The Evil of Overpopulation. The Reception of Early Malthusian Ideas in Harriet Martineau’s "Illustrations of Political Economy"

Seminar Paper 2013 29 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Topic: Globalization, Political Economics



1 Introduction: Reception of Malthusian Ideas in Martineau’s Work

2 Thomas Robert Malthus’s An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798)
2.1 The Rate of Human Reproduction and Food Production
2.2 Possible Solutions to the Problem of Overpopulation

3 Harriet Martineau’s Illustrations of Political Economy
3.1 Illustration of the Rate of Human Reproduction and Food Production
3.2 Illustration of Possible Solutions to the Problem of Overpopulation
3.2.1 Consistency with Malthus’s Original Ideas
3.2.2 Deviation from Malthus’s Original Ideas

4 Conclusion: Harriet Martineau – A Pioneer Rather than a Disciple

Table of Figures

Works Cited

“The finest minds seem to be formed rather by efforts at original thinking, by endeavours to form new combinations, and to discover new truths, than by passively receiving the impressions of other men’s ideas.”

Malthus, 1st Ed. 102

“There is a sense in which whoever teaches us any thing may be called our master. If any one in this sense was hers [referring to Harriet Martineau], I should have said it was Malthus. But she was herself a master mind, and sat at the feet of no one.”

“Extracts from Letters of Mr Atkinson” in Martineau and Weston Chapman, Vol. 2 414

1 Introduction: Reception of Malthusian Ideas in Martineau’s Work

In the 18th and 19th century, Britain faced a severe problem of overpopulation with dreadful consequences for the poor. In response to these difficulties, the Reverend and mathematician Thomas Robert Malthuselaborated what was “destined to become one of the most controversial ideas of the time” (Logan, “Introduction” 17).In his book An Essay on the Principle of Population, he argues that the working classes have “only themselves to blame” (Cooper 107) for their current misery.[1]

Despite its elegant simplicity, Malthusian theory raised complex issues, including the perpetuation of ruling-class ascendency and lower-class oppression by placing (or seeming to place) the solution for an inequitable economy solely on the latter. But Malthus’ intended purpose was simply that ‘domestic virtue and happiness should be placed within the reach of all’. (Logan, “Introduction” 17)

Harriet Martineau, an early literary educator on the subject of Political Economy, saw it as her “business” (Martineau and Weston Chapman, Vol. 1 102) to exemplify and explain Malthus’s complicated theories among “a mass public comprising the middle and especially the working class”[2] (Huzel, Popularization 4).As Bonar notes in his book about the work and life of Malthus, “Adam Smith has left a book which ‘every one praises and nobody reads,’ Malthus a book which no one reads and all abuse” (3).Martineau wanted to change the fact that “there is no lack of inaccurate explanations why our workhouses are overflowing, our hospitals thronged, and our funeral bells for ever tolling” (Martineau, Vol. 2 213). Therefore, she wrote various fictional tales in the 1830s to illustrate the principles of Political Economy. Especially Thomas Robert Malthus’s Essay [3] exerted a profound influence on her[4]. She dedicates a large portion of her work to the problem of overpopulation:

Seven of the twenty-five tales comprising the Illustrations of Political Economy: ‘Weal and Woe in Garveloch’, ‘Cousin Marshall’, ‘Ireland’, ‘Homes Abroad’, ‘For Each and For All’, ‘The Moral of Many Fables’ and ‘A Manchester Strike’ – dealt explicitly with Malthusian themes, while all four of the stories in Poor Laws and Paupers Illustrated – ‘The Parish’, ‘The Hamlets’, ‘The Town’ and ‘The Land’s End’ – treated issues surrounding pauperism and its solutions.[5] (Huzel, Popularization 57)

As a writer, Martineau never claimed originality to the theories she discussed (Huzel, Popularization 56; Cicarelli and Cicarelli 121). She liberally borrowed from such prominent minds as “Malthus, Hartley, Stewart, Adam Smith, Thomas Paine, Bentham, Lant Carpenter, James Mill, Priestley, and Locke” (Logan, Martineau 2). In spite of her faithfulness to the early economists, “it is still questionable whether actual distortions resulted” (Fletcher 372). This paper tries to shed light onto this question. The focus, however, will lie on the reception of Malthusian ideas on overpopulation in Martineau’s Illustrations of Political Economy and on the question whether she has altered and extended them.

For this purpose, the first part of this paper extensively discusses Malthus’s An Essay on the Principle of Population. In the next chapter,the inclusion of Malthusian ideas in Martineau’s nine volumes of Illustrations of Political Economy isanalysed.Finally, in the conclusion, the question whether Martineau was merely one of Malthus’s disciplesor, alternatively, an educator who also added her own thoughts is answered.

2 Thomas Robert Malthus’s An Essay on the Principle of Population(1798)

Thomas Robert Malthus is probably one of the best known early Political Economists. In his book An Essay on the Principle of Population, he analyses the effects of over-population. The anonymously published first edition immediately stirred a great controversy (Bonar 2). Nevertheless, Malthus “was not satisfied with the book” (Flew 12) and “at once started work on what was to be in name though not in fact a second edition” (Flew 12).

Whereas the First Essay is […] an occasional polemic designed to debunk utopian visions inspired by the French Revolution, the Second Essay is a painstaking sociological treatise deploying a mass of detailed evidence. (Flew 13)

In the second edition, Malthus kept the basic theory but systematised and exemplified several points. In comparison to the originalversion, the “most important difference is the introduction into the Second Essay of the notion of ‘moral restraint’” (Flew 13). For the purpose of this paper, the much more concise[6] first edition shall be used because later publications focus more on country-related examples[7] and also includearguments which followed the public debate over the book. Nevertheless, occasional references to changes in laterrevisions will ensure that the whole body of Malthus’s thought is considered.

2.1 The Rate of Human Reproduction and Food Production

First of all, Malthus makes two a priori statements on which he bases his argumentation: “First, That food is necessary to the existence of man. Secondly, That the passion between the sexes is necessary and will remain nearly in its present state” (1st Ed. 9). Given these basic physical human needs, Malthus observes that there is a fundamental discrepancy in the growth of these two quantities. Whereas the population (through the intercourse between the sexes) “increases in a geometrical ratio” (Malthus, 1st Ed. 10), the food production “increases only in an arithmetical ratio”(Malthus, 1st Ed. 10).

To illustrate how much the population would increase if there were no limitations to food supply, Malthus takes the example of the United States where the availability of fertile lands is so vast that the population can increase without restraint. In this case, the population doubles every quarter of a century(Malthus, 1st Ed. 12). Furthermore, he assumes that by “breaking up more land and by greatencouragements to agriculture”(Malthus, 1st Ed. 13), the food production could also double in the same period of time. After the initial cycle, the population would continue to double every 25 years whereas the food production would grow in a steady linear way[8].Malthus goes on to apply these two growth factors to Britain’s population of seven million inhabitants to show the effects of uninhibited population growth. It may be helpful to illustrate his example with a graph. It would have been a tedious work for Malthus to compute the exponential figures for a longer period(Malthus, 1st Ed. 14) but today’s calculators easily allow these sorts of operations.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 1:Population Growth vs. Increase of Food Production (own illustration)

As can be seen in the figure, the “power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man” (Malthus, 1st Ed. 10). If there were “ample food, and ample room to expand in, [mankind] would fill millions of worlds in the course of a few thousand years” (Malthus, 1st Ed. 10). But since man is restrained to the existence on earth, the population growth must be appropriated to the food output(Malthus, 1st Ed. 10).

Almost depressed, Malthus acknowledges the fact that the population multiplies “before the means of subsistence are increased” (Malthus, 1st Ed. 15) and that“the superior power of population cannot be checked, without producing misery or vice” (Malthus, 1st Ed. 16). Even though Malthus uses the terms several times, he only briefly mentions that for him misery is the “want of food” (Malthus, 1st Ed. 21)and “war is vice” (Malthus, 1st Ed. 21). In the absence of these “two great checks” (Malthus, 1st Ed. 34), the population will surge and reflect the “happiness and innocence of a people” (Malthus, 1st Ed. 34).However, this oscillation (cf. Figure 2) has been largely concealed from view due to the introduction or failure of certain manufactures; a greater or lessprevalent spirit of agricultural enterprise; years of plenty, or years of scarcity; wars and pestilence; poor laws; the invention of processes for shortening labour without the proportional extension of the market for the commodity; and, particularly, the difference between the nominal and real price of labour (Malthus, 1st Ed. 16).

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 2: Oscillation of Population Growth (own illustration)

Malthus argues that the offspring of parents who have too many children in relation to their property “must suffer from want” (1st Ed. 58) because it would be unjust to demand a part of the surplus produced by others (1st Ed. 58). In what is probably the most famous quote from his work, he writes: “These are the unhappy persons who, in the great lottery of life, have drawn a blank” (Malthus, 1st Ed. 58). Of course, this claim was dynamite to the fragile social situation at a time when a large portion of the British population suffered from hunger(Cooper 107; Logan, “Introduction” 17).

2.2 Possible Solutions to the Problem of Overpopulation

In his Essay, Malthus discusses various ideas of how to sustain a growing population or how to reduce the growth rate.On the one hand, there is the positive check by which he means “the check that represses an increase which is already begun, is confined chiefly, though not perhaps solely, to the lowest orders of society” (Malthus, 1st Ed. 26). In an extensive argumentation, Malthus demands a reform of the English Poor Laws[9] because they diminish“the shares that would otherwise belong to more industrious and more worthy members” (Malthus, 1st Ed. 29) and because they have an “obvious tendency […] to increase population” (Malthus, 1st Ed. 28).

On the other hand, he identifies the so-called preventive check. By postponing and discouraging marriage or having fewer children, the number of offspring can be significantly reduced. Especially for the lower classes, the prior reflection whether another child can be supported may be vital (Malthus, 1st Ed. 24; 39–40). Alternatively, “foresight of the difficulties attending the rearing of a family” (Malthus, 1st Ed. 24) and timely saving may prevent the greater evil (Malthus, 1st Ed. 29).

To these general controls on population, Malthus adds several other propositions whichhe does not expand any further. Among these are “vicious customs with respect to women, great cities, unwholesome manufactures, luxury, pestilence, and war” (Malthus, 1st Ed. 32). The first point most probably refers to prostitution which might reduce the male libido.[10] The second and third point may allude to the insalubrious and precarious working and living conditions in large cities or production sites respectively. Additionally, the “close habitations” (Malthus, 1st Ed. 39) boost the spread of diseases. Luxury insinuates the “fancied pleasures that [the upper class] must deprive themselves of, on the supposition of having a family” (Malthus, 1st Ed. 24) – an argument which stands in the context of preventive checks. His last two ‘solutions’ are very much reminiscent of misery and vice discussed before.

Another, less painful measure is emigration which Malthus deems to “be favourable to the population of the mother country” (Malthus, 1st Ed. 34). Nonetheless, emigration can only temporarily relief the pressure and effectively postpones the problem. Even in America, “where the reward of labour is at present so liberal” (Malthus, 1st Ed. 41), the population will eventually surpass the means of subsistence and lead to the original state of things.To the question why the native population did not explodedue to the abundance of food, he finds the answer in their nomadic lifestyle. Settled life increases population more rapidly than the restlessness of the North American tribes (Malthus, 1st Ed. 18).[11]

A very simple and effective method to avoid vice and misery is the increase of provisions.[12] Malthus sees two possibilities for this. In exchange for manufactured goods, he evokes the possibility of importing food from abroad. Yet he recognises that this may only work for a “small country with a large navy” (Malthus, 1st Ed. 84) such as Holland. The demand of a large country would quickly lead to extremely high prices.The second possibility comes down to improving the efficiency and exploitation of farming. For example, instead of using land for rising cattle, the land should rather be used forthe more productive growth of corn (Malthus, 1st Ed. 86). Another way is the “inclosure of waste lands, and the general improvements in husbandry” (Malthus, 1st Ed. 86).

In the discussion of different alternatives, Malthus even considers ideas that might appear Marxist or socialist to modern readers. One such argument is the “equalization of property” (Malthus, 1st Ed. 93).[13] However, he quickly adds that although it “may alleviate […] the pressure of want” (Malthus, 1st Ed. 93) it only breaks the cake into smaller pieces but does not permanently remove poverty. Likewise, an agreement among all employees to work a couple of hours less per day, to artificially reduce the offer of labour and increase employment, would not hold. “Those that had large families, would naturally be desirous of exchanging two hours more of their labour for an ampler quantity of subsistence” (Malthus, 1st Ed. 81).

Malthus agrees with the French economists[14] who assert that the “manufacturing labour [is] unproductive, in comparison of that which is employed in agriculture” (1st Ed. 90) because it does not increase the “funds for the maintenance of labour” (1st Ed. 89). In other words, labour in the industrial and service sector increases the nominal wealth of a country but since the availability of food stagnates, the additional wages will only lead to higher prices for food. Thus, it would be wiser to employ more people in agriculture and impede the competition for labour with manufacturing or trade. Hence, more food could be produced which would contribute to the real wealth of a society.

In spite of their dubious moral nature, Malthus hardly spares his readership any possible remedy for the problem of overpopulation. Should “war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague” (Malthus, 1st Ed. 42) fail to align the population to the food production, a “gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world” (Malthus, 1st Ed. 43).For Malthus, famine is “the last, the most dreadful resource of nature” (1st Ed. 42). However, “tremendous convulsions of nature, such as volcanic eruptions and earthquakes” (Malthus, 1st Ed. 35) have only a “trifling effect on the average population of any state” (Malthus, 1st Ed. 35) in the long run.

Interestingly, Malthus does not seem to give preference to any of the answers proposed. No form of human regulation will ultimately solve the problem of overpopulation. In all answers he finds limitations so that nature will eventually step in and curse the people with starvation or plagues if no other effect has ravaged the number of people before.Figure 3summarises the solutions Malthus puts forward in the first edition of his Essay. Basically, Malthus’s proposals can be grouped into two categories: those which affect the demand side (population) and those which affect the supply side (food production). These categories can be further subdivided into three fields.First, Malthus discusses actionsthat could be classified as political or societal. Second, there are levers that work on the individual level.Third, there are unpredictable and erratic effects. In the following table, the points are organised hierarchically with the most manageable measures being on top and the least controllable at the end.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 3:Malthus’sSolutions for Overpopulation (own illustration)

In later editions, Malthus included several further possibilities which will only be sketched briefly to complete the list. As mentioned before, he introduces the concept of ‘moral restraint’ which is “the restraint from marriage which is not followed by irregular gratifications” (Malthus, 6th Ed., Vol. 1 19). In other words, he calls for ‘virtuous celibacy’.Moreover, he demonstrates more creativity on certain unusual preventive checks such as promiscuity, homosexuality, adultery and abortion (Malthus, 6th Ed., Vol. 1 19).[15] The most substantial change in later editions was his advocacy of a national education programme for the lower classes to “infuse into them a portion of that knowledge and foresight” (Malthus, 6th Ed., Vol. 2 145) which would let them understand the “real state” (Malthus, 6th Ed., Vol. 2 145) of their situation. Consequently, as it was already the case with the upper class, a “prudential check to marriage” (Malthus, 6th Ed., Vol. 2 144) would regulate the rate of reproduction.

Except for education, Malthus does not offer any new serviceable ideas on the problem of overpopulation in later editions. Their main contribution lies in the presentation of extensive case studies which are intended to prove the accuracy of his theory. What may certainly be deemed pretentious is Malthus’s insistence that the extended list “really is exhaustive and complete” (Flew 45). The review of Harriet Martineau’s works will show that he went a little bit too far with this speculation.

3 Harriet Martineau’s Illustrations of Political Economy

Harriet Martineau has often been referred to as a female Malthusian by contemporary critics (Huzel, Popularization 57). Her best known oeuvre, Illustrations of Political Economy, contains nine volumes with different fictional stories. Inspired by Jane Marcet’s Conversations on Political Economy, who uses a Platonic dialogue technique between a mistress and her student to explain the basic notions of Political Economy, Martineau likewise uses a didactic style of instruction. In what Logan called the “dual methodology” (Logan, “Introduction” 29), she embeds the principles of Political Economy in tales for those who seek entertainment but adds a summary of the lessons learned at the end of each chapter for those who read her stories for instruction. Thus, she pursues the ambitious goal of making great thinkers such as Adam Smith or Thomas Robert Malthus accessible to a wider public (Cicarelli and Cicarelli 118; Logan, “Introduction” 29). The almost instantaneous success of the Illustrations of Political Economy “earned her financial stability and international acclaim” (Logan, “Introduction” 30).

At the beginning of the 19th century, when Martineau’s books were published, the role of women was clearly defined. For her contemporary readership, the Victorian middle and upper class ideal of the Angel in the House (Patmore) was a well-accepted female role expectation. Thus, “the challenges and obstacles, and the social prejudice and critical resistance, Martineau faced in the early 1830s” (Logan, “Introduction” 40)were considerable.

Martineau covered many ‘masculine’ subjects which earned her much criticism (Shackleton, Female Economists 13).These disapprovals bordered on humiliation:

The most ludicrous critical attacks on Martineau were those that refused to engage with her as a writer, focusing instead on her disability, deafness, and on speculations about her appearance. As a single woman or spinster, she was assumed to have become a writer only by default, since her plainness prevented her from attracting a spouse. (Logan, “Introduction” 38)

Unusual women like Martineau had a hard time in the early 19th century and she certainly had to grow a thick skin to counter all the attacks against her personality. To partly fend off the denigrationsagainst her unwomanly behaviour, she takes cover behind the acceptable female role of moral instruction by preaching an identity of interests, championing the virtues of reason over passion and political economy over domestic economy, endorsing and prescribing a middle-class ideology of education, sobriety, thrift, and foresight for the working class, as well as reinforcing such norms for the middling classes (Cooper 5).

Interestingly, “Martineau’s enemies refused to see the non-Malthusian content in her writings and instead focused purely on issues pertaining to population and the Poor Laws” (Huzel, Popularization 78). Given its importance, it is all the more justified to discuss Malthusian ideas in the publications of Harriet Martineau.

Indeed, Malthus’s contemplations on overpopulation play a special role in her work. In many passages, Martineau almost literally borrows from Malthus’s Essay. In her first four volumes, the discussion of overpopulation occupies such a dominant place that she must have received various critical letters which led her to remark almost stubbornly in the preface of “Berkeley the Banker”: “I do not ascribe all our national distresses to over-population, but think as ill as they [her critical readers] do of certain monopolies and modes of taxation” (Martineau, Vol. 5 76). Accordingly, there is hardly any mention of overpopulation in volume five to eight. Only in her last one, which could be seen as a summary of her previous works (Huzel, Popularization 58), does she take up many of the ideas of her second volume again.

To illustrate how Malthusian themes run like a golden thread through her Illustrations of Political Economy, three exemplary tales, which explicitly deal with Malthusian principles, shall be briefly reviewed:“Life in the Wilds”, “Cousin Marshall” and“Weal and Woe in Garveloch”.

In “Life in the Wilds”,an English settlement in the Cape Colonyis destroyed in a robbery and has to be rebuilt from scratch. It “carries a Malthusian lesson, though it, like the rest of the series, fails to mention Malthus by name” (Cooper 126). In the story,a young couple, Kate and Robertson,virtuously behave according to Malthusian principles. They delay their marriage until they have the means “to provide for themselves so as to be no burden to the society” (Martineau, Vol. 1 72). Mrs Stone, Kate’s counsellor in the matter, regrets that in England this reasonable behaviour is unfortunately “too often not the case” (Martineau, Vol. 1 72). The Malthusian couple is rewarded for their patiencewhen the settlers build the first new and luxurious dwelling for the happy couple (Martineau, Vol. 1 73). The moral of the story can hardly be overlooked.

Likewise, in “Cousin Marshall”, the “Marshalls represent the perfect Malthusian couple – sober, industrious, and provident” (Cooper 133). In spite of her startling poverty, Cousin Marshall “embodies dignity through her independence” (Logan, “Foreword to Cousin Marshall” 218). The couple’s ideological counterparts, the Bells, continuously demand charity from the gentry and thus become dependent on the benevolence of their donors. The fragility of this attitude becomes apparent when the affluent and philanthropic Mr Burke, in a discussion with his wife, arrives at the conclusion that he will cease his well-meant officesbecause charity has a tendency to increase population and thus makes matters worse (Martineau, Vol. 3 95). At the close of the tale, on the apprehension of Cousin Marshall’s death, Mr Burke comments on hervirtuous and selfless character. She is stylised to embody the silent hero of the story since she always relied on herself instead of society(Martineau, Vol. 3 143).

Finally, “Weal and Woe in Garveloch” is set in the Scottish Highlands. Here, Ella’s brother Ronald chooses the reasonable path of celibacy over marrying Katie[16],the woman he loves, because the population has already exceeded the fishing grounds on which it depends. In a selfless act he puts the general interest of society above his personal ambitions since “his neighbours are imprudent” (Martineau, Vol. 2 209) and have too many children. Due to the strong integration of his principles, “Malthus was very pleased with the tale: he and Harriet became ‘great friends and allies’” (Shackleton, Pioneers of Education 294).[17] Nevertheless, the general reception of the stories was not unanimous[18].

This tale provoked notoriety for its frank discussions between Ella and Katie about ‘preventive checks’ to population growth – including sexual abstinence, delayed marriages, and infanticide[19] – as they ponder whether war, famine, and disease are Providential warnings against taking too literally the Biblical percept to ‘be fruitful and multiply.’ (Logan, “Foreword to Weal and Woe” 55)

In the following, Martineau’s stories will no longer be considered separately. Much rather the aim is to piece together the fragments of Malthusian ideas dispersed over many stories.

3.1 Illustration of the Rate of Human Reproduction and Food Production

Malthus’s Essay hinges on the assumption that the population “increases by multiplication” (Malthus, 1st Ed. 105) and the food production “by addition” (Malthus, 1st Ed. 105). Martineau simplifiesMalthus’s numerical example (cf. Figure 1):

The proprietor of a field feeds his five children from it, till they each have five children, and each of these five children in their turn. Does the produce of the paternal field augment itself five times, and then twenty-five times, to suit the growing wants of the new generations? It may possibly be made to yield double, and then three times, and then four times what it once did; but no kind or degree of skill can make the ratio of its productiveness the same as that of human increase. (Martineau, Vol. 9 93)

The only difference is that Martineau applies the example to the individual level instead of explaining the effects on a societal level. Moreover, Martineau adds a point which Malthus seems to neglect: the increase in the marginal costs of production. The “successive portions of capital yield a less and less return” (Martineau, Vol. 2 232) since inferior soils must be taken into cultivationto support a growing population(Martineau, Vol. 9 132). Thus, she implicitly criticisesMalthus’s assumption of a linear increase in production.[20]

Although Malthus’s central ideas are repeated like mantras in her writings, the attentive reader may observe slight inconsistencies.His central thesis that the “population must always be kept down to the level of the means of subsistence” (Malthus, 1st Ed. 5) which ultimately happens through “misery and vice” (Malthus, 1st Ed. 10) is equally present in Martineau’s texts. To illustrate the discrepancies from the original idea, it may be useful to consider four distinct phrasings:

1) “The ultimate checks by which population is kept down to the level of the means of subsistence are vice and misery.” (Martineau, Vol. 2 232)
2) “The condition of labourers may be best improved […] [b]y adjusting the proportion of population to capital” (Martineau, Vol. 3 76)
3) “The number of consumers must be proportioned to the subsistence-fund.” (Martineau, Vol. 3 145)
4) “In the case of Ireland, as in all analogous cases, permanent relief can be effected only by adjusting the proportions of capital and population” (Martineau, Vol. 9 111)

The first phrase is very reminiscent ofMalthus’s original idea. Taken out of its context, it would be hard to attribute it to one of the two authors. In this wording, the means of subsistence arefixed whereas the population is the variable which can be adjusted.

In the second phrase, Martineau makes two important changes: she replaces ‘means of subsistence’ with ‘capital’ and ‘population’ with ‘labourers’. However, she does not offer a concise definition for ‘capital’ in this context. From another passage, it may be derived that for Martineau capital “consists of three parts” (Martineau, Vol. 1 84): 1) means of production or “instruments of labour” (Martineau, Vol. 1 84) 2) raw materials and 3) wages. Here Martineau clearly follows the argumentation of Adam Smith, which Malthus so strongly opposes (cf. chapter 2.2). As to the ‘labourers’, she evidentlyexcludes all those people who do not work although they are still dependent on food. Strictly speaking, this phrase would be an inexact reproduction ofMalthus’s argument.

Likewise, in the third phrase she continues to use Adam Smith’s idea that “every increase of the revenue or stock of a society” (Malthus, 1st Ed. 83) is an increase of the subsistence-fund. On the other hand, she replaces the term ‘population’ with ‘consumers’, a word Malthus does not use. From an economic point of view, ‘consumers’ is certainly a better synonym than ‘labourers’.

Finally, in the last example, Martineau no longer claims that the population should be adjusted to the means of subsistence. Instead, the capital and population are both variables which can be adapted. Therefore, policies should be directed towards “restraining the increase of population” (Martineau, Vol. 2 232) and “promoting the increase of capital” (Martineau, Vol. 2 232). Thus, she now considers the problem from the demand side as well as from the supply side.

Another salient issue inMalthus’s work is the oscillation of population. Without employing the term ‘oscillation’[21], Martineau highlights the “impossibility of making the supply of labour suit the demand at a moment’s notice”(Vol. 3 59–60).Before the population can fall below the supply of food, which would permit higher living standards, “a new period of prosperity has arrived” (Martineau, Vol. 3 60),which will lead to higher birth rates again. In accord with Malthus, she demands that a portion of the responsibility falls upon the individual to “prevent population from increasing faster than the capital which is to support it” (Martineau, Vol. 3 59–60).

3.2 Illustration of Possible Solutions to the Problem of Overpopulation

Throughout his Essay, it becomes apparent thatMalthus’s idea of man is rather gloomy which “boldly contradicted Enlightenment assumptions of human progress” (Huzel, Popularization 2). Driven by his “bodily cravings” (Malthus, 1st Ed. 70) such as “hunger, the love of liquor, [or] the desire of possessing a beautiful woman” (Malthus, 1st Ed. 70), man will take actions of “fatal consequences […] to the general interests of society” (Malthus, 1st Ed. 70). This observation leads him to conclude that “it may be safely asserted, that the vices and moral weakness of mankind, taken in the mass, are invincible” (Malthus, 1st Ed. 74) and that even “the most virtuous character will rarely prevail against very strong temptations to evil” (Malthus, 1st Ed. 74).

Martineau, on the other hand, shares a more positive idea of man. She believes that as society advances and people become more educated, they will come to understand the consequences of their behaviour. Thus, preventive measures against overpopulation will be adopted and the ultimate evils of overpopulation can be avoided (Martineau, Vol. 2 232).

Martineau’s expansive optimism is the final major difference with Malthus. Although Malthus became increasingly optimistic in his later writings, especially in The Principles of Political Economy (1820) – where he envisioned the increasing spread of prudential restraint and an improved standard of living for the working classes – he never exhibited Martineau’s unbounded and simplistic faith in human progress and social harmony. (Huzel, Popularization 69)

Unlike Malthus, who with resignation writes “To prevent the recurrence of misery, is, alas!beyond the power of man” (1st Ed. 32), Martineau focuses much more on the practical applicability of different solutions. Whereas Malthus does not seem to give preference to any of them, Martineau weighs the disadvantages and advantages and lets her characters come to a consensus.

3.2.1 Consistency with Malthus’s Original Ideas

Martineau generally concurswith Malthus’s apocalyptic logic that the “ultimate checks by which population is kept down to the level of the means of subsistence are vice and misery” (Martineau, Vol. 2 232). To avert the “horrors of any positive check” (Martineau, Vol. 2 232),she advocates the timely use of “mild preventive check[s]” (Martineau, Vol. 2 232). With foresight, the natural evils of starvation, illnesses and war provoked by overpopulation can be avoided. The natural repressions can only have a temporal or partial effect (Martineau, Vol. 2 229–30). For this reason, one of her characters utters the hope that “governments will in time cease […] to call people into existence for the purpose of cutting one another’s throat” (Martineau, Vol. 2 230).[22]

The alternative to this positive check is what Malthus named preventive check. As society advances, the “preventive check becomes more, and the positive checks less powerful” (Martineau, Vol. 2 232):

The positive checks, having performed their office in stimulating the human faculties and originating social institutions, must be wholly superseded by the preventive check before society can attain its ultimate aim – the greatest happiness of the greatest number[23]. (Martineau, Vol. 2 232)

Martineau notes, however, that any option must be contemplated in the light of the “peculiar circumstances” (Vol. 3 212).To her, there is no universally right answer.Following the logic of Figure 3, Martineau’s arguments can be allotted to three basic fields: the measures that work on the societal level, those that affect the individual level, and the external factors.

On the individual level, the ideas are already known fromMalthus’s Essay. For example,the proposal to delay marriage until the property is sufficient to sustain a family (Martineau, Vol. 3 197).[24] Foresight, timely savings, and good husbanding permit to ride out a temporary crisis like a bad harvest (Martineau, Vol. 2 196; Martineau, Vol. 3 76). However, she ignores many ofMalthus’s more radical proposals such as complete abstinence, prostitution, or a luxurious lifestyle, which does not allow children (cf. Figure 3).

On the societal level, she basically repeats two general remarks by Malthus. First, the government has the duty to protect property and should promote agriculture instead of industry (Martineau, Vol. 2 232; Martineau, Vol. 3 61; Martineau, Vol. 9 93–94). She is aware of the “tremendous inequality of possession in society” (Martineau, Vol. 9 95) but she doubts that the redistribution of property would bring the desired effect because “no permanent relief” would result for the lower classes. Second, she fears that manufacture will just fan the flames of overpopulation because it creates additional demand for labour which cannot be sustained (Martineau, Vol. 2 232).

Concerning the external factors, one character’s argument that “occasional wars and plagues [are] very good things to keep down the population” (Martineau, Vol. 2 229–30)is at once contradicted because the rate of reproduction quickly replaces the “lives lost by war, plagues, and the accidents of common life” (Martineau, Vol. 2 229–30).

In later editions of his Essay, Malthus introduced the idea of educating the lower classes so that they develop a sense of responsibility for actions (cf. chapter 2.2). In accord with Malthus, Martineau calls for “educating the people till they shall have become qualified for the guardianship of their own interests” (Vol. 3 212). Naturally, this interest is the achievement of a stable population which does not exceed the available means of subsistence.[25] Through the promotion of education, Martineau attempts “to legitimate and then transcend the objects of Malthusian population principles, and political economy in general” (Cooper 122).[26] For Martineau, intellectual improvement is “the crucial vehicle [for] encouraging the low order to become prudent and rational” (Huzel, Popularization 64–65).Where she differs from Malthus is her approval of Friendly Societies and Benefit Clubs which contribute to the “increase of capital, and, by encouraging prudence, to the limitation of numbers”(Martineau, Vol. 3 136).Malthus opposes these associations because if the system were to become compulsory, they would have similar effects as taxes, i.e. making labour more expensive and thus be “unfavourable to industry and production” (Malthus, 6th Ed., Vol. 2 164).

3.2.2 Deviation from Malthus’s Original Ideas

Huzel finds that Martineau “diverged from her mentor in four important areas: her changing views on the Old Poor Law, her assessment of the role of emigration in counteracting population increase, her rejection of the Corn Laws and her overall optimism concerning the future improvement of society”[27] (Huzel, Popularization 66). However, a closer look at her texts reveals that there are more deviations concerning overpopulation.

Martineau differs from Malthus by observing that education enables people to create “inventions and discoveries which create capital” (Martineau, Vol. 3 76; Martineau, Vol. 9 102). In her view, higher levels of education stimulate a virtuous circle of productivity since it can be assumed that a wealthier population demands better education again.Here Martineau sees the beneficial effects of education on the supply side, whereas Malthus perceived them only on the demand side. Even though Malthusalready mentioned the favourable influences of education, Martineau certainly adds a new perspective to the problem which could be considered as her genuine contribution. In sum, the propagation of education fits well with the intent of her writings, namely the education of the masses.In her autobiography, she even calls for “education without limit” (Martineau and Weston Chapman, Vol. 1 102).

For Martineau, another way of combating the disproportion between supply and demand is to widen the scope and include foreign markets. Through “well-conducted schemes of emigration” (Martineau, Vol. 3 212), the government may be able to relieve the pressure of overpopulation on the domestic market. “Instead of sending out people of all ages, we were to select those who become marriageable” (Martineau, Vol. 4 14) which would drastically reduce the birth rate in the mother country. Sending people to America or Australia would be a lot cheaper than the poor rates for the current and future generations of dependents(Martineau, Vol. 4 14). Where land is abundant, the emigrants can produce food at much lower costs (Martineau, Vol. 4 18–19).Furthermore, the “thriving population of our colonies will want more and more of our manufactures, and will send us their agricultural produce in exchange”[28] (Martineau, Vol. 4 19). To put it in a nutshell, the “best present policy, then, is to send our surplus numbers abroad to eat and prosper” (Martineau, Vol. 4 18–19).[29] Malthus’scompletely disagrees with this view:emigration “cannot […] under any circumstances be considered as an adequate remedy” (Malthus, 6th Ed., Vol. 2 200)for the problem of overpopulation because “the vacuum created by the exodus of labour would soon be filled” (Huzel, Popularization 34). Besides, the importof food is only feasible for small countries like Holland(cf. chapter 2.2).

Maybe the historical context has to be taken into consideration to explain this divergence. In wake of the American Independence in 1776/1783, England had lost one of its most precious colonies. Disillusioned by their failed ambitions of building a great empire, domestic problems were given priority.[30] It was during this time of empirical scepticism that Malthus published his first Essay.[31] Possibly, the circumstances led him to conclude that foreign settlements might not be a future-oriented solution.Martineau, on the other hand, published her writings in a phase of rapid colonisation. After the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the United Kingdom was confirmed the control over the Cape Colony[32] and the Empire refocused on the Pacific and South-East-Asian regions. This development might have induced Martineau to reconsider emigration as a viable scheme to level the population in the mother country.

To sum up, Martineau discusses many of the solutions already proposed by Malthus. However, she cancels out those which to her do not make sense and puts forward more viable suggestions. Figure4 summarises the differences between Malthus and Martineau.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 4: Martineau’s Solutions for Overpopulation in Comparison to Malthus (own illustration)

The crossed out elements are those which Martineau does not pursue any further. Those marked with an arrow are her supplements. All in all, it can be said that Martineau mostly sticks to Malthus’sideas. Nonetheless, she often paraphrases and extends the original points. As far as the promotion of education and colonisation is concerned, Martineau contributes two new solutions. In retrospect, probably these ones have beenappliedmost effectively. During the Great Famine in Ireland in the middle of the 19th century, some big landowner encouraged emigration. Instead of paying an ever increasing sum for the relief of the poor, they thought that it would be more favourable to pay once for their crossing (Ó Gráda 48).[33] As faras innovation is concerned, industrialisation and the promotion of natural sciences stimulated research in many fields[34].

It is interesting to note that all the solutions Martineau mentions in her tales are rather ‘soft’ ones. She excludes the most drastic and controversial ideas and especially propagates what she called “mild preventive checks” (cf. chapter 3.2.1). In this respect, she actually fulfils the Victorian role expectation of women – either in spite of or due to the defamations she faced.

4 Conclusion: Harriet Martineau – A Pioneer Rather than a Disciple

The perusal of Harriet Martineau’s Illustration of[35] Political Economy revealed constant direct and indirect references to Thomas Robert Malthus’s An Essay on the Principle of Population. Together with Adam Smith, Malthus is in fact the only author to whom Martineau expressly addresses her thanks although it has been observed that James Mill[36] was probably her main source of inspiration (Martineau, Vol. 9 77; Fletcher 368). Effectively, the “themes covered in the series followed, topic by topic, the chapter headings of James Mill’s Elements of Political Economy (1826, third edition)” (Cooper 125).

This finding supports the thesis of a special bond that existed between the Martineau and Malthus. Maybe, this intimate friendship was further stimulated by the physical deficiencies both shared. While Martineau was almost deaf, Malthus “was born with a harelip and cleft palate” (Winch viii) which made his utterances hardly intelligible. Ironically, it was Malthus whom Martineau could understand the best even without using her trumpet[37] (Martineau and Weston Chapman, Vol. 1 154).[38]

Nevertheless, it would be unjust to portray Martineau simply as one of Malthus’s disciples or to call her a female Malthusian. The extensive comparison between Malthus’s Essay and Martineau’s Illustrations of Political Economy revealed that she did more than just reproduce the ideas of her friend and mentor. Although she generally adhered to his logic, she differed significantly on certain aspects concerning the question of how to deal with overpopulation. On the one hand, she omits several of Malthus’s impractical suggestions. On the other hand, she placed particular emphasis on the role of education, which would enable efficiency gains. Moreover, she exemplifies how a well-organised scheme of emigration could benefit not only the mother country but also the colonies by balancing supply and demand in both countries.

Furthermore, the social position of women in the 19th century should be acknowledged. Facing severe disparagements and even hostility required a fierce determination. The social pressure becomes evident in the nervousness Martineau felt while writing the Malthusian tale “Weal and Woe in Garveloch”. In her autobiography she notes that the perspiration many a time streamed down my face, though I knew there was not a line in it which might not be read aloud in any family. The misery arose from my seeing how the simplest statements and reasonings might and probably would be perverted. (Vol. 1 97)

Nevertheless, she was resolute in her undertaking of explaining Malthus’s theories in an intelligible way and to do justice to a man whom she considered to be the “‘best-abused man’ of the age” (Martineau and Weston Chapman, Vol. 1 102).Although her stories “were naive, their plots mechanical, her characters stereotypes” (Cicarelli and Cicarelli 121) from a literary point of view, she achieved an extraordinary work for her time. The result was certainly more than “Economics for Dummies” (Cicarelli and Cicarelli 121) bearing in mind that many members of Parliament read her books as a source of instruction (Logan, “Introduction” 30).

Table of Figures

Figure 1: Population Growth vs. Increase of Food Production

Figure 2: Oscillation of Population Growth

Figure 3: Malthus’s Solutions for Overpopulation

Figure 4: Martineau’s Solutions for Overpopulation in Comparison to Malthus

Works Cited

Primary Sources

Malthus, Thomas R. An Essay on the Principle of Population: As It Affects the Future Improvement of Society. London: J. Johnson; The Online Library of Liberty, 1798.

- An Essay on the Principle of Population, Vol. 1: Or a View of Its Past and Present Effects on Human Happiness. 6th ed. 2 vols.London: John Murray; The Online Library of Liberty, 1826.

- An Essay on the Principle of Population, Vol. 2: Or a View of Its Past and Present Effects on Human Happiness. 6th ed. 2 vols.London: John Murray; The Online Library of Liberty, 1826.

Martineau, Harriet. Illustrations of Political Economy, Vol. 1: Life in the Wilds, Hill and the Valley, Brooke and Brooke Farm. 3rd ed. 9 vols. London: Charles Fox; The Online Library of Liberty, 1832.

- Illustrations of Political Economy, Vol. 2. 3rd ed. 9 vols. London: Charles Fox; The Online Library of Liberty, 1832.

- Illustrations of Political Economy, Vol. 3. 3rd ed. 9 vols. London: Charles Fox; The Online Library of Liberty, 1832.

- Illustrations of Political Economy, Vol. 4. 3rd ed. 9 vols. London: Charles Fox; The Online Library of Liberty, 1834.

- Illustrations of Political Economy, Vol. 5. 3rd ed. 9 vols. London: Charles Fox; The Online Library of Liberty, 1834.

- Illustrations of Political Economy, Vol. 7. 3rd ed. 9 vols. London: Charles Fox; The Online Library of Liberty, 1834.

- Illustrations of Political Economy, Vol. 9. 3rd ed. 9 vols. London: Charles Fox; The Online Library of Liberty, 1834.

Secondary Sources

Bonar, James. Malthus and His Work: Kessinger Publishing, 2004.

Boyer, George R. An Economic History of the English Poor Law, 1750-1850. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

- English Poor Laws. Economic History Association, 2002. Web. 23 Mar. 2013.

Cicarelli, James, and Julianne Cicarelli. Distinguished Women Economists. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2003.

Cooper, Brian. Family Fictions and Family Facts: Harriet Martineau, AdolpheQuetelet, and the Population Question in England, 1798-1859. London: Routledge, 2007.

Fletcher, Max E. “Harriet Martineau and Ayn Rand: Economics in the Guise of Fiction.” American Journal of Economics and Sociology 33.4 (1974): 367-79.

Flew, Antony. “Introduction.” An Essay on the Principle of Population and a Summary View of the Principle of Population. By Thomas R. Malthus.Ed. Antony Flew. London: Penguin Books, 1985. 7-56.

Huzel, James P. “Malthus, the Poor Law, and Population in Early Nineteenth-Century England.” The Economic History Review 22.3 (1969): 430-52.

- The Popularization of Malthus in Early Nineteenth-Century England: Martineau, Cobbett and the Pauper Press. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2006.

Logan, Deborah A.“Introduction.” Illustrations of Political Economy: Selected Tales. By Harriet Martineau. Ed. Deborah A. Logan. Toronto: Broadview Press, 2004. 9-50.

-“Foreword to ‘Weal and Woe in Garveloch’.” Illustrations of Political Economy: Selected Tales. By Harriet Martineau. Ed. Deborah A. Logan. Toronto: Broadview Press, 2004. 53-55.

-“Foreword to ‘Cousin Marshall’.” Illustrations of Political Economy: Selected Tales. By Harriet Martineau. Ed. Deborah A. Logan. Toronto: Broadview Press, 2004. 217-218.

- Harriet Martineau, Victorian Imperialism, and the Civilizing Mission. Burlington: Ashgate, 2010.

Mackensen, Rainer. Bevölkerungsfragen auf Abwegen der Wissenschaften: Dokumentation des 1. Colloquiums zur Geschichte der Bevölkerungswissenschaft in Deutschland im 20. Jahrhundert ; 23.-25. Juli 1997 in der Werner-Reimers-Stiftung in Bad Homburg. Opladen: Leske + Budrich, 1998.

Marcet, Jane H. Conversations on Political Economy: In Which the Elements of That Science Are Familiarly Explained. 6th ed. London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, 1827.

Martineau, Harriet, and Maria Weston Chapman. Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography, Vol. 1. 2 vols. Boston: James R. Osgood & Co.; The Online Library of Liberty, 1877.

- Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography, Vol. 2 and Memorials of Harriet Martineau. 2 vols. Boston: James R. Osgood & Co.; The Online Library of Liberty, 1877.

Ó Gráda, Cormac. The Great Irish Famine. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Oražem, Claudia. Political Economy and Fiction in the Early Works of Harriet Martineau. Frankfurt am Main: EuropäischerVerlag der Wissenschaften, 1999.

Patmore, Coventry K. D. The Angel in the House. 4th ed. London: Macmillan, 1866.

Shackleton, John R. Two Early Female Economists: Jane Marcet and Harriet Martineau: Polytechnic of Central London, Faculty of Social Sciences and Business Studies, 1988.

- “Jane Marcet and Harriet Martineau: Pioneers of Economics Education.” Journal of the History of Education Society 19.4 (1990): 283-97.

Slack, Paul. The English Poor Law, 1531-1782. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Winch, Donald. “Introduction.” An Essay on the Principle of Population, or a View of Its Past and Present Effects on Human Happiness: With an Inquiry into Our Prospects Respecting the Future Removal or Mitigation of the Evils Which It Occasions. By Thomas R. Malthus. Ed. Donald Winch. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992. vii-xxiii.


[1] What distinguished Malthus’s theory from pre-existing and contemporary disquisitions was the fact that he established his dogma as a doctrine of class conflict (Mackensen 301).

[2] Just like Jane Marcet, she thought “that the form of narrative is […] the best in which Political Economy can be taught […] not only because it is entertaining, but because we think it the most faithful and the most complete” (Martineau, Vol. 1 9).

[3] Abridged title of Malthus’s An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798) used in the context of this paper.

[4] In the preface to her story “The Moral of Many Fables”, she namely expresses her particular gratitude to Smith and Malthus (Martineau, Vol. 9 77).

[5] Martineau’s first story, “Life in the Wilds”, also features a strong Malthusian slant even though Huzel does not mention the tale here (cf. chapter 3).

[6] The first edition counts 55,000 words on 396 pages whereas the second edition contains 200,000 words on 610 pages (Flew 13).

[7] In later editions, Malthus conducts an extensive study on the population controls in Sweden, Norway, Russia, France, Switzerland, England, Scotland, Ireland and the “middle parts of Europe” (6th Ed., Vol. 1 6).

[8] Malthus considers this to be a highly optimistic growth rate (1st Ed. 13).

[9] In the period from 1750 to 1820, the expenditure for poor relief exploded in the UK “increasing from 1.0% of GDP in 1748-50 to a peak of 2.7% of GDP in 1818-20” (Boyer, Tucson). Malthus was “one of the severest early nineteenth-century critics of the Old Poor Law and one of the firmest advocates of its total abolition” (Huzel, “Poor Law and Population” 430). Unfortunately, the scope of this paper does not allow a detailed discussion of the subject. For more information cf. Malthus(e.g. 1st Ed. 28–32) with regard to such excellent historic illustrations as by Slack or Boyer (Cambridge).

[10] In later editions of his Essay, “Malthus, drawing on a wide range of travelers’ facts, expressed the belief that social customs that block the operation of sexual passion lead to its stimulation” (Cooper 185).

[11] Malthus does not offer any empirical proof for his argument. For this reason, the claim will be in parenthesis in Figure 3.

[12] Malthus did not see any permanent solution in the short-term increase of food supply. Even though it could provide temporary relief the “pendulum, however, would rapidly swing back” (Huzel, Popularization 19).

[13] The argument stems from William Godwin who is considered to be the first modern proponent of socialism and political anarchism. In his Essay, Malthus refutes Godwin’s ideas.

[14] In fact, this is a point where Malthus differs from Adam Smith who considers “every increase of the revenue or stock of a society, as an increase of the funds for the maintenance of labour, and consequently as tending always to ameliorate the condition of the poor” (Malthus, 1st Ed. 81).

[15] Literally, Malthus writes: “Promiscuous intercourse, unnatural passions, violations of the marriage bed, and improper arts to conceal the consequences of irregular connexions, are preventive checks that clearly come under the head of vice” (Malthus, 6th Ed., Vol. 1 19). In his introduction to Malthus’s Essay, Flex speculates that the ‘improper arts’ are “presumably a reference to abortion” (Flew 24). “Elsewhere Malthus even brings himself to mention contraception under the description [of] ‘something else as unnatural’, as ‘promiscuous concubinage’” (Flew 24). However, as a devout Christian, Malthus strongly opposed contraception (Winch xv; Huzel, Popularization 19).

[16] The resemblance of names to the Malthusian couple Kate and Robertson in “Life in the Wilds” is probably no coincidence.

[17] On the other hand, Huzel feels that Martineau exaggerated in this tale: “It is ‘Weal and Woe in Garveloch’, however, where moral restraint is pushed to limits that go beyond Malthus. For, in all probability, not even Martineau’s mentor would have found believable the absolute selflessness of Ronald, the cooper, in delaying marriage” (Popularization 62). In fact, “Malthus […] never recommended life-long celibacy” (Huzel Popularization 63).

[18] The publication of “Weal and Woe in Garveloch” “led a reviewer to remarks that generated a near scandal. He tweaked her for ignorance of ‘knowledge which she should have obtained by a simple question or two of her mamma,’ and thundered in outrage that Martineau was ‘a female Malthusian. A woman who thinks child-bearing a crime against society ! An unmarried woman who declares against marriage !! A young woman who deprecates charity and a provision for the poor !!!’ ([…] emphases in original)” (Cooper 145).

[19] In “Weal and Woe in Garveloch” Martineau explains the widespread use of female infanticide in China and India as a consequence of poverty (Vol. 2 212). However, both her characters agree that this horrible practice is absolutely no answer to the problem of overpopulation, which is why this possibility will not be listed as an option in Figure 4.

[20] As mentioned before, Malthus is perfectly aware of his optimistic assumption.

[21] It has been remarked that Malthus regularly employs terms derived from physics and maths which is why his style has been described as “Newtonian” (Huzel, Popularization 18–19).

[22] Logan argues that Martineau was perfectly aware that the government is not omnipotent concerning the regulation of birth rates: “Of course, she understood that the economic forces governing this level of society were largely beyond its control, and educating the public about those complex forces behind it provides the impetus behind the writing of the Illustrations. But some factors dictating the economic quality of life can be controlled by people of any class, and managing one’s family size is one of them” (“Illustrations” 55).

[23] Clearly, Martineau was inspired by Bentham’s utilitarian philosophy in the last part of the sentence. It illustrates the subjection of the individual interest to the collective good – a recurrent theme in her work.

[24] In “Cousin Marshall”, Martineau writes that the “best plan” (Vol. 3 138) is the early announcement that parents are not to expect charity for their offspring. As a result, they will postpone marriage until they have the means to afford a family (Martineau, Vol. 3 138).

[25] It must be added, however, that the idea of education was also taken up by Martineau’s literary example, Jane Marcet: “In proportion as the mind is informed, we are able to calculate the consequences of our actions: it is the infant and the savage who live only for the present moment; those whom instruction has taught to think, reflect upon the past and look forward to the future. Education gives rise to prudence, not only by enlarging our understandings, but by softening our feelings, by humanising the heart, and promoting amiable affections. The rude and inconsiderate peasant marries without either foreseeing or caring for the miseries he may entail on his wife and children; but he who has been taught to value the comforts and decencies of life, will not heedlessly involve himself and all that is dear to him in poverty, and its long train of miseries” (Marcet 90–91). Through education, humans take the consequences of their actions into account and are thus able to influence the future. According to this vision, they will ponder whether another child can be fed before it is born. As a result, population growth would not exceed the available means.

[26] A great portion of the responsibility for limiting the growth of population through education falls, according to Martineau’s story “Ireland”, upon the Church. In a conversation between Mr Orme, a builder who initially comes to erect a new church in a sparsely populated Irish parish, and Father Glenny, the subject of overpopulation in Ireland comes up. The priest informs Mr Orme that the population is “prone to form imprudent marriages” (Martineau, Vol. 3 201). Mr Orme replies that as a priest he should “remove from the minds of your people all idea that they are gratifying and rewarding you by asking you to marry them” (Martineau, Vol. 3 201). Moreover, he observes that false incentives for marriage are in place. For every wedding held, the priest is monetarily rewarded. To stop the population from rising, the Church should “cancel every relation between the wedding propensities of the young and the welfare of their priest’s purse” (Martineau, Vol. 3 201). After all, the Church has the duty of educating the population and of possibly delaying marriage.

[27] In the scope of this paper the Poor Laws and Corn Laws will not be treated.

[28] “Weal and Woe Garveloch” shows an inconsistent use of economic principles. According to the law of demand and supply, high prices would induce producers to import food in order to capture the additional profit. In spite of a well-developed infrastructure, “Martineau depicts the island as if it were completely isolated from the rest of the world” (Oražem 119) so that the usual price mechanism does not operate.

[29] In volume two, the idea of exchanging goods was already expressed. Poland apparently has an abundance of food whereas England has a large stock of wool. By exchanging the products, each people could satisfy its demand for the respective product. However, this example is rather meant to illustrate Ricardo’s model of trade (Martineau, Vol. 7 39).

[30] Joseph Chamberlain coined this mentality “Little Englanders” in his speech “The True Conception of Empire” delivered at the Annual Royal Colonial Institute Dinner in London on March 31, 1897.

[31] The penultimate fifth edition was published in 1817 and the last sixth edition posthumously in 1836 (Huzel, Popularization 33; 37).

[32] For example, the before-mentioned Malthusian tale “Life in the Wilds” is set in what today is South Africa.

[33] However, the government never agreed to subsidise emigration in spite of several official proposals, although this scheme “would have reduced mortality” (Ó Gráda 25).

[34] For example, when Justus von Liebig discovered the growth-promoting effect of nitrogen, phosphates and potassium in the 1840s, he cleared the way for the use of fertilizers in agriculture.

[35] Huzeldescribes Martineau as Malthus’s disciple (Popularization 57).

[36] He was the father of the more well-known John Stuart Mill.

[37] Martineau used a funnel-shaped device which she placed to her ear in order to better follow conversations.

[38] On the matter, she recollects in her autobiography: “Of all people in the world, Malthus was the one whom I heard quite easily without it; – Malthus, whose speech was hopelessly imperfect, from defect in the palate” (Martineau and Weston Chapman, Vol. 1 154). Henceforth, Harriet Martineau always sat right next to him whenever they met for dinner. With her good ear facing towards him, she “heard all he said to every body at table” (Martineau and Weston Chapman, Vol. 1 154).


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Robert Malthus Harriert Martineau Illustrations of Political Economy Overpopulation




Title: The Evil of Overpopulation. The Reception of Early Malthusian Ideas in Harriet Martineau’s "Illustrations of Political Economy"