Essai sur la Nature du Commerce in Général (Essay on the Nature of Trade in General)
By Richard Cantillon
Intrigue, murder, posthumous plagiarism, citations by Adam Smith, rediscovery by William Stanley Jevons a century later, and a stunning work on entrepreneurial risk, money, foreign exchange, and banking from the 1700s–what more could one ask for from an 18th century economist? Richard Cantillon offers fascination for historians and economists as much in death as he did in life.Richard Cantillon, Irish born but living in Paris as a young man, from circumstances became a banker/broker there, and moved in influential, educated social circles. Enriched but embarrassed by speculation in John Law’s scheme, he removed to London (perhaps in flight or to protect his assets). Somewhere along the line he wrote this influential work,
Essai sur la Nature du Commerce in Général (
Essay on the Nature of Trade in General). Probably first written between 1730 and 1734, the first surviving copies are in French, from 1755-56. Whether it was first drafted or circulated in English or in French is unclear; also unclear is what Smith may have seen of it. That Smith was familiar with Cantillon in some form is documented in Smith’s own rare citations. Other contemporary economists were also familiar with the work, even to the point of plagiarizing from the unpublished version.Despite the multiple plagiarizations and the disappearance of early originals, there is general agreement now that Richard Cantillon did indeed write the work; and it did indeed influence Smith and many other contemporaneous economists–the very same the French and English economists whose work became the basis of modern economic thought. Beyond that, though, all we have are the extant 1755-56 French versions and a few translations, of which Higgs’s translation is the only thorough edition. Econlib is pleased to present the full translation of this remarkable work. We also bring you Higgs’s side-by-side French/English edition for download as a pdf file, as well as our formatted searchable online edition.Higgs’s book also contains these other recommended readings:1. William Stanley Jevons’s famous 1881 essay rediscovering Cantillon’s work,
“Richard Cantillon and the Nationality of Political Economy,” an article rich with warranted enthusiasm and detailed research. It also contains a heartwarming surprise ending–a final paragraph that will make you smile.
2. Higgs’s annotated bibliography
“The Life and Work of Richard Cantillon” at the end of the book, an excellent survey of developments following Jevons’s rediscovery.Additional recommendations and summaries:3. We’ve left Higgs’s translation intact; but note that his arcane translations of some words like “Undertaker” for “entrepreneur” obscured Cantillon’s apparent coining of the word “entrepreneur”–see Mark Casson’s article,
Entrepreneurship, in the
Concise Encyclopedia of Economics for more on this.
4. Friedrich A. Hayek,
“Richard Cantillon,” 1931; translated by Micheál Ó Súilleabháin for the
Journal of Libertarian Studies, vol. 7, no. 2, Fall 1985 (republished on Econlib with permission). Other interesting essays in that conference volume on Cantillon include those by Hebert (a discussion of economic ground held in common between Cantillon and the Austrians) and Liggio (a brief history of France and England before and during the period Cantillon was writing). The conference volume is available online in pdf format through the Mises Institute.
5. Joseph Spengler, “Richard Cantillon: First of the Moderns,”
Journal of Political Economy, LXII, August-October 1954.Lauren F. Landsburg
Editor, Library of Economics and Liberty
Henry Higgs, ed. and trans.
First Pub. Date
London: Frank Cass and Co., Ltd.
First extant partial edition is in French: 1755. Includes "Richard Cantillon and the Nationality of Political Economy," by W. Stanley Jevons (1881).
The text of this edition is copyright ©: 1959, Frank Cass and Co. Republished with permission. Originally published 1931 by Macmillan & Co., Ltd. For the Royal Economic Society.
- Introduction, by Henry Higgs
- Previous Editions, by Henry Higgs
- I.I Of Wealth
- I.II Of Human Societies
- I.III Of Villages
- I.IV Of Market Towns
- I.V Of Cities
- I.VI Of Capital Cities
- I.VII The Labour of the Husbandman is of less Value than that of the Handicrafts-Man
- I.VIII Some Handicrafts-Men earn more, others less, according to the different Cases and Circumstances
- I.IX The Number of Labourers, Handicraftsmen and others, who work in a State is naturally proportioned to the Demand for them
- I.X The Price and Intrinsic Value of a Thing in general is the measure of the Land and Labour which enter into its Production
- I.XI Of the Par or Relation between the Value of Land and Labour
- I.XII All Classes and Individuals in a State subsist or are enriched at the Expense of the Proprietors of Land
- I.XIII The circulation and exchange of goods and merchandise as well as their production are carried on in Europe by Undertakers, and at a risk
- I.XIV The Fancies, the Fashions, and the Modes of Living of the Prince, and especially of the Landowners, determine the use to which Land is put
- I.XV The Increase and Decrease of the Number of People in a State chiefly depend on the taste, the fashions, and the modes of living of the proprietors of land
- I.XVI The more Labour there is in a State the more naturally rich the State is esteemed
- I.XVII Of Metals and Money, and especially of Gold and Silver
- II.I Of Barter
- II.II Of Market Prices
- II.III Of the Circulation of Money
- II.IV Further Reflection on the Rapidity or Slowness of the Circulation of Money in Exchange
- II.V Of the inequality of the circulation of hard money in a State
- II.VI Of the increase and decrease in the quantity of hard money in a State
- II.VII Continuation of the same subject
- II.VIII Further Reflection on the same subject
- II.IX Of the Interest of Money and its Causes
- II.X Of the Causes of the Increase and Decrease of the Interest of Money in a State
- III.I Of Foreign Trade
- III.II Of the Exchanges and their Nature
- III.III Further explanations of the nature of the Exchanges
- III.IV Of the variations in the proportion of values with regard to the Metals which serve as Money
- III.V Of the augmentation and diminution of coin in denomination
- III.VI Of Banks and their Credit
- III.VII Further explanations and enquiries as to the utility of a National Bank
- III.VIII Of the Refinements of Credit of General Banks
- Richard Cantillon and the Nationality of Political Economy, by W. Stanley Jevons
- Life and Work of Richard Cantillon, by Henry Higgs
- Appendix A
- Appendix B, Bibliography
Previous Editions, by Henry Higgs
“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.