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On the Influence of the Principle of Population,
and of the Progress of Society, upon the individual Virtue and Happiness of the People.
HAVING shown that in some important and controverted points the principle of population leaves the political expediency of moral conduct, and the corditions of public virtue and happiness, precisely where it found them, it now only remains to establish the truth of the same propositions as general axioms. For this purpose we must inquire whether any of those natural arrangements of society, which have been pointed out as contributing to the simultaneous progress of food and population, do, generally speaking, increase the intensity of vice and misery; or whether the result of those arrangements be not rather a general compensation of enjoyments, leaving the increase or decrease of vice and misery entirely dependent upon the general conduct and habits of people, with reference to morals and religion; and lastiy, whether we cannot thus establish the glorious conclusion—that an eminently vicious people will at all times destroy itself, and a moderately virtuous one support itself, and flourish. There will then remain, to complete the object of this treatise, only the fourth fundamental principle that the tendency of population will operate in advancing the happiness and prosperity of a people in proportion to the prevalence of liberty, to the purity of the popular
religion, and the soundness of the public morals, habits, and tastes of the people.
It has I think been somewhere observed, that every attempt to explain the cause or ultiinate object of moral evil in the world will fail ; and if a new revelation were given to turn this dark inquiry into noon-day, it would make no difference in the actual state of things. An extension of knowledge would not reverse the fact that human nature has through every age displayed the clearest proofs of innate depravity, nor could it weaken the probability that it will still continue to do so, whatever were the reasons for giving a moral agent a constitution, which it was foreseen would soon be found in this condition. I am thankful, therefore, that it is not necessary to entangle ourselves in these depths, but only to be convinced that, cæteris paribus, the average quantity of evil that affects mankind is not necessarily increased as society advances.
It is evident from the preceding chapters, that the classes whose situation in life is changed by the
progress of society are the non-reproductive classes, that is, the higher ranks generally, and the lower and middle ranks resident in towns. Among the higher ranks, I think, after what has been stated, that the principle of compensation is so self-evident as not to require any additional illustration in this place. But I am aware that some difficulty may arise from the situation of the people in large towns, which form so considerable and so necessary an ingredient in the compositiod of an advanced state of society. In order to investigate it fairly, with reference to our present inquiry, it is evidently ne. cessary to distinguish between that quantity of vice
and misery which actually exists in many towns, where no adequate pains have been taken to improve the morals and the police, and that quantity which has been assumed to be necessary to produce the requisite abatement in the progress of population. The last is clearly all that can be justly ascribed to the dispensations of Providence in this argument; and when it has been reduced to its proper quantity, we must proceed (if any remain) to ascertain how far it may be sufficient to counterbalance the superior exertions of virtue, which the state of society producing many towns enables us to make.
Occasion has already been taken to show the high proportion which the average number of deaths to the population in towns bears to that in the country, and that a great portion of this extraordinary mortality takes place among infants and young children. But a certain number of premature deaths occurs in the country as well as in towns, and it is probable that the most favourable condition can hardly reduce it among the lower orders to less than one-third of the number born. As far as my personal experience goes, I should be disposed to think that the average was rather more. Now, as to these individuals themselves, who shall say that their condition (thus early taken from the world) is not to be envied by those left behind ? The principal question, therefore, as to the sum of misery produced by this increase of premature deaths, seems to be the degree in which the parents are affected by it ; and the immediate point to be determined in the case before us is, how much more heavily this species of grief presses upon parents residing in towns, than upon those in the country: As this is one of the chief drawbacks which we shall
have to make from the numerous advantages of civilization and commerce, I shall endeavour to investigate its extent with some precision. The number of births produced by each marriage must of course be various in different situations ; but there is good reason to believe, that the average of four to a marriage in towns, and six in the country, may not be far from the truth. Now, as half the number born in towns dies in childhood, each married couple must of course lose two children on an average: In the country, where it has been fully proved that the majority of the numbers born live to be married, we will calculate the number of those who die in childhood at one third; for the waste of life among persons who are just adult is very small in the country, But as each married couple here produces , six births upon an average, if one-third die in childhood, , the loss they sustain is of two children each, as we have seen to be the case in towns; so that the average pressure of grief upon each married couple is in quantity precisely the same, and the difference between them appears to be in the proportion which the loss of each bears to their whole stock, which in the townsman's case is one half, in the countryman's one third. The loss is in the same proportion as if two men, one possessing an income of 40001. and the other of 6000l. a year, should each be deprived of 2000l. a year. On the face of this account there certainly is a comparative disadvantage on the side of the townsman; but if we consider that both the contract of marriage and the residence in the town are voluntary on the part of the parents suffering the loss, as well as the numerous advantages and enjoyments by which they are tempted to place themselves in that si
tuation, their whole lot may well bear a comparison with that of the country residents. That such is the opinion of the people themselves is evident from the eagerness with which every situation in great towns is sought after by the residents in the country, and from the infrequency of the opposite course of conduct. We may, therefore, fairly conclude that the general increase of misery is not very great, if any at all. Nay, we think, that we may fairly assume that there is upon the whole an increase of happiness, particularly when we consider the superior capacity for enjoyment which the townsman's mental improvement gives him, and the superior means of attaining it afforded by the higher remuneration of his labour.
It remains to inquire how far the abatement in the progress of population which is incident to the existence of towns is caused by an increase of the vice of which they are said to be the hot-beds. Upon this subject there are some curious facts to be found among the writers who have turned their attention to it. I have selected the two following; the first of which is highly honourable to the sect upon whose society the experiment was founded. It struck Dr. Perceval, (see Perceval's Essays on Population, p. 41. Ed. 1776.) that the principles and manners of the Society of Friends, though often made the subjects of illiberal censure and ridicule, might afford them advantages over other bodies of men, with respect to the duration of life. The diligence, cleanliness, temperance, and composure of mind by which the members of this society are distinguished, in towns as well as in the country, might reasonably be supposed to contribute to health and longevity; and as