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The Coming of Age of Political Economy, 1815-1825

By Gary F. Langer | Go to book overview

PREFACE

Instead of stating the reasons why such a course of Lectures is desirable; it appears more requisite to investigate the causes, why one has not been given in every University of the British Isles, during the last half century--Why the only nation which gives every well-educated man the chance of a seat in a Legislative Assembly; and even without it, an influence over every Legislative enactment--which, by its wealth and prosperity has been enabled to wield the destinies of Europe--which has produced a Philosopher, who has done little less for Political Economy, than Newton did for Natural Philosophy-- why this nation should be so far behind most others in affording the means of instruction in the science which analyses the sources [iv] of that prosperity, and the causes that may impede or accelerate its progress. The complaint of this deficiency has been long since made. The Monthly Reviewers, during the better times of that Journal, in criticizing Odazzi's discourse, delivered at the re-establishment 1 of a Professorship of Political Economy in the University of Naples ( 1782) observes, that "In almost all civilized countries, except the British Isles, the useful arts, that tend immediately to the augmentation of national strength and prosperity, make a part of Academical instruction, and are become one of the essential objects of the education of youth. Much has Nature done for her Sons, in Britain, by the precious gifts of innate genius and vigor of mind. [v] These, exalted by Grecian and Roman lore, bring the glowing Student from the College into the Senate, and there he is given over to Eloquence--there he embellishes good measures and public spirit with colors they stand not in need of; or bad measures and selfish vice, with colors that disguise their deformity. But after all, eloquence is but a barren talent, without the knowledge of those useful arts 2 that are the true sources of national felicity; and happy would it be for the nation, if its representatives, were prepared by Academical instruction, to deal somewhat less in words, and much more in things."

An inquiry into all the causes of this neglect would exceed the bounds of a Preface to a Syllabus--One, however, it may be proper to mention; the want of an English work from which the principles of [vi] this science may be obtained with any ordinary labor.

"The Inquiry into the nature and causes of the Wealth of Nations," is any thing but this. An ingenious French writer, 3 by no means deficient in admiration of Dr. Smith, observes, "This book is but a confused assemblage of the most sound principles of Political Economy. To understand him well, one must be habituated to arrange his ideas anew, and to reconsider them in that altered order. The necessity of this labor puts him out of the reach of ordinary readers." The justice of these remarks is, I fear, incontrovertible: and the natural consequence is that, without some very strong inducement, this Inquiry is read by few Englishmen. It is indeed in every library: but praise is less toilsome than perusal, and generally supplies its place. The celebrity which the discoveries of Dr. Smith have given to his work, seem to have prevented any subsequent author from attempting to make them more accessible. There is not only no royal road to [vii] Political Economy, but no road along which any but the most active, energetic, and indefatigable pioneer can make his way. Hence, perhaps, it chiefly arises that the many important truths which Dr. Smith has established, and their application to subsequent events; his defects and his errors are alike neglected and unknown. But a Course of Lectures is therefore the most requisite to supply the deficiency.

In spite of this and other obstacles, the importance of the science has enabled it to make some progress. Professor Dugald Stewart gave a Course of Lectures on the subject

-197-

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