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The mysteries of the first French translation (1778-1779) of the Wealth of Nations

Sabbagh Gabriel, University of Paris Diderot (retired professor of Logic)
Carpenter Kenneth E., Harvard University, retired

The first published translation, from now on RN, of Smith's Wealth of Nations, from now on WN, is or was one of the two most mysterious translations of major economical eighteenth century texts (the other mystery was about the English translator of Turgot's Reflections, now identified as Benjamin Vaughan, cf. de Vivo & Sabbagh, HOPE, 47(2015), 185-199). We answer three basic questions about RN, cf. Carpenter's book, The Dissemination of the Wealth of Nations in French ... 2002: where was it printed? Who translated it? Why is it so scarce? We were surprised to discover that RN was printed in Deux Ponts, nowadays Zweibrücken in Germany (Schöndorf had ignored the book in his 1995 Deux Ponts bibliography). Our research led us to unearth an interesting, partly economical, book published in Deux Ponts to avoid French censorship (the book suggested in 1777 to reprint Turgot's Réflexions, after the minister's demise); it is written by the author, who as a CENSOR, allowed another French translation of WN to circulate in France in 1788, Toustain de Richebourg. We also discovered evidence that RN was prohibited and seized in France (possibly an unintended consequence of a Turgot decision, cf. Sabbagh, Contributions to Political Economy, 2012, 31, 121-128). This may explain the rarity of RN. Identifying the printing place has led us to attribute the translation to Jean-Louis Carra, known for his role in the French revolution (about him see Lemny's thesis, published in 2000). We have substantial evidence for the attribution, found in a Deux Ponts periodical and in the correspondence of a protector of Carra. Again we get unexpected dividends: the first account in French of WN, the first edition of Carra's extraordinary Système de la raison, 1773 (we located its extant copies, all at the Arsenal library; this edition was previously unseen by Lemny and is now accurately described) and the identification of its publisher, Delorme, a Frenchman in Britain who had fled France.


Keywords: Adam Smith, translation, Deux Ponts, censorship

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