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in directly combating the errors which prevailed before it was written. At this time, an argument, however powerful and complete, against the Mercantile and Agricultural Systems of the last century, would be wholly superfluous; and for this reason: that those Theories have been demolished by Adam Smith's Inquiry. So completely has that book done its work, that the controversy in which the author engaged, has lost all interest, and is nearly forgotten. Who now cares to be told, that money is not wealth; that land is not the only source of wealth; or that the cause and measure of national wealth is not the excess of exports over imports? When doctrines become obsolete, the controversial matter of the book which has refuted them, loses its value. The Wealth of Nations consists for the most part of controversial matter. It would seem strange, therefore, if the fact were not explained by other considerations, that this work should still be read, and studied, and quoted, as if it had been published but yesterday.
Though Adam Smith * changed the face of political economy, he did not complete that science.
* It will be seen in the following biographical memoir that the author of the Wealth of Nations never claimed, or received during his life, the title of Doctor.
On the contrary, even with materials furnished by himself, his own disciples have shown, that he overlooked, or at least did not duly appreciate, some principles of the utmost consequence. As he corrected the opposite opinions of Colbert and Quesnay, so some of his own speculations have been rectified by Malthus and Ricardo. Moreover, not a few works have appeared since his time, whose authors, intending to preserve what is true in his book, to correct his errors, and supply his deficiencies, profess to teach the science in its last stage of perfection. Here then would be another reason for surprise at the continued popularity of the Wealth of Nations, if that circumstance did not seem to be accounted for by the following considerations.
Not merely did Adam Smith overturn erroneous systems, but he built up another in their place. His grand discovery that Labour is the purchase-money of all things became the foundation of a new science. Even while he destroyed, he was diligently occupied in creating. Consequently, though a large portion of his work consists of controversial matter, now useless in so far as it is controversial, still the positive truths which are expounded in the controversy, possess an intrinsic value of which no lapse of time can deprive them.
In the next place, while the matter of the Wealth of Nations is, for the most part, of a controversial description, and so far obsolete, the manner in which all parts of the book are written, is fit to secure for it a lasting popularity. In exposing the fallacies of others, or establishing his own principles, the author hardly ever seems to have that object in view. He appears to be engaged in composing, not a theory, but a history of national wealth. He dwells indeed on principles, but nearly always, as it seems, for the mere purpose of explaining the facts which he narrates. That he had formed a system in his own mind, and that his object was to impress it on the minds of his readers, is almost proved by the effect of the book on every reflecting mind.. On such a mind, the Wealth of Nations never fails to leave the impression of a set of connected principles, not less applicable to the present or future, than to the past. But this object of the writer is so skilfully kept out of sight, that the ordinary reader is no more conscious of it, than a little boy is aware that he obtains some knowledge of geography by playing at a geographical game. The ordinary reader would not perhaps have looked at the book, if it had consisted of mere theory: at all events, he would not have understood it; but he can read with satisfaction what appears to be a sort of story-book; and thus, even he obtains some knowledge of the author's principles. The Wealth of Nations is full of pictures, like the Penny Magazines of our day, whose great popularity seems to be owing quite as much to their wood-cuts, as to their remarkable cheapness. Thinking, to those who are unused to it, is a very disagreeable process; most people can be induced to exercise their reason, only by some enticement addressed to their imagination. How do the doctrinal parts of Scripture become familiar to a child? By means of the very entertaining stories which accompany them. In all ages and countries, the most successful teachers, whether of truth or error, have appealed to the imagination. In order to instruct, it is needful to amuse. If this mother's maxim had occurred to Bentham, a knowledge of the principles of jurisprudence would not perhaps be confined, as it is at present, to a very small number of reflecting men. Adam Smith is a teller of stories about political economy. His book entertains those even whom it does not instruct, and instructs others by means of entertaining them. One reason, then, for its lasting popularity appears to be, not so much the importance of the truths which it teaches, as the manner in which it teaches those truths.
Thirdly, no more recent work on political economy, which professes to be complete, has been written in a popular manner. The great work of Malthus, though it have the form of a history of population, and may therefore be read for entertainment, is almost confined to a single principle of the science. Miss Martineau's amusing Illustrations do not profess to teach the principles of the science in their proper order and mutual dependence: they are stories about political economy, and nothing else. Most other writers on the subject, however remarkable some of them for ingenuity and reasoning power, seem to have carefully avoided the popular manner of Adam Smith. They address themselves to the very few who take pleasure in the exercise of thought. This is more especially the case with those, whether original thinkers or mere copyists, who pride themselves on having corrected the errors of Adam Smith, and having brought the science to its last stage of perfection. Ricardo, Mill, and Mc Culloch, for example, have written in a manner which is not only unpopular, but, to vulgar minds, thoroughly repulsive. And here, perhaps, we may find some explanation of the sort of disgust which, notwithstanding the popularity of the Wealth of Nations, is expressed by the vulgar of all ranks from the highest to the lowest, at the very name of political economy. But be that as it may, if we allow for the incumbrance of a by-gone controversy, and