An Essay on the Principle of Population
By Thomas Robert Malthus
There are two versions of Thomas Robert Malthus’s
Essay on the Principle of Population. The first, published anonymously in 1798, was so successful that Malthus soon elaborated on it under his real name.
* The rewrite, culminating in the sixth edition of 1826, was a scholarly expansion and generalization of the first.Following his success with his work on population, Malthus published often from his economics position on the faculty at the East India College at Haileybury. He was not only respected in his time by contemporaneous intellectuals for his clarity of thought and willingness to focus on the evidence at hand, but he was also an engaging writer capable of presenting logical and mathematical concepts succinctly and clearly. In addition to writing principles texts and articles on timely topics such as the corn laws, he wrote in many venues summarizing his initial works on population, including a summary essay in the
Encyclopædia Britannica on population.The first and sixth editions are presented on Econlib in full. Minor corrections of punctuation, obvious spelling errors, and some footnote clarifications are the only substantive changes.* Malthus’s “real name” may have been Thomas Robert Malthus, but a descendent, Nigel Malthus, reports that his family says he did not use the name Thomas and was known to friends and colleagues as Bob. See
The Malthus Homepage, a site maintained by Nigel Malthus, a descendent.For more information on Malthus’s life and works, see
New School Profiles: Thomas Robert Malthus and
The International Society of Malthus.Lauren Landsburg
Editor, Library of Economics and Liberty
First Pub. Date
London: John Murray
The text of this edition is in the public domain. Picture of Malthus courtesy of The Warren J. Samuels Portrait Collection at Duke University.
- Chapter I
- Chapter II
- Chapter III
- Chapter IV
- Chapter V
- Chapter VI
- Chapter VII
- Chapter VIII
- Chapter IX
- Chapter X
- Chapter XI
- Chapter XII
- Chapter XIII
- Chapter XIV
- Bk.II,Ch.XI, On the Fruitfulness of Marriages
- Appendix I
- Appendix II
Of the Checks to Population in Switzerland.
Book II, Chapter V
The situation of Switzerland is in many respects so different from the other states of Europe, and some of the facts that have been collected respecting it are so curious, and tend so strongly to illustrate the general principles of this work, that it seems to merit a separate consideration.
About 35 or 40 years ago, a great and sudden alarm appears to have prevailed in Switzerland respecting the depopulation of the country; and the transactions of the Economical Society of Berne, which had been established some years before, were crowded with papers deploring the decay of industry, arts, agriculture and manufactures, and the imminent danger of a total want of people. The greater part of these writers considered the depopulation of the country as a fact so obvious, as not to require proof. They employed themselves, therefore, chiefly in proposing remedies, and, among others, the importation of midwives, the establishment of foundling hospitals, the portioning of young virgins, the prevention of emigration, and the encouragement of foreign settlers.
A paper containing very valuable materials was, however, about this time published by M. Muret, minister of Vevay, who, before he proceeded to point out remedies, thought it necessary to substantiate the existence of the evil. He made a very laborious and careful research into the registers of the different parishes, up to the time of their first establishment, and compared the number of births which had taken place during three different periods of 70 years each, the first ending in 1620, the second in 1690, and the third in 1760.
*2 Finding upon this comparison, that the number of births was rather less in the second than in the first period, (and by the help of supposing some omissions in the second period, and, some redundances in the third,) that the number of births in the third was also less than in the second, he considered the evidence for a continued depopulation of the country from the year 1550 as incontrovertible.
Admitting all the premises, the conclusion is not perhaps so certain as he imagined it to be and from other facts which appear in his memoir, I am strongly disposed to believe, that Switzerland, during this period, came under the case supposed in the last chapter; and that the improving habits of the people with respect to prudence, cleanliness &c., had increased gradually the general healthiness of the country, and, by enabling them to rear up to manhood a greater proportion of their children, had furnished the requisite population with a smaller number of births. Of course, the proportion of annual births to the whole population, in the latter period, would be less than in the former.
From accurate calculations of M. Muret, it appears, that during the last period the mortality was extraordinarily small, and the proportion of children reared from infancy to puberty extraordinarily great.
*3 In the former periods this could not have been the case in the same degree. M. Muret himself observes, that “the ancient depopulation of the country was to be attributed to the frequent plagues which, in former times, desolated it;” and adds, “if it could support itself, notwithstanding the frequency of so dreadful an evil, it is a proof of the goodness of the climate, and of the certain resources which the country could furnish, for a prompt recovery of its population.”
*4 He neglects to apply this observation as he ought, and forgets that such a prompt repeopling could not take place without an unusual increase of births, and that, to enable a country to support itself against such a source of destruction, a greater proportion of births to the whole population would be necessary than at other times.
In one of his tables he gives a list of all the plagues that have prevailed in Switzerland since the year 1312, from which it appears that this dreadful scourge desolated the country, at short intervals, during the whole of the first period, and extended its occasional ravages to within 22 years of the termination of the second.
It would be contrary to every rule of probability to suppose that, during the frequent prevalence of this disorder, the country could be particularly healthy, and the general mortality extremely small. Let us suppose it to have been such as at present takes place in many other countries, which are exempt from this calamity, about 1 in 32, instead of 1 in 45, as in the last period. The births would of course keep their relative proportion, and instead of 1 in 36,
*6 be about 1 in 26. In estimating the population of the country by the births, we should thus have two very different multipliers for the different periods; and though the absolute number of births might be greater in the first period, yet the fact would by no means imply a greater population.
In the present instance, the sum of the births in 17 parishes, during the first 70 years, is given as 49,860, which annually would be about 712. This, multiplied by 26, would indicate a population of 18,512. In the last period the sum of the births is given as 43,910,
*7 which will be about 626 annually. This, multiplied by 36, will indicate a population of 22,536; and if the multipliers be just, it will thus appear, that instead of the decrease which was intended to be proved, there had been a considerable increase.
That I have not estimated the mortality too high during the first period, I have many reasons for supposing, particularly a calculation respecting the neighbouring town of Geneva, in which it appears that, in the 16th century, the probability of life, or the age to which half of the born live, was only 4.883, rather less than four years and 9/10ths; and the mean life 18.511, about 18 years and a half. In the 17th century, the probability of life was 11.607, above 11 years and a half; the mean life 23.358. In the 18th century the probability of life had increased to 27.183, 27 years and nearly a fifth, and the mean life to 32 years and a fifth.
It is highly probable that a diminution of mortality, of the same kind, though perhaps not in the same degree, should have taken place in Switzerland; and we know from the registers of other countries which have been already noticed, that a greater mortality naturally produces a greater proportion of births.
Of this dependence of the births on the deaths M. Muret himself produces many instances; but not being aware of the true principle of population, they only serve to astonish him, and he does not apply them.
Speaking of the want of fruitfulness in the Swiss women, he says, that Prussia, Brandenburgh, Sweden, France, and indeed every country, the registers of which he had seen, give a greater proportion of baptisms to the number of inhabitants, than the Pays de Vaud, where this proportion is only as 1 to 36.
*9 He adds, that from calculations lately made in the Lyonois, it appeared, that in Lyons itself the proportion of baptisms was 1 in 28, in the small towns 1 in 25, and in the parishes 1 in 23 or 24. What a prodigious difference, he exclaims, between the Lyonois and the Pays de Vaud, where the most favourable proportion, and that only in two small parishes of extraordinary fecundity, is not above 1 in 26, and in many parishes it is considerably less than 1 in 40!
*10The same difference, he remarks, takes place in the
mean life. In the Lyonois it is a little above 25 years, while in the Pays de Vaud the lowest mean life, and that only in a single marshy and unhealthy parish, is 29½ years, and in many places it is above 45 years.
“But whence comes it,” he says, “that the country where children escape the best from the dangers of infancy, and where the mean life, in whatever way the calculation is made, is higher than in any other, should be precisely that in which the fecundity is the smallest? How comes it again that, of all our parishes, the one which gives the mean life the highest, should also be the one where the tendency to increase is the smallest?
“To resolve this question, I will hazard a conjecture, which, however, I give only as such. Is it not, that in order to maintain in all places the proper equilibrium of population, God has wisely ordered things in such a manner, as that the force of life in each country should be in the inverse ratio of its fecundity?
“In fact, experience verifies my conjecture. Leyzin, a village in the Alps, with a population of 400 persons, produces but a little above eight children a year. The Pays de Vaud, in general, in proportion to the same number of inhabitants, produces 11, and the Lyonois 16. But if it happen, that at the age of 20 years, the 8, the 11, and the 16, are reduced to the same number, it will appear that the force of life gives in one place what fecundity does in another. And thus the most healthy countries, having less fecundity, will not overpeople themselves, and the unhealthy countries, by their extraordinary fecundity, will be able to sustain their population.”
We may judge of the surprize of M. Muret, at finding from the registers, that the most healthy people were the least prolific, by his betaking himself to a miracle in order to account for it. But the difficulty does not seem, in the present instance, to be worthy of such an interference. The fact may be accounted for, without resorting to so strange a supposition as that the fruitfulness of women should vary inversely as their health.
There is certainly a considerable difference in the healthiness of different countries, arising partly from the soil and situation, and partly from the habits and employment of the people. When, from these or any other causes whatever, a great mortality takes place, a proportional number of births immediately ensues, owing both to the greater number of yearly marriages from the increased demand for labour, and the greater fecundity of each marriage from being contracted at an earlier, and naturally a more prolific age.
On the contrary, when from opposite causes the healthiness of any country or parish is extraordinarily great; if, from the habits of the people, no vent for an overflowing population be found in emigration, the absolute necessity of the preventive check will be forced so strongly on their attention, that they must adopt it or starve; and consequently the marriages being very late, the number annually contracted will not only be small in proportion to the population, but each individual marriage will naturally be less prolific.
In the parish of Leyzin, noticed by M. Muret, all these circumstances appear to have been combined in an unusual degree. Its situation in the Alps, but yet not too high, gave it probably the most pure and salubrious air; and the employment of the people, being all pastoral, were consequently of the most healthy nature. From the calculations of M. Muret, the accuracy of which there is no reason to doubt, the probability of life in this parish appeared to be so extraordinarily high as 61 years.
*13 And the average number of the births being for a period of 30 years almost accurately equal to the number of deaths,
*14 clearly proved that the habits of the people had not led them to emigrate, and that the resources of the parish for the support of population had remained nearly stationary. We are warranted therefore in concluding, that the pastures were limited, and could not easily be increased either in quantity or quality. The number of cattle, which could be kept upon them, would of course be limited; and in the same manner the number of persons required for the care of these cattle.
Under such circumstances, how would it be possible for the young men who had reached the age of puberty, to leave their fathers’ houses and marry, till an employment of herdsman, dairyman, or something of the kind, became vacant by death? And as, from the extreme healthiness of the people, this must happen very slowly, it is evident that the majority of them must wait during a great part of their youth in their bachelor state, or run the most obvious risk of starving themselves and their families. The case is still stronger than in Norway, and receives a particular precision from the circumstance of the births and deaths being so nearly equal.
If a father had unfortunately a larger family than usual, the tendency of it would be rather to decrease than increase the number of marriages. He might perhaps with economy be just able to support them all at home, though he could not probably find adequate employment for them on his small property; but it would evidently be long before they could quit him, and the first marriage among the sons would probably be after the death of the father; whereas, if he had had only two children, one of them might perhaps have married without leaving the parental roof, and the other on the death of the father. It may be said perhaps in general, that the absence or presence of four grown-up unmarried people will make the difference of there being room or not, for the establishment of another marriage and a fresh family.
As the marriages in this parish would, with few exceptions, be very late, and yet from the extreme healthiness of the situation be very slowly dissolved by the death of either of the parties, it is evident that a very large proportion of the subsisting marriages would be among persons so far advanced in life, that most of the women would have ceased to bear children; and in consequence the whole number of subsisting marriages was found to be to the number of annual births in the very unusual proportion of 12 to 1. The births were only about a 49th part of the population; and the number of persons above sixteen was to the number below that age nearly as 3 to 1.
As a contrast to this parish, and a proof how little the number of births can be depended upon for an estimate of population, M. Muret produces the parish of St. Cergue in the Jura, in which the subsisting marriages were to the annual births only in the proportion of 4 to 1, the births were a 26th part of the population, and the number of persons above and below sixteen just equal.
Judging of the population of these parishes from the proportion of their annual births, it would appear, he says, that Leyzin did not exceed St. Cergue by above one-fifth at most; whereas, from actual enumeration, the population of the former turned out to be 405, and of the latter only 171.
I have chosen, he observes, the parishes where the contrast is the most striking; but though the difference be not so remarkable in the rest, yet it will always be found true that from one place to another, even at very small distances, and in situations apparently similar, the proportions will vary considerably.
It is strange that, after making these observations, and others of the same tendency, which I have not produced, he should rest the whole proof of the depopulation of the Pays de Vaud on the proportion of births. There is no good reason for supposing that this proportion should not be different at different periods, as well as in different situations. The extraordinary contrast in the fecundity of the two parishes of Leyzin and St. Cergue depends upon causes within the power of time and circumstances to alter. From the great proportion of infants which was found to grow up to maturity in St. Cergue, it appeared that its natural healthiness was not much inferior to that of Leyzin.
*19 The proportion of its births to deaths was 7 to 4;
*20 but as the whole number of its inhabitants did not exceed 171, it is evident that this great excess of births could not have been regularly added to the population during the last two centuries. It must have arisen therefore either from a sudden increase of late years in the agriculture or trade of the parish, or from a habit of emigration. The latter supposition I conceive to be the true one; and it seems to be confirmed by the small proportion of adults which has already been noticed. The parish is situated in the Jura, by the side of the high road from Paris to Geneva, a situation which would evidently tend to facilitate emigration; and in fact, it seems to have acted the part of a breeding parish for the towns and flat countries; and the annual drain of a certain portion of the adults made room for all the rest to marry, and to rear a numerous offspring.
A habit of emigration in a particular parish, will not only depend on situation, but probably often on accident. I have little doubt that three or four very successful emigrations have frequently given a spirit of enterprise to a whole village; and three or four unsuccessful ones a contrary spirit. If a habit of emigration were introduced into the village of Leyzin, it is not to be doubted that the proportion of births would be immediately changed; and at the end of twenty years an examination of its registers might give results as different from those at the time of M. Muret’s calculations, as they were then from the contrasted parish of St. Cergue. It will hence appear that other causes besides a greater mortality will concur, to make an estimate of population, at different periods, from the proportion of births, liable to great uncertainty.
The facts which M. Muret has collected are all valuable, though his inferences cannot always be considered in the same light. He made some calculations at Vevay, of a nature really to ascertain the question respecting the fecundity of marriages, and to shew the incorrectness of the usual mode of estimating it, though without this particular object in view at the time. He found that 375 mothers had yielded 2,093 children, all born alive; from which it followed, that each mother had produced 5 10/12, or nearly six children.
*21 These, however, were all actually mothers, which every wife is not; but allowing for the usual proportion of barren wives at Vevay, which he had found to be 20 out of 478, it will still appear that the married women one with another produced above 5 1/3 children.
*22 And yet this was in a town, the inhabitants of which he seems to accuse of not entering into the marriage state at the period when nature calls them, and, when married, of not having all the children which they might have.
*23 The general proportion of the annual marriages to the annual births in the Pays de Vaud is as 1 to 3.9,
*24 and of course, according to the common mode of calculation, the marriages would appear to yield 3.9 children each.
In a division of the Pays de Vaud into eight different districts, M. Muret found, that in seven towns the mean life was 36 years; and the probability of life, or the age to which half of the born live, 37. In 36 villages, the mean life was 37, and the probability of life 42. In nine parishes of the Alps the mean life was 40, and the probability of life 47. In seven parishes of the Jura these two proportions were 38 and 42: in 12 corn parishes, 37 and 40; in 18 parishes among the great vineyards, 34 and 37; in six parishes of mixed vines and hills, 33 9/10 and 36; and in one marshy parish, 29 and 24.
From another table it appears, that the number of persons dying under the age of 15 was less than 1/5 in the extraordinary parish of Leyzin; and less than ¼ in many other parishes of the Alps and the Jura. For the whole of the Pays de Vaud it was less than 1/3.
In some of the largest towns, such as Lausanne and Vevay, on account of the number of strangers settling in them, the proportion of adults to those under 16 was nearly as great as in the parish of Leyzin, and not far from 3 to 1. In the parishes from which there were not many emigrations, this proportion was about 2 to 1. And in those which furnished inhabitants for other countries, it approached more towards an equality.
The whole population of the Pays de Vaud, M. Muret estimated at 113,000, of which 76,000 were adults. The proportion of adults therefore to those under the age of sixteen, for the whole country, was 2 to 1. Among these 76,000 adults, there were 19,000 subsisting marriages, and consequently 38,000 married persons; and the same number of persons unmarried, though of the latter number 9,000, according to M. Muret, would probably be widows or widowers.
*28 With such an average store of unmarried persons, notwithstanding the acknowledged emigrations, there was little ground for the supposition that these emigrations had essentially affected the number of annual marriages, and checked the progress of population.
The proportion of annual marriages to inhabitants in the Pays de Vaud, according to M. Muret’s tables, was only 1 to 140,
*29 which is even less than in Norway.
All these calculations of M. Muret imply the operation of the preventive check to population in a considerable degree, throughout the whole of the district which he considered; and there is reason to believe, that the same habits prevail in other parts of Switzerland, though varying considerably from place to place, according as the situation or the employments of the people render them more or less healthy, or the resources of the country make room or not for an increase.
In the town of Berne, from the year 1583 to 1654, the sovereign council had admitted into the Bourgeoisie 487 families, of which 379 became extinct in the space of two centuries, and in 1783 only 108 of them remained. During the hundred years from 1684 to 1784, 207 Bernoise families became extinct. From 1624 to 1712, the Bourgeoisie was given to 80 families. In 1623, the sovereign council united the members of 112 different families, of which 58 only remain.
The proportion of unmarried persons in Berne, including widows and widowers, is considerably above the half of the adults; and the proportion of those below sixteen to those above, is not far from 1 to 3.
*31 These are strong, proofs of the powerful operation of the preventive check.
The peasants in the canton of Berne have always had the reputation of being rich, and without doubt it is greatly to be attributed to this cause. A law has for some time prevailed, which makes it necessary for every peasant to prove himself in possession of the arms and accoutrements necessary for the militia, before he can obtain permission to marry. This at once excludes the very poorest from marriage; and a very favourable turn may be given to the habits of many others, from a knowledge that they cannot accomplish the object of their wishes, without a certain portion of industry and economy. A young man who, with this end in view, had engaged in service either at home or in a foreign country, when he had gained the necessary sum, might feel his pride rather raised, and not be contented merely with what would obtain him permission to marry, but go on till he could obtain something like a provision for a family.
I was much disappointed, when in Switzerland, at not being able to procure any details respecting the smaller cantons; but the disturbed state of the country made it impossible. It is to be presumed, however, that as they are almost entirely in pasture, they must resemble in a great measure the alpine parishes of the Pays de Vaud in the extraordinary health of the people, and the absolute necessity of the preventive check; except where these circumstances may have been altered by a more than usual habit of emigration, or by the introduction of manufactures.
The limits to the population of a country strictly pastoral are strikingly obvious. There are no grounds less susceptible of improvement than mountainous pastures. They must necessarily be left chiefly to nature; and when they have been adequately stocked with cattle, little more can be done. The great difficulty in these parts of Switzerland, as in Norway, is to procure a sufficient quantity of fodder for the winter support of the cattle which have been fed on the mountains in the summer. For this purpose grass is collected with the greatest care. In places inaccessible to cattle, the peasant sometimes makes hay with crampons on his feet; in some places grass not three inches high is cut three times a year; and in the valleys, the fields are seen shaven as close as a bowling-green, and all the inequalities clipped as with a pair of scissors. In Switzerland as in Norway, for the same reasons, the art of mowing seems to be carried to its highest pitch of perfection. As, however, the improvement of the lands in the valleys must depend principally upon the manure arising from the stock, it is evident that the quantity of hay and the number of cattle will be mutually limited by each other; and as the population will of course be limited by the produce of the stock, it does not seem possible to increase it beyond a certain point, and that at no great distance. Though the population, therefore, in the flat parts of Switzerland, has increased during the last century, there is reason to believe that it has been stationary in the mountainous parts. According to M. Muret it has decreased very considerably in the Alps of the Pays de Vaud; but his proofs of this fact have been noticed as extremely uncertain. It is not probable, that the Alps are less stocked with cattle than they were formerly; and if the inhabitants be really rather fewer in number, it is probably owing to the smaller proportion of children, and to the improvement which has taken place in the mode of living.
In some of the smaller cantons, manufactures have been introduced, which, by furnishing a greater quantity of employment, and at the same time a greater quantity of exports for the purchase of corn, have of course considerably increased their population. But the Swiss writers seem generally to agree, that the districts where they have been established, have upon the whole suffered in point of health, morals and happiness.
It is the nature of pasturage to produce food for a much greater number of people than it can employ. In countries strictly pastoral, therefore, many persons will be idle, or at most be very inadequately occupied. This state of things naturally disposes to emigration, and the principal reason why the Swiss have been so much engaged in foreign service. When a father has more than one son, those who are not wanted on the farm are powerfully tempted to enrol themselves as soldiers, or to emigrate in some other way, as the only chance of enabling them to marry.
It is possible, though not probable, that a more than usual spirit of emigration, operating upon a country, in which, as it has appeared, the preventive check prevailed to a very considerable degree, might have produced a temporary check to increase at the period when there was such an universal cry about depopulation. If this were so, it without doubt contributed to improve the condition of the lower classes of people. All the foreign travellers in Switzerland, soon after this time, invariably take notice of the state of the Swiss peasantry as superior to that of other countries. In a late excursion to Switzerland, I was rather disappointed not to find it so superior as I had been taught to expect. The greatest part of the unfavourable change might justly be attributed to the losses and sufferings of the people during the late troubles; but a part perhaps to the ill-directed efforts of the different governments to increase the population, and to the ultimate consequences even of efforts well directed, and for a time calculated to advance the comforts and happiness of the people.
I was very much struck with an effect of this last kind, in an expedition to the
Lac de Joux in the Jura. The party had scarcely arrived at a little inn at the end of the lake, when the mistress of the house began to complain of the poverty and misery of all the parishes in the neighbourhood. She said that the country produced little, and yet was full of inhabitants; that boys and girls were marrying who ought still to be at school; and that, while this habit of early marriages continued, they should always be wretched and distressed for subsistence.
The peasant, who afterwards conducted us to the source of the Orbe, entered more fully into the subject, and appeared to understand the principle of population almost as well as any man I ever met with. He said, that the women were prolific, and the air of the mountains so pure and healthy, that very few children died, except from the consequences of absolute want; that the soil, being barren, was inadequate to yield employment and food for the numbers that were yearly growing up to manhood; that the wages of labour were consequently very low, and totally insufficient for the decent support of a family; but that the misery and starving condition of the greater part of the society did not operate properly as a warning to others, who still continued to marry; and to produce a numerous offspring which they could not support. This habit of early marriages might really, he said, be called
le vice du pays; and he was so strongly impressed with the necessary and unavoidable wretchedness that must result from it, that he thought a law ought to be made, restricting men from entering into the marriage state before they were forty years of age, and then allowing it only with
“des vieilles files,” who might bear them two or three children instead of six or eight.
I could not help being diverted with the earnestness of his oratory on this subject, and particularly with his concluding proposition. He must have seen and felt the misery arising from a redundant population most forcibly, to have proposed so violent a remedy. I found upon inquiry that he had himself married very young.
The only point in which he failed, as to his philosophical knowledge of the subject, was in confining his reasonings too much to barren and mountainous countries, and not extending them to the plains. In fertile situations, he thought, perhaps, that the plenty of corn and employment might remove the difficulty, and allow of early marriages. Not having lived much in the plains, it was natural for him to fall into this error; particularly, as in such situations the difficulty is not only more concealed from the extensiveness of the subject; but is in reality less, from the greater mortality naturally occasioned by low grounds, towns, and manufactories.
On inquiring into the principal cause of what he had named the
predominant vice of his country, he explained it with great philosophical precision. He said, that a manufacture for the polishing of stones had been established some years ago, which for a time had been in a very thriving state, and had furnished high wages and employment to all the neighbourhood; that the facility of providing for a family, and of finding early employment for children, had greatly encouraged early marriages; and that the same habit had continued, when, from a change of fashion, accident, and other causes, the manufacture was almost at an end. Very great emigrations, he said, had of late years taken place; but the breeding system went on so fast, that they were not sufficient to relieve the country of its superabundant mouths, and the effect was such as he had described to me, and as I had in part seen.
In other conversations which I had with the lower classes of people in different parts of Switzerland and Savoy, I found many, who, though not sufficiently skilled in the principle of population to see its effects on society, like my friend of the
Lac de Joux, yet saw them clearly enough as affecting their own individual interests; and were perfectly aware of the evils which they should probably bring upon themselves by marrying before they could have a tolerable prospect of being able to maintain a family. From the general ideas which I have found to prevail on these subjects, I should by no means say that it would be a difficult task to make the common people comprehend the principle of population, and its effect in producing low wages and poverty.
Though there is no absolute provision for the poor in Switzerland, yet each parish generally possesses some seignioral rights and property in land for the public use, and is expected to maintain its own poor. These funds, however, being limited, will of course often be totally insufficient; and occasionally voluntary collections are made for this purpose. But, the whole of the supply being comparatively scanty and uncertain, it has not the same bad effects as the parish-rates of England. Of late years much of the common lands belonging to parishes have been parcelled out to individuals, which has of course tended to improve the soil, and increase the number of people; but from the manner in which it has been conducted, it has operated perhaps too much as a systematic encouragement of marriage, and has contributed to increase the number of poor. In the neighbourhood of the richest
communes, I often observed the greatest number of beggars.
There is reason to believe, however, that the efforts of the Economical Society of Berne to promote agriculture were crowned with some success; and that the increasing resources of the country have made room for an additional population, and furnished an adequate support for the greatest part, if not the whole, of that increase which has of late taken place.
In 1764 the population of the whole canton of Berne, including the Pays de Vaud, was estimated at 336,689. In 1791, it had increased to 414,420. From 1764 to 1777, its increase proceeded at the rate of 2,000 each year; and, from 1778 to 1791, at the rate of 3,109 each year.
These proportions shew the prevalence of early marriages, and its natural consequences in such a situation, and under such circumstances—great poverty and great mortality. M. Heer, who gave M. Prevost the information, seems to have foreseen these consequences early.
Statistique Générale et Particulière de la France, et de ses Colonies, lately, published, the returns of the prefects for the year IX. are given, and seem to justify this conjecture. The births are 955,450, the deaths 821,871, and the marriages 202,177. These numbers hardly equal Necker’s estimates; and yet all the calculations in this work, both with respect to the whole population and its proportion to a square league, make the old territory of France more populous now than at the beginning of the revolution. The estimate of the population, at the period of the Constituent Assembly, has already been mentioned; and at this time the number of persons to a square league was reckoned 996. In the year VI. of the republic, the result of the Bureau de Cadastre gave a population of 26,048,254, and the number to a square league 1,020. In the year VII. Dépère calculated the whole population of France at 33,501,094, of which 28,810,694 belonged to ancient France; the number to a square league 1,101; but the calculations, it appears, were founded upon the first estimate made by the Constituent Assembly, which was afterwards rejected as too high. In the year IX. and X. the addition of Piedmont and the isle of Elba raised the whole population to 34,376,313; the number to a square league 1,086. The number belonging to Old France is not stated. It seems to have been about 28,000,000.
In the face of these calculations, the author takes a lower multiplier than Necker for the births, observing that though Necker’s proportions remained true in the towns, yet in the country the proportion of births bad increased to 1/21, 1/22, 1/22 ½, 1/23, which he attributes to the premature marriages, to avoid the military levies; and on the whole, concludes with mentioning 25 as the proper multiplier. And yet, if we make use of this multiplier, we shall get a population under 25 millions, instead of 28 millions. It is true, indeed, that no just inferences can be drawn from the births of a single year; but, as these are the only births referred to, the contradiction is obvious. Perhaps the future returns may solve the difficulty, and the births in the following years be greater; but I am inclined to think, as I have mentioned in the text, that the greatest increase in the proportion of births was before the year IX. and probably during the first six or seven years of the republic, while married persons were exempt from the military conscriptions. If the state of the agricultural part of the nation has been improved by the revolution, I am strongly inclined to believe that the proportions both of births and deaths will be found to diminish. In so fine a climate as France, nothing but the very great misery of the lower classes could occasion a mortality of 1/30, and a proportion of births as 1/25¾, according to Necker’s calculations. And consequently, upon this supposition, the births for the year IX. may not be incorrect, and in future, the births and deaths may not bear so large a proportion to the population. The contrast between France and England in this respect is quite wonderful.
The part of this work relating to population is not drawn up with much knowledge of the subject. One remark is very curious. It is observed that the proportion of marriages to the population is as 1 to 110, and of births as 1 to 25; from which it is inferred, that one-fourth of the born live to marry. If this inference were just, France would soon he depopulated.
In calculating, the value of lives, the author makes use of Buffou’s tables, which are entirely incorrect, being founded principally on registers taken from the villages round Paris. They make the probability of life at birth only a little above eight years; which, taking the towns and the country together, is very short of the just average.
Scarcely any thing worth noticing has been added in this work to the details given in the Essay of Peuchet, which I have already frequently referred to. On the whole I have not seen sufficient grounds to make me alter any of my conjectures in this chapter, though probably they are not well-founded. Indeed, in adopting Sir F. d’Ivernois’ calculations respecting the actual loss of men during the revolution, I never thought myself borne out by facts; but, the reader will be aware that I adopted them rather for the sake of illustration than from supposing them strictly true.
les Hôpitaux des Enfans trouvés, as noticed by Sir Francis d’Ivernois; but probably this cruel custom was confined to particular districts, and the number exposed, upon the whole, might bear no great proportion to the sum of all the births.
Analyse des Procès Verbaux des Conseils Généraux de Département, which gives a very particular and highly curious account of the internal state of France for the year VIII. With respect to the population, out of 69 departments, the reports from which are given, in 16 the population is supposed to be increased; in 42 diminished; in 9 stationary; and in 2 the active population is said to be diminished, but the numerical to remain the same. It appears, however, that most of these reports are not founded on actual enumerations; and without such positive data, the prevailing opinions on the subject of population, together with the necessary and universally acknowledged fact of a very considerable diminution in the males of a military age, would naturally dispose people to think that the numbers upon the whole must be diminished. Judging merely from appearances, the substitution of a hundred children for a hundred grown-up persons would certainly not produce the same impression with regard to population. I should not be surprised, therefore, if, when the enumerations for the year IX. are completed, it should appear that the population upon the whole has not diminished. In some of the reports
l’aisance générale répandue sur le peuple, and
la division des grands propriétés, are mentioned as the causes of increase; and almost universally,
les mariages prématurés, and
les mariages multipliés par la crainte des loix militaires, are particularly noticed.
With respect to the state of agriculture, out of 78 reports, 6 are of opinion that it is improved; 10, that it is deteriorated; 70 demand that it should be encouraged in general; 32 complain
de la multiplicité des défrichemens; and 12 demand
des encouragemens pour les défrichemens. One of the reports mentions,
la quantité prodigieuse de terres vagues mise en culture depuis quelque tems, et les travaux multipliés, au delà de ce que peuvent exécuter les bras employés en agriculture; and others speak of
les défrichemens multipliés qui ont eu lieu depuis plusieurs années, which appeared to be successful at first; but it was soon perceived that it would be more profitable to cultivate less, and cultivate well. Many of the reports notice the cheapness of corn, and the want of sufficient vent for this commodity; and in the discussion of the question respecting the division of the
biens communaux, it is observed, that, “le partage, en opérant le défrichement de ces biens, a sans doute produit une augmentation réelle de denrées, mais d’un autre côté, les vaines patures n’existent plus, et les bestiaux sont peut-être diminués.” On the whole therefore I should be inclined to infer that, though the agriculture of the country does not appear to have been conducted judiciously so as to obtain a large neat produce, yet the gross produce had by no means been diminished during the revolution; and that the attempt to bring so much new land under cultivation had contributed to make the scarcity of labourers still more sensible. And if it be allowed that the food of the country did not decrease during the revolution; the high price of labour, which is very generally noticed, must have operated as a most powerful encouragement to population among the labouring part of the society.
The land-tax, or
contribution foncière, is universally complained of; indeed it appears to be extremely heavy, and to fall very unequally. It was intended to be only a fifth of the neat produce; but, from the unimproved state of agriculture in general, the number of small proprietors, and particularly the attempt to cultivate too much surface in proportion to the capital employed, it often amounts to a fourth, a third, or even a half. When property is so much divided that the rent and profit of a farm must be combined, in order to support a family upon it, a land-tax must necessarily greatly impede cultivation; though it has little or no effect of this kind when farms are large, and let out to tenants, as is most frequently the case in England. Among the impediments to agriculture mentioned in the reports, the too great division of lands from the new laws of succession is noticed. The partition of some of the great domains would probably contribute to the improvement of agriculture; but; subdivisions of the nature here alluded to would certainly have a contrary effect, and would tend most particularly to diminish neat produce, and make a land-tax both oppressive and unproductive. If all the land in England were divided into farms of 20
l. a-year, we should probably be more populous than we are at present; but as a nation we should be extremely poor, and should be under a total inability of maintaining the same number of manufactures or collecting the same taxes as at present. All the departments demand a diminution of the
contribution foncièr as absolutely necessary to the prosperity of agriculture.
Of the state of the hospitals and charitable establishments, of the prevalence of beggary and the mortality among the exposed children, a most deplorable picture is drawn in almost all the reports; from which we should at first be disposed to infer a greater degree of poverty and misery among all the lower classes of people in general. It appears, however, that the hospitals and charitable establishments lost almost the whole of their revenues during the revolution; and this sudden subtraction of support from a great number of people who had no other reliance, together with the known failure of manufactures in the towns, and the very great increase of illegitimate children, might produce all the distressing appearances described in the reports, without impeaching the great fact of the meliorated condition of agricultural labourers in general, necessarily arising from the acknowledged high price of labour and comparative cheapness of corn; and it is from this part of the society that the effective population of a country is principally supplied. If the poor’s rates of England were suddenly abolished, there would undoubtedly be the most complicated distress among those who were before supported by them; but I should not expect that either the condition of the labouring part of the society in general, or the population of the country, would suffer from it. As the proportion of illegitimate children in France has risen so extraordinarily as from 1/47 of all the births to 1/11, it is evident that more might be abandoned in hospitals, and more out of these die than usual, and yet a more than usual number be reared at home, and escape the mortality of those dreadful receptacles. It appears that from the low state of the funds in the hospitals the proper nurses could not be paid, and numbers of children died from absolute famine. Some of the hospitals at last very properly refused to receive any more.
The reports, upon the whole, do not present a favourable picture of the internal state of France; but something is undoubtedly to be attributed to the nature of these reports, which, consisting as they do of observations explaining the state of the different departments, and of particular demands, with a view to obtain assistance or relief from government, it is to be expected that they should lean rather to the unfavourable side. When the question is respecting the imposition of new taxes, or the relief from old ones, people will generally complain of their poverty. On the subject of taxes, indeed, it would appear, as if the French government must be a little puzzled. For though it very properly recommended to the
Conseils généraux not to indulge in vague complaints, but to mention specific grievances, and propose specific remedies, and particularly not to advise the abolition of one tax without suggesting another; yet all the taxes appear to me to be reprobated, and most frequently in general terms, without the proposal of any substitute.
La contribution foncièr, la taxe mobiliaire, les barrières, les droits de douane, all excite bitter complaints; and the only new substitute that struck me was a tax upon game, which, being at present almost extinct in France, cannot be expected to yield a revenue sufficient to balance all the rest. The work, upon the whole, is extremely curious; and as shewing the wish of the government to know the state of each department, and to listen to every observation and proposal for its improvement, is highly creditable to the ruling power. It was published for a short time; but the circulation of it was soon stopped and confined to the ministers,
les conseils généraux, &c. Indeed the documents are evidently more of a private than of a public nature, and certainly have not the air of being intended for general circulation. .