Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

“ A

the dread of evil in this life, rather than by the fear of punishment in another. (Barrow, 486, &c.) Chinese can scarcely be said to pray; he is grateful when the event proves favourable to his wishes, petulant and peevish with his gods when adverse.”

In such a state of society, where moral and political justice, in all its relations and arrangements, is so completely perverted, it is not surprising that consequences unnatural to the ordinary condition of man should have arisen: but it surely is to the last degree surprising, that any one should bring such a people as an example of mankind in the highest condition of society, populated and cultivated to the utmost of their physical means The plain fact, with respect to China, seems to be this—that it has for some centuries been declining, both in population and produce, a circumstance reasonably to be expected from a recurrence to what is known of its history. Before towns of the immense magnitude which those in China are said to reach could possibly have existed in the regular course of society, as it has been traced in the preceding chapters, there must have been a considerable degree of freedom and civilization, and the general surface of the country must have been pretty fully cultivated. But that cultivation has now been in a great measure destroyed by foreign violence, intestine disorder, and domestic tyranny. The towns having thus been left without their adequate and legitimate resource of food, their inhabitants have become like garrisons placed upon a reduced allowo

The small portion of food, however, necessary to sustain bare existence in that country, the fertility of the soil surrounding the towns producing two crops annually, and the mildness of the climate, still

ance.

admit of a large absolute population, though it has doubtless much declined, both in quantity and quality, from its former state, and will still further decline if the same vices continue. * But unless these vices are the unalterable lot of the Chinese, we are justified in concluding that, so far from the parents being under any moral necessity of killing their offspring, and the people of emigrating, because there is an absolute impossibility of procuring further produce from the land, they have recourse to those expedients merely because the industry of that part of the natives which ought to feed the remainder is unjustifiably interfered with; and because the want of civilization, and the brutal depression of the people, prevent some part of that abatement in the progress of population which is natural to so advanced a state of society. But the restoration of good government and agricultural industry would soon restore civilization and plenty, the one producing ample food for the existing people, the other preventing a future progress in population too rapid for the remaining powers of the soil; whereas the system of legalizing infanticide for the purpose of keeping down the population to the exigence created by bad government, if it were effectual to its purpose,

* The number of persons on a square mile in China is not, as I have observed, equal to that which is found in England: yet the quantity of grain which the land is capable of producing from its double harvest, and nearly double returns in the quantity of each harvest, (for rice returns about thirty for one), would in dicate a power of supporting a proportion of people four times greater than England. Let us add to this, that the ordinary fare of an inhabitant of Britain would, upon the average, support three Chinese

upon their ordinary fare, and we may form something like an estimate of the population that might exist in China without pressing against the means of subsistence.

would condemn the people to a perpetual state of moral debasement, to a progressive diminution of their numbers, and to all that complication of vice and misery which attends upon a retrogressive career in the scale of society. For although the industry of the remainder may be excited for a time by the rod and the bamboo, yet when the mental and corporeal energies are unnerved by such expedients, industry and morality will soon take their flight to happier regions.

Here then we find that the natural tendency of the population to keep within the powers of the soil to afford it subsistence, as stated in the first fundamental proposition of this treatise, is disarranged, so as to produce actual pressure against the existing supply of food, by the “depression of the productive energies of the soil considerably below its natural powers,” according to the second fundamental proposition of this treatise. But as such depression is produced by a government, laws, and customs, directly opposed to " the principles of sound religion and morality, to rational liberty and security of person and property, the counteracting causes ascribed to the imperfect influence of these principles, in the third fundamental proposition, have no effect whatsoever. Their perfect influence, according to the fourth fundamental proposition, is of course entirely out of the question. We need do little more than thankfully contemplate the state of our own country, in connexion with the preceding view of the state of society in China, to perceive the effects which the introduction of religion, morality, liberty, and security, would operate in the latter : and as I think it may be asserted without incurring the imputation of national partiality, that there is no

person and

country in the world where sound religion and moraa litý, rational liberty and security of

property, approach so nearly to the attainment of a perfect influence as in Great Britain; the comparison of its actual condition with that of other states will best substantiate the proof of my fourth fundamental proposition, as applied to the highest stage of society, of which history or experience will afford an example. It is evident that the population, although increasing on à soil where the best spots have all been long occupied, does by to

means injuriously press against the supply of food raised from that soil : and it is still more evident that this happy condition is to be ascribed equally to our substantial political advantages, which encourage industry and cultivation on the one hand, as to our sound moral institutions, which tend on the other to introduce habits and dispositions preventing all vicious exuberance in the natural progress of population.

Far be it, however, from me to contend, that we have arrived at any thing like perfection in morals or politics on the contrary, should I be permitted to exécute the work which I contemplate on the “Com- · monwealth of Britain," there is too much reason to fear that a few of our laws and institutions will be found as defective in political morality, as some orders of the community undoubtedly are in private virtue; and I should truly rejoice to find some abler hand engaged in a philosophical treatise, for the purpose of trácing the connection between these two subjects, which involves the legitimate influence of moPals ini affairs of legislation and civil government. What I am now contending for is, that as in no great éountry upon récord has so much public liberty been

L

found, co-existent with so large a portion of private morality, the progress which England has made, without any serious inconvenience from the pressure of population against subsistence, is a striking evidence of the truth of the fourth fundamental proposition of the third chapter of this book, which is entirely of a relative nature. If, indeed, I may be allowed to make any observation on the positive degree of liberty and morality, which are requisite to enable a state to proceed in its career of improvement, without serious impediments arising out of the principle of population, I should be disposed to fix the point still lower than that at which those blessings are sustained in this country, and to cite the fact as an additional ground of thankfulness to Providence.

The permanent pressure of population against subsistence is an evil of so fatal a nature, so entirely subversive of all virtue and happiness, so degrading in its consequences to the minds and bodies of the people, so productive of apathy in the governors, and despair in the governed, that nothing short of a total revolution in society, with all its attendant horrors, is sufficient to renovate the system. Without this desperate remedy, therefore, which even the most considerate of the existing community may well deprecate as almost worse than the disease itself, a country labouring under the misfortune stated may well be considered as placed under the ban of perpetual exclusion from all the highest privileges of social man, from the attainment of virtue, from the exercise of charity, from the enjoyment of civil and religious liberty. The moral and political condition of a country is never entirely desperate, so long as this extreme sentence is yet suspended over its head. We

« ForrigeFortsett »