Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cantillon, Richard

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

CANTILLON, RICHARD (d. 1734), economist, belonged to the family of that name of Ballyheige, county Kerry (see Burke, General Armory, 1883), and was born towards the end of the seventeenth century. He was for some time a merchant in London, but removed to Paris, where he established a banking house, mixed in good society, made the acquaintance of Bolingbroke, and is said to have become still more intimate with the Princesse d'Auvergne. Grimm is responsible for this information, and for the story that Cantillon assisted Law to float his paper money, telling us also that he shortly afterwards left for Holland with a large fortune acquired through this means (Correspondance Littéraire, 1878, iii. 72). He subsequently came to London and lived in Albemarle Street, where on Tuesday 14 May 1734, he was murdered by his cook, who robbed and set fire to the house. Mr. Philip Cantillon, probably a brother, offered a reward of 200l. to any accomplice, but the actual culprit does not seem to have been captured. Richard married ‘the daughter of Mons. Omani [Ommanney?], one of the richest merchants in Paris, and half sister to the Lord Clare, an Irish gentleman, who followed the late King James to St. Germain's’ (London Mag. 1734). The wills of both Richard and Philip Cantillon are preserved at Somerset House (Letters and Journals of W. S. Jevons, 1886, p. 425). One daughter was married to Lord Bulkeley, lieutenant-general in the French service, brother to the Maréchale de Berwick (L'Année Littéraire, 1755, v. 357). Henrietta, another daughter, married, in 1743, William Mathias Stafford Howard, third earl of Stafford. She had no children by him, and married secondly (in 1759) Robert, first earl of Farnham (Burke, Dormant and Extinct Peerage, 1883, p. 286). A Jasper Cantillon, one of the commissioners for wounded soldiers in King William's wars in Flanders, died 27 Jan. 1756 (Gent. Mag. xxvi. 91).

This is all that is known of the writer of the earliest treatise on the modern science of economics, in which, says Léonce de Lavergne, ‘toutes les théories des économistes sont contenues d'avance’ (Les Economistes français du XVIIIe siècle, 1870, p. 167). W. Stanley Jevons declares that it ‘is, more emphatically than any other single work, the cradle of political economy’ (Contemporary Review, January 1881, p. 68). It has been quoted by Adam Smith, Condillac, and Quesnay, who owes to Cantillon his fundamental doctrine, and was used by the English writers, Harris and Postlethwayt (both in 1757), without acknowledgment.

The ‘Essai sur la nature du commerce en général, traduit de l'Anglois,’ a duodecimo volume of 430 pages, was printed in 1755, with the imprint, ‘Londres, chez Fletcher Gyles, dans Holborn.’ Fletcher Gyles, who was Warburton's publisher and one of the leading booksellers of the day, died, however, in 1741 (Nichols, Lit. Anecdotes, ii. 147). In type, paper, and general ‘get-up,’ the book is continental and not English. It was most likely printed in Holland or Paris. That it was actually ‘traduit de l'Anglois’ is not unlikely, and it is possible that an earlier and printed version in English may yet be discovered. The book is now excessively rare, and deserves to be republished. The same text (with other pieces) was added to an edition of De Mauvillon's translation of Hume's ‘Discours politiques,’ Amsterdam, 1756, vol. iii. In 1759 appeared an English translation: ‘The analysis of trade, commerce, coin, bullion, banks, and foreign exchanges, wherein the true principles of this useful knowledge are fully but briefly laid down and explained, to give a clear idea of their happy consequences to society, when well regulated, taken chiefly from the ms. of a very ingenious gentleman deceas'd, and adapted to the present situation of our trade and commerce, by Philip Cantillon, late of the city of London, merchant.’ It was printed at London ‘for the author, and sold by Mr. Lewis, &c.,’ an octavo volume of 215 pages, price 5s. This garbled edition supplies no idea of the merit of the French text. Some of the best parts are entirely omitted. The preface of seventeen pages on trade in general is new, and valueless. That the book was supposed to be taken ‘from the ms. of a very ingenious gentleman… by Philip Cantillon,’ is another instance of the mystification surrounding this work.

The French ‘Essai’ is in three parts, the first being a general introduction to political economy, the second is a complete treatise on currency, and the third is devoted to foreign commerce and exchange. ‘It is a systematic and connected treatise,’ says Professor Stanley Jevons, ‘going over in a concise manner nearly the whole field of economics, with the exception of taxation. It is thus, more than any other book I know, the first treatise on economics’ (ut supra, p. 67). The first chapter opens with this weighty sentence, which is the keynote of the whole book: ‘La terre est la source ou la matière d'où l'on tire la richesse; le travail de l'homme est la forme qui la produit; et la richesse, en elle-même, n'est autre chose que la nourriture, les commodités et les agrémens de la vie.’ Jevons finds in Cantillon ‘an almost complete anticipation of the Malthusian theory of population’ (ib. p. 71), condensed into twenty-seven pages, and the very theory afterwards developed by Professor Cairnes (see his Essays in Political Economy, 1873), explaining the successive effects of a discovery of gold and silver mines on the rates of wages and prices of commodities. To quote Jevons once more, ‘it is not too much to say that the subject of the foreign exchanges has never, not even in Mr. Goschen's well-known book, been treated with more perspicuity and scientific accuracy than in Cantillon's essay’ (p. 72). There are references here and there in the ‘Essai’ (see pp. 35, 48, 93, &c.) to a statistical supplement which does not appear to have been printed.

‘Les délices du Brabant et de ses campagnes par Mr. de Cantillon,’ Amsterdam, 1757, 4 vols. 8vo, usually attributed to Richard or Philip Cantillon, was certainly by neither, nor was the ‘Histoire de Stanislas, 1er roi de Pologne, par M. D. C.,’ Londres, 1741, 2 vols. 12mo, which Barbier ascribes to the same source. The latter work was written by J. G. de Chevrières.

[The late W. Stanley Jevons was the first to attempt to penetrate the mysteries connected with the history of this writer and his remarkable book, in the interesting article contributed to the Contemporary Review, January 1881, entitled ‘Richard Cantillon and the Nationality of Political Economy;’ biographies are given in the Biographie Universelle, 1836, t. lx., and Nouvelle Biographie Générale, 1855, t. viii.; the information supplied by Watt, McCulloch (Literature of Political Economy), Allibone, Macleod (Dict. of Political Economy, 1863), and Coquelin et Guillaumin (Dict. de l'économie politique, 1873), is very inaccurate; for Cantillon's murder see the Country Journal or the Craftsman, 18 May 1734, and 15 June 1734; Read's Weekly Journal, 1 June 1734; Gent. Mag. 1734 (iv. 273, 702).]

H. R. T.