Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Harvard University Press
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Though Robert Malthus has never disappeared, he has been perpetually misunderstood. Robert Mayhew offers at once a major reassessment of Malthus's ideas and an intellectual history of the origins of modern debates about demography, resources, and the environment, giving historical depth to our current planetary concerns.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-41940-7
    Subjects: History, Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. Prologue: Opening the Door on Malthus’s Roller Coaster
    (pp. 1-4)

    Hidden behind the left-hand door in the West Front to Bath Abbey lies one of those many wordy, slightly dull funereal monuments of which our ancestors were so fond. Its epitaph is hardly racy in its evocation of “one of the best of men and truest philosophers” whose qualities are said to be his “spotless integrity” and “sweetness of temper[,] urbanity of manners and tenderness of heart.”¹ As a schoolboy, I must have passed this tablet on my way to my school’s annual Founder’s Day service, unaware of its existence because when the doors to the Abbey are open to...

  4. CHAPTER ONE Before Malthus
    (pp. 5-26)

    It is hard to imagine two more contrasting characters than those of Thomas Robert Malthus, the subject of this book, and his most famous eighteenth-century predecessor at Jesus College, Cambridge, the novelist Laurence Sterne. Where Malthus is the great progenitor of the “dismal science” of classical economics, Sterne possesses irreverent Rabelaisian wit; sex is a realm of reproduction for the one, of double entendre for the other. While Malthus was a good family man and a diligent Anglican clergyman, quite the Dr. Primrose from Oliver Goldsmith’sVicar of Wakefield(1766), Sterne the cleric spiraled out of control as he became...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Prophets of Perfection: A Revolutionary Triptych
    (pp. 27-48)

    On the evening of November 4, 1789, a tall, gaunt man in his mid-sixties rose slowly to his feet to speak to a hushed audience in the heart of London at the Old Jewry meeting house, a long-standing home of radical thinking. The gentle remains of a childhood spent in the South Wales valleys still faintly discernible in the lilt and rhythm of his voice, he broached a subject that had always aroused patriotic pride in Britain, the so-called “Glorious Revolution” of 1688. By the time he sat down almost an hour later, he had galvanized his audience with revolutionary...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Malthus’s Essay and the Quiet Revolution of 1798
    (pp. 49-74)

    Amid the revolutionary fervor and utopian enthusiasms of the decade following the French Revolution as chronicled in Chapter 2, the concerns of the young Thomas Robert Malthus (known to friends and family as Robert or Bob) can come across as a somewhat less than intoxicating blend of the quotidian and the genteel. If, for Wordsworth inThe Prelude,“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,/ But to be young was very heaven,” the twenty-three-year-old Malthus’s ardor was clearly not thus ignited by matters across the Channel. The only documentary traces for Malthus in 1789 are twofold. First, two...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Malthus as the Malign Muse of Romanticism
    (pp. 75-102)

    Some thirty-six days after the June day when Malthus signed off the preface to his epochalEssay,came another, more famous manifesto about the relationship between nature, economy, and society that its author dated July 13, 1798. The manifesto in question was penned by an author who shared with Malthus a middle-class background (albeit one that had been dislocated by the death of the author’s father) and a Cambridge education. The two authors shared further commonalities; they were witnesses of the great events and developments of the era: the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, the Industrial Revolution, and the birth...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Malthus and the Making of Environmental Economics
    (pp. 103-127)

    If we return from the vituperation cast at Malthus by the romantics to the man himself, in the immediate aftermath of the publication of theEssay,he set about two projects, both of which were evidently designed to fuel a more mature, considered version of the arguments rehearsed in polemic style in 1798. First, and pretty much the next thing we know of Malthus after the day in June 1798 when his epochal work was published, we find him writing to his father the following February asking if he can acquire a considerable number of books. While the details need...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Malthus and the Victorians
    (pp. 128-155)

    Malthus died on December 29, 1834, suddenly, and most probably of a heart seizure. At the time of his death, Malthus had been staying with his wife’s relatives in Claverton, and his visible life thus forms a circle, ending where first we had sight of it, on the banks of the Avon, just outside Bath. Richard Graves’s “Don Roberto,” the fighting boy, had fought his way by the intellect, too, such that by 1834 Malthus’s fame and indeed notoriety spread its tentacles throughout English life. Where Malthus’s biographer’s claim that his name was (in its adjectival form of “Malthusian”) as...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Malthus and the Dismal Age
    (pp. 156-182)

    If we left H. G. Wells at the close of the previous chapter imagining grand futures for Malthus as the prophet of the twentieth century, there was an equally strong case for anticipating his disappearance from public debate as the new century dawned. For Wells himself was hardly a “representative” figure, however well known. On the contrary, “anxiety about overpopulation” was “the key to Wells’s reading of modern history.” This anxiety emerged from Wells’s home environment: growing up in Bromley in Kent in the 1860s and 1870s, Wells’s childhood saw the arrival of the railways and the development of the...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT Malthus the Transatlantic Celebrity
    (pp. 183-212)

    In 1978, a book calledThe 100emerged, a printed version of a parlor game many of us must have played over the years ranking the most important people of all time. Malthus came in at number 80, sandwiched between Niccolo Machiavelli and John F. Kennedy, well above both Lenin and Mao. Not bad for the curate from Okewood! The summary of Malthus’s achievements in the book was unremarkable, but the inclusion of Malthus raises the questions this chapter will address.The 100was an American publication, which immediately opens up new questions for our narrative about when, precisely, Malthus...

  12. CHAPTER NINE Malthus Today
    (pp. 213-231)

    For a historian to write of the present immediately puts one in mind of Samuel Johnson’s once-celebrated and now-notorious judgment of women’s preaching being like unto a dog walking on its hind legs: “it is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.” And yet just as we now live in a world where Johnson’s beloved Anglican Church has many able women preachers, so it behooves the logic of this book to follow the trajectory of responses to Malthus down to the present day. As such, this final chapter offers notes about the ways in...

  13. Epilogue: High Time for the Untimely Prophet
    (pp. 232-236)

    In 2011, while I was deep sunk in the writing of this book, there was a sudden flurry of Malthus-related stories in the media as the globe’s population overtopped the 7 billion mark. The date for this event was set with implausible accuracy as October 31 (the real date may have been as much as six months earlier or later than the selected date), while with an equally arbitrary eye for story making, one Danica May Camacho of the Philippines was nominated as the earth’s seven-billionth living inhabitant (although others were thus nominated too). As will be unsurprising to those...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 237-276)
  15. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 277-278)
  16. Index
    (pp. 279-284)