The Coming of Age of Political Economy, 1815-1825

By Gary F. Langer | Go to book overview

during two or three seasons 4 at Edinburgh. At the East India College, in Hertfordshire, it is an indispensible part of the instruction of every Student. The Master 5 of Oriel College, Oxford, in his defence of that University from the attacks [viii] of the Edinburgh Reviewers, states that it meets with considerable attention and encouragement there. Within the last year, two publications on the subject have issued from that University. 6

The extensiveness of its utility has been much misapprehended. It has been presented as useful only to Statesmen and Legislators. Yet for these two years past every part of the Country has resounded with Petitions respecting the Corn Laws and the Property Tax; on which subjects perhaps not one in a hundred of those who are generally termed Men of Education had the knowledge requisite for forming an opinion. Need I mention that the present Agricultural embarrassments have been much increased by want of this knowledge among those who acted on the supposition that the high [ix] prices of Corn would be permanent; while every one conversant with the doctrines of Political Economy, clearly saw that they could only be temporary? Need I allude to the years of scarcity 1795 and 1799, when the ill-directed exertions of benevolence only aggravated the distresses it attempted to relieve?--Need I mention the necessity of this knowledge in conducting every plan of charity? in managing every extensive estate? in the constant exercise of the office of a Magistrate? and in a hundred other ordinary occurrences of life?

But its interest does not depend solely upon its practical utility; since without the knowledge of it, a considerable portion of the debates of Parliament must be unintelligible; and History nearly as uninstructive as the fictions of romance.

Even if the difficulty of acquiring the principles of Political Economy had not existed, the Author would by no means have deemed a Course of Lectures unnecessary; as this mode of instruction possesses many advantages over that which books can afford. It varies from year to year with the encreasing state of knowledge; [x] it is adapted to that peculiar class who hear it delivered. On the contrary, a treatise suited to merchants or manufacturers, would not be so to those destined for a learned profession or a parliamentary career: and one adequate to the perusal of a mere English reader, must omit many illustrations drawn from antient history, and have few attractions for men of classical taste and acquirements; by attempting to make it generally acceptable, it becomes appropriate to none. But the matter of the Lecture is alike fresh in the memory of each; their information proceeds pari passu; and discussion, which exceedingly elucidates, matures, and fixes knowledge, more frequently and completely takes place. "The hour of the Lecture" (says Gibbon) "enforces attendance; attendance is fixed by the presence and voice of the teacher; the most idle will carry something away; and the more diligent will compare the instructions which they may have heard, with the volumes they peruse in their chambers." 7

[xi] These Lectures are intended to explain and demonstrate the principles of the Science to those who have not previously studied it. The Author however recommends the perusal of the first and second books of Malthus's Essay on Population: not that he will suppose the possession of this knowledge; but because the short abstract of them, which forms a part of the second Lecture, must bring comparatively inadequate conviction to the minds of his hearers.

Cambridge, March 16, 1816.


NOTES
1.
Genovesi commenced his Lecture from the Chair of Political Economy at Naples in 1764. The causes of their temporary discontinuance I am not acquainted with. Milan

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