The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Twiss, Travers (1809–1897)

  • Murray Milgate
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/978-1-349-95189-5_120

Abstract

In economics, Twiss’s reputation rests primarily upon two contributions: one on the machinery question and the other a View of the Progress of Political Economy in Europe since the Sixteenth Century (1847) of some 300 pages. Both of these works originated in lectures during his tenure as Drummond Professor of Political Economy at Oxford (1942–7). The latter numbers with McCulloch’s much shorter Historical Sketch of the Rise and Progress of the Science of Political Economy (1926) as being among the first significant histories of the discipline published in English. The only works of comparable significance in the area which predate it appeared in French: Blanqui’s Historie de l’économie politique en Europe (1837–8) and Jean Paul Alban de Villeneuve-Bargemon’s Historie de l’économie politique (1836–8 and 1841). Twiss acknowledges his debt to the abovementioned authors, but has been criticized (for example, by Cossa) for a tendency to rely too heavily upon second-hand sources in the construction of his argument.

Keywords

Twiss, Travers Political economy 

In economics, Twiss’s reputation rests primarily upon two contributions: one on the machinery question and the other a View of the Progress of Political Economy in Europe since the Sixteenth Century (1847) of some 300 pages. Both of these works originated in lectures during his tenure as Drummond Professor of Political Economy at Oxford (1942–7). The latter numbers with McCulloch’s much shorter Historical Sketch of the Rise and Progress of the Science of Political Economy (1926) as being among the first significant histories of the discipline published in English. The only works of comparable significance in the area which predate it appeared in French: Blanqui’s Historie de l’économie politique en Europe (1837–8) and Jean Paul Alban de Villeneuve-Bargemon’s Historie de l’économie politique (1836–8 and 1841). Twiss acknowledges his debt to the abovementioned authors, but has been criticized (for example, by Cossa) for a tendency to rely too heavily upon second-hand sources in the construction of his argument.

The published versions of his lectures at Oxford are all that Twiss left to the literature of economics.

Twiss was born in London on 19 March 1809 and died there on 14 January 1897, and was educated at University College, Oxford, taking his BA (in mathematics and classics) in 1830. From 1830 until 1863 he was a fellow of that college. In 1835 he commenced the study of law in Lincoln’s Inn and was admitted to the Bar in 1840. Following his term as Drummond Professor (in which he succeeded Merivale), he turned more and more to the study of international law, and in 1852 he was elected to the chair in that field at King’s College, London. In 1855 he moved to Oxford as Regius Professor of Civil Law, where he remained until 1870. In 1867 he became the Queen’s advocate-general, and was knighted in 1868.

At this point occurred ‘the catastrophe which put an end to his official career’, as the original edition of this Dictionary put it. It seems that in 1872, Twiss instituted an action for malicious libel with intent to extort against a solicitor who had put about statements impugning the moral propriety of Twiss’s wife. As the case proceeded, Lady Twiss was called to testify. However, an arduous cross-examination proved to be too much for her, and she departed London before its conclusion, thus causing Twiss’s case to collapse and precipitating his resignation from all offices. Of course, it is not surprising (given the climate of the times) that Lady Twiss’s breakdown should have been interpreted as telling evidence against her – but from what we now know of these extraordinary Victorian public rituals over sexual behaviour and preference, and of the pressures placed on the principal actors in such notorious trials, a rather different verdict might just as plausibly be drawn from the episode. From the point of view of individual and social psychology, however, even more interesting is the question of just why these kinds of cases were voluntarily brought before the courts in the first place.

Selected Works

  • 1845. On certain tests of a thriving population. London.

  • 1847. View of the progress of political economy in Europe since the sixteenth century. London: Longmans, Brown, Green and Longmans.

  • 1861. Law of nations considered as independent political communities. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Murray Milgate
    • 1
  1. 1.