An Inquiry into the Principles of Political Oeconomy; being an Essay on the Science of Domestic Policy in Free Nations. Being an Essay on the Science of Domestic Policy in Free Nations. In which are particularly considered Population, Agriculture, Trade, Industry, Money, Coin, Interest, Circulation, Banks, Exchange, Public Credit, and Taxes.By Sir James Steuart, Bart.

STEUART James (1767.)

£14000.00  [First Edition]

Available to view at our Curzon Street shop.

A MASTERPIECE OF PROTO-ECONOMICS

London: printed for A. Millar, and T. Cadell, 1767

 

First Edition. Two volumes. Large 4to. [Text: 292 x 230 mm]. [i-iii], vi-xv, [i (errata)], [xii (contents)], 639, [1 (blank)]; [16], 646, [12 (index)], [2 (errata; verso blank)] pp., folding letterpress table coins at the end of both volumes. Margins of the titles lightly browned by the turn-ins; slight knock to the upper fore-corner of the first few leaves of Vol. 2.

 

Fine copy in contemporary polished calf, smooth spines divided into six panels and filled with elaborate gilt neoclassical tooling, lettered in gilt on red and green morocco labels, spot-marbled endpapers, yellow edges (neat repairs to the corners and headcaps, headbands renewed, a few slight scuffs on the covers).

 

ESTC notes a reissue with cancel titles (still dated 1767) omitting the list of subjects to be “particularly considered.” It was first advertised (“This day is published”) with the longer title as here (Gazeteer and New Daily Advertiser, 17 May 1768).  

 

Reprinted at Dublin (3 vols, 1770), Basle (5 vols. 1796), Chicago (1966), and in Steuart’s Works (6 vols., 1805). 

 

“Sir James Steuart had the misfortune to be followed by Adam Smith in less than a decade. Otherwise [his Principles] would probably have served as the standard English economic text. (Kenneth E. Carpenter, The Economic Bestsellers before 1850: A Catalogue of an Exhibition Prepared for the History of Economics Society meeting, Bulletin 11 (May, 1975), of the Kress Library of Business and Economics, Harvard Business School, p. 20. 

 

In the Principles, Steuart made notable contributions to economic theory: the historical analysis of the origins of the exchange economy, where he (like Adam Smith) was influenced by David Hume; to the theory of economic development with its emphasis on the importance of interdependent sectors; to the theory of competitive price, and, most notably, to the treatment of money and banking, where he showed his appreciation of banks as a means of mobilizing resources in countries undergoing the process of institutional, as well as economic, change.” (Andrew S. Skinner, ODNB). 

 

Having been overwhelmed, despite its matching physical bulk of two quarto volumes and near-1300 pages, by the reception of Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), the reputation of Sir James Steuart’s Principles, as Andrew S. Skinner noted in his ODNB entry, remained high in Europe, where much of his material had been obtained, through much of the 19th Century, and, for a shorter time, in North America: 

 

“During the 1770s the text was translated into German (twice), and into French in 1789. ... The admiration of the members of the nineteenth-century German historical school is now well known. Steuart’s historical and cosmopolitan perspective later attracted the well-documented attention of Marx, while it is known that Hegel spent some three months studying one of the German editions. But perhaps the most intriguing link is with North America. The Dublin edition of the Inquiry (1770) was widely circulated in the colonies. The book also attracted the attention of Alexander Hamilton, whose protectionist position was adopted with a view to counterbalancing the competitive advantages of the British economy in the years following the treaty of Paris (1783).” (ODNB). 

 

It is significant, however, that in 1788 when the publisher Thomas Cadell was advertising the sixth edition of Smith’s Wealth of Nations, he was still offering copies of the first edition of Steuart’s Principles at the same price of two guineas. Despite the later attentions of Marx and Hegel, Steuart’s Principles did then slip into oblivion, with no edition in English between 1805 and 1966, but it has been rescued in recent decades, led by Samar Ranjar (S. R.) Sen’s book, The Economics of Sir James Steuart (Harvard University Press, 1957) and followed, not least, by the work of Andrew Stewart Skinner (1935-2011), Professor of Political Economy, University of Glasgow. Dr Sen’s thesis that Steuart’s theory of the “economics of control” should be seen as the precursor of a Keynesian style of applied welfare economics, such as that seen at the time he was writing, was widely rejected by reviewers. Opinion has now moved away from dismissing Steuart’s Principles as the last redundant exposition of Mercantilism, advocating managed trade against Adam Smith’s laissez-faire vision of free trade, and it now holds its place again as one of the classics of modernising Enlightenment economic thought: 

 

“In the Principles, Steuart made notable contributions to economic theory: the historical analysis of the origins of the exchange economy, where he (like Adam Smith) was influenced by David Hume; to the theory of economic development with its emphasis on the importance of interdependent sectors; to the theory of competitive price, and, most notably, to the treatment of money and banking, where he showed his appreciation of banks as a means of mobilizing resources in countries undergoing the process of institutional, as well as economic, change.” (ODNB). 

 

Although Adam Smith did not address Steuart’s Principles directly in The Wealth of NationsGary Anderson and Robert Tollison, in their 1984 essay “Sir James Steuart as the Apotheosis of Mercantilism and his relation to Adam Smith, argued that The Wealth of Nations was, to a large extent, formed by it. As they concluded: 

 

... The Principles of Political Oeconomy deserves to be rescued from oblivion and closely re-examined. … Our intention here, however, has not been to offer a detailed critique of the Principles and Steuart’s plan of political economy, but rather to suggest that Adam Smith performed the task in The Wealth of Nations. We do not claim that Smith’s magnum opus was solely a critique of the Principles or ‘Steuartism.’ Instead, we would argue that Smith’s concern with confuting the ‘fallacious principles’ of Steuart significantly influenced the form and structure of Smith’s work. In Wealth Smith was not merely systematically restating a body of doctrine which was universally accepted but joining a contemporary debate. Only with the wisdom born of hindsight can the claim be made that the outcome of Smith’s stupendous victory was a foregone conclusion. In short, Smith took Steuart seriously; in the latter’s absence, the emphasis in Wealth might have been significantly different.”  

 

Clearly, anyone lucky enough to own a first edition of Smith’s Wealth of Nations should also have a first edition of Steuart’s Principles. 

 

As an ardent Jacobite (at the height of the 1745 Rebellion (he was sent from Edinburgh by Prince Charles Stuart as Ambassador to France) Sir James Steuart escaped naming in the Act of Oblivion following the Rebels’ defeat at Culloden, but he was effectively exiled on continental Europe by the instigation of a 'true bill' against him. His travels and lengthy sojourn in Europe both before and after 1745, allowed him to study the political and military economies he found there. He returned to Scotland in 1763 (though he was not formally pardoned until 1772) and settled to complete his Inquiry into the Principles of Political Oeconomy, his magnum opuswhich he had begun in Germany in the late 1750s. It was published in May 1767 at two guineas in boards or two pounds and ten shillings “bound and gilt” (Gazeteer and New Daily Advertiser, 17 May).

 

The first part of a lengthy three-part review in The Critical Review (May, June, July, 1767) opened: 

 

“This intelligent author adapts the principles of true philosophy to those of civil policy; he lays down no system, but leaves his readers to form their own conclusions, from a train of scientific experiments, which he has made in various parts of the globe, and under different constitutions of government. His plan is extensive, and the execution laborious; but so little have the principles of political economy been investigated, that the grounds he works upon enquire to be cleared, before they can be cultivated. Few books therefore are more difficult to review than that before us, on account of the variety and intricacy, as well as the novelty, of the matter it contains. … (The Critical Review, Vol. 23, May 1767, p. 321). 

 

The review concluded: 

 

“The few strictures we have made, supposing them to be just, never can affect the principal merit of this publication, which has combined into one enquiry the various systems of political economy which now prevail in Europe, and with great precision pointed out their uses and abuses, their defects and excellencies. Upon the whole, we must consider this work as a code for future statesmen and ministers in Great Britain, and as opening sources of political knowledge not hitherto investigated, that at some time (which perhaps is not very distant) may be attended with the most salutary effects to her interests. (The Critical Review, Vol. 24, July 1767, p. 32). 

 

On the other hand, James Boswell, who objected to Steuart's opinion of the Corsicans, “thought the book 'irregular and fanciful', while David Hume, despite his initial favourable reaction, was said to be critical of the book's final 'form and style'.” (ODNB). However, writing to Edmund Burke on 26 June 1767, Sir William Meredith, 3rd Baronet, MP for Liverpooldiscussed both the author and his book and gave a good sense of its immediate reception: 

 

“Since I came home, I have been reading Sir Jas. Stuart’s book. You know the history of the man? He was in the rebellion, and brought home by Lord Bute. Colman’s play, ‘The English Merchant,’ was written to grace his pardon. Indeed, I take him to be as worthy as Mr. Hume himself, of being admitted a disciple of the Bute academy, and dare say he will answer his kind patron’s views in recalling him, by endeavouring to restore the principles and cause, though the family, for the sake of which he was attainted. For, if I understand him right, his point is to reconcile us to the use of power such as no law can give, by attempting to prove, in various instances of economy, dissipation, luxury, increase and decrease of trade, dearness of provisions, &c. &c., how a nation may fall to ruin carelessly and irretrievably; and what infinite distress, of public and private nature, must continually happen unless the statesman interposes with his authority; which he describes as an authority that no fixed rules can establish, but must be enforced discretionally, as exigencies and occasions happen.” (Edmund Burke, Works and Correspondence, 1852 edn, p. 66). 

 

Provenance: Beside an early neat ink price-cost code at the head of the front flyleaf of Vol. 1 ( “erl” and “2. corpus phi α:”) there are no marks of ownership. 

 

Literature: Much has now been written on Steuart’s Inquiry, but see principally: Gary M. Anderson & Robert D. Tollison, “Sir James Steuart as the Apotheosis of Mercantilism and his relation to Adam Smith, Southern Economic Journal, Vol. 51/2 (Oct., 1984), p. 456-68; Andrew S. Skinner edited the 1966 edition of An Inquiry, wrote the ODNB entry, and three essays: “Sir James Steuart: International Relations,” in The Economic History Review, N.S., Vol. 15/3 (1963), p. 438-50; “Sir James Steuart: A Perspective on Economic Policy and Development,” in Quaderni di storia  dell’economia politica, Vol. 3/2 (1985), p. 3-24; “Sir James Steuart: The Market and the State,” in History of Economic Ideas, Vol. 1/1 (1993), p. 1-42.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Stock Code: 239645

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