Monday, November 09, 2009

On Searching Through Cupboards, Undisturbed Since 1998

The sort out of my library of books continues.

This morning I began on some cupboards in the garage, shut since 1998, when we moved here and I came across some ‘lost’, though not forgotten, books on economic thought, many of which I have kept since the 70s, some of which I have regularly lamented ‘losing’. In that previous move from a big house, where I had a large-room lined with book shelves, to the currently ‘smaller’ house, my then ‘library’ was too big to accommodate, and about half of my library was shipped to France, the best parts of which are housed in glass-fronted cabinets to keep out the dust – the rest in boxes piled in our large bedroom.

The other half was sent to the current and recently sold house, and much of that half was partly stored (‘temporarily’) in boxes and in some garage cupboards. Since 1998, a fair amount of new books have spilled over in piles on the floor.

In short, my depleted library is now in a mess.

We move from here in December and I have a chance (or, of you prefer, I am under family orders) to sort the books out, to safeguard the good books, including those I work from, or intend to do so, and to dispose of the rest to charity shops around town.

Interestingly, among the ‘lost’ treasures that I found this morning was an 1843 edition of Wealth Of Nations, “with a Life of the Author” (Dugald Stewart’s eulogy to Adam Smith in 1793 delivered in 1793) and also “A View of the Doctrine of Smith, compared with that of the French Economists; with a method of facilitating the study of his works; from the French M. Garnier.” Published by Thomas Nelson, Edinburgh, ‘MDCCCXLIII’.

And no, M. Garnier doesn’t mention the ‘invisible hand’ as part of Smith’s doctrine.

However, this particular volume provoked a rather funny, in retrospect only, incident in the mid-80s. At the time, we rented accommodation for our French holidays and I used to take our kids, and those of anyone’s staying with us, to a chain resort called AquaCity on the Bordeaux coast, where they could play in a safe environment (patrolled by dozens of safety ‘wardens’, instantly recognisable in their leopard-patterned costumes) of flumes, pools, rides in large rubber tyres and water, water, everywhere. They loved it.

So did I, but not for the swimming; it was a perfect location for focussed reading, despite the background noise. I would sit down near the cafeteria, read my book, and the older kids would comeback roughly every half-hour to let me know and the little ones were safe – they knew where I was and I was left in peace to read.

Now, to be truthful, I was not quite into the spirit of AquaCity, in that when assured everybody was safe and enjoying themselves, I would sit under a small tree and read. I was, as always in those days, in a suit, tie and heavy shoes (a Business School habit). The temperature was usually in the 70s-80s.

On this particular occasion I was reading this very 1843 edition of Wealth Of Nations.

Absorbed as I was in Smith’s prose “Of the Expense of Defence”, I was oblivious to what was going on around me (my research interests were defence economics), until somebody began shouting nearby, so I looked up, and realised that s man on a nearby path was shouting at me in French. I caught a few words, but most was lost in excitable non-translation.

I looked either side of me for help and a couple nearby, said in English that the man was accusing me of looking at his wife! (She was about ten paces, half hidden behind him.)

But I was innocent. The entire AquaCity landscape was dotted with people, most in bathing suits, many in bikini’s and more than a few topless. After some more outpourings of vitriol, he stormed off, realising I was not French, and, no doubt considering the way I was dressed, as some sort of oddity, as well, in his mind, of me being a quasi-pervert (though why he attacked me I cannot imagine, when I could now see that he and his wife were parading around, as people of a certain age do in France, more than semi-naked).

Fortunately, most of the kids turned up just then, looking for their lunch and soft-drinks.

So, finding this ‘lost’ 1843 volume of the Wealth Of Nations today was worthy of note. It brought back that scene at AquaCity - we have often laughed at it at dinner parties since. But truly, I have missed that particular volume for twenty years or more. Finding it is a joy.

Looking through my copy today, I found a sentence in Book IV (page 188: WN IV.ii.30: 464-5), which I had marked in ink:

As defence, however, is of much more importance than opulence, the act of navigation is, perhaps, the wisest of all the commercial regulations of England”.

No other passages are marked in this manner. As defence economics was my main subject in those years, I consider this as evidence as to the sole object of my full attentions that day….

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home