Essai sur la Nature du Commerce in Général (Essay on the Nature of Trade in General)

Cantillon, Richard
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Henry Higgs, ed. and trans.
First Pub. Date
London: Frank Cass and Co., Ltd.
Pub. Date
Includes "Richard Cantillon and the Nationality of Political Economy," by W. Stanley Jevons (1881).

Introduction, by Henry Higgs


The Essai sur la Nature du Commerce en Général, written between 1730 and 1734, is now printed for the first time in England. It follows the French text of 1755 with all faults of grammar, spelling, accent and punctuation. The imperfections, unimportant in themselves, go far to refute the assertion of some authorities that the Essai is a traduction supposée, or, in other words, was composed in French as it stands.


The pagination of the original is indicated by italic figures within square brackets in the text to facilitate reference to quotations by other writers.


The English version, which is printed opposite the French pages, has been collated with the numerous parallel passages in Postlethwayt's Dictionary (see Appendix A); and the phrasing of the Dictionary has been adopted in many instances for the reasons stated on p. 384. The complete English translation of the Essai now offered is the first of its kind, and may be considered a bicentenary tribute to the original.


The article by Jevons, written in the first rapture of discovery, deserves in form and substance to be associated with this edition.


The concluding article corrects some of Jevons's facts, resolves some of his doubts, and adds a further contribution to our knowledge of Cantillon's life and work.


My best thanks are due to Mr and Mrs Bowes Daly for their permission to reproduce the portraits of Cantillon's wife and daughter.

Henry Higgs
July 1931

Previous Editions, by Henry Higgs


(1) "Essai sur la Nature du Commerce en Général. Traduit de l'Anglois. A Londres, Chez Fletcher Gyles dans Holborn. 1755." 12mo. Half-title, blank verso, title-page, blank verso, pages 1-430 + 6 unnumbered pages of Contents.


(2) A reprint in 1756, copying the title-page and text of the first issue, but inferior in type and paper. No half-title. Title-page, blank verso, pages 3-427 + 5 unnumbered pages of Contents. 12mo.


(3) Another reprint in 1756 in Vol. III of a collection put out by Eleazar Mauvillon, father of Jakob Mauvillon the Physiocrat. Vol. I, 1754, is entitled Discours Politiques de M. Hume and is a translation of Hume's Essays by M. de M. Vols. II and III, 1756, entitled Discours Politiques, contain reprints of French works. Cantillon's Essai is the concluding portion (pp.151-434) of vol. III. The three volumes were published at Amsterdam, "chez J. Schreuder et Pierre Mortier le jeune," 12mo. This reprint follows the original very closely, repeating e.g. the error un à un on p. 35 and including the references to the missing Supplement. In a few cases the printer or the editor has felt himself obliged to improve the French. Thus, at the end of Part II, cap. 7, le véritable degré is substituted for le degré véritable, and the conclusion of the Essai, à crever la bombe, et on verroit que ce sont des opérations très dangereuses becomes à faire crever la bombe, et on verroit que ce sont des opérations dangereuses.


(4) In 1759 was published "The Analysis of Trade, Commerce, Coin, Bullion, Banks and Foreign Exchanges. Wherein the true Principles of this useful knowledge are fully but briefly laid down and explained, to give a clear Idea of their happy Consequences to Society, when well regulated. Taken chiefly from a Manuscript of a very ingenious Gentleman deceas'd, and adapted to the present Situation of our Trade and Commerce. By Philip Cantillon, Late of the City of London, Merchant. London: Printed for the Author, and Sold by Mr Lewis in Covent Garden.... MDCCLIX. [Price Five Shillings.]" This consists of title-page, blank verso, a Preface and Table of Contents paged iii-xxiv, and pp. 1-215, 8vo. See pp. 333-5, 376-8, as to this work.


(5) In 1767 an Italian translation of the Essai appeared entitled "Saggio sulla Natura del Commercio in Generale. Autore Inglese. Venezia, 1767. Nella Stamperia di Carlo Palese," 12mo. The title-page is followed by 11 unnumbered pages, pp. 1-298, and 2 unnumbered pages at the end—"Del Commercio Italiano." An Introduction dedicated "Al Signor Vicenzo Ferrari, Mercante benemerito a Cittadino di Bassano," is dated Venezia, 3 Ottobre, 1767, and signed "Vostro veto Amico F. Scottoni." The translation has been conscientiously done but is marred by some futile additions in the body of the text such as E' piu di dieci anni che l'Autore à scritto (p. 76), Bella lezione por l'Italia! (p. 83). Scottoni's introduction of 4 pages is poor stuff. He does not seem to have heard of Cantillon, and his translation is of merely bibliographical interest. He has the grace to put into italics his interpolations.


(6) In 1892 the Essai was reproduced in facsimile "so far as was possible with type not manufactured for the purpose" for Harvard University, with a prefatory note of three pages by the present Editor. It preserves the pagination and format of the original "and even typographical errors and irregularities are left unchanged."


(7) Copious extracts from the Essai, in English, were included in the works of Malachy Postlethwayt, some of them prior to 1755 (see post, pp. 383-4).


(8) A translation into English of large sections of the Essai fills pp. 247-277 of Early Economic Thought, edited by A. E. Monroe, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Economics, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. 1924, 8vo.


(9) A German translation of the Essai by Frau Hella Hayek, of Vienna, has just appeared, edited with an excellent introduction of 66 pages by her husband, Dr F. A. Hayek, who obligingly communicated to me a draft of his article. This work, R. Cantillon, Abhandlung über die Natur des Handels im allgemeinen, is published by Gustav Fischer, Jena. 1931. 8vo.

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