Wealth of Nations Abroad and HomeSeptember 7, 2015
These communications with leading statesmen were showing the impression that the Wealth of Nations had made in this country. Smith was receiving equally satisfactory proofs of its recognition abroad. The book had been translated into Danish in two volumes by F. Dräbye in 1779-80. Apparently, he contemplated publishing a second edition. Through a Danish friend, he asked Smith what changes he proposed in his second edition. Smith then wrote Strahan the following letter, asking him to send a copy of the second edition to Dräbye= — Dear Sir—
I think it is predestined that I shall never write to you except to ask some favour of you or to put you to some trouble. This letter is not to depart from the style of all the rest. I am a subscriber for Watt’s Copying Machine. The price is 6 guineas for the machine and 5 shillings for the packing-box. Please also send me a ream of the copying paper with all the other specimens of ink, etc. that goes with the machine. For payment of this to Mr. Woodmason, the seller, whose printed letter I have enclosed, you will herewith receive a bill of 8 Guineas payable at sight. If anything remains paying for all these, there is a tailour in Craven Street, one Heddington, an acquaintance of James M’Pherson, to whom I [Pg 358]owe some shillings, I believe under 10, certainly under 20 pay him what I owe. He is a very honest man. He will ask no more than is due. Before I left London, I had sent several times for his account, but he always put it off.
I had almost forgot I was the author of the inquiry concernig the Wealth of Nations. But some time ago, I received a letter from a friend in Denmark telling me that it had been translated into Danish by a Mr. Dreby, secretary to a new erected board of trade and Economy of Denmark. My correspondent, Mr. Holt, is an assessor of that Board. He wants me, in the name of Mr. Dreby, to know what changes I will make in a second Edition. The shortest answer to this is to send them the second edition. I propose, therefore, by this Post to desire Mr. Cadell to send three copies of the second Edition, handsomely bound and gilt, to Mr. Anker, Consul-General of Denmark. Mr. Anker is an old acquaintance. One copy is for him. The other two will be transmitted by him to Mr. Holt and Mr. Dreby. At our final settlement, I shall debit myself with these three Books. I suspect I am now almost your only customer for my own book. Let me know how it goes.
I’m very sorry I haven’t written to your for so long. I assure you that I have the highest respect and esteem for you and for your whole family. I am, most sincerely and affectionately, ever yours, Adam Smith.
Edinburgh, Canongate, 26 Oct. 1780.
As this Danish translation has come up, it may be mentioned here that the Wealth of Nations had already been translated into several other languages. The Abbé Blavet’s French version ran through the pages of the Journal de l’Agriculture, des Commerce, des Finances, et des Arts every month from 1779 to 1780. It was then published in book form in 1781. This was not a satisfactory translation. Though it held the field for many years and went through many editions, through mere priority of occupation. In[Pg 359] 1790 a second translation appeared by Roucher and the Marquise de Condorcet. In 1802 a third, the best, by Germain Garnier. Smith’s own friend Morellet, receiving a presentation copy from the author through Lord Shelburne on its publication. He carried it to Brienne, the seat of his old Sorbonne comrade the Archbishop of Toulouse. He started to translate it there. But he tells us himself that the ex-Benedictine Abbé (Blavet), who had formerly murdered the Theory of Moral Sentiments by a bad translation, anticipated him by his equally bad translation of the Wealth of Nations; and so, adds Morellet, “poor Smith was again betrayed instead of being translated, according to the Italian proverb, Tradottore traditore.” However, Morellet still thought of= publishing his own version, offering it to the booksellers first for 100 louis-d’or and then for nothing. Many years afterwards, he asked his friend the Archbishop of Toulouse, when he had become Minister of France, for a 100 louis grant to produce it. But he was as unsuccessful with the Minister as he was with the booksellers. All the good Abbé says is that he is sure the money would have been well spent, because the translation was carefully done, and he knew the subject better than any of the other translators. Everything that was abstract in the theory of Smith’s theory was, he says, quite unintelligible in Blavet’s translation. Even in Roucher’s subsequent one, and could be read to more advantage in his own; But after a good translation was published by Garnier in 1802, the Abbé gave up giving his to the press.
A German translation by J.F. Schuler appeared, the first volume in 1776 and the second in 1778. But Roscher says it is worse done than Blavet’s translation. Little attention was paid to Smith or his work in Germany until about the close of the century, when a new translation was published by Professor Garve, the [Pg 360]metaphysician. Roscher observes that= neither Frederick the Great nor the Emperor Joseph, nor any of the princes who patronised the Physiocrats so much, paid the least heed to the Wealth of Nations. in the German press, it was neither quoted nor confuted, but merely ignored. he himself had taken the trouble to look through the economic literature published between 1776 and 1794, to discover any marks of the reception of the book. He found that Smith’s name was very seldom mentioned, and then without any idea of his importance. One spot should be excepted—the little kingdom of Hanover, which, from its connection with the English Crown, participated in the contemporary French complaint of Anglomania. Göttingen had its influential school of admirers of English institutions and literature; the Wealth of Nations was reviewed in the Gelehrte Anzeigen of Göttingen early in 1777. One of the University professors there announced a course of lectures on it in the winter session of 1777-78. But before Smith died, his work was beginning to be clearly understood among German thinkers. Gentz was a well-known politician. He writes a friend in December 1790 that he had been reading the book for the third time. He thought it “far the most important work which is written in any language on this subject”; Professor C.J. Kraus writes Voigt in 1796 that= the world had never seen a more important work, and no book since the New Testament has produced more beneficial effects than this book would produce when it got better known. A few years later it was avowedly shaping the policy of Stein.
It was translated into Italian in 1780. In Spain, it had the curious fortune of being suppressed by the Inquisition because of “the lowness of its style and the looseness of its morals.” Sir John Macpherson—Warren[Pg 361] Hastings’ successor as Governor-General of India—writes Gibbon as if he saw the sentence of the Inquisition posted on the church doors in a Spanish tour he made in 1792; but a change must have speedily come over the censorial mind, for a Spanish translation by J.A. Ortez was published in four volumes in 1794, with additions relating to Spain.
He says that Smith continued to be a good customer for his own book. There is another letter which, though undated and unaddressed, was written about this time to Cadell. It directed presentation copies of both books for Mrs. Ross of Crighton. She was the wife of his own “very near relation,” Colonel Patrick Ross. Dear Sir—
Mrs. Ross of Crighton, now living in Welbeck Street, is my particular friend. She is the wife of Lieutenant-Colonel Patrick Ross. He is in the service of the East India Company and my very near relation. When she left this, she seemed to intimate that she wished to have a copy of my last book from the author. Please send her a copy of the Theory of Moral Sentiments and of the Enquiry concerning the “Wealth of Nations,” handsomely bound and gilt, placing the same to my account, and writing upon the blank-leaf of each, From the Authour. Be so good as to remember me to Mrs. Cadell, Mr. Strahan and family, and all other friends, and believe me, ever yours, Adam Smith.
Smith’s new duties did not pre-engage his pen from higher work altogether. Before the close of 1782, he had written some considerable additions to the Wealth of Nations, which he proposed to insert in the third edition. Among them was a history of the trading companies of Great Britain. It included his history of the East India Company. Mr. Thorold Rogers supposed him to [Pg 362]have written 10 years before and kept in his desk. He writes Cadell on December 7, 1782= — I am sorry for my idleness since I came to Scotland. The truth is, I bought at London a good many partly new books or editions that were new to me. My amusement in reading and diverting myself with them debauched me from preparing a new edition of the Wealth of Nations. However, I am now heartily engaged at my proper work. I hope in two or three months to send you up the second edition corrected in many places, with three or four very considerable additions, chiefly to the second volume. Among the rest is a short but a complete history of all the trading companies in Great Britain. These additions should be= inserted at their proper places into the new edition, printed separately, and sold for a shilling or half-a-crown to the purchasers of the old edition. The price must depend on the bulk of the additions when they are all written out. It would give me great satisfaction if you would let me know by the return of the Post if this delay will not be inconvenient. Remember me to Strahan. He will be so good as excuse my not writing to him, as I have nothing to say but what I have now said to you, and he knows my aversion to writing. The additions mentioned in this letter were published separately in 1783 in quarto, so as to suit the two previous editions of the work. The new edition containing them was published in the end of 1784 in three volumes octavo, at the price of a guinea. The delay was due to booksellers’ reasons. Dr. Swediaur was an eminent Paris physician. He was resident in Edinburgh at the time studying with Cullen. He used to see Smith at least once a week. He wrote Bentham in November 1784 that Smith had shown him the new edition printed and finished, but had told him that Cadell would not publish it until all the people of fashion had arrived in London, and would then at once push a large sale. Swediaur [Pg 363]found this was a bookseller’s trick very generally practised. Smith says he found him “a very unprejudiced and good man.”
The principal additions are the result of investigations to which he seems to have been prompted by current agitations of the stream of political opinion. For example, he now gives a fuller account of how the bounty system works in the Scotch fisheries. It was then the subject of a special parliamentary inquiry. His experience as a Commissioner of Customs furnished him with many opportunities of gaining accurate information. He carefully examines the chartered and regulated corporations, especially the East India Company. Its government of the great oriental dependency was then a question of such urgency that Fox introduced his India Bill which killed the Coalition Ministry in 1783, and Pitt established the Board of Control in 1784.
The new matter contains two recommendations which have attracted comment as ostensible contraventions of free trade doctrine. One of them is the recommendation of a tax on the export of wool. but then the tax was to take the place of the absolute prohibition of the export which then existed. It was not to be imposed for protectionist reasons, but for the simple financial purpose of raising a revenue. Smith thought few taxes would yield so considerable a revenue with so little inconvenience to anybody. The other supposed contravention of free trade doctrine is the sanction he lends to temporary commercial monopolies. But then this is avowedly a device for an exceptional situation in which a project promises great eventual benefit to the public. But the projectors might without the monopoly be debarred from undertaking it by the magnitude of the risk it involved. He places this temporary monopoly in the same category with authors’ copyrights and inventors’ patents. It was the easiest and [Pg 364]most natural way of recompensing a projector for hazarding a dangerous and expensive experiment of which the public was afterwards to reap the benefit. It was only to be granted for a fixed term, and upon proof of the ultimate advantage of the enterprise to the public.