10 Pages

Mr Malthus

WithDuncan Wu

Mr Malthus may be considered as one of those rare and fortunate writers who have attained a scientific reputation in questions of moral and political philosophy. His name undoubtedly stands very high in the present age, and will in all probability go down to posterity with more or less of renown or obloquy. It was said by a person well qualified to judge both from strength and candour of mind, that 'it would take a thousand years at least to answer his work on Population.'1 He has certainly thrown a new light on that question, and changed the aspect of political economy in a decided and material point of view - whether he has not also endeavoured to spread a gloom over the hopes and more sanguine / speculations of man, and to cast a slur upon the face of nature, is another question. There is this to be said for Mr Malthus, that in speaking of him, one knows what one is talking about. He is something beyond a mere name – one has not to beat the bush about his talents, his attainments, his vast reputation, and leave off without knowing what it all amounts to — he is not one of those great men, who set themselves off and strut and fret an hour upon the stage,2 during a day-dream of popularity, with the ornaments and jewels borrowed from the common stock, to which nothing but their vanity and presumption gives them the least individual claim – he has dug into the mine of truth, and brought up ore mixed with dross! In weighing his merits we come at once to the question of what he has done or failed to do. It is a specific claim that he sets up. When we speak of Mr Malthus, we mean the Essay on Population; and when we mention the Essay on Population, we mean a distinct leading proposition, that stands out intelligibly from all trashy pretence, and is a ground on which to fix the levers that may move the world, backwards or forwards. He has not left opinion where he found it; he has advanced or given it a wrong bias, or thrown a stumblingblock / in its way. In a word, his name is not stuck, like so many others, in the firmament of reputation, nobody knows why, inscribed in great letters, and with a transparency of Talents, Genius, Learning blazing round it – it is tantamount to an idea, it is identified with a principle, it means that the population cannot go on perpetually increasing without pressing on the limits of the means of subsistence, and that a check of some kind or other must, sooner or later, be opposed to it.3 This is the essence of the doctrine which Mr Malthus has been the first to bring into general notice, and 171as we think, to establish beyond the fear of contradiction. Admitting then as we do the prominence and the value of his claims to public attention, it yet remains a question, how far those claims are (as to the talent displayed in them) strictly original; how far (as to the logical accuracy with which he has treated the subject) he has introduced foreign and doubtful matter into it; and how far (as to the spirit in which he has conducted his inquiries, and applied a general principle to particular objects) he has only drawn fair and inevitable conclusions from it, or endeavoured to tamper with and wrest it to sinister and servile purposes. A writer who shrinks from / following up a well-founded principle into its untoward consequences from timidity or false delicacy, is not worthy of the name of a philosopher: a writer who assumes the garb of candour and an inflexible love of truth to garble and pervert it, to crouch to power and pander to prejudice, deserves a worse tide than that of a sophist!