Discourses Upon Trade: Principally Directed to the Cases of the Interest, Coynage, Clipping, Increase of Money
By Sir Dudley North
The circumstances under which the remarkable tract here reprinted, was written and published are described by Sir Dudley North’s brother and biographer, Roger North. It is doubtful whether the essay, as originally printed, received any attention or served any use. For a considerable period, indeed, it was supposed to be entirely lost. Writing in 1744, Roger North intimated that the tract was designedly suppressed, and declared “it is certain the pamphlet is, and hath been ever since, utterly sunk, and a copy not to be had for money.”… [From the Introduction by Jacob H. Hollander]
Jacob H. Hollander, ed.
First Pub. Date
Baltimore, MD: Lord Baltimore Press
The text of this edition is in the public domain.
These Papers came directed to me, in order, as I suppose, to be made Publick: And having transmitted them to the Press, which is the only means whereby the University of Mankind is to be inform’d, I am absolv’d of that Trust.
The Author is pleas’d to conceal himself; which after perusal of his Papers, I do not ascribe to any Diffidence of his Reasons, the Disgusts of Great Men, nor overmuch Modesty, which are the ordinary Inducements for lying hid; but rather to avoid the Fatigue of digesting, and polishing his Sentiments into such accurate Method, and clean Style, as the World commonly expects from Authors: I am confident he seeks only the Publick Good, and little regards Censure for the want of Neatness, and Dress, whereof he seems to make a slight account, and to rely wholly upon the Truth, and Justice of his Matter; yet he may reasonably decline the being noted, for either a careless, or an illiterate Person.
The Publick is an acute, as well as merciless Beast, which neither over-sees a Failing, nor forgives it; but stamps Judgment and Execution immediately, thô upon a Member of itself; and is no less Ingrateful than common Beggars, who affront their Benefactors, without whose Charity their Understandings would starve. |[ii]|
Wherefore I cannot but excuse our Friend’s Retiredment, and shall take advantage of his absence so far, as to speak of his Discourses with more freedom, then I verily believe his Presence would bear.
As for the Style, you will find it English,
such as Men speaks, which, according to Horace,
is the Law and Rule ofLanguage.*8Nor do I perceive that the Gentleman intended more than his Title holds forth; common Discourses, which possibly were taken by an Amanuensis,
and dispatcht without much Correction. Surely no Man would refuse the Conversation of an ingenious Friend, because he doth not speak like Tully;
And if the Conversation be so desirable, why should we quarrel with the same thing in Writing? Nay, it is very impolitick, by such Exactions of Labour and Pains, to discourage all Ingenious Persons from medling in Print, whereby we lose the benefit of their Judgment, in matters of common concern.
Words are indeed a Felicity, which some have in great perfection; but many times, like a fair Face, prove Temptations to Vice; for I have known very good Sence neglected, and post-poned to an Elegance of Expression; whereas if Words are wanted, the whole Effort is made by pure strength of Reason, and that only is relied on.
The Lawyers in their Deeds, wave all the Decorums of Language, and regard only incontrovertible Expressions. The Merchants in their Policies and Exchanges, use no one Word but what is necessary to their Point, because the Matter and Substance only is intended, and not the Dress; Why then should Reasoners be incumbred, beyond what is necessary to make their Reason understood?
To speak very short, and yet clear, is a Vertue to be envyed; and if directed to Persons, or Assemblies whose business is great, or made so by many Mens interposing in it, it is absolutely necessary; for your Discourse, if it be |[iii]|
tedious, is better spared than the time; but it is not so in dealing with lazy Ignorance of any sort, or an Ear-itching Rabble, who are actually impertinent (as well as impetuous) and not sensible of cheat. And I may add, That in Writing, unless in the Epistolary way, (which being supposed hasty, ought to be short and figurative) an abundance of Words is more pardonable than obscurity, or want of Sence, because we take our own time, and have leisure to peruse it.
I will grant that amongst opulent and idle Persons, as well as Schollars, whose business lies in Words, the bare polishing of Language, is one of the most commendable Entertainments; and to them we resign it; for to Men of business, it is the most hateful thing, I mean, meer Idleness.
I grant also, that delicacy of Words, now most used in Poetry, is useful for disposing way-ward People to learn, or make them endure to read. But the World is not at such low ebb of Curiosity in this Age. Men are forward enough to run their Noses into Books, especially such as deal in Faction and Controversie: And it were well if they were either Wrote or Read with as much Integrity as Industry; we have no need of Sugar-plum devices to wheedle Men into Reading, they are Inquisitive enough; and if the Subject be their own Interest, I am of Opinion, if you can make ’em understand it, you may trust them.
As for the Method used in these Papers, there is so little of it affected, that I am afraid some will say there is none at all: I never thought that true Method consisted in affected Divisions, and Sub-divisions, Firsts, Seconds, Sub-firsts, &c. tho’ all that is very useful in Works intended to be consulted as Repertories; but where the Understanding is to be informed, it is meer trash, and the business is often lost in it. |[iv]|
And in such Designs it is enough, if Things lie in the Order of Nature, and the Conclusion is not put before the Premisses, so that the course of the Argument is limpid, and intelligible: A Friend of mine used to say, That if the First Chapter were before the Second, it was all the Method he cared for, meaning only what I have observed, which I suppose you will find here.
This drudgery of Digesting, is another Excise upon Sence, which keeps back a great deal of it from coming forth; and without a singular tallent, and much exercise, it makes composing extreamly difficult. I do not understand why other Men, as well as Mountaigne,
may not be indulged to ramble in Essays, provided the Sence fails not.
*12and Mr. Selden’s Table-talk,
*13are all heaps of incoherent scraps; yet for the wit and spirit esteemed; therefore let that which is most valuable, Reason and Truth be encouraged to come abroad, without imposing such chargeable Equipages upon it, whereby Writers are made to resemble Brewers Horses, very useful Animals, but arrant Drudges.
Methinks when I meet with a great deal of Firsting, and Seconding, I smell one who conceits himself an Author, a Creature as fulsome as any other sort of Impertinents. If there be Reason, and that understood, what could the formal Methodist add? Let me have the Cockle, and who will take the gay shell.
Now after all this it will be injust, not to say somewhat of the Subject-matter of these Discourses, which is Commerce and Trade; and the Author’s manner of Treating it.
He seems to be of a Temper different from most, who have medled with this Subject in Publick; for it is manifest, his Knowledge and Experience of Trade is |[v]|
considerable, which could not be attained, unless he were a Trader himself; and yet it is not to be collected from anything he says, of what Nature his dealing hath been; for he speaks impartially of Trade in general, without warping to the Favour of any particular Interest. It hath been observed formerly, when Merchants have been consulted, and the Questions concerned only Trade in general, they agreed in Opinion; but when opposite Interests were concerned they differed toto cælo.
As for his Opinion touching Interest of Money, wherein he is clear, that it should be left freely to the Market, and not be restrained by Law, he is lyable to the same suspicion, which attends those of a different Judgment; that is, partiality to his own Interest; the difference is only in the supposed Cause, which in the one, is Wealth, and in the other Want. He hath given his Judgment with his Reasons, which every one is free to canvas; and there is no other means whereby a wise and honest Person can justifie his Opinions in Publick Concerns.
In the next place, I find Trade here Treated at another rate, than usually hath been; I mean Philosophically: for the ordinary and vulgar conceits, being meer Husk and Rubbish, are waved; and he begins at the quick, from Principles indisputably true; and so proceeding with like care, comes to a Judgment of the nicest Disputes and Questions concerning Trade. And this with clearness enough, for he reduceth things to their Extreams, wherein all discriminations are most gross and sensible, and then shows them; and not in the state of ordinary concerns, whereof the terms are scarce distinguishable.
This Method of Reasoning hath been introduc’d with the new Philosophy, the old dealt in Abstracts more than |[vi]|
Truths; and was employed about forming Hypotheses, to fit abundance of precarious and insensible Principles; such as the direct or oblique course of the Atomes in vacuo,
Matter and Form, Privation, solid Orbs, fuga vacui,
and many others of like nature; whereby they made sure of nothing; but upon the appearance of Des Carte’s
excellent dissertation de Methodo,
so much approved and accepted in our Ages, all those Chymera’s soon dissolved and vanisht.
And hence it is, that Knowledge in great measure is become Mechanical; which word I
need not interpret farther, than by noting, it here means, built upon clear and evident Truths. But yet this great Improvement of Reason which the World hath lately obtained, is not diffus’d enough, and resides chiefly with the studious and learned, the common People having but a small share; for they cannot abstract, so as to have a true and just thought of the most ordinary things, but are possest and full of the vulgar Errors of sense: Except in some few things that fall within the compass of their day-labour, and so gives them an Experience; As when a Common-Seaman, with all his Ignorance, proves a better Mechanick, for actual Service, than the Professor himself, with all his Learning.
The case of Trade is the same; for although to buy and sell, be the Employment of every man, more or less; and the Common People, for the most part, depend upon it for their dailysubsistence; yet there are very few who consider Trade in general upon true Principles, but are satisfied to understand their own particular Trades, and which way to let themselves into immediate gain. And out of this active Sphere nothing is so fallacious, and full of Error, as mens Notions of Trade. And there is another Reason, why this matter seems less understood, |[vii]|
than in truth it is. For whenever Men consult for the Publick Good, as for the advancement of Trade, wherein all are concerned, they usually esteem the immediate Interest of their own to be the common Measure of Good and Evil. And there are many, who to gain a little in their own Trades, care not how much others suffer; and each Man strives, that all others may be forc’d, in their dealings, to act subserviently for his Profit, but under the covert of the Publick.
So Clothiers would have men be forc’d to buy their Manufacture; and I may mention such as sell Wool, they would have men forc’d to buy of them at an high Price, though the Clothier loseth. The Tinners would have their Tin dear, though the Merchant profits little: And in general all those who are lazy, and do not, or are not active enough, and cannot look out, to vent the Product of their Estates, or to Trade with it themselves, would have all Traders forc’d by Laws, to bring home to them sufficient Prizes, whether they gain or lose by it. And all the while, not one of them will endure to be under a force, to Sell, or Let their own Estates at lower rates, than the free Market of things will produce.
Now it is no wonder, that out of these Ingredients a strange Medley of Error should result, whereby seldom any Publick Order, which hath been establisht, and intended, or at least pretended for the good of Trade in general, hath had a suitable Effect; but on the contrary, hath for the most part proved prejudicial, and thereupon, by common consent, been discontinued. But this is too copious Matter for a Preface, and tho’ many Instances occur, I leave all, and return to the matter of Vulgar Errors in Trade.
It is not long since there was a great noise with Inquiriesinto the Balance of Exportation and Importation; |[viii]|
and so into the Balance of Trade, as they called it. For it was fancyed that if we brought more Commodities in, than we carried out, we were in the High-way to Ruin. In like manner have we heard much said against the East-India
Trade, against the French
Trade, with many other like politick conceits in Trade; most of which, Time and better Judgment hath disbanded; but others succeed in their room, according as new Persons find Encouragement to invent, and inspire, for promoting their private Interest, by imposing on those, who desire to be cunning. And now we complain for want of Money in specie, that Bullion is Exported or mis-employed to other uses, than making Money; and ascribe the deadness of Trade, especially of Corn, and Cattel in the Country, to this; and hope by a Regulation of the Bullion-Trade, and stinting the Price, except it be in Money, to make a thorough Reformation, and give new Life to all things, with, much more, ejusdem farina,
which I do not particularize, this being enough for a taste.
Now it may appear strange to hear it said,
That the whole World as to Trade, is but as one Nation or People, and therein Nations are as Persons.
That the loss of a Trade with one Nation, is not that only, separately considered, but so much of the Trade of the World rescinded and lost, for all is combined together.
That there can be no Trade unprofitable to the Publick; for if any prove so, men leave it off; and whereever the Traders thrive, the Publick, of which they are a part, thrives also.
That to force Men to deal in any prescrib’d manner, may profit such as happen to serve them; but the Publick gains not, because it is taking from one Subject, to give to another. |[ix]|
That Money is a Merchandize, whereof there may be a glut, as well as a scarcity, and that even to an Inconvenience.
That a People cannot want Money to serve the ordinary dealing, and more than enough they will not have.
That no Man shall be the richer for the making much Money, nor have any part of it, but as he buys it for an equivalent price.
That the free Coynage is a perpetual Motion found out, whereby to Melt and Coyn without ceasing, and so to feed Goldsmiths and Coyners at the Publick Charge.
That debasing the Coyn is defrauding one another, and to the Publick there is no sort of Advantage from it; for that admits no Character, or Value, but Intrinsick.
That the sinking Money by Allay or Weight is all one.
That Exchange and ready Money, are the same, nothing but Carriage and re-carriage being saved.
That Money Exported in Trade is an increase to the Wealth of the Nation; but spent in War, and Payments abroad, is so much Impoverishment.
In short, That all favour to one Trade or Interest against another, is an Abuse, and cuts so much of Profit from the Publick. With many other like Paradoxes, no less strange to most men, than true in themselves; but in my Opinion, clearly flowing from the Principles, and Discourses that follow, which you may freely peruse and censure, for now I have done. |[x]|
Perhaps my unknown Confident may think me too sawcy, for putting my Oar into his Boat, and I will not excuse my self to him, otherwise than by demanding the same Liberty he hath taken; that is, to have a fling at the World; and as yet the Advantage is his, for he hath two, and better, for my one. And so Farewel.