Victorian Virtue: Smith, Malthus, and Hardy / by Tyler Wood

"Manners make the man; that is, they make his fortune (Household Words 296)."

Self-sacrifice, in Victorian England, was a virtue of the utmost importance. This was a time when modesty and manners reigned supreme, but also a time of a child boom, so what was virtuous for a man to do in this era? One thing for sure is to sacrifice for the betterment of all. This idea was ingrained into the realms of economics, politics, nation building, sexuality, and of course - morality. In Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy uses the popular ideas of a virtuous man and turns them on their head for the sake of showing what ends society's 'virtue' and 'morality' ultimately lead to. Hardy, unlike Adam Smith and Thomas Malthus, makes love and passion worthy ideals to sacrifice for.


Adam Smith

One person writing about the virtues of man and work was Adam Smith. In Wealth of Nations Smith writes about the frugal and imprudent spenders and how that affects their characters as men. He is adamant about a man working to earn his keep. He relates a man's worth in work to his worth to society as a whole by saying, "Every prodigal appears to be a publick enemy, and every frugal man a publick benefactor (Wealth of Nations [WN] 203)." He associates a man's drive for work and frugality to his character and thus to the nation's character. He believes that "frugality and good conduct is sufficient to compensate, not only the private prodigality and misconduct of individuals, but the publick extravagance of government (WN 205)." For Smith, the Victorian virtuous man represents the nation's health. He associates, as do many at the time, good character to good rewards from the "invisible hand" of the market. A good earner is a good earner because he has a good virtuous character. Not just in working hard, but in frugality. "As the capital of an individual can be increased only by what he saves from his annual revenue or his annual gains, so the capital of a society, which is the same with that of all the individuals who compose it, can be increased only in the same manner (WN 199)," he says. By saving and not spending lavishly, the individual sacrifices the luxuries of 'now' and saves for later. This is a solid stance for a free marketer, and a healthy one for all of us to learn. This is where self-sacrifice relates to economy the most, according to Smith. If you sacrifice your body and mind to work and your money to savings, you will gain on your fellow man and become a wealthier person for it. This wealth represents your ability as a virtuous man to sacrifice.

A man's behavior and character is always being judged by everyone in Victorian society, and if everyone's individual character represents the nation's, it is no wonder why that behavior is under intense scrutiny by everyone. In A Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith uses the idea of sympathy as the standard for how we should see people. Philosophically speaking,

"Smith relates sympathy to approval. For a spectator to approve of an agent's feelings is for him to observe that he sympathizes with the agent. This account is used as the basis of the analysis of propriety. For a spectator to judge that an agent's act is proper or appropriate is for him to approve of the agent's act. The agent's act lacks propriety, in the judgment of the spectator, if the spectator does not sympathize with the agent's performance (Stanford Philosophy Dictionary)."

Besides being a reasonable tool for judging if a novel is good, Smith uses sympathy as a justification for certain situations a person acting incorrectly may be in, namely - poverty. This, Smith feels, is a check on certain things, but he doesn't feel it is a total check; it only discourages people from acting improper. He claims, "Poverty, though it no doubt discourages, does not always prevent marriage (WN 79)." This has economic results, which I will get more into for Malthus, but poverty does, according to Smith, discourage some marriages. Smith must feel that marriage is not suited for certain individuals if poverty, which is linked to character for him, is discouraging marriage. The reason might be that, "Poverty, though it does not prevent the generation, is extremely unfavorable to the rearing of children (WN 79)." The fact that children cost money must be his reasoning for not getting married if a man is poor. A man must sacrifice himself first to get money to pay for the children before he gets married and has them. The assumption is that a man must be married to have children, and he must earn enough for the family in order to be virtuous. He must sacrifice by working hard and saving to get money. Smith assumes here that a man makes enough to save some also. Smith, like so many early political economists, sees only the market and overlooks the greed of masters; however, this idea is what the popular idea of the time was, because of Smith partly.

Smith rests all the blame of a man's situation on the man himself. One can see his view of 'blame' when he talks about supply and demand by defending the ale-houses. He says, "It is not the multitude of ale-houses that occasions a general disposition of drunkenness among the common people; but that disposition arising from other causes necessarily gives employment to a multitude of ale-houses (WN 215)." What he is getting at is the order of character loss. Ale-houses are built because people want to drink: it is not the case that because ale-houses are built people drink. Smith, in this idea, is claiming that the effects economically, namely ale-houses being built, derive from the cause characteristically of the man, namely that he wants to drink. This translates to character by saying it is the bad character that puts people into bad situations, hence it is their fault. Thus, it is not situations that change them into bad characters. The virtuous man is responsible for every situation he finds himself in, according to Smith's view, but the optimistic thing is that if you sacrifice you can 'pull yourself up by your bootstraps' and better your situation and in the process your country's as well.


Thomas Malthus

Thomas Malthus agrees with Smith that the man is responsible for himself and his own survival. In his theory, Malthus states:

"It may appear, perhaps, that a doctrine, which attributes the greatest part of the suffering of the lower classes of society exclusively to themselves, is unfavorable to the cause of liberty; as affording a tempting opportunity to governments of oppressing their subjects at pleasure, and laying the whole blame on the laws of nature and the imprudence of the poor (PP 243)."

Malthus takes this personal responsibility further than Smith; however, and claims that a man is responsible for his family and offspring to the point of a stronger self-sacrificing model than Smith's. In An Essay on the Principle of Population he says, "A man who is born into a world already possessed, if he cannot get subsistence from his parents on whom he has a just demand, and if the society does not want his labour, has no claim of right to the smallest portion of food." He goes on to talk about the disruption to society, in which this "intruder" has dealt to the society. The "harmony of the feast is disturbed" and "the plenty that before reigned is changed into scarcity (PP 249)." He paints a dark picture for those who do not sacrifice. Mother Nature has "humanely refused to admit fresh comers when her table was already full (PP 249)." Malthus focuses on the moral and sexual sacrifice a man must make to be virtuous in Victorian England. He makes no claims that there is any obligation to help the poor because it is God's will for them to be poor; he is a Reverend after all. Like Smith, Malthus believes that poor people have bad characters and that is why they are poor. Moreover, Malthus doesn't want them to marry and have children. Whereas Smith only points out that this is not an economically wise thing to do, and because of that it could have a bad outcome to your character. However, Malthus is saying that by getting married and having children when one cannot afford it will ruin one's character in and itself because this is more of a moral claim than when Smith was saying it. Smith is commenting on the economic principles of gain and loss, whereas Malthus uses this sacrifice for the eternal salvation or damnation in God's will. Both are claiming poor choices affect a man's character and virtue in a society. "He who performs his duty faithfully will reap the full fruits of it, it is merely that he is not to bring beings into the world for whom he cannot find the means of support (PP 226)." Malthus believes it impossible to stop married couples from having sex, and he disagrees with birth control; therefore, he wants a man to sacrifice getting married altogether until he can afford to support a family. Smith warns that this is a financial problem, but Malthus makes it a stronger moral claim. These sacrifices, again, represent the character of the man. The virtuous man must sacrifice marriage for the salvation after life as well as the financial gain and respect of others in this (Victorian) society. This being such a strong claim by Malthus he must be thinking this is a 'must-do' action.

Furthermore, Malthus worries about issues of overcrowding and argues that people need to think ahead before making choices that affect them and everyone around them. This idea ties the individual, as Smith pointed out, to the nation as a whole. This reason goes to justify why others have the final say on the matter of acceptability and good character. Both Smith and Malthus make the claim that manners and morality are essentially based in self-concern and self-motivated ideas. The impetus for this is that the character is directly attached to the actions and the character is also attached to acceptance in society. Being accepted is very important in society; if you lose your character ('lose' because it was your choice) you will be shunned. Malthus points out some cases,  "According to Mr. Colquhoun [a business man and pro-industry writer], above twenty thousand miserable individuals of various classes rise up every morning without knowing how, or by what means, they are to be supported during the passing day, or where, in many instances, they are to lodge on the succeeding night." Malthus goes on to say, "A still greater part perhaps consists of persons who, being unable for some time to get employment, owing to the full supply of labour, have been urged to these extremities by their temporary wants, and having thus lost their characters, are rejected even when their labour may be wanted by the well-founded caution of civil society (PP 233-234)." Malthus, like Smith, puts the choices before the loss of character and thus furthers the idea that being in a bad situation in society is the fault of no one but the man in that situation. He points out that it is their "temporary wants" that drive people to make poor choices, assuming that if they did not "want" these things (whatever they may be) they would otherwise be fine (i.e. roof over their head and food on the table). The idle or imprudent try and get free stuff and that is the cause of their starvation, is his idea here. Self-sacrifice is the virtue that will never get you into trouble, it seems, since frugal men are the envy of all men. And to know that these men have good characters all you have to look at is their income and their ability to take care of their family.


Thomas Hardy

"The flowers in the bride's hand are sadly like the garland which decked the heifers of sacrifice in old times!"

"Still, Sue, it is no worse for the woman than for the man. That's what some women fail to see, and instead of protesting against the conditions they protest against the man, the other victim; just as a woman in a crowd will abuse the man who crushes against her, when he is only the helpless transmitter of the pressure put upon him (JO 301)."

Thomas Hardy was not a mainstream thinker and he did not completely agree with the standard virtuous man of Victorian England. His novels were seen as, not just obscure, but obscene. He dared to get at the reality of the situation, not at the ideology of the era. He wanted to know about the "conditions" and not protest the "transmitter." Jude the Obscure was burned by one reverend for its obscenity, and hated by many others for its attack on the institution of marriage. Malthus might have agreed to an extent in waiting to marry, but not to attack that institution as an institution. Hardy dared to ask why people might be poor and starving but also be of good character, like Charles Dickens, and some others had done. Hardy did it with tragedy, however, not optimism for the future. Hardy wanted to find out who was really to blame, if anybody.

Hardy brings a real character into existence, Jude Fawley, to shed some light on what he thought were real conditions of the day. There was one thing that Smith and Malthus failed to note in the Virtuous man of England, yet impossible to miss in real life - love. Jude has passion and love, and these are the things that throw him into the downward spiral. Jude's first love is learning and reading in order to get into college at Christminster. Jude is a different sort of person than what Smith and Malthus talk about. Jude is not self-interested like the examples used by Smith, he is "a species of Dick Whittington [a man who, when he died, gave all his money to benefit the city of London] whose spirit was touched to finer issues than a mere material gain (JO 83)." According to the Professor he later writes to, Jude should not have dreams of being of the higher classes, but Jude had a dream and a passion. Hardy sets this dream up to fail tragically, in order to illustrate that there is much more going on than simple virtues and manners. Jude sacrificed all of his waking time to reading for his dream of scholarship, something that would otherwise be respected by Smith and Malthus. Hardy believes there are different things that people sacrifice that should also be respected, and that not everyone is a saint. Not everyone can sacrifice all the time or sacrifice all the things Smith and Malthus talk about. He says, "The next morning came, and the self-sacrifice of the woman on the altar of what she was pleased to call her principles was acquiesced in by these two friends, each from his own point of view (JO 388)," talking about Sue. He notes that the friends see this sacrifice from their "own point of view." This hints at what Hardy feels about any given situation. He believes that it is subjective.

Smith talks about 'gain' as capital gain, but Hardy uses gain in almost every instance in attaining social positions, not money. These positions don't always have money attached, so this points to an idea that people put a price on other things besides money. Hardy mentions gaining a husband and gaining a wife, etc... He uses these words on purpose to point out a discrepancy he sees in Smith's idea of wealth. Smith believes that one should sacrifice for wealth, but what if people believe that wealth is a family and children? What if, to Jude, wealth is simply having Sue and being married? If that is what Hardy is saying, and I think it is, then Jude is acting right along the lines of Smith's advice for a virtuous man. He sacrificed his dreams for Sue:

"At dusk that evening he went into the garden and dug a shallow hole, to which he brought out all the theological and ethical works that he possessed, and had stored here. He knew that, in this country of true believers, most of them were not saleable at a much higher price than waste-paper value, and preferred to get rid of them in his own way, even if he should sacrifice a little money to the sentiment of thus destroying them. Lighting some loose pamphlets to begin with, he cut the volumes into pieces as well as he could, and with a three-pronged fork shook them over the flames. They kindled, and lighted up the back of the house, the pigsty, and his own face, till they were more or less consumed (JO 229)."

He is laying it all on the line for "wealth." Economically he is doing what he has to do in order to keep money coming in and paying for what he needs, and when Sue and the kids are there, them as well. But what Jude (in his "point of view") thinks of wealth is much different than what Smith thinks about wealth.

Jude avoided women, until women came to him. His passion for women, albeit blind, convinced him to give Arabella some of his time. His natural feelings towards women, which I believe Hardy is saying all men have (which is true, at least straight men), are feelings that shouldn't have to be checked if they are natural. Hardy points out that it may not be the personal choices that bring about the issues.

"Strange that his first aspiration, towards academical proficiency, had been checked by a woman, and that his second aspiration, towards apostleship, had also been checked by a woman. 'Is it,' he said, 'that the women are to blame; or is it the artificial system of things, under which the normal sex-impulses are turned into devilish domestic gins and springs to noose and hold back those who want to progress (JO 228)?'"

These are checks that Malthus doesn't talk about. Malthus himself had many children, and understood sex couldn't be checked in a marriage, so he understood the power of the attraction. However, Malthus failed to realize it could, without marriage, still be a check. It doesn't have to do with children, as Malthus points out, it is love and passion. Just the idea of love and being with someone would alter someone's path, as it did for Jude. But these feelings, as Malthus must admit, are the strongest of all, and holding them off is harder than anything else. Jude did well, as far as Malthus' no children philosophy, by not pushing Sue when they were living together. Jude says, "I should just like a few virtuous people who have condemned me in the past, about Arabella and other things, to have been in my tantalizing position with you through these late weeks!”they'd believe, I think, that I have exercised some little restraint in always giving in to your wishes,”living here in one house, and not a soul between us (JO 279)." Jude is being a better person, in Hardy's view, than most men might be in this situation. It isn't sex, but love that is checking Jude. Later on, after they were being subjected to a bad social stigma, they had children of their own, but not before they 'lost their character'.

Sacrificing for love wasn't talked against by most people at the time. Perhaps it was thought as foolish by some, but in the church this was the supreme commandment. The love for Christ should be the drive for all things man should sacrifice. Phillotson sacrificed for Sue's love. Sue says, "Why can't we agree to free each other? We made the compact, and surely we can cancel it,” not legally of course; but we can morally, especially as no new interests, in the shape of children, have arisen to be looked after (JO 234-5)." Hardy, in this passage, separates the laws from the morality of the situation, pointing out that the laws have nothing to do with morality. What is right is what is right regardless of what the state, or society as a whole, says in the matter. What is moral is usually a sacrifice:

"Jude had by this time come to himself. 'What a view of life he must have, mine or not mine!' he said. 'I must say that, if I were better off, I should not stop for a moment to think whose he might be. I would take him and bring him up. The beggarly question of parentage - what is it, after all? What does it matter, when you come to think of it, whether a child is yours by blood or not? All the little ones of our time are collectively the children of us adults of the time, and entitled to our general care. That excessive regard of parents for their own children, and their dislike of other people's, is, like class-feeling, patriotism, save-your-own-soul-ism, and other virtues, a mean exclusiveness at bottom (JO 288).'"

This statement is directly against what Malthus maintains in his essay. Hardy is saying that what is moral, Reverend Malthus, is what is good for everyone, not what is good for the betterment of financial status for one man. I believe this is more to blame for the disgust for this book by the clergy than the openness about sex. Hardy is making moral claims about social issues, like parentage, which were un-popular in the higher classes. When Jude and Sue find their children dead it really points out what Malthus is saying is what is really tragic. This scene is what Malthus' morality gives us. Hardy's view is clearly that it is never a good thing. Jude was trying, again, to just do what is right and he was punished again. What kind of society allows for this to take place if God loves all beings? Sue, towards the end, after her conversion to the church, makes a statement that would represent the rebuttal from the populace, "We ought to be continually sacrificing ourselves on the altar of duty! But I have always striven to do what has pleased me. I well deserved the scourging I have got! I wish something would take the evil right out of me, and all my monstrous errors, and all my sinful ways (JO 362-3)!" Like Malthus and Smith, she is saying that because bad things have happened, it must be the case that they (Sue and Jude) are to blame for it. Hardy, by setting the reader up for tragedy, is pointing to this statement and letting us decide if Jude and Sue were really immoral in their behavior.

As readers, we find a piece of ourselves in Jude, and humanity in Jude, and we connect with him. He was tricked by Arabella. Furthermore, he didn't make the choice to have a child or get married; he just did what was widely accepted as what is the right thing to do. He fell in love with Sue, and sacrificed everything for it. Love stories like this have been written for centuries, but Hardy used this one to end badly to point out the pitfalls of society and real love. Marriage isn't necessarily the problem; it is the society's acceptance that is the issue. Jude and Sue were legally divorced from their first marriages, but that didn't help their cause. They still had to keep moving out of the cities in which they lived in. It wasn't their choices for "temporary wants" that hurt them, it was their choices for permanent needs that did. This would have been a great love story if it weren't for the strong feelings of what is 'moral' and 'virtuous' by others; if the subjective view of what a man should do wasn't against them. Jude sacrificed for love and was punished for it. If that is the effect of the society, then surely it is the society that needs changing, not Jude's actions.

Works Cited

Broadie, Alexander "Scottish Philosophy in the 18th Century" Stanford Philosophy Dictionary 6 July 2005 12 March 2006

Hardy, Thomas Jude the Obscure (JO) New York:

Bantam Books, 1981.

Malthus, Thomas An Essay on the Principle of Population (PP) Cambridge. Cambridge University Press, 1992

"Mind Your Manners." Household Words Volume XII

(24 Nov. 1855): Page 296.

Smith, Adam Wealth of Nations (WN) Oxford:

Oxford World Classics, 1998