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those particulars and letters to which I have alluded were collected together, and if they were supplemented by such unpublished letters and information as it still remained possible to procure.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
THE Edinburgh lectures soon bore fruit. On the death of Mr. Loudon, Professor of Logic in Glasgow College, in 1750, Smith was appointed to the vacant chair, and so began that period of thirteen years of active academic work which he always looked back upon, he tells us, “as by far the most useful and therefore by far the happiest and most honourable period” of his life. The appointment lay with the Senatus—or, more strictly, with a section of the Senatus known as the Faculty Professors—some of whom, of course, had been his own teachers ten years before, and knew him well; and the minutes state that the choice was unanimous. He was elected on the 9th of January 1751, and was admitted to the office on the 16th, after reading a dissertation
De origine idearum, signing the Westminster Confession of Faith before the Presbytery of Glasgow, and taking the usual oath
De fideli to the University authorities; but he did not begin work till the opening of the next session in October. His engagements in Edinburgh did not permit of his undertaking his duties in Glasgow earlier, and his classes were accordingly conducted, with the sanction of the Senatus, by Dr. Hercules Lindsay, the Professor of Jurisprudence, as his substitute, from the beginning of January till the end of June. During this interval Smith went through to Glasgow repeatedly to attend meetings of the Senatus, but
he does not appear to have given any lectures to the students. If he was relieved of his duties in the summer, however, he worked double tides during the winter, for besides the work of his own class, he undertook to carry on at the same time the work of Professor Craigie of the Moral Philosophy chair, who was laid aside by ill health, and indeed died a few weeks after the commencement of the session. This double burden was no doubt alleviated by the circumstance that he was able in both the classrooms to make very considerable use of the courses of lectures he had already delivered in Edinburgh. By the traditional distribution of academic subjects in the Scotch universities, the province of the chair of Logic included rhetoric and belles-lettres, and the province of the chair of Moral Philosophy included jurisprudence and politics, and as Smith had lectured in Edinburgh both on rhetoric and belles-lettres and on jurisprudence and politics, he naturally took those branches for the subjects of his lectures this first session at Glasgow. Professor John Millar, the author of the
Historical View of the English Government and other works of great merit, was a member of Smith’s logic class that year, having been induced, by the high reputation the new professor brought with him from Edinburgh, to take out the class a second time, although he had already completed his university curriculum; and Millar states that most of the session was occupied with “the delivery of a system of rhetoric and belles-lettres.” In respect to the other class, jurisprudence and politics were specially suggested to him as the subjects for the year when he was asked to take Professor Craigie’s place. The proposal came through Professor Cullen, who was probably Craigie’s medical attendant, and Cullen suggested those particular subjects as being the most likely to suit Smith’s convenience and save him labour, inasmuch as he had lectured on them already. Smith replied that these were the subjects which it would be most agreeable to him to take up.
rd Sept. 1751.
DEAR SIR—I received yours this moment. I am very glad that Mr. Craigie has at last resolved to go to Lisbon. I make no doubt but he will soon receive all the benefit he expects or can wish from the warmer climate. I shall, with great pleasure, do what I can to relieve him of the burden of his class. You mention natural jurisprudence and politics as the parts of his lectures which it would be most agreeable for me to take upon me to teach. I shall very willingly undertake both. I shall be glad to know when he sets out for Lisbon, because if it is not before the first of October I would endeavour to see him before he goes, that I might receive his advice about the plan I ought to follow. I would pay great deference to it in everything, and would follow it implicitly in this, as I shall consider myself as standing in his place and representing him. If he goes before that time I wish he would leave some directions for me, either with you or with Mr. Leechman, were it only by word of mouth.—I am, dear doctor, most faithfully yours,
Smith would begin work at Glasgow on the 10th of October, and before the middle of November he and Cullen were already deeply immersed in quite a number of little schemes for the equipment of the College. There was first of all the affair of the vacancy in the Moral Philosophy chair, which was anticipated to occur immediately through the death of Mr. Craigie—referred to in the following letter as “the event we are afraid of.” This vacancy Cullen and Smith were desirous of seeing filled up by the translation of Smith from the Logic to the Moral Philosophy chair, and the Principal (Dr. Neil Campbell) seems to have concurred in that proposal, and to have mentioned Smith’s name with approbation to the Duke of Argyle, who, though without any power over the appointment to any except the Crown chairs, took much interest in, and was believed to exercise much influence over, the appointment to all. This was the Duke Archibald—better known by his earlier title of the Earl of Islay—who
was often called the King of Scotland, because he practically ruled the affairs of Scotland in the first half of last century, very much as Dundas did in the second. Smith seems to have gone through to Edinburgh to push his views with the Duke, and to have waited on him and been introduced to him at his levee.
Then there was the affair of Hume’s candidature for the Logic chair, contingent on Smith’s appointment to the other. There was the affair of the Principal’s possible retirement, with, no doubt, some plan in reserve for the reversion, probably in favour of Professor Leechman, mentioned in the previous letter, who did in the event succeed to it. Then there was Cullen’s “own affair,” which Smith was promoting in Edinburgh through Lord Kames (then Mr. Home), and which probably concerned a method of purifying salt Cullen had then invented, and wanted to secure a premium for. At any rate, Lord Kames did speak to the Duke of Argyle on this subject in Cullen’s behalf a few months later.
While immersed in this multiplicity of affairs Smith wrote Cullen the following letter:—
Tuesday, November 1751.
DEAR SIR—I did not write to you on Saturday as I promised, because I was every moment expecting Mr. Home to town. He is not, however, yet come.
I should prefer David Hume to any man for the College, but I am afraid the public would not be of my opinion, and the interest of the society will oblige us to have some regard to the opinion of the public. If the event, however, we are afraid of should happen we can see how the public receives it. From the particular knowledge I have of Mr. Elliot’s sentiments, I am pretty certain Mr. Lindsay must have proposed it to him, not he to Mr. Lindsay. I am ever obliged to you for your concern for my interest in that affair.
When I saw you at Edinburgh you talked to me of the Principal’s proposing to retire. I gave little attention to it at that time, but upon further consideration should be glad to listen to
any proposal of that kind. The reasons of my changing my opinion I shall tell you at meeting. I need not recommend secrecy to you upon this head. Be so good as to thank the Principal in my name for his kindness in mentioning me to the Duke. I waited on him at his levee at Edinburgh, when I was introduced to him by Mr. Lind, but it seems he had forgot.
I can tell you nothing particular about your own affair more than what I wrote you last till I see Mr. Home, whom I expect every moment.—I am, most dear sir, ever yours,
The event they were afraid of happened on the 27th of November, and Smith was, without any opposition, appointed Craigie’s successor on the 29th of April 1752. It would appear from this letter as if Cullen had heard from his colleague, Professor Lindsay, of a possible rival to Smith for that chair in the person of Mr. Elliot—no doubt Mr. Gilbert Elliot, a man of brilliant parts and accomplishments, who afterwards attained high political eminence as Sir Gilbert Elliot, but who was at this time a young advocate at the Edinburgh bar, with no liking for law and a great liking for letters and philosophy. Smith, however, who was a personal friend of Elliot’s, knew that the latter had no such designs, and eventually his own candidature was unopposed. But in anticipation of this result, the keenest contest was carried on all winter over the election to the Logic chair, which he was to leave. David Hume came forward as a candidate, and there is an erroneous, though curiously well-supported tradition that Edmund Burke was a candidate also. One of Burke’s biographers, Bisset, states that Burke actually applied for the post, but applied too late.
*29 Another of his biographers, Prior, says that Burke being in Scotland at the time, took some steps for the place, but finding his chances hopeless, withdrew;
*30 while Professor Jardine, a subsequent occupier of the chair himself, asserts that Burke was thought of by
some of the electors, but never really came forward.
*31 But Smith, who was not only the previous occupant of the office, but, as Professor of Moral Philosophy, was one of the electors of his successor, stated explicitly to Dugald Stewart (as Stewart wrote to Prior
*32) “that the story was extremely current, but he knew of no evidence on which it rested, and he suspected it took its rise entirely from an opinion which he had himself expressed at Glasgow upon the publication of Burke’s book on the
Sublime and Beautiful, that the author of that book would be a great acquisition to the College if he would accept of a chair.” Had anything been known in Glasgow of Burke’s candidature for a chair there five years before, it would unquestionably be recollected on the occasion of the publication of so notable a work, but Burke’s very name was so unfamiliar to the circle interested in the election that when Hume first met him in London in 1759, he mentions him in a letter to Smith as “a Mr. Burke, an Irish gentleman who has written a very pretty book on the
Sublime and Beautiful.”*33
The interest of the contest is sufficiently great from the candidature of one philosopher of the first rank, and to Smith himself—already that philosopher’s very close friend—it must have been engrossing. It will be observed that in his letter to Cullen he expresses himself with great caution on the subject. He is quite alive to the fact that the appointment of a notorious sceptic like Hume might be so unpopular with the Scottish public as to injure the interests of the University. But when Hume came forward Cullen threw himself heart and soul into his cause, as we know from Hume’s own acknowledgments; and if Cullen and Smith are found acting in concert at the initiation of the candidature, it is not likely that Smith lagged behind Cullen in the prosecution of the canvass, though nothing remains to give us any decisive information
on the point. Their exertions failed, however, in consequence, Hume himself always believed, of the interference of the Duke of Argyle, and the chair was given to a young licentiate of the Church named Clow, who was at the time entirely unknown, and indeed never afterwards established any manner of public reputation.
Smith’s preference for the Moral Philosophy chair came mainly no doubt from preference for the subjects he would be called upon to teach in it, but the emoluments also seem to have been somewhat better, for Smith was expressly required, as a condition of acceptance of the office, to content himself until the 10th of October of that year (the opening day of the new session) “with the salary and emoluments of his present profession of Logic,” even though he might be actually admitted to the other professorship before that date. It must not be supposed, however, that the emoluments of his new office were by any means very lordly. They accrued partly from a moderate endowment and partly from the fees paid by the students who attended the lectures—a principle of academic payment which Smith always considered the best, because it made the lecturer’s income largely dependent on his diligence and success in his work. The endowment was probably no more than that of the Mathematical chair, and the endowment of the Mathematical chair was £72 a year.
*34 The fees probably never exceeded £100, or even came up to that figure, for Dr. Thomas Reid, Smith’s successor in the Moral Philosophy chair, writes an Aberdeen friend, after two years’ experience of Glasgow, that he had more students than Smith ever had, and had already touched £70 of fees, but expected, when all the students arrived, to make £100 that session.
*35 The income from fees in the Scotch chairs in last century seems to have been subject to considerable variations from session to session. A bad harvest would sometimes tell
seriously on the attendance, and a great crisis like that of 1772, when the effects of a succession of bad harvests were aggravated by ruinous mercantile speculations, deprived Adam Ferguson in the Edinburgh Moral Philosophy chair of half his usual income from fees. It may also be mentioned as a curious circumstance that in those days a professor used to lose regularly many pounds a year by light money. When Lord Brougham, as a young student of chemistry in Edinburgh, paid his fee to Black, the great chemist weighed the guineas carefully on a weighing machine he had on the table before him, and observed in explanation, “I am obliged to weigh when strange students come, there being a very large number who bring light guineas, so that I should be defrauded of many pounds every year if I did not act in self-defence against this class of students.”
Smith kept an occasional boarder in his house, and would of course make a trifle by that, but his regular income from his class work would not exceed £170 a year. £170 a year, however, was a very respectable income at a period when, as was the case in 1750, only twenty-nine ministers in all broad Scotland had as much as £100 a year, and the highest stipend in the Church was only £138.
Besides his salary Smith had a house in the College—one of those new manses in the Professors’ Court which Glasgow people at the time considered very grand; and though the circumstance is trifling, it is a little curious that he changed his house three times in the course of his thirteen years’ professorship. It was the custom when a house fell vacant for the professors to get their choice of it in the order of their academical seniority. There seems to have been no compulsion about the step, so that it is not beneath noticing that Smith should in so short a term have elected to make the three removes which proverbial
wisdom deprecates. When his friend Cullen was translated to Edinburgh in 1756, Smith, who was next in seniority, having been made professor in Glasgow a few months after the eminent physician, removed to Cullen’s house; then he quitted this house in 1757 for the house of Dr. Dick, Professor of Natural Philosophy, who died in that year; and he left Dick’s house in turn for Dr. Leechman’s, on the promotion of that divine to the Principalship in 1762. These houses are now demolished with the rest of the old College of Glasgow, so that we cannot mark the gradation of comfort that may have determined these successive changes; and besides they may have been determined by no positive preference of the economist himself, but by the desires of his mother and his aunt, Miss Jane Douglas, who both lived with him in Glasgow, and whose smallest wishes it was the highest ambition of his affectionate nature to gratify.
In Smith’s day there were only some 300 students at Glasgow College in all, and the Moral Philosophy chair alone had never more than 80 or 90 in the public class and 20 in the private. The public class did not mean a free class, as it does on the Continent; it really was the dearer of the two, the fee in the private class being only a guinea, while the fee of the public class was a guinea and a half. The public class was the ordinary class taken for graduation and other purposes, and obligatory by academic authority; the private was a special class, undertaken, with the permission of the Senatus, for those who wished to push the subject further; and to harmonise this account of them with what has been previously said of the income Smith drew from fees, it is necessary to explain that many of the students who attended these classes paid no fees, according to a custom which still prevails in Scotch universities, and by which one was considered a
civis of a class he had attended for two years, and might thereafter attend it whenever he chose without charge. Many in this way attended the Moral
Philosophy class four or five years, and among them, as Dr. Reid informs us, quite a number of preachers and advanced students of divinity and law, before whom, the worthy doctor confesses, he used to stand in awe to speak without the most careful preparation.
The College session was then longer than it is now, extending from the 10th of October to the 10th of June, and the classes began at once earlier in the morning and continued later at night. Smith commenced his labours before daybreak by his public class from 7.30 to 8.30 A.M.; he then held at 11 A.M. an hour’s examination on the lecture he delivered in the morning, though to this examination only a third of the students of the morning class were in the habit of coming; and he met with his private class twice a week on a different subject at 12. Besides these engagements Smith seems to have occasionally read for an hour like a tutor with special pupils; at least one is led to infer so much from the remarks of a former pupil, who, under the
nom de plume of Ascanius, writes his reminiscences of his old master to the editor of the
Bee in June 1791. This writer says that he went to Glasgow College after he had gone through the classes at St. Andrews, Edinburgh, and even Oxford, in order that he might, “after the manner of the ancients, walk in the porticoes of Glasgow with Smith and with Millar, and be imbued with the principles of jurisprudence and law and philosophy”; and then he adds: “I passed most of my time at Glasgow with those two first-rate men, and Smith read private lectures to me on jurisprudence, and accompanied them with his commentaries in conversation, exercises which I hope will give a colour and a substance to my sentiments and to my reason that will be eternal.”
There is no difficulty in identifying this enthusiastic disciple with the eccentric and bustling Earl of Buchan, the elder brother of Lord Chancellor Erskine, and of the witty and greatly beloved Harry Erskine of the Scotch bar, and the subject of the Duchess of Gordon’s well-known
mot: “The wit of your lordship’s family has come by the mother, and been all settled on the younger branches.” We know that this Earl of Buchan was a contributor to the
Bee under various fictitious signatures, because he has himself republished some of his contributions, and we know that he attended Smith’s class at Glasgow, because he says so in a letter to Pinkerton, the historian, mentioning having seen in Smith’s library at that time a book of which Pinkerton could not find a single copy remaining anywhere—the memoirs of Lockhart of Lee, Cromwell’s ambassador to France, which had been suppressed (as the Earl had been told by his maternal uncle, Sir James Steuart, the economist) at the instance of Lockhart, the famous advocate, afterwards Lord Covington, because the family had turned Jacobite, and disliked the association with the Commonwealth.
*38 The Earl gives the year of his attendance at Glasgow as 1760, but he must have continued there more than one session, for he attended Millar’s lectures as well as Smith’s, and Millar was not there till the session 1761-62; and it is on the whole most likely that this is the very young nobleman whom Dr. Alexander Carlyle met in company with Smith at a large supper party in April 1763, and concerning whom he mentions that he himself whispered after a little to Smith that he wondered how he could set this young man so high who appeared to be so foolish, and Smith answered, “We know that perfectly, but he is the only lord in our College.”
It will be observed that Lord Buchan says Smith
read private lectures to him. Smith’s public lectures he was not accustomed to read in any of his classes, but he seems
to have found it more convenient in teaching a single pupil to read them, and interpose oral comments and illustrations as he went along. Others of Smith’s old students besides Lord Buchan express their obligations to the conversations they were privileged to have with him. Dugald Stewart, Brougham informs us, used to decline to see his students, because he found them too disputatious, and he disliked disputing with them about the correctness of the doctrines he taught. But Smith, by all accounts, was extremely accessible, and was even in the habit of seeking out the abler men among them, inviting them to his house, discussing with them the subjects of his lectures or any other subject, and entering sympathetically into their views and plans of life. John Millar, having occasion to mention Smith’s name in his
Historical View of the English Government, takes the opportunity to say: “I am happy to acknowledge the obligations I feel myself under to this illustrious philosopher by having at an early period of life had the benefit of his lectures on the history of civil society, and enjoying his unreserved conversation on the same subject.”
Millar, it may be added, was one of Smith’s favourite pupils, and after obtaining the chair of Jurisprudence in his old College, one of his chief associates, and Smith held so high an opinion of Millar’s unique powers as a stimulating teacher that he sent his cousin, David Douglas, to Glasgow College for no other purpose but to have the advantage of the lectures and conversation of Millar. Jeffrey used to say that the most bracing exercises a student in Glasgow underwent in those days were the supper disputations at Professor Millar’s house, and that, able and learned as his works are, “they revealed nothing of that magical vivacity which made his conversation and his lectures still more full of delight than of instruction.” Though he always refused to accept Smith’s doctrine of free trade, Millar was the most effective
and influential apostle of Liberalism in Scotland in that age, and Jeffrey’s father could never forgive himself for having put his son to Glasgow, where, though he was strictly forbidden to enter Millar’s class-room, “the mere vicinity of Millar’s influence” had sent him back a Liberal.
Now it is this interesting and famous lecturer from whom we obtain the fullest account of Smith’s qualities as a lecturer and of the substance of his lectures.
“In the professorship of logic,” he says, “to which Mr. Smith was appointed on his first introduction into this University, he soon saw the necessity of departing widely from the plan that had been followed by his predecessors, and of directing the attention of his pupils to studies of a more interesting and useful nature than the logic and metaphysics of the schools. Accordingly, after exhibiting a general view of the powers of the mind, and explaining as much of the ancient logic as was requisite to gratify curiosity with respect to an artificial method of reasoning which had once occupied the universal attention of the learned, he dedicated all the rest of his time to the delivering of a system of rhetoric and belles-lettres.”
In moral philosophy “his course of lectures,” says Millar, “was divided into four parts. The first contained natural theology, in which he considered the proofs of the being and attributes of God, and those principles of the human mind upon which religion is founded. The second comprehended ethics, strictly so called, and consisted chiefly of the doctrines which he afterwards published in his
Theory of Moral Sentiments. In the third part he treated at more length of that branch of morality which relates to
justice, and which, being susceptible of precise and accurate rules, is for that reason capable of a full and particular explanation.
“Upon this subject he followed the plan that seems
to be suggested by Montesquieu, endeavouring to trace the gradual progress of jurisprudence, both public and private, from the rudest to the most refined ages, and to point out the effects of those arts which contribute to subsistence and to the accumulation of property, in producing correspondent improvements or alterations in law and government. This important branch of his labours he also intended to give to the public; but this intention, which is mentioned in the conclusion of the
Theory of Moral Sentiments, he did not live to fulfil.
“In the last of his lectures he examined those political regulations which are founded, not upon the principle of
justice but that of
expediency, and which are calculated to increase the riches, the power, and the prosperity of a state. Under this view he considered the political institutions relating to commerce, to finances, to ecclesiastical and military establishments. What he delivered on those subjects contained the substance of the work he afterwards published under the title of
An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.”
Under the third part were no doubt included those lectures on the history of civil society to which Millar expresses such deep obligation, and of which another pupil of Smith’s, Professor Richardson of the Humanity chair in Glasgow—a minor poet of considerable acceptance in his day—also speaks with lively gratitude, particularly of those “on the nature of those political institutions that succeeded the downfall of the Roman Empire, and which included an historical account of the rise and progress of the most conspicuous among the modern European governments.”
Richardson tells us, too, that Smith gave courses of lectures on taste, on the history of philosophy, and on belles-lettres, apparently continuing to utilise his old lectures on this last subject occasionally even after his
translation from the chair to which they properly appertained, and that he was very fond of digressing into literary criticism from his lectures on any subject. “Those who received instruction from Dr. Smith,” says Richardson, “will recollect with much satisfaction many of those incidental and digressive illustrations and discussions, not only in morality but in criticism, which were delivered by him with animated and extemporaneous eloquence as they were suggested in the course of question and answer. They occured likewise, with much display of learning and knowledge, in his occasional explanations of those philosophical works, which were also a very useful and important subject of examination in the class of moral philosophy.”
His characteristics as a lecturer are thus described by Millar:—
“There was no situation in which the abilities of Mr. Smith appeared to greater advantage than as a professor. In delivering his lectures he trusted almost entirely to extemporary elocution. His manner, though not graceful, was plain and unaffected, and as he seemed to be always interested in the subject, he never failed to interest his hearers. Each discourse consisted commonly of several distinct propositions, which he successively endeavoured to prove and illustrate. These propositions when announced in general terms had, from their extent, not unfrequently something of the air of a paradox. In his attempts to explain them, he often appeared at first not to be sufficiently possessed of the subject, and spoke with some hesitation. As he advanced, however, his manner became warm and animated, and his expression easy and fluent. On points susceptible of controversy you could easily discern that he secretly conceived an opposition to his opinions, and that he was led upon this account to support them with greater energy and vehemence. By the fulness and variety of his illustrations the subject gradually
swelled in his hands and acquired a dimension which, without a tedious repetition of the same views, was calculated to seize the attention of his audience, and to afford them pleasure as well as instruction in following the same subject through all the diversity of shades and aspects in which it was presented, and afterwards in tracing it backwards to that original proposition or general truth from which this beautiful train of speculation had proceeded.”
One little peculiarity in his manner of lecturing was mentioned to the late Archdeacon Sinclair by Archibald Alison the elder, apparently as Alison heard it from Smith’s own lips. He used to acknowledge that in lecturing he was more dependent than most professors on the sympathy of his hearers, and he would sometimes select one of his students, who had more mobile and expressive features than the rest, as an unsuspecting gauge of the extent to which he carried with him the intelligence and interest of the class. “During one whole session,” he said, “a certain student with a plain but expressive countenance was of great use to me in judging of my success. He sat conspicuously in front of a pillar: I had him constantly under my eye. If he leant forward to listen all was right, and I knew that I had the ear of my class; but if he leant back in an attitude of listlessness I felt at once that all was wrong, and that I must change either the subject or the style of my address.”
The great majority of his students were young men preparing for the Presbyterian ministry, a large contingent of them—quite a third of the whole—being Irish dissenters who were unfairly excluded from the university of their own country, but appear to have been no very worthy accession to the University of Glasgow. We know of no word of complaint against them from Smith, but they were a sore trial both to Hutcheson and to Reid. Reid says he always felt in lecturing to those “stupid Irish teagues” as
St. Anthony must have felt when he preached to the fishes,
*46 and Hutcheson writes a friend in the north of Ireland that his Irish students were far above taking any interest in their work, and that although he had “five or six young gentlemen from Edinburgh, men of fortune and fine genius, studying law, these Irishmen thought them poor bookworms.”
*47 Smith had probably even more of this stamp of law students than Hutcheson. Henry Erskine attended his class on jurisprudence as well as his elder brother. Boswell was there in 1759, and was made very proud by the certificate he received from his professor at the close of the session, stating that he, Mr. James Boswell, was “happily possessed of a facility of manners.”
*48 After the publication of the
Theory of Moral Sentiments, students came even from a greater distance. Lord Shelburne, who was an enthusiastic admirer of that work, sent his younger brother, the Honourable Thomas Fitzmaurice, for a year or two to study under Smith, before sending him to Oxford in 1761 to read law with Sir William Blackstone. Mr. Fitzmaurice, who married the Countess of Orkney, and is the progenitor of the present Orkney family, rose to a considerable political position, and would have risen higher but for falling into ill health in the prime of life and remaining a complete invalid till his death in 1793, but he never forgot the years he spent as a student in Smith’s class and a boarder in Smith’s house. Dr. Currie, the well-known author of the
Life of Burns, was his medical attendant in his latter years, and Dr. Currie says his conversation always turned back to his early life, and particularly to the pleasant period he had spent under Smith’s roof in Glasgow. Currie has not, however, recorded any reminiscences of those conversations.
*49 Two Russian students came in 1762, and Smith had twice to
give them an advance of £20 apiece from the College funds, because their remittances had got stopped by the war. Tronchin, the eminent physician of Geneva, the friend of Voltaire, the enemy of Rousseau, sent his son to Glasgow in 1761 purposely “to study under Mr. Smith,” as we learn from a letter of introduction to Baron Mure which the young man received before starting from Colonel Edmonston of Newton, who was at the time resident in Geneva. It was of Tronchin Voltaire said, “He is a great physician, he knows the mind,” and he must have formed a high idea of the
Theory of Moral Sentiments to send his son so far to attend the lectures of its author. It was this young man who, on his way back from Glasgow, played a certain undesigned part in originating the famous quarrel between Rousseau and Hume, of which we shall have more to hear anon. He was living with Professor Rouet of Glasgow, at Miss Elliot’s lodging-house in London, when Hume brought Rousseau there in January 1866, and the moment Rousseau saw the son of his old enemy established in the house to which he was conducted, he flew to the conclusion that young Tronchin was there as a spy, and that the good and benevolent Hume was weaving some infernal web about him.
Smith’s popularity as a lecturer grew year by year. It was felt that another and perhaps greater Hutcheson had risen in the College. Reid, when he came to Glasgow to succeed him in 1764, wrote his friend Dr. Skene in Aberdeen that there was a great spirit of inquiry abroad among the young people in Glasgow—the best testimony that could be rendered of the effect of Smith’s teaching. It had taught the young people to think. His opinions became the subjects of general discussion, the branches he lectured on became fashionable in the town, the sons of the wealthier citizens used to go to College to take his class though they had no intention of completing a university course, stucco busts of him appeared in the booksellers’ windows, and the very peculiarities of his voice and pronunciation
received the homage of imitation. One point alone caused a little—in certain quarters not a little—shaking of heads, we are told by John Ramsay of Ochtertyre. The distinguished professor was a friend of “Hume the atheist”; he was himself ominously reticent on religious subjects; he did not conduct a Sunday class on Christian evidences like Hutcheson; he would often too be seen openly smiling during divine service in his place in the College chapel (as in his absent way he might no doubt be prone to do); and it is even stated by Ramsay that he petitioned the Senatus on his first appointment in Glasgow to be relieved of the duty of opening his class with prayer, and the petition was rejected; that his opening prayers were always thought to “savour stongly of natural religion”; that his lectures on natural theology were too flattering to human pride, and induced “presumptuous striplings to draw an unwarranted conclusion, viz. that the great truths of theology, together with the duties which man owes to God and his neighbours, may be discovered by the light of nature without any special revelation,”
*50 as if it were a fault to show religious truth to be natural, for fear young men should believe it too easily. No record of the alleged petition about the opening prayers and its refusal remains in the College minutes, and the story is probably nothing but a morsel of idle gossip unworthy of attention, except as an indication of the atmosphere of jealous and censorious theological vigilance in which Smith and his brother professors were then obliged to do their work.
In his lectures on jurisprudence and politics he had taught the doctrine of free trade from the first, and not the least remarkable result of his thirteen years’ work in Glasgow was that before he left had practically converted that city to his views. Dugald Stewart was explicitly informed by Mr. James Ritchie, one of the most eminent Clyde merchants of that time, that Smith had,
during his professorship in Glasgow, made many of the leading men of the place convinced proselytes of free trade principles.
*51 Sir James Steuart of Coltness, the well-known economist, used, after his return from his long political exile in 1763, to take a great practical interest in trying to enlighten his Glasgow neighbours on the economical problems that were rising about them, and having embraced the dying cause in economics as well as in politics, he sought hard to enlist them in favour of protection, but he frankly confesses that he grew sick of repeating arguments for protection to these “Glasgow theorists,” as he calls them, because he found that Smith had already succeeded in persuading them completely in favour of a free importation of corn.
*52 Sir James Steuart was a most persuasive talker; Smith himself said he understood Sir James’s system better from his talk than from his books,
*53 and those Glasgow merchants must have obtained from Smith’s expositions a very clear and complete hold indeed of the doctrines of commercial freedom, when Steuart failed to shake it, and was fain to leave such theorists to their theories. Long before the publication of the
Wealth of Nations, therefore, the new light was shining clearly from Smith’s chair in Glasgow College, and winning its first converts in the practical world. One can accordingly well understand the emotion with which J. B. Say sat in this chair when he visited Glasgow in 1815, and after a short prayer said with great fervour, “Lord, let now thy servant depart in peace.”
Dugald Stewart further states, on the authority of gentlemen who were students in the moral philosophy class at Glasgow in 1752 or 1753, that Smith delivered so early as that lectures containing the fundamental principles of the
Wealth of Nations; and in 1755—the
Essai first saw the light, and the year before Quesnay published his first economic writing—Smith was not only expounding his system of natural liberty to his students, but publicly asserting his claim to the authorship of that system in a Glasgow Economic Society—perhaps the first economic club established anywhere. The paper in which Smith vindicates this claim came somehow into the possession of Dugald Stewart, and so escaped the fire to which Smith committed all his other papers before his death, but it is believed to have been destroyed by Stewart’s son, very possibly after his father’s directions. For Stewart thought it would be improper to publish the complete manuscript, because it would revive personal differences which had better remain in oblivion, and consequently our knowledge of its contents is confined to the few sentences which he has thought right to quote as a valuable evidence of the progress of Smith’s political ideas at that very early period. It will be observed that, as far as we can collect from so small a fragment of his discourse, he presents the doctrine of natural liberty in a more extreme from than it came to wear after twenty years more of thought in the
Wealth of Nations. Stewart says that many of the most important options in the
Wealth of Nations are detailed in this document, but he cites only the following:—
“Man is generally considered by statesmen and projectors as the materials of a sort of political mechanics. Projectors disturb nature in the course of her operations on human affairs, and it requires no more than to leave her alone and give her fair play in the pursuit of her ends that she may establish her own designs… Little else is required to carry a state to the highest degree of affluence from the lowest barbarism but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice; all the rest being brought about by the natural course of things. All governments which thwart this natural course, which force things into another channel, or which endeavour to arrest
the progress of society at a particular point, are unnatural, and, to support themselves, are obliged to be oppressive and tyrannical… A great part of the opinions enumerated in this paper is treated of at length in some lectures which I have still by me, and which were written in the hand of a clerk who left my service six years ago. They have all of them been the constant subjects of my lectures since I first taught Mr. Craigie’s class the first winter I spent in Glasgow down to this day without any considerable variations. They had all of them been the subjects of lectures which I read at Edinburgh the winter before I left it, and I can adduce innumerable witnesses both from that place and from this who will ascertain them sufficiently to be mine.”
The distinction drawn in the last sentence between
that place, Edinburgh, and
this place, shows that the paper was read to a society in Glasgow. Smith was a member of two societies there, of which I shall presently have something more to say, the Literary Society and a society which we may call the Economic, because it met for the discussion of economic subjects, though we do not know its precise name, if it had any. Now this paper of Smith’s was not read to the Literary Society—at least, it is not included in the published list of papers read by it—and we may therefore conclude that it was read to the Economic Society.
Nothing is now known of the precise circumstances in which the paper originated, except what Stewart tells us, that Smith “was anxious to establish his exclusive right” to “certain leading principles both political and literary,” “in order to prevent the possibility of some rival claims which he thought he had reason to apprehend, and to which his situation as a professor, added to his unreserved communications in private companies, rendered him peculiarly liable”; and that he expressed himself “with a good deal of that honest and indignant warmth which is perhaps unavoidable
by a man who is conscious of the purity of his intentions when he suspects that advantages have been taken of the frankness of his temper.” It would appear that some one, who had got hold of Smith’s ideas through attending his class or frequenting his company, either had published them, or was believed to be going to publish them as his own.
The writer of the obituary notice of Smith in the
Monthly Review for 1790 alleges that in this Glasgow period Smith lived in such constant apprehension of being robbed of his ideas that, if he saw any of his students take notes of his lectures, he would instantly stop him and say, “I hate scribblers.” But this is directly contradicted by the account of Professor John Millar, who, as we have seen, was a student in Smith’s classes himself, and who expressly states both that the permission to take notes was freely given by Smith to his students, and that the privilege was the occasion of frequent abuse. “From the permission given to students of taking notes,” says Millar, “many observations and opinions contained in these lectures (the lectures on rhetoric and belles-lettres) have either been detailed in separate dissertations or engrossed in general collections which have since been given to the public.” In those days manuscript copies of a popular professor’s lectures, transcribed from his students’ note-books, were often kept for sale in the booksellers’ shops. Blair’s lectures on rhetoric, for example, were for years in general circulation in this intermediate state, and it was the publication of his criticism on Addison, taken from one of unauthorised transcripts, in Kippis’s
Biographia Britannica, that at length instigated Blair to give his lectures to the press himself. A professor was thus always liable to have his unpublished thought appropriated by another author without any acknowledgment at all, or published in such an imperfect form that he would hardly care to acknowledge it himself. If Smith, therefore, exhibited a jealousy over his rights to his own thought,
as has been suggested, Millar’s observation shows him to have had at any rate frequent cause; but neither at that time of his life nor any other was he animated by an undue or unreasonable jealousy of this sort such as he has sometimes been accused of; and if in 1755 he took occasion to resent with “honest and indignant warmth” a violation of his rights, there must have been some special provocation.
Mr. James Bonar suggests that this manifesto of 1755 was directed against Adam Ferguson, but that is not probable. Ferguson’s name, it is true, will readily occur in such a connection, because Dr. Carlyle tells us that when he published his
History of Civil Society in 1767 Smith accused him of having borrowed some of his ideas without owning them, and that Ferguson replied that he had borrowed nothing from Smith, but much from some French source unnamed where Smith had been before him. But, however this may have been in 1767, it is unlikely that Ferguson was the occasion of offence in 1755. Up till that year he was generally living abroad with the regiment of which he was chaplain, and it is not probable that he had begun his
History before his return to Scotland, or that he had time between his return and the composition of Smith’s manifesto to do or project anything to occasion such a remonstrance. Then he is found on the friendliest footing with Smith in the years immediately following the manifesto, and Stewart’s allusion to the circumstances implies a graver breach than could be healed so summarily. Besides, had Ferguson been the cause of offence, Stewart would have probably avoided the subject altogether in a paper to the Royal Society, of which Ferguson was still an active member.
Life of Cullen, i. 605.
Life of Cullen, i. 606.
Burke, i. 32.
Burke, p. 38.
Life of Burke, Bohn’s ed. p. 38.
Life of Hume, ii. 55.
Reid, p. 40.
Anglie Notitia for 1750.
Life of Jeffrey, p. 12.
Works, x. 12.
Life of Arthur. See
Arthur’s Discourses, p. 510.
Life of Arthur. See
Arthur’s Discourses, p. 508.
Works, x. 12.
Old Times and Distant Places, p. 9.
Reid, p. 43.
Scottish Philosophy, p. 66.
Correspondence with Erskine, p. 26.
Memoirs of James Currie, M.D., ii. 317.
Scotland and Scotsmen, i. 462, 463.
Works, vi. 379.
New Statistical Account of Scotland, vi. 139.
New Statistical Account of Scotland, vi. 139.
Works, ed. Hamilton, x. 68.