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Undersøgelse om National-Velstands Natur og Aarsag. Af det Engelske oversat og med nogle Anmærkninger oplyst af Dræbye. 2 Deele. [Anden Deel:] Hertil er føiet Gourvenør Pownals Brev til Forfatteren i hvilket nogle af de i dette Værk fremsatte Læresætninger prøves.


Kiøbenhavn [Copenhagen], 1779-80. 8vo. Two very nice contemporary brown half calf bindings with raised bands, gilt ornamentations and gilt leather title- and tome-labels. Volume two with a bit of wear to upper capital. Corners slightly bumped. Pencil annotations to verso of title-page in volume one; title-page in volume two mounted to cover up a small hole caused by the removal of an old owner's name. Internally very clean and bright. All in all a very nice, clean, fresh, and tight copy. Engraved (by Weise, 1784) armorial book plate to inside of front boards (Gregorius Christianus Comes ab Haxthausen). (12), 575; (8), 775, (3, - errata) pp. ¶ The extremely scarce first Danish edition of Adam Smith's seminal main work, "the first and greatest classic of modern economic thought" (PMM 221), the main foundational work of the era of liberal free trade. This publication constitutes the first Danish work worth mentioning in the history of economic thought - in spite of the great interest in political economy that dominated Danish political thought in the last quarter of the 18th century. The value of Smith's work was not immediately recognized in Denmark at the time of its appearance and a quarter of a century had to go by for its importance to be acknowledged and for Danish political economy to adapt the revolutionizing theories of Adam Smith. Few copies of the translation were published and sold, and the book is now a great scarcity.

As opposed to for instance the German translation of the work, Smith concerned himself a great deal with this Danish translation. As is evident from preserved correspondence about it, he reacted passionately to it and was deeply concerned with the reaction to his work in Scandinavia (see "Correspondence of Adam Smith", Oxford University Press, 1977).
- As an example, Smith writes in a letter to Andreas Holt on Oct. 26th, 1780: "It gives me the greatest pleasure to hear that Mr. Dreby has done me the distinguished honour of translating my Book into the Danish language. I beg you will present to him my most sincere thanks and most respectful Compliments. I am much concerned that I cannot have the pleasure of reading it in his translation, as I am so unfortunate as not to understand the Danish language."

The translation was made by Frants Dræby (1740-1814), the son a whiskey distiller in Copenhagen, who mastered as a theologian and was then hired by the great Norwegian merchant James Collett as tutor to his son. There can be no doubt that Dræbye's relation to the Collett house had a great impact upon his interest in economics. In the middle of the 1770'ies, Dræbye accompanied Collett's son on travels throughout Europe, which took them to England in the year 1776, the same year that the "Wealth of Nations" was published for the first time. Through the Colletts, Dræbye was introduced to the mercantile environment in England and here became thoroughly acquainted with English economics and politics at the time. It is presumably here that he gets acquainted with Adam Smith's freshly published revolutionary work.

When Dræbye returned to Denmark at the end of 1776, he was appointed chief of the Norwegian secretariat of the Board of Economics and Trade. He began the translation of the "Wealth of Nations" that he brought back with him from England immediately after his return.

"WN [i.e. Wealth of Nations] was translated into Danish by Frants Dræbye and published in 1779 (three years after the first English edition). The translation was initiated by Andreas Holt and Peter Anker, who were acquainted with Smith. Dræbye was a Dane who lived mainly in Norway, reflecting the fact that Norway was much more British-oriented than Denmark proper (Denmark and Norway were united until 1814, when Sweden took Norway away from the Danes; in 1905 Norway became an independent state). Norwegian merchants lived from exporting timber to Britain and tended on the whole to be adherents of a liberal economic policy, whereas the absolutist government in Copenhagen was more German-oriented and had economic views similar to those in contemporary Prussia." (Cheng-chung Lai (edt.): "Adam Smith Across Nations", p. (37)).

The last quarter of the eighteenth century in Denmark was dominated by a lively discussion of monetary policy and the institutional framework best suited to realize that policy. There was a vital interest in questions of economic concern, and contemporary Danish sources refer to the period as "this economic age" and state things such as "never was the world more economically minded" (both from "Denmark and Norway's Economic Magazine"). During this period, Smith's revolutionary ideas did not play a major role, however, and only at the beginning of the 19th century did Danish politicians and economists come to realize the meaning of Smith's views.

"Without exaggeration it can essentially be said that a quarter of a century was to pass from the time of the publication of the book in Denmark before Danish political economy fully made Adam Smith's theories and points of view its own. It took so long a time because the economic conditions as a whole in the years from 1780-1800 did not make desirable or necessary the changing of their concepts. That glorious commercial period had to pass before it was understood that we had altogether too little help in our own natural resources and that a different course was, therefore, necessary. Only when one had come so far could the new thinking find a nourishing soil so that it could develop strength with which to push aside the old ideas."(Hans Degen: "On the Danish Translation of Adam Smith and Contemporary Opinion Concerning It." Translated by Henrietta M. Larson. In: Adam Smith Across Nations, p. 51).

This first Danish translation is one of the very earliest translations of "Wealth of Nations"; it is only preceded by the German (1776-78) and the extremely scarce French (1778-79). As a comparison, the Italian translation does not appear until 1790-91, the Spanish 1792, the Swedish 1800-1804, the Russian 1802, etc.

Adam Smith Across Nations: A4 - nr. 1. "All five books were translated; appears to be a complete translation. The long letter from Governor Pownall to Adam Smith (25 Sept. 1776) is added as the Appendix (vol. 2, pp. 683 ff.)."

(PMM 221 - first edition)

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