Written around , and published in French in This book was considered by William Stanley Jevons to be the "cradle of political economy ". This work remains Cantillon's only surviving contribution to economics. It was written around and circulated widely in manuscript form, but was not published until His work was translated into Spanish by Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos, probably in the late s, and considered essential reading for political economy. Despite having much influence on the early development of the physiocrat and classical schools of thought, this work was largely forgotten until its rediscovery by Jevons in the late 19th century.
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Intrigue, murder, posthumous plagiarism, citations by Adam Smith, rediscovery by William Stanley Jevons a century later, and a stunning work on entrepreneurial risk, money, foreign exchange, and banking from the s—what more could one ask for from an 18th century economist? Richard Cantillon offers fascination for historians and economists as much in death as he did in life. Probably first written between and , the first surviving copies are in French, from Whether it was first drafted or circulated in English or in French is unclear; also unclear is what Smith may have seen of it. Other contemporary economists were also familiar with the work, even to the point of plagiarizing from the unpublished version. Despite the multiple plagiarizations and the disappearance of early originals, there is general agreement now that Richard Cantillon did indeed write the work; and it did indeed influence Smith and many other contemporaneous economists—the very same the French and English economists whose work became the basis of modern economic thought.
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His success was largely derived from the political and business connections he made through his family and through an early employer, James Brydges. During the late s and early s, Cantillon speculated in, and later helped fund, John Law 's Mississippi Company , from which he acquired great wealth. However, his success came at a cost to his debtors, who pursued him with lawsuits, criminal charges, and even murder plots until his death in Essai remains Cantillon's only surviving contribution to economics.