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stages of society, we shall observe a great influence exercised over the industrious classes by others, which controls the exercise of their full powers of increase : and when those ruder stages are passed through, and the lower classes are, like the higher, abandoned wholly to the guidance of such motives as may spring up within their own bosoms, we shall again, in their case, have to trace the effects of refinement and the multiplication of artificial wants gradually influencing the whole mass, as they always influence the upper portion of society. And, where the gradual spread of refinement does not produce the effect of moderating the rate of increase of the mass of a population, we shall be able to trace the failure to unfavorable peculiarities in the circumstances, or in the legislation of nations.
During this survey, we shall have abundant opportunities of observing, that those natural and wholesome causes of retardation which come into general action with the spread of increasing prosperity are never found necessarily accessory to the increase of vicious habits; much less dependent on them. The providence which implanted in the heart of man his feelings as to right and wrong, will never be found to act so inconsistently with its own purposes; as to make pollution and crime ineans for attaining, or retaining the happiness of mankind. On the contrary, the portion of voluntary restraint necessary to produce such an influence on the progress of numbers, as calculation may shew to be rationally desirable, in any stage of society, will be observed introducing a long train of wholesome consequences, and among them much dignity, energy, and intellectual and moral purity and elevation. These, after a fair balance has been struck, will be seen very far to outweigh that portion of evil, which (such is the condition of humanity) will in this, as in all other cases, be found mingling itself among the consequences of the wisest institutions of our race, and of the best and most exalted feelings and passions of our nature.
When we have advanced so far with our examination of the phenomena which regulate or follow the distribution of the annual produce into rent, wages, and profits, we shall at least have shewn that the deep gloom which was thought to overhang much of the subject, was but an illusion ; that no causes of inevitable decay haunt the fortunes of any class during the progressive developement of the resources of a country; that the interests of no portion of society are ever permanently in opposition to those of any other; and that there is nothing either in the physical constitution of man, or in that of the earth which he inhabits, that need enfeeble the hopes and exertions of those to whom the high, and if properly understood, cheerful and animating task is committed, of laboring, through wise laws and honest government, to secure the permanent harmony and common prosperity of all classes of society.
But these general views are but a portion, though in the present state of public opinion, they are perhaps not the least important portion, of our subject. There remain to be developed and explained a variety of minor truths, which, if this branch of political economy is ever to be a safe and useful guide, must be securely placed on the firm basis of experience. The principles which contain many of these will, it is hoped, be found so established here: but I should shew that I ill understood the extent and difficulty of the subject, and the mode of mastering it which I have myself so strenuously recommended, did I not state my conviction that to compleat the knowledge really and securely attainable, on the subjects treated in the following pages, will still require the patient and assiduous observations and labor of many minds, and probably of more than one generation. During this process, the too hasty erection of whole systems, a frail thirst for the premature exhibition of commanding generalities, will probably continue to be the sources of error most to be guarded against.
It is, assuredly not by indulging and encouraging such errors that the boundary of human knowledge in this direction will be successfully or safely approached. The portions of truth which can in the first instance be safely attained, must necessarily be narrow principles, grounded upon a limited field of experience, cautiously and patiently worked out. Wider generalities of more scientific simplicity, can only be approached after these intermediate truths have been mastered. This is the appointed course of true and permanent science. To spring at once from partial and broken observations to the most general axioms; to dart from a state of ignorance and confusion upon the fundamental and ultimate elements of systematic knowledge, without touching the ground during the intermediate flight: this is the course of a rash theorist, and not of a philosopher; and those who have often tracked that course, must know but too well, that the very simplicity and commanding aspect of propositions so attained, is much oftener a warning of the insecurity of their application, than any evidence of their truth.
It will not be thought, I hope, that these many warnings come of faintheartedness. Did I not distinctly see in the far distance a goal worthy of the toil, I should not have applied my shoulder to the humble task of advancing the car of knowledge one span's length in its career. I firmly believe that the day will come when the most intricate practical problems connected with the whole subject of the “ Distribution of Wealth” will be readily solved by the application of principles firmly established and thoroughly understood; nor do I think that this confidence is tinged with rashness. If, in the road to truth through observation and induction, men can advance only by slow and laborious 'steps, it is at least the privilege of those who tread it, to see through its long vista, a cheering spectacle of final triumphs. While viewing the destined progress of a career so full of majesty and promise, they may forget without presumption, both their own individual feebleness, and that of their fellow men ; and look forward to conquests to be won by the united efforts of the race, and by the growing discoveries of successive generations.
Before I close this Preface, the grateful task remains to be performed, of returning my thanks to the University of Cambridge, and to the Syndics of its Press, for having extended their assistance to my attempt. printed at their press, and at their expence. The aid thus given is in itself an obligation : but the feelings with which it is received, are in my case considerably heightened, by its being in