Malthus was born on 13 February 1766 into a large prosperous family living in Westcott, Surrey. He was educated at home, then Warrington Academy, and entered Jesus College, Cambridge, in 1784, eventually being elected a Fellow in 1793. Earlier, though, he had taken orders for the Church of England, and become a curate. His first work - An Essay on the Principle of Population - was published anonymously in 1798, and then revised by him five or six times, during his lifetime, incorporating new information. The work made him famous at the time, and he remains one of the most well remembered of early economists.
Essentially, Malthus argued in his essay that hopes for future human happiness - as expressed by learned men, including his father - must be in vain because food supply, which increases in arithmetic progression, will always be outstripped by population growth, which increases by geometric progression if unchecked. Indeed, population, he argued, will expand to the limit of subsistence, and be held in check by war, famine, ill health.
In 1804, Malthus married Harriet Eckersall, and they had three children. When the East India Company College was founded, in 1805-1806, to train administrators for the Honourable East India Company, he was appointed professor of history and political economy. Although initially situated in Hertford, new buildings including accommodation for the professors and their families were soon after constructed at Haileybury, just outside the city, where Malthus taught and lived for the rest of his life (having helped, in 1817, defend the college against closure).
In 1818, Malthus was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. In 1820, he published his Principles of Political Economy, and soon after was a founding member the Political Economy Club. Later, he was elected one of the 10 royal associates of the Royal Society of Literature, and he cofounded the Statistical Society of London. He died suddenly in late 1834. Further information is available at Wikipedia, The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, BBC, Encyclopaedia Britannica, New World Encyclopedia or the Biographical Dictionary of British Economists.
Malthus travelled infrequently: to northern Europe in 1799, through Sweden and Finland to St Petersburg; to France and Switzerland in 1802; to Ireland in 1819; to the Continent in 1825; and to Scotland in 1826. He may have kept diaries on all these trips, who knows, but only those from 1799, 1825 and 1826 appear to have survived - the 1799 diary (four notebooks) only being discovered in 1961. These diaries were transcribed and edited by Patricia James and published in 1966 in Cambridge at the University Press for the Royal Economic Society as The Travel Diaries of Thomas Robert Malthus.
According to the eminent British economist Lionel Robbins, who wrote the foreword, the diaries are not only notable for their occasional entries on population questions (shedding light on differences between the first and second editions of ‘Essay on the Principle of Population’), but because ‘they afford valuable evidence of general temper of the author’s mind in its focus on the economic aspect of things - his patient empiricism, his concern with the mundane details of institutions and customary behaviour, his persistent interest in the costs and amenities of living in different environments.’
Robbins finishes his foreword: ‘Since the discovery of these diaries, I have often thought of the pleasure which they would have given to Maynard Keynes who wrote so eloquently of their author and who valued so highly the ways of living and thinking for which he stood. How he would have relished the piquant details of travel and the agreeable parties at which such serious questions were discussed. It is a fitting thing that they should now be published by the Royal Economic Society whose fortunes he did so much to establish and whose meetings for so many years were made memorable by the liveliness of his wit and fancy.’
Here are several extracts from the three tours: Scandinavia, 1799 (four notebooks), the Continent, 1825, and Scotland, 1826.
13 June 1799
‘Showry. Therm at 2, 59. Saw the King’s library which consists of upwards of 300,000 volumes. It contains many scarce books & valuable manuscripts; but we were too much pressed for time to examine them with any attention. Talked to a man who had published a book on Statistics. According to his calculations, 1 in 40 die in Norway, 1 in 38 in the islands, 1 in 37 in the dutchies. He said that Professor Thaarup had stolen from him. Call’d upon Monsr. Wad, professor of natural history in the University, a great mineralogist, & saw some curious specimens relating to the formation of coal & amber, a new semimetal & some new crystals & c. & c. We have found all the professors that we have seen extremely polite, & ready to give every kind of information. The King’s library is open every day from 10 till 12, & a professor generally attends.
There are no corn laws in Denmark & no publick store except a small one for the army. The Bank is entirely a government institution but in great credit. The notes are as low as 1 rix dollar. Silver must be paid at the bank when demanded. These notes bear a discount in Holstein. I heard, but do not know whether from good authority or not, that there was a discount on these notes in the islands about 10 yrs ago. The Bank is said now to be very rich in silver, & it is thought probable that in a few years the notes will be destroyed & that there will be only a silver currency.
Every thing is remarkably dear at present in Copenhagen. Beef & mutton 6d., Fresh butter is. Common labour in the environs of the town 2s. - in the country 1s. 4d. There is a very great demand for labour at present, and labourers are scarce. Every thing in the shops is remarkably dear, & books particularly so. Only four years ago labour in the country was 1 danish marc or 8d. a day. This rapid rise in the price of labour has placed the lower classes in a very good state, and it is expected that there will be a very rapid increase of population. In the afternoon went to see the review, which upon the whole went off very well, tho it was unluckily a showry afternoon. The soldiers at a distance appeared to be handsomely drest, but on a nearer view their cloathing was very coarse. The horses small, but handsome, & in good order - all with long tails. Towards the end of the review I got near the King’s tent & saw him quite close. He is treated quite as an idiot. The officers about the court have all orders not to give him any answer. Some of the party observed him talking very fast & making faces at an officer who was one of the sentinels at the tent, who preserved the utmost gravity of countenance & did not answer him a single word. Just before the royal party left the tent the Prince rode up full speed, & his father made him a very low bow. I could not well distinguish the Prince’s countenance, and could only see that he had a thin pale face & a small person. His father has the same kind of face & person, but is reckoned a better looking man.
We observed the French minister with his national cockade. He had an interesting, tho rather fier countenance, and seemed to look on what he saw as a poor farce not worth his attention. When he addressed any person his features relaxed into mildness & he seemed to be perfectly well bred in his manner. The Princess Royal is rather pretty, and is, I understand, a most agreeable & valuable woman. Lady R F spoke in the highest terms of her - She is a daughter of the Prince of Hesse who lives in the palace at Sleswic. We saw the Princess get into her carriage with her daughter, the only remaining child of five, who is now about five yrs old. There was a large party of nobility in the King’s tent, but Ld R F was not there. The King drove off first, accompanied by the Princess Royal & her daughter, in a gilt chariot with six very handsome grey horses.’
28 June 1799
‘We were engaged to dine with Mr Ancher at half past 2, & to go to his brother’s in the evening. In the morning, walked up to the Castle with the daughter of the landlord of our Inn as an interpreter. She speaks french, is a little of a coquette, & is much celebrated in the neighbourhood for the gracefulness of her manners; but she has not much pretension to beauty. On account of her superior accomplishments she is admitted into the first circle at Christiania. Mr A praised her highly & said that she was one of their best actresses. They have private theatricals at Christiania as well as at Frederickshall, & Mr A himself often takes a principal part - sometimes indeed that of author as well as actor. He told us of a tragedy that he had written on the subject of the death of Major Andre, which he performed before the Prince Royal, playing himself the part of the Major. The Prince, he told us, was highly pleased.’
8 June 1825
‘Bruges at 8 o’clock. Hotel nearly full.’
9 June 1825
‘Tower in the Market Place. Church of Notre Dame: Carved Pulpit. Statue of the Virgin by Michaelangelo. Tombs of Charles the Bold & his daughter. St Salvador. Baptism of John by Van Os. Resurrection not yet put up.
Church of Jerusalem not worth going to. Black Manteau’s. Some of the whitened houses do not suit the antient character of the Town.
At the Hotel Fleur de Bled Vin de Bordeaux ordinaire 2.f.’
10 June 1825
‘To Ghent by the Grand Barque. Passage 5½ francs each, dinner included, wine excluded. Vin de Bordeaux ordinaire 3 f. Claret at 4 f. not better. - rather approaching to the wine at 1½ f.’
For a great part of the way the banks were so high that the country was not visible - wood on each side - chiefly poplar of different kinds, and beech - Latter part of way banks lower - neat houses - good deal of rye the main food of the common people. Labour 14 sous, 28 French Sous. White bread 3½ pounds for 4 Sous or pence.’
11 June 1825
‘Town - marks of the wealth and splendour of the middle ages. Cathedrale de St Bavo rich in marble. Pulpit by Delvaux. Statue of Bishop Trieste by Quesnoy. Chch. St Michael. Crucifixion by Vandyke - a very fine picture, but dirty, and not distinct. -another copy in Academy in better order, but not reckoned so good. Van Kraeger. Boxon sculptor - single portrait of himself.
Nunnery. Town Hall Gothic side superb.
Sabots, women without stockings. Blue Carters frocks. Cotton cloaks.’
12 June 1825
‘Feats of swimming from the bridges of the Schelde and the Leys, numerous barges laden with Coals chiefly from Charleroix.
In the afternoon to Brussels by the Diligence - premiere caisse. Pavé the first half of the way between two rows of beeches. Country flat but not unpleasing from the number of trees - chiefly different kinds of poplar, and beech, - no large timber. Much rye in full ear, and good crops, some barley turning yellow, - but little wheat - just coming into ear. good crops flax. From Alost the crops of wheat and rye forwarder, and the finest and fullest I ever saw. - the first half of the way the houses the neatest, - last half thatched cottages, and a waving country much like England. Alost and Assche very white and cheerful. Blue frocks, women without shoes. Hotel Belle Vue. Place Royale. Park - splendid.’
4 July 4 1826
‘Hill by Turnpike before breakfast. Small hill the other way after breakfast. Down to Stoney river and wooden bridge. View of Luss & Ben Lomond. Steam boat. Rowerdennan. Tarbet. Inversnaith. Rob Roy’s cave. Tarbet. Walk on a shoulder of one of the mountains in the evening.
Heard at Luss that the wages of the man who worked in the slate quarries were about 20d. a day. All had been employed, and there had been little or no fall.
In Fifeshire, from Mr Bruce the same account. Wages had risen in 1825, and had not fallen again - no want of agricultural work. In 1811, 12 and 13 the price of labour for single men had been 12s. a week. In 1823, they had fallen to 9s. and in 1825 rose to 10s. at which price they remained, June 30th 1826. For about 3 months of the year the wages are only 9s,; and during the harvest much is done by piece work.
Married men are paid by the keep of a cow, a house, potatoe & flax ground, with a certain yearly sum in money. At one period of the war unmarried ploughmen paid by the year received 18£, and 6½ bolls of meal with milk. In 1816 the money wages fell to 9£. At present. 12£. Altogether what the married men receive is worth more than the earnings of the single man. Their wages in money are about half those of the single man.
The boll of wheat is rather above 4 bushels, of barly six, of oats six.
Farms are now for the most part let in Scotland so as to vary with the price of corn. Sometimes the whole rent varies with the price of corn, and sometimes a part is reserved in Money.’