When two gentlemen stop at Scrooge's offices early in Stave I of A Christmas Carol, one of them asks Scrooge to make "some slight provision" for the "poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time." He adds there are thousands who are in need of just the common comforts.
Scrooge gruffly asks the man if there are not any prisons, or workhouses, and he is told that there are. Then Scrooge inquires if the Treadmill and the Poor Law are yet in effect. Now, the two gentlemen begin to understand the innuendos of Scrooge, so they tell him that those places do not furnish Christian cheer. They wish to buy some meat and drink, and "some means of warmth." When one of the men asks, "What shall I put you down for?" Scrooge says nothing, adding,
I don't make merry myself at Christmas and I can't afford to make idle people merry.
Scrooge contends he supports the institutions about which he has asked and this support costs enough, arguing those who are badly off must go to these institutions. When one of the gentlemen says many people would rather die than go to these places, Scrooge coldly replies,
If they would rather die... they had better do it and decrease the surplus population.
In this passage, Charles Dickens mimics the words of Thomas Malthus and mocks his ideas about the dangers of population growth. Malthus contended that because people reproduce exponentially and the food supply only increases arithmetically, populations would eventually outgrow the food supply. Malthus argued population control would have to exist, whether in the form of disease, wars, or some other method, to decrease the surplus population. Also, Dickens satirically rails against the horrible conditions of the poorhouses and the workhouses in the Victorian Age. In fact, there was so much contagious disease in the poor and workhouses that many physicians refused to attend to the sick there.