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134 Reviews of Books 

The Life of Sir William Petty {1623-1687), one of the first 
Fellows of the Royal Society, sometime Secretary to Henry 
Cromwell, maker of the "Down Survey" of Ireland, author 
of "Political Arithmetic," etc. Chiefly derived from private 
documents hitherto unpublished. By Lord Edmond Fitz- 
maurice. With maps and portraits. (London : John Murray. 
1895. Pp. xvi, 335.) 

Sir William Petty is- a considerable name; and that in two different 
fields. The maker of the "Down Survey," he successfully performed a 
task which called both for administrative ability and for integrity, and 
he left behind him a record upon which, even to-day, rest the land-titles 
of the larger part of Ireland. The author of the essays on Political Arith- 
metic, he was one of the creators of modern statistics, and he has a place 
of his own in the history of economic thought. Accordingly, the biog- 
raphy just prepared by his descendant, Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice, 
"chiefly derived from private documents hitherto unpublished," will 
be welcome to readers of very varied interests. 

The book is full of information and, in particular, it gives us abundant 
means of arriving at a fair estimate of Petty's character. The author has 
restricted himself to the presentation of his manuscript material, printing 
no inconsiderable amount of it in extenso, and giving a readable account 
of the rest; and for such tedious work, so carefully done, he has our 
thanks. But one result is that the reader will profit by the book only in 
proportion to what he already knows of the period; and even those who 
have some tolerable acquaintance with the time will find themselves at 
a loss to explain many of the allusions with which Petty's papers are 
bestrewn. The note on pages 296, 301, — "the allusion is not clear," — 
might stand with equal propriety at the foot of many other pages. 
Another result, of course, is that we are given throughout only Petty's 
version of the events in which he was concerned. Though we can readily 
understand how an impartial performance of his duties in the survey and 
allotment of Irish land may have raised against him a host of unscrupu- 
lous enemies, yet it would hardly be safe to suppose that " the indices and 
catalogues of the gross wrongs suffered between 1656 and 1686 " (p. 296) 
are absolutely trustworthy. 

Since Roscher's Essay of 1857, Petty has been commonly looked upon 
as one of the early opponents of the "mercantilist" policy of trade 
restriction. In the useful account of Petty's economic writings given in 
Chapter VII. Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice points out that, although Petty 
argued against certain proposed restrictions upon grounds which seem 
to imply free trade "principles," he nevertheless contrived at the very 
same time to declare his belief, and that in unambiguous terms, in the 
fundamental idea of "mercantilism" — the idea of the balance of trade. 
The author loyally attempts to save the economic credit of his ances- 
tor by the reflection that " the early authors on political economy wrote 



Rae : Life of Adam Smith 135 

with a constant fear before their eyes of speaking too freely." But he 
gives another explanation that seems quite sufficient. Petty's "mind was 
essentially practical." He not only "would probably have preferred the 
relaxation of the fetters of Irish trade " — in which he had a pecuniary 
interest — "to any amount of proclamation of abstract truth," but his 
was a mind with no great gift for abstract truth. He illustrates the 
strength and weakness of practical men. They do much towards the 
removal of evils in detail, but they allow to remain, unchallenged, the very 
principles from which like evils are bound to spring afresh. And so 
there will always be room in the world for the theorist. 

The character of Petty, as he himself here reveals it, is hardly an 
amiable one. Not only master of all the physical science of the time, 
but also an inventive genius; affectionate towards wife and children; 
gifted with a quiet humor, and a power of mimicry that entertained his 
companions (p. 159), and with the gift of expression that seems the com- 
mon property of the men of his century; he had other qualities less likely 
to call forth admiration. His friend, Southwell, ventured to tell him, 
" there is generally imbibed such an opinion and dread of your superiority 
and reach over other men in the wayes of dealing that they hate what they 
feare " (p. 175). He was unseasonably pugnacious in the defence of 
what he deemed his rights, contending, as the same friend told him, " not 
for the vitalls, but for outward limbs and accessories, without which 
you can subsist with plenty and honor." Early success made him over- 
weeningly self-confident; as when, with scant knowledge of law, he readily 
accepted a judgeship in the Irish Court of Admiralty (p. 248). He was 
notoriously close-fisted (pp. 289, 314); and even in his relations to his 
private friends he showed an evident want of delicacy of perception. The 
man who seeks to comfort his most intimate friend upon the death of his 
wife by reminding him that he can marry again (p. 259) is not attractive. 
And, besides, Petty was one of those who combine with a keen desire to 
benefit society an equally keen desire to feather their nests in the process; 
and such men are seldom liked. 

W. J. Ashley. 

Life of Adam Smith. By John Rae. (London and New York: 
Macmillan and Co. 1895. Pp. xv, 449.) 

Mr. Rae has made not only a valuable contribution to our knowledge 
of the career of Adam Smith, but, incidentally, has presented an instruc- 
tive picture of educational activity during the middle of the eighteenth 
century. Adam Smith, after studying at Glasgow College from 1737 to 
1740, under teachers of unusual power, spent six years at the familiar 
Oxford of Gibbon, — years of valuable study to him, although his opinion 
of the university as a seat of learning is hardly less disparaging than that 
recorded by the great historian. The following years at Glasgow and 
Edinburgh were filled with the various activities of an old-time professor