Page:William Petty - Economic Writings (1899) vol 1.djvu/47

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xxxix
The Disputed Authorship.
 

THE AUTHORSHIP OF THE NATURAL AND POLITICAL OBSERVATIONS UPON THE BILLS OF MORTALITY[1].


Concerning the authorship of the "Natural and Political Observations upon the Bills of Mortality" there seems at first to be no possibility of raising a question. Their title-page bears the name of Captain John Graunt, and the preface gives a plausible account of the manner in which he came to write them. At the time of their publication he was commonly reputed their author. Because of this repute he was elected a member of the Royal Society, and he accepted the membership. Such conduct by such a man would seem to leave no room for doubt that he was the author of the book issued under his name. There are, nevertheless, certain grounds for thinking that the book was in fact written not by Graunt, but by Sir William Petty. Persons who knew one or both of them have asserted that Petty was the author, and later writers[2] have added certain lines of argument to the same effect, based on internal evidence and on corroborative probabilities.

The first of Petty's friends to assert his authorship of the London Observations was John Evelyn.

In his diary, under date of March 22, 1675, Evelyn wrote:

Supp'd at Sr William Petty's with the Bp of Salisbury and divers honorable persons. We had a noble entertainment in a house gloriously furnish'd; the master and mistress of it were extraordinary persons.... He is the author of the ingenious deductions from the bills of mortality, which go under the name of Mr Graunt; also of that useful discourse of
  1. By permission of the editors of the Political Science Quarterly I have here used in revised form a large part of an article upon the above-named subject, which was originally printed in Vol. xi. pp. 105—132 of that journal.
  2. Mr W. B. Hodge writing in the Assurance Magazine, viii. 94, 234—237, (1859) and Dr W. L. Bevan in his Sir William Petty, a study (1894), have elaborated the arguments in favour of Petty. On the other hand Dr John Campbell (Biographia Britannica, iv. 2262—2263, note), McCulloch (Literature of Political Economy, 271), Roscher (Zur Gesch. d. engl. Volkswirthschaftslehre im 16 und 17 Jahrh., 73, note), De Morgan (Assurance Magazine viii. 166, 167; Budget of Paradoxes, 68, 69), John (Geschichte der Statistik, 170), and Cunningham (Growth of English Industry, Modern Times, 247) have all decided for Graunt. But none of these writers has discussed the question thoroughly.