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 among the ancient Inhabitants of the North of Europe.
Book I, Chapter VI
A history of the early migrations and settlements of mankind, with the motives which prompted them, would illustrate in a striking manner the constant tendency in the human race to increase beyond the means of subsistence. Without some general law of this nature, it would seem as if the world could never have been peopled. A state of sloth, and not of restlessness and activity, seems evidently to be the natural state of man; and this latter disposition could not have been generated but by the strong goad of necessity, though it might afterwards be continued by habit, and the new associations that were formed from it, the spirit of enterprise, and the thirst of martial glory.
We are told that Abraham and Lot had so great substance in cattle, that the land would not bear them both, that they might dwell together. There was strife between their herdsmen. And Abraham proposed to Lot to separate, and said, “Is not the whole land before thee? If thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left.”
This simple observation and proposal is a striking illustration of that great spring of action which overspread the whole earth with people; and, in the progress of time, drove some of the less fortunate inhabitants of the globe, yielding to irresistible pressure, to seek a scanty subsistence in the burning deserts of Asia and Africa, and the frozen regions of Siberia and North America. The first migrations would naturally find no other obstacles than the nature of the country; but when a considerable part of the earth had been peopled, though but thinly, the possessors of these districts would not yield them to others without a struggle; and the redundant inhabitants of any of the more central spots could not find room for themselves without expelling their nearest neighbours, or at least passing through their territories, which would necessarily give occasion to frequent contests.
The middle latitudes of Europe and Asia seem to have been occupied at an early period of history by nations of shepherds. Thucydides gave it as his opinion, that the civilized states of Europe and Asia, in his time, could not resist the Scythians united. Yet a country in pasture cannot possibly support so many inhabitants as a country in tillage. But what renders nations of shepherds so formidable, is the power which they possess of moving altogether, and the necessity they frequently feel of exerting this power in search of fresh pasture for their herds. A tribe that is rich in cattle has an immediate plenty of food. Even the parent stock may be devoured in case of absolute necessity. The women live in greater ease than among nations of hunters, and are consequently more prolific. The men, bold in their united strength, and confiding in their power of procuring pasture for their cattle by change of place, feel probably but few fears about providing for a family. These combined causes soon produce their natural and invariable effect, an extended population. A more frequent and rapid change of place then becomes necessary. A wider and more extensive territory is successively occupied. A broader desolation extends all around them. Want pinches the less fortunate members of the society; and at length the impossibility of supporting such a number together becomes too evident to be resisted. Young scions are then pushed out from the parent stock, and instructed to explore fresh regions, and to gain happier seats for themselves by their swords.
“The world is all before them where to choose.”
Restless from present distress, flushed with the hope of fairer prospects, and animated with the spirit of hardy enterprise, these daring adventurers are likely to become formidable adversaries to all who oppose them. The inhabitants of countries long settled, engaged in the peaceful occupations of trade and agriculture, would not often be able to resist the energy of men acting under such powerful motives of exertion. And the frequent contests with tribes in the same circumstances with themselves, would be so many struggles for existence, and would be fought with a desperate courage, inspired by the reflection, that death would be the punishment of defeat, and life the prize of victory.
In these savage contests, many tribes must have been utterly exterminated. Many probably perished by hardships and famine. Others; whose leading star had given them a happier direction, became great and powerful tribes, and in their turn sent off fresh adventurers in search of other seats. These would at first owe allegiance to their parent tribe; but in a short time the ties which bound them would be little felt, and they would remain friends, or become enemies, according as their power, their ambition or their convenience, might dictate.
The prodigious waste of human life, occasioned by this perpetual struggle for room and food, would be more than supplied by the mighty power of population, acting in some degree unshackled from the constant habit of migration. A prevailing hope of bettering their condition by change of place, a constant expectation of plunder, a power even, if distressed, of selling their children as slaves, added to the natural carelessness of the barbaric character, would all conspire to raise a population, which would remain to be repressed afterwards by famine and war.
The tribes that possessed themselves of the more fruitful regions, though they might win them and maintain them by continual battles, rapidly increased in number and power, from the increased means of subsistence; till at length the whole territory, from the confines of China to the shores of the Baltic, was peopled by a various race of barbarians, brave, robust, and enterprising, inured to hardships, and delighting in war.
*67 While the different fixed governments of Europe and Asia, by superior population and superior skill, were able to oppose an impenetrable barrier to their destroying hordes, they wasted their superfluous numbers in contests with each other; but the moment that the weakness of the settled governments, or the casual union of many of these wandering tribes, gave them the ascendant in power, the storm discharged itself on the fairest provinces of the earth; and China, Persia, Egypt and Italy were overwhelmed at different periods in this flood of barbarism.
These remarks are strongly exemplified in the fall of the Roman empire. The shepherds of the north of Europe were long held in check by the vigour of the Roman arms, and the terror of the Roman name. The formidable irruption of the Cimbri in search of new settlements, though signalized by the destruction of five consular armies, was at length arrested in its victorious career by Marius; and the barbarians were taught to repent their rashness by the almost complete extermination of this powerful colony.
*68 The names of Julius Cæsar, of Drusus, Tiberius, and Germanicus, impressed on their minds by the slaughter of their countrymen, continued to inspire them with a fear of encroaching on the Roman territory. But they were rather triumphed over than vanquished;
*69 and though the armies or colonies which they sent forth were either cut off or forced back into their original seats, the vigour of the great German nation remained unimpaired, and ready to pour forth her hardy sons in constant succession, wherever they could force an opening for themselves by their swords. The feeble reigns of Decius, Gallus, Æmilianus, Valerian, and Gallienus, afforded such an opening, and were in consequence marked by a general irruption of barbarians. The Goths, who were supposed to have migrated in the course of some years from Scandinavia to the Euxine, were bribed to withdraw their victorious troops by an annual tribute. But no sooner was the dangerous secret of the wealth and weakness of the Roman empire thus revealed to the world, than new swarms of barbarians spread devastation through the frontier provinces, and terror as far as the gates of Rome.
*70 The Franks, the Allemanni, the Goths, and adventurers of less considerable tribes, comprehended under these general appellations, poured like a torrent on different parts of the empire. Rapine and oppression destroyed the produce of the present and the hope of future harvests. A long and general famine was followed by a wasting plague, which for fifteen years ravaged every city and province of the Roman empire; and, judging from the mortality in some spots, it was conjectured that in a few years war, pestilence, and famine, had consumed the moiety of the human species.
*71 Yet the tide of emigration still continued at intervals to roll impetuously from the north; and the succession of martial princes, who repaired the misfortunes of their predecessors, and propped the falling fate of the empire, had to accomplish the labours of Hercules in freeing the Roman territory from these barbarous invaders. The Goths, who, in the year 250 and the following years, ravaged the empire both by sea and land with various success, but in the end with the almost total loss of their adventurous bands,
*72 in the year 269 sent out an emigration of immense numbers, with their wives and families, for the purpose of settlement.
*73 This formidable body, which was said to consist at first of 320,000 barbarians,
*74 was ultimately destroyed and dispersed by the vigour and wisdom of the emperor Claudius. His successor, Aurelian, encountered and vanquished new hosts of the same name that had quitted their settlements in the Ukraine; but one of the implied conditions of the peace was, that he should withdraw the Roman forces from Dacia, and relinquish this great province to the Goths and Vandals.
*75 A new and most formidable invasion of the Allemanni threatened soon after to sack the mistress of the world, and three great and bloody battles were fought by Aurelian before this destroying host could be exterminated, and Italy be delivered from its ravages.
The strength of Aurelian had crushed on every side the enemies of Rome. After his death they seemed to revive with an increase of fury and numbers. They were again vanquished on all sides by the active vigour of Probus. The deliverance of Gaul alone from the German invaders is reported to have cost the lives of four hundred thousand barbarians.
*77 The victorious emperor pursued his successes into Germany itself; and the princes of the country, astonished at his presence, and dismayed and exhausted by the ill success of their last emigration, submitted to any terms that the conquerors might impose.
*78 Probus, and afterwards Diocletian
*79 adopted the plan of recruiting the exhausted provinces of the empire by granting lands to the fugitive or captive barbarians, and disposing of their superfluous numbers where they might be the least likely to be dangerous to the state; but such colonizations were an insufficient vent for the population of the north, and the ardent temper of the barbarians would not always bend to the slow labours of agriculture.
*80 During the vigorous reign of Diocletian, unable to make an effectual impression on the Roman frontiers, the Goths, the Vandals, the Gepidæ, the Burgundians, and the Allemanni, wasted each other’s strength by mutual hostilities, while the subjects of the empire enjoyed the bloody spectacle, conscious that, whoever vanquished, they vanquished the enemies of Rome.
Under the reign of Constantine the Goths were again formidable. Their strength had been restored by a long peace, and a new generation had arisen, which no longer remembered the misfortunes of ancient days.
*82 In two successive wars great numbers of them were slain. Vanquished on every side, they were driven into the mountains; and, in the course of a severe campaign, above a hundred thousand were computed to have perished by cold and hunger.
*83 Constantine adopted the plan of Probus and his successors in granting lands to those suppliant barbarians who were expelled from their own country. Towards the end of his reign, a competent portion, in the provinces of Pannonia, Thrace, Macedonia, and Italy, was assigned for the habitation and subsistence of three hundred thousand Sarmatians.
The warlike Julian had to encounter and vanquish new swarms of Franks and Allemanni, who, emigrating from their German forests during the cival wars of Constantine, settled in different parts of Gaul, and made the scene of their devastations three times more extensive than that of their conquests.
*85 Destroyed and repulsed on every side, they were pursued in five expeditions into their own country;
*86 but Julian had conquered, as soon as he had penetrated into Germany; and in the midst of that mighty hive, which had sent out such swarms of people as to keep the Roman world in perpetual dread, the principal obstacles to his progress were almost impassable roads and vast unpeopled forests.
Though thus subdued and prostrated by the victorious arms of Julian, this hydra-headed monster rose again after a few years; and the firmness, vigilance and powerful genius of Valentinian were fully called into action, in protecting his dominions from the different irruptions of the Allemanni, the Burgundians, the Saxons, the Goths, the Quadi, and the Sarmatians.
The fate of Rome was at length determined by an irresistible emigration of the Huns from the east and north, which precipitated on the empire the whole body of the Goths;
*89 and the continuance of this powerful pressure on the nations of Germany seemed to prompt them to the resolution of abandoning to the fugitives of Sarmatia their woods and morasses, or at least of discharging their superfluous numbers on the provinces of the Roman empire.
*90 An emigration of four hundred thousand persons issued from the same coast of the Baltic, which had poured forth the myriads of Cimbri and Teutones during the vigour of the Republic.
*91 When this host was destroyed by war and famine, other adventurers succeeded. The Suevi, the Vandals, the Alani, the Burgundians, passed the Rhine, never more to retreat.
*92 The conquerors, who first settled, were expelled or exterminated by new invaders. Clouds of barbarians seemed to collect from all parts of the northern hemisphere. Gathering fresh darkness and terror as they rolled on, the congregated bodies at length obscured the sun of Italy, and sunk the western world in night.
In two centuries from the flight of the Goths across the Danube, barbarians of various names and lineage had plundered and taken possession of Thrace, Pannonia, Gaul, Britain, Spain, Africa, and Italy.
*93 The most horrible devastations and an incredible destruction of the human species accompanied these rapid conquests; and famine and pestilence, which always march in the train of war when it ravages with such inconsiderate cruelty, raged in every part of Europe. The historians of the times, who beheld these scenes of desolation, labour and are at a loss for expressions to describe them; but, beyond the power of language, the numbers and the destructive violence of these barbarous invaders were evinced by the total change which took place in the state of Europe.
*94 These tremendous effects, so long and so deeply felt throughout the fairest portions of the earth, may be traced in a great degree to the simple cause of the superiority of the power of population to the means of subsistence.
Machiavel, in the beginning of his History of Florence, says, “The people who inhabit the northern parts that lie between the Rhine and the Danube, living in a healthful and prolific climate, often increase to such a degree, that vast numbers of them are forced to leave their native country and go in search of new habitations. When any of those provinces begins to grow too populous and wants to disburden itself, the following method is observed. In the first place, it is divided into three parts, in each of which there is an equal portion of the nobility and commonalty, the rich and the poor. After this they cast lots; and that division on which the lot falls, quits the country and goes to seek its fortune, leaving the other two more room and liberty to enjoy their possessions at home. These emigrations proved the destruction of the Roman Empire.”
*95 Gibbon is of opinion that Machiavel has represented these emigrations too much as regular and concerted measures;
*96 but I think it highly probable that he had not erred much in this respect, and that it was a foresight of the frequent necessity of thus discharging their redundant population, which gave occasion to that law among the Germans, taken notice of by Cæsar and Tacitus, of not permitting their cultivated lands to remain longer than a year under the same possessors.
*97 The reasons, which, Cæsar mentions as being assigned for this custom, seem to be hardly adequate; but if we add to them the prospect of emigration in the manner described by Machiavel, the custom will appear to be highly useful, and a double weight will be given to one of the reasons that Cæsar mentions; namely, lest they should be led, by being accustomed to one spot, to exchange the toils of war for the business of agriculture.
Gibbon very justly rejects, with Hume and Robertson, the improbable supposition that the inhabitants of the north were far more numerous formerly than at present;
*99 but he thinks himself obliged at the same time to deny the strong tendency to increase in the northern nations,
*100 as if the two facts were necessarily connected. For a careful distinction should always be made, between a redundant population and a population actually great. The Highlands of Scotland are probably more redundant in population than any other part of Great Britain; and though it would be admitting a palpable absurdity to allow that the north of Europe, covered in early ages with immense forests, and inhabited by a race of people who supported themselves principally by their herds and flocks,
*101 was more populous in those times than in its present state; yet the facts detailed in the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, or even the very slight sketch of them that I have given, cannot rationally be accounted for, without the supposition of a most powerful tendency in these people to increase, and to repair their repeated losses by the prolific power of nature.
From the first irruption of the Cimbri, to the final extinction of the western empire, the efforts of the German nations to colonize or plunder were unceasing.
*102 The numbers that were cut off during this period by war and famine were almost incalculable, and such as could not possibly have been supported with undiminished vigour by a country thinly peopled, unless the stream had been supplied by a spring of very extraordinary power.
Gibbon describes the labours of Valentinian in securing the Gallic frontier against the Germans; an enemy, he says, whose strength was renewed by a stream of daring volunteers which incessantly flowed from the most distant tribes of the north.
*103 An easy adoption of strangers was probably a mode, by which some of the German nations renewed their strength so suddenly,
*104 after the most destructive defeats; but this explanation only removes the difficulty a little further off. It makes the earth rest upon the tortoise; but does not tell us on what the tortoise rests. We may still ask what northern reservoir supplied this incessant stream of daring adventurers? Montesquieu’s solution of the problem will, I think, hardly be admitted. The swarms of barbarians which issued formerly from the north, appear no more, he says, at present; and the reason he gives is, that the violence of the Romans had driven the people of the south into the north, who, as long as this force continued, remained there; but as soon as it was weakened, spread themselves again over every country.
The same phenomenon appeared after the conquests and tyrannies of Charlemagne and the subsequent dissolution of his empire; and if a prince, he says, in the present days were to make similar ravages in Europe, the nations driven into the north, and resting on the limits of the universe,
*105 would there make a stand till the moment when they would inundate or conquer Europe a third time. In a note he observes, “we see to what the famous question is reduced—why the north is no longer so fully peopled as in former times?”
If the famous question, or rather the answer to it, be reduced to this, it is reduced to a miracle; for without some supernatural mode of obtaining food, how these collected nations could support themselves in such barren regions for so long a period as during the vigour of the Roman empire, it is a little difficult to conceive; and one can hardly help smiling at the bold figure of these prodigious crowds making their last determined stand on the limits of the universe, and living, as we must suppose, with the most patient fortitude on air and ice for some hundreds of years, till they could return to their own homes and resume their usual more substantial mode of subsistence.
The whole difficulty, however, is at once removed, if we apply to the German nations at that time a fact which is so generally known to have occurred in America, and suppose that, when not checked by wars and famine, they increased at a rate that would double their numbers in twenty-five or thirty years. The propriety, and even the necessity, of applying this rate of increase to the inhabitants of ancient Germany will strikingly appear from that most valuable picture of their manners which has been left us by Tacitus. He describes them as not inhabiting cities, or even of admitting of contiguous settlements. Every person surrounds his house with a vacant space;
*106 a circumstance, which besides its beneficial effect as a security from fire, is strongly calculated to prevent the generation, and check the ravages, of epidemics. “They content themselves almost universally with one wife. Their matrimonial bond is strict and severe, and their manners in this respect deserving of the highest praise.
*107 They live in a state of well-guarded chastity, corrupted by no seducing spectacles or convivial incitements. Adultery is extremely rare, and no indulgence is shewn to a prostitute. Neither beauty, youth, nor riches, can procure her a husband: for none there looks on vice with a smile, or calls mutual seduction the way of the world. To limit the increase of children, or put to death any of the husband’s blood, is accounted infamous; and virtuous manners have there more efficacy than good laws elsewhere.
*108 Every mother suckles her own children, and does not deliver them into the hands of servants and nurses. The youths partake late of the sexual intercourse, and hence pass the age of puberty unexhausted. Nor are the virgins brought forward. The same maturity, the same full growth, is required; the sexes unite equally matched and robust, and the children inherit the vigour of their parents. The more numerous are a man’s kinsmen and relations, the more comfortable is his old age; nor is it any advantage to be childless.”
With these manners, and a habit of enterprise and emigration, which would naturally remove all fears about providing for a family, it is difficult to conceive a society with a stronger principle of increase; and we see at once that prolific source of successive armies and colonies, against which the force of the Roman empire so long struggled with difficulty, and under which it ultimately sunk. It is not probable that, for two periods together, or even for one, the population within the confines of Germany ever doubled itself in twenty-five years. Their perpetual wars, the rude state of agriculture, and particularly the very strange custom adopted by most of the tribes of marking their barriers by extensive deserts,
*110 would prevent any very great actual increase of numbers. At no one period could the country be called well-peopled, though it was often redundant in population. They abandoned their immense forests to the exercise of hunting, employed in pasturage the most considerable part of their lands, bestowed on the small remainder a rude and careless cultivation, and when the return of famine severely admonished them of the insufficiency of their scanty resources, they accused the sterility of a country which refused to supply the multitude of its inhabitants;
*111 but instead of clearing their forests, draining their swamps, and rendering their soil fit to support an extended population, they found it more congenial to their martial habits and impatient dispositions, “to go in quest of food, of plunder, or of glory,”
*112 into other countries. These adventurers either gained lands for themselves by their swords or were cut off by the various accidents of war; were received into the Roman armies or dispersed over the Roman territory; or, perhaps, having relieved their country by their absence, returned home laden with spoils, and ready, after having recruited their diminished numbers, for fresh expeditions. The succession of human beings appears to have been most rapid; and as fast as some were disposed of in colonies, or mowed down by the scythe of war and famine, others rose in increased numbers to supply their place.
According to this view of the subject, the North could never have been exhausted; and when Dr. Robertson, describing the calamities of these invasions, says, that they did not cease till the North, by pouring forth successive swarms, was drained of people, and could no longer furnish instruments of destruction,
*113 he will appear to have fallen into the very error which he had before laboured to refute, and to speak as if the northern nations were actually very populous. For they must have been so, if the number of their inhabitants at any one period had been sufficient, notwithstanding the slaughter of war, to people in such a manner Thrace, Pannonia, Gaul, Spain, Africa, Italy and England, as in some parts not to leave many traces of their former inhabitants. The period of the peopling of these countries, however, he himself mentions as two hundred years;
*114 and in such a time new generations would arise that would more than supply every vacancy.
The true cause which put a stop to the continuance of northern emigration, was the impossibility any longer of making an impression on the most desirable countries of Europe. They were then inhabited by the descendants of the bravest and most enterprising of the German tribes; and it was not probable that they should so soon degenerate from the valour of their ancestors, as to suffer their lands to be wrested from them by inferior numbers and inferior skill, though perhaps superior hardihood.
Checked for a time by the bravery and poverty of their neighbours by land, the enterprising spirit and overflowing numbers of the Scandinavian nations soon found vent by sea. Feared before the reign of Charlemagne, they were repelled with difficulty by the care and vigour of that great prince; but during the distractions of the empire under his feeble successors, they spread like a devouring flame over Lower Saxony, Friezeland, Holland, Flanders, and the banks of the Rhine as far as Mentz.
After having long ravaged the coasts, they penetrated into the heart of France, pillaged and burnt her fairest towns, levied immense tributes on her monarchs, and at length obtained by grant one of the finest provinces in the kingdom. They made themselves even dreaded in Spain, Italy and Greece, spreading every where desolation and terror. Sometimes they turned their arms against each other, as if bent on their own mutual destruction; at other times they transported colonies to unknown or uninhabited countries, as if they were willing to repair in one place the horrid destruction of the human race occasioned by their furious ravages in another.
The mal-administration and civil wars of the Saxon kings of England produced the same effect as the weakness which followed the reign of Charlemagne in France;
*116 and for two hundred years the British isles were incessantly ravaged, and often in part subdued, by these northern invaders. During the eighth, ninth and tenth centuries, the sea was covered with their vessels from one end of Europe to the other;
*117 and the countries now the most powerful in arts and arms were the prey of their constant depredations. The growing and consolidating strength of these countries at length removed all further prospect of success from such invasions.
*118 The nations of the north were slowly and reluctantly compelled to confine themselves within their natural limits and to exchange their pastoral manners, and with them the peculiar facilities of plunder and emigration which they afforded, for the patient labours and slow returns of trade and agriculture. But the slowness of these returns necessarily effected an important change in the manners of the people.
In ancient Scandinavia, during the time of its constant wars and emigrations, few, or none probably, were ever deterred from marrying by the fear of not being able to provide for a family. In modern Scandinavia, on the contrary, the frequency of the marriage union is continually checked by the most imperious and justly-founded apprehensions of this kind. This is most particularly the case in Norway, as I shall have occasion to remark in another place; but the same fears operate in a greater or less degree, though every where with considerable force, in all parts of Europe. Happily the more tranquil state of the modern world does not demand such rapid supplies of human beings; and the prolific powers of nature cannot therefore be so generally called into action.
Mallet, in the excellent account of the northern nations which he has prefixed to his History of Denmark, observes that he had not been able to discover any proofs that their emigrations proceeded from want of room at home;
*119 and one of the reasons which he gives, is, that after a great emigration the countries often remained quite deserted and unoccupied for a long time.
*120 But instances of this kind, I am inclined to think, were rare, though they might occasionally happen. With the habits of enterprise and emigration which prevailed in those days, a whole people would sometimes move in search of a more fertile territory. The lands, which they before occupied, must of necessity be left desert for a time; and if there were any thing particularly ineligible in the soil or situation, which the total emigration of the people would seem to imply, it might be more congenial to the temper of the surrounding barbarians, to provide for themselves better by their swords than to occupy immediately these rejected lands. Such total emigrations proved the unwillingness to divide; but by no means that they were not straitened for room and food at home.
The other reason, which Mallet gives, is that in Saxony, as well as Scandinavia, vast tracts of land lay in their original uncultivated state, having never been grabbed up or cleared; and that, from the descriptions of Denmark in those times, it appeared that the coasts alone were peopled; but the interior parts formed one vast forest.
*121 It is evident that he here falls into the common error of confounding a superfluity of inhabitants with great actual population. The pastoral manners of the people and their habits of war and enterprise prevented them from clearing and cultivating their lands;
*122 and then these very forests, by restraining the sources of subsistence within very narrow bounds, contributed to superfluity of numbers; that is, to a population beyond what the scanty supplies of the country could support.
There is another cause not often attended to, why poor, cold and thinly-peopled countries, tend generally to a superfluity of inhabitants, and are strongly prompted to emigration. In warmer and more populous countries, particularly those abounding in great towns and manufactures, an insufficient supply of food can seldom continue long without producing epidemics either in the shape of great and ravaging plagues, or of less violent, though more constant, sicknesses. In poor, cold and thinly-peopled countries, on the contrary, from the antiseptic quality of the air, the misery arising from insufficient or bad food may continue for a considerable time without producing these effects; and consequently this powerful stimulus to emigration continues to operate for a much longer period.
I would by no means, however, be understood to say, that the northern nations never undertook any expeditions, unless prompted by straitened food or circumstances at home. Mallet relates, what was probably true, that it was their common custom to hold an assembly every spring, for the purpose of considering in what quarter they should make war;
*124 and among a people who nourished so strong a passion for war, and who considered the right of the strongest as a right divine, occasions for it would never be wanting. Besides this pure and disinterested love of war and enterprise, civil dissensions, the pressure of a victorious enemy, a wish for a milder climate, or other causes, might sometimes prompt to emigration; but, in a general view of the subject, I cannot help considering this period of history as affording a very striking illustration of the principle of population; a principle, which appears to me to have given the original impulse and spring of action, to have furnished the inexhaustible resources, and often prepared the immediate causes of that rapid succession of adventurous irruptions and emigrations, which occasioned the fall of the Roman empire; and afterwards, pouring from the thinly-peopled countries of Denmark and Norway for above two hundred years, ravaged and overran a great part of Europe. Without the supposition of a tendency to increase almost as great as in the United States of America, the facts appear to me not to be accounted for;
*125 and with such a supposition, we cannot be at a loss to name the checks to the actual population, when we read the disgusting details of those unceasing wars, and of that prodigal waste of human life, which marked these barbarous periods.
Inferior checks would undoubtedly concur; but we may safely pronounce, that among the shepherds of the North of Europe war and famine were the principal checks that kept the population down to the level of their scanty means of subsistence.
Intra banc ergo constituti populi, dum in tantam multitudinem pullulassent, ut jam simul habitare non valerent, in tres (ut fertur) partes omnem catervam dividentes, quænam ex illis patriam esset relictura, ut novas sedes exquirerent, sorte disquirunt. Igitur ea pars, cui sors dederit genitale solum excedere exteraque arva sectari, constitutis supra se duobus ducibus, Ibore scilicet et Agione, qui et Germani erant et juvenili ætate floridi, ceterisque præstantiores, ad exquirandas quas possint incolere terras, sedesque statuere, valedicentes suis simul et patriæ iter arripiunt. (C. ii.)
Norway and the Northern Islands. Short, History of Air, Seasons; &c. vol. ii. p. 344.
vagina nationum as incorrect and exaggerated; but to me it appears exactly applicable, though the other expression, officina gentium, at least their translation of it,
storehouse of nations, is not accurate.
Ex hâc igitur Scanziâ insulâ, quasi officinâ gentium, aut certè velut vaginâ nationum egressi, &c. Jornandes de Rebus Geticis, p. 83. .