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An Essay on the Principle of Population


AN ESSAY ON THE PRINCIPLE OF
POPULATION
THOMAS MALTHUS
LONDON, PRINTED FOR J. JOHNSON, IN ST. PAUL’S CHURCH-YA RD,
1798.
Preface
The following Essay owes its origin to a conversation wit h a
friend, on the sub ject of Mr Godwin’s essay on avarice and
profusion, in his Enquirer. The discussion started the general
question of the future improvement of society, and the Author at
first sat down with an intention of merely stating his thoughts
to his friend, upon paper, in a clearer manner than he thought he
could do in conversation. But as the sub ject opened upon him,
some ideas occurred, which he did not recollect to have met with
before; and as he conceived that every least light, on a topic so
generally interesting, might be received wit h candour, he
determined to put his thoughts in a form for publication.
The Essay might, undoubtedly, have been rendered much more
complete by a collection of a greater number of facts in
elucidation of the general argument. But a long and almost total
interruption from very particular business, joined to a desire
(perhaps imprudent) of not delaying the publication much beyond
the time that he originally proposed, prevented the Author from
giving to the sub ject an undivided attention. He presumes,
however, that the facts which he has adduced will be found to
form no inconsiderable evidence for the truth of his opinion
respecting the future improvement of mankind. As the Author
contemplates this opinion at present, little more appears to him
to be necessary than a plain statement, in addition to the most
cursory view of society, to establish it.
It is an obvious truth, which has been taken notice of by
many writers, that population must always be kept down to the
level of the means of subsistence; but no writer that the Author
recollects has inquired particularly into the means by which this
level is eected: and it is a view of these means which forms,
to his mind, the strongest obstacle in the way to any very great
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future improvement of society. He hopes it will appear that, in
the discussion of this interesting sub ject, he is actuated solely
by a love of trut h, and not by any prejudices against any
particular set of men, or of opinions. He professes to have read
some of the speculations on the future improvement of society in
a temper very dierent from a wish to find them visionary, but
he has not acquired that command over his understanding which
would enable him to believe what he wishes, without evidence, or
to refuse his assent to what might be unpleasing, when
accompanied with evidence.
The view which he has given of human life has a melancholy
hue, but he feels conscious that he has drawn these dark tints
from a conviction that they are really in the picture, and not
from a jaundiced eye or an inherent spleen of disposition. The
theory of mind which he has sketched in the two last chapters
accounts to his own understanding in a satisfactory manner for
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