The following Essay owes its origin to a conversation with afriend, on the subject of Mr. Godwin's Essay, on avarice andprofusion, in his Enquirer. The discussion, started the generalquestion of the future improvement of society; and the Author atfirst sat down with an intention of merely stating his thoughtsto his friend, upon paper, in a clearer manner than he thought hecould do in conversation. But as the subject opened upon him,some ideas occurred, which he did not recollect to have met withbefore; and as he conceived, that every, the least light, on a topic sogenerally interesting, might be received with candour, hedetermined to put his thoughts in a form for publication.
Hume, in his essay on the populousness of ancient and modernnations, when he intermingles, as he says, an inquiry concerningcauses, with that concerning facts, does not seem to see with hisusual penetration, how very little some of the causes he alludesto could enable him to form any judgment of the actualpopulation of ancient nations. If any inference can be drawn fromthem, perhaps it should be directly the reverse of what Humedraws, though I certainly ought to speak with great diffidence indissenting from a man, who of all others on such subjects was theleast likely to be deceived by first appearances. If I find thatat a certain period in ancient history, the encouragements tohave a family were great, that early marriages were consequentlyvery prevalent, and that few persons remained single, I shouldinfer with certainty that population was rapidly increasing, butby no means that it was then actually very great; rather, indeed,the contrary, that it was then thin and that there was room andfood for a much greater number. On the other hand, if I find thatat this period the difficulties attending a family were verygreat; that, consequently, few early marriages took place, andthat a great number of both sexes remained single, I infer withcertainty that population was at a stand; and, probably, becausethe actual population was very great in proportion to thefertility of the land, and that there was scarcely room and foodfor more. The number of footmen, housemaids, and other personsremaining unmarried in modern states, Hume allows to be rather anargument against their population. I should rather draw acontrary inference, and consider it an argument of their fullness;though this inference is not certain, because there are manythinly inhabited states that are yet stationary in theirpopulation. To speak, therefore, correctly, perhaps it may besaid that the number of unmarried persons in proportion to thewhole number, existing at different periods, in the same, ordifferent states, will enable us to judge whether population atthese periods, was increasing, stationary, or decreasing, but willform no criterion by which we can determine the actualpopulation.
Thomas malthus. first essay on population 1798
Introduction to the History of Philosophy (1832)
Whilst he preferred to consult reliable translations Emerson could attempt to read works in French and it is worth noting that he read, and was influenced by ideas offered in, Victor Cousin's "History of Philosophy" prior to the English language edition of 1832 - as this excerpt from a letter to his brother William demonstrates:-
Footnote from - The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson
English traits, Volume 5
by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Alfred Riggs Ferguson, Joseph Slater - 1971)
Note Emerson's enthusiasm for Cousin's views in this particular sentence:-
We may wonder - did Cousin's metaphysics influence, perhaps significantly, the construction by Emerson of aspects of his own essay, History?