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ENGLISH 6MEN OF LETTERS
ENGLISH JMEN OF LETTERS
FRANCIS W. HIRST
LONDON: MACMILLAN & CO., LIMITED
NINETEEN HUNDRED AND FOUR
Copyright in the United States of America, 1904
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too good to be superseded.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.
Early Years 1
The Beginning of a Career 23
Theology and Religious Establishments ... 36
"The Theory of Moral Sentiments" ... 46
In the Glasgow Chair— The Lectures on Justice
and Police 68
Glasgow and its University 94
The Tour in France, 1764-66 118
viii ADAM SMITH
Politics and Study, 1766-76 144
The "Wealth op Nations" and its Critics . . 164
Free Trade 188
Last Years , 205
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"
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
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 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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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."
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 : —
by Adam Smith
Professor of Moral Philosophy in the
University of Glasgow.
Printed for A. Millar, in the Strand
and A. Kincaid and J. Bell in Edinburgh.
1 Mr. Rae, usually the most accurate of authorities, states
that the first edition appeared " in two volumes 8vo."
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
" 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
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
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
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
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
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.
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-
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
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
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.
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
" 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."
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
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
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
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
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
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."
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
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
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
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
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
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
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-
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
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.
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."
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
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  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
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-
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
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
As a politician Smith was doubtless attracted by
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-
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.
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
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
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
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 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-
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
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
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."
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.
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
" 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
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
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
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
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.
Alembert, 132, 139.
American colonies, 163, 176-9.
Aristotle, 6, 24-6, 37, 53, 74, 194.
Astronomy, History of, 16-18.
Bacon, 5,74 n., 118-19.
Bagehot (quoted), 204.
Balliol College, 9-12.
Banks (in Scotland), 101.
Bee, The, 21.
Bentham, Jeremy, 12, 184, 216 ; his
Defence of Usury, 231-2.
Black, Joseph, 83, 96-7, 99, 208,
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,
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,
Cochrane, Andrew, 101-2.
Colbert, Abbe, 121-3.
Colonies, 145-9 ; 175-80.
Cullen, Dr., 26-7, 157, 226.
Customs, 88 sqq., 196 sqq., 213-15.
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,
Drysdale, John, 3.
Dundas, Henry, 201, 228.
Dunlop, Alexander, 4.
Eden, William, 199 201-20, 227
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.
Foulis, Robert, printer, 21, 95, 97-9.
Fox, Charles James, 174, 212,
France, 86-7, 118 sqq., 188, 235.
Franklin, Benjamin, 108, 161-2.
Free Trade, 88, 142, 176, 188 sqq. ;
(chapter x.), 220.
Garrick, David, 130, 160, 212.
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.,
University of, 3-9, 94 sqq.,
Glassford, John, 101.
Grotius, 5, 71, 73, 92.
Hamilton of Bangour, 21.
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.
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,
Imports, theory of, 86 sqq., 192
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
Kraus, Christian Jakob, 185.
Labour, division of, 81, 194-5.
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.
Mackintosh, Sir James, 50, 132.
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,
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.
Navigation Act, 4, 190-1.
Newton, Sir Isaac, 8, 17, 36, 235.
North, Lord, 199, 200, 212, 213.
Oswald, James, of Dunnikier, 3, 18,
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,
Plato, 24-5, 37, 194.
Police, lectures on, 68-72, 78.
Pope, 13, 19, 56.
Price, Dr. Richard, 161, 230.
Protection (see Free Trade).
Pulteney, Sir William, 19, 104,
Quesnai, 68, 71, 134-5, 142, 169.
Rae, John (quoted), 14, 28, 94, 101,
106, 111, 114, 129, 211, 212, 226 n.,
Raikes, Thomas, 228.
Ramsay, Allan, 105, 110.
John, of Ochtertyre, 38, 44, 96.
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,
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.
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.
Sympathy, doctrine of, 57 sqq.
Tax, Land, 89, 142; the French,
Taxation, 88 sqq., 170-2, 176
Theology, Natural, 7, 37.
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.
Voltaire, 20, 44, 48, 120, 125, 127,
128, 139, 224, 235.
Wakefield, E. G., 165-6.
Walpole, Sir Eobert, 91.
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,
Wilberforce, William, 228-9.
Windham, William, 226.
Wordsworth, 20, 21.
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