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Full text of "Adam Smith"

LIBRARY 

UNIVERSITY OP 
CALIFORNIA 

S AN DIEGO 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2007 with funding from 

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http://www.archive.org/details/adamsmithOOhirsiala 



ENGLISH 6MEN OF LETTERS 
<ADAM SMITH 



ENGLISH JMEN OF LETTERS 



ADAM SMITH 



BY 



FRANCIS W. HIRST 



LONDON: MACMILLAN & CO., LIMITED 
NINETEEN HUNDRED AND FOUR 



Copyright in the United States of America, 1904 



PREFATORY NOTE 

Early in 1793 Dugald Stewart read at two meetings 
of the Royal Society of Edinburgh his "Account 
of the Life and Writings of Adam Smith." Written 
with the sympathetic pen of a friend and disciple in the 
Corinthian style that Stewart loved, the memoir was 
too good to be superseded. A century passed, and 
in 1895 appeared Mr. John Rae's exhaustive Life of 
Adam Smith. Mr. Rae's comprehensive researches 
cropped the ground so close that little seemed to 
have been left for his successors to glean. But the 
discovery of Smith's Lectures on Justice, Police, Revenue, 
and Arms, edited by Mr. Edwin Cannan and published 
in 1896, has furnished new and important materials. 

Of Smith's innumerable critics and commentators, 
Bagehot, Oncken, Ingram, and Hasbach seem to me to 
have understood him best. The misdirected erudition 
of some others has only proved the importance of 
allowing him to be his own interpreter. 

Dr. David Murray of Glasgow has very kindly read 
portions of my proofs, and has contributed most 
generously from his wonderful store of learning. 

F. W. H. 



CONTENTS 



CHAPTER I 

PAGE 

Early Years 1 



CHAPTER II 
The Beginning of a Career 23 

CHAPTER III 
Theology and Religious Establishments ... 36 

CHAPTER IV 
"The Theory of Moral Sentiments" ... 46 

CHAPTER V 

In the Glasgow Chair— The Lectures on Justice 

and Police 68 

CHAPTER VI 
Glasgow and its University 94 

CHAPTER VII 

The Tour in France, 1764-66 118 

yii 



viii ADAM SMITH 

CHAPTER VIII 

PA.QB 

Politics and Study, 1766-76 144 

CHAPTER IX 
The "Wealth op Nations" and its Critics . . 164 

CHAPTER X 
Free Trade 188 

CHAPTER XI 
Last Years , 205 

Index 237 



3tt 



ADAM SMITH 

CHAPTER I 

EARLY YEARS 

Adam Smith was born on June 5, 1723, in the "lang 
toun " of Kirkcaldy. It was one of the " mony royal 
boroughs yoked on end to end like ropes of ingans, 
with their hie-streets and their booths, and their 
kraemes and houses of stane and lime and forestairs," 
which led Andrew Fairser vice to contrast "the king- 
dom of Fife " with the inferior county of Northumber- 
land; nay, it furnished him with a special boast, 
" Kirkcaldy, the sell o't, is langer than ony toun in 
England." It had been a royal borough from the 
time of Charles I., and had declined, like many other 
Scotch towns, in the religious wars of the seventeenth 
century. Many of its citizens who had fought for the 
Covenant had fallen on the fatal field of Tippermuir. 
But it still contained about 1500 inhabitants, who 
were variously employed as colliers, fishermen, salters, 
nailmakers, and smugglers. From the harbour you 
might walk a mile or more westward along the High 
Street, enjoying from time to time a glimpse of the 
sea and shelving beach, where the line of shops opened 
for a narrow "wynd," or a still narrower "close" 

A 



2 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

threaded the high-walled gardens of a few substantial 
houses. In one of these Adam Smith wrote the 
Wealth of Nations, and probably in one of these he 
was born. The father, who died a few weeks before 
the birth of his only child, had been a leading towns- 
man. Adam Smith the elder was a man of note in his 
own day. From 1707 to his death he was a Writer, 1 
i.e. solicitor, and Judge Advocate for Scotland. He 
had acted as private secretary to Lord Loudon, then 
Minister for Scotland; and Loudon, on leaving office 
in 1713, obtained for his secretary the Comptroller- 
ship of Customs at Kirkcaldy — a post worth about 
£100 a year. 

His widow lived to a great age, and saw her 
boy rise step by step to the fulness of fame. She 
is said to have been an over-indulgent mother; but 
her devotion was repaid by the life-long love of a most 
tender son. Mrs. Smith's maiden name was Margaret 
Douglas, and she was the daughter of the Laird of 
Strathendry, in the county of Fife. At Strathendry 
the future economist had a narrow escape; for one 
day as he played at the door he was picked up and 
carried off by a party of vagrant tinkers. Luckily he 
was soon missed, pursued and overtaken in Leslie 
Wood; and thus, in the grandiose dialect of Dugald 
Stewart, there was preserved to the world "a genius, 
which was destined, not only to extend the boundaries 
of science, but to enlighten and reform the commercial 
policy of Europe." 

The next landmark in the boy's history is a copy 
of Eutropiiis, on the fly-leaf of which is inscribed 

1 Dugald Stewart wrongly describes him as a Writer to the 
Signet, confusing him with a contemporary of the same name. 



i.] EARLY YEARS 3 

in a childish hand, "Adam Smith, his book, May 
4th, 1733." Before his tenth birthday, therefore, 
he had already made some progress in Latin. The 
Burgh School of Kirkcaldy, which he attended, was a 
good grammar school of the kind that already 
abounded in Scotland. It was patronised by the 
Oswalds of Dunnikier, the principal people of the 
neighbourhood. James Oswald, who soon made a 
mark in politics, was Smith's senior by some years, 
but they became life-long friends. Robert Adams, 
the architect who planned Edinburgh University, was 
another friend and schoolfellow; and so was John 
Drysdale, who twice held the helm of the Scotch 
Church as Moderator of its General Assembly. In 
1734 the schoolboys played a moral piece written for 
the purpose by the head master, David Millar. As a 
teacher he had a considerable reputation, but as a 
dramatist he will be judged by the title of his play, 
" A Royal Counsel for Advice ; or Regular Education 
for Boys the Foundation of all other Improvements." 
Adam Smith soon attracted notice at school " by his 
passion for books and by the extraordinary powers of 
his memory." Too weak and delicate to join in active 
games, he was yet popular with his schoolfellows ; for 
his temper, "though warm, was to an uncommon 
degree friendly and generous." In company his absent- 
mindedness was often noticed, and this habit, with a 
trick of talking to himself, clung to him to the end. 

In his fourteenth year Smith left the Grammar 
School of Kirkcaldy for the University of Glasgow, 
where he was to remain until the spring of 1740. He 
entered, probably, in October 1737, at the beginning 
of the session. As the full course extended over four 



4 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

sessions and Smith only attended three, he did not 
take his degree ; but he had the good fortune to study 
Greek under Dunlop, mathematics under Simson, the 
editor of Euclid, and morals under Hutcheson, per- 
haps the greatest philosopher of his generation, and 
certainly the most eloquent. 

Glasgow, though still but a small place, was already 
the most prosperous and progressive of Scotch towns. 
After a century of decay it had found salvation in the 
Act of Union, which gave it free trade with England and 
a share in the colonial monopoly. Readers of Rob Roy 
will remember how the inimitable Jarvie enlarged 
upon these advantages and on the facilities Glasgow pos- 
sessed " of making up sortable cargoes for the American 
market." It was very loyal, therefore, to the House 
of Hanover. In the rising of 1745, Charles Edward 
got considerable support from Edinburgh, and even 
from Manchester, but none from Glasgow, which, in- 
deed, soon afterwards obtained a parliamentary vote of 
£10,000 in recognition of its exertions and as com- 
pensation for its losses. Glasgow was the only town 
in Scotland, as a learned writer has observed, to exhibit 
the same kind of visible progress in the first half of 
the eighteenth century which the rest of the country 
developed in the second. Its shipping, sadly cramped 
by the Navigation Act, began to expand after the 
Union. In 1716 the "first honest vessel in the West 
India trade" sailed from the Clyde, and in 1735, 
two years before Smith's arrival, Glasgow owned sixty- 
seven vessels with a total burden of 5600 tons, nearly 
half of the total Scotch, though only one-eightieth of 
the total English tonnage. 

In this rising mart Smith learned to value the 



i.] EARLY YEARS 5 

English connection, and as he trod its busy streets 
and watched the merchandise of the West pouring 
into its warehouses, the boy saw that a new world 
had been called in to enrich the old. With the new 
sights and sounds came new ideas that had not yet 
penetrated the gloom of Holyrood or the rusty pride 
of the Canongate. From the lips of his master, 
Hutcheson, he heard that fruitful formula which his 
own philosophy was to interpret and develop, " the 
greatest happiness of the greatest number." His mind 
was opened at once to the wisdom of the ancients and 
to the discoveries of the moderns. He learned from 
Bacon, and Grotius, and Locke, and Newton to discern 
through the obscuring mists of mediaeval philosophy the 
splendid dawn of science. To the end of his life he 
loved to recall "the abilities and virtues of the never- 
to-be-forgotten Dr. Hutcheson." Unorthodox yet not 
irreligious, radical yet not revolutionary, receptive 
yet inspiring, erudite yet original, Hutcheson was one 
of those rare reformers whose zeal is fertilised by 
knowledge and enforced by practical devotion. In 
early manhood he had refused to seek an easy advance- 
ment by subscribing to the tenets of the Church of 
England in Ireland, and while Smith was at Glasgow 
he braved the resentment of the Presbytery by 
teaching moral principles which were supposed to con- 
travene the Westminster Confession. He was also the 
first in the University to abandon the practice of 
lecturing in Latin ; and Dugald Stewart tells us that 
his old pupils were all agreed about his extraordinary 
talent as a public speaker. His pen was so unequal 
to his tongue that Stewart applies to Hutcheson what 
Quintilian said of Hortensius : "apparet placuisse 



6 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

aliquid eo dicente quod legentes non invenimus." — 
" He gave a pleasure to his hearers which his readers 
miss." 

Hutcheson's work in Glasgow (1730-1746) was of 
the utmost importance to Scotland. "I am called 
the New Light here," he said. He stood for reform 
of the universities, for the criticism of abuses and 
privileges, for free thought, free speech, and the 
spirit of inquiry. He took a lively interest in his 
pupils, and tried to keep them abreast of the times. 
He set Adam Smith to write an analysis of Hume's 
Treatise of Human Nature as soon as it appeared, and 
the lad of seventeen did his exercise so well that 
Hume got it printed in London and had a copy of the 
Treatise sent him by way of reward. Hutcheson has 
been called an eclectic. Certainly he had read widely 
and thought deeply upon the difficulties and perplex- 
ities of a new age, an age of scientific discovery and 
philosophic doubt, an age tired of the syllogism, dis- 
dainful of divine right, eager to find natural principles 
of morality, law, and government. From the System of 
Moral Philosophy, published after his death, we get a 
clear notion of the range of his lectures. He con- 
sidered man as a social animal, and accordingly refused 
to divorce the science of individual ethics from the 
science of politics. He followed Aristotle in including 
chapters on jurisprudence and economics in his scheme 
of moral philosophy. It has been well said that the 
same natural liberty and optimism which served Smith 
as assumptions were the theses of Hutcheson, who him- 
self learned much from Shaftesbury. Hutcheson and 
Smith were both reformers, and were more hopeful, if 
less cheerful, than Hume. Hume was a genial cynic 



i.] EARLY YEARS 7 

without any zeal for reform, who found repose in 
Butler's doctrine that things are what they are, and 
that their consequences will be what they will be. 

But with Hutcheson and Smith it was a real religion 
to see that society should be better governed; they 
made it the supreme object of their lives to increase 
the happiness of mankind by diffusing useful truths 
and exposing mischievous errors. In the scope 
of his philosophy, in temper and practical aim, Smith 
may be called the spiritual descendant of Hutcheson. 
There are also marked resemblances in their subject 
matter and even in some minor points of doctrine, as 
a careful comparison recently instituted by a very com- 
petent writer abundantly shows. 1 "We find Smith 
using the same authorities as his predecessor and 
quoting them to much the same purpose. Even 
Hutcheson's crude and fragmentary economics offered 
many suggestions that were afterwards developed 
and harmonised by Smith in his lectures. The Sun- 
day lectures on Natural Theology, by which Hutcheson 
sought to reduce the intolerance and soften the harsh- 
ness of Scottish orthodoxy, made a lasting impression 
upon the mind of his great pupil. 

Besides his work with Hutcheson, Smith laid at 
Glasgow the foundation of an early mastery of the 
classics, and prepared himself for a wide course of 
reading in the literature and wisdom of the ancients. 
But mathematics and natural philosophy are said to 
have been his favourite pursuits at this time — indeed 
he seems to have attained in both a considerable pro- 
ficiency, which never escaped the tenacious grip of his 
memory. Matthew Stewart, Dugald's father, was one 
1 See W. R. Scott's Hutcheson (1900). 



8 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

of his fellow-students. Long afterwards, when Pro- 
fessor of Mathematics in Edinburgh, he was heard 
discussing with Smith " a geometrical problem of 
considerable difficulty," which had been set them as 
an exercise by Simson. Matthew Stewart, who died 
in 1785, is commemorated with Simson in the sixth 
edition of Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments, published 
fifty years after this time. After observing that 
" mathematicians who may have the most perfect as- 
surance of the truth and of the importance of their 
discoveries, are frequently very indifferent about the 
reception which they may meet with from the public," 
Adam Smith cites Dr. Robert Simson of Glasgow, and 
Dr. Matthew Stewart of Edinburgh, " the two greatest 
mathematicians that I ever had the honour to be known 
to, and I believe, the two greatest that have lived in 
my time," as men who never seemed to feel the slightest 
uneasiness from the neglect with which some of their 
most valuable works were received. For several years, 
he adds, even Sir Isaac Newton's Principia fell flat, 
but his tranquillity did not suffer for a single quarter 
of an hour. Newton always stood at the very top of 
Smith's calendar. 

Smith left Glasgow at the early age of seventeen. 
His mother, acting on the advice of her relatives, 
had destined the boy for the Church of England, 
which then opened the door to so many lucrative 
positions. Perhaps they hoped from his talents for a 
career like that of his famous countryman, Bishop 
Burnet, who indeed had himself been a Professor of 
Divinity at Glasgow. The intention went so far that 
in his third year Smith sought and obtained one of 
those exhibitions which have taken so many dis- 



i.] EARLY YEARS 9 

tinguished Scots from the University of Glasgow to 
Balliol College, Oxford. The Snell Exhibitions, as they 
are called, were founded by an old Glasgow student of 
that name in 1679, with a view to educating Scots for 
the service of the Episcopalian Church. It chanced, 
however, that during his residence at Oxford, an 
application made by the Oxford authorities to compel 
the Snell Exhibitioners " to submit and conform to the 
doctrines of the Church of England and to enter into 
holy orders " was refused by the Court of Chancery ; 
so that when the time came Smith was able to choose 
his own career and to strike off from the easier road 
which took his Fifeshire friend Douglas in due time to 
a bishopric. The change from Glasgow to Oxford was 
immense. It was more than exile ; it was transmigra- 
tion from a living to a dead society, from the thrill of 
a rising and thriving community, where men lived and 
moved and thought, to a city of dreaming spires and 
droning dons. In June 1740 he rode on horseback to 
Oxford and matriculated on the 17th of July, entering 
himself in a round schoolboy hand as " Adamus Smith, 
e Coll. Ball. Gen. Fil. Jul. 7mo. 1740." 

It will be remembered that when Captain Waverley 
crossed the border, five years later, on his way to join 
the Young Pretender, the houses of Tully Veolan 
seemed miserable in the extreme, " especially to an eye 
accustomed to the smiling neatness of English cottages." 
Smith rode through Carlisle, and he told Samuel 
Rogers in 1789 that he recollected being much struck 
as he approached that town by the richness of England 
and by the superiority of English agriculture. England 
indeed was then remarkably prosperous, thanks to a 
long peace, low taxes, and good harvests. Food was 



10 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

generally cheap and plentiful. Trade was good ; and 
better means of transit by road and canal were being 
developed. But the land of the Scots, " during fifty 
generations the rudest perhaps of all European nations, 
the most necessitous, the most turbulent, and the most 
unsettled," was still unimproved. The roads were 
almost impassable for wheeled vehicles. Coaches 
were unknown. 1 Many of the most fertile tracts 
were waste, and there is respectable authority for 
the opinion that some parts of the Lowlands were 
worse cultivated than in the thirteenth century. 
Under such conditions, rude beyond conception, 
poverty was universal. Even the gentry could seldom 
afford such bare comforts as half a century later their 
own farmers possessed. As for the common people, 
clothed in the coarsest garb and starving on the 
meanest fare, they dwelt in despicable huts with their 
cattle. It is significant that in those days Scotland 
had no fatted kine. There was no market for good 
meat, and the taste only grew with the means for 
gratifying it. Adam Smith was fond of telling at his 
own table in after years, how on the first day he dined 
in the hall of Balliol, having fallen into one of his fits 
of absent-mindedness, he was roused by the servitor 
who told him to "fall to, for he had never seen such a 
piece of beef in Scotland." 

Of the hundred undergraduates then at Balliol about 
eight came from Scotland, and four of these were Snell 
Exhibitioners. Their peculiarities of manner and 

1 Even in 1763 there was but one stage-coach in Scotland 
" which set out [from Edinburgh] once a month for London, 
and was from twelve to fourteen days on the journey." — 
George Robertson's Rural Recollections, p. 4. 



i.] EARLY YEARS 11 

dialect marked them off from the rest of the college, 
and they were treated as foreigners. Their relations 
with the authorities were unpleasant. In 1744, Smith 
and the other Exhibitioners stated their grievances to 
the Senate of Glasgow University, and explained how 
their residence might be made " more easy and com- 
modious." A few years afterwards, one of them told 
the Master that what the Exhibitioners wanted was to 
be transferred to some other college on account of 
their " total dislike of Balliol." The friction between 
Balliol and Glasgow lasted long, and it was no doubt 
his own unsatisfactory experience that drew from 
Adam Smith thirty years afterwards a strong condem- 
nation of close scholarships. 1 

The University of Oxford was at that time and for 
the rest of the century sunk deep in intellectual apathy, 
a muddy reservoir of sloth, ignorance, and luxury from 
which men sank as by a law of gravitation into the 
still lower level of civil and ecclesiastical sinecures. 
In the colleges there were only degrees of badness; 
but the charity of Snell had been rather unkind to 
Smith, for Balliol being Jacobite was particularly 
rowdy and intolerant. It has been mentioned that in 
his last year at Glasgow, Smith wrote for Hutcheson 
an abstract of David Hume's Treatise of Human Nature 
which brought him a presentation copy from the 
author. This copy he seems to have carried south 
with him; for the Balliol authorities, it is recorded, 
caught Smith in the act of reading the godless work, 
censured him severely, and confiscated a book which 
more than a century afterwards was to be sumptuously 
edited by two honoured alumni of the same college. 
1 See the Wealth of Nations, Book v. ch. i. art. 2. 



12 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

The narrow spirit which this incident illustrates 
seems to have made a painful impression upon the 
student's memory. In the Wealth of Nations he com- 
plains bitterly of the compulsory "sham-lecture," and 
visits with severe censure the casuistry and sophistry 
by which the ancient course of philosophy had been 
corrupted. This completed course, he says, was meant 
to train ecclesiastics, and " certainly did not render it 
more proper for the education of gentlemen or men of 
the world, or more likely either to improve the under- 
standing or to mend the heart." At Oxford "the 
greater part of the public professors have for many years 
given up altogether even the pretence of teaching." 
College discipline was in general contrived " not for the 
benefit of the students, but for the interests, or more 
properly speaking, for the ease of the masters." 

In England the public schools were "much less 
corrupted than the universities ; for in the schools a 
boy was taught, or at least might be taught Greek 
and Latin," whereas "in the universities the youth 
neither are taught, nor always can find any proper 
means of being taught, the sciences which it is 
the business of those incorporated bodies to teach." 
It is only fair to add that Gibbon's experiences of 
Magdalen, Bishop Butler's of Christ Church, and 
Bentham's of Queen's, were equally adverse. And 
Balliol could at least offer its undergraduates the 
advantage of an excellent library. When such a cloud 
lay heavy upon that ancient seat of learning, it is no 
wonder if Smith with his sedentary disposition and 
frugal habits — he probably lived on his exhibition of 
£10 — should have spent his six years at Balliol in the 
society of its books rather than of its tipsy under- 



I.] EARLY YEARS 13 

graduates. Oxford, it has been observed by the most 
diligent of his biographers, is the only place he lived 
in which failed to furnish him with friends. But he 
never displayed towards it the lively antipathy of 
Gibbon; far from regretting his residence there, he 
mentioned it with gratitude many years afterwards. 
In Oxford he certainly gained the liberal knowledge 
of ancient and modern literature that enriches and 
adorns all his writings. The bookshops must have 
introduced him to his favourite Pope, to Swift and 
Addison, and the fashionable writers of the day. He 
employed himself frequently, he used to say, in the 
practice of translations, especially of French authors, 
in order to improve his style. 

"How intimately," writes Dugald Stewart, "he 
had once been conversant with more ornamental 
branches of learning, in particular with the works of 
the Eoman, Greek, French, and Italian poets, appeared 
sufficiently from the hold they kept of his memory 
after all the different occupations and inquiries in 
which his maturer faculties had been employed." He 
had an extraordinary knowledge of English poetry, 
and could quote from memory with a correctness 
which, says the same grave Scot, "appeared surprising 
even to those whose attention had never been directed 
to more important acquisitions." What little intel- 
lectual activity outside politics still lingered on at 
Oxford was probably connected with philological 
speculations such as those of James Harris, the learned, 
if somewhat priggish, author of Hermes. At any rate, 
Smith went deeply into every branch of grammar. 
Andrew Dalzel, who was Professor of Greek at Edin- 
burgh in Adam Smith's old age, often remarked on 



14 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

"the uncommon degree in which Mr. Smith retained 
possession even to the close of his life of different 
branches of knowledge which he had long ceased to 
cultivate," and particularly mentioned to his colleague 
Dugald Stewart, "the readiness and correctness" of 
his memory on philological subjects and his acuteness 
in discussing the minutice of Greek grammar. 

Dugald Stewart failed to collect any information 
about Smith's Oxford days, but a few relics have been 
preserved by Lord Brougham in the appendix to the 
discursive and rather disappointing essay upon Adam 
Smith that appears in his Lives of tlie Philosophers. 
"I have now before me," says Brougham, "a number 
of Dr. Smith's letters written when at Oxford between 
the years 1740 and 1746 to his mother: they are 
almost all upon mere family and personal matters; 
most of them indeed upon his linen and other such 
necessaries, but all show his strong affection for his 
parent." The few quotations Brougham gives are 
barely worth recording. On November 29, 1743, 
Adam Smith writes : "I am just recovered of a violent 
fit of laziness, which has confined me to my elbow 
chair these three months." Again on July 2, 1744 : 
" I am quite inexcusable for not writing to you of tener. 
I think of you every day, but always defer writing 
till the post is just going, and then sometimes business 
or company, but of tener laziness, hinders me." He 
speaks of "an inveterate scurvy and shaking of the 
head " which have been perfectly cured by tar 
water, "a remedy very much in vogue here for all 
diseases." 

His college contemporaries, says Mr. Rae, "were a 
singularly undistinguished body," with the exception 



I.] EARLY YEARS 15 

of a Fifeshire man, John Douglas, who had gone 
direct to Oxford from the Grammar School at Dunbar. 
Douglas at first had a small exhibition at St. Mary's 
Hall, but after fighting at Fontenoy, he obtained a 
Snell Exhibition. He distinguished himself later as a 
pamphleteer and was rewarded with the Bishopric of 
Salisbury. With this exception, Adam Smith seems 
to have made no friends at Oxford. Besides his books 
he must have enjoyed from time to time walks and 
excursions into the surrounding country. In the Wealth 
of Nations he was able to make close comparisons of 
the condition of the labouring classes in England 
and Scotland, and there is a passage, about the use of 
coal and wood by the common people in Oxfordshire, 
to show that he had certainly acquired as an under- 
graduate the faculty of minute and picturesque ob- 
servation which he afterwards turned to such account. 1 
What Smith did in the vacations we do not know. 
He could not have had much money to spare, and 
there is no indication that he ever returned home or 
even visited London. 

At last, in August 1746, after taking his degree as 
a Bachelor of Arts, he retraced his steps to Scotland, 
and gave up all thought of a clerical career. In the 
words of his biographer, " he chose to consult in this 
instance his own inclinations in preference to the 
wishes of his friends ; and abandoning at once all the 
schemes which their prudence had formed for him, he 
resolved to return to his own country and to limit his 
ambition to the uncertain prospect of obtaining, in 
time, some one of those moderate preferments to 
which literary attainments lead in Scotland." 
1 See the Wealth of Nations, Book I. chap. ii. 



16 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

He was now in 1746 again in his mother's house at 
Kirkcaldy, " engaged in study, but without any fixed 
plan for his future life." So far as I am aware, none 
of Adam Smith's biographers has definitely assigned 
to this period any of the writings which he either 
published or left to his executors. In the latter class, 
however, there is a group of fragments dealing with 
the history of Astronomy, of Ancient Physics, and of 
Ancient Logic and Metaphysics, and an elaborate essay 
on The Imitative Arts, which are collectively described 
by his executors in an advertisement as "parts of a 
plan he once had formed for giving a connected history 
of the liberal sciences and elegant arts." 1 

The essay on The Imitative Arts belongs to a different 
design and to a slightly later period. But it seems 
clear that the History of Astronomy was composed at 
this time. 2 There is no other period of his life in 
which he would have been so well able to collect the 
materials for an examination of the systems of the 
Greek, the Arabian, and the mediaeval astronomers as 
in the six years of Oxford study, or so likely to shape 

1 The advertisement goes on to say : " It is long since he 
found it necessary to abandon that plan as far too extensive ; 
and these parts of it lay beside him neglected till he was dead. " 

2 First, Dugald Stewart declares that the History of Astro- 
nomy "was one of Mr. Smith's earliest compositions." Second, 
in a letter constituting Hume his literary executor, Smith 
describes it as a fragment of an intended juvenile work. 
Thirdly, Stewart heard him say more than once "that he 
had projected in the earlier part of his life a history of the 
other sciences on the same plan." Fourthly, the work exactly 
fits in with all that we hear of his youthful bent for the Greek 
geometry and natural philosophy. Fifthly, it must have been 
written long before 1758, for he mentions a prediction that a 
certain comet will appear in that year. 



I.] EARLY YEARS 17 

them into a finished treatise as in the two quiet years 
spent at Kirkcaldy immediately after his return, when, 
we are told, he was " engaged in study, but without 
any fixed plan for his future life." The History of 
Astronomy, which takes us from the schools of Thales 
and Pythagoras through the systems of Copernicus, 
Tycho Brahe, Galileo, Kepler, and Descartes to that of 
Sir Isaac Newton, is complete in itself, though from 
certain notes and memoranda which accompanied it 
Smith's executors were led to believe that he contem- 
plated some further extension. 1 It ends very appro- 
priately with an enthusiastic description of Sir Isaac 
Newton's discovery as the greatest ever made by 
man. He had acquired "the most universal empire 
that was ever established in philosophy," and was the 
only natural philosopher whose system, instead of being 
a mere invention of the imagination to connect other- 
wise discordant phenomena, appeared to contain in itself 
"the real chains which nature makes use of to bind 
together her several operations." In attributing the 
History of Astronomy to Oxford and Kirkcaldy I except 
the concluding pages, which must have been added in 
the last years of his life ; for in a letter to Hume (1773) 
he spoke of it as a history of Astronomical Systems to 
the time (not of Newton but) of Descartes. 

Although complete in itself, this masterly essay 
was plainly meant by its author to form only one 
book in a great history of philosophy. It begins 

1 "The author at the end of his essay," says the advertise- 
ment, "left some notes and memorandums from which it 
appears he considered this last part of his History of Astronomy 
as imperfect and needing several additions." It consists of 135 
pages, and the imperfections are not obvious to the reader. 

V, 



18 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

with three short introductory sections, the first on 
surprise, the second on wonder, and the third on the 
origin of philosophy. It is the function of philosophy, 
he says, to discover the connecting principles of 
nature, and to explain those portents which astonish 
or affright mankind. He then shows that celestial 
appearances have always excited the greatest curiosity, 
and describes with extraordinary learning and vivacity 
the long series of attempts that had been made to 
account for "the ways of the sky and the stars" — 

" How winter suns in ocean plunge so soon, 
And what delays the timid nights of June." 

The History of Ancient Physics, a much shorter fragment, 
is placed in his collected works immediately after the 
History of Astronomy. It evidently belongs to the 
same early period, but is of little interest. Upon The 
History of Ancient Logics and Metaphysics we shall have 
something to say in our next chapter. 

After two years of waiting, Adam Smith got his 
opportunity. His neighbour, James Oswald of Dun- 
nikier, had become Kirkcaldy's representative in 
Parliament, and was now a Commissioner of the Navy. 
Through Oswald Smith seems to have been introduced 
to Henry Home (Lord Karnes), a leader of the Edinburgh 
Bar, and arbiter of Scottish elegancies. Home was a 
warm patron of English literature, and was busily 
importing it along with English ploughs and other 
Southern improvements into his native land. What 
a contrast between this typical Scotch patriot of 1750 
and grim old Fletcher of Saltoun, the corresponding 
type of 1700, whose remedy for Scottish ills was to re- 
store slavery, and place all labourers in the situation of 



I.] EARLY YEARS 19 

salters and colliers ! Finding that Smith had acquired 
the accent and was well read in the prose and poetry 
of England, Home encouraged him to give what we 
should now call extension lectures in Edinburgh. 
Accordingly the young Oxford graduate delivered a 
course of lectures on English literature in the winter 
of 1748-9, adding in the following year a course on 
political economy in which he preached the doctrines 
of natural liberty and free trade. The English lectures 
were attended by Henry Home, Alexander Wedder- 
burn, and William Johnstone (Sir William Pulteney), 
and proved no mere success of esteem ; for they brought 
in a clear £100, and were so popular that they were 
repeated in the two following winters. The manu- 
script of these lectures was burnt shortly before his 
death, and the world is probably not much the poorer. 
Smith shared the opinions of his age, and set up Dryden, 
Pope, and Gray on pedestals from which they were 
soon to be thrown down by the children of nature and 
romance. He gave these lectures afterwards at 
Glasgow, and Boswell, who attended them in 1759, told 
Johnson that Smith had condemned blank verse. 
Johnson was delighted, and cried out : " Sir, I was once 
in company with Smith, and we did not take to each 
other ; but had I known that he loved rhyme as much 
as you tell me he does, I should have hugged him." 
One cannot help wondering what would have been 
said if Boswell had repeated another of our author's 
critical opinions, that Johnson was "of all writers 
ancient and modern the one who kept off the greatest 
distance from common sense." 

The most valuable part of Adam Smith's critical 
lectures has been preserved in an essay on the Imitative 



20 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

Arts, which I should judge from internal evidence 
to have been drafted at this time, but to have been 
revised and improved in later years. Considering 
that neither Burke's essay on the Sublime and Beautiful 
nor Lessing's Laocoon had then appeared, we cannot 
but admire the originality he displayed in analysing 
the different effects produced by sculpture, painting, 
music, and dancing, and in distinguishing the different 
pleasures that attend the various kinds and degrees of 
imitation. He works out with much ingenuity the 
theory of the difficulti surmonUe by which Voltaire 
accounted for the effect of verse and rhyme. Smith 
extends this principle to other arts, and seeks, always 
cleverly, often successfully, to show that much of our 
delight in art arises from our admiration for the 
artist's skill in overcoming difficulties. He declares that 
a disparity between the imitating and the imitated 
object is the foundation of the beauty of imitation. 
The great masters of statuary and painting never 
produce their effects by deception. To prove this, he 
refers to the rather unpleasing effect produced by 
painted statues and by the reflections of a mirror. 
Photography would have supplied him with another 
illustration. 

It may here be said that, though judged by modern 
standards of criticism Smith's taste was faulty, yet all 
his favourite authors are in the first rank, and there is 
no instance recorded of his having bestowed praise on 
anything bad either in prose or poetry. "You will 
learn more as to poetry," he once said, "by reading 
one good poem than by a thousand volumes of 
criticism." Wordsworth in one of his prefaces calls 
him most unjustly "the worst critic, David Hume 



l] EARLY YEARS 21 

excepted, that Scotland, a soil to which this sort of 
weed seems natural, has produced." The Lake Poet, 
who did not distinguish between the quality of the 
"Ode on the Intimations" and "Peter Bell," was pro- 
bably thinking of some literary anecdotes that appeared 
in The Bee in 1791 after Smith's death. The writer, 
who may or may not be trustworthy, is only repeating 
table talk. He mentions that Smith depreciated 
Percy's Beliques and some of Milton's minor poems. 
With regard to blank verse, Smith said: "they do 
well to call it blank, for blank it is. I myself, even I, 
who never could find a single rhyme in my life, could 
make blank verse as fast as I could speak." From 
this censure he always excepted Milton; but he 
thought the English dramatists should have used 
rhyme like the French. Racine's Phedre appealed to 
him as the finest of all tragedies. Voltaire was his 
literary pope. Oddly enough, his first publisher's com- 
mission was to collect and edit (anonymously, of course) 
for the Foulis Press an edition of the poems of a well- 
known Jacobite, Hamilton of Bangour. The book 
was published in 1748, and contained the "Braes 
of Yarrow," which Wordsworth called an exquisite 
ballad. Hamilton had played poet laureate to the 
Young Pretender in 1745, and was still an exile in 
France. In 1750, when the poet was pardoned, he 
struck up a warm friendship with his anonymous 
editor, and (according to Sir John Dalrymple) Smith 
spent with him " many happy and flattering hours." 

It has been said that in addition to his lectures 
on English literature Smith also delivered a course on 
Economics. This we know from a manuscript by 
which Dugald Stewart vindicates Adam Smith's claim 



22 ADAM SMITH [chap. i. 

to have been the original discoverer of the leading 
principles of political economy. This manuscript, a 
paper read by Smith to a learned society some years 
later, proves that he wrote, or rather dictated, his 
economic lectures in 1749, and delivered them in the 
following winter. 

At this time David Hume and James Oswald were 
corresponding on commercial topics. In 1750 Hume, 
who was then abroad, sent Oswald his famous essay on 
the Balance of Trade, and asked for criticism. Oswald 
replied in a long letter which shows that he too held 
very enlightened views on public finance, and we may 
be pretty certain that Smith as well as Hume derived 
at this time much benefit from intercourse with Oswald. 
In fact, in his preface to Oswald's correspondence, 
Oswald's grandson boasts that he has heard Adam 
Smith, then the renowned author of the Wealth of 
Nations, " dilate with a generous and enthusiastic 
pleasure on the qualifications and merits of Mr. Oswald, 
candidly avowing at the same time how much informa- 
tion he had received on many points from the enlarged 
views and profound knowledge of that accomplished 
statesman." Some allowance should be made for the 
natural exaggeration of a Scotch kinsman ; but Smith 
certainly rated Oswald high, describing him in the 
paper above mentioned as one who combined a taste 
for general principles with the detailed information of 
a statesman. Stewart adds that " he was one of Mr. 
Smith's earliest and most confidential friends." They 
must have seen a great deal of one another both in 
Kirkcaldy and Edinburgh in the five years between his 
return from Oxford and the appointment we have 
now to record. 



CHAPTER II 

THE BEGINNING OF A CAREER 

By his Edinburgh lectures Smith had proved that he 
could be at once learned and popular, and the fact that 
he was probably the only Scottish savant who had 
thoroughly acquired the English accent at a time when 
English had suddenly become highly fashionable north 
of the Tweed, would do him no harm in loyal Glasgow, 
where the English connection, with all its solid advan- 
tages, was well esteemed. Accordingly in 1750, when 
a vacancy occurred in the chair of Logic at Glasgow, 
Adam Smith's candidature proved very acceptable, and 
he was unanimously appointed by the Senate. A 
week later he read a Latin dissertation on the Origin 
of Ideas, signed the Westminster Confession of Faith 
before the Presbytery of Glasgow, and took the usual 
oath of fidelity to the authorities. So far as I am 
aware, it has not been noticed hitherto that the 
substance of Smith's inaugural dissertation, Be Origine 
Idearum, has been preserved in a fragment published 
by his literary executors after his death. The History 
of the Ancient Logics and Metaphysics, as the piece is 
called, deserves notice not only as one of the earliest 
specimens of Smith's extraordinary power of reason- 
ing, but because it proves his interest in some meta- 
physical questions which are suppressed or ignored in 



24 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

his larger treatises, and at the same time exhibits the 
range and accuracy of his classical scholarship. 

In describing the ancient dialectic Smith had to give 
an explanation of what Plato meant by " ideas." The 
later Platonists imagined their master to mean no 
more than that " the Deity formed the world after what 
we would now call an idea or plan conceived in his 
own mind, in the same manner as any other artist." 
Against them the young philosopher proceeded to 
turn the formidable battery of ratiocination that was 
one day to demolish a living and formidable foe. 
It is characteristic of Adam Smith that whether he is 
attacking the harmless errors of an extinct school of 
thought, or the noxious fallacies of an established 
policy, he tries every mode of assault. He "swims, or 
sinks, or wades, or creeps, or flies " : — 

"If Plato had meant to express no more than this most 
natural and simple of all notions, he might surely have 
expressed it more plainly, and would hardly, one would think, 
have talked of it with so much emphasis, as of something 
which it required the utmost reach of thought to comprehend. 
According to this representation, Plato's notion of species, or 
Universals, was the same with that of Aristotle. Aristotle, 
however, does not seem to understand it as such ; he bestows 
a great part of his Metaphysics upon confuting it, and opposes 
it in all his other works." 

Again, this notion of the separate existence of 
Species is the very basis of Plato's philosophy; 
and there is not a single dialogue in all his works 
which does not refer to it. Can Aristotle, "who 
appears to have been so much superior to his master 
in everything but eloquence," wilfully have misinter- 
preted Plato's fundamental principle when Plato's 



ii.] THE BEGINNING OF A CAREER 25 

writings were in everybody's hands and his disciples 
were spread all over Greece; when Speusippus, the 
nephew and successor of Plato, as well as Xenocrates, 
who continued the school in the Academy, at the same 
time as Aristotle held his in the Lyceum, must have 
been ready at all times to expose and affront him for 
such gross disingenuity 1 Aristotle's interpretation had 
been followed by Cicero, Seneca, and every classical 
authority down to Plutarch, " an author who seems to 
have been as bad a critic in philosophy as in history, 
and to have taken everything at second-hand in both." 
Whether Smith either then or at any time arrived at 
metaphysical certainty is very doubtful. " To explain 
the nature, and to account for the origin of general 
Ideas is," he says, "even at this day, the greatest 
difficulty in abstract philosophy." 

"How the human mind when it reasons concerning the 
general nature of triangles, should either eonceive, as Mr. 
Locke imagines it does, the idea of a triangle, which is neither 
obtusangular, nor rectangular, nor acutangular ; but which was 
at once both none and of all those together ; or should, as 
Malbranche thinks necessary for this purpose, comprehend at 
once, within its finite capacity, all possible triangles of all 
possible forms and dimensions, which are infinite in number, is 
a question to which it is not easy to give a satisfactory answer." 

He suggests that notions like those of Plato, or 
Cudworth, or Malebranche, depend a good deal upon 
the vague and general language in which they are 
expressed. So long as a philosophy is not very dis- 
tinctly explained, it " passes easily enough through the 
indolent imagination accustomed to substitute words 
in the room of ideas." Platonism vanishes indeed, and 
is discovered to be altogether incomprehensible upon 



26 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

an attentive consideration. It did, however, require 
attentive consideration, and but for Aristotle " might 
without examination have continued to be the current 
philosophy for a century or two." This early and 
unnoticed composition proves that Smith had thought 
deeply on metaphysics though he deliberately avoided 
them in his masterpieces. 

He found time to translate and read part of the 
essay as a Latin dissertation ; but his engagements in 
Edinburgh prevented him from taking up his new work 
before the autumn. When October came he found 
his task doubled. Craigie, the Professor of Ethics, 
had fallen ill, and had been ordered to Lisbon for 
his health. Smith was informed of this by Dr. Cullen, 
one of his new colleagues, and was requested to 
undertake Craigie's duties. It was further suggested 
that he should pay particular attention to juris- 
prudence and politics, which were held to fall within 
the province of moral philosophy. Smith replies 
(3rd September 1751) that he will gladly relieve Craigie 
of his class, and will willingly undertake to lecture on 
natural jurisprudence and politics. 

The session began on the 10th of October, and 
soon afterwards came the news of Craigie's death. 
Smith detested the sophisms of what he called "the 
cobweb science " of Ontology, and cared little for 
the Logic of the schools. He was anxious, therefore, 
to be transferred to the -chair of Ethics, and at the 
same time formed a design with other friends to pro- 
cure the appointment of his friend David Hume to the 
chair of Logic. But the prejudice against Hume 
proved too strong. " I should prefer David Hume to 
any man for the college," Smith wrote privately to 



II.] THE BEGINNING OF A CAREER 27 

Cullen, " but I am afraid the public would not be of 
my opinion, and the interest of the society will oblige 
us to have regard to the opinion of the public." This 
was from Edinburgh, whither Smith had made what 
was then (incredible as it may seem) a two-days' 
journey from Glasgow, in order to wait upon Archibald, 
Duke of Argyll, nicknamed King of Scotland, because 
he exercised a sort of royal influence over all Scottish 
appointments. At the duke's levee Smith was duly 
introduced, and his application was successful. The 
transfer was effected, and in April Smith was appointed 
to the chair which he was to adorn for twelve years. 
It was perhaps the most important event of his life. 
For a temperament like his, so prone to study and 
reflection, so averse to the toil of the pen, required 
some constant external stimulus, some congenial induce- 
ment to undertake the task of exposition. His gifts 
might have remained idle, his talents buried, had not 
the warm and sympathetic atmosphere of a full, eager, 
and admiring class-room set his tongue and his more 
reluctant pen in motion. We need not brood over 
the might-not-have-beens ; but when we think of the 
power that fortune exercises over men's lives, we may 
thank her for assigning Adam Smith at this critical 
moment to the town and University of Glasgow. 
By that propitious act she lent powerful aid to the 
construction of a science that must ever be associated 
with the prosperity and peaceful progress of mankind. 
Smith himself has indicated in a general statement 
the advantages he derived from this professorship : — 

" To impose upon any man the necessity of teaching, year 
after year, any particular branch of science, seems, in reality, 
to be the most effectual method for rendering him completely 



28 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

master of it himself. By being obliged to go every year over 
the same ground, if he is good for anything he necessarily 
becomes, in a few years, well acquainted with every part of 
it : and if upon any particular point he should form too hasty 
an opinion one year, when he comes in the course of his 
lectures to reconsider the same subject the year thereafter, he 
is very likely to correct it. As to be a teacher of science is 
certainly the natural employment of a mere man of letters, so 
is it likewise perhaps the education which is most likely to 
render him a man of solid learning and knowledge." 

He regarded the profession of teacher as an educa- 
tion, and for that very reason he never ceased to be 
a learner and a discoverer. Instead of sticking in the 
muddy ruts of dogma, he drove on gathering facts 
and opinions till he reached the goal. To vary a 
well-known inscription, he might have written over 
the door of his class-room, " Deverticulum philosophi 
ad veritatem proficiscentis," — the resting-place of a 
philosopher on march to truth. Assuredly a happier 
appointment was never made, whether we look at the 
true interests of the Professor himself or at those 
of the University. Smith always thought the years 
at Glasgow the happiest and most useful of his life. 
Besides his strong preference for Morals over Logic, 
he had carnal reasons to rejoice in the transference, 
for it gave a rather better income. Altogether the 
chair of Morals at Glasgow seems to have yielded 
about £170 a year — a fine income in Scotland at a 
time when, as Mr. Rae observes, the largest stipend 
in the Presbyterian Church was £138. 

In addition to salary and fees, Smith was allotted 
a good house in the Professors' Court, which he 
shared with his mother and cousin (Miss Jane 
Douglas), who came from Kirkcaldy to live with 



ii.] THE BEGINNING OF A CAREER 29 

him. The manses in the old Professors' Court were 
held by the professors in order of seniority, and Smith 
removed three times in order to take full advantage 
of his privileges, obtaining the best in 1762, when 
Leechman, Hutcheson's biographer, was appointed 
Principal. In 1761, when a second edition of the 
Moral Sentiments appeared, with a newly inserted 
passage describing the view from his study window, 
he was in the house previously occupied by Dr. Dick, 
Professor of Natural Philosophy. To this house nature 
seems to have been especially kind, — though in reading 
Smith's description of his view we must recollect that 
Glasgow, the garden city, was then famous for the 
clearness of its atmosphere and the beauty of its 
surroundings. "In my present situation," that is to 
say, looking from the window of his study, he sees 
"an immense landscape of lawns and woods and distant 
mountains." The landscape illustrates the philosophy 
of the mind : it " seems to do no more than cover the 
little window which I write by and to be out of all 
proportion less than the chamber in which I am sitting." 
He can form a just comparison between the great 
objects of the remote scene and the little objects in 
the room only by transporting himself to a different 
station from whence both could be surveyed at nearly 
equal distances. The image, it will be seen, is intro- 
duced by Adam Smith to illustrate his theory of "the 
impartial spectator," the judge within the breast, whom 
we must consult if we are to see the things that con- 
cern ourselves and others in their true shape and pro- 
portions. Just as a man must in some measure be 
acquainted with the philosophy of vision before he can 
be thoroughly convinced how small is his own room 



30 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

compared with the mountains he sees from his window, 
so to the selfish and original passions of human nature, 
unschooled by experience, unassisted by scale or 
measure, "the loss or gain of a very small interest 
of our own appears to be of vastly more importance, 
excites a much more passionate joy or sorrow than the 
greatest concern of another with whom we have no 
particular connection." 1 

With the failure of Hume's candidature for the 
Logic chair was lost a golden opportunity of associa- 
ting two of the first philosophers of that age on the 
staff of a small provincial college in one of the 
poorest, rudest, and least frequented kingdoms of 
Western Europe. The legend that Burke (four years 
before he published his Treatise on the Sublime and 
Beautiful) was another candidate has been adjudged 
apocryphal, though it was formerly accepted by good 
authorities. Many of the Glasgow students were 
Irish Presbyterians, and an Irishman might well have 
been encouraged to seek a chair in the University of 
Hutcheson. 

George Jardine, a student in 1760 and Professor 
of Logic from 1774, dated the first radical reform in 
the teaching of philosophy at Glasgow, from a royal 
visitation of 1727, after which each professor was re- 
stricted to a particular department instead of being 
required to lecture for three successive years in logic, 
ethics, and physics. He adds that the improvements 
thus introduced were greatly promoted by fortunate ap- 
pointments. First came Dr. Francis Hutcheson, whose 
" copious and splendid eloquence " illustrated an amiable 

1 Moral Sentiments, Part in. chap. ii. p. 210 of the second, 
third, and fourth editions ; chap. iii. of the sixth edition. 



ii.] THE BEGINNING OF A CAREER 31 

system of morality, and at the same time popularised 
the use of English as the medium of instruction. 
Hutcheson's reforms were not suspended by his death. 
But the Logic class continued to be conducted in Latin 
until Adam Smith, being rather unexpectedly called to 
the office in 1750, "found it necessary to read in the 
English language a course of lectures in Rhetoric and 
Belles Lettres which he had formerly delivered in 
Edinburgh." The last department in the University to 
abandon Latin was Law, and the innovator was Smith's 
pupil and friend, John Millar. 

After Smith's brief tenure of the chair, Logic fell 
back for a time to its old subject-matter, but the 
Latin medium could not be revived. "From the time 
that the lectures began to be delivered in English the 
eyes of men were opened," writes Jardine. It was 
felt that the old logic of the schools, even when per- 
fectly understood, had little or no connection with 
modern thought, and none with the active business of 
life. The local situation, too, of the University in a 
great commercial city, where men had a quick per- 
ception of utility, and looked for a clear adaptation 
of means to ends, helped to promote reform. But 
dislike of Logic and Ontology was not peculiar to 
Smith or to Glasgow. They were discountenanced by 
the most popular philosopher of that age. " Had the 
craftiest men," wrote Shaftesbury in his Characteristics, 
"for many ages together been employed in finding 
out a method to confound reason and to degrade the 
understandings of men, they could not perhaps have 
succeeded better than by the establishing of this 
mock science." Hutcheson had ignored logic and 
avoided metaphysical problems. In his Theory of Moral 



32 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

Sentiments, Smith renounced " the abstruse syllogisms 
of a quibbling dialectic "; but he never made the mistake 
of confounding Aristotle with the Aristotelians. 

There is in the Wealth of Nations a highly interest- 
ing digression upon the Universities, to explain how 
Greek conceptions of philosophy were debased in the 
Middle Ages, and how its ancient division into three 
parts was altered for another into five in most of 
the academies of Europe. In the ancient philosophy, 
whatever was taught concerning the nature either of 
the human mind or the deity made a part of the system 
of physics. Whatever reason could conclude or con- 
jecture upon the human and the divine mind, made 
two chapters of " the science which pretended to give 
an account of the origin and revolutions of the great 
system of the universe." But in the universities of 
Europe, "where philosophy was taught only as sub- 
servient to theology," it was natural to dwell upon 
these two chapters and to make them distinct sciences. 
And so Metaphysics or Pneumatics were set up in 
opposition to Physics. 

The result was, in Adam Smiths view, disastrous. 
While on the one hand, subjects requiring experiment 
and observation, and capable of yielding many useful dis- 
coveries, were almost entirely neglected ; on the other a 
subject, in which "after a few very simple and obvious 
truths the most careful attention can discover nothing 
but obscurity and uncertainty, and can consequently 
produce nothing but subtleties and sophisms, was 
greatly cultivated." Metaphysics having thus been set 
up in opposition to physics, the comparison between 
them naturally gave birth to a third, called ontology, 
or the science which treated of the qualities and attri- 



ii.] THE BEGINNING OF A CAREER 33 

butes common to both. " But if subtleties and sophisms 
composed the greater part of the Metaphysics or Pneu- 
matics of the schools, they composed the whole of this 
cobweb science of Ontology." Holding these views, it 
is not surprising that Smith welcomed an escape from 
this chair to one which proposed as its object an inquiry 
of a very different nature : wherein consists the happi- 
ness and perfection of a man, considered not only as 
an individual, but as the member of a family, of a state, 
and of the great society of mankind. Here was a 
stepping-stone to the Wealth of Nations. Meanwhile 
he did what he could to unsettle the cobweb sciences. 

Of Smith as a logician, John Millar, a member of 
his class in 1751-2, wrote that he "saw the necessity 
of departing widely from the plan that had been 
followed by his predecessors, and of directing the 
attention of his pupils to studies of a more interesting 
and useful nature than the logic and the metaphysics 
of the schools." Accordingly, says Millar, "after ex- 
hibiting a general view of the powers of the mind, and 
explaining so much of the ancient logic as was requisite 
to gratify curiosity with respect to an artificial method 
of reasoning which had once occupied the universal 
attention of the learned, he dedicated all the rest of 
his time to the delivery of a system of rhetoric and 
belles lettres." Another of those who attended his 
classes at Glasgow says that even after he became 
Professor of Moral Philosophy he would from time to 
time give lectures on taste and literature, and it must 
have been one of these that Boswell heard in 1759. 
Art, the drama, and music were always favourite objects 
of his speculations, and doubtless the substance of his 
essay on the Imitative Arts was delivered from time 

C 



34 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

to time in the University. Millar says Smith never 
appeared to greater advantage than as a lecturer: — 

" His manner, though not graceful, -was plain and unaffected, 
and as he seemed to he always interested in the subject, he 
never failed to interest his hearers. Each discourse consisted 
commonly of several distinct propositions, which he succes- 
sively endeavoured to prove and illustrate. These proposi- 
tions when announced in general terms had, from their extent, 
not unfrequently something of the air of a paradox. In his 
attempts to explain them, he often appeared at first not to be 
sufficiently possessed of the subject, and spoke with some 
hesitation. As he advanced, however, the matter seemed to 
crowd upon him, his manner became warm and animated, 
and his expression easy and fluent. In points susceptible of 
controversy you could easily discern that he secretly conceived 
an opposition to his opinions, and that he was led upon this 
account to support them with greater energy and vehemence. 
By the fulness and variety of his illustrations the subject 
gradually swelled in his hands and acquired a dimension 
which, without a tedious repetition of the same views, was 
calculated to seize the attention of his audience, and to afford 
them pleasure as well as instruction in following the same 
subject through all the diversity of shades and aspects in 
which it was presented, and afterwards in tracing it backwards 
to that original proposition or general truth from which this 
beautiful train of speculation had proceeded." 

Another old pupil dwelt upon his " animated and 
extemporaneous eloquence," especially when he was 
drawn into digressions in the course of question and 
answer. Smith himself attributed his success very 
largely to the vigilant care with which he watched his 
audience; for he depended very much upon their 
sympathy. "During one whole session," he is reported 
to have said, "a certain student with a plain but expres- 
sive countenance was of great use to me in judging of 



ii.] THE BEGINNING OF A CAREER 35 

my success. He sat conspicuously in front of a pillar : I 
had him constantly under my eye. If he leant forward 
to listen all was right, and I knew that I had the ear 
of my class ; but if he leant back in an attitude of list- 
lessness I felt at once that all was wrong, and that I 
must change either the subject or the style of my 
address." 



CHAPTEE III 

THEOLOGY AND RELIGIOUS ESTABLISHMENTS 

The age into which Adam Smith was born was an age 
of religious doubt and philosophic curiosity. During 
his lifetime the governing classes in England, undis- 
turbed by enthusiasms, were little disposed to entertain 
revolutionary ideas in politics or religion. It seemed 
to be the function of philosophic thinkers to leave the 
constitution of a tolerably liberal State and a tolerably 
lax Church, and to advance in other directions. The 
fierce storms that bent the course of Selden and 
Milton and Hobbes had abated. Men tried to forget 

" The lifted axe, the agonising wheel, 
Luke's iron crown, and Damiens' bed of steel." 

No one believed that the Deity created kings ; many 
doubted whether there was a Deity at all. Since the 
great days of Athens, philosophy had seldom reaped a 
richer harvest than in Great^ Britain during the eighty 
years that followed the Act of Union. Newton's 
Principle/,, and the philosophy of Shaftesbury, Clarke, 
Mandeville, Hutcheson, and Butler, as well as of Hume 
and Adam Smith, all fall within this period. Specu- 
lative discovery went hand in hand with mechanical 
invention. The poetry of enthusiasm, religious and 
political fervour, persecution, martyrdom, with all their 

36 



chap, in.] RELIGIOUS ESTABLISHMENTS 37 

heroic and squalid accompaniments, preceded and 
followed this prosaic illumination. It was a chapter of 
dry light between two of heat and fire and smoke. 
Reason reigned ; and as reason seldom wears an air of 
originality, we need not wonder if later ingenuity has 
discovered that all these philosophers borrowed their 
doctrines either from the ancients or from one another 
or from foreigners. 

But though there appears to be just now a tendency 
to carry the search for the genealogy and pedigree of 
ideas rather too far, it is certainly not our purpose to 
show that Adam Smith was a solitary conqueror who 
founded a kingdom entirely for himself, and peopled it 
with the creatures of his imagination. Every great 
thinker holds the past in fee, as he levies a perpetual 
tribute on the future. We may see how in the Tlieory 
of Moral Sentiments and in his lectures on Justice and 
Police Smith selected and used his materials; how, 
with the aid of Hutcheson and Mandeville and 
Hume, he invented a new doctrine of sympathy, and 
how he worked up the Platonic idea of the division 
of labour, and the Aristotelian theory of money, 
into a true science of national wealth. Nothing 
is left of the first part of the lectures, which dealt 
(briefly, no doubt) with natural theology and, in 
the earliest years of his professorship, very fully with 
moral philosophy. His pupil and friend Millar says 
that under the head of Natural Theology, the first part 
of his course, Smith considered the proofs of the being 
and attributes of God, and those principles of the 
human mind upon which religion is founded. 

In the Moral Sentiments and his other writings there 
are plenty of passages to indicate that he was a theist 



38 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

with a belief rather more active and definite than 
that of his friend Hume or of his master Aristotle, but 
few or none that he was a Christian. As professor he 
had to sign the Westminster Confession of Faith, a 
perfunctory act which even Hume would readily have 
performed without the scandal that surrounded Jowett's 
cynical subscription a century later. But it was 
noticed by the orthodox that he was sadly wanting in 
zeal. Hutcheson, doubtless with the purpose of 
naturalising theology, had conducted a Sunday class 
on Christian evidences. Adam Smith discontinued 
this practice, and it was even whispered that he had 
applied to the authorities shortly after his appoint- 
ment to be excused from opening his class with prayer. 
The request was refused, but the results were not satis- 
factory ; for according to a contemporary, John 
Ramsay of Ochtertyre, his opening prayers " savoured 
strongly of natural religion," while his theological 
lectures, though shorter, were no less flattering to 
human pride than those of Hutcheson, and led "pre- 
sumptuous striplings " to draw the unwarranted conclu- 
sion "that the great truths of theology, together with 
the duties which man owes to God and his neighbours, 
may be discovered by the light of nature without any 
special revelation." He was also, they say, often seen 
to smile openly during divine service in his place in the 
college chapel. When one remembers what orthodox 
Scottish sermons at that time meant, it is safe to con- 
jecture that the smile was not always due (as Ramsay 
would have it) to an absent thought. 

Although the lectures on Natural Theology have 
disappeared, the lectures on Morals were elaborated 
and published in 1759 as The Theory of Moral Senti- 



in.] RELIGIOUS ESTABLISHMENTS 39 

merits. From this, his first important work, we may 
sufficiently ascertain how far Smith's philosophy of 
life was based upon religious conceptions. Fortune 
governs the world. Nature intended the happiness 
and perfection of the species. Every part of nature, 
when attentively surveyed, equally demonstrates the 
providential care of its Author. Smith's own scepti- 
cism is so carefully phrased and so disguised in soft 
language, that a stupid reader is never perplexed, a 
devout one never offended. Take, for example, his 
reflections upon the doctrine of a future life. That 
there is a world to come, he says in a passage of striking 
eloquence, " is a doctrine in every respect so venerable, 
so comfortable to the weakness, so flattering to the 
grandeur of human nature, that the virtuous man, who 
has the misfortune to doubt of it, cannot possibly 
avoid wishing most earnestly and anxiously to believe 
it. It could never have been exposed to the derision 
of the scoffer, had not the distribution of rewards and 
punishments, which some of its most zealous assertors 
have taught us was to be made in that world to come, 
been too frequently in direct opposition to all our 
moral sentiments." Smith had no great respect for the 
devout. To him the ritual and worship of the Deity 
seemed like the service and courtship of kings. He 
refuses to believe that an all-wise Deity would have a 
mind for adulation or would offer heavenly rewards to 
those who consecrate their lives to His worship : — 

"That the assiduous courtier is often more favoured than 
the faithful and active servant ; that attendance and adula- 
tion are often shorter and surer roads to preferment than merit 
or service ; and that a campaign at Versailles or St. James's is 
often worth two either in Germany or Flanders, is a complaint 



40 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

which we have all heard from many a venerable, but discon- 
tented, old officer. But what is considered as the greatest 
reproach even to the weakness of earthly sovereigns, has been 
ascribed, asan act of justice, to divine perfection ; and the 
duties of devotion, the public and private worship of the Deity, 
have been represented even by men of virtue and abilities, as 
the sole virtues which can either entitle to reward or exempt 
from punishment in the life to come." 

His indignation flames out against celebrated 
doctors, both civil and ecclesiastical, who have ques- 
tioned whether faith should be kept with rebels and 
heretics ("those unlucky persons who, when things 
have come to a certain degree of violence, have the 
misfortune to be of the weaker party "). Of all the 
corrupters of moral sentiments, " faction and fanaticism 
have always been by far the greatest." 

Morality is natural, but its rules have been sanctioned 
by the rudest forms of religion. Whether our moral 
faculties depend upon a modification of reason, upon 
a moral sense, or upon some other principle of our 
nature, they carry with them the most evident badges 
of authority, and were plainly set up within us to 
superintend our passions and appetites and to be the 
supreme arbiters of our actions. They are described 
in religious language as the vice-regents of God within 
us ; they never fail to punish sin by the torments of 
inward shame and self-condemnation; they reward 
obedience with tranquillity and contentment. Oncken 
thinks that Smith's eloquent vindication of conscience 
helped to form Kant's moral idealism ; but it puts us 
more in mind of the Roman satirist's great line — 

" Nocte dieque suum gestare in pectore testem." 
Moral judgments likewise help to correct in some 



in.] RELIGIOUS ESTABLISHMENTS 41 

measure the course of this world. " The industrious 
knave cultivates the soil; the indolent good man 
leaves it uncultivated. Who ought to reap the 
harvest ? " Here the natural course of things decides 
against the natural sentiments of mankind. Human 
laws therefore often punish the knave or traitor though 
industrious, and reward the good citizen though im- 
provident. Thus man is by nature prompted to correct 
nature ; but even so his endeavours are often impotent ; 
the current is too strong. Our natural sentiments are 
often shocked. We see great combinations oppress 
small. We see the innocent suffer. Despairing of 
earthly forces to check the triumph of injustice, we 
naturally appeal to heaven, "and thus we are led to a 
belief in the future state by the love of virtue," and 
moral rules acquire new sanctity by being regarded as 
the laws of an all-powerful Deity. As religion in this 
way enforces an innate sense of duty, mankind is 
generally disposed to place great confidence in the 
probity of those who seem to be deeply religious. 

And where religion has not been corrupted, 
"wherever men are not taught to regard frivolous 
observances, as more immediate duties of religion, 
than acts of justice and beneficence ; and to imagine, 
that by sacrifices, and ceremonies, and vain supplica- 
tions, they can bargain with the Deity for fraud, and 
perfidy, and violence, the world undoubtedly judges 
right in this respect, and justly places a double 
confidence in the rectitude of the religious man's 
behaviour." 

Upon the dangerous question of religious establish- 
ments and dissenting sects he wrote afterwards in 
the Wealth of Nations (Book v. i.) with a boldness 



42 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

and an air of detachment that might well startle even 
that age of tolerant indifference. He contrasts the 
teachers of new religions with the clergy of an ancient 
system, who are frequently possessed of learning, 
eloquence, and all the gentlemanly virtues. "Such 
a clergy, when attacked by a set of popular and bold 
though perhaps stupid and ignorant enthusiasts, feel 
themselves as perfectly defenceless as the indolent, 
effeminate, and full-fed nations of the southern parts of 
Asia, when they were invaded by the active, hardy, 
and hungry Tartars of the north." Commonly, the 
only resource of such a clergy upon such an emergency 
is to summon the government to persecute or expel 
their adversaries. "It was thus that the Eoman 
Catholic clergy called upon the civil magistrate to 
persecute the Protestants, and the Church of England 
to persecute the Dissenters." 

An established church may have a superiority of 
learning, but in the art of gaining popularity the 
advantage is always with its adversaries. He finds 
that, as dissenting bodies grow richer, their zeal and 
activity abate. The Independents, for instance, had 
many learned, ingenious, and respectable men ; but the 
Methodists, without half the learning of the Dissenters, 
were more in vogue. The strength of the Church of 
Rome he attributed to the fact that the industry of its 
inferior clergy was better fostered by motives of self- 
interest than in the case of any established Protestant 
church ; for many of the parish priests subsisted largely 
on voluntary gifts, " a source of revenue which con- 
fession gives them many opportunities of improving." 
He notes also Machiavelli's observation, that the 
establishment of the begging orders of St. Dominic and 



in.] RELIGIOUS ESTABLISHMENTS 43 

St. Francis revived, in the thirteenth and fourteenth 
centuries, the languishing faith and devotion of the 
Catholic Church. Upon the question of the value of 
a State Church, Smith quotes from a certain passage of 
Hume's History, referring to his friend as " by far the 
most illustrious philosopher and historian of the present 
age." Hume had come to the conclusion that the civil 
magistrate who neglects to establish a religion will find 
he has dearly paid for his frugality, "and that in 
reality the most decent and advantageous composition 
which he can make with the spiritual guides, is to 
bribe their indolence by assigning stated salaries to 
their profession," so that ecclesiastical establishments, 
"though commonly they arose at first from religious 
views, prove in the end advantageous to the political 
interests of society." 

But Smith, with the same dislike for "zeal," had 
too much respect for liberty, too much love of honesty 
in politics, to adopt Hume's cynical solution. He 
would find security in numbers. A State shoulp 
extend toleration to all; society would naturally 
divide itself into hundreds of small sects, none of 
which could be considerable enough to disturb the 
public tranquillity. The teachers of each sect would 
be forced to learn a candour and moderation which is 
seldom to be found among an established clergy ; and 
in this way, by mutual concessions, their doctrine 
would probably be reduced in time " to that pure and 
rational religion, free from every mixture of absurdity, 
imposture, or fanaticism, such as wise men have in all 
ages of the world wished to see established, but such 
as positive law has perhaps never yet established in 
any country." This plan of ecclesiastical government, 



44 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

he adds, or more properly no ecclesiastical government, 
was what the Independents, " a sect no doubt of very 
wild enthusiasts," proposed to establish in England 
towards the end of the Civil War. "If it had been 
established, though of a very unphilosophical origin, it 
would probably by this time have been productive of 
the most philosophical good temper and moderation 
with regard to every sort of religious principle." Such 
is the plan favoured by Adam Smith, and he observes 
that in Pennsylvania, where it had been adopted, 
experience justified his opinion. 

Smith was so popular with his orthodox contempo- 
raries that they tried to parry charges of infidelity by 
saying either that he had adopted Hume's opinions 
out of the intense affection he felt for him, or that he 
had been perverted by French atheists. " In the course 
of his travels," says one of the most broad-minded of 
his Presbyterian contemporaries (John Ramsay), "he 
became acquainted with Voltaire and the other French 
philosophers who were then labouring with unhallowed 
industry in the vineyard of infidelity." What impres- 
sion they made upon him, adds this cautious man, 
"cannot be precisely known, because neither before 
nor after this period was his religious creed ever 
properly ascertained." 

Twenty years after Adam Smith's death, Archbishop 
Magee, in a controversy with Unitarian theologians, 
cited a passage from the Moral Sentiments on the 
doctrine of atonement, in which Smith had said that 
the doctrines of revelation coincide in every respect 
with the original anticipations of nature. "Such," 
wrote the divine, "are the reflections of a man whose 
powers of thinking and reasoning will surely not be 



in.] RELIGIOUS ESTABLISHMENTS 45 

pronounced inferior to those of any even of the most 
distinguished champions of the Unitarian school." 
The rejoinder was at once made that in the sixth 
edition, which Smith prepared for the press in 1790, 
the passage was omitted ; whereupon the prelate (for- 
getting that Hume died in 1776, after four editions 
had appeared with this presentation of the reasonable- 
ness of an atonement) deftly turned a new moral : " It 
adds one proof more to the many that already existed 
of the danger, even to the most enlightened, from a 
familiar contact with infidelity." 



CHAPTER IV 

THE THEORY OF MORAL SENTIMENTS 

In 1759, the seventh year of his professorship, Smith 
completed the first of his two capital achievements. 
His scholiasts are still curiously hazy about its early 
editions, partly perhaps because neither the first, 
second, nor third is to be found in the library of the 
British Museum. The first edition is a single octavo 
volume of 551 pages, printed in good large type. 1 The 
title-page runs as follows : — 

THE 

THEORY 

OF 

MORAL SENTIMENTS 

by Adam Smith 

Professor of Moral Philosophy in the 
University of Glasgow. 

London : 

Printed for A. Millar, in the Strand 

and A. Kincaid and J. Bell in Edinburgh. 

MDCCLIX. 

1 Mr. Rae, usually the most accurate of authorities, states 
that the first edition appeared " in two volumes 8vo." 
46 



ch.iv.] THE THEORY OF MORAL SENTIMENTS 47 

Andrew Millar was then at the head of the London 
publishers. He had shown some time before, when 
Hume's History fell into his hands, that he knew how 
to push a good book, and on this occasion too the firm 
lived up to its reputation. 

Early in April, Hume, who was in London, received 
some copies, and wrote to thank Smith "for the 
agreeable present." Always zealous in the service of 
friendship and Scottish literature, he employed all the 
wiles of diplomacy to promote the success of the book. 
"Wedderburn and I," he writes, "made presents of 
our copies to such of our acquaintances as we thought 
good judges and proper to spread the reputation of 
the book. I sent one to the Duke of Argyle, and 
Lord Lyttelton, Horace Walpole, Soame Jenyns, and 
Bourke, an English gentleman who wrote lately a very 
pretty treatise on the Sublime. Millar (the publisher) 
desired my permission to send one in your name 
to Dr. Warburton." Hume had delayed writing till 
he could tell how the book had been received and 
" could prognosticate with some probability whether it 
should be finally damned to oblivion, or should be 
registered in the Temple of Immortality." Though it 
has only been out for a few weeks, he thinks he can 
now foretell its fate. But instead of gratifying an 
author's impatience, Hume pretends to have been 
interrupted by an impertinent visitor, and digresses 
upon vacancies in the Scottish Universities, upon a 
new edition of Ferguson's Treatise on Refinement, on 
Wilkie's Epigoniad, and Lord Karnes's Law Tracts. At 
last he seems to be coming to the point : — 

" But to return to your book and its success in this 
town. I must tell you 



48 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

"A plague to interruptions! — I ordered myself to 
be denied, and yet here is one that has broken in upon 
me again." The second visitor was a man of letters, 
and Hume goes off on a new scent. He advises Smith 
to read Helvetius's new book De L'Esprit, and adds, 
"Voltaire has lately published a small work called 
Candide ou L'Optimisme. I shall give you a detail of it." 

At last the badinage comes to an end with a warn- 
ing that popularity is no test of merit. A wise man 
should rather be disquieted than elated by the appro- 
bation of the multitude : — 

" Supposing, therefore, that you have duly prepared yourself 
for the worst by all these reflections, I proceed to tell you the 
melancholy news that your book has been very unfortunate, 
for the public seem disposed to applaud it extremely. It was 
looked for by the foolish people with some impatience ; and 
the mob of literati are beginning already to be very loud in 
its praises. Three bishops called yesterday at Millar's shop 
in order to buy copies, and to ask questions about the author. 
The Bishop of Peterborough said he had passed the evening 
in a company where he heard it extolled above all books in the 
world. The Duke of Argyle is more decisive than he used to 
be in its favour. I suppose he either considers it as an exotic, 
or thinks the author will be very serviceable to him in the 
Glasgow elections. Lord Lyttelton says that Robertson and 
Smith and Bower are the glories of English literature. 
Oswald protests he does not know whether he has reaped 
more instruction or entertainment from it, but you may easily 
judge what reliance can be placed on his judgment. He has 
been engaged all his life in public business, and he never sees 
any faults in his friends. Millar exults and brags that two- 
thirds of the edition are already sold, and that he is now sure 
of success. You see what a son of the earth that is, to value 
books only by the profit they bring him. In that view, I 
■believe, it may prove a very good book. 

" Charles Townshend, who passes for the cleverest fellow in 



iv.] THE THEORY OF MORAL SENTIMENTS 49 

England, is so much taken with the performance, that he said 
to Oswald he would put the Duke of Buccleugh under the 
author's care, and would make it worth his while to accept of 
that charge. As soon as I heard this, I called on him twice 
with a view of talking with him ahout the matter, and of con- 
vincing him of the propriety of sending that young gentleman 
to Glasgow, for I could not hope that he could offer you any 
terms which would tempt you to renounce your professorship ; 
but I missed him. Mr. Townshend passes for being a little 
uncertain in his resolutions, so perhaps you need not build 
much on his sally." 

On this occasion, as will appear in a later chapter, 
Townshend proved true to his resolve and false to his 
reputation. 

Burke, who afterwards became one of Smith's most 
intimate friends, was at this time known for his philo- 
sophical inquiry into the origin of our ideas of the 
Sublime and Beautiful (1757). He was also a prin- 
cipal contributor to the Annual Register; and that 
publication, in its admirable account of books pub- 
lished during the year 1759, quotes a long passage 
from the Theory of Moral Sentiments, with a prefatory 
tribute from Burke's pen, which might quench the 
thirst of the thirstiest author. Smith is praised for 
having struck out a new, and at the same time a 
perfectly natural, road of ethical speculation. 

"The theory is in all its essential parts just, and founded 
on truth and nature. The author seeks for the founda- 
tion of the just, the fit, the proper, the decent, in our most 
common and most allowed passions ; and making appro- 
bation and disapprobation the tests of virtue and vice, and 
shewing that those are founded on sympathy, he raises from 
this simple truth, one of the most beautiful fabrics of moral 
theory, that has perhaps ever appeared. The illustrations are 
numerous and happy, and shew the author to be a man of 

D 



50 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

uncommon observation. His language is easy and spirited, 
and puts things before you in the fullest light ; it is rather 
painting than writing." 

"Perhaps there is no ethical work since Cicero's 
Offices" wrote Sir James Mackintosh, "of which an 
abridgment enables the reader so inadequately to 
estimate the merit, as the Theory of Moral Sentiments. 
This is not chiefly owing to the beauty of diction, as 
in the case of Cicero, but to the variety of explanations 
of life and manners which embellish the book often 
more than they illuminate the theory." 

This criticism has been adopted by Mr. Farrer in his 
luminous account of Smith's moral philosophy, and its 
justice may be conceded. With all its faults, the 
Theory of Moral Sentiments is still one of the most 
instructive and entertaining of all our English treatises 
on ethics. There is plenty of warmth and colour. The 
argument is never bare ; you follow its thread through 
a wondrous maze, till your perplexities are solved, 
and you finally congratulate yourself as well as the 
author on having rejected all the errors and collected 
all the wisdom of the ages. When the main theme 
threatens to be tedious he entertains you with an 
imaginary portrait, or digresses into some subsidiary 
discussion upon fortune, or fashion, or some other of 
the currents that turn men from their purpose. It 
has been observed that the strongest antagonists of 
Smith's central doctrine are enthusiastic in praising 
his skill in the analysis of human nature. The truth 
is, that the most absent-minded was also the most 
observant of men. He seems to have watched the 
actions and passions of his acquaintances with extra- 
ordinary precision. Motives interested him at least 



iv.] THE THEORY OF MORAL SENTIMENTS 51 

as much as conduct ; lie rather blames philosophers for 
having of late years given too much attention to the 
tendency of affections, and too little to the relationship 
in which they stand to their causes. 

His immediate predecessors and contemporaries 
in the field of ethics were principally concerned with 
the origin and authority of right and wrong. Why 
does mankind generally agree as to what is right and 
what is wrong; whence are the notions of "ought" 
and "ought not" derived if not from the church or 
the Bible 1 At the time Smith wrote, English moralists 
were divided upon this point into two main schools. 
Of the first, who derived all moral rules from self- 
interest, Hobbes, Mandeville, and Hume were the 
principal exponents. The second school sought for a 
less variable standard, and have been called Intuition- 
alists, because they believed either with Clarke and 
Price that moral truths are perceived like axioms of 
Euclid, by the intellect, or with Shaftesbury and 
Hutcheson, that there is innate in us a moral sense or 
taste (developed by Bishop Butler into conscience) 
which prompts us to do right and tells us the difference 
between good and evil. 

Moralists were equally divided upon the question, 
"In what does virtue consist 1 ?" His old teacher 
Hutcheson had answered that it consisted in benevo- 
lence ; others thought that prudence was the true mark 
of the good man. In Adam Smith's view, prudence 
and benevolence are equally essential ingredients in 
the constitution of a perfectly virtuous character. 
With virtue he associates happiness, and his individual 
view of both is based partly upon the Greek philosophy 
of an independent leisure, partly upon the Christian 



52 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

conception of doing good to others ; and we feel that 
he does not always succeed in reconciling the new ideal 
with the old. "Happiness," he says, "consists in 
tranquillity and enjoyment. Without tranquillity 
there can be no enjoyment." Tranquillity, he thinks, 
is "the natural and usual state of a man's mind." But 
the tranquillity to be desired was as far removed from 
indolence or apathy as from avarice or ambition. It 
was the active tranquillity of a well furnished mind 
and a benevolent heart. 

Peace of mind, family peace, a country free from 
civil, religious, and foreign strife, — these he thought in 
their order the things most momentous to happiness. 
Yet he would not allow the leisurely philosopher to 
bask in the selfish sunshine of tranquillity. "The 
most sublime contemplation of the philosopher will 
scarce compensate the neglect of the smallest act of 
virtue." The study of politics tends to promote public 
spirit, and political disquisitions are therefore the most 
useful of all speculations. The trade of the vulgar 
politician was often ignoble and deceitful; but the 
best happiness attended the patriotism and public 
spirit of those who sought to improve government and 
extend trade. The leader of a successful party may 
do far more for his country than the greatest general. 
He may re-establish and reform its constitution, and 
from the doubtful and ambiguous character of a party 
leader he may assume "the greatest and noblest of all 
characters, that of the reformer and legislator of a 
great state," who by the wisdom of his institutions 
secures the international tranquillity and happiness of 
his fellow-citizens for many succeeding generations. 

For the man of system in politics Smith has no 



iv.] THE THEORY OF MORAL SENTIMENTS 53 

liking. Wise in his own conceit, such a man " seems 
to imagine that he can arrange the different members 
of a great society with as much ease as the hand 
arranges the different pieces upon a chessboard." He 
forgets that "in the great chessboard of human 
society every single piece has a principle of motion of 
its own, altogether different from that which the legis- 
lature might choose to impress upon it." 

A true son of Oxford in his admiration for Aristotle, 
he was fond, as we have seen, of appealing to 
common life and popular opinion. But another of 
Aristotle's methods, that of the eclectic who arrives at 
the truth by choosing out and combining what is good 
in other philosophers, may almost be said to be the 
foundation of The Moral Sentiments. When, after 
explaining his system, he comes in his last (seventh) 
part to describe and criticise his predecessors, it is 
apparent that he considers his own theory to be an 
assemblage or reconciliation in one harmonious whole 
of all the happiest efforts of ethical speculation : — 

" If we examine the most celebrated and remarkable of the 
different theories which have been given concerning the nature 
and origin of our moral sentiments, we shall find that almost 
all of them coincide with some part or other of that which I 
have been endeavouring to give an account of; and that if 
everything which has already been said be fully considered, 
we shall be at no loss to explain what was the view or aspect 
of nature which led each particular author to form his 
particular system. From some one or other of those principles 
which I have been endeavouring to unfold, every system of 
morality that ever had any reputation in the world has, 
perhaps, ultimately been derived." 

A good example of this eclecticism is his treatment 
of Mandeville, an author from whom Smith no less 



54 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

than Kousseau derived many fruitful ideas. In 
the first edition of The Moral Sentiments (p. 474) he 
writes : — 

"There are, however, some other systems which seem to 
take away altogether the distinction between vice and virtue, 
and of which the tendency is upon that account wholly 
pernicious : I mean the systems of the Duke of Rochefoucauld 
and Dr. Mandeville. Though the notions of both these 
authors are in almost every respect erroneous, there are, how- 
ever, some appearances in human nature which, when viewed 
in a certain manner, seem at first sight to favour them. 
These, first slightly sketched out with the elegance and delicate 
precision of the Duke of Rochefoucauld, and afterwards more 
fully represented with the lively and humorous, though 
coarse and rustic, eloquence of Dr. Mandeville, have thrown 
upon their doctrine an air of truth and probability which is 
very apt to impose upon the unskilful." 

Bishop Butler, more justly, classed Rochefoucauld 
with Hobbes. But in Smith's sixth edition (1790) the 
name of Kochefoucauld was omitted, at the instance of 
the Duke's grandson, who pointed out that the author 
of the Maxims is not really in the same category with 
Mandeville. Coarse and licentious, but entertaining 
and ingenious, the author of the Fable of the Bees hit 
human nature hard. He traced virtuous actions to 
vanity, and whittled away the distinction between vice 
and virtue, until he reached the paradox that private 
vices are public benefits. But this profligate system 
could never have caused so much stir and alarm in 
the world " had it not in some respects bordered upon 
the truth." We are very easily imposed upon by the 
most absurd travellers' tales about distant countries. 
But falsehoods about the parish we live in must, if 
they are to deceive us, bear some resemblance to the 



iv.] THE THEORY OF MORAL SENTIMENTS 55 

truth, nay, "must even have a considerable mixture 
of truth in them." A natural philosopher has an 
analogous advantage over the speculator in ethics. 
The vortices of Deseartes passed for nearly a century 
as a most satisfactory account of the revolutions of 
heavenly bodies, though they neither existed nor 
could possibly exist, and though if they did exist 
they could not produce such effects as were ascribed 
to them. But the moral philosopher is no better off 
than the parish liar. He is giving an account of 
things that are constantly before us, around us, and 
within us. " Though here, too, like indolent masters 
who put their trust in a steward that deceives them, 
we are very liable to be imposed upon, yet we are 
incapable of passing any account which does not 
preserve some little regard to the truth." 

In describing those systems which make virtue consist 
in propriety, Smith displays a profound knowledge of 
Plato, Aristotle, and the later schools of Greek 
philosophy. His admiration of Zeno and Epictetus is 
almost unbounded, especially when he contemplates 
their confident opinion that a man should always be 
able to support worldly misfortunes. " They endeavour 
to point out the comforts which a man might still 
enjoy when reduced to poverty, when driven into 
banishment, when exposed to the injustice of popular 
clamour, when labouring under blindness, deafness, in 
the extremity of old age, upon the approach of death." 
He holds that the few fragments which have been 
preserved of this philosophy are among the most 
instructive remains of antiquity. "The spirit and 
manhood of their doctrines make a wonderful contrast 
with the desponding, plaintive, and whining tone of 



56 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

some modern systems." Chrysippus, on the other 
hand, did but reduce stoicism into a scholastic or 
technical system of artificial definitions, divisions, 
and subdivisions, " one of the most effectual expedients, 
perhaps, for extinguishing whatever degree of good 
sense there may be in any moral or metaphysical 
system." 

Admirable as were the best stoics and epicureans 
and those Roman writers who, like Cicero and Seneca, 
direct us to the imperfect but attainable virtues, they 
quite misunderstood nature. " By nature, the events 
which immediately affect that little department in 
which we ourselves have some little management and 
direction, which immediately affect ourselves, our 
friends, our country, are the events which interest us 
the most and which chiefly excite our desires and 
aversions, our hopes and fears, our joys and sorrows." 
Here and in similar passages he follows his favourite, 
Pope : — 

" God loves from whole to parts ; but human soul 
Must rise from individual to the whole. 
Self-love but serves the virtuous mind to wake, 
As the small pebble stirs the peaceful lake ; 
The centre mov'd, a circle straight succeeds, 
Another still, and still another spreads ; 
Friend, parent, neighbour, first it will embrace ; 
His country next ; and next all human race." 

Every moralist's, even Epictetus's, description of virtue 
is just as far as it goes. But Smith claims to have been 
the first to give any precise or distinct measure by 
which the fitness or propriety of affection can be ascer- 
tained and judged. Such a measure he finds in the 
sympathetic feelings of the impartial and well-informed 



iv.] THE THEORY OF MORAL SENTIMENTS 57 

spectator. Here, then, we have the central and peculiar 
doctrine that stamps with originality Adam Smith's 
Tlieory of Moral Sentiments. 1 

That sympathy or fellow-feeling is a primary instinct 
of man appears from the commonest incidents of life. 
Do we not shrink when a blow is aimed at another, do 
not the spectators wriggle as they follow a rope-dancer's 
contortions, are we not moved by tears, is not laughter 
infectious I Sympathy is agreeable. We like to give 
it, and we long for it. It is too instinctive to be 
explained (though some would do so) by a refinement of 
self-love. Yet it is not a mere reflection or shadow. 
Generally speaking, we only sympathise when our senti- 
ments and feelings correspond with those of another. 
Sympathy means approval. To give it is to praise, to 
withhold it to blame. How, then, does Adam Smith 
account for the growth of moral sentiments in the man, 
and for the progress of morality in mankind 1 ? He 
holds that what we call conscience, or the sense of duty, 
arises from a certain reflex action of sympathy. We 
apply to ourselves the moral judgments we have 
learned to pass on others. We imagine what they will 
say and think about our own thoughts and words and 
actions. We try to look at ourselves with the impartial 
eyes of other people, and seek to anticipate that judg- 
ment which they are likely to pass upon us. This is 

1 The crude theory that sympathy is the foundation of 
altruism was noticed by Hutcheson. In his System of Moral 
Philosophy (B. i. ch. iii.) he writes : "Others say that we regard 
the good of others, or of societies ... as the means of some 
subtiler pleasures of our own by sympathy with others in 
their happiness." But this sympathy, he adds, "can never 
account for all kind affections, tho' it is no doubt a natural 
principle and a beautiful part of our constitution." 



58 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

the first stage. But men have very different degrees 
of morality and wisdom. One man's praise or blame 
carries infinitely more weight than another's. Thus 
what is called conscience, that is our idea of the im- 
partial spectator, insensibly develops. The impartial 
spectator becomes more and more our ideal man, and 
we come to pay more homage to his still small Voice 
than to the judgment of the world. The pangs of con- 
science are far more terrible than the condemnation of 
the market-place. Praiseworthiness comes to be better 
than praise ; blameworthiness comes to be worse than 
blame. The true hell is the hell within the breast; 
the worst tortures are those that follow the sentence 
of the impartial spectator. One feature in the pheno- 
mena of sympathy, which Smith points out, perhaps 
constitutes a weak point in his theory. The spectator's 
emotions are apt to fall short of the sufferer's. Com- 
passion is never exactly the same as original sorrow. 

Smith, like Kant, has his own way, and a curious one 
it is, of putting the rule of Christ. "As to love our 
neighbour as we love ourselves is the great law of 
Christianity, so it is the great precept of nature to love 
ourselves only as we love our neighbour, or what comes 
to the same thing, as our neighbour is capable of loving 
us." Our philosopher readily admits that there are 
passions, like love, which, "though almost unavoidable 
in some part of life," are not at first sight very agree- 
able to his theory. He says we cannot enter into the 
eagerness of a lover's emotions. They are always "in 
some measure ridiculous." "The passion appears to 
everybody but the man who feels it entirely dispropor- 
tioned to the value of the object." Ovid's gaiety and 
Horace's gallantry are pleasant enough, but you grow 



iv.] THE THEORY OF MORAL SENTIMENTS 59 

weary of the " grave, pedantic, and long-sentenced love 
of Cowley and Petrarca." 

Resentment provides him with a better illustra- 
tion. The counterpart of gratitude, it is a very 
difficult passion to realise in a proper degree. " How 
many things," he exclaims, "are requisite to render 
the gratification of resentment completely agreeable 
and to make the spectator thoroughly sympathise 
with our revenge 1 ?" First, the provocation must be 
such that if unresented we should become contemptible 
and be exposed to perpetual insults. Second, smaller 
offences had better be neglected. Third, we should 
resent from a sense of propriety and of what is expected 
of us. Above all, we should diligently consider what 
would be the sentiments of the cool and impartial 
spectator. 

Though the love of the lover has to be belittled for 
the purpose of this theory, friendship and all the social 
and benevolent affections are dear to sympathy and 
"please the indifferent spectator upon almost every 
occasion." True friendship is one of the virtues which 
prove the limitations of the utilitarian theory : " There 
is a satisfaction in the consciousness of being beloved 
which to a person of delicacy and sensibility is of more 
importance to happiness than all the advantage which 
he can expect to derive from it." 

As Smith goes through the list of virtues and vices 
his " Impartial Spectator " constantly reminds us of 
Aristotle's theory that every virtue is a mean between 
two extremes. The impartial spectator dislikes excess. 
The rise of the upstart, for example, is too sudden an 
extreme, nor does his behaviour often conciliate our 
affections : — 



60 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

" If the chief part of human happiness arises from the con- 
sciousness of being beloved, as I believe it does, those sudden 
changes of fortune seldom contribute much to happiness. He 
is happiest who advances more gradually to greatness, whom 
the public destines to every step of his preferment long before 
he arrives at it, in whom, upon that account, when it comes, it 
can excite no extravagant joy, and with regard to whom it 
cannot reasonably create either any jealousy in those he over- 
takes or any envy in those he leaves behind." 

The Impartial Spectator is rather a fickle and illogical 
person ; he does not like unexampled prosperity, but he 
is always ready to sympathise with trn r ial joys. " It is 
quite otherwise with grief. Small vexations excite no 
sympathy, but deep affliction calls forth the greatest." 
It takes a great grief to enlist our sympathy, for " it is 
painful to go along with grief, and we always enter it 
with reluctance." So when we hear a tragedy we 
struggle against sympathetic sorrow as long as we can, 
and when we finally give way, carefully conceal our 
tears ! In a letter of July the 28th, 1759, from which 
we have already quoted, Hume made some objections 
to this part of Smith's theory : — 

" I am told that you are preparing a new edition, and pro- 
pose to make some additions and alterations in order to 
obviate objections. I shall use the freedom to propose one ; 
which, if it appears to be of any weight, you may have in your 
eye. I wish you had more particularly and fully proved that 
all kinds of sympathy are agreeable. This is the hinge of 
your system, and yet you only mention the matter cursorily 
on p. 20. Now it would appear that there is a disagreeable 
sympathy as well as an agreeable. And, indeed, as the 
sympathetic passion is a reflex image of the principal, it must 
partake of its qualities, and be painful when that is so. . . . 

" It is always thought a difficult problem to account for the 
pleasure from the tears and grief and sympathy of tragedy, 



iv.] THE THEORY OF MORAL SENTIMENTS 61 

which would not be the case if all sympathy was agreeable. 
An hospital would be a more entertaining place than a ball. 
I am afraid that on p. 99 and 111 this proposition has escaped 
you, or rather is interwoven with your reasoning. In that 
place you say expressly, ' It is painful to go along with grief, 
and we always enter into it with reluctance.' It will probably 
be requisite for you to modify or explain this sentiment, and 
reconcile it to your system." 

In the following spring (April 4 th) Smith wrote 
from Glasgow to Strahan, Millar's young and very- 
able partner, about the second edition, for which he 
had sent "a good many corrections and improvements." 
He asks Strahan to take care that the book is printed 
" pretty exactly according to the copy I delivered to 
you." Strahan, it seems, had offered his services as 
a critic, and Smith was a little afraid that he might 
find unauthorised alterations in the text. He will be 
much obliged to his publisher for suggestions, but 
cannot consent to surrender "the precious right of 
private judgment, for the sake of which your fore- 
fathers kicked out the Pope and the Pretender. I 
believe you to be much more infallible than the Pope, 
but as I am a Protestant, my conscience makes me 
scruple to submit to any unscriptural authority." 

The second edition was issued soon afterwards. It 
has been erroneously described as a reprint of the first. 1 

1 Mr. Rae's Life of Adam Smith, pp. 148-9. Mr. Rae also 
says that it contained none of the alterations or additions that 
Hume expected, and expresses surprise that the additions, 
etc., which had been placed in the printer's hands in 1760 were 
not incorporated in the text until the publication of the sixth 
edition thirty years afterwards. On the other hand, he says 
that the Dissertation on the Origin of Languages was added. 
But the Dissertation was first appended in the third edition 
(1767). 



62 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

As a matter of fact, the corrections and alterations 
made in it were very numerous and it was set up in 
much smaller type, so that the 551 pages of the first 
edition are compressed, in spite of some enlargements 
of the text, into 436 pages. What is particularly note- 
worthy is that the author, without altering any of 
the passages criticised by Hume, does make what we 
conceive to be a perfectly satisfactory answer in an 
important footnote on page 76 of the second edition 
after the sentence, "It is painful to go along with 
grief, and we always enter into it with reluctance." 
We give the note in full in order that the reader may 
judge for himself: — 

"It has been objected to me that as I found the sentiment 
of approbation, which is always agreeable, upon sympathy, it 
is inconsistent with my system to admit any disagreeable 
sympathy. I answer, that in the sentiment of approbation 
there are two things to be taken notice of: first, the sym- 
pathetic passion of the spectator ; and secondly, the emotion 
which arises from his observing the perfect coincidence between 
this sympathetic passion in himself, and the original passion 
in the person principally concerned. This last emotion, in 
which the sentiment of approbation properly consists, is 
always agreeable and delightful. The other may either be 
agreeable or disagreeable, according to the nature of the 
original passion, whose features it must always, in some 
measure, retain. Two sounds, I suppose, may each of them, 
taken singly, be austere, and yet, if they are perfect concords, 
the perception of their harmony and coincidence may be 
agreeable." 

Of modern philosophers, those to whom Smith is 
most indebted are certainly Mandeville, his old master 
Hutcheson, and his friend Hume, "an ingenious and 
agreeable philosopher who joins the greatest depth of 



iv.] THE THEORY OF MORAL SENTIMENTS G3 

thought to the greatest elegance of expression, and 
possesses the singular and happy talent of treating the 
abstrusest subjects not only with the most perfect per- 
spicuity, but with the most lively eloquence." (Was 
it the religious prejudice against Hume that left his 
name unmentioned in the Theory 1) All four were in a 
greater or less degree utilitarians. But Smith denies 
that the perception of a distinction between virtue and 
vice originates in the utility of the one and the dis- 
advantageousness of the other. Hume would explain 
all virtues by their usefulness to oneself or society. 
But Smith only regards utility as a powerful additional 
reason for approving virtue and virtuous actions. It 
influences our ideas of virtue, as custom and fashion 
influence our ideas of beauty. Usefulness is seldom 
the first ground of approval, and "it seems impossible 
that we should have no other reason for praising a man 
than that for which we commend a chest of drawers." 
Even our approval of public spirit arises at first rather 
from a feeling of its magnificence and splendour than 
of its utility to the nation, though a sense of utility 
greatly strengthens our approval. Adam Smith notes, 
by the way, what Hume had not observed, that the fit- 
ness of a thing to produce its end is often more admired 
than the end itself. Most people prefer order and 
tidiness to the utility which they are intended to 
promote. 

Buckle has remarked on a contrast between Smith's 
theory of morals and his theory of economics. In 
the first, sympathy is the premise, and he works out the 
principle of sympathy to its logical conclusions. In the 
Wealth of Nations, on the contrary, the word sympathy 
scarcely occurs. He assumes self-interest as the sole 



64 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

motive of the economic man, and works out all the con- 
sequences without troubling about that other-regarding 
principle which is the foundation and measure of 
morality, though he shows, it is true, that the motive 
of self-interest, if sufficiently enlightened, will result 
in the general good. Without denying that Buckle's 
contention is suggestive, we may observe that Smith 
distinctly refuses to confine virtue to benevolence, 
and parts company on this very point from "the 
amiable system " of Hutcheson. " Kegard to our own 
private happiness, and interest too, appear," says he, 
"upon many occasions very laudable principles of 
action. The habits of economy, industry, discretion, 
attention, and application of thought are generally 
supposed to be cultivated from self-interested motives, , 
and at the same time are apprehended to be very 
praiseworthy qualities, which deserve the esteem and 
approbation of everybody." l Benevolence may perhaps 
be the sole principle of action in the Deity, but an 
imperfect creature like man must and ought often to 
act from other motives. 

To the third edition of the Moral Sentiments (1767) 
was appended an essay on the formation of Languages 
and the different genius of original and compounded 
languages. It is the fruit of his philological studies, 
and contains no doubt the substance of lectures that 
he had read in Edinburgh and Glasgow. He starts 
with the proposition that names of objects, that is to 
say, nouns substantive, must have been the first steps 
toward the making of a language. Two savages who 
had never been taught to speak would naturally begin 
to make their mutual wants intelligible by uttering 
1 See Moral Sentiments, 1st edition, p. 464. 



iv.] THE THEORY OF MORAL SENTIMENTS 65 

certain sounds, as cave, tree, fountain, whenever they 
wanted to denote particular objects. What was at 
first a proper name would thus be extended to similar 
objects, by the same law which leads us to call a great 
philosopher a Newton. Similarly, " a child that is just 
learning to speak calls every person who comes into 
the house its papa or its mamma." Smith could call 
to mind a clown "who did not know the proper 
name of the river which ran by his own door." 
It was "the river." This process of generalisation 
explains the formation of those classes and assort- 
ments called genera and species in the schools, "of 
which the ingenious and eloquent M. Rousseau of 
Geneva finds himself so much at a loss to account for 
the origin." 1 In his account of the dual number, 
which he finds in all primitive and uncompounded 
languages, he says that in the rude beginnings of 
society, one, two, and mare, might possibly be all the 
numerical distinctions which mankind would have any 
occasion to take notice of. But these words, though 
custom has rendered them familiar to us, "express 
perhaps the most subtle and refined abstractions 
which the mind of man is capable of forming." His 
purpose through all this ingenious train of reasoning 
was to suggest a new mode of approaching a subject 
which, in itself so fascinating, had been reduced to a 
dull routine. He is very severe on the Minerva of 
Sanctius and on some other grammarians who, neglect- 
ing the progress of nature, had expended all their 
industry in drawing up a number of artificial rules so as 

1 Origine de Vinigaliti. Parlie premiere, pp. 376, 377. 
Edition d' Amsterdam des ceuvres diverges de J. J. Rousseau. 
The reference iafrom Moral Sentiments, 3rd ed. p. 440. 

£ 



66 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

to exclude exceptions. He sees that languages are the 
products not of art but of nature or circumstance. He 
explains how the modern dialects of Europe arose from 
conquest, migration, and mixture — through Lombards 
trying to speak Latin, or Normans trying to speak 
Saxon. In this way the older tongues were decom- 
posed and simplified in their rudiments while they 
grew more complex in composition. The processes 
of linguistic development provoke a comparison of 
philology with mechanics : — 

" All machines are generally, when first invented, extremely 
complex in their principles, and there is often a particular 
principle of motion for every particular movement which, it is 
intended, they should perform. Succeeding improvers observe, 
that one principle may be so applied as to produce several of 
those movements, and thus the machine becomes gradually 
more and more simple, and produces its effects with fewer 
wheels, and fewer principles of motion. In Language, in the 
same manner, every case of every noun, and every tense of 
every verb, was originally expressed by a particular distinct 
word, which served for this purpose and for no other. But 
succeeding observation discovered that one set of words was 
capable of supplying the place of all that infinite number, and 
that four or five prepositions, and half a dozen auxiliary verbs, 
were capable of answering the end of all the declensions, and 
of all the conjugations in the antient Languages." 

The comparison, however, suggests a contrast. The 
simplification of machines renders them more perfect, 
but the simplification of languages renders them more 
and more imperfect, and less proper (in his opinion) 
for many of the purposes of expression. Thus in a 
decomposed and simple language, he observes, we are 
often restrained from disposing words and sounds in 
the most agreeable order. When Virgil writes 
" Tityre tu patulae recubans sub tegmine fagi," 



iv.] THE THEORY OF MORAL SENTIMENTS 67 

we can easily see that tu refers to recubans, and 
patulae to fagi, though the related words are separated 
from one another by the intervention of several others. 
But if we translate the line literally into English, 
Tityrus, thou of spreading reclining under the shade leech, 
(Edipus himself could not make sense of it, because 
there is no difference in termination to assist us in 
tracking out the meaning. In the same way Milton's 
exquisite translation of Horace, " Who now enjoys thee, 
credulous all gold," etc., can only be interpreted by 
aid of the original. We may dissent when he goes on 
to denounce " the prolixness, constraint, and monotony 
of modern languages." Yet it would be as unfair to 
estimate the scientific value of these speculations by 
the accumulated achievements of modern philologists, 
as to sneer at his essay on the Imitative Arts or at 
Burke's treatise on the Sublime and Beautiful, because 
Lessing has helped inferior men to see so much 
further. 



CHAPTER V 

IN THE GLASGOW CHAIR — THE LECTURES ON 
JUSTICE AND POLICE 

The finding of Adam Smith's lectures on Justice, 
Police, Revenue, and Arms, 133 years at least after 
their last delivery and 105 years after the author 
had had his own folio notes of them destroyed, is 
not only one of the curiosities of literature, it is also 
the most important aid that has been afforded to the 
study of Smith's economic, social, and juristic ideas 
since the appearance in 1793 of Dugald Stewart's 
biographical sketch. From 1793 to 1896, hundreds 
of German students big with their epoch-making theses 
" iiber Smiths Entwicklung," scores of Frenchmen eager 
to prove the superiority of Quesnai and Turgot, and 
perhaps half a dozen English critics had whetted their 
ingenuity on a brief account of the Glasgow lectures 
which was supplied to Dugald Stewart by Adam 
Smith's old pupil and friend, John Millar. Accord- 
ing to Millar, Smith's course, while he occupied the 
chair of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow, fell into four 
parts, the first two of which consisted, as we have 
seen, of Natural Theology and Ethics. In the 
third part he treated at more length of that branch 
of morality which relates to justice. Here he followed 
the plan suggested by Montesquieu, " endeavouring 

68 



ch.v.]THE LECTURES ON JUSTICE AND POLICE 69 

to trace the gradual progress of jurisprudence, both 
public and private, from the rudest to the most refined 
ages." This important branch of his labours he also 
intended to give to the public, but he did not live to 
fulfil his intention. 

In the last part of his lectures he examined those 
political regulations which are founded not upon justice, 
but expediency, and considered the political institutions 
relating to commerce, to finance, to ecclesiastical and 
military establishments. " What he delivered on these 
subjects contained the substance of the work he after- 
wards published under the title of An Inquiry into the 
Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations." 

This was all that the world knew of Adam Smith's 
lectures on jurisprudence and political economy, save 
that at the end of his Theory of Moral Sentiments he 
promised " another discourse " dealing with the general 
principles of law and government, and with the different 
revolutions they have undergone in the different ages 
and periods of society, "not only in what concerns 
justice, but in what concerns police, revenue, and arms, 
and whatever else in the subject of law." On the first 
section of his lectures Adam Smith never even promised 
a book. He had no ambition to bring the kirk about 
his ears. The second section took shape, as we have 
seen, in the Theory of Moral Sentiments, after the publica- 
tion of which in 1759 the plan of the lectures under- 
went a change, the ethical part being compressed and 
the economical part extended. The Wealth of Nations 
covers the subject of police, revenue, and arms, and so 
executes the promise in part. "What remains," he 
wrote in 1790, "the theory of Jurisprudence, which I 
have long projected, I have hitherto been hindered 



70 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

from executing." In the lectures now discovered and 
published we have therefore a first draft of the Wealth 
of Nations and also a first draft of the projected work 
on Justice, or Jurisprudence, "a sort of theory and 
history of law and government, " as he called it in a 
letter of 1785. 

How, then, comes it to pass that we possess these 
legal and economic lectures just as Smith delivered 
them to his class at Glasgow, in spite of Dugald 
Stewart's express statement that no part of them had 
been preserved " excepting what he himself published 
in the Theory of Moral Sentiments and in The Wealth of 
Nations " ? 

When Smith left Glasgow in 1764 his fame stood 
high, and probably there were many note-books 
containing his lectures floating about in the college. 
A good manuscript of useful lectures would pass from 
one student to another and might from time to time 
be found on a bookstall. In the session of 1762-3, or 
possibly of the previous year, an intelligent and atten- 
tive student took down Smith's lectures with unusual 
accuracy. At least one copy was taken of it after 
Smith had left the University j for the manuscript so 
happily preserved is dated 1766, is clear, well written, 
and free from abbreviations, while some of the mistakes 
are evidently misreadings and not mishearings. That 
this fair copy was not made by the student who took 
the original notes is further shown, says the editor, 
"by the fact that, though the original note-taker 
must have been able and intelligent, the transcription 
is evidently the work of a person who often did not 
understand what he was writing." 

The manuscript consists of 192 leaves octavo size, 



v.] THE LECTURES ON JUSTICE AND POLICE 71 

bound in calf, with the signature of "J. A. Maconochie, 
1811," on the front cover. This Maconochie, or per- 
haps his father Allan, the first Lord Meadowbank, 
who was appointed professor of Public Law at Edin- 
burgh in 1779, must have picked up the book, and it 
has remained in the possession of the family ever 
since. In 1876 Mr. Charles 0. Maconochie rescued 
it from a garret-room, and in 1895 happened to 
mention it to Mr. Edwin Cannan, who thereupon 
undertook the task of editing it for the press — a task 
which he has performed to perfection. One result of 
this lucky discovery is to dispose of the legend that 
Adam Smith was little more than a borrower from the 
French school, a mere reflector of the Reflexions of 
Turgot. By examining the lectures we shall inform 
ourselves in the political wisdom which Adam Smith 
used to teach his fortunate class at Glasgow long years 
before he met Quesnai or Turgot, and longer still 
before the Eeflexions began to appear in the £ph6m6rides 
du Citoyen. 

" Jurisprudence " was the title Adam Smith gave to 
this course of lectures, and he divided it under four 
heads : Justice, Police, Revenue, and Arms, taken in 
the order named. Natural Jurisprudence, he begins, 
is the science that inquires into the general principles 
which ought to be the foundation of the laws of all 
nations. It is, he says elsewhere in his Theory of Moral 
Sentiments, " of all sciences by far the most important, 
but hitherto perhaps the least cultivated." Grotius's 
treatise on the Laws of War and Peace — "a sort of 
casuistical book for sovereigns and states" — was still, 
he thought, the most complete work on this subject. 
After Grotius came Hobbes, who, from an utter abhor- 



72 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

rence of ecclesiasticism and bigotry, sought to establish 
a system of morals by which men's consciences might 
be subjected to the civil power. Then after a few 
words on Puffendorf and Cocceii, Adam Smith explained 
his own classification as follows : — 

" Jurisprudence is the theory of the general principles of 
law and government. The four great objects of law are 
justice, police, revenue, and arms. 

" The object of justice is the security from injury, and it is 
the foundation of civil government. 

" The objects of police are the cheapness of commodities, 
public security and cleanliness, if the two last were not too 
minute for a lecture of this kind. Under this head we will 
consider the opulence of a state. 

"For defraying the expenses of government, some fund 
must be raised. Hence the origin of revenue. ... In general, 
whatever revenue can be raised most insensibly from the 
people ought to be preferred ; and in the sequel it is proposed 
to be shown, how far the laws of Britain and of other 
European nations are calculated for this purpose. 

" As the best police cannot give security unless the govern- 
ment can defend themselves from foreign attacks, the fourth 
thing appointed by law is for this purpose ; and under this 
head will be shown the different species of arms, the con- 
stitution of standing armies, militias, etc. 

M After these will be considered the laws of nations." 

Having thus divided his whole course, Adam Smith 
proceeded further in an introductory lecture to sub- 
divide his first part, Justice. The end of justice is to 
secure from injury ; and a man may be injured as a 
member of a state, as a private individual (in his 
body, reputation, or property), or as a member of a 
family. Adam Smith therefore treats of justice under 
the three heads of Public Jurisprudence, Domestic 
Law, and Private Law. Many of his juristic ideas 



v.] THE LECTURES ON JUSTICE AND POLICE 73 

are evidently derived from Grotius, Locke, Montes- 
quieu, Hutcheson, and Hume ; but the effect produced 
is that of a powerful and original thinker in close touch 
with the best minds of his day, who draws his illustra- 
tions freely and easily alike from ancient and modern 
history. He finds that men were induced to enter 
civil society by two principles, authority and utility, 
that is to say, by the instinct of obedience and the 
instinct of self-preservation. 

"In a monarchy the principle of authority prevails, and 
in a democracy that of utility. In Britain, which is a 
mixed government, the factions formed some time ago, under 
the names of Whig and Tory, were influenced by these 
principles ; the former submitted to government on account 
of its utility and the advantages they derived from it, while 
the latter pretended that it was of divine institution, and to 
offend against it was equally criminal, as for a child to rebel 
against its parent. Men in general follow these principles 
according to their natural dispositions. In a man of a bold, 
daring, and bustling turn the principle of utility is predomi- 
nant, and a peaceable, easy turn of mind usually is pleased 
with a tame submission to superiority." 

In the same chair Hutcheson had taught that society 
is founded on an original contract. Adam Smith 
discards the theory for various reasons : — 

" In the first place, the doctrine of an original contract is 
peculiar to Great Britain, yet government takes place where 
it was never thought of, which is even the case with the 
greater part of people in this country. Ask a common porter 
or day-labourer why he obeys the civil magistrate, he will tell 
you that it is right to do so, that he sees others do it, that he 
would be punished if he refused to do it, or perhaps it is a sin 
against God not to do it. But you never hear him mention 
a contract as the foundation of his obedience." 



74 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

Smith was as fond as his master Aristotle of test- 
ing fine-spun theories by the coarse wear of daily 
life. He loved to march an army of common-folk 
through the cobwebs of political philosophy. A second 
objection was that, although a government may be 
entrusted to certain persons on certain conditions, the 
contract cannot bind their posterity. " It may indeed 
be said that by remaining in the country you tacitly 
consent to the contract, and are bound by it. But how 
can you avoid staying in it 1 You were not consulted 
whether you should be born in it or not. And how 
can you get out of it1 Most people know no other 
language nor country, are poor, and obliged to stay 
not far from the place where they were born, to labour 
for a subsistence. They cannot therefore be said to 
give any consent to a contract, though they may have 
the strongest sense of obedience." 

In a remarkable book on English Government (1803), 
John Millar expresses his indebtedness to the "in- 
genious and profound author of the Wealth of Nations." 
" I am happy," he says, " to acknowledge the obliga- 
tions I feel myself under to this illustrious philosopher 
by having at an early period of life had the benefit of 
hearing his lectures on the History of Civil Society, 
and of enjoying his unreserved conversation on the 
same subject." x And this indeed was the spacious topic 
which occupied most of the course on public juris- 
prudence. Nations of hunters and fishers, he began, 
had properly no government at all. They lived 
according to the laws of nature. Then he came to 

1 Millar adds: "The great Montesquieu pointed out the 
road. He wa3 the Lord Bacon in this branch of philosophy. 
Dr. Smith is the Newton." 



v.] THE LECTURES ON JUSTICE AND POLICE 75 

the patriarchs of the Old Testament and of the 
Homeric age, and compared the growth of republican 
government in Greece, Rome, and modern Italy. How 
liberty was lost is the next theme. The students were 
reminded of Csesar and Cromwell, of the contrast 
between Western and Oriental despotisms, of the im- 
provements in law which have often been introduced 
by military conquerors. They were then led to see 
by the history of the fall of the Roman Empire how 
"military monarchy came to share that fated dissolu- 
tion that awaits every state and constitution." After 
describing the fall of the Roman Empire, Smith gave 
an account of the origin of the modern governments 
of Europe. 

Smith had Burke's "salutary prejudice." Despite a 
private partiality for republican institutions, he saw, 
like Montesquieu, in our constitution "a happy mix- 
ture of all the different forms of government properly 
restrained, and a perfect security to liberty and pro- 
perty." The Commons in a great measure manage all 
public affairs, as no money-bill can take its rise except 
in that House. The judges are quite independent of 
the king. The Habeas Corpus Act and the methods of 
election are further securities of liberty. Lastly, " the 
law of England, always the friend of liberty, deserves 
praise in no instance more than in the careful provision 
of impartial juries." 

The first division of Justice concludes with an 
excellent description of the struggle between the English 
nation and King James n., who "on account of his 
encroachments on the body politic was with all justice 
and equity in the world opposed and rejected." 

In the second division of Justice, called Domestic 



76 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

Law, he examined the legal relations that had sub- 
sisted at different times and in different countries 
between husband and wife, parent and child, master 
and servant, guardian and ward. The treatment is con- 
cise without being dry. Philosophy corrects curiosity ; 
humanity peeps through law, and humour spices 
humanity. We come upon his favourite proposition 
that "love, which was formerly a ridiculous passion," 
has become "grave and respectable," the proof being 
that love now influences all public entertainments, 
whereas no ancient tragedy turned upon it. He 
counters Montesquieu's statement that at Bantam, in 
the East Indies, there are ten women born for one 
man, by a broad doctrine : If the laws of nature are 
the same everywhere, the laws of gravity and attrac- 
tion the same ; why not the laws of generation 1 
He reminds his class that slavery is still "almost 
universal " ; for a small part of Western Europe is 
"the only portion of the globe that is free from it." 
Upon the evils of slavery he spoke as strongly as he 
wrote before in the Theory of Moral Sentiments or after- 
wards in the Wealth of Nations (Book I. chap. viii.). 
It is almost needless, he says, to prove that slavery is 
a bad institution. "A free man keeps as his own 
whatever is above his rent, and therefore has a motive 
to industry. Our colonies would be much better 
cultivated by free men." That slavery is a disadvan- 
tage appears, he adds, from the state of colliers and 
salters in Scotland. These poor wretches indeed, 
whom he must have seen daily in Kirkcaldy (where 
Pennant noticed them with indignation thirty years 
afterwards), had some privileges which slaves had not. 
Their property after maintenance was their own, and 



v.] THE LECTURES ON JUSTICE AND POLICE 77 

they could only be sold with their work. They were 
allowed to marry and to choose their religion, and 
their wages were half a crown a day, as compared with 
the sixpence or eightpence earned by the ordinary day- 
labourers in the neighbourhood. Nevertheless "colliers 
often leave our coal-works" and run away to New- 
castle, preferring liberty on tenpence or a shilling a 
day to slavery on half a crown. 

The third division (nearly fifty pages in all), on 
Private Law, summarises the Roman law of property, 
and compares the usages of Scotland and England. 
Smith had evidently consulted many law reports and 
statutes as well as some of the standard authorities 
in both kingdoms, such as Lord Karnes's Law Tracts, 
Dalrymple's Feudal Property, Bacon's New Abridgment 
of the Law, and Hawkins's Pleas of the Crown. Smith 
was wonderfully free from legal obsessions. He con- 
demned the excessive punishments of his time, and 
explained that they were founded not upon regard to 
public utility, but upon the spectator's resentment 
against the offender and his sympathy with the injured 
party. The English laws of real property he regarded 
as unnatural and mischievous. He had mastered the 
theory of entail without being fascinated by it. " Upon 
the whole, nothing can be more absurd than per- 
petual entails. Piety to the dead can only take place 
when their memory is fresh in the minds of men; 
a power to dispose of estates for ever is manifestly 
absurd. The earth and the fulness of it belongs to 
every generation, and the preceding one can have no 
right to bind it up from posterity ; such extension of 
property is quite unnatural." 

A similar but less pithy condemnation appears in 



78 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

the Wealth of Nations, and was one of the passages 
which led Cobden to declare shortly before his death 
that if he were a young man he would take Adam 
Smith in hand, and preach free trade in land as he 
had formerly preached free trade in corn. 

Having considered "man as a member of a state, 
as a member of a family, and as a man," Smith 
turned to Police, which is "the second general division 
of Jurisprudence." At that time the word "police" 
was only half-way on its voyage from Greece. It 
"properly signified the policy of civil government, 
but now it only means the regulation of the inferior 
parts of government, viz. cleanliness, security, and 
cheapness or plenty." " Cleanliness," ninety years 
before the first Public Health Act, was only " the 
proper method of carrying dirt from the street," 
while the term " security " exactly corresponded with 
police in the modern sense, being defined by Adam 
Smith as "the execution of justice, so far as it regards 
regulations for preventing crimes or the method of 
keeping a city guard." 

But cleanliness and security, "though useful," were 
" too mean to be considered in a general discourse " of 
the kind which Adam Smith was delivering. Accord- 
ingly, after briefly comparing the amount of crime 
then prevalent in Paris, London, Edinburgh, and 
Glasgow — a comparison favourable to Glasgow and 
London — and inferring that the establishment of 
commerce and manufactures is the best police for 
preventing crimes, he passes to the consideration of 
cheapness or plenty — " or, which is the same thing, the 
most proper way of procuring wealth and abundance." 
Then follows in a hundred pages what Mr. Cannan has 



v.] THE LECTURES ON JUSTICE AND POLICE 79 

well called a rough draft of the Wealth of Nations, 
containing (with some noteworthy exceptions) the 
main arguments and many of the illustrations which 
appeared a dozen or more years later in the book. 
By the student who would trace the growth of an 
idea and the history of a theory the value of the 
report can hardly be exaggerated. In Mr. Cannan's 
words, " it enables us to follow the gradual construc- 
tion of the work from its very foundation, and to distin- 
guish positively between what the original genius of its 
author created out of British materials on the one hand, 
and French materials on the other." 

When we consider that this course of political 
economy was necessarily brief, and could not possibly 
contain all the arguments and illustrations he had 
already hammered out in the great workshop of his 
mind, we are inclined to wonder not that the lectures, 
when compared with the full body of doctrine, show 
many gaps, but rather that they correspond so 
closely with the final treatise evolved after twelve or 
fourteen years more of meditation, study, and travel. 
When we reach the crowning year of Adam Smith's 
life with its laureate wreath we shall have something 
to say upon later accretions, such as his colonial 
policy, his view of expenditure, and that intensely 
practical theory of taxation which taught so many 
wholesome lessons to contemporary and succeeding 
statesmen. Oddly enough, the lecturer began by 
supplying the very thing his critics have missed in the 
Wealth of Nations — a theory of consumption. He 
had therefore, if we combine the lectures with the 
treatise, mapped out in his mind the entire scope of 
economic science in its natural order. First there is 



80 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

the demand that leads to productive labour, the desire 
which is satisfied by and therefore induces toil. 
Then comes his central theme, the division of labour 
and the subsidiary topic of its distribution (almost 
ignored in the lectures), with an appendix on revenue 
or taxation. 

Looking now only at the lectures, we find that of 
the hundred pages into which this first discourse on 
the Wealth of Nations falls, eighty, or four-fifths, are 
concerned with "cheapness or plenty," in other words, 
with "the most proper way of procuring wealth or 
abundance." Cheapness is synonymous with plenty, 
as dearness is synonymous with dearth. Water is 
only cheap because it is plentiful, diamonds are costly 
only because they are scarce. If we wish to find 
wherein opulence consists, we must first consider what 
are the natural wants of mankind which are to be 
supplied ; " and if we differ from common opinions, we 
shall at least give the reasons for our nonconformity." 
So he sets about his task with a theory of consump- 
tion simple, intelligible, and adequate. Food, clothes, 
and lodgings are the threefold necessities of animal 
life. But most animals find these wants sufficiently 
provided by nature. Man alone has so delicate a con- 
stitution that no object is produced to his liking. So 
he improves his food by cookery, and protects himself 
by fire, clothes, and huts from the inclemency of the 
weather. 

But as man's physical delicacy requires much more 
provision than that of any other animal, so does the 
same, or rather the much greater, delicacy of his mind. 
Such is the nicety of his taste, that the very colour of 
an object hurts or pleases. He is tired by uniformity, 



v.] THE LECTURES ON JUSTICE AND POLICE 81 

and loves variety and change. The Indians gladly 
barter gems for the cheap toys of Europe. Thus 
besides the threefold necessities of life a multitude 
of wants and demands spring up to which agriculture, 
manufactures, arts, commerce, and navigation are sub- 
servient ; while the establishment of law and govern- 
ment, "the highest effort of human prudence and 
wisdom," enables the different arts to flourish in peace 
and security. 

Thus Smith arrives at the point from which the 
Wealth of Nations was to start. In an uncivilised nation, 
where labour is undivided, the natural wants of mankind 
are provided for. But as civilisation advances with 
the division of labour, the provision becomes more 
liberal, so that "a common day-labourer in Britain has 
more luxury in his way of living than an Indian 
sovereign." The labourer's comfort, indeed, is nothing 
to that of the noble. Yet a European prince does not 
so far exceed a commoner as the latter does the chief of 
a savage nation. "In a savage nation," he added, with 
a prophetic glance at Marx, "every one enjoys the 
whole fruit of his own labour." It is therefore the 
Division of Labour that increases the opulence of a 
country. This is the kernel of political economy, the 
inner keep round which this great architect of a new 
science has built a fortress strong enough to protect 
society and to preserve the fruit of men's toil from the 
well-meaning unwisdom of their governments. Not 
that Smith was insensible to the hardness of economic 
laws, to the cruel inequalities of industry : — 

"In a civilised society," he reminds his class, "though 

there ia a division of labour, there is no equal division, 

for there are a good many who work none at all. The 

F 



82 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

division of opulence is not according to the work. The opu- 
lence of the merchant is greater than that of all his clerks, 
though he works less ; and they again have six times more 
than an equal number of artisans "who are more employed. 
The artisan who works at his ease within-doors has far more 
than the poor labourer who trudges up and down without 
intermission. Thus, he who, as it were, bears the burden of 
society, has the fewest advantages." 

Division of labour multiplies the product of labour 
and so creates opulence. He takes a pin manufactory 
as an illustration. If one man made all the parts 
of a pin it would take him a year, and the pin 
would cost at least six pounds. By dividing the pro- 
cess of manufacture into eighteen operations, each man 
employed can make 2000 pins a day. When labour is 
thus divided, a much larger surplus is left over and 
above the labourer's maintenance, and of this surplus 
the labourer will get a share. "The commodity 
becomes far cheaper and the labour dearer." The less 
the labour that can procure abundance, the greater the 
opulence of society. But coin is not a safe criterion 
of wages. Twopence in China will buy more than five 
shillings in the sugar colonies. By dividing labour you 
increase dexterity. A boy nailmaker will easily make 
2000 good nails while a country smith unaccustomed 
to the job is making 400 bad ones. You also save 
time j for time is always lost in going from one kind 
of work to another. " When a person has been read- 
ing, he must rest a little while before he begin to 
write " ; and a country weaver with a small farm will 
saunter as he goes from the loom to the plough. By 
fixing each man to an operation the product is sure to 
be increased. Again, the quantity of work done is 



v.] THE LECTURES ON JUSTICE AND POLICE S3 

much augmented by the invention of machinery. Two 
men and three horses can do more with a plough than 
twenty men with spades. The miller and his servant 
will do more with the water-mill than a dozen men 
with the hand-mill. Horse-power and water-power had 
been brought to the assistance of man by philosophic 
invention ; and even fire had been called in to aid him 
by the mechanical and chemical discoverers. The 
lecturer was doubtless thinking of his colleague Joseph 
Black, and of James Watt, who was at this time 
working within the precincts of Glasgow College, and 
was just developing what Smith calls "the philosopher's 
invention of the fire machine." 

Smith puts forward a queer idea — and he stood to it 
in the Wealth of Nations — that what gives occasion to 
the division of labour is not a perception of the 
advantage to be gained thereby, but a direct pro- 
pensity in human nature for one man to barter with 
another. This love of barter is one of those natural 
instincts which distinguish us from animals. The 
division of labour and the material wealth of society are 
greatly perfected by improvements of communication 
which extend markets; for division of labour must 
always be proportioned to extent of commerce. ■ If ten 
people only want a certain commodity, the manufacture 
of it will never be so divided as if a thousand wanted 
it." But where communications are bad the cost of 
transit hinders the distribution of goods. If roads 
are "deep" or infested with robbers, the progress of 
commerce is stopped. "Since the mending of roads 
in England forty or fifty years ago, its opulence has 
increased extremely." Water carriage also effectively 
promotes public opulence ; for five or six men will convey 



84 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

three hundred tons by water more quickly than a 
hundred men with a hundred wagons and six hundred 
horses can take the same weight by land. 1 

A distinction is drawn between the natural and 
market price of commodities. A man has the natural 
price of his labour when he has enough to maintain him 
during its continuance, to defray the cost of his educa- 
tion, and to compensate the risk of failure or of prema- 
ture death. When a man can get this natural price he 
will have sufficient encouragement and will produce in 
proportion to the demand. The market is regulated by 
the momentary demand for a thing, by its abundance 
or scarcity. When a thing is very scarce the price 
depends upon the fortune of the bidders. " As in an 
auction, if two persons have an equal fondness for a 
book, he whose fortune is the largest will carry it." 
The conclusion drawn from these and other arguments 
is that whatever "police " (i.e. policy) tends to raise the 
market price above the natural, tends also to diminish 
public opulence. The cheaper the conveniences of 
life, the greater is the purchasing power of the poor 
and the happier will a society be. Any policy which 
raises and keeps the market price of goods above their 
natural price, and so raises the national, as it were, 
above the international price, diminishes the nation's 
opulence. This impoverishing policy took various 
forms, which admitted of a triple classification : — 

1. Taxes on industry and necessities. 

2. Monopolies. 

3. Exclusive privileges of corporations, and com- 

binations, like those of bakers and brewers, 

1 Cp. Wealth of Nations, Book i. chap. iii. 



v.] THE LECTURES ON JUSTICE AND POLICE 85 

which kept the price of bread and beer above 
the natural level. 

Further, as taxes or regulations which raise the 
market price above the natural price diminish public 
opulence, so do bounties like those upon corn and 
coarse linen, which depress the market price below the 
natural price. A bounty stimulates the production 
of a particular commodity, and makes it cheaper for 
foreigners at the expense of the public at home. 
Another serious objection to the system is that people 
are diverted from other employments, and thus " what 
may be called the natural balance of industry " is 
disturbed. "Upon the whole, therefore, it is by far 
the best police to leave things to their natural course 
and allow no bounties nor impose taxes on com- 
modities." 

In a subsequent lecture he arrived at the same con- 
clusion by an analysis of the true nature of money. 
At that time money was almost universally identified 
with wealth. Though Hume had exposed the fallacy ten 
years before, his essay had not affected national policy. 1 
Treaties of commerce were always based upon the 
theory of the balance of trade, which again rested on 
the notion that if a country's exports could be made 
to exceed its imports, it would receive the balance in 
gold and so become wealthy. By way of refuting this 
strange dogma of the mercantilists, Smith used a very 
felicitous illustration. He compared money to the 
highroads of a country " which bear neither corn nor 
grass themselves but circulate all the corn and grass 

1 And even Hume, as Smith warned his class, had not quite 
emancipated himself from mercantilist misconceptions. 



86 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

in the country." If we could save some of the ground 
taken up by highways without diminishing the facilities 
of carriage and communication, we should add to the 
wealth of the country ; and the case would be the same 
if by such a device as paper-money we could reduce 
the stock of coin required without impairing its effici- 
ency as a medium of exchange. For the ground saved 
could be cultivated, and the money saved could be sent 
abroad in exchange for useful commodities. Thus the 
nation would be enriched ; for its opulence " does not 
consist in the quantity of coin, but in the abundance 
of commodities which are necessary for life." 

In deference to the mercantilists the government 
had prohibited the exportation of coin, "which pro- 
hibition has been extremely hurtful to the commerce 
of the country," for every unnecessary accumulation 
of money is a dead stock. The same idea that wealth 
consists in money had also led to fiscal discrimination 
against France and in favour of Spain and Portugal. 
Why was this policy absurd ? The reason, said Smith, 
will appear on the least reflection, and he thereupon 
put to the students in a few telling sentences those 
elementary truths about the nature of foreign trade 
which seem too simple even to have been discovered, 
yet are still sometimes but imperfectly applied by the 
most enlightened statesmen, and have not always been 
apprehended by trained economists : — 

"All commerce that is carried on betwixt any two countries 
must necessarily be advantageous to both. The very inten- 
tion of commerce is to exchange your own commodities for 
others ■which you think will be more convenient for you. 
When two men trade between themselves it is undoubtedly 
for the advantage of both. The one has perhaps more of one 



v.] THE LECTURES ON JUSTICE AND POLICE 87 

species of commodities than he has occasion for, he therefore 
exchanges a certain quantity of it with the other, for another 
commodity that will be more useful to him. The other agrees 
to the bargain on the same account, and in this manner the 
mutual commerce is advantageous to both. The case is exactly 
the same betwixt any two nations. The goods which the 
English merchants want to import from France are certainly 
more valuable to them than what they give for them. Our 
very desire to purchase them shows that we have more use for 
them than either the money or the commodities which we give 
for them. It may be said, indeed, that money lasts for ever, 
but that claret and cambrics are soon consumed. This is true. 
But what is the intention of industry if it be not to produce 
those things which are capable of being used, and are con- 
ducive to the convenience and comfort of human life ? " 

In short, imports are just as advantageous as exports, 
and one is the necessary complement of the other. All 
jealousies and wars between nations are extremely bad 
for commerce. If preferential trade is to be established 
at all, it should be with France, a much richer and more 
populous country than Spain, and also our nearest 
neighbour. " It were happy both for this country and 
France that all national prejudices were rooted out 
and a free and uninterrupted commerce established." 
Foreign trade, if wisely and prudently carried on, can 
never impoverish a country. 

"The poverty of a nation proceeds from much the same 
causes with those which render an individual poor. When a 
man consumes more than he gains by his industry, he must 
impoverish himself unless he has some other way of subsist- 
ence. In the same manner, if a nation consume more than it 
produces, poverty is inevitable ; if its annual produce be 
ninety millions and its annual consumption an hundred, then 
it spends, eats and drinks, tears, wears, ten millions more than 
it produces, and its stock of opulence must gradually go to 
nothing." 



88 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

He proceeds to uproot that hardy perennial of fiscal 
culture — the opinion that no expenditure at home can 
be injurious to public opulence. Let us suppose, he 
says, that my father leaves me a thousand pounds' worth 
of the necessaries and conveniences of life. " I get a 
number of idle folks around me, and eat, drink, tear and 
wear till the whole is consumed. By this I not only 
reduce myself to want, but certainly rob the public 
stock of a thousand pounds, as it is spent and nothing 
produced for it." In the same way money spent on 
war is wasted wherever the war is waged and wher- 
ever the money employed in preparations is laid out. 
Finally, he sums up for free imports in language that 
could not be strengthened : — 

"From the above considerations it appears that Britain 
should by all means be made a free port, that there should be 
no interruptions of any kind made to foreign trade, that if 
it were possible to defray the expenses of government by 
any other method, all duties, customs, and excise should be 
abolished, and that free commerce and liberty of exchange 
should be allowed with all nations, and for all things." 

Holding, then, that all taxes upon exports and im- 
ports, as well as all excise duties, 1 hinder commerce, 
discourage manufactures, and hamper the division of 
labour, Smith was inclined in his rather meagre treat- 
ment of taxation to favour direct imposts. He was 
not one of those who think that taxation is the royal 
road to prosperity, and insist that the only way to save 

1 Ltctures, p. 241 : "Excise raises the price of commodities 
and makes fewer people able to carry on business. If a man 
purchase £1000 worth of tobacco he has a hundred pounds of 
tax to pay, and therefore cannot deal to such an extent as he 
would otherwise do. Thus, as it requires greater stock to carry 
on trade, the dealers must be fewer, and the rich have, as it 
were, a monopoly against the poor." 



v.] THE LECTURES ON JUSTICE AND POLICE 89 

the nation is by picking its pocket. On the contrary, 
believing that the best method of raising revenue is to 
save it, he introduced taxation as one of the causes that 
retard the growth of opulence. But as the thriftiest 
government has some expenses, and therefore some 
taxes, an economist was bound to weigh the merits and 
demerits of each. Though in comparison with the 
corresponding chapters in the Wealth of Nations his 
paragraphs on taxation seem raw, the doctrine is 
already far in advance of Hume's. He dwells on 
the immense advantage of the land-tax, which only 
cost the government about eight or ten thousand 
pounds to collect, over the customs and excise, which 
produce such immense sums, but "are almost eaten 
up by the legions of officers that are employed in 
collecting them." Another advantage of the land-tax 
over taxes on consumption was that it did not raise 
prices ; and it was better than a tax on capital or income 
("stock or money"), in that, land being visible pro- 
perty, the sum required could be assessed without very 
arbitrary proceedings. "It is a hardship upon a man 
in trade to oblige him to show his books, which is the 
only way we can know how much he is worth. It is 
a breach of liberty, and may be productive of very bad 
consequences by ruining his credit." Yet Smith was 
far from being a single taxer. "If on account of this 
difficulty you were to tax land, and neither tax money 
nor stock, you would do a piece of very great injustice." 
The only advantage to taxpayers of taxes on com- 
modities is that they are paid in small sums at a 
time, whereas taxes on possessions are paid in large 
lump sums. But to the government there is the all- 
important fact that they are paid insensibly and are 



90 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

not so much murmured against. "When we buy a 
pound of tea we do not reflect that the most part of 
the price is a duty paid to the government, and there- 
fore pay it contentedly, as though it were only the 
natural price of the commodity. In the same manner, 
when an additional tax is laid upon beer, the price of 
it must be raised, but the mob do not directly vent 
their malice against the government, who are the 
proper objects of it, but upon the brewers, as they 
confound the tax price with the natural one." 

In Holland the consumer first paid the price to the 
merchant and then (separately) the tax to the excise 
officer. " We in reality do the very same thing, but 
as we do not feel it immediately we imagine it all one 
price, and never reflect that we might drink port wine 
below sixpence a bottle were it not for the duty." 
His general objection to duties on imports is that 
they divert capital and industry into unnatural 
channels, while the effects of export duties are still more 
pernicious in confining consumption and diminishing 
industry. Uztariz, a well-known Spanish writer of 
that day, had observed in his book on commerce : — 

"I have found ministers and others, both in their 
conversation and writings, maintain the erroneous 
maxim that high duties are to be laid upon com- 
modities exported, because foreigners pay them ; and, 
on the contrary, very moderate ones on such as are 
imported, because his majesty's subjects are at the 
charge of them." 1 This policy, says Smith, is one 

1 Uztariz, Theory and Practice of Commerce and Maritime 
Affairs, translated by John Kippax, 1751, vol. ii. p. 52. 
The allusion has been discovered by Mr. Edwin Cannan. See 
Lectures, p. 246. 



v.] THE LECTURES ON JUSTICE AND POLICE 91 

great cause of the poverty of Spain. Yet the Spaniards 
were wiser than some moderns who have sought 
to persuade the public that both export and import 
duties are paid by the foreigner. 

Apart from their extraordinary power and originality 
as contributions to a new science, we are struck in 
these lectures by two qualities, freedom from prejudice, 
with the accompanying desire for reformation, and a 
tolerance of things that are tolerable. Even when he 
is exposing the absurdities of the Mercantile System, 
and the evils of the scheme of taxation which it had 
produced in England, he readily concedes that things 
might have been far worse, and is glad to confess that 
upon the whole " the English are the best financiers in 
Europe, and their taxes are levied with more propriety 
than those of any country whatever." Elsewhere, 
indeed, he shows that the fiscal system of Holland was 
in some important respects superior ; and in the Wealth 
of Nations his language cooled: — "Our state is not 
perfect, but it is as good or better than that of most of 
our neighbours." 

Yet neither tolerance, nor patriotic bias, nor the im- 
probability of reform prevented him from criticising 
bad institutions. He saw how evil was the system of 
unpaid magistracies which Bentham burned and Gneist 
adored. He saw how advantageous was the famous 
excise scheme which ruined Walpole. He objected to 
large farms and entailed estates, and was not afraid to 
declare that a thousand acres ought to be purchased as 
easily as a thousand yards of cloth. He laughed at 
the notion, still strangely prevalent, that agriculture 
is injured by manufactures. " It is always a sign," he 
says, " that the country is improving, when men go to 



92 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

town. There are no parts of the country so well in- 
habited nor so well cultivated as those which lie in the 
neighbourhood of populous cities." He described how 
Philip IV. went to the plough himself to set the 
fashion, and did everything for the farmers except 
bringing them a good market ; how he conferred the 
titles of nobility upon several farmers, and very 
absurdly endeavoured to oppress manufacturers with 
heavy taxes in order to force them to the country. 

Smith concluded his discourse upon Cheapness or 
Plenty with a few remarks on the influence of com- 
merce on manners ; and having thus laid the founda- 
tions of a new science, a true system of political 
economy, he went on to "Arms" (Part iv.), and 
treated of Militias, Discipline, and Standing Armies. 
His course ended with a survey (Part v.) of the Laws 
of Nations. The rules, he remarks, which nations 
ought to observe, or do observe, with one another 
cannot be stated with precision. It is true that the 
rules of property and of justice are pretty uniform in 
the civilised world. But with regard to international 
law, what Grotius had said was still true. It was hard 
to mention a single regulation that had been established 
with the common consent of all nations and was ob- 
served as such at all times. Smith, as usual, sought 
for the reason, and as usual found it. "This must 
necessarily be the case ; for where there is no supreme 
legislative power nor judge to settle differences we may 
always expect uncertainty and irregularity." 

The pope, indeed, as the common father of Christen- 
dom, had introduced more humanity into warfare ; but 
except for this hint Smith seems to have made no 
proposal for filling up the blank. We can only imagin- 



v, THE LECTURES ON JUSTICE AND POLICE 93 

how one who so loved peace and hated war would have 
rejoiced to see nations moving slowly but surely 
towards the idea of an international judge, and learn- 
ing that, as the Duel is not the last word of civilisation 
in individual quarrels, so the Battle is not the last or 
the best trial of disputes between nations. 



CHAPTER VI 

GLASGOW AND ITS UNIVERSITY 

Mr. Rae's diligent researches have disposed of the 
idea that Smith was one of those profound philo- 
sophers who are helpless in the practical affairs of 
life. It appears from the records of the Glasgow 
University, that during his thirteen years' residence he 
did more college business than any other professor. 
He audited accounts, inspected drains and hedges, 
examined encroachments on college land, and served 
as college quaestor, or treasurer, with the management 
of the library funds, for the last six years of his pro- 
fessorship. He was Dean of Faculty from 1760 to 
1762, when he was appointed Vice-Rector. As such, 
in the frequent absence of the Rector, he had to preside 
over all University meetings, including the Rector's 
Court, which had judicial as well as administrative 
powers, and could even punish students by imprison- 
ment in the college steeple. He went frequently to 
Edinburgh, and at least once to London, on college 
business ; and altogether we may discredit the remark 
made by one of Smith's Edinburgh neighbours and 
reported by Robert Chambers : " It is strange that a 
man who wrote so well on exchange and barter had to 
get a friend to buy his horse-corn for him." 

There is one picturesque incident in the history 

94 



chap, vi.] GLASGOW AND ITS UNIVERSITY 95 

of Smith's connection with the college. The im- 
position of octroi duties on food coming into the 
city was still the principal means of raising municipal 
revenue in Glasgow as in most other towns of Scotland. 
But the students of the University were so far exempt 
from the tribute that they were allowed at the begin- 
ning of each session to bring in with them as much 
oatmeal as would keep them till the end of it. In 
1757 this ancient privilege was contested, and the 
students were obliged by the M tackman " of the meal 
market to pay duty on their meal. Smith and another 
professor were sent to the Provost to protest against 
this infraction of University privileges, and to demand 
repayment. At the next meeting of the Senate, " Mr. 
Smith reported that he had spoken to the Provost of 
Glasgow about the ladles, exacted by the town from 
students, for meal brought into the town for their own 
use, and that the Provost promised to cause what had 
been exacted to be returned, and that accordingly 
the money was offered by the town's ladler to the 
students." 

The intellectual level of the professors and lecturers 
in the University of Glasgow was already high when 
Smith joined them, and the place was free from the 
monopolistic spirit which dulled and enervated the 
universities of Oxford and Cambridge. In 1752, a 
year after his arrival, Smith took part in founding 
what was called the Literary Society of Glasgow. 
Besides the professors a number of outsiders were 
admitted — David Hume, Sir John Dalrymple the 
historian, John Callander the antiquary, Eobert Foulis 
the famous printer, and others. In one of the first 
papers read to this society (January 1753) Adam 



96 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

Smith reviewed Hume's Essays on Commerce. He had 
no doubt read the essays in proof, as there is a letter 
from Hume in the previous September, asking him for 
criticisms towards a new edition he was then preparing 
of his Essays, Moral and Political, in which these new 
Commercial Essays were to be incorporated. 

Another and more convivial club was presided 
over by Simson, the professor of Mathematics, whose 
genius and amiability had impressed Adam Smith from 
his student days. When Simson died in 1768 he had 
spent half a century in the college. He divided each 
day with precision between work, sleep, refection in 
the tavern at the gate, and a measured walk in the 
gardens. Every Friday evening his club supped in 
the tavern, and every Saturday the members walked 
out a mile to the neighbouring village of Anderston, 
and there feasted on the customary one-course dinner 
of chicken broth, with a tankard of claret followed by 
whist and punch. Kamsay of Ochtertyre says that 
Smith was a bad partner. If an idea came to him in 
the middle of the game he would renounce or neglect 
to call. After cards they would talk, or Simson, who 
was the soul of gaiety, would sing Greek odes to 
modern airs. A more distinguished circle than this of 
plain livers and high thinkers could hardly have been 
found in Europe. Besides the editor of Euclid it 
included the founders of political economy and modern 
chemistry, and the inventor of the steam engine. For 
Joseph Black and his young assistant, James Watt, sat 
round the same fireside with Simson and Adam Smith. 
To the conversation of the club, said Watt, "my 
mind owed its first bias towards such subjects [litera- 
ture, philosophy, etc.], in which they were all my 



vi.] GLASGOW AND ITS UNIVERSITY 97 

superiors, I never having attended college, and being 
then but a mechanic." In 1756 young Watt had come 
from London to Glasgow, and being refused permission 
by the close corporation of hammermen to set up as a 
mechanic in the town, he was welcomed by the pro- 
fessors, who appointed him maker of mathematical 
instruments to the University, and gave him a work- 
shop and saleroom within its precincts. It is easy to 
imagine the delight with which Smith joined in 
rescuing Watt from the tyranny of a close corporation. 
The workshop was one of his favourite resorts, and the 
two became fast friends. More than half a century 
afterwards, one of the first works which the " young " 
artist of eighty-three executed with his newly in- 
vented "sculpture machine" was a bust of Smith 
in ivory. 

In another part of the college space had been found 
for Robert Foulis's printing-office. Encouraged by 
Hutcheson, Foulis had begun his business in Glasgow 
just before Smith left for Oxford. His "immaculate " 
Horace, the famous duodecimo, appeared in 1744, the 
proof-sheets having been hung up in the college and a 
reward offered for the detection of any inaccuracy. 
Adam Smith was a subscriber for two sets of Hutche- 
son's System of Moral Philosophy, two beautifully 
printed quarto volumes issued by the Foulis press 
in 1755. The type used by the press came from 
Alexander Wilson's typefoundry at Camlachie. But in 
1760 the college built an observatory, and with the 
aid of the Crown founded a new chair of Astronomy. 
Thereupon Wilson, being appointed to the chair, asked 
to be allowed to transfer his foundry to the college, and 
the authorities, on the motion of Adam Smith, resolved 

G 



98 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

to build a foundry in the grounds. Thus during 
Smith's residence there were set up within the precincts 
of the University Watt's workshop, Foulis's printing- 
press, Wilson's observatory and foundry, and last but 
not least, Cullen's laboratory, where Black his assistant 
discovered the existence of latent heat. 

The professors even started a series of lectures on 
natural science to a class of working men. In 1761 
Smith and others sought to establish a school for 
dancing, fencing, and riding. But this project failed ; 
and in the following year Smith is found as an active 
opponent of a proposal started in the town for the 
erection of a permanent theatre. He presides at a 
meeting which resolves that the University should 
join forces with the magistracy against this innovation. 
Shortly after his departure the opposition dropped and 
the theatre was built. But it was burned down by a 
mob of zealots, and in the Wealth of Nations Smith 
not only lashes those " fanatical promoters of popular 
frenzies," who have always made the theatre an object 
of their peculiar abhorrence, but demands that the 
State should give " entire liberty to all those who for 
their own interest would attempt, without scandal or 
indecency, to amuse and divert the people by painting, 
poetry, music, dancing, by all sorts of dramatic repre- 
sentations and exhibitions." Such public diversions 
would easily dissipate "that melancholy and gloomy 
humour which is almost always the nurse of popular 
superstition and enthusiasm," and Avould, with the 
aid of science and philosophy, correct whatever was 
unsocial or disagreeably rigorous in the morals of the 
country. By then he had learned to admire the French 
theatre as well as the French dramatists. A true 



vi.] GLASGOW AND ITS UNIVERSITY 99 

liberal, he was always open to new ideas, and this last 
stump of Scottish prejudice was rooted out by his 
continental tour. 

In the fifties Smith and Black helped Foulis to 
start an institution called the Academy of Design, 
said to have been the first of its kind in Great 
Britain. The authorities of the University found rooms 
for the purpose in the college, and they may therefore 
claim to have been the fathers, not only of the Uni- 
versity extension movement, but also of technical 
instruction. Painting, sculpture, and engraving were 
the principal arts taught in this Academy. Tassie and 
David Allan were ajnong the students; and Lord 
Buchan, who boasted of walking " after the manner of 
the ancients in the porticoes of Glasgow with Smith 
and with Millar," learned to etch in Foulis's studio. A 
shop was started in Edinburgh for the sale of works 
of art produced in the Academy, and Sir John 
Dairy mple, writing to Foulis in 1757, begs him to take 
the advice of Mr. Smith and Dr. Black, who are the 
best judges of what will sell. He also advises Foulis 
to have a circular drafted showing the advantages of 
the Academy. " Mr. Smith is too busy or too indolent, 
but I flatter myself Dr. Black will be happy to make 
out this memorial for you." He invites Foulis and 
Smith to visit him in the Christmas vacance. 

There is no doubt, from the amount of business they 
laid on his shoulders, and their choice of him as 
"Prseses" in 1762, that Smith's colleagues had a high 
opinion of his practical abilities. His public spirit and 
loyalty to the University were unbounded. The 
warmest and most generous of friends, he was also one 
of those rare spirits, especially rare in the reign of 



100 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

George the Third, who never let private interests 
turn the scale against the common good. He made 
three protests against a professor exercising the legal 
right of voting for himself in an election to an office of 
profit. When Rouet, the professor of History, asked 
for leave of absence, so that he might travel abroad as 
Lord Hope's tutor without relinquishing his professor- 
ship, Smith voted with a majority for refusing the 
leave, and on a later occasion for depriving him of 
office. This led to a quarrel with the Lord Rector, 
but the pressure of college opinion eventually forced 
Rouet to resign. We shall see that Smith on a similar 
occasion was careful to practise as he had preached. 

From this reformed and progressive University the 
economist often issued forth to breathe the eager 
air of a thriving mart. The town was remarkably 
free from poverty and crime. In his lectures he 
said that in Glasgow there was less crime than in 
Edinburgh, because it had more commerce and inde- 
pendence, fewer servants and retainers. When he 
first went to Glasgow as a student it was still 
poor ; when he returned as a professor, its commercial 
prosperity had fairly begun. Its loyalty to the 
Hanoverian dynasty had cost it heavily in 1745, but 
that loyalty is intelligible enough ; for the Act of 
Union which deprived Edinburgh of its Parliament, 
and of much of its resident aristocracy, opened up the 
colonial markets to Glasgow, and enabled its enter- 
prising merchants to participate in the profitable 
monopoly of the American trade. By the middle of 
the century it was already the emporium for colonial 
tobacco. A tannery employed several hundred men; 
linen, copper, tin, and pottery became staple manu- 



vi.] GLASGOW AND ITS UNIVERSITY 101 

factures in the forties ; carpets, crape, and silk in the 
fifties. Gibson, in his history of the town, tells us that 
after 1750 (when the first Glasgow Bank was opened) 
"not a beggar was to be seen in the streets." When 
he adds that " the very children were busy," we think 
of the early history of factories and shudder. " I have 
heard it asserted," says Smith in the Wealth of Nations 
(Book II. chap, ii.), "that the trade of the city of 
Glasgow doubled in about fifteen years after the first 
erection of the banks there, and that the trade of 
Scotland has more than quadrupled since the first 
erection of the two public banks at Edinburgh." He 
will not vouch for the figures, and holds such an 
effect "too great to be accounted for by the sole 
operation of this cause," but says it cannot be doubted 
that the trade of Scotland did increase very consider- 
ably during the period, and that the banks contributed 
a good deal to this increase. 

All these external marks of enterprise and progress 
indicated the truth of another of Smith's sayings, 
that a few spirited merchants are a much better thing 
for a town than the residence of a court. According 
to Sir John Dalrymple, the three leading merchants of 
that time were together worth a quarter of a million 
of money. Measured by modern standards these are 
petty figures ; but Mr. Bae says that commercial men 
in Glasgow still look back to John Glassford and 
Andrew Cochrane as perhaps the greatest merchants 
the Clyde had ever seen. Cochrane, who was Provost 
when the Young Pretender paid his unwelcome visit, 
founded a weekly club, the express design of which, 
according to Dr. Carlyle, was to inquire into the 
nature and principles of trade. Smith, who joined the 



102 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

club, became intimate with Cochrane, and afterwards, 
in Dr. Carlyle's words, "acknowledged his obligations 
to this gentleman's information when he was collecting 
materials for his Wealth of Nations." The junior 
merchants, adds the Doctor, who flourished after 
Cochrane, "confess with respectful remembrance that 
it was Andrew Cochrane who first opened and enlarged 
their views." In Humphrey Clinker he is described as 
" one of the first sages of the Scottish Kingdom." 

Dugald Stewart, who drew his information from 
James Ritchie, an eminent merchant of Glasgow, tells 
us that Smith's intimacy with its most respected in- 
habitants gave him the commercial information he 
needed ; and he adds : " It is a circumstance no less 
honourable to their liberality than to his talents, that 
notwithstanding the reluctance so common among men 
of business to listen to the conclusions of mere specula- 
tion and the direct opposition of his leading principles 
to all the old maxims of trade, he was able before he 
quitted his situation in the University to rank some 
very eminent merchants in the number of his pros- 
elytes." That Provost Cochrane and his brethren 
were well inclined to these doctrines is probable, as 
they suffered severely from the duties on American 
iron ; and that interest in economic subjects was 
strong is proved by the printing of several important 
books at Glasgow about this time. 

The merchants were, however, much under the 
influence of an economist of the old school, Sir James 
Steuart, who lived in the neighbourhood, and the 
progress of Smith's opinions was more rapid in the 
University. It was the students, as Dugald Stewart 
tells us, " that first adopted his system with eagerness 



vi.] GLASGOW AND ITS UNIVERSITY 103 

and diffused a knowledge of its fundamental principles 
over this part of the kingdom." 

During these thirteen years at Glasgow Smith kept 
up his connection with Edinburgh by pretty constant 
visits. Shorn of royalty by the union of crowns, and 
of its parliament by the union of parliaments, Edin- 
burgh was slowly recovering in trade what it had 
lost in political significance. It had kept its Courts of 
Justice, and its boards of customs and excise. Above 
all, it was the centre of an intellectual activity which 
gave Scotland for the first time a name and a fame in 
European philosophy and letters. 

The social and intellectual leader of the new move- 
ment was Smith's early friend and benefactor, Henry 
Home, who was raised to the bench as Lord Karnes in 
1752, a man of very liberal and progressive ideas, full 
of patriotic schemes for the improvement of Scottish 
art, manufactures, and agriculture. His writings, 
though highly praised for their learning, have long 
been forgotten, for sufficient reason. " I am afraid of 
Karnes's Law Tracts," Hume once wrote to Smith. 
"The man might as well think of making a fine sauce 
by a mixture of wormwood and aloes as an agreeable 
combination by joining metaphysics and Scottish Law." 
Robertson, already a prominent preacher and ecclesi- 
astical politician, was feeling his way towards Edinburgh 
and literary fame. John Home, a brother minister, 
was composing the Tragedy of Douglas, counted by 
Hume, so he told Smith in 1756, " the best, and by 
French critics the only tragedy in our language." 
Another member of this circle, quite a fashionable 
oddity, who ploughed his own glebe like a peasant, 
and startled a passer-by with apt quotations from 



104 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

Theocritus, was Wilkie, the author of the Epigoniad, a 
particular friend and admirer of our philosopher. 
Then there were the two Dairy mples, both historians, 
and the gossipy autobiographer, Dr. Carlyle. Three 
politicians of distinction often adorned Edinburgh 
society at this time : brilliant Charles Townshend, who 
was to make a revolution in Smith's life, James Oswald, 
his old friend and neighbour, and William Johnstone 
(Sir William Pulteney). Among the relics of Smith's 
correspondence is an introductory letter, dated January 
19, 1752, to Oswald, then at the Board of Trade, 
which "will be delivered to you by Mr. William 
Johnstone, son of Sir James Johnstone of Westerhall, 
a young gentleman whom I have known intimately 
these four years, and of whose discretion, good temper, 
sincerity, and honour, I have had during all that time 
frequent proof." The young gentleman was to give a 
further signal proof of his discretion by bestowing his 
affections on a Pulteney, whose vast fortune doubtless 
consoled him for the surrender of his name. The 
letter continues : — 

" You will find in him too, if you come to know him better, 
some qualities which from real and unaffected modesty he 
does not at first discover ; a refinement and depth of observa- 
tion and an accuracy of judgment, joined to a natural delicacy 
of sentiment, as much improved as study and the narrow 
sphere of acquaintance this country affords can improve it. 
He had, first when I knew him, a good deal of vivacity and 
humour, but he has studied them away. He is an advocate ; 
and though I am sensible of the folly of prophesying with 
regard to the future fortune of so young a man, yet I could 
almost venture to foretell that if he lives he will be eminent 
in that profession. He has, I think, every quality that ought 
to forward, and not one that should obstruct his progress, 



vi.] GLASGOW AND ITS UNIVERSITY 105 

modesty and sincerity excepted, and these, it is to be hoped, 
experience and a better sense of things may in part cure him 
of. I do not, I assure you, exaggerate knowingly, but could 
pawn my honour upon the truth of every article." 

A cluster of these and many other stars formed, in 
1754, a constellation known as the Select Society, an 
institution, as we learn from Dugald Stewart's life of 
Robertson, " intended partly for philosophical inquiry, 
and partly for the improvement of the members in 
public speaking." It was projected, he says, by Mr. 
Allan Ramsay, the painter, and a few of his friends 
— Dr. Robertson, Mr. David Hume, Mr. Adam Smith, 
Mr. Wedderburn (afterwards Lord Chancellor), Lord 
Karnes, Mr. John Home, Dr. Carlyle, and Sir Gilbert 
Elliot. Hailes, Monboddo, and Dalrymple were also 
members. In the Select Society, writes Stewart, 
"the most splendid talents that have ever adorned 
this country were roused to their best exertions by 
the liberal and ennobling discussions of literature and 
philosophy." 

When the projectors met in May 1754, Smith, who 
had come from Glasgow, was required to explain 
the proposals. At the second meeting, as appears 
from the minutes now preserved in the Advocates' 
Library at Edinburgh, he was " Presses, " and gave out 
as subjects for the next debate (1) whether a general 
naturalisation of Foreign Protestantism would be 
advantageous to Britain; and (2) whether bounties 
on the exportation of corn would be advantageous to 
manufactures as well as to agriculture. 

Many economic questions such as pauperism, slavery, 
hiring, banking, export bounties on linen, rent, leases, 
highways, the relative advantages of large and small 



106 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

farms, were discussed by a society which, in Stewart's 
words, contributed so much to the fame and improve- 
ment of Scotland. A year after its foundation Hume 
•wrote to Allan Ramsay that it had grown to be a national 
concern. " Young and old, noble and ignoble, witty and 
dull, laity and clergy, all the world are ambitious of a 
place amongst us, and on each occasion we are as much 
solicited by candidates as if we were to choose a member 
of Parliament." The society did more than debate. 
Adam Smith and eight others were appointed managers 
to carry out a scheme for the promotion of Scottish 
arts, sciences, manufactures, and agriculture. Executive 
committees were formed. Contributions poured in ; 
and prizes and premiums large in those days were 
offered and awarded for every subject under the sun. 
From the researches of Mr. Rae we learn, for example, 
that twenty-six prizes were offered in the first year 
(1755), including three gold medals for the best dis- 
covery in science, the best essay on taste, and the best 
on vegetation. Six silver medals were given, including 
one for the best and most correctly printed book, 
another for the best imitation of English blankets, and 
a third for the best hogshead of strong ale. Four 
years later the number of prizes given had increased to 
142, and they included one for the person who cured 
most smoky chimneys. 

The society sank as suddenly as it rose. After 
only a decade of brilliant usefulness, the meteor fell, 
and expired, it is said, in a flash of Townshend's wit. 
" Why," he asked, after listening to a debate rich in 
eloquence, but unintelligible to a southern ear, " why 
can you not learn to speak the English language as 
you have already learned to write it ? " So the society 



vi.] GLASGOW AND ITS UNIVERSITY 107 

died, and Thomas Sheridan, father of the statesman, 
came to Edinburgh with a course of lectures on English 
elocution, which he delivered to about three hundred 
eminent gentlemen in Carrubber's Close. 

Upon the ashes of this famous society arose an equally 
patriotic but perhaps less beneficent organisation. The 
Poker Club, as its name indicated, was intended to be 
an instrument for stirring opinion. The cause to be 
agitated was the establishment of a Scotch Militia on 
national lines, to be followed, as some of its radical 
members hoped, by a parliamentary reform which 
would "let the industrious farmer and manufacturer 
share at last in a privilege now engrossed by the great 
lord, the drunken laird, and the drunkener bailie." 

Adam Smith was one of the original members of the 
Poker Club, which gathered in most of the Select 
Society ; but before 1776 he had changed his opinions, 
for, in the Wealth of Nations, he comes to the conclusion 
that " it is only by means of a well regulated standing 
army that a civilised country can be defended." If it 
relied for its defence on a militia, it would be exposed 
to conquest. The militia movement is mentioned by 
Smith in a letter to Strahan (April 4, 1760), in the 
course of some reflections suggested by the Memoirs of 
Colonel Hooke. The passage is interesting as a Scotch 
Whig's explanation and defence of the disaffection 
which prevailed north of the Tweed in the early part 
of the eighteenth century : — 

"Apropos to the Pope and the Pretender, have you read 
Hook's Memoirs 1 I have been ill these ten days, otherwise I 
should have written to you sooner, but I sat up the day before 
yesterday in my bed and read them thro' with infinite satisfac- 
tion, tho' they are by no means well written. The substance 



108 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

of what is in them I knew before, tho' not in such detail. I 
am afraid they are published at an unlucky time, and may 
throw a damp upon our militia. Nothing, however, appears 
to me more excusable than the disaffection of Scotland at that 
time. The Union was a measure from which infinite good has 
been derived to this country. The Prospect of that good, 
however, must then have appeared very remote and very un- 
certain. The immediate effect of it was to hurt the interest of 
every single order of men in the country. The dignity of the 
nobility was undone by it. The greater part of the gentry 
who had been accustomed to represent their own country in 
its own Parliament were cut out for ever from all hopes of 
representing it in a British Parliament. Even the merchants 
seemed to suffer at first. The trade to the Plantations was, 
indeed, opened to them. But that was a trade which they 
knew nothing about ; the trade they were acquainted with, 
that to France, Holland, and the Baltic, was laid under new 
embar[r]assments, which almost totally annihilated the two 
first and most important branches of it. The Clergy, too, who 
were then far from insignificant, were alarmed about the 
Church. No wonder if at that time all orders of men con- 
spired in cursing a measure hurtful to their immediate interest. 
The views of their Posterity are now very different ; but those 
views could be seen by but few of our forefathers, by those few 
in but a confused and imperfect manner." 

In the same letter he asks to be remembered to 
Benjamin Franklin (who had lately visited Glasgow), 
and also to Griffiths, the editor of the Monthly Review, 
which had just paid a handsome tribute to the Theory. 

In the notes of lectures, given as we have seen 
about the time when the Poker Club was established, 
Smith admitted the necessity of a standing army, 
but seems to have thought that its abuse should be 
guarded against by a militia. The Poker Club proved 
little more than a convivial society, and felt the 
scarcity and dearness of claret more than the want of 



vi.] GLASGOW AND ITS UNIVERSITY 109 

a national army. Lord Campbell says that when the 
duty on French wine was raised to pay for the 
American War, they "agreed to dissolve the 'Poker,' 
and to form another society which should exist with- 
out consumption of any excisable commodity." When 
the duties were again reduced by Pitt's French Treaty 
in 1786, a Younger Poker Club arose, but Pitt's 
master, who had contributed so substantially to this 
revival of patriotism, was too old or too indifferent to 
become a member. 

In one other important Edinburgh project the 
Glasgow professor played a prominent part. In 1755 
an Edinburgh Review was started to supply the rising 
authors of North Britain with the stimulus of sympa- 
thetic criticism. Wedderburn, then a young advocate, 
was chosen editor ; Robertson and Smith were contri- 
butors in chief. But only two numbers appeared of this 
precursor in name and in intention of the most famous 
and successful review ever launched in our islands. 
Smith's two articles are of considerable, although of 
unequal, interest. The first and less important is a 
review of Dr. Johnson's Dictionary. " When we com- 
pare this book with other dictionaries," writes the 
critic, "the merit of its author appears very extra- 
ordinary." In previous English dictionaries the chief 
purpose had been to explain hard words and terms of 
art; "Mr. Johnson has extended his views much further, 
and has made a very full collection of all the different 
meanings of each English word, justified by examples 
from authors of good reputation." The defects of the 
work consisted chiefly in the plan, which was not 
sufficiently grammatical. To show what he meant he 
took Johnson's articles on but and humour, appending 



110 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

more philosophical and lucid articles of his own. 
Johnson seems to have taken no notice of these 
criticisms in later editions of the dictionary. "We may- 
observe in passing that Smith's but is better than his 
humour. He seems singularly mistaken when he 
observes that " a man of wit is as much above a man 
of humour as a gentleman is above a buffoon." In 
Scotland, he thinks, the usefulness of the Dictionary 
will soon be felt, " as there is no standard of correct 
language in conversation." 

A far more remarkable contribution is a letter to 
the editors, which appeared in the second number. 
It is a protest against the reviewers confining them- 
selves to accounts of books published in Scotland, a 
country "which is but just beginning to attempt 
figuring in the learned world." He proposes therefore 
that they should enlarge their scope, and observe 
with regard to Europe the same plan that was being 
followed with regard to England, that is to say, 
examine all books of permanent value while contriving 
to take notice "of every Scotch production that is 
tolerably decent." Smith illustrated his plea by a very 
luminous and masterly survey of French literature, and 
a comparison of the French, German, and Italian 
genius with the English. 

The review was intended to appear every six months, 
but it never reached a third number, either because it 
was not well received by the public, or because a for- 
midable theologian spied heresy lurking in its pages. 

It was at this time that the General Assembly was 
proposing to pass a censure on Hume's Enquiry con- 
cerning the Principles of Morals, and to excommunicate 
the author. Hume wrote to Allan Ramsay in Rome : 



vi.] GLASGOW AND ITS UNIVERSITY 111 

"You may tell that reverend gentleman the Pope, 
that there are men here who rail at him, and yet would 
be much greater persecutors had they equal power. 
The last Assembly sat on me. They did not propose 
to burn me, because they cannot, but they intended to 
give me over to Satan. My friends prevailed, and my 
damnation has accordingly been postponed a twelve- 
month, but next Assembly will surely be upon me." 
Lord Karnes was also attacked; but Smith seems to 
have escaped, though his turn was to come later. 

The pupil of Hutcheson was also in many ways the 
philosophical disciple and ally of Hume. Their in- 
tercourse during all these years was close and constant. 
They paid mutual visits, and interchanged many 
letters, too few of which have been preserved. Hume 
had been abroad, or at Nine wells, during most of 
Smith's stay in Edinburgh, and had only just made 
Edinburgh his home when Smith obtained the pro- 
fessorship at Glasgow; but, as Mr. Rae notes, before 
a year was out, Smith's " dear sir " had ripened into 
"my dearest friend," and on these terms the two 
philosophers remained until death parted them. 

We have seen how in the spring of 1759 Charles 
Townshend was much taken with the Theory of Moral 
Sentiments, and told Oswald he would put his young 
ward the Duke of Buccleuch under the author's care. 
Hume did not at first believe that Townshend would 
persevere, or if he did, that he would offer such terms 
as would tempt Smith from Glasgow. But on this 
occasion he was in earnest and never relinquished the 
idea, anxious, it is said, to connect the fleeting fame of 
a parliamentarian with the lasting renown of a philo- 
sopher. Townshend had married the widowed 



112 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

Countess of Dalkeith. Her eldest son, the Duke of 
Buccleuch, was then a boy at Eton, under Hallam, 
father of the historian. The time when his stepson 
would leave school was still distant, but Townshend 
had made up his mind to send the boy abroad. In 
England it was becoming more and more the fashion 
for the sons of the nobility to travel abroad when they 
left school, instead of going to one of the universi- 
ties. It was thought that they returned home much 
improved by their travels, and with some knowledge 
of one or two living languages, whereas if they went to 
Oxford or Cambridge they would learn nothing but 
idleness and dissipation. Adam Smith himself after- 
wards came to the conclusion that foreign travel was 
no substitute for a sound university training. The 
schoolboy, he wrote after his continental tour, "com- 
monly returns home more conceited, more unprincipled, 
more dissipated, and more incapable of any serious 
application either to study or business, than he could 
well have become in so short a time had he lived at 
home. . . . Nothing but the discredit into which the 
universities had fallen could ever have brought into 
repute so very absurd a practice." 1 

In the summer of 1759 Townshend went to see Smith 
at Glasgow, and apparently prevailed, for in the follow- 
ing September Smith wrote to him about some books 
which he had been getting for Buccleuch, as if he were 
already in the position of an educational adviser to the 
boy. As might have been expected of one whom 
Burke immortalised as "the delight and ornament 
of the House, and the charm of every private society 
which he honoured with his presence," Townshend 
1 Wealth of Nations (1776), Book v. chap. i. art. 2. 



vi.] GLASGOW AND ITS UNIVERSITY 113 

captivated Glasgow. "Everybody here remembers 
you with the greatest admiration and affection." 

Smith was doubtless informed from time to time of 
the boy's progress, but we hear no more of the subject 
for four years. In the early part of 1763 he invited 
Hume to pay a visit to Glasgow. Hume was then in 
Edinburgh ; he had just brought out two volumes of 
his History, and was drinking the nectar of general 
applause. At the end of March he replied with a 
bantering reference, perhaps, to his friend's economic 
studies: "I set up a chaise in May next, which will 
give me the liberty of travelling about, and you may 
be sure a journey to Glasgow will be one of the first I 
shall undertake. I intend to require with great strict- 
ness an account how you have been employing your 
leisure, and I desire you to be ready for that purpose. 
Woe be to you if the Balance be against you. Your 
friends here will also expect that I should bring you 
with me. It seems to me very long since I saw you." 
But in the summer Lord Hertford was appointed 
Ambassador to the Court of France, and Hume ac- 
cepted the post of Secretary to the British Embassy at 
Paris, "with great prospects and expectations." He 
told his friend not to expect him back for some time ; 
"but we may meet abroad." And so they did; for, a 
couple of months later, Smith received the following 
letter : — 

" Dear Sir, — The time now drawing near when the Duke 
of Buccleugh intends to go abroad, I take the liberty of 
renewing the subject to you : that if you should still have the 
same disposition to travel with him I may have the satis- 
faction of informing Lady Dalkeith and his Grace of it, and of 
congratulating them upon an event which I know that they, 
as well as myself, have so much at heart. The Duke is now 

H 



114 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

at Eton ; he will remain there till Christmas. He will then 
spend some short time in London, that he may be presented 
at Court, and not pass instantaneously from school to a 
foreign country, but it were to be wished he should not be 
long in Town, exposed to the habits and companions of 
London, before his mind has been more formed and better 
guarded by education and experience. 

" I do not enter at this moment upon the subject of estab- 
lishment, because, if you have no objection to the situation, I 
know we cannot differ about the terms. On the contrary, 
you will find me more solicitous than yourself to make the 
connection with Buccleugh as satisfactory and advantageous 
to you as I am persuaded it will be essentially beneficial to 
him. 

" The Duke . . . has sufficient talents ; a very manly temper, 
and an integrity of heart and reverence for truth, which in a 
person of his rank and fortune are the firmest foundations of 
weight in life and uniform greatness. If it should be agree- 
able to you to finish his education and mould these excellent 
materials into a settled character, I make no doubt that he 
will return to his family and country the very man our 
fondest hopes have fancied him. 

" I go to Town next Friday, and should be obliged to you 
for your answer to this letter. — I am, with sincere affection 
and esteem, dear sir your most faithful and most obedient 
humble servant, C. Townshend. 

Adderbuby, 25th October 1763." 

The offer was accepted, and an arrangement con- 
cluded, in a pecuniary point of view certainly " satis- 
factory and advantageous." Smith was to have a 
salary of £300 a year with travelling expenses, and a 
pension of £300 a year for life. He was thus to enjoy, 
as Mr. Rae says, twice his Glasgow income, and to 
have it assured till death. Altogether, Smith drew 
more than £8000 from his three years' tutorship. On 
November 8th, "Dr. Smith represented," so runs the 



vi.] GLASGOW AND ITS UNIVERSITY 115 

record of the Faculty, " that some interesting business 
would probably require his leaving the College some 
time this winter", and he was thereuoon granted 
leave of absence for three months. 

For some time, however, Smith heard nothing more. 
In the middle of December, when he wrote to tell Hume 
of Townshend's letter, he was still in uncertainty. But 
a few days afterwards it was arranged that they should 
start early in the new year, and on January the 9th 
Smith told the Faculty that he should make use of 
his leave of absence, that he should pay his deputy his 
half-year's salary commencing from October the 10th, 
and that he had returned all his students' fees. This 
last act of liberality he was only able to carry out by 
a display of violence at the end of his last lecture. 
The scene has luckily been reproduced with unusual ani- 
mation by the pen of Tytler, Lord Karnes's pedestrian 
biographer. After concluding his last lecture, and 
describing the arrangements he had made for them, "he 
drew from his pocket the several fees of the students, 
wrapped up in separate paper parcels, and beginning 
to call up each man by his name, he delivered to the 
first who was called the money into his hand. The 
young man peremptorily refused to accept it, declaring 
that the instruction and pleasure he had already 
received was much more than he either had repaid or 
ever could compensate ; and a general cry was heard 
from every one in the room to the same effect. But 
Mr. Smith was not to be bent from his purpose. After 
warmly expressing his feelings of gratitude and the 
strong sense he had of the regard shown to him by his 
young friends, he told them this was a matter betwixt 
him and his own mind, and that he could not rest 



116 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

satisfied unless he performed what he deemed right 
and proper. 'You must not refuse me this satisfac- 
tion ; nay, by heavens, gentlemen, you shall not ' ; and 
seizing by the coat the young man who stood next to 
him, he thrust the money into his pocket and then 
pushed him from him. The rest saw it was in vain to 
contest the matter, and were obliged to let him take 
his own way." l 

Scotch professors at that time often continued to 
hold their chairs during a temporary appointment like 
a travelling tutorship, and paid their salaries to a 
substitute until they returned. But Smith was no 
friend of absenteeism. The interest of the College was 
his chief anxiety, and accordingly in the following 
month he sent his formal letter of resignation to the 
Lord Rector, immediately on his arrival in Paris. " I 
never was," he writes, "more anxious for the good of 
the College than at this moment ; and I sincerely wish 
that whoever is my successor may not only do credit 
to the office by his abilities, but be a comfort to the 
very excellent men with whom he is likely to spend 
his life, by the probity of his heart and the goodness 
of his temper." (February 14, 1764.) 

In accepting his resignation the Senate added a few 
words which may fittingly conclude our account of 
what Smith always regarded as the most fruitful and 
honourable period of his life : — " The University cannot 
help at the same time expressing their sincere regret 
at the removal of Dr. Smith, whose distinguished 
probity and amiable qualities procured him the esteem 
and affection of his colleagues; whose uncommon 
genius, great abilities, and extensive learning did so 
1 Tytler's Karnes, i. p. 278. 



vi.] GLASGOW AND ITS UNIVERSITY 117 

much honour to this society ; his elegant and ingenious 
Theory of Moral Sentiments having recommended him to 
the esteem of men of taste and literature throughout 
Europe. His happy talents in illustrating abstracted 
subjects, and faithful assiduity in communicating use- 
ful knowledge, distinguished him as a professor, and at 
once afforded the greatest pleasure and the most im- 
portant instruction to the youth under his care." 



CHAPTER VII 

THE TOUR IN FRANCE, 1764-66 

" Everything I see appears the throwing broadcast of 
the seed of a revolution," wrote Voltaire to Chauvelin, 
a few weeks after Smith landed in France. While the 
poor grew poorer, administration worse, taxes more 
oppressive, that thick cloud of conventional darkness 
which had so long shrouded misgovernment was dis- 
persing, irradiated by the fierce glare of an intellectual 
illumination such as the world had never seen before. 
Already the mind of France was undimmed. Voltaire's 
search-light had shown the nakedness of Church and 
State. Diderot's great lamp was fixed; Rousseau 
waved his fiery torch, beaconing oppressed civilisation 
back to the freedom of its cradle. Quesnai was at his 
patient calculations in the Royal Palace. The great 
Encyclopaedia itself was on the eve of completion. 

This gigantic work — in thirty-five folio volumes, of 
which the first appeared in 1751 — was doubly English ; 
for it was inspired by Lord Bacon's plan for a universal 
dictionary of sciences and arts, and it began as a mere 
translation of the Cyclopaedia which Ephraim Chambers 
had published in 1727. 

One of the first of our writers to study, perhaps 
the first to weigh and measure the importance of the 
Encyclopaedia, was Adam Smith. He seems to have 

118 



chap, vii.] THE TOUR IN FRANCE, 1764-66 119 

read it from the outset. In his letter to the Edinburgh 
Review he called it the most complete work of the kind 
ever attempted in any language. He there noticed 
that D'Alembert's preliminary discourse upon the gene- 
alogy and filiation of arts and sciences was nearly the 
same as that of Lord Bacon, that the separate articles 
were not dry abstracts of what is commonly known by 
a superficial student, but " a compleat, reasoned, and 
even critical examination of each subject." Its pages 
bore testimony to the triumphant progress of English 
philosophy and science in France. The ideas of Bacon, 
Boyle, and Newton were explained with that order, 
perspicuity, and judgment which distinguished all the 
eminent writers of France. " As since the Union we 
are apt to regard ourselves in some measure as the 
countrymen of those great men, it flattered my vanity 
as a Briton to observe the superiority of the English 
philosophy thus acknowledged by their rival nation." 
It seems, Smith added, "to be the peculiar talent of 
the French nation to arrange every subject in that 
natural and simple order which carries the attention 
without any effort along with it." 

Smith was himself by nature and habit an Encyclo- 
paedist, not inferior even to Diderot in his grasp of the 
whole field of science. Wanting the laborious industry 
of the compiler, he was the equal perhaps of his French 
contemporaries in the power of correlating knowledge 
and combining truth. But he yielded to none in 
admiration of the Encyclopaedia, and commended it to 
English readers by translating the magnificent eulogy 
bestowed on it by Voltaire in the conclusion of his 
account of the artists who lived in the time of Louis 
the Fourteenth : — 



120 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

"The last age has put the present in a condition to 
assemble into one body and to transmit to posterity, 
to be by them delivered down to remoter ages, the 
sacred repository of all the arts and all the sciences, 
all of them pushed as far as human industry can go. 
This is what a society of learned men, fraught with 
genius and knowledge, are now labouring upon, an 
immense and immortal work which accuses the short- 
ness of human life." 

The Encyclopaedists' doctrine of the perfectibility of 
man was the rational basis of Smith's incurable optimism, 
but he did not share the opinion of the French School 
that an absolute monarchy is the most hopeful if not 
the only vehicle of human progress. Quesnai and his 
disciples never dreamed that people could govern 
themselves; they conjured up an ideal monarch 
who would let his people live in a state of natural 
liberty. Adam Smith had faith in men as well as 
in philosophy, and therefore his politics were not 
for his own age only but for the time to come. A 
Whig in practice and a Republican in theory, he was 
not likely to sympathise with the idea that natural 
liberty is to be enjoyed under a despot. 

One critic expresses surprise that so close an 
observer had not the sagacity to anticipate the down- 
fall of the French Monarchy. But Turgot's dismissal, 
which first made Voltaire despair of a peaceful refor- 
mation, occurred two months after the publication of 
the Wealth of Nations, and ten years after its author's 
return to England. Nay, at the time when the finish- 
ing touches were being given to that work, it might 
have been a fair question whether Turgot's reforms 
were less likely to save France than Lord North's 



vii.] THE TOUR IN FRANCE, 1764-66 121 

policy to enslave England. In any case, it was not for 
a foreigner to play Cassandra to the Bourbons. But 
it will be shown that the author of the Wealth of 
Nations was under no illusions as to the wretched state 
of the French peasant, the misgovernment of the 
kingdom, and its fiscal disorganisation. 

The tutor and his pupil arrived in Paris on February 
13, 1764, and, after ten days with Hume, they pro- 
ceeded to Toulouse, which still preserved the dignity 
of a provincial capital, with a parliament, a university, 
and an archbishopric. The nobility and notables of 
Languedoc spent the winter there, and it was also a 
favourite resort of English visitors, probably because it 
combined a good climate with agreeable society. Its 
advocates vied with those of Paris. As a social and 
intellectual centre it might be denominated the Edin- 
burgh of France. Its political importance is marked in 
the Wealth of Nations, where Adam Smith describes the 
parliament of Toulouse as being "in rank and dignity 
the second parliament of the kingdom." Fortunately 
for the two Scots, a cousin of Hume, the Abbe Seignelay 
Colbert, was at that time Vicar-General of the diocese. 
Colbert was of the same family as the great minister, 
and doubtless owed his success in the G-allican Church 
to that connection. Hume's personal popularity in 
Paris was enormous, and his letters of introduction, 
which he wrote or procured, were everywhere of service 
to the travellers. The Abb6, immediately on their 
arrival, promised Hume he would do all that he could 
to make their stay agreeable. After a month he was 
full of enthusiasm for his new friends : — " Mr. Smith 
is a sublime man. His heart and his mind are equally 
admirable. . . . The Duke, his pupil, is a very amiable 



122 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

spirit, and does his exercises well, and is making 
progress in French." 

The Abbe was a man of liberal ideas. Promoted to 
the bishopric of Rodez, he tried to assist the agricul- 
ture and manufactures of his diocese, and even had 
a momentary popularity in Paris in the year of the 
Revolution (1789), when as a member of the States- 
General he proposed the union of the clergy with the 
Third Estate. The Archbishop of Toulouse at this 
time was the famous Lomenie de Brienne, an old 
friend of Turgot and Morellet, and so far a disciple of 
their economic principles that he persuaded the States 
of Languedoc to adopt free trade in corn. But, as Mr. 
Rae observes, he could not have been very friendly to 
Smith ; for afterwards, when Cardinal and Minister of 
France, he refused Morellet a hundred louis to defray 
the cost of printing his translation of the Wealth of 
Nations. In spite of Colbert's kindness, the early 
months at Toulouse dragged heavily, and the Duke 
proved at first an exacting companion. On July 5th, 
Smith sent a rather lugubrious and petulant letter 
to Hume : — 

"I should be much obliged to you if you could send us 
recommendations to the Duke of Kichelieu, the Marquis de 
Lorges, and the Intendant of the Province. Mr. Townshend 
assured me that the Due de Choiseul was to recommend 
us to all the people of fashion here and everywhere else in 
France. We have heard nothing, however, of these recom- 
mendations, and have had our way to make as "well as we 
could by the help of the Abb£, who is a stranger here 
almost as much as we. The progress indeed we have made is 
not very great. The Duke is acquainted with no Frenchman 
whatever. I cannot cultivate the acquaintance of the few 
with whom I am acquainted, as I cannot bring them to our 



vii.] THE TOUR IN FRANCE, 1764-66 123 

house, and am not always at liberty to go to theirs. The life 
which I led at Glasgow was a pleasurable dissipated life 
in comparison of that which I lead here at Present. I have 
begun to write a book in order to pass away the time." 

The world has no reason to regret this want of 
gaiety, for the book which Smith had begun in order 
to "pass away the time " was no other than the Wealth 
of Nations. At Bordeaux, Adam Smith, his pupil and 
the Abbe met Colonel Barr6, who wrote from that 
town to Hume on September the 4th : — 

"I thank you for your last letter from Paris, which I 
received just as Smith and his Sieve and l'Abbe Colbert were 
sitting down to dine with me at Bordeaux. The latter is a 
very honest fellow, and deserves to be a bishop ; make him 
one if you can. . . . Smith agrees with me in thinking that 
you are turned soft by the delices of the French Court, and 
that you don't write in that nervous manner you was remark- 
able for in the more northern climates." 

From this time all went smoothly. Hume got them 
introductions from his chief, Lord Hertford, the British 
Ambassador, to the Due de Richelieu and others. 

On the 21st of October they were again in Toulouse, 
and Smith wrote in good spirits to thank Hume for 
his kindness and the Ambassador "for the very 
honourable manner in which he was so good as to 
mention me to the Duke of Richelieu in the letter of 
recommendation which you sent us." He adds : — 

" There was, indeed, one small mistake in it. He called me 
Robinson instead of Smith. I took upon me to correct this 
mistake myself before the Duke delivered the letter. We 
were all treated by the Marshal with the utmost Politeness 
and attention, particularly the Duke, whom he distinguished 
in a very proper manner. . . . Our expedition to Bordeaux 
and another we have made since to Bagneres has made a great 



124 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

change upon the Duke. He "begins now to familiarise himself 
to French company, and I flatter myself I shall spend the rest 
of the time we are to live together not only in peace and con- 
tentment, but in gayetty and amusement." 

They went to Montpellier to see the meeting of the 
States of Languedoc, the most important of the six 
local parliaments still remaining in France. There they 
met Home Tooke, who afterwards called the Wealth of 
Nations wicked and the Moral Sentiments nonsense, and 
Cardinal Dillon, the Archbishop of Narbonne, another 
of the band of Gallicised Scots. 

In Montpellier and Toulouse they saw many mem- 
bers of the parliament, and obtained an insight into the 
legal and administrative system of a province which 
enlightened Frenchmen were fond of citing as a model 
for the reformation of their country. Smith took 
rather a favourable view of French justice. The 
parliaments, he said, "are perhaps, in many respects, 
not very convenient courts of justice ; but they have 
never been accused, they seem never even to have 
been suspected, of corruption." 

But, though incorruptible, the Toulouse Court had 
been guilty of one scandalous act of fanatical injustice. 
In 1762 it found the unfortunate Jean Calas, a Protes- 
tant, guilty of the murder of his son, who had abjured 
his faith in order to join the Toulouse Bar, and then in 
an agony of remorse had committed suicide in his 
father's house. Characteristically Smith did not allow 
this foul episode to distort his perspective. In his last 
edition of the Moral Sentiments the story is told as one 
of those fatal accidents which "happen sometimes in all 
countries, even in those where justice is in general very 
well administered " : — 



vii.] THE TOUR IN FRANCE, 1764-66 125 

" The unfortunate Calas, a man of much more than ordinary 
constancy (broke upon the wheel and burnt at Toulouse for 
the supposed murder of his own son, of which he was per- 
fectly innocent), seemed with his last breath to deprecate, not 
so much the cruelty of the punishment, as the disgrace which 
the imputation might bring upon his memory. After he had 
been broke, and was just going to be thrown into the fire, the 
monk, who attended the execution, exhorted him to confess 
the crime for which he had been condemned. ' My Father,' 
said Calas, ' can you yourself bring yourself to believe that I 
am guilty ? ' " 

To such a man, he thinks, "humble philosophy, which 
confines its views to this life, can afford but little con- 
solation." He must seek refuge in religion, which alone 
can offer him a prospect of another world of more 
candour, humanity, and justice. But justice was not 
allowed to sleep. For three years Voltaire assailed the 
ears of France with impassioned argument. Before 
Smith left Toulouse a new trial was ordered, and fifty 
judges, among them Turgot, revised the sentence, pro- 
nounced Calas innocent, relieved his family from infamy, 
and awarded them a large sum of money. 

A long stay in Languedoc would necessarily give a 
foreigner more favourable impressions of the social and 
economic state of France than he would have gained, 
say, in the Limousin, where Turgot was doing heroic 
battle against famine and maladministration. Lan- 
guedoc, with its two millions of inhabitants, is described 
by Tocqueville as the best-ordered and most prosper- 
ous as well as the largest of all the pays d'Mats. Its 
roads, made and repaired without a corvde, were among 
the best in France. Smith was struck by the great canal 
of Burgundy, constructed some seventy years before by 
Riquet and kept in good repair by his family, and he 



126 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

saw the province incessantly spending money on de- 
veloping and improving its roads and rivers. The 
charitable workhouses established at the royal expense 
in other parts of France had not been required in this 
comparatively happy territory. In fiscal system and 
credit Languedoc was incomparably superior to the rest 
of the kingdom. A land-tax instead of a poll-tax, few 
exemptions for the nobles, no farmers-general to collect 
taxes and fortunes. The contrast between the good 
local administration of Languedoc, and the fatal results 
of centralisation in other parts of France, was often in 
the mind of the author of the Wealth of Nations ; and 
all that he said is fully confirmed by Tocqueville's 
study of French society before the Revolution. Here is 
a passage that sounds like an echo of Turgot : Smith is 
speaking of the advantages of local administration from 
local funds. Under such an administration, he says, 
"a magnificent highroad cannot be made through a 
desart country where there is little or no commerce, or 
merely because it happens to lead to the country villa 
of the intendant of the province, or to that of some 
great lord to whom the intendant finds it convenient 
to make his court. A great bridge cannot be thrown 
over a river at a place where nobody passes, or merely 
to embellish the view from the windows of a neighbour- 
ing palace : things which sometimes happen in countries 
where works of this kind are carried on by any other 
revenue than that which they themselves are capable of 
affording." 

After eighteen months in Toulouse the party went, 
we are told, " by a pretty extensive tour, through the 
south of France to Geneva." There Smith was able to 
gratify two of his strongest passions : his admiration 



vii.] THE TOUR IN FRANCE, 1764-66 127 

for the Republican form of government and for 
Voltaire. The little Republic was then in a constitu- 
tional tumult, for the citizens were pressing for a 
share in what had till then been a narrow aristocracy. 
In this they had the support of Voltaire, who lived, the 
literary potentate of Europe, at Ferney, just outside the 
city bounds, in the feudal seigniory of Gex. To his 
chateau by the lake pilgrims resorted from all parts of 
Europe to pay their court, and were hospitably received. 
Smith seems to have visited Ferney five or six times 
during his short stay, and conversation deepened the 
admiration which his favourite author had inspired. 

Samuel Rogers, meeting Smith a year before his death, 
happened to remark of some writer that he was rather 
superficial, a Voltaire. " Sir ! " cried Smith, incensed by 
this use of the indefinite article, striking the table with 
his hand, "there has been but one Voltaire." Voltaire, 
on his side, probably thought well of the Theory of 
Moral Sentiments, for his intimate friend, Dr. Tronchin, 
the famous physician of Geneva, had sent his son to 
attend Smith's classes at Glasgow. Rogers's visit fell 
in the year of the French Revolution, and the question 
of king against parliaments was being debated. Smith 
mentioned that Voltaire had an aversion to the States, 
and was attached to the royal authority. Voltaire 
had talked about the Duke of Richelieu, whom the 
party had met at Toulouse, as a singular character. 
The duke had slipped down at Versailles, a few years 
before his death, " the first faux pas he had ever made 
at Court." When Saint-Fond, who visited Edinburgh 
in 1784, called on Adam Smith, he was shown a fine 
bust of Voltaire ; and Smith discoursed upon the incal- 
culable obligations that Reason owed to the Philosopher 



128 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

of Ferney. "The ridicule and sarcasms which he 
lavished upon fanatics and hypocrites of all sects have 
enabled the understandings of men to bear the light 
of truth," and prepared them for research. "He 
has done much more for the benefit of mankind than 
those grave philosophers whose books are read by a 
few only. The writings of Voltaire are made for all 
and read by all." Smith said he could not pardon 
Joseph the Second of Austria, "who pretended to 
travel as a philosopher," for passing Ferney without 
doing homage to the historian of Peter the Great. 
He concluded from this circumstance that Joseph 
" was but a man of inferior mind." l 

Smith kept no journal during his French tour, 
and as usual wrote as few letters as possible, though 
he must have made extensive notes. Most of his 
letters were probably to report progress to Charles 
Townshend. I have in my possession part of an 
abstract of one of these, which, though of no im- 
portance in itself, serves to show that he took his 
tutorship very seriously. From sidelights in the 
correspondence of Charles Bonnet the naturalist, and 
Le Sage, and Adam Ferguson, we know that he enjoyed 
the best company in Geneva, particularly at the house 
of the Duchesse d'Enville, who was there under Dr. 
Tronchin's treatment with her son, the ill-fated Due de 
la Rochefoucauld. In 1774 Adam Ferguson wrote to 
Smith that his own bad French reminded the Duchesse 
d'Enville of her old difficulties with Smith, " but she 
said that before you left Paris she had the happiness to 
learn your language." Two years later Bonnet wished 

1 See Faujas Saint-Fond, Travels in England and Scotland, 
vol. ii. p. 241. 



vii.] THE TOUR IN FRANCE, 1764-66 129 

Hume to remember him to " the Sage of Glascow, . . . 
whom we shall always recollect with great pleasure." 

The tutor with his two pupils, for the Duke had been 
joined at Bordeaux by a younger brother, left Geneva 
for Paris early in December 1765, promising, however, 
to return to republican soil before they left the con- 
tinent. Hume, now a rich man with a pension of £900 
a year, was just leaving the Embassy, and relinquishing 
his sovereignty of philosophy and society ; but the 
two friends had a few days together before he crossed 
the Channel with poor, wayward, irresolute Eousseau, 
hunted or haunted by the furies. Adam Smith was 
soon in a whirlpool of gaiety and philosophy. Friend- 
ship with Hume was enough to ensure a friendly 
reception from Parisian society, where science and 
letters were still fashionable. But Smith was known 
and valued for his own sake; his Theory of Moral 
Sentiments was so much read, praised, and talked about 
that several translators, among them the young Due de 
Bochefoucauld, were competing to repair the badness 
of the first attempt, published in 1764 by Dous at the 
instance of Holbach. That of the Abbe Blavet was, 
Smith thought, but indifferently executed. The best 
translation, it is said, was that published in 1798 by 
Condorcet's widow. 

For ten months Smith suffered and enjoyed enough 
dissipation for a lifetime, if we may judge from the 
Hume correspondence, which shows that in one week 
of July 1766 he was at Baron Holbach's conversing 
with Turgot, at the Comtesse de Boufflers', and in the 
salon of Mademoiselle de l'Espinasse. In fact, as Mr. Rae 
says, he seems to have been a regular guest in almost 
all the famous salons of Paris. Thus we find Hume 



130 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

writing in March to the Countess de Boufflers : "I am 
glad you have taken my friend Smith under your pro- 
tection. You will find him a man of true merit, 
though perhaps his sedentary recluse life may have 
hurt his air and appearance as a man of the world." 
She replies in May that she has made the acquaintance 
of Mr. Smith, and for love of Hume has given him a 
very hearty welcome ; that she is reading the Theory of 
Moral Sentiments, and believes it will please her. Six 
years later she talked of translating the book, and said 
that Smith's doctrine of Sympathy was supplanting 
Hume's philosophy as the fashionable opinion, especially 
with the ladies ! Smith was a keen playgoer in Paris, 
and made the acquaintance of Madame Riccoboni, who 
had been a great actress but had abandoned the stage 
for the novel, and was almost as popular as Richardson. 
When he left France she gave him a charming letter 
of introduction to Garrick : — 

" Je suis bien vaine, my dear Mr. Garrick, de pouvoir vous 
donner ce que je perds avec un regret tres vif, le plaisir de 
voir Mr. Smith. Ce charming philosopher vous dira com- 
bien il a d'esprit, car je le d^fie de parler sans en montrer. . . 
Oh ces Ecossois ! ces chiens d'Ecossois ! ils viennent me plaire 
et m'affliger. Je suis comme ces folles jeunes filles qui 
ecoutent un amant sans penser au regret, toujours voisin du 
plaisir. Grondez-moi, battez-moi, tuez-moi : mais j'aime Mr. 
Smith, je l'aime beaucoup. Je voudrois que le diable em- 
portat tous nos gens de lettres, tous nos philosophes, et qu'il 
me rapportat Mr. Smith." 

In a separate letter to Garrick the novelist again 
describes her friend: "Mr. Smith, un Ecossois, homme 
d'un tres grand merite, aussi distingue par son bon 
naturel, par la douceur de son caractere que par son 
esprit et son savoir, me demande une lettre pour vous. 



vii.] THE TOUR IN FRANCE, 1764-66 131 

Vous verrez un philosophe moral et pratique; gay, 
riant a cent lieus de la pedanterie des ndtres." 1 Of 
the Rochefoucaulds we have already heard at Geneva. 
They seem to have been at Paris during Smith's stay 
there, for "from Madame d'Enville," writes Dugald 
Stewart, " the respectable mother of the late excellent 
and much lamented Duke of Rochefoucauld, he received 
many attentions which he always recollected with 
particular gratitude." A story is told of another lady, 
a marquise of talent and wit, who was so overcome by 
his personal charms that she fell in love with him at 
Abbeville, where Smith and the Duke of Buccleuch 
stopped on one of their excursions from Paris. A 
Captain Lloyd, who was with the party, doubtless on 
a patriotic visit to the field of Cre9y, told the story to 
Dr. Currie, the biographer of Burns. The philosopher 
could neither endure these addresses nor conceal his 
embarrassment, for the reason, said Lloyd, that he was 
deeply in love with an English lady who was also at 
Abbeville. But Dugald Stewart only mentions an 
early attachment with a lady who remained single, 
and at eighty years of age still retained evident 
traces of her former beauty, and adds that "after 
this disappointment he laid aside all thoughts of 
marriage." 

Susan Curchod, that "inestimable treasure" for 
whom Gibbon sighed as a lover, had married Necker, 
then only a successful banker, while Smith and his 
party were at Toulouse. The mother of Madame de 
Stael, as we learn from her first admirer, united elegant 
manners and lively conversation with wit, beauty, and 
erudition. No wonder then that her new home was 
1 See Garrick Correspondence, vol. ii. pp. 549, 550. 



132 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

already a centre of Parisian life. The Neckers 
were very hospitable, and were intimate with Morellet 
and others of the economic sect. Adam Smith's 
impressions of Necker are mentioned by Sir James 
Mackintosh in the ever admirable though recanted 
Defence of the French Revolution. He had, as we there 
read, no very high opinion of the future minister, 
speaking of him as a man probably upright and not 
illiberal, but narrow, pusillanimous, and entangled by 
the habit of detail. He predicted that Necker's fame 
would fall when his talents should be brought to the 
test, and always said emphatically, " He is a man of 
detail." Mackintosh adds: "At a time when the 
commercial abilities of Lord Auckland were the theme 
of profuse eulogy, Dr. Smith characterised him in the 
same words." 

Dugald Stewart mentions that Smith was also 
acquainted with D'Alembert, Helvetius, and Mar- 
montel. It was at the house of Helvetius that he 
first met the great Turgot and the excellent Abbe 
Morellet. "He talked our language very badly," 
writes the Abbe* in his memoirs; "but his Theory of 
Moral Sentiments had given me a great idea of his 
depth and sagacity, and in fact I still look upon him 
as one who made most comprehensive observations 
and analyses of all the questions that he dealt with. 
M. Turgot, who was as fond of metaphysics as I was, 
held a high opinion of his genius. We saw him often; 
he was presented at the house of Helvetius : we dis- 
cussed the theory of commerce, banking, loans, and 
many points in the great book he was then composing. 
He gave me a very pretty pocket-book which he used 
and which has served me for twenty years." 



vii.] THE TOUR IN FRANCE, 1764-66 133 

Turgot's Reflections on the Formation and Distribution 
of Wealth, which were written about this time, remained 
unpublished till 1769, when they began to appear in 
the fiphime'rides du Citoyen. It is noteworthy as bearing 
upon the question of mutual obligation between Smith 
and Turgot that it was the Wealth of Nations, not the 
Reflections, which gave topics for their economic dis- 
cussions. It has been supposed, on the authority of 
Condorcet, that a correspondence was subsequently 
carried on between Smith and Turgot. But the 
publication quite recently of a letter written by Smith 
to the young Duke of Rochefoucauld has removed all 
doubt upon the subject. Rochefoucauld had written 
to inquire of Smith if he possessed any letters from 
Turgot, and this is the answer : — 

"I should certainly have been very happy to have com- 
municated to your Grace any letters which the ever to he 
regretted Mr. Turgot had done me the honour to write to me ; 
and by that means to have the distinguished honour of being 
recorded as one of his correspondents. But tho' I had the 
happiness of his acquaintance and, I flattered myself, even 
of his friendship and esteem, I never had that of his corre- 
spondence. He was so good as to send me a copy of the 
Prods Verbal of what passed at the bed of justice upon the 
registration of his six edicts which did so much honour to 
their Author, and, had they been executed without alteration, 
would have proved so beneficial to his country. But the 
present (which I preserve as a most valuable monument of a 
person whom I remember with so much veneration) was not 
accompanied with any letter." 

Twenty-three years afterwards there is an entry in 
the diary of Samuel Rogers : " Adam Smith said Turgot 
was an honest, well-meaning man, but unacquainted 
with the world and human nature; that it was his 



134 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

maxim (he mentioned it to Hume, but never to Smith) 
that whatever is right may be done." This is certainly 
not Adam Smith's whole mind about Turgot, for whom 
he entertained a lively admiration. But undoubtedly 
he considered that his own obligations to the French 
School of Political Economy began and ended with 
Quesnai, and we know that he intended at one time 
to dedicate his book to the author of the Economic 
Table. Turgot, Morellet, Kiviere, and the rest were 
interpreters of Quesnai — disciples, not masters. 

Quesnai was the inventor of a new system, the founder 
of a sect, and the wielder of whatever influence that sect 
exerted on the Wealth of Nations. Smith's intercourse 
with Quesnai and the physiocrats, as well as a careful 
study of their writings, accounts for some important 
developments of theory which distinguish his book 
from his lectures, and particularly the attention he 
there pays to the problem of distribution, as well 
as a distinct though moderated bias towards agri- 
culture as the most productive of pursuits. He was 
not a physiocrat. Indeed his criticism of the dis- 
tinctive doctrine of the school, that all wealth comes 
from the soil, was felt to be convincing and final. 
But he went a long way with them, and some of his 
most important practical conclusions coincided with 
theirs. No reader of the ninth chapter of Smith's 
fourth book could doubt that Smith knew Quesnai 
as well as Quesnai's Table, which had been published 
in 1758 and was regarded with an almost super- 
stitious veneration by the whole sect. If the doubt 
existed, it would be dispelled by a curious piece of 
evidence. Of the half-dozen letters he wrote from 
France that have been preserved, the longest, dated 



vii.] THE TOUR IN FRANCE, 1764-66 135 

Compiegne, August 26, 1766, is to Charles Townshend, 
and describes some anxious moments in which he had 
called in the aid of the king's physician. The Duke 
of Buccleuch had been to Compiegne to see the camp 
and to hunt with the King and the Court, and after 
hunting had eaten too heartily of a cold supper with 
a vast quantity of salad and some cold punch. Sick- 
ness and fever followed. The faithful tutor begged 
him to send for a doctor : — 

"He refused a long time, but at last, upon seeing me 
uneasy, consented. I sent for Quenay, first ordinary physician 
to the King. He sent me word he was ill. I then sent for 
Senac ; he was ill likewise. I went to Quenay myself to beg 
that, notwithstanding his illness, which was not dangerous, 
he would come to see the Duke. He told me he was an old 
infirm man, whose attendance could not be depended on, 
and advised me as his friend to depend upon De la Saone, 
first physician to the Queen. I went to De la Saone. He 
was gone out, and was not expected home that night. I 
returned to Quenay, who followed me immediately to the 
Duke. It was by this time seven at night. The Duke 
was in the same profuse sweat which he had been in all 
day and all the preceding night. In this situation Quenay 
declared that it was improper to do anything till the sweat 
should be over. He only ordered him some cooling ptisane 
drink. Quenay's illness made it impossible for him to return 
next day (Monday), and De la Saone has waited on the Duke 
ever since, to my entire satisfaction." 

In reading this we are reminded of a passage in 
the Wealth of Nations where Quesnai is described as 
"a physician, and a very speculative physician," who 
thought the health of the human body could be 
preserved only by a certain precise regimen of diet and 
exercise, the slightest violation of which necessarily 



136 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

occasioned some degree of disease or disorder. The 
letter to Townshend continues : — 

"Depend upon hearing from me by every post till his 
perfect recovery ; if any threatening symptom should appear 
I shall immediately despatch an express to you ; so keep your 
mind as easy as possible. There is not the least probability 
that any such symptom ever will appear. I never stir from 
his room from eight in the morning till ten at night, and watch 
for the smallest change that happens to him. I should sit 
by him all night too if the ridiculous, impertinent jealousy of 
Cook, who thinks my assiduity an encroachment upon his 
duty, would not be so much alarmed, as it gave some disturb- 
ance even to his master in his present illness." 

The visit was now drawing to an end, but our 
account of it would be incomplete if we omitted 
Smith's part in one of the most furious squabbles of 
the century. Rousseau had arrived in Paris almost 
simultaneously with our travellers, tempted by Hume's 
generous promise to find him a refuge in England from 
his persecutors. The advent of the author of the Social 
Contract and JEmile threw Paris into a tumult of excite- 
ment. "People may talk of ancient Greece as they 
please," wrote Hume, full of affection and enthusiasm 
for his prot6g6, " but no nation was ever so proud of 
genius as this, and no person ever so much engaged 
their attention as Rousseau. Voltaire and everybody 
else are quite eclipsed by him." The philosophers of 
Paris predicted a quarrel before they got to Calais, but 
for some time Hume contrived to manage this wayward, 
suspicious genius admirably well, procuring him a 
pension and a comfortable establishment in Derbyshire. 
At last, in June, Rousseau suddenly lost his head, 
mastered by the haunting fears of treachery, and wrote 



vii.] THE TOUR IN FRANCE, 1764-66 137 

to Hume that his horrible designs were at last found out. 
For once in his life Hume lost his temper, and discre- 
tion departed from him. He determined to punish 
Rousseau's ingratitude and put himself right in the 
eyes of the world. But before taking this step he 
wrote to consult his friends in Paris, and Smith sent 
the following reply : — 

" Paris, 6th July 1766. 

"Mr dear Friend, — I am thoroughly convinced that Rous- 
seau is as great a rascal as you and as every man here believes 
him to be. Yet let me beg of you not to think of publishing 
anything to the world upon the very great impertinence which 
he has been guilty of to you. By refusing the pension which you 
had the goodness to solicit for him with his own consent, he 
may have thrown, by the baseness of his proceedings, a little 
ridicule upon you in the eyes of the court and the ministry. 
Stand this ridicule ; expose his brutal letter, but without 
giving it out of your own hand, so that it may never be 
printed ; and, if you can, laugh at yourself ; and I shall pawn 
my life that before three weeks are at an end this little affair 
which at present gives you so much uneasiness shall be under- 
stood to do you as much honour as anything that has ever 
happened to you. By endeavouring to unmask before the 
public this hypocritical pedant, you run the risk of disturbing 
the tranquillity of your whole life. By letting him alone he 
cannot give you a fortnight's uneasiness. To write against 
him is, you may depend upon it, the very thing he wishes you 
to do. He is in danger of falling into obscurity in England, 
and he hopes to make himself considerable by provoking an 
illustrious adversary. He will have a great party, the Church, 
the Whigs, the Jacobites, the whole wise English nation, who 
will love to mortify a Scotchman, and to applaud a man who 
has refused a pension from the King. It is not unlikely, too, 
that they may pay him very well for having refused it, and 
that even he may have had in view this compensation. Your 
whole friends here wish you not to write, — the Baron, 
D'Alembert, Madame Riccoboni, Mademoiselle Riancourt, 



138 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

M. Turgot, etc. etc. M. Turgot, a friend every way worthy 
of you, desired me to recommend this advice to you in a par- 
ticular manner as his most earnest entreaty and opinion. He 
and I are both afraid that you are surrounded with evil 
counsellors, and that the advice of your English literati, who 
are themselves accustomed to publishing all their little gossiping 
stories in newspapers, may have too much influence upon you. 
Remember me to Mr. Walpole, and believe me to be with the 
most sincere affection, ever yours, Adam Smith." 

Within six months Hume was sorry that he had not 
taken this sage advice, and blamed himself for the 
" Succinct Exposure," which had been followed of course 
by a cloud of pamphlets. We must be careful not 
to suppose from this letter that Smith really had a 
mean opinion of Eousseau. He had reviewed with 
warm but discerning praise the second discourse on 
the Origin and Foundation of Inequality among Mankind; 
and in later days he spoke with reverential emotion of 
the author of the Social Contract. 

Smith was now anxious to return home. To 
Millar, his publisher, he wrote early in the autumn : — 
" Though I am very happy here, I long passionately 
to rejoin my old friends, and if I had once 
got fairly to your side of the water, I think I 
should never cross it again. Recommend the same 
sober way of thinking to Hume. He is light-hearted, 
tell him, when he talks of coming to spend the 
remainder of his days here or in France." 

Their return was precipitated by a tragedy. Hew 
Scott, the Duke's younger brother, a lad of nineteen, 
was assassinated in the streets of Paris on October 
19th. Smith and the Duke almost immediately left 
Paris, and were in London at the beginning of 
November. "We returned," wrote the Duke to 



vii.] THE TOUR IN FRANCE, 1764-66 139 

Dugald Stewart, " after having spent near three years 
together without the slightest disagreement or coolness, 
and on my part with every advantage that could be 
expected from the society of such a man. We con- 
tinued to live in friendship till the hour of his death." 
Besides the substantial advantages of independence, 
Smith, as we learn from many of his contemporaries, 
had gained vastly in manner, address, and knowledge of 
the world. Much of his awkwardness had disappeared. 
In the bustle of travel and society, he almost forgot 
how to be absent-minded. 

"We have already mentioned a complaint that Smith 
failed to realise the utter misery of France or to foresee 
the Revolution. The second half of the complaint 
seems to be an impertinence. He was not called upon 
to write out the past, or present, much less the future 
of France. The first part of the complaint is more 
plausible. The Wealth of Nations abounds in illustra- 
tions drawn from the French tour, and from these we 
certainly get a less melancholy picture than from the 
pages of Arthur Young, or from the correspondence of 
Voltaire, D'Alembert, Turgot and the rest. But then, 
Young's tour was twenty years later, and the French 
reformers were thinking exclusively of the stagnant 
condition of France in a moving and progressive age. 
They felt bitterly the dreadful difference between 
their France and the France that should have been 
but for the impoverishing wars and oppressive mis- 
government of Louis xiv. and his successors. Smith 
took France as she was, and found her still one of the 
richest and most powerful countries of the world. In 
the ninth chapter of his first book he compares 
Holland, England, France, and Scotland. The first, 



140 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

"in proportion to the extent of its territory and the 
number of its people, is a richer country than England." 
Its government can borrow at two per cent. ; wages of 
labour are said to be higher than in England, and the 
Dutch trade upon lower profits than any people in 
Europe. They have large investments in foreign 
countries, and "during the late war the Dutch gained 
the whole carrying-trade of France, of which they still 
retain a very large share." England comes next. 
" France is perhaps in the present times not so rich a 
country as England." Its market rate of interest is 
generally higher, and so are the profits of trade ; " and 
it is no doubt upon this account that many British 
subjects chuse rather to employ their capitals in a 
country where trade is in disgrace than in one where 
it is highly respected." Then he shows that, though 
France was still richer than Scotland, Scotland was 
making far more rapid progress : — 

" The wages of labour are lower in France than in England. 
When you go from Scotland to England, the difference which 
you may remark between the dress and countenance of the 
common people in the one country and in the other, sufficiently 
indicates the difference in their condition. The contrast is 
still greater when you return from France. France, though 
no doubt a richer country than Scotland, seems not to be 
going forward so fast. It is a common and even a popular 
opinion in the country, that it is going backwards ; an opinion 
which, I apprehend, is ill-founded even with regard to 
France, but which nobody can possibly entertain with regard 
to Scotland, who sees the country now, and who saw it twenty 
or thirty years ago." 

Misgovernment, it is true, had done its worst in pre- 
revolutionary France, but it could not ruin fertile 



vii.] THE TOUR IN FRANCE, 1764-66 141 

territory and a thrifty population. At that time the 
cities of Bordeaux, Lyons, and Marseilles surpassed in 
wealth and in the number of their inhabitants Copen- 
hagen, Stockholm, St. Petersburg, and Berlin. Several 
of the provincial parliaments offered as fair a field for 
legal talent as the Courts of Dublin and Edinburgh. 
After the landed nobility, the Church, the King, his 
ministers, intendants, and a host of minor officials had 
taken their rents and revenues and stipends, fortunes 
were still left for rapacious financiers and rascally 
farmers-general. Smith saw all this and explained it 
with his usual lucidity. But he never mistook wealth 
for welfare. He applied his favourite test of the con- 
dition of the labouring poor. Though France was a 
much richer country, with a better soil and climate than 
Scotland, and "better stocked with all those things 
which it requires a long time to raise up and accumu- 
late, such as great towns and convenient and well- 
built houses, both in town and country," yet the poor 
were worse off. In England the common people all 
[sic] wore leather shoes, in Scotland the men only ; in 
France both men and women went about sometimes in 
wooden shoes and sometimes barefooted. He finds 
the reason for these things in unfair and ill-judged 
taxation, and he devotes many pages to a severe 
scrutiny of the French system. 

Considering that France had some twenty-four 
millions of people, thrice the number of Great Britain, 
that it was naturally richer and had been " much 
longer in a state of improvement and cultivation," it 
might have been expected that the French Govern- 
ment could have raised a revenue of thirty millions 
with as little inconvenience as a revenue of ten 



142 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

millions was raised in Great Britain. In 1765 and 
1766 the revenue actually paid into the French 
Treasury did not amount to fifteen millions sterling. 
Yet the taxes were so devised and collected that the 
French people, it was generally acknowledged, were 
much more oppressed by taxes than the people of 
Great Britain. " France, however, is certainly the great 
Empire in Europe which, after that of Great Britain, 
enjoys the mildest and most indulgent government ! " 
Smith had not only diagnosed the disease ; his French 
studies and his friendship with enlightened men like 
Turgot, Quesnai, and Morellet had enabled him to 
propose remedies. " The finances of France," he 
observes in the second chapter of his fifth book, 
"seem in their present state to admit of three very 
obvious reformations." First, he would abolish the 
tattle and the capitation, balancing the loss by in- 
creasing the number of vingtihmes or land-tax. Second, 
"by rendering the gabelle, the aides, the traites, the 
taxes upon tobacco, and all the different customs and 
excises, uniform in all the different parts of the king- 
dom, those taxes might be levied at much less expense, 
and the interior commerce of the kingdom might be 
rendered as free as that of England." Thirdly, by 
subjecting all taxes to the immediate inspection and 
direction of government, the exorbitant profits of the 
farmers-general might be added to the revenue of the 
State. But, he adds, with the same scepticism that 
colours his view of the prospects of Free Trade in 
England, the opposition arising from the private 
interests of individuals would probably be effectual in 
preventing all three parts of the scheme of reforma- 
tion. Yet half a century after the appearance of the 



vu.] THE TOUR IN FRANCE, 1764-66 143 

tFealth of Nations one of its annotators was able to write : 
" Taxes in France are now placed almost on the foot- 
ing suggested by Dr. Smith. The taille and capitation 
have been abolished, and replaced by the contribution 
fonciere; the different taxes have been rendered 
equal in all the provinces of the kingdom, and they 
are chiefly collected by officers appointed by the 
Government." Nor is the connection between the 
book and the reforms either fanciful or remote. "It 
was, I avow — to the shame of my first instructors/' 
wrote "le bon Mollien," Napoleon's favourite minister 
of finance, "this book of Adam Smith, then so little 
known, that taught me better to appreciate the multi- 
tude of points at which public finance touches every 
family, and raises judges of it in every household." 



CHAPTEK VIII 

POLITICS AND STUDY, 1766-76 

Adam Smith, as we have seen, had begun to write his 
immortal book at Toulouse in the summer of 1764 "in 
order to pass away the time." But even after his 
return to London, in November 1766, more than nine 
years were still to pass before the Wealth of Nations 
could be placed in the publisher's hands. All this 
time the book was his chief occupation, and but for 
the light which an occasional letter throws upon his 
studies, the story of Smith's life during these nine 
years might almost be written in as many lines. For 
about six months he remained in London, where he 
mingled with men, collected books and material for 
his treatise, and saw the third edition of his Theory of 
Moral Sentiments through the press. 

In an undated letter to Strahan, who was now a 
partner in Millar's publishing firm, about the title-page 
to this volume, the author desired to be called " simply 
Adam Smith, without any addition either before or 
behind." He had received the honorary degree of 
LL.D. before leaving Glasgow, but he did not like to 
be called Dr. Smith, and seldom used the title. But 
politics, which had just taken a strange turn, soon com- 
manded his attention ; and a curious letter from Smith 
to Shelburne (February 12, 1767) raises for a moment 

144 



vin.] POLITICS AND STUDY, 1766-76 145 

the curtain that divides the spectator from the actors, 
and allows us to survey the scene behind which the 
most enlightened member of the Government was 
working to introduce common sense into the colonial 
policy of Great Britain. It was a scene, too, in the 
greatest political drama of Adam Smith's lifetime, 
which left deep, decipherable marks on the pages of 
the Wealth of Nations. 

While Smith was discussing the new principles 
with the philosophers of Paris, an active spirit of 
dissatisfaction had been spreading in distant com- 
munities of men. The spirit of liberty seemed to 
have walked forth over the face of the earth and to 
threaten revolutions in every part. The Georgians 
under the valiant Heraclius had revolted against their 
ignominious tribute to the Turkish seraglios. The 
tyrannies of a French governor had provoked insurrec- 
tions in St. Domingo. The first tramp of a revolution- 
ary march was heard in the Spanish dominions of 
South America; above all, the long and smouldering 
discontent in our own American colonies had suddenly 
been fanned into a blaze. But Europe, whose policy 
had been the source of all these woes, was for once in 
a peaceful mood. The Empress of Russia was busy 
entertaining her savants. The Swede was occupied at 
home, and the tall Pomeranian was content to drill. 
A financial crisis in France and England made the two 
Governments friendly ; and though there were bloody 
feuds and insurrections in Turkey, Poland, and Spain, 
the historian of Europe, surveying the year 1766 and 
comparing it with its predecessors, marked it with a 
white chalk and fancied he could at last spell a drift 
towards peace in the hollow states and bankrupt empires 

K 



146 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

of the old world. Ambition indeed seldom stoops to 
calculations, but the most acquisitive imperialist seeing 
multitudes of unemployed, food at famine prices, and 
manufactures at a standstill, began to wonder whether 
after all the conquests of the war had been worth such 
a price. For once the governing classes were sobered 
and were ready to make some grudging atonement 
for one of their worst blunders. The same commercial 
stress which constrained the French King to pacify 
his parliaments inclined the parliament of Great 
Britain to appease the colonial assemblies. 

The session of 1766 was one of the longest, most 
momentous, and stirring within living memory. It had 
begun, as we have said, with sharp distress at home, and 
that distress had been aggravated by the disturbances in 
America ; for the colonists, incensed by the Stamp Act, 
refused to pay for English goods (to the value of several 
millions) with which their shops and warehouses were 
stocked. No wonder, then, that in all parts of the 
realm traders and manufacturers did their best to per- 
suade the Rockingham ministry to adopt conciliatory 
measures. Parliament was besieged by petitions from 
the merchants of London, Bristol, Lancaster, Liverpool, 
Hull, Glasgow, and most of the trading and manufac- 
turing towns in the kingdom, setting forth the great 
damage done to their trade by the new laws and regu- 
lations made for America. They pointed out that the 
Stamp Act and other harassing legislation had not 
only sown a crop of discontent in the colonies, but had 
already produced many bankruptcies at home and were 
rapidly leading to widespread distress. 

A contemporary writer of great power tells us that 
no matter of debate was ever more ably or learnedly 



vni.] POLITICS AND STUDY, 1766-76 147 

handled in both Houses than the colonial policy which 
Lord Rockingham and his colleagues laid before Par- 
liament. Those who denied the right of taxing the 
colonies cited Locke and Selden, Harrington and Puffen- 
dorf , to show that the very foundation and ultimate point 
in view of all government is the good of the society. 
They inferred from the Magna Charta and Bill of 
Rights, and from the whole history of our constitution, 
that no British subject can be taxed save by himself 
or his own representative; and they further quoted 
in support of their argument the constitutions of the 
Tyrian colonies in Africa, and of the Greek colonies in 
Asia. On this last head the supporters of the Stamp 
Act (Charles Townshend's fatal measure) observed, 
sensibly enough, that arguments about the British 
colonies drawn from the colonies of antiquity were a 
mere useless display of learning, for the Tyrian and 
Greek colonies were planned on a totally different 
system. Besides, they said, the Romans were the first 
to form a regular colonial system, and Rome's jurisdic- 
tion over her colonies was " boundless and uncontroll- 
able." As for Locke, Selden, and Puffendorf, they were 
only natural lawyers, and their refinements were little 
to the purpose in arguing the law and practice of a 
particular constitution. 

The Rockinghams carried the Repeal of the Stamp 
Act; but the effect of this wise and generous policy 
was marred by a Declaratory Act for better secur- 
ing the dependence of His Majesty's dominions in 
America, which set forth the supremacy of Parliament 
over all the colonies and its right to impose taxes. 
At the end of July, after the conclusion of a satisfactory 
session, the Marquis of Rockingham was suddenly, to 



148 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

the surprise of the nation, ejected from office by the 
king, and a new ministry of strangely assorted talents, 
with Chatham at its head, in which Shelburne, Charles 
Townshend, the Duke of Grafton, and Camden were the 
leading figures, was pushed into office. Accordingly 
when Adam Smith returned to England he found 
not only that those commercial, fiscal, and colonial 
questions in which he was so deeply versed were the 
first questions in politics, but also that the two states- 
men with whom he was most intimate occupied two 
of the most important posts — for Charles Townshend 
was Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Shelburne was 
a Secretary of State. 

These events sufficiently explain why a real states- 
man like Shelburne, one of the leading members of 
the ministry, was seeking information at the beginning 
of the session of 1767 upon colonial topics. It seems 
astonishing to us now that the Roman analogy should 
have so exercised the minds of practical statesmen ; 
but Greek and Latin were the only subjects in those 
days with which educated members of the governing 
classes were sure to be familiar, and it was to these 
men in Parliament that political arguments were 
exclusively addressed. Probably Shelburne wanted 
classical precedents to check his colleagues from revert- 
ing to a coercive policy, and was anxious to meet the 
argument from Rome that had been used in the 
debates of the previous year. At any rate, he had 
asked help of Adam Smith, and received the following 
reply, which was more helpful than it should have 
been: "Within these two days I have looked over 
everything I can find relating to the Roman colonys. 
I have not yet found anything of much consequence. 



vin.] POLITICS AND STUDY, 1766-76 149 

. . . They seem to have been very independent. Of 
thirty colonys of whom the Romans demanded troops 
in the second Carthaginian War, twelve refused to 
obey. They frequently rebelled and joined the enemies 
of the republic; being in some measure little inde- 
pendent republics, they naturally followed the interests 
which their peculiar situation pointed out to them." 
His first studies on Roman colonisation had a decidedly 
whiggish complexion. Further reading led him to the 
juster view expressed in the Wealth of Nations, that a 
Roman colony was quite different from the autonomous 
Greek dwoiKia, " at best a sort of corporation, which, 
though it had the power of enacting byelaws for its 
own government, was at all times subject to the cor- 
rection, jurisdiction, and legislative authority of the 
mother country." And this explains why the Greek 
colonies were so much more prosperous : " As they were 
altogether independent of the mother city, they were 
at liberty to manage their own affairs in the way they 
judged was most suitable to their own interests." But 
before the colonial debates of 1767 came on Adam 
Smith had left London. 

On March 25th he wrote from Lower Grosvenor 
Street to Thomas Cadell, one of the partners in Millar's 
firm, which combined bookselling with publishing, to 
ask him to insure four boxes of books for £200, and 
despatch them to Kincaid, his publisher in Edinburgh. 1 
He probably stayed in London till the third of May, 

1 See letter from Adam Smith to T. Cadell printed in the 
Economic Journal for September 1898. It appears that the last 
two books he had ordered were Postlethwait's Dictionary of 
Trade and Anderson's Deduction of the Origin of Commerce. 
Neither appears in Mr. Bonar's catalogue of his library. 



150 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

when the Duke of Buccleuch was married. He would 
then pick up his valuable parcels in Edinburgh and go 
on without delay to Kirkcaldy to rejoin his mother and 
his cousin, Miss Jane Douglas, from whom he had been 
separated for more than two years. 

His first letter to Hume (Kirkcaldy, June 9th) de- 
scribes his daily life. " My business here is study, in 
which I have been very deeply engaged for about a 
month past. My amusements are long solitary walks 
by the seaside. You may judge how I spend my time. 
I feel myself, however, extremely happy, comfortable, 
and contented. I never was perhaps more so in all my 
life." He goes on to ask about his friends in London, 
and wishes to be remembered to all, particularly to Mr. 
Adams the architect, and to Mrs. Elizabeth Montagu. 
He inquires about Eousseau : " Has he gone abroad, be- 
cause he cannot contrive to get himself sufficiently per- 
secuted in Great Britain J " He also wants to know the 
meaning of "the bargain that your ministry have made 
with the India Company," and rejoices that they have 
refused to prolong its charter. At the end of August 
Smith paid a visit to Dalkeith House to help the newly 
married couple to entertain their tenants and friends 
on the occasion of the Duke's birthday. "The Duke 
and Dutchess of Buccleugh," he wrote to Hume on 
September 15th, "have been here now for almost a 
fortnight. They begin to open their house on Monday 
next, and I flatter myself, will both be very agreeable 
to the people of this country. I am not sure that I 
have ever seen a more agreeable woman than the 
Dutchess. I am sorry that you are not here, because I 
am sure you would be perfectly in love with her. I 
shall probably be here some weeks." 



vin.] POLITICS AND STUDY, 1766-76 151 

Dr. Carl yie was among the guests at Dalkeith House, 
and in his autobiography takes some credit to himself 
for the success of the proceedings. "Adam Smith," he 
says, " was but ill qualified to promote the jollity of a 
birthday," and but for Carlyle's exertions the meeting 
might have been dissolved without even drinking the 
proper toasts. His conclusion is that the Duke and 
Duchess should have brought down a man of "more 
address," and he leaves little doubt as to who that man 
should have been. Incidentally Dr. Carlyle has to 
admit that the new Duke proved a great credit to his 
tutor. The Buccleuch family had always been good 
landlords, but Duke Henry "surpassed them all as 
much in justice and humanity as he did in superiority 
of understanding and good sense." Lord Brougham 
relates a story which illustrates what Carlyle meant by 
"want of address." On one occasion, during dinner at 
Dalkeith, our philosopher broke out into a discourse on 
some political matters of the day, and was bestowing a 
variety of severe epithets on a certain statesman, when 
he suddenly perceived the statesman's nearest relative 
sitting opposite, and stopped; but he was heard to 
mutter, " Deil care, deil care, it 's all true ! " 

After two months at Dalkeith he returned to his 
mother and his studies, and remained for the next six 
years, so far as we know, uninterruptedly at Kirk- 
caldy, save for an occasional visit to Edinburgh, whither 
he was constantly and with much importunity invited 
by his friend Hume. Dugald Stewart remarks that 
this retirement "formed a striking contrast to the 
unsettled mode of life he had been for some time 
accustomed to, but was so congenial to his natural dis- 
position, and to his first habits, that it was with the 



152 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

utmost difficulty he was ever persuaded to leave it." 
He was never happier than now, living with his 
mother in Kirkcaldy ; " occupied habitually in intense 
study, but unbending his mind at times in the company 
of some of his old school-fellows, whose ' sober wishes 
had attached them to the place of their birth. In the 
society of such men Mr. Smith delighted ; and to them 
he was endeared, not only by his simple and unassum- 
ing manners, but by the perfect knowledge they all 
possessed of those domestic virtues which had dis- 
tinguished him from his infancy." 1 

The High Street of Kirkcaldy contained some 
excellent houses, and that occupied by Smith -was one 
of the best. It was large and substantially built, four 
stories high, with twenty windows facing into the High 
Street. It had a frontage of about fifty feet, and a 
garden of the same width ran back a hundred yards or 
more eastwards down to the sands. On either side of 
the garden was a high wall, and on the north side a 
narrow public footpath divided Smith's garden from 
his neighbour's. This quaint passage, enclosed by 
two high walls, is still called Adam Smith's Close. 

The house was pulled down in 1844. Kobert Cham- 
bers, who saw it in the twenties, noticed a mark on the 

1 At Kirkcaldy George Drysdale, for some time Provost of 
the town and afterwards Collector of Customs, was a "steady 
and much esteemed friend." His more distinguished brother, 
Dr. John Drysdale the minister, had been at school with Smith, 
and "among all his numerous friends and acquaintances," says 
Dalzel, there was none "whom he loved with greater affection 
or spoke of with greater tenderness." They often met in 
Kirkcaldy and Edinburgh. The death of James Oswald, who 
represented Kirkcaldy, early in 1769, was a serious loss to the 
little society, and particularly to Smith. 



vin.] POLITICS AND STUDY, 1766-76 153 

wall of Smith's study, and was told that the philosopher 
used to compose standing. As he dictated to his clerk 
he would rub his wig sideways against the wall, and 
so left a mark which, says the antiquary regretfully, 
"remained till lately, when the room being painted 
anew it was unfortunately destroyed." Hume, who had 
just removed to James's Court, Edinburgh, wrote to his 
friend in August 1769 to tempt him from his retreat : — 

" I am glad to have come within sight of you, and to have 
a view of Kirkaldy from my windows : but as I wish also to 
be within speaking terms of you, I wish we could concert 
measures for that purpose. I am mortally sick at sea, and 
regard with horror and a kind of hydrophobia the great gulf 
that lies between us. I am also tired of travelling, as much as 
you ought naturally to be of staying at home. I therefore 
propose to you to come hither and pass some days with me 
in this solitude. I want to know what you have been doing, 
and propose to exact a rigorous account of the method in 
which you have employed yourself during your retreat. I am 
positive you are in the wrong in many of your speculations, 
especially where you have the misfortune to differ from me. 
All these are reasons for our meeting, and -I wish you would 
make me some reasonable proposal for that purpose. There is 
no habitation on the island of Inchkeith, otherwise I should 
challenge you to meet me on that spot, and neither of us ever 
to leave the place till we were fully agreed on all points of 
controversy." 

By the following February the book had made such 
progress that Hume was expecting to see his friend in 
Edinburgh for a day or two on his way to London, 
where Smith already talked of arranging for immediate 
publication. He changed his mind, however, though 
he went to Edinburgh in June, where with the Duke 
of Buccleuch and John Hallam he received the freedom 
of the city. In January 1772 we find the friends 



154 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

corresponding about Italian literature. Smith recom- 
mends Hume to read Metastasio. Hume replies that 
he is reading Italian prose, again reminds him of the 
promised visit, and refuses to take the excuse of ill- 
health, which he calls a subterfuge invented by 
indolence and love of solitude. "Indeed, my dear 
Smith, if you continue to hearken to complaints of 
this nature, you will cut yourself out entirely from 
human society to the great loss of both parties." 

This year was marked by a severe commercial 
crisis j nearly all the banks in Edinburgh came to grief, 
and the Duke of Buccleuch and other friends of Smith 
were in the greatest difficulty. In a letter to Pulteney 
(September 5, 1772), Smith says, though he has him- 
self suffered no loss in the public calamities, some of 
his friends have been deeply concerned, and he has 
been much occupied about the best method of extri- 
cating them. He continues : — 

" In the book which I am now preparing for the press, I 
have treated fully and distinctly of every part of the subject 
which you have recommended to me ; and I intended to send 
you some extracts from it ; but upon looking them over I 
find that they are too much interwoven with other parts of 
the work to be easily separated from it. I have the saine 
opinion of Sir James Steuart's book 1 that you have. With- 
out once mentioning it, I flatter myself that any fallacious 
principle in it will meet with a clear and distinct confutation 
in mine. . . . My book would have been ready for the press 
by the beginning of this winter, but interruptions occasioned 
partly by bad health, arising from want of amusement and 
from thinking too much upon one thing, and partly by the 
avocations above mentioned, will oblige me to retard its 
publication for a few months longer." 

1 Steuart's Political Economy, 1767. 



vin.] POLITICS AND STUDY, 1766-76 155 

It appears that Pulteney had recommended the 
Directors of the East India Company to appoint Smith 
as a commissioner to examine their administration 
and accounts. Smith says he is much honoured and 
obliged: "You have acted in your old way, of doing 
your friends a good office behind their backs, pretty 
much as other people do them a bad one. There is 
no labour of any kind which you can impose upon me 
which I will not readily undertake." He believes he 
is in agreement with Pulteney as to the proper remedy 
for the disorders of the coin in Bengal. The commis- 
sion, however, was not appointed. No reforms worth 
mentioning were made, and the Wealth of Nations 
teems with severe criticisms of the Company. 1 

A month after this letter to Pulteney, Hume drafts 
a little programme for the completion and publication 
of the work, evidently in reply to one of Smith's 
dilatory notes : " I should agree to your reasoning if I 
could trust your resolution. Come hither for some 
weeks about Christmas ; dissipate yourself a little ; 
return to Kirkcaldy; finish your work before autumn; 
go to London ; print it ; return and settle in this town, 
which suits your studious, independent turn even better 
than London. Execute this plan faithfully, and I 
forgive you." 

Before following our hero to London with the fateful 
manuscript, we must repeat a local tradition belonging 
to this period which is recorded in Dr. Charles Eogers's 
Social Life in Scotland. One Sunday morning Smith, 
falling into an unusually profound reverie (brought on 
perhaps by thought upon the disorders of the Bengal 

1 The most important of these (in Book iv. chap, vii.) appear 
for the first time in the third edition (1784). 



156 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

currency), walked into his garden in an old dressing- 
gown. Instead of returning to the house, he made 
his way by a small path into the turnpike road, and 
eventually marched into the town of Dunfermline, 
fifteen miles from his home. The people there were 
flocking to church, and the bustle restored the philo- 
sopher to his wits. In April 1773, after six years of 
seclusion, he at last left home with his manuscript, 
intending no doubt to have it printed and published 
in the course of a few months. He broke his journey 
at Edinburgh, and there wrote a formal letter con- 
stituting Hume his executor : — 

"As I have left the care of all my literary papers to 
you, I must tell you that except those which I carry along 
with me, there are none worth the publishing but a 
fragment of a great work which contains a history of 
the astronomical systems that were successively in fashion 
down to the time of Descartes. Whether that might not be 
published as a fragment of an intended juvenile work I leave 
entirely to your judgment, tho' I begin to suspect myself 
that there is more refinement than solidity in some parts of it. 
This little work you will find in a thin folio paper book in my 
writing-desk in my book-room. All the other loose paper 
which you will find either in that desk or within the glass 
folding-doors of a bureau which stands in my bedroom, 
together with about eighteen thin paper folio books, which 
you will likewise find within the same glass folding-doors, I 
desire may be destroyed without any examination. Unless I 
die very suddenly, I shall take care that the Papers I carry 
with me shall be carefully sent to you." 

He reached London in May, and seems to have 
remained there until after the publication of the 
Wealth of Nations in March 1776. But the records of 
his stay are of the slightest. There is left but one 
important letter, a long and earnest plea against the 



viii.] POLITICS AND STUDY, 1766-76 157 

principle of monopoly in medical education. It was 
to his friend Dr. Cullen. Some of the Scottish 
universities had been conferring medical degrees with- 
out examination on incompetent men. The Duke of 
Buccleuch was willing to join in a petition to Parlia- 
ment to stop the mischief. Smith's views upon the 
subject are highly characteristic. He considers that the 
Scotch universities, though of course capable of amend- 
ment, are "without exception the best seminaries of 
learning that are to be found anywhere in Europe." 
A visitation (that is, a Royal Commission) would be 
the only proper means of reforming them : — 

"Before any wise man, however, would apply for the 
appointment of so arbitrary a tribunal in order to improve 
what is already, upon the whole, very well, he ought certainly 
to know with some degree of certainty, first, who are likely to 
be appointed visitors, and secondly, what plan of reformation 
those visitors are likely to follow ; but in the present multi- 
plicity of pretenders to some share in the prudential manage- 
ment of Scotch affairs, these are two points which, I apprehend, 
neither you nor I, nor the Solicitor-General nor the Duke of 
Buccleugh, can possibly know anything about." 

Perhaps in the future a better opportunity might 
present itself. An admonition, or other irregular 
means of interference, was out of the question. Dr. 
Cullen had proposed that no person should be admitted 
to examination for his degrees unless he brought a 
certificate of his having studied at least two years in 
some university. Smith (who was himself at this 
very time, with Gibbon, attending a course given by 
Dr. William Hunter) objects : " would not such a 
regulation be oppressive upon all private teachers, 
such as the Hunters, Hewson, Fordyce, etc. 1 ? The 



158 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

scholars of such teachers surely merit whatever honour 
or advantage a degree can confer much more than the 
greater part of those who have spent many years in 
some universities. . . . When a man has learnt his 
lesson very well, it surely can be of little importance 
where or from whom he has learnt it." 

The last sentence is one that men should lay to 
heart. It is one of those obvious truths which few 
have the candour to assert and still fewer the courage 
to act upon. A very clever person, on reading the 
Wealth of Nations, complained that it seemed to be 
little more than a well arranged succession of truisms. 
Yet for the want of those truths mankind has stumbled 
along in the dark from the beginning. "The less 
you restrain trade, the more you will have." A truism, 
if you like, but its denial has caused an infinitude of 
avoidable suffering. "If a man has learnt his lesson 
well, never mind about his university or his degree." 
A truism, without doubt, but one that is constantly 
neglected and despised to the grave detriment of 
justice and learning. 

Smith held that the effect of degrees injudiciously 
conferred was not very considerable. "That doctors 
are sometimes fools as well as other people is not in 
the present time one of those profound secrets which is 
known only to the learned." Apothecaries and old 
herb- women practised physic without complaint, because 
they only poisoned the poor people. "And if here and 
there a graduated doctor should be as ignorant as an 
old woman, can great harm be done ? " Smith rubbed 
in his moral about university degrees with evident 
relish, comparing degrees which could only be conferred 
on students of a certain standing to the statutes of 



vin.] POLITICS AND STUDY, 1766-76 159 

apprenticeship and other corporation laws, which had 
expelled arts and manufactures from so many 
boroughs. 

In boroughs, monopoly had made work bad and 
dear; in universities, it had led to quackery, im- 
posture, and exorbitant fees. One remedy for the 
inconveniences of town corporations had been found 
in the outgrowth of manufacturing villages ; and, in a 
similar way, the private interest of some poor pro- 
fessors of physic had done something to check the 
exorbitance of rich universities, which made a course 
of eleven or even sixteen years necessary before a 
student could become a Doctor of Law, Physic, or 
Divinity. The poor universities could not stipulate 
for residence, and sold their degrees to any one who 
would buy them, often without even a decent examina- 
tion. " The less trouble they gave, the more money 
they got, and I certainly do not pretend to vindicate 
so dirty a practice." Nevertheless these cheap degrees, 
though extremely disagreeable to graduates whose 
degrees had cost much time and expense, were of 
advantage to the public in that they multiplied doctors, 
and so sunk fees. "Had the Universities of Oxford 
and Cambridge been able to maintain themselves in 
the exclusive privilege of graduating all the doctors 
who could practise in England, the price of feeling a 
pulse might by this time have risen from two and three 
guineas, the price which it has now happily arrived at, 
to double or triple that sum ; and English physicians 
might, and probably would, have been at the same time 
the most ignorant and quackish in the world." 1 

This trenchant reasoning seems to have prevailed. 
1 Letter to Cullen, London, 20th September 1774. 



160 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

At any rate, the idea of obtaining governmental inter- 
ference was dropped. Some time afterwards, however, 
Dr. Cullen took an opportunity of pointing out that 
there is a good deal more to be said for the corporate 
regulation of medicine than for ordinary trade guilds. 
Adam Smith probably pushed his argument for free 
trade in medical degrees to this extreme mainly from 
anxiety to prevent the interference of an unwise 
Government in his favourite universities, though 
partly no doubt because he thought fraudulent com- 
petition better than none, partly again for love of 
maintaining a paradox. A more spacious handling of 
this theme is found in the Wealth of Nations, more 
especially in the famous tenth chapter of the first 
book, with its account of " Inequalities occasioned by 
the Policy of Europe," and in a later criticism of uni- 
versities. 

During his stay in London Smith was in close 
intercourse with the ruling kings of art, science, and 
letters, as well as with some of the leading statesmen. 
We hear of him in January 1775 with Johnson, Burke, 
and Gibbon at a dinner given by Sir Joshua Reynolds. 
In December, Horace Walpole met him at Beauclerk's. 
With Gibbon, as we have seen, he attended Dr. William 
Hunter's lectures on Anatomy. Hume's letters to him 
were addressed to the British Coffee House in Cockspur 
Street, a club kept by a clever sister of Bishop Douglas 
and much favoured by Scots in London, though Gold- 
smith, Reynolds, Garrick, and Richard Cumberland 
were also members. In 1775 he was elected a member 
of the famous Literary Club which met at the Turk's 
Head in Gerrard Street. The members present on 
the night of his election were Gibbon, Reynolds, 



vin.] POLITICS AND STUDY, 1766-76 161 

Beauclerk, and Sir William Jones, three of whom 
appear in Dean Barnard's lines : — 

" If I have thoughts and can't express 'em, 
Gibbon shall teach me how to dress 'em 

In form select and terse ; 
Jones teach me modesty and Greek, 
Smith how to think, Burke how to speak, 

And Beauclerk to converse." 

The still small voice of a detractor was heard : 
Boswell wrote to a friend that with Smith's accession 
the club had " lost its select merit." 

All this time the fatal quarrel with America was 
drawing near. Upon this, as upon all other economical 
questions, Smith was in full sympathy with Burke, 
" the only man I ever knew who thinks on economic 
subjects exactly as I do, without any previous com- 
munications having passed between us." This com- 
pliment, as we know, was highly valued by the author 
of the speech on American Taxation. But Smith 
had another friend and counsellor for his critical 
chapter on the colonies and their administration. 
Dr. Franklin is reported to have said, that " the cele- 
brated Adam Smith when writing his Wealth of Nations 
was in the habit of bringing chapter after chapter as 
he composed it to himself, Dr. Price, and others of the 
literati " ; that he would then patiently hear their 
observations, sometimes submitting to write whole 
chapters anew, and even to reverse some of his 
propositions. Franklin's remark has probably been 
inaccurately reported. We know from one of Smith's 
letters that he had not a high opinion of Dr. Price 
as an economist ; but Parton, Franklin's biographer, 
justly points to the countless colonial illustrations 

L 



162 ADAM SMITH [chap. viii. 

with which the Wealth of Nations abounds, and to that 
intimate knowledge of American conditions which 
Franklin was of all men the best fitted to impart. 
And there is internal evidence in the text itself that 
the important chapter on the colonies in Book IV. was 
written, or at least considerably enlarged, in the years 
1773 and 1774. Franklin's papers contained problems 
which seemed to have been jotted down at meetings of 
philosophers, and no doubt Price as well as Smith 
would take a prominent part. At Glasgow Smith 
must have heard a good deal about the colonial trade ; 
but colonial policy did not become the question of the 
day until after he left, and in the lectures there is 
nothing about the colonies. We may conjecture that 
the idea of devoting a large section of the book to the 
history and economics of colonial dominions did not 
strike him until after his return from France. The 
great debates of 1766 and of the early seventies, the 
intimate acquaintance with British policy and finance 
in large outline and in official detail, which his 
friendships with Burke and Franklin, with Oswald, 
Pulteney, and Shelburne helped him to acquire, and 
his eagerness to prevent war and to discredit expendi- 
ture on colonial establishments, or indeed upon any 
provinces which could not support themselves, con- 
spired to make colonial policy and imperial expenditure 
large and imposing themes in the Wealth of Nations. 



CHAPTER IX 

THE WEALTH OF NATIONS AND ITS CRITICS 

In February 1776 Hume wrote to Smith: "By all 
accounts your book has been printed long ago, yet 
it has never been so much as advertised. What is 
the reason 1 If you wait till the fate of America be 
decided, you may wait long." Declining health made 
him anxious to accelerate his friend's return. " Your 
chamber in my house is always unoccupied." In the 
same letter there are a few words about the war with 
the American colonies. The two friends were at one 
in condemning the war and the colonial policy which 
provoked it. But Smith was more deeply moved 
by the impending disaster, and was eagerly endeavour- 
ing to induce the Government to adopt means of con- 
ciliation before it was too late. He was therefore — so 
the Duke of Buccleuch had informed Hume — "very 
zealous" in American affairs. "My notion," writes 
Hume, cool as ever where only national interests were 
concerned, " is that this matter is not so important as 
is commonly imagined. If I be mistaken, I shall pro- 
bably correct my error when I see you, or read you. 
Our navigation and general commerce may suffer more 
than our manufactures. Should London fall as much 
in size as I have done, it will be the better. It is 
nothing but a hulk of bad and unclean humours." 

163 



164 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

At last, on the 9th of March, An Inquiry into tlie 
Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations was published 
in two sumptuous quarto volumes. The price was 
thirty-six shillings, and the first edition, probably of a 
thousand copies, was sold out in six months; though 
the second, a reprint with some few corrections and 
additions, was not issued till 1778. The publishers 
were Strahan and Cadell. Smith is said to have 
received £500 for the first edition, the sum paid by 
the same firm to Steuart for his Principles of Political 
Economy (1767). The first volume of Gibbon's History 
came out at the same time. Hume was immensely 
taken with both performances. He told Gibbon that 
he should never have expected such a work from the 
pen of an Englishman. To Smith he wrote : — 

" Euge ! Belle ! Dear Mr. Smith, — I am much pleased 
with your performance ; and the perusal of it has taken me 
from a state of great anxiety. It was a work of so much 
expectation, by yourself, by your friends, and by the public, 
that I trembled for its appearance, but am now much relieved. 
Not but that the reading of it necessarily requires so much 
attention, and the public is disposed to give so little, that I 
shall still doubt for some time of its being at first very 
popular. But it has depth, and solidity, and acuteness, and 
is so much illustrated by curious facts that it must at last 
take the public attention. It is probably much improved 
by your last abode in London. If you were here at my fire- 
side, I should dispute some of your principles. I cannot 
think that the rent of farms makes any part of the price of 
the produce, but that the price is determined altogether by 
the quantity and the demand." 

On the publication of the book Sir John Pringle 
observed to Boswell that Dr. Smith, who had never 
been in trade, could not be expected to write well on 



ix.] WEALTH OF NATIONS AND ITS CRITICS 165 

that subject any more than a lawyer upon physic. 
Boswell passed this on to Johnson, who replied : " He 
is mistaken, sir ; a man who has never been engaged in 
trade may undoubtedly write well upon trade, and 
there is nothing which requires more to be illus- 
trated by philosophy than trade does." Johnson 
added, as if he had already turned over with profit 
the pages of the new book, that trade promises what 
is more valuable than money, "the reciprocation of 
the peculiar advantages of different countries." Gibbon 
was no less delighted than Hume with the new philo- 
sophy. " What an excellent work ! " he exclaimed ; 
"an extensive science in a single book, and the most 
profound ideas expressed in the most perspicuous 
language." Gibbon's judgment has been confirmed by 
the tribunals of Time, and the world places the Wealth 
of Nations in the small library of masterpieces that 
receives, as the years roll by, so surprisingly few 
accessions. 

In a science like political economy, every new teacher 
endeavours to correct the mistakes of his predecessors, 
to supply their deficiencies, and generally to teach the 
science in its last stage of perfection. Some of Smith's 
successors were themselves men of genius, and proved 
equal to the task of displacing their master for a 
few years. But those who have seen the rise and 
decline of Mill may well ask with Wakefield, who 
had seen Smith superseded by Malthus and Bicardo 
and M'Culloch : How is it that the Wealth of Nations, 
all these things notwithstanding, is still read and 
studied and quoted as if it had been published 
yesterday 1 How is it that British statesmen from 
Pitt to Gladstone should have sought authority in the 



166 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

same pages 1 After all, the question we are asking is 
a wider one. Why is this one of the great books 
of the world 1 We would like to say simply : It 
is the world's verdict; take it or not as you like; 
but whether you like it or not, it stands. One can- 
not argue with universal consent. Still something 
may be due in extenuation of fame. In the first 
place, Adam Smith writes as one who has applied 
his mind to definite problems without neglecting a 
wider field of letters and learning. The store is rich 
and the steward is bounteous. So far from being an 
isolated study of abstract doctrines, political economy 
is treated from first to last as a branch of the study of 
mankind, a criticism of their manners and customs, of 
national history, administration, and law. Even when 
silencing a battery or throwing up a counterwork he is 
very seldom disputatious or doctrinal. " He appears," 
says Wakefield, "to be engaged in composing not a 
theory, but a history of national wealth. He dwells 
indeed on principles, but nearly always, as it seems, 
for the purpose of explaining the facts which he 
narrates." There is no scarecrow of thin abstractions 
and deterrent terminology flapping over the pages to 
warn men off a dismal science. The laws of wealth 
unfold themselves like the incidents in a well-laid 
plot. It was left for his successors to show how dull 
economics might be, and how suitable for the empty 
class-room of an endowed chair. 

Hume, as we have seen, on reading the Wealth of 
Nations foretold that its curious facts would help to 
gain the public ear. Adam Smith was full of out- 
of-the-way learning. He collected stories of all the 
adventures in the New World, and loved to sift the 



ix.] WEALTH OF NATIONS AND ITS CRITICS 167 

wheat from the chaff of a traveller's tale. Conse- 
quently his book abounds in oddities about his own 
and bygone ages, and a few of these with necessary 
abbreviations may be retailed : — 

There is at this day a village in Scotland, where it is 
not uncommon, I am told, for a workman to carry nails instead 
of money to the baker's shop or to the alehouse. 

In North America, provisions are much cheaper and 
wages much higher than in England. In the province of 
New York, common labourers earn three shillings and sixpence 
currency, equal to two shillings sterling a day. 

Till after the middle of the fourteenth century, an English 
mason's wages were much higher than those of a parish priest. 
In spite of a statute of Anne there are still [1776] many 
curacies under £20 a year. 

A middling farmer in France will sometimes have 400 
fowls in his yard. 

Between 1339 and 1776 the price of the best English 
•wool has fallen from 30s. to 21s. the tod, after allowing for 
the changes in the currency. The price of a yard of the finest 
cloth has fallen, after making the same allowances, from 
£3, 3s. 6d. to £1, Is. since 1487. 

The first person that wore stockings in England is said 
to have been Queen Elizabeth. She received them as a pre- 
sent from the Spanish Ambassador. 

What was formerly a seat of the family of Seymour, is 
now an inn upon the Bath road. The marriage bed of James 
the First of Great Britain, which his Queen brought with her 
from Denmark as a present fit for a sovereign to make to a 
sovereign, was a few years ago the ornament of an alehouse at 
Dunfermline. 

The wool of the southern counties of Scotland is, a great 
part of it, after a long land carriage through very bad roads, 
manufactured in Yorkshire, for want of a capital to manu- 
facture it at home. 



168 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

In England, owing to the laws of settlement, it is often 
more difficult for a poor man to pass the artificial boundary 
of a parish than an arm of the sea or a ridge of high moun- 
tains. 

There is no city in Europe in which house rent is dearer 
than in London, and yet I know no capital in which a furnished 
apartment can be hired so cheap. 

At Buenos Ayres forty years ago Is. 9|d. was the ordin- 
ary price of an ox. 

A piece of fine cloth which weighs only eighty pounds, 
contains in it the price not only of eighty pounds weight of 
wool, but sometimes of several thousand weight of corn, the 
maintenance of the different working people, and of their 
immediate employers. 

In the white herring fishery it has been common for vessels 
to fit out for the purpose of catching not the fish but the 
bounty. In 1759, when the bounty was at fifty shillings the 
ton, each barrel of sea sticks cost Government in bounties 
alone ,£113, 15s. ; each barrel of merchantable herrings 
^159, 7s. 6d. 

The Wealth of Nations is a book to be read as it 
was written. More than half its nutriment and all its 
fascination is lost if you cut away the theory from its 
historical setting. 1 Osteology is fatal to economics. 
That is why the Wealth of Nations is far better suited 
to beginners than an ordinary child's primer. But as 
the Lectures on Police were the author's own first 
draft, the reader of these pages is already cognisant 
of a great part of the Wealth of Nations. 

It remains to indicate some of the principal acces- 
sions to Smith's scheme of political economy after he 

1 Mr. Macpherson's recent abridgment is the only tolerable 
one I know of, and that solely because it carefully retains many 
of the finest chapters, and leaves the flesh on the bones. 



ix.] WEALTH OF NATIONS AND ITS CRITICS 169 

left Glasgow. The task has been made easy by 
Mr. Cannan. In the first place, the chapters on 
Wages, Profit, and Rent in the First Book, and on 
Taxation in the last, mark a wonderful development 
and improvement of the imperfect and rudimentary 
treatment accorded to these subjects in the Lectures. 
Then again, chapter ix. of Book IV. on the French 
economists and their agricultural system is entirely 
new. The system of the e'conomistes is described 
in that chapter as one which, with all its imperfec- 
tions, was perhaps the nearest approximation to the 
truth that had yet been published on the subject of 
political economy. We are told that its adherents, 
a pretty considerable sect, had done good service to 
their country by influencing in some measure the 
public administration in favour of agriculture. They 
all followed " implicitly and without any sensible varia- 
tion the doctrine of Mr. Quesnai," whose Economical 
Table they regarded with extraordinary veneration, 
ranking it with writing and money as one of the three 
great inventions made by mankind. 

Quesnai's Table showed three sorts of expenses : 
Productive expenses, Expenses of revenue, and Sterile 
expenses, with "their source, their distribution, their 
effects, their reproduction, their relation to each other, 
to population, to agriculture, to manufactures, to 
commerce, and to the general riches of the nation." 
In the Wealth of Nations this idea is followed out and 
improved; for the author, having shown in his First 
Book how the average produce of labour is regulated 
by the skilled dexterity and judgment with which it 
is generally applied, shows in his Second that it is 
further regulated "by the proportion between the 



170 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

number of those who are employed in useful labour, 
and that of those who are not so employed." It 
would be absurd to call him a plagiarist ; it would be 
equally absurd to deny that the French School had 
opened his eyes to the necessity for analysing the 
distribution of wealth no less carefully than its pro- 
duction. As the division of labour came from the 
Greek, so the distribution of the annual produce of 
wealth into wages, profit, and rent, came from the 
French philosophers. And we cannot forget that 
Quesnai's death alone prevented Smith from dedicating 
his book to the inventor of the Economic Table. 

Equally important from the standpoint of theory, 
and far more so from that of the legislator and states- 
man, are the chapters upon taxation. There the 
lectures, though they made a distinct advance upon 
Hume, were rudimentary. But modern ingenuity 
cannot improve upon the four practical maxims or 
canons of taxation : — 

1. The subjects of every State should contribute in 

proportion to their respective abilities. 

2. A tax should be certain, and not arbitrary. 

3. A tax should be levied at the time and in the 

way most convenient to the taxpayer. 

4. Every tax ought to be so contrived as both to 

take out and to keep out of the pockets of 
the people as little as possible over and above 
what it brings into the public treasury. 

Axiomatic as these rules appear to us, in Adam 
Smith's day they were new and startling : they had 
never been formulated or practised in any country. 



ix.] WEALTH OF NATION'S AND ITS CRITICS 171 

Smith was " the first that ever burst " upon the silent 
sea of taxation. He put into the hands of statesmen, 
who had hitherto been groping and blundering in the 
dark, a perfect touchstone by which to test projects old 
and new of raising revenue. The idea of considering 
the taxpayer was itself a novelty. It is true that the 
criterion of ability had been adopted in the Elizabethan 
poor-rate, but there was no other trace of it in the 
fiscal system of Great Britain, which was on the whole, 
even at that time, the best in Europe. 

Smith treated taxation as one of the causes that 
impede the progress of wealth. It is characteristic of 
the man that he does not regard any tax, even the 
land-tax, as good in itself, but only praises it com- 
paratively as a lesser evil. Burke himself was not a 
more consistent or persistent preacher of economy. 
Not that Smith was jealous of expenditure on roads 
and communication, public instruction, and other ser- 
vices which were plainly beneficial to the whole society, 
and could not be left to private enterprise. He has no 
pedantic objection to the State managing a business 
that it is capable of managing well. He mentions 
without disapproval that the republic of Hamburg 
makes money out of a lombard, 1 a wine cellar, and 
an apothecary's shop. But the post-office " is perhaps 
the only mercantile project which has been successfully 
managed by every sort of Government." 

Of all taxes he most dislikes taxes upon the 
necessaries of life. Yet he does not deny that if, 
after all the proper sources of taxation have been 
exhausted, revenue is still required, "improper" taxes 
must be imposed. To preserve their land from the 
1 A public pawnshop. 



172 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

sea, and their republic from its enemies, the Dutch 
had had recourse to very objectionable taxes, and he 
does not blame them if they could in no other way 
maintain that republican form of government, which 
he regards as "the principal support of the present 
grandeur of Holland." But he makes it very plain 
indeed in his last, and perhaps his greatest, chapter " Of 
Public Debts," that the miseries and embarrassments of 
Europe are due in the main to profligate expenditure 
of all kinds, and especially to the immense sums wasted 
on wars that ought to have been avoided. 

Therefore a new commercial policy would not suffice. 
New principles of foreign and colonial policy must be 
introduced, and we must sweep away for ever the cob- 
web occasions and pretexts that had drawn us into so 
many futile conflicts. But he was equally anxious to 
promote economy in time of peace. He was alarmed 
at the progress of the enormous debts "which at 
present oppress and will in the long-run probably ruin 
all the great nations of Europe." He saw that when 
war has once been begun, no limit can be set to 
expenditure. But some limit, he thought, could and 
should be set to debt ; and therefore he pleaded for a 
policy of strict economy in time of peace, and pleaded 
so effectively that it was adopted by Pitt in the 
breathing-space between the American and the French 
wars. But for that policy, which reduced armaments 
to a point considered by some dangerously low, Great 
Britain could hardly have stood the stress and strain 
of her long-drawn conflict with Napoleon. 

To thrif tlessness in time of peace Smith attributes 
some of the peculiar evils that attend modern war- 
fare. His remarks sound strangely familiar in our ears, 



ix.] WEALTH OF NATIONS AND ITS CRITICS 173 

as though they had been written by a philosopher of 
yesterday about the events of the day before : — 

"The ordinary expense of the greater part of modern 
governments in time of peace being equal or nearly equal to 
their ordinary revenue, when war comes they are both 
unwilling and unable to increase their revenue in proportion 
to the increase of their expense. They are unwilling, for fear 
of offending the people, who by so great and so sudden an 
increase of taxes, would soon be disgusted with the war ; and 
they are unable, from not well knowing what taxes would be 
sufficient to produce the revenue wanted. The facility of 
borrowing delivers them from the embarrassment which this 
fear and inability would otherwise occasion. ... In great 
empires, the people who live in the capital, and in the pro- 
vinces remote from the scene of action, feel, many of them, 
scarce any inconveniency from the war, but enjoy at their 
ease the amusement of reading in the newspapers the exploits 
of their own fleets and armies. To them this amusement 
compensates the small difference between the taxes which 
they pay on account of the war, and those which they had 
been accustomed to pay in time of peace. They are com- 
monly dissatisfied with the return of peace, which puts an 
end to their amusement, and to a thousand visionary hopes of 
conquest and national glory." 

Indeed, he adds, the return of peace seldom relieves 
a nation from the greater part of the taxes imposed 
during the war. They are still required to pay the 
interest on the newly created debt. 

Of all Smith's theories, or rather opinions — for 
after all, the question is a mixed one of morals and 
expediency which cannot be answered by abstract 
formulas of right or rules of logic — not the least 
important or characteristic is his doctrine of empire 
and imperial expenditure. The view now cherished 
and practised in the great bureaucracies of Europe, 



174 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

and often advanced by socialists under the plausibly 
scientific phraseology of a theory of consumption, that 
national profusion is a good thing in itself, was not 
then propagated or defended by responsible persons. 
But, though thrift was on their lips, their hands were 
often in the public purse; and it could not be said 
that warnings against the outlay of national resources 
upon useless or mischievous objects were unneeded. 
Appropriately enough, the very first time, so far as we 
know, that the Wealth of Nations was cited in Parlia- 
ment, it was cited as an authority against the policy 
of accumulating armaments in time of peace. In his 
speech on the address (November 11, 1783) Fox is 
reported to have said : " There was a maxim laid down 
in an excellent book upon the Wealth of Nations, 
which had been ridiculed for its simplicity, but which 
was indisputable as to its truth. In that book it was 
stated that the only way to become rich was to manage 
matters so as to make one's income exceed one's 
expenses. The proper line of conduct, therefore, was 
by a well-directed economy to retrench every current 
expense, and to make as large a saving during the 
peace as possible." l 

But Smith took no narrow or penurious view of 
national economy. He did not prize thrift for its own 
sake. Such a charge might possibly be brought by an 
unfriendly critic against Ricardo or Joseph Hume, but 
assuredly not against Adam Smith. Like Burke and 

1 Charles Butler, the learned Catholic lawyer, once men- 
tioned to Fox that he had never read the Wealth of Nations. 
"To tell you the truth," said Fox, "nor I either. There is 
something in all these subjects which passes my comprehen- 
sion ; something so wide that I could never embrace them 
myself or find any one who did." 



ix.] WEALTH OF NATIONS AND ITS CRITICS 175 

Cobden, lie valued frugality in nations as a safeguard 
against wrong-doing, a prime source of security and 
independence, and a perpetual check upon the lust 
of conquest and aggrandisement that so often lurks 
under the respectable uniform of a missionary civilisa- 
tion. As he describes the discoveries of the New World 
and the beginnings of modern empire, a poignant epithet 
or a burning phrase tells the lesson of many a romantic 
scramble for the fleece that was so seldom golden, of 
many a credulous hunt for a fugitive Eldorado. 

After showing that the gold and silver mines of 
their colonial empires had neither augmented the 
capital nor promoted the industry of the two " beggarly 
countries " of Spain and Portugal, he carefully distin- 
guishes between the natural advantages of a colonial 
trade and the artificial disadvantages caused by the 
policy of monopoly, that is by the endeavours of the 
mother country to restrict that trade to her own 
merchants. If the governments of Europe had been 
content to found colonies, and see that they were well 
and justly administered, the full benefit of opening up 
new countries, and of interchanging their products, 
would have been felt. But unhappily every country 
that had acquired foreign possessions sought to engross 
their trade, thus injuring its own people and the colonial 
or subject race by checking the natural growth of 
commerce, and forcing it into unnatural channels. This 
so-called mercantilist policy was therefore just as dis- 
astrous to commerce as to morals. 

" To found a great empire for the sole purpose of raising up 
a people of customers, may at first sight appear a project fit 
only for a nation of shopkeepers. It is, however, a project 
altogether unfit for a nation of shopkeepers ; but extremely 



176 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

fit for a nation whose government is influenced by shopkeepers. 
Such statesmen, and such statesmen only, are capable of 
fancying that they will find some advantage in employing the 
blood and treasure of their fellow-citizens, to found and 
maintain such an empire." 

Far worse in their results than the regular conquests 
of government, were the irregular acquisitions of com- 
panies formed for trading purposes ; and one of the 
masterly chapters added to the third edition of his 
book (1784) traces the misery, injustice, and com- 
mercial failure which had attended the rule of the 
East India Company. 

" It is a very singular government, in which every member 
of the administration wishes to get out of the country, and 
consequently to have done with the government, as soon as 
he can, and to whose interest, the day after he has left it, and 
carried his whole fortune with him, it is perfectly indifferent 
though the whole country was swallowed up by an earthquake. 

What, then, was the practical policy which Smith 
recommended to the British Government 1 It had two 
main ends in view. First, to pay off the debt ; secondly, 
to lessen and gradually remove all taxes which raised 
the prices of articles consumed by the labouring 
classes, or interfered with the free course of trade. 
Writing as he did, in 1775, on the eve of war, his 
thoughts naturally turned to the colonies, then so rich 
and prosperous, which had contributed nothing to the 
income but so heavily to the expenditure and debt of 
the British crown. 

Smith would have liked the British Government to 
renounce its authority over the colonies, and so not 
only relieve the revenue from a serious annual drain, 
but at the same time convert the Americans from 



ix.] WEALTH OF NATIONS AND ITS CRITICS 177 

turbulent and fractious subjects to the most faithful, 
affectionate, and generous allies. But seeing that 
neither people nor government would brook such a 
mortification, he suggested that to save the situation 
they should try, by a scheme of union, to break up the 
American confederacy and reconstitute the empire 
on a fair basis. Let us give, he said, to each 
colony which will detach itself from the general con- 
federacy a number of representatives in parliament 
proportionate to its contribution, and so open up a 
new and dazzling object of ambition to the leading 
men of each colony. If this or some other method 
were not fallen upon of conciliating the Americans, it 
was not probable that they would voluntarily submit, 
and " they are very weak who flatter themselves that, 
in the state to which things have come, our colonies 
will be easily conquered by force alone." The leaders 
of the Congress had risen suddenly from tradesmen 
and attorneys to be statesmen and legislators of an 
extensive empire " which seems very likely to become 
one of the greatest and most formidable that ever was 
in the world." Nay, if the union he suggested as an 
alternative to peaceful and friendly parting were con- 
stituted, he predicted that in the course of little more 
than a century the empire would draw more revenue 
from America than from the mother country ; and 
" the seat of the empire would then naturally remove 
itself to that part of the empire which contributed most 
to the general defence and support of the whole." It 
was such a scheme as this that Burke ridiculed when 
he pictured "a shipload of legislators" becalmed in 
mid- Atlantic. 

As a politician Smith was doubtless attracted by 
M 



178 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

the prospect of introducing a strong democratic and 
republican strain into parliament, though he pre- 
tends to think that the balance of the constitution 
would not be affected. He points out also that the 
constitution would be completed by such a union, and 
was imperfect without it, for "the assembly which 
deliberates and decides concerning the affairs of every 
part of the empire, in order to be properly informed, 
ought certainly to have representatives from every 
part of it." 1 In the last chapter of the Wealth of 
Nations he describes the project as at worst "a new 
Utopia, less amusing, certainly, but no more useless 
and chimerical than the old one," and shows how the 
British system of taxation might be extended along 
with representation in parliament to the colonies in 
such a way as to produce a great addition to the 
imperial revenue and a large permanent surplus for 
the redemption of debt. In this way the debt could 
be discharged in a comparatively short period, and 
as revenue would be continually released, the most 
oppressive taxes could be gradually reduced and 
remitted. By this prescription " the at present debili- 
tated and languishing vigour of the empire" might 
be completely restored. Labourers would soon be 
enabled to live better, to work cheaper, and to send 
their goods cheaper to market. Cheapness would 
increase demand, and the increased demand for goods 
would mean an increased demand for the labour of 
those who produced them. This again would tend 
both to raise the numbers and improve the circum- 
stances of the labouring poor. Lastly, as the con- 
suming power of the community grew, there would be 
1 See Book iv. chap. vii. 



ix.] WEALTH OF NATIONS AND ITS CRITICS 179 

a growth in the revenue from all those articles of con- 
sumption which remained subject to taxation. 

The plan of an imperial parliament and imperial 
taxation could not be realised. Smith himself saw 
that the economic and constitutional objections were 
great, though " not unsurmoun table." Upon one 
point, however, he was clear. If it were impracticable 
to extend the area of taxation, recourse must be had 
to a reduction of expenditure ; and the most proper 
means of retrenchment would be to put a stop to all 
military outlay in and on the colonies. If no revenue 
could be drawn from the colonies, the peace establish- 
ments "ought certainly to be saved altogether." Yet 
the peace establishments were insignificant compared 
with what wars for the defence of the colonies had 
cost. But for colonial wars the national debt would 
have been paid off. It was urged that the colonies 
were provinces of the British Empire : — 

" But countries which contribute neither revenue nor 
military force towards the support of the empire, cannot be 
considered as provinces. They may perhaps be considered as 
appendages, as a sort of splendid and showy equipage of the 
empire. But if the empire can no longer support the expence 
of keeping up this equipage, it ought certainly to lay it down ; 
and if it cannot raise its revenue in proportion to its expence, 
it ought, at least, to accommodate its expence to its revenue. 
If the colonies, notwithstanding their refusal to submit to 
British taxes, are still to be considered as provinces of the 
British Empire, their defence in some future war may cost 
Great Britain as great an expence as it ever has done in any 
former war. The rulers of Great Britain have, for more than 
a century past, amused the people with the imagination that 
they possessed a great empire on the west side of the 
Atlantic. This empire, however, has hitherto existed in 
imagination only. It has hitherto been, not an empire, 



180 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

but the project of an empire ; not a gold mine, but the 
project of a gold mine ; a project which has cost, which 
continues to cost, and which, if pursued in the same way as 
it has been hitherto, is likely to cost, immense expence, 
without being likely to bring any profit : for the effects of the 
monopoly of the colony trade, it has been shewn, are, to the 
great body of the people, mere loss instead of profit. It is 
surely now time that our rulers should either realise this 
golden dream, in which they have been indulging themselves, 
perhaps, as well as the people ; or that they should awake 
from it themselves, and endeavour to awaken the people. If 
the project cannot be completed, it ought to be given up. 
If any of the provinces of the British Empire cannot be made 
to contribute towards the support of the whole empire, it is 
surely time that Great Britain should free herself from the 
expence of defending those provinces in time of war, and of 
supporting any part of their civil or military establishments 
in time of peace, and endeavour to accommodate her future 
views and designs to the real mediocrity of her circum- 
stances." 

With these ever-memorable and resounding words he 
ends the great Inquiry, not vaguely admonishing some 
shadowy cosmopolis of economic men, but straightly 
beckoning his own countrymen and their rulers off 
the broad way of wantonness and mischief to the 
harder paths of an inglorious but fruitful economy. 



The reader of this little volume will not expect or 
desire an excursus upon the multitudinous treatises, 
critical and apologetical, that have sprung out of the 
Wealth of Nations. The vitality of the book may be 
measured by the numbers of its detractors and de- 
fenders. Among the former the modern historical 
school of Germany claims notice ; for has not its dis- 
tinguished and erudite leader, Professor Schmoller, 



ix.] WEALTH OF NATIONS AND ITS CRITICS 181 

placed Adam Smith somewhere below Galiani, Necker, 
Hoffmann, Thiinen, and Rumelin 1 

Perhaps the reason why economists of the modern 
historical school so often fail as valuers of men and 
books, is that they are enjoined by the very laws of 
their existence to be "learned"; and "learning" re- 
quires that obscure and deservedly forgotten writers 
should be rediscovered and magnified at the expense 
of surviving greatness. Too many modern critics of 
" Smithianismus," instead of attending to the author's 
own works and so penetrating his philosophy, seek him 
elsewhere, rummage in the literature of the period, over- 
haul every book, good, bad, or indifferent, characterise 
it in the text, and place its title-page and date in a 
footnote. Such labour, however useful to others, is 
apt to destroy the perspective and warp the judgment. 

A man who snares facts is of all men the most likely 
to be caught in a theoretical trap. Here is an example. 
In 1759 Adam Smith wrote a book on moral sentiments 
which he founded on the natural instinct of sympathy. 
In 1776 he wrote a book on economic sentiments, 
which he derived from self-love or the desire of man to 
improve his position. Upon these facts the following 
theory is built up by the historical school of Germany : — 

"Smith was an Idealist as long as he lived in England 
under the influence of Hutcheson and Hume. After living in 
France for three years, and coming into close touch with the 
materialism that prevailed there, he returned a Materialist. 
This is the simple explanation of the contrast between his 
Theory (1759), written before his journey to France, and his 
Wealth of Nations (1776), composed after his return." * 

1 See Skarzinski's Adam Smith (1878), quoted by Oncken, 
Economic Journal, vol. vii. p. 445. 



182 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

Most of this nonsense has been blown to the four 
winds by Mr. Cannan's publication of the Lectures 
delivered at Glasgow before Adam Smith went to 
France ; but a vast quantity of similar rubbish is em- 
bedded in the economic literature of the last thirty or 
forty years, and a difficulty which learned investi- 
gators have invented and solved has been dignified in 
Germany by the name of " Das Adam Smith Problem." 

The truth, as Smith conceived it, is that men are 
actuated at different times by different motives, benevo- 
lent, selfish, or mixed. The moral criterion of an action 
is : will it help society, will it benefit others, will it be 
approved by the Impartial Spectator 1 The economic 
criterion of an action is : will it benefit me, will it be 
profitable, will it increase my income 1 Smith built 
his theory of industrial and commercial life upon 
the assumption that wage-earners and profit-makers 
are generally actuated by the desire to get as high 
wages and profits as possible. If this is not the 
general and predominant motive in one great sphere of 
activity, the production and distribution of wealth, the 
Wealth of Nations is a vain feat of the imagination, 
and political economy is not a dismal science but a 
dismal fiction. But there is nothing whatever either 
to excite surprise or to suggest inconsistency in the 
circumstance that a philosopher, who (to adopt the 
modern jargon of philosophy) distinguished between 
self-regarding and other-regarding emotions, should 
have formed the first group into a system of economics 
and the second into a system of ethics. 

If this comes of learning, an even more extravagant 
charge has been preferred by an emotional school. 
A heated imagination, certainly not encumbered with 



ix.] WEALTH OF NATIONS AND ITS CRITICS 183 

facts, and informed only that Adam Smith was the 
founder of an odious science, denounced him as "the 
half-bred and half-witted Scotchman" who taught "the 
deliberate blasphemy" — "Thou shalt hate the Lord 
thy God, damn His Laws, and covet thy neighbour's 
goods." The same authority declares that he "formally, 
in the name of the philosophers of Scotland, set up this 
opposite God, on the hill of cursing against blessing, 
Ebal against Gerizim" — a God who "allows usury , 
delights in strife and contention, and is very particular 
about everybody's going to his synagogue on Sunday." J 
These three characteristics of Adam Smith's deity were 
unfortunately chosen ; for, as it happens, he disliked 
usury so much that he defended the laws which had 
vainly sought to prevent high rates of interest; dis- 
approved vehemently of war, which he regarded as 
one of the deadliest enemies of human progress, and 
protested against the idea that a perfect Deity could 
possibly desire His creatures to abase themselves before 
Him. It is sad to think that to get his gold the 
Euskinian must pass so much sand through his mind. 
The Fors Clavigera, with all its passionate intensity and 
high-strung emotion, is a standing warning to preachers 
not to abuse their masters, and to learn a subject before 
they teach it. Let those who climb so recklessly on 
Ebal deliver their curses from a safer foothold. 

Perhaps what most impresses one in reading 
the Wealth of Nations is its pre-vision. The author 
seems to have been able to project himself into the 
centuries. He saw the blades of wheat as well as 
the tares that were springing up ; and it would be 
hard to mention a single one of his forecasts and 
1 See Ruskin's Fors Clavigera, letters 62 and 72. 



184 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

Utopias that has not been realised in some degree, or 
at least taken shape as a political project during the 
last century. He was, of course, above all, the pre- 
cursor of Cobden and of the philosophic Radicals, 
who drew from him not only their economics, but their 
foreign and colonial policy. It is perhaps remarkable, 
after so fair a beginning had been made in his own 
lifetime, that the triumph of his doctrines was so 
long delayed. But most of what Shelburne, Pitt, and 
Eden did for commercial emancipation in the eighties 
was swept away by the French war. And when 
Napoleon fell, England was so weak, tyranny and 
superstition were so ground into the principles of her 
governing classes, that she seemed to be, in Milton's 
phrase, beyond the manhood of a Roman recovery. 
For many years Smith's disciples, and even the inde- 
fatigable Bentham, laboured almost in vain. Parliament 
was ignorant and bigoted. Until a great agitator 
arose, very little could be done ; and the great agitator 
did not arrive quite soon enough to fulfil Pulteney's 
prediction that Smith would convert his own genera- 
tion and rule the next. 

In the early years of the nineteenth century the 
practical influence of Smith's teaching was felt princi- 
pally in France and Germany. In France, as we have 
seen, Count Mollien was a professed disciple of the new 
economy. "It was then," he said, in reviewing the 
events of his youth, "that I read an English book 
which the disciples M. Turgot had left eulogised in 
the highest terms — the work of Adam Smith. I had 
especially remarked how warmly the venerable and 
judicious Malesherbes used to speak of it — this book 
so disparaged by all the men of the old routine." It 
is perhaps the most dazzling of all Smith's posthumous 



ix.] WEALTH OF NATIONS AND ITS CRITICS 185 

triumphs, that he, through Mollien, should have been 
the philosophic guide of Napoleonic finance. 

But his conquest of Germany was equally startling 
and momentous. The movement in that country can 
be directly traced to the university of Konigsberg, 
where Kraus began to lecture on the Wealth of 
Nations in 1781. He soon gained the ears of the 
official class. In East Prussia, vexatious dues and 
taxes, with a multitude of feudal embarrassments, 
were removed from internal commerce, and in spite 
of much opposition Smith's principles spread all over 
Germany. By the close of the Napoleonic war the of- 
ficials as well as the professional economists were con- 
verts to the new ideas. Stein and Hardenberg, two 
truly great reformers, led the way. Year by year com- 
mercial restrictions were removed, and though jealousy 
of Prussia stood in the way of complete commercial 
union, the North German Zollverein constituted a great 
advance. It removed the barriers between Prussia and 
the adjoining States, and reduced external duties to 
such an extent that in 1827 Huskisson cited the 
example set by Germany to prove the wisdom of 
abandoning a restrictive policy. Even Friedrich List, 
who sought for political reasons to build up a counter 
theory of protection for infant industries, asserted 
that free trade was the right policy for England 
and for every adult nation. List, who often wrote 
with a bitterness and malice that only readers of his 
unhappy life can excuse, admitted in his principal 
work " the great services of Adam Smith " : — 

"He was the first to introduce successfully into political 
economy the analytical method. By means of this method 
and of an unusual sharpness of intellectual vision he illumi- 
nated the most important branches of a science, which before 



186 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

his time had lain in almost utter darkness. Before Adam 
Smith there was only a policy (Praxis) ; his labours first 
made it possible to build up a science of political economy ; 
and for that achievement he has given the world a greater 
mass of materials than all his predecessors and successors." 

Mill's Political Economy is the only English treatise 
that can be compared with the Wealth of Nations. 
Indeed in his preface Mill challenges the comparison, 
but adds that "political economy, properly so-called, 
has grown up almost from infancy since the time 
of Adam Smith." He finds the Wealth of Nations 
"in many parts obsolete, and in all imperfect," and 
though he speaks generously enough of Adam Smith's 
"admirable success in reference to the philosophy of 
the [eighteenth] century," it is plain from this preface 
and from the autobiography that the later economist 
felt he could look down upon the earlier from the 
serene temples of increased knowledge and better 
social ideas. Mill's confidence was not only justified 
for the time being by unqualified success in the sense 
that his own book at once became, and remained 
for a generation, the principal text-book of English 
students, it was also based upon what appear at first 
sight to be enormous advantages. A more logical 
and systematic arrangement is adopted. Errors are 
corrected ; digressions are few ; and in order to 
attain scientific exactitude, historical illustrations from 
the conditions and experience of nations are replaced 
by more precise instances of imaginary societies 
labelled A, B, C. Technical terms and definitions 
make it easy for the student to move lightly about in 
an artificial atmosphere. 

But in this realm of political economy, is it not 



ix.] WEALTH OF NATIONS AND ITS CRITICS 187 

well to keep a foot, or at least an eye, on the ground 1 
In Mill's treatise there is a danger of mistaking 
words for things. It is never so in Smith's inquiry. 
He gave twenty years to a task for which Mill 
could hardly spare as many months. With a gift 
for exposition, certainly not inferior, he had what 
Mill had not, a love of the concrete, a faculty for the 
picturesque, and withal a nervous force and vigour in 
argument quite peculiar to himself. It has been said 
that Smith hunted his subject with the inveteracy of 
a sportsman. With a wonderful knowledge of history, 
law, philosophy, and letters, he combined an intuitive 
insight into the motives of men and the unseen 
mechanism of society. At the same time, by restricting 
his horizon to wealth and its phenomena, he was able 
to see how men always had acted and always would 
act under certain circumstances, and by what rules 
public finance should be governed. This is the secret 
of his success in making political economy queen of 
the useful arts, and in raising her alone among political 
studies to the dignity of a science. "I think," said 
Robert Lowe, "that Adam Smith is entitled to the 
merit, and the unique merit, among all men who 
ever lived in the world, of having foun led a deductive 
and demonstrative science of human actions and con- 
duct." True, he is not a systematic writer. He does 
not shine, as so many inferior geniuses have shone, in 
the art of comparing, correlating, and harmonising the 
great truths which it is his glory to have discovered 
and illustrated. He puts us, as Lowe remarked with 
his usual felicity, in mind of the Sages of Ancient 
Greece, who, after lives of labour and study, bequeathed 
half a dozen maxims for the guidance of mankind. 



CHAPTEK X 



FREE TRADE 



One of the least edifying features of modern contro- 
versy, and particularly of political and economic con- 
troversy, is the habit of appealing to precedents and 
authorities which, if honestly cited, would militate 
against the opinions of the controversialist. No 
great writer has suffered more of late years from 
this species of misrepresentation than Adam Smith ; 
yet his contemporaries and immediate successors both 
in England and abroad perfectly understood his drift. 
When Pitt and Shelburne declared themselves disciples 
of Smith, they thereby declared themselves free 
traders, and Pitt's commercial policy from 1784 to 
1794 was simply an attempt to carry out Smith's 
views. Resolute retrenchment, customs' reform, the 
commercial treaty with France, reduction of debt, were 
all projected under the inspiration and countenance of 
Mr. Commissioner Smith. 

Nor did the English economists, from Eicardo to 
Mill, ever suggest that Adam Smith had doubts about 
the main doctrine of his book. In France and Germany 
his opinions were eagerly embraced. To translate, in- 
terpret, and systematise the Wealth of Nations was the 
main function of continental economists in the early 
years of the nineteenth century ; and its influence was 

188 



chap, x.] FREE TRADE 189 

seen in a rapid and radical modification of commercial 
policy. Internal barriers were swept away, feudal 
restrictions abolished, and tariffs reduced. When the 
waves of reaction — political rather than economic — 
began to roll in, and " national " economists tried to re- 
construct the case for protection, they paid Smith the 
compliment of a violent onslaught. " Smithianismus " 
then became a term of abuse in protectionist circles, 
and so remained until it was superseded by the equally 
cacophonous " Manchesterthum." It was in England 
that the idea was started of dressing up Adam Smith 
as a protectionist. While List was inveighing against 
" cosmopolitical economy," our own free traders in 
their agitation against the corn laws found themselves 
confronted with a new interpretation of their prophet. 
At one of the League meetings (July 3, 1844) Cobden 
gave a humorous description of the way in which some 
protectionist pamphleteers tried to adapt Adam Smith's 
opinions to their own views. " They have done it in 
this manner : they took a passage, and with the 
scissors snipped and cut away at it, until by paring off 
the ends of sentences and leaving out all the rest of 
the passage, they managed to make Adam Smith 
appear in some sense as a monopolist. When we re- 
ferred to the volume itself, we found out their tricks, 
and exposed them. I tell you what their argument 
reminds me of. An anecdote is told of an atheist who 
once asserted that there was no God, and said he 
would prove it from Scripture. He selected that 
passage from the Psalms which says, 'The fool hath 
said in his heart there is no God.' He then cut out 
the whole passage, except the words, 'there is no God,' 
and brought it forward as proof of his statement." 



190 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

If these false notions about Adam Smith's economic 
opinions had died with the pamphlets of obscure pro- 
tectionists sixty years ago, no more need have been 
said. But as they have been revived again and again 
in England, Germany, and the United States, and 
solemnly adopted with all the plausibility of seemingly 
circumstantial moderation by persons of European 
repute, we shall examine the passages in the original, 
in order to settle the question whether Smith can be 
made to serve as "the spiritual father" of a com- 
mercial policy not essentially different from the one 
his criticism destroyed. 

By a policy of free trade, which Adam Smith said 
was the best means a statesman could adopt of promot- 
ing national wealth and commerce, he meant a policy 
that would relieve commerce and industry from all 
internal dues and all external duties or prohibitions. 
Anything that would bring other nations into line 
commanded his warm sympathy and support. But 
what he desired as a patriot was a policy of free 
imports irrespective of what other countries might do. 
The object of a national, as of an individual policy in 
trade, should be to buy in the cheapest and sell in the 
dearest market. 1 This will appear at once from the 
so-called exceptions or limitations by which Smith is 
supposed to have watered down what Cobden's bio- 
grapher has called "the pure milk of the Cobdenic word. " 

The Act of Navigation is the first of " the two cases 
in which it will generally be advantageous to lay some 
burden upon foreign for the encouragement of domestic 

1 Smith avoids the error so commonly committed in modern 
doctrines of international trade, of regarding a nation as a 
trading unit. 



X.] FREE TRADE 191 

industry." 1 But by "advantageous" Smith does not 
mean "likely to enrich." It is a measure of defence, 
and is unfavourable to trade. 

" The defence of Great Britain," he says, "depends 
very much upon the number of its sailors and shipping. 
The Act of Navigation, therefore, very properly endea- 
vours to give the sailors and shipping of Great Britain 
the monopoly of the trade of their own country. " The 
Act is justified as a pure measure of defence, though it 
aims at monopoly, and offends against the principles of 
free trade. Lest, however, there should be any doubt 
upon the point, he goes on to make it quite clear that, 
while he praises the Act, as he might praise the build- 
ing of a man-of-war, he condemns it as an economic 
measure. In the passage immediately following there 
are two sentences which exactly give the point of 
view, and should help to dissipate the false impression 
(accepted and circulated by authorities like Hasbach, 
who ought to know better) that Smith's doctrines are 
very different from Cobden's : — 

" The Act of Navigation is not favourable to foreign com- 
merce, or to the growth of that opulence which can arise 
from it. ... As defence, however, is of much more importance 
than opulence, the Act of Navigation is, perhaps, the wisest 
of all the commercial regulations of England." 

How completely the Navigation Act failed as a com- 
mercial measure appears from a number of passages in 
the Wealth of Nations which together completely refute 
the fallacy, so generally adopted by English historians, 

1 The second case is simple and uncontroversial. If there is 
an excise duty upon a home product, it seems reasonable, says 
Smith, that an equal tax should be imposed in the shape of an 
import duty upon the same product imported from abroad. 



192 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

that it ruined the Dutch, enriched England, and gave 
her a commercial and naval supremacy which she could 
not otherwise have achieved. Holland, he says, is 
richer than England ; she gained the whole carrying 
trade of France during the late war ; she still remains 
"the great emporium of European goods," and so forth. 
All that Smith claims for the Act is that it helped to 
secure the country a sufficient supply of seamen for the 
navy in time of war. 

Further, as there are two cases (the necessity of 
defence and the propriety of countervailing an excise 
duty) "in which it will generally be advantageous 
to lay some burden upon foreign for the encourage- 
ment of domestic industry, so," continues Smith, 
"there are two others in which it may sometimes 
be a matter of deliberation " : in the one, how far it 
is proper to continue the free importation of goods 
from a particular foreign country j in the other, how, 
and how far, free importation, after it has been inter- 
rupted for some time, should be restored. The first 
case of doubt is that of doing evil by retaliation in 
order that good, in the shape of freer trade, may come. 
Occasionally, he writes, it may be wise to retaliate, 
" when some nation restrains by high duties or pro- 
hibitions " the importations of our manufactures. 
After giving some examples of commercial retaliation, 
one of which ended in war, Adam Smith lays down 
the cautious rule that there may be good policy in 
retaliations of this kind, but only where there is a 
probability that retaliatory duties will procure the 
repeal of the high duties or prohibitions complained of. 
"The recovery of a great foreign market will generally 
more than compensate the transitory inconvenience 



x ] FREE TRADE 193 

of paying dearer during a short time for some sorts 
of things." He leans strongly against the policy, partly 
because he is unwilling to trust "that insidious and 
crafty animal vulgarly called a statesman " to use such 
a weapon wisely ; partly because you rarely benefit the 
sufferers and always injure other classes of your own 
citizens, than those whom you are trying to assist. 

The second case of doubt was merely one of expedi- 
ency — whether free trade should be introduced quickly 
or slowly. "In what manner the natural system of 
perfect liberty and justice ought gradually to be re- 
stored " Smith left to the wisdom of future statesmen 
and legislators to determine. But he maintained that 
the evils attending the remedy were usually exagger- 
ated, and this view proved to be correct when Sir 
Eobert Peel and Mr. Gladstone effected the trans- 
formation by five mighty strokes of the fiscal axe. 

We have now examined all the passages which could 
give colour to the impression that Smith was only a 
free trader — on conditions. That part of the task is 
easy enough. The difficulty begins when we seek 
positive arguments against protective or differential 
taxation. The woodman of Mount Ida was not more 
embarrassed in choosing a tree to fell. The Wealth of 
Nations is a forest of full-grown arguments for free 
trade. The more one reads it, the more irresistibly 
is one driven to the conclusion that the science of 
political economy, as established in this masterpiece, 
is inextricably bound up with the doctrine of free 
trade. Every assumption and conclusion, his criti- 
cisms of previous and existing theories, laws, customs, 
and opinions, his surveys of the commercial and 
colonial policy of Europe, all bear us directly or 
N 



194 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

indirectly to the same goal. Yet there is one 
principle which seems to take precedence in the argu- 
ment. In the division of labour, Smith found a key 
to the growth of wealth and to the enlargement 
of the material comforts that are necessary to the 
progress of refinement and civilisation. The division 
of labour is therefore his starting-point, and instead 
of leaving it where Plato and Aristotle let it rest — a 
barren formula of economic society — he sets it vigor- 
ously in motion, and converts it, as it were, from a 
slumbering lake into a vast reservoir that irrigates and 
fertilises the whole plain of inquiry. And had he been 
confined to one argument for free trade, this is pro- 
bably the one he would have adopted. 

If we were asked to select that passage in the 
Wealth of Nations which gives most succinctly the broad 
objections to a protective policy, we should turn to the 
second chapter of the fourth book, " Of restraints upon 
the importation from foreign countries of such goods 
as can be produced at home." He begins by admitting 
that high duties or prohibitions can secure to home 
producers a monopoly of the home market. At that 
time British graziers enjoyed the monopoly of provid- 
ing the home market with butcher-meat. The manu- 
facturers of wool and silk were equally favoured, and 
the duties on foreign linen, for which Hume had pleaded 
in one of his commercial essays, had lately been raised. 

Smith thereupon asks whether these protective 
measures, by giving an artificial direction to industry, 
are likely to be of general benefit to society. The first 
answer is that in business every man seeks his own 
advantage, that every man knows his own business 
best, and that "the study of his own advantage natur- 



x.] FREE TRADE 195 

ally, or rather necessarily, leads him to prefer that 
employment which is most advantageous to society." 
Though intending only his own gain, he is "led by 
an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part 
of his intention." Indeed the selfish trader — the 
economic man, if you like — promotes the interest of 
society far more effectually than those who affect to 
trade for the public good. Is it not evident that the 
individual himself, though he may make mistakes, 
can judge best how and where to employ his own 
labour or capital ? The statesman or lawgiver who 
attempted to direct private people how to manage their 
business and spend their money would not only be 
overloaded with work, but would be assuming an 
authority " which could safely be trusted, not only to 
no single person, but to no council or senate whatever." 
From this consideration we pass almost insensibly into 
the argument from the division of labour. 

" It is the maxim of every prudent master of a family never 
to attempt to make at home what it will cost him more to 
make than to buy. The taylor does not attempt to make his 
own shoes, but buys them of the shoemaker. The shoemaker 
does not attempt to make his own clothes, but employs a taylor. 
The farmer attempts to make neither the one nor the other, but 
employs those different artificers. All of them find it for their 
interest to employ their whole industry in a way in which they 
have some advantage over their neighbours, and to purchase 
with a part of its produce, or what is the same thing, with 
the price of a part of it, whatever else they have occasion for. 

"What is prudence in the conduct of every private family, 
can scarce be folly in that of a great kingdom. If a foreign 
country can supply us with a commodity cheaper than we 
ourselves can make it, better buy it of them with some part 
of the produce of our own industry, employed in a way in 
which we have some advantage." 



196 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

Capital and industry are certainly not employed to 
the greatest advantage when they are directed to objects 
which under natural conditions could be bought cheaper 
than they could be made. It is true, he adds, antici- 
pating the infant industry argument of Alexander 
Hamilton, List, and Mill, that "by means of such 
regulations a particular manufacture may sometimes 
be acquired sooner than it could have been otherwise, 
and after a certain time may be made at home as cheap 
or cheaper than in the foreign country." But cut bono ? 
Even in this case " it will by no means follow that the 
sum total either of its industry or of its revenue can 
ever be augmented by any such regulation." One 
immediate effect of such regulations must be to 
diminish the revenue of the society, "and what 
diminishes its revenue is certainly not very likely to 
augment its capital faster than it Avould have aug- 
mented of its own accord had both capital and industry 
been left to find out their natural employments." 

But though reason led him by every road to a com- 
plete system of liberty as the true end of commercial 
policy, he despaired of its adoption. "To expect in- 
deed that freedom of trade should ever be entirely 
restored in Great Britain, is as absurd as to expect 
that an Oceana or Utopia should ever be established in 
it." Even if public prejudice were overcome, the re- 
sistance of private interests would be unconquerable. 
The landlords indeed had not yet acquired a strong 
interest in protection. At that time the home supply 
of wheat and oats in ordinary years was sufficient, or 
nearly so, for the requirements of the population, 
and prices were much about the same in England as 
in other European countries. The moving spirits of 



x.] FREE TRADE 197 

protection were master manufacturers, who, "like an 
overgrown standing army," had begun to intimidate 
the legislature. 

" The member of parliament who supports every proposal 
for strengthening this monopoly, is sure to acquire not only 
the reputation of understanding trade, but great popularity 
and influence with an order of men whose numbers and wealth 
render them of great importance. If he opposes them, on the 
contrary, and still more, if he has authority enough to be able 
to thwart them, neither the most acknowledged probity, nor 
the highest rank, nor the greatest public services, can protect 
him from the most infamous abuse and detraction, from 
personal insults, nor sometimes from real danger, arising from 
the insolent outrage of furious and disappointed monopolists." 

Under these circumstances it is very surprising that 
Adam Smith should have chosen to submit the corn 
laws to so long and destructive an analysis. He seems 
to have foreseen that the great battle for which he was 
sounding the advance would ultimately rage round a 
question then almost academic, and that cheap food 
would be the keystone of the free trade argument. 

After several years' experience as a customs official, 
Adam Smith took the opportunity in his third edition 
(1784) of considerably enlarging the Wealth of Nations; 
and, among other important additions, he inserted at 
the end of Book IV. a new chapter, entitled " Conclu- 
sion of the Mercantile System." It is a deeply in- 
structive recital of the extremities of absurdity into 
which the British legislature had suffered itself to be 
led blindfold by a false theory and powerful interests. 
The encouragement of exportation, and the discourage- 
ment of importation, were the two great engines by 
which the mercantile system proposed to enrich every 
country; but with regard to some particular com- 



198 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

modities, it followed an opposite plan : discouraging 
exports, and encouraging imports. Thus it penalised 
or prohibited the exportation of machinery, wool, and 
coal ; nor was the living instrument, the artificer, 
allowed to go free. Two statutes had been passed in 
the reigns of George I. and II. to prevent any British 
artificer going abroad under penalty of being declared 
an alien, and forfeiting all his goods and chattels. " It 
is unnecessary, I imagine, to observe how contrary 
such regulations are to the boasted liberty of the 
subject, of which we affect to be so very jealous ; but 
which, in this case, is so plainly sacrificed to the futile 
interests of our merchants and manufacturers." Smith 
is very sarcastic about regulations whose "laudable 
motive" was to extend British manufactures, not by 
improving them, but by depressing those of our neigh- 
bours, and by putting an end as much as possible to 
the troublesome competition of such odious rivals. He 
then lays down a maxim "so perfectly self-evident, 
that it would be absurd to attempt to prove it " : — 

" Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production ; 
and the interest of the producer ought to be attended to, only 
so far as it may be necessary for promoting that of the con- 
sumer." 

This golden rule was everywhere violated by the 
mercantile system, which seemed to consider production 
the ultimate object of all industry. But the worst of 
all its inventions was the colonial monopoly. " In the 
system of laws which has been established for the 
management of our American and West Indian colonies, 
the interest of the home consumer has been sacrificed 
to that of the producer with a more extravagant pro- 



x.] FREE TRADE 199 

fusion than in all our other commercial regulations." 
If there was anything more odious to Adam Smith 
than a protective duty, it was the discriminating or 
preferential duty which had been invented for the pur- 
pose of tying up the trade between Great Britain and 
her colonies. Both his " Utopias " were projected for 
the express purpose of putting an end to a colonial 
system which he regarded as a dead weight upon both 
the mother country and her dependencies. 

The theory that Smith grew more protectionist as 
he grew older might be dismissed now that we have 
considered the lectures, and compared the first and 
third editions of the finished work. But it is possible 
that a very desperate casuist might still find one 
more plea to urge. He might say : granted that 
Smith remained to the last a theoretical free trader, 
yet he frankly admitted it to be a Utopian project, 
and he would not, as a responsible official, have advised 
its adoption. Did he not accept a Crown appointment 
under Lord North's protectionist administration, and 
did he not spend the last years of his life as a prin- 
cipal instrument in collecting the proceeds of a highly 
protectionist tariff 1 ? Nay, further, did he not take a 
carnal satisfaction in the leaps and bounds by which the 
revenue under his charge was at that time advancing 1 
In December 1785 he wrote to William Eden : — 

"It may perhaps give that gentleman [Mr. Rose of the 
Treasury] pleasure to be informed that the net revenue arising 
from the customs in Scotland is at least four times greater 
than it was seven or eight years ago. It has been increasing 
rapidly these four or five years past, and the revenue of this 
year has over-leaped by at least one half the revenue of the 
greatest former year. I flatter myself it is likely to increase 
still further." 



200 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

Whatever force the argumentum ad officium might 
have in a country (if such there be) where customs 
officials are sworn supporters of the commercial policy 
of the Government, it has none in reference to Great 
Britain, and less than none if regard be had to the 
circumstances of Smith's appointment. There is no 
reason for supposing that Lord North had any par- 
ticular liking for protection, though as the instrument 
of the king's war policy he had an insatiable craving 
for revenue, and in pursuit thereof adopted, as we 
shall see, several taxes of a non-protective character 
suggested by Smith in the first edition of his treatise. 
Further, when the above letter was written Pitt was 
already, under the inspiration of this very customs 
official, initiating a free trade policy, and was actually 
preparing the great commercial treaty with France 
which he was to carry into effect a few months later. 
A patriotic Scotsman might well delight in his country's 
rapid recovery from the disastrous effects of the war, 
and the author of Pitt's policy would naturally antici- 
pate an increase of prosperity with an expansion of 
imports and a growth of the revenues under his charge. 

Moreover, there is happily extant a relic of the 
correspondence which Smith carried on as financial 
adviser to ministers. In the year 1778 Ireland 
was in a terrible plight. In addition to all the evils 
of a minority rule, she suffered as a whole from a 
commercial persecution by the predominant partner. 
Her trade had been deliberately and malevolently 
throttled by the superior legislature of Great Britain. 
At that time Irish wool could be exported to no 
country save Great Britain. Irish woollens could 
only be exported from specified ports in Ireland to 



x.] FREE TRADE 201 

specified ports in Great Britain. All export of Irish 
glass was absolutely prohibited. Worst of all, she was 
not allowed to send her staple article — cattle — or even 
salt provisions to the English market. And she was 
excluded from the colonial trade. 

Even so cool a political hand as Henry Dundas 
(then Lord Advocate), writing to Smith at the 
end of October 1779, confessed that he has been 
shocked at the tone and temper of the House of 
Commons in its dealings with Ireland's prayers for 
elementary justice. But the Irish Parliament was now 
demanding free trade in tones too peremptory to be 
ignored, for they were backed by a threatening dis- 
play of armed force. Dundas saw little objection to 
acceding to some of the requisitions ; but he had no 
very clear grasp of the economics of the situation, 
and being in correspondence with Eden, the Secretary 
of the Board of Trade, he wanted an expert opinion 
from the Seer of Edinburgh. Smith replies that the 
Irish demand should be satisfied, first, because it is 
just; second, because it will be for the benefit of 
English consumers ; and lastly, because English manu- 
facturers will suffer so much less than the nation, and 
the national revenue, will gain. Dundas had seemed 
to be rather afraid that with cheaper labour and lower 
taxes the Irish manufacturers might be able to under- 
sell their British competitors. Smith pointed out that 
they had neither the skill nor the stock [capital] to 
enable them to do so; "and though both may be 
acquired in time, to acquire them completely will 
require more than a century." Besides, Ireland had 
neither coal nor wood; "and though her soil and 
climate are perfectly suited for raising the latter, yet 



202 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

to raise it to the same degree as in England will 
require more than a century." 

Before he can say precisely what the Irish Parlia- 
ment means by a free trade, he must see the heads of 
the proposed bill. If it is only freedom to export, 
nothing could be more just and reasonable. If it is 
freedom to import, subject only to their own customs' 
duties, that again is perfectly reasonable, though it 
would "interfere a little with some of our paltry 
monopolies." If they wish to be allowed to trade 
freely with the American and African plantations, 
that also should be conceded. It would interfere 
with some monopolies, but would do no harm to 
Great Britain. Lastly, they might mean to demand 
a free trade with Great Britain. "Nothing, in my 
opinion, would be more highly advantageous to both 
countries than this mutual freedom of trade. It would 
help to break down that absurd monopoly which we 
have most absurdly established against ourselves in 
favour of almost all the different classes of our own 
manufacturers." Dundas had hinted that the two 
Parliaments might be reconciled by a proper distri- 
bution of loaves and fishes. Smith did not shrink at all 
from promoting a good policy by what was then the 
ordinary method of promoting a bad policy : — 

" Whatever the Irish mean to demand in this way, in the 
present situation of our affairs I should think it madness not 
to grant it. Whatever they may demand, our manufacturers, 
unless the leading and principal men among them are properly 
dealt with beforehand, will probably oppose it. That they 
may be so dealt with I know from experience, and that it may 
be done at little expense and with no great trouble. I could 
even point to some persons who, I think, are fit and likely to 
deal with them successfully for this purpose. I shall not say 



x.] FREE TRADE 203 

more upon this till I see you, which I shall do the first moment 
I can get out of this Town." 

A week later Smith repeated his argument with 
some additions and modifications in a letter of 
November 8th to Lord Carlisle, who then presided over 
the Board of Trade. He maintains that " a very slender 
interest of our own manufacturers is the foundation 
of all these unjust and oppressive restraints," and 
ridicules "the watchful jealousy of the monopolists, 
alarmed lest the Irish, who have never been able to 
supply completely even their own market with glass 
or woollen manufactures, should be able to rival them 
in foreign markets." 

When he passes from commercial considerations to 
the larger aspects of freedom and good government, 
his wisdom is no less manifest. What Ireland most 
wants, he writes, are order, police, and a regular admin- 
istration of justice, both to protect and to restrain 
the inferior ranks of people : " articles more essential 
to the progress of industry than both coal and wood 
put together, and which Ireland must continue to 
want as long as it continues to be divided between two 
hostile nations, the oppressors and the oppressed, 
the Protestants and the Papists." He then points 
out that what the monopolists dread (the prosperity 
of another country) is not an evil but a good : — 
"Should the industry of Ireland, in consequence of 
freedom and good government, ever equal that of 
England, so much the better would it be not only 
for the whole British Empire, but for the particular 
province of England. As the wealth and industry of 
Lancashire does not obstruct but promote that of 
Yorkshire, so the wealth and industry of Ireland 



204 ADAM SMITH [chap. x. 

would not obstruct but promote that of England." 
For exactly the same reasons he wanted free trade 
with France, and with the whole world. If it is good 
for one man to trade freely with another, for a town 
with a town, and for a county with a county, how 
can it be otherwise than good for countries to trade 
freely together 1 An economist who strikes at the last 
proposition should hail Smith's humorous project of a 
tariff which would secure Scotland a vintage as well as 
a harvest. 

Much more might be said upon a subject that enters 
into the politics of every State, and vitally affects the 
welfare of every struggling toiler in the universe. 
But the purpose of this chapter will be fulfilled if it 
restores to Adam Smith his identity as the prota- 
gonist in a great contest, as the champion of the right 
to trade with all the world, against those who stand 
for privileges, monopolies, and tariffs. According to 
Bagehot, Smith's name can no more be dissociated from 
free trade than Homer's from the siege of Troy. " So 
long as the doctrines of protection exist — and they 
seem likely to do so, as human interests are what 
they are, and human nature is what it is — Adam Smith 
will always be quoted as the great authority on Anti- 
Protectionism, as the man who first told the world 
the truth, so that the world could learn and believe it." 



CHAPTER XI 

LAST YEARS 

(1776-1790) 

After seeing the Wealth of Nations through the press, 
Smith lingered a few weeks in London. He was 
anxious to persuade Hume to come up and consult the 
London physicians, but Hume shrank from the journey, 
and implored his friend to return to Edinburgh. So 
about the middle of April, Smith and John Home l took 
the coach for Edinburgh. But at Morpeth, where the 
coach stopped, they saw Hume's servant at the door 
of the inn. Hume had changed his mind, and was on 
his way to see Sir John Pringle. Home returned with 
Hume to London, but Smith, hearing that his aged 
mother was ill, went on to Kirkcaldy. Before parting, 
however, the two friends carefully discussed the ques- 
tion of what should be done with Hume's papers in the 
event of his death. From a desire to avoid religious 
controversy and public clamour, Hume had kept by 
him unpublished his Dialogues on Natural Religion, 
and he now tried to persuade his friend and literary 
executor to edit them after his death. 

But Smith resolutely declined the task. Although 
he had himself lectured on Natural Religion, he had 

1 The author of Douglas. 

205 



206 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

warily avoided the subject in his own publications. 
Moreover, he was now hoping to be appointed to an 
office under the Crown, and such a publication would 
certainly be prejudicial. Hume argued that these 
objections were groundless: "Was Mallet anywise 
hurt by his publication of Lord Bolingbroke 1 He 
received an office afterwards from the present king, 
and Lord Bute, the most prudent man in the world, 
and he always justified himself by his sacred regard 
to the will of a dead friend." And he reminded 
Smith of a saying of Eochefoucauld, that "a wind, 
though it extinguishes a candle, blows up a fire." So 
he wrote from London at the beginning of May. 
However, he agreed to leave the question of publica- 
tion entirely to Smith's discretion. "By the little 
company I have seen," he added, "I find the town very 
full of your book, which meets with general appro- 
bation." Soon afterwards Hume changed his mind, and 
made Strahan his literary executor, with instructions 
to publish the Dialogues within two and a half years. 

In July the two friends were again in Edinburgh, 
conversing together. Smith was deeply impressed by 
the philosophic courage, and even gaiety, with which 
the great sceptic faced the approach of death. In 
the well-known letter to Strahan, 1 that is always 
printed with Hume's autobiography, he mentions among 
other touching incidents that a certain Colonel Edmond- 
stone paid a farewell visit to Hume, but afterwards 
could not forbear writing a last letter "applying to 
him as to a dying man the beautiful French verses in 
which the Abbe Chaulieu, in expectation of his own 
death, laments his approaching separation from his 
1 Written from Kirkcaldy, November 9, 1776. 



xi.] LAST YEARS 207 

friend the Marquis de la Fare." "Mr. Hume's mag- 
nanimity and firmness were such," continued Smith, 
"that his most affectionate friends knew that they 
hazarded nothing in talking or writing to him as a 
dying man, and that, far from being hurt by this 
frankness, he was rather pleased and flattered with it." 
At the end of the first week of August, Hume had 
now become so very weak that the company of his 
most intimate friends fatigued him : — 

" At his own desire, therefore, I agreed to leave Edinburgh, 
and returned to my mother's house here at Kirkcaldy, upon 
condition that he would send for me whenever he wished to 
see me ; the physician who saw him most frequently, Dr. 
Black, undertaking in the meantime to write me occasionally 
an account of the state of his health." 

The correspondence which followed marks the close 
of a deep, unbroken, and memorable attachment. On 
August 1 5th Hume's anxiety for the Dialogues revived : 
" On revising them (which I have not done these five 
years) I find that nothing can be more cautiously and 
more artfully written. You had certainly forgotten them. 
Will you permit me to leave you the property of the 
copy, in case they should not be published in five years 
after my decease ? Be so good as write me an answer 
soon." On the 22nd Smith replied : — 

" I have this moment received yr. letter of the 15th inst. 
You had, in order to save me the sum of one penny sterling, 
sent it by the carrier instead of the PlJst, and (if you have 
not mistaken the date) it has lain at his quarters these eight 
days, and was, I presume, very likely to lie there for ever." 

Then, after reassuring Hume about the Dialogues, he 
continued : — 

" If you will give me leave I will add a few lines to yr. 



208 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

account of your own life, giving some account in my own 
name of your behaviour in this illness, if, contrary to my own 
hopes, it should prove your last. Some conversations we had 
lately together, particularly that concerning your want of an 
excuse to make to Charon, the excuse you at last thought of, 
and the very bad reception wh. Charon was likely to give it, 
would, I imagine, make no disagreeable part of the history. 
You have in a declining state of health, under an exhausting 
disease, for more than two years together now looked at the 
approach of death with a steady cheerfulness such as very few 
men have been able to maintain for a few hours, tho' otherwise 
in the most perfect Health. I shall likewise, if you give me 
leave, correct the sheets of the new edition of your works, and 
shall take care that it shall be published exactly according to 
your last corrections. As I shall be at London this winter, 
it will cost me very little trouble." 

But " the cool and steady Dr. Black " still gave him 
some hopes of his friend's recovery. On the follow- 
ing day Hume dictated a brief answer to this letter, 
explaining that he had only taken an extra precaution 
in case anything might happen to Strahan. " You are 
too good," he added, "in thinking any trifles that con- 
cern me are so much worthy of your attention, but I 
give you entire liberty to make what additions you 
please to the account of my life." 

Two days afterwards Hume died, and was buried in 
Calton Cemetery. Smith did not like the round tower 
erected under a provision of the will to mark the grave 
— " it is the greatest piece of vanity I ever saw in my 
friend Hume." By the will a legacy of £200 and copies 
of all Hume's published works were left to him ; but 
he stoutly refused to accept the money, as he had ceased 
to be executor, although he had no thought of relin- 
quishing his promise to edit Hume's life and works. 
"I have added," he wrote to Hume's brother (Kirk- 



xi.] LAST YEARS 209 

caldy, October 7th), "at the bottom of my will the note 
discharging the legacy of £200 which your brother 
was so kind as to leave me. Upon the most mature 
deliberation I am fully satisfied that in justice it is not 
due to me. Tho' it should be due to me therefore in 
strict law, I cannot with honour accept of it." 

A month earlier he had written to Strahan from Dal- 
keith, where he was staying with the Duke of Buccleuch, 
a careful explanation of Hume's will and last wishes. 
" Both from his will and from his conversation I under- 
stand that there are only two [manuscripts] which he 
meant should be published — an account of his life, and 
Dialogues concerning Natural Religion. The latter, tho' 
finely written, I could have wished had remained in 
manuscript to be communicated only to a few friends. 
I propose to add to his Life a very well authenticated 
account of his behaviour during his last illness." 

Smith's addition to Hume's autobiography took 
the form of a letter to Strahan giving an account 
of Hume's last illness, concluding with the words : 
" Upon the whole, I have always considered him both 
in his lifetime and since his death as approaching as 
nearly to the idea of a perfectly wise and virtuous 
man, as perhaps the nature of human frailty will 
permit." This warm-hearted and eloquent, but surely 
extravagant eulogy of the "virtuous heathen," created 
precisely the kind of popular clamour that Smith had 
been so anxious to avoid. Strahan liked the addition 
exceedingly ; but as this and the autobiography 
together were too short to make even a tiny volume, 
he wrote back, good publisher that he was : — 

" I have been advised by some very good judges to annex 
some of his letters to me on political subjects. What think 





210 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

you of this? I will do nothing without your advice and 
approbation, nor would I for the world publish any letter 
of his but such as in your opinion would do him honour. 
Mr. Gibbon thinks such as I have shown him would have 
that tendency. Now if you approve of this in any manner, 
you may perhaps add partly to the collection from your own 
cabinet and those of Mr. John Home, Dr. Robertson, and 
others of your mutual friends which you may pick up before 
you return hither. But if you wholly disapprove of this 
scheme, say nothing of it, here let it drop, for without your 
concurrence I will not publish a single word of it." 

A decisive reply came at once from Kirkcaldy. It 
gives a peremptory judgment — quite against the drift 
of modern opinion — upon what will always be a case 
for the casuist : — 

" I am sensible that many of Mr. Hume's letters would do 
him great honour, and that you would publish none but such 
as would. But what in this case ought principally to be 
considered is the will of the Dead. Mr. Hume's constant 
injunction was to burn all his Papers except the Dialogues 
and the account of his own life. This injunction was even 
inserted in the body of his will. I know he always disliked 
the thought of his letters ever being published. He had been 
in long and intimate correspondence with a relation of his own 
who dyed a few years ago. When that gentleman's health 
began to decline he was extremely anxious to get back his 
letters, least the heir should think of publishing them. They 
were accordingly returned, and burnt as soon as returned. 
If a collection of Mr. Hume's letters besides was to receive 
the public approbation, as yours certainly would, the Curls 
of the times would immediately set about rummaging the 
cabinets of all those who had ever received a scrap of paper 
from him. Many things would be published not fit to see 
the light, to the great mortification of all those who wish well 
to his memory. Nothing has contributed so much to sink 
the value of Swift's works as the undistinguished publication 
of his letters ; and be assured that your publication, however 



xi.] LAST YEARS 211 

select, would soon be followed by an undistinguished one. 
I should therefore be sorry to see any beginning given to the 
publication of his letters. His life will not make a volume, 
but it will make a small pamphlet." 

The nervous objection felt by Hume and Smith to 
the publication of correspondence or of any manuscript 
not carefully considered by the writer, and intended by 
him for publication, may be overstrained ; but perhaps 
this generation errs as much in its anxiety to penetrate 
the privacy of the dead as they did in wishing to 
destroy everything that was incomplete, or too easy, 
intimate, and negligent — as they thought — for the eye 
of a critical posterity. 

Fortune now played our provident philosopher one 
of her most insolent tricks. When the dreaded 
Dialogues appeared, they fell perfectly flat; but the 
letter to Strahan excited, as Mr. Rae says, " a long rever- 
beration of angry criticism." His words, few and simple, 
but warm with the glow of friendship, "rang like a 
challenge to religion itself." Pamphlets poured forth, 
the cleverest of which, "A Letter to Adam Smith, 
LL.D., on the Life, Death, and Philosophy of David 
Hume, Esquire, by one of the People called Christians," 
was still being printed and circulated for edification 
by the Religious Tract Society in the thirtieth year of 
the nineteenth century. Its anonymous author, Dr. 
George Home, President of Magdalen College, Oxford, 
proclaimed that no unbeliever could be virtuous or 
charitable, and charged Smith as well as Hume with 
the atrocious wickedness of diffusing atheism through 
the land. "You would persuade us," he cried, "by 
the example of David Hume, Esq., that atheism 
is the only cordial for low spirits and the proper 



212 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

antidote against the fear of death ; but surely he who 
can reflect with complacency on a friend thus employ- 
ing his talents in this life, and thus amusing himself 
with Lucian, whist, and Charon at his death, can smile 
over Babylon in ruins, esteem the earthquakes which 
destroyed Lisbon as agreeable occurrences, and con- 
gratulate the hardened Pharaoh on his overthrow in 
the Eed Sea." 

Smith made no answer to this attack, for which the 
author was afterwards rewarded by a Bishopric. After 
Christmas, when his mother's health allowed him to 
leave her, he travelled to London, and early in January 
1777 he had taken lodgings in Suffolk Street, near 
the British Coffee House, and was busy preparing his 
second edition of the Wealth of Nations, a reprint, with 
corrections and two additional pages. In March he 
was at a dinner of the Literary Club with Gibbon, 
Garrick, Eeynolds, Johnson, Burke, and Fox. Mr. Eae 
thinks he remained most of the year in London, and 
probably he had some intercourse with Lord North 
and other members of the Government. At any rate 
Lord North, who had studied Smith's chapters on 
taxation to more purpose than his chapters on expendi- 
ture and policy, borrowed two of his ideas in the 
Budget of 1777 — for he laid taxes on men-servants 
and on property sold by auction. 1 Smith was back 
in Edinburgh by the end of this year, and there heard 
from Strahan that he had been appointed by Lord 

1 In the Budget of 1778 North adopted two more important 
recommendations : the inhabited house duty, which is still with 
us, and the malt tax, which was commuted for the beer duty 
by Mr. Gladstone in 1880. The house tax proved very pro- 
ductive, as taxes went in those days, its yield rising from 
£26,000 in 1779 to £108,000 in 1782. 



xi.] LAST YEARS 213 

North one of the Commissioners of the Customs in 
Scotland. In the middle of January he writes from 
Kirkcaldy to Strahan, requesting him to send two 
copies of the second edition of the Wealth of Nations, 
"handsomely bound and gilt, one to Lord North, 
the other to Sir Gray Cooper," and adds, "I believe 
that I have been very highly obliged to him [Cooper] 
in this business." 1 The Commissionership was worth 
£600 a year, and Smith at once proposed to relin- 
quish his pension; but the Duke of Buccleuch would 
not hear of it. 

Early in 1778 Smith removed to Edinburgh. He 
was now in the enjoyment of a certain income of £900 
a year apart from the considerable sums which he 
derived from the sale of his books. He took Panmure 
House in the Canongate, not far from the deserted 
palace of Holyrood — a fashionable quarter where some 
of the Scottish nobility, forsaken by King and Court, 
still kept their town houses. Panmure House is now 
a dismantled store ; and it needs some imagination to 
realise how Windham, accustomed to London palaces, 
should have called it "magnificent," as he looked from 
its newly painted windows and plastered walls "over 
the long strip of terraced garden on to the soft green 
slopes of the Calton." 2 

The rent was probably very nearly £20 a year. But 
Smith was one of the richest men in Edinburgh, and 
felt, no doubt, that he could well afford to take one of 
the best houses in the city. To share and crown his 
happiness he brought his mother, his cousin Miss 
Douglas, and her nephew, a schoolboy David Douglas 

1 Sir Gray Cooper was Secretary to the Treasury. 

2 Rae's Life of Adam Smith, p. 326. 



214 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

(afterwards Lord Strathendry), whom he made his heir. 
From Panmure House "Mr. Commissioner Smith" 
walked every day to his official duties in Exchange 
Square, attired in a light-coloured coat, white silk 
stockings, and a broad-brimmed hat, holding a cane at 
his shoulder as a soldier carries a musket. He used 
to turn his head gently from side to side as he walked, 
and swayed his body " vermicularly," as if at every 
other step he meant to alter his direction or even to 
turn back. 1 His lips often moved, and he would smile 
like one conversing with an invisible companion. He 
was not always unaware of his surroundings, and was 
fond of relating how a market woman in the High 
Street took him for a well-to-do lunatic. "Hech, 
sirs ! " she cried, " to let the like of him be about ! 
And yet he 's weel eneugh put on ! " 

His letters show that he was very regular in attend- 
ing to his duties at the Customs, which indeed were 
important in themselves, and not unattractive to one 
who took so deep an interest in the art of revenue and 
the growth of wealth. The duties of the Commis- 
sioners were administrative and judicial. Sometimes 
they had to despatch soldiers to guard part of the 
coast against smugglers, or to put down an illegal still. 
They heard merchants' appeals from assessments ; they 
appointed and controlled the local officers, and every 
year they prepared returns of customs' revenue and 
expenditure. There is good reason to think that he 
found his work congenial, though Dugald Stewart, 
who always grows morbid at the thought of any 
check to the output of philosophic literature, laments 
that these duties, " though they required little exertion 

1 See the Life of Smith by William Smellie, a contemporary. 



xi.] LAST YEARS 215 

of thought, were yet sufficient to waste his spirits and 
dissipate his attention," and that the time they con- 
sumed was not employed in labours more profitable to 
the world and more equal to his mind. During the 
first years of his residence in Edinburgh " his studies 
seemed to be entirely suspended, and his passion for 
letters served only to amuse his leisure and to animate 
his conversation." This young mentor often caught 
our misguided veteran wasting precious time in his 
library with Sophocles or Euripides, and would be told 
that re-acquaintance with the favourites of one's youth 
is the most grateful and soothing diversion of old age. 
Let us forgive, and more than forgive, the tired 
economist, who disapproved that care, though wise 
in show, 

" That with superfluous burden loads the day, 
And, when God sends a cheerful hour, refrains." 

It is indeed to be wished that the notes on Juris- 
prudence could have been worked up into an ample 
study after the manner of Montesquieu's Spirit of the 
Laws; but probably all that would have been gained 
by retirement would have been the publication of 
his lectures on belles lettres ; and it is certain that some 
of the most instructive additions to the Wealth of 
Nations could never have been written, had Smith 
declined the office of Commissioner. 

At any rate, a problematical loss to the world was a 
great gain to Edinburgh. Smith, though personally 
the most frugal, was also the most hospitable, genial, 
and charitable of men. Hume's death, indeed, left a 
gap that could not be filled. But every city in 
Europe might still envy Edinburgh her Republic of 



216 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

Letters. Robertson the historian, who formed with 
Hume and Gibbon what Gibbon proudly called the 
Triumvirate, and Adam Ferguson, a little jealous at 
this time of his greater rival, lived outside the town. 
Black, too, who had taken Hume's place as Smith's 
dearest living friend, had what was in those days a 
country house, now the Royal Blind Asylum in 
Nicolson Street. Karnes, Hailes, and Monboddo, Sir 
John Dalrymple and Dugald Stewart, and many other 
minor celebrities, lived close at hand. Smith seems 
to have kept something like open house. His Sunday 
suppers were remembered long after his death, and 
many distinguished visitors to Edinburgh enjoyed the 
hospitality of Panmure House. 

He loved good conversation. In Glasgow and in 
London he had belonged to several dining-clubs, and 
he now helped to found another. Swediaur, a Parisian 
doctor, wrote from Edinburgh in 1784 to Jeremy 
Bentham : "we have a club here which consists of 
nothing but philosophers." They met every Friday at 
two o'clock in a Grassmarket tavern, and the French- 
man found it " a most enlightened, agreeable, cheerful, 
and social company." Smith, Black, and Hutton, the 
fathers of the three modern sciences of political 
economy, modern chemistry, and modern geology, 
were the illustrious founders of this society. All 
three, wrote another member, Professor John Playfair, 
had enlarged views and wide information, "without 
any of the stateliness which men of letters think it 
sometimes necessary to affect ; . . . and as the sincerity 
of their friendship had never been darkened by the 
least shade of envy, it would be hard to find an example 
where everything favourable to good society was more 



xi.] LAST YEARS 217 

perfectly united, and everything adverse more entirely 
excluded." Henry Mackenzie, who wrote the Man of 
Feeling, and Dugald Stewart were also members. 

The club was called the Oyster Club, though 
Hutton was an abstainer, Black a vegetarian, and 
Smith's only extravagant taste was for lump sugar. 

"We shall never," wrote Sir Walter Scott in some 
recollections of these "old Northern Lights," which 
appeared in an early number of the Quarterly Review, 
"forget one particular evening when he [Smith] put 
an elderly maiden lady who presided at the tea-table 
to sore confusion by neglecting utterly her invitation 
to be seated, and walking round and round the circle, 
stopping ever and anon to steal a lump from the sugar 
basin, which the venerable spinster was at length con- 
strained to place on her own knee, as the only method 
of securing it from his uneconomical depredations. 
His appearance mumping the eternal sugar was some- 
thing indescribable." Sir Walter was a schoolfellow 
of young David Douglas ; and the incident no doubt 
took place in Panmure House, where Miss Douglas 
would naturally "preside at the tea-table. 

Scott had a vivid recollection of Black and Hutton. 
The former used the English pronunciation, and spoke 
with punctilious accuracy of expression. He wore the 
formal full-dress habit then imposed on members of the 
medical faculty. Dr. Hutton's dress had the simplicity 
of a Quaker's, and he used a broad Scotch accent which 
often heightened his humour. Sir Walter told an 
amusing anecdote which may, perhaps, explain why 
the dining society, founded by the three philosophers, 
was called the Oyster Club. It so chanced that Black 
and Hutton had held some discourse together upon the 



218 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

folly of abstaining from feeding on the crustaceous 
creatures of the land, when those of the sea were 
considered as delicacies. Snails were known to be 
nutritious and wholesome, even "sanative" in some 
cases. The epicures of ancient Rome enumerated the 
snails of Lucca among the richest and rarest delicacies, 
and the modern Italians still held them in esteem. So 
a gastronomic experiment was resolved on. The snails 
were procured, dieted for a time, then stewed. 

" A huge dish of snails was placed before them ; but philo- 
sophers are but men after all ; and the stomachs of both doctors 
began to revolt against the proposed experiment. Neverthe- 
less if they looked with disgust on the snails, they retained 
their awe for each other; so that each, conceiving the 
symptoms of internal revolt peculiar to himself, began with 
infinite exertion to swallow, in very small quantities, the mess 
which he loathed. Dr. Black at length 'showed the white 
feather,' but in a very delicate manner, as if to sound the 
opinion of his messmate. ' Doctor,' he said in his precise and 
quiet style, ' Doctor, do you not think that they taste a little 

— a very little green ? ' ' D d green, d d green 

indeed ! — tak' them awa', tak' them awa' ! ' vociferated Dr. 
Hutton, starting up from table and giving full vent to his 
feelings." 

One of Smith's younger friends was John Sinclair, a 
Scotch laird of much ability and immense industry, 
whose History of the Public Revenue is still a standard 
work. It owed much to the Wealth of Nations; for 
when Smith saw how competent Sinclair was, he helped 
him in every possible way. In 1777 he dissuaded the 
young man from printing a pamphlet against the 
Puritanical observance of the Sabbath, saying, " Your 
work is very ably written, but I advise you not to 
publish it; for rest assured that the Sabbath as a 



xi.] LAST YEARS 219 

political institution is of inestimable value inde- 
pendently of its claim to divine authority." Late in 
the following year, when Sinclair brought him the 
news of Saratoga, and declared that the nation must 
be ruined, Smith answered coolly, "Be assured, my 
young friend, that there is a great deal of ruin in a 
nation." About the same time he let Sinclair have 
the use (so long as he did not take it out of Edinburgh) 
of his own much-prized copy of the Mimoires concer- 
nant les Impositions, a contemporary survey of European 
systems of taxation, which he had obtained "by the 
particular favour of Mr. Turgot, the late Comptroller- 
General of the Finances." In one of his letters to Sinclair 
he expressed his dislike of " all taxes that may affect 
the necessary expenses of the poor." 

" They, according to different circumstances, either oppress 
the people immediately subject to them, or are repaid with 
great interest by the rich, i.e. by their employers in the ad- 
vanced wages of their labour. Taxes on the luxuries of the 
poor, upon their beer and other spirituous liquors, for ex- 
ample, as long as they are so moderate as not to give much 
temptation to smuggling, I am so far from disapproving, that 
I look upon them as the best of sumptuary laws." 1 

Sinclair, who had entered Parliament in 1780, dis- 
cussed foreign policy with Smith in the autumn of 
1782, soon after the surrender at Yorktown, when the 
fortunes of Great Britain had sunk to their lowest ebb. 
The American colonies were lost ; Ireland was almost 
in revolt ; Gibraltar was besieged by the Spanish and 
French fleets ; and the Northern powers were arrayed 
in an unfriendly armed neutrality. Sinclair had 
drafted a tract suggesting that we should seek to draw 
1 See Sinclair's Life of Sir John Sinclair, vol. i. p. 39. 



220 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

the Northern powers into an alliance against the House 
of Bourbon by offering them a share in our colonial 
monopoly. Again Smith advised his young friend not 
to go into print. The proposal, he thought, would 
not find favour with the neutrals, and there seemed to 
be a moral inconsistency in the argument. "If it be 
just to emancipate the continent of America from the 
dominion of every European power, how can it be just 
to subject the islands to such dominion; and if the 
monopoly of the trade of the continent be contrary to 
the rights of mankind, how can that of the islands be 
agreeable to those rights ? " 

In the following year peace was concluded with 
America and France ; and the Prime Minister boasted 
to Morellet that all the treaties of that year were 
inspired by "the great principle of free trade." 
- The necessity for resuming commercial intercourse 
with the United States raised in an acute form the 
problem of the colonial monopoly. Should the States 
be allowed to trade with Canada on the same terms as 
with Great Britain? William Eden (afterwards Lord 
Auckland) was afraid of abandoning the differential 
principle, and in his perplexity wrote to Smith, who 
replied that if the Americans really meant to subject 
the goods of all nations to the same import duties, 
they would "set an example of good sense which all 
other nations ought to imitate." He had little anxiety 
— and his confidence was completely justified by the 
event — about the loss of the American monopoly. " By 
an equality of treatment of all nations, we might soon 
open a commerce with the neighbouring nations of 
Europe infinitely more advantageous than that of so 
distant a country as America." As he hopes to see 



xi.] LAST YEARS 221 

Eden in a few weeks' time, he will not write a tedious 
dissertation, but contents himself with saying that 
"every extraordinary, either encouragement or dis- 
couragement, that is given to the trade of any country, 
more than to that of another, may, I think, be demon- 
strated to be in every case a complete piece of dupery, 
by which the interest of the State and the nation is 
constantly sacrificed to that of some particular class of 
traders." He ends with warm praise of the East India 
Bill, and of the decisive judgment and resolution with 
which it had been introduced and triumphantly carried 
through the House of Commons by Fox. 1 

It is worth while here to note Smith's steady devo- 
tion to Fox and Burke, who represented the Rocking- 
ham branch of the Whig party. He was faithful 
found among innumerable false, for he approved alike of 
Fox's resignation in 1782 rather than serve under 
Shelburne, and of his fatal coalition with Lord North 
in the following year. 2 It may seem strange to those 
who think of Adam Smith only as the founder of 
free trade that he should have been a Foxite, and 
especially that he should have remained one in the 
last decade of his life, when commercial questions 

1 Edinburgh, loth December 1783. The letter is printed in 
the Journals and Correspondence of Lord Auckland, vol. i. p. 64. 

2 Sir Gilbert Elliot wrote from Edinburgh, July 25, 1782, to 
his wife: — "I have found one just man in Gomorrah, Adam 
Smith, author of the Wealth of Nations. He was the Duke of 
Buccleuch's tutor, is a wise and deep philosopher, and although 
made Commissioner of the Customs here by the Duke and 
Lord Advocate, is what I call an honest fellow. He wrote a 
most kind as well as elegant letter to Burke on his resignation, 
as I believe I told you before, and on my mentioning it to him 
he told me he was the only man here who spoke out for the 
Rockinghams. " — Life of Lord Minto, vol. i. p. 84. 



222 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

were uppermost, and when Shelburne first, and then 
Pitt, set themselves to translate the Wealth of Nations 
into laws and treaties. But, as we have tried to show, 
he never allowed economical considerations to weigh 
in the scale with political liberty ; and the clue to his 
distrust of Shelburne and Pitt is his dislike of the 
King as a corrupter of politics, and of the Court as a 
corrupter of morals. Shelburne and Pitt exalting the 
King and the executive would have depressed the 
House of Commons. Rockingham, Fox, and Burke 
sought manfully, and not unsuccessfully, so to main- 
tain and glorify constitutional usages as to check and 
limit the power of the King. This single consideration 
was enough to determine the allegiance of a truly 
republican heart. 

Burke, moreover, was in every way a sympathetic 
figure. His measure of economical reform had docked 
the resources of patronage, and sensibly relieved the 
burdens of the taxpayer. And his views about com- 
mercial liberty coincided with Smith's own. About 
this time a happy chance brought the two friends 
together. In the autumn of 1783 Burke was elected 
Lord Rector of the University of Glasgow, and early 
in the following April, during the general election 
which overwhelmed the Whigs, Burke, having saved 
his own seat at Malton, paid a visit to Scotland. He 
stayed a few days in Edinburgh, and then, accom- 
panied by Adam Smith, Lord Maitland, 1 and others, 
went on to Glasgow to be installed in his new office. 
On the day of their arrival (Friday, April 9) they 
supped with that stalwart Whig, John Millar, the 

1 Afterwards Lord Lauderdale, a finished economist, who 
passed some ingenious criticisms on the Wealth of Nations. 



xi.] LAST YEARS 223 

Professor of Law. On Sunday, Smith and Maitland 
took Burke to see Loch Lomond, and made their way 
back by Carron to Edinburgh, which they reached on 
the following Wednesday. Next day Burke, with 
a company of Smith's Edinburgh friends, dined at 
Panmure House. On Friday the great orator re- 
turned to England extremely pleased by his reception 
in Scotland, and leaving behind him many friends 
and admirers. One of these has preserved some par- 
ticulars of the visit. "Smith, Dugald, and I," wrote 
Dalzel, "had more of his company than anybody in 
this country, and we got a vast deal of political anec- 
dote from him and fine pictures of political characters 
both dead and living." Burke advised Lord Maitland, 
if he had ambition and wanted office, to abandon the 
Whig party. "Shake us off: give us up." Smith 
said cheerfully that "in two years things would come 
about again." "Why," cried Burke, "I have already 
been in a minority nineteen years, and your two years, 
Mr. Smith, will make me twenty-one years, and it will 
surely be high time for me then to be in my majority ! " 

Before the end of May a dark cloud came over 
Smith's life, for his mother passed away in her ninetieth 
year. Four years later her death was followed by that 
of his cousin, Miss Douglas. Their loss was irreparable. 
" They had been the objects of his affection for more 
than sixty years, and in their society he had enjoyed 
from his infancy all that he ever knew of the endear- 
ments of a family." l 

Late in the autumn of 1784 Faujas de Saint-Fond, 
the geologist, visited Edinburgh after some adven- 
turous discoveries in the Hebrides. During his fort- 
1 See Dugald Stewart's Memoir, section v. 



224 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

night's stay " that venerable philosopher Adam Smith " 
was one of those whom he visited most frequently. 
"He received me on every occasion in the kindest 
manner, and studied to procure for me every kind of 
information and amusement that the town afforded." 
Smith's library, he says, bore evidence of his tour in 
France and his stay in Paris. " All our best French 
authors occupied prominent places on his shelves. He 
was very fond of our language." 

On one occasion when Saint-Fond was at tea in 
Panmure House, Smith spoke of Rousseau "with a 
kind of religious respect," and compared him with 
Voltaire. "The latter," he said, "sought to correct 
the vices and follies of mankind by laughing at them, 
and sometimes by treating them with severity ; but 
Rousseau catches his reader in the net of reason by the 
attraction of sentiment and the force of conviction. 
His Social Contract may well avenge him orie day for 
all his persecutions." Smith's features became very 
animated when he spoke of Voltaire, " whom he had 
known and greatly loved." 

One day Adam Smith asked his visitor if he 
liked music, and said, on hearing that he did : " I 
am very glad of it; I shall put you to a proof 
which will be very interesting for me, for I shall 
take you to hear a sort of music of which it is 
impossible you can have formed any idea, and I shall 
be delighted to find how it strikes you." The annual 
bagpipe competition was to take place next day, and 
Smith came to Saint-Fond's lodgings next morning at 
nine o'clock, and conducted him to a spacious concert- 
room full of people; but neither musicians, nor 
orchestra, nor instruments were to be seen. A large 



xi.] LAST YEARS 225 

space was reserved in the middle of the room and 
occupied by gentlemen only, who, said his guide, were 
Highlanders come to judge of the performances. The 
prize was for the best executed piece of Highland 
music, and the same air was to be played successively 
by all the competitors. After some delay a door opened 
and a kilted Highlander advanced into the hall : — 

" He walked up and down the vacant space with rapid 
steps and a martial air, blowing his bagpipes. The tune 
was a kind of sonata divided into three parts. Smith 
requested me to pay my whole attention to the music, and to 
explain to him afterwards the impression it made upon me. 
But I confess that at first I could not distinguish either air 
or design in the music. I was only struck with a piper 
marching backward and forward with great rapidity, and 
still presenting the same warlike countenance. He made 
incredible efforts with his body and his fingers to bring into 
play the different reeds of his instrument, which emitted 
sounds that were to me almost insupportable. He received 
much applause from all parts of the hall." 

Then came a second piper, who seemed to excel the 
first, judging from the clapping and cheers Having 
heard eight in succession, the Professor began to dis- 
cover that the first part represented a warlike march, 
the second a battle, and the last part the wailing over 
the slain — which drew tears from the eyes of many 
fair ladies in the audience. The stance ended with a 
" lively and animated dance, accompanied by suitable 
airs, though the union of so many bagpipes produced a 
most hideous noise." The Frenchman's verdict was 
highly unfavourable. He concluded that the pleasure 
given by the music was due to historical associations. 
Though he admired the impartiality of the audience 
and judges, who showed no special favour even to a 



226 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

laird's son unless he played well, he could not himself 
admire the artists. "To me they were all equally 
disagreeable. The music and the instrument alike 
reminded me of a bear's dance." l 

Burke revisited Glasgow in August 1785. Windham 
was with him. They stopped on their way in Edin- 
burgh and dined with Smith — Robertson, Henry 
Erskine, and Dr. Cullen being among the guests. On 
September 13th, when they returned to Edinburgh, 
Windham makes this entry in his diary : " After 
dinner walked to Adam Smith's. Felt strongly the 
impression of a family completely Scotch. House 
magnificent and place fine." They stayed one more 
day in Edinburgh, and dined at Panmure House. 
Burke found time to visit John Logan, the author of 
the lovely Ode to the Cuckoo. Dr. Carlyle says that 
Smith was " a great patron " of this persecuted poet ; 
and when Logan was hounded out of the ministry, 
and went to London to seek a living by his pen, he 
took a letter of introduction from Smith to Andrew 
Strahan the publisher, who was about to issue a 
fourth edition of the Wealth of Nations. 2 

In the following year (1786) Smith was suffering 
much from ill-health, but his mind and pen were 
busy. T. Christie, Nichols's Edinburgh correspondent, 
informed his friend in August that Dr. Smith was 

1 Mr. Rae, the only one of Smith's biographers, I think, 
who has noticed Saint-Fond's visit, dates it wrongly (in 
1782), and says the account was published in 1783. The 
journey took place in 1784, and the account was published in 
1797. An English translation appeared two years later. 

3 This appeared in 1786 with a prefatory note expressing the 
author's grateful obligations to Mr. Henry Hope of Amsterdam, 
for his information concerning the great Dutch Bank. 



xi.] LAST YEARS 227 

writing "the history of Moral Philosophy." This may 
only mean that he was engaged in preparing the 
enlarged (6th edition) of the Moral Sentiments ; for in a 
letter to the Duke of Eochefoucauld that recently 
came to light, dated November 1, 1785, he speaks of 
an edition of the Theory "which I hope to execute 
before the end of the ensuing winter." But it may 
refer to one of two much larger and more ambitious 
schemes which he goes on to mention in the same 
letter : " I have likewise two other great works upon 
the anvil ; the one is a sort of philosophical history of 
all the different branches of literature, of philosophy, 
poetry, and eloquence ; the other is a sort of theory 
and history of law and government. The materials of 
both are in a great measure collected, and some part 
of both is put into tolerable good order. But the 
indolence of old age, though I struggle violently against 
it, I feel coming fast upon me, and whether I shall 
ever be able to finish either is extremely uncertain." At 
the same time he was in correspondence with William 
Eden, whom he was helping to refute Dr. Price's alarmist 
theories about the decrease of the population. 

In the spring of 1787 he went to London, partly to 
consult John Hunter, Sir William's younger brother, 
partly perhaps from curiosity to see the boy Premier, 
who was so rapidly and skilfully carrying out his fiscal 
policy. Pitt had just carried Smith's favourite project 
of a commercial treaty with France, and was now 
engaged in the far more laborious task of simplifying 
the chaos of customs and excise rates in a gigantic 
Consolidation Bill. The economist had many con- 
ferences with the statesman. It is said that he was 
much with the ministry; and that the clerks of the 



228 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

public offices had orders to furnish him with all papers, 
and to employ if necessary additional hands to copy 
for him. One incident has been preserved that is 
worth recording. At a dinner given by Dundas, 
Smith came in late, and the company rose to receive 
him. He begged them to be seated. "No," said 
Pitt, " we will stand till you are seated, for we are all 
your scholars." On another occasion, finding himself 
next to Addington, he exclaimed: "What an extra- 
ordinary man Pitt is ; he understands my ideas better 
than I do myself ! " He stayed several months in 
London, and though his disorders did not admit of 
cure, the physicians operated with success, and pro- 
nounced in July that he "might do some time 
longer." 

At the end of this month Thomas Eaikes had a 
talk with him about the Sunday-school movement, 
and was much delighted by the old man's enthusi- 
astic approval : " No plan has promised to effect 
a change of manners with equal ease and simplicity 
since the days of the Apostles." But towards another 
philanthropic scheme, for planting fishing-villages along 
the Highland coast, he displayed, wrote Wilberforce, 
"a certain characteristic coolness," observing that "he 
looked for no other consequence from the scheme than 
the entire loss of every shilling that should be expended 
on it, granting, however, with uncommon candour, that 
the public would be no great sufferer, because he 
believed the individuals meant to put their hands only 
in their own pockets." Mr. Eae, who has traced the 
scheme down to 1893 when it was finally wound up, 
shows that the shareholders lost half their original 
capital of £35,000, and wasted besides £100,000 of 



xi.] LAST YEARS 229 

taxpayers' money, which a foolish Government impro- 
vidently provided for one of their ill-conceived projects. 
After all, philanthropy cannot afford to neglect the 
cool precepts of political economy, nor is moral fervour 
the worse for a pinch of common sense. In November, 
having returned to Edinburgh, he heard with "heart- 
felt joy" the news that he had been elected Rector 
of his old University, and he was installed in the 
following month. "No preferment," he wrote in a 
graceful letter of thanks, "could have given me so 
much real satisfaction." 

" No man can own greater obligations to a Society than I 
do to the University of Glasgow. They educated me, they 
sent me to Oxford, soon after my return to Scotland they 
elected me one of their own members, and afterwards preferred 
me to another office to which the abilities and virtues of the 
never-to-be-forgotten Dr. Hutcheson had given a superior 
degree of illustration. The period of thirteen years which I 
spent as a member of that Society, I remember as by far the 
most useful and therefore as by far the happiest and most 
honourable period of my life ; and now, after three-and-twenty 
years' absence, to be remembered in so very agreeable a manner 
by my old friends and protectors gives me a heartfelt joy 
which I cannot easily express to you." 

A year later, the death of his cousin, Miss Jane 
Douglas, left him, says Stewart, "alone and helpless," 
and though he bore his loss bravely, and regained 
apparently his former cheerfulness, yet his health 
and strength gradually declined, until in the summer 
of 1790 he passed away. A few particulars have 
been preserved of these last two years by those who 
enjoyed his friendship and hospitality; but of his 
correspondence there is only a short letter thanking 
Gibbon, with whom he had long been on very affec- 



230 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

tionate terms, for the last three volumes of the Decline 
and Fall. " I cannot," he writes, " express to you the 
pleasure it gives me to find that by the universal consent 
of every man of taste and learning whom I either know 
or correspond with, it sets you at the very head of the 
whole literary tribe at present existing in Europe." 1 
In July 1789, Samuel Rogers, then a young man 
of twenty-three, came to Edinburgh with an intro- 
duction to Adam Smith from Price. On the morning 
after the storming of the Bastille he called on the 
economist, and found him breakfasting, with a dish of 
strawberries before him. Smith said they were a 
northern fruit, at their best in Orkney and Sweden. 
The conversation passed to Edinburgh, its high houses, 
dirt, and overcrowding. Smith spoke slightingly of 
the old town, and said he would like to remove to 
George Square. Then he talked of the scenery, soil, 
and climate of Scotland, and of the corn trade, which 
led him to denounce Pitt's Government for refusing to 
supply France with a quantity of corn so small that it 
would not have fed Edinburgh for one day. 

He invited Rogers to dine with him next day at 
the Oyster Club; but a tedious laird (brother of 
the Thibetan traveller) monopolised the conversation. 
"That Bogle," said Smith afterwards, apologetically, 
"I was sorry he talked so much. He spoiled our 
evening." Next Sunday Smith took an airing in his 
sedan chair, while his young friend went to hear Robert- 
son and Blair preach. At nine o'clock, Blair having 
concluded, Rogers supped at Panmure House, and found 
the Oyster Club minus Bogle and plus a gentleman 

1 In his first will Gibbon left a legacy of £100 to Adam 
Smith. 



xi.] LAST YEARS 231 

from Gottingen. The conversation was personal, and 
perhaps the only item now worth recalling is Smith's 
reason for identifying Junius with "Single Speech 
Hamilton." Hamilton once told the Duke of Rich- 
mond at Goodwood — the story came to Smith from 
Gibbon — of "a devilish keen letter" from Junius in 
that day's Public Advertiser. But when the Duke got 
the paper he found not the letter, but an apology for 
its non-appearance ; after this Hamilton was suspected 
of the authorship, and no more Junius was published. 
The inference Smith drew was that so long as suspicion 
pointed to the wrong man the letters continued to 
appear, and only stopped when the true author was 
named. Next day Rogers again dined with Smith, 
and Henry Mackenzie told them stories of second-sight. 
Hutton came in to tea, and then they went on to a 
meeting of the Royal Society to hear a paper by Dr. 
James Anderson on " Debtors and the Revision of the 
Laws that respect them." Rogers says it was por- 
tentously long and dull. "Mr. Commissioner Smith 
fell asleep, and Mackenzie touched my elbow and 
smiled." Altogether Rogers gives us a very pleasing 
picture of a serene and bright old age. "He is a very 
friendly, agreeable man, and I should have dined and 
supped with him every day if I had accepted all his 
invitations." He did not notice any trace of absent- 
mindedness, but thought that, compared with Robert- 
son, Smith was a man of the world. 

In the same summer William Adam, a nephew of 
the architect, conversed with Smith upon Bentham's 
letters on usury. The economist is reported to have 
said that " the Defence of Usury was the work of a very 
superior man, and that though he had given him some 



232 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

hard knocks, it was done in so handsome a way that 
he could not complain." 1 It is quite possible that 
had Smith lived to see another edition of the Wealth 
of Nations through the press, he would have responded 
to Bentham's invitation by admitting the futility 
of fixing interest by law. But at this time he was 
still busy with the sixth edition of the Moral Senti- 
ments, which at last appeared early in the following 
year. In the preface he referred to the promise he 
had made in 1759 of a treatise on Jurisprudence. 
That promise had been partially fulfilled in the 
Wealth of Nations; but what remained, the theory 
of Jurisprudence, he had hitherto failed to execute. 
" Though my very advanced age leaves me," he acknow- 
ledged, "very little expectation of ever being able to 
execute this great work to my own satisfaction, yet, as 
I have not altogether abandoned the design, and as I 
wish still to continue under the obligation of doing 
what I can, I have allowed the paragraph to remain as 
it was published more than thirty years ago, when I 

1 In his Defence of Usury, "Letter xm. to Dr. Smith," 
Bentham had written: " Instead therefore of pretending to 
owe you nothing, I shall begin with acknowledging that, as far 
as your trade coincides with mine, I should come much nearer 
the truth were I to say I owed you everything." Mr. Rae 
(Life of Adam Smith, p. 424) quotes a letter from George 
Wilson to Bentham, in the Bentham mss., British Museum. 
I may add to this the following note which I find in Bentham's 
Rationale of Reward (1825), p. 332, in chapter xvi. of Book iv., 
on Rates of Interest. "Adam Smith, after having read the 
letter upon Projects, which was addressed to him, and printed 
at the end of the first edition of the Defence of Usury, declared 
to a gentleman, the common friend of the two authors, that 
he had been deceived. With the tidings of his death Mr. 
Bentham received a copy of his works, which had been sent 
to him as a token of esteem." 



xi.] LAST YEARS 233 

entertained no doubt of being able to execute every- 
thing which it announced." 

These words were probably written late in the year 
1789. In February 1790 he told Lord Buchan, "You 
will never see your old friend any more. I find that 
the machine is breaking down." From this time he 
rapidly wasted away, and in June his friends knew, as 
well as he did, that there was no hope of recovery. 
His intellect remained perfectly clear, and he bore his 
sufferings with the utmost fortitude and resignation. 

But he could not be easy about his papers. In 1773, 
when he consigned their care to Hume, he had instructed 
him to destroy without examination all his loose manu- 
script, together with about eighteen thin paper folio 
books containing his lectures. When he Avent to 
London in 1787 he had given similar instructions to 
Black and Hutton. Now that he had become very weak, 
and felt that his days were numbered, he spoke again 
to them on the same subject. They entreated him to 
make his mind easy, as he might depend upon their 
fulfilling his desire. He was satisfied for a time. But 
some days afterwards — this is Hutton's account — find- 
ing his anxiety not entirely removed, he begged one of 
them to destroy the volumes immediately. This accord- 
ingly was done ; and his mind was so much relieved 
that he was able to receive his friends in the evening 
with his usual cheerfulness. They had been used to 
sup with him every Sunday, and that evening there 
was a pretty numerous company of them. The old man 
not finding himself able to sit up with them as usual, 
retired to bed before supper; and as he went away 
took leave of his friends by saying, " I believe we must 
adjourn this meeting to some other place." He died 



234 ADAM SMITH [chap. 

a very few days afterwards, on July the 17th, 1790, 
and was buried in the Canongate Churchyard, in an 
obscure spot which must have been overlooked by some 
of the windows of Panmure House. 

In his will he had made his cousin, David Douglas 
(the youngest son of Colonel Douglas of Strathendry), 
his heir, with instructions to dispose of his manuscripts 
in accordance with the advice of Black and Hutton. 

A small but choice library of four or five thousand 
volumes, and a simple table, to which his friends were 
always welcome without the formality of an invitation, 
were, says Dugald Stewart, "the only expenses that 
could be considered his own." His acts of private 
generosity, though sedulously concealed, were on a 
scale " much beyond what might have been expected 
from his fortune," and those who knew only of his 
frugality were surprised to find how small, in com- 
parison with the income he had long enjoyed, was the 
property he left behind him. 

His friends were indignant that the death of so 
great a thinker made but little stir. They might have 
been consoled had they been able to look forward 
twenty years, and read a letter which a German 
student, Alexander von der Marwitz, "wrote to a friend 
on reading the Wealth of Nations. It was on the eve 
of Jena, and the form of Napoleon stood out a gigantic 
menace to all that the young patriot held dear. Yet 
he did not hesitate to compare the victorious author 
with the conqueror of Europe. " Next to Napoleon he 
is now the mightiest monarch in Europe." 

In the emancipation of thought and dispersion of 
knowledge which mark the century that divides the 
English from the French Revolution, Adam Smith 



XI.] LAST YEARS 235 

takes his place in the order of time after Locke, 
Montesquieu, Newton, and Voltaire, with Hume, 
Rousseau, Diderot, Turgot, and Burke. With all of 
them he agreed in abhorring religious intolerance; 
with each of them he had some special affinity. Like 
the first and the last, he had a truly English reverence 
for law and order. A Newtonian in his patient and 
tranquil research for the hidden secrets of Nature, he 
had Voltaire's love of Justice, while he resembled 
Rousseau, the only democrat of the French school, in 
a new sentiment for popular government, and in what 
may be called either the Social or Republican instinct. 
He vied with Diderot in an universal curiosity and an 
encyclopaedic grasp of all the sciences, but surpassed 
him in originality and creative power. He combined 
in an extraordinary degree the faculties of observation, 
meditation, and abstraction. His achievements are 
not accidents. If the architect's plans are compared 
with history, they will be found to have been executed 
in large part by the builders of the nineteenth cen- 
tury. Of the great Frenchmen who synchronised 
with him and moved along parallel lines of thought, it 
cannot be said that any one, or that all together, 
destroyed the Church or the government, or even the 
social system of France. It may even be questioned 
whether they swayed the fortunes of France with an 
influence so potent as Smith's sceptre has wielded over 
the destinies of Europe. The criticisms of Voltaire 
had mighty consequences, no doubt, but those con- 
sequences were not deliberately planned, or even 
descried. Hume's scepticism went far deeper than 
Voltaire's, tore up by the roots whole systems of 
debased philosophy, and roused Kant from his dog- 
matic slumbers. But Hume and Voltaire had little to 



236 ADAM SMITH [chap, xi 

sow on the land they ploughed and harrowed. In all 
their anxiety to humble and ridicule religion, they 
would retain the Church as a useful instrument of the 
State. In all their appeals to public opinion, they 
never thought of resting government on a broad basis 
of popular right. Their view of society was conven- 
tional ; they were rather satirists than reformers. It 
has been a commonplace of criticism to compare Adam 
Smith with Locke. He is supposed to have done for 
a particular branch of politics what Locke did for the 
whole science. But Locke's main achievement, after 
all, was to find philosophic sanction for a revolution 
accomplished by others, and to establish in the minds of 
the Whig aristocracy an unlimited respect for a limited 
constitution. Smith was the single-handed contriver 
and sole author of a revolution in thought which 
has modified the governing policy and prodigiously 
increased the welfare of the whole civilised world. 

Of his contemporaries, the nearest perhaps in spirit 
are Turgot and the younger Burke, the Burke of the 
American Revolution and of Free Trade and Economical 
Reform. But Burke and even Turgot were in a certain 
sense men of the past. Though their radiance can 
never fade, their influence wanes. . But Smith has 
issued from the seclusion of a professorship of morals, 
from the drudgery of a commissionership of customs, 
to sit in the council-chamber of princes. His word has 
rung through the study to the platform. It has been 
proclaimed by the agitator, conned by the statesman, 
and printed in a thousand statutes. 



INDEX 



Alembert, 132, 139. 
American colonies, 163, 176-9. 
Aristotle, 6, 24-6, 37, 53, 74, 194. 
Armaments, 172-4. 
Astronomy, History of, 16-18. 

B 

Bacon, 5,74 n., 118-19. 

Bagehot (quoted), 204. 

Balliol College, 9-12. 

Banks (in Scotland), 101. 

Beauclerk, 160-1. 

Bee, The, 21. 

Bentham, Jeremy, 12, 184, 216 ; his 

Defence of Usury, 231-2. 
Black, Joseph, 83, 96-7, 99, 208, 

231, 233. 
Bordeaux, 123, 141. 
Boswell, James, 19, 161, 164. 
Brougham, Lord, 14. 
Buccleuch, Duke of, 111-14, 131, 

135, 150, 153, 157, 163, 213. 
Buchan, Lord, 21, 99. 
Buckle, Henry Thomas, 63, 64. 
Burke, Edmund, 20, 30, 47, 49, 67, 

75, 112, 160-2, 171, 174, 221-3, 

226, 235-6. 
Butler, Bishop, 12, 51, 54. 



Calas, Jean, the case of, 124-5. 



Cannan, Edwin, 71, 78-9, 90 n., 
169 ; the Lectures, 182. 

Carlyle, Dr. Alexander, 101, 104, 
105, 151, 226. 

Clubs— the Poker, 107-9 ; the Liter- 
ary, 160, 161, 212, 216; the 
Oyster, 216-18, 230. 

Cobden, Kichard, 78, 175, 184, 
189-91. 

Cochrane, Andrew, 101-2. 

Colbert, Abbe, 121-3. 

Colliers, 76-7. 

Colonies, 145-9 ; 175-80. 

Condorcet, 133. 

Cullen, Dr., 26-7, 157, 226. 

Customs, 88 sqq., 196 sqq., 213-15. 

D 

Dalkeith House, 150-1. 
Dalrymple, Sir John, 21, 95, 99, 

101, 104-5, 216. 
Degrees, medical, 157-60. 
Descartes, 17, 55. 
Douglas, David, 213, 234. 

Jane, 213, 223, 229. 

John, Bishop of Salisbury, 9, 

160. 
Drysdale, John, 3. 
Dundas, Henry, 201, 228. 
Dunlop, Alexander, 4. 

E 

Eden, William, 199 201-20, 227 
237 



238 



ADAM SMITH 



Edinburgh, 4, 78, 100, 103, 105 sqq., 

153, 206, 213 sqq. 
Encyclopaedia, the, 118-20. 
England, wealth of, 139-42. 
Enville, Duchess of, 128, 131. 
Epictetus, 55, 56. 
Excise, 88-91, 191 n. 
Exports, theory of, 86 sqq. , 190 sqq. 



Ferguson, Adam, 128, 216. 
Ferney, 127-8. 

Foulis, Robert, printer, 21, 95, 97-9. 
Fox, Charles James, 174, 212, 

221-2. 
France, 86-7, 118 sqq., 188, 235. 
Franklin, Benjamin, 108, 161-2. 
Free Trade, 88, 142, 176, 188 sqq. ; 

(chapter x.), 220. 

G 

Garrick, David, 130, 160, 212. 

Geneva, 126-8. 

Gibbon, 12, 13, 131, 157, 160, 164, 

212, 216, 229-31. 
Gladstone, W. E., 165, 193. 
Glasgow, 4-9, 11, 23, 27, 78, 95 sqq., 

100-3, 222. 
University of, 3-9, 94 sqq., 

229. 
Glassford, John, 101. 
Grotius, 5, 71, 73, 92. 

H 

Hamilton of Bangour, 21. 
Helvetius, 132. 
Hobbes, Thomas, 36, 51, 71. 
Holland, 90, 139, 172, 192. 
Home, Henry (see Kames). 

John, 103, 105. 

Hume, David, 6, 11, 17, 20, 22, 26, 
30, 36, 38, 43, 46 sqq., 51, 60 sqq., 



73, 95, 96, 103, 106, 110-11, 113, 
129, 130, 136-8, 150 sqq., 163-4, 
181, 194, 205-11, 233, 235. 

Hunter, Sir William, 157. 

John, 227. 

Hutcheson, Francis, 4, 5, 6, 7, 11, 
30, 81, 36-8, 51, 57 n., 62, 64, 
73, 97, 181, 229. 

Hutton, Dr., 216, 217, 233. 



Imitative Arts, 16, 17, 19-20, 33, 

67. 
Imports, theory of, 86 sqq., 192 

sqq., 220. 
Ireland, 200-3. 



Jardine, George, 30-31. 
Johnson, Samuel, 19, 109-10, 165. 
Johnstone, William (see Pulteney). 
Jurisprudence, 69-72, 78. 
Justice, 68 sqq. 



Kames, Lord, 18, 19, 77, 103. 

Kant, 40, 58. 

Kirkcaldy, 1-3, 16, 76, 150-6, 205 

sqq. 
Kraus, Christian Jakob, 185. 



Labour, division of, 81, 194-5. 

Languedoc, 124-6. 

Law, international, 71, 92-3. 

List, Friedrich, 185-6, 189, 196. 

Locke, John, 5, 25, 73, 235-6. 

Logan, John, 226. 

Logic, chair of, 23, 30-3. 

Logic and Metaphysics, History of, 

18, 23-8, 31-3. 
London, 78, 156 sqq., 227-8. 
Lowe, Robert, 187. 



INDEX 



239 



M 

Mackintosh, Sir James, 50, 132. 
Malebranche, 25. 
Malesherbes, 184. 
Manchester School, 189-91. 
Mandeville, 36-7, 53-4, 62. 
Mathematics, 7, 8. 
Maxims of Rochefoucauld, 54. 
Mercantile system, 85-8, 197-8. 
Metaphysics, 26, 32-3 ; see Logic. 
Mill, John Stuart, 165, 186-7, 196. 
Millar, Andrew (the publisher), 46- 

8, 138, 144. 
John, 31, 33, 37, 68, 74, 99, 

222. 
Milton, 21, 36, 67, 184. 
Mollien, Count, 143, 184-5. 
Monopoly, 159, 220. 
Montesquieu, 68, 73, 76, 215, 235. 
Morals, Chair of, 26 sqq., 116-17. 
Moral Sentiments, Theory of, 31, 

87-9, 46 sqq., 2-32. 
Morellet, 132, 142, 220. 

N 

Navigation Act, 4, 190-1. 
Necker, 131-2. 

Newton, Sir Isaac, 8, 17, 36, 235. 
North, Lord, 199, 200, 212, 213. 



Oswald, James, of Dunnikier, 3, 18, 

22, 104. 
Oxford, 9. 
University of, 11-15. 



Panmure House, 213-14. 
Paris, 129 sqq., 136-9. 
Peel, Sir Robert, 193. 
Physics, History of Ancient, 18. 
Pitt, the younger, 184, 188, 200, 
222, 227. 



Plato, 24-5, 37, 194. 
Police, lectures on, 68-72, 78. 
Pope, 13, 19, 56. 
Population, 76. 
Price, Dr. Richard, 161, 230. 
Protection (see Free Trade). 
Pulteney, Sir William, 19, 104, 
154-5. 

Q 

Quesnai, 68, 71, 134-5, 142, 169. 

R 

Rae, John (quoted), 14, 28, 94, 101, 
106, 111, 114, 129, 211, 212, 226 n., 
228. 

Raikes, Thomas, 228. 

Ramsay, Allan, 105, 110. 

John, of Ochtertyre, 38, 44, 96. 

Religion, 183. 

Review, Edinburgh, 109. 

Revenue of France, 141-2. 

Reynolds, Sir Joshua, 160. 

Riccoboni, Madame, 130. 

Richelieu, Duke of, 123, 127. 

Rochefoucauld, 129, 131, 133. 

Rockingham Ministry, 146-7. 

Rogers, Dr. Charles (quoted), 155. 

Samuel, 9, 127, 133, 230-1. 

Rousseau, J. J., 65, 136-8, 150, 
224, 235. 

Ruskin, 183. 

S 

Saint-Fond, Faujas de, 127, 223-6. 
Schmoller, Professor, 180. 
Schools (public) in England, 12. 
Scotland, 9-10, 139-41. 
Scott, Sir Walter (quoted), 217. 
Shaftesbury, 31, 36, 51. 
Shelburne, Lord, 144, 148, 184, 188. 
Simson, Robert, 4, 8, 96. 
Smith, Adam (the elder), 2. 
Margaret, 2, 8. 



240 



ADAM SMITH 



Snell Exhibition, 9, 10, 15. 

Society, the Select, 105-7. 

Spectator, Impartial, 56-60, 182. 

Spain, 86, 87, 145, 175. 

Stamp Act, 146, 147. 

Stewart, Dugald (quoted), 2, 5, 13, 

14, 21, 68, 102, 105, 131, 132, 

139, 151, 214, 234. 

Matthew, 7, 8. 

Strahan, William, 61, 144, 164, 

206 s??., 226. 
Strathendry, 2. 
Sympathy, doctrine of, 57 sqq. 

T 
Taille, 142. 
Tax, Land, 89, 142; the French, 

142. 
Taxation, 88 sqq., 170-2, 176 

sqq. 
Theology, Natural, 7, 37. 
Tocqueville, 125. 
Tooke, Home, 124. 
Toulouse, 124-5, 144. 
Townshend, Charles, 48-9, 104, 111- 

15, 135, 147-8. 
Treaties, Commercial (with 

France), 200, 220, 227. 



Turgot, 68, 71, 125, 126, 129, 132-4, 
142, 184, 219, 235-6. 



Union, Act of, 4, 36. 
Uztariz (quoted), 90. 



Vingtieme, 142. 

Voltaire, 20, 44, 48, 120, 125, 127, 
128, 139, 224, 235. 

W 

Wages, 140. 

Wakefield, E. G., 165-6. 

Walpole, Sir Eobert, 91. 

War, 172-4. 

Watt, James, 83, 96-7. 

Wealth of Nations, 2, 12, 15, 22, 

32, 33, 63, 69, 81 sqq., 139, 144, 

156, 158, 161-2; (chapter ix.), 

163 sqq., 213. 
Wedderburn, Alexander, 19, 47, 

109. 
Wilberforce, William, 228-9. 
Windham, William, 226. 
Wordsworth, 20, 21. 



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