Monday, November 07, 2005

Comments on Turgot and Smith

I have just finished reading I. C. Lunberg’s “Turgot’s Unknown Translator: the Reflexions and Adam Smith” (Nijhoff, The Hague, 1964), which is a most interesting exegetical study into a problem of the identity of the first translation into English. Dr Lunberg, having marshalled the evidence with forensic intensity, concludes that it was Adam Smith who translated Turgot’s essay. At this stage I cannot comment on that conclusion, as I have to consult the originals first, though I think the evidence is somewhat better than circumstantial.

On the evidence of Smith’s use of language when discussing the nature of ‘capitals’ and his use of ‘a capital’, ‘the capital’ and use of exact translations from Turgot’s pamphlet, Dr Lunberg makes a formidable case. Only in the total absence of correspondence between Turgot and Smith is there doubt in my mind, though the fact of Smith’s use of indicative, or ‘marker’, language shows that he had read Turgot in the original French. He could have translated from the 1766 first edition of Réflexions, or from the 1769-70 version, edited by Pierre-Samuel Du Pont in his Ephémérides du Citoyen (a copy was in Smith's library) for his own use in “Wealth of Nations”.

Whether Smith circulated his translation or notes to friends, which were printed anonymously in English in 1793 (Smith died in 1790), is ‘not proven’ yet, as we say in one of the law court verdicts in the Scotland.

Lunberg’s masterly analysis caused me to re-read today the edition of Turgot’s Réflexions, translated and edited by Kenneth Jupp (“The Formation and Distribution of Wealth: reflections on Capitalism”, Othila Press, 1999) and my disappointment with it, mentioned earlier on this Blog, has deepened.

Take this tendentious (at least, I hope, to regular readers of ‘Lost legacy’) paragraph from Jupp’s booklet, written by Malcolm Hill:

“Look after yourself and your family and an invisible hand will look after society’ say modern admirers of Smith. Smith did not write anything so brief. However the paraphrase fairly reflects his view” (page 69).


This assertion is tosh.

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