Thomas Robert Malthus was born to a wealthy family near Surrey, England. His father, the eccentric Daniel Malthus, was friends with both David Hume and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Malthus was educated privately at home and, at age 13, began two years of study in residence with Richard Graves, a Protestant minister near Bath. He excelled in history, classics, and fighting. In a letter to Daniel Malthus on the progress of his son, Graves stated that young Thomas "loves fighting for fighting's sake, and delights in bruising. . . ." In 1783, Malthus enrolled in a religious academy for Protestant dissenters; when it failed the same year, he became the private student of a radical Unitarian minister. At age 18, he enrolled at Jesus College, Cambridge, where he studied mathematics and the classics. He graduated from Cambridge in 1788 and became an ordained minister in the Church of England in 1791. Malthus and his father frequently discussed the issues of the day. When the elder Malthus became fascinated with the utopian philosophy of the popular William Godwin, which preached a vision of peace, prosperity, and equality for all, the younger Malthus expressed his doubts in a manuscript intended only for his father. His father suggested, however, that it be published and so "An Essay on the Principle of Population As It Affects the Future Improvement of Society" appeared in 1798. The book was an instant success. Well written, it argued that population tended to grow at a geometric (exponential) rate, whereas the resources needed to support the population would only grow at an arithmetic (linear) rate. Eventually, society would not have the resources to support its population, and the result would be misery, poverty, and a subsistence standard of living for the masses. "An Essay on the Principle of Population" thrust Malthus into the public eye and dealt such a lethal blow to utopian visions that economics was soon called "the dismal science." In 1805, Malthus became the first person in England to receive the title of political economist when he was appointed professor of history and political economy at the East India College. In 1811, he met David Ricardo, and the two soon became lifelong friends and professional rivals. In 1820, Malthus published "Principles of Political Economy," a sometimes obscure but far-reaching treatment of economics that advocated a form of national income accounting, made advances in the theory of rent, and extended the analysis of supply and demand. Today, Malthus is more remembered for his views on population than for his views on economics. Even so, his other achievements have not gone unnoticed. John Maynard Keynes paid the ultimate tribute when he wrote:"If only Malthus, instead of Ricardo, had been the parent stem from which nineteenth-century economics proceeded, what a much wiser and richer place the world would be today!"
Philip Appleman is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Indiana University, where he was a founding editor of Victorian Studies. He is the author of a book on overpopulation, The Silent Explosion and coeditor of 1859: Entering an Age of Crisis. He has also published three novels and several volumes of poetry.