"Docile Numbers and Stubborn Bodies: Population and the Problem of Multitude"

In the wake of the 1795 food crisis, a number of agricultural, governmental, and charity institutions developed a new discourse of population for understanding the disaffected masses. The gambit for these institutions was that by understanding population—numbers of people, their distribution, their ages, and their occupations—they could create policies to control and appease the crowd of distressed poor and working class peoples. While population provides an ordering of life, the “swinish multitude” serves as a figure for life in excess of population. There are a number of human and animal assemblages which work against assimilation into the national endeavor of counting. Gillray’s illustrations, Spence’s utopics, Sussex pigs, Hogg’s Shepherd’s Calendar, and Batchlor’s agrarian poetic manifesto Village Scenes push against the narrow parameters by which population understands and represents life. Their discourse of excess and multitude work against Burke’s “Thoughts and Details on Scarcity,” Malthus’s Essay on Population, and Rickman’s 1801 census, the Speenhamland system, and the burgeoning methodologies for constructing population.