François Quesnay

1694 (Merey, France) – 1774 (Versailles)

Quesnay was among the first to apply analytic principles to economic thought, and was an important precursor to the subsequent generation of classical economists. His role as surgeon to the king’s mistress (in a generally despotic court) gave him a privileged position, his rooms a sanctuary for the circle of free-thinkers he gathered around him. These included Diderot and d’Alembert (a real friend — Quesnay was also a very competent mathematician), Buffon, Helvétius, Marmontel and Quesnay’s student Turgot. Hume visited him, as did Smith, who got to know him well (and credited him in ‘The Wealth of Nations’).

David Ricardo

1772 (London) – 1823 (Gatcombe, England)

Ricardo’s influence on the science of economics derives from barely a dozen years’ work. Ricardo was the most notable of the circle around Bentham, supporters of his utilitarian ideas. Wealthy from his stock-dealing, he was persuaded to publish his most important work by James Mill, a particularly close friend (John Stuart Mill, his precocious son, went for walks with their frequent visitor, and commented on Ricardo’s lack of abrasive pushiness, drawing a contrast with his father). Malthus, a friend and close associate of Ricardo, provided the stimulation of his oppositional views. De Quincey was a disciple, but it seems they never met.

Anne Robert Jacques Turgot

Jacques Turgot;Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot

1727 (Paris) – 1781 (Paris)

He was one of the most noted contributors to Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie, writing on etymology, physics and philosophy as well as economics. Condorcet was a protégé and long-term friend, while Voltaire became one of his main supporters, praising his translations from Virgil. Smith knew him from d’Holbach’s, became a close friend, and almost certainly owed some of his own ideas to conversations with him. Michel Turgot was his father, who as ‘mayor’ was responsible for a series of classic maps of Paris.

Adam Smith

1723 (Kircaldy, Scotland) – 1790 (Edinburgh)

Hutcheson taught him, while Hume knew him from Smith’s professorship in Glasgow (they became best friends). Adam, Black, Stewart and Hutton were members of Smith’s weekly ‘Oyster Club’ in Edinburgh. Helvétius and d’Alembert were met at d’Holbach’s intellectual/libertarian salon in Paris, as was Turgot (who may have given Smith some of his economic ideas there). Johnson and he repelled each other, Bentham and Rochefoucauld corresponded with him, while Quesnay was credited in his ‘Wealth of Nations’. He met Voltaire when he spent 2 months in Switzerland, and visited Smollett when Smollett visited Edinburgh.