Vol. 4 No. 1: Production and Consumption in Victorian Literature and Culture
Introduction: Production and Consumption in Victorian Literature and Culture
(University of Newcastle)
A man who is born into a world already possessed, if he cannot get subsistence from his parents on whom he has a just demand, and if the society do not want his labour, has no claim of right “to the smallest portion of food, and, in fact, has no business to be where he is. At nature’s mighty feast there is no vacant cover for him. She tells him to be gone, and will quickly execute her own orders, if he do not work upon the compassion of some of her guests. If these guests get up and make room for him, other intruders immediately appear demanding the same favour. The report of a provision for all that come fills the hall with numerous claimants. The order and harmony of the feast is disturbed, the plenty that before reigned is changed into scarcity; and the happiness of the guests is destroyed by the spectacle of misery and dependence in every part of the hall, and by the clamorous importunity of those who are justly enraged at not finding the provision which they had been taught to expect.
T. R. Malthus, Essay on the Principle of Population (2nd ed., 1803)
First published in 1798, Malthus’s "Essay on the Principle of Population" was repeatedly revised by its author, the last version appearing eight years before his death in 1834: the same year that the New Poor Law Act, a piece of legislation inspired by his theories, was passed. Malthus's key theory in the "Essay" was that while the food supply expanded arithmetically, population grew geometrically, invoking the prospect of mass starvation as well as ever-increasing demands on the public purse by the indigent.
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