Institutions politiques. Tome premier (- troisième).

The Hague, P. Gosse jr., 1760 (I-II), and Leiden, S. & J. Luchtmans, 1772 (III).

Three vols, 4to, pp. [x], 358, [8]; [vi], 344, [8], 32 (supplement); xviii, [2], 456, [16]; titles in red and black with allegorical engraved vignettes, author’s engraved portrait by J Houbraken to vol. 1, engraved medallion portrait of Catherine II of Russia (dedicatee) to vol. 3, head-pieces and initials; with, in all, five folding plates; some light marginal soiling, but a very good, clean copy in contemporary speckled sheep, panelled spines gilt in compartments with red morocco lettering-pieces; edges and corners a little rubbed, a few surface scratches; all volumes with the contemporary ownership inscription of Belgian notary and collector Bamps.


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First edition, a rare complete set including the third volume, which, since published by the author’s wife (using the author’s notes) twelve years after the publication of the first two parts, is almost invariably either absent or not homogeneous.

Baron Bielfeld was personal advisor to Frederick II of Prussia and mentor to Prince Ferdinand. His work aims at examining the foundations of the modern state and at outlining a science of government. His perspective is economic as well as political, his leanings are towards policies of free trade, of paced but timely freeing of colonies, of fight against poverty. He traces a history of political arithmetic citing Graunt, Petty, Süssmilch and the English and French ‘calculateurs’ in the chapter entitled Des calculs politiques. He examines the sources of the wealth of nations devoting particular attention to trade, mentions the effects of American lands and resources on Spain and Britain. In the chapter devoted to the wealth of nations (I, 10) he reserves three pages to the analysis of the financial innovations introduced in France by John Law, describing them as ‘le plus beau plan pour les [scilicet affaires] rétablir qui soit jamais sorti du cerveau d’un habile Financier (p. 162).

‘Bielfeld, although a German, first published his books in French; he relied in large measure upon the French data and writers’ (Spengler, French predecessors of Malthus, p. 79). ‘It was more successful outside Germany than any other Cameralistic work, presumably because it was written in the international language of the Eighteenth Century – French’ (Carpenter).

Adam Smith owned and used a copy of this work; on passages from it he based, for example, his definition of police in the Lectures on jurisprudence (Mizuta).

Higgs 2422; INED 496 (only vols 1-2); Mizuta 161; Carpenter, Economic Bestsellers, XX. 9. Not in Kress or in Goldsmiths’.

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