A Discourse of Trade

Barbon, Nicholas
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Jacob H. Hollander, ed.
First Pub. Date
Baltimore, MD: Lord Baltimore Press
Pub. Date

by Jacob H. Hollander, Ph. D.

Professor of Political Economy
Johns Hopkins University


The careful researches of Professor Stephen Bauer have thrown much needed light upon the life of Nicholas Barbon and upon his proper place in the history of economic thought.*1 Born in London, probably in 1640, the son of Praisegod Barebone—"anabaptist, leather-seller, and politician,"*2—he studied medicine at Leyden, received a medical degree at Utrecht in 1661, and was admitted as an honorary fellow of the College of Physicians in 1664. After the great fire of 1666, he established the first insurance office in London, and participated actively in rebuilding the city. He was a member of Parliament in 1690, and again in 1695; he founded and conducted a land bank in 1695-96, and he died in 1698, making John Asgill the executor of his will, and directing that none of his debts should be paid.


Barbon's writings stand for the most part in immediate relation to the economic events of the period in which he lived. He defended his scheme of fire insurance; he advocated building extension in London; he discussed the possibilities of land-banking and he contributed a remarkable tract*3 to the currency controversy of 1696.


Of more general scope than these semi-controversial pamphlets is the essay here reprinted. Of the circumstances under which it was written and of the obscurity into which it appears promptly to have fallen nothing is known. Less enthusiastic critics will dissent from Professor Bauer's opinions that certain of its passages place Barbon as an economist above both Petty and Locke, and that it contains the ablest refutation of the theory of the balance of trade previous to Hume and Adam Smith. But none will deny that the essay is surely entitled to reissue in accessible form, and that Barbon may properly receive, to a greater degree than has heretofore been accorded him, the attention of students of the development of economic thought from Hobbes to Hume.


The present edition is a reprint of Barbon's essay as issued in 1690.*4 The general appearance of the title page has been preserved, the original pagination has been indicated and a few notes have been appended.


BALTIMORE, February, 1905.

Notes for this chapter

Jahrbücher für Nationalökonomie und Statistik (Jena), Bd. XXI (1890), N. F., pp. 561-590; also "Barbon" in "Dictionary of Political Economy" (ed. Palgrave), Vol. I, pp. 119-121.
"Praisegod Barebone" in "Dictionary of National Biography" (ed. Stephen), Vol. III, p. 151.
"A Discourse Concerning Coining the New Money lighter. In Answer to Mr. Lock's Considerations about raising the Value of Money" (London, 1696).
The formal collation of the tract is as follows: Title page, reverse blank; Preface, nine folios without pagination; Contents, one folio; Text, ninety-two folios. Size, small 16mo.

The Preface

End of Notes



THe Greatness and Riches of the UNITED PROVINCES, and STATES of VENICE, Consider'd, with the little Tract of Ground that belongs to either of their TERRITORIES, sufficiently Demonstrate the great Advantage and Profit that Trade brings to a Nation.


And since the Old Ammunition and Artillery of the GRECIANS and ROMANS are grown out ||* of Use; such as Stones, Bows, Arrows, and battering Rams, with other Wooden Engines, which were in all Places easily procured or made: And the Invention of Gunpowder hath introduced another sort of Ammunition and Artillery, whose Materials are made of Minerals, that are not to be found in all Countries; such as Iron, Brass, Lead, Salt-petre, and Brimstone; and therefore where they are wanting, must be procured by Traffick. TRADE is now become as necessary to Preserve Governments, as it is useful to make them Rich.


And notwithstanding the great Influence, that TRADE now hath in the Support and Welfare of || States and Kingdoms, yet there is nothing more unknown, or that Men differ more in their Sentiments, than about the True Causes that raise and promote TRADE.


LIVY, and those Antient Writers, whose elevated GENIUS set them upon the Inquiries into the Causes of the Rise and Fall of Governments, have been very exact in describing the several Forms of Military Discipline, but take no Notice of TRADE; and MACHIAVEL a Modern Writer, and the best, though he lived in a Government, where the Family of MEDICIS had advanced themselves to the Soveraignty by their Riches, acquired by Merchandizing, doth not mention TRADE, as any way || interested in the Affairs of State; for until TRADE became necessary to provide Weapons of War, it was always thought Prejudicial to the Growth of Empire, as too much softening the People by Ease and Luxury, which made their Bodies unfit to Endure the Labour and Hardships of War. And therefore the ROMANS who made War, (the only Way to Raise & Enlarge their Dominion) did in the almost Infancy of their State, Conquer that Rich and TRADING City of CARTHAGE, though Defended by HANIBAL their General, one of the greatest Captains in the World: so that, since TRADE was not in those days useful to provide Magazines for Wars, an Account of it || is not to be expected from those Writers. The Merchant, and other Traders who should understand the true Interest of TRADE, do either not understand it, or else, lest it might hinder their private Gain, will not Discover it. Mr. MUNN a Merchant, in his Treatise of TRADE,*6 doth better set forth the Rule to make an Accomplished Merchant, than how it may be most Profitable to the Nation; and those Arguments every day met with from the Traders, seem byassed with Private Interest, and run contrary to one another, as their Interest are opposite.


The TURKEY-Merchants Argue against the EAST-INDIA- || COMPANY, the WOOLLEN-DRAPER against the MERCERS, and the UPHOLSTER against the CAIN-CHAIR-MAKER; some think there are too many TRADERS, and Complain against the Number of BUILDERS; others against the Number of ALE-HOUSES; some use Argumen's for the Sole making of particular Commodities, others Plead for the Sole Trading to particular Countries: So that, if these Gentlemens Reasons might prevail in getting those Laws they so much solicite, (which all of them Affirm, would be for the Advance of TRADE, and Publick Good of the Nation) there would be but a few TRADES left for the next Generation of Men to be Em || ploy'd in, a much fewer sorts of Goods to make, and not a Corner of the World to Trade to, unless they purchase a License from them.


And how fair and convincing soever their Premises may appear for the Inlarging and Advancement of TRADE, the Conclusions of their Arguments, which are for Limiting and Confining of it to Number, Persons and Places, are directly opposite to the Inlarging of it.


The Reasons why many Men have not a true IDEA of TRADE, is, Because they Apply their Thoughts to particular Parts of TRADE, wherein they are chiefly concerned in Interest; and having || found out the best Rules and Laws for forming that particular Part, they govern their Thoughts by the same NOTIONS in forming the Great BODY of TRADE, and not Reflecting on the different Rules of Proportions betwixt the Body and Parts, have a very disagreeable Conception; and like those, who having learnt to Draw well an Eye, Ear, Hand, and other Parts of the Body, (being Unskilful in the Laws of Symmetry) when they joyn them together, make a very Deformed Body.


Therefore, whoever will make a true Representation of TRADE, must Draw a rough Sketch of the Body and Parts together, which || though it will not entertain with so much Pleasure as a well-finish't Piece, yet the Agreeableness of the Parts may be as well discern'd, and thereby such Measures taken, as may best suit the Shape of the Body.

Notes for this chapter

In the original tract the pages of "The Preface" and "The Contents" are unnumbered.
Double vertical bars, ||, denote page breaks in the original 1690 Barbon text, with page numbers when available (e.g., |2|). The bars and numbers were inserted by Hollander and are preserved in this Econlib edition.—Econlib Ed.
"England's Treasure by Forraign Trade. Or, The Ballance of our Forraign Trade is The Rule of our Treasure" (London, 1664); see chapter I ('The knowledge and qualities, which are required to be in a perfect Merchant of forraign trade').

Essay 1, Of Trade and the Stock, or Wares of Trade

End of Notes

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