The Reverend Thos. Robert Malthus [1766-1834], a clergyman of the Church of England and a professor of Political Economy, in his famous Essay on Population of 1798, taught the doctrine that the numbers of mankind are always pressing on the means of subsistence. This easy theory explained poverty and want in the comfortable terms of inevitable economic law. The complacent rich could shake their heads at the improvident poor. The doctrine darkened human life for over a hundred years. Only the oncoming of the age of abundance shows that the source of poverty is elsewhere. Our food increases faster than we do. Wordsworth's We Are Seven, with its comforting explanation of the death of cottage children, appeared in the same year as the Essay. 2 Mother, hold me tight! 3 Look! It's Mr. Malthus, Mother! 4 Hide me out of sight." 5 This was the cry of little Jane 6 In bed she moaning lay, 7 Delirious with Stomach Pain, 8 That would not go away. 9 All because her small Existence 10 Over-pressed upon Subsistence; 11 Human Numbers didn't need her; 12 Human Effort couldn't feed her. 13 Little Janie didn't know 15 Poor Wee Janie had never done 16 Course Economics No. 1; 17 Never reached in Education 18 Theories of Population, -- 19 Theories which tend to show 20 Just how far our Food will go, 21 Mathematically found 22 Just enough to go around. 23 This, my little Jane, is why 24 Pauper Children have to die. 25 Pauper Children underfed 26 Die delirious in Bed; 27 Thus at Malthus's Command 29 Jane who should have gently died 30 Started up and wildly cried, -- 31 "Look, mother, look, he's there again 32 I see him at the Window Pane, 33 Father, -- don't let him, -- he's behind 34 That shadow on the window blind, --" 35 In vain the anxious parents soothe, -- 36 What can avail their useless Love? 37 "Darling, lie down again; don't mind; 38 Branches are moving in the Wind." 39 With panting Breath, with Eyes that stare, 40 Again she cries, "He's there, he's there!" 41 The frightened Parents look, aghast, 42 Is it that something really passed? 43 What is it that they seem to scan, 44 Ghost or Abstraction, Dream or Man? -- 46 The crooked Fingers all a-grip, 47 The sunken Face, cadaverous, 48 The dress, Ah, God deliver us! 49 What awful Sacrilege is that? 51 The Costume black and sinister, 52 The dress of God's own minister! 53 What fiend could ever urge a Man 54 To personate a Clergyman! 55 The Father strides with angry fist 56 "Out, out! you damned Economist!" 57 His wife restrains his threatening Paw, -- 58 "William, it's economic Law!" 59 She shrieks, -- "Oh William! don't you know 60 The Geometric Ratio? -- 61 William, God means it for the best 62 Our Darling's taken! we've transgressed -- " 63 And crying, "Two times two makes four," 64 She crashes swooning to the Floor. 65 And when her Senses come again 66 Janie had passed from mortal Pain 67 And scowling Malthus had moved on 68 Murm'ring, "That's one more Infant gone," 69 To other Windows, one by one; -- 70 Later he came and took their Son. 71 With Jane and John gone, out of seven, 72 They kept at five and just broke even. 73 "Mary," the chastened Father said, 74 "I feel God's wisdom; two are dead 75 The world has only food for five, 77 She sobbed, -- "We'll do it if we can! 78 But, oh that awful Malthus Man." 80 He happened to be out, not late, just after sunset, when 81 He met a little cottage Girl, she was eight years old, ( she said), 82 Her Hair was thick, he saw, with Curls that clustered on her Head; 83 And he recalls in pious Verse the Interview she gave 84 While sitting eating Porridge on her Sister Janie's Grave, 85 Reciting with her Baby Voice and placid Infant's Breath 86 The orthodox complacent Thought on pauper Children's death; 87 And thus the plump and happy Child, her Belly full of food, 88 Drowsy with Sunset Porridge smiled, -- the World was pretty good. 89 With her little Belly fully 90 Satisfied, her Mind got woolly; 91 She was just like all the rest 92 Couldn't stand an acid Test, 93 Took her thoughts too near the Place 94 Where Digestion had its Base. 95 What the Child mistook for Knowledge 96 Just fresh air and lots of Porridge, -- 97 Here is where Biology 99 But Willie, Willie Wordsworth, if again you walk the Street 100 Just meet a little Cottage Girl, and get the thing complete. 101 You'll find her just as charming as a Child upon a Grave, 102 And her Hair in Curl is permanent with what she calls a Wave. 103 She needs no babbling Innocence, no baby Words to show, 104 The danger spots of little Tots in moving Ratio. 105 That population is a Thing that all the world must shun, 106 She'll show you as a Theorem in Economics One, -- 108 And all the world got overfed, and all the World got slack. 110 And Coffee Beans went up in Flames beside ungathered Corn 111 And Melons floated out to Sea and Hogs were left unborn, 112 And beer rolled down the Tennessee and California Wine 113 Was used as Blood for Hollywood, and Rye thrown in the Rhine 114 And Super-Products in a Stack, -- 115 But stop, a bit, we must turn back. 116 Turn back to Malthus as he walked o'er English Fields and Downs 117 And walked at night the crooked Streets of crooked English Towns, 119 A hundred years his Shadow fell, a hundred Years to lie, 120 The Shadow on the Window Pane when Malthus' Ghost went by. 121 He chuckled as he passed at night God's Acre filled with Dead; 122 The little Graves were packed as tight as Paupers in a Bed. 123 But he never heard the little wings that rustled overhead, 124 Or heard the Voices in the Air 125 Of unborn Souls lamenting there. 126 He wandered in the Summer Lanes when all the World was green, 127 And he never heard the Wedding Bells of Brides that might have been, 128 Tall English Flowers that drooped and fell and withered on the stem, 129 Victims of Malthus' evil Spell, -- what should he know of them? 130 In rustled Silk and Lavender the Garden Path they trod 131 And listened where the Hollyhocks and tall Delphiniums nod, 132 And whisper to the blushing Face behind the Bonnet hid, 133 Of Wedding Bells that were to ring, -- that were, but never did. 134 And he never knew the empty Homes with angry Quarrels rent, 135 He never knew the blighted Souls, out of their Nature bent, 136 The blighted life of Man and Wife where Children are not sent, 137 And Love's Illusion wears away 138 And Single Self comes back to stay. 139 He scowled to see the Working Class was disobedient still, 140 The teaching that the Gentry grasped was lost on Jane and Bill, 141 And round the Slum 142 The Children come, 143 As Children ever will. 144 In vain upon the Brain of Jane and Bill was cast the Thought 145 That Hope of Social Gain was nil and Poverty their lot, 146 That social Betterment could not 147 Permit a Baby in the Cot. 148 "All right," says Bill, "we'll have them still," 149 And Jane she said, "Whoi not?" 150 "I likes to see 'em, reverend sir, 151 A crawling round, and so does her; 152 We're not like Gentry Folks, you see, 153 There ain't much else for her and me." 154 And all the while the World roared on, each Decade passing by, 155 Machine and Power and glowing Sun to Malthus gave the Lie. 156 The silly Pedants could not see 157 Man's Food grows faster far than he. 158 The Wheat Plant easily can grow 159 A hundred grains per Seed 160 Three times a year, what, Baker, Ho! 161 How much is it you need? 162 One Buckwheat Pancake, only one, 163 Swells in three months to half a ton. 164 The Barley of a single Year 165 Would turn the Rhine to Lager Beer. 166 The oyster with a million Lives, 167 If each potential Oyster thrives, 168 As with Encouragement they do, 169 Can turn the World to Oyster Stew, 170 Our social Future only wants 171 Bigger and Brighter Restaurants. 172 Thus from a hundred dusty Chairs in dusty Schools of Thought, 173 Professors' talks with Boards and Chalks the Work of Malthus taught, 174 Explained the social Danger hid 175 In each superfluous extra Kid. 176 Each Decade as it moved along 177 Rehearsed the wearisome Sing Song. 178 "When Numbers on Subsistence press then Wages cannot rise, 179 Humanity is in Distress because it multiplies. 180 No hope of social Betterment can ever be made good 181 Because the Wicked Working Class will eat up all the Food. 182 So if the Poor are here to stay 183 We need not worry anyway, 185 And Quack, quack, quack, and there you are!" 186 With every Decade more and more two Giant Forms were seen 187 To stride across the Universe as Power and as Machine, 188 And little Man beside them ran, knee-high he ran between, 189 All ignorant he was of why, 190 Or what these Things might mean. 191 Their Eyes of Brass, their Arms of Steel, 192 That Grip and Drive the Plunging Wheel, 193 That tear the Forest, burst the Soil, 194 And make the cloven Ocean boil, 195 Turn the white torrent's foaming Might 196 To strike with Death or blaze with Light. 197 -- What is the meaning, Little Man, 198 And have you got your little Plan? 199 "Ask teacher?" My dear sir, alack! 200 Your Teacher only says, "Quack, quack." 201 Thus forward drove the World, divorced from any one Control, 202 Each Man might grasp a little Part, no man could view the Whole. 203 The Giants drove it like the Wind 204 And Little Man clung on behind, 205 Picture of Terror and Despair 206 His Coat Tails flying in the Air. 207 Faster and faster, on they sped, 208 Machine and Power went mad, saw red, 209 On Little Man fell their Attack 210 And smashed his World to Bric-a-brac, -- 211 Broke it with War and at its Cease, 212 They turned and broke it worse with Peace, 213 Broke it with overwork, and then, with myriads of Workless Men; 215 And when their Rage had spent its Shocks, 216 Left little Man upon the Rocks 217 Of Economic Paradox. 218 His mournful Face and weeping Eyes 219 Look on his World in mild Surprise, 222 A crazy World it seems, grotesque, 223 Where all his Theory is Burlesque, 224 All jig-saw Bits, 225 Where nothing Fits 226 So there he sits 227 Bereft of Wits, -- 228 And murmurs through his little Hat, 229 "Will someone tell me where I'm at?" 230 Start once again, O Little Man! 231 Remember, when you first began, 232 What a determined Cuss you were 233 And how your Efforts made a Stir; 234 Recall again through Time's dim haze 236 With bed-room Exercise your Shape 237 You raised above the Common Ape. 238 You muttered to yourself, "They'll see! 239 There's no Ourang-Outang in me." 240 You practised every manual Trick, -- 241 Like how to use a pointed Stick, 242 Bent down a Bough and let it go 243 And grasped the notion of a Bow. 244 Deep-seated in a Cocoa-tree, 245 You learned to count as far as three; 246 Moved into Theory, went higher, 247 And saw that Heat was got from Fire. 248 You did not know it, but you were 249 The first Research Professor, sir, 250 Contained, within your hairy Body, 252 Nay, -- what is more, -- your Lot was rude 253 But showed the College attitude, 254 You made it an unswerving Rule 255 To disregard the Common Fool, 256 You overlooked the silly chaff 257 Of Laughing Jackass, gay Giraffe, 258 You heeded not the caustic Smile 259 Of Dinosaur or Crocodile, 260 Passed undisturbed the Ridicule 261 Of comic Crow or haw-haw Mule, -- 262 In short, in Culture's earliest Span 263 You acted like an Oxford Man. 264 Their Idleness soon proved their Loss; 265 You made yourself Creation's Boss 266 Do it again, -- see what I mean? -- 267 Come Little Man! Beat the Machine. 269 Show this new Demon who is who! 270 And first you have to throw away 271 The stuff that led you all astray. 272 Numbers are not the Bane of Man 273 And numbers never yet outran, -- 274 ... Go think it out; I'm sure you can. 275 For want and Poverty may come to empty Prairie, crowded Slum, -- 276 Enough, enough -- it's quite enough, 277 Get rid of all the Malthus Stuff. -- 278 Let's seek the Shade of Malthus out from where he walks at Night, 279 And bring him up for Punishment, -- It certainly seems right; 280 He that misled a hundred Years Man's Footsteps from his Path, -- 281 That turned our Household Joy to Tears, -- how shall he feel our Wrath? 282 Shall boiling Oil reduce his Flesh to Chicken à la King, 283 Would molten Lead upon his Head be pretty much the Thing? 284 Ah, no! not bye-gone Cruelty his erring Soul shall harry, 285 We'll fit the Punishment to Crime, make Mr. Malthus marry. 286 Ho! Reverend Robert, come and doff 287 That cleric suit; yes, take it off, -- 288 Nay, never mind the leather Face 289 The faded parchment skin, 291 Another life begin! 292 We'll dress him all in Love's Attire our great grandfathers knew 294 Behold the Sandy Beaver Hat, the Sandy-coloured Suit 296 Enormous Buttons, made of Horn, 297 Our Wedding Bridegroom shall adorn. 298 O! Hear the Bells -- that ring Ding, Dong, 300 Pop-u-la-tion for the Na-tion 301 Spells and tells its long sal-va-tion. 302 Now hold the Chime a little Time, 303 Malthus, the ringers stand beside 304 And let us go and bring the Bride. 305 She stands upon the Garden Path where she was wont to tread, 306 Eternal flowers, that know not Death, still nod beside her head. 307 In rustled Silk and Lavender, a hundred Years alone, 308 Is it in Truth a Maiden's Form, or withered Frame of Bone? 309 Seek not the hooded Face to scan where hides the drooping Head 310 Perchance the Curls lie damp upon the Features of the Dead; 311 Perchance in place of glowing Life, now desiccated, null, 312 Earth's final Parody of Love, the Simpering of a Skull. 313 Or Maid, or Ghost, or Pictured Fate 314 Let her be what she may, 315 We bring her forth to join her Mate 316 This Golden Wedding Day. 317 Moving before us, 318 Singing in Chorus, 319 Golden and Glorious, 320 Time honoured Lay, 321 Of wearing a Bonnet, 322 A blue ribbon on it, 323 On a Golden Wedding Day. 324 Bring on the same old Thesis 325 Of how Man Increases 326 As the Clover Blossoms blow. 327 And we'll sing such Pieces 329 And we go where Ratios go. 330 For if Man increases 331 If he never, never ceases 332 If he never, never says, "Go Slow!" 335 But it's all right -- Let er -- go. (music dies away) Notes 1] Leacock says the following about Malthus in his preface: The theory of Malthus was triumphant for a hundred years. It was regarded as a melancholy truth, but as none the less true. The great American economist, Francis Walker, spoke of argument directed at it as being only the `headless arrows of beginners.' But from the first I shot my headless arrows at it, unheeded. All that is true about the Malthus stuff is that if people multiply fast enough and long enough presently there won't be standing room. But it is no explanation of the industrial poverty, the starvation and the slum of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The great collapse of the last five years has proved this to everybody. Poverty, unemployment and disaster have overwhelmed alike the city and the solitude: the world is starving in the midst of plenty: numbers have nothing to do with it. There is no population problem for humanity at large: only for the single family, that cannot place its offspring: and that problem belongs not under `numbers-and-subsistence,' but under socialorganization. Leacock's subtitle conflates "hick" (country bumpkin, uneducated farmer) with "economics" and "elements."
In regard to Malthus himself, I have permitted myself, in the interests of art, to clothe him with an imaginary character and appearance to suit his doctrine. It is true that Malthus, who was an ordained clergyman but lectured for the East India Company at their college at Haileybury, had a hare lip and was more or less unintelligible to his hearers. This, however, is hardly a disadvantage for a professor of political economy. But there is no reason to imagine that the reverend gentleman was cadaverous or doleful, or averse to the joys of matrimony. He married at twenty-nine and had a nurseryful of children. But Art is higher than literal truth. (vi-vii)
Back to Line 14] Malthus wrote: "Population ... increases in a geometrical ratio, subsistence in an arithmetical ratio" ( Population i.i.14 ; as quoted by OED). In an arithmetical ratio, increase occurs by a constant, e.g., 2, 4, 6, 8 ..., but the comparable geometic ratio increase would be 2, 4, 8, 16, 32 ... Back to Line 28] Political economy then held that the price of goods fluctuated according to the available supply and the rate of demand. If this demand remained steady, and if competition existed, supply would catch up to demand and the cost of goods would stabilize. Back to Line 50] Choker: white neckerchief or colar worn by the clergy. Shovel Hat: a broad-rimmed, stiff hat with a shovelled curve in front and back, worn by clergymen. Back to Line 76] Quintuplets: Oliva and Elzire Dionne had quintuplets on May 28, 1934, at Corbeil, Ontario. The Ontario government took the five, Annette, Emilie, Yvonne, Cecile, and Marie, away from the parents and placed them in a special hospital, where they became a multi-million-dollar tourist attraction. Unfortunately, these sisters did not do well from all this attention. See Pierre Burton, The Dionne Years: A Thirties Melodrama (Toronto: Seal, 1978; CT 9998 .D5B47). Back to Line 79] Wordsworth: William Wordsworth, poet laureate (1770-1850), and his poem "We are Seven." Back to Line 107] four years ago: Leacock's preface is dated April Fool's Day, 1936. In 1932 all four western provinces were in effect bankrupt and the federal government established unemployment relief camps. Back to Line 109] the Slump: now called the Great Depression. Back to Line 184] "and so forth and so on" (a French expression: see the OED, which lists examples 1904-29). Back to Line 220] Potomac: river running through Washington, D.C. The event to which Leacock alludes has not been found. Back to Line 221] on the Dole: lining up for rations in public, on welfare. Back to Line 251] Rutherford: Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937), British physicist. Soddy: Frederick Soddy (1877-1956), British chemist. Back to Line 268] flying reptiles that were extinct long before man was around to hunt them. Back to Line 290] chuck a Brace: throw away your crutch (?). Back to Line 295] Hessian Boot: German boot extending almost to the knee. Back to Line 299] Euthalameon: from Latin "euthalos," `laurel'? Back to Line 328] Paresis: an incomplete paralysis of the insane. Back to Line 333] Pop-stop: stop to fathering (being a "pop")? or poppycock (silliness)? Back to Line 334] ergo: therefore. drop-stop: an end to the Slump? Back to Line