This article presents a detailed chronology of the creation of L'Ami des hommes and the very special role played by Richard Cantillon's Essai sur la nature du commerce en général in this process. It shows that Mirabeau obtained the manuscript of the French translation of the Essai made by Cantillon himself through a marquis de Saint-George. It provides a biography of this obscure character and discusses his relationship with both Cantillon and the Marquis de Mirabeau. Then, it examines how Mirabeau used Cantillon's text as a source of inspiration for four projects developed in different contexts. As shown in the article, from 1740 to 1757, his relationship to Cantillon's text changed. His first two tries merely abstracted and rewrote the original text of the Essai to adapt it to a general readership. In the early 1750s, motivated by his discussions with his younger brother, the Chevalier de Mirabeau, on political economy, the marquis developed a more ambitious plan. He decided to provide an annotated edition of Cantillon's Essai. By 1756, Mirabeau realized that his ideas and interests had become so different from those of Cantillon that it was best to reconceive his project as a stand-alone and completely original text, the one he finally published as L'Ami des hommes in 1757.
Historians who have studied the publication of Cantillon's Essai sur la nature du commerce en général (Essay on the Nature of Trade in General) have long identified the existence of partial manuscripts of the text in what is commonly known as the Fonds Mirabeau (Mirabeau Papers) in the French National Archives (Higgs 1891: 263–70; Bauer [1894–97] 1987: 216; Tsuda 1979: 405–9; Hayek 1991: 281–85; van den Berg 2015: 5–10). The collection, which comprises eight boxes, includes two manuscripts that contain reasonably accurate excerpts from Cantillon's Essai as well as very extensive notes by Mirabeau. More recently, while preparing the edition of François Quesnay's Œuvres économiques, we discovered another manuscript that had not been linked to the Mirabeau papers. It contains a faithful copy of the chapters in the first part of the Essai as well as long comments on each of them by Mirabeau.1 Mirabeau was in possession of Cantillon's manuscript well before its publication, as he noted himself in a well-known letter to Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Rousseau 1965–98, 33:261). The existence of these manuscripts, along with Mirabeau's stilted prose, seemed to suggest that Mirabeau had considered plagiarizing Cantillon's text and publishing it under his own name. This somewhat underhanded plan, it is argued, was definitively thwarted by the publication of the Essai in May 1755, which led the marquis to compose his own work, L'Ami des hommes (The Friend of Mankind), published two years later. Henry Higgs (1891: 266), for example, stated that “it is hardly possible to resist the conviction that Mirabeau's motives in the matter were entirely dishonorable. The circumstances were such as he might have shielded from detection such an imposture; for he possessed what he believed to be, and what perhaps really was, the only existing fragment of Cantillon's Works.”2 A second problem raised by historians of economic thought concerns the way in which Mirabeau got hold of Cantillon's manuscript and the reasons that prevented him from publishing it, since it has been demonstrated that he played no part in its publication in 1755.3 Citing an ambiguous passage by Mirabeau, several scholars have hypothesized that he was forced to return the manuscript to its rightful owner or his descendants sometime in 1753 or 1754.4 This hypothesis rests on a set of interpretations and assumptions based on slender evidence and raises some puzzling questions: Why was Mirabeau—a prolific author if ever there was one, and who had Cantillon's manuscript for many years—unable to publish it in one way or another, if he had indeed wished to do so? And why, if he had planned to conceal his misdeed, did he take pains to mention his debt to Cantillon in an age when borrowings from other authors were common and often unacknowledged?5 The recent discovery of Mirabeau's voluminous correspondence with a friend from his youth, the Swiss Marc Charles Frédéric de Sacconay (1714–88), prompts us to challenge some of these contradictory assumptions, most notably by pointing to the fact that Mirabeau had started drafting a text inspired by the Essai as early as 1740 (Bertholet 2021). However, if the latter correspondence illuminates this early use of Cantillon's text by Mirabeau, it is necessary to put it in the larger context of Mirabeau's growing interest in political economy from 1740 to the publication of L'Ami des hommes in 1757 to provide a fuller understanding of the nature of his engagement with the text of the Essai.
Our goal in this article is to present a far more detailed and precise chronology of the creation of L'Ami des hommes and of the very special role played by the text of the Essai sur la nature du commerce en général in the process. Our findings and reinterpretations are based on a very close reading of what Mirabeau himself wrote about his project. As we shall see, even if his prose is often obscure, it provides a lot of credible information that previous commentators have neglected or unduly doubted.6 By combining the information coming from several archival sources with a close examination of Mirabeau's manuscripts, we demonstrate that it was one of his friends, the Marquis de Saint-George, who gave him access to Cantillon's text.
The plan of this article is as follows. In the next part, we uncover the true identity of the Marquis de Saint-George, who befriended both Cantillon and Mirabeau, and who provided to the latter a French translation of the former's Essay on the Nature of Trade in General. We set out the context in which Saint-George may have met Cantillon, who gave him a copy of his text in French. We then describe how, a decade or so later, Saint-George—now Mirabeau's friend and mentor—loaned the manuscript to the marquis. In the third part, we study in detail how Mirabeau used Cantillon's text as a source of inspiration for different editorial projects developed across a period of seventeen years. In particular, we show that during the years when Mirabeau was working from the Essai, his relationship to Cantillon's text changed, eventually leading to the publication of a book—L'Ami des hommes—that radically diverged from it and constituted an original work.
2. The Go-Between
Victor Riqueti, Marquis de Mirabeau, is a well-known historical character on two counts.7 First, he was a successful economic writer, author of two eighteenth-century bestsellers in political economy as well as the main disciple of François Quesnay and one of the dominant figures of the physiocratic school.8 Second, he was the father of the Count of Mirabeau, the leader of the French Revolution before his death in 1791. Born in 1715 into a family with a considerable estate in Provence, Mirabeau was destined to have a military career by his father, Jean-Antoine. When the latter died in 1737, Mirabeau stayed in the army, but he developed a growing interest in literature (see below, sec. 3). He finally left the army and married in 1743. His first economic writing, a short pamphlet, was published anonymously in 1750. He became a universally famous author with the publication of L'Ami des hommes, ou Traité de la population, dated 1756 but published in June 1757. This work combined a strong moral, antiluxury stance with an economic analysis that borrowed some of its main tenets from Cantillon's Essai, which he had read in manuscript before its publication in 1755.9
In his monograph on Cantillon's Essai, van den Berg drew attention to a statement by the Abbé Pluquet dating from 1786, in which the latter mentioned “the late M. the marquis de S. Georges [sic], to whom the public owes the Essay on the Nature of Trade” (quoted in van den Berg 2015: 9). On the basis of this statement, van den Berg argued—rightly, as we will see— that this was the same Saint-George who was known as a good friend of Mirabeau by the marquis's biographer, Loménie (1879–91, 1:379). He then suggested that Saint-George, whom he identified as “François Olivier de Saint-George de Vérac (1707–1753),” may have been the missing link between Cantillon and Mirabeau, as well as the provider of a French manuscript titled Essai sur le commerce en général to the latter.10
We confirm Pluquet's account of the role played by the Marquis de Saint-George. However, the individual in question is not Saint-George, Marquis de Vérac, lieutenant general of Poitou, as has been believed until now, but his distant cousin, Hector Louis de Saint-George, Seigneur de Dirac, Marquis de Saint-George (1700–1773).11 Although both lived in Paris at the end of the 1720s, Vérac cannot be the Saint-George whom Mirabeau met and befriended in Paris in 1737 (1736, in fact; see below) (Montlaur 1992: 82), for according to the testimony of the latter, “Lady and Miss de Saint-George were there and that is the beginning [of a relation] which had such an important influence on the course of my life” (Mirabeau 1834: 11). As the Marquis de Vérac was unmarried and childless at that time, he cannot be the Saint-George whom Mirabeau befriended.12
While no biography of this aristocrat exists, we have been able to reconstruct his life, his relations with Mirabeau, and—to a lesser extent, because of Cantillon's very secretive personality—his ties with the author of the Essai sur la nature du commerce en général. Hector Louis de Saint-George was born on May 9, 1700, at the manor of La Berlandière, in the Saintonge (today the Charente-Maritime département). He was the scion of an illustrious Protestant family that had converted to Catholicism after 1685. Having lost his father at the age of five, the future Marquis de Saint-George was raised, with his younger sister, by his mother, “a woman as intelligent as she was respectable,” who gave him “an education well above that which one could expect from her sex, even above our financial means” (Saint-George 1761: 95). He was sent to the Collège du Plessis in Paris and attended a military academy to complete his education as a gentleman. As Mirabeau reported in the 1740s, the Marquis de Saint-George then formed ties with six young aristocrats intent on military careers (Mirabeau 1740–42: 17). In particular, he became close to Louis-Robert-Hippolyte de Bréhan, Comte de Plélo (or Plelo), who shared his taste for reading.13 This small “society” of seven members comprised two young aristocrats from families exiled in France: “milord Fits James and Clare” (17).14 The first was a son of James Fitz-James, Duke of Berwick (1670–1734). He was probably Henry-James (1702–21), elder son from the duke's second marriage with Anne Bulkeley. Henry-James had married Victoire-Félicité de Durfort-Duras (Courcelles 1822–33, 7:25).15 He was also the cousin of Charles O'Brien, Viscount Clare (1699–1761), son of Charles (1673–1706), an Irish officer who came to France in 1690, and Anne Bulkeley's sister, Charlotte Bulkeley. After her husband's death, Charlotte Bulkeley married Daniel O'Mahony in 1712. This made Clare the stepbrother of Mary-Anne O'Mahony (1701–51), future wife of Richard Cantillon, and her two brothers.16 One of them took part in the escapades of this society of young aristocrats whom Plélo and Saint-George were often in the company of (Mirabeau 1740–42: 18).17
All these young men were the offspring of the Cantillons' client families. The economist's cousin, the Chevalier Cantillon, was the banker to the Irish officers exiled in France, but also to the Stuart Court exiled at Saint-Germain-en-Laye (Murphy 1986: 42–43). He was especially close to the O'Mahonys. In his Parisian townhouse, he took in his Kerry compatriot Count Daniel O'Mahony and his family. When O'Mahony, who fought alongside his friend the Duke of Berwick, was killed in Spain in January 1714, the Chevalier Cantillon became his executor and was thus in charge of his young heirs' affairs. His young cousin, Richard Cantillon, spent most of his time in Paris during this period (1714–17). He arrived from Spain in 1714—probably in April—and stayed with the chevalier. It was in these circumstances that Richard Cantillon met the O'Mahony children and succeeded his cousin as their “financial trustee” (Murphy 1986: 43, 199). In all likelihood, he met and bonded with members of Saint-George's small social circle, and in particular with Saint-George himself, who shared his friend Plélo's passion for literature and philosophy.18
Unlike most of his friends—most notably Plélo—Saint-George gave up a military career and went back to his province of Saintonge around 1718.19 There, he soon formed an advantageous matrimonial alliance by marrying Madeleine Eschallard, Dame de Genouillé, on January 15, 1719. The only daughter of Antoine Louis Eschallard and Suzanne-Anne Le Franc, Madeleine was slightly older than the marquis (Saint-George 1761: 95).20 Although Saint-George settled in the provinces, he made several visits to Paris, in particular to see his friend Plélo, for instance in 1725. After a long stay in the capital in 1726, he took up permanent residence there in 1728. It was then that he struck up a close relationship with Cantillon, who had returned to Paris after an absence of several years and stayed there repeatedly between 1726 and 1733.21 Cantillon remained close to his wife's stepmother, who resided in Paris, as did her son Clare, Saint-George's friend. In all likelihood, Saint-George also frequently visited her. In other words, Saint-George and Cantillon were both in Paris when the banker began writing the Essai sur la nature du commerce en général—between 1728 and 1730 according to Murphy (1986: 246–47). Their ties are attested to not only by their common acquaintances—such as Clare, the O'Mahonys, the Abbé Alary, and Plélo—but, more importantly, by Mirabeau.22 Saint-George knew that Cantillon engaged in fieldwork on his travels, and had described this to Mirabeau. The striking similarity in the accounts of Saint-George reported by Mirabeau and Pluquet shows that the source was the same.23 Elsewhere, Mirabeau tells an anecdote in which Saint-George is received by Cantillon in a “dressing gown” and then witnesses his departure for Italy.24
The French translation of the Essai was a result of this close relationship between the two men. Cantillon prepared it for his friend, Saint-George, entrusting him with the single manuscript copy (Mirabeau 1756: pt. 1, p. 85). Hence, we believe that the following quotation from Mirabeau should be reinterpreted: “This piece fell into my hands through a sort of theft, later admitted by the person for whom the translation had been made.”25 Most commentators, for example van den Berg (2015: 9), believe that Mirabeau had a personal implication in this “sort of theft” and that, because of it, he had to return it to its rightful owner(s) sometime before its publication.26 But three passages from manuscript M 780, hitherto unpublished, make it clear beyond a reasonable doubt that Mirabeau had no direct link to it. First, Mirabeau writes that “Mr Cantillon . . . translated it into French for one of his and my friends, from whom I obtained it in manuscript” (Mirabeau 1754–56, 3: fol. 14r. ; our emphasis).27 Second, Mirabeau states in another place that “I would have been pleased to name him [i.e., the author of the Essai, Cantillon], but I was told that I would upset his family” (Salleron 1952: LXIX), and in a third passage, he affirms that Cantillon “translated it by himself for the use of one of his intimate friends” (Salleron 1952: LXXI; our emphasis). From these passages, we can state that (1) Mirabeau had no link to Cantillon's family, (2) the French manuscript of the Essai, a translation made by the author himself, was given to Mirabeau by someone who got it directly from Cantillon and was also responsible for “a sort of theft,” and (3) this someone was an intimate friend of Cantillon as well as a friend of Mirabeau. It seems to us that this friend could not be anyone but Saint-George, the only individual who, as shown in this article, had a close link to both Cantillon and Mirabeau. Moreover, Saint-George had connections with the remaining family of Cantillon, and more precisely with the family of his widow, the Bulkeleys, a connection that went back to the 1710s and early 1720s (see above).28
Two riddles remain: What did Mirabeau mean by “a sort of theft” (van den Berg 2015: 9) and why might Cantillon's family have been displeased with the disclosure of his name as the author of the Essai sur la nature du commerce en général? In the first instance, we believe that the most likely explanation is that Mirabeau was alluding to the fact that Saint-George did not acknowledge his possession of the manuscript of the translation of the Essai to Cantillon's heirs at the time when the inheritance was settled, but that he did it at a later (unknown to us) date. In the second instance, we think that Cantillon's heirs were—at least in 1740 when Saint-George loaned the manuscript to Mirabeau (see below)—concerned by the publicity that the publication of the Essai might draw to the name of Cantillon while litigations concerning his estate were still going on years after his death and that they specifically asked Saint-George to keep hidden the name of the author of the Essai.29 Mirabeau, a man of honor, felt bound by his friend's promise and did not break the pledge. It was only after Cantillon's name had been divulged in the reviews of his book that Mirabeau wrote in the manuscript of the Essai “Mr Cantillon who I can now name since it is no longer a secret” (1754–56, 3: fol. 14r ).
The late 1720s were a period of financial and intellectual emancipation for Saint-George. After his first major property purchase and settlement in Paris, he found his way into the capital's aristocratic circles.30 Through his friend the Comte de Plélo, he was informed of the political and economic discussions at the Club de l'Entresol. He was also an astute investor. He first acquired a house in Paris, Rue Bergère, on March 3, 1728, which he made his home. In 1732, he bought a second house on land adjacent to his first property. This investment gave him a rental income in the capital and land for resale in a booming neighborhood.31 After consolidating his debts in 1735, he also embarked on the purchase of land at Saint-Vivien, next to the Dirac estate he had inherited (Saint-George 1761: 95). He then devoted himself to developing his land through an ambitious plan for draining the marshes there.32 It was at that time—more precisely in the spring of 1736—that the young Mirabeau first met Saint-George. Mirabeau fell under the spell of this accomplished gentleman, fifteen years his senior, who would become his mentor: “We bonded,” Mirabeau writes, “with unusual speed, given our age difference,” and “I enjoyed the master's useful and pleasant conversation. . . . I saw him only in his maturity, but I know his life from one end to another.”33 As Mirabeau was away during the remaining of 1736 up to January 1738, they did not meet again before the first month of 1738. In the meantime, Mirabeau's father died in May 1737, making him the heir of a large estate. Freed from paternal control, Mirabeau contemplated a glorious future for himself. Unsatisfied with his position in the French army, he was thinking of undertaking personal military and commercial ventures in the Mediterranean as well in the Caribbean. Perhaps under the influence of Saint-George, he had abandoned them by 1739.34 Mirabeau had to leave Paris again in June 1738 to join his military unit in Bayonne, and he spent the next year and a half in the southwest, returning to Paris only at the end of 1739. During his journey—marked by his meeting with Montesquieu—Mirabeau considered various options for his future career. He was attracted by the model of the landowner, good manager of his estates, man of letters, and savant embodied by Montesquieu.35 Mirabeau was now writing “small verses with astonishing facility and I have a large quantity of ephemeral pieces.” By spring 1739, he was extolling the advantages of literary fame to his friend and correspondent, the soldier, moralist, and writer Luc Clapiers de Vauvenargues (1715–47).36 In his letters with Sacconay and Vauvenargues, Mirabeau also mentioned a play that he was writing and more generally praised the life of men of letters to his two friends, who were much more reserved.37
Back in Paris in December 1739, Mirabeau met up again with Saint-George, who had arrived a month earlier.38 In the following decade, Saint-George became Mirabeau's intimate friend, playing a significant role in his private life as well as in his intellectual pursuits. Under Saint-George's influence, Mirabeau's interest shifted toward politics and agriculture. In May 1740, he wrote to his Swiss friend that he was employing two amanuenses to copy manuscripts before his departure for Provence.39 Mirabeau did indeed leave Paris a few days later for his Le Bignon estate, which he had just purchased on Saint-George's advice. He then traveled to Provence and the Mirabeau family estate. There, he went back to work in early August and, at Saint-George's behest, dabbled in practical agriculture, a subject about which he admitted his ignorance.40 The development of his Provençal property did not deter him from his literary ambitions, for “I am mad about the literature of knowledge and freedom; some successes, and a strong liking, have brought me to the point where I can no longer turn away from it.”41 Indeed, he hosted several littérateur friends like himself: Vauvenargues, Ripert de Monclar, and, in particular, the Abbé de Monville and Le Franc de Pompignan, who both accompanied him on a trip through Provence and the Languedoc a few weeks later.42 Amid all these activities, Mirabeau had “embarked” on “a paltry project for an immense work,” drawn from “manuscripts of a famous Englishman who has determined all my ideas.” That famous Englishman was Cantillon.43
Back in Paris in early 1741, he continued to engage with Saint-George and his aristocratic circle assiduously. The two men were very close at the time. In 1742, Saint-George convinced Mirabeau to purchase at auction, for 30,000 livres, a “corpse of a house” adjacent to his townhouse on Rue Bergère in Paris. A few weeks later, Saint-George sold him a parcel of land for 24,000 livres for extending his garden.44 Saint-George also played a significant part in Mirabeau's choice to leave the army. Lastly, when Mirabeau decided to marry, his friend suggested Marie-Geneviève de Vassan, a seventeen-year-old widow, an only daughter and wealthy heiress. Saint-George participated actively in negotiating the matrimonial arrangements with the Vassan family.45 After his marriage, Mirabeau left with his wife for his estate in Mirabeau; from the fall of 1744, they mainly resided at his wife's property in Sauvebœuf until the summer of 1746. There, he took the opportunity to visit his friend Saint-George at his Dirac and La Berlandière estates in the Aunis and Saintonge.46 Their intimacy began to gradually wear out in the 1750s, in step with Mirabeau's growing conflict with his wife, to whom Saint-George and his wife had remained very close. The references to Saint-George in Mirabeau's letters became increasingly scarce, disappearing altogether after 1759. Meanwhile, Saint-George, now a widower, retired to his estates in 1763 and died ten years later, on May 17, 1773, at his manor in Dirac.47
3. Mirabeau's Use of Cantillon's Text
By demonstrating that Mirabeau studied the Essai sur la nature du commerce en général to produce a text of his own as early as 1740, his correspondence with his Swiss friend Sacconay substantially reshapes our view of how he used Cantillon's manuscript. Historians of economic thought have speculated on the subject but have stopped far short of analyzing the full wealth of existing materials—in particular because some of these were not available until recently.48 In his correspondence, in the early manuscript drafts of L'Ami des hommes, and even in the printed version, Mirabeau repeatedly explained his intentions with regard to Cantillon's text. Moreover, an examination of the drafts of L'Ami des hommes—which have been relatively neglected until now—yields much additional information. Thanks to an in-depth analysis of these sources, we can be far more specific about the chronology of the composition of L'Ami des hommes and Mirabeau's use of Cantillon's text in the process.
The seventeen years between the time when Mirabeau obtained the manuscript of the Essai and the publication of L'Ami des hommes saw changes in his publishing project and in his relationship to Cantillon's text. Three periods need to be distinguished. The first began in 1740, when he first read Cantillon's manuscript and planned to write a book based on it. Mirabeau considered rewriting the Essai to make it more accessible. He drafted at least two manuscripts, of which only the later one has survived. In these texts, Mirabeau removed some of Cantillon's chapters, summarized others, added a few anecdotes and illustrations of his own, and, more generally, altered the style, which he found too dry and abstract. During the summer of 1754, he revised his project. He reproduced Cantillon's original text and added very long personal commentaries—which he described as “considerations”—doubling the text's initial length. The publication of the Essai in May 1755—which Mirabeau was late to learn about—led him to reconsider his plan. For a few weeks, he continued to write his long commentaries, but, on reaching the end of the second book, he decided to write the chapters of the third book independently of his model.49 While drafting these chapters, which he began to do in the final weeks of 1755, Mirabeau decided to rewrite the first two parts of his text. He cut out Cantillon's text and reorganized his commentaries into sixteen chapters, giving his book the form in which it was eventually published with the title L'Ami des hommes in June 1757.
As Bertholet (2021) has pointed out, it is in a letter to his Swiss friend Sacconay dated October 12, 1740, that Mirabeau mentions having written a text titled Essay sur le commerce en général. While the fact that the title is nearly identical to Cantillon's leaves little doubt about Mirabeau's source of inspiration, his long description of the text to his friend gives us a better idea of his debt to the original. He starts by confessing that the “manuscripts of a famous Englishman” are what “determined all my ideas,” and he continues as follows: “I took advantage of them, I rearranged them, and lastly I gave my work a form under the truest and most singular system.” This letter is exceptionally valuable for understanding the form of the first draft, now lost. Mirabeau announces that “the system” of his work is that “the intrinsic value of things is nothing other than the value of the quantity of land that enters into its production and serves to feed those who work it.” He goes on to describe the main chapters of his Essai, whose titles show his fidelity to his model:
I started with the principles, first the bands of ancient Arabs or shepherds, followed by the villages, market towns, cities, [c]apitals, etc., and I go up to the broadest principles of trade such as the balance of money, national banks, etc., and I address the most difficult ones such as the chapter on interest of money. (quoted in Bertholet 2021: 95)50
However, while it shows that Mirabeau obtained the manuscript of Cantillon prior to this letter, exactly when he got it is much less certain. Bertholet (2021: 92) postulated that it was in “1740 or slightly prior.” We think that it is possible to be even more positive. First, as we have established, there are only three periods prior to October 1740 when there is a strong probability that Saint-George and Mirabeau were both in Paris and when the former could have loaned the latter the manuscript of the Essai: a few weeks in the spring of 1736, when they first met and bonded; the first half of 1738; and the first half of 1740. The last period is the most likely one, for it is during these months that Mirabeau wrote to Sacconay that he was working “six hours a day” and “had several manuscripts copied” and that “he is taken up with a wholly different genre [than poetry and drama].”51 Second, in the oft-quoted passage from the letter to Rousseau, Mirabeau mentioned that he “had possessed in manuscript for 15 years . . . the Essai sur la nature du Commerce by M. Cantillon.”52 As the text was finally published in 1755, Mirabeau's sentence seems to confirm the fact that he was given the manuscript of the Essai in 1740.53 Thus, the most probable hypothesis is that Saint-George loaned him the translation of Cantillon's Essai sur la nature du commerce en général in early 1740, at a time when the two of them were neighbors and seeing each other very often.
In all likelihood, Mirabeau did not possess the original manuscript for a very long time, but had it copied with several others before May 1740 (see above). Then, Mirabeau wrote an adaptation of the Essai, which is the text he mentioned to Sacconay. A novice in political economy, Mirabeau felt the need to seek help from a Swiss merchant in order to understand Cantillon's text, which requires some mastery of economic and financial mechanisms. Moreover, Mirabeau had no specific idea of how he could use his attempted adaptation of Cantillon's Essai. The text's specialized character and the relatively narrow readership for writings on political economy in the early 1740s made the prospects of publication rather dim. Mirabeau, who had never published anything yet, was not very confident about his writing talent either. Conversely, the recent success of the books by Melon and Du Tot led him to believe that his text might interest a Swiss bookseller, and he discussed the possibility with his correspondent.54 However, on the advice of “two friends to whom I have read my treatise,” he wanted to complement his adaptation of Cantillon's Essai with another part.55 In the latter, he wished to describe the state of “trade in France and the way to invigorate it” (quoted in Bertholet 2021: 95). This reflects the fact that Mirabeau had little taste for theoretical reasoning, and he criticized authors of books on trade for being too evasive and abstract. He believed that to “speak of such important matters, to make up one's mind about them, one needed a full knowledge of them, and to compile a huge amount of material.”
In this new part, he intended to do as follows:
[To] go into the details of each province, to see its circulation, to know its [obstacles], the quality of the soil, the mood of its inhabitants, the ease of transport, their ancient customs; to show that the lack of communication between the kingdom's generalities were their main deficiency; then, to move on to external trade, showing how far one should extend it; that it should relieve us of our surplus and not bring us the surplus of others; that we are mistaken in the means to facilitate it; that we must ban unfair taxes and, everywhere, of the despotic behavior of financiers. (Mirabeau 1731–87)56
This long list of topics to discuss closely resembles the “questionnaire” sent to the intendants as part of the survey carried out for the purpose of educating the Duke of Burgundy, grandson of Louis XIV and father of Louis XV. The similarity is not surprising, for these instructions—as well as long excerpts from the reports prepared on this occasion—had been reproduced in L’État de la France by Boulainvilliers, an author whom Mirabeau admired and whose book he had given to his young brother to study a few weeks earlier.57 However, Mirabeau did not fulfill the literary ambitions awakened by Cantillon's manuscript immediately. The magnitude of the task made him put aside any possible publication well into the future, as he wrote to his Swiss friend shortly afterward.58
Despite his initial enthusiasm, Mirabeau put off any publication plans he had with this manuscript for the moment. In this period, he increasingly frequented aristocratic salons, which led him to augment and widen his literary production.59 Through Saint-George, he met La Vieuville, and both were instrumental in motivating the marquis to read the papers of the Count of Plélo and to write his biography sometime between 1740 and 1742 and to comment on his political ideas.60 Still a military man, he began a long poem on the “art of war” by the end of 1741, which he continued on and off until at least the summer of 1745. During the same period and again under the influence of Saint-George, he undertook the Journal of My Life and an account of his military campaigns.61 Finally, he continued to write many poems and even a play.62 It is in poetry that Mirabeau would enjoy his first publication, a short, romantic anonymous piece called “The Kiss” in the Mercure de France issued in November 1744 thanks to a recommendation from the Duke of Nivernais.63 In parallel with these productions, Mirabeau began a systematic study of political and diplomatic history and political works. In December 1743, he advised his Swiss friend to “give all your time to study . . . and if you believe me you will study thoroughly history and public law.”64 By 1747, Mirabeau prioritized politics and political essays over other literary genres, writing to Sacconay that “I have penetrated or more precisely thumbed through this science with passion.” The same year, he wrote a Testament politique that contained a chapter titled “Gouvernement des terres” (“Government of the Land”) and another titled “Affaires de credit et d'argent” (“Money and Credit in Business”).65
Shortly after, the appointment of his friend and mentor the Duke of Nivernais as ambassador to the pope prompted Mirabeau to turn his attention back to Cantillon's Essai. Nivernais was a former military man, like Mirabeau. After being elected to the Académie Française in late 1742, he left the army a few months before Mirabeau (Perey 1890: 35).66 In the following years, he spent most of his time in aristocratic salons and at the French court, becoming one of the main actors in the plays staged by Madame de Pompadour in Versailles during the 1740s. Boosted by his brother-in-law, the powerful minister of the navy, Maurepas, Nivernais was named ambassador to Rome. Nivernais was nominated on December 29, 1747, but, held up by personal matters, did not leave Paris until a year later, on November 1, 1748. It was an important turn in his career, for he would later be named ambassador to Berlin (1756) and London (1762). But at the time of his nomination, he was inexperienced and, therefore, looking for ways to broaden his views on international politics. Mirabeau, a member of his intimate circle, was one of the individuals to whom he turned in search of help. It is in this context that Mirabeau, we believe, composed a new adaptation of Cantillon's manuscript. The dedication reads “A. M. l. d. d. N.”; the dedicatee was wrongly identified as the Duke of Noailles (Bauer [1894–97] 1987: 216; Higgs 1891: 265; Tsuda 1979: 406). It was in fact dedicated to his patron and close friend, the Duc de Nivernais.67 In his dedication, Mirabeau portrays his friend as engaged in “the worthiest study for a man, and a man of your rank, the [study] most capable of broadening one's views and stifling prejudices, I mean, the study of government.” For this purpose, Nivernais had asked his friend to share his knowledge about trade, “the science that depends on calculus” (in Higgs 1891: 265). Therefore, we believe that this text was composed in 1748, much earlier than generally thought (Higgs 1891: 265–66; Tsuda 1979: 406; van den Berg 2015: 7–8).68
Our interpretation is based on two different sets of facts, the first being linked to Nivernais and the second being linked to the paper on which Mirabeau wrote his manuscript. First, it is unlikely that Mirabeau composed it before Nivernais was nominated as ambassador in December 1747. Before this date, the latter was immersed in court society and does not seem to have developed a specific taste for political economy, nor had he a need for this kind of knowledge. Also, their correspondence that goes from early 1749 to September 1751 did not bear a trace of Cantillon's text (or of any other text exchanged by the two men for that matter), and it seems clear that he did not write it during this period. Likewise, it is difficult to understand why Nivernais would have asked for such a text and why Mirabeau would have composed it, and after his return from Rome's embassy in 1752: he was now an experienced diplomat without the need to be educated in international politics, trade, and finance.
Second, the paper on which the manuscript was written bears watermarks that provide quite a lot of information. They not only provide the identity of the papermaker, one Marcellin Palhion, but also the location (“Velay”) and a date, “1742.” Marcellin Palhion (or Pailhon) was the papermaker in charge of the Crouzet paper mill situated in Saint-Didier-en-Velay from 1735 to 1748.69 The date 1742 is misleading since for fiscal reasons, papermakers from this area were producing paper marked “1742” for several years on (Bustarret 2012: 52–53). However, it allows us to affirm that the paper was produced and sold to Mirabeau not earlier than 1742 and no later than 1748. How did Mirabeau obtain this paper? One possibility is that Mirabeau obtained this paper through Jean-Georges Le Franc de Pompignan, the brother of Jean-Jacques and bishop of Le Puy-en-Velay, a few miles from the Crouzet paper mill, since 1743 and a friend of Mirabeau (Bouvier 1903: 83–84). All in all, it reinforces our argument that Mirabeau 1748a was composed earlier than previously thought, probably in 1748.
Unlike the manuscript mentioned to his friend Sacconay in 1740, Mirabeau 1748a has survived and is now held in the Archives Nationales. It bears the same title as the 1740 text, Essay sur le commerce en général, but its contents are different. In particular, it makes no mention of the first chapters of Cantillon's Essai and of his theory of value, both of which figured prominently in his letter to Sacconay.70 In the new version, Mirabeau used as an epigraph the title of Cantillon's chapter 12—“All orders and men in a State subsist and are enriched at the expense of the proprietors of land”—which he qualifies as “the basis for all reasoning and calculation on trade.”71 The first part of Cantillon's Essai, representing some 40 percent of the total, is thus largely abridged, for it takes up less than a quarter of Mirabeau's text. Conversely, the third part of Cantillon's text, which is far shorter than the first two, is the longest in this version. This choice may seem surprising by comparison with the printed version of L'Ami des hommes, in which the third part owes almost nothing to Cantillon's manuscript. However, it is entirely logical if we bear in mind that Mirabeau wrote his text in response to Nivernais's explicit request for information that would give him a better understanding of international trade and financial mechanisms—a useful area of expertise for an ambassador. This assumption is supported by some of Mirabeau's expressions, which give a fairly clear indication of his text's educational purpose.72 The manuscript is therefore a rather impersonal exercise whose value was linked to Mirabeau's desire to please his patron, Nivernais. Thus, the text was not intended for publication, and Mirabeau never mentioned that option for this manuscript. The document's private nature also explains why he never named his main source of inspiration. Nivernais, who spent a lot of time with Saint-George as well, may have already known the existence of the Irish banker's Essai. 73
Thus, since Mirabeau probably composed the text fairly soon after Nivernais's appointment, Mirabeau 1748a was probably written in the first half of 1748. Cantillon's text—even with its most theoretical parts removed, and with Mirabeau's slight reworking—does not address all the topics that Nivernais needed to know more about before taking his post. It is probably for this reason that Mirabeau composed a more personal text that, while bearing some traces of his work on Cantillon's Essai, was much better suited to Nivernais's short-term interests.74 While the Sistème politique is not formally dedicated to Nivernais, there is little doubt that the text was addressed to him. The manuscript was written between the summer and fall of 1748, during the final phase of negotiations of the Aix-la-Chapelle peace treaty, and just before Nivernais's departure for Rome. Moreover, the entire second part is a review of the forces and political situation of the powers involved in the War of the Austrian Succession, to which the Aix treaty was to put an end.75 Mirabeau thought that his reflections would help prepare Nivernais for his diplomatic mission. Mirabeau recycled several passages of the Sistème politique (in all, about 15 percent of the manuscript) in L'Ami des hommes.76 By comparison with Mirabeau 1748a, largely copied from Cantillon's manuscript, the Sistème politique devotes very little space to monetary and banking issues; in contrast, some of the themes that would loom large in L'Ami des hommes—most notably population and luxury—are discussed at greater length. Thus, the two texts complement each other, Mirabeau 1748a providing an overview of the role of the economy and finances in particular in international relations, and Mirabeau 1748b providing a discussion of international politics at the end of the summer of 1748.
In the following years, Mirabeau, caught up in several literary projects and domestic affairs, put Cantillon's manuscript aside yet again. During his stay in Paris from May to August 1749, he does not seem to have reworked his drafts of the previous year. He spent most of his time trying to obtain a diplomatic position, in imitation of Nivernais.77 In his leisurely moments, he read and studied Montesquieu's L'Esprit des lois and Fénelon's Aventures de Télémaque.78 On his return to Paris in early 1750, he spent time with one of his Provençal compatriots, François Cresp de Saint-Cézaire, who had been sent by the États (estates) of Provence to the court in Versailles for two purposes: first, to negotiate the reimbursement of expenses incurred by Provence to finance military operations during the War of the Austrian Succession; second, to obtain an annual subscription for the vingtième (twentieth), a new tax created by the monarchy in 1748.79 In the two months that followed, the two men formed a close friendship that led to Mirabeau's first political publication. In his haste to make himself useful, he dashed off a pamphlet to protest the abolition of the provincial estates, which seemed imminent at the time. The work, titled Mémoire concernant l'utilité des états provinciaux (Memoir on the Usefulness of the Provincial Estates), was drafted in a hurry, printed in late spring 1750, and proved a relative success.80 Unsurprisingly, the pamphlet was condemned in a ruling by the king's Council of State (arrêt du Conseil d’État du Roi). Because of the text's polemical nature, Mirabeau was reluctant to disclose that he was the author, and he made no mention of it to any of his correspondents at the time.81
Mirabeau took another break from his literary projects to return to his Le Bignon estate. On coming back to Paris in early 1751, he wrote—with Saint-Cézaire's help—a revised and substantially expanded version of his first work in the first half of the year.82 Upon completion, he appears to have gone through a new period in which he devoted most of his time to his business dealings in land, traveling in the southwest of France to buy the duchy of Roquelaure in August 1752. This purchase was plagued with many legal problems that forced Mirabeau to enter into several lawsuits and political arbitrations in 1752 and 1753, which caused a huge monetary loss for him. He was also involved in family matters, in particular fast-tracking his young brother's career in the navy.83 On Nivernais's recommendation, the Chevalier de Mirabeau was appointed captain on March 1, 1752. He was then named governor of Guadeloupe on September 1 of that year. Sailing from Toulon, he finally reached his destination on December 17, 1753. Immediately on taking office, he began a prolific correspondence with his elder brother. They shared an interest in the “science of commerce” that they had to articulate with their aristocratic ideology in the context of colonial life under the Code Noir (Black Code, which defined legal conditions for slavery) and the Exclusif Commercial, an arrangement that obligated French colonies to trade exclusively with metropolitan France. In the subsequent months, the two brothers started a fascinating dialogue on the transformations caused by what Cheney calls “primitive globalization” in ancien régime societies. They discussed the moral implications of the advent of capitalist society, the fate of the New World, and the inhumanity of the slave system (Cheney 2010). The chevalier sent his brother a long want list of books on trade, leading Mirabeau to focus on this category of literature. These circumstances prompted Mirabeau to resume his study of Cantillon's manuscript and revive his plan to publish it, which he had put off in 1740.84
Less than six months after arriving in Guadeloupe, the chevalier dispatched the long Mémoire sur le commerce (Memorandum on Trade) to his brother, who received it in August 1754. The text comprises two fairly distinct parts, one more theoretical, the other descriptive. While the chevalier's economic ideas had little originality, his memoir offers evidence of the state of his knowledge, some of which he had in common with his brother. He addressed several topics that would later become central to Mirabeau's thinking—most notably luxury, free trade, and population. For example, the chevalier, paraphrasing Cantillon, stated that luxury contributes to depopulation.85 He also drew inspiration from Melon's Essai politique sur le commerce (Political Essay on Commerce), borrowing his “islands” (îles) model.86 The chevalier's repeated condemnations of luxury and depopulation aroused Mirabeau's enthusiasm. At one point, the chevalier asked, “But what are the means to make domestic trade flourish? Is it to lay waste to the countryside or to repopulate it? Is it to attract all landowners to a capital, where, allowing their estates to waste away in the hands of businessmen [gens d'affaires], they will necessarily attract all those whom their income used to feed?” He added, “I leave it to abler persons than myself to settle these questions.” His brother took up the challenge.
Mirabeau therefore reread Cantillon's Essai sur le commerce and decided to revive his publishing project. He started a fresh manuscript, now in the Archives Nationales (Mirabeau 1754–56).87 This draft shows us the different stages through which Mirabeau arrived at the text of L'Ami des hommes, published in June 1757. The first pages are consistent with his previous attempts. Mirabeau rewrote, summarized, and slightly reorganized Cantillon's text. He continued up to Cantillon's chapter 6—“On Capital Cities”—before deciding to add to each chapter already drafted an original commentary that he called a “consequence” (conséquence). He quickly made a further change in his plan. He chose to leave Cantillon's text unaltered but to accompany it with long comments on each of the original chapters that he now titled “considerations” (considérations).
He then added a preliminary note to his original introduction in order to describe the stages of his work:
I first thought of correcting it. I flattered myself that I could, at first glance, fix the style, cut some long-winded passages, rearrange some inductions, and shed light in certain places that seemed abstract to me. Later, however, I realized (and not for the first time) that it is impossible to touch the works of great men if one is not at least their equal. I have consumed more time and effort in this kind of attempt, repeated several times, than I have ever spent on any work, and the conclusion of my labor after many trials has been to abandon it. (quoted in Salleron 1952: LXXII)
However, while the modern reader may view the form chosen by Mirabeau for his text as an edition with commentary, he was actually pursuing a far more ambitious goal, for
a text as superior [as Cantillon's] is hardly appropriate for me to put forward as a commentary of my own, but that is not what I am doing here. I am casting my thoughts on paper, as they arise from the original, I extend them, I submit them to calculation. . . . Far from enslaving myself to the formulation of a commentary, I enclose in my own work that of my author, on which it is based, and present it under a distinctive title that is mine and not his. (LXXII–LXXIII)
Indeed, the general title he chose—Mémoire sur la population (Memoir on Population)—unlike those of his two earlier attempts, does not echo Cantillon's.88 This type of editorial project was common in early modern France. Mirabeau cites the example of Folard's works, based on the ancient historian Polybius.89 In the 1750s, this form of publication was en vogue in political economy. Authors linked to Vincent de Gournay favored it most notably for their translations of English and Spanish writers (Charles 2008). Gournay himself had written long remarks that he added to his translation of Josiah Child's text in 1752 (Meyssonnier 2008).
By the time he wrote to his brother in early December 1754, Mirabeau had already made good progress on this new project, “a book on which I am currently working,” in which he demonstrated “that unmarried people do not harm the population; at least, those who are so either deliberately or of necessity lead harsh lives and consume little.”90 The passage alluded to some parts of the “considerations on chapter 16” of Cantillon's Essai.91 This is evidence that he had written at least one hundred pages by then. He continued writing in the following months but at a more leisurely pace.
In a letter of April 1755, he announced to his brother that
you will see one day in a work that I hope to publish—a work in which only the commentary is mine—that I believe, on the contrary, that a land newly acquired must, all other things being equal, increase the population proportionally to the product of the territories[.] If we had found in the New World only the land and its fruits of all kinds, we would have gained at least as much in usefulness as in superfluousness. But the discovery of mines is what caused a total loss—an irreparable loss if the Indies do not deliver us one day from this glut of corrupting and depopulating metals.92
Mirabeau seems to be referring here to a passage in the “considerations” on chapter 1 of part 2 of the Essai, titled “On Barter.”93
The following month, Cantillon's Essai sur la nature du commerce en général was published under the auspices of the Gournay circle (Murphy 1986: 306; van den Berg 2015: 4; Sabbagh 2016: 114–19). Mirabeau did not learn of this edition until much later, in early October, when he saw the announcement in a periodical.94 By then, he had already written long commentaries on all the chapters from the first part of the Essai and several chapters from the second book. This discovery seemed to threaten his editorial project. The prospect of seeing months of hard work go to waste made him anxious. Mirabeau painstakingly compared the manuscript version he owned to the printed edition and concluded bluntly that “it had been published in all its purity and simplicity” (Mirabeau 1754–56, 3: fol. 14r. ). He hesitated about how to proceed from there. His first thought was that being now “deprived of the resource” of publishing the original text of the Essai—it had already been done by someone else—his initial idea, which was to publish his comments alongside Cantillon's text, was doomed (Mirabeau 1754–56, 3: fol. 14r. ). However, on second thought, he concluded that his project was still viable for two reasons. First, he thought that Cantillon's book had gone relatively unnoticed; he attributed that to the author's dry style. Second, Mirabeau was convinced that the addition of his extensive commentaries—indeed, they were often much longer than Cantillon's original chapters—would make his own edition a far different work that would appeal to potential readers. Thus, he decided to keep to his initial plan and so completed his commentaries on the chapters in part 2 of Cantillon's book.95 This episode also highlights two facts that go against the comments made by historians of the Essai sur le commerce en général. First, after the publication of the Essai Mirabeau still had a full manuscript copy of it, a copy of the original that, we believe, he had made in 1740. Thus, Mirabeau did not return the manuscript of the Essai before it was published. Second, the publication of the Essai in 1755 did not lead to Mirabeau's decision not to publish Cantillon's text. It merely helped him to understand that his own literary project had been moving away from the original text of Cantillon to become something much more personal and that, in the end, his text was independent from its source of inspiration. It took him several more weeks or even months to reach this decision.
Indeed, having completed the commentaries on the last chapters in the second part of the Essai, he hesitated again.96 After stating that he was planning to continue to the third part using the same template as the two previous ones, he changed his plans. Having realized that part 3 of Cantillon's Essai—except for the first chapter on external trade—was too far removed from the topic of population, the focus of his own text, he distanced himself from the Essai for good:
This third part supplies less material than the other two for my purpose, apart from the first chapter, of which every word shed light on external trade in regard to its ability to serve the population. . . . Here, therefore, I abandon, so to speak, the disjointed format that I had followed so far, and assemble my entire system into eight chapters—equal in number to those of my author in this third part, but where I lose sight of him almost entirely. (Mirabeau 1754–56, 3: fol. 14v. )
Having finished the third part, which does not contain the original chapters of Cantillon, he realized that his initial plan of providing a commentary on the Essai was now obsolete. Thus, he had to rewrite his first two parts into eight chapters, according to the plan he had followed in the third part. He dropped all intention of editing Cantillon's text and rearranged his “considerations” devoted to each of the chapters of the Essai into two parts of eight chapters.97 He complemented the “considerations” with several additions. It is in one of these additions that he mentioned the Abbé Coyer's Noblesse commerçante, which was published in February 1756 (Mirabeau 1754–56, 4: n.p. [bk. 2, chap. 1]). The latter date provides important chronological information: we are sure that the last stage of the composition of L'Ami des hommes took place in the first part of 1756 (see below). However, it is difficult to say when exactly—at the end of 1755 or at the very beginning of 1756—that Mirabeau completed his third part and began to rewrite the first two parts.
In the course of 1755, Mirabeau also asked his secretary, Garçon, to prepare a clean copy of his text. This document, whose first part survives in the Archives Nationales (Mirabeau 1755), faithfully reproduces the first seventeen chapters of Cantillon's Essai transcribed on the upper half of each page, with Mirabeau's “considerations” on the lower half.98 As such, this document reflects the initial plan of Mirabeau's project of publication. However, it also bears passages in Mirabeau's own hand that were written later. Indeed, when Mirabeau reworked his Mémoire sur la population into its final form as L'Ami des hommes, he wrote instructions to his secretary for incorporating his seventeen “considerations” into the eight chapters of part 1 of L'Ami des hommes on this clean copy. In parallel, Mirabeau wrote new passages in his original draft (Mirabeau 1754–56) and indicated how these additions should be linked to the clean copy (Mirabeau 1755) in order to produce the final version, now lost. Moreover, several passages in Mirabeau 1754–56 indicate the existence of a manuscript for the second part equivalent to Mirabeau 1755, which we have been unable to locate.
Mirabeau completed the manuscript of L'Ami des hommes before the end of the summer of 1756 and sent it to his brother, who had returned to France. The chevalier congratulated him but noted ironically the close similarity of some of their ideas.99 After rereading the manuscript attentively, the chevalier gave his brother a rather long set of notes and critical comments, along with a fairly general commentary on his work.100 Six months later, L'Ami des hommes finally appeared, concluding a publishing project that Mirabeau had contemplated seventeen years earlier upon discovering Cantillon's Essai sur la nature du commerce en général.
4. Concluding Remarks
Our article has shown that the Marquis de Saint-George, a mutual friend of Cantillon and Mirabeau (van den Berg 2015: 9), was Hector Louis de Saint-George, Seigneur de Dirac. Through a detailed analysis of the life of Saint-George and the context of his relationship with both Cantillon and Mirabeau, we have built a solid case to argue that Saint-George obtained the French version of the Essai directly from Cantillon, who had translated it for him. This was the version that he later loaned to Mirabeau, whom he mentored at that time. Saint-George was part of a group of nobles who moved in Parisian literary and political circles. One of their venues was the Club de l'Entresol, of which his intimate, the Comte de Plélo, was a member. Saint-George, who came from the Saintonge province in western France, had met Cantillon in Paris in his adolescence. Saint-George kept in contact with the Irish banker, and it seems that the two were close in the late 1720s and early 1730s, when Cantillon made a French translation of his Essay on Trade for his friend and loaned it to him. After Cantillon's death, we believe that Saint-George held on to the latter's manuscript, committing “a sort of theft.” A few years later, he met by chance a young aristocrat from Provence, the Marquis de Mirabeau. The two men became fast friends. Saint-George, a habitué of Parisian aristocratic circles, became Mirabeau's mentor and confident. Saint-George convinced Mirabeau to write his personal memoirs with a view to glorifying his family name but also to take an interest in agriculture, political thought, and the development of his landholdings. It is in these circumstances that Saint-George gave Mirabeau access to many political manuscripts including those of his friend Plélo as well as Cantillon's Essai.
Mirabeau's first mention of the Essai was in a letter from October 1740. The marquis had obtained the text from Saint-George, whom he saw very frequently from December 1739 to May 1740, and most probably made a copy of it. He began to work on it right away. Put off by the Irish banker's style, Mirabeau undertook to rewrite and edit the Essai. He drafted two manuscripts with this goal in mind, the first in 1740 (now lost), the second in 1748, written for the use of his patron, the Duc de Nivernais. Mirabeau did not follow up immediately on these attempts. Later, several developments led him to revive his plan to work on Cantillon's manuscript. First, he published his first political text—a short, anonymous, ad hoc pamphlet supporting the provincial estates in 1750. It gave him confidence in his capability as a political thinker and writer. Second, Mirabeau observed the growing number of books published on trade, which he found wanting in many respects, most notably because they downplayed the political and economic role of population and luxury. Lastly, the emulation triggered by his epistolary dialogue with his brother, governor of Guadeloupe, proved the decisive factor that drove Mirabeau to a new career. He set out once more to edit the Essai, now adding long commentaries of his own. However, after he discovered that Cantillon's text had been published independently from his own project in 1755, he gradually became aware that the maturing of his personal project rendered the edition of the Essai vis-à-vis his own text superfluous. Thus, he reorganized his text to produce an original work. He completed the first draft of his manuscript during the summer of 1756. After some minor revisions, the work was published the following spring as L'Ami des hommes. Over this long period, Mirabeau never sought to steal Cantillon's text and publish it under his own name.
This article argues that Mirabeau had a complete copy of it since 1740 and still owned it when the Essai was published in 1755. He used this full manuscript copy to check the printed text, and he concluded that the printed text was identical to the one he had in his hands.101 It shows that, contrary to what has been hypothesized by commentators, Mirabeau was never forced to return Cantillon's manuscript in the early 1750s. Indeed, it is probable that Mirabeau had the original manuscript, loaned by his friend Saint-George in 1740, for only as long as it took to make a copy of it. Moreover, as we have seen, Mirabeau explained in detail the reasons that led him to choose not to publish Cantillon's text. Finally, we have shown that Mirabeau circulated his two early adaptations of Cantillon's Essai in 1740 and 1748 in his inner circles of friends, which indicates that at least some of the ideas of the Essai sur le commerce en général may have been disseminated in France long before the Essai was printed in 1755.102 How many complete manuscript copies of the translation of Cantillon's text existed before its publication? While the exact number will never be known, we can state today that there were at least three: the original held by Saint-George, in our opinion the one held in Rouen; Mirabeau's copy that we have been unable to find; and the copy used by the printer, which was almost certainly destroyed.103
We would like to thank Auguste Bertholet and Béla Kapossy from the University of Lausanne, Acacio Calisto from the Archives Cantonales Vaudoises, Benoît Charenton from the Archives Départementales de la Drôme, and Jean-François Moufflet and Sébastien Nadiras from the Archives Nationales. We also thank the two referees whose in-depth reading helped us to improve this article by a considerable measure. This research was funded by the Ined, project P 1126-2. All translations unless otherwise indicated are ours.
This manuscript is described in Quesnay 2005, 2:1313. The document is in the hand of Mirabeau’s secretary, Pierre Garçon (1717–89), with autograph corrections and additions by Mirabeau himself.
This conclusion was supported by Friedrich von Hayek (1991: 281–82) in his introduction to the 1931 German translation of Cantillon and by Tsuda (1979), who discovered a complete manuscript of Cantillon’s Essai and carefully studied the two manuscripts in the Mirabeau papers. Other scholars, most notably van den Berg (2015: 9), are more circumspect about Mirabeau’s true motives but do not offer an alternative analysis. See also Salleron 1952: LXXIII, Sabbagh 2016: 95n20, and Bertholet 2021.
Tsuda (1979: 410) suggests a specific year—1754—in which Mirabeau had to return the manuscript. Van den Berg (2019: 1120n40) argues for the year 1753 instead. See also Higgs 1931: 382, van den Berg 2015: 9, and Bertholet 2021: 93.
See, for example, Postlewayth’s use of Cantillon, as described in van den Berg 2015: 15–21.
Most of the commentators on and biographers of Mirabeau have either called into question the credibility or made a questionable selection of Mirabeau’s recollections. We chose the opposite approach and took him at his word as long as it was not contradicted by an outside source or by another passage in Mirabeau’s writings. We underline that in each instance where we had an independent source, the latter confirmed Mirabeau’s statement.
There are two relatively recent biographies (Henry 1989; Montlaur 1992) of the Marquis de Mirabeau available. They rely heavily on the material presented by either Lucas de Montigny (1834–35) or Loménie (1879–91) in their multivolume histories of the Mirabeau dynasty.
L’Ami des hommes, published in 1757, before he met François Quesnay, and Théorie de l’impôt, a work he wrote with the founder of physiocracy and published in 1760. For a list of eighteenth-century economic bestsellers, see Carpenter 1975 and Reinert et al. 2017.
It is not the place here to provide a detailed discussion of Mirabeau’s debt to Cantillon’s theory. Suffice it to say that Mirabeau got the idea that luxury is adverse to population directly from Cantillon. Luxury is adverse to population because it harms the production of subsistence goods. Thus, “the increase and decrease of the number of people in a state [depending] principally on the taste, fashions and modes of living of the landlords” was the subject of one of the core chapters of the Essai (Cantillon 1997: 37–48). In Mirabeau’s (1756: pt. 1, p. 18) words, “Mettez un cheval de plus dans l’Etat, toutes autres choses demeurant égales, vous êtes certain d’y tuer quatre hommes au moins.” We thank one of the referees for directing us to this quotation.
Van den Berg relied on Montlaur’s biography of Mirabeau, and Montlaur (1992: 82) identified Saint-George as the Marquis de Saint-Georges [sic] Vérac. He refined Montlaur’s identification by stating that Saint-Georges Vérac was in fact François Olivier de Saint-George de Vérac, who was born in 1707 and who died in 1753. He also suggests that the date—1753—of the death of Vérac provides a possible explanation as to why Mirabeau had to part with Cantillon’s manuscript. Since van den Berg (2015), the same idea has been repeated in Sabbagh 2016, van den Berg 2019, and Bertholet 2021.
We used several archival materials to establish the Marquis de Saint-George’s identity and reconstruct his life. The first is an essay by Saint-George himself on his family’s genealogy, Essai sur le nom de Saint-George (Saint-George 1761). The second is a small collection of correspondence between the Marquis de Saint-George and the intendant de province, Charles Amable Honoré Barentin, kept in Barentin’s papers in the Archives Départementales de Charente-Maritime. The third is the life of Plélo written by Mirabeau (Mirabeau 1740–42). A fourth manuscript source is the correspondence between Mirabeau and his Swiss friend Sacconay, made available online by the University of Lausanne (Mirabeau 1731–87). We have also used several parish records and Paris notarial archives. Specific references are given in the notes, when we quote them. See also Nadaud 1863–70.
The separation between these two branches (Dirac and Vérac) of the Saint-George family goes back to the sixteenth century. Hector Louis de Saint-George, Seigneur de Dirac, wrote a detailed genealogical essay (Essai sur le nom de Saint-George), in which he devoted a few paragraphs to his young relative François Olivier. Most notably, he affirmed that he was “the instrument of his marriage” with Elisabeth Marguerite de Riancourt Orival, which took place a few months after the death of the Marquis de Vérac’s father on December 31, 1741. He further mentioned that the young Vérac was not in good health and that he died in 1753 while taking the waters in Plombières-les-Bains. See Saint-George 1761: 69. In what follows, “Saint-George” refers to Hector Louis de Saint-George, Seigneur de Dirac, only.
Besides the testimony of Mirabeau, who called Plélo “his intimate friend,” the closeness of the two men is confirmed by the fact that Saint-George was the executor of Plélo’s widow’s estate (Mirabeau 1740–42: 1). On Saint-George as the executor of Plélo’s estate, see Archives Nationales, MC/ET/XCVI/325.
The other members of this society listed by Mirabeau were Guy de La Rochefoucauld (1698–1731), Charles de Lévis, Comte de Charlus (1698–1724), and Charles Antoine (or Louis Charles) Gouffier, Marquis d’Heilly et Ribemont (1698–1777).
The man in question might also be his half-brother, James Francis (1696–1738), the offspring of the duke’s first marriage to Honora Burke.
Cantillon married her in London in February 1722 (Higgs 1891: 282). In 1736, after the economist’s death, Mary-Ann married François Bulkeley, her stepmother’s brother and also a friend of Montesquieu (Murphy 1986: 203–4).
This is certainly his younger brother Dermitius (also known as Demetrius or Dermod) O’Mahony (1702–77), who spent his entire military career in Spain before being appointed Spanish ambassador to Vienna in 1760.
“Your latest letter pleased me more than the others. It showed me that you love the only three things that I allow my friends to love: me, Horace, and philosophy.” Letter from Plélo to Saint-George, October 16, 1724 (Rathery 1876: 28–29).
“We are in 1718, Saint-George has been summoned home, Plélo is leaving for Mauron in Brittany, which his father had given him, and the two friends are setting sail together on the Loire” (Mirabeau 1740–42: 21).
His wife was also from a converted Protestant family. See Haag 1846–59, 9:82.
The best source for Cantillon’s travels is Murphy’s biography, despite its being fairly evasive about his movements between the second half of 1729 and 1733. Cantillon was arrested and imprisoned twice in Paris, in December 1728 and November 1729 (Murphy 1986: 220–25).
It must be said, though, that Mirabeau in the manuscript of L’Ami des hommes (M 780) and contrary to his practice in his 1740s personal writings and recollections never mentioned directly Saint-George, but always used the expression “one of my friends.” There are two likely explanations for that: first, the two men were not as close as they were a decade earlier; second, Mirabeau—knowing the way Saint-George came into possession of the manuscript and kept it (see below)—assumed that he did not want to be named in a text that was meant to be made public.
Mirabeau reported this as such: “In his travels, he made an opportunity of everything, stepped out of his carriage and went to question a laborer in his field, assessed the earth’s quality by its weight, sampled its taste, made notes; and a calculator who always accompanied him wrote up everything in the evening in their lodging. So very many precious writings perished with him in an unusual and appalling catastrophe. Only this outline remains, which makes the loss of the rest even more regrettable” (quoted in Salleron 1952: LXX). Saint-George may have been a direct witness to Cantillon’s practice, given his personal interest in agriculture (see below). For Pluquet’s later account in order to compare it with Mirabeau’s, see van den Berg 2015: 9. To our knowledge, Pluquet and Mirabeau did not know each other, and, as Mirabeau’s account was not published and figures only in a passage of the foreword to M 780 that he omitted from the published text, the only common factor between these two accounts was the originator of the anecdote, i.e., Saint-George.
“One of my friends has told me that he found him [Cantillon] at home in Paris, in a dressing gown, with Livy on his lectern. ‘I am, he told him, making a brief trip; people have always been wrong about the numerary value of the coins with which the Romans bought back their city from the Gauls. Whether the fact is true or not, the interpreters are fools, and I shall reduce my ideas on the matter to certainty; there is one coin from that period in the medal cabinet of the Grand Duke [of Tuscany], and I shall check its weight and alloy.’ While he was talking, the horses arrived and he indeed took leave of his friend to get into his carriage” (quoted in Salleron 1952: LXX).
The French reads, “Ce morceau m’est tombé entre les mains par une espèce de vol avoué depuis par la personne pour laquelle cette traduction avait été faite” (Salleron 1952: LXX).
An exception is Higgs (1891: 266), who was, in our view, closer to the truth when he stated, “This possession came to him through dishonest hands.” Although it has been repeated time and again by commentators, we must stress that there is no passage in Mirabeau’s writings or in his correspondence that may suggest that he had to return Cantillon’s text before being able to copy it entirely.
Citations to Mirabeau 1754–56 cite the notebook number, the folio number (if there is one; r. = recto; v. = verso), and, in square brackets, what the page number would be if it were paginated consecutively, in the contemporary style. N.p. = no page number.
The persistence of Saint-George’s ties to the Cantillon family seems to be implied by Mirabeau’s comments in manuscript M 780 that “I have been promised that I will upset his family [if I would disclose the name of the author].” The French reads “on m’a assuré que je fâcherais sa famille” (Salleron 1952: LXIX). Although Mirabeau presents us with a riddle as to who is exactly this “on” (“someone” in English), it is in keeping with his practice of not naming even once in the various manuscripts of L’Ami des hommes “the friend” who provided him the manuscript and who, as we argue here, is Saint-George.
Antoin Murphy (1986: 245–50) has argued convincingly that the genesis of the Essai is linked to the numerous trials Cantillon was submitted to until his death. According to Murphy (1986: 208), “Even after his demise the litigation continued and one case was still pending in the 1760s.” Earlier on, Salleron (1952: LXXIII) reached the same conclusion.
Saint-George had strong ties to some of the leading dynasties of the royal government: the Phélypeauxs and the Lefèvre d’Ormessons. Among the former, he frequented the Comte de Maurepas, minister of the navy (1723–49) and secretary of state of the royal household (1718–49), and the Comte de Saint-Florentin. Among the latter, he was close to Henri François de Paule (1681–1756), intendant des finances since 1722, to his son, who succeeded him in 1756, and to his brother-in-law, de Barentin (1703–62), who became intendant of La Rochelle in 1737. Our sources are the Barentin papers, the Paris notarial archives (Archives Nationales, MC/ET/XCVI/325 and MC/ET/XCVI/331), and the Archives de la Drôme (Plélo Papers, 100 MI 291).
See Archives Nationales, MC/ET/LXXXVI/553, and Archives Nationales, MC/ET/LXXXVI/568. On the neighborhood and its development during the period, see Étienne 1986.
See Gabet 1971, 3:20–21 and his letters to the provincial intendant, Barentin.
The encounter with Saint-George occurred in March or April 1736 and left Mirabeau enough time to visit his new friend’s house “assiduously” until his departure for Besançon in May (Mirabeau 1834: 12–13).
Mirabeau pondered three different projects: the conquest of Peloponnese by eight thousand mercenaries; the development of Lampedusa, a small and deserted island south of Sicily; and the exploitation of the natural riches of Saint Lucia, a neutral Caribbean island. See letter of March 1, 1738, to Sacconay (Mirabeau 1731–87).
Letter of February 7, 1739, to Vauvenargues: “M. de Montesquieu . . . is acquiring a flattering reputation, is training his mind into a pleasant shape, and, far from suffering a decline in his business . . . , has increased his income substantially, in the time that it takes for a miserable homebody to complain that the land is becoming barren by the day” (Vauvenargues 1857, 2: 114).
For the citation, see letter to Sacconay, April 20, 1739 (Mirabeau 1731–87). For the discussion of literary fame, see letter of April 24, 1739, to Vauvenargues; and also the letter of May 16, 1739, to the same (Vauvenargues 1857, 2:124–25, 131–32).
See letters to Sacconay, December, 22 1738, and April 20, 1739 (Mirabeau 1731–87); and the letters to Vauvenargues, April, 24 1739, and May, 16 1739, and from Vauvenargues, May 4, 1739 (Vauvenargues 1857, 2:125, 127–28, 131–32). This aspect is covered by Vardi (2012: 90–95), although she did not have access to Mirabeau’s correspondence with Sacconay.
In mid-December, Mirabeau moved into a lodging in Paris located “in the Rue Poissonnière, at the corner of the boulevard, in the Notre Dame de Bonne-Nouvelle quarter,” i.e., a few dozen meters from Saint-George’s residence, Rue Bergère. Indeed, in his Testament politique, Mirabeau says that it was Saint-George who had found the apartment for him and that “it bonded us even more.” See letter of December 23, 1739, to Vauvenargues (Vauvenargues 1857, 2:156) and Testament politique, part 3, Mirabeau Family Papers, 19:95. (Citations to the Mirabeau Family Papers cite the volume and page numbers.)
Letter to Sacconay, May 24, 1740 (Mirabeau 1731–87).
“Having pursued all my life an occupation quite the opposite of agricultural knowledge, . . . the Marquis de Saint-George is demanding from me this type of pursuit, which I find reasonable. I am fully devoting myself to it; nothing is difficult for a man with the right intention, yet I am laboring in a most unfamiliar country.” Letter to Sacconay, August 4, 1740 (Mirabeau 1731–87).
Letter to Sacconay, August 4, 1740 (Mirabeau 1731–87).
Jean Pierre François de Ripert, Baron de Monclar (1711–73), was a chief prosecutor (procureur général) at the Parlement of Provence and author of several works on legal and political topics. Jean-Jacques Le Franc de Pompignan (1709–84) was a man of letters, academician, and magistrate. Simon Philippe Mazières de Monville (?–1767) was a canon (chanoine) from Montauban. Mirabeau joined only in the second part of the journey, which took place in Provence from mid-October on. After returning to his Mirabeau estate, he left around November 10, 1740, for Montauban, where he wrote to Sacconay on December 14 before leaving for Paris. The account of their journey was published a few years later (Le Franc de Pompignan, Mirabeau, and Mazières de Monville 1745) and went through many editions, with minor textual variants.
Letter to Sacconay, October 12, 1740 (Mirabeau 1731–87). A recent article lists and reproduces most of the passages—excerpted from Sacconay’s correspondence—where Mirabeau discusses Cantillon’s manuscript (Bertholet 2021).
The deed was drawn up by the notaire in August; see Archives Nationales, MC/ET/XCVI/347. The full names and titles of Saint-George and Mirabeau appear on this legal act and therefore confirm the former’s identity beyond any doubt. The purchase was made on April 18, 1742. The auction occurred in February or March 1742. See Loménie 1879–91, 1:439.
Letter from Mirabeau to Sacconay, November 9, 1745 (Mirabeau 1731–87).
Archives Départementales, Charente-Maritime, parish registers of Thairé and Taillant.
See n. 3 above. For a striking example of such speculation on Mirabeau’s use of Cantillon, see Chanier 1968.
“Here, therefore, I abandon, so to speak, the disjointed form that I had followed until now, and I gather my entire system into eight equal chapters, equal in number to those of my author in this third part, but in which I lose sight of him totally” (Mirabeau 1754–56, 3: fol. 14v. ).
Indeed, the first items he lists refer to chapters 3, 4, 5, and 6 of the first part, the following refer to the bulk of the third part, and the interest of money is covered in chapters 9 and 10 of the second part of Cantillon’s Essai. Cantillon’s theory of value alluded to in the first citation is found in chapters 10 and 11 of the first part.
Letter to Sacconay, May 24, 1740 (Mirabeau 1731–87).
Letter no. 5998, July 30, 1767 (in Rousseau 1965–98, 33:261). We should underline that all commentators quote the nineteenth-century edition of Rousseau’s works in which it was incorrectly transcribed “16 years” instead of “15 years” (see, e.g., Bertholet 2021: 93).
This passage has been subjected to a lot of attention from the commentators who have conjectured that Mirabeau’s words implied that he had to return the manuscript. However, the original French does not back up this conjecture. Mirabeau’s exact words were “J’avois pris mes premières et uniques notions a cet égard dans l’Essay sur la nature du Commerce de M.r Cantillon, que j’avais depuis 15 ans en manuscript.” It should be underlined that the use of “que” and not “dont” is significant. The phrasing Mirabeau used signified that he had Cantillon’s text in manuscript form, not that he had in effect the original manuscript. It would have been the case if Mirabeau had used “dont” instead of “que” in the sentence just quoted. Finally, there is no mention in the sentence or in any part of the letter of the fact that Mirabeau had to give back this text in manuscript to somebody else. Therefore, our reading of this sentence is that Mirabeau had a copy of the text of the Essai in manuscript for fifteen years prior to its publication and that there is nothing that suggests that he had to part with it at any time.
Letter to Sacconay, November 1, 1740 (Mirabeau 1731–87).
These two friends were most probably Le Franc de Pompignan and the Abbé de Montville, with whom he spent several weeks at that time; see above, n. 42.
Our translation is adapted from Bertholet 2021: 96. Some of these themes such as transportation and unfair taxes would figure prominently in L’Ami des hommes.
On the work of Mirabeau’s youngest brother, see the letter to Vauvenargues of August 15, 1740 (Vauvenargues 1857, 2:220). On the list of topics and questions to be addressed by the intendants, see especially Boulainvilliers 1727, 1:10–12. For Boulainvilliers’s works that Mirabeau owned, see Catalogue1790: 41–42 and Mirabeau Family Papers, 41:141.
“What you tell me about your press in Lausanne would not be negligible if you are sure that it could print with care and on good paper, not for my treatise on trade—a huge work for the knowledge [it contains], which could not be ready so soon—but for others. Goodbye, my dear Frédéric. I plan to send you, in this case, a French Art of Loving; don’t tell anyone in the world about it.” Letter to Sacconay, November 1, 1740 (Mirabeau 1731–87). This letter shows that political economy was still, at the time, a minor concern for Mirabeau, who continued to give priority to works of a more literary character.
On Mirabeau’s literary interests and writings in the 1740s, see Vardi 2012: 90–101. We have also relied on the correspondence between Mirabeau and Sacconay as well as on our own research in various archives and libraries.
Mirabeau kept a significant number of documents and copies of documents from Plélo’s papers; some of them are deposited in the Archives Nationales (file number M 784, no. 69). In particular, there are notes on a “study on the interest of France,” a Fragment on the Destruction of the Roman Empire, and a Plan on a Political Work for the Use of France.
See Mirabeau 1834 for his autobiographical essay and Archives Nationales, M 783, nos. 23 and 24, for his military campaigns. These manuscripts were written in the first part of the 1740s.
Several poems and poetic fragments from Mirabeau are in the Archives Nationales (file numbers M 791, no. 2; M 783, nos. 18, 19, 20, and 21). Several of them were dedicated to his friends the Duc de Nivernais (who was an academician and poet), the Marquis de Saint-George, and the Count of La Vieuville, as well as their wives. On Mirabeau’s play, see Vardi 2012: 94–95.
Mirabeau listed his poems published in the Mercure de France to his friend Sacconay in his letter of August 14, 1745 (Mirabeau 1731–87).
Letter to Sacconay, December 24, 1743 (Mirabeau 1731–87). Later on, Mirabeau provided more specific references to his correspondent; see letters to Sacconay, June 22, 1744, October 30, 1744, and March 28, 1746. We have also found a very interesting list made by Mirabeau after 1742, probably in 1743 or 1744, of “books to buy and manuscripts to read” (livres à acheter et manuscrits à voir) with dozens of titles listed in French and in Italian (a language that Mirabeau mastered), which comprehends a large number of historical and political writings alongside literary works, dictionaries, and even maps. See Archives Nationales, M 858, no. 11.
The friendly relationship between Mirabeau and Nivernais is attested to by their substantial correspondence (1749–52) during Nivernais’s stint as ambassador in Rome, now in the Archives Nationales (Fonds des Archives Privées, box 119 AP, folder 1). The letters leave no doubt that their relationship was one of patronage. The two men remained friends in the following decades, as illustrated by the letters they exchanged during the period and in the references to Nivernais in Mirabeau’s correspondence with Madame de Rochefort and his brother preserved at the Arbaud Museum in Aix-en-Provence. See also Loménie 1879–91, vol. 2, esp. pp. 222–43. Conversely, in a passage of his Political Testament written in 1747, Mirabeau passed a very negative judgment on the Noailles family, whom he characterized as hypocritical courtesans. The dedication makes clear that Mirabeau was addressing someone he knew quite well: “You know an industrious man [Mirabeau himself], whose heart belongs to you, whose mind is submitted to you” (Higgs 1891: 265). On the Noailles family, see Mirabeau Family Papers, 39:66.
The text is variously dated as follows: “circa 1750” (Higgs), 1751–52 (Tsuda), “from the first half of the 1750s” (van den Berg).
On the Crouzet paper mill, see https://web.archive.org/web/20191117183908/http://www.bletteryjp.fr/papetiers/papeteries/Montpellier/Saint-Didier-Velay-Crouzet.html (accessed February 16, 2023). In May 1748, he bought a paper mill in Rochetaillée from his cousin’s widow, near Saint-Etienne—thirty kilometers from his former mill; see https://web.archive.org/web/20180321020817/http://www.bletteryjp.fr/papetiers/papeteries/Lyon/Rochetaillee-Furan.html (accessed February 16, 2023).
Mirabeau devotes the first two very brief chapters (Mirabeau 1748a: 3–7) to an overview of the topics covered in the first eleven chapters of book 1—which are rather theoretical in nature—before returning to Cantillon’s plan. This manuscript is, in essence, a summary of Cantillon, with many incidental comments of limited size and scope. Similarly, Mirabeau does not rehearse the first two theoretical chapters of book 2 (“On Barter” and “Market Prices”) and, after a very short introduction, moves directly to chapter 3, “On the Circulation of Money,” which becomes “Circulation” in Mirabeau’s manuscript (Mirabeau 1748a: 25).
Cantillon’s exact title was “All Orders and Men in a State Subsist or Are Enriched at the Expenses of Proprietors of Land.” It should be underlined that Mirabeau’s substitution of “and” for Cantillon’s “or” helps to somewhat strengthen the notion of the ascendancy of landowners (Cantillon 1997: 25).
For example, he introduces the third part as follows: “What remains for me to discuss in this final part depends almost entirely on the greater or lesser accuracy of the knowledge that one has acquired regarding the currency exchange and the numerary value of money. I have spared nothing of that which has been within my reach for educating myself with the ablest persons in the field, and for obtaining from them memorandums either on the present or on the past.” Later, he writes, “I am almost nothing but a copyist here of the reports and information that I have extracted from big bankers by pestering them. However boring the detailed account of this part of trade may be, it cannot require greater effort than my own effort to properly conceive my exposition of the topic here. I always follow my method of returning to the root of the subject. It’s too late to go back on that” (Mirabeau 1748a: 60, 68).
For Nivernais’s connection with Saint-George, see letter from Mirabeau to Nivernais, April 28, 1749, in which he lamented that since Nivernais’s departure, Paris seems less interesting save for the “St-George, the house of Duras . . . la Vieuville”; all were common friends to both men.
This text is the Sistème politique sur l’intérêt de la France, preserved in the Mirabeau Papers (Mirabeau 1748b). Slightly more than fifteen thousand words in length, it comprises twenty-seven sections: a general introduction and two parts of thirteen chapters each. The manuscript begins with an unnumbered chapter titled “Outline of the Work,” followed by book 1, “On the Current Domestic Interests of France,” and book 2, “On the Current External Interests of France.” Mirabeau slightly reorganized his text, which originally comprised three books, of which the first had only three chapters. This change affected the numbering of the chapters of the first book. Mirabeau also added a new chapter, the ninth of the first part: “On Industry.”
We are able to date this text with precision because, in it, Mirabeau writes that the niece of Frederick II has just married the Duke of Württemberg, an event that occurred in Bayreuth on September 26, 1748 (Mirabeau 1748b: 60). Also, the text of book 2 shows that the peace treaty had not yet been ratified at the time of writing. The final accord was formalized on October 18, 1748, and the last nation to ratify it, Savoy, did so on November 20, 1748 (Anderson 1995).
Chapters 7, “Protection,” and 11, “Police,” and the start of chapter 10, “Finances,” of book 1, as well as chapter 1 of book 2 of the Sistème, were reproduced in L’Ami des hommes, slightly rewritten with some additions: see Mirabeau 1756: pt. 1, pp. 83–84, 115, 155–56; pt. 3, pp. 153–55.
His unsuccessful attempts are documented in his correspondence with Nivernais during these few months. See especially the letter of August 22, 1749 (Archives Nationales, Fonds des Archives Privées, box AP119, folder 1).
Somewhat surprisingly—given his deep attachment to Montesquieu’s work—Mirabeau commented on De l’Esprit des lois in rather critical terms. See his letter to Sacconay of December 2, 1749 (Mirabeau 1731–87) and his letter to Nivernais of October 9, 1749 (Archives Nationales, Fonds des Archives Privées, box AP119, folder 1).
On this topic, see the report by Mirabeau on Saint-Cézaire’s lobbying mission for Provence, AN M783, no. 12. A fuller copy sent to his brother, the Chevalier de Mirabeau, survives in the two brothers’ correspondence in the Mirabeau Family Papers, 23:152–96.
It is mentioned in Grimm’s Correspondance littéraire, June 22, 1750. The brochure went through two editions.
This work has often been attributed to the Abbé Constantin, who had in fact printed it. Constantin had also written a pamphlet against the vingtième in 1750 and was imprisoned in the Bastille on August 23 of that year. At his home, the police seized fifteen hundred copies of his pamphlet and a few copies of Mirabeau’s pamphlet (Ravaisson 1884: 103–4; see also letter of Mirabeau to Madame de Rochefort, June 7, 1757, in Mirabeau Family Papers, 34:199). Mirabeau made no mention of his pamphlet to either Sacconay or Nivernais: “You alone [Saint-Cézaire] know that I am the author of the memoir on the usefulness of the provincial estates that circulated last year” (Mirabeau 1751: 1).
The title under which it was published in 1755 was Mémoire sur les états provinciaux. It should be noted that the autograph manuscript is untitled and differs little from the printed text apart from the deletion of the summary of the first version, which Mirabeau had inserted at the end of the introduction. In his dedication in the form of a letter to Saint-Cézaire at the beginning of the new version, Mirabeau underscores the key role of the dedicatee, who prompted him to “revise this small work, and give it broader scope.” He also clearly states the new version’s very different purpose and emphasizes the major contribution from the deputy from the Estates of Provence in providing background material. This input is especially visible in the passages where Mirabeau (1751: 1–3) gives details on the provincial finances supplied by Saint-Cézaire.
On Mirabeau’s business dealings, see his Political Testament, in Mirabeau Family Papers, 39:232–380 (years 1751 to 1753). On the duchy, see Jones 2003: 231–33. On Mirabeau’s maneuvers to further his brother’s career, see Charles and Cheney 2013.
“Since I have given up any sort of ambition, I have been all the more eager to prepare a fixed plan of ideas, of order, and discussions on the subjects that lie within the purview of any citizen, and all the more so of a distinguished citizen.” Letter of Mirabeau to the chevalier, April 7, 1755 (Mirabeau Family Papers, 23:403).
For instance, he points out that “a single citizen, by assigning a fantasy value to baubles, takes food away from a hundred citizens.” Mémoire sur le commerce (Mirabeau Family Papers, 23:131–32). For comparison, see Cantillon 1997: 125–28. It seems likely that the chevalier too read Cantillon’s text before publication.
For Melon (1736: 1–2): “We assume only three islands on the Earth, with equal surface areas and the same number of inhabitants,” of which “one [produces] wheat, the other wool, and the third beverages. . . . The needs and exchanges are identical; consequently, the balance of trade will be equal.” For the chevalier: “Let us suppose for a moment two nations, one of which possessed all the gold and the other all the commodities. The one with the commodities would give one-half to the other, which would give one-half of the metals in payment; if they were equally industrious, they would remain in this state of equilibrium.” See Mémoire sur le commerce (Mirabeau Family Papers, 23:134). See also Melon 1736: 123 and Mémoire sur le commerce (Mirabeau Family Papers, 23:136), where Melon’s “sumptuous man” becomes “the man of luxury” for the chevalier.
This very long manuscript (over five hundred pages) is actually a sort of draft notebook that preserves the traces of the gradual transformation of Mirabeau’s project between the fall of 1754 and late 1756. Tsuda (1979) compiled a table of the chapters in order to give a precise description of the notebook’s contents, without fully succeeding in doing so.
Mirabeau made slight changes in the title as he advanced in his draft. At the start of part 2, he called it Essay sur la population (Essay on Population), which became Traité sur la population (Treatise on Population) in the opening pages of part 3. He finally chose Traité de la population as a subtitle for L’Ami des hommes.
“Polybius had been printed many times when the chevalier Folard used it as the main text for his treatises on the various aspects of war” (Mirabeau 1754–56, 3: fol. 14r. ). The reference Mirabeau had in mind is Folard 1727–30, which combined a new translation of Polybius in six volumes with copious additions by Folard, mostly in the form of “observations” placed at the end of each chapter of Polybius. Indeed, Mirabeau had written notes and comments on some of Folard’s work when he was still in the military, in 1739 and 1740. See Quesnay 2005, 2:1265–66.
Letter from Mirabeau to the chevalier, December 9, 1754 (Family Mirabeau Papers, 23:284).
Chapter 16 of part 1 of Cantillon’s text is titled “The More Labor There Is in a State, the More Naturally Rich the State Is Supposed” (1997, 48). For the passage in Mirabeau’s manuscript, see Mirabeau 1754–56, 1:90–91; 1755: fol. 73v.
Letter from Mirabeau to the chevalier, April 7, 1755 (Mirabeau Family Papers, 23:404).
This passage was later incorporated into chapter 1 of part 2 of L’Ami des hommes, “On Trade” (Mirabeau 1756: pt. 2, pp. 8–11).
“As I was working on the second part of this commentary of sorts, I suddenly learned that the text had been printed. The journal in which I saw it reported named its true author. Its only mistake was to state that the treatise had been translated from French to English” (Mirabeau 1754–56, 3: fol. 14r. ). In addition to the two periodicals cited by van den Berg (2015: 4), we have identified two others that mention the publication of Cantillon’s Essai: L’année littéraire, Journal des sçavans, Mercure de France, and Journal œconomique. Mirabeau’s description led us to believe that he was very probably referring to the review from Mercure de France published in its October issue (Mercure 1755: 112).
“As Cantillon’s work appears at a time when books on trade abound, this essay, by its nature, and being less well written than many others, has not had all the success it deserves. It will be published again in a more interesting guise because my work is national and his is cosmopolitan, and even if it should be read again merely to criticize me, the public will always have something to gain from rereading it. Finally, I have made up my mind and I am continuing” (Mirabeau 1754–56, 3: fol. 14r. ).
“I confess that this put me in a deep quandary. I had three options: either abandon this outline, which I might not greatly regret; or resume my work, giving the first part a more rounded shape and merging Cantillon’s principles into the main text; . . . or, lastly, continue as I had started. Of the three choices, the first did not keep me hesitant for long. Regarding the second alternative, I would, no doubt, have done better to stick to it, but nature can’t be tamed: (1) I have an invincible loathing for all forms of plagiarism; I’m well aware that my ideas aren’t mine, and that they’ve all come to me from others, but it’s another thing to steal them; (2) I doubt it would have been possible to detach Cantillon’s ideas and blend them into my work, for, as I have said, they all arise from one another; I absolutely need them to back up several of my principles, which, without them, would look like paradoxes. As a result, I would have had to blend his entire work [into mine]. But the wisdom of his calculations contrasts with the wildness of my divergences, especially in the first part. . . . I therefore resolved to continue as I had started” (Mirabeau 1754–56, 3: fol. 14r./v. [27–28]). This last sentence is evidence of Mirabeau’s dilemma, for he states that he wants to continue his commentaries, but does not do so. Significantly, he writes the words “considérations sur le chapitre 1” before striking out “considérations sur le” (Mirabeau 1754–56, 3: fol. 15r. ).
Thus, Mirabeau merged the seventeen considérations on the chapters in the first part of the Essai sur la nature du commerce en général into eight chapters. Likewise, he merged the ten on the chapters in Cantillon’s second part into eight chapters. During this process, Mirabeau reorganized the internal plan of his considérations, moving a paragraph or several paragraphs back and forth in his text.
See van den Berg 2015: 8 for a photographic reproduction of the first page of book 1, chapter 1, which matches our description. The template of this manuscript shows that the two parts were copied at the same time: the space dedicated to Cantillon’s text in the upper part of each page fluctuates according to the length of the commentary of Mirabeau copied underneath the former.
“By the way, I’ve read almost all of the work in question, I’ve written some critical notes, and a few notes to add if you see fit. . . . Moreover, nothing of what I have read (and despite your saying that I never read, no offense to you, I’ve read a lot of everything . . .) has seemed so luminous to me. It even surpasses L’Esprit des lois and any other such book. Either you have stolen my principles, or you have found the same as mine . . . , such as, for example, on general liberty. You will recall that nearly ten [years] ago, even at Le Bignon, it was my principle in regard to trade, which I set down on paper in a text I wrote at that time.” Letter from the chevalier to Mirabeau, October 10, 1756 (Mirabeau Family Papers, 24:219–20).
“I have made notes and criticisms on your work; you will have it all on three sheets that you will burn if you see fit. I have not touched the principle whereby you attribute all manner of ills to greed; I think they should be attributed to the way in which greed is directed, for I find it absolutely necessary for sociability. You will see my opinion on this, which I have written in the form of a letter.” Letter from the chevalier to Mirabeau, October 28, 1756 (Mirabeau Family Papers, 24:243). Unfortunately, we have been unable to locate the three sheets (i.e., twelve pages) of notes or the chevalier’s letter to his brother. The chevalier seems to have been the only member of Mirabeau’s circle to whom he gave his text to read.
Although we have not lost all hope of finding all or part of this copy in the maze of series M and K at the Archives Nationales, we have not been able to find it yet.
It is, however, unclear to what extent these ideas circulated. Therefore, Schumpeter and other commentators’ argument that Cantillon’s work and ideas circulated widely before 1755 should be treated with much caution (van den Berg 2015: 13–14).
The nearly systematic destruction of manuscripts used by printers is a well-established fact (Sacquin 2012). Moreover, the copies used by printers bear the marks of typesetters, which is not the case with the manuscript rediscovered by Tsuda in Rouen and first published in 1979.