Life of Adam Smith
by John Rae
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EDINBURGH, 3rd 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:—[28]

EDIN., 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 L72 a year.[34] The fees probably never exceeded L100, 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 L70 of fees, but expected, when all the students arrived, to make L100 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."[36]

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 L170 a year. L170 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 L100 a year, and the highest stipend in the Church was only L138.[37]

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."[39]

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.[40]

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."[41]

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."[42]

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 occurred 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."[43]

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."[44]

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."[45]

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 L20 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 strongly 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 he 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,[3] 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."[53]

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 year Cantillon's 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 form than it came to wear after twenty years more of thought in the Wealth of Nations. Stewart says that many of the most important opinions 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."[54]

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' notebooks, 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 the 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.


[27] Thomson's Life of Cullen, i. 605.

[28] Thomson's Life of Cullen, i. 606.

[29] Bisset's Burke, i. 32.

[30] Prior's Burke, p. 38.

[31] Outlines of the Philosophy of Education, p. 23.

[32] Prior's Life of Burke, Bohn's ed. p. 38.

[33] Burton's Life of Hume, ii. 55.

[34] Caldwell Papers, i. 170.

[35] Hamilton's Reid, p. 40.

[36] Brougham's Life and Times, i. 78.

[37] Chamberlayne's Angliae Notitia for 1750.

[38] Smith's copy of this book seems to have gone out of existence like the others, for his cousin and heir, David Douglas, wrote Lord Buchan in January 1792 that he had searched for it in Smith's library without any success, and that though a catalogue of the library had since then been made out, Lockhart's Memoirs was not contained in it. Douglas's letter is in the Edinburgh University Library.

[39] Book II. chap. x.

[40] Cockburn's Life of Jeffrey, p. 12.

[41] Stewart's Works, x. 12.

[42] Richardson's Life of Arthur. See Arthur's Discourses, p. 510.

[43] Richardson's Life of Arthur. See Arthur's Discourses, p. 508.

[44] Stewart's Works, x. 12.

[45] Sinclair's Old Times and Distant Places, p. 9.

[46] Hamilton's Reid, p. 43.

[47] M'Cosh, Scottish Philosophy, p. 66.

[48] Boswell's Correspondence with Erskine, p. 26.

[49] Currie's Memoirs of James Currie, M.D., ii. 317.

[50] Ramsay, Scotland and Scotsmen, i. 462, 463.

[51] Steuart's Works, vi. 379.

[52] Ibid. vi. 378.

[53] Dr. Cleland's account of Glasgow in New Statistical Account of Scotland, vi. 139.

[54] Stewart's Works, ed. Hamilton; x. 68.



A common misconception regarding Smith is that he was as helpless as a child in matters of business. One of his Edinburgh neighbours remarked of him to Robert Chambers that it was strange a man who wrote so well on exchange and barter was obliged to get a friend to buy his horse corn for him. This idea of his helplessness in the petty transactions of life arose from observing his occasional fits of absence and his habitual simplicity of character, but his simplicity, nobody denies, was accompanied by exceptional acuteness and practical sagacity, and his fits of absence seem to have been neither so frequent nor so prolonged as they are commonly represented. Samuel Rogers spent most of a week with him in Edinburgh the year before his death, and did not remark his absence of mind all the time. Anyhow, during his thirteen years' residence at Glasgow College, Smith seems to have had more to do with the business of the College, petty or important, than any other professor, and his brethren in the Senate of that University cannot have seen in him any marked failing or incapacity for ordinary business. They threw on his shoulders an ample share of the committee and general routine work of the place, and set him to audit accounts, or inspect the drains in the College court, or see the holly hedge in the College garden uprooted, or to examine the encroachments on the College lands on the Molendinar Burn, without any fear of his forgetting his business on the way. They entrusted him for years with the post of College Quaestor or Treasurer, in which inattention or the want of sound business habits might inflict injury even on their pecuniary interests. They made him one of the two curators of the College chambers, the forty lodgings provided for students inside the College gates. And when there was any matter of business that was a little troublesome or delicate to negotiate, they seem generally to have chosen Smith for their chief spokesman or representative. It was then very common for Scotch students to bring with them from home at the beginning of the session as much oatmeal as would keep them till the end of it, and by an ancient privilege of the University they were entitled to bring this meal with them into the city without requiring to pay custom on it; but in 1757 those students were obliged by the tacksman of the meal-market to pay custom on their meal, though it was meant for their own use alone. Smith was appointed along with Professor Muirhead to go and represent to the Provost that the exaction was a violation of the privileges of the University, and to demand repayment within eight days, under pain of legal proceedings. And at the next meeting of Senate "Mr. Smith reported that he had spoken to the Provost of Glasgow about the ladles exacted by the town from students for meal brought into the town for their own use, and that the Provost promised to cause what had been exacted to be returned, and that accordingly the money was offered by the town's ladler[55] to the students."

Smith was often entrusted with College business to transact in Edinburgh—to arrange with Andrew Stuart, W.S., about promoting a bill in Parliament, or to wait on the Barons of Exchequer and get the College accounts passed; and he was generally the medium of communication between the Senatus and the authorities of Balliol College during their long and troublesome contentions about the Snell property and the Snell exhibitioners.

He was Quaestor from 1758 till he left in 1764, and in that capacity had the management of the library funds and some other funds, his duties being subsequently divided between the factor and the librarian. The professors, we are told by Professor Dickson, used to take this office in turn for a term of two or three years, but Smith held the office longer than the customary term, and on the 19th of May 1763 the Senate agreed that "as Dr. Smith has long executed the office of Quaestor, he is allowed to take the assistance of an amanuensis." He was Dean of Faculty from 1760 to 1762, and as such not only exercised a general supervision over the studies of the College and the granting of degrees, but was one of the three visitors charged with seeing that the whole business of the College was administered according to the statutes of 1727. While still filling these two offices, he was in 1762 appointed to the additional and important business office of Vice-Rector, by his personal friend Sir Thomas Miller, the Lord-Advocate of Scotland (afterwards Lord President of the Court of Session), who was Rector of the University that year. As Sir Thomas Miller was generally absent in consequence of his public engagements in London or his professional engagements in Edinburgh, Smith as Vice-Rector had to preside over all University meetings—meetings of the Senatus, of the Comitia, of the Rector's Court—at a time when this duty was rendered delicate by the contentions which prevailed among the professors. The Rector's Court, it may be added—which consisted of the Rector and professors—was a judiciary as well as administrative body, which at one time possessed the power of life and death, and according to the Parliamentary Report of 1829, actually inflicted imprisonment in the College steeple on several delinquents within the preceding fifty years. It may be mentioned that some time elapsed after Sir Thomas Miller's election to the Rectorship before he was able to appoint a Vice-Rector, because he could not appoint a Vice-Rector till he was himself admitted, and he could not attend personally to be admitted on account of engagements elsewhere. During this interval Smith was elected praeses of the University meetings by the choice of his colleagues, and as the position was at the time one of considerable difficulty, they would not be likely to select for it a man of decided business incapacity.

Some idea of the difficulty of the place, on account of the dissensions prevailing in the College during Smith's residence there, may be got from a remark of his successor, Dr. Reid. In the course of the first year after his arrival in Glasgow, Reid writes one of his Aberdeen friends complaining bitterly of being obliged to attend five or six College meetings every week, and meetings, moreover, of a very disagreeable character, in consequence of "an evil spirit of party that seems to put us in a ferment, and, I am afraid, will produce bad consequences."[56] A writer in the Gentleman's Magazine, in noticing Smith's death in 1790, says that these divisions turned on questions of academic policy, and that Smith always took the side which was popular with people of condition in the city. The writer offers no further particulars, but as far as we can now ascertain anything about the questions which then kept the Glasgow Senate in such perpetual perturbation, they were not questions of general policy or public interest such as his words might suggest, and on the petty issues they raised it makes no odds to know whether Smith sided with the kites or with the crows. The troubles were generated, without any public differences, out of the constitution of the University itself, which seemed to be framed, as if on purpose, to create the greatest possible amount of friction in its working. By its constitution; as that is described in the Parliamentary Report of 1830, Glasgow University was at that time under one name really two distinct corporations, with two distinct governing bodies: (1) the University governed by the Senate, which was composed of the Rector, the Dean of Faculty, the Principal, the thirteen College or Faculty professors, and the five regius professors; and (2) the College governed by the Faculty, as it was called, which consisted of the thirteen College professors alone, who claimed to be the sole owners and administrators of the older endowments of the College, and to have the right of electing the occupants of their own thirteen chairs by co-optation. Within the Faculty again there was still another division of the professors into gown professors and other professors. The gown professors, who seem to have been the representatives of the five regents of earlier times, were the professors of those classes the students of which wore academical gowns, while the students of the other classes did not; the gown classes being Humanity, Greek, Logic, Natural Philosophy, and Moral Philosophy. These several bodies held separate meetings and kept separate minutes, which remain to this day. The meetings of the Senate were called University meetings or Rector's meetings, because they were presided over by the Rector; and the meetings of the Faculty were called Faculty meetings or Principal's meetings, because they were presided over by the Principal. Even the five gown professors with the Principal held separate meetings which the other professors had no right to attend—meetings with the students every Saturday in the Common Hall for the administration of ordinary academic discipline for petty offences committed by the students of the five gown classes. Smith belonged to all three bodies; he was University professor, Faculty or College professor, and gown professor too. It is obvious how easily this complicated and unnatural system of government might breed incessant and irritating discussions without any grave division of opinion on matters of serious educational policy. Practical difficulties could scarce help arising as to the respective functions of the University and the College, or the respective claims of the regius professors and the Faculty professors, or the respective powers of the Rector and the Principal; and Smith himself was one of a small committee which presented a very lengthy report on this last subject to the Senate of the University on the 13th of August 1762. The report was adopted, but two of the professors dissented on the ground that it was too favourable to the powers of the Principal.

But, wrangle as they might over petty points of constitutional right or property administration, the heads of Glasgow College were guided in their general policy at this period by the wisest and most enlightened spirit of academic enlargement. Only a few years before Smith's arrival they had recognised the new claims of science by establishing a chemical laboratory, in which during Smith's residence the celebrated Dr. Black was working out his discovery of latent heat. They gave a workshop in the College to James Watt in 1756, and made him mathematical instrument maker to the University, when the trade corporations of Glasgow refused to allow him to open a workshop in the city; and it was in that very workshop and at this very period that a Newcomen's engine he repaired set his thoughts revolving till the memorable morning in 1764 when the idea of the separate condenser leapt to his mind as he was strolling past the washhouse on Glasgow Green. They had at the same time in another corner of the College opened a printing office for the better advancement of that art, and were encouraging the University printer, the famous Robert Foulis, to print those Homers and Horaces by which he more than rivalled the Elzevirs and Etiennes of the past. To help Foulis the better, they had with their own money assisted the establishment of the type-foundry of Wilson at Camlachie, where Foulis procured the types for his Iliad; they appointed Wilson type-founder to the University, and in 1762 they erected for him a founding-house, as they called it, in their own grounds. They had just before endowed a new chair of astronomy, of which they had made their versatile type-founder the first professor, and built for him an astronomical observatory, from which he brought reputation to the College and himself by his observation of the solar spots. They further gave Foulis in 1753 several more rooms in the College, including the large room afterwards used as the Faculty Hall, to carry out his ill-fated scheme of an Academy of Design; so that the arts of painting, sculpture, and engraving were taught in the College as well as the classics and mathematics, and Tassie and David Allan were then receiving their training under the same roof with the students for the so-called learned professions. The Earl of Buchan, while walking, as he said, "after the manner of the ancients in the porticoes of Glasgow with Smith and with Millar," unbent from the high tasks of philosophy by learning to etch in the studio of Foulis. This was the first school of design in Great Britain. There was as yet no Royal Academy, no National Gallery, no South Kensington Museum, no technical colleges, and the dream of the ardent printer, which was so actively seconded by the heads of the University, was to found an institution which should combine the functions of all those several institutions, and pay its own way by honest work into the bargain. In all these different ways the College of Glasgow was doing its best, as far as its slender means allowed, to widen the scope of university education in accordance with the requirements of modern times, and there was still another direction in which they anticipated a movement of our own day. They had already done something for that popularisation of academic instruction which we call university extension. Professor John Anderson, an active and reforming spirit who deserves to be held in honour in spite of his troublesome pugnacity, used then to deliver within the College walls, with the complete concurrence and encouragement of his colleagues, a series of evening lectures on natural philosophy to classes of working-men in their working clothes, and the lectures are generally acknowledged to have done great service to the arts and manufactures of the West of Scotland, by improving the technical education of the higher grades of artisans.

Now in all these new developments Smith took a warm interest; some of them he actively promoted. There is nothing in the University minutes to connect Smith in any more special way than the other professors with the University's timely hospitality to James Watt; but as that act was a direct protest on behalf of industrial liberty against the tyrannical spirit of the trade guilds so strongly condemned in the Wealth of Nations, it is at least interesting to remember that Smith had a part in it. Watt, it may be recollected, was then a lad of twenty, who had come back from London to Glasgow to set up as mathematical instrument maker, but though there was no other mathematical instrument maker in the city, the corporation of hammermen refused to permit his settlement because he was not the son or son-in-law of a burgess, and had not served his apprenticeship to the craft within the burgh. But in those days of privilege the universities also had their privileges. The professors of Glasgow enjoyed an absolute and independent authority over the area within college bounds, and they defeated the oppression of Watt by making him mathematical instrument maker to the University, and giving him a room in the College buildings for his workshop and another at the College gates for the sale of his instruments. In these proceedings Smith joined, and joined, we may be sure, with the warmest approval. For we know the strong light in which he regarded the oppressions of the corporation laws. "The property which every man has in his labour," he says, "as it is the original foundation of all other property, so it is the most sacred and inviolable. The patrimony of the poor man lies in the strength and dexterity of his hands, and to hinder him from employing this strength and dexterity in what manner he thinks proper without injury to his neighbour is a plain violation of this most sacred property. It is a manifest encroachment upon the just liberty both of the workman and of those who might be disposed to employ him."[57] Watt's workshop was a favourite resort of Smith's during his residence at Glasgow College, for Watt's conversation, young though he was, was fresh and original, and had great attractions for the stronger spirits about him. Watt on his side retained always the deepest respect for Smith, and when he was amusing the leisure of his old age in 1809 with his new invention of the sculpture machine, and presenting his works to his friends as "the productions of a young artist just entering his eighty-third year," one of the first works he executed with the machine was a small head of Adam Smith in ivory.[58]

In the Foulis press and the Academy of Design Smith took a particular interest. He was himself a book-fancier, fond of fine editions and bindings, and he once said to Smellie the printer, whom he observed admiring some of the books in his library, "I am a beau in nothing but my books." And he was a man, as Dugald Stewart informs us, with a carefully-cultivated taste for the fine arts, who was considered by his contemporaries an excellent judge of a picture or a sculpture, though in Stewart's opinion he appeared interested in works of art less as instruments of direct enjoyment than as materials for speculative discussions about the principles of human nature involved in their production. Smith seems to have been one of Foulis's chief practical advisers in the work of the Academy of Design, in settling such details, for example, as the pictures which ought to be selected to be copied by the pupils, or the subjects which ought to be chosen for original work from Plutarch or other classical sources, and which would be most likely to suit modern taste.

Sir John Dalrymple, who appears to have been one of Foulis's associates in the enterprise, and to have taken an active concern in the sale of the productions of the Academy in its Edinburgh agency shop, writes Foulis on the 1st of December 1757 regarding the kind of work that ought to be sent for sale there. "In the History pictures that you send in, I beg you will take the advice of Mr. Smith and Dr. Black. Your present scheme should be to execute not what you think the best, but what will sell the best. In the first you may be the better judge, since you are the master of a great Academa, but in the last I think their advice will be of use to you."[59] The letter concludes: "Whether it is an idea or not, I am going to give you a piece of trouble. Be so good as make out a catalogue of your pictures, and as far as you can of your busts, books of drawings, and prints. Secondly, your boys, and how employed. Thirdly, the people who have studied under you with a view to the mechanical art. And lastly, give some account of the prospects which you think you have of being of use either to the mechanical or to the fine arts of your country. Frame this into a memorial and send it to me. I shall have it tryed here by some who wish well to you, and as I go to London in the spring, I shall, together with Mr. Wedderburn and Mr. Elliot, consider what are the most prudent measures to take for your sake, or whether to take any. Mr. Smith is too busy or too indolent, but I flatter myself Dr. Black will be happy to make out this memorial for you. Let me know if I have any chance of seeing you this winter. I have none of being at Glasgow, and therefore wish you and Mr. Smith would come here, or you by yourself would come here in the Christmas vacance."

The memorial alluded to in this letter was no doubt a memorial to Government in behalf of a project then promoted by the Earl of Selkirk and other friends of Foulis, of settling a salary on him for directing an institution so useful to the nation as the Academy of Design. Whether Smith overcame his alleged indolence and drew up the memorial I cannot say, but this whole letter shows that Smith and Black were the two friends in Glasgow whom Foulis was in the habit of principally consulting, and the last sentence seems to indicate that Smith's hand in the business was hardly less intimate than Dalrymple's own. It may be noticed too how completely Sir John Dalrymple's ideas of Smith, as implied in this letter, differ from those which are current now, and how he sends a tradesman to the philosopher for advice on practical points in his trade. As to pure questions of art, whether this work or that is finest, he thinks Foulis himself may possibly be the best judge, but when it comes to a question as to which will sell the best—and that was the question for the success of the project—then he is urged to take the practical mind of Smith to his counsels. Though Smith's leanings were not to practical life, his judgment, as any page of the Wealth of Nations shows, was of the most eminently practical kind. He had little of the impulse to meddle in affairs or the itch to manage them that belongs to more bustling people, but had unquestionably a practical mind and capacity.

If Smith was consulted by Foulis in this way about the management of the Academy of Design, we may safely infer that he had also more to do with the Foulis press than merely visiting the office to see the famous Iliad while it was on the case. Smith's connection with Foulis began before he went to Glasgow, by the publication of Hamilton of Bangour's poems by the University press, and I think it not unreasonable to see traces of Smith's suggestion in the number of early economic books which Foulis reissued after the year 1750, works of writers like Child, Gee, Mun, Law, and Petty.

In the University type-foundry Smith took an active interest, because he was a warm friend and associate of the accomplished type-founder. Wilson had been bred a physician, but gave up his practice to become type-founder, and devoted himself besides, as I have just mentioned, to astronomy, to which Smith also at this period of his life gave some attention. Smith indeed was possibly then writing his fragment on the history of astronomy, which, though not published till after his death, was, we are informed by Dugald Stewart, the earliest of all his compositions, being the first part of an extensive work on the history of all the sciences which he had at this time projected. Wilson, having gone to large expense both of time and money to cast the Greek type for the University Homer, and having never found another customer for the fount except the University printer, went up to London in 1759 to push around, if possible, for orders, and was furnished by Smith with a letter of recommendation to Hume, who was then residing there. Hume writes to Smith on the 29th of July: "Your friend Mr. Wilson called on me two or three days ago when I was abroad, and he left your letter. I did not see him till to-day. He seems a very modest, sensible, ingenious man. Before I saw him I spoke to Mr. A. Millar about him, and found him much disposed to serve him. I proposed particularly to Mr. Millar that it was worthy of so eminent a bookseller as he to make a complete elegant set of the classics, which might set up his name equal to the Alduses, Stevenses, or Elzevirs, and that Mr. Wilson was the properest person in the world to assist him in such a project. He confessed to me that he had sometimes thought of it, but that his great difficulty was to find a man of letters that could correct the press. I mentioned the matter to Wilson, who said he had a man of letters in his eye one Lyon, a nonjuring clergyman of Glasgow. I would desire your opinion of him."[60]

When Wilson came to reside in the College in 1762, after his appointment to the chair of Astronomy, he found it inconvenient to go to and fro between the College and Camlachie to attend to the type-foundry, and petitioned the Senate to build him a founding-house in the College grounds, basing his claim on their custom of giving accommodation to the arts subservient to learning, on his own services to the University in the matter of the Greek types before mentioned, and on his having undertaken, in spite of the discouraging results of that speculation, to cast a large and elegant Hebrew type for the University press. He estimated that the building would cost no more than the very modest sum of L40 sterling, and he offered to pay a fair rent. This memorial came up for consideration on the 5th of April, and it was Smith who proposed the motion which was ultimately carried, to the effect that the University should build a new foundry for Mr. Wilson on the site most convenient within the College grounds, at an expense not exceeding the sum of L40 sterling, on condition (1) that Mr. Wilson pay a reasonable rent, and (2) that if the house should become useless to the College before the Senate were sufficiently recouped for their expenditure, Mr. Wilson or his heirs should be obliged to make adequate compensation. The foundry was erected in the little College garden next the Physic Garden; it cost L19 more than the estimate, and was let for L3:15s. a year, from which it would appear that 6-1/2 per cent on the actual expenditure (irrespective of any allowance for the site) was considered a fair rent by the University authorities in those days.

The Senate of this little college, which was thus actively encouraging every liberal art, which had in a few years added to the lecture-room of Hutcheson and Smith the laboratory of Black, the workshop of Watt, the press of Foulis, the academy of painting, sculpture, and engraving, and the foundry and observatory of Wilson, entertained in 1761 the idea of doing something for the promotion of athletics among the students, and had under consideration a proposal for the establishment of a new academy of dancing, fencing, and riding in the University. One of the active promoters of this scheme appears again to have been Adam Smith, for it is he who is chosen by the Senate on the 22nd December 1761 to go in their name and explain their design to the Rector, Lord Erroll, and request his assistance. This idea seems, however, to have borne no fruit. Dancing was an exercise they required to be observed with considerable moderation, for they passed a rule in 1752 that no student should be present at balls or assemblies or the like more than thrice in one session, but they treated it with no austere proscription.

One art alone did they seek to proscribe, the art dramatic, and in 1762 the Senate was profoundly disturbed by a project then on foot for the erection of the first permanent theatre in Glasgow. The affair originated with five respectable and wealthy merchants, who were prepared to build the house at their own expense, the leading spirit of the five being Robert Bogle of Shettleston, who had himself, we are told by Dr. Carlyle, played "Sempronius" in a students' performance of Cato within the walls of Glasgow College in 1745. Carlyle played the title role, and another divinity student, already mentioned as a college friend of Smith's, Dr. Maclaine of the Hague, played a minor part. But an amateur representation of an unexceptionable play under the eye of the professors was one thing, the erection of a public playhouse, catering like other public playhouses for the too licentious taste of the period, was another, and the project of Mr. Bogle and his friends in 1762 excited equal alarm in the populace of the city, in the Town Council, and in the University. The Council refused to sanction a site for the theatre within the city bounds, so that the promoters were obliged to build it a mile outside; but the anger of the multitude pursued them thither, and on the very eve of its opening in 1764 by a performance in which Mrs. Bellamy was to play the leading part, it was set on fire by a mob, at the instigation of a wild preacher, who said he had on the previous night been present in a vision at an entertainment in hell, and the toast of the evening, proposed in most flattering terms from the chair, was the health of Mr. Millar, the maltster who had sold the site for this new temple of the devil.

During the two years between the projection of this building and its destruction it caused the Senate of the College no common anxiety, and Smith went along with them in all they did. On the 25th of November 1762 he was appointed, with the Principal and two other professors, as a committee, to confer with the magistrates concerning the most proper methods of preventing the establishment of a playhouse in Glasgow, and at the same time to procure all the information in their power concerning the privileges of the University of Oxford with respect to their ability to prevent anything of that kind being established within their bounds, and concerning the manner in which those privileges, if they existed, were made effectual. On the recommendation of this committee the University agreed to memorialise the Lord Advocate on the subject, and to ask the magistrates of the city to join them in sending the memorial. The Lord Advocate having apparently suggested doubts as to the extent of their ancient powers or privileges in the direction contemplated, Smith was appointed, along with the Principal and one or two other professors, as a special committee of inquiry into the ancient privileges and constitution of the University, and the Principal was instructed meanwhile to express to his lordship the earnest desire of the University to prevent the establishment of a playhouse. While this inquiry was proceeding, the magistrates of the city, on their part, had determined, with the concurrence of a large body of the inhabitants, to raise an action at law against the players if they should attempt to act plays in the new theatre, and at a meeting over which Smith presided, and in whose action he concurred, the University agreed to join the magistrates in this prosecution. The agitation against the playhouse was still proceeding when Smith resigned his chair in 1764, but shortly afterwards, finding itself without any legal support, it gradually died away. The part Smith took in this agitation may seem to require a word of explanation, for he not only entertained no objection to theatrical representations, but was so deeply impressed with their beneficial character that in the Wealth of Nations he specially recommends them for positive encouragement by the State, and expressly dissociates himself from those "fanatical promoters of popular frenzies" who make dramatic representations "more than all other diversions the objects of their peculiar abhorrence." The State encouragement he wants is nothing in the nature of the endowment of a national theatre, which is sometimes demanded nowadays. All the encouragement he asks for is liberty—"entire liberty to all those who from their own interest would attempt, without scandal or indecency, to amuse and divert the people by painting, poetry, music, dancing, by all sorts of dramatic representations and exhibitions." But in pressing for this liberty, he expresses the strongest conviction that "the frequency and gaiety of public diversions" is absolutely essential for the good of the commonwealth, in order to "correct whatever is unsocial or disagreeably rigorous in the morals of all the little sects into which the country is divided," and to "dissipate that melancholy and gloomy humour which is almost always the source of popular superstition and enthusiasm."[61] Yet here we seem to find him in alliance with the little sects himself, and trying to crush that liberty of dramatic representations which he declares to be so vital to the health of the community.

The reason is not, moreover, that he had changed his opinions in the interval between the attempts to suppress the Glasgow playhouse in 1762 and the publication of his general plea for playhouses in the Wealth of Nations in 1776. He had not changed his opinions. He travelled with a pupil to France, still warm from this agitation in Glasgow, and, as we learn from Stewart, was a great frequenter and admirer of the theatre in that country,[62] and a few years before the agitation began he was as deeply interested as any other of John Home's friends in the representations of the tragedy of Douglas, and as much a partisan of Home's cause. He does not appear indeed, as is sometimes stated, to have been present either at the public performance of Home's tragedy in Edinburgh in 1756, or at the previous private performance, which is alleged to have taken place at Mrs. Ward the actress's rooms, and in which the author himself, and Hume, Carlyle, Ferguson, and Blair are all said to have acted parts. But that he was in complete sympathy with them on the subject is manifest from an undated letter of Hume to Smith, which must have been written in that year. In this letter, knowing Smith's sentiments, he writes: "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." After finishing his letter he adds: "I have just now received a copy of Douglas from London. It will instantly be put on the press. I hope to be able to send you a copy in the same parcel with the dedication."[63] These sentences certainly imply that Smith's ideas of theatrical representations were in harmony with those of Hume and his other Edinburgh friends, but shortly afterwards he is seeking to revive obsolete academic privileges to prevent the erection of a theatre.

The explanation must be looked for in the line of the conditional clause with which he limits his claim for entire liberty to dramatic entertainments—they must be "without scandal or indecency." There is never any question that if free trade and public morals clash, it is free trade that must give way, and his opposition to the project of the Glasgow playhouse must have originated in his persuasion that it was not attended, as things then went, with sufficient practical safeguards against scandal and indecency. In considering that point due weight must be given not only to the general improprieties permissible on the English stage at that time, but to the fact that locally great offence had quite recently been given in Scotland by the profane or immoral character of some of the pieces presented on the Scottish boards,[64] and that Glasgow itself had had experience of a disorderly theatre already—the old wooden shed where hardy playgoers braved opinion and listened to indifferent performances under the protection of troops, and where, it will be remembered, Boswell, then a student at the College, made the acquaintance of Francis Gentleman, the actor. That house was not a licensed house, but the new house was not to be a licensed house either, and it is quite possible for one who thought a theatre generally, with due safeguards, a public benefit, to think that a particular theatre without those safeguards might constitute a public danger, especially in a university town.

On two delicate questions of professorial duty Smith made a decided stand in behalf of the stricter interpretation. In 1757 Professor John Anderson, the founder of the Andersonian University, who was then Professor of Oriental Languages in Glasgow, became a candidate for the chair which he afterwards filled for so many years with great credit and success—the chair of Natural Philosophy; and, as the appointment lay with the professors, Professor Anderson was one of the electors, and was quite within his legal right in voting for himself. But Smith, impressed with the importance of keeping such appointments free from any leaven of personal interest, tabled a formal protest on three successive occasions against the intervention of that distinguished but headstrong professor in the business of that particular election. He protested first against Anderson voting on a preliminary resolution respecting the election; he protested the second time against him taking part in the election itself; and he protested a third time after the election, desiring it to be recorded expressly "that he did not vote in the election of Mr. Anderson as Professor of Natural Philosophy, not from objection to Mr. Anderson, in whose election he would willingly have concurred, but because he regarded the method of proceeding as irregular and possibly establishing a bad precedent." As patrons of University chairs, the professors were trustees for the community, and ought each to be bound by a tacit self-denying ordinance, at least to the extent of refraining from actively using this public position to serve his private interest. Smith himself, it will be remembered, was one of his own electors to the Moral Philosophy chair, but then that election was uncontested, and Smith was not present at the meeting which appointed him.

The other personal question arose also out of circumstances which have their counterpart in Smith's own history. Professor William Rouet, Professor of Ecclesiastical and Civil History, made an engagement in 1759 to travel abroad as tutor with Lord Hope, the eldest son of Lord Hopetoun; but when Lord Hopetoun wrote requesting leave of absence for Professor Rouet, the Senate by a majority refused to grant the request. Smith was one of that majority, and took an active part in the subsequent transactions arising out of their decision. Rouet persists in going abroad in the teeth of the refusal, and the University by a majority deprive him of office for his negligence of duty. The Crown, however, at first refuse to appoint a successor, on the ground of informality in the act of deprivation, and Lord Bute tells the Rector, Lord Erroll, that "the king's orders" are that the business must be done over again de novo, or "else it may be of the worst consequences to the University." The University take the opinion of eminent counsel, Ferguson of Pitfour and Burnet of Mountbodie (Monboddo), and are prepared to face the consequences threatened, but are eventually saved the trouble by the resignation of Rouet in 1761. Now in these transactions Smith seems to bear a leading part. He was one of the small committee appointed to draw up answers to the protest tabled by the minority of the Senatus; it was to him Lord Erroll communicated the intimation of Lord Bute, though he was not then either Vice-Rector or Dean of Faculty; and it was he and Professor Millar who were sent through to Edinburgh to consult the two advocates.

Smith was probably on the best terms with Rouet himself, who was an intimate friend of David Hume and a cousin of their common friend Baron Mure, and it was not an uncommon practice for the Scotch universities at that period to sanction the absence of a professor on a tutorial engagement. Adam Ferguson left England as tutor to Lord Chesterfield while he was Professor of Moral Philosophy at Edinburgh, and Dalzel resided at Oxford as tutor to Lord Maitland after he was Professor of Greek in the same University. The Senate of Glasgow had itself already permitted Professor John Anderson to remain another winter in France with a son of the Primate of Ireland, when he was chosen Professor of Oriental Languages in 1756, and Smith had concurred in giving the permission. But Anderson's absence was absence to fulfil an already-existing engagement, like the absence granted to Smith himself in the first year of his own appointment, while Rouet's was absence to fulfil a new one; and Smith, as his own subsequent conduct shows, held pluralities and absenteeism of that sort to be a wrong and mischievous subordination of the interest of the University to the purely private interest or convenience of the professors. They had too many temptations to accommodate one another by such arrangements at the expense of the efficiency of the College; and his action both in Rouet's case and his own is entirely in the spirit of his criticism of the English universities in the Wealth of Nations.


[55] The words ladles and ladler seem to have descended from a time when the exactions were made in kind by ladling the quantity out of the sack.

[56] Hamilton's Reid, p. 43.

[57] Wealth of Nations, Book I. chap. ix.

[58] Muirhead's Life of Watt, p. 470.

[59] Duncan's Notes and Documents, p. 25.

[60] Burton, Life of Hume, ii. 59.

[61] Wealth of Nations, Book V. chap. i. art. iii.

[62] Stewart's Works, x. 49.

[63] Burton's Life of Hume, ii. 16.

[64] See Doran's Annals of the Stage, ii. 377.



Smith was not only teacher in Glasgow, he was also learner, and the conditions of time and place were most favourable, in many important ways, for his instruction. Had he remained at Oxford, he would probably never have been an economist; had he not spent so many of his best years in Glasgow, he would never have been such an eminent one. It was amid the thickening problems of the rising trade of the Clyde, and the daily discussions they occasioned among the enterprising and intelligent merchants of the town, that he grew into a great economist.

It need scarce be said that the Glasgow of the middle of last century was a very different city from the Glasgow of to-day. It was in size and appearance a mere provincial town of 23,000 inhabitants. Broom still grew on the Broomielaw; a few cobles were the only craft on the river; and the rude wharf was the resort of idlers, watching the fishermen on the opposite side cast for salmon, and draw up netfuls on the green bank. The Clyde was not deepened till 1768. Before that the whole tonnage dues at Glasgow were only eight pounds a year, and for weeks together not a single vessel with a mast would be seen on the water. St. Enoch Square was a private garden; Argyle Street an ill-kept country road; and the town herd still went his rounds every morning with his horn, calling the cattle from the Trongate and the Saltmarket to their pasture on the common meadows in the now densely-populated district of the Cowcaddens.

Glasgow in these its younger days struck every traveller chiefly for its beauty. Mrs. Montagu thought it the most beautiful city in Great Britain, and Defoe, a few years before, said it was "the cleanest and beautifullest and best built city in Britain, London excepted." As Mrs. Bellamy approached it on the occasion I have mentioned in order to open the new theatre in 1764, she says "the magnificence of the buildings and the beauty of the river ...elated her heart"; and Smith himself, we know, once suffered for praising its charms. It was at a London table, and Johnson was present, who, liking neither Smith nor his Scotch city, cut him short by asking, "Pray, sir, have you seen Brentford?" Boswell, who took a pride in Glasgow himself, calling it "a beautiful city," afterwards expostulated with the doctor for this rough interruption: "Now, sir," said he, "was not that rude?" The full rudeness is only apparent when we remember that Brentford was in that day a byword for dreariness and dirt—Thomson in the Castle of Indolence calls it "a town of mud." When Johnson visited Glasgow, however, he joined the troop of its admirers himself, and Boswell took the opportunity to put him then in mind of his question to Smith, and whisper to him, "Don't you feel some remorse?"

But Glasgow had already begun its transition from the small provincial to the great commercial capital, and was therefore at a stage of development of special value to the philosophical observer. Though still only a quiet but picturesque old place, nestling about the Cathedral and the College and two fine but sleepy streets, in which carriers built their haystacks out before their door, it was carrying on a trade which was even then cosmopolitan. The ships of Glasgow were in all the waters of the world, and its merchants had won the lead in at least one important branch of commerce, the West India tobacco trade, and were founding fresh industries every year with the greatest possible enterprise. The prosperity of Glasgow is a fruit of the Union which first opened the colonial markets to Scotch merchandise, and enabled the merchants of the Clyde to profit by the advantages of their natural situation for trading with the American plantations. Before the middle of the century the Clyde had become the chief European emporium for American tobacco, which foreign countries were not then allowed to import directly, and three-fourths of the tobacco was immediately on arrival transhipped by the Glasgow merchants for the seaports of the Mediterranean, the Baltic, and the North Sea.

As they widened their connections abroad, they naturally developed their industries at home. They founded the Smithfield ironworks, and imported iron from Russia and Sweden to make hoes and spades for the negroes of Maryland. They founded the Glasgow tannery in 1742, which Pennant thought an amazing sight, and where they employed 300 men making saddles and shoes for the plantations. They opened the Pollokshaws linen print-field in 1742, copper and tin works in 1747, the Delffield pottery in 1748. They began to manufacture carpets and crape in 1759, silk in 1759, and leather gloves in 1763. They opened the first Glasgow bank—the Ship—in 1750, and the second—the Arms—in 1752. They first began to improve the navigation of the Clyde by the Act of 1759; they built a dry dock at their harbour of Port Glasgow in 1762; while in 1768 they deepened the Clyde up to the city, and began (for this also was mainly their work) the canal to the Forth for their trade with the Baltic. It was obvious, therefore, that this was a period of unique commercial enterprise and expansion. We can easily believe Gibson, the historian of Glasgow, when he states that after 1750 "not a beggar was to be seen in the streets," and "the very children were busy"; and we can as easily understand Smith when, contrasting Glasgow and Edinburgh among other places, he says the residence of a few spirited merchants is a much better thing for the common people of a place than the residence of a court.

Now it was those spirited merchants who had then so much to do with the making of Glasgow that had also something to do with the making of Adam Smith. Plain business men of to-day sometimes smile at the "Virginian Dons" and "tobacco lords" of last century as they picture them gathering to the Glasgow Plainstanes at the hour of Change in the glory of scarlet cloaks, cocked hats, and gold-headed canes, and the plain citizens of that time all making way for their honours as they passed. But there was much enlightenment and sagacity concealed under that finery. Mrs. Montagu, who visited Glasgow in 1767, wrote Sir A. Mitchell, the Ambassador, that she was more delighted with it than with any other commercial town she had seen, because gain did not usurp people's whole attention, but "the sciences, the arts, and the love of agriculture had their share."[65] Their fortunes were small compared with the present standard. Sir John Dalrymple, speaking of three of the foremost merchants of Glasgow (one of them, John Glassford, the richest man in the city), computes that they had a quarter of a million between the three, and Dr. Reid, explaining the anxiety caused in Glasgow by the American troubles in 1765, says Glasgow owners possessed property in the American plantations amounting to L400,000. But these figures meant large handling and large dealings in those times, and perhaps more energy, mind, and character than the bigger figures of the present day; and we are told that commercial men in Glasgow still look back to John Glassford and Andrew Cochrane as perhaps the greatest merchants the Clyde has seen.

Andrew Cochrane was Smith's particular friend among them, and Dr. Carlyle tells that "Dr. Smith acknowledged his obligations to this gentleman's information when he was collecting materials for his Wealth of Nations; and the junior merchants who have flourished since his time and extended their commerce far beyond what was then dreamt of, confess with respectful remembrance that it was Andrew Cochrane who first opened and enlarged their views."[66] Dr. Carlyle informs us, moreover, that Cochrane founded a weekly club in the "forties"—political economy club—of which "the express design was to inquire into the nature and principles of trade in all its branches, and to communicate knowledge and ideas on that subject to each other," and that Smith became a member of this club after coming to reside in Glasgow. This was probably the first political economy club in the world, for Carlyle was in Glasgow in 1743, and it is of that period he speaks when he says, "I was not acquainted with Provost Cochrane at this time, but I observed that the members of this society had the highest admiration of his knowledge and talents."

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