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those particulars and letters to which I have alluded were collected together, and if they were supplemented by such unpublished letters and information as it still remained possible to procure.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
DURING his residence in Glasgow Smith continued to maintain intimate relations with his old friends in Edinburgh. He often ran through by coach to visit them, though before the road was improved it took thirteen hours to make the journey; he spent among them most part of many of his successive vacations; and he took an active share, along with them, in promoting some of those projects of literary, scientific, and social improvement with which Scotland was then rife. His patron, Henry Home, had in 1752 been raised to the bench as Lord Kames, and was devoting his new-found leisure to those works of criticism and speculation which soon gave him European fame. David Hume, after his defeat at Glasgow, had settled for a time into the modest post of librarian to the Faculty of Advocates, and was writing his
History of England in his dim apartments in the Canongate. Adam Ferguson, who threw up his clerical calling in 1754, and wrote Smith from Groningen to give him “clerical titles” no more, for he was “a downright layman,” came to Edinburgh, and was made Hume’s successor in the Advocates’ Library in 1757 and professor in the University in 1759. Robertson did not live in Edinburgh till 1758, but he used to come to town every week with his neighbour John Home before the latter left Scotland in 1757, and they held late sittings with Hume and the other men of letters in the evening. Gilbert
Elliot entered Parliament in 1754, but was always back during the recess with news of men and things in the capital. The two Dalrymples—Sir David of Hailes, and Sir John of Cousland—were toiling at their respective histories, and both were personal friends of Smith’s; while another, of whom Smith was particularly fond—Wilkie, the eccentric author of the
Epigoniad—was living a few miles out as minister of the parish of Ratho. Wilkie always said that Smith had far more originality and invention than Hume, and that while Hume had only industry and judgment, Smith had industry and genius. His mind was at least the more constructive of the two. A remark of Smith’s about Wilkie has also been preserved, and though it is of no importance, it may be repeated. Quoting Lord Elibank, he said that whether it was in learned company or unlearned, wherever Wilkie’s name was mentioned it was never dropped soon, for everybody had much to say about him.
*1 But that was probably due to his oddities as much as anything else. Wilkie used to plough his own glebe with his own hands in the ordinary ploughman’s dress, and it was he who was the occasion of the joke played on Dr. Roebuck, the chemist, by a Scotch friend, who said to him as they were passing Ratho glebe that the parish schools of Scotland had given almost every peasant a knowledge of the classics, and added, “Here, for example, is a man working in the field who is a good illustration of that training; let us speak with him.” Roebuck made some observation about agriculture. “Yes, sir,” said the ploughman, “but in Sicily they had a different method,” and he quoted Theocritus, to Roebuck’s great astonishment.
Among Smith’s chief Edinburgh friends at this period was one of his former pupils, William Johnstone—son of Sir James Johnstone of Westerhall, and nephew of Lord Elibank—who was then practising as an advocate at the Scotch bar, but ultimately went into Parliament, married
the greatest heiress of the time, Miss Pulteney, niece of the Earl of Bath, and long filled an honoured and influential place in public life as Sir William Pulteney. He was, as even Wraxall admits, a man of “masculine sense” and “independent as well as upright” character, and he devoted special attention to all economic and financial questions. It was Pulteney who in his speech on the suspension of cash payments by the Bank of England in 1797—in which he proposed the establishment of another bank—quoted from some unknown source the memorable saying which is generally repeated as if it were his own, that Smith “would persuade the present generation and govern the next.” He quoted the words as something that had been “well said.” Between him and Smith there prevailed a warm and affectionate friendship for more than forty years, and we shall have occasion again to mention his name. But I allude to him at present because a letter still exists which was given him by Smith at this period to introduce him, during a short stay he made in London, to James Oswald, then newly appointed to office at the Board of Trade. This is the only letter that happens to be preserved of all the correspondence carried on by Smith with Oswald, and while both the occasion of it and its substance reveal the footing of personal intimacy on which they stood, its ceremonious opening and ending indicate something of the reverence and gratitude of the client to the patron:—
SIR—This will be delivered to you by Mr. William Johnstone, son of Sir James Johnstone of Westerhall, a young gentleman whom I have known intimately these four years, and of whose discretion, good temper, sincerity, and honour I have had during all that time frequent proofs. You will find in him too, if you come to know him better, some qualities which from real and unaffected modesty he does not at first discover; a refinement and depth of observation and an accuracy of judgment, joined to a natural delicacy of sentiment, as much improved as study and the narrow sphere of acquaintance this country affords can improve it. He had, first when I knew him, a good deal of
vivacity and humour, but he has studied them away. He is an advocate; and though I am sensible of the folly of prophesying with regard to the future fortune of so young a man, yet I could almost venture to foretell that if he lives he will be eminent in that profession. He has, I think, every quality that ought to forward, and not one that should obstruct his progress, modesty and sincerity excepted, and these, it is to be hoped, experience and a better sense of things may in part cure him of. I do not, I assure you, exaggerate knowingly, but could pawn my honour upon the truth of every article. You will find him, I imagine, a young gentleman of solid, substantial (not flashy) abilities and worth. Private business obliges him to spend some time in London. He would beg to be allowed the privilege of waiting on you sometimes, to receive your advice how he may employ his time there in the manner that will tend most to his real and lasting improvement.
I am sensible how much I presume upon your indulgence in giving you this trouble; but as it is to serve and comply with a person for whom I have the most entire friendship, I know you will excuse me though guilty of an indiscretion; at least if you do not, you will not judge others as you would desire to be judged yourself; for I am very sure a like motive would carry you to be guilty of a greater.
I would have waited on you when you was last in Scotland had the College allowed me three days’ vacation; and it gave me real uneasiness that I should be in the same country with you, and not have the pleasure of seeing you. Believe it, no man can more rejoice at your late success,
*2 or at whatever else tends to your honour and prosperity, than does, Sir, your ever obliged and very humble servant,
th January 1752, N.S.
Pulteney abandoned the law in which Smith prophesied eminence for him, but he was happily not cured entirely of his sincerity by his subsequent experience, for it was greatly from that quality that he derived the weight he enjoyed in the House of Commons. His contemporary in Parliament, Sir John Sinclair, says Pulteney’s influence
arose from the fact that he was known to be a man who never gave a vote he did not in his heart believe to be right. Having no taste for display, he lived when he had £20,000 a year about as simply as he did when he had only £200, and on that account he is sometimes accused of avarice, though he was constantly doing acts of signal liberality.
Smith’s chief friend in Edinburgh was David Hume. Though their first relations were begun apparently in 1739, they could not have met much personally before Smith’s settlement in Glasgow. For when Smith came to Edinburgh in 1748 Hume was abroad as secretary to General St. Clair in the Embassy at Vienna and Turin, and though he left this post in 1749, he remained for the next two years at Ninewells, his father’s place in Berwickshire, and only settled in Edinburgh again just as Smith was removing to Glasgow. He would no doubt visit town occasionally, however, and before Smith was a year in Glasgow he had already entered on that correspondence with the elder philosopher which, beginning with the respectful “dear sir,” grew shortly into the warmer style of “my dearest friend” as their memorable and Roman friendship ripened. Hume never paid Smith a visit in Glasgow, though he had often promised to do so, but Smith in his runs to Edinburgh spent always more and more of his time with Hume, and latterly at any rate made Hume’s house his regular Edinburgh home.
In 1752 Hume had already taken Smith as one of his literary counsellors, and consulted him about the new edition of his
Essays, Moral and Political, and his historical projects, and I may be permitted here and afterwards to quote parts of Hume’s letters which throw any light on Smith’s opinions or movements.
On the 24th of September 1752 he writes—
DEAR SIR—I confess I was once of the same opinion with you, and thought that the best period to begin an English History was about Henry the Seventh, but you will please to observe that
the change which then happened in public affairs was very insensible, and did not display its influence for many years afterwards…. I am just now diverted for the moment by correcting my
Essays, Moral and Political for a new edition. If anything occur to you to be inserted or retrenched, I shall be obliged if you offer the hint. In case you should not have the last edition by you I shall send you a copy of it…. I had almost lost your letter by its being wrong directed. I received it late, which was the reason you got not sooner a copy of
On the 17th of December 1754 Hume gives Smith an account of his quarrel with the Faculty of Advocates, and his resolution to stay as librarian after all, for the sake of the use of the books, which he cannot do without, but to give Blacklock, the blind poet, a bond of annuity for the salary. Three weeks later he writes again, and as the letter mentions Smith’s views on some historical subjects, it may be quoted:—
th January 1755.
DEAR SIR—I beg you to make my compliments to the Society, and to take the fault on yourself if I have not executed my duty, and sent them this time my anniversary paper. Had I got a week’s warning I should have been able to have supplied them. I should willingly have sent some sheets of the History of the Commonwealth or Protectorship, but they are all of them out of my hand at present, and I have not been able to recall them.
I think you are extremely in the right that the Parliament’s
bigotry has nothing in common with Hiero’s generosity. They were themselves violent persecutors at home to the utmost of their power. Besides, the Huguenots in France were not persecuted; they were really seditious, turbulent people, whom their king was not able to reduce to obedience. The French persecutions did not begin till sixty years after.
Your objection to the Irish massacre is just, but falls not on the execution but the subject. Had I been to describe the massacre of Paris I should not have fallen into that fault, but in the Irish massacre no single eminent man fell, or by a remarkable death. If the elocution of the whole chapter be blamable, it is because my conceptions laboured most to start an idea of my subject, which is there the most important, but that misfortune is not unusual.—I am, etc.
In 1752 Smith was chosen a member of the Philosophical Society of Edinburgh, which, after an interregnum caused by the rebellion, was revived in that year, with David Hume for Secretary, and which was eventually merged in the Royal Society in 1784. But we know of no part he took, if he took any, in its proceedings. Of the Rankenian Society, again—the famous old club in Ranken’s Coffee-house, to which Colin Maclaurin and other eminent men belonged, and some of whose members carried on a philosophical controversy with Berkeley, and, if we can believe Ramsay of Ochtertyre, were pressed by the good bishop to accompany him in his Utopian mission to Bermuda—Smith was never even a member, though it survived till 1774. But he took a principal part in founding a third society in 1754, which far eclipsed either of these—at least for a time—in
èclat, and has left a more celebrated name, the Select Society.
The Select Society was established in imitation of the academies which were then common in the larger towns of France, and was partly a debating society for the discussion of topics of the day, and partly a patriotic society for the promotion of the arts, sciences, and manufactures of Scotland. The idea was first mooted by Allan Ramsay,
the painter, who had travelled in France as long ago as 1739, with James Oswald, M.P., and was struck with some of the French institutions. Smith was one of the first of Ramsay’s friends to be consulted about the suggestion, and threw himself so heartily into it that when the painter announced his first formal meeting for the purpose on the 23rd of May 1754, Smith was not only one of the fifteen persons present, but was entrusted with the duty of explaining the object of the meeting and the nature of the proposed institution. Dr. A. Carlyle, who was present, says this was the only occasion he ever heard Smith make anything in the nature of a speech, and he was but little impressed with Smith’s powers as a public speaker. His voice was harsh, and his enunciation thick, approaching even to stammering.
*7 Of course many excellent speakers often stutter much in making a simple business explanation which they are composing as they go along, and Smith always stuttered and hesitated a deal for the first quarter of an hour, even in his class lectures, though his elocution grew free and animated, and often powerful, as he warmed to his task.
The Society was established and met with the most rapid and remarkable success. The fifteen original members soon grew to a hundred and thirty, and men of the highest rank as well as literary name flocked to join it. Kames and Monboddo, Robertson and Ferguson and Hume, Carlyle and John Home, Blair and Wilkie and Wallace, the statistician; Islay Campbell and Thomas Miller, the future heads of the Court of Session; the Earls of Sutherland, Hopetoun, Marchmont, Morton, Rosebery, Erroll, Aboyne, Cassilis, Selkirk, Glasgow, and Lauderdale; Lords Elibank, Garlies, Gray, Auchinleck, and Hailes; John Adam, the architect; Dr. Cullen, John Coutts, the banker and member for the city; Charles Townshend, the witty statesman; and a throng of all that was distinguished in the country, were enrolled as members, and,
what is more, frequented its meetings. It met every Friday evening from six to nine, at first in a room in the Advocates’ Library, but when that became too small for the numbers that began to attend its meetings, in a room hired from the Mason Lodge above the Laigh Council House; and its debates, in which the younger advocates and ministers—men like Wedderburn and Robertson—took the chief part, became speedily famous over all Scotland as intellectual displays to which neither the General Assembly of the Kirk nor the Imperial Parliament could show anything to rival. Hume wrote in 1755 to Allan Ramsay, who had by that time gone to settle in Rome, that the Select Society “has grown to be a national concern. Young and old, noble and ignoble, witty and dull, laity and clergy, all the world are ambitious of a place amongst us, and on each occasion we are as much solicited by candidates as if we were to choose a member of Parliament.” He goes on to say that “our young friend Wedderburn has acquired a great character by the appearance he has made,” and that Wilkie, the minister, “has turned up from obscurity and become a very fashionable man, as he is indeed a very singular one. Monboddo’s oddities divert, Sir David’s (Lord Hailes) zeal entertains, Jack Dalrymple’s (Sir John of the
Memoirs) rhetoric interests. The long drawling speakers have found out their want of talents and rise seldomer. In short, the House of Commons is less the object of general curiosity to London than the Select Society is to Edinburgh. The ‘Robin Hood,’ the ‘Devil,’ and all other speaking societies are ignoble in comparison.”
At the second regular meeting, which was held on the 19th of June 1754, Mr. Adam Smith was Præses, and gave out the subjects for debate on the following meeting night: (1) Whether a general naturalisation of foreign Protestantism would be advantageous to Britain; and (2) whether bounties on the exportation of corn be advantageous to trade and
manufactures as well as to agriculture.
*9 Lord Campbell in mentioning this circumstance makes it appear as if Smith chose the latter subject of his own motion, in accordance with a rule of the society whereby the chairman of one meeting selected the subject for debate at the next meeting; and it would have been a not uninteresting circumstance if it were true, for it would show the line his ideas were taking at that early period of his career; but as a matter of fact the rule in question was not adopted for some time after the second meeting, and it is distinctly mentioned in the minutes that on this particular occasion the Præses “declared before he left the chair the questions that were agreed upon by the majority of the meeting to be the subject of next night’s debate.”
*10 It is quite possible, of course, that the subjects may have been of Smith’s suggestion, but that can now only be matter of conjecture. Indeed, whether it be due to his influence or whether it arose merely from a general current of interest moving in that direction at the time, the subjects discussed by this society were very largely economic; so much so that in a selection of them published by the
Scots Magazine in 1757 every one partakes of that character. “What are the advantages to the public and the State from grazing? what from corn lands? and what ought to be most encouraged in this country? Whether great or small farms are most advantageous to the country? What are the most proper measures for a gentleman to promote industry on his own estate? What are the advantages and disadvantages of gentlemen of estate being farmers? What is the best and most proper duration of leases of land in Scotland? What prestations beside the proper tack-duty tenants ought to be obliged to pay with respect to carriages and other services, planting and preserving trees, maintaining enclosures and houses, working freestone, limestone, coal, or minerals, making enclosures, straightening marches, carrying
off superfluous water to other grounds, and forming drains? and what restrictions they should be put under with respect to cottars, live stock on the farm, winter herding, ploughing the ground, selling manure, straw, hay, or corn, thirlage to mills, smiths or tradesmen employed on business extrinsic to the farm, subsetting land, granting assignations of leases, and removals at the expiration of leases? What proportion of the produce of lands should be paid as rent to the master? In what circumstances the rents of lands should be paid in money? in what in kind? and in what time they should be paid? Whether corn should be sold by measure or by weight? What is the best method of getting public highways made and repaired, whether by a turnpike law, as in many places in Great Britain, by country or parish work, by a tax, or by what other method? What is the best and most equal way of hiring and contracting servants? and what is the most proper method to abolish the practice of giving of vails?”
*11 The society had what may be termed a special agricultural branch, to which I shall presently refer, and which met once a month and discussed chiefly questions of husbandry and land management; and the above list of subjects looks, from its almost exclusively agrarian character, as if it had been rather the business of this branch of the society merely than of the society as a whole. Still the same causes that made rural economy predominate in the monthly work of the branch would give it a large place in the weekly discussions of the parent association. The members were largely connected with the landed interest, and agricultural improvement was then on the order of the day.
In this society accordingly, which Smith attended very frequently, though he does not appear to have spoken in the debates, he had with respect to agrarian problems precisely what he had in the economic club of Glasgow with respect to commercial problems, the best opportunities of
hearing them discussed at first hand by those who were practically most conversant with the subjects in all their details. Of course the society sometimes discussed questions of literature or art, or familiar old historical controversies, such as whether Brutus did well in killing Cæsar? Indeed, no subject was expressly tabooed except such as might stir up the Deistic or Jacobite strife—in the words of the rules, “such as regard revealed religion, or which may give occasion to vent any principles of Jacobitism.” But the great majority of the questions debated were of an economic or political character,—questions about outdoor relief, entail, banking, linen export bounties, whisky duties, foundling hospitals, whether the institution of slavery be advantageous to the free? and whether a union with Ireland would be advantageous to Great Britain? Sometimes more than one subject would be got through in a night, sometimes the debate on a single subject would be adjourned from week to week till it was thought to be thrashed out; and every member might speak three times in the course of a debate if he chose, once for fifteen minutes, and the other twice for ten.
The Select Society was, however, as I have said, more than a debating club; it aimed besides at doing something practical for the promotion of the arts, sciences, manufactures, and agriculture, in the land of its birth, and accordingly, when it was about ten months in existence, it established a well-devised and extensive scheme of prizes for meritorious work in every department of human labour, to be supported by voluntary subscriptions. In the prospectus the society issued it says that, after the example of foreign academies, it had resolved to propose two subjects for competition every year, chosen one from polite letters and the other from the sciences, and to confer on the winner some public mark of distinction in respect to his taste and learning. The reward, however, was not in this case to be of a pecuniary nature, for the principle of the society was that rewards of merit were in the finer arts to
be honorary, but in the more useful arts, where the merit was of a less elevated character, they were to be lucrative. On the same principle, in the arts the highest place was allowed to be due to genius, and therefore a reward for a discovery or invention was set at the very top of the tree, but still it was of a purely honorary character, a pecuniary recognition being thought apparently unsuitable to the dignity of that kind of service. “The art of printing,” the prospectus goes on to say—with a glance of satisfaction cast doubtless at the Foulis Press—”the art of printing in this country needs no encouragement, yet as to pass it by unnoticed were slighting the merit of those by whose means alone it has attained that eminence, it was resolved that the best printed and most correct book which shall be produced within a limited time be distinguished by an honorary reward.” On the other hand, the manufacture of paper was a thing that required encouragement in Scotland, because the Scotch at that time imported their paper from abroad, “from countries,” says the prospectus, “which use not half the linen that is here consumed”; and “to remove this defect, to render people more attentive to their own interest as well as to the interest of their country, to show them the consequence of attention to matters which may seem trivial, it was resolved that for the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth parcels of linen rags gathered within a limited time a reward be assigned in proportion to the quantity and goodness of each parcel.” In other cases manufactures were already well established in the country, and the thing that still needed to be encouraged by prizes was improvement in the workmanship. For example, “manufactures of cotton and linen prints are already established in different places of this country; in order to promote an attention to the elegance of the pattern and to the goodness of the colouring, as well as to the strength of the cloth, it was resolved that for the best piece of printed linen or cotton cloth made within a certain period a premium should be allotted.” The art of drawing,
again, “being closely connected with this art and serviceable to most others, it was resolved that for the best drawings by boys or girls under sixteen years of age certain premiums be assigned.” Then there was a considerable annual importation into Scotland of worked ruffles and of bone lace and edging which the Select Society thought might, under proper encouragement, be quite as well produced at home; and it was therefore resolved to give both honorary and lucrative rewards for superior merit in such work, the honorary for “women of fashion” who might complete, and the lucrative for those “whose laudable industry contributes to their own support.” Scotch stockings had then a great reputation for the excellence of their workmanship, but Scotch worsted, to make them with, was not so good, and consequently a premium was to be offered for the best woollen yarn. There was a great demand at the time for English blankets, and no reason why the Scotch should not make quite as good blankets themselves out of their own wool, so a premium was proposed for the best imitation of English blankets. Carpet-making was begun in several places in the country, and a prize for the best-wrought and best-patterned carpet would encourage the manufacturers to vie with each other. Whisky-distilling, too, was established at different places, and Scotch strong ale had even acquired a great and just reputation both at home and abroad; but the whisky was “still capable of great improvement in the quality and taste,” and the ale trade “might be carried to a much greater height,” and these ends might be severally promoted by prizes for the best tun of whisky and the best hogshead of strong ale.
The practical execution of this scheme was committed to nine members of the society, who were to be chosen annually, and were to meet with the society once a month to report progress or receive instructions; but to keep this new task quite distinct from the old, the society resolved, like certain mercantile firms when they adopt a new branch
of business, to carry it on under a new firm name, and for this purpose the Select Society of Edinburgh became “The Edinburgh Society for encouraging arts, sciences, manufactures, and agriculture in Scotland”; and the executive committee of nine were termed the “ordinary managers of the Edinburgh Society,” who were assisted by other nine “extraordinary managers.” The Edinburgh Society was not, however, a separate institution; it was really only a special committee of the Select Society. It met once a month at a separate time from the usual weekly meeting of the parent society, and the business of this monthly meeting came, from the predominant interest of the members, who were so largely composed of the nobility and gentry, to be engrossed almost wholly with agricultural discussions. To render these discussions more effective and profitable, a resolution was passed in 1756 to admit a certain number of practical farmers to the membership.
This extension of the scope of the Society’s work was not approved by its founder, Allan Ramsay, who thought it beneath the dignity of such an institution to take an interest in the making of ruffles or the brewing of strong ale, and feared besides that it would introduce a new set of very unintellectual members, to the serious prejudice of the society’s debates. An essay on taste was very well, and when it came out he would ask Millar, the bookseller, to send it out to him in Rome, but a prize for the biggest bundle of linen rags! “I could have wished,” he writes Hume, “that some other way had been fallen upon by which porter might have been made thick and the nation rich without our understanding being at all the poorer for it. Is not truth more than meat, and wisdom than raiment?”
*12 But however Ramsay might look down on the project, his coadjutor in the founding of the society, Adam Smith, entertained a very different idea of its importance. A stimulus to the development of her
industries was the very thing Scotland most needed at the moment, and he entered heartily into the new scheme, and took a prominent part in carrying it out. He was not one of the nine managers to whom the practical execution of the idea was at first entrusted, but when a few months afterwards the work was divided among four separate committees or sections of five members each, all chosen by another committee of five, nominated expressly for that purpose, Smith is one of this nominating committee, and is by it appointed likewise a member of one of the four executive committees. The other four members of the nominating committee were Alexander Monro
Primus, the anatomist: Gilbert Elliot, M.P. for Selkirkshine; the Rev. William Wilkie, author of the
Epigoniad; and the Rev. Robert Wallace, the predecessor and at least in part the stimulator of Malthus in his speculations on the population question. The five members of this committee were directed by the society to put their own names on one or other of the four executive committees, and they placed the name of Smith, together with that of Hume, on the committee for Belles-Lettres and Criticism. As yet he was evidently best known as literary critic, though the questions propounded by him in this society, and the subjects treated by him in the Literary Society of Glasgow, show that his tastes were already leading him into other directions.
Sufficient contributions soon flowed in; Hume in his letter to Ramsay speaks of £100 being already in hand, and of several large subscriptions besides being promised from various noblemen, whom he names; and accordingly an advertisement was published in the newspapers on the 10th of April 1755, offering the following prizes:—
I. Honorary premiums, being gold medals with suitable devices and inscriptions:—
II. Honorary premiums, being silver medals with proper devices and inscriptions:—
4. For the best printed and most correct book of at least 10 sheets.
5. For the best printed cotton or linen cloth, not under 28 yards.
6. For the best imitation of English blankets, not under six.
7. For the next best ditto, not under six.
8. For the best hogshead of strong ale.
9. For the best hogshead of porter.
III. Lucrative premiums:—
10. For the most useful invention in arts, £21.
11. For the best carpet as to work, pattern, and colours, of at least 48 yards, £5:5s.
12. For the next best ditto, also 48 yards, £4:4s.
13. For the best drawings of fruits, flowers, and foliages by boys or girls under sixteen years of age, £5:5s.
14. For the second best, £3:3s.
15. For the third best, £2:2s.
16. For the best imitation of Dresden work in a pair of man’s ruffles, £5:5s.
17. For the best bone lace, not under 20 yards, £5:5s.
18. For the greatest quantity of white linen rags, £1:10s.
19. For the second ditto, £1:5s.
20. For the third ditto, £1.
21. For the fourth ditto, 15s.
22. For the fifth ditto, 10s.
The articles were asked to be delivered to Mr. Walter Goodall (David Hume’s assistant in the work of librarian), at the Advocates’ Library, before the first Monday of December.
*13 On the 19th of August the following additional prizes were offered:—
23. To the farmer who plants the greatest number (not under 1000) of timber trees, oak, beech, ash, or elm, in hedgerows before December 1756, £10.
24. Second ditto (not under 500), £5.
25. To the farmer who shall raise the greatest number (not under 2000) of young thorn plants before December 1758, £6.
26. Second ditto (not under 1000), £4.
In the following year the society increased the number of its prizes to 92; in 1757 to 120, in 1758 to 138, and in 1759 to 142; and they were devoted to the encouragement of every variety of likely industry—kid gloves, straw hats, felt hats, soap, cheese, cradles to be made of willow grown in Scotland. One premium was offered to the person who would “cure the greatest number of smoky chimneys to the satisfaction of the society.”
The prize for the best essay on taste was won by Professor Gerard of Aberdeen, and the essay was published, and is still well known to students of metaphysics; and the prize for the best dissertation on vegetation and agriculture fell to Dr. Francis Home. The best invention was a piece of linen made like Marseille work but on a loom, and for this £20 were awarded to Peter Brotherton, weaver in Dirleton, East Lothian. Foulis won in 1757 the prize for the best printed book in Roman characters by his
Horace, and for the best printed book in Greek characters by his
Iliad; and in 1759 Professor Gerard again won a prize by his dissertation on style.
This society, while it lasted, undoubtedly exercised a most beneficial influence in developing and improving the industrial resources of Scotland. The carpet manufacture alone rose £1000 in the year after the establishment of the prizes, and the rise was believed to be due to the stimulus they imparted. But, useful and active and celebrated as it was, the Select Society died within ten years of its origin. The usual explanation is that it owed its death to the effects of a sarcasm of Charles Townshend’s. Townshend was brought to hear one of the wonderful
debates, which were thought to reflect a new glory on Edinburgh, and was even elected a member of the society, but he observed when he came out that, while he admitted the eloquence of the orators, he was unable to understand a word they said, inasmuch as they spoke in what was to him a foreign tongue. “Why,” he asked, “can you not learn to speak the English language, as you have already learnt to write it?”
This was to touch Scotchmen of that period who made any pretensions to education at one of their most sensitive parts. Scotch—the broad dialect of Burns and Fergusson—was still the common medium of intercourse in polite society, and might be heard even from the pulpit or the bench, though English was flowing rapidly into fashion, and the younger and more ambitious sort of people were trying their best to lose the native dialect. We know the pains taken by great writers like Hume and Robertson to clear their English composition of Scotch idioms, and the greater but less successful pains taken by Wedderburn to cure himself of his Scotch pronunciation, to which he reverted after all in his old age. Under these circumstances Townshend’s sarcasm occasioned almost a little movement of lingual reform. Thomas Sheridan, who was about this time full of a method he had invented of imparting to foreigners a proper pronunciation of the English language by means of sounds borrowed from their own, and who had just been giving lessons to Wedderburn, and probably practising the new method on him, was brought north in 1761 and delivered a course of sixteen lectures in St. Paul’s Chapel, Carrubber’s Close, to about 300 gentlemen—”the most eminent,” it is reported, “in the country for rank and abilities.” Immediately thereafter the Select Society organised a special association for promoting the writing and speaking of the English language in Scotland, and engaged a teacher of correct English pronunciation from London. Smith was not
one of the directors of this new association, but Robertson, Ferguson, and Blair were, together with a number of peers, baronets, lords of Session, and leaders of the bar. But spite of the imposing auspices under which this simple project of an English elocution master was launched, it proved a signal failure, for it touched the national vanity. It seemed to involve a humiliating confession of inferiority to a rival nation at the very moment when that nation was raging with abuse of the Scotch, when Wilkes was publishing the
North Briton, and Churchill was writing his lampoons; and when it was advertised in the Edinburgh newspapers, it provoked such a storm of antipathy and ridicule that even the honourable society which furthered the scheme began to lose favour, its subscriptions and membership declined, and presently the whole organisation fell to pieces. That is the account commonly given of the fall of the Select Society, and the society certainly reached its culminating point in 1762. After that subscribers withdrew their names, or refused to pay their subscriptions, and in 1765 the society had no funds to offer more than six prizes and ceased to exist, its own explanation being that it died of the loss of novelty. “The arrears of subscriptions seem,” it says, “to confirm an observation that has sometimes been made that in Scotland every disinterested plan of public utility is slighted as soon as it loses the charm of novelty.”
Another interesting but even more abortive project which Smith took a leading part in promoting at this same period was the publication of a new literary magazine, entitled the
Edinburgh Review, of which the first number appeared in July 1755, and the second and last in January 1756. This project also originated, like the Select Society, in a sentiment of Scotch patriotism. It was felt that though Scotland was at the time stirring with an important literary and scientific movement, the productions of the Scotch press were too much ignored by the English literary
periodicals, and received inadequate appreciation even in Scotland itself for want of a good critical journal on the spot. “If countries may be said to have their ages with respect to improvement,” says the preface to the first number of the new
Review, “then North Britain may be considered as in a state of early youth, guided and supported by the more mature strength of her kindred country. If in anything her advances have been such as to make a more forward state, it is in science.” After remarking that the two obstacles to the literary advancement of Scotland had hitherto been her deficiency in the art of printing and her imperfect command of good English, and that the first of these obstacles had been removed entirely, and the second shown by recent writers to be capable of being surmounted, it proceeds: “The idea therefore was that to show men at this particular stage of the country’s progress the gradual advance of science would be a means of inciting them to a more eager pursuit of learning, to distinguish themselves and to do honour to their country.” The editor was Alexander Wedderburn, who afterwards became Lord High Chancellor of England and Earl of Rosslyn, but had in 1755 only just passed as an advocate at the Scotch bar; and the contributors were Robertson, who wrote eight review articles on new historical publications; Blair, who gave one or two indifferent notices of works in philosophy; Jardine, one of the ministers of Edinburgh, who discussed Ebenezer Erskine’s sermons, a few theological pamphlets, and Mrs. Cleland’s Cookery Book; and Adam Smith, who contributed to the first number a review of Dr. Johnson’s
Dictionary, and to the second a remarkable letter to the editor proposing to widen the scope of the
Review, and giving a striking survey of the state of contemporary literature in all the countries of Europe. Smith’s two contributions are out of sight the ablest and most important articles the
He gives a warm and most appreciative welcome to
Dictionary, but thinks it would have been improved if the author had in the first place more often censured words not of approved use, and if in the second he had, instead of simply enumerating the several meanings of a word, arranged them into classes and distinguished principal from subsidiary meanings. Then to illustrate what he wants, Smith himself writes two model articles, one on
Wit and the other on
Humour, both acute and interesting. He counts humour to be always something accidental and fitful, the disease of a disposition, and he considers it much inferior to wit, though it may often be more amusing. “Wit expresses something that is more designed, concerted, regular, and artificial; humour something that is more wild, loose, extravagant, and fantastical; something which comes upon a man by fits which he can neither command nor restrain, and which is not perfectly consistent with true politeness. Humour, it has been said, is often more diverting than wit; yet a man of wit is as much above a man of humour as a gentleman is above a buffoon; a buffoon, however, will often divert more than a gentleman.”
In his second contribution—a long letter to the editor published in the appendix to the second number—Smith advocates the enlargement of the scope of the
Review so as to give some account of works of importance published abroad, even though space had to be provided for the purpose by neglecting unimportant publications issued from the Scotch press, and, in fact, he considers this substitution as a necessity for the continued life of the
Review. For, says he, “you will oblige the public much more by giving them an account of such books as are worthy of their regard than by filling your paper with all the insignificant literary news of the time, of which not an article in a hundred is likely to be thought of a fortnight after the publication of the work that gave occasion to it.” He then proceeds to a review of contemporary continental literature, which he says meant at that time the literature
of France. Italy had ceased to produce literature, and Germany produced only science. A sentence or two may be quoted from his comparison between French and English literature, because they show that he was not, as he is sometimes accused of being, an unfair depreciator of the great writers of England and a blind admirer of those of France. He will be owned to have had a very just opinion of the specific merits of each.
“Imagination, genius, and invention,” he says, “seem to be the talents of the English; taste, judgment, propriety, and order, of the French. In the old English poets, in Shakespeare, Spenser, and Milton, there often appears, amidst some irregularities and extravagancies, a strength of imagination so vast, so gigantic and super-natural, as astonishes and confounds the reader into that admiration of their genius which makes him despise as mean and insignificant all criticism upon the inequalities of their writings. In the eminent French writers such sallies of genius are more rarely to be met with, but instead of them a just arrangement, an exact propriety and decorum, joined to an equal and studied elegance of sentiment and diction, which, as it never strikes the heart like those violent and momentary flashes of imagination, so it never revolts the judgment by anything that is absurd or unnatural, nor ever wearies the attention by any gross inequality in the style or want of connection in the method, but entertains the mind with a regular succession of agreeable, interesting, and connected objects.”
From poetry he passes to philosophy, and finds that the French encyclopedists had left their native Cartesian system for the English system of Bacon and Newton, and were proving more effective expositors of that system than the English themselves. After reviewing the
Encyclopédie at considerable length, he gives an account of the recent scientific works of Buffon and Reaumur, and, among books in metaphysics, of Rousseau’s famous
Discourse on the Origin and Foundation of the Inequality of Mankind,which was then only a few months out, and in which, Smith says, Rousseau, “by the help of his style, together with a little philosophical chemistry,” has made “the principles and ideas of the profligate Mandeville seem to have all the purity and simplicity of the morals of Plato, and to be only the true spirit of a republican carried a little too far.” He gives a summary of the book, translates a few specimen passages, and concludes by saying, “I shall only add that the dedication to the Republic of Geneva, of which M. Rousseau has the honour of being a citizen, is an agreeable, animated, and I believe, too, a just panegyric.”
Sir James Mackintosh, who republished these two numbers of the first
Edinburgh Review in 1818 after the second
Edinburgh Review had made the name famous, considers it noteworthy, as showing the contributors to have taken up a very decided political position for so early a period, that the preface to the first number speaks boldly in praise of George Buchanan’s “undaunted spirit of liberty.” But Smith’s warm expression of admiration for the Republic of Geneva, to which the reckons it an honour to belong, is equally notable. He seems to have been always theoretically a republican, and he certainly had the true spirit of a republican in his love of all rational liberty. His pupil and lifelong friend, the Earl of Buchan, says: “He approached to republicanism in his political principles, and considered a commonwealth as the platform for the monarchy, hereditary succession in the chief magistrate being necessary only to prevent the commonwealth from being shaken by ambition, or absolute dominion introduced by the consequences of contending factions.”
Smith’s scheme for the improvement of the
Review was never carried out, for with that number the
Review itself came to a sudden and premature end. The reason for giving it up is explained by Lord Woodhouselee to have been that the strictures passed by it on some fanatical publications of the day had excited such a clamour
“that a regard to the public tranquillity and their own determined the reviewers to discontinue their labours.”
*17 Doubt has been expressed of the probability of this explanation, but Lord Woodhouselee, who was personally acquainted with several of the contributors, is likely to have known of the circumstances, and his statement is borne out besides by certain corroborative facts. It is true the theological articles of the two numbers appear to us to be singularly inoffensive. They were entrusted to the only contributor who was not a young man, Dr. Jardine, the wily leader of the Moderate party in the Church, the Dean of the Thistle mentioned in Lord Dreghorn’s verses as governing the affairs of the city as well as the Church through his power over his father-in-law—
The old Provost, who danced to the whistle
Of that arch politician, the Dean of the Thistle.
The arch politician contrived to make his theological criticism colourless even to the point of vapidity, but that did not save him or his
Review; it perhaps only exposed them the more to the attacks of zealots. His notice of the sermons of Ebenezer Erskine, the Secession leader, provoked a sharp pamphlet from Erskine’s son, in which the reviewers were accused of teaching unsound theological views, of putting the creature before the Creator by allowing the lawfulness of a lie in certain situations, of throwing ridicule on the Bible and the Westminster
Confession of Faith, and of having David Hume, an atheist, among their number.
This last thrust was a mere controversial guess, and, strangely enough, it guessed wrong. A new literary review is started in Edinburgh by a few of Hume’s younger friends, and Hume himself—the only one of them who had yet made any name in literature, and the most distinguished man of letters then in Scotland—is
neither asked to contribute to the periodical, nor even admitted to the secret of its origination. When the first number appeared he went about among his acquaintances expressing the greatest surprise that so promising a literary adventure should be started by Edinburgh men of letters without a whisper of it ever reaching his ears. More than that, his very name and writings were strangely and studiously ignored in its pages. His
History of the Stewarts was one of the last new books, having been published in the end of 1754, and was unquestionably much the most important work that had recently come from any Scotch pen, yet in a periodical instituted for the very purpose of devoting attention to the productions of Scotch authors, this work of his remained absolutely unnoticed.
Why this complete boycott of Hume by his own household? Henry Mackenzie “thinks he has heard” two reasons given for it: first, that Hume was considered too good-natured for a critic, and certain to have insisted on softening remarks his colleagues believed to be called for; and second, that they determined to keep him out of the secret entirely, because he could not keep a secret.
*18 But this explanation does not hold together. If Hume was so good-natured, he would be less difficult rather than more difficult to manage; and as for not being able to keep a secret, that, as Mr. Burton observes, is a very singular judgment to pass on one who had been Secretary of Legation already and was soon to be Secretary of Legation again, and Under Secretary of State, without having been once under the shadow of such an accusation. Besides, neither of these reasons will explain the ignoring of his writings.
A more credible explanation must be looked for, and it can only be discovered in the intense
odium theologicum which the name of Hume excited at the moment, and which made it imperative, if the new
Review was to get
justice, that it should be severed from all association with his detested name. Scotland happened to be at that very hour in an exceptional ferment about his theological heresies, and one of the strangest of proposals had come before the previous General Assembly of the Kirk, backed by a number of the most respected country clergy. It was no other than to summon the great sceptic to their bar, to visit his
Inquiry concerning the Principles of Morals with censure, and to pronounce against the author the major ban of excommunication.
The wise heads who rule the Scotch Church courts of course threw out this inconvenient proposal by the favourite ecclesiastical device of passing an abstract resolution expressive of concern at the growing evils of the day, without committing the Church to any embarrassing practical action; and Hume himself was, as Wedderburn told them he likely would be, hardened enough to laugh at the very idea of their anathema. But the originators of the agitation only returned to the battle, and prepared for a victory in the next Assembly in May 1756. Between the two Assemblies Hume wrote his friend Allan Ramsay, the painter, who was in Rome: “You may tell that reverend gentleman the Pope that there are men here who rail at him, and yet would be much greater persecutors had they equal power. The last Assembly sat on me. They did not propose to burn me, because they cannot, but they intended to give me over to Satan, which they think they have the power of doing. My friends, however, prevailed, and my damnation is postponed for a twelvemonth, but next Assembly will surely be upon me.”
*19 And so in truth it was. An overture came up calling for action regarding “one person calling himself David Hume, Esq., who hath arrived at such a degree of boldness as publicly to avow himself the author of books containing the most rude and open attacks upon the glorious Gospel of Christ,” and a
motion was made for the appointment of a committee “to inquire into the writings of this author, to call him before them, and prepare the matter for the next General Assembly.” This motion was again defeated, and the heresy-hunters passed on to turn their attention to Lord Kames, and to summon the printers and publishers of his
Essays before the Edinburgh Presbytery to give up the author’s name (the book having been published anonymously), “that he and they may be censured according to the law of the Gospel and the practice of this and all other well-governed churches.”
It is open us to believe that Hume’s friends contemplated no more than a temporary exclusion of him from their counsels until this storm should pass by; but at any rate, as they launched their frail bark in the very thick of the storm, it would have meant instant swamping at that juncture to have taken the Jonah who caused all the commotion and made him one of their crew. For the same reason, when they found that, for all their precautions, the clamour overtook them notwithstanding, they simply put back into port and never risked so unreasoning and raging an element again.
It may indeed be thought that they declined Hume’s co-operation, because they expressly hoisted the flag of religion in their preface, and professed one of their objects to be to resist the current attracks of infidelity. But there would have been no inconsistency in engaging the co-operation of an unbeliever on secular subjects, so long as they retained the rudder in their own hands, and men who were already Hume’s intimate personal friends were not likely to be troubled with such unnecessary scruples about their consistency. The true reason both of Hume’s exclusion from their secret and of their own abandonment of their undertaking is undoubtedly the reason given by Lord Woodhouselee, that they wanted to live and work in peace. They did not like, to use a phrase of Hamilton of Bangour, to have “zeal clanking her iron bands” about their ears.
Hume, on the other hand, rather took pleasure in the din he provoked, and had he been a contributor the rest would have had difficulty—and may have felt so—in restraining him from gratifying that taste when any favourable opportunities offered.
While these things were going on in Edinburgh a book had made its appearance from the London press, which is often stated to have been written for the express purpose of converting Adam Smith to a belief in the miraculous evidences of Christianity. That book is the
Criterion of Miracles Examined, by Smith’s Oxford friend Bishop Douglas, then a country rector in Shropshire. It is written in the form of a letter to an anonymous correspondent, who had, in spite of his “good sense, candour, and learning,” and on grounds “many of them peculiar to himself and not borrowed from books,” “reasoned himself into an unfavourable opinion of the evidences of Christianity”; and this anonymous correspondent is said in Chalmers’s
Biographical Dictionary to have been “since known to be Adam Smith.” From Chalmers’s
Dictionary the same statement has been repeated in the same words in subsequent biographical dictionaries and elsewhere, but neither Chalmers nor his successors reveal who it was to whom this was known, or how he came to know it; and on the other hand, Macdonald, the son-in-law and biographer of Douglas, makes no mention of Smith’s name in connection with this work at all, and explicitly states that the book was written for the satisfaction of more than one of the author’s friends, who had been influenced by the objections of Hume and others to the reality of the Gospel miracles.
*20 This leaves the point somewhat undetermined.
Smith was certainly a Theist, his writings leave no doubt of that, but he most probably discarded the Christian miracles; and if Douglas’s book is addressed to his particular position, discarded them on the ground that there is no possible criterion for distinguishing true
miracles from false, and enabling you to accept those of Christianity if you reject those of profane history. The Earl of Buchan, apostrophising Smith, asks, “Oh, venerable and worthy man, why was you not a Christian?” and tries to let his old professor down as gently as possible by suggesting that the reason lay in the warmth of his heart, which always made him express strongly the opinions of his friends, and carried him in this instance into sympathy with those of David Hume. That is obviously a lame conclusion, because Smith’s friendship for Hume never made him a Tory, nor even on the point of religion were his opinions identical with those of Hume; but Lord Buchan’s words may be quoted as an observation by an acute man of a feature in Smith’s character not without biographical interest. “Had he (Smith) been a friend of the worthy ingenious Horrox,” says his lordship, “he would have believed that the moon sometimes disappeared in a clear sky without the interposition of a cloud, or of another truly honest and respectable man, that a professor of mathematics at Upsala had a tail of six inches long to his rump.”
In 1756 the literary circle in Edinburgh was much excited by the performance of John Home’s tragedy of
Douglas. Smith was not present at that performance; but he is stated by Henry Mackenzie, in his
Life of John Home, to have been present at some of the previous rehearsals of the play, and at any rate he was deeply interested in it; and Hume, as soon as he hears of the continued success of the play in London, hastens to communicate the welcome news to his friend in Glasgow, with whom he was in correspondence about his own historical plans. Smith seems to have been advising him, instead of following up his
History of the Stewarts by the history of succeeding periods, to go back and write the history of the period before the Stewarts.
After mentioning John Home, Hume proceeds: “I
can now give you the satisfaction of hearing that the play, though not near so well acted in Covent Garden as in this place, is likely to be very successful. Its great intrinsic merit breaks through all obstacles. When it shall be printed (which shall be soon) I am persuaded it will be esteemed the best, and by French critics the only tragedy of our language!…
“Did you ever hear of such madness and folly as our clergy have lately fallen into? For my part, I expect that the next Assembly will very solemnly pronounce the sentence of excommunication against me, but I do not apprehend it to be a matter of any consequence; what do you think?
“I am somewhat idle at present and somewhat indifferent as to my next undertaking. Shall I go backwards or forwards in my History? I think you used to tell me that you approved more of my going backwards. The other would be the more popular subject, but I am afraid I shall not find materials sufficient to ascertain the truth, at least without settling in London, which I own I have some reluctance to. I am settled here very much to my mind, and would not wish at my years to change the place of my abode.
“I have just now received a copy of
Douglas from London. It will instantly be put in the press. I hope to be able to send you a copy in the same parcel with the dedication.”
Hume was now very anxious to have his friend nearer him, and thought in 1758 an opportunity could be contrived of translating Smith to a chair in the University of Edinburgh. There was at that time some probability of Professor Abercromby resigning the chair of Public Law (then styled the chair of the Law of Nature and Nations), and as Smith, though not a lawyer, was yet a distinguished professor of jurisprudence, his friends in Edinburgh immediately suggested his candidature, especially as they
believed such a change would not be unacceptable to himself. The chair of the Law of Nature and Nations was one of the best endowed in the College, having a revenue of £150 a year independently of fees, but it had been founded as a job, and continued ever since to be treated as a sinecure. Not a single lecture had ever been delivered by any of its incumbents, in spite of repeated remonstrances on the part of the Faculty of Advocates, and Hume believed that if the Town Council, as administrators of the College, could be got to press for the delivery of the statutory lectures, the present professor would prefer the alternative of resignation. In that event the vacant office might easily, in Hume’s opinion, be obtained by Smith, inasmuch as the patronage was in the hands of the Crown, and Crown patronage in Scotland at the time was virtually exercised through Lord Justice-Clerk Milton (a nephew of Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, the patriot), who had been, ever since the death of Lord President Forbes, the chief confidential adviser of the Duke of Argyle, the Minister of Scotland, and was personally acquainted with Smith through his daughter Mrs. Wedderburn of Gosford, the friend of Robertson and John Home.
Others of Smith’s Edinburgh friends zealously joined Hume in his representations, especially the faithful Johnstone (afterwards Sir W. Pulteney), who actually wrote Smith a letter on the subject along with Hume’s. Hume’s letter is as follows:—
DEAR SMITH—I sit down to write to you along with Johnstone, and as we have been talking over the matter, it is probable we shall employ the same arguments. As he is the younger lawyer, I leave him to open the case, and suppose that you have read his letter first. We are certain that the settlement of you here and of Ferguson at Glasgow would be perfectly easy by Lord Milton’s Interest. The Prospect of prevailing with Abercrombie is also very good. For the same statesman by his influence over the Town Council could oblige him either to
attend, which he never would do, or dispose of the office for the money which he gave for it. The only real difficulty is then with you. Pray then consider that this is perhaps the only opportunity we shall ever have of getting you to town. I dare swear that you think the difference of Place is worth paying something for, and yet it will really cost you nothing. You made above a hundred pound a year by your class when in this Place, though you had not the character of Professor. We cannot suppose that it will be less than a hundred and thirty after you are settled. John Stevenson
*23—and it is John Stevenson—makes near a hundred and fifty, as we were informed upon Enquiry. Here is a hundred pounds a year for eight years’ Purchase, which is a cheap purchase, even considered in the way of a Bargain. We flatter ourselves that you rate our company at something, and the Prospect of settling Ferguson will be an additional inducement. For though we think of making him take up the Project if you refuse it, yet it is uncertain whether he will consent; and it is attended in his case with many very obvious objections. I beseech you therefore to weigh all these motives over again. The alteration of these circumstances merit that you should put the matter again in deliberation. I had a letter from Miss Hepburn, where she regrets very much that you are settled at Glasgow, and that we had the chance of seeing you to seldom.—I am, dear Smith, yours sincerely,
th June 1758.
P.S.—Lord Milton can with his finger stop the foul mouths of all the Roarers against heresy.
The postscript shows what we have already indicated, that Smith had not escaped the general hue and cry against heresy which was now for some years abroad in the country.
The Miss Hepburn who regrets so much the remoteness of Smith’s residence is doubtless Miss Hepburn of Monkrig, near Haddington, one of those gifted literary ladies who were then not infrequently to be found in the country houses of Scotland. It was to Miss Hepburn and her sisters that John Home is said to have been indebted
for the first idea of
Douglas, and Robertson submitted to her the manuscript of his
History of Scotland piece by piece as he wrote it. When it was finished the historian sent her a presentation copy with a letter, in which he said: “Queen Mary has grown up to her present form under your eye; you have seen her in many different shapes, and you have now a right to her. Were I a
galante writer now, what a fine contrast might I make between you and Queen Mary? What a pretty string of antitheses between your virtues and her vices. I am glad, however, she did not resemble you. If she had, Rizzio would have only played first fiddle at her consort (
sic), with a pension of a thousand merks and two benefits in a winter; Darnley would have been a colonel in the Guards; Bothwell would, on account of his valour, have been Warden of the Middle Marches, but would have been forbid to appear at court because of his profligacy. But if all that had been done, what would have become of my History?”
Smith seems to have declined, for whatever reason, to take up the suggestion of Hume about this chair of Law, for we find Hume presently trying hard to secure the place for Ferguson. The difficulty may have been about the price, for though Hume speaks of £800, it seems Abercromby wanted more than £1000, and Ferguson too had no mind to begin life with such a debt on his shoulders. But the world is probably no loser by the difficulty, whatever it was, which kept Smith five years longer among the merchants and commercial problems of Glasgow.
Smith was one of the founders, or at least the original members, of the Edinburgh Poker Club in 1762. Every one has heard of that famous club, but most persons probably think of it as if it were merely a social or convivial society; and Mr. Burton lends some countenance to that mistake by declaring that he has never been able
to discover any other object it existed for except the drinking of claret. But the Poker Club was really a committee for political agitation, like the Anti-Corn-Law League or the Home Rule Union; only, after the more genial manners of those times, the first thing the committee thought requisite for the proper performance of their work was to lay in a stock of sound Burgundy that could be drawn from the wood at eighteenpence or two shillings a quart, to engage a room in a tavern for the exclusive use of the members, and establish a weekly or bi-weekly dinner at a moderate figure, to keep the
poker of agitation in active exercise. The club got its name from the practical purpose it was instituted to serve; it was to be an instrument for
stirring opinion, especially in high quarters, on a public question which was exciting the people of Scotland greatly at the moment, the question of the establishment of a national Scotch militia. Some of the members thought that when that question was settled, the club should go on and take up others. George Dempster of Dunnichen, for example, an old and respected parliamentary hand of that time, wrote Dr. Carlyle in 1762 that when they got their militia, they ought to agitate for parliamentary reform, “so as to let the industrious farmer and manufacturer share at last in a privilege now engrossed by the great lord, the drunken laird, and the drunkener baillie.”
*26 But they never got the length of considering other reforms, for the militia question was not settled in that generation. It outlived the Poker Club, and it outlived the Younger Poker Club which was enrolled to take up the cause in 1786, and it was not finally settled till 1793.
The Scotch had been roused to the defenceless condition of their country by the alarming appearance of Thurot in Scotch waters in 1759, and had instantly with one voice raised a cry for the establishment of a national militia. The whole country seemed to have set its mind
on this measure with a singular unanimity, and a bill for its enactment was accordingly introduced into the House of Commons in 1760 by two of the principal Scotch members, both former ministers of the Crown—James Oswald and Gilbert Elliot; but it was rejected by a large majority, because within only fifteen years of the Rebellion the English members were unwilling to entrust the Scotch people with arms. The rejection of the bill provoked a deep feeling of national indignation, the slur it cast on the loyalty of Scotland being resented even more than the indifference it showed to her perils. It was under the influence of this wave of national sentiment that the Poker Club was founded in 1762, to procure for the Scotch at once equality of rights with the English and adequate defences for their country.
The membership of the club included many of the foremost men in the land—great noblemen, advocates, men of letters, together with a number of spirited country gentlemen on both sides of politics, who cried that they had a militia of their own before the Union, and must have a militia of their own again. Dr. Carlyle says most of the members of the Select Society belonged to it, the exceptions consisting of a few who disapproved of the militia scheme, and of others, like the judges, who scrupled, on account of their official position, to take any part in a political movement. Carlyle gives a list of the members in 1774, containing among other names those of the Duke of Buccleugh, Lords Haddington, Glasgow, Glencairn, Elibank, and Mountstuart; Henry Dundas, Lord Advocate; Baron Mure, Hume, Adam Smith, Robertson, Black, Adam Ferguson, John Home, Dr. Blair, Sir James Steuart the economist, Dempster, Islay Campbell, afterwards Lord President; and John Clerk of Eldin. The first secretary of the club was William Johnstone (Sir William Pulteney), and, as has been frequently told, David Hume was jocularly appointed to a sinecure office created for him, the office of assassin,
and lest Hume’s good-nature should unfit him for the duties, Andrew Crosbie, advocate (the original of Scott’s “Pleydell”), was made his assistant. The club met at first in Tom Nicholson’s tavern, the Diversorium, at the Cross, and subsequently removed to more fashionable quarters at the famous Fortune’s in the Stamp Office Close, where the Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly held his levees, and the members dined every Friday at two and sat till six. However the club may have pulled wires in private, their public activity seems to have been very little; so far at least as literary advocacy of their cause went, nothing proceeded from it except a pamphlet by Dr. Carlyle, and a much-overlauded squib by Adam Ferguson, entitled “A History of the Proceedings in the Case of Margaret, commonly called Sister Peg.”
Smith was, as I have said, one of the original members of the club, and from Carlyle’s list would appear to have continued a member till 1774; but he was not a member of the Younger Poker Club, established in 1786. In the interval he had expressed in the
Wealth of Nations a strong preference for a standing army over a national militia,
*27 after instituting a very careful examination of the whole subject. Whether his views had changed since 1762, or whether he had joined in the agitation for a militia merely as a measure of justice to Scotland or as an expedient of temporary necessity, without committing himself to any abstract admiration for the institution in general, I have no means of deciding; but we can hardly think he ever shared that kind of belief in the principle of a militia which animated men like Ferguson and Carlyle, and which, according to them, animated the other members of the club also at its birth. Ferguson says the club was founded “upon the principle of zeal for a militia and a conviction that there could be no lasting security for the freedom and independence of these
islands but in the valour and patriotism of an armed people”;
*28 and when, during his travels in Switzerland in 1775, he saw for the first time in his life a real militia—the object of his dreams—actually moving before him in the flesh, and going through their drill, his heart came to his mouth, and he wrote his friend Carlyle: “As they were the only body of men I ever saw under arms on the true principle for which arms should be carried, I felt much secret emotion, and could have shed tears.”
*29 He was deeply disappointed a year later with Smith’s apostasy on this question, or at least opposition, for Ferguson makes no accusation of apostasy. After reading the
Wealth of Nations, he wrote Smith on the 18th of April 1776; “You have provoked, too, so far the Church, the universities, and the merchants, against all of whom I am willing to take your part; but you have likewise provoked the militia, and there I must be against you. The gentlemen and peasants of this country do not need the authority of philosophers to make them supine and negligent of every resource they might have in themselves in the case of certain extremities, of which the pressure, God knows, may be at no great distance. But of this more at Philippi.”
But many others besides Smith had in this interval either found their zeal for a militia grown cool or their opinion of its value modified, and when Lord Mountstuart introduced his new Scotch Militia Bill in 1776, it received little support from Scotch Militia Bill in 1776, it received little support from Scotch members, and its rejection excited nothing like the feeling roused by the rejection of its predecessor in 1760, although it was attended this time with the galling aggravation that what was refused to the Scotch was in the same hour granted to the Irish, then the less disliked and distrusted nation of the two. Opinions had grown divided. Old Fletcher of Saltoun’s
idea of a citizen army with universal compulsory service was still much discussed, but many now objected to the compulsion, and others, among whom was Lord Kames, to the universality of the compulsion, rallying to the idea of Fencibles—
i.e. regiments to be raised compulsorily by the landed proprietors, each furnishing a number of men proportioned to their valued rent.
*31 Smith said a militia formed in this way, like the old Highland militia, was the best of all militias, but he held that the day was past for militias of men with one hand on the sword and the other on the plough, and that nothing could now answer for what he calls “the noblest of all arts,” the art of war, but the division of labour, which answered best for the arts of peace, and a standing army of soliders by exclusive occupation.
Divided counsels and diminished zeal supply, no doubt, the main reason for the decay of the Poker Club, but other causes combined. Dr. Carlyle, who was an active member of the club, says it began to decline when it transferred itself to more elegant quarters at Fortune’s, because its dinners became too expensive for the members; and Lord Campbell attributes its dissolution definitely to the new taxes imposed on French wines to pay the cost of the American War. His statement is very explicit: “To punish the Government they agreed to dissolve the ‘Poker,’ and to form another society which should exist without consumption of any excisable commodity.”
*32 But he gives no authority for the statement, and they are at least not likely to have been such fools as to think of punishing the Government by what was after all only an excellent way of punishing themselves. The wine duty was no doubt a real enough grievance; it was raised five or six times during the club’s existence, and many a man who enjoyed his quart of Burgundy when the duty was less than half-a-crown a gallon, was obliged to do without
it when the duty rose to seven shillings. It may be worth adding, however, that the Poker Club was revived as the Younger Poker Club in the very year, 1786, when the duty on Burgundy was reduced again by the new Commercial Treaty with France.
Life of A. Bell, i. 23.
Life of Hume, i. 375.
Life of Hume, i. 417.
Autobiography, p. 275.
Scot Abroad, ii. 340.
Scot Abroad, ii. 343.
Lives of the Chancellors, vi. 32.
Bee for June 1791.
Life of Lord Kames, i. 233.
Scot Abroad, ii. 343.
Select Works, p. 23.
Bee for 1791.
Life of Hume, ii. 16.
Life of Hume, ii. 45.
The Lennox, p. xliv.
Transactions, R.S.E., v. 113.
Sketch of A. Ferguson, p. 23.
Sketches of Man, Book II. chap. ix.
Lives of the Lord Chancellors, vi. 28.