retrocession must be the reverse, and the governing principle of the community would directly oppose the acknowledged desideratum of producing the greatest quantity of happiness in a given space of territory. It appears, therefore, that there must be something radically wrong in any hypothesis which pretends to make the happiness of the people dependant upon conditions so obviously calculated to introduce public degradation and private misery. Lastly, we are desired to recollect that the “laws of nature” say, with St. Paul; “If a man will not work, neither shall he eat.” From which position we are desired to deduce this consequence as a law of Providence;—that, let a man work with ever so great a degree of diligence and alacrity, he shall not the more be enabled to eat, (if he be a member of a civilized and commercial country) unless he also fulfil another condition with which it is impossible in such a country that he can comply :—viz. unless he abstain from marriage till he can certainly maintain a family consisting of a wife and six children.

The propositions which I have now detailed in this chapter, extravagant as they probably appear to those who have attentively perused the preceding treatise, are all strictly legitimate conclusions from the principles respecting population which it is the object of the present work to endeavour to refute. It must be confessed that they present a most desponding view of our prospects with respect to the future condition of mankind, a view the dreariness of which is only relieved, even in the estimation of those who present it, by the probable effects which education may have among the lower orders, in inducing them generally to assume habits which it is admitted to be next to impossible that they should assume, and which (to say the least of them) appear to be very far from consistent with the designs of Providence, and the express permissions of Scripture. Without this condition, society as it advances, brings nothing but increase of misery to the most numerous and valuable class of the community; misery which can never be compensated in the eye of a just Providence, or of an enlightened philanthropist, by the eventual addition that may be made to the enjoyments of the other classes. Such being the prospect opened to our view by the system just alluded to, let us inquire to what extent it may be improved, upon the principles maintained in this treatise. For this purpose, and to avoid unnecessary repetition, I have only to recal to the reader's recollection the proofs of the fundamental propositions of the first book, and the application of them in the chapters on the direction and exercise of our charity, and on the free option of marriage. From these it will appear that the progressive abatement in the tendency of population to increase, as society advances, leaves ample space for consulting the happiness of the lower orders, both in the relief of their necessities, and in the permission of early marriages amongst them, without political injury to the state, or private injury to the individual. Nay further, I think it appears that this relief and permission, under the control of a moral and free government, are absolutely essential to the healthy progress of society;

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

that it is the interest of such a country in the ad:

vanced stages, that its lower orders should marry when they can procure a decent habitation, and the father has a fair average prospect of supporting two children by his labour; and that such being its interest, it is bound to provide, and will always have the power of providing, for the eventual maintenance of families consisting of a greater number of children, and for the eventual relief of such of the parents as may fall into temporary distress, from the fluctuations of employment necessarily incident to all complicated states of society.

The universal tendency of population to keep within the powers of the soil to bestow subsistence affords irrefragable proof that there is no physical impossibility that society should go on for an indefinite period advancing, and the community increasing in happiness and prosperity, under the laws and regulations of a benignant Providence. Still less can there be asserted to be any moral impossibility that they should so proceed. Vice and misery do not necessarily increase as Society advances, unless counteracted by the general fulfilment of certain impossible conditions, which economists may choose to designate by the term moral restraint. But a people will gradually advance in moral improvement, as well as in temporal happiness and political prosperity, in proportion as they adhere to the general will of Providence, as announced in the precepts of the Holy Scriptures. Political speculations for the good of mankind, independent of these sanctions, will certainly fail of their effect; and if we examine to the bottom the instances in which they have failed, the want of success will plainly appear to have arisen from moral deficiencies. To take an instance from the English Poor Laws:—In parishes where they have been honestly administered, and where the people have had the advantage of zealous and spiritual instructors, the general condition of the society is superior to any thing the world can show. But where legislative enactments have been thought sufficient to supply the place of moral instruction, (instead of coming in aid of it,) half the advantages of the system have been lost by the counteracting effects of moral debasement. The chief advantages then consist in the security afforded by the system that attention to moral considerations will be revived by the pressure produced on the higher orders in consequence of the prevalence of moral debasement among the lower. Various other instances might be cited in illustration: but they are I trust scarcely necessary to convince the reader who has advanced thus far in this treatise, that Politics, Morals, and Christianity, are dependant upon each other in the order in which they have been cited:—that the welfare of society, in its totality or in its separate parts, can no more be established by the principles of the first without a reference to the second, or of these without a reference to the third, than a finite straight line can be divided into two equal parts, without first knowing how to describe upon it an equilateral triangle. According to the principles then of this treatise, our rational prospects of a progressive improvement in the condition of mankind stand thus: physically and politically speaking, there appears to be no natural or necessary impediment. But the extent to which the physical and political ability will be rendered available to the purposes for which they were bestowed, must entirely depend upon the degree in which they are fortified and regulated by the prevalence of sound morals and pure religion. Whatsoever therefore gives force to these, improves the scene and vivifies the prospect. If this grand truth hath been hitherto contemplated as little more than speculative in political systems, if the acknowledgement of it hath been merely verbal and of course, while its real influence has evaporated amidst the contentious elements of worldly argument; doubtless a practical conviction of its essential necessity and active operation in all affairs of policy does of itself open views of improvement of a cheering nature; and considering the free course which, by the arguments of this treatise, the principle of population appears to afford to the temporal happiness and moral improvement of the people, the whole view is abundantly sufficient to confirm the conduct of the Statesman, and to animate the hopes of the Christian.

« ForrigeFortsett »