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individuals. And if he have no provision made beforehand, and cannot increase his means by greater economy or greater exertion, what can he expect from his marriage but that he should be reduced to comparative poverty, and be forced, perhaps, to take refuge in a workhouse? There is no denying this conclusion; and a conviction of its truth will not tend to obstruct any really desirable union. It will only tend to lessen the number of those that are improvidently made, and which seldom fail to be ruinous alike to the parties and the public.
It is not unusual, indeed, for those who have brought themselves into difficulties by their improvidence or misconduct, to throw the blame on the government or the institutions of the country in which they live. But a pretence of this sort cannot impose on any one possessed of the smallest discernment. It is the merest delusion to imagine that it is in the power of any administration to protect those from suffering and degradation who do not exercise a reasonable degree of industry and forethought. And though it were in its power, its interference in their behalf would be inconsistent with the most obvious dictates of justice and common sense. The lazy, the unskilful, and the improvident workman, whether he belong to Australia or China, England or Russia, will always be poor and miserable. No man can devolve on government, or on others, any portion of that self-responsibility which at once dignifies and constitutes an essential part of human nature. They are not the friends, but the worst enemies of the poor, who seek to conceal or disguise this great truth; and who endeavour to make it be believed that it is possible, by dint of legislation, to provide for the welfare of those who will not use the means which Providence has given them of maintaining themselves in their present position, or of rising to a higher. Such persons are to the poor what a treacherous guide is to a traveller in a strange country. They lead them from the only path that can conduct to comfort and respectability, to one which is sure to terminate in disappointment and disgrace.
It will, we presume, be universally admitted, that practically it is impossible to increase the supplies of food and other articles necessary for the support of a family, so rapidly in Great Britain and France as they may be, and in fact are, increased in the United States and Australia. But how can those who admit this proposition deny its inevitable consequence, that were our people to marry as early and universally as the Americans and Australians, we should have, first a great increase of poverty, and then of mortality? Capital, indeed, or the means of supporting and employing labour, will, supposing other things to be equal, increase most under a just and liberal government. experience sufficiently proves, that the power which men possess of increasing their numbers, is sufficiently strong to make population keep pace with the progress of capital, in nations possessed of boundless tracts of fertile and unoccupied land, and of the most liberal institutions. And as this power does not fluctuate with the fluctuating circumstances of society, but remains constant, it evidently follows, if it be not controlled by their good sense and prudence, that it will necessarily in the end sink the inhabitants of densely-peopled countries into the most abject poverty.
The influence of the different rates at which capital and population increase in different countries over the condition of their inhabitants, may be set in a striking light by referring to the instances of Ireland and Great Britain. No one doubts that the capital of the former increased considerably during the last fifty or a hundred years, though, when we compare the slow growth of towns and manufactures, the fewness of public works, and the scanty improvements effected in Ireland, during that period, with the comparatively rapid growth of towns and manufactures, and the prodigious extension of all sorts of improvements in Great Britain, it is apparent that the increase of capital must have been, at least, some four or five times as great in the interval referred to in this as in the sister kingdom. But by one of those curious
contradictions which so frequently occur in human affairs, the inhabitants of the two countries increased previously to 1845 inversely as the increase of their capitals, that is, they increased most rapidly where the means of subsistence increased least rapidly. Thus it appears that while the population of Great Britain, which amounted to about 7,000,000 in 1740, had risen to above 18,000,000 in 1840, being an increase in the interval of rather more than 255 per cent, the population of Ireland, which amounted to about 2,000,000 in 1740, had risen to. above 8,000,000 in 1840, being an increase of no less than 400 per cent., or of 145 per cent. more than in Britain, notwithstanding the vastly greater increase of capital in the latter!
We need not stop to inquire into the causes which led to this extraordinary disparity in the increase of population in the two great divisions of the empire, compared with the increase of their capitals. Whatever they may have been, it is obvious that its excessive augmentation in Ireland was the immediate cause of the want of demand for the labour of the Irish people, and of their abject poverty. Had population increased less rapidly, fewer individuals would have been seeking for employment, their wages would consequently have been higher, and their situation so far improved. And such being the cause of the evil, it is plain, had it not been obviated or mitigated, and the numbers of the Irish people rendered more commensurate with the funds for their support, that their wages would not have been increased, or their condition sensibly changed for the better. It is obvious, too, that any people whose numbers continue for any very considerable period to increase faster than the means of providing for their comfortable subsistence, must eventually sink to the same low condition as the people of Ireland. And this increase can hardly fail to take place in those old settled countries in which the standard of living is not sufficiently elevated, or in which the principle of augmentation is not
1. See these causes specified in the Statistical account of the British Empire. Vol. i. pp. 438-145.
powerfully countervailed by the operation of moral restraint, or of a proper degree of prudence and forethought in the formation of matrimonial engagements.
It is plain from these statements, that any circumstance or combination of circumstances which may happen to diminish the population of a country, without, at the same time, diminishing its capital, or its means of supporting and employing people, would in so far improve the condition of the remaining portion. And hence it is that nations, which have been exposed to the ravages of famine or epidemical disease, how intense soever their sufferings in the mean time, speedily recover from their influence, and are not unfrequently rendered more prosperous and flourishing than ever. The history of England furnishes numerous instances of the truth of this statement. In 1349 the kingdom was afflicted with a dreadful pestilence, which is believed to have carried off a full third part of the inhabitants. And yet this tremendous visitation contributed more perhaps than anything else to raise the peasantry from the state of degradation into which they were previously sunk, and to inspire them with just ideas of their importance. The scarcity of labourers occasioned an immediate rise of wages; and this having been loudly complained of by the gentry and other employers, parliament was prevailed upon to pass an act imposing heavy penalties on such labourers as refused to serve at the same rate of wages which they had received previously to the pestilence.1 But this statute proved to be as inefficient as it was unjust. Though repeatedly renewed, it is admitted on all hands to have had little or no influence in preventing or retarding the rise of wages. And the pestilence in the reign of Edward III. is the æra of the first great improvement in the physical and moral condition of the people of England. (Eden. on the Poor, i. 31, &c.)
It is on this same principle, or on the diminution of the inhabitants of a country without a corresponding diminution of its wealth, that the advantage of emigration is principally de1 See post, chap. vii. on Combinations.
pendant. But in emigration the advantage is free from any alloy; for it not only benefits those whom the emigrants leave behind, but also the emigrants themselves. The labour of the former is in greater demand, and their wages are increased through the diminution of their numbers, while the condition of the latter is wholly changed. They pass at once from over-peopled to under-peopled countries; there is a keen competition for their services; their wages are two, three, or four times, perhaps, what they were in the country which they left; a large family, instead of being a burden, is a source of wealth; and such as are prudent and economical, in no long time, become thriving landowners or substantial tradesmen.
During the last seven years Ireland has been subjected to the joint influence of a scarcity and a very extensive emigration. The ravages of famine and disease, occasioned by the potato rot of 1845-46 and 1846-47, combined with the efforts of many landlords to clear their estates, and with the flight of the peasantry to this country and the United States, had such an effect upon the population, that it fell off, between 1845 and 1851, from above 8,000,000 to 6,515,794! And as the emigration to America has continued down to the present time, it is probable that the population is now (1853) rather below than above 6,000,000. At present it is impossible to foresee or estimate the various consequences of the severe ordeal through which Ireland has thus recently passed; but enough has already transpired to satisfy every one that this is a case in which the benevolent wisdom of Providence will educe real good out of apparent evil. The condition of the Irish peasantry, though still very much depressed, has been signally improved. The dependence which they appear to be yet inclined to place, notwithstanding its many recent failures, on so precarious and worthless a resource as the potato, is, no doubt, a very unfavourable symptom. But we would fain hope that, in this respect, they will become more alive to their real interests: and there is good reason to think that the experience which the landlords have had of the ruinous consequences of the continued subdivision of the land, combined with the influence of the compulsory provision for the support of the