A Blupete Biography Page

The Life & Works of

Thomas Robert Malthus

1 All the quotes from Malthus, "Essay on the Principle of Population."

2 Malthus was called "Bob" by his father.

3 Malthus' father, Daniel, in 1759, purchased a "small elegant mansion" and called it "The Rookery." Within two years of our hero's birth (1766), in 1768, "The Rookery" was sold "and the family moved to a less extensive establishment at Albury, not far from Guildford." [Keynes, Essays in Biography (Toronto: MacMillan, 1933) at p. 103.]

4 One of the tutors was Richard Graves (1715-1804), a writer, who in 1772 wrote The Spiritual Quixote, a satire on the Methodists; another was Gilbert Wakefield (1756-1801). Wakefield was another admirer of Rousseau, and, in 1799, Wakefield "was imprisoned in a Dorchester gaol for expressing a wish that the French revolutionaries would invade and conquer England."

5 These were new times for Cambridge: "Aeschyus and Plato and Thucydides were pushed aside ... to discuss the pamphlets of the day." One example, of such a pamphlet was Burke's Reflections on the French Revolution (1790) wherein Burke attacked the principles of the French Revolution, and the violence and excesses of its leaders. Then there was Paine's work: Common Sense (1776), The American Crisis (1776-83) and the Rights of Man (1792) ("Paine's effigy was burnt by the mob on the market Hill at Cambridge"). In the late 18th century, the times were intellectually alive and views were building up on different ends. Incidentally, Malthus, having become a fellow of the College in 1793, was to act at one point as a judge and sentencer of a junior student who had been absent without leave from the College; the young student was Coleridge, having entered the College in 1791. With this background, one might better appreciate Coleridge's comment on Malthus' second edition: "Verbiage and senseless repetition..." What is certain is that Coleridge was no friend of Malthus. (See Keynes, op. cit. at pp. 109-17.)

6 Keynes, p. 108. And see Wagner's work, Social Reformers (New York: MacMillan, 1935) at p. 59. "... he finished the university course with credit in 1788 and took orders two years later. He then seems to have continued his studies at home and at Cambridge. These covered a broad range, and in 1793 he was elected to a fellowship at Cambridge. It was not until 1797 that he began active duties as a parish priest in his native Surrey."

7 To become a churchman was not an unusual thing for a young man to do in those days, especially one without too many property prospects, viz., a son other then the first born son; being a churchman gave him social respectability, which, in turn, might open up political opportunities.

8 See James Bonar's observations, Malthus' biographer, and in particular, his notes appended to the reprint of the original essay which the Royal Economic Society brought out in 1926 (London: MacMillan & Co., 1926).

9 Malthus was to write and publish other works for which he is not as well known, as for example, in 1815, there came out, "An Inquiry into the Nature and Progress of Rent," and, in 1820, "Principles of Political Economy." Walter Bagehot was not too much impressed, overall, with Malthus as an economist. Thinking him to be "a sensible man educated in the midst of illusions ..." Malthus' celebrity status, to Bagehot, is to be "explained by the circumstances of the time and is due singularly to his, Essay on the Principle of Population. He, again according to Bagehot, contributed little to the study of "Political Economy." "He ... believed that the supply of all commodities might exceed the demand, which is as much as to say that there is too much of everything. The truth is, that Mr. Malthus had not the practical sagacity necessary for the treatment of Political Economy in a concrete way, or the mastery of abstract ideas necessary to deal with it in what we should now [1867] call a scientific way. He tried a bad mixture of both. There is a mist of speculation over his facts, and a vapour of fact over his ideas." [Economic Studies (London: Longmans, Green, 2nd ed., 1888) at p. 148.]

10 Chambers Biographical Dictionary (Edinburgh, 1990), often referred to in these pages simply as, Chambers.

11 While Malthus' theory dealt more with the lack of wealth and the poor. He expressed his view of the future, generally borne out, that the "wealth of the civilized world will be more equably diffused."

12 Malthus' Essay came about as a result of Godwin's Political Justice. Godwin's work had provoked much discussion among the intelligentsia; and, Malthus and his father had such discussions, frequently: "the father defended, and the son attacked ..." Daniel Malthus encouraged his son to put his thoughts into writing and in turn to publish; and, thus, the world was presented, in 1798, with Malthus' Essay which at first was but a small work.

13 The Malthusian doctrine is based on food: "Want of food the most efficient cause of the three immediate checks to population." The argument, however, can easily be extended to take in, what have, since the times of Malthus, become the more pressing problems of polluted air and polluted water.

14 Malthus writes of Godwin's scheme: "A melioration of society [which Mr. Godwin proposes] to be produced merely by reason and conviction gives more promise of permanence than any change effected and maintained by force. ... The substitution of benevolence, as the master-spring and moving principle of society, instead of self-love appears at first sight to be a consummation devoutly to be wished. In short, it is impossible to contemplate the whole of this fair picture without emotions of delight and admiration, accompanied with an ardent longing for the period of its accomplishment. But alas! that moment can never arrive ..."

15 Malthus writes further: "Wars, plagues or that greater depopulator than either, a tyrannical government." Indeed, Malthus was of the general view that "human institutions appear to be, and often are, the obvious and obtrusive causes of much mischief to society."

16 By the adding of this further check, "moral restraint," Malthus was to spoil the argument that he made in his essay as first brought out in 1798. Walter Bagehot was to observe: "In its first form the 'Essay on Population' was conclusive as an argument, only it was based on untrue facts; in its second form it was based on true facts, but it was inconclusive as an argument." [Economic Studies (1867) (London: Longmans, Green, 2nd ed., 1888) at p. 137.]

17 Malthus and his Work written in 1885.

18 Herford was at the University of Manchester as a professor of English language and literature. The quote comes from his work, The Age of Wordsworth (London: Bell, 1916) at pp. 18-9.

19 One such disciple was Samuel Whitbread (1758-1815); his father, also Samuel, was the founder of the famous brewing firm. Whitbread introduced into parliament, in 1807, a bill which was intended to regulate the poor. While Whitbread's poor bill included free education, it also provided for a badge system whereby one might distinguish between the deserving and the undeserving poor. The bill did not pass. Whether Malthus was ready to go as far as Whitbread, I do not know. Malthus did believe in charity. "Much may be done by discriminate charity." However, "Hard as it may appear in individual instances, dependent poverty ought to be held disgraceful." And, "A man who is born into a world already possessed, if he cannot get subsistence from his parents, on whom he has a just demand, and if the society do not want his labour, has no claim of right to the smallest portion of food, and, in fact, has no business to be where he is." Further, Malthus believed, "That labour will not be performed without the goad of necessity."

20 Herford, p. 20. "Godwin after a long silence, assailed it once more, quite ineffectively, in 1820, and Cobbett remained a scoffer to the end." It was Cobbett, incidentally, who nicknamed Malthus, "Parson Malthus." Keynes quotes Cobbett (p. 117): "Are we now to have a quarto to teach us that great misery and great vice arise from poverty, and that there must be poverty in its worst shape wherever there are more mouths than loaves and more Heads than Brains?"

21 From Hazlitt's essay, "Affect on the Schemes of Utopian Improvement."

22 From Hazlitt's essay, "On the Application of Mr Malthus's Principle."



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Peter Landry