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The Times/1940/Obituary/Henry Higgs

< The Times‎ | 1940
Henry Higgs
Economist and Civil Servant

Mr. Henry Higgs, C.B., formerly Principal Clerk in H.M. Treasury, who died on May 21, was an example of a type of Civil servants who, winning commendation for discharge of duties, have also gained repute for contribution to learning outside.

Born in 1864, he became, as a scholar, at University College, London, of which he was afterwards a Fellow, a favourite pupil of Professor Foxwell, whose thought he interpreted in 1905, in the somewhat belated editorship of Jevon's fragment on the "Principles of Economics," and later, by arduous labour on a "Bibliography of Economics" from 1751, the first instalment of which was based on the collections made by Foxwell as the chief business of his life. The same editorial skill was applied, in partnership with Mr. Yule in 1913, in rendering available material left by Giffen for a popular hand-book on "Statistics," as the exhaustive erudition bestowed on the Bibliography was similarly put to good purpose in 1923-26 in a new edition of Palgrave's "Dictionary of Political Economy."

Having entered the Secretary's office in the Post Office by competition for Class I in 1884, Mr. Higgs was transferred to the Treasury in 1899, and retired in 1921 as a principal clerk. In 1902-3 he was a Special Commission to Natal, and in 1912-15 Inspector-General of Finance in Egypt. The value set upon his sage counsel and effective help was demonstrated by his appointment as private secretary successively to various permanent and Parliamentary chiefs. A prevalent rumour among his friends declared then that Mr. Higg's tact and discretion were engaged in the delicate adjustment of ecclesiastical patronage.[1] With his official duties, until they became imperatively absorbing, he was able to combine active promotion of economic study. For 14 years from 1892 to 1906 he was secretary of the Economic Society and Joint Editor of the Journal. It was a happy match to link his cool prudence and fair but clear decisive judgment of men and thins with the charming Irish insouciance of his co-editor, Edgeworth. The society and its Journal gained in steadiness and strength. After retirement from the Civil Service Mr. Higgs successfully undertook for three years (1926 to 1929) a Lectureship in Economics at Bangor.

His writings include a useful popular "Primer of National Finance" (1919), an authoritative summary of the procedure of the "Financial System of the United Kingdom" (1914), the Newmarch lectures on "National Economy: An Outline of Public Administration" (1917), and lectures to the Institute of Bankers on "Financial Reform" (1924). These works were lucid, admirably arranged, and thoroughly informed. Another branch of his writing consisted of six lectures on the French "economists" of the eighteenth century, "The Physiocrats" (1897), and of the editing, with an English translation, of Richard Cantillin's "Essai sur la Nature du Commerce en Général" (1931). Exceedingly jealous for the repute and influence of the "économiestes" par excellence. Mr Higgs was inclined, if anything, over-emphasize the debt of Adam Smith to French thought and action. His work on Cantillon, not so improbably, may be regarded in the future as his prime contribution to the cause of Economic theory.

In 1908 he married Winifred, daughter of the late Mr. T. J. Smith. She died in 1939.


  1. This issue is beyond rumour as it was addressed in the obituary of the prime minister, "Death Of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman". The Times Thursday, Apr 23, 1908; Issue 38628; pg. 4; col A (Wikisource contributor note)

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