MALTHUS, THOMAS ROBERT. 1766-1834. An Essay on the Principle of Population, as It Affects the Future Improvement of Society.  London: J. Johnson, 1798.

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Lot 36
MALTHUS, THOMAS ROBERT. 1766-1834.
An Essay on the Principle of Population, as It Affects the Future Improvement of Society. London: J. Johnson, 1798.

Sold for US$ 137,000 inc. premium
MALTHUS, THOMAS ROBERT. 1766-1834.
An Essay on the Principle of Population, as It Affects the Future Improvement of Society. London: J. Johnson, 1798.
8vo (202 x 110 mm). [2], v, [1], ix, [1], 396 pp. Printed on blue paper. Contemporary half-calf and marbled boards. Some faint browning and a few scattered spots, front hinge cracked, first three leaves sprung, binding worn.
Provenance: E[dwin] Cannan (ownership signature penciled to title).

FIRST EDITION, ECONOMIST EDWIN CANNAN'S COPY. A foundational text of modern economics. Malthus sought to demonstrate that while the population of a community increases geometrically, food supplies increase only arithmetically. As a result, various "checks" emerge—which Malthus classified as either "vice" or "misery"—to keep the population from outstripping the food supply. These include wars, famines, plagues, delayed marriages, prostitution, and contraception. This relationship of food supply to population growth and the necessity of these checks, Malthus argued, meant that the perfectibility of society was not possible (the Essay was born from an argument with Malthus' father over the works of Godwin and other utopians).
The Essay proved both controversial and highly influential to early 19th century thinkers. Both Darwin and Wallace, for example, acknowledged its articulation of the struggle for existence as an important source in the development of their theory of natural selection.
"For today's readers, living in a post-Malthus era, the world's population problems are well known and serious, but no longer sensational. It is difficult therefore to appreciate the radical and controversial impact made by the Essay at the time of publication. It challenged the conventional notion that population growth is an unmixed blessing. It discussed prostitution, contraception, and other sexual matters. And it gave vivid descriptions of the horrendous consequences of overpopulation and of the brutal means by which populations are checked" (ODNB).
This copy bears the ownership signature of the British economist and economic historian Edwin Cannan (1861-1935), professor at the London School of Economics from 1925-1926, best known for his 1904 edition of The Wealth of Nations and his History of the Theories of Production and Distribution in English Political Economy (1893). Cannan analyzed Malthius in the latter, as well as in "The Malthusian Anti-Socialist Argument" (Economic Review January, 1892) and elsewhere. PMM 251.

Saleroom notices

  • Neatly rebacked.
Contacts
MALTHUS, THOMAS ROBERT. 1766-1834. An Essay on the Principle of Population, as It Affects the Future Improvement of Society.  London: J. Johnson, 1798.
MALTHUS, THOMAS ROBERT. 1766-1834. An Essay on the Principle of Population, as It Affects the Future Improvement of Society.  London: J. Johnson, 1798.
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