The Wealth Of Nations by Adam Smith

27th February 2020

"The statesman who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals, would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it."

Adam Smith's An Enquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations was first published by W. Strahan and T. Cadell in 1776 and is hailed as a landmark in economic thought.

Smith "begins with the thought that labour is the source from which a nation derives what is necessary to it. The improvement of the division of labour is the measure of productivity and in it lies the human propensity to barter and exchange … The Wealth of Nations ends with a history of economic development, a definitive onslaught on the mercantile system, and some prophetic speculations on the limits of economic control" (Printing and the Mind of Man).

"The Wealth of Nations had no rival in scope or depth when published and is still one of the few works in its field to have achieved classic status, meaning simply that it has sustained yet survived repeated reading, critical and adulatory, long after the circumstances which prompted it have become the object of historical enquiry" (ODNB).

We have just catalogued an exceptional copy of this "first and greatest classic of modern economic thought" (PMM). The original owner Richard Knight was classical scholar and sometime MP for Leominster and Ludlow, and author of The Progress of Civil Society (1796).  This long didactic poem seeks to survey society according to its economic stages in a way which so clearly draws on Smith’s theory of the four stages that contemporary critic, Thomas Mathias, described Kinight’s work as little more than a “versification” of The Wealth of Nations.

The books have frequent annotations, particularly to books IV and V, which attest to Knight's keen engagement with Smith’s examination of the competing mercantilist and physiocratic models of the time and with the history of the role of taxation.  The majority of the annotations are short notes which function as bookmarks for passages of interest.  Some are a little longer, mainly serving to summarise the passage in question, save for a a comment at the end of chapter two of Book IV, where he opines, “The Swiss are the richest & most industrious of any inland people & their country is the best cultivated - their commerce is free & unburdened with all the World.”


This book along with other first editions of literary significance will be on sale at the New York Book Fair and Firsts London.

Full description and prices can be found here.

"In the university of Oxford, the greater part of the public professors have, for these many years, given up altogether even the pretence of teaching."

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