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Letter In Reply To Hazlitt Concerning The Malthusian Doctrine Of Population
by [?]


To the Editor of the London Magazine.

Westmoreland, November 4, 1823.

My dear Sir,–This morning I received your parcel, containing amongst other inclosures, the two last numbers of your journal. In the first of these is printed a little paper of mine on Mr. Malthus; and in the second I observe a letter from Mr. Hazlitt–alleging two passages from the 403rd and 421st pages of his Political Essays as substantially anticipating all that I had said. I believe that he has anticipated me: in the passage relating to the geometric and arithmetic ratios, it is clear that he has: in the other passage, which objects to Mr. Malthus’s use of the term perfection, that he has represented it under contradictory predicates, it is not equally clear; for I do not find my own meaning so rigorously expressed as to exclude another[2] interpretation even now when I know what to look for; and, without knowing what to look for, I should certainly not have found it: on the whole, however, I am disposed to think that Mr. Hazlitt’s meaning is the same as my own. So much for the matter of Mr. Hazlitt’s communication: as to the manner, I am sorry that it is liable to a construction which perhaps was not intended. Mr. Hazlitt says–‘I do not wish to bring any charge of plagiarism in this case;’ words which are better fitted to express his own forbearance, than to exonerate me from the dishonour of such an act. But I am unwilling to suppose that Mr. Hazlitt has designedly given this negative form to his words. He says also–‘as I have been a good deal abused for my scepticism on that subject, I do not feel quite disposed that any one else should run away with the credit of it.’ Here again I cannot allow myself to think that Mr. Hazlitt meant deliberately to bring me before the reader’s mind under the odious image of a person who was ‘running away’ with the credit of another. As to ‘credit,’ Mr. Hazlitt must permit me to smile when I read that word used in that sense: I can assure him that not any abstract consideration of credit, but the abstract idea of a creditor (often putting on a concrete shape, and sometimes the odious concrete of a dun) has for some time past been the animating principle of my labours. Credit therefore, except in the sense of twelve months’ credit where now alas! I have only six, is no object of my search: in fact I abhor it: for to be a ‘noted’ man is the next bad thing to being a ‘protested’ man. Seriously, however, I sent you this as the first of four notes which I had written on the logical blunders of Mr. Malthus (the other three being taken not from his Essay on Population, but from works more expressly within the field of Political Economy): not having met with it elsewhere, I supposed it my own and sent it to complete the series: but the very first sentence, which parodies the words of Chancellor Oxenstiern–(‘Go and see–how little logic is required,’ etc.), sufficiently shows that, so far from arrogating any great merit to myself for this discovery, I thought it next to miraculous that it should have escaped any previous reviewer of Mr. Malthus.–I must doubt, by the way, whether Mr. Hazlitt has been ‘a good deal abused’ for these specific arguments against Mr. Malthus; and my reason for doubting is this: about ten or twelve years ago, happening to be on a visit to Mr. Southey, I remember to have met with a work of Mr. Hazlitt’s on this subject–not that which he quotes, but another (Reply to Malthus) which he refers to as containing the same opinions (either totidem verbis, or in substance). In Mr. Southey’s library, and in competition with Mr. Southey’s conversation, a man may be pardoned for not studying any one book exclusively: consequently, though I read a good deal of Mr. Hazlitt’s Reply, I read it cursorily: but, in all that I did read, I remember that the arguments were very different from those which he now alleges; indeed it must be evident that the two logical objections in question are by no means fitted to fill an octavo volume. My inference therefore is–that any ‘abuse,’ which Mr. Hazlitt may have met with, must have been directed to something else in his Reply; and in fact it has happened to myself on several occasions to hear this book of Mr. Hazlitt’s treated as unworthy of his talents; but never on account of the two arguments which he now claims. I would not be supposed, in saying this, to insinuate any doubt that these arguments are really to be found in the Reply; but simply to suggest that they do not come forward prominently or constitute the main argument of that book: and consequently, instead of being opposed, have been overlooked by those who have opposed him as much as they were by myself.