An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations


SMITH, Adam An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations

W. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1776.

First edition. Two volumes, quarto (278 × 220 mm). Contemporary polished tree calf, smooth spine richly decorated with gilt scrolls and red and green morocco labels. Half-title in vol. II (none called for in vol. I). A fine copy, with just a single rub to the head of the spine of volume II and a small scratch to the spine, but exceptionally bright and crisp and unusually for such large and heavy volumes, with no repair to the joints. A couple of minor scratches to the covers neatly recoloured. Generously margined and internally fresh with just occasional foxing. A tiny marginal puncture to Aa3 and ink offsetting to Nn3r in vol I. An exceptionally handsome and well preserved copy.

An exceptional copy of "the first and greatest classic of modern economic thought" (PMM).
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" (PMM).
"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).
The original owner of this copy, Richard Knight, classical scholar and sometime MP for Leominster and Ludlow, was also the 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 frequent annotations, particularly to books IV and V, attest to his 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."

PROVENANCE: Richard Payne Knight (1751-1824; ownership name to half title and marginal annotations, mostly throughout vol. II)

Goldsmiths' 11392; Grolier, English 57; PMM 221; Rothschild 1897

Stock ID: 40040


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