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MEMOIR OF ROBERT MALTHUS. - Thomas Robert Malthus, Principles of Political Economy 
Principles of Political Economy (London: W. Pickering, 1836).
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MEMOIR OF ROBERT MALTHUS.
It is matter of general observation that the lives of literary men, especially of the good and virtuous, are rarely fruitful in that class of incidents which are wont to be most attractive in the public eye. With the minds of such persons, however, it may be far otherwise: of these the march is often varied and eventful; and to describe faithfully their state and condition at the different stages of their being, the steps by which they have advanced, the helps and hindrances they have experienced, and the influences which have most contributed to form or to fix their character, would be a task not less interesting than instructive; but the misfortune is that it is one which can only be performed adequately by the subject himself, and, as great merit is usually accompanied with great modesty, they who are best qualified to execute the office, are generally the least disposed to undertake it. In neither of these respects can Mr. Malthus be considered as an exception: the tenor of his life was one of the most even serene and peaceful that can be well imagined; and such was his diffidence and habitual disregard of self, that he has left nothing upon record intended directly as a memorial of his life, and little else which can be made subservient to such a purpose by others. But this reserve, so becoming and characteristic in himself, would be almost culpable in his friends. They are well aware that such a man could not depart from a scene, in which as an author he had borne so conspicuous a part, without exciting much curiosity respecting the principles and the conduct of his private life; and as they have nothing to communicate but what is honourable to himself and edifying to the public, there is no reason why they should be silent. It happens too, fortunately, that the materials at their disposal are quite sufficient in this respect; for as the recollections of his friends, still fresh and vivid, are fully competent to exhibit his character and manners in his later years, so also his own filial piety, by treasuring up every record of his father, has undesignedly furnished more particulars for the history of his early youth than are usually found in the annals of literary men.
Nor will the task of recording these memorials be an unprofitable one. No one could have been intimate with Mr. Malthus without deriving much instruction as well as pleasure from his conversation, and many salutary lessons from the contemplation of his character under the trials he underwent. To review therefore the course of his life is to bring back these influences to the memory, and, impressed as they must be now with the sad reflection that the spirit which imparted them is gone, they will return with more force than when they first came from the living man.
But higher interests than these are concerned in this memorial. The character of Mr. Malthus has been so industriously mixed up with his writings, and for so long a time; and the writings themselves have been so egregiously misinterpreted and misunderstood, that it becomes an act of common justice to rescue his name from the obloquy in which it has been involved.
To the Author himself, who is now far beyond the reach of earthly praise or blame, it is matter of no importance what the world may judge; but to his family it is otherwise. To them the memory of his virtues is much more precious than that of his literary fame; it is connected with more tender recollections, and cheered with nobler prospects; besides it is an inheritance more especially their own; and it would be matter of future shame and sorrow to those who shared in his regard, if, while so much has been said by others to whom he was little known, no friendly voice should be raised to speak of him as he really was, and to lessen the weight of those calumnies, which, though they passed lightly over his family while he was alive, are calculated to aggravate their grief now they are deprived of him. Their own conviction of his worth, is indeed the most unfailing source of comfort under his loss, but next to this is the assurance that others will partake of it; and, under this impression, it will be pleasing to them to know, that, in whatever age or country his works may hereafter be studied, they will carry with them a memorial of the spirit in which they were composed, and of the objects they were intended to accomplish.
But there is another and a far more important purpose which the diffusion of this memoir may be made to serve, and one still more congenial to the mind of the author himself, if yet cognizant of earthly things; and that is the vindication of truth itself, by procuring for his writings a calmer and more impartial hearing than they have hitherto received. No intelligent and well-educated person can have observed what has been passing in the civil economy of this country for the last forty years without being convinced that a great change has been gradually wrought into the public mind respecting the poor laws, and their administration, and that the works of Mr. Malthus have been exceedingly influential in bringing it about. To this pre-eminence, whether it be good or evil, neither friends nor enemies will be disposed to dispute his claim; and though the natural course of events in our domestic history has singularly concurred in illustrating the principles of the “Essay on Population,” and daily experience has practically exhibited its conclusions, it is to Mr. Malthus chiefly we are to attribute the improved knowledge we now possess, and the advanced position in which we stand. His was the warning voice which first roused the public attention to the errors which prevailed upon the subject; his the sagacious and patient mind which reduced the various and perplexing phenomena of social life to the law he had laid down; and from his works was derived the light which has given value to the experience and confidence to the lessons which have been drawn from it. For some time, indeed, he may be said to have stood alone upon the ground he had taken; nor is it too much to affirm, that there is scarcely any other instance in the history of the world of so important a revolution effected in public opinion, within the compass of a single life and by a single mind. It was not likely, however, that a victory like this could be achieved without a contest; still less that a contest of such a nature, against opinions venerable by age and usage, and backed by a formidable host of prejudices, interests, and feelings, could possibly be carried on for so long a period without exciting a great degree of irritation and abuse, of which a large portion would naturally be poured out upon the leader.
Accordingly, we find that while, even by the intelligent and candid, every step was yielded slowly, and reluctantly, the tide of public opinion ran obstinately against him; the Malthusian code and the Malthusian doctrines became by-words of ominous import in the people’s mouths, and thousands were ready to join in the cry, who knew nothing of Mr. Malthus, and had never read a line of his works. But this was not the worst feature of the case: many estimable and pious men there were, whose concurrence and approbation he would have been delighted to obtain, who read his work, and were at once convinced and offended by it. Misled by the turn the controversy had at first unfortunately taken, and too intent upon the evil involved in the “principle of population” to discern or even to enquire after the many blessings which are bound up with it, and overbalance it, they could not be in charity with a work which at once shook their confidence in the Divine Benevolence, and dissipated those visions of perfectibility in which they had indulged. Their faith was weak, because it was founded upon a narrow basis, and instead of enquiring how far they were in fault themselves, they laid the whole blame upon the author: irritated and suspicious they turned away impatiently from the truth because its first aspect was forbidding to them; and while some obstinately closed their eyes against the facts, and others eagerly caught at any empyrical solution of them which was offered, they all came hastily to the conclusion that Mr. Malthus was a cold and heartless, if not an impious man. From these first impressions, notwithstanding the light which has been lately thrown upon the subject from various quarters, many have found it impossible to recover; hence it has happened, that though the cause has triumphed, the author is still odious in their eyes, and instances may be pointed out even at the present day, where in the same work, and even in the same page, the fruits of Mr. Malthus’ labours are recorded with entire approbation, while the man and his works are treated with unqualified abuse.
Now nothing, it is believed, can serve more effectually to soften these feelings, and to remove these prejudices, in whatever quarter they may exist, than to exhibit the author himself as he really was, and to prove what manner of spirit he was of. “A good tree can not bring forth evil fruit;” and to shew indisputably that Mr. Malthus was an enlightened, and benevolent man, is to furnish a strong argument a priori in favour of the principle, and the tendency of the work; at all events it will be an irresistible reason with all candid minds for not rejecting it at once. And if under this impression, proceeding one step further, they would fairly examine the principle of population laid down by him under all its aspects, and in all its influences, direct and indirect, upon the moral conduct of man in social life, there is reason to hope that every thing would appear different to them; they would find their sense of the Divine Goodness improved and strengthened rather than diminished by their acquiescence in his views, and they would be thankful to an author, who, while he has developed at so much cost and pains a law of deep practical importance to the welfare of mankind, has brought into view a fresh and striking instance of the Divine Economy, in perfect harmony with that state of discipline and trial by which the scripture teaches us we are to be improved and purified for a higher and happier state hereafter. Hence, then, the great advantage which the diffusion of this memoir may produce; imperfect notions of Mr. Malthus’ writings have been the means of casting a shade over his name, and it is reasonable to hope that a better knowledge of his character may bring about a fairer estimate of his work.
But the benefit by no means stops here. Were this a question of a speculative nature, and referring only to some imaginary constitution of things, we might safely commit it to that tribunal which, sooner or later, never fails to do justice to the truth; but this is not the case, it is in reality identified with a subject now occupying a great share of the public mind, and coming home to every man’s business and bosom, and under this view it is quite essential that no unnecessary delay should intervene in the removal of all errors respecting it. The struggle about the Poor Laws has ended as most political struggles happily do in England, not by the subversion of an institution which, however corrupted by abuse, or injured by time, is yet congenial to the institutions of the country, and founded upon christian principles; but by the renewal of its spirit, the correction of its errors, and the supply of its defects. With these views the Poor Laws Amendment Bill has been framed and passed into a law; and a great experiment is now making throughout the country under its authority, upon the result of which, the due and harmonious adjustment of the relations between the rich and the poor will hereafter mainly depend. But this act is founded upon the basis of Mr. Malthus’ work. The Essay on Population and the Poor Laws Amendment Bill, will stand or fall together. They have the same friends and the same enemies, and the relations they bear to each other, of theory and practice, are admirably calculated to afford mutual illumination and support. Nor can it be said that this cooperation is not needed. Notwithstanding the favourable auspices under which the working of the bill has commenced, it is still a question with many how much of this advantage is owing to the intrinsic merits of the act, and how much to the unexampled state of prosperity we now enjoy, and the increasing demand for labour which accompanies it: at all events a strong and lively opposition is still daily carried on against it, as well in the metropolis as in the country; and so long as any influential persons are found disposed to dispute the truth of Mr. Malthus’ principles, or the force of his conclusions, so long must the Poor Laws Amendment Bill expect hostility and mistrust. It is true, indeed, that the best testimony to the soundness of the measure will be a general experience of its blessings throughout the country under a wise, a moderate, and, above all, a Christian administration of its provisions—blessings, indeed, not such simply or mainly as result to the wealthier classes of society, from the diminution of their burdens, and the assignment of parochial odium to others, but such as the poor themselves will derive and eventually be conscious of, in the elevation of their minds, the bettering of their condition, the improvement of their morals and habits, and especially the softening of that harsh temper and disposition towards the other classes of society, at present one of the worst features of the times, and of which the flatterers and disturbers of the people are always ready to take advantage. Such are the ends which must finally consecrate this measure in the hearts of the British public, as well as in the sight of God, and of such were the visions which cheered the labours of Mr. Malthus, and consoled him for the ingratitude with which they were received. Nor is the day far distant, we trust, when these visions will, humanly speaking, be realized; meanwhile, it cannot be denied that a juster appreciation of the author and his works cannot fail of being of the greatest service, as well in the actual operation of the bill, as in facilitating its favour and acceptance with the public.
It remains for us to say a few words respecting the authority on which this Memoir rests. It was written, for the most part, immediately after his death, by an early and intimate friend of Mr. Malthus, thoroughly acquainted with his character and views, and, what is more, familiar with the rise and progress of those opinions which have so often brought his name before the world; and though many months have elapsed since this event, and calmer reflexion has succeeded to the excitement under which it was drawn up, there is nothing in it which the writer is disposed either to abandon or to change. On the contrary, the more he considers and reflects, the more he is convinced that all that is here personal to Mr. Malthus is simply just, and nothing else. Nor is there wanting to this conviction the testimony of others, less liable to suspicion than his own. Defective as the sketch may be, there has been no question respecting its fidelity and truth. The general form and character and the leading features of his mind are there: they have been recognized by his friends, and have not been disputed by his adversaries; and whatever difference of opinion may arise respecting the judgment here pronounced upon Mr. Malthus as an author, from which, however, his friend is by no means willing to recede, there is reason to hope that this statement may go forth as an undoubted and authentic testimony to his character as a man.
Thomas Robert Malthus was born in 1766, at the Rookery, in the county of Surrey, a small but beautiful estate at that time in the possession of his family, and now well known throughout the neighbourhood of Guildford and Dorking. His father was Daniel Malthus, a gentleman of good family and independent fortune, attached to a country life, but much occupied in classical and philosophic pursuits, and with a strong bias towards foreign literature. He was the friend and correspondent of Rousseau, and one of his executors, and in some of his tastes, especially that of botany, is said to have resembled him. His habits and manners were retired, and his character so unostentatious, that though he was the author of several works which seem to have succeeded in their day, he never could be persuaded to put his name to any of them. In the obituary of the Monthly Magazine for 1800, in which his death is noticed, he is described as the translator of some pieces from the French and German; an error which was visited by the subject of this memoir with more indignation than he ever shewed towards his own persecutors.* Of this gentleman, Robert Malthus was the second son, and in early life seems to have displayed so fine a promise of character and abilities, as to have excited a strong interest in his father’s mind; insomuch, that he undertook the conduct of his education in a great measure himself, directing his youthful studies, and entering with him into the details of his pleasures and amusements for the purpose of forming his habits and disposition. At what school the first years of his youth were passed, does not appear, but whether from the changes which took place about this time in the residence of his family, or from some peculiar opinions which his father seems to have entertained respecting education, he was never sent to any public school; and in this respect, is one, amongst many other remarkable instances in the present time, of men who have risen into eminence under the disadvantage of an irregular and desultory education.
From the age of nine or ten, until the time of his admission at Cambridge, with the exception of a short period which he spent at the academy at Warrington, he remained always under private tuition, and was sometimes a solitary pupil in his tutor’s house. It must be allowed, however, that his instructors were men of no common minds; for besides his father, whose watchful care never deserted him, one of them was Richard Graves, and another, Gilbert Wakefield—the first, the author of the Spiritual Quixote, a gentleman of considerable learning and humour; the last, a person very prominent in his day, in several departments of literature—a scholar, a politician, and a divine; a classical correspondent also of Charles Fox; but wild, restless, and paradoxical in many of his opinions, a prompt and hardy disputant, and, unhappily for himself, deeply engaged in several of those violent controversies, to which the French Revolution had given birth.
It is difficult to believe that a youth like Robert Malthus, naturally sensitive and intelligent, could be brought in frequent contact with men of such qualities and attainments without deriving great advantages, and incurring some danger. From the last, however, his natural good sense, and his early habits of observation, happily protected him. He was not born, indeed, as he himself said of his father, readily to mould his own character and opinions upon those of the first person under whose influence he might be accidentally thrown. On the contrary, he began very early to judge for himself, even in matters relating to his education, and in this respect as well as others, was a proof in how short a time, and at what an early period of life, a fund of useful experience may be laid up by an intelligent and observing mind, thrown upon its own resources, and disposed to make the most of them.
It is curious to observe in looking back upon this period of his life, with what singular discretion he seems to have steered his course amid the critical circumstances which surrounded him—how much he owed in the formation of his character to influences which were never taken into the account, and how few marks and signs it bore when grown into maturity of the scenes and persons to which he had been entrusted for the specific purpose of education. More than one instance occurred, as appears from his correspondence of this date, in which, without any injury to their mutual affection, the advice of the father was successfully combated by the superior discretion of the son. Nor was the moral influence of his official instructors in any respect more decisive; he left the house of Mr. Graves, indeed, at an early period, before any lasting impressions from sympathy or antipathy were likely to have been made, and though he remained with Gilbert Wakefield till his admission at college, and always upon the kindest terms, and by his own acknowledgement derived great benefit from the course of study which he pursued with him, there seems to have been no great community of sentiment or opinion between them upon the graver subjects connected with the conduct of human life. In truth their characters were altogether very different, nor was there ever anything in the truly catholic spirit of Mr. Malthus which could be traced to his training in that school.
It would be unjust, however, to the kindness of an excellent parent, to deny that to him he was more indebted than to any other person who had mingled in his education for the form and condition of his mind, and this, not so much from any instructions directly conveyed, as from the opportunities which their intimacy afforded of stimulating the faculties of the son, of encouraging him to think for himself, and of first implanting in his mind that love of truth and independence of spirit, which were ever afterwards so remarkable in him. If the nature of this memoir would permit, it might be pleasing to lay before the reader many specimens of that happy intercourse of mutual good feeling, and of amicable and frank discussion between the father and the son to which we have referred; but we may venture to insert extracts from two or three letters, which will serve to confirm what has been said. The first was written just after the father had removed from his former residence in Surry to Albury, where a new one was preparing:
June 16, 1787.
“You must find your way to us over bricks and tiles, and meet with five in a bed, and some of us under hedges; but every body says, they will make room for Robert. May I take the liberty of sending my compliments to Mr. Frend, with my most grateful thanks for the attention he has been so kind as to shew you. You will guess the pleasure I have in returning thanks for that notice which you would not have had without deserving it.
“Everything I have heard of you has given me the most heart-felt satisfaction. I have always wished, my dear boy, that you should have a love of letters, that you should be made independent of mean and trifling amusements, and feel a better support than that of the next man who is idle enough to offer you his company. I have no doubt that you will be able to procure any distinction from them you please. I am far from repressing your ambition; but I shall content myself with their adding to your happiness. Every kind of knowledge, every acquaintance with nature and art, will amuse and strengthen your mind, and I am perfectly pleased that cricket should do the same by your legs and arms. I love to see you excel in exercises of the body, and I think myself that the better half, and much the most agreeable one, of the pleasures of the mind is best enjoyed while one is upon one’s legs;—this is pretty well for me to say, who have little else left but my bed and my arm-chair. May you long enjoy all the delights of youth and youthful spirits, of an improving mind, and of a healthful body,—but ever and above all, my dear boy, with virtue and its best affections in your heart.
“Adieu! “Daniel Malthus.”
It is pleasing to observe in what a prophetic spirit this prayer of an affectionate father in the close of his letter was drawn up; for such, in all these particulars, was Mr. Malthus, and such he remained to the last moment of his life.
To illustrate still farther the remark we have made of the manner in which the graver instruction of his father was mingled with lighter matters intended for the same purpose, it may be interesting to add another extract from one of his letters to him at Cambridge:
“my dear bob,
“I find you are not yet in your new rooms. I heartily hope they will prove agreeable to you. We should have been truly glad to have seen you here in the leisure of Christmas, and would have subscribed to your journey; not that I used to think Oxford the less pleasant, and certainly not the less useful for being disburthened of some of its society: I imagine you will say the same of Cambridge.
“I have always found that one of my greatest comforts in life was the delight I have ever taken in solitude—if, indeed, one can give that name to anything which is likely to happen to you or me. A true hermitage for any length of time is, I believe, an unnatural state; it would be a cruel deprivation of what we have both experienced to be the heart’s dearest happiness. But even this at certain seasons will always strengthen and refresh the mind, and suffer her wings to grow, which
The skating has been good this year. Did you go to Ely? By the way have you learnt the heart and cross roll? All the other tricks, such as skating backwards, &c. are absurd; but I like these as they amuse one upon a small piece of ice, and they are very clever in society either for two or four; four make this figure, . The frost was harder than is usual in England. January 2, at sunrise, 14 Fahr. January 3, at 9½ post merid. 14 again. Ask Mr. — how it was at Cambridge. My thermometer was upon a north wall at a distance from the house. Did not I ask you whether you had got my Theocritus with you? Have you got Rutherford’s Philosophy, 2 vols. quarto? I would advise you to read something of that kind, while you are engaged in mathematical studies; and constantly to use yourself to apply your tools. I hate to see a girl working curious stitches upon a piece of rag. I recommend Sanderson’s Optics to you, and Emerson’s Mechanics; Long’s Astronomy you certainly have. There are papers of the mathematical kind in the Royal Society transactions which are generally worth reading. How do you manage about books? What good book on mensuration have you met with? Have you seen Bougner’s mensuration of the degree in South America? I suppose Sir I’s Principia to be your chief classical book after the elementary ones.
“We are all pretty well; but Charlotte will write in a day or two. All send love. Adieu, my dear boy!
It was this eagerness of the father to engage his son in the practical application of mathematics, expressed in other places as well as this, which produced the following sensible observations in reply.
“The plan of mathematical and philosophical reading pursued at Cambridge is perhaps too much confined to speculation; the intention seems to be to ground you well in the principles supposing you to apply them at leisure after your degree. In going through this course of study if I read popular treatises upon every branch, it will take up my whole time, and absolutely exclude all other kinds of reading whatever, which I should by no means wish. I think therefore it will be better for me to pursue the general courses adopted by the university, seeing the general application of everything I read without always descending to particulars.
“When I mentioned popular treatises I did not mean to refer to the books you recommended in your last letter, but to what you said in a former one, expressing a wish to see me a practical surveyor, mechanic, and navigator; a knowledge of which kind would be difficult to obtain before I took my degree, while engaged in the plan of mathematical reading adopted by the university.
“I am by no means, however, inclined to get forward without wishing to see the use and application of what I read. On the contrary I am rather remarked in college for talking of what actually exists in nature, or may be put to real practical use. With regard to the books you mentioned in your last, as it is absolutely necessary to read those which our lecturer makes use of, it is difficult to find time to apply to other tracts of the same nature, in the regular manner they deserve: particularly as many other books are required to be read during our course of lectures to be able to understand them as we ought. For instance, we have had no lectures of any consequence in algebra and fluxions, and yet a man would find himself very deficient in going through the branches of natural philosophy and Newton’s Principia, without a decent knowledge of both. As I attended lectures with the year above me, and the course only continues three years, I shall be entirely my own master after the next summer vacation, and then will be my time to read different authors, make comparisons, and properly digest the knowledge I have taken in.
“I believe from what I have let fall at different times, you have conceived the Senate House examination to be more confined to mathematical speculations than it really is. The greatest stress is laid on a thorough knowledge of the branches of natural philosophy, and problems of every kind in these as well as in mathematics are set during the examination; such a one as the ascertaining the distance of the Sun by a transit of Venus is not unlikely sometimes to be among the number.
“If you will giveme leave to proceed in my own plans of reading for the next two years, (I speak with submission to your judgment,) I promise you at the expiration of that time to be a decent natural philosopher, and not only to know a few principles, but to be able to apply those principles in a variety of useful problems. I hope you will excuse me for detaining you so long upon this subject, but I thought I had not sufficiently explained myself in my last letter, and that you might possibly conclude from what I there said, that I intended to go on in the beaten track, without once reflecting on the use and application of the study in which I was engaged.”
The last extract we shall give is from a letter written we believe on the election of Mr. Malthus to a fellowship:
“I heartily congratulate upon your success; it gives me a sort of pleasure which arises from my own regrets. The things which I have missed in life, I should the more sensibly wish for you.
“Alas! my dear Bob, I have no right to talk to you of idleness, but when I wrote that letter to you with which you were displeased, I was deeply impressed with my own broken purposes and imperfect pursuits; I thought I foresaw in you, from the memory of my own youth, the same tendency to lose the steps you had gained, with the same disposition to self-reproach, and I wished to make my unfortunate experience of some use to you. It was, indeed, but little that you wanted it, which made me the more eager to give it you, and I wrote to you with more tenderness of heart than I would in general pretend to, and committed myself in a certain manner which made your answer a rough disappointment to me, and it drove me back into myself. You have, as you say, worn out that impression, and you have a good right to have done it; for I have seen in you the most unexceptionable character, the sweetest manners, the most sensible and the kindest conduct, always above throwing little stones into my garden, which you know I don’t easily forgive, and uniformly making every body easy and amused about you. Nothing can have been wanting to what, if I were the most fretful and fastidious, I could have required in a companion; and nothing even to my wishes for your happiness, but where they were either whimsical, or unreasonable, or most likely mistaken. I have often been on the point of taking hold of your hand and bursting into tears at the time that I was refusing you my affections: my approbation I was precipitate to give you.
“Write to me, if I could do any thing about your church, and you want any thing to be done for you, such as I am, believe me, dear Bob, yours most affectionately,
There is a strain of tender remonstrance, singularly mingled with diffidence and self-accusation throughout this letter which exhibits in a strong and very amiable light the character of the father, nor is it less interesting as an encouragement to youthful instruction, by shewing how early those virtues were planted in the son, to which his character remained faithful ever afterwards.
Changes there were in him, indeed, as there generally have been in all persons whose minds have laboured with great questions of moral interest; and some of them certainly remarkable. They who had seen him only in his later years, and had been accustomed to the calm and peaceful tenor of his life, his kind and gentle manners, and the earnest and serious tone of his general conversation, would scarcely credit that the two features most remarkable in his boyhood were a pugnacious spirit and a keen perception of the ludicrous. And yet such was the report made to his father by his earliest tutor, Mr. Graves: the former being evinced in his unconquerable love of fighting for fighting’s sake, the latter in the ease and delight with which he entered into many refined and unexpected strokes of wit in classic poets, which were entirely lost upon the minds of others much older than himself. “Don Roberto,” says this gentleman in one of his letters, speaking of the first quality, “though most peaceably inclined, and seeming even to give up his just rights, rather than to dispute with any man, yet, paradox as it may seem, loves fighting for fighting’s sake, and delights in bruising; he has but barely recovered his eye-sight, and yet I have much ado to keep him from trying again the chance of war; and yet he and his antagonist are the best friends in the world, learn together, assist each other, and I believe, love each other better than any two boys in the school.” It would not be difficult, indeed, to trace this unyielding spirit through different changes of his being, under the guidance of christian discipline, till it reached its maturity in the moral courage which enabled him to contend patiently and manfully for the truth, in defiance of a virulent opposition which ceased not even with his life; but it may suffice to say here, that in every stage of the progress it was entirely exempt from all malice and ill will, that no man living was ever less disposed to give a provocation, or more prone to overlook one, and that as far as the physical part of the quality was concerned, the only remnant of it, even in his youth, was a calm fortitude which inspired respect, and a desirable presence of mind, in all the difficulties and emergencies of life.
Of his taste for humour, however, which has been truly said to be almost always allied to genius, something more deserves to be said. Mr. Graves, who must be considered as no mean judge of these matters, thus speaks of the dawn of this quality in his pupil’s mind: “He has finished Horace, and has read five satires in Juvenal with apparent taste, and I never saw a boy of his age enter more instantaneously into the humour of the fifth satire, which describes so feelingly the affronts and mortifications which a parasite meets with at a great man’s table.”
“I never saw a boy shew a quicker sense of the beauties of an author, or at least of any humorous and unexpected strokes. They are reading the Hecyra of Terence, and I was willing to see whether any one in the class was struck with that characteristic stroke of humour which Dr. Hurd lays so great stress upon, ‘Tum tu igitur nihil adduxisti huc plus unâ sententiâ,’ and though there were two boys of 15 years old, Bob was the only one that discovered a smile of approbation, as he did at Phidippus’ reproach in the same scene, ‘Quia paululum vobis accessit pecuniæ sublati animi sunt;’ though it is not clear I think whether Phidippus intended a sneer upon their disappointment, or envied their fancied good luck.”
Such were the early indications of this quality as observed by Mr. Graves, but it did not end here; it was prevalent throughout his youth, and even survived a portion of his manhood, and at Cambridge in particular, set off as it used to be by a very comic expression of features, and a most peculiar intonation of voice when he was in the vein, was often a source of infinite delight and pleasantry to his companions. In his riper years however this taste gradually faded away, and at last had so entirely disappeared, as to induce his later friends to say, that if any thing were wanting to his mind, it was a more expansive play of the imagination, and a more vivid exercise of the memory. But the reason is obvious. From the moment the principle of population had been struck out from his mind, and had taken hold of the public attention, it became to him the predominant and absorbing subject of his thoughts, constraining him to grave reflection, and causing every other tendency to yield to it. From this time too, most of his writings took of necessity a controversial turn: and as the constant exercise of the reasoning faculty, which this required, could not be carried on but at the expense of those lighter graces which have their origin in the fancy, it is no wonder that the taste for humour became less and less influential in his mind. But there was nothing in all this to regret; the change was gradual and even graceful, every step of it being suited to his advancing years, and in harmony with the new relations he had contracted in the progress of his life; and while the world at large, and this country in particular, was greatly benefited by the concentration of his faculties upon a subject of such deep interest to the public welfare, for the accomplishment of which he seemed almost to have been destined by his very nature, the kindly source of his innocent and cheerful humour (for such it always was) remained as fresh and as abundant as ever. Its spirit, indeed, was somewhat subdued, and its course became more steady in proportion as its aims and objects were enlarged; and instead of appearing in fitful bursts of fancy, which were wont to set the table in a roar, it flowed on in a perpetual stream of cheerfulness and benevolence, gladdening the walks of domestic life, and diffusing itself over all his conduct as well as his conversation. To return, however, to the progress of his life.
In 1784 he removed from Mr. Wakefield’s house to Jesus College, Cambridge, where he was admitted at the recommendation of that gentleman, formerly a fellow of the society. At this time, he was generally distinguished for gentlemanlike deportment and feelings, a polished humanity which remained with him through life, and a degree of temperance and prudence, very rare at that period, and carried by him even into his academical pursuits. In these he was always more remarkable for the steadiness than for the ardour of his application, preferring to exert his mind equably in the various departments of literature then cultivated in the college, rather than to devote it exclusively or eminently to any one, and evidently actuated more by the love of excellence than by the desire of excelling. For this happy disposition he seems to have been indebted next to his own gracious nature to the peculiar character of his education, which while it had employed higher motives with good effect, had rarely brought into action the principle of competition, so generally resorted to in colleges and schools; and the consequence was, that he read in a better spirit, reflected more freely and more usefully and acquired more general information than any of his contemporaries. Under this view, it is difficult to suppress a wish that the persons appointed to the important task of superintending education, could be induced to apply this stimulus of emulation with more caution and restraint: at all events, that they would exercise some discrimination in its use, and especially that they would accompany it with frequent and cogent memorials, that there are other things in the world in store for diligence and virtue, and of higher value, than worldly emolument or applause.
To exclude emulation indeed altogether from our means and instruments would be as impracticable as the attempt would be unwise; it is a natural remedy for the natural evils of our youth, indolence and the love of pleasure, and the advantages are as obvious and immediate as they are comprehensive; nor can it be denied that an impulse upwards is often given by it to sluggish minds which afterwards continued under better auspices, leads to great acquirements, and enables them to look down with indifference upon the vantage ground from which the spring was taken. But generally speaking it is otherwise: the course of a youth chiefly actuated by this stimulus, is irregular and uneven, and at the best liable to frequent crosses and disappointments; there is more of passion than of habit in his efforts, and when the object of competition is obtained, the ardour for study abates; on the other hand, the unchristian principles of envy, jealousy, and ambition, which it tends to foster, and to which our nature is already prone, are powerful and durable, and rarely lose their grasp of the youthful mind on which they have once seized. These evils which are not always apparent to others, are sometimes a secret even to the men themselves, and generally the discipline of life, and the influence of religion are sufficient to control every outward symptom or effect; but the fire is often smouldering within, and is one of the worst foes to virtue and tranquillity of mind. Not so, however, with the love of knowledge, especially when informed by the wisdom which is from above. When this principle once takes the lead in the formation of the youthful mind, it generally goes on increasing, and is little liable to disorder or decay. It never can be satiated, for its objects are continually expanding, multiplied and varied; and instead of the low born passions with which the other is united, it constantly allies itself to some of the noblest principles and qualities of our nature, especially generosity, justice, and benevolence; giving to all their due, aiding and rejoicing in the success of others who are running the same career, and sympathising with all that is good and honourable around. It is probable, indeed, that a youth stimulated chiefly by the former may rise through almost unnatural exertions to a greater height of distinction in some particular branch; but upon the whole the effect is rarely or ever satisfactory; and whether we look to worldly happiness and tranquillity, to the advantage of a compact and well proportioned mind, or what is much more important to the formation of the christian character, there can be no comparison between the two. However this may be, such in this case was the education of Mr. Malthus, and such was the result; it would be impossible to point out in the present age any distinguished person more moderate and contented, more exempt from jealousy and ambition, more disposed to rejoice with those who rejoice, or with more of the charity that envieth not, seeketh not its own.
Notwithstanding this moderation, there was nothing he attempted in which he did not arrive at some distinction. He obtained prizes for declamations both in Latin and English. He was always esteemed amongst the foremost in the classical lecture room, and on taking his degree in 1788, his name appeared in the Tripos as the ninth wrangler. Besides all this he found sufficient time for the cultivation of history and general literature, particularly of poetry, of which he was always a great admirer and a discerning judge. In 1797, he proceeded to his master’s degree, and was made fellow of his college, and having taken orders about the same time, he undertook the care of a small parish in Surrey, near his father’s house, occasionally residing in Cambridge upon his fellowship, for the purpose of pursuing with more advantage that course of study to which he was attached.
His first essay, as a writer, was a pamphlet called the Crisis, which he left in MS. and refrained from printing it at his father’s request. It betrays some marks of a youthful taste both in the matter and in the style; but it is a work of great reflexion for so young a man, and shews considerable political sagacity and observation. It is further interesting at present on account of the many curious notices it contains of the temper and character of the times, and especially as exhibiting his early views and opinions respecting the condition of the poor. It was written about the year 1797, and its chief object was to impugn the measures and general government of Mr. Pitt. We have made extracts of one or two passages from this little work, which will be acceptable to those who can compare the opinions here delivered, respecting the treatment of the poor, with the conclusions of his maturer years.*
In 1798 appeared his first printed work, an octavo volume, upon Population, under the following title, “An Essay on the Principle of Population as it affects the future improvement of Society, with remarks on the speculations of Mr. Godwin, M. Condorcet, and other writers;” in which the general principle was laid down and explained, and some very important consequences deduced from it; but his documents and illustrations were imperfect, and he himself perhaps at that time scarcely aware of the whole extent and bearings of the subject. The book was received with some surprise, and excited considerable attention, and while the minds of the generality were in suspense, the author left the country in search of materials to complete it. In 1799 he sailed for Hamburg with three other members of his college, of whom Dr. Edward Clarke was one: the party separated in Sweden, and Dr. Clarke and Mr. Cripps having proceeded rapidly to the north, Mr. Malthus with Mr. Otter continued leisurely their tour through Sweden, Norway, Finland, and a part of Russia, these being the only countries at the time open to English travellers. Of this tour he has left other memorials besides those embodied in his own work; amongst which may be mentioned many valuable notes which have since served to enrich the last volume of Dr. Clarke’s Travels. During the short peace of 1802 he again left England, and visited with some of his relations, France and Switzerland; exploring with them, all that was most interesting in nature or art in those countries, but always continuing, wherever he went, to collect facts and documents for the illustration of the principle he had announced and for the completion of his work. In 1805, he married Harriet, the eldest daughter of Mr. Eckersall, a gentleman now resident at Bath, and soon after was appointed to the professorship of Modern History and Political Economy, at Haileybury, in which situation he remained till his death. In 1825, he lost a beloved and affectionate daughter in the bloom of youth, who was carried off by a rapid decline, “a sad break in,” as he said, “upon their small and happy family circle;” he bore it, however, with his usual resignation, but for the sake of Mrs. Malthus, who felt her loss most acutely, and in the hope of bringing more composure to all their minds, he made a tour upon the continent with his family, but returned in the autumn to his ordinary duties at Haileybury, and his usual domestic habits.
It has been sometimes insinuated by persons who have been desirous to depreciate the merits of Mr. Malthus as an original writer, that he was indebted to his father for those new views of population which appeared in his first essay and have since excited so much attention in the world. There is no foundation whatever for this report; but it is not difficult to explain in what manner it took its rise. The mind of Mr. Malthus was certainly set to work upon the subject of population, in consequence of frequent discussions between his father and himself respecting another question, in which they differed entirely from each other. The former, a man of romantic and somewhat sanguine temper, had warmly adopted the opinions of Condorcet and Godwin respecting the perfectibility of man, to which the sound and practical sense of the latter was always opposed; and when the question had been often the subject of animated discussion between them, and the son had rested his cause, principally upon the obstacles which the tendency of population to increase faster than the means of subsistence, would always throw in the way; he was desired to put down in writing, for maturer consideration, the substance of his argument, the consequence of which was, the Essay on Population. Whether the father was converted or not we do not know, but certain it is that he was strongly impressed with the importance of the views and the ingenuity of the argument contained in the MS., and recommended his son to submit his labours to the public. This is the substance of the story as it was related by the author himself to the writer of this memoir; and if any confirmation were wanting of the fact, there is sufficient in the internal evidence of the works themselves. The main object of the octavo volume, being the refutation of Godwin and Condorcet, it is against them that his arguments are throughout chiefly directed; while the chapter on the poor laws occupies a very minor portion of the work, and was in truth only a branch of the subject into which he was involuntarily led. Upon reflexion, however, he soon found that the field into which he had now entered was of infinitely more interest than that on which he had at first set out. In this therefore he wisely continued his researches, and finding the subject grow upon him both in extent and importance as he advanced, he insensibly assigned to it the ascendancy which it deserved. Accordingly it will be found that in his quarto volume which he published upon his return from the continent, the order as well as the proportions of the matter is reversed. The state and prospects of the poor become the prominent feature, and occupy the principal portion of his book, while Mr. Godwin, and the perfectibility of man, are treated as matters of less moment, and are restricted to a much smaller space. These facts will furnish an interesting key to many passages in these works as well as to the forms and order in which they are put. They shew how curiously one thought was pushed out from another, till the whole grew together into the goodly system in which it now appears.
And they illustrate still more strongly a profound observation of Dr. Butler, in which, speaking of Christianity as a scheme not yet entirely understood, and only likely now to be further developed in the same way that natural knowledge is come at, he remarks, “For this is the way that all improvements are made, by thoughtful men tracing out obscure hints as it were dropped us by nature accidentally, or which seemed to come into our minds by chance. For all the same phenomena, and the same faculties of investigation from which such great discoveries in natural knowledge have been made in the present and last age, were equally in the possession of mankind several thousand years before,”
The latter years of his life were passed with little variety in the society of his family and friends, in his ministerial and official duties at the college, and in the cultivation of studies more immediately connected with them. Amidst these employments, and the satisfaction derived from a contented, pious, and conscientious mind, he awaited patiently and confidently the sequel of his labours, in that improvement of society to which they were dedicated; mean while, he had many compensations and encouragements calculated to reward his perseverance, and to support his hopes. In proportion as the principle of population became better known, his reputation as an author increased. Most of the great statesmen of his time, and all the most eminent political economists, embraced his opinions, and in their several departments paved the way for the application of them to the public welfare; and as his estimation as an author was amply supported by his character, conversation, and manners, his society was much sought after by able men of all parties, and few, if any, were ever disappointed in him. His own home also was frequently the resort of men of cultivated minds in every department of literature, and the warm but simple and unpretending hospitality that reigned there was not more pleasing than it was remarkable to all who partook of it. But the high estimation in which he was held was not confined to this country; his writings were framed not for Great Britain only, which he most loved, but for the world at large, and as such they were received by it. In truth, the principle he had laid down found fewer prejudices to encounter in other countries than in this; principally, because the situation of the poor was almost everywhere less critical: its importance, however, in a prospective view could not be concealed from any, and the consequence was, that the attention he had awakened was largely propagated by many distinguished authors through every part of Europe; as well philosophers as men of science; and under their auspices a great variety of facts and documents has been collected, which has contributed not only to confirm his views, but also to diffuse the benefit of his labours in various parts of the continent. Upon the same grounds he was honoured with distinctions from several sovereigns of Europe, and elected a member of many of the most eminent literary societies, especially the French Institute, and the Royal Academy at Berlin. He was one of the founders of the Political Economy club in this country, and also of the more recent institution, the Statistical Society, of both which he attended regularly the meetings, and partook largely of their discussions. He kept up a frequent correspondence with the most eminent political economists of the day, both at home and abroad, especially Ricardo; by all of these he was esteemed, and by some affectionately regarded and beloved.
Mr. Malthus had, we believe, just entered his 70th year, when attacked by the disorder of which he died, but he was in the full enjoyment of all his faculties, and his death was totally unexpected by his friends. He left London a few days before his death, on a visit to his father-in-law at Bath, in good spirits, and apparently in strong health, anticipating a cheerful Christmas with his children and other members of his family, who were invited to meet him; but Providence had ordained otherwise—the meeting took place, but the joy was not there; Mr. Malthus was taken ill soon after his arrival, with a disorder of the heart, of which it is believed he was never conscious, and which in a few days hurried him to the grave. He has left a widow, and a son and daughter both grown up.
Below is subjoined a list of his works in the order in which they were published.* A slight attention to the subjects of these works, in connection with the occasions on which they were written, will suffice to shew how anxious the author always was to make a practical application of his labours, for the public good, and how readily he came forward on every national emergency that arose.
Upon his character as an author, in which he stands most prominent, our observations will be brief; his principal work has been long known, not only in this country, but in every civilized portion of the globe, and the judgment generally pronounced upon it by intelligent men has been such as to satisfy the warmest and most admiring of his friends. One or two remarks only we shall venture to make, and these chiefly with a view of placing his literary claims upon a proper basis, and of throwing a clearer light upon the motives with which his labours were undertaken.
It was one consequence of his professional engagement at the East India College, that, for many of his later years, the studies of Mr. Malthus were chiefly directed to Political Economy, and especially in accordance with the turn the subject took to the discussion of certain subtle and controverted points of the science, in which an unavoidable ambiguity of language had added greatly to the natural obscurity of the subject, and increased the difficulty of arriving at a clear understanding; such as the measure of value, the excess of commodities, &c. In this field Mr. Malthus will be always classed with the most distinguished of his fellow-labourers; and we may venture to add, that his “Theory of Rent,” a discovery of the greatest importance, and always spoken of in the highest terms by Mr. Ricardo, is of itself sufficient to place him in the foremost rank. It is not, however, upon his success in this department, in which he shares the palm with many, but upon his “Essay on Population,” that his reputation ought to rest. In this work he stands alone as the expounder and illustrator of a branch of knowledge, heretofore little thought of or cultivated in any country, but now, by his labours, raised to a degree of eminence in men’s minds, corresponding with its vast importance, and brought with great efficacy to bear upon the morals and welfare of mankind. To inquire, as many have done, whether he were really the discoverer of the principle of population, on which the Essay rests, is something worse than idle, especially as the author himself never laid claim to such a title: undoubtedly many scattered notices of it may be found in other works, particularly in the “Travels of Mr. Townshend in Spain,” which Mr. Malthus was ever ready to acknowledge; but the practical use, and the full developement and application of the principle, are entirely his own. Of the time in which this work first appeared, and of the circumstances which led to it, an account has been already given, but it is well worthy of observation, that the system then came from him in so complete and perfect a form, so guarded on every side, so clearly explained, and so correctly and carefully exhibited under all its aspects and in all its consequences, as to require little or no alteration afterwards, either from himself or any other person. It went rapidly through a great number of editions in this country, and has been translated into almost every language of the civilized world.
We are well aware, indeed, of the different judgments which have been formed of this Essay, and of the calumnies with which the author has been assailed. We know that coldness, harshness, and even cruelty, have been frequently imputed to the most humane and considerate of men, and that a design of degrading the poor has been charged upon a work whose sole motive and tendency was to increase their comforts, and to raise their moral and intellectual condition;—it is a consolation, however, to remember that the most reflecting and cultivated minds in this, as well as in every other country, have almost unanimously adopted and approved both the principle and the reasoning of his work, whilst its most violent opponents and vilifiers have been, with one or two exceptions, either persons who have not read it at all, or who have grossly misunderstood or misrepresented it. Its greatest triumph, indeed, has been reserved for our own times, in which it has been solemnly adopted as a principle of legislation; nor can we hesitate to believe, that at no distant period, when the cloud of prejudice and passion in which the subject is involved shall have been dispersed, the humanity of the Essay will be as apparent to all mankind as its usefulness and truth.
It has been sometimes said and repeated publicly, since the author’s death, that the view Mr. Malthus himself took of the principle of population, was a gloomy one. The remark is true, though somewhat uncharitable, for the fault was in the position of the author, not in his mind. It would be easy, no doubt, to separate certain propositions from his work, and construing them strictly to make out a case of cheerlessness and gloom against the author. But this is not dealing fairly with him; it is a maxim in philosophy to interpret the positions of a work not only in connection with other parts of it, but also with a special reference to the circumstances of the times, and the opinions which prevailed in them, or preceded them. These circumstances and opinions do, in point of fact, constitute a portion of the positions themselves, or rather they are the conditions on which their truth depends, and if the former are changed, the latter must change with them, or be no longer true. Why then should we deny to Mr. Malthus, a writer upon a new and difficult subject, that indulgence which is so freely granted to the moralist and the divine? Let it be remembered that at the time when the Essay on Population was published, now more than thirty years ago, there were two great dangers threatening the peace of society, with which he had to deal; on the one hand, Mr. Godwin and his followers were striking at the reverence for all social institutions, by holding out delusive visions of perfectibility which could never be realized, and on the other a real and practical pauperism was diffusing itself widely and rapidly over the land, and undermining more surely the basis both of property and law, by an ignorant and indolent reliance upon their omnipotence—that foresight and frugality, the special virtues of their station, were fast losing ground in the estimation of the poor, and that they were recklessly sinking into a state of entire dependence on the parish rate; while the conduct and opinions of those above them, so far from repressing their error, rather tended to encourage it. With these facts before him, and the consequences strongly impressed on his mind, we cannot wonder that Mr. Malthus, having laid down and demonstrated the great law of nature respecting population, should have thought it necessary in the first instance to point out, in all their naked deformity, the dangers it would always involve, and the sin and misery which would inevitably attend an habitual disregard of it; and that under this aspect he himself should have chiefly regarded it. That there is a bright side to this law of nature, is most true; and they who have read the work of Bishop Sumner upon the “Records of the Creation,” will remember how ingeniously and beautifully he has shown that, in the hands of a gracious Providence, this principle is made subservient to the most beneficial and improving ends; being the great moving cause, which, by the necessities it creates, and the fears and hopes it suggests, excites the best energies of mankind into action, overcomes their natural indolence, and gives spirit and perseverance to their most valuable labours. But this view of the subject, however favourable to the argument of Dr. Sumner, was not adapted to the adversary which Mr. Malthus had to encounter. Finally it is necessary to remember, that whatever might have been the author’s view of the evils incident to the principle, temperance, frugality, foresight, and especially self-control—virtues strictly scriptural and evangelical—were the sole remedies recommended by him. Nor can it be said at present that these gloomy views, and these strong statements, were unnecessary; notwithstanding all the warnings of the “Essay on Population,” the evil it contemplated had lately risen to so great a height as to threaten the most serious mischief to society, and to call for the strongest measures; and we believe, firmly, that had it not been for this book of Mr. Malthus, and all the wise and salutary parochial regulations which have sprung from it, the danger would have been infinitely greater, and our way out of it much more obscure and difficult,—if any way could have been found at all, short of a convulsion of society.
It must always however be a matter of regret that Mr. Malthus was led to the important conclusions of his essay, through the avenue of such a controversy; had he been at liberty to select his own path it would have been a more cheerful and consolatory one, more bright with the rays of divine benevolence,* more congenial in truth to his own mind. The goodness of the Deity was a theme on which he loved to dwell, and if any thing were wanting to testify to his piety and humanity it might be drawn from that very work which has been the subject of so much animadversion. After all it must be allowed that the great, we had almost said the only, fault of Mr. Malthus with the public was that his opinions were in advance of his age. Nor should it be forgotten that in this respect his reputation has in many instances suffered more from the headlong zeal of his followers and imitators than from the mistakes and even malice of his enemies; by the former his propositions have not only been affirmed more generally than he himself intended, but they have been pushed, contrary to his own practice, to extremes, and applied indifferently without any modification or reserve. Hence it has happened that the author has been made responsible for consequences which he never contemplated, and for opinions which we know he reprobated and abjured.†
Of his character in a social and domestic view, it would be difficult to speak in terms which would be thought extravagant by those who knew him intimately, and who, after all, are the only judges of it. Although much conversant with the world, and engaged in important labours, his life was, more than any other we have ever witnessed, a perpetual flow of enlightened benevolence, contentment, and peace; it was the best and purest philosophy, heightened by Christian views, and softened by Christian charity. His temper was so mild and placid, his allowances for others so large and so considerate, his desires so moderate, and his command over his own passions so complete, that the writer of this article, who has known him intimately for nearly fifty years, scarcely ever saw him ruffled, never angry, never above measure elated or depressed. Nor were his patience and forbearance less remarkable—no unkind word or uncharitable expression respecting any one, either present or absent, ever fell from his lips; and though doomed to pass through more censure and calumny than any author of this or perhaps of any other age, he was little disposed to advert to this species of injury, still less to complain of it, and least of all to retort it. Indeed, he had this felicity of mind, in a degree almost peculiar to himself, that, being singularly alive to the approbation of the wise and good, and anxious generally for the regard of his fellow-creatures, he was impassive to abuse—so conscious was he of his integrity of purpose, so firmly convinced of the truth of the principles he advocated, and so thoroughly prepared for the repugnance with which, in some quarters, they would be heard. But never was his equanimity so striking as when towards the close of his life, in the plenitude of his success, he saw his doctrines adopted and propagated in every part of Europe, and heard himself called the greatest benefactor to mankind since the days of Adam Smith; then to his honour be it spoken, he was never known to betray, even to his most intimate friends, the slightest symptom of vanity, triumph or self-applause.
The most remarkable feature of his mind was the love of truth, and it was also the most influential: it was this which enabled him patiently to investigate, and fearlessly to expose, an inveterate and popular error; and it was this which, in his private life, was the parent or the nurse of many other virtues conspicuous in him—justice, prudence, temperance, and simplicity. It is almost unnecessary to add, that in his domestic relations, all these qualities appeared under their fairest form, and with their sweetest influence. All the members of his family loved and honoured him; his servants lived with him till their marriage or settlement in life, and the humble and poor within his influence always found him disposed, not only to assist and improve them, but to treat them with kindness and respect.
His conversation naturally turned upon those important subjects connected with the welfare of society which were his peculiar study; in them he was always earnest, serious, and impressive, producing his opinions in such a clear and intelligible way, as to show that they were the fruit of considerable thought and reflection, and always impressing you with the notion that he was speaking in sincerity and truth; apart from these he was habitually cheerful and playful, and as ready to engage in all the innocent pursuits and pleasures of the young, as to encourage them in their studies. By his intelligent colleagues at Haileybury, his loss will be long and sincerely felt—few persons knew so well as they how to appreciate his worth, and none had so many opportunities of observing its influence. His good-breeding, candour, and gentlemanly conduct were felt in everything; and his sound judgment and conciliatory spirit, were not less remarkable in the councils of the college, than his manners and attainments were delightful and improving in their social intercourse and relations. To his intimate friends his place will rarely, if ever, be supplied; there was in him an union of truth, judgment, and warmth of heart, which at once invited confidence, and set at nought all fear of being ridiculed or betrayed. You were always certain of his sympathy, and wherever the case allowed it, his assistance was as prompt and effective as his advice was sound and good. In politics he was a firm, consistent, and decided Whig, the earnest advocate of salutary improvement and reform, but strongly and sincerely attached to the institutions of his country, and fearful of all wanton experiment and innovations.
In controversy which he never invited, nor ever shunned when the truth was likely to be elicited, he was calm, clear and logical, fertile in argument, and though sufficiently tenacious, just and open to conviction; and being always deliberate in composition, and habitually disposed to weigh well every opinion before he submitted it to the public, he was rarely called upon to retract, but whenever the case required it, no one could do it with more candour, or with a better grace. He expunged two whole chapters from his first work, in deference to the opinions of some distinguished persons in our church; and after the publication of Dr. Sumner’s work, On the Records of the Creation, he did not hesitate in a subsequent Edition of his Essay, to modify, correct, and even to omit several expressions, at the suggestion of the author for whom he had a profound respect; and all this, in a tone and spirit which proved that it was not victory, but truth for which he was contending.*
The same spirit was shewn in the correspondence between Mr. Malthus and Mr. Ricardo, which would form, if laid before the public, a perfect model of benevolent and enlightened controversy, and though at last each retired with his own opinion, the effect of the whole was rather to improve than to diminish the respect and affection which each bore to the other. The discussion between the author and Mr. Senior was brief, and rather concerning words than things; it ended, however, as few controversies do, in mutual agreement, and was creditable to both; and in no part of his works has Mr. Malthus expressed himself with more clearness, or reasoned with more sagacity and strength than in this.
Mr. Malthus was a clergyman of the Church of England, and during a large portion of his life read prayers and preached regularly in turn with the other professors in the chapel of the East India College at Haileybury: in these services, and, indeed, in every other ordinance of religion, his manner was uniformly serious and devout; nor could he ever say grace at his own table, without inspiring those present with a sense of his piety. Of his sermons, it may be said, that they were calculated to make a strong impression on the minds of the young men, for whose edification they were chiefly intended; and it is now particularly pleasing to record, that they became more earnest and more edifying every year he lived. In religion, indeed, as well as in other things, he was always unobtrusive and unostentatious, but it was easy to perceive that the spirit of the Gospel had shared largely in forming his character, and that both the precepts and doctrines of Christianity had made a deep impression upon his mind.
In the latter period of his life, his temper and character were subjected to a peculiar trial: the government, by adopting the principles of his work, as the basis of their Poor Laws Amendment Bill, recalled in a remarkable manner the public attention towards him, which had before begun to decline; and the praise lavished upon him during the discussion in parliament, only served to connect him more intimately with the measure. The consequence was, that from all quarters a fresh flood of calumny and abuse was poured upon him, which has continued without intermission to the present day; and though he was never consulted about any of the provisions or enactments of the bill, yet every real or supposed defect which was discovered in the construction of it, every rub or difficulty which was found in the working of it, were without ceremony attributed to him. We verily believe that if the late ministry* had remained longer in power, some solid mark of favour or encouragement would have been bestowed upon him or his, as well to vindicate their adoption of his views, as to express their sense of the support he had so long and consistently given to the principles upon which their administration was founded; and further, that it is a subject of deep regret to them now, that, as far as he himself is concerned, the opportunity is lost for ever. At all events, we know well, Mr. Malthus himself was never heard to utter the slightest murmur or complaint: with his usual equanimity he bore the neglect of one party and the abuse of the other; and, whatever might have been his apprehensions and feelings respecting the change of the ministry, as far as regarded the country, he never for a moment spoke of it as affecting, or likely to affect, himself.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE MONTHLY MAGAZINE.
[*]I shall esteem it as a particular favour if you will allow me to correct an erroneous paragraph which appeared in your obituary for last month. Daniel Malthus, Esq. is there mentioned as the translator of some pieces from the French and German. I can say, from certain knowledge, that he did not translate them; nor was he born to copy the works of others.—Whatever he wrote was drawn from the original and copious source of his own fine understanding and genius; but, from his character, which was so singularly unostentatious, as to shun everything that might attract notice, it will probably never be known as his.
I am, Sir, yours, &c.Robert Malthus.
[* ] “But though it is by no means to be wished that any dependent situation should be made so agreeable, as to tempt those who might otherwise support themselves in independence; yet as it is the duty of society to maintain such of its members as are absolutely unable to maintain themselves, it is certainly desirable that the assistance in this case should be given in the way that is most agreeable to the persons who are to receive it. An industrious woman who is left a widow with four or five children that she has hitherto brought up decently, would often gladly accept of a much less sum, than the family would cost in the work-house, and with this assistance added to her own exertions, might in all probability succeed in keeping herself and her children from the contamination of a society that she has surely just reason to dread. And it seems peculiarly hard upon old people, who perhaps have been useful and respectable members of society, and in their day, “have done the state some service,” that as soon as they are past their work, they should be obliged to quit the village where they have always lived, the cottage to which time has attached them, the circle of their friends, their children and their grand-children, and be forced to spend the evening of their days in noise and unquietness among strangers, and wait their last moments forlorn and separated from all they hold dear.”
“It is an old saying that home is home, be it ever so homely; and this sentiment certainly operates very strongly upon the poor. Out of the reach of most of those enjoyments that amuse the higher ranks of society, what is there that can attach them to life, but their evening fire-side with their families in a house of their own; joined to the consciousness that the more they exert themselves the better they shall support the objects of their affection. What is it but a sentiment of this kind that tempts many who have lived in the ease and luxury of service, to forego these advantages, to marry, and submit to the labour, the difficulties, the humbler condition and hard fare, that inevitably attend the change of situation? And surely no wise legislature would discourage these sentiments, and endeavour to weaken this attachment to home, unless indeed it were intended to destroy all thought and feeling among the common people, to break their spirit, and prepare them to submit patiently to any yoke that might be imposed upon them.”
[* ] An Essay on the Principle of Population, as it affects the Future Improvement of Society: with Remarks on the Speculations of Mr. Godwin, M. Condorcet, and other Writers. 1798. (Anon.)
An Investigation of the Cause of the Present High Price of Provisions, containing an Illustration of the Nature and Limits of Fair Price in Time of Scarcity, and its Application to the particular Circumstances of this country. (3rd Edit.) 1800.
An Essay on the Principle of Population, or a View of its past and present effects on human happiness, with an Enquiry into our prospects respecting the future removal or mitigation of the evils which it occasions. (A new Edit. very much enlarged,) 1803.
A Letter to Samuel Whitbread, on his proposed Bill for the Amendment of the Poor Laws. 1807.
A Letter to Lord Grenville, occasioned by some Observations of his Lordship on the East India Company’s Establishment for the Education of their Civil Servants. (1813.)
Observations on the Effects of the Corn Laws, and of a Rise or Fall in the Price of Corn on the Agriculture and General Wealth of the Country. 1814. (3rd Edit. 1815.)
The Grounds of an Opinion on the Policy of restricting the Importation of Foreign Corn; intended as an Appendix to the “Observations on the Corn Laws.” 1815.
An Inquiry into the Nature and Progress of Rent, and the Principles by which it is regulated. 1815.
Statements respecting the East India College, with an Appeal to Facts in Refutation of the Charges lately brought against it in the Court of Proprietors. 1817.
Principles of Political Economy considered, with a view to their practicable application, 1820. (2nd. Edit. 1836.)
The Measure of Value Stated and Illustrated, with an Application of it to the Alteration in the Value of the English Currency since 1790. 1823.
Definitions in Political Economy, preceded by an Enquiry into the Rules which ought to guide Political Economists in the Definition and Use of their Terms. 1827.
A Summary View of the Principle of Population. 1830. (From the Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica.)
[* ] “Life is, generally speaking, a blessing independent of a future state. It is a gift which the vicious would not always be ready to throw away, even if they had no fear of death. The partial pain, therefore, that is inflicted by the Supreme Creator, while he is forming numberless beings to a capacity of the highest enjoyments, is but as the dust of the balance in comparison of the happiness that is communicated; and we have every reason to think, that there is no more evil in the world than what is absolutely necessary as one of the ingredients in the mighty process.” 8vo. edit. Essay on Population, page 391.
[† ] “The sorrows and distresses of life form another class of excitements, which seem to be necessary by a peculiar train of impressions, to soften and humanize the heart, to awaken social sympathy, to generate all the Christian virtues, and to afford scope for the ample exertion of benevolence. The general tendency of an uniform course of prosperity is rather to degrade, than exalt the character. The heart that has never known sorrow itself will seldom be feelingly alive to the pains and pleasures, the wants and wishes of its fellow beings. It will seldom be overflowing with that warmth of brotherly love, those kind and amiable affections, which dignify the human character, even more than the possession of the highest talents. Talents, indeed, though undoubtedly a very prominent and fine feature of mind, can by no means be considered as constituting the whole of it. There are many minds which have not been exposed to those excitements that usually form talents, that have yet been vivified to a high degree by the excitements of social sympathy. In every rank of life, in the lowest as frequently as in the highest, characters are to be found, overflowing with the milk of human kindness, breathing love towards God and man; and though without those peculiar powers of mind called talents, evidently holding a higher rank in the scale of beings than many who possess them. Evangelical charity, meekness, piety, and all that class of virtues, distinguished particularly by the name of Christian virtues, do not seem necessarily to include abilities; yet a soul possessed of these amiable qualities, a soul awakened and vivified by these delightful sympathies, seems to hold a nearer commerce with the skies than mere acuteness of intellect.” Essay on Population, 8vo. edit. chap. xix. p. 372.
[* ] “It is probable, that having found the bow bent too much one way, I was induced to bend it too much the other, in order to make it straight. But I shall always be quite ready to blot out any part of the work which is considered, by a competent tribunal as having a tendency to prevent the bow from becoming finally straight, and to impede the progress of truth. In deference to this tribunal I have already expunged the passages which have been most objected to, and I have made some few further corrections, of the same kind, in the present Edition. By these alterations, I hope, and believe, that the work has been improved, without impairing its principles. But I still trust, that whether it is read with or without these alterations, every reader of candour must acknowledge that the practical design uppermost in the mind of the writer, with whatever want of judgment it may have been executed, is to improve the condition, and increase the happiness of the lower classes of society.” Vol. iii. p. 428. 5th Edition of an Essay on Population.
[* ] The first ministry of Lord Melbourne.