Front Page Titles (by Subject) SKETCH OF THE LIFE AND WRITINGS OF FRANCIS QUESNAY. - Treatises and Essays on Subjects connected with Economic Policy with Biographical Sketches of Quesnay, Adam Smith & Ricardo
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SKETCH OF THE LIFE AND WRITINGS OF FRANCIS QUESNAY. - John Ramsay McCulloch, Treatises and Essays on Subjects connected with Economic Policy with Biographical Sketches of Quesnay, Adam Smith & Ricardo 
Treatises and Essays on Subjects connected with Economic Policy with Biographical Sketches of Quesnay, Adam Smith & Ricardo (Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black, 1853).
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SKETCH OF THE LIFE AND WRITINGS OF FRANCIS QUESNAY.
Francis Quesnay, though a physician of considerable eminence, is chiefly known as an ingenious inquirer into the constitution of society, and as the founder of the sect of the Economists.
Unlike that of most literary men, the life of this distinguished person abounded in incident and adventure. But the information respecting it is meagre and contradictory. Neither the place of his birth, nor the condition of his parents, is well ascertained. The accounts apparently most entitled to credit state that he was born at the village of Ecquivilly, in the Isle de France, in 1694; and that his father was a labourer, or, more probably, a small proprietor, who cultivated his own little property.1 His humble origin is indeed evident from the fact, mentioned by all his biographers, of his early education being almost entirely neglected, and of his having reached his fourteenth or sixteenth year without having been either sent to school or taught to read. But though placed in such unfavourable circumstances, young Quesnay was imbued with an ardent love of knowledge, and a strong desire to emerge from the obscure station in which he was placed. He is said to have learned to read the “Maison Rustique” of Liebaut, the first book that came into his hands, by the assistance of a few lessons which he received from a gardener of the village. Its perusal, which seems to have had a material influence over his future studies, awakened his latent powers, and stimulated him to make further efforts to obtain information. Having acquired a competent knowledge of his vernacular tongue, by the eager reading of such French books as came within his reach, he next applied himself to the study of the learned languages; and he attained, partly by the slender assistance of self-dubbed surgeon of the village, but chiefly by his own industry, to a tolerable proficiency in Latin and Greek.
Having resolved, in opposition to the wishes of his parents, to devote himself to the profession of surgery, Quesnay received the rudiments of his instruction in that art from the village doctor who had assisted him in his philological studies. But the pupil very soon surpassed the master; and when the latter applied to be admitted into the Maitrise, or Corporation of Surgeons, he presented, as evidence of his skill in his profession, some Essays which Quesnay had written, and which were received with much applause. The latter was not aware of this trick; but soon after its occurrence he left his paternal village, and set out to prosecute his studies at Paris. We are not informed how he supported himself in that city, nor how long he remained there. While, however, his industry and zeal enabled him to make great progress in his studies, his merit and modesty procured him several friends. Besides attending the prelections on the various branches of surgery, and the different hospitals, he found leisure to devote some portion of his time to metaphysical researches and the study of philosophy, for which the perusal of the “Recherche de la Verité” of Malebranche had given him a taste. Nay, such was his vigour and versatility, that having accidentally met, during his stay in Paris, with M. Cochin, of the Royal Academy of Painting, he put himself under his tuition. And we are told that he profited so well by the few lessons he received, as to be able not only to take remarkably good likenesses, but to design and engrave the various bones of the human skeleton, in a manner which would not have discredited the most skilful artists!
On finishing his studies at Paris, Quesnay resolved to establish himself as a surgeon in Mantes, a considerable town in his native province, and presented himself to the surgeons of its corporation for examination. But they refused, perhaps from jealousy of his talents, to admit him to trial. He was thus laid under the necessity of returning to Paris, where he passed his examinations with éclat; and received, in 1718, letters ordering him to be admitted into the Corporation of Mantes.
After his establishment at the latter, his reputation soon extended itself. He was employed by some of the first families of the neighbourhood, and, among others, by that of the Duke of Villeroi, who persuaded him to leave his residence in the country, and to accompany him to Paris as his surgeon, as nearly as we can collect, in 1729 or 1730. An incident not long after occurred, which had the most material influence over his future prospects and life. Having accompanied the Duke to the house of the Countess d’Estrades, he continued in the carriage while his Grace left it to pay his respects to her Ladyship, who, during the interview, was seized with an epileptic fit. Quesnay being called in, and perceiving the nature of the attack, with singular presence of mind immediately ordered the Duke and the attendants out of the room, and managed so well as to succeed in concealing the malady. The Countess was so much pleased with this dexterity and address, that she lost no time in recommending Quesnay to her all-powerful friend, Madame d’Etioles, afterwards Marchioness of Pompadour. The latter made him her physician; and, besides apartments at Versailles, obtained for him, in 1737, the place of Surgeon in Ordinary to the King.1
Quesnay was shortly after appointed Secretary to the Royal Academy of Surgery, established in 1731. In addition to several articles on particular branches of Surgery, he contributed the preface to the first volume of its Memoirs; which has always been reckoned peculiarly valuable for its able and discriminating observations on the uses of theory and observation, and on the assistance which they reciprocally lend to each other.
Being from an early period a martyr to the gout, and, in consequence, ill fitted to act as surgeon, Quesnay took the degree of Doctor of Medicine in 1744. He was soon after appointed, through the influence of his fair patroness, consulting physician to the king, Louis XV. In this capacity he attended his majesty in the campaigns of 1744 and 1745; and, amid the distractions of a camp, collected and prepared the greater part of the materials for his “Treatise on Fevers,” published in 1753.
His appointment as Physician to the King was preceded by the grant of letters of nobility, issued on the recovery of the Dauphin from the small-pox. Louis, who was much struck with the justice and solidity of Quesnay’s remarks, with whom he was in the habit of conversing on various subjects, familiarly called him son penseur, and gave him, in allusion to this title, three pansey flowers (in French pensées) for his arms, with the motto propter cogitationem mentis.
The leisure Quesnay now enjoyed, enabled him to prosecute his studies with greater assiduity. In 1747, he republished an enlarged edition, in three volumes, 12mo, of his “Essai Physique sur l’Economie Animale,” originally published in 1736. In 1748, he published, in 12mo, an “Examen impartiel des Contestations des Medecins et des Chirurgiens de Paris,” which was followed, in 1749, by an “Histoire de l’Origine et des Progrès de la Chirurgie en France,” in 4to, and by two separate treatises, in 12mo, on Suppuration and Gangrene. In 1750, he republished his “Traité des Effets et de l’Usage de la Saigné,” written during his residence at Mantes, and originally published in 1730; and, in 1753, he published a “Treatise on Continuous Fevers,” in two volumes, 12mo.
These works have been held in high estimation. An excellent judge has given it as his opinion, that “the Traité de la Gangrene is by far the most valuable publication which we yet possess upon this subject.” “Every page of this work,” he adds, “is distinguished by the same talent for accurate observation and perspicuous arrangement, which are so remarkable in all the other writings of this celebrated author.”1
The “Traité des Fievres” was the last of Quesnay’s professional works. He appears to have henceforth comparatively abandoned his medical studies. At no period, indeed, had he allowed them exclusively to occupy his attention; and he now devoted himself, in preference, to other and not less interesting inquiries. He had always entertained a strong predilection for agricultural pursuits, the effect, perhaps, of his situation in early life. And this, combined with the speculative and metaphysical cast of his mind, seems to have led him to those peculiar notions respecting the paramount importance of agriculture as a source of wealth, and the constitution of society, which have rendered his name so celebrated in economical science. The articles “Fermier” and “Grains,” in the “Encyclopedie,” published in 1756 and 1757, contain the earliest development of his views on this subject. They are ably written, and display great powers of analysis. In the article “Grains,” the distinction between gross and nett produce (produit total and produit net), between the productiveness of agriculture and the supposed unproductiveness of all other employments, the superior advantageousness of commercial freedom, and most of the other leading principles in the theory of the Economists, are laid down and illustrated with much ingenuity and talent. The “Tableau Economique,” and the “Maximes Générales du Gouvernement Economique,” annexed to it, under the title of “Extraits des Economies Royales, de M. de Sully,” were printed, by command of the king, at Versailles in 1758. On the title-page is the following rather remarkable motto for a work brought forth at such a place and under such auspices: “Pauvres paysans, pauvre royaume; pauvre royaume, pauvre Souverain!” The maxims, which contain a short and comprehensive abstract of the economical system, were reprinted, with an analysis of the Table, and a selection from various articles, contributed by Quesnay to the “Journal d’Agriculture” and the “Ephemerides du Citoyen,”1 in the collection of his economical works, entitled “Physiocratie, ou Constitution Naturelle du Gouvernement le plus Avantageux au Genre Humain,” edited by his friend and scholar, Dupont, in 1767.
We have elsewhere entered at considerable length into an examination of the speculations of Quesnay and his followers, with respect to the constitution of political societies, and the sources of public wealth.1 It cannot be doubted, that they are in many respects erroneous. There is, indeed, no foundation whatever for the distinguishing feature of their system, or for the supposition, that manufactures and commerce add nothing to the wealth of nations, and that agriculture is the only productive employment. But it must, notwithstanding, be acknowledged, that their works embody many novel, just, and discriminating views of the nature and constitution of society, and the sources of wealth. Probably, however, the principal merit of Quesnay and the sect of which he was the founder, does not consist so much in the discoveries they made, as in their having been among the earliest philosophers who distinctly perceived that the institutions of society should harmonise with the natural principles on which it is founded, or, as they termed it, with the Ordre naturel et essentiel des Sociétés Politiques. Economical science is, they said, “l’etude et la demonstrationdes loix de la nature,relatives à la subsistence, et la multiplication du genre humain. L’observation universelle de ces loix est l’interet commun et general de tous les hommes. La connaissance universelle de ces loix est donc le preliminaire indispensable, et le moyen necessaire du bonheur de tous.”2 It is to be regretted that, in investigating these laws, they proceeded too much on abstract and speculative principles, without sufficiently attending to the disturbing effects of existing institutions, associations, and habits. But, despite the defective mode in which they conducted their researches, they succeeded in establishing various important principles; and there is, at least, as much reason to admire the correctness of many of their conclusions, as to feel surprise at the errors into which they fell. According to Quesnay and his disciples, society is formed for the purpose of procuring the greatest advantage to its members; the security of property and the freedom of industry are its basis; the business of the legislator is not, they said, to regulate the pursuits of individuals, but to protect their equal rights and liberties, and to secure the perfect freedom of competition in all departments of industry.1 And though it be true, that most part of these principles had been pointed out by previous writers, Quesnay and his school were the first who showed their dependence on each other, who presented them in a systematic form, and who also showed the injustice and impolicy of the institutions which ignorance or mistaken views of national interest had established in opposition to them.
It is needless to make any remarks on the exploded notion of Quesnay with respect to agriculture being the only source of wealth, or on his project for consolidating all taxes into a single tax (l’impôt unique), to be laid directly on the land! This extraordinary, and in truth impossible project, necessarily, indeed, resulted from the principles of his system; and it is singular, that it did not make him suspect their solidity. We may add that the legal despotism in the hands of an hereditary monarch, without limitation or check of any kind, which he strangely supposed was the best of all governments, is shown by the experience of all ages and countries to be about the very worst.2
Notwithstanding his great age, and the sufferings resulting from almost incessant attacks of gout, the activity of Quesnay’s mind continued unimpaired. He contributed, subsesequently to the publication of the “Physiocratie,” various articles to the “Ephemerides du Citoyen;” and continued wholly occupied with these studies and mathematics, to which he latterly paid considerable attention, till his death, which took place at Versailles in December 1774, in the 80th year of his age.
Quesnay possessed inflexible integrity, a nice sense of honour, and the greatest prudence and discretion. Though highly esteemed by the king, and long resident at court, he never intermixed in the intrigues of which it was the theatre. None ever scrupled to express themselves freely in his presence, and this confidence was never betrayed. “Il recevoit chez lui des personnes de tous les partis, mais en petit nombre, et qui toutes avoient une grand confiance en lui. On y parloit tres hardiment de tout; et ce qui fait leur eloge et le sien, jamais on n’a rien repèté.”1 He was one of the handsomest men2 at court; and combined the utmost frankness and sincerity, with the address and manners of a courtier, and the intelligence of a philosopher. Though little solicitous of distinguishing himself, he was careful not to offend the self-esteem of others. His conversation was animated, without any effort at brilliancy. So much, indeed, was he averse to every appearance of pretension, that he was in the habit of veiling the most profound remarks and observations under the form of apologues, which generally referred to some subject connected with rural affairs, to which he was always particularly attached. He was most indulgent to the faults and errors of others, provided they were unalloyed by any taint of artifice or baseness, for which he never hesitated, whatever might be the rank of the party, to express his contempt. Quesnay was truly a patriot and a philosopher. And it would be difficult to point out another instance of one who, having lived so long in a profligate and luxurious court, unsullied by its vices, and aloof from its contentions, preserved to an extreme old age all those generous and kindly feelings, with that unobtrusive but ardent zeal in the cause of humanity, and that love of speculation and inquiry, which distinguished his earlier years.
“Quesnay,” says Madame du Hausset, “étoit un grand genie, suivant l’opinion de tous ceux qui l’avoit connu, et de plus un homme fort gai. Il aimoit causer avec moi de la campagne; j’y avois été elevée, et il me faisoit parler des herbages de Normandie et du Poitou, de la richesse des fermiers, et de la maniere de cultiver. C’étoit le meilleur homme du monde, et la plus éloignè de la plus petite intrigue. Il étoit bien plus occupé à la cour de la meilleure maniere de cultiver la terre que de tout ce que s’y passoit.”1
“Tandis,” says Marmontel, “que les orages se formoient et se dissipoient au-dessus de l’entresol de Quesnay, il griffonnoit ses axiomes et ses calculs d’économie rustique, aussi tranquille, aussi indifférent à ces mouvemens de la cour, que s’il en eût été à cent lieues de distance. Là bas, on déliberait de la paix, de la guerre, du choix des généraux, du renvoi des ministres; et nous, dans l’entresol, nous raisonnions d’agriculture; nous calculions le produit net, ou quelquefois nous dînions gaiement avec Diderot, d’Alembert, Duclos, Helvétius, Turgot, Buffon; et Madame de Pompadour, ne pouvant pas engager cette troupe de philosophes à descendre dans son salon, venoit elle-même les voir à table et causer avec eux.”2
Dr Smith was well acquainted with Quesnay. He frequently met him during his residence at Paris in 1766. And while he bears testimony to the “modesty and simplicity” of his character, he has pronounced his system to be, “with all its imperfections, the nearest approximation to the truth that has yet been published on the subject of Political Economy.”3 So highly, indeed, was Smith impressed with a sense of his merits, that he intended, had he not been prevented by Quesnay’s death, to have inscribed to him the “Wealth of Nations.”4
Having married when at Mantes, Quesnay had a son, to whom he gave an excellent education; but he refused to solicit for him any place or situation under government. This son ultimately settled in the country on an estate near Beauvoir. Turgot gave a place in the administration to one of Quesnay’s grandsons; and another, who entered the army, served as captain of infantry at the battle of Jemappes.
Quesnay repaid the esteem of his friends by his readiness, on every occasion, to do all in his power to advance their interests. Mercier de la Rivière, the author of the work “Sur l’ordre Naturel et Essentiel des Sociétés Politiques,”1 occupied a high place in his affections. He was also much attached to the elder Mirabeau, Turgot, Dupont, St Peravy,2 the Abbe Baudeau, and other leading Economists, who willingly acknowledged him for their master, and exerted themselves to defend and propagate his doctrines. It is to be regretted that in doing this, they too often displayed a sectarian and unphilosophical spirit. They seem to have regarded Quesnay’s writings as all but inspired; not as being generally correct, but as being in every respect perfect. Hence, they did not presume to examine the foundations of his theory, or even to question his most startling conclusions. But assuming them to be unassailable and applicable to every state of circumstances, they confined themselves to attempts to set them in a clearer light, and to obviate the objections which were urged against them. Hence their works are characterised by an unusual degree of sameness, so that when one of them has been read with ordinary attention, there is but little to be learned from the others. This abject deference to the authority of their master, the extravagant terms in which they spoke of him, and their pedantic phraseology, deservedly exposed them to much ridicule, diminished their influence, and obstructed the progress of the science. But despite these defects, they were in reality, and not in appearance merely, a sect of whom it may be truly said,—
We beg to subjoin, from the work of Dupont, “Sur l’Origine et Progrès d’une Science Nouvelle,” a summary of the various institutions, rules, and conditions, which the economists held to be necessary for the good government and prosperity of a country:—
“Voici le résumé de toutes les institutions sociales fondées sur l’ordre naturel, sur la constitution physique des hommes et des autres êtres dont ils sont environnés.
“Propriété personelle, établie par la nature, par la nécessité physique dont il est à chaque individu de disposer de toutes les facultés de sa personne, pour se procurer les choses propres à satisfaire ses besoins, sous peine de souffrance et de mort.
“Liberté de travail, inséparable de la propriété personelle dont elle forme une partie constitutive.
Propriété mobiliaire, qui n’est que la propriété personelle même, cousidérée dans son usage, dans son objet, dans son extension nécessaire sur les choses acquises par le travail de sa personne.
“Liberté d’échange, de commerce, d’emploi de ses richesses, inséparable de la propriété personelle et de la propriété mobiliaire.
“Culture, qui est un usage de la propriété personelle, de la propriété mobiliaire et de la liberté qui en est inséparable: usage profitable, nécessaire, indispensable pour que la population puisse s’accroître, par une suite de la multiplication des productions nécessaires à la subsistance des hommes.
“Propriété fonciere, suite nécessaire de la culture, et qui n’est que la conservation de la propriété personelle et de la propriété mobiliaire, employées aux travaux et aux dépenses preparatoires indispensables pour mettre la terre en état d’être cultivée.
“Liberté de l’emploi de sa terre, de l’espece de sa culture, de toutes les conventions relatives à l’exploitation, à la concession, à la rétrocession, à l’échange, à la vente de sa terre, inséparable de la propriété fonciere.
“Partage naturel des récoltes, en reprises des cultivateurs, ou richesses dont l’emploi doit indispensablement être de perpétuer la culture, sous peine de diminution des récoltes et de la population; et produit net, ou richesses disponibles dont la grandeur décide de la prospérité de la société, dont l’emploi est abandonné à la volonté et à l’intérêt des propriétaires fonciers, et qui constitue pour eux le prix naturel et légitime des dépenses qu’ils on faites, et des travaux auxquels ils es sont livrés pour mettre la terre en état d’être cultivée.
“Sureté, sans laquelle la propriété et la liberté ne seraient que de droit et non de fait, sans laquelle le produit net serait bientôt anéanti, sans laquelle la culture même ne pourrait subsister.
“Autorité tutèlaire et souveraine, pour procurer la sureté essentiellement nécessaire à la propriété et à la liberté; et qui s’acquitte de cet important ministere, en promulguant et faisant exécuter les loix de l’ordre naturel, par lesquelles la propriété et la liberté sont établies.
“Magistrats, pour décider dans les cas particuliers quelle doit être l’application des loix de l’ordre naturel, réduites en loix positives par l’autorité souveraine; et qui ont le devoir impérieux de comparer les Ordonnances des Souverains avec les loix de la Justice par essence, avant de s’engager à prendre ces Ordonnances positives, pour régle de leurs jugemens.
“Instruction publique et favorisée, pour que les citoyens l’autorité et les magistrats, ne puissent jamais perdre de vue les loix invariables de l’ordre naturel, et se laisser égarer par les prestiges de l’opinion, ou par l’attrait des intérêts particuliers exclusifs qui, dès qu’ils sont exclusifs sont toujours malentendus.
“Revenu public, pour constituer la force et le pouvoir nécessaire à l’autorité Souveraine; pour faire les frais de son ministere protecteur, des fonctions importantes des magistrats, et de l’instruction indispensable des loix de l’ordre naturel.
“Impôt direct, ou partage du produit net du territoire, entre les propriétaires fonciers et l’autorité Souveraine; pour former le revenu public d’une maniere qui ne restraigne ni la propriété ni la liberté, et qui par conséquent ne soit pas destructive.
“Proportion essentielle et nécessaire de l’impôt direct, avec le produit net, telle qu’elle donne à la sociéte le plus grand revenu public qui soit possible, et par conséquent le plus grand degré possible de sureté, sans que le sort des propriétaires fonciers cesse d’être le meilleur sort dont on puisse jouir dans la société.
“Monarchie hèréditaire, pour que tous les intérêts présens et futurs du dépositaire de l’autorité Souveraine, soit intimement liés avec ceux de la société par le partage proportionnel du produit net.”
[1 ] It is stated in the Eloge Historique of Quesnay, in the “Memoires de l’Academie des Sciences” for 1774, that he was the son of an advocat en Parlement, who practised at Montfort, and that he was born at Merey. But it is difficult to suppose, had his father been in such a station, that his education should have been so entirely neglected. In the brief but interesting notice of Quesnay, given by Mr Crawfurd, in a note to the Journal of Madame du Hausset, waiting-maid of Madame Pompadour, and chere amie of Quesnay, in the “Melanges d’Histoire et de Literature” (p. 276), he is said to have been the son of a labourer. This is also the statement of the “Encyclopedie Methodique.” According to the notice prefixed by Dupont to the Eloge of M. Gournay in the third volume of the “Œuvres de Turgot,” Quesnay was the son of a peasant-proprietor.
[1 ] This incident is related by Crawfurd, “Melanges,” p. 276, and is referred to by Marmontel.
[1 ] Dr Thomson’s “Lectures on Inflammation,” p. 502.
[1 ] The “Ephemerides du Citoyen” was begun in 1767, and was, for a few months, conducted by the Abbé Baudeau, and then by Dupont. It was published monthly, and two numbers make a considerable duodecimo volume. The authors were all disciples of Quesnay, and zealous economists. Their discussions embraced only the moral and political sciences; many branches of which they have treated with much ability and acuteness. There is a valuable Eloge of Quesnay in one of the numbers for 1775, written by the Comte d’Albon. The following extract from the approbation given by the Censor to the third number for 1770 is curious: “J’exhorte de nouveau les auteurs de ce Journal, à resister à la tentation de critiquer. Le bonheur du citoyen tient à sa confiance. On peut et l’on doit quelquefois avertir en secret ceux qui sont preposès à l’administration. Mais on ne doit prêcher aux particuliers que leur propre reforme, et non celle de l’etat.”
[1 ] Principles of Political Economy, Fourth Edition, p. 44, etc.; and Principles of Taxation, Second Edition, p. 50.
[2 ] Ephemerides, du Citoyen, 1769, No. II. p. 13.
[1 ] Qu’on maintienne l’entiere liberté du commerce; car la police du commerce intérieur et extérieur la plus sure, la plus exacte, la plus profitable, à la nation et à l’état, consiste dans la pleine liberté de la concurrence.—25th Maxim.
[2 ] Chalmers affirms (Biographical Dictionary, Vol. xxv. Art. Quesnay), that the “Economists abused their influence by circulating democratical principles!” No statement could be more inaccurate. It would be quite as correct to say, that Locke and his followers abused their influence, by circulating despotical principles.
[1 ] Journal de Madame du Hausset in the Melanges, etc., p. 277. A striking instance of the confidence placed by the most opposite parties in Quesnay is given in the first volume of Marmontel’s Memoirs.
[2 ] His portrait, painted at the expense of the Duke of Villeroi, was admirably engraved by Wille.
[1 ] “Melanges,” p. 343.
[2 ] Mémoires d’un Pere, i. 286, ed. 1827.
[3 ] “Wealth of Nations,” p. 307.
[4 ] See “Sketch of the Life and Writings of Smith.”
[1 ] He had been Intendant at Martinique, and published the work referred to in (2 vols. 12mo) 1767, after his return from that colony. It gives the best exposition of the system of the Economists. “Ce livre excellent,” says Dupont, “garde dans sa logique, à la fois eloquente et serrée, l’ordre même qu’il expose à ses lecteurs. Toujours evident pour les têtes fortes il a superieurement l’art de se rendre intelligible aux têtes foibles, en saisissant le côté par ou les vêrités les plus ignorés sont intimement liés aux vérités les plus connues: Il presente leur union avec une evidence si naive, que chacun s’imagine avoir pensé le premier des choses auxquelles il ne songea jamais.”—Origine et Progrès d’une Science Nouvelle, p. 15.
[2 ] Author of a “Memoire sur les Effets de l’Impôt Indirect,” 12mo, 1768.