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those particulars and letters to which I have alluded were collected together, and if they were supplemented by such unpublished letters and information as it still remained possible to procure.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
WHEN Smith left Glasgow his mother and cousin went back again to Kirkcaldy, and he now joined them and remained with them there for the next eleven years. Hume, who thought the country an unsuitable place for a man of letters, used every endeavour to persuade him to remove to Edinburgh, but without success. The gaiety and fulness of city life were evidently much less to him than they were to Hume, and he must have found what sufficed him in the little town of his birth. He had his work, he had his mother, he had his books, he had his daily walks in the sea breeze, and he had Edinburgh always in the offing as a place of occasional resort. He is said to have taken much real pleasure, like Shakespeare at Stratford, in mingling again with the simple old folk who were about him in his youth, and he had a few neighbours whose pursuits corresponded more nearly with his own. James Oswald, indeed, was now struck down with illness—”terrible distress” is Smith’s expression—and he died in the second year after Smith’s return to Scotland. Oswald spent some months in Kirkcaldy, however, in the fall of 1767, and probably again in 1768. One of Smith’s other literary neighbours, whom he saw much of during this eleven years’ residence in Fife, was Robert Beatson, author of the
Political Index and other works, to whom there will be occasion to refer again later on. His chief resource,
however, throughout this period was his work, which engaged his mind late and early till it told hard, as we shall presently see, on his health.
After being established in Kirkcaldy for some weeks Smith wrote Hume that he was immersed in study, which was the only business he had, that his sole amusements were long solitary walks by the seaside (which, with a man of his gift or infirmity of abstraction, would only be protractions of the study that preoccupied him), and that he never was happier or more contented in all his life. The immediate object of this letter, as so usual with Smith, was to serve a friend—a motive which never failed to overcome his aversion to writing. A French friend—”the best and most agreeable friend I had in France,” says Smith—was then in London, and Smith wishes Hume, who was now Under Secretary of State, to show him some attentions during his residence there. This friend was Count de Sarsfield, a gentleman of Irish extraction, an associate of Turgot and the other men of letters in Paris, and a man who added to almost universal knowledge a special predilection for economics, and indeed wrote a number of essays on economic questions, though he never published any of them. He seems to have really been, as Smith indicates, the perfection of an agreeable companion. John Adams, the second President of the United States, when envoy for that country in Paris, was very intimate with him, and says that Sarsfield was the happiest man he knew, for he led the life of a peripatetic philosopher. “Observation and reflection are all his business, and his dinner and his friend all his pleasure. If a man were born for himself alone, I would take him for a model.”
*43 He was “the greatest rider of hobby-horses” in all President Adams’s acquaintance, and some of his hobbies were for the most serious studies. He published a work in metaphysics, and wrote essays against serfdom and slavery, and on a number of other subjects, which were found in
MS. among President Adams’s papers. Yet he was a problem—and not a very soluble one—to the worthy President, for he laid a weight on the merest trifles of ceremony or etiquette which seemed difficult to reconcile with his devotion to profound and learned studies. He visited Adams at Washington during his presidency, and used constantly to lecture the President on his little ommissions. After any entertainment Sarsfield would say, writes Adams, “that I should have placed the Ambassador of France at my right hand and the Minister of Spain at my left, and have arranged the other principal personages; and when I rose from the table I should have said, Messieurs, voudrez vous, etc., or Monsieur or Duc voudrez vous, etc…How is it possible to reconcile these trifling contemplations of a master of the ceremonies with the vast knowledge of arts, sciences, history, government, etc., possessed by this nobleman?”
*44 Sarsfield kept a journal about all the people he met with, from which Adams makes some interesting quotations, and which, if extant, might be expected to add to our information regarding Smith. Having said so much of Smith’s “best and most agreeable friend in France,” I will now give the letter:—
th June 1767.
MY DEAREST FRIEND—The Principal design of this Letter is to Recommend to your particular attention the Count de Sarsfield, the best and most agreeable friend I had in France. Introduce him, if you find it proper, to all the friends of yr. absent friend, to Oswald and to Elliot in particular. I cannot express to you how anxious I am that his stay in London should be rendered agreeable to him. You know him, and must know what a plain, worthy, honourable man he is. I enclose a letter for him, which you may either send to him, or rather, if the weighty affairs of State will permit it, deliver it to him yourself. The letter to Dr. Morton
*45 you may send by the Penny Post.
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.
You will give me great comfort by writing to me now and then, and by letting me know what is passing among my friends at London. Remember me to them all, particularly to Mr. Adams’s family and to Mrs. Montagu.
What has become of Rousseau? Has he gone abroad because he cannot contrive to get himself sufficiently persecuted in Great Britain?
What is the meaning of the bargain that your ministry have made with the India Company? They have not, I see, prolonged their charter, which is a good circumstance.
The rest of the sheet is torn.
Hume replies on the 13th that Sarsfield was a very good friend of his own, whom he had always great pleasure in meeting, as he was a man of merit; but that he did not introduce him, as Smith desired, to Sir Gilbert Elliot, because “this gentleman’s reserve and indolence would make him neglect the acquaintance”; nor to Oswald, because he found his intimacy with Oswald, which had lasted more than a quarter of a century, was broken for ever. He goes on to describe his quarrel with Oswald’s brother the bishop; and concludes: “If I were sure, dear Smith, that you and I should not some day quarrel in some such manner, I should tell you that I am yours affectionately and sincerely.”
*48 Count de Sarsfield seems to have gone on to Scotland to pay Smith a visit, for on the 14th of July Hume writes Smith, enclosing a packet, which he desires to be delivered to the Count.
Smith did not reply to either of these letters till the 13th of September, when he writes from Dalkeith House,
where he has gone for the home-coming of the Duke and Duchess of Buccleugh. After expressing his mind in the plainest terms about the bishop with whom Hume had the tussle—”He is a brute and a beast,” says Smith—he goes on to bespeak Hume’s favour for a young cousin of his who happened to be living in the same house with Hume in London, Captain David Skene, afterwards of Pitlour, who was in 1787 made inspector of military roads in Scotland.
Be so good (he says) as convey the enclosed letter to the Count de Sarsfield. I have been much in the wrong for having delayed so long to write both to him and you.
There is a very amiable, modest, brave, worthy young gentleman who lives in the same house with you. His name is David Skeene. He and I are sisters’ sons, but my regard for him is much more founded on his personal qualities than upon the relations in which he stands to me. He acted lately in a very gallant manner in America, of which he never acquainted me himself, and of which I came to the knowledge only within these few days. If you can be of any service to him you could not possibly do a more obliging thing to me.
The Duke and Dutchess of Buccleugh 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. I could wish, however, that both you and the Count de Sarsfield would direct for me as usual at Kirkaldy. I should be glad to know the true history of Rousseau before and since he left England. You may perfectly depend upon my never quoting you to any living soul upon that subject.—I ever am, dear sir, most faithfully yours,
The Duke of Buccleugh had never been at Dalkeith since his infancy—if indeed he had been even then, for Dr. Carlyle’s words in describing this celebration are,
“where his grace had never been before”—because his stepfather, Charles Townshend, was afraid he might grow up too Scotch in accent and feeling; and his home-coming now, with his young and beautiful bride, excited the liveliest interest and expectation, not only on the Buccleugh estates, but over the whole lowlands of Scotland, from the Forth to the Solway. The day originally fixed for the celebration was the Duke’s birthday, the 13th of September, the very day Smith wrote Hume; but the event had to be postponed in consequence of the sudden death of Townshend, from an attack of putrid fever, between the day of the Duke’s arrival at Dalkeith and the anniversary of his birth. It came off, however, two or three weeks later. An entertainment was given to about fifty ladies and gentlemen of the neighbourhood; but Dr. Carlyle, who was present, and wrote indeed an ode for the occasion, says that though the fare was sumptuous, the company was formal and dull, because the guests were all strangers to their host and hostess except Adam Smith, and Adam Smith, says Carlyle, “was but ill qualified to promote the jollity of a birthday.” “Had it not been for Alexander Macmillan, W.S., and myself,” he proceeds, “the meeting would have been very dull, and might have been dissolved without even drinking the health of the day…. Smith remained with them (the Duke and Duchess) for two months, and then returned to Kirkcaldy to his mother and his studies. I have often thought since that if they had brought down a man of more address than he was, how much sooner their first appearance might have been.”
The ice, which Smith is thus blamed for not being able to break on this first meeting of his pupil with his Scotch neighbours, was not long in melting naturally away under the warmth of the Duke’s own kindness of heart. He almost settled among them, for on Townshend’s death he gave up the idea on which that statesman had set
his heart, and which was one of his reasons for committing the training of the young Duke to the care of a political philosopher,—the idea of going into politics as an active career; and he lived largely on his Scotch estates; becoming a father to his numerous tenantry, and a powerful and enlightened promoter of all sound agricultural improvement. Dr. Carlyle says the family were always kind to their tenants, but Duke Henry “surpassed them all, as much in justice and humanity as he did in superiority of understanding and good sense.” Without claiming for Smith’s teaching what must in any case have been largely the result of a fine natural character, it is certain that no young man could live for three years in daily intimacy with Adam Smith without being powerfully influenced by that deep love of justice and humanity which animated Smith beyond his fellows, and ran as warmly through his conversation in private life as we see it still runs through his published writings. Smith was always vigorous and weighty in his denunciation of wrong, and so impatient of anything in the nature of indifference or palliation towards it, that he could scarce feel at ease in the presence of the palliator. “We can breathe more freely now,” he once said when a person of that sort had just left the company; “that man has no indignation in him.”
Smith remained the mentor of his pupil all his life. At “Dalkeith, which all the virtues love,” he was always a most honoured guest, and Dugald Stewart says he always spoke with much satisfaction and gratitude of his relations with the family of Buccleugh. Several of the traditional anecdotes of Smith’s absence of mind are localised at Dalkeith House. Lord Brougham, for example, has preserved a story of Smith breaking out at dinner into a strong condemnation of the public conduct of some leading statesman of the day, then suddenly stopping short on perceiving that statesman’s
nearest relation on the opposite side of the table, and presently losing self-recollection again and muttering to himself, “Deil care, deil care, it’s all true.” Or there is the less pointed story told by Archdeacon Sinclair of another occasion when Smith was dining at Dalkeith, and two sons of Lord Dorchester were of the company. The conversation all turned on Lord Dorchester’s estates and Lord Dorchester’s affairs, and at last Smith interposed and said, “Pray, who is Lord Dorchester? I have never heard so much of him before.” The former anecdote shows at once that Smith was in the habit of speaking his mind with considerable plainness, and that he shrank at the same time from everything like personal discourtesy; and the latter, like other stories of his absence of mind, is hardly worth repeating, except for showing that he continued to possess a redeeming infirmity.
From Dalkeith Smith returns to Kirkcaldy and his work. We find him in 1768 in correspondence with the Duke’s law-agent, Mr. A. Campbell, W.S., and with Sir James Johnstone of Westerhall, about some investigation, apparently of no public importance, into the genealogy of the Scotts, in connection with which he first got Campbell to make a search in the charter-room of Dalkeith for ancient papers connected with the Scotts of Thirlestane, and then wanted to know the explanation Sir James Johnstone had given of Scott of Davington’s claim as heir of Rennaldburn upon the Duke of Buccleugh.
*52 It shows Smith, however, taking an interest, as if he were entitled to do so, in the business affairs of the Duke. We find him too in correspondence with Lord Hailes on historical points of some consequence to the economic inquiries he was now busy upon. Lord Hailes was one of the precursors of sound historical investigation in this country, and to Smith, with whom he was long intimate,
he afterwards paid the curious compliment of translating his letter to Strahan on the death of Hume into Latin.
Of Smith’s correspondence with Hailes only two letters have been preserved. The first is as follows:—
th March 1769.
MY LORD—I should now be extremely obliged to your Lordship if you would send me the papers you mentioned upon the prices of provisions in former times. In order that the conveyance may be perfectly secure, if your Lordship will give me leave I shall send my own servant sometime this week to receive them at your Lordship’s house at Edinburgh. I have not been able to get the papers in the cause of Lord Galloway and Lord Morton. If your Lordship is possessed of them it would likewise be a great obligation if you would send me them. I shall return both as soon as possible. If your Lordship will give me leave I shall transcribe the manuscript papers; this, however, entirely depends upon your Lordship.
Since the last time I had the honour of writing to your Lordship I have read over with more care than before the Acts of James I., and compared them with your Lordship’s remarks. From this last I have received both much pleasure and much instruction. Your Lordship’s remarks will, I plainly see, be of much more use to me than, I am afraid, mine will be to you. I have read law entirely with a view to form some general notion of the great outlines of the plan according to which justice has been administered in different ages and nations; and I have entered very little into the detail of particulars of which I see your Lordship is very much master. Your Lordship’s particular facts will be of great use to correct my general views; but the latter, I fear, will always be too vague and superficial to be of much use to your Lordship.
I have nothing to add to what your Lordship has observed upon the Acts of James I. They are framed in general in a much ruder and more inaccurate manner than either the English statutes or French ordinances of the same period; and Scotland seems to have been, even during this vigorous regin, as our historians represent it, in greater disorder than either France or England had been from the time of the Danish and Norwegian incursions. The 5, 24, 56, and 85 statutes seem all to attempt a remedy to one and the same abuse. Travelling, from the disorders of the country, must have been extremely dangerous,
and consequently very rare. Few people therefore would propose to live by entertaining travellers, and consequently there would be few or no inns. Travellers would be obliged to have recourse to the hospitality of private families in the same manner as in all other barbarous countries; and being in this situation real objects of compassion, private families would think themselves obliged to receive them even though this hospitality was extremely oppressive. Strangers, says Homer, are sacred persons, and under the protection of Jupiter, but no wise man would ever choose to send for a stranger unless he was a bard or a soothsayer. The danger too of travelling either alone or with few attendants made all men of consequence carry along with them a numerous suite of retainers, which rendered this hospitality still more oppressive. Hence the orders to build hostellaries in 24 and 85; and as many people had chosen to follow the old fashion and to live rather at the expense of other people than at their own, hence the complaint of the keepers of the hostellaries and the order thereupon in Act 85.
I cannot conclude this letter, though already too long, without expressing to your Lordship my concern, and still more my indignation, at what has lately passed both at London and at Edinburgh. I have often thought that the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom very much resembled a jury. The law lords generally take upon them to sum up the evidence and to explain the law to the other peers, who generally follow their opinion implicitly. Of the two law lords who upon this occasion instructed them, the one has always run after the applause of the mob; the other, by far the most intelligent, has always shown the greatest dread of popular odium, which, however, he has not been able to avoid. His inclinations also have always been suspected to favour one of the parties. He has upon this occasion, I suspect, followed rather his fears and his inclinations than his judgment. I could say a great deal more upon this subject to your Lordship, but I am afraid I have already said too much. I would rather, for my own part, have the solid reputation of your most respectable president, though exposed to the insults of a brutal mob, than all the vain and flimsy applause that has ever yet been bestowed upon either or both the other two.—I have the honour to be, with the highest esteem and regard, my Lord, your Lordship’s most obliged and obedient servant,
A week later Smith wrote Lord Hailes another letter, “giving,” says Lord Brougham, “what is evidently the beginning of his speculations on the price of silver,” but the letter seems to be now lost, and Lord Brougham quotes from it only the following sentences on the Douglas cause. “If the rejoicings which I read of in the public papers in different places on account of the Douglas cause, had no more foundation than those which were said to have been in this place, there has been very little joy upon the occasion. There was here no sort of rejoicing of any kind, unless four schoolboys having set up three candles upon the trone by way of an illumination, is to be considered as such.”
The first of these letters was written almost immediately after Smith heard of the decision of the House of Lords in the famous Douglas case. The news of the decision only reached Edinburgh on the 2nd of March, and was received with such popular enthusiasm that the whole city was illuminated. Smith walking by the shore at Kirkcaldy would have seen the bonfires blazing on Salisbury Crags, and he seems to have heard before writing that the house of the Lord President of the Court of Session, who was opposed to the Douglas claim, was attacked by the mob, and the President himself insulted next morning in the street on his way to Court. No civil lawsuit ever excited so much popular interest or feeling. The question, it will be remembered, was whether Mr. Douglas, who had been served heir to the estates of the late Duke of Douglas, was really the son of the Duke’s sister, Lady Jane, by her husband, Sir John Stewart of Grandtully, whom she had secretly married abroad when she was already fifty years old, or whether he was an impostor, the son of a Frenchwoman, whom Lady Jane had brought up as her own son with a view to the inheritance of those estates. Everybody in Scotland was for the time either a Douglas or a Hamilton,
and the sentimental elements in the case had enlisted popular sympathy strongly on the Douglas side. Smith, as will be seen from those letters, was quite as strong and even impassioned a partisan on the unpopular and losing side, and Lord Hailes having been one of the judges who voted with the Lord President for the decision against Mr. Douglas which the House of Lords now reversed, he feels he can give free vent to his disappointment. Brougham, in publishing the letters, calls the opinion Smith gives not only “very strong” but “very rash,” and his impeachment of the the impartiality of the two great English judges—Lord Camden and Lord Mansfield—cannot seem defensible. But David Hume, though a Tory and an Under Secretary of State, is not a whit less sparing in his denunciation of those two law lords and in his contempt for the general body of the peers than Smith. “To one who understands the case as I do,” he writes to Dr. Blair, “nothing could appear more scandalous than the pleading of the two law lords. Such curious misrepresentation, such impudent assertions, such groundless imputations, never came from that place; but they were good enough for the audience, who, bating their quality, are most of them little better than their brothers the Wilkites of the streets.”
Hume, having lost his place with a change of ministry, returned to Edinburgh for good in August 1769, and presently wrote Smith inviting him over:—
th August 1769.
DEAR SMITH—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 miserably 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 purpose 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 when you have the misfortune to differ from me. All these are reasons for our meeting, and I wish you would make me some reasonable proposal for that purpose. There is no habitation on the island of Inchkeith, otherwise I should challenge you to meet me on that spot, and neither of us ever to leave the place till we were fully agreed on all points of controversy. I expect General Conway here to-morrow, whom I shall attend to Roseneath, and I shall remain there a few days. On my return I expect to find a letter from you containing a bold acceptance of this defiance. I am, dear Smith, yours sincerely.
Smith seems to have made such progress with his work in the two years of what Hume here calls his retreat at Kirkcaldy that in the beginning of 1770 there was some word of his going up with it to London for publication. For on the 6th of February Hume again writes him: “What is the meaning of this, clear Smith, which we hear, that you are not to be here above a day or two on your passage to London? How can you so much as entertain a thought of publishing a book full of reason, sense, and learning to those wicked abandoned madmen?”
He had probably completed his first draft of the work from beginning to end, but he kept constantly amplifying and altering parts of it for six years more. He did not go to London in 1770, if he ever contemplated doing so, but he came to Edinburgh and received the freedom of the city in June. He seems to have received this honour for the merits of the Duke of Buccleugh rather than for his own. For the entry in the minutes of the Council of 6th June 1770 runs thus: “Appoint the Dean of Guild and his Council to admit and receive their Graces the Duke of Buccleugh and the Duke of Montagu in the most ample form, for good services done by them and their noble ancestors to the kingdome. And also Adam Smith, L.L.D., and
the Reverend Mr. John Hallam to be Burgesses and Gild Brethren of this city in the most ample form.
The Duke of Montagu was the Duke of Buccleugh’s father-in-law, and the Rev. Mr. John Hallam—afterwards Dean of Windsor, and father of Henry Hallam, the historian—was the Duke’s tutor at Eton, as Adam Smith was his tutor abroad. The freedom was therefore given to the Duke of Buccleugh and party. Smith’s burgess-ticket is one of the few relics of him still extant; it is possessed by Professor Cunningham of Belfast.
Smith promised Hume a visit about Christmas 1771, but the visit was postponed in consequence of the illness of Hume’s sister, and on the 28th of January he received the following letter, in reply apparently to a request for the address of the Comtesse de Boufflers in Paris:—
th January 1772.
DEAR SMITH—I should certainly before this time have challenged the Performance of your Promise of being with me about Christmas had it not been for the misfortunes of my family. Last month my sister fell dangerously ill of a fever, and though the fever be now gone, she is still so weak and low, and recovers so slowly, that I was afraid it would be but a melancholy house to invite you to. However, I except that time will reinstate her in former health, in which case I shall look for your company. I shall not take any excuse from your own state of health, which I suppose only 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.
The Lady’s Direction is M’la Comtesse de B., Douanière au Temple. She has a daughter-in-law, which makes it requisite to distinguish her.—Yours sincerely,
P.S.—I not yet read
Orlando Inamorato. I am now in a course of reading the Italian historians, and am confirmed in my former opinion that that language has not produced one author who
knew how to write elegant correct prose though it contains several excellent poets. You say nothing to me of your own work.
Smith seems to have perhaps sent him
Orlando Inamorato, or at any rate to have been previously in communication, either by letter or conversation, on the subject, for the Italian poets were favourite reading of his. But a more important point in the letter is the indication it affords that Smith’s labours and solitude were beginning to tell on the state of his health. Indeed, poor health had now become one of the chief causes of his delay in finishing his work, and it continued to go from bad to worse. He writes his friend Pulteney in September that his book would have been ready for the press by the first of that winter if it were not for the interruptions caused by bad health, “arising,” he says, “from want of amusement and from thinking too much upon one thing,” together with other interruptions of an equally anxious nature, occasioned by his endeavours to extricate some of his personal friends from the difficulties in which they were involved by the commercial crisis of that time.
th September 1772.
MY DEAR PULTENEY—I have received your most friendly letter in due course, and I have delayed a great deal too long to answer it. Though I have had no concern myself in the Public calamities, some of the friends in whom I interest myself the most have been deeply concerned in them; and my attention has been a good deal occupied about the most proper method of extricating them.
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 same opinion of Sir James Stewart’s book that you have. Without once mentioning it, I flatter myself
that any fallacious principle in it will meet with a clear and distinct confutation in mine.
I think myself very much honoured and obliged to you for having mentioned me to the E. India Directors as a person who would be of use to them. 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 my kind which you can impose upon me which I will not readily undertake. By what Mr. Stewart and Mr. Ferguson hinted to me concerning your notice of the proper remedy for the disorders of the coin in Bengal, I believe our opinions upon that subject are perfectly the same.
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.—I ever am, my dearest Pulteney, most faithfully and affectionately your obliged servant,
To WILLIAM PULTENEY, Esq.,
Member of Parliament,
BATH HOUSE, LONDON.
The public calamities to which Smith refers in the opening paragraph of his letter are the bankruptcies of the severe commercial crisis of that year, and the friends he was so much occupied in extricating from its results were, I think it most likely, the family of Buccleugh. The crash was especially disastrous in Scotland; only three private banks in Edinburgh out of thirty survived it, and a large joint-stock bank, Douglas Heron and Company, started only three years before, for the public-spirited purpose of promoting improvements, particularly improvements of land, now seemed to shake all commercial Scotland with its fall. In this company the Duke of Buccleugh was one of the largest shareholders, and,
liability being unlimited, it was impossible to foresee how much of its £800,000 of liabilities his Grace might be eventually called upon to pay. The suggestion that Smith was much consulted by the Duke and his advisers about this grave business is to some extent confirmed by the familiarity which he shows with the whole circumstances of this bank at the time of its failure in the second chapter of the second book of the
Wealth of Nations.
The situation for which Pulteney had recommended him to the Court of Directors of the East India Company was, no doubt, a place as member of the Special Commission of Supervision which they then contemplated establishing. In 1772 the East India Company was in extremities; in July they were nearly a million and a half sterling behind for their next quarter’s payments; and they proposed to send out to India a commission of three independent and competent men, with full authority to institute a complete examination into every detail of the administration, and to exercise a certain supervision and control of the whole. Burke had already been offered one of the seats on this commission, but had refused it on finding that Lord Rockingham was unwilling to part with him; and at the time this letter was written two of Smith’s own Scotch friends, whose names he happens to mention in the letter—Adam Ferguson and Andrew Stuart, M.P.—were actually candidates for the places, and had apparently been recently seeing Pulteney in London on the subject. Pulteney, who had great influence at the India House, had probably mentioned the names of Smith, Ferguson, and Stuart to the Court of Directors at the same time, and if so, that must have been at least two months before Smith wrote this letter, for Ferguson was in the month of July getting influence brought to bear on the Edinburgh Town Council to secure their permission to retain his professorship in the event of his going to India.
*60 Ferguson pushed his candidature vigorously, and
went to London repeatedly about it between July and November, but Smith, although he would have accepted the post if he received the offer of it, does not seem to have taken any steps to procure it, and did not even answer Pulteney’s letter till September. Stuart’s candidature was defeated, Horace Walpole says, by Lord Mansfield, but eventually no appointment was made, because Parliament intervened, and forbade any such commission to be sent out at all.
In sending the letter to the
Academy for publication Professor Rogers observes that it is plain the delay in the publication of the
Wealth of Nations was due to the negotiations which Mr. Pulteney was evidently making for the purpose of getting Smith appointed to this place. “Had he suceeded,” proceeds Mr. Rogers, “it is probable that the
Wealth of Nations would never have seen the light; for every one knows that in the first and second books of that work the East India Company is criticised with the greatest severity…. I have no doubt that owing to Pulteney’s negotiations it lay unrevised and unaltered during four years in the author’s desk.”
With all respect, this is a strange remark to fall from an editor of the
Wealth of Nations, for the evidences of continuous revision and alteration during those four years are very numerous in the text of the work itself. He made many changes or additions in 1773; for example, the remarks on the price of hides,
*61 in the chapter on Rent, were written in February 1773; and those on the decline of sugar-refining in colonies taken from the French, in the chapter on the Colonies,
*62 were written in October; while the passage on American wages, in the chapter on Wages, was inserted some time in the same year. The extensive additions in the chapters on the Revenue, occasioned by reading the
Mémoires concernant les Droits, must have been written after 1774, because Smith probably obtained that
book after Turgot became Minister in the middle of that year; his remarks, in the chapter on Colonies, on the effects of recent events on the trade with North America,
*63 and his remarks on the Irish revenue in the chapter on Public Debts, were added in 1775.
*64 The chapter on the Regulated Companies, in which the East India Company receives most systematic attention, and which did not appear in the first edition of the book, was apparently not written till 1782.
The book therefore did not lie “unrevised and unaltered” in the author’s desk from 1772 to 1776; on the contrary, the chief cause of the four years’ delay was the revision and alteration to which it was being incessantly subjected during that whole term. The particular Indian appointment for which Pulteney had recommended him could have nothing to do with the delay, inasmuch as the proposed office was suppressed altogether within two months after this letter was written; and even if he entertained expectations of any other sort from the East India Company, there is no reason why he should on that account have withheld his work from publication. The more elaborate criticism of that Company in the chapter on Public Works did not appear in the original edition of the book at all, but the only remarks on Indian administration which did appear in that edition, although they are merely incidental in character, are very strong and decided, and might easily have been omitted, had the author been so minded, to please the Company, without any injury to the general argument with which they are connected.
On the other hand, there exists abundance of evidence that Smith was busy for most of three years after this date, and mainly in London, altering, improving, and adding to the manuscript of the book. New lines of investigation would suggest themselves, new theories to be thought out, and the task would grow day by day by a very simple but
unforeseen process of natural accretion. Hume thought it near completion in 1769; but towards the end of 1772, a couple of months after Smith’s answer to Pulteney, he gives it most of another year yet for being finished. He writes from his new quarters in St. Andrew Square, asking Smith to break off his studies for a few weeks’ relaxation with him in Edinburgh about Christmas, and then to return and finish his work before the following autumn.
rd November 1772.
DEAR SMITH—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 Kirkaldy; finish your work before autumn; go to London, print it, return and settle in this town, which suits your studious, independent turn even better than London. Execute this plan faithfully, and I forgive you….
Ferguson has returned fat and fair and in good humour, notwithstanding his disappointment,
*66 which I am glad of. He comes over this winter and join us.—I am, my dear Smith, ever yours,
While Pulteney was suggesting Smith’s name for employment under the East India Company, Baron Mure was trying to secure his services as tutor to the Duke of Hamilton, and Lord Stanhope possibly offered him the position of tutor to his lordship’s ward, the young Earl of Chesterfield. Baron Mure was one of the guardians of the young Duke of Hamilton (the son of the beautiful Miss Gunning), and had in that capacity had the chief responsibility in raising and carrying on the great Douglas cause. He was a man of great sagacity and weight, whom we have seen in communication with Hume and Oswald on economic subjects; he had long been also on terms of personal intimacy with Smith, and he seems to have been anxious in 1772 to send Smith abroad with the Duke of Hamilton, as he
had already been sent abroad with the Duke of Buccleugh. Smith would appear to have been sounded on the subject, and even to have given what was considered a favourable reply, for Andrew Stuart, a fellow-guardian of the Duke along with Mure, writes the latter acknowledging receipt of his letter “intimating”—these are the words—”the practicability of having Mr. Smith,” but the Duke’s mother (then Duchess of Argyle) and the Duke himself preferred Dr. John Moore, the author of
Zelucco, who was the family medical attendant, and was indeed chosen because he could act in that capacity to his very delicate young charge, though he was strictly required to drop the “doctor,” and was severely censured by the Duchess for assisting at a surgical operation in Geneva, inasmuch as if it got known that he was a medical man it would be a bar to their reception in the best society.
*68 Accordingly Mure was told that it was “the united opinion of all concerned that matters go no futher with Mr. Smith.”
The circumstance that so wise and practical a head as Baron Mure’s should have thought of Smith for this post is at least a proof that the Buccleugh tutorship had been a success, and that Smith was not considered by other men of the world who knew him well as being so unfit for the situation of travelling tutor as some of his friends thought him.
During this period of severe study in Kirkcaldy his fits of absence might be expected to recur occasionally, and Dr. Charles Rogers relates an anecdote of one of them, which may be repeated here, though Dr. Rogers omits mentioning any authority for it; and stories of that kind must naturally be accepted with scruples, because they are so apt to agglomerate round any person noted for the failing they indicate.
According to Dr. Rogers, however, Smith, during his residence in Kirkcaldy, went out one Sunday morning in his dressing-gown to walk in the garden, but once in the
garden he went on to the path leading to he turnpike road, and then to the road itself, along which he continued in a condition of reverie till he reached Dunfermline, fifteen miles distant, just as the bells were sounding and the people were proceeding to church. The strange sound of the bells was the first thing that roused the philosopher from the meditation in which he was immersed.
*69 The story is very open to criticism, but if correct it points to sleepless nights and an incapacity to get a subject out of the head, due to over-application.
The persistency of his occupation with his book, according to Robert Chambers in his
Picture of Scotland, left a mark on the wall of his study which remained there till the room was repainted shortly before that author wrote of it in 1827. Chambers says that it was Smith’s habit to compose
standing, and to dictate to an amanuensis. He usually stood with his back to the fire, and unconsciously in the process of thought used to make his head vibrate, or rather, rub sidewise against the wall above the chimney-piece. His head being dressed, in the ordinary style of that period, with pomatum, could not fail to make a mark on the wall.
M’Culloch says Smith dictated the
Wealth of Nations but did not dictate the
Theory of Moral Sentiments. Whether he had any external ground for making this assertion I cannot tell, and, apart from such, the probability would seem to be that if he dictated his lectures in Edinburgh to an amanuensis, as seems probable, as well as his
Wealth of Nations, he would have done the same with his
Theory. But M’Culloch professes to see internal evidences of this difference of manual method in the different style of the respective works. Moore met M’Culloch one evening at Longman’s, and they were discussing writers who were in the habit of dictating as they composed. One of the party said the habit of dictating always bred a diffuse style, and M’Culloch supported this view by the example
of Adam Smith, whose
Wealth of Nations, he said, was very diffuse because it had been dictated, while his
Theory, which was not dictated, was admirable in style. But in reality there is probably more diffuse writing in the
Theory than in the
Wealth of Nations, which is for the most part packed tightly enough. Another Scotch critic, Archibald Alison the elder, the author of the
Essay on Taste, even surpasses M’Culloch in his keenness in detecting the effects of this dictating habit. He says that Smith used to walk up and down the room while he dictated, and that the consequence is that his sentences are nearly all the same length, each containing as much as the amanuensis could write down while the author took a single turn.
*70 This is excessive acuteness. Smith’s sentences are not by any means all of one length, or all of the same construction. It need only be added that the habit of dictating would in his case arise naturally from his slow and laboured penmanship.
As I have mentioned the house in which the
Wealth of Nations was composed, it may be added that it stood in the main street of the town, but its garden ran down to the beach, and that it was only pulled down in 1844, without anybody in the place realising at the moment, though it has been a cause of much regret since, that they were suffering their most interesting association to be destroyed. An engraving of it, however, exists.
Works, ix. 589.
Works, iii. 276.
Life of Hume, ii. 390.
Autobiography, p. 489.
Life of Sir John Sinclair, i. 37.
Scotts of Buccleuch, I. Ixxxviii., II. 406.
Men of Letters, ii. 219.
Men of Letters, ii. 219.
Life of Hume, ii. 429.
Inquiry into the Principles of Political Economy was published in 1767.
Academy of 28th February 1885.
Social Life of Scotland, iii. 181.
Old Times and Distant Places, p. 9.