T HE past few years have seen frequent -- indeed, increasingly frequent -- references to Malthus and the Malthusian theory of population. At least five books of repute, published since World War II and attracting considerable attention in Britain, have taken as a central thesis the pressure of population growth upon world resources. Public-health experts have pointed to the prospect of still more rapid population growth in areas in which, as in Ceylon and British Guiana, new methods of controlling disease are being applied. And the problems which may result from rapid population growth in such areas were used as major illustrations in Professor A. V. Hill's Presidential Address to the British Association in 1952, on "the ethical dilemma of science."
But though the Malthusian theory has once again become a topic of the day, what Malthus actually wrote is far from widely known. As his publishers said, "It has been frequently remarked, that no work has been so much talked of by persons who do not seem to have read it, as Mr. Malthus's Essay on Population." Nor is this surprising. The first edition of the Essay is vigorous and provocative, but is substantially different from the second and subsequent editions, in which the theory is elaborated and the practice of "moral restraint" put forward as a population policy. Those later editions, offering a treatise in place of the original country-house essay, grew bulkier as the author added documentation and qualifications and defended himself against major and minor critics. The fifth and sixth editions are by no means easy reading;