by Jacob H. Hollander, Ph. D.
Professor of Political Economy
Johns Hopkins University
The circumstances under which the remarkable tract here reprinted, was written and published are described by Sir Dudley North's brother and biographer, Roger North. It is doubtful whether the essay, as originally printed, received any attention or served any use. For a considerable period, indeed, it was supposed to be entirely lost. Writing in 1744, Roger North intimated that the tract was designedly suppressed, and declared "it is certain the pamphlet is, and hath been ever since, utterly sunk, and a copy not to be had for money."
North's work remained neglected and forgotten for more than a century. With the heightened interest in economic discussion growing out of the Bank restriction and the corn-law debates, the attention of the little group of liberals, just then beginning to call themselves with some confidence "political economists", was drawn by the references, in Roger North's biographies, to the "Discourses" and to the economic opinions of Sir Dudley North.
We are told, that many searches and inquiries were thereafter made for the pamphlet, but without result. Not until the sale of Ruding's library was a copy brought to light, taken to Edinburgh, and a small, admirably printed impression struck off from the Ballantyne press, with an unsigned prefatory "Advertisement." We may suspect McCulloch, then doubtless beginning his great collection of economic texts, of being both purchaser and editor. Certainly it is to this indefatigable Scotch bibliophile-economist that the circulation of the tract and the appreciation of its author were thenceforth due.
In 1846 the pamphlet was again issued in limited edition by the Blacks, probably through McCulloch's influence and with a preface not unlikely from his pen, and in 1856 it was included in the 'select collection of early English tracts on commerce' edited by McCulloch for the Political Economy Club. All of these reprints have become but a degree less scarce than the original tract.
North's essay is of interest rather than of influence in the development of economic thought and action. Even here cautious critics may not concur in McCulloch's unqualified verdict that the tract contains "a more able and comprehensive statement of the true principles of commerce than any that had primarily appeared, either in the English or any other language." But withal the pamphlet is a notable performance, and its re-issue in accessible form will be welcomed by students of the history of economic theory.
The present edition is a reprint of the "Discourses" as issued in 1691. The general appearance of the title page has been preserved, and the original pagination has been indicated.
The original title page.
Principally Directed to the
Interest, Coynage, Clipping, Increase, of MONEY.
Printed for Tho. Basset, at the
George in Fleet-Street. 1691.