Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Interesting development on Turgot?

From earlier posts readers will know I have been reading Turgot recently in connection with my forthcoming new book on Adam Smith Palgrave’s Great Thinkers in Economics series).

Brief recap:

I bought a copy of what purported to be a translation of Turgot’s “Reflexions sur La Formation et la Distribution des Riches” (1766/1788) by Kenneth Jupp, 1999, Othila Press, London, published as “The Formation and Distribution of Wealth: reflections on capitalism”. My commentary on the accompanying Introduction and an article by Malcolm Hill on Adam Smith regarded them as tendentious. Details of the translation are scarce and the translator admits it is not a strictly scholarly translation.

This disappointment led me to purchase I. C. Lunberg’sTurgot’s Unknown Translator: the Réflexions and Adam Smith’ (1965), Nijhoff, The Hague. This produces circumstantial, but not decisive, evidence that Smith translated a copy of the 1766 (or the 1770, Du Pont edition) version of Turgot’s little book and it gives exhaustive details of the various translations into English and German, and such variations between the 1766, 1770, 1788 and later versions of Turgot’s book.

I still had not read a reliable version of Turgot’s Réflexions, so I purchased the translation by William J. Ashley (1898), claiming to be a translation of the Du Pont de Nemours’ edition, published in Ephemerides du Citoyen, Paris, 1770, and in Œuvres de Turgot, 1809-11. Ashley translated from both the Ephemerides (1770) and M. Robineeau’s, 1889, version (in Petit Bibliothèque Economiques).

A quandary

Once again I am in a quandary because Lunberg is critical of Ashley’s translation and I am of Jupp’s. And I have still to access a copy of Turgot in French to satisfy myself on several points. Turgot’s original texts are rare.

Meanwhile, a most interesting issue has arisen from my reading of Ashley.

Several times a month I have cause to criticise the association of Adam Smith with the phenomenon of ‘capitalism’, even the word itself which was not used in English until 1854 (Oxford English Dictionary vol. iii). The first recorded English usage of ‘capitalist’ is in 1792 (Smith died in 1790).

Ashley translates Turgot in several places (p.54, 56, 57, 64) to say: ‘Capitalist Undertakers’ from ‘Capitaliste Entrepreneurs’. If this is from the 1770 edition of Turgot that would bring forward the use of the word ‘capitalist’ by 22 years and well within the time of Adam Smith. If it was in daily use among French economists it is likely that Smith would have heard the word and understood its meaning, though he did not translate it into English in his own Works.

I need to see the 1793 English translation on Réflexions (the edition allegedly translated by Smith) and the 1788 French edition, to check on the French language in these passages and on their translation into English. Not having access to either at present that is my quandary.

It may be sometime before I can access these editions.

Is there a reader with access to the 1793 (English), the 1788 (French), the 1889 (Robineau) editions, who could copy out and send to me the following ‘chapter’ headings from any or all of these works: LXI, LXI, LXIII, LXIV LXX, XCIII, XCIV?

Yes, I know it is a lot to ask, but I assume most readers of ‘Lost Legacy’ are interested in Adam Smith and have some access to good libraries on the history of economic ideas. I will, of course, continue my search in Edinburgh and I shall report if I find anything related to the issue: did Adam Smith have access to, was he familiar with, or did he read the word ‘capitalist’ from his connections with Turgot and other French economists?

Admittedly, it is a small point, but, like so much in research, many highways and byways lead from the road the researcher is on, most going nowhere, but occasionally one leads to something else that is important (though down these diversions lie the wreckage of many unfinished PhDs)

Any ideas you may have are most welcome: email to gk –at- ebs.hw.ac.uk



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