THOMAS MALTHUS. English economist and demographer; aroused controversy by his argument that population when unchecked tends to increase in a geometric ratio while means of subsistence tend to increase only in an arithmetic ratio and that preventative checks on increase of population are necessary, hence the Malthusian Theory.
Signature with sentiment, “Believe with the greatest respect / very truly yours / T Robt Malthus,” on a sheet of paper measuring approximately 4 inches wide by 1 inch high, undated.
In his six editions of An Essay on the Principle of Population, published between 1798 and 1826, the English clergyman stunned the intellectual world of his day with ideas on population which were contrary to the popular 18th Century European view that saw society as improving, and in principle as perfectible. Thomas Malthus observed that the power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man. He thought that the dangers of population growth would preclude endless progress towards a utopian goal. A clergyman, he saw this as divinely imposed to teach virtuous behavior.
Thomas Malthus’s writing was immediately seen as significant and controversial. The six editions of his famous treatise were each updated to incorporate new material, address criticism and convey changes in his own perspectives on the subject. To this day the Malthusian Theory is a subject of lively debate.
Charles Darwin writes in his autobiography (1876) that in October 1838, after he had begun his systemic inquiry, he happened to read (“for amusement,” he writes) Thomas Malthus on Population: “ [B]eing well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which everywhere goes on it at once struck me that under these circumstances favorable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The results of this would be the formation of a new species. Here, then I had at last got a theory by which to work.”
Autograph material of Malthus is very rare.
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