The Popularization of Malthus in Early Nineteenth-Century England
Martineau, Cobbett and the Pauper Press
The political economist Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834) has gained increasing and deserved scholarly attention in recent years. As well as the republication of his works and letters, a rich body of scholarship has been produced that enlightens our understanding of his thoughts and arguments. Yet little has been written on the ways in which his message was translated to, and interpreted by, a popular audience. Malthus first rose to prominence in 1798 with the publication of his Essay on the Principle of Population, in which he blamed rising levels of poverty on the inability of Britain's economy to support its growing population. His remedy, to limit the number of children born to poor families, outraged many social reformers, most notably William Cobbett, but found a ready audience in other quarters, Harriet Martineau, among others, being a famous Malthusian advocate. In this new study of Malthus and the impact of his writings, James Huzel shows how, by being both popularized and demonized, he framed the terms of reference for debate on the problems of pauperism and became the beacon against which all proposals seeking to remedy the problem of poverty had to be measured. It is argued that the New Poor Law of 1834 was deeply influenced by Malthusian ideals, replacing the traditional sources of outdoor relief with the humiliation of the workhouse. Dealing with issues of social, economic and intellectual history this work offers a fresh and insightful investigation into one of the most influential, though misunderstood, thinkers of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and concludes that Malthus was perhaps even more important than Adam Smith and David Ricardo in fostering the rise of a market economy. It is essential reading for all those who wish to reach a fuller understanding of how the tremendous social and economic upheavals of the Industrial Revolution shaped the development of modern Britain.
Table of Contents
Contents: Preface; Introduction: significance and agenda; Thomas Robert Malthus: overview of his life, thought and influence; Harriet Martineau: the female Malthusian?; Cobbett against the Parson; The radical working class press against the Malthusian crew; Conclusion; References; Index.
Dr James P. Huzel is Assistant Professor Emeritus of History at The University of British Columbia, Canada.
'(an) admirable study ...Huzel has identified and filled a significant gap in the literature....with an excellent overview of Malthus's life and thought ....Each of the four chapters is painstakingly researched and documented; more than 1,000 endnotes in all provide sources and/or supplementary material to satisfy the most demanding reader. A short concluding chapter rounds off this outstanding effort of research and scholarship.' Economic History Review 'Huzel's valuable study brings to light with enormous care the early nineteenth century disputes between adherents of the moral economy and the market economy'. EH.NET