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DE QUINCEY’S LOGIC OF POLITICAL ECONOMY 1845 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume IV - Essays on Economics and Society Part I 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume IV - Essays on Economics and Society Part I, ed. John M. Robson, Introduction by Lord Robbins (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1967).
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DE QUINCEY’S LOGIC OF POLITICAL ECONOMY
Westminster Review, XLIII (June, 1845), 319-31. Signed “A”; not republished. Original heading: “Art. II.—The Logic of Political Economy. By Thomas De Quincey. [Edinburgh:] Blackwood, 1844.” Running heads: “De Quincey’s / Logic of Political Economy.” Identified in JSM’s bibliography as “A review of De Quincey’s Logic of Political Economy in the Westminster Review for June 1845” (MacMinn, 58). No corrections or variants in Somerville College copy. When JSM turned later in 1845 to the writing of his Principles of Political Economy, De Quincey’s work was fresh in his mind (see 783 below).
De Quincey’s Logic of Political Economy
this book can be interesting only to the very few who aspire to scientific thinking, on a subject essentially practical; who are not content with being, as they think, substantially right on those special topics of inquiry, the connexion of which with practice may have been brought into strong light by the political controversies of the day; but who feel an intellectual necessity for the co-ordination of those detached opinions; for fixing the relation of each to the others, and to the deeper principles which ought to be at the foundation of all.
To that limited class, who however are the ultimate teachers of the rest, such writings as the one before us are both pleasant and useful; tending eminently to clear up the ideas of the reader, whether he be led to adopt those of the writer or not. The title, however, of the book, is a misnomer. Its subject is not “the Logic of Political Economy.” By the logic of a science we understand its method; its particular modes of investigation, and the nature of its evidence. Of these things Mr. De Quincey does not treat. What he does treat of shall be told in his own words:—
That the reader may not seek in this little work anything other or more than was designed, I will briefly state its primary object. Political Economy does not advance. Since the revolution effected in that science by Ricardo (1817), upon the whole it has been stationary. But why? It has always been my own conviction that the reason lies, not in any material defect of facts (except as to the single question of money), but in the laxity of some amongst the distinctions which are elementary to the science. If it were possible that but three elementary definitions, or axioms, or postulates, in geometry, should be liable to controversy and to a precarious use (a use dependent upon petition and momentary consent), what would follow? Simply this—that the whole vast aërial synthesis of that science, at present towering upwards towards infinity, would exhibit an edifice eternally, perhaps, renewing itself by facts, but eternally tottering in some parts, and in other parts mouldering eternally into ruins. . . . . Such, even to this moment, as regards its practical application, is the science of Political Economy. Nothing can be postulated—nothing can be demonstrated; for anarchy, even as to the earliest principles, is predominant. [Pp. iii-v.]
To give greater clearness and precision, therefore, to the elementary distinctions, is the author’s object. We agree in his estimate of its importance, though not for the reason which he indicates. We dissent from the opinion that political economy does not advance. We think it is in a state of most rapid progression. But, as with some other sciences in certain of their stages, the superstructure seems to be overgrowing the foundation. The science is growing at the extremities, without a proportional and suitable enlargement of the main trunk. Many important new views—new, at least, in having been previously overlooked—have dawned upon political economists during the last twenty years. But for want of sufficiently careful habits of systematic thought, these new views have been too frequently promulgated as contradictions of the doctrines previously received as fundamental; instead of being, what they almost always are, developments of them; corollaries flowing from these fundamental principles, certain conditions of fact being supposed. We may notice, as cases in point, Mr. Wakefield’s theory of colonization (to which full justice is incidentally done by our author),[*] and the doctrines, so far as they are tenable, of Professor Jones’s “Essay on the Distribution of Wealth.”[†] From any such error Mr. De Quincey is free. One of his merits is his early and consistent appreciation of Ricardo, the true founder of the abstract science of political economy, and whose writings are still, after all that has been since written, its purest source. What has been added to the science since Ricardo, does not need to be substituted for his doctrines, but to be incorporated with them. They do not require alteration or correction, so much as fuller exposition and comment.
Mr. De Quincey has very partially supplied this want; but his book will be useful to whoever may undertake to supply it. There is always a benefit done to any department of knowledge, by digging about the roots of its truths. Truths which have been long planted, are apt to die or become unproductive, if we do not occasionally let in the air, and turn up the soil which surrounds them. In plainer terms, it is a good service to revivify old truths, by new illustrations and by altering the language in which they are expressed. They then come out with the force, because with the freshness, of discoveries; and are better understood and more consistently followed to their consequences, for some time after. And if mere novelty in the statement and exposition of principles has a beneficial effect, still better is it when the new mode of statement has any advantage over the old; when it brings prominently forward some aspect of the truth, or some distinction between it and a neighbouring error, which was liable to escape notice, or which the modes of exposition previously in use tended in any degree to disguise.
Mr. De Quincey is well qualified to render this kind of service to any branch of speculation with which he is conversant. His mind has a natural tendency to drawing distinctions; in doing which he frequently manifests real subtlety, and occasionally that turn for subtleties, which is not the same thing, but which simulates it. By means of his subtlety he is often enabled to see very exactly in what respect some received mode of expressing a scientific principle misses the mark—failing to convey the whole truth, or conveying, under some particular circumstances, more than the truth. A practised and skilful wielder of philosophical terms, he is often happy in finding a form of language, or a combination of several forms of language, which shall just convey the whole of the intended meaning, and no more. In bringing an abstract thought home to an unpractised comprehension, he is very successful, and would be more so if he had not a strange delight in drawing illustrations from subjects ten times more abstruse than what they are designed to illustrate. He makes amends, however, by drawing largely upon topics the most homely and familiar; of which his miscellaneous knowledge furnishes him with an abundance, and which are continually starting up and crossing the path of his dissertation in the most unexpected and surprising manner. There is apparently something of design in this; either from a notion of relieving the dryness of a metaphysical discussion, or in connexion with a certain air of self-consciousness, if not self-complacency, which considerably alloys the pleasure arising from his liveliness and ingenuity. He never surmounts any obstacle in the line of his course, without letting you hear him soliloquize before he attempts the leap, and see him turn round to measure it after it is done.
Altogether, he is a person who has a full right to be heard on any subject connected with political economy, and who may be heard, even by those best versed in the subject, with profit.
The larger half of the volume is occupied with the theory of Value; which he rightly esteems the master-key to the principal difficulties of the science. On this subject he claims to have thrown light upon “a source of confusion which never has been exposed, and which, at the very vestibule, has hitherto defeated all attempt at a systematic theory of value.” [P. vii.] This confusion is one affecting the relation between what is called, in the terminology of Adam Smith, value in use, and value in exchange.
Although we cannot concede, to our author’s speculations on this subject, all the originality which he ascribes to them, the merit must be allowed him of having brought out into full theoretical explicitness what was known to all clear thinkers, but might easily be overlooked by the less advanced student. His exposition, though somewhat prolix, is so clear and effective that we need no apology for citing a considerable portion of it.
Almost all writers have agreed substantially, and have rightly agreed, in founding exchangeable value upon two elements—power in the article valued to meet some natural desire or some casual purpose of man, in the first place, and in the second place, upon difficulty of attainment. These two elements must meet, must come into combination, before any value in exchange can be established. They constitute the two co-ordinate conditions, of which where either is absent, no value in the sense of exchange value can arise for a moment. Indeed, it is evident to common sense, that any article whatever, to obtain that artificial sort of value which is meant by exchange value, must begin by offering itself as a means to some desirable purpose; and secondly, that even though possessing incontestably this preliminary advantage, it will never ascend to an exchange value in cases where it can be obtained gratuitously, and without effort—of which last terms both are necessary as limitations. For often it will happen that some desirable object may be obtained gratuitously; stoop, and you gather it at your feet; but still, because the continued iteration of this stooping exacts a laborious effort, very soon it is found, that to gather for yourself virtually is not gratuitous. In the vast forests of the Canadas, at intervals wild strawberries may be gratuitously gathered by ship-loads: yet such is the exhaustion of a stooping posture, and of a labour so monotonous, that everybody is soon glad to resign the service into mercenary hands.
The same idea, the same demand of a two-fold conditio sine qua non as essential to the composition of an exchange value, is otherwise expressed (and in a shape better fitted for subsequent reference) by the two following cases, marked Epsilon and Omicron.
Case Epsilon.—A man comes forward with his overture: ‘Here is a thing which I wish you to purchase; it has cost me in labour five guineas, and that is the price I ask.’ ‘Very well,’ you reply; ‘but tell me this, what desire or purpose of mine will the article promote?’ Epsilon rejoins, ‘Why, as candour is my infirmity, none at all. But what of that? Useful or not, the article embodies five guineas’ worth of excellent labour.’ This man, the candid Epsilon, you dismiss.
Case Omicron.—Him succeeds Omicron, who praises your decisive conduct as to the absurd family of the Epsilons. ‘That man,’ he observes, ‘is weak—candid, but weak; for what was the cost in your eyes but so much toil to no effect of real service? But that is what nobody can say of the article offered by myself; it is serviceable always—nay, often you will acknowledge it to be indispensable.’ ‘What is it?’ you demand. ‘Why simply, then, it is a pound of water, and as good water as ever you tasted.’ The scene lies in England, where water bears no value except under that machinery of costly arrangements which delivers it as a permanent and guaranteed succession into the very chambers where it is to be used. Omicron accordingly receives permission to follow the candid Epsilon. Each has offered for sale one element of value out of two, one element in a state of insulation, where it was indispensable for any operative value, i.e. price, to offer the two in combination; and without such a combination it is impossible (neither does any economist deny this by his principles) that value in exchange, under the most romantic or imaginary circumstances, ever should be realized. [Pp. 13-15.]
Thus far, as the author observes, is plain sailing; but in the next step, he asserts, “a difficulty arises to all appearance insurmountable . . . which seems, when stated, to include a metaphysical impossibility.” [Pp. 15-16.] After what appears to us a most inordinate over-statement of this metaphysical perplexity, he proceeds to state the doctrine, in his opinion a novel one, which resolves it. This doctrine is, that while both usefulness and difficulty of attainment are necessary conditions to the existence of any exchange value, the amount of the value is determined not by both jointly, but either wholly by one or wholly by the other, according to the nature of the case.
The two elements are U and D. If both elements are to be present, and both are to be operative, then indeed we have a contradiction in terms such as never will be overcome. But how if both be uniformly present, one only being at any time operative? How if both be indispensably present, but alternately each become inert? How if both act as motives on the buyer for buying at all, but one only (each in turn under its own circumstances) as a force operating on the price?
This is the real case: this is the true solution; and thus is a difference obtained—such a difference as will amply sustain a two-fold subdivision from elements substantially the same. Both are co-present, and always. Neither can be absent; for, if so, then the common idea of exchange value would vanish, the case Epsilon or the case Omicron would be realized. But each of the two is suspended alternately. Thus, by way of illustration, walk into almost any possible shop, buy the first article you see; what will determine its price? In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, simply the element D—difficulty of attainment. The other element, U, or intrinsic utility, will be perfectly inoperative. Let the thing (measured by its uses) be, for your purposes, worth ten guineas, so that you would rather give ten guineas than lose it; yet, if the difficulty of producing it be only worth one guinea, one guinea is the price which it will bear. But still not the less, though U is inoperative, can U be supposed absent? By no possibility; for, if it had been absent, assuredly you would not have bought the article even at the lowest price. U acts upon you, though it does not act upon the price. On the other hand, in the hundredth case, we will suppose the circumstances reversed: you are on Lake Superior in a steam-boat, making your way to an unsettled region 800 miles a-head of civilization, and consciously with no chance at all of purchasing any luxury whatsoever, little luxury or big luxury, for the space of ten years to come: one fellow-passenger, whom you will part with before sunset, has a powerful musical snuff-box; knowing by experience the power of such a toy over your own feelings, the magic with which at times it lulls your agitations of mind, you are vehemently desirous to purchase it. In the hour of leaving London you had forgot to do so; here is a final chance. But the owner, aware of your situation not less than yourself, is determined to operate by a strain pushed to the very uttermost upon U, upon the intrinsic worth of the article in your individual estimate for your individual purposes. He will not hear of D as any controlling power or mitigating agency in the case: and finally, although at six guineas a-piece in London or Paris, you might have loaded a waggon with such boxes, you pay sixty rather than lose it when the last knell of the clock has sounded, which summons you to buy now or to forfeit for ever. Here, as before, only one element is operative: before it was D, now it is U. But, after all, D was not absent, though inoperative. The inertness of D allowed U to put forth its total effect. The practical compression of D being withdrawn, U springs up like water in a pump, when released from the pressure of air. Yet still that D was present to your thoughts, though the price was otherwise regulated, is evident; both because U and D must coexist in order to found any case of exchange value whatever, and because undeniably you take into very particular consideration this D, the extreme difficulty of attainment (which here is the greatest possible, viz., an impossibility), before you consent to have the price racked up to U. The special D has vanished; but it is replaced in your thoughts by an unlimited D. Undoubtedly you have submitted to U in extremity as the regulating force of the price; but it was under the sense of D’s latent presence. Yet D is so far from exerting any positive force, that the retirement of D from all agency whatever on the price—this it is which creates as it were a perfect vacuum, and through that vacuum U rushes up to its highest and ultimate gradation. [Pp. 23-8.]
It would be difficult, we think, to cite a specimen of exposition on an abstract subject, more transparently clear, and at the same time so scientifically precise. But can Mr. De Quincey be serious in maintaining that the doctrine which this passage embodies is a novel one? Have not all political economists distinguished between articles which can be multiplied to an indefinite extent by labour, and articles naturally or artificially limited to a quantity short of the demand; and have they not all, from Ricardo downwards, affirmed that in the former, and more common case, the value conforms on an average to the cost of production, while in the latter there are no limits to the value except the necessities or desires of the purchaser? It is true that, as to some part of the theory of this latter case, there would be a difference. They would not, we conceive, agree with Mr. De Quincey in what follows:—
Suppose not D, but U, to become the ruling force; D has become infinite (as in the case of the musical toy in Canada), that is, the difficulties in the way of supplying the market by a continued reproduction of the article (in one word, the resistance) must be supposed so vast as to be quite beyond the power of any individual to overcome. Instantly, under these circumstances, U springs up to its utmost height. The rare holders of the article, as surviving from past times or regions now inaccessibly distant, will fix a strain upon the few purchasers by means of the intrinsic or U value; each of the candidates must submit to see his own outside or extreme esteem for the article made operative against himself as the law of the price. He must ascend to the very maximum of what he will pay, under the known alternative of losing the article for ever if he will not pay it. [P. 30.]
Now we apprehend that political economists generally (and common sense can judge of this question as well as political economy) would deny that, in the case supposed, the utmost price which the purchaser would consent to pay, would necessarily be the actual price. They would say, that it would be merely a possible price; the extreme limit of price; which would be attained or not attained, according to something else. And to what else? In the opinion of all political economists, to the relation which might happen to subsist between the demand and the supply. And this brings us to our chief point of difference with the author. That supply and demand can of themselves in any case regulate price, is a notion of which he speaks with unbounded contempt. It is one of the delusions which he takes to himself most credit for dissipating.
People fancy [he says in his preface] that the relation of supply to demand could by possibility, and that in fact it often does, determine separately per se the selling price of an article. Within a few months this monstrous idea has been assumed for true by Colonel Torrens, in an express work on Economic Politics; by Lord Brougham, in relation to the foreign corn trade; and by almost every journal in the land that has fallen under my own eye.[*] [And again (p. 127):—] A crazy maxim has got possession of the whole world; viz., that price is, or can be, determined by the relation between supply and demand.
We think it can be shown that Colonel Torrens, Lord Brougham, every journal in the land, and finally the whole world, happen in this particular case to be in the right, and Mr. De Quincey in the wrong. To prove this we must be allowed to add one or two circumstances to his hypothesis of the single musical box in the wilds of America.
Suppose, first, that the steam-boat contains not one, but two musical boxes, and only one person anxious to be a purchaser. Suppose, too, that neither of the possessors desires to keep the box; that both possess it only for the purpose of sale. The buyer is in the same emergency as before; willing to pay sixty guineas rather than lose the opportunity. But the situation of the sellers is different. Supposing no combination between them, and assuming that the purchaser wants only one of the boxes—the competition between the two thus coming fully into action—what will now be the price? No longer the highest which the buyer could be induced to give, but the lowest which the seller would take; the lowest, which would be a sufficient motive to him for selling the article then and there, rather than taking it back to New York when he returns by the steam-boat.
Suppose, secondly, instead of competition, the strictest monopoly, but without limitation of quantity. Let there be only one passenger who has any musical boxes, but let him possess not one but two. He can now, if he pleases, as our author expresses it, strain U to the utmost; he can obtain for one of his commodities the sum (supposed to be sixty guineas) which is the very utmost that the buyer would pay, rather than forego the purchase. But suppose that, by putting a somewhat lower price upon his article, he can prevail on his customer to take both boxes off his hands instead of one. The ordinary price, as determined by cost of production, being by supposition only six guineas, if the seller receives sixty-six for both, he gains as much as by receiving sixty for one: if he receives seventy, he gains more. It may be his interest therefore to fix thirty-five guineas, instead of sixty, as the price of his commodity. Sixty, which Mr. De Quincey calls the affirmative value[*] (six in this case being the negative), is therefore only the limit of value. Beyond that amount the price cannot go. But it may stop short at any intermediate point between the affirmative value and the negative.
The two cases which we have put represent two large classes of cases, of continual occurrence, in which, we apprehend, demand and supply do regulate value; and even (within the admitted limits, of the cost price on one side, and on the other the highest price which any one would consent to give) are the sole regulators of it. Surely, then, there can be no preliminary objection against listening to Colonel Torrens, or any one who professes to be able to point out other cases of a like description. The proposition may safely be generalized. Wherever cost of production does not regulate the price, there demand and supply do regulate it.
But we have not yet stated through what singular concatenation of ideas this, which by his own admission seems obvious to “all the world,” [p. 127] appears to so ingenious a man as Mr. De Quincey a portentous absurdity. He thinks there is a metaphysical impossibility in the very idea.
Try to extract price for wheat from the simple relation of the supply to the demand. Suppose the supply to be by one-tenth part beyond the demand, what price will that indicate for eight imperial bushels of the best red wheat, weighing sixty-four pounds a bushel? Will the price be a shilling, or will it be a thousand pounds? You guess that the first would be too little, and the second too much. Perhaps so; but what makes you ‘guess’ this? Why, simply, your past experience. You fancy yourself ascertaining the price by the relation of supply to demand, and in fact you are ascertaining the price by privately looking for the cost in past years; the very thing that you had pledged yourself to dispense with. [P. 127.]
That Mr. De Quincey should find anything insuperable in such a difficulty, is a mortifying example how little the acutest intellect can be depended on for being always present. “Suppose the supply to be by one-tenth part beyond the demand, what price will that indicate?” Why, the price, whatever it happens to be, which will increase the demand by one-tenth. If the harvest exceeds by one-tenth its ordinary amount, corn will fall just as much below its ordinary price as will create a market for the surplus, either through the increased consumption consequent on cheapness, or by inducing dealers to buy corn for the purpose of exporting it or storing it for future years. To that price, and that price exactly, which will restore the equality between demand and supply, will the commodities fall; unless some of the sellers, rather than submit to so great a reduction, keep their corn unsold, and thus re-establish the equilibrium in the other possible mode, by withdrawing the excess of supply. This is, we apprehend, the law of value, in the cases where cost of production is inoperative. The value (or price) will so adjust itself that the demand shall be equal to the supply. But if so, our author’s ingeniously expressed theory, that “whilst natural price (the contradiction of market price) is always a mononomial, price founded on the relation of supply and demand must always be a binomial,” [p. ix] is, together with all that he says in its behalf [pp. 118ff.], without meaning or reason.
We find scarcely anything else from which to dissent, in the economical doctrines of the book. The chapters on Wages, Rent, and Profits, are all they profess to be, a useful commentary on Ricardo; a thing much wanted, and which very few persons could have done so well, or indeed done at all. Ricardo, though in point of mere style by no means an obscure writer, was as little fitted by nature and habit as Mr. De Quincey is eminently so, for the popular exposition of his own doctrines. Mr. De Quincey thoroughly understands his master, and is therefore able to supply new developments and illustrations of the master’s doctrines. But the most interesting, as well as the most original, of these developments and illustrations are on the subject already touched upon, that of value. As an example what pleasant reading he can make of a dry scientific discussion, we will quote some passages from the fourth section of the first chapter; which is devoted to the analysis of some apparently anomalous cases of exchangeable value as influenced by U, the capability of the object to serve a purpose, instead of D, the cost of production.
In the reign of Charles II occurred the first sale of a rhinoceros. The more interesting wild beasts—those distinguished by ferocity, by cruelty, and agility—had long been imported from the Mediterranean; and as some of them were ‘good fellows and would strike’ (though, generally speaking, both the lion and the tiger are the merest curs in nature), they bore tolerable prices, even in the time of Shakspeare. But a rhinoceros had not yet been imported; and in fact that brute is a dangerous connexion to form. As a great lady from Germany replied some twenty years ago to an Englishman who had offered her an elephant, ‘Mit nichten, by no means; him eat too mauch.’ In spite, however, of a similar infirmity, the rhinoceros fetched, under Charles II, more than 2,000l. But why—on what principle? Was it his computed negative value [cost of attainment][*] ? Not at all. A granite obelisk from Thebes, or a Cleopatra’s needle, though as heavy as a pulk of rhinoceroses, would not have cost as much to sling and transport from the Niger to the Thames. But in such a case there are two reasons why the purchaser is not anxious to inquire about the costs. In buying a loaf that is an important question, because a loaf will be bought every day, and there is a great use in knowing the cost, or negative value, as that which will assuredly govern an article of daily reproduction. But in buying a rhinoceros, which it is to be hoped that no man will be so ill-fated as to do twice in one world, it is scarcely to be hoped that the importer will tell any truth at all, nor is it of much consequence that he should; for the buyer cares little by comparison as to the separate question on the negative price of the brute to his importer. He cares, perhaps, not very much more as to the separate question upon the affirmative return likely to arise for himself in the case of his exhibiting such a monster. Neither value taken singly was the practical reply to his anxieties. That reply was found in both values, taken in combination; the negative balanced against the affirmative. It was less important to hear that the cost had been 1,000l., so long as the affirmative return was conjecturally assigned at little beyond 2,200l., than to hear that the immediate cost to the importer had been 2,000l., but with the important assurance that 5,000l., at the very least, might be almost guaranteed from the public exhibition of so delicate a brute. The creature had not been brought from the Barbary States, our staple market for monsters, but from some part of Africa round the Cape; so that the cost had been unusually great. But the affirmative value, founded on the public curiosity, was greater; and when the two terms in the comparison came into collision, then was manifested the excess of the affirmative value, in that one instance, as measured against the negative. An ‘encore’ was hardly to be expected for a rhinoceros in the same generation; but for that once it turned out that a moderate fortune might be raised upon so brutal a basis. [Pp. 61-3.]
Such cases are a sort of praxis to students of the science, to test the completeness of their understanding of its principles.[*] Again:
Hunters, as against race-horses. If a man were to offer you a hunter, master of your weight, and otherwise satisfactory, you would readily give him a fair price. But what is a fair price? That which will reproduce such a hunter—his cost; the total resistance to his being offered in this condition. Such is the value, and such the law of value, for a hunter. But it is no longer such for a racer. When a breeder of horses finds one amongst his stud promising first-rate powers of contending at Newmarket, he is no longer content to receive a cost price for the horse, or anything like it. The man who (as a master of pearl-divers) sells the ordinary seed-pearls at the mere cost and fair profit on the day’s wages which have earned them, when he reaps a pearl fit to embellish the Schah of Persia’s crown, looks to become a petty schah himself. He might sell it with a profit by obtaining even that whole day’s wages, during one hour of which it was produced; but will he? No more than, amongst ourselves, the man who, by a twenty-guinea lottery ticket, drew a prize of 10,000l., would have sold his ticket for a profit of cent per cent upon its cost. The breeder of the race-horse would take into his estimate the numerous and splendid stakes which the horse might hereafter win; sometimes at Epsom, on one Derby day, as much as from 5,000l. to 6,000l.; to say nothing of the Leger at Doncaster, or other enormous prizes. It is true that the chances of mortality and failure must also be weighed: and unluckily no insurance has yet been done on racers, except as regards sea-risk. But after all drawbacks, the owner may succeed finally in obtaining for a first-rate horse (once known for good performances) as much as 4,000l.; whilst the whole value, computed on the resistance, might not have been more than as many hundreds. And this fact, though standing back in the rear as regards public knowledge, we may see daily advertised in effect by that common regulation which empowers the loser in many cases to insist on the winning horse being sold for 200l., or a similar small sum. Were it not for this rule, which puts a stop to all such attempts without hazard of personal disputes, it would be a capital speculation for any first-rater, though beaten at Newmarket, to sweep all the stakes without effort on a tour through the provincial courses; justice would cease for the owners of inferior horses, and sport for the spectators of the competition. [Pp. 77-8.]
Land is another illustration, and of the first rank. . . You may easily bring it under examination, by contrasting it with the case of a machine for displacing human labour. That machine, if it does the work in one hundred days of one hundred men in the same time, will at first sell for something approaching to the labour which it saves—say for the value of eighty men’s labour; that is, it will sell for what it can produce, not for what will produce itself: that is, it will sell for affirmative not for negative value. But as soon as the construction of such a machine ceases to be a secret, its value will totally alter. It will not sell for the labour produced, but for the labour producing. By the supposition, it produces work equal to that of a hundred men for one hundred days; but, if it can itself be produced by twenty men in twenty days, then it will finally drop in value to that price; it will no longer be viewed as a cause equal to certain effects, but as an effect certainly reproducible by a known cause at a known cost. Such is the case eventually with all artificial machines; and for the plain reason, that once ceasing to be a secret, they can be reproduced ad infinitum. On the other hand, land is a natural machine—it is limited—it cannot be reproduced. It will therefore always sell as a power—that is, in relation to the effects which it can produce, not as itself an effect; because no cause is adequate to the production of land. The rent expresses one year’s value of land; and, if it is bought in perpetuity, then the value is calculated on so many years’ purchase—a valuation worthy, on another occasion, of a separate consideration. For the present it is enough to say, that land is not valued on any principle of cost—does not sell at negative value—but entirely on the principle of its powers or intrinsic qualities; in short, it sells for affirmative value—as a power, as a cause, not as an effect. [Pp. 84-5.]
A writer with so wide a range of ideas as Mr. De Quincey, and so unusually disposed to give them out without distinction of occasion, cannot be dismissed with a simple judgment of what his book is in respect of the subject it professedly treats of. His writings treat of a hundred things besides their ostensible subject, and it is necessary to say what their worth is in that more extensive estimation. We will say, then, that this book is enriched with many acute remarks; some of a logical, some of a miscellaneous character; on any subject, important or trifling, from the qualities of turbot to the laws of thought: while it is deformed by ultra-Tory prejudices in a degree of virulence now seldom seen in men at all approaching to his standard of intellect. It might make the angels weep for the pretensions of science and philosophy, when, even on the subject with which he is most scientifically conversant, they cannot inspire such a man with sufficient calmness, impartiality, and candour of judgment, to save him from the incessant use of such phrases as “corn traitors,” “corn-law incendiaries,”[*] and the like, to designate those who think that the trade in food ought to be free; an opinion which the author himself is bound to hold, by every fair deduction from his own principles. We are quite unable to reconcile this wretched party invective with the respect we sincerely wish to feel for Mr. De Quincey. We turn from it with pleasure to an excellent passage with which, rather than any other of the book, we may appropriately conclude, because it is a well-thought and well-expressed explanation and justification of the purpose which such writings as this are intended to serve; and because the lesson it conveys is one which English thinkers in particular have pre-eminently need to learn:—
Although a masculine good sense will generally escape in practice from merely logical perplexities (that is, will cut the knot for all immediate results of practice which it cannot untie); yet errors ‘in the first intention’ come round upon us in subsequent stages, unless they are met by their proper and commensurate solutions. Logic must be freed by logic; a false dialectical appearance of truth must be put down by the fullest exposure of the absolute and hidden truth, since also it will continually happen that a plausible sophism, which had been summarily crushed for the moment by a strong appeal to general good sense upon the absurd consequences arising, will infallibly return upon us when no such startling consequences are at hand. [Pp. 16-17.]
[[*] ]De Quincey, pp. 137-8.
[[†] ]Jones, Richard. An Essay on the Distribution of Wealth, and on the Sources of Taxation. London: Murray, 1831.
[[*] ]Pp. viii-ix.
[[*] ]See, e.g., pp. 54ff.
[[*] ]JSM’s square brackets
[[*] ]Cf. De Quincey, p. ix.
[[*] ]Pp. 152, 245n; cf. 6n and 192.