Life of Adam Smith
By John Rae
THE fullest account we possess of the life of Adam Smith is still the memoir which Dugald Stewart read to the Royal Society of Edinburgh on two evenings of the winter of 1793, and which he subsequently published as a separate work, with many additional illustrative notes, in 1810. Later biographers have made few, if any, fresh contributions to the subject. But in the century that has elapsed since Stewart wrote, many particulars about Smith and a number of his letters have incidentally and by very scattered channels found their way into print. It will be allowed to be generally desirable, in view of the continued if not even increasing importance of Smith, to obtain as complete a view of his career and work as it is still in our power to recover; and it appeared not unlikely that some useful contribution to this end might result if all those particulars and letters to which I have alluded were collected together, and if they were supplemented by such unpublished letters and information as it still remained possible to procure. In this last part of my task I have been greatly assisted by the Senatus of the University of Glasgow, who have most kindly supplied me with an extract of every passage in the College records bearing on Smith; by the Council of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, who have granted me every facility for using the Hume Correspondence, which is in their custody; and by the Senatus of the University of Edinburgh for a similar courtesy with regard to the Carlyle Correspondence and the David Laing MSS. in their library…. [From the Preface]
First Pub. Date
London: Macmillan and Co.
The text of this edition is in the public domain.
- Chapter 1
- Chapter 2
- Chapter 3
- Chapter 4
- Chapter 5
- Chapter 6
- Chapter 7
- Chapter 8
- Chapter 9
- Chapter 10
- Chapter 11
- Chapter 12
- Chapter 13
- Chapter 14
- Chapter 15
- Chapter 16
- Chapter 17
- Chapter 18
- Chapter 19
- Chapter 20
- Chapter 21
- Chapter 22
- Chapter 23
- Chapter 24
- Chapter 25
- Chapter 26
- Chapter 27
- Chapter 28
- Chapter 29
- Chapter 30
- Chapter 31
- Chapter 32
SMITH left Geneva in December for Paris, where he arrived, according to Dugald Stewart, about Christmas 1765. The Rev. William Cole, who was in Paris in October of the same year, notes in his journal on the 26th of that month, that the Duke of Buccleugh arrived in Paris that day from Spa along with the Earl and Countess of Fife; but this must be a mistake, for Horace Walpole, who was also in Paris that autumn, writes on the 5th of December that the Duke was then expected to arrive in the following week, and as Walpole was staying in the hotel where the Duke and Smith stayed during their residence in that city—the Hotel du Parc Royal in the Faubourg de St. Germain—he probably wrote from authentic information about the engagement of their authentic information about the engagement of their rooms. It may be taken, therefore, that they arrived in Paris about the middle of December, just in time to have a week or two with Hume before he finally left Paris for London with Rousseau on the 3rd of January 1766. Hume had been looking for Smith ever since midsummer. As far back as the 5th of September he wrote, “I have been looking for you every day these three months,” but that expectation was probably founded on reports from Abbé Colbert, for Smith himself does not seem to have written Hume since the previous October, except the short note introducing Mr. Urquhart. At any rate in this letter of September 1765 Hume, as if in reply to Smith’s account
of his pupil’s improvement in his letter of October 1764, says, “Your satisfaction in your pupil gives me equal satisfaction.” It is no doubt possible that Smith may have written letters in the interval which have been lost, but he had clearly written none for the previous three months, and it is most probable, with his general aversion to writing, that he wrote none for the four or five months before that. Hume’s own object in breaking the long silence is, in the first place, to inform him that, having lost his place at the Embassy through the translation of his chief to the Lord-Lieutenancy of Ireland, he should be obliged to return to England in October before Smith’s arrival in Paris; and in the next, to consult him on a new perplexity that was distressing him, whether he should not come back to Paris and spend the remainder of his days there. In compensation for the loss of his place, he had obtained a pension of £900 a year, without office or duty of any kind—”opulence and liberty,” as he calls it. But opulence and liberty brought their own cares, and he was rent with temptations to belong to different nations. “As a new vexation to temper my good fortune,” he writes to Smith, “I am in much perplexity about fixing the place of my future abode for life. Paris is the most agreeable town in Europe, and suits me best, but it is a foreign country. London is the capital of my own country, but it never pleased me much. Letters are there held in no honour; Scotsmen are hated; superstition and ignorance gain ground daily. Edinburgh has many objections and many allurements. My present mind this forenoon, the 5th of September, is to return to France. I am much press’d also to accept of offers which would contribute to my agreeable living, but might encroach on my independence by making me enter into engagements with Princes and great lords and ladies. Pray give me your judgment.”
Events soon settled the question for him. He was
appointed Under Secretary of State in London by Lord Hertford’s brother, General Conway, and left Paris, as I have just said, early in January 1766. Rousseau had been in Paris since the 17th of December waiting to accompany Hume to England, and Smith must no doubt have met Rousseau occasionally with Hume during that last fortnight of 1765, though there is no actual evidence that he did. Before leaving, moreover, Hume would have time to introduce his friend to the famous men of Paris itself, and to initiate him into those literary and fashionable circles in which he had moved like a demigod for the preceding two years. The philosophe was then king in Paris, and Hume was king of the philosophes, and everything that was great in court or salon fell down and did him obeisance. “Here,” he tells Robertson, “I feed on ambrosia, drink nothing but nectar, breathe incense only, and walk on flowers. Every one I meet, and especially every woman, would consider themselves as failing in the most indispensable duty if they did not favour me with a lengthy and ingenious discourse on my celebrity.” Hume could, therefore, open to his friend ever door in Paris that was worth entering, but Smith’s own name was also sufficiently known and esteemed, at least among men of letters, in France to secure to him a cordial welcome for his own sake.
The Theory of Moral Sentiments had been translated, at the suggestion of Baron d’Holbach, by E. Dous, and the translation had appeared in 1764 under the title of
Métaphysique de l’Ame. It was unfortunately a very bad translation, for which Grimm makes the curious apology that it was impossible to render the ideas of metaphysics in a foreign language as you could render the images of poetry, because every nation had its own abstract ideas.
*2 But though the book got probably little impetus from this translation, it had been considerably read in the original by men of letters when it first came out, and many of them had then formed, as Abbé
Morellet says he did, the highest idea of Smith’s sagacity and depth, and were prepared to meet the author with much interest.
Smith went more into society in the few months he resided in Paris than at any other period of his life. He was a regular guest in almost all the famous literary salons of that time—Baron d’Holbach’s, Helvetius’, Madame de Geoffrin’s, Comtesse de Boufflers’, Mademoiselle l’Espinasse’s, and probably Madame Necker’s. Our information about his doings is of course meagre, but there is one week in July 1766 in which we happen to have his name mentioned frequently in the course of the correspondence between Hume and his Paris friends regarding the quarrel with Rousseau, and during that week Smith was on the 21st at Mademoiselle l’Espinasse’s, on the 25th at Comtesse de Boufflers’, and on the 27th at Baron d’Holbach’s, where he had some conversation with Turgot. He was a constant visitor at Madame Riccoboni the novelist’s. He attended the meetings of the new economist sect in the appartments of Dr. Quesnay, and though the economic dinners of the elder Mirabeau, the “Friend of Men,” were not begun for a year after, he no doubt visited the Marquis, as we know he visited other members of the fraternity. He went to Compiègne when the Court removed to Compiègne, made frequent excursions to interesting places within reach, and is always seen with troops of friends about him. Many of these were Englishmen, for after their long exclusion from Paris during the Seven Years war, Englishmen had begun to pour into the city, and the Hotel du Parc Royal, where Smith lived, was generally full of English guests. Among others who were there, as I have just mentioned, was Horace Walpole, who remained on till Easter, and with whom Smith seems to have become well acquainted, for in writing Hume in July he asks to be specially remembered to Mr. Walpole.
So much has been written about the literary salons
of Paris in last century that it is unnecessary to do more here than describe Smith’s connection with them. The salon we happen to hear most of his frequenting is the salon of the Comtesse de Boufflers-Rouvel, but that is due to the simple circumstance that the hostess was an assiduous correspondent of David Hume. She was mistress to the Prince de Conti, but ties of that character, if permanent, derogated nothing from a lady’s position in Paris at that period. Abbé Morellet, who was a constant guest at her house, even states that this connection of hers with a prince of the blood, though illicit, really enhanced rather than diminished her consideration in society, and her receptions were attended by all the rank, fashion, and learning of the city. The Comtesse was very fond of entertaining English guests, for she spoke our language well, and had been greatly pleased with the civilities she had received during her then recent visit to England in 1763. Smith was not long in Paris till he made her acquaintance, and received a very hearty welcome for the love of Hume. She began to read his book, moreover, and it became eventually such a favourite with her that she had thoughts of translating it.
Hume writes to her from Wooton on the 22nd of March 1766: “I am glad you have taken my friend Smith under your protection. 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.” The Comtesse writes Hume on the 6th of May: “I think I told you that I have made the acquaintance of Mr. Smith, and that for the love of you I had given him a very hearty welcome. I am now reading his
Theory of Moral Sentiments. I am not very far advanced with it yet, but I believe it will please me.” And again on the 25th of July, in the same year, when Hume’s quarrel with Rousseau was raging, she appends to a letter to Hume on that subject a few words about
Smith, who had apparently called upon her just as she had finished it: “I entreated your friend Mr. Smith to call upon me. He has just this moment left me. I have read my letter to him. He, like myself, is apprehensive that you have been deceived in the warmth of so just a resentment. He begs of you to read over again the letter to Mr. Conway. It does not appear that he (Rousseau) refuses the pension, nor that he desires it to be made public.”
Theory of Moral Sentiments, which she had then begun to read, grew more and more in favour with her, and a few years after this—in 1770—when the two sons of Smith’s friend, Sir Gilbert Elliot, visited her, they found her at her studies in her bedroom, and talking of translating the book, if she had time, because it contained such just ideas about sympathy. She added that the book had come into great vogue in France, and that Smith’s doctrine of sympathy bade fair to supplant David Hume’s immaterialism as the fashionable opinion, especially with the ladies.
*4 The vogue would probably be aided by Smith’s personal introduction into French literary circles, but evidence of its extent is found in the fact that although one French translation of the work had already appeared, three different persons were then preparing or contemplating another—the Abbé Blavet, who actually published his; the Duc de la Rochefoucauld, who discontinued his labour when he found himself forestalled by the Abbé; and the Comtesse de Boufflers who perhaps did little more than entertain the design. The best translation was published some years after by another lady, the widow of Condorcet.
The Baron d’Holbach’s weekly or bi-weekly dinners, at one of which it has been mentioned Smith had a conversation with Turgot, were, as L. Blanc has said, the regular states-general of philosophy. The usual guests were the philosophes and encyclopedists and men
of letters—Diderot, Marmontel, Raynal, Galiani. The conversation ran largely towards metaphysics and theology, and, as Morellet, who was often there, states, the boldest theories were propounded, and things spoken which might well call down fire from heaven. It was there that Hume observed he had neither seen an atheist, nor did he believe one existed, and was informed by his host in reply, “You have been a little unfortunate; you are here at table with seventeen for the first time.”
Morellet mentions that it was at the table of Helvetius, the philosopher, he himself first met Smith. Helvetius was a retired farmer-general of the taxes, who had grown rich without practising extortion, and instead of remaining a bachelor, as Smith says other farmers-general in France did, because no gentlewoman would marry them, and they were too proud to marry anybody else, he had married a pretty and clever wife, an early friend of Turgot’s, who helped to make his Tuesday dinners among the most agreeable entertainments in Paris. He had recently returned from a long sojourn in England, so enchanted with both country and people that d’Holbach, who could find nothing to praise in either, declared he could really have seen nothing in England all the time except the persecution for heresy which he had shortly before suffered in France, and would have escaped in our freer air; and he was always very hospitable to English celebrities, so that it may be inferred that Smith enjoyed many opportunities of conversation with this versatile and philosophical financier during his stay in Paris.
Morellet, whose acquaintance Smith made at Helvetius’ house, became one of his fastest friends in France, and on leaving Paris Smith gave him for a keepsake his own pocket-book,—a very pretty English-made pocket-book, says the Abbé, which “has served me these twenty years.” Morellet, besides being an advanced economist, whose views ran in sympathy with Smith’s own, was the most delightful of companions, uniting with strong sense and a deep love
of the right an unfailing play of irony and fun, and ever ready, as Fanny Burney found him still at eighty-five, to sing his own songs for the entertainment of his friends. The Abbé was a metaphysician as well as an economist, but, according to his account of his conversations with Smith, they seem to have discussed mainly economic subjects—”the theory of commerce,” he says, “banking, public credit, and various points in the great work which Smith was then meditating,”
Wealth of Nations. This book had therefore by that time taken shape so far that the author made his Paris friends aware of his occupation upon it, and discussed with them definite points in the scheme of doctrine he was unfolding. Morellet formed a very just estimate of him. “I regard him still,” he says, “as one of the men who have made the most complete observations and analyses on all questions he treated of,” and he gave the best proof of his high opinion by writing a translation of the
Wealth of Nations himself. Smith would no doubt derive some assistance towards making his observations and analyses more complete from the different lights in which the matters under consideration would be naturally placed in the course of discussions with men like Morellet and his friends; but whatever others have thought, Morellet at least sets up no claim, either on his own behalf or on behalf of his very old and intimate college friend Turgot, or of any other of the French economists, of having influenced or supplied any of Smith’s ideas. The Scotch inquirer had been long working on the same lines as his French colleagues, and Morellet seems to have thought him, when they first met, as he thought him still, when he wrote those memoirs, as being more complete in his observations and analyses than the others.
A frequent resort of Smith in Paris was the salon of Mademoiselle de l’Espinasse, which differed from the others by the greater variety of the guests and by the
presence of ladies. The hostess—according to Hume, one of the most sensible women in Paris—had long been Madame du Deffand’s principal assistant in the management of her famous salon, but having been dismissed in 1764 for entertaining Turgot and D’Alembert on her own account without permission, she set up a rival salon of her own on improved principles, with the zealous help of her two eminent friends; and to her unpretending apartments ambassadors, princesses, marshals of France, and financiers came, and met with men of letters like Grimm, Condillac, and Gibbon. D’Alembert indeed lived in the house, having come there to be nursed through an illness and remaining on afterwards, and as D’Alembert was one of Smith’s chief friends in Paris, his house was naturally one of the latter’s chief resorts.
Here, moreover, he often met Turgot, as indeed he did everywhere he went, and of all the friends he met in France there was none in whose society he took more pleasure, or for whose mind and character he formed a profounder admiration, than that great thinker and statesman. If his conversation with Morellet ran mainly on political and economic subjects, it would most probably run even more largely on such subjects with Turgot, for they were both at the moment busy writing their most important works on those subjects. Turgot’s
Formation and Distribution of Wealth was written in 1766, though it was only published three years later in the
Éphémérides du Citoyen; and it cannot, I think, be doubted that the ideas and theories with which his mind was then boiling must have been the subject of discussion again and again in the course of his numerous conversations with Smith. So also if Smith brought out various points in the work he was undertaking for discussion with Morellet, he may reasonably be inferred to have done the same with Morellet’s greater friend Turgot, and all this would have been greatly to their mutual advantage. No vestiges of their intercourse, however, remain, though some critics
profess to see its results writ very large on the face of their writings.
Professor Thorold Rogers thinks the influences of Turgot’s reasoning on Smith’s mind to be easily perceptible to any reader of the
Formation and Distribution of Wealth and of the
Wealth of Nations. Dupont de Nemours once went so far as to say that whatever was true in Smith was borrowed from Turgot, and whatever was not borrowed from Turgot was not true; but he afterwards retracted that absurdly-sweeping allegation, and confessed that he had made it before he was able to read English; while Leon Say thinks Turgot owed much of his philosophy to Smith, and Smith owed much of his economics to Turgot.
*6 Questions of literary obligation are often difficult to settle. Two contemporary thinkers, dealing with the same subject under the same general influences and tendencies of the time, may think nearly alike even without any manner of personal intercommunication, and the idea of natural liberty of trade, in which the main resemblance between the writers in the present case is supposed to occur, was already in the ground, and sprouting up here and there before either of them wrote at all. Smith’s position on that subject, moreover, is so much more solid, balanced, and moderate than Turgot’s, that it is different in positive character; the extremer form of the doctrine taught by Turgot appears to have been taught also by Smith in earlier years and abandoned. At least the fragment published by Stewart of Smith’s Society paper of 1755—eleven years before Turgot wrote his book or saw Smith—proclaims individualism of the extremer form, and intimates that he had taught the same views in Edinburgh in 1750. Smith had thus been teaching free trade many years before he met Turgot, and teaching it in Turgot’s own form; he had converted many of the merchants of Glasgow to it and a future Prime
Minister of England; he had probably, moreover, thought out the main truths of the work he was even then busy upon. He was therefore in a position to meet Turgot on equal terms, and give full value for anything he might take, and if obligations must needs be assessed and the balance adjusted, who shall say whether Smith owes most to the conversation of Turgot or Turgot owes most to the conversation of Turgot or Turgot owes most to the conversation of Smith? The state of the exchange cannot be determined from mere priority of publication; no other means of determining it exist, and it is of no great moment to determine it at all.
Turgot and Smith are said—on authority which cannot be altogether disregarded, Condorcet, the biographer of Turgot—to have continued their economic discussions by correspondence after Smith returned to this country; but though every search has been made for this correspondence, as Dugald Stewart informs us, no trace of anything of the kind was ever discovered on either side of the Channel, and Smith’s friends never heard him allude to such a thing. “It is scarcely to be supposed,” says Stewart, “that Mr. Smith would destroy the letters of such a correspondent as M. Turgot, and still less probable that such an intercourse was carried on between them without the knowledge of Mr. Smith’s friends. From some inquiries that have been made at Paris by a gentleman of this society
*7 since Smith’s death, I have reason to believe that no evidence of the correspondence exists among the papers of M. Turgot, and that the whole story has taken its rise from a report suggested by the knowledge of their former intimacy.”
*8 Some of Hume’s letters to Turgot—one from this year 1766, combating among other things Turgot’s principle of the single tax on the net product of the land—still exist among the Turgot family archives, but none from Smith, for Leon Say
examined those archives a few years ago with this purpose among others expressly in view.
An occasional letter, however, certainly did pass between them, for, as Smith himself mentions in a letter which will appear in a subsequent chapter, it was “by the particular favour of M. Turgot” that he received the copy of the
Mémoires concernant les Impositions, which he quotes so often in the
Wealth of Nations. This book was not printed when he was in France, and as it needed much influence to get a copy of it, his was most probably got after Turgot became Controller-General of the Finances in 1774. But in any case it would involve the exchange of letters.
Smith, with all his admiration for Turgot, thought him too simple-hearted for a practical statesman, too prone, as noble natures often are, to underrate the selfishness, stupidity, and prejudice that prevail in the world and resist the course of just and rational reform. He described Turgot to Samuel Rogers as an excellent person, very honest and well-meaning, but so unacquainted with the world and human nature that it was a maxim with him, as he had himself told David Hume, that whatever is right may be done.
Smith would deny the name of statesman altogether to the politician who did not make it his aim to establish the right, or, in other words, had no public ideal; such a man is only “that crafty and insidious animal vulgarly termed a statesman.” But he insists that the truly wise statesman in pressing his ideal must always practise considerable accommodation. If he cannot carry the right he will not disdain to ameliorate the wrong, but, “like Solon, when he cannot establish the best system of laws, he will endeavour to establish the best that the people can bear.”
*10 Turgot made too little account, he thought, of the resisting power
of vested interests and confirmed habits. He was too optimist, and the peculiarity attaches to his theoretical as well as his practical work. Smith himself was prone rather to the contrary error of overrating the resisting power of interests and prejudices. If Turgot was too sanguine when he told the king that popular education would in ten years change the people past all recognition, Smith was too incredulous when he despaired of the ultimate realisation of slave emancipation and free trade; and under a biographical aspect, it is curious to find the man who has spent his life in the practical business of the world taking the more enthusiastic view we expect from the recluse, and the man who has spent his life in his library taking the more critical and measured view we expect from the man of the world.
Another statesman whom Smith knew well in Paris was Necker. His wife had very possibly begun by this time her rather austere salon, where free-thinking was strictly tabooed, and Morellet, her right-hand man in the entertainment of the guests, confesses the restraint was really irksome; and if she had, Morellet would probably have brought Smith there. But anyhow Sir James Mackintosh, who had means of hearing about Smith from competent sources, states explicitly that he was upon intimate terms with Necker during his residence in the French capital, that he formed only a poor opinion of that minister’s abilities, and that he used to predict the fall of his political reputation the moment his head was put to any real proof, always saying of him with emphasis, “He is a mere man of detail.”
*11 Smith was not always lucky in his predictions, but here for once he was right.
While Smith was frequenting these various literary and philosophical salons they were all thrown into a state of unusual commotion by the famous quarrel between Rousseau and Hume. The world has long since ceased to take any interest in that quarrel, having assured itself
that it all originated in the suspicions of Rousseau’s insane fancy, but during the whole summer of 1766 it filled column after column of the English and continental newspapers, and it occupied much of the attention of Smith and the other friends of Hume in Paris. It will be remembered that when Rousseau was expelled from Switzerland, Hume, who was an extravagant admirer of his, offered to find him a home in England, and on the offer being accepted, brought him over to this country in January 1766. Hume first found quarters for him at Chiswick, but the capricious philosopher would not live at Chiswick because it was too near town. Hume then got him a gentleman’s house in the Peak of Derby, but Rousseau would not enter it unless the owner agreed to take board. Hume induced the owner to gratify even this whim, and Rousseau departed and established himself comfortably at Wootton in the Peak of Derby. Hume next procured for him a pension of £100 a year from the king. Rousseau would not touch it unless it were kept secret; the king agreed to keep it secret. Rousseau then would not have it unless it were made public; the king again agreed to meet his whim. But the more Hume did for him the more Rousseau suspected the sincerity of his motives, and used first to assail him with the most ridiculous accusations, and then fall on his neck and implore forgiveness for ever doubting him. But at last, on the 23rd of June, in reply to Hume’s note intimating the king’s remission of the condition of secrecy, and the consequent removal of every obstacle to the acceptance of the pension, Rousseau gave way entirely to the evil spirit that haunted him, and wrote Hume the notorious letter, declaring that his horrible designs were at last found out.
th July 1766.
MY DEAR FRIEND—I am thoroughly convinced that Rousseau is as great a rascal as you and as every man here believe 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. 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 will pawn my life that before three weeks are at an end this little affair which at present gives you so much uneasiness shall be understood 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 leaving 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 Rianecourt, M. Turgot, etc. etc. M. Turgot, a friend every way worthy of you, desired me to recommend this advice to you in a particular 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, etc.
P.S.—Make my apology to Millar for not having yet answered his last very kind letter. I am preparing the answer to it, which he will certainly receive by next post. Remember me to Mrs. Millar. Do you ever see Mr. Townshend?
The deep love of tranquillity this letter breathes, the dislike of publicity as a snare fatal to future quiet, the contempt for the petty vanity that makes men of letters run into print with their little personal affairs, as if they were of moment to anybody but themselves, are all very characteristic of Smith’s philosophic temper of mind; and there is also—what appears on other occasions as well as this in the intercourse of the two philosophers—a certain note of affectionate anxiety on the part of the younger and graver philosopher towards the elder as towards a man of less weight of natural character and experience, and perhaps less of the wisdom of this world, than himself.
Smith seems to have shown Hume’s letter to their common friends in Paris, and while deeply interested, as was only natural, in the quarrel, they with one consent took Hume’s side, the only possible view of the transaction. The subject continued to furnish matter of conversation and conference among Hume’s French literary friends during the whole time of Smith’s residence in Paris. Hume sent Smith another letter a little later on in the month of July, which he asked him specially to show to D’Alembert. This Smith did on the 21st, when he met D’Alembert at dinner at Mademoiselle de l’Espinasse’s, in company with Turgot, Marmontel, Roux, Morellet, Saurin, and Duclos; and on the same evening D’Alembert wrote Hume that he had just had the honour of seeing Mr. Smith, who had shown him the letter he had received, and that they had talked much together about Hume and his affairs. Apparently Smith’s objections to Hume publishing anything on the quarrel were now overcome; at all events, the result of this consultation of Hume’s French friends was to advise publication; and accordingly a week or two later Hume sent on a complete narrative of his relations with Rousseau, together with the whole correspondence from first to last, to D’Alembert, with full permission to make any use of it he thought best, and he wrote Smith at the same time asking him to go and get a sight of it.
“Pray tell me,” he adds, “your judgment of my work, if it deserves the name. Tell D’Alembert I make him absolute master to retrench or alter what he thinks proper in order to suit it to the latitude of Paris.”
On the 27th of July Turgot writes Hume, mentioning that he had that day met Smith at Baron d’Holbach’s, and they had discussed the Rousseau affair together. Smith had told him of the letter from Rousseau to General Conway, which he had been shown on the 25th by the Comtesse de Boufflers, and had repeated to him the same interpretation of that letter which he had already expressed to the Comtesse, viz. that Rousseau had not made the secrecy a ground for refusing the pension, but merely regretted that that condition made it impossible for him adequately to show his gratitude. Smith was thus inclined to give Rousseau the benefit of a better construction when a better construction was possible, but Hume writes Turgot on the 5th of August that Smith was quite wrong in that supposition.
One of those two letters of Smith’s on the Rousseau affair mentions the name of Madame Riccoboni among those of Hume’s friends with whom he had been in communication on the subject, and Madame Riccoboni about the same date writes Garrick that Smith and Changuion, the English ambassador’s private secretary, were her two great confidants on the business of this famous quarrel. Madame Riccoboni had been a popular actress, but giving up the stage for letters, had become the most popular novelist in France. Her
Letters of Fanny Butler and her
History of Miss Jenny were dividing the attention of Paris with the novels of our own Richardson; and Smith, in the 1790 edition of his
Theory, brackets her with Racine, Voltaire, and Richardson as instructors in “the refinements and delicacies of love and friendship.” She was an effusive admirer of Smith, as, indeed, she was of Changuion, and of that
bel AnglaisRichard Burke, and of Garrick himself;—”you are,” she writes the player, “the dearling of my heart”;—and when Smith was returning home from France, she gave him the following letter of introduction to Garrick:—
Je suis bien vaine, my dear Mr. Garrick, de pouvoir vous donner ce que je perds avec un regret très-vif, le plaisir de voir Mr. Smith. Ce charming philosopher vous dira combien il a d’esprit, car je le défie de parler sans en montrer. Je sui vraiment fàchée que la politesse m’oblige à lui donner ma lettre ouverte: cet usage établi retient mon cœur tout prêt à lui rendre justice, mais sa modestie est aussi grande que son mérite, et je craindrois que la plus simple vérité ne parût à ses yeux une grosse flaterie; je puis vous dire de lui, ce qu’il disoit un jour d’un autre—le metier de cet homme-lè est d’être aimable. J’ajouterai,—et de mériter l’estime de tous ceux qui ont le bonheur de le connoitre.
Oh ces Ecossois! ces chiens d’Ecossois! ils viennent me plaire et m’affliger. Je suis comme ces folles jeunes filles qui écountent 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 emportàt tous nos gens de lettres, tous nos philosophes, et qu’il me rapportàt Mr. Smith. Les hommes supérieurs se cherchent. Rempli d’estime pour Mr. Garrick, désirant le voir et l’entretenir, Mr. Smith a vouluêtre introduit par moi. Il me flate infiniment par cette préférence, bien des gens se mêlent de présenter un ami à un autre ami, peu sont comme moi dans le cas d’être sûre de la reconnoissance des tous deux. Adieu, mon très-aimable et très-paresseux ami. Embrassez pour moi vôtre gracieuse compagne. La mienne vous assure l’un et l’autre de sa plus tendre amitié.
Not content with this letter of recommendation which she gave to Smith to deliver, Madame Riccoboni at the same time sent Garrick another through the post, and shows the sincerity of the feelings of high esteem she had expressed in the open letter by expressing them again quite as decisively in the closed one:—
Aujourd’huy je vous écris uniquement pour vous prévenir sur une visite que vous recevrez à Londres. Mr. Smith, una Ecossois,
homme d’un très grand mérite, aussi distingué par son bon naturel, par la douceur de son caractère que par son esprit et son scavoir, me demande une lettre pour vous. Vous verrez un philosophe moral et pratique; gay, riant, à cent lieues de la pédanterie des nôtres. Il vous estime beaucoup et désire vous connoître particulièrement. Donnez son nom à votre porte, je vous en prie, vous perdriez beaucoup à ne pas le voir, et je serois désolée de ne pas recevoir de lui un détail du bon accueil que vous lui aurez fait…. Donnez son nom à votre porte, je vous le répète. S’il ne vous voit pas, je vous étrangle.
Smith had apparently begged of her also a letter of introduction to R. Burke, and she wrote him one, but he went away without it; as she says to Garrick, in a letter of 3rd January 1767: “Ma bête de philosophe est partie yet sans songer à la prendre.” Nor apparently had Smith as yet delivered her letter to Garrick, for she asks, “Vous ne l’avez pas encore vu Mr. Smith? c’est la plus distraite créature! mais c’est une des plus aimables. Je l’aime beaucoup et je l’estime encore d’avantage.”
*16 A few weeks later, on the 29th of January, she again returns to the subject of Smith, asking Garrick whether he had yet seen him, whether he was in London or had delivered her letter, and adding, “C’est un homme charmant, n’est-il pas?”
Madame Riccoboni was not the only Frenchwoman who was touched with Smith’s personal charms; we hear of another, a marquise, “a woman too of talents and wit,” who actually fell in love with him. It was during an excursion Smith made from Paris to Abbeville, with the Duke of Buccleugh and several other English noblemen and a certain Captain Lloyd, a retired officer, who was afterwards a friend, perhaps a patient, of Dr. Currie, the author of the
Life of Burns, and told the doctor this and many other anecdotes about the economist. Lloyd was, according to Currie, a most interesting and accomplished man, and his acquaintance with Smith was one of
great intimacy. The party seem to have stayed some days at Abbeville—to visit Crecy, no doubt, like patriotic Englishmen, and this French marquise was stopping at the same hotel. She had just come from Paris, where she found all the world talking about Hume, and having heard that Smith was Hume’s particular friend and almost as great a philosopher as he, she was bent on making so famous a conquest, but after many persistent efforts was obliged eventually to abandon the attempt. Her philosopher could not endure her, nor could he—and this greatly amused his own party—conceal his embarrassment; but it was not philosophy altogether that steeled his breast. The truth, according to Lloyd, was that the philosopher was deeply in love with another, an English lady, who was also stopping in Abbeville at the time. Of all Currie heard concerning Smith from Captain Lloyd this is the only thing he has chosen to record, and slight though it is, it contributes a touch of nature to that more personal aspect of Smith’s life of which we have least knowledge. Stewart makes mention of an attachment which Smith was known to have cherished for several years in the early part of his life to a young lady of great beauty and accomplishment, whom Stewart had himself seen when she was past eighty, but “still retained evident traces of her former beauty,” while “the powers of her understanding and the gaiety of her temper seemed to have suffered nothing from the hand of time.” Nobody ever knew what prevented their union, or how far Smith’s addresses were favourably received, but she never married any more than he. Stewart says that “after this disappointment he laid aside all thoughts of marriage”; but the Abbeville attachment seems to have been a different one from this and a later.
While in Paris Smith was a very steady playgoer. He was always a great admirer of the French dramatists, and now enjoyed very much seeing their plays actually represented on the stage, and discussing them afterwards, we may be sure, with an expert like Madame Riccoboni.
Speaking of his admiration for the great French dramatists, Dugald Stewart states that “this admiration (resulting originally from the general character of his taste, which delighted more to remark that pliancy of genius which accommodates itself to general rules than to wonder at the bolder flights of an undisciplined imagination) was increased to a great degree when he saw the beauties that had struck him in the closet heightened by the utmost perfection of theatrical exhibition.”
*18 The French theatre, indeed, gave him much material for reflection. In his later years his thoughts and his conversation often recurred to the philosophy of the imitative arts. He meant had he lived to have written a book on the subject; he has actually left us a single essay, one of the most finished pieces of work he ever did; and among his friends he was very fond in those days of speaking and theorising on that topic, and supporting his conclusions by illustrations from his wide reading and his observation of life. These illustrations seem to have been drawn frequently from his experiences of the French theatre.
The Earl of Buchan says that Smith had no ear for music, but there are few things he seems to have nevertheless enjoyed better than the opera, both serious and comic. He thought the “sprightly airs” of the comic opera, though a more “temperate joy” than “the scenes of the common comedy,” were still a “most delicious” one.
*19 “They do not make us laugh so loud, but they make us smile more frequently.” And he held the strongest opinion that music was always on virtue’s side, for he says the only musical passions are the good ones, the bad and unsocial passions being, in his view, essentially unmelodious. But he thought scenery was much abused on the French operatic stage. “In the French operas not only thunder and lightning, storms and tempests, are commonly represented in the ridiculous manner above
mentioned, but all the marvellous, all the supernatural of epic poetry, all the metamorphoses of mythology, all the wonders of witchcraft and magic, everything that is most unfit to be represented upon the stage, are every day exhibited with the most complete approbation and applause of that ingenious nation.”
Amid all this gaiety of salons and playhouses Smith found a graver retreat with the philanthropic sect of the economists in the apartments of the king’s physician, Dr. Quesnay, in Paris and Versailles. Dupont de Nemours told J. B. Say that he had often met Smith at their little meetings, and that they looked on him as a judicious and simple man, and apparently nothing more, for, he adds, Smith had not at that time shown the stuff he was made of.
*21 If they did not then recognise his paramount capacity as they afterwards did, there were some things about his opinions which Dupont thought they learnt better then than they could from the great work in which he subsequently expounded them. In a note to one of Turgot’s works, of which he was editor, Dupont appeals from an opinion expressed, or understood to be expressed, by Smith in his published writings, to the opinion on the same subject which he used to hear from Smith’s own lips in the unreserved intercourse of private life. “Smith at liberty,” he says, “Smith in his own room or in that of a friend, as I have seen him when we were fellow-disciples of M. Quesnay, would not have said that.”
Though Smith met with them, and was indeed their very close scientific as well as personal associate, it is of course impossible, strictly speaking, to count him, as Dupont does, among the disciples of Quesnay. He was no more a disciple of Quesnay than Peter was a disciple of Paul, although, it is true, Paul wrote first. He neither agreed with all the creed of the French economists, nor
did he acquire the articles he agreed with from the teaching of their master. He had been for sixteen years before he met them teaching the two principal truths which they set themselves to proclaim: (1) that the wealth of a country does not consist in its gold and silver, but in its stock of consumable commodities; and (2) that the true way of increasing it is not by conferring privileges or imposing restraints, but by assuring its producers a fair field and no favour. He had taught those truths in 1750, and Quesnay had not written anything bearing on them till 1756. Moreover, much in their system on which they laid most stress he has publicly repudiated. Still he speaks both of their system and of their master with a veneration which no disciple could easily surpass. He pronounces the system to be, “with all its imperfections, perhaps the nearest approximation to the truth that has yet been published upon the subject of political economy,” and the author of the system to be “ingenious and profound,” “a man of the greatest simplicity and modesty, who was honoured by his disciples with a reverence not inferior to that of any of the ancient philosophers for the founders of their respective systems.”
*23 He might not, like the Marquis de Mirabeau, call Quesnay a greater than Socrates, or the
Economic Table a discovery equal to the invention of printing or of money, but he thought him so clearly the head of the economic inquirers of the world that he meant to have dedicated the
Wealth of Nations to Quesnay had venerable French economist been alive at the time of its publication. Smith was therefore a very sympathetic associate of this new sect, though not a strict adherent.
It may be well to explain in a word to the general reader that this sect were patriots and practical social and political reformers quite as much as theoretical economists. They believed the condition of the French people to have grown so bad as to be a grave danger to the State, and
they preached their system as a revelation of the only way of salvation. They were too earnest for the Paris wits. Voltaire always sneered at them till he came to know Turgot. Grimm calls them “the pietists of philosophy,” and Hume, bantering Morellet, wonders how a man like Turgot could herd with such cattle, “the most chimerical and the most arrogant that now exist since the annihilation of the Sorbonne.” But they were grappling with living problems, and seeing into the real situation so much further than their contemporaries, that an historian like de Tocqueville thinks the best key to the Revolution is to be found in their writings. The malady of the age, they held, was the ever-increasing distress of the agricultural population. The great nobles, the financiers, the farmers-general, the monopolists, were very rich; but the agriculturists—the vast body of the people—were sinking into a hopeless impoverishment, for between tithes and heavy war taxes and farmer-generals’ extortions, and the high rents which, to Turgot’s despair, the smaller peasantry would persist in offering without reflecting in the least on the rise in their burdens,—between all these things, the net product of agriculture—what was left in the hands of the cultivator after all expenses were paid away—was getting less and less every year, and the ruin of the peasantry meant the ruin of the nation. “Poor peasants, poor kingdom,” said they; “poor kingdom, poor king.”
And the remedy was plain: the net product of agriculture must somehow be made to rise instead of fall. They supported their contention with a certain erroneous theory that agriculture is the sole source of wealth, but the error made little practical difference to the argument, for agriculture is always a sufficiently important source of wealth to make its improvement a national concern. How then was the net product to be increased? By better methods of cultivation, by removal of legal and offical interferences, and by lightening the public burdens
through the abolition of all existing taxes and of the existing system of collecting them through farmers-general, and the institution instead of a single tax on the net product of the soil, to be collected directly by responsible officials. According to the reminiscences of strangers who happened to fall into their company, the talk of the economists always ran much on the net product and the single tax, for they believed the two great needs of the country were agricultural improvement and financial reform. When Quesnay was offered a farmer-generalship of the taxes for his son, he said, “No; let the welfare of my children be bound up with the public prosperity,” and made his son a farmer of the land instead.
In Quesnay’s rooms in the palace of Versailles Smith would sometimes hear words that would sound very strange in the house of the king. Mercier de la Rivière, Quesnay’s favourite disciple, while writing his book on the
Natural and Essential Order of Political Societies, published in 1767, almost lived in Quesnay’s apartments, discussing the work point by point with the master. The Marquis de Mirabeau mentions having seen him there six whole weeks running, “moulding and remoulding his work, and consequently denying father and mother” for the time. One day Madame du Hausset heard a memorable conversation there between these two economists. “This kingdom,” observed Mirabeau, “is in a miserable state. There is neither energy in the nation nor money to serve in its place.” “No,” replied Mercier de la Rivière, counsellor of the Parliament of Paris and late Governor of Martinico, “it cannot be regenerated except by a conquest like that of China, or by a great internal convulsion; but woe to those who will be there then, for the French people does nothing by halves.” The words made the little lady-in-waiting tremble, and she hurried out of the room; but M. de Marigny, brother of the king’s mistress, who was also present, followed her, and bade her have no fear, for these were honest men, if a little chimerical, and they were
even, he thought, on the right road, though they knew not when to stop and went past the goal.
The doctor’s room was a little sanctuary of free speech pitched by an odd chance in the heart of a despotic court, but his loyalty was known to be as sterling as his patriotism, and Louis himself would come round and listen to his economic parables, and call him the king’s thinker—as indeed he was, for he was no believer in states-general or states-particular, he had no interest in court or party intrigues, and his thought was always for the power of the king as well as for the welfare of the people. Marmontel, who used to come to him feigning an interest in the net product and the single tax, merely, as he confesses, to secure the doctor’s word with Madame de Pompadour about an appointment he wanted, writes that “while storms gathered and dispersed again underneath Quesnay’s
entre-sol, he wrought at his axioms and his calculations in rural economy as calmly and with as much indifference to the movements of the court as if he were a hundred leagues away. Below they discussed peace and war, the choice of generals, the dismissal of ministers, while we up in the
entre-sol reasoned about agriculture and calculated the net product, or sometimes dined gaily with Diderot, D’Alembert, Duclos, Helvetius, Turgot, Buffon; and Madame de Pompadour, not being able to get that company of philosophers to descend into her salon, used to come up there herself to see them at table, and have a talk with them.”
*25 None of the famous men mentioned here were members of the sect except Turgot.
The year 1766 was a year of exceptional activity in this economist camp. Turgot, as we have seen, was writing an important work, and Mercier de la Rivière another. The other members of the group were busy too, for they had just for the first time secured an organ in the press in the
Journal de l’ Agriculture du Commerce et des Finances,of which their youngest convert, Dupont de Nemours, was made editor in June 1765, and in which Quesnay himself wrote an article almost every month till Dupont’s dismissal in November 1766. The Government, moreover, which had thrown Mirabeau into prison for his first book and had suppressed his second only a year or two before, now ceased from troubling, and gave even a certain official countenance to the
Journal de l’ Agriculture, for after the war it no longer shut its eyes to the distress that prevailed, and began to give an ear to remedies. They were making converts too, among others the Abbé Baudeau, who used to write them down in his journal, the
Éphémérides du Citoyen, but now offered to make it their organ when they lost the
Journal de l’ Agriculture. They were thus in the first flush of their active propaganda, which in a year or two more made political economy, Grimm says, the
science de la mode in France, and won converts to the single tax among the crowned heads of Europe. Quesnay too had taken apartments in town in the house of a disciple to be nearer his friends for pushing the propaganda, so that Smith had especially abundant opportunities of seeing him and them that year.
No memorial of all their intercourse, however, has survived except the slight and rather indefinite reminiscence of Dupont de Nemours, to which allusion has been made. Dupont remembers that Smith used to discuss with them a question, which they no doubt would be often discussing, for they were greatly interested in it,—the question of the effect upon the wages of labour of a tax upon the commodities consumed by the labourers; and he says that Smith, in the freedom of private intercourse with them, expressed quite a different opinion upon that subject from that which he delivered in the
Wealth of Nations, with the fear of vested interests before his eyes. Dupont could not have read the
Wealth of Nations very carefully when he hinted this accusation of timidity before vested interests, for there was scarcely a vested interest existing
at the time that has not incurred in its turn most vigorous censure in that work. But as the alleged difference amounts merely to this, that Smith in his book asserts a principle with a certain specific limitation to it which he used to assert in conversation without the limitation, it probably represents no real change of opinion, but only a difference between the more exact expositions of the book and the less exact expositions of conversation. The point was this. Smith held, with Dupont and his friends, that a direct tax on the wages of labour, like the French industrial
taille, would, if the demand for labour and the price of provisions remained the same, have the effect of raising the wages of labour by the sum required to pay the tax. He held, again, with them that an indirect tax on the commodities consumed by the labourers would act in exactly the same way if the commodities taxed were necessaries of life, because a rise in the price of necessaries would imperil the labourer’s ability to bring up his family. But what seemed new to Dupont was that Smith now in his book held that if the commodities taxed were luxuries, the tax would not act in that way. It would act as a sumptuary law. The labourer would merely spend less on such superfluities, and since this forced frugality would probably increase rather than diminish his ability to bring up a family, he would neither require nor obtain any rise of wages. The high tobacco duty in France and England and a recent rise of three shillings on the barrel of beer had no effect whatever on wages.
That is what Dupont says Smith would not have contended in France. He would not have drawn this distinction between the taxation of a necessary and the taxation of a luxury, and he only drew it in his book to avert the clamour of offended interests, though against his real convictions. The imputation of dissimulation, though explicitly enough made, be disregarded. The alternative of a real change of opinion is quite possible, inasmuch as the position Smith has actually reached on this question
in his book is far from final or perfect; it is obvious at a glance that in a community such as he supposes, where the labourers are in the habit of consuming both necessaries and luxuries, a tax on necessaries would have exactly the same effect as he attributes to a tax on luxuries; it would force the labourer to give up some of his luxuries. But there might be no real change of opinion, and yet a good deal of apparent difference between the loose statements of a speaker in a language of which he had only imperfect command and his more complete and precise statements in a written book. Dupont, it may be added, seems to think that Smith in his talks with the French economists expressed much more unfavourable views of the inconveniences, changes, and general evils of the English system of taxation than would be gathered from the
Wealth of Nations.
Before Smith left France he had occasion, unhappily, to resort to Quesnay the physician as well as to Quesnay the economist. He had been in the habit while in Paris of taking his pupils for excursions to interesting places in the vicinity, as he had done from Toulouse, and in August 1766 they went to Compiègne to see the camp and the military evolutions which were to take place during the residence of the Court there. In Compiègne the Duke of Buccleugh took seriously ill of a fever,—the consequence of a fall from his horse while hunting, says his aunt, Lady Mary Coke,—and, as will be seen from the following letter, he was watched and nursed by his distinguished tutor with a care and devotion almost more than paternal. The letter is written to Charles Townshend, the Duke’s step-father:—
th August 1766.
DEAR SIR—It is, you may believe, with the greatest concern that I find myself obliged to give you an account of a slight fever from which the Duke of Buccleugh is not yet entirely recovered, though it is this day very much abated. He came here to see the camp and to hunt with the King and the Court. On Thursday
last he returned from hunting about seven at night very hungry, and ate heartily of a cold supper with a vast quantity of sallad, and drank some cold punch after it. This supper, it seems, disagreed with him. He had no appetite next day, but appeared well and hearty as usual. He found himself uneasy on the field and returned home before the rest of the company. He dined with my Lord George Lennox, and, as he tells me, ate heartily. He found himself very much fatigued after dinner and threw himself upon his servant’s bed. He slept there about an hour, and awaked about eight at night in a good deal of disorder. He vomited, but not enough to relieve him. I found his pulse extremely quick. He went to bed immediately and drank some vinegar whey, quite confident that a night’s rest and a sweat, his usual remedy, would relieve him. He slept little that night but sweat profusely. The moment I saw him next day (Sunday) I was sure he had a fever, and begged of him to send for a physician. 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. On Monday he found the Duke’s fever so moderate that he judged it unnecessary to bleed him…. To-day, Wednesday, upon finding some little extraordinary heat upon the Duke’s skin in the morning, he proposed ordering a small quantity of blood to be taken from him at two o’clock, but upon returning at that hour he found him so very cool and easy that he judged it unnecessary. When a French physician judges bleeding unnecessary, you may be sure that the fever is not very violent. The Duke has never had the smallest headache nor any pain in any part of his body; he has good
spirits; his head and his eye are both clear; he has no extraordinary redness in his face; his tongue is not more foul than in a common cold. There is some little quickness in his pulse, but it is soft, full, and regular. In short, there is no one bad symptom about him, only he has a fever and keeps his bed…. De la Saone imagines the whole illness owing to the indigestion of Thursday night. Some part of the undigested matter having got into his blood, the violent commotion which this had occasioned had burst, he supposes, some small vessel in his veins…. 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 stirr 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 disturbance even to his master in his present illness.
The King has inquired almost every day at his levée of my Lord George and of Mr. De la Saone concerning the Duke’s illness. The Duke and Dutchess of Fitzjames, the Chevalier de Clermont, the Comte de Guerchy, etc. etc., together with the whole English nation here and at Paris, have expressed the greatest anxiety for his recovery. Remember me in the most respectful manner to Lady Dalkeith, and believe me to be with the greatest regard, dear sir, your most obliged and most humble servant,
26th August 1766.
Wednesday, 5 o’clock afternoon.
Could there be a more pleasing exhibition of the thorough kindness of a manly heart than this picture of the great philosopher sitting day after day by the bedside of his pupil, watching eagerly every indication of change, and only consenting to leave the room for a time at night out of consideration for the silly jealousy of the valet, who thought the tutor’s presence an invasion of his own rights?
The Duke recovered and they returned to Paris. But while still at Compiègne they heard of a sad event that
could not fail to shock them greatly, the death of their greatly esteemed young friend and fellow-traveller, Sir James Macdonald. “Were you and I together, dear Smith,” writes Hume at this time, “we should shed tears at present for the death of poor Sir James Macdonald. We could not possibly have suffered a greater loss than in that valuable young man.”
In this letter Hume had dropped a remark showing that he was still clinging to the idea which he had repeatedly mentioned to Smith of returning and making his home for the remainder of his days somewhere in France—in Paris, or “Toulouse, or Montauban, or some provincial town in the South of France, where”—to quote his words to Sir G. Elliot—”I shall spend contentedly the rest of my life with more money, under a finer sky and in better company than I was born to enjoy.” Of this idea Smith strongly disapproved. He thought that Hume would find himself too old to transplant, and that he was being carried away by the great kindness and flatteries he had received in Paris into entertaining a plan which could never promote his happiness, because, in the first place, it would probably prove fatal to work, and in the next, it would certainly deprive him of the support of those old and rooted friendships which could not be replaced by the incense of an hour. For his own part, and with a view to his own future, Smith was of an entirely opposite mind. The contrast between the two friends in natural character stands out very strongly here. Smith had enjoyed his stay in France almost as much as Hume, and had been welcomed everywhere by the best men and women in the country with high respect, but now that the term of his tutorship is approaching its end, he longs passionately for home, feels that he has had his fill of travel, and says if he once gets among his old friends again, he will never wander more. This appears from a letter he wrote Millar, the bookseller, probably after his return from Compiègne,
of which Millar sent the following extract to Hume: “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-headed, tell him, when he talks of coming to spend the remainder of his days here or in France. Remember me to him most affectionately.”
His return, for which he was then looking with so much desire, came sooner than he anticipated, and came, unfortunately, with a cloud. His younger pupil, the Hon. Hew Campbell Scott, was assassinated in the streets of Paris, on the 18th of October 1766, in his nineteenth year;
*29 and immediately thereafter they set out for London, bringing the remains of Mr. Scott along with them, and accompanied by Lord George Lennox, Hume’s successor as Secretary of Legation. The London papers announce their arrival at Dover on the 1st of November. The tutorship, which ended with this melancholy event, was always remembered with great satisfaction and gratitude by the surviving pupil. “In October 1766,” writes the Duke of Buccleugh to Dugald Stewart, “we returned to London, 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 continued to live in friendship till the hour of his death, and I shall always remain with the impression of having lost a friend whom I loved and respected, not only for his great talents, but for every private virtue.”
Smith’s choice for this post of travelling tutor was thought in many quarters at the time to be a very strange choice. Shrewd old Dr. Carlyle thought it so strange
that he professes to be quite unable as a man of the world to understand Charles Townshend making it, except “for his own glory of having sent an eminent Scotch philosopher to travel with the Duke.”
*30 He thought Smith had too much “probity and benevolence” in his own soul to suspect ill in another or check it, and that a man who seemed too absent to make his own way about could hardly be expected to look efficently after the goings of another. “He was,” says Carlyle, “the most absent man in company I ever knew,” and “he appeared very unfit for the intercourse of the world as a travelling tutor.”
Still Townshend’s choice was thoroughly justified by the result, and Carlyle admits it, but thinks that was due less to the efficiency of the tutor than to the natural excellence of the pupil. And there is no doubt that Smith was exceptionally fortunate in his pupil. In his after life this Duke Henry took little part in politics, but he made himself singularly beloved among his countrymen by a long career filled with works of beneficence and patriotism, and brightened by that love of science which has for generations distinguished the house of Buccleuch. It may be true that with such a pupil Smith’s natural defects would find little opportunity of causing trouble, but it seems certain, as I have before said, that these defects were habitually exaggerated by Smith’s contemporaries, and Carlyle himself acknowledges that Smith’s travels with the Duke cured him considerably of his fits of abstraction. This is confirmed by Ramsay of Ochtertyre, who says that Smith grew smarter during his stay abroad, and lost much of the awkwardness of manner he previously exhibited.
Stewart is disposed to think, however, that the public have not the same reason to be satisfied with Smith’s acceptance of this tutorship as either he himself or his pupil had, and that the world at large has been seriously the loser for it, because “it interrupted that studious
leisure for which nature seemed to have designed him, and in which alone he could have hoped to accomplish those literary projects which had flattered the ambition of his youthful genius.” Now it is, of course, idle to speculate on the things that might have been. Kant was never forty miles from Konigsberg, and had Smith remained in Glasgow all his days there is no reason to doubt he could have produced works of lasting importance. But it is a truism to say that the works would have been other and different from what we have. To a political philosopher foreign travel is an immense advantage, and there never was a country where graver or more interesting problems, both economic and constitutional, offered themselves for study than France in the latter half of last century, nor any political philosopher who enjoyed better opportunities than Smith of discussing such problems with the ablest and best-informed minds on the spot. Smith’s residence in France, whatever it was to his pupil, must have been an invaluable education to himself, supplying him day after day with constant materials for fresh comparison and thought. Samuel Rogers was greatly struck with the difference between Smith and the historian Robertson. The conversation of Robertson, who, as we know, had never been out of his own country, was much more limited in its range of interest, but Smith’s was the rich conversation of a man who had seen and known a great deal of the world. It does not appear that Smith suffered in France from any such want of literary leisure as Stewart speaks of, for he began writing a book in Toulouse because he had so little else to do, and he had not attempted anything of the kind in Glasgow, so far as we know, for five years; but, at all events, for the wealth of illustration which his new book exhibits, the variety of its points of view, the copiousness of its data drawn from personal observation, the world is greatly indebted to the author’s residence abroad. And had Smith lived to finish his work on Government we should probably have had more results of
his observation of France, but the
Wealth of Nations itself contains many.
M’Culloch has expressed astonishment that for all his long stay in France Smith should have never perceived any foreshadowings of the coming Revolution, such as were visible even to a passing traveller like Smollett. But Smith was quite aware of all the gravities and possibilities of the situation, and occasionally gave expression to anticipations of vital change. He formed possibly a less gloomy view of the actual condition of the French people than he would have heard uttered in Quesnay’s room at Versailles, because he always mentally compared the state of things he saw in France with the state of things he knew in Scotland, and though it was plain to him that France was not going forward so fast as Scotland, he thought the common opinion that it was going backward to be ill founded.
*32 Then France was a much richer country, with a better soil and climate, and “better stocked,” he says, “with all those things which it requires a long time to raise up and accumulate, such as great towns and convenient and well-built houses both in town and country.”
*33 In spite of these advantages, however, the common people in France were decidedly worse off than the common people of Scotland. The wages of labour were lower—the real wages—for the people evidently lived harder. Their dress and countenance showed it at once. “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.” In England nobody was too poor to wear leather shoes; in Scotland even the lowest orders of men wore them, though the same orders of women still went about barefooted. But “in France
they are necessaries neither to men nor to women; the lowest rank of both sexes appearing there publicily, without any discredit, sometimes in wooden shoes and sometimes barefooted.”
*34 Another little circumstance struck him as a proof that the classes immediately above the rank of labourer were worse off in France than they were here. The taste for dressing yew-trees into the shape of pyramids and obelisks by “that very clumsy instrument of sculpture” the gardener’s shears had gone out of fashion in this country, merely because it got too common, and was discarded by the rich and vain. The multitude of persons able to indulge the taste was sufficiently great to drive the custom out of fashion. In France, on the other hand, he found this custom still in good repute, “notwithstanding,” he adds, “that inconstancy of fashion with which we sometimes reproach the natives of that country.” The reason was that the number of people in that country able to indulge this taste was too few to deprive the custom of the requisite degree of rarity. “In France the condition of the inferior ranks of people is seldom so happy as it frequently is in England, and you will there seldom find even pyramids and obelisks of yew in the garden of a tallow-chandler. Such ornaments, not having in that country been degraded by their vulgarity, have not yet been excluded from the gardens of princes and great lords.”
He discusses one great cause of the poorer condition of the French than of the English people. It was generally acknowledged, he says, that “the people of France was much more oppressed by taxation than the people of Great Britain”; and the oppression he found, by personal investigation, to be all due to bad taxes and bad methods of collecting them. The sum that reached the public treasury represented a much smaller burden per head of population than it did in this country. Smith calculated
the public revenue of Great Britain to represent an assessment of about 25s. a head of population, and in 1765 and 1766, the years he was in France, according to the best, though, he admits, imperfect, accounts he could get of the matter, the whole sum passed into the French treasury would only represent an assessment of 12s. 6d. per head of the French population.
*36 Taxation ought thus to be really lighter in France than in Great Britain, but it was made into a scourge by vicious modes of assessment and collection. Smith even suggested for France various moderate financial reforms, repealing some taxes, increasing others, making a third class uniform over the kingdom, and abolishing the farming system; but though these reforms would be sufficient to restore prosperity to a country with the resources of France, he had no hope of it being possible to carry them against that active opposition of individuals interested in maintaining things as they were.
Smith was thus perfectly alive to the prevailing poverty and distress of the French population, to the oppression they suffered, to the extreme difficulty, the hopelessness even, of any improvement of their situation while the existing distribution of political forces continued, and was able to defeat all efforts at reform. Now from all this it was not very far to the idea of a political upheaval and a new distribution of political forces, and Smith saw tendencies abroad in that direction also. He told Professor Saint Fond in 1782 that the “Social Compact” would one day avenge Rousseau for all the persecutions he had suffered from the powers that were.
Letters of Eminent Persons to David Hume, p. 238.
Memoirs of Hugh Elliot, p. 13.
Mémoires, i. 237.
Dupont de Nemours et les Physiocrates, p. 159.
Life of Smith.
Works, v. 47.
Early Life of Samuel Rogers, p. 95.
Miscellaneous Works, iii. 13.
Men of Letters, ii. 226.
Hume, ii. 348.
Works, x. 49, 50.
Works, v. 281.
Cours Complet, Œuvres, p. 870.
Œuvres, v. 136.
Memoirs, English Translation, ii. 37.
Scotts of Buccleuch, ii. 405.
Life of Hume, ii. 348.
Letters of Hume, p. 59. Original in R.S.E.
Works, v. 260.