Item of the Day: A Philosophical and Political History of the Settlements and Trade of the Europeans in the East and West Indies (1777)

Full Title: A Philosophical and Political History of the Settlements and Trade of the Europeans in the East and West Indies. Translated from the French of Abbe Raynal, by J. Justamond. Third Edition, Revised and Corrected. With Maps Adapted to the Work, and Copious Index. Vol. I. London: Printed for T. Cadell, MDCCLXXVII.



NO event has been so interesting to mankind in general, and to the inhabitants of Europe in particular, as the discovery of the New World, and the passage to India by the Cape of Good Hope. It gave rise to a revolution in the commerce, and in the power of nations; and in the manners, industry, and government of the whole world. At this period, new connexions were formed by the inhabitants of the most distant regions, for the supply of wants they had never before experienced. The productions of climates situated under the equator, were consumed in countries bordering on the pole; the industry of the north was transplanted to the south; and the inhabitants of the West were clothed with manufactures of the East; a general intercourse of opinions, laws and customs, diseases and remedies, virtues and vices, was established among men.

Every thing has changed, and must change again. But it is a question, whether the revolutions that are past, or those which must hereafter take place, have been, or can be of any utility to the human race: will they ever add to the tranquillity, the happiness, and the pleasures of mankind? Can they improve our present state, or do they only change it?


The Europeans have founded colonies in all parts, but are they acquainted with the principles on which they ought to be formed? They have established a commerce of exchange, of the productions of the earth and of manufactures. This commerce is transferred from one people to another. Can we not discover by what means, and in what situations this has been effected? Since America and the passage by the Cape has been known, some nations that were of no consequence are become powerful: others, that were the terror of Europe, have lost their authority. How has the condition of these several people been affected by these discoveries? How comes it to pass that those to whom Nature has been most liberal, are not always the richest and most flourishing? To throw some light on these important questions, we must take a view of the state of Europe before these discoveries were made; we must trace circumstantially the events they have given rise to; and conclude with examining it, as it presents itself at this day.

The commercial states have civilized all others. The Phoenicians, whose extent of country and influence were extremely limited, acquired by their genius for naval enterprises, an importance which ranked them foremost in the history of ancient nations.

They are mentioned by writers of every class. They were known to the most distant climes, and their fame has been transmitted to succeeding ages.

Situated on a barren coast, separated from the continent by the Mediterranean on the one side, and the mountains of Libanus on the other; they seem to have been destined by Nature for the dominion of the sea. Fishing taught them the art of navigation, and furnished them with the purple dye which they extracted from the murex: at the same time the sea-sand led them to discover the secret of making glass. Happy in possessing so few natural advantages, since the want of these awakened that spirit of invention and industry, which is the parent of arts and opulence!

It must be confessed, that the situation of the Phoenicians was admirably adapted to extend their commerce to every part of the world. By inhabiting, as it were, the confines of Africa, Asia, and Europe, if they could not unite the inhabitants of the globe in one common interest, they at least had it in their power, by a commercial intercourse, to communicate to every nation the enjoyments of all climates. But the antients whom we have so often excelled, though we have derived much useful knowledge from them, had not means sufficient to enable them to establish an universal commerce. The Phoenicians had no shipping except gallies; they only carried on a coasting trade, and their sailing was confined to the Mediterranean. Though this state was the model upon which other maritime powers were formed, it is not so easy to determine what they have, as what they might have performed. We may form a conjecture of their population by their colonies. It is said that their numbers extended along the coasts of the Mediterranean, particularly the shores of Africa. . . .



1 Comment

Filed under 1770's, Commerce, Explorations, History, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Trade

One response to “Item of the Day: A Philosophical and Political History of the Settlements and Trade of the Europeans in the East and West Indies (1777)

  1. Luke

    I would like to read Raynal’s History. However, I’m having a difficult time finding a translated version under $500. The translations available for free online are written in an antiquated style that, for instance, uses “f” for “s”. Are there any recent translations that I could buy or borrow?

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