was
not increasing, this rise would soon turn out to be merely
nominal, as the price of provisions must necessarily rise with
it. The demand for manufacturing labourers might, indeed, entice
many from agriculture and thus tend to diminish the annual
produce of the land, but we will suppose any effect of this kind
to be compensated by improvements in the instruments of
agriculture, and the quantity of provisions therefore to remain
the same. Improvements in manufacturing machinery would of course
take place, and this circumstance, added to the greater number of
hands employed in manufactures, would cause the annual produce of
the labour of the country to be upon the whole greatly increased.
The wealth therefore of the country would be increasing annually,
according to the definition, and might not, perhaps, be
increasing very slowly.

The question is whether wealth, increasing in this way, has
any tendency to better the condition of the labouring poor. It is
a self-evident proposition that any general rise in the price of
labour, the stock of provisions remaining the same, can only be a
nominal rise, as it must very shortly be followed by a
proportional rise in the price of provisions. The increase in the
price of labour, therefore, which we have supposed, would have
little or no effect in giving the labouring poor a greater
command over the necessaries and conveniences of life. In this
respect they would be nearly in the same state as before. In one
other respect they would be in a worse state. A greater
proportion of them would be employed in manufactures, and fewer,
consequently, in agriculture. And this exchange of professions
will be allowed, I think, by all, to be very unfavourable in
respect of health, one essential ingredient of happiness, besides
the greater uncertainty of manufacturing labour, arising from the
capricious taste of man, the accidents of war, and other causes.

It may be said, perhaps, that such an instance as I have
supposed could not occur, because the rise in the price of
provisions would immediately turn some additional capital into
the channel of agriculture. But this is an event which may take
place very slowly, as it should be remarked that a rise in the
price of labour had preceded the rise of provisions, and would,
therefore, impede the good effects upon agriculture, which the
increased value of the produce of the land might otherwise have

It might also be said, that the additional capital of the
nation would enable it to import provisions sufficient for the
maintenance of those whom its stock could employ. A small country
with a large navy, and great inland accommodations for carriage,
such as Holland, may, indeed, import and distribute an effectual
quantity of provisions; but the price of provisions must be very
high to make such an importation and distribution answer in large
countries less advantageously circumstanced in this respect.

An instance, accurately such as I have supposed, may not,
perhaps, ever have occurred, but I have little doubt that
instances nearly approximating to it may be found without any
very laborious search. Indeed I am strongly inclined to think
that England herself, since the Revolution, affords a very
striking elucidation of the argument in question.

The commerce of this country, internal as well as external,
has certainly been rapidly advancing during the last century. The
exchangeable value in the market of Europe of the annual produce
of its land and labour has, without doubt, increased very
considerably. But, upon examination, it will be found that the
increase has been chiefly in the produce of labour and not in the
produce of land, and therefore, though the wealth of the nation
has been advancing with a quick pace, the effectual funds for the
maintenance of labour have been increasing very slowly, and the
result is such as might be expected. The increasing wealth of the
nation has had little or no tendency to better the condition of
the labouring poor. They have not, I believe, a greater command
of the necessaries and conveniences of life, and a much greater
proportion of them than at the period of the Revolution is
employed in manufactures and crowded together in close and
unwholesome rooms.

Could we believe the statement of Dr Price that the
population of England has decreased since the Revolution, it
would even appear that the effectual funds for the maintenance of
labour had been declining during the progress of wealth in other
respects. For I conceive that it may be laid down as a general
rule that if the effectual funds for the maintenance of labour
are increasing, that is, if the territory can maintain as well as
the stock employ a greater number of labourers, this additional
number will quickly spring up, even in spite of such wars as Dr
Price enumerates. And, consequently, if the population of any
country has been stationary, or declining, we may safely infer,
that, however it may have advanced in manufacturing wealth, its
effectual funds for the maintenance of labour cannot have

It is difficult, however, to conceive that the population of
England has been declining since the Revolution, though every
testimony concurs to prove that its increase, if it has
increased, has been very slow. In the controversy which the
question has occasioned, Dr Price undoubtedly appears to be much
more completely master of his subject, and to possess more
accurate information, than his opponents. Judging simply from
this controversy, I think one should say that Dr Price's point is
nearer being proved than Mr Howlett's. Truth, probably, lies
between the two statements, but this supposition makes the
increase of population since the Revolution to have been very
slow in comparison with the increase of wealth.

That the produce of the land has been decreasing, or even
that it has been absolutely stationary during the last century,
few will be disposed to believe. The enclosure of commons and
waste lands certainly tends to increase the food of the country,
but it has been asserted with confidence that the enclosure of
common fields has frequently had a contrary effect, and that
large tracts of land which formerly produced great quantities of
corn, by being converted into pasture both employ fewer hands and
feed fewer mouths than before their enclosure. It is, indeed, an
acknowledged truth, that pasture land produces a smaller quantity
of human subsistence than corn land of the same natural
fertility, and could it be clearly ascertained that from the
increased demand for butchers' meat of the best quality, and its
increased price in consequence, a greater quantity of good land
has annually been employed in grazing, the diminution of human
subsistence, which this circumstance would occasion, might have
counterbalanced the advantages derived from the enclosure of
waste lands, and the general improvements in husbandry.

It scarcely need be remarked that the high price of butchers'
meat at present, and its low price formerly, were not caused by
the scarcity in the one case or the plenty in the other, but by
the different expense sustained at the different periods, in
preparing cattle for the market. It is, however, possible, that
there might have been more cattle a hundred years ago in the
country than at present; but no doubt can be entertained, that
there is much more meat of a superior quality brought to market
at present than ever there was. When the price of butchers' meat
was very low, cattle were reared chiefly upon waste lands; and
except for some of the principal markets, were probably killed
with but little other fatting. The veal that is sold so cheap in
some distant counties at present bears little other resemblance
than the name, to that which is bought in London. Formerly, the
price of butchers, meat would not pay for rearing, and scarcely
for feeding, cattle on land that would answer in tillage; but the
present price will not only pay for fatting cattle on the very
best land, but will even allow of the rearing many, on land that
would bear good crops of corn. The same number of cattle, or even
the same weight of cattle at the different periods when killed,
will have consumed (if I may be allowed the expression) very
different quantities of human substance. A fatted beast may in
some respects be considered, in the language of the French
economists,36 as an unproductive labourer: he has added nothing
to the value of the raw produce that he has consumed. The present
system of grating, undoubtedly tends more than the former system
to diminish the quantity of human subsistence in the country, in
proportion to the general fertility of the land.

I would not by any means be understood to say that the former
system either could or ought to have continued. The increasing
price of butchers' meat is a natural and inevitable consequence
of the general progress of cultivation; but I cannot help
thinking, that the present great demand for butchers' meat of the
best quality, and the quantity of good land that is in
consequence annually employed to produce it, together with the
great number of horses at present kept for pleasure, are the
chief causes that have prevented the quantity of human food in
the country from keeping pace with the generally increased
fertility of the soil; and a change of custom in these respects
would, I have little doubt, have a very sensible effect on the
quantity of subsistence in the country, and consequently on its

The employment of much of the most fertile land in grating,
the improvements in agricultural instruments, the increase of
large farms, and particularly the diminution of the number of
cottages throughout the kingdom, all concur to prove, that there
are not probably so many persons employed in agricultural labour
now as at the period of the Revolution. Whatever increase of
population, therefore, has taken place, must be employed almost
wholly in manufactures, and it is well known that the failure of
some of these manufactures, merely from the caprice of fashion,
such as the adoption of muslins instead of silks, or of
shoe-strings and covered buttons, instead of buckles and metal
buttons, combined with the restraints in the market of labour
arising from corporation and parish laws, have frequently driven
thousands on charity for support. The great increase of the poor
rates is, indeed, of itself a strong evidence that the poor have
not a greater command of the necessaries and conveniences of
life, and if to the consideration, that their condition in this
respect is rather worse than better, be added the circumstance,
that a much greater proportion of them is employed in large
manufactories, unfavourable both to health and virtue, it must be
acknowledged, that the increase of wealth of late years has had
no tendency to increase the happiness of the labouring poor.

That every increase of the stock or revenue of a nation
cannot be considered as an increase of the real funds for the
maintenance of labour and, therefore, cannot have the same good
effect upon the condition of the poor, will appear in a strong
light if the argument be applied to China.

Dr Adam Smith observes that China has probably long been as
rich as the nature of her laws and institutions will admit, but
that with other laws and institutions, and if foreign commerce
were had in honour, she might still be much richer. The question
is, would such an increase of wealth be an increase of the real
funds for the maintenance of labour, and consequently tend to
place the lower classes of people in China in a state of greater

It is evident, that if trade and foreign commerce were held
in great honour in China, from the plenty of labourers, and the
cheapness of labour, she might work up manufactures for foreign
sale to an immense amount. It is equally evident that from the
great bulk of provisions and the amazing extent of her inland
territory she could not in return import such a quantity as would
be any sensible addition to the annual stock of subsistence in
the country. Her immense amount of manufactures, therefore, she
would exchange, chiefly, for luxuries collected from all parts of
the world. At present, it appears, that no labour whatever is
spared in the production of food. The country is rather
over-people in proportion to what its stock can employ, and
labour is, therefore, so abundant, that no pains are taken to
abridge it. The consequence of this is, probably, the greatest
production of food that the soil can possibly afford, for it will
be generally observed, that processes for abridging labour,
though they may enable a farmer to bring a certain quantity of
grain cheaper to market, tend rather to diminish than increase
the whole produce; and in agriculture, therefore, may, in some
respects, be considered rather as private than public advantages.

An immense capital could not be employed in China in
preparing manufactures for foreign trade without taking off so
many labourers from agriculture as to alter this state of things,
and in some degree to diminish the produce of the country. The
demand for manufacturing labourers would naturally raise the
price of labour, but as the quantity of subsistence would not be
increased, the price of provisions would keep pace with it, or
even more than keep pace with it if the quantity of provisions
were really decreasing. The country would be evidently advancing
in wealth, the exchangeable value of the annual produce of its
land and labour would be annually augmented, yet the real funds
for the maintenance of labour would be stationary, or even
declining, and, consequently, the increasing wealth of the nation
would rather tend to depress than to raise the condition of the
poor. With regard to the command over the necessaries and
comforts of life, they would be in the same or rather worse state
than before; and a great part of them would have exchanged the
healthy labours of agriculture for the unhealthy occupations of
manufacturing industry.

The argument, perhaps, appears clearer when applied to China,
because it is generally allowed that the wealth of China has been
long stationary. With regard to any other country it might be
always a matter of dispute at which of the two periods, compared,
wealth was increasing the fastest, as it is upon the rapidity of
the increase of wealth at any particular period that Dr Adam
Smith says the condition of the poor depends. It is evident,
however, that two nations might increase exactly with the same
rapidity in the exchangeable value of the annual produce of their
land and labour, yet if one had applied itself chiefly to
agriculture, and the other chiefly to commerce, the funds for the
maintenance of labour, and consequently the effect of the
increase of wealth in each nation, would be extremely different.
In that which had applied itself chiefly to agriculture, the poor
would live in great plenty, and population would rapidly
increase. In that which had applied itself chiefly to commerce,
the poor would be comparatively but little benefited and
consequently population would increase slowly.


Question of the proper definition of the wealth of a state--
Reason given by the French economists for considering all
manufacturers as unproductive labourers, not the true reason--
The labour of artificers and manufacturers sufficiently
productive to individuals, though not to the state--A remarkable
passage in Dr Price's two volumes of Observations--Error of Dr
Price in attributing the happiness and rapid population of
America, chiefly, to its peculiar state of civilization--No
advantage can be expected from shutting our eyes to the
difficulties in the way to the improvement of society.

A question seems naturally to arise here whether the exchangeable
value of the annual produce of the land and labour be the proper
definition of the wealth of a country, or whether the gross
produce of the land, according to the French economists, may not
be a more accurate definition. Certain it is that every increase
of wealth, according to the definition of the economists, will be
an increase of the funds for the maintenance of labour, and
consequently will always tend to ameliorate the condition of the
labouring poor, though an increase of wealth, according to Dr
Adam Smith's definition, will by no means invariably have the
same tendency. And yet it may not follow from this consideration
that Dr Adam Smith's definition is not just. It seems in many
respects improper to exclude the clothing and lodging of a whole
people from any part of their revenue. Much of it may, indeed, be
of very trivial and unimportant value in comparison with the food
of the country, yet still it may be fairly considered as a part
of its revenue; and, therefore, the only point in which I should
differ from Dr Adam Smith is where he seems to consider every
increase of the revenue or stock of a society as an increase of
the funds for the maintenance of labour, and consequently as
tending always to ameliorate the condition of the poor.

The fine silks and cottons, the laces, and other ornamental
luxuries of a rich country, may contribute very considerably to
augment the exchangeable value of its annual produce; yet they
contribute but in a very small degree to augment the mass of
happiness in the society, and it appears to me that it is with
some view to the real utility of the produce that we ought to
estimate the productiveness or unproductiveness of different
sorts of labour. The French economists consider all labour
employed in manufactures as unproductive. Comparing it with the
labour employed upon land, I should be perfectly disposed to
agree with them, but not exactly for the reasons which they give.
They say that labour employed upon land is productive because the
produce, over and above completely paying the labourer and the
farmer, affords a clear rent to the landlord, and that the labour
employed upon a piece of lace is unproductive because it merely
replaces the provisions that the workman had consumed, and the
stock of his employer, without affording any clear rent whatever.
But supposing the value of the wrought lace to be such as that,
besides paying in the most complete manner the workman and his
employer, it could afford a clear rent to a third person, it
appears to me that, in comparison with the labour employed upon
land, it would be still as unproductive as ever. Though,
according to the reasoning used by the French economists, the man
employed in the manufacture of lace would, in this case, seem to
be a productive labourer. Yet according to their definition of
the wealth of a state, he ought not to be considered in that
light. He will have added nothing to the gross produce of the
land: he has consumed a portion of this gross produce, and has
left a bit of lace in return; and though he may sell this bit of
lace for three times the quantity of provisions that he consumed
whilst he was making it, and thus be a very productive labourer
with regard to himself, yet he cannot be considered as having
added by his labour to any essential part of the riches of the
state. The clear rent, therefore, that a certain produce can
afford, after paying the expenses of procuring it, does not
appear to be the sole criterion, by which to judge of the
productiveness or unproductiveness to a state of any particular
species of labour.

Suppose that two hundred thousand men, who are now employed
in producing manufactures that only tend to gratify the vanity of
a few rich people, were to be employed upon some barren and
uncultivated lands, and to produce only half the quantity of food
that they themselves consumed; they would be still more
productive labourers with regard to the state than they were
before, though their labour, so far from affording a rent to a
third person, would but half replace the provisions used in
obtaining the produce. In their former employment they consumed a
certain portion of the food of the country and left in return
some silks and laces. In their latter employment they consumed
the same quantity of food and left in return provision for a
hundred thousand men. There can be little doubt which of the two
legacies would be the most really beneficial to the country, and
it will, I think, be allowed that the wealth which supported the
two hundred thousand men while they were producing silks and
laces would have been more usefully employed in supporting them
while they were producing the additional quantity of food.

A capital employed upon land may be unproductive to the
individual that employs it and yet be highly productive to the
society. A capital employed in trade, on the contrary, may be
highly productive to the individual, and yet be almost totally
unproductive to the society: and this is the reason why I should
call manufacturing labour unproductive, in comparison of that
which is employed in agriculture, and not for the reason given by
the French economists. It is, indeed, almost impossible to see
the great fortunes that are made in trade, and the liberality
with which so many merchants live, and yet agree in the statement
of the economists, that manufacturers can only grow rich by
depriving themselves of the funds destined for their support. In
many branches of trade the profits are so great as would allow of
a clear rent to a third person; but as there is no third person
in the case, and as all the profits centre in the master
manufacturer, or merchant, he seems to have a fair chance of
growing rich, without much privation; and we consequently see
large fortunes acquired in trade by persons who have not been
remarked for their parsimony.

Daily experience proves that the labour employed in trade and
manufactures is sufficiently productive to individuals, but it
certainly is not productive in the same degree to the state.
Every accession to the food of a country tends to the immediate
benefit of the whole society; but the fortunes made in trade tend
but in a remote and uncertain manner to the same end, and in some
respects have even a contrary tendency. The home trade of
consumption is by far the most important trade of every nation.
China is the richest country in the world, without any other.
Putting then, for a moment, foreign trade out of the question,
the man who, by an ingenious manufacture, obtains a double
portion out of the old stock of provisions, will certainly not to
be so useful to the state as the man who, by his labour, adds a
single share to the former stock. The consumable commodities of
silks, laces, trinkets, and expensive furniture, are undoubtedly
a part of the revenue of the society; but they are the revenue
only of the rich, and not of the society in general. An increase
in this part of the revenue of a state, cannot, therefore, be
considered of the same importance as an increase of food, which
forms the principal revenue of the great mass of the people.

Foreign commerce adds to the wealth of a state, according to
Dr Adam Smith's definition, though not according to the
definition of the economists. Its principal use, and the reason,
probably, that it has in general been held in such high
estimation is that it adds greatly to the external power of a
nation or to its power of commanding the labour of other
countries; but it will be found, upon a near examination, to
contribute but little to the increase of the internal funds for
the maintenance of labour, and consequently but little to the
happiness of the greatest part of society. In the natural
progress of a state towards riches, manufactures, and foreign
commerce would follow, in their order, the high cultivation of
the soil. In Europe, this natural order of things has been
inverted, and the soil has been cultivated from the redundancy of
manufacturing capital, instead of manufactures rising from the
redundancy of capital employed upon land. The superior
encouragement that has been given to the industry of the towns,
and the consequent higher price that is paid for the labour of
artificers than for the labour of those employed in husbandry,
are probably the reasons why so much soil in Europe remains
uncultivated. Had a different policy been pursued throughout
Europe, it might undoubtedly have been much more populous than at
present, and yet not be more incumbered by its population.

I cannot quit this curious subject of the difficulty arising
from population, a subject that appears to me to deserve a minute
investigation and able discussion much beyond my power to give
it, without taking notice of an extraordinary passage in Dr
Price's two volumes of Observations. Having given some tables on
the probabilities of life, in towns and in the country, he says
(Vol. II, p. 243):

From this comparison, it appears with how much truth great cities
have been called the graves of mankind. It must also convince all
who consider it, that according to the observation, at the end of
the fourth essay, in the former volume, it is by no means
strictly proper to consider our diseases as the original
intention of nature. They are, without doubt, in general our own
creation. Were there a country where the inhabitants led lives
entirely natural and virtuous, few of them would die without
measuring out the whole period of present existence allotted to
them; pain and distemper would be unknown among them, and death
would come upon them like a sleep, in consequence of no other
cause than gradual and unavoidable decay.

I own that I felt myself obliged to draw a very opposite
conclusion from the facts advanced in Dr Price's two volumes. I
had for some time been aware that population and food increased
in different ratios, and a vague opinion had been floating in my
mind that they could only be kept equal by some species of misery
or vice, but the perusal of Dr Price's two volumes of
Observations, after that opinion had been conceived, raised it at
once to conviction. With so many facts in his view to prove the
extraordinary rapidity with which population increases when
unchecked, and with such a body of evidence before him to
elucidate even the manner by which the general laws of nature
repress a redundant population, it is perfectly inconceivable to
me how he could write the passage that I have quoted. He was a
strenuous advocate for early marriages, as the best preservative
against vicious manners. He had no fanciful conceptions about the
extinction of the passion between the sexes, like Mr Godwin, nor
did he ever think of eluding the difficulty in the ways hinted at
by Mr Condorcet. He frequently talks of giving the prolifick
powers of nature room to exert themselves. Yet with these ideas,
that his understanding could escape from the obvious and
necessary inference that an unchecked population would increase,
beyond comparison, faster than the earth, by the best directed
exertions of man, could produce food for its support, appears to
me as astonishing as if he had resisted the conclusion of one of
the plainest propositions of Euclid.

Dr Price, speaking of the different stages of the civilized
state, says, 'The first, or simple stages of civilization, are
those which favour most the increase and the happiness of
mankind.' He then instances the American colonies, as being at
that time in the first and happiest of the states that he had
described, and as affording a very striking proof of the effects
of the different stages of civilization on population. But he
does not seem to be aware that the happiness of the Americans
depended much less upon their peculiar degree of civilization
than upon the peculiarity of their situation, as new colonies,
upon their having a great plenty of fertile uncultivated land. In
parts of Norway, Denmark, or Sweden, or in this country, two or
three hundred years ago, he might have found perhaps nearly the
same degree of civilization, but by no means the same happiness
or the same increase of population. He quotes himself a statute
of Henry the Eighth, complaining of the decay of tillage, and the
enhanced price of provisions, 'whereby a marvellous number of
people were rendered incapable of maintaining themselves and
families.' The superior degree of civil liberty which prevailed
in America contributed, without doubt, its share to promote the
industry, happiness, and population of these states, but even
civil liberty, all powerful as it is, will not create fresh land.
The Americans may be said, perhaps, to enjoy a greater degree of
civil liberty, now they are an independent people, than while
they were in subjection in England, but we may be perfectly sure
that population will not long continue to increase with the same
rapidity as it did then.

A person who contemplated the happy state of the lower
classes of people in America twenty years ago would naturally
wish to retain them for ever in that state, and might think,
perhaps, that by preventing the introduction of manufactures and
luxury he might effect his purpose, but he might as reasonably
expect to prevent a wife or mistress from growing old by never
exposing her to the sun or air. The situation of new colonies,
well governed, is a bloom of youth that no efforts can arrest.
There are, indeed, many modes of treatment in the political, as
well as animal, body, that contribute to accelerate or retard the
approaches of age, but there can be no chance of success, in any
mode that could be devised, for keeping either of them in
perpetual youth. By encouraging the industry of the towns more
than the industry of the country, Europe may be said, perhaps, to
have brought on a premature old age. A different policy in this
respect would infuse fresh life and vigour into every state.
While from the law of primogeniture, and other European customs,
land bears a monopoly price, a capital can never be employed in
it with much advantage to the individual; and, therefore, it is
not probable that the soil should be properly cultivated. And,
though in every civilized state a class of proprietors and a
class of labourers must exist, yet one permanent advantage would
always result from a nearer equalization of property. The greater
the number of proprietors, the smaller must be the number of
labourers: a greater part of society would be in the happy state
of possessing property: and a smaller part in the unhappy state
of possessing no other property than their labour. But the best
directed exertions, though they may alleviate, can never remove
the pressure of want, and it will be difficult for any person who
contemplates the genuine situation of man on earth, and the
general laws of nature, to suppose it possible that any, the most
enlightened, efforts could place mankind in a state where 'few
would die without measuring out the whole period of present
existence allotted to them; where pain and distemper would be
unknown among them; and death would come upon them like a sleep,
in consequence of no other cause than gradual and unavoidable

It is, undoubtedly, a most disheartening reflection that the
great obstacle in the way to any extraordinary improvement in
society is of a nature that we can never hope to overcome. The
perpetual tendency in the race of man to increase beyond the
means of subsistence is one of the general laws of animated
nature which we can have no reason to expect will change. Yet,
discouraging as the contemplation of this difficulty must be to
those whose exertions are laudably directed to the improvement of
the human species, it is evident that no possible good can arise
from any endeavours to slur it over or keep it in the background.
On the contrary, the most baleful mischiefs may be expected from
the unmanly conduct of not daring to face truth because it is
unpleasing. Independently of what relates to this great obstacle,
sufficient yet remains to be done for mankind to animate us to
the most unremitted exertion. But if we proceed without a
thorough knowledge and accurate comprehension of the nature,
extent, and magnitude of the difficulties we have to encounter,
or if we unwisely direct our efforts towards an object in which
we cannot hope for success, we shall not only exhaust our
strength in fruitless exertions and remain at as great a distance
as ever from the summit of our wishes, but we shall be
perpetually crushed by the recoil of this rock of Sisyphus.


The constant pressure of distress on man, from the principle of
population, seems to direct our hopes to the future--State of
trial inconsistent with our ideas of the foreknowledge of God--
The world, probably, a mighty process for awakening matter into
mind--Theory of the formation of mind--Excitements from the
wants of the body--Excitements from the operation of general
laws--Excitements from the difficulties of life arising from the
principle of population.

The view of human life which results from the contemplation of
the constant pressure of distress on man from the difficulty of
subsistence, by shewing the little expectation that he can
reasonably entertain of perfectibility on earth, seems strongly
to point his hopes to the future. And the temptations to which he
must necessarily be exposed, from the operation of those laws of
nature which we have been examining, would seem to represent the
world in the light in which it has been frequently considered, as
a state of trial and school of virtue preparatory to a superior
state of happiness. But I hope I shall be pardoned if I attempt
to give a view in some degree different of the situation of man
on earth, which appears to me to be more consistent with the
various phenomena of nature which we observe around us and more
consonant to our ideas of the power, goodness, and foreknowledge
of the Deity.

It cannot be considered as an unimproving exercise of the
human mind to endeavour to 'vindicate the ways of God to man' if
we proceed with a proper distrust of our own understandings and a
just sense of our insufficiency to comprehend the reason of all
we see, if we hail every ray of light with gratitude, and, when
no light appears, think that the darkness is from within and not
from without, and bow with humble deference to the supreme wisdom
of him whose 'thoughts are above our thoughts' 'as the heavens
are high above the earth.'

In all our feeble attempts, however, to 'find out the
Almighty to perfection', it seems absolutely necessary that we
should reason from nature up to nature's God and not presume to
reason from God to nature. The moment we allow ourselves to ask
why some things are not otherwise, instead of endeavouring to
account for them as they are, we shall never know where to stop,
we shall be led into the grossest and most childish absurdities,
all progress in the knowledge of the ways of Providence must
necessarily be at an end, and the study will even cease to be an
improving exercise of the human mind. Infinite power is so vast
and incomprehensible an idea that the mind of man must
necessarily be bewildered in the contemplation of it. With the
crude and puerile conceptions which we sometimes form of this
attribute of the Deity, we might imagine that God could call into
being myriads and myriads of existences, all free from pain and
imperfection, all eminent in goodness and wisdom, all capable of
the highest enjoyments, and unnumbered as the points throughout
infinite space. But when from these vain and extravagant dreams
of fancy, we turn our eyes to the book of nature, where alone we
can read God as he is, we see a constant succession of sentient
beings, rising apparently from so many specks of matter, going
through a long and sometimes painful process in this world, but
many of them attaining, ere the termination of it, such high
qualities and powers as seem to indicate their fitness for some
superior state. Ought we not then to correct our crude and
puerile ideas of infinite Power from the contemplation of what we
actually see existing? Can we judge of the Creator but from his
creation? And, unless we wish to exalt the power of God at the
expense of his goodness, ought we not to conclude that even to
the great Creator, almighty as he is, a certain process may be
necessary, a certain time (or at least what appears to us as
time) may be requisite, in order to form beings with those
exalted qualities of mind which will fit them for his high

A state of trial seems to imply a previously formed existence
that does not agree with the appearance of man in infancy and
indicates something like suspicion and want of foreknowledge,
inconsistent with those ideas which we wish to cherish of the
Supreme Being. I should be inclined, therefore, as I have hinted
before, to consider the world and this life as the mighty process
of God, not for the trial, but for the creation and formation of
mind, a process necessary to awaken inert, chaotic matter into
spirit, to sublimate the dust of the earth into soul, to elicit
an ethereal spark from the clod of clay. And in this view of the
subject, the various impressions and excitements which man
receives through life may be considered as the forming hand of
his Creator, acting by general laws, and awakening his sluggish
existence, by the animating touches of the Divinity, into a
capacity of superior enjoyment. The original sin of man is the
torpor and corruption of the chaotic matter in which he may be
said to be born.

It could answer no good purpose to enter into the question
whether mind be a distinct substance from matter, or only a finer
form of it. The question is, perhaps, after all, a question
merely of words. Mind is as essentially mind, whether formed from
matter or any other substance. We know from experience that soul
and body are most intimately united, and every appearance seems
to indicate that they grow from infancy together. It would be a
supposition attended with very little probability to believe that
a complete and full formed spirit existed in every infant, but
that it was clogged and impeded in its operations during the
first twenty years of life by the weakness, or hebetude, of the
organs in which it was enclosed. As we shall all be disposed to
agree that God is the creator of mind as well as of body, and as
they both seem to be forming and unfolding themselves at the same
time, it cannot appear inconsistent either with reason or
revelation, if it appear to be consistent with phenomena of
nature, to suppose that God is constantly occupied in forming
mind out of matter and that the various impressions that man
receives through life is the process for that purpose. The
employment is surely worthy of the highest attributes of the

This view of the state of man on earth will not seem to be
unattended with probability, if, judging from the little
experience we have of the nature of mind, it shall appear upon
investigation that the phenomena around us, and the various
events of human life, seem peculiarly calculated to promote this
great end, and especially if, upon this supposition, we can
account, even to our own narrow understandings, for many of those
roughnesses and inequalities in life which querulous man too
frequently makes the subject of his complaint against the God of

The first great awakeners of the mind seem to be the wants of
the body. (It was my intention to have entered at some length
into this subject as a kind of second part to the Essay. A long
interruption, from particular business, has obliged me to lay
aside this intention, at least for the present. I shall now,
therefore, only give a sketch of a few of the leading
circumstances that appear to me to favour the general supposition
that I have advanced.) They are the first stimulants that rouse
the brain of infant man into sentient activity, and such seems to
be the sluggishness of original matter that unless by a peculiar
course of excitements other wants, equally powerful, are
generated, these stimulants seem, even afterwards, to be
necessary to continue that activity which they first awakened.
The savage would slumber for ever under his tree unless he were
roused from his torpor by the cravings of hunger or the pinchings
of cold, and the exertions that he makes to avoid these evils, by
procuring food, and building himself a covering, are the
exercises which form and keep in motion his faculties, which
otherwise would sink into listless inactivity. From all that
experience has taught us concerning the structure of the human
mind, if those stimulants to exertion which arise from the wants
of the body were removed from the mass of mankind, we have much
more reason to think that they would be sunk to the level of
brutes, from a deficiency of excitements, than that they would be
raised to the rank of philosophers by the possession of leisure.
In those countries where nature is the most redundant in
spontaneous produce the inhabitants will not be found the most
remarkable for acuteness of intellect. Necessity has been with
great truth called the mother of invention. Some of the noblest
exertions of the human mind have been set in motion by the
necessity of satisfying the wants of the body. Want has not
unfrequently given wings to the imagination of the poet, pointed
the flowing periods of the historian, and added acuteness to the
researches of the philosopher, and though there are undoubtedly
many minds at present so far improved by the various excitements
of knowledge, or of social sympathy, that they would not relapse
into listlessness if their bodily stimulants were removed, yet it
can scarcely be doubted that these stimulants could not be
withdrawn from the mass of mankind without producing a general
and fatal torpor, destructive of all the germs of future

Locke, if I recollect, says that the endeavour to avoid pain
rather than the pursuit of pleasure is the great stimulus to
action in life: and that in looking to any particular pleasure,
we shall not be roused into action in order to obtain it, till
the contemplation of it has continued so long as to amount to a
sensation of pain or uneasiness under the absence of it. To avoid
evil and to pursue good seem to be the great duty and business of
man, and this world appears to be peculiarly calculated to afford
opportunity of the most unremitted exertion of this kind, and it
is by this exertion, by these stimulants, that mind is formed. If
Locke's idea be just, and there is great reason to think that it
is, evil seems to be necessary to create exertion, and exertion
seems evidently necessary to create mind.

The necessity of food for the support of life gives rise,
probably, to a greater quantity of exertion than any other want,
bodily or mental. The Supreme Being has ordained that the earth
shall not produce good in great quantities till much preparatory
labour and ingenuity has been exercised upon its surface. There
is no conceivable connection to our comprehensions, between the
seed and the plant or tree that rises from it. The Supreme
Creator might, undoubtedly, raise up plants of all kinds, for the
use of his creatures, without the assistance of those little bits
of matter, which we call seed, or even without the assisting
labour and attention of man. The processes of ploughing and
clearing the ground, of collecting and sowing seeds, are not
surely for the assistance of God in his creation, but are made
previously necessary to the enjoyment of the blessings of life,
in order to rouse man into action, and form his mind to reason.

To furnish the most unremitted excitements of this kind, and
to urge man to further the gracious designs of Providence by the
full cultivation of the earth, it has been ordained that
population should increase much faster than food. This general
law (as it has appeared in the former parts of this Essay)
undoubtedly produces much partial evil, but a little reflection
may, perhaps, satisfy us, that it produces a great overbalance of
good. Strong excitements seem necessary to create exertion, and
to direct this exertion, and form the reasoning faculty, it seems
absolutely necessary, that the Supreme Being should act always
according to general laws. The constancy of the laws of nature,
or the certainty with which we may expect the same effects from
the same causes, is the foundation of the faculty of reason. If
in the ordinary course of things, the finger of God were
frequently visible, or to speak more correctly, if God were
frequently to change his purpose (for the finger of God is,
indeed, visible in every blade of grass that we see), a general
and fatal torpor of the human faculties would probably ensue;
even the bodily wants of mankind would cease to stimulate them to
exertion, could they not reasonably expect that if their efforts
were well directed they would be crowned with success. The
constancy of the laws of nature is the foundation of the industry
and foresight of the husbandman, the indefatigable ingenuity of
the artificer, the skilful researches of the physician and
anatomist, and the watchful observation and patient investigation
of the natural philosopher. To this constancy we owe all the
greatest and noblest efforts of intellect. To this constancy we
owe the immortal mind of a Newton.

As the reasons, therefore, for the constancy of the laws of
nature seem, even to our understandings, obvious and striking; if
we return to the principle of population and consider man as he
really is, inert, sluggish, and averse from labour, unless
compelled by necessity (and it is surely the height of folly to
talk of man, according to our crude fancies of what he might be),
we may pronounce with certainty that the world would not have
been peopled, but for the superiority of the power of population
to the means of subsistence. Strong and constantly operative as
this stimulus is on man to urge him to the cultivation of the
earth, if we still see that cultivation proceeds very slowly, we
may fairly conclude that a less stimulus would have been
insufficient. Even under the operation of this constant
excitement, savages will inhabit countries of the greatest
natural fertility for a long period before they betake themselves
to pasturage or agriculture. Had population and food increased in
the same ratio, it is probable that man might never have emerged
from the savage state. But supposing the earth once well peopled,
an Alexander, a Julius Caesar, a Tamberlane, or a bloody
revolution might irrecoverably thin the human race, and defeat
the great designs of the Creator. The ravages of a contagious
disorder would be felt for ages; and an earthquake might unpeople
a region for ever. The principle, according to which population
increases, prevents the vices of mankind, or the accidents of
nature, the partial evils arising from general laws, from
obstructing the high purpose of the creation. It keeps the
inhabitants of the earth always fully up to the level of the
means of subsistence; and is constantly acting upon man as a
powerful stumulus, urging him to the further cultivation of the
earth, and to enable it, consequently, to support a more extended
population. But it is impossible that this law can operate, and
produce the effects apparently intended by the Supreme Being,
without occasioning partial evil. Unless the principle of
population were to be altered according to the circumstances of
each separate country (which would not only be contrary to our
universal experience, with regard to the laws of nature, but
would contradict even our own reason, which sees the absolute
necessity of general laws for the formation of intellect), it is
evident that the same principle which, seconded by industry, will
people a fertile region in a few years must produce distress in
countries that have been long inhabited.

It seems, however, every way probable that even the
acknowledged difficulties occasioned by the law of population
tend rather to promote than impede the general purpose of
Providence. They excite universal exertion and contribute to that
infinite variety of situations, and consequently of impressions,
which seems upon the whole favourable to the growth of mind. It
is probable, that too great or too little excitement, extreme
poverty, or too great riches may be alike unfavourable in this
respect. The middle regions of society seem to be best suited to
intellectual improvement, but it is contrary to the analogy of
all nature to expect that the whole of society can be a middle
region. The temperate zones of the earth seem to be the most
favourable to the mental and corporal energies of man, but all
cannot be temperate zones. A world, warmed and enlightened but by
one sun, must from the laws of matter have some parts chilled by
perpetual frosts and others scorched by perpetual heats. Every
piece of matter lying on a surface must have an upper and an
under side, all the particles cannot be in the middle. The most
valuable parts of an oak, to a timber merchant, are not either
the roots or the branches, but these are absolutely necessary to
the existence of the middle part, or stem, which is the object in
request. The timber merchant could not possibly expect to make an
oak grow without roots or branches, but if he could find out a
mode of cultivation which would cause more of the substance to go
to stem, and less to root and branch, he would be right to exert
himself in bringing such a system into general use.

In the same manner, though we cannot possibly expect to
exclude riches and poverty from society, yet if we could find out
a mode of government by which the numbers in the extreme regions
would be lessened and the numbers in the middle regions
increased, it would be undoubtedly our duty to adopt it. It is
not, however, improbable that as in the oak, the roots and
branches could not be diminished very greatly without weakening
the vigorous circulation of the sap in the stem, so in society
the extreme parts could not be diminished beyond a certain degree
without lessening that animated exertion throughout the middle
parts, which is the very cause that they are the most favourable
to the growth of intellect. If no man could hope to rise or fear
to fall, in society, if industry did not bring with it its reward
and idleness its punishment, the middle parts would not certainly
be what they now are. In reasoning upon this subject, it is
evident that we ought to consider chiefly the mass of mankind and
not individual instances. There are undoubtedly many minds, and
there ought to be many, according to the chances out of so great
a mass, that, having been vivified early by a peculiar course of
excitements, would not need the constant action of narrow motives
to continue them in activity. But if we were to review the
various useful discoveries, the valuable writings, and other
laudable exertions of mankind, I believe we should find that more
were to be attributed to the narrow motives that operate upon the
many than to the apparently more enlarged motives that operate
upon the few.

Leisure is, without doubt, highly valuable to man, but taking
man as he is, the probability seems to be that in the greater
number of instances it will produce evil rather than good. It has
been not infrequently remarked that talents are more common among
younger brothers than among elder brothers, but it can scarcely
be imagined that younger brothers are, upon an average, born with
a greater original susceptibility of parts. The difference, if
there really is any observable difference, can only arise from
their different situations. Exertion and activity are in general
absolutely necessary in one case and are only optional in the

That the difficulties of life contribute to generate talents,
every day's experience must convince us. The exertions that men
find it necessary to make, in order to support themselves or
families, frequently awaken faculties that might otherwise have
lain for ever dormant, and it has been commonly remarked that new
and extraordinary situations generally create minds adequate to
grapple with the difficulties in which they are involved.


The sorrows of life necessary to soften and humanize the heart--
The excitement of social sympathy often produce characters of a
higher order than the mere possessors of talents--Moral evil
probably necessary to the production of moral excellence--
Excitements from intellectual wants continually kept up by the
infinite variety of nature, and the obscurity that involves
metaphysical subjects--The difficulties in revelation to be
accounted for upon this principle--The degree of evidence which
the scriptures contain, probably, best suited to the improvements
of the human faculties, and the moral amerlioration of mankind--
The idea that mind is created by excitements seems to account for
the existence of natural and moral evil.

The sorrows and distresses of life form another class of
excitements, which seem to be necessary, by a peculiar train of
impressions, to soften and humanize the heart, to awaken social
sympathy, to generate all the Christian virtues, and to afford
scope for the ample exertion of benevolence. The general tendency
of an uniform course of prosperity is rather to degrade than
exalt the character. The heart that has never known sorrow itself
will seldom be feelingly alive to the pains and pleasures, the
wants and wishes, of its fellow beings. It will seldom be
overflowing with that warmth of brotherly love, those kind and
amiable affections, which dignify the human character even more
than the possession of the highest talents. Talents, indeed,
though undoubtedly a very prominent and fine feature of mind, can
by no means be considered as constituting the whole of it. There
are many minds which have not been exposed to those excitements
that usually form talents, that have yet been vivified to a high
degree by the excitements of social sympathy. In every rank of
life, in the lowest as frequently as in the highest, characters
are to be found overflowing with the milk of human kindness,
breathing love towards God and man, and, though without those
peculiar powers of mind called talents, evidently holding a
higher rank in the scale of beings than many who possess them.
Evangelical charity, meekness, piety, and all that class of
virtues distinguished particularly by the name of Christian
virtues do not seem necessarily to include abilities; yet a soul
possessed of these amiable qualities, a soul awakened and
vivified by these delightful sympathies, seems to hold a nearer
commerce with the skies than mere acuteness of intellect.

The greatest talents have been frequently misapplied and have
produced evil proportionate to the extent of their powers. Both
reason and revelation seem to assure us that such minds will be
condemned to eternal death, but while on earth, these vicious
instruments performed their part in the great mass of
impressions, by the disgust and abhorrence which they excited. It
seems highly probable that moral evil is absolutely necessary to
the production of moral excellence. A being with only good placed
in view may be justly said to be impelled by a blind necessity.
The pursuit of good in this case can be no indication of virtuous
propensities. It might be said, perhaps, that infinite Wisdom
cannot want such an indication as outward action, but would
foreknow with certainly whether the being would choose good or
evil. This might be a plausible argument against a state of
trial, but will not hold against the supposition that mind in
this world is in a state of formation. Upon this idea, the being
that has seen moral evil and has felt disapprobation and disgust
at it is essentially different from the being that has seen only
good. They are pieces of clay that have received distinct
impressions: they must, therefore, necessarily be in different
shapes; or, even if we allow them both to have the same lovely
form of virtue, it must be acknowledged that one has undergone
the further process, necessary to give firmness and durability to
its substance, while the other is still exposed to injury, and
liable to be broken by every accidental impulse. An ardent love
and admiration of virtue seems to imply the existence of
something opposite to it, and it seems highly probable that the
same beauty of form and substance, the same perfection of
character, could not be generated without the impressions of
disapprobation which arise from the spectacle of moral evil.

When the mind has been awakened into activity by the
passions, and the wants of the body, intellectual wants arise;
and the desire of knowledge, and the impatience under ignorance,
form a new and important class of excitements. Every part of
nature seems peculiarly calculated to furnish stimulants to
mental exertion of this kind, and to offer inexhaustible food for
the most unremitted inquiry. Our mortal Bard says of Cleopatra:

Custom cannot stale
Her infinite variety.

The expression, when applied to any one object, may be considered
as a poetical amplification, but it is accurately true when
applied to nature. Infinite variety seems, indeed, eminently her
characteristic feature. The shades that are here and there
blended in the picture give spirit, life, and prominence to her
exuberant beauties, and those roughnesses and inequalities, those
inferior parts that support the superior, though they sometimes
offend the fastidious microscopic eye of short-sighted man,
contribute to the symmetry, grace, and fair proportion of the

The infinite variety of the forms and operations of nature,
besides tending immediately to awaken and improve the mind by the
variety of impressions that it creates, opens other fertile
sources of improvement by offering so wide and extensive a field
for investigation and research. Uniform, undiversified perfection
could not possess the same awakening powers. When we endeavour
then to contemplate the system of the universe, when we think of
the stars as the suns of other systems scattered throughout
infinite space, when we reflect that we do not probably see a
millionth part of those bright orbs that are beaming light and
life to unnumbered worlds, when our minds, unable to grasp the
immeasurable conception, sink, lost and confounded, in admiration
at the mighty incomprehensible power of the Creator, let us not
querulously complain that all climates are not equally genial,
that perpetual spring does not reign throughout the year, that it
God's creatures do not possess the same advantages, that clouds
and tempests sometimes darken the natural world and vice and
misery the moral world, and that all the works of the creation
are not formed with equal perfection. Both reason and experience
seem to indicate to us that the infinite variety of nature (and
variety cannot exist without inferior parts, or apparent
blemishes) is admirably adapted to further the high purpose of
the creation and to produce the greatest possible quantity of

The obscurity that involves all metaphysical subjects appears
to me, in the same manner, peculiarly calculated to add to that
class of excitements which arise from the thirst of knowledge. It
is probable that man, while on earth, will never be able to
attain complete satisfaction on these subjects; but this is by no
means a reason that he should not engage in them. The darkness
that surrounds these interesting topics of human curiosity may be
intended to furnish endless motives to intellectual activity and
exertion. The constant effort to dispel this darkness, even if it
fail of success, invigorates and improves the thinking faculty.
If the subjects of human inquiry were once exhausted, mind would
probably stagnate; but the infinitely diversified forms and
operations of nature, together with the endless food for
speculation which metaphysical subjects offer, prevent the
possibility that such a period should ever arrive.

It is by no means one of the wisest sayings of Solomon that
'there is no new thing under the sun.' On the contrary, it is
probable that were the present system to continue for millions of
years, continual additions would be making to the mass of human
knowledge, and yet, perhaps, it may be a matter of doubt whether
what may be called the capacity of mind be in any marked and
decided manner increasing. A Socrates, a Plato, or an Aristotle,
however confessedly inferior in knowledge to the philosophers of
the present day, do not appear to have been much below them in
intellectual capacity. Intellect rises from a speck, continues in
vigour only for a certain period, and will not perhaps admit
while on earth of above a certain number of impressions. These
impressions may, indeed, be infinitely modified, and from these
various modifications, added probably to a difference in the
susceptibility of the original germs, arise the endless diversity
of character that we see in the world; but reason and experience
seem both to assure us that the capacity of individual minds does
not increase in proportion to the mass of existing knowledge. (It
is probable that no two grains of wheat are exactly alike. Soil
undoubtedly makes the principal difference in the blades that
spring up, but probably not all. It seems natural to suppose some
sort of difference in the original germs that are afterwards
awakened into thought, and the extraordinary difference of
susceptibility in very young children seems to confirm the

The finest minds seem to be formed rather by efforts at
original thinking, by endeavours to form new combinations, and to
discover new truths, than by passively receiving the impressions
of other men's ideas. Could we suppose the period arrived, when
there was not further hope of future discoveries, and the only
employment of mind was to acquire pre-existing knowledge, without
any efforts to form new and original combinations, though the
mass of human knowledge were a thousand times greater than it is
at present, yet it is evident that one of the noblest stimulants
to mental exertion would have ceased; the finest feature of
intellect would be lost; everything allied to genius would be at
an end; and it appears to be impossible, that, under such
circumstances, any individuals could possess the same
intellectual energies as were possessed by a Locke, a Newton, or
a Shakespeare, or even by a Socrates, a Plato, an Aristotle or a

If a revelation from heaven of which no person could feel the
smallest doubt were to dispel the mists that now hang over
metaphysical subjects, were to explain the nature and structure
of mind, the affections and essences of all substances, the mode
in which the Supreme Being operates in the works of the creation,
and the whole plan and scheme of the Universe, such an accession
of knowledge so obtained, instead of giving additional vigour and
activity to the human mind, would in all probability tend to
repress future exertion and to damp the soaring wings of

For this reason I have never considered the doubts and
difficulties that involve some parts of the sacred writings as
any ardent against their divine original. The Supreme Being
might, undoubtedly, have accompanied his revelations to man by
such a succession of miracles, and of such a nature, as would
have produced universal overpowering conviction and have put an
end at once to all hesitation and discussion. But weak as our
reason is to comprehend the plans of the great Creator, it is yet
sufficiently strong to see the most striking objections to such a
revelation. From the little we know of the structure of the human
understanding, we must be convinced that an overpowering
conviction of this kind, instead of tending to the improvement
and moral amelioration of man, would act like the touch of a
torpedo on all intellectual exertion and would almost put an end
to the existence of virtue. If the scriptural denunciations of
eternal punishment were brought home with the same certainty to
every man's mind as that the night will follow the day, this one
vast and gloomy idea would take such full possession of the human
faculties as to leave no room for any other conceptions, the
external actions of men would be all nearly alike, virtuous
conduct would be no indication of virtuous disposition, vice and
virtue would be blended together in one common mass, and though
the all-seeing eye of God might distinguish them they must
necessarily make the same impressions on man, who can judge only
from external appearances. Under such a dispensation, it is
difficult to conceive how human beings could be formed to a
detestation of moral evil, and a love and admiration of God, and
of moral excellence.

Our ideas of virtue and vice are not, perhaps, very accurate
and well-defined; but few, I think, would call an action really
virtuous which was performed simply and solely from the dread of
a very great punishment or the expectation of a very great
reward. The fear of the Lord is very justly said to be the
beginning of wisdom, but the end of wisdom is the love of the
Lord and the admiration of moral good. The denunciations of
future punishment contained in the scriptures seem to be well
calculated to arrest the progress of the vicious and awaken the
attention of the careless, but we see from repeated experience
that they are not accompanied with evidence of such a nature as
to overpower the human will and to make men lead virtuous lives
with vicious dispositions, merely from a dread of hereafter. A
genuine faith, by which I mean a faith that shews itself in it
the virtues of a truly Christian life, may generally be
considered as an indication of an amiable and virtuous
disposition, operated upon more by love than by pure unmixed

When we reflect on the temptations to which man must
necessarily be exposed in this world, from the structure of his
frame, and the operation of the laws of nature, and the
consequent moral certainty that many vessels will come out of
this mighty creative furnace in wrong shapes, it is perfectly
impossible to conceive that any of these creatures of God's hand
can be condemned to eternal suffering. Could we once admit such
an idea, it our natural conceptions of goodness and justice would
be completely overthrown, and we could no longer look up to God
as a merciful and righteous Being. But the doctrine of life and
Mortality which was brought to light by the gospel, the doctrine
that the end of righteousness is everlasting life, but that the
wages of sin are death, is in every respect just and merciful,
and worthy of the great Creator. Nothing can appear more
consonant to our reason than that those beings which come out of
the creative process of the world in lovely and beautiful forms
should be crowned with immortality, while those which come out
misshapen, those whose minds are not suited to a purer and
happier state of existence, should perish and be condemned to mix
again with their original clay. Eternal condemnation of this kind
may be considered as a species of eternal punishment, and it is
not wonderful that it should be represented, sometimes, under
images of suffering. But life and death, salvation and
destruction, are more frequently opposed to each other in the New
Testament than happiness and misery. The Supreme Being would
appear to us in a very different view if we were to consider him
as pursuing the creatures that had offended him with eternal hate
and torture, instead of merely condemning to their original
insensibility those beings that, by the operation of general
laws, had not been formed with qualities suited to a purer state
of happiness.

Life is, generally speaking, a blessing independent of a
future state. It is a gift which the vicious would not always be
ready to throw away, even if they had no fear of death. The
partial pain, therefore, that is inflicted by the supreme
Creator, while he is forming numberless beings to a capacity of
the highest enjoyments, is but as the dust of the balance in
comparison of the happiness that is communicated, and we have
every reason to think that there is no more evil in the world
than what is absolutely necessary as one of the ingredients in
the mighty process.

The striking necessity of general laws for the formation of
intellect will not in any respect be contradicted by one or two
exceptions, and these evidently not intended for partial
purposes, but calculated to operate upon a great part of mankind,
and through many ages. Upon the idea that I have given of the
formation of mind, the infringement of the general law of nature,
by a divine revelation, will appear in the light of the immediate
hand of God mixing new ingredients in the mighty mass, suited to
the particular state of the process, and calculated to give rise
to a new and powerful train of impressions, tending to purify,
exalt, and improve the human mind. The miracles that accompanied
these revelations when they had once excited the attention of
mankind, and rendered it a matter of most interesting discussion,
whether the doctrine was from God or man, had performed their
part, had answered the purpose of the Creator, and these
communications of the divine will were afterwards left to make
their way by their own intrinsic excellence; and, by operating as
moral motives, gradually to influence and improve, and not to
overpower and stagnate the faculties of man.

It would be, undoubtedly, presumptuous to say that the
Supreme Being could not possibly have effected his purpose in any
other way than that which he has chosen, but as the revelation of
the divine will which we possess is attended with some doubts and
difficulties, and as our reason points out to us the strongest
objections to a revelation which would force immediate, implicit,
universal belief, we have surely just cause to think that these
doubts and difficulties are no argument against the divine origin
of the scriptures, and that the species of evidence which they
possess is best suited to the improvement of the human faculties
and the moral amelioration of mankind.

The idea that the impressions and excitements of this world
are the instruments with which the Supreme Being forms matter
into mind, and that the necessity of constant exertion to avoid
evil and to pursue good is the principal spring of these
impressions and excitements, seems to smooth many of the
difficulties that occur in a contemplation of human life, and
appears to me to give a satisfactory reason for the existence of
natural and moral evil, and, consequently, for that part of both,
and it certainly is not a very small part, which arises from the
principle of population. But, though, upon this supposition, it
seems highly improbable that evil should ever be removed from the
world; yet it is evident that this impression would not answer
the apparent purpose of the Creator; it would not act so
powerfully as an excitement to exertion, if the quantity of it
did not diminish or increase with the activity or the indolence
of man. The continual variations in the weight and in the
distribution of this pressure keep alive a constant expectation
of throwing it off.

"Hope springs eternal in the Human breast,
Man never is, but always to be blest."

Evil exists in the world not to create despair but activity.
We are not patiently to submit to it, but to exert ourselves to
avoid it. It is not only the interest but the duty of every
individual to use his utmost efforts to remove evil from himself
and from as large a circle as he can influence, and the more he
exercises himself in this duty, the more wisely he directs his
efforts, and the more successful these efforts are; the more he
will probably improve and exalt his own mind, and the more
completely does he appear to fulfil the will of his Creator.

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