Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Leslie, Thomas Edward Cliffe

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LESLIE, THOMAS EDWARD CLIFFE (1827?–1882), political economist, second son of Edward Leslie, prebendary and treasurer of Dromore and rector of Annahilt, co. Down, a descendant of Charles Leslie [q. v.] the nonjuror, was born in the county of Wexford about 1827. His mother was Margaret, daughter of the Rev. Thomas E. Higginson of Lisburne. He was at first educated by his father, and afterwards at King William's College in the Isle of Man, and at Trinity College, Dublin, where he took a classical scholarship in 1845, and graduated B.A. with a senior moderatorship and gold medal in ethics and logic in 1847. He proceeded LL.B. in 1851, and was afterwards created hon. LL.D. In 1853 he was elected to the chair of jurisprudence and political economy in Queen's College, Belfast. He had entered Lincoln's Inn on 12 Jan. 1848, and his professorial duties permitting of his residing for the greater part of each year in London, he qualified himself for the practice of the law, and was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn in Easter term 1857. He was also called to the Irish bar, but never practised. He attended the lectures of Sir Henry Sumner Maine [q. v.], and studied the philosophy of Auguste Comte. Maine taught him the value in jurisprudence of the historical and comparative method, and he inferred the need of a similar treatment of economics. Comte taught him to regard economics as a fragment of the as yet inchoate science of sociology, though he never became a Comtist.

Leslie's first publication was a professorial lecture, delivered 14 Dec. 1855, on ‘The Military Systems of Europe economically considered,’ Belfast, 1856, 8vo. Soon afterwards he began to contribute to ‘Fraser's,’ ‘Macmillan's,’ and other magazines and reviews. In these early papers, most of which are reprinted in his ‘Essays on Political and Moral Philosophy,’ Dublin, 1879, 8vo (2nd edit., with some additions and omissions, entitled ‘Essays in Political Philosophy,’ 1888, 8vo), he appeals from the then dominant Ricardian school to Adam Smith, whom he represents as a far more philosophical thinker than any of his successors. An article on ‘The Distribution and Value of the Precious Metals in the Sixteenth and Nineteenth Centuries’ (Macmillan's Magazine, August 1864), in which he showed that the depreciation of the currency by the discovery of new mines in the two centuries under consideration had been far less general and uniform than had been commonly supposed, attracted the notice and secured him the friendship of J. S. Mill. Following the lead of W. T. Thornton, who had already attacked the generally received theory of wages in the ‘Fortnightly Review’ (May 1867), he published in ‘Fraser's Magazine’ for July 1868 an article on ‘Political Economy and the Rate of Wages,’ in which he not only demolished the ‘wages fund’ theory, but impugned with less success the doctrine that competition tends to equalise wages. Two autumn holidays (1868 and 1869) passed with Léonce de Lavergne at his country seat, Peyrusse in La Creuse, and some tours in Belgium, Westphalia, and other parts of the continent, furnished Leslie with materials for a series of articles on continental land tenures and methods of cultivation, which formed the basis of a volume of essays entitled ‘Land Systems and Industrial Economy of Ireland, England, and Continental Countries,’ published in 1870, London, 8vo. This work was highly praised by Mill in the ‘Fortnightly Review’ for June 1870. An article by him on ‘French Land Tenures’ appeared in ‘Essays on Land Tenures’ (Cobden Club, 1870). In an article in ‘Hermathena’ in 1876 ‘On the Philosophical Method of Political Economy’ he severely criticised the cardinal doctrines of the deductive economics, and ended by declaring the entire system to be ‘an idol of the tribe,’ owing its attractive simplicity and symmetry to its remoteness from actual fact. In 1878 he contributed an introduction to Mr. Marriott's translation of M. Emile de Laveleye's work on ‘Primitive Property,’ London, 8vo. Leslie died unmarried at Belfast on 27 Jan. 1882.

The fragmentary nature of Leslie's work is attributable partly to chronic ill-health, partly to a natural preponderance of the critical over the constructive faculty, partly so the loss, while travelling in France in 1872, of the manuscript of a work which he was preparing on the economic and legal history of England. An essay on 'The History and Future of Interest and Profit,' published originally in the 'Fortnightly Review' for November 1881, and reprinted in 'Essays in Political Philosophy,' is understood to represent the substance of a chapter of the lost manuscript. His critical work has led to some important modifications of economic doctrines, but has by no means produced the effect which he desired.

[Times, 30 Jan. 1882; Ann. Reg. 1882. pt. ii. p. 113; Cotton's Fasti Eccl. Hibern. iii. 302; Foster's Alumni Oxon., 'Leslie, Edward;' Foster's Baronetage, 'Leslie, Sir John:' Dublin Univ. Cal. 1846 p. 127. 1817 pp. 76, 124; Inns of Court Cal. 1878, p. 431; Athenæum. 1882, i. 130; Revue des Deux Mondes, 3me Période, tom. xlix. 621 et seq.; Westminster Review, cxx. 470 et seq., Encycl. Brit. For more detailed criticisms of Leslie's work see Sidgwick's Principles of Political Economy; Marshall's Principles of Economics; and Keynes's Scope and Mothod of Political Economy.]

J. M. R.