Thursday, 29 December 2011

Becket and Malthus: two Toms

Thomas a Becket and Thomas Malthus

from Chambers' Book of Days for 30 December


In connection with the renowned Thomas Becket, a curious story is related of the marriage of his parents. It is said that Gilbert, his father, had in his youth followed the Crusaders to Palestine, and while in the East had been taken prisoner by a Saracen or Moor of high rank. Confined by the latter within his own castle, the young Englishman's personal attractions and miserable condition alike melted the heart of his captor's daughter, a fair Mohammedan, who enabled him to escape from prison and regain his native country. Not wholly disinterested, however, in the part which she acted in this matter, the Moor's daughter obtained a promise from Gilbert, that as soon as he had settled quietly in his own land, he should send for, and marry his protectress. Years passed on, but no message ever arrived to cheer the heart of the love-lorn maiden, who there-upon resolved to proceed to England and remind the forgetful knight of his engagement.

This perilous enterprise she actually accomplished; and though knowing nothing of the English language beyond the Christian name of her lover and his place of residence in London, which was Cheap-side, she contrived to search him out and with greater success than could possibly have been anticipated, found him ready to fulfil his former promise by making her his wife. Previous to the marriage taking place, she professed her conversion to Christianity, and was baptized with great solemnity in St. Paul's Cathedral, no less than six bishops assisting at the ceremony. The only child of this union was the celebrated Thomas Becket, whose devotion in after-years to the cause of the church, may be said to have been a befitting recompense for the attention which her ministers had shewn in watching over the spiritual welfare of his mother.


The first edition of the work, which has conferred on him such notoriety, appeared in 1798, under the title of An Essay on the Principle of Population, as it affects the Future Improvement of Society, with Remarks on the Speculations of Mr. Godwin, M. Condorcet, and other Writers. In subsequent issues, the title of the work was changed to its present form: An Essay on the Principle of Population; or a View of its Past and Present Effects on Human Happiness, with an Inquiry into our Prospects respecting the Future Removal or Mitigation of the Evils which it occasions.

The leading principle in this work is, that population, when unchecked, doubles itself at the end of every period of twenty-five years, and thus increases, in a geometrical progression, or the ratio of 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32; whilst the means of subsistence increases only, in an arithmetical progression, or the ratio of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. The author discusses the question of the various restrictions, physical and moral, which tend to keep population from increasing, and thus prevent it outstripping the means of subsistence in the race of life. A misapprehension of the writer's views, combined with his apparent tendency to pessimism in the regarding of misery and suffering as the normal condition of humanity, has contributed, notwithstanding the philosophical soundness of many of his theories, to invest the name of Malthus with much opprobrium.

When the common or vulgar impression regarding Mr. Malthus's celebrated essay is considered, it is surprising to find that the man was one of the most humane and amiable of mortals. His biographer tells us, it would be difficult to overestimate the beauty of his private life and character. His life:

'a perpetual flow of enlightened benevolence, contentment, and peace;' 'his temper mild and placid, his allowances for others large and considerate, his desires moderate, and his command over his own passions complete.' 'No unkind or uncharitable expression respecting any one, either present or absent, ever fell from his lips All the members of his family loved and honoured him; his servants lived with him till their marriage or settlement in life; and the humble and poor within his influence always found him disposed, not only to assist and improve them, but to treat them with kindness and respect' 'To his intimate friends, his loss can rarely, if ever, be supplied; there was in him a union of truth, judgment, and warmth of heart, which at once invited confidence, and set at nought all fear of being ridiculed or betrayed. You were always sure of his sympathy; and wherever the case allowed it, his assistance was as prompt and effective as his advice was sound and good.'

Becket's connection with Wymondham is described in Wiki, here. The Chapel was, until recently, the library. Now it is a successful art centre. The house by the railway crossing is called Becketswell Cottage. Between Thomas and Samuel of almost the same name, Wymondham ought to find some common ground. Perhaps it might yet.

As to Malthus, more another time. It is late and we have been swimming in the social stream all day so I feel I have grown scales and gills.

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