‘BLESSED BE THE BRITON, WHO THINKS JUSTLY AND WISELY!’THE FIRST TRANSLATION OF THE WEALTH OF NA

Untersuchung der Natur und Ursachen von Nationalreichthümern. Aus dem Englischen …

Leipzig, Weidmann’s heirs and Reich, 1776–1778.

Two vols, 8vo, pp. viii, 632; xii, 740; some spotting and light browning throughout, but still a very good copy, in later marbled blue boards with red and green paper spine labels.

£10000

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US $13376€11331

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First edition in German, the rare first issue, and the first translation into any language, of An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. This landmark translation, by Johann Friedrich Schiller, cousin of the famous poet, and Christian August Wichmann, was reissued in 1792 with a third volume containing the translation of Smith’s Additions and Corrections.

‘The translator Schiller names Smith as his “friend” in the preface to the second volume; and since he was in London in the 1770s before setting up a bookshop in Mainz, it is possible he knew Smith personally when he was in London before and immediately after the appearance of the Wealth of Nations … Two copies of the first volume [of this translation] have survived from Smith’s library (Mizuta), the one in Glasgow University bearing on its cover the monogram of George III. Perhaps the King sent this book to Smith to show that his German connections were aware of his work’ (Ross, Life of Adam Smith, p. 365).

Initial German reviews of the work were certainly very favourable. The first, published in 1777 by J. G. H. Feder, a professor of philosophy at the University of Göttingen, states: ‘It is a classic; very estimable both for its thorough, not too limited, often far-sighted political philosophy, and for the numerous, frequently discursive historical notes’. Similar approbation is to be found in other contemporary reviews, published in Iselin’s Ephemeriden der Menscheit and Nicolai’s Allgemeine deutsche Bibliothek: ‘The Economistes and he are fundamentally of the same mind, and, with the exception of the theory of taxes, he makes no statements which they do not accept. Blessed be the Briton, who thinks justly and wisely!’ (XXXVIII, 300).

Carpenter, Dialogue in Political Economy, 8; Goldsmiths’ 11394; Humpert 12750; Kress S.4873 (with the Additions and Corrections); Tribe 12; Vanderblue, p. 26; not in Einaudi; no copy of the first issue is recorded in NUC, although Kress holds the Vanderblue copy; on the reception of the Wealth of Nations in Germany, see C. W. Hasek, ‘The Introduction of Adam Smith’s Doctrines’, in Cheng-chung Lai, ed., Adam Smith Across Nations (OUP, 2000), and Keith Tribe, ‘The German Reception of Adam Smith’, in A Critical Bibliography of Adam Smith (Pickering & Chatto, 2002).